Saturday, December 26, 2015

It's The Economy, (And Wall Street Is) Stupid

Reel To Reel: The Big Short

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Rated: R
Red Flags: Multiple f-bombs and two scenes inside a strip club

In one my Royal Father's favorite movies, Trading Places, the characters portrayed by Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy reek revenge against their bosses and get rich by short-selling futures in the commodities market. The Big Short shows us the same process, only billions of dollars bigger and all true. It zooms in on the securities nobody thought would crumble -- until they did and took the economy down with them in 2008. It's easily my favorite movie of this year and the best movie about Wall Street I've seen since Wall Street.

The film, based on Michael Lewis' book of the same name, follows three sets of traders as they discover dangerous problems with mortgage-backed bonds. Brokers have been pushing their stability and quality, but it turns out the securities -- which are bundles of individual mortgages sold as investments -- contain oodles of sub-prime loans. Sub-prime, by the way, is Wall Street politeness for saying, "These loans are [bleep]!"

Eccentric, dressed-down hedge fund manager Dr. Michael Burry (Bale) discovers it first by looking under the hood of the bonds and discovering an alarming amount of loans about to go bad. The fat cats don't see it yet, but the analysis from his think-tank mind predicts massive defaults are coming as people get shocked by adjustable rate mortgages or end up falling behind on loans they never should have gotten in the first place. Burry wants to take the groundbreaking step of betting against the housing market. It's so unheard of, he doesn't even have a way to do it until he convinces big investment firms to create credit-default swaps, a form of insurance that's not technically insurance nor regulated like it.

Other traders smell trouble. Button-down investor Jared Vennett (Gosling) hears Burry is buying up massive amounts of swaps and decides to get in on the action after doing his own homework. A misdialed phone call accidentally tips off capitalist crusader and trader Mark Baum (Carell), who is already convinced the financial world has it in for the little guy. Vennett and Blum team up after Blum's team discovers the flimsiness of the mortgages and the cracks forming in the housing sector. In a garage, financial whizkids Jamie Shipley (John Magaro) and Charlie Geller (Finn Wittrock) also get wind of what Vennett knows. But they can't pull off the massive financial operations they need to cash in until they turn to reclusive retired banker Ben Rickert (Pitt), the man who can get them to the big boys' table.

The financial instruments at the heart of this can be hard to comprehend. The film takes the inventive step of breaking the fourth wall and bringing in celebrities to give us quick Wall Street lessons, including Selena Gomez explaining issues with collateralized debt obligations and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain using a stew to demonstrate how Wall Street makes bad bonds look good. Many of the key players themselves also speak directly to us, aided by flashy editing and illustrations, making this a mashup of Wall Street and GoodFellas with a touch of Oceans 11. It feels like the kind of film Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie would crank out if they combined directorial forces, only it's directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman) as a rollicking black financial comedy.

The Big Short doesn't present us with any clear good or bad guys. It reminds us the people who are getting rich off multiple layers of convoluted Wall Street risk are betting against the American economy. As they win, financial institutions collapse, millions lose jobs, and the recession hits. Wall Street's big players are stupid, clueless, criminal, or just problem gamblers. We see how fast and loose the markets play with securities, as one risky bet becomes an even bigger risky bet which is then folded into an even larger bet. Yet we can still relate to all this financial abstraction on a human level through the traders who discover it. They -- and we -- are shocked to find so much money flowing into such crummy investments, ones people don't even understand.

I have told you before that derivatives -- which include mortgage-backed securities -- are a bad habit Wall Street just can't kick. Even though the feds have tried reining them in, the financial lobby is a powerful player, and we are once again seeing the kinds of risky instruments on the market that got us into this mess.

Many of you will also be asking, "Why didn't the fat cats go to prison for this?" It's a simple explanation: in Las Vegas, you don't go to jail for making bad bets. You just lose money. However, in Vegas you're playing with your own money. On Wall Street, the big shots are playing with your pension fund and IRA's, but it's considered a bet, not an investment, at all the convenient times.

The Big Short brings this all into focus and makes us understand it all. You don't have to be a financial guru to love this picture. You just have to have a brain and a willingness to accept the truth everybody else believes they can trade away.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Force Is Strong With This One

Reel To Reel: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Going Rate: Worth full price admission in IMAX
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Lightsaber battles, blaster fire, X-wings vs. TIE fighters... you know the drill

Getting Star Wars away from George Lucas is the best thing to happen to this saga in a long time. While Lucas created the trilogy and the mythology, his three prequels to the classic trilogy lacked emotional depth to go with their visual dazzle. At times, it felt like he was mailing it in. More often, the first three pictures felt lame. Apart from a few scenes in The Phantom Menace, I don't have any standout memories of them. When Lucas sold his studio to Disney, and Disney announced it would make new Star Wars pictures, you knew things were going to be different, and better.

Director J.J. Abrams delivers on that new hope. He has made a picture that will resonate with both fanboys and casual fans. It's a picture that works because of its economy, taking us back to the familiar with plenty of inside references rather than trying to create vast new worlds. It creates likeable new heroes while catching up on the old ones. Yes, Han Solo (Ford), Princess Leia (Fisher), Chewbacca (Mayhew), Master Luke Skywalker (Hamill), C3-PO (Daniels) and R2-D2 are along for the ride. Yet they are more of a bridge between old and new without having to prop the film up.

I refuse to get into plot points because so much of Star Wars' fun comes from letting it play out before you. I also don't want this site to get blocked by various spoiler-sniffing apps floating around. I will just tell you that planetary scavenger Rey (Ridley), reluctant stormtrooper Finn (Boyega), and ace fighter pilot Poe (Issac) are all thrown together into a mission to defeat another plot from a new form of the old Empire. Leading the way and stealing the show is the nerdily-cute BB-8 rolling ball droid, which will remind you of how much you enjoyed first watching R2-D2. BB-8 is sure to end up on many a Christmas list.

All you really need to know beyond this is that The Force Awakens contains everything you want and nothing you don't. You won't find aberrations like Jar-Jar in this film, nor Ewoks, nor pod racers. Like he did with the Star Trek reboot several years ago, Abrams has transformed something with waning cool into current cool. At least two more sequels are in the works. Let's hope Abrams keeps it going.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

War Of Words

Reel To Reel: Trumbo

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen Mirren
Rated: R
Red Flags: Multiple uses of the f-word, brief male rear nudity

I had never heard of Dalton Trumbo before I saw this picture, even though he wrote dozens of screenplays -- some classic, some fine, some just skirting the garbage can -- along with several novels. I turn out at least two dozen short TV news scripts a day. Trumbo could crank out a 100-page screenplay in three days with some baseline of quality, all with a typewriter, scissors and cellophane tape. But his overwhelming contribution to Hollywood was breaking its notorious blacklist, something intended to protect American values while violating the spirit of a sacred American tenet: the First Amendment.

Trumbo walks us through the story of its title character (Cranston) as the Red Scare closes in around him. He's one of the highest paid contract writers in Hollywood when word of his Communist sympathies filters back to Washington. He and nine others in the film industry are subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Trumbo and the others realize it's a kangaroo court and refuse to answer questions. Congress finds them in contempt, sending Trumbo and the others to jail.

After nearly a year in the can, he returns home to find a strong family but a broken career. He can't work for any major studio. He sells a screenplay for Roman Holiday through a front writer, but he realizes he will have to take on more work to keep the lights on. Trumbo goes to work for a small B-movie studio whose co-topper Frank King (Goodman) unapologetically unspools garbage onto the screen. King is ecstatic to see the quality of Trumbo's work, and the studio gives him steady work as a writer and script doctor. Trumbo soon devises an underground network to keep himself and fellow blacklisted writers in business.

A key ally is fellow screen scribe Alan Hird (Louis C.K.), an idealist who wants to take the studios to court. Being a member of the Communist party isn't illegal, the argument goes, and somebody needs to stand. Trumbo argues the deck is stacked against the Hollywood Ten, and they need to find other ways to stand on principle while still winning by making a living. Hird is in a fight for his life on multiple fronts; he's suffering from lung cancer along with a career in crisis. Trumbo also puts a lot on the line as he involves his entire family in his work, forcing them to help retype and ferry scripts.

On the other side of the equation, you have the Hollywood brass who lack spine. They're putty in the hands of powerful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren), the Nikki Finke of her time. Michael Stuhlbarg turns in a capable performance as Edward G. Robinson, who named names to keep working and found no peace. But the film belongs to Bryan Cranston, whose irascible portrayal of Trumbo -- wit, warts and all -- powers the film. Even though we have a hard time understanding whether the famed screenwriter had method to his madness or just madness, we can't stop watching him puff his cigarettes and pound his typewriter between riffs and bouts with Hollywood's players.

It's hard to ignore the present-day parallels. As this post hits, we are in the middle of a national debate over freedom of religion versus terrorist religious extremism and how this nation should respond to it. Several are raising the spectre of Hitler. The spectre of HUAC seems much more fitting.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Not War, It's Personal

Reel To Reel: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense action violence

Some of you wanted to see the evil President Snow of Panem go up in flames, perhaps with somebody snarking "Extra crispy!" as it happened. Sorry, folks, you ain't gettin' it.

The conclusion of the Hunger Games series wallows through the moral ambiguities of a bloody revolution where freedom is the rallying cry, but control is the goal. It has a lot to say about war, sacrifice and tyranny against a backdrop of nightmarish battle sequences interposed with its heroine recovering from nearly getting killed time and again.

Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is in one of those recovery phases as the picture begins, while her love Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) is strapped in an isolation chamber. Medics work to deprogram him from a highly potent Capitol brainwashing technique that sends him into fits of rage. The rebellion against President Snow (Donald Sutherland, again deliciously evil) is making progress towards the Capitol, and the 12 districts are unifying for the final push. District 13 president and rebellion leader Alma Coin (Moore) says Katniss' work is done; she should rest and let the rebels finish their work. When victory is theirs, the new government will fly her in for the surrender ceremony.

Our heroine won't have it that way. She wants President Snow dead for everybody he's killed or harmed, including Peeta. Snow's decadence eats at her, and she wants to settle more than a few old scores. Katniss sneaks onto a transport and eventually falls in with a "star squad" whose purpose is to make more propaganda films a safe distance away from the front lines. Still, they have to avoid "pods:" creatively diabolical booby traps scattered across abandoned parts of the Capitol. Once you see what these pods do, you realize the Geneva Convention doesn't exist in Panem -- or maybe they just ignore it. As Katniss and her crew get closer to the presidential mansion and the casualties mount, so do a few uncomfortable truths. She realizes what she desires from the revolution and what might actually happen are growing further apart, and she has to wonder, is she a pawn?

As I said in my review of Mockingjay Part 1, I don't consider The Hunger Games science fiction as much as social-science fiction. The gizmos and special effects don't drive this story -- it's the complex world devised by Suzanne Collins with its broad themes of power versus liberty interposed with the horrors of war on a deeply personal level. This is not one of those 1980's sci-fi actioners where Arnold Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris would beat the pulp out of President Snow at the end. It's good for your grey matter, but fercryinoutloud, let's have a little bit more fashion sense than the people in the Capitol.

Mockingjay - Part 2 wraps everything up, but it still leaves some wiggle room for another film. Whether Collins and Hollywood want that to happen is up to them, but I can see the possibilities. These four films have laid a lot of groundwork and planted seeds. We'll see if somebody wants another reaping, er, harvest.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Game Of Human Chess

Reel To Reel: Bridge Of Spies

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: A couple of f-bombs and Cold War-related violence

A co-worker of mine once said public defenders were a garbage chute to prison. In many cases, he's right. They are assigned a thankless task of representing various levels of scum, many of them guilty as sin, with only the time or resources to present a token defense or at least engineer a plea deal. But every so often, a huge case comes along requiring solid litigation chops. At the very least, the system needs a defender who will keep a guilty verdict from being tossed on appeal due to ineffective counsel.

It's that scenario which thrusts insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks) into an espionage case in 1957 Cold War America. His legal superiors throw him the case of Rudolf Abel (Rylance), a Soviet Spy posing as a quiet artist in New York City. Hanks has little practical experience in criminal trials; he makes a living negotiating settlements and explaining to courts and clients why a car hitting a group of five people is one liability claim, not five. He does it with cool and logical finesse, boiling down obtuse legal principles into simple truths. Hanks is no garbage-chute lawyer. Although initially unsure about his ability, Donovan locks on to a basic principle: Abel is innocent until proven guilty, and if our Constitution means anything, it has to work for both the innocent and the guilty, especially to show the world -- especially the Soviets -- that the American legal system is not a show-trial machine.

Abel is no caricature of a foreign agent. The grandfatherly figure speaks of loss and hardship, not Communist propaganda. He and Donovan establish a mutual respect, adding to the lawyer's determination against a system determined to cut corners to put him away. Inevitably, it happens, but Donovan engineers a sentence he believes will hold value in the long run: prison versus the electric chair. The shrewdness of that sentence comes into play when the Soviets capture U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). The feds call Donovan into service once more to engineer the deal of a lifetime that will swap Powers for Abel.

Hanks' performance will remind many of you of Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird. Indeed, according to director Steven Spielberg, Peck was once attached to play Donovan when MGM considered making this story into a movie in the 1960's. (The studio ultimately abandoned the project due to Cold War politics.) Yet Hanks' Donovan is more of a negotiator than a litigator, someone who can see every move and countermove and carefully select the right words. As we see several times, that skill enables Donovan to survive complication after complication when he finds out the deal he's negotiating comes with wrinkles.

Bridge Of Spies gets props for staying a Cold War thriller and not trying to become a back-door swipe at U.S. policies in the War on Terror. Hanks' rhetoric could've easily steered it that way, but Spielberg isn't an activist director, and he knows when to pull up. The real story is the submerging of a working-class lawyer into a thick world of espionage with tripwires and trapdoors all around. Curiously, Joel and Ethan Coen did a rewrite of the original screenplay by Matt Charman, one of the few projects they have worked on without either directing or producing.

And once again, we see Tom Hanks in another comfortably-fitting role, much more so than the last time I saw him as Walt Disney in last year's Saving Mr. Banks. We've come to depend on him to deliver hero after to hero. How much more can he give us?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Don't Look Down

Reel To Reel: The Walk

Going Rate: Worth full price admission (and in IMAX 3D)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley
Rated: PG (but really more of a hard G)
Red Flags: mild language, scarily realistic scenes of heightened peril (Note: this may not be for people with vertigo or fear of high places)

In all the tributes following the 9/11 attacks, I am amazed I never heard about Philippe Petite's stunning walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It's likely many people didn't hear about it when it happened on August 7, 1974. News of Petit's walk was buried in the Watergate crisis; President Nixon would announce his resignation one day later. Still, the networks carved out some time for it.

The documentary Man On Wire chronicles Petit's walk, but not to the dizzying, dazzling degree as director Robert Zemeckis, whose biggest challenge was recreating two buildings that aren't there anymore. The film uses a mixture of CGI and reconstructions of the WTC's top floors. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt not only learned to walk on a wire but speak fluent French, and he envelops the role of Petit completely as a creatively crazy Parisian street performer who's looking for the next place to "hang my wire."

Petit breaks the fourth wall, narrating from the torch platform of the Statue of Liberty, twin towers over his shoulder. He shows us how an emergency trip to the dentist led him to a magazine chronicling the construction of the twin towers, which in the finishing phase at the time of his stunt. He immediately knows he wants to make a walk between them, something he calls "the coup."

Here's where The Walk becomes a caper film in which nobody is robbed, killed or blown up. Petit's enthusiastic sense of adventure tinged with anarchy attracts a crew, including a photographer, a math wizard who's afraid of heights, an electronics-store hustle artist, an inside man at the WTC, and yes, a girl -- a fellow street performer named Annie (Le Bon). Petit breezes us through the plotting and planning phases, where he learns as much about the towers as he can, taking countless photographs and even posing as a reporter to gather crucial information. The team develops an intricate scheme for getting up to the top of the towers over a period of more than 12 hours, running the wire across (with the help of a bow and arrow) and stabilizing it. Petit's co-conspirators must also deal with his borderline insanity and compulsions as a self-proclaimed artist and not some mere performer. His purity of intentions brings him into conflict with his mentor, Papa Rudy (Kingsley), a circus high-wire guru who instructs Philipe in the methods and secrets.

The payoff is huge. Petit's multiple walks across the wire are frighteningly realistic. We know it's a film, and we know Petit survives it, but the seamless CGI enhanced by 3D and the camera which floats around him put you up there with him. Don't eat a big lunch. This is a film you feel in the gut when you hold your breath and contemplate the extreme danger of this stunt.

Petit never directly explains to us why he chose the Twin Towers, but somehow we understand it through his eccentric personality. I also liked how the film dodged shoving a romantic subplot between Petit and Annie down our necks. This movie is tight and focused, just like the man and his wire.

Another thing you won't see: a direct reference to the 9/11 attacks. A tribute is there, however, and you'll know it when you see it.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dealing With The Devil

Reel To Reel: Black Mass

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic bursts of intense bloody violence, strong language

Irish gangster James "Whitey" Bulger had a lock on Boston's underworld in the late 1970's and 1980's largely because an FBI agent protected him and used him as an informant, allowing Bulger's criminal enterprise to grow nearly unchecked and failing to prevent several murders. Those included the high-profile whacking of former Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler, a case still pending in the courts even as Bulger serves out two consecutive life sentences in prison after years on the lam. Black Mass is a chilling look at what the feds got for their end of the bargain.

Most of that chill comes from Johnny Depp's performance as Bulger, a tailspin of evil as the picture unfolds. Even in his rare lighter moments -- like a scene where Bulger explains to his son how to beat up another kid without getting caught -- Depp's Bulger is still icily dark. He surrounds himself with equally evil, foul-mouthed henchmen who provide the narrative backbone of the film in FBI interviews. But in Whitey's world, it's not crime; it's about standing up for the "Southies," those in South Boston's working-class mean streets now getting squeezed as the Italian mafia moves in on them.

Fellow Southie, friend of Bugler and FBI agent John Connolly (Edgerton) knows Whitey is facing a turf war. He also needs something to make a case on the Angiulo Brothers, whom the feds know about but can't seem to bust. Connolly makes a blockbuster proposition to his bosses: let Bulger become a high-level confidential informant on the Angiulos and get what they need to run them out of Boston. Bulger reluctantly agrees, not considering it ratting or "informing" but improving business by running out competition.

Bulger has to abide by some simple ground rules, if that's even possible: no drugs, no murders. Those rules soon get clipped as Bulger's life deteriorates, starting with the death of his son. Connolly also finds himself pulled deeper into darkness as he tries to cover up his informant's escalating criminal escapades and keep his bosses off his back. As you might expect, so much of Bulger's life isn't on the screen, including the years laying low from the feds until they finally caught him in California in 2011, living under another name and looking like a frail old man rather than a powerful mob boss.

Black Mass will remind you of two other films, both by Martin Scorsese: The Departed, inspired by Bulger's life, and GoodFellas, which the film mimics at certain points, even including its own version of the famous "You Think I'm Funny" scene. Those two films had style and a darkly comic sense of how banal mafia life could be at times. Black Mass is all business, and although it makes a token attempt at Bulger's domestic issues, they're mainly there to convince us Bulger had only sparse humanity.

I kept watching Edgerson as Agent Connolly in his pompadour and wondered if he was looking for a role on The Sopranos instead of mob information. His protection of Bulger became a real-life embarrassment for the FBI, a finer point the film nearly overlooks. Like Bulger, the agent sees himself also protecting his friends and fellow Southies, a rationalization that drives his agenda.

The main reason to see Black Mass is for Depp's brilliant performance, calculated and cruel. He attempted to meet with Bulger himself in the preparation for the role. He had to settle for fine tuning from Bulger's lawyer. Bulger still isn't ratting, even after all this time, not even on himself.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Head Trip

Reel To Reel: Inside Out

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Voices of: Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Kaitlyn Dias
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Nothing objectionable, but this is a film designed for older children due to its subject matter and demonstrated emotional intensity

Inside Out is a genuinely moving film continuing Pixar's tradition of quasi-arthouse work: animation and characters for the kids, but substance and meaning for the adults. It plunges into the complex topic of human emotion, something many of us don't understand in the first place, and builds a storyline that lays it out in beautiful, vivid detail. Pixar's Pete Docter got the idea for this movie when he noticed the emotional changes in his daughter as she grew up. Transforming that spark into a feature film required years of research and refinement, consultations with noted psychologists and brain experts, and bouts of frustration and inspiration -- probably enough for a film in itself.

We see it all on the screen through a girl named Riley (Dias), whose life is uprooted when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, from a beautiful home to a dusty rowhouse, bad food, and a strange school. Inside her head, five different emotions are vying for control: Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Smith), Anger (Black), Disgust (Kaling), and Fear (Hader). All are drawn in vibrant colors befitting their functions, but it's Joy who stands out in both her sparkling aura and dominance over the other emotions. They work the control panel and keep track of memory bubbles, although those bubbles look and roll more like marbles or billiard balls. Several important bubbles form Riley's core memories, which in turn create personality islands that direct her thoughts, interests and values. Memory bubbles ship off to long-term memory, and trains of thought roll by every now and then. Believe me, it's much more understandable when you see it.

Joy is trying to keep Sadness in check, wanting Sadness to stop touching memories and turning them sad. During a struggle over this, both of them are whisked out of the control room by the mechanisms that transport memories, along with the core memories Joy is guarding with all her might. With her core memories out of place, Riley begins spiraling into emotional ruin, as her personality islands begin to crumble and her other emotions try to compensate. Joy and Sadness have to get back to headquarters and rebuild the system before all is lost.

This film amazed me with how it could make this topic palatable and enjoyable. It doesn't try to oversimplify its subject matter, even though its main character emotions are predictable: Joy bubbles with happiness, Sadness is always down in the dumps, Anger blows his top, Fear scares at the slightest impulse, and Disgust gets in a few barbs. We get interpretation of our dreams in the tradition of Hollywood (with a very clever homage to the great Saul Bass, if you can spot it) and a journey into the abstract and subconscious. And in the end, without giving away any plot points, we get insight on how our emotions are supposed to work together.

Inside Out, like I said with Wall-E, is a talk-about film. Children will talk about it with their parents, and I gather at some point, it might play a larger role in helping kids understand and deal with their emotions. That's the real value of this film, and it's a shame if that potential isn't realized.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It All Comes Down To This

In the third and final part of Lady Darley's letter, she talks about the future and expands upon a tawdry revelation about an acquaintance.
I'm sorry that I won't be going back to the United States but I can't really see that happening, at least for several years. Possibly after I have been to college I would like to move out to either Italy or America. The only thing that puts me off is the large spiders and the violence. But there's just something about the two countries that draws me to them.

It's really true what you said about [Molly] - but she really appears to believe that boasting about the sex and positions, it reflects on her femininity. But really to me, he makes her look cheap. I'd say that it was something private that they should share together, but [she] appears to want it splashed all over the school gossip column. She is a really nice girl and I do like her but I object to the idea of her promoting the idea of her sexual conquests. She says it's due to my jealousy, but I flatly deny.
In your mind, not in front of me, raise your hand if somebody belittled you and called you jealous because you decided your sex life wasn't for public entertainment.

Remember when Lady Darley said she wouldn't ask about my Raytown friend anymore, the one who introduced her to me? It seems neither of us can let go.
I was really upset about the way [your Raytown friend] stopped writing to me. I don't really know what on earth I ever did to make her dislike me so much, but it really upset me. I thought we got on really well with one another, and I can't really understand why on earth she did that. We had the same interests, liked similar music and got on extremely well with one another. Please write to her soon as I am dying to know why. I am really grateful to you for trying to find out for me as she's never even replied back to me.
She didn't reply to your humble servant, either. She never has.

Now she answers a sentiment about drinking. I have no clue what I said to her about it or the context.
It really annoys me about people's negative opinions to drinking. Yes, I agree with the idea of excessive drinking being a bit 'lavish,' but I really disagree with the negative stereotype. I don't see anything wrong in drinking as though it's not to excess as well as if it doesn't endanger the lives of others. It's not as though it makes people evil -- you seem to believe that people are morally bad if they drink. I don't agree!
Huh? I will admit to you I have an inner Puritan living inside of me, but even they made and consumed potent potables. And I took more than a few drinks when I came of age. What made me turn up my nose at boozing? Probably all the the miscreant mischief that went with it.
Thanks for trying to get me a bumper sticker [of Kansas City] -- I would really appreciate it.

I was thinking about what you said about meeting, it would be nice one day, but odd in another perspective as, don't you find when you write to someone you tell them far more than you would in person. I know that I have told you some things I wouldn't have told [your Raytown friend] or even if I'd seen you in person. Don't you find that's true?

My eighteenth birthday happened about a month ago. I didn't have a part as such, I went out with my friends from school during the school day and I went out with my friends from home at nighttime. The present I got from my parents was a word processor as I've wanted one for a heck of a long time - as you know.

Well I hope I haven't bored you too much with my extremely long letter, but there was much to catch you up on.

Please write me soon as I like to hear from you, especially with news from [your Raytown friend] hopefully.

[Lady Darley]
And that's all she wrote. I have no further letters from her. I don't know if I stopped writing, or she stopped writing. We were both growing up, becoming adults and putting away childish things. I was eager to finish college and move on with my life. Lady Darley didn't fit into those plans.

Now, some two decades later, I've conducted a rudimentary search for her. She is not on Facebook, and that doesn't surprise me, seeing the value she puts on her relationships. I have found she is still living in that English village. Now the question is -- do I reach out to her again? I have to say no, not after publishing all these letters, albeit under a different name and with her friends' names changed. Somewhere in the conversation, I'm going to have to reveal the presence of these postings.

This begs the question, why did I do this? Because other people's insight can shed light on you, how you were and are. I know I have only half the conversation posted here, but I can make some clear guesses about where I was as a person in my teenage years. Going over these letters was like meeting Lady Darley all over again. I picked up things I never considered.

You bet I have regrets. I have a lot of regrets from my teenage years. I gather a lot of us do. A lot of us would relish the chance to jump into Doc's DeLorean and zoom back to 1984 to reboot our lives. That's not how it works, though, and for good reason. Our cluelessness shapes us just as much as our wisdom.

I have no doubt Lady Darley is all right. Not that I'm still curious from thousands of miles away.

If by chance she decides to reconnect, or I decide to reconnect, we'll have a lot of life to catch up on: where we went, what we learned, and what's next.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Going Deeper

Lady Darley devotes a lot of this letter to relationships -- not just hers, but mine. I told her how my brother and I ended up working at the same place that summer: Six Flags Over Mid-America.
I guess it would be pretty uneasy for you having your brother working at the same place. Don't you get on well with him? My sister and I get on well at times, but I think it stems from when we were little and lived somewhere there wasn't many other children and we had to play together? How many years are there between you and he anyway? There are two years and nine months between the two of us, so I guess as we get old we'll get closer, I guess the same will happen to you and your brother.
That's what happened. We grew up. But we can't change the four-year gap between our ages.
My sister and I have worked at the same restaurant a few times. She can get a little overbearing at times demanding I do things her way. But my parents had told me not to embarrass her by saying no at the restaurant as they really are a back biting bunch and would have love to see us have a girly squabble.. But I just gritted my teeth and went with the flow. Now I'm really nervous about going back on Sunday when she's not there to give a bit of moral support. But I guess we all have to do these kind of things!!!

I was extremely spooked last week when I was at work because this guy walked in who was the spitting image of that photo you sent me a while ago of yourself, and I mean the spitting image. I thought hey this is so odd, but I thought hey its just a coincidence, but believe me when he opened his mouth and an American accent flew out I thought wow this is odd. But I found out that his name was Mark and he was from Florida so I'm just writing to tell you that you have a complete double who lived in Florida, he was even at college in California doing a journalism and public relations degree -- weird or what. I told him that I had a penfriend in St. Louis who was like his total double, he thought it was totally amazing.
Perhaps he's wearing kilts and tricorn hats every so often now, too.
I should be going to college in September, in a way I'm looking forward to it, doing everything that I do at home in my hobbies full time. I'd hopefully be doing either of two degrees:

Business Studies and Media Relations
Writing, Theoretical Studies of Photography in the Media, and Heritage and History.
Two degrees? I count at least five...
I would have been really happy if I could have gone to college with all my old friends, I find it really hard to make new friends as I find that a lot of people can't cope with my strong beliefs and attitudes that can annoy people - but it's just me, and I'm worried that some people may find it a little off putting and I'll end up walking the halls on my own. I also have applied to a college of higher education that I could get lower grades for, I could get in purely on my GCSE results. This really is only a back up, but my Mum said she would rather I did something than waste all my work. I guess she has a point but I would be really upset if I don't get my grades after all the work I put in. So keep your fingers crossed. I will be living at home for the first year if I go to the one where I can do Writing. I thought it would be good that way so that I can establish my friends and we could probably share in the second year. What do you reckon to living away from home, it was only your first year wasn't it?
I lived in the Mizzou dorms for all four years, two with roommates and two on my own. I liked being able to walk to classes -- or bike to them in decent weather. I didn't have a car until my senior year. I liked having the dorm cafeteria, being somebody who enjoys eating more than cooking. At Hatch Hall, we also had ice cream from the ag school's plant just down the street.
You really sound as though you've been enjoying college! But we all have to work like mad to get what we want, don't you think! I should be working like mad once I come back off my holiday.

Now to tell you about my holiday, I'm going to Corfu with a friend of mine and her sister. It should be fun but to tell you the truth I've never been so off something in the whole of my life. [Redacted], the girl I was going with and I were friends a couple of years ago. She left to get a job after GCSE's and I sat for my A levels, and as you can imagine we grew apart a bit, but I guess it should be fun, two weeks in the sun with nothing to do but lounge around and get a suntan or totter through little streets. I am looking forward to the idea of going, but I just really don't know. Oh I guess I'll get over it. I'm just feeling a little anti social after spending all that time over the last three months or so revising like crazy.
At this point, the letter inexplicably goes from typewritten to handwritten and changes subjects from vacation to a current event: the aftermath of the L.A. riots.
I was really upset about the 'Rodney King Riots,' they were all over the news. I was more upset about the violence the blacks inflicted on white people than the blacks' situation. All news reporters probably showed when a gang of riot police pulled a white guy out of a truck and almost beat him unconscious. I did feel for their situation but I think that they did more harm than good. But I do think that the media, by doing such graphic reports did get the picture home to the people of the world. It really annoys me when people stagg off the press because they just have a job to do, to inform the general public about events that they have a right to know about.
Lady Darley's word usage here is slightly misleading, but I think by "riot police" she's referring to the people who beat Reginald Denny, who weren't police at all. Confusion, I gather.
Have you heard about all the scandal with the British press due to an author writing a book about the private life of Princess Diana? I don't actually know how you feel about royal people and our royal family, but the American people I met whilst on holiday were really proud of the British Royal Family. There has been a lot of controversy about the book 'The Private Life Of Princess Diana' by Andrew Morton. The guy came under a lot of criticisms for going to her private friends to find out what life is like with Prince Charles. It's been all over the newspapers about this woman called Camilla Parker Bowles who is supposed to be his girlfriend. I think he must be a real egotistical pig. He's obviously not given her any emotional support since they married and how on earth was she supposed to cope. He would have been brought up to accept a life where he wasn't allowed to do much in case the press picked up on it. He must have been really hard to live with.
I gather I must have asked about the stereotype of the "Ugly American..."
Americans aren't really that arrogant in comparison to the English. They aren't arrogant at all if you compare my generation of Americans to the English. I was very much the same to everyone in Kansas City, I don't really think that there was much of a difference between us. I think it was partly to do with personality. [Your Raytown friend] was far more outgoing than I was naturally, it's nothing to do with culture. I think that's the old stereotypical idea the stiff upper lip English men. But it may be true for an older generation but not for teenagers I don't think.
She moves on to movies...
I don't really think a great lot of the so-called new releases for the summer. I was frantically bored with the first Batman. In some ways I thought it was too predictable. One film I have seen recently which I was quite impressed with 'Point Break' with Patrick Swazye and Kenau Reeves. It has some absolutely amazing surfing scenes in it. Other than that I've not seen anything really good. I did see a real bummer of a film about a month ago called 'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.' It was full of sentimental clap trap.
And still this letter goes on. In the third and final part, she talks about America once more, the annoying indulgences of people her age, and turning 18.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Going Deep

Lady Darley had come to expect slow replies from your humble servant while he was away at college. But when May 1993 rolled around, she sent a quick goad on a single loose-leaf page:
Dear Chris,

What has happened to you, heh, I haven't heard from you since January! I know that I wrote some pretty bad things in my last letter about being angry with you, but it wasn't meant to stop you writing completely.

I guess I have a really great touch with Americans, heh?

I hope to hear from you soon.

Sorry again,
[Lady Darley]
I did reply to her, and on the about a month later, she replied in bulk: a six-page letter. Four pages were typewritten, single spaced, with the last two handwritten and double sided. She also a tourist pamphlet on Chatsworth, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, near where she lives. But it's the letter that is the main, introspective attraction.
Darley Dale, 16 June

Dear Chris,

Thank you for writing to me after so long. I realize that you are busy with college so don't worry.

So how are you, good I hope? I'm sure that you are pleased to have finished for the summer, I know I am. The reason I have finished school so early this year is because I've been sitting my final A-levels and yesterday was my last one. I did actually finish school as far as lessons were concerned on the 15th May. My exams in English Language, English Literature and Sociology have been going on since the 15/05 and believe me I am very pleased to see the back of them. They were hard really, although not quite as hard as I would have expected, but the truth will tell on results day August 20th. I had some tricky questions focusing on a really minor point in the book, but I think I got around them ok.

I was happy in one way about finishing my exams, but in another I was sad as it means that I won't see some of my friend again. I do plan to ring them up and go and see them, but to be truthful sometimes we are quite an unsociable bunch. I guess in a way I split the group up a little when I became friends with [Laurie] back in the fourth year. To be truthful, I know it sounds embarrassing but I must have thought she was the best thing since sliced bread. (That's an English saying - I don't know if you've heard it?) She was interested in the same things as me like writing, painting and photography when everyone else thought I was odd, well eventually we broke friends as I've probably told you many times, but it almost split the group in two. Some of the people who are friends with her don't speak to me and vice versa. I was alright as far as friends go in the sixth form because everyone is so segregated anyhow with only coming into school when we have classes, but I think it's sad when you break friends with people, don't you?
Been there, done that. But most often, I just ended up moving away from my friends, and their friendship faded away in the days before Facebook.
The problem that my friends and I have always had is that we always seemed to like the same men, and when we were younger we used to fall out with one another over them. [Laurie] and I fell out once over [Arthur], due to the classes arrangement really, I got talking to him with the express wish of him liking [Laurie], but the inevitable happened, we liked one another and she never forgave me. It's really stupid falling out with friends over members of the opposite sex as you may have found, as your friends will stay around much longer. It's almost the same thing when my sister [Rose] fell out with me once for being what she construed as too "friendly" with her boyfriend of the time. I did spend almost hours on the phone to him when he was going out with my sister, but I still see him after my sister has moved on to someone else. [Alex] is one of my closer male friends.

We are all planning to go bowling, to the Pizza Hut and to see Basic Instinct on Saturday which will really be a silly stupid girls' night out, if you know what I mean, and I'm sure you do. Well enough about that, I'm sure you are quite bored, the whole purpose of this was to say if you want me to send a group photo of everyone I will, so that you can finally put names to faces.

Now I will answer some of your questions. (I hope you are not asleep by now.)

My sister is the same as always, she can be a [bleep] at times, but can't we all - I know I can. She's frantically trying to get all of her assignments finished as college finishes for her on Friday, and I think she said she had five to complete this week. She's totally different to me in the sense that she always leaves things to the last minute, so I strongly suspect she may have had them for a long time. As I have finished my assignment I have been roped into typing some of one big assignment up on South Africa and its business, economical, tourist and racist attitudes. And my isn't it just so much fun! I've managed to take some time off to type you this letter.

The reason me and my sister argue so much is that I state only too often my mother says, that her boyfriend treats her like a piece of s**t. He really does though because she can't wear something without getting his approval, and we would think nothing of saying, "What on earth do you call that thing you've got on" in public so that she'd be so embarrassed in front of her friends, she would take it off. But I guess she has to find out for herself. She has a job now in one of the leading pharmacies in England as a Sales Assistant. My Mum and Dad are pleased that she has a job in today's economic climate, but really is is not the right job for her. She has three high passes in French, German and English at A' level, can speak conversational Italian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Russian and Flemish. She also has a high grade BTEC in Tourism and Business Studies. We thought she'd be far better suited as an interpreter. She of course has to make her own mistakes like we all do. I'll let you know if she does apply for the Management training scheme at Marks and Spencer's. You must have heard of them!
Actually, I hadn't, but they're a department store. Here's more about them. As for avoiding an interpreter's job, perhaps the issue is that live interpretation requires you to both listen and talk at the same time. A lot of people have a hard time doing that. I know U.N. interpreters train by first getting used to their own voice being played back to them so they can learn to work with the constant flow of words.
You spoke in your letter of a CURATORS SCHOLARSHIP, what on earth is one of them? Does the Government pay for you to go? We have the same kind of system here where I have to apply for a grant from the local education authority, sending in my parents' salary, occupations, where we live, if we own our own home and all interesting stuff like that! Is that like what you mean, or did you have to take an exam and if you passed it you got your scholarship. Please let me know!
For those of you just tuning in, the Curators' Scholarship paid my tuition through all four years of the University Of Missouri. It covers whatever the tuition is, no matter if the Curators raise it or not. It doesn't cover books and board -- sweating it out at Six Flags helped pay for that, and my parents kicked in matching funds and probably a little more. When I got the diploma in my hand, I was college-loan-free and darn glad.

We tried applying for a Pell Grant, which involved filling out lots of forms and little green cards. When we sent in a green card, another one came back. We never got any money; just little green cards.

I had told her how my brother survived a car accident nearly unscathed.
Your brother must have a guardian angel or something to come completely out of the whole thing without a scratch, it could have been really bad, but I guess you really don't want to think about it! A friend of my sisters [Redacted] from Denmark has a brother called [Redacted] who's the same age as me, well anyway, he drives a scooter like most Europeans do. Like your brother Mike too fast, one day after leaving [Redacted] apartment (he lives on his own as he can't get on with his Dad) he came out from the underground garage without looking we think and a car smashed into him. He wasn't as lucky as Mike as he was thrown off his scooter and under the car. He's been in hospital for about six weeks so far with extensive injuries, hopefully he will be better soon. My cousin [Redacted] from Middlesborough who is about ten got pulled off his bike and under a taxi once, he had his big toe ripped off and can hardly walk on some days. Anyway all these incidents only show you how lucky your brother was.
Here she breaks typing at the bottom of the page and picks it up two days later.
Darley Dale, 18th June

Hello again, sorry I missed yesterday but I was busy typing the assignment for my sister, she wouldn't have finished it otherwise. She brought me a box of chocolates to say thank you, so I guess she isn't that bad after all.

You will never guess what happened to me yesterday! I got this letter back from a competition I'd entered for short stories from the county I live in and the one next to it, Nottinghamshire. They picked a story I wrote along with fifty-nine other stories to appear in a book. I'll get a percentage of the profits and price from each book, but it will only work out at about 0.03 percent for each book - but it's the exposure that I'd get for my writing which is most important. Congratulate me -- I was quite impressed! My Mum, me and my sister brought a book. My Dad really annoyed me as he wasn't even slightly impressed, he even asked my Mum why on earth we were all buying a book. He really annoyed me as he had an almost total disregard for how I would feel. It was like the time I got all B's in my report and a C in Games, he went almost ballistic saying that he didn't want a daughter who couldn't get at least straight B's. My sister gets just about straight A's so as you can imagine, I have a lot to live up to, or at least I feel I have to. I guess your brother may feel exactly the same, or is he as brainy as you?
Without getting too much into detail, this is hitting home. Michael had to live under my shadow -- and my grades. I pulled straight A's in school, and he couldn't match that. He was no flunkie, but the comparison was always there, and it wasn't fair. He didn't process information the same way, because GOD didn't create him the same.

Again, I can't get into details, but for comparison's sake, let me play you this clip from Saturday Night Fever Lady Darley reminded me of:
ADVISORY: Rated R For Cursing! Watch responsibly!

We still have three-and-a-half more pages to go in this letter.

In the next part, Lady Darley talks about working with my brother, living with my brother, and swears she's seen somebody who could be my long-lost twin brother...


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lady Darley's Diary

In January 1993, Lady Darley sent me pages from her personal journal. Maybe she didn't think they were, but she composed her four-page handwritten loose-leaf narrative over nearly a fortnight, and as the pen and time wore on, she wandered through life, love and school... and wondered if she might be losing me.

She begins on January 20th...
Happy New Year Chris!

It's been such a long time since I heard from you, well over 6 months actually that I was beginning to think you weren't writing to me anymore. The letter I last wrote you you was a last try. If I hadn't have gotten a reply from you after that then I wasn't going to try anymore.

Oh, by the way, before I start my letter, did you ever see the movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg in it? It came out about nearly 3 years now because I first saw it when I was over in America in 1990. I got it for Christmas from [Arnold].

More tomorrow, I'm busy now.
That makes two of us. As I've explained previously, with college taking over my life, writing to Lady Darley took an unfortunate back seat.

She picks up the next day...
University of Derby 21st January 1993
Flamsted Library

Well, it's tomorrow as you can tell by the date! I'm at "Uni" now. I'm supposed to be working but seeing as I've read some American Studies and photography I figured I could have a bit of a break and write some more to you.

You don't really have to tell me why if you don't want to, but in case you do, why did you not want any of your, and I quote "buddies," to know that you had a penfriend? I guess it must be very differed over here because we'd see it as something which showed you as perseverant, that you had some kind of determination to carry on. But anyway, I know what it's like to get the mickey taken out of you for something like that and if you'd rather I didn't write to you at college -- then I won't. It's up to you to decide. Let me know in you next letter! Oh yeah, and just something before I switch onto another subject, what do you mean by, "I didn't want my buddies to know I had a pen friend, or something along those lines." Can you explain? I was confused again. You're not ashamed to be writing to me are you?
I wrote what? No, I wasn't ashamed to be writing to her; I was just too busy. At least I thought I was. This is the problem when I try to understand my thought process from more than two decades ago. It's like I'm two different people. Young Chris and Old Christopher can't get inside each other's heads. The toiling student and the would-be nobleman are worlds apart, and it's more than a bit sad.
O.k., O.k., this is the last time ever ever ever I'm going to ask you this. But I don't suppose you have heard from [your Raytown friend] or rung her like you said you might?
No and nope. That so-called friend barely want to acknowledge my existence when Lady Darley asked her about me several years ago, and now she's doing the same thing to Her Ladyship. I feel burned and I don't even want to bother with that other girl.

In my last letter, I told Lady Darley about some bumps in the road during a holiday get-together.
Luckily I don't have an uncle who knows it all, or at least thinks he knows it all. The only one of mine who's remotely like that lives in Toronto in Canada, and I only see him once in a blue moon. And thank goodness, because he's a complete pain in the [bleep].

Fathers seem to be the same world over, don't you reckon? When I got up this morning (6:15), my dad was about to blame me for the fact that I wasn't downstairs till 6:30. He said in a foghorn of a voice that if I didn't want to be downstairs at the time I said then I just shouldn't bother! I was so confused and astonished really by how stupid he can be sometimes that I nearly laughed. He hadn't even considered the fact that it would take me any time to get ready. As I told him, which he didn't appreciate (it may not take him any time, but it does other people) that got a few black looks as you can imagine!

Oh, I forgot to ask. How old are you now? Half the time I don't really see the points of arguing or being told off by whoever, because if something's done then it's done. What's the point in going on and on about it for hours on end? Pointless, don't you see.

We'll I'm going to have to finish again soon. I've got to go off to a lecture on the other side of the university. With new semester only just underway, I have to check the change over and room destinations and all that. I'll write more A.S.A.P. Till then, see you...
The letter doesn't end there. She picks up the next day...
22nd January 1993

Well it's Friday now and I've finished university for the week. Well I just have to ask you a question. Seeing as you are a man, I thought you'd know. What do boys like in girls? Do you like them to be super thin, wear short clothes, wear lots of make up. It's just that there was a lad in my writing course that I think is really really nice. In last semester I used to make a point of talking to him after lessons. But I always got the feeling that I was doing all the work, that it was me doing all the work. He does speak to me, but unless I make extra conversation he only says "hello." What do you think I should do? Should I leave it or what?
I don't know what Young Chris said. Maybe Young Chris told her that some people are just shy and withdrawn and they feel like they can express themselves better on the page -- they were in a writing class, after all -- than in conversation. Perhaps Young Chris told her to be patient and try again. As for Lady Darley's other questions about boys, maybe Young Chris would have told her he liked his girls to be pretty and smart, not too thin, not morbidly obese, wearing more than just a smile, and with preferably less makeup than Tammy Faye Bakker. Aspiring Laird Christopher would tell Lady Darley he preferred beautiful, well-mannered and vibrant ladies in beautiful polonaise gowns who could dance a minuet and a Scottish reel with equal precision and festiveness. But that's another blog post, and most of you knew that already.

Lady Darley pauses again and picks up the next day...
How do you get along with your brother? Are you quite close? My sister and I are sometimes but we do argue a lot.
Sounds like us. We weren't as close as we should have been, either in distance or in relationships. Sibling rivalry followed us into our teens, but by the time were were on our own, we had let it go. Either that, or we just stopped pushing each other's buttons.
One of the main things we argue about is whether I should move in to hall next year. I would love to because then I would feel as though I had the chance to be part of the student group. I do have friends there but you'll understand that I feel a bit out of it, well not in one sense but in another I feel that if I was there I'd been more independent. But I'm really bad timekeeper and I guess that I'd miss quite a few of my early morning lectures which would really defeat the object of going. My sister gets me up in time to catch the bus. And she is really quite useful at helping me do my assignments. But if my bus stops, or it runs any earlier, I'll definitely have to apply for a place in the halls. I'll keep you posted.

I'll have to stop now AGAIN because I've lost your letter and I have to start work again soon!
She doesn't resume the letter for several more days...
1st February

It's me again, sorry it's taking so long for me to write back, but I've been very busy. I've got my results back. I passed four out of five modules and I have to resit one module. I got an "N" grade, which is 2% a basic pass. But I am allowed not to fail one of my courses in a year, but I have to redo.

Now back to [David]. I won't bore you to death, but I still think he's really nice. The writing class on Friday has been split up into two group and yes, you've guessed it, I'm not even in his group. I know it seems really silly, but I do like him, I found him so interesting. He just seemed so nice, really caring but I might as well have been a giraffe with, "Yes, [David] it's me and I think you are really nice.

More in a mo'.

What I'm actually trying to say is do you think I should try and find out if he has a girlfriend or something as it might help, don't you reckon. I haven't liked anyone as much for a really long time. Sometimes I get the feeling that he does like me as when I look in his direction I often catch his eyes already looking at me. I can dreamily hope he likes me, but then it's my genuine insecurity. I'm sure he wouldn't like me. What do you think, what should I do?
Pity Lady Darley. She's asking the right question of the wrong person, one who doesn't date. One who has given up on dating. Except for Jessica, I carried around too much baggage from interactions with young ladies gone wrong. What I told her, if anything, had to be warped through that bad experience.

She pauses yet again and picks up the next day for a few final paragraphs, responding to -- I presume -- what I told her about having to help interview a woman who had just lost her son in a triple murder in Columbia, Missouri, the kind of town where triple murders don't happen... and especially don't happen like this one did, at a convenience store.
It certainly was a good experience for you to interview that woman. Good job, you weren't aware of what laid on your report, don't you think? I don't mind tabloid journalism. It offers people something quick and easy. Just presenting bits of information, 90% of people don't want facts. Who reads that kind of journalism?
This is where you make up your own snarks and jokes. I'm not going there.
No, I didn't get to see "The Rocky Horror Show" when I was in Kansas City. I'd only been there about a day and a half when it came, and I was still very ill. I had really bad jet lag, and I couldn't stand up without being sick. (nice, heh). I would have liked to have seen it!
Her first 24 hours in America and my first 12 hours in London were the same. Jet lag and lack of sleep are evil twin brothers. We went to see some friends of my grandparents, and I felt embarrassed to have to ask them right off where the W.C. was.
The idea of the royal family thing in the press is, to be quite truthfully, getting a little boring. There's always something on the TV about them. But I do think Prince Charles is nasty with the way he almost flaunts Camilla Parker Bowles. He seemed to have only married Princess Diana as a means to make babies, nice heh?

It made me smile when you'd written British press laws were strict, a lord something or other is trying to get them made far stricter. He wants councils to to vet each piece before it goes out, which is absolutely stupid as it will get that papers can only print what someone else [says] is o.k. Id don't believe that they went too father as people are allowed to know what is going with the royal family. They know what position they are in, that if they choose to do things then it's their own fault. Callous I know, but true. I don't think Princess Di is the victim. She seems very manipulative, she's sure she has to get her own way.

College is all right, I've missed a couple of lectures this week, but I just feel like reading at home. Do you know what I mean?

It was the University of Missouri and Central Missouri State University where I was thinking of going. I'm still throwing a few ideas around. It would only be for my final year 94-95 anyway, so I've got a long time to go yet anyway.

Well that's all for now.

Hope I don't embarrass you too much by writing to you at college.

Write me soon,
[Lady Darley]
She couldn't embarrass me any more privately than what I'm likely doing to myself on this blog. C'est la vie.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Great Escape?

Just after the calendar rolls over to 1994, a letter to close out the previous year arrives from Lady Darley. Judging what she says about college, it may be a year she's glad to leave behind.
Dear Chris,

How are you? It's been absolutely months since you wrote to me. I had just come back from Greece and was awaiting my examination results if I remember correctly. Now I have long since got my results, started university, and got A's on my first three assignments. I felt that I didn't motivate myself hard enough on my assignments during the first few months which may leave me failing my first semester. I tried very hard on my second lot of assignments, and I hope that I've passed because otherwise I'll have to finish and get a job, which is obviously a big setback.
My first semester at the University of Missouri still ranks as my toughest, as I adjusted to both living away from home and the volume of coursework. My freshman history course, History 20, came with a stack of books. "Historians love to read," a teaching assistant explained. True, but not all of us are aspiring historians; I know I wasn't at the time, making my adventures in living history now all the more ironic. Most of us were taking this course as a waystation on the road to our majors, and we had other classes with other reading. Fortunately, our professor got the hint about a month into the semester and cut the workload.

My composition class which also sucked time with journaling assignments, not the freewheeling freewrites I used to do in high school, but semi-serious analytical pieces. I had a finicky teacher. But somehow, I earned her respect.

I enjoyed psychology, but I couldn't get as creative or exotic with my end-of-term experiment as I would've liked given the demands of the others.

Somehow, at the end of all of this, I aced the first semester -- including the History class. I remember a piece of the soundtrack from Chariots of Fire played through my head as I handed in the blue book with my essay answers to the final. I'm free... I'm free....
How has your Christmas been? Did you get my Christmas card? My Christmas has been quite, as usual but until today when my father went ballistic. He's such a nasty-tempered old man. Do you get on with your father? Mum, me and my sister [Rose] get on really well together. He's just so nasty.
At that time we got on well. Not being around the house for most of the year meant we couldn't get on each other's nerves. Problem solved.
Have you got a girlfriend? I'll tell you something now which I haven't said again to anyone. On Christmas Day, my family and I walked to my Aunty and Uncle's about a mile away. Well anyway my sister was there with her boyfriend [Arnold] and [Susan] was with her's [Sal]. As you've probably gathered, I was jealous. There is this guy I know at college called [David]. He is a really nice person and before I had my accident, I was really doing well at getting know him. But then I had an accident. My foot got run over by a car and I couldn't walk for two weeks, which left me missing the last weeks at University. I'm sure we could have worked something out, but I didn't see him for weeks. I was jealous it was true, I would have loved to have been sat on the settee holding his hand and I'm sure that you have felt the same way too at some time.
I have written before how I felt that way in college about Jessica, but the pain of her past and her inability to deal with it made continuing on with her an unhealthy proposition.
I'm thinking of applying to come and work in a summer school in America over my three months summer break. That's if I'm still at college of course. I've had a list already of the camps that I can choose to go and study on. Apparently the biggest one is near (in between Kansas City and St. Louis). I know that I've only been to one part of America, but I thought it was wonderful. I've already picked up a brochure of a beautiful house with trees like this,
She drew a tiny picture of what appears to be palm trees.  I don't know if she's still talking about Missouri or someplace else.
They almost flow or lap over one another. I've decided that once I've become qualified I'd come over and look for a job. I know that I have too many illusions about what American life is really like. I know when I stayed at [your Raytown friend's] I would have got a good idea, but I just like AMerican that much that I want to go and experience as much of it as I can.

Well, I can't think of that much more to tell you.

Take care, and I home to hear from you soon.

Lots of Love,
[Lady Darley]
The lady wants out -- out of the issues at home, out of the tribulations of university, out of the turmoil with her relationships. It seems America is her answer to so many issues. I can't tell you what I wrote to her in response -- reminding you again, I did not keep copies of my side of the conversation -- but I wish I could've found a way to tell her in love that changing locations, much less countries, doesn't solve everything.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Quick Look As Her Ladyship Waits

Lady Darley's next letter was actually a single card, dated April 14, 1992. She pined for information that I didn't have.
Dear Chris,

This is just a quick look at a note from me if you know what I mean.

How are you?

Is college going ok?

How did you go on with [your Raytown friend]?

Her Address Is: [Redacted], Raytown, MO 64138

Tel No: 816-[Redacted]

You couldn't do me another favour could you -- when I came to the U.S. a couple of years ago I never got a Kansas City sticker. Could you pick me one up and I'll buy you something here.


[Lady Darley]
Try finding a Kansas City sticker in Columbia, Missouri. Or St. Louis. Her ladyship would have to have patience until I got back to my homeland.

August 11, 1992: Another summer is nearly over for your humble servant as I prepare to enter my junior year at Mizzou, along with the world-famous journalism school. Lady Darley and I are still exchanging letters, albeit at a much slower pace. And still we anticipate each other's correspondence.
Dear Chris,

Thank you very much for your letter. I was quite surprised to return home from my holiday and there be a letter waiting for me. Oh boy, can't I tell that you aren't at college. I go home and when you're at college, I get about two letters a year, when you are at home. I get two letters or about equal number of months. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually quite pleased. When I didn't receive any letters from [your Raytown friend] I got quite depressed. I became more and more pleased when I received letters from my other penfriends.

How did my holiday go? Well, that really is the question. On the whole, I'd say that it was good. But the two girls that I went with got on my nerves more times than I can count on my hands. They'd do little things like walk off and leave me, ignore me when I spoke to them. I think it annoyed them that some guys who were staying in the hotel spoke to me and ignored [Redacted] and [Redacted]. I kept telling them they should speak to more people, but would they? It doesn't really take much to just say 'hi' to someone, and if they're nice back, you can talk. But no, all they wanted to do was eye up the men. I did look, but to tell you the the truth, I wasn't really interested in one of those casual one-night-stand holiday flings which [Redacted] and [Redacted] only seemed too pleased to accept. It was as though they'd forgotten all about AIDS or something. They actually had the nerve to laugh at me when I said about one guy, one girl, and only in a loving relationship, as though my beliefs were out of the ark. Maybe they are, but they're mine. And I really hate it when people take the mickey out of me. I guess I just get a little paranoid, but then really, don't we all?
"Take the mickey out of me" is a British slang expression meaning to take the fight or self-worth out of somebody in a subtle way, according to Urban Dictionary. At this point, my heart just breaks for Lady Darley. She is taking a principled and honourable stand, respecting herself and her virtue, and for that she is mocked. This is one of those times I wish I had said to her, "Don't be defined by your friends. Be defined by GOD."
I did come back from my holiday with quite a decent tan, except I wasn't really the kind of person to bear all so that I haven't got any tan lines, so I've obviously got some white bits. My sister's off to one of the Balearic Islands, Ibiza, on Friday. She's going with her boyfriend [Redacted], and I think that my Mom and Dad are a little apprehensive of them going. But she is actually twenty-one years old. Even if they are having sex, they've been going out since they were eighteen and have this really close relationship.

I enclose a postcard that I was going to send to you from Corfu. But I'm sorry to say that I actually ran out of money -- so I figured that I'd send it to you when I wrote to you again.
She actually didn't enclose it. A note on the outside of the envelope explained why: "I'll send you the postcard soon -- the envelope was too small."
I'm trying to find myself a job until I got to college at the end of September. But unfortunately I'm not having much luck so far. I work both days at the weekend, so I was looking for two or three in the week. I hope I get something soon. What I would give to be sweating at Six Flags.
That was where I was sweating, running games and making cash, mostly for my room and board since my Curators' Scholarship remained in full force. I was going to get through college and come out free of any loans, costing my parents only a paltry sum compared to what they could've paid.
Your brother Mike sounds like a really nice guy. People would just like you because you didn't crack onto people. It really used to ignore annoy me how they'd say to be different is good because I naturally used to assume my sister's different was better than my own. It's only on my good days that I think we're equal, or maybe a little better. He's no better than you!
I don't know what I wrote to prompt that response, but I'll take it.
Paranoia will definitely set in if you spend most of your time wondering what people say about you when you're not there. You could spend your whole life wondering. (Don't worry.)
Up next, I'm not sure what she's talking about.
Which 'silly stupid girls night out' was that? I went on so many when I'd finished my A-levels. We kind of all hung out with one another, laughing and joking and remembering past times. We'd sit and talk about men of the past. One of the most used jokes was my infatuation with one of class clowns. But I thought he was lovely.

I will send you a photo soon as I find them again. When I was away on holiday, my parents had our house re-wired. They took all the stuff out of my room and now I can't find a thing. I will remember -- honestly.

Did you watch the tennis at Wimbledon? I absolutely loved the final. I was at work at the time, but we listened on the radio, which is quite a suspense builder. I think Andre Agassi really deserved to win -- Goran [Ivanisevic] was far too arrogant.
Tennis on radio? Isn't that too quick to call? I've never heard it, but never mind...
I know that a lot of my relatives didn't want him to win as they resented the fact he was American. Not against the American race, but just because my parents said the Americans used to win everything a while ago. I guess it was jealousy. Never mind!
Or hard feelings. They won the Revolution, too.
[Rose]'s getting better at her job. She's being sent on a head office course down to London, gives her greater prospects with the choice of top management. She's on the way up, I think. I hope at least she won't waste her talent.

Half of me would like to spend my whole summer writing, but I really need the chance to get at least a couple of hundred in the bank. Just for the odd thing I need at college -- so I don't have to pester my parents.
Here we go into some current events, like a recent tell-all on Princess Diana.
The 'Diana' book was a lot more earth-shaking to the the British constitution. The Royal Family are really important to Britain, and to be truthful, I don't think any other country truly understands. We feel we have a right to know what they do -- but get angry at anyone who invades their privacy. I got really annoyed at the fact that no one even gave Andrew Morton the benefit of the doubt. To me he seemed truthful, like he really felt that he would help Diana by writing it. Prince Charles seems almost alien to her and that must be awful in the kind of life she has to lead.
We turn to what's on the telly.
I love L.A. Law too. I think we must be years behind over here -- but there's just something about it that really interests me. Yes, Red Dwarf still runs over here, but I guess they're still doing re-runs. That is one hell of a decent show.
I had written to my Raytown friend, the one who had introduced me to Lady Darley in the first place, at Lady Darley's request, hoping to get some sort of an explanation of why she had not been communicating with her British friend. Nothing came.
[Your Raytown friend] really [bleeped] me off when she hasn't even the common decency to reply to your letter. And she couldn't even be bothered to turn and tell me. And I thought we got on well. Please try and get her on the phone. It may have been a long time ago, but I would still like to know what did you write and say to [her], I would really like to know. I can't really imagine what you'd come up with.

Wish me luck because it's only about four weeks till I get my results. If I don't get my results, I will be really depressed. I worked real hard so I really hope I get what I need. Keep your fingers crossed!

Write Soon,
[Lady Darley]

P.S. Why wouldn't you give me your address at college? Are you ashamed of writing to me, that's why you didn't want me to write there so your college buddies wouldn't know?

I'm right, yes?
Actually, no. In my four years of college, I changed dorm addresses four times. As little as we were exchanging letters, it didn't make sense to keep giving Lady Darley new addresses that might not be right for mail that might not get forwarded.

But I would give in to her and send her my college location, at her own risk.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Disruption In Time And Space, Friends And Place

Advisory:  this letter and some of my recollections based on on it contain slightly mature content.

College work, summer work, and other matters jumped ahead of Lady Darley's correspondence in the priority line. So by the time I wrote Lady Darley again, I was in my sophomore year at Mizzou. By the time she replied, I was starting the winter semester. This time, she had plenty to say, in two handwritten loose-leaf single-spaced stream-of-consciousness pages dated January 7th, 1992 and tagged with a notepad slip to contain a few closing words she couldn't squeeze onto them.
Dear Chris,

I know that it took you about six months to actually reply to my letter -- but I thought I'd reply reasonably soon anyway.
Christmas -- well, yes -- I like it really because I just love being around relations and little children. I know that sounds really bad but it's just a fact. I guess my sister is real [bleep] at the moment -- more than usual. She's got the attitude which actually appears to say I'm it and you're [bleep]. If she has to be like that then I don't see why she has to be at our house. She's spending a lot of time with her boyfriend [Redacted]. If my mum and dad are honest then they're not actually very keen -- but as my sister says really frequently, it's her that has to go out with him. I guess I just with that she had some taste. He's twenty in a couple of weeks and is a trained pilot -- but has yet to get a job. It sounds a bit suspect to me that he's supposed to have all these qualifications and yet he can't even get a job in the local supermarket. But I suppose my sister is bound to stick up for him really -- as she reckons they're really serious. As you can probably tell, I don't really think she's that great. How old is your little brother -- I seem to remember something about you saying he was around my age.
At that time, he was around Lady Darley's age, and chugging his way through high school.
I was back at school yesterday -- it's really boring and I suppose in a way I'm looking forward to leaving in May.
Here's where the letter pauses in time. She adds a side note: "This is later in the day," before picking up and delving into some candid reflections.
It's really true. I guess I'm waiting for a new challenge -- as my school is a secure environment for me now as I've been there for seven years now. All of my friends go there, and a vast amount of everyone I know lives in and around my area.

I guess I could say that I'm actually quite worried about a friend of mine at school. I may have told you about her -- her name is [Molly]. She was really smart and hard working in our G.C.S.E., that was up to sixteen. Now, she's far from hard working and has received several warnings from school. I must admit that I think everyone treats it like a joke -- people feel at ease to know that they'll never be at the bottom of class as [Molly] will be there. That may be reassuring for us, but I don't think [Molly] is aware of the fact that she'll never be really happy when she realizes she's wasted 2 years. We used to be quite close before she got to know a girl called [Jackie]. Both girls have close relationships with their boyfriends and they both like to boast of how many time they did 'it' last night. [Molly] thinks it's fun to talk in graphics detail but really I have no desire to know. I only end up wondering whether he'd feel as open when he spoke to us all if he knew that [Molly] was yarning us of how difficult it was doing it standing up. I know that if the roles were reversed, I'd be pretty cheesed off.

I may actually be going on holiday with two friends from school -- we wanted to trot off to the Florida Keys and rent an apartment, but my dad said it was rather a large no-no. The next thing we chose was Cleveland, Ohio, where [Abby's] relations live. But I guess there isn't actually too much to see. At the moment we are actually looking into spending three weeks in a beach resort, Lido di Jesolo. We, well that's my mum and Dad and me -- I thought it was, it was excellent. [Abby] and I should have a really time time looking around the sights and things. We can go windsurfing, riding on pedales, windskiing and sunbathing. I keep trying to tell my mum and dad that I won't be going to any bars because I'm actually so good. If they believe that, they'll believe anything. I'm always so good -- the fact that I had one too many several times over Christmas had nothing to with it. (he!!)
I'm not sure if it was that last Christmas, but I remember being at my Aunt Shrirley's house and gulping down a few shots of Broog's Strawberry Liqueur. I didn't think it tasted like alcohol; it went down more like Ocean Spray. Either something in that booze was bad, or I contracted food poisoning somewhere else, but I ended up praying to the porcelain goddess that night on several occasions. And even after I had sacrificed all, the dry heaves followed me all the way from Kansas City to St. Louis, where a spare super suppository known as Compazine ended the ritual.
I've had my exams about four weeks ago. They went is really the way to explain it. I passed every one of the ones I took, although they were actually not as good as I'd hoped. I've been told it's a good starting point to build upon. But the idea of the fact that I have to spend several hours and I mean several studying over some books that don't even interest me. But I guess that's just life. Don't you just hate spending a lot of time on exams. I suppose it would actually be a lot better if I liked my A-levels. English, I do, but as far as Sociology goes -- it was really boring. Well, there are better things.
My life is studying and keeping my grades up. I have a powerful motivator: if I keep above a 3.75 GPA, my Curator's Scholarship -- that tuition free-ride -- fully renews for another year. Less than that, and I get partial money. But I want it all.
I can't really say that I'm looking forward to going to college -- but then I'm going to explain something. In a way, I am as I'm going on to something new, studying for three years on something that I do actually love. I've applied to several college nearish to us -- Derby College of HIgher Education, Sheffield Polytechnic, North Cheshire College Warrington, and Lancashire Polytechnic. I would like to go to Derby or Sheffield as they're far enough away -- but close enough to come home occasionally. I'm doing a combined degree in all places of media and film studies combined with journalism and photography. I personally believe that this will actually give me a better opportunity to become employed as a writer. What do you actually have planned for your life? I hope to criticize some people in journalism, gain some money and then move to the good 'ol U.S. for awhile to see if it will all work out. I really actually like the Kansas City area as, well I felt as though I kind of gelled -- maybe nobody else thought so but it wouldn't be the first time that I was on a completely different wavelength to everybody else.
In 1992, I was months away from starting my journalism studies. I didn't know if it was exactly the right fit for your humble servant, but given the opportunity to study at one of the world's great journalism schools -- and on the university's dime -- I'd be fool to pass up the opportunity. I'd worry about the rightness later.

Lady Darley pauses again and picks up two days later. The sidebar reads "09 January," but she's not quite back on that wavelength she probably desires. And she's a little desperate.
Well it's the next day. I've been really busy as I'm trying to get all my notes in check for when I have to start revising. I have three pieces of coursework and a project on the go -- so I'm bit strapped as you can imagine.

Now for [your Raytown friend] -- well actually for me it's quite a touchy subject. You have probably gathered through my letter that I am actually quite a shy person and only really open up to them once I know them. But I'm only tell you this as it will explain what I'm trying to tell you. I probably told you this many times, but I felt totally different when I met Kate. We appeared to be very similar in what we liked and disliked except she was far outgoing than me. When I arrived I thought we got on really well, we spent several times talking to one another. But obviously I got a different impression of the relationship we had obviously as she had written to me for ages -- well I'd say it was ten months. My mother just tells me to let go of the friendship we once shared and just remember my good holiday. But I don't think she understand, as I get older I look back on the holiday and think oh yes, it was nice, but she never spoke to me again.

I've been racking my brain about whether I must have done something to offend her -- and the only thing I can think of is that once she asked me to comment on all of her boyfriends. She know all of my opinions on that, which I won't go into right now, but I guess she despises it for me now. As I read through this page it sounds like a load of old sentimental claptrap. But I hope you will understand me when I say you kind of jell with someone, you kind of regret abandoning it.

I haven't actually dared to ring her because I could get so agitated if she was totally rude to me. But could you do me a really big favour? I would really appreciate it. I know you can't get her to write -- but I just would like you to write or ring her and ask her why. I have come to realize now that she won't write for some reason, but I would love to know why. Whatever it is, I would like you to ring her and find out why -- ringing would be better if you don't mind, then she can't not replay. I know you haven't spoken to her for such a long time, and I appreciate it may actually be difficult -- but you can't appreciate how I would be pleased to know why. I know that [she] will probably cringe at my desperation, but it's just a fact of life. I'll give you her address and phone number at the end of this. I would appreciate it so much as I have no other way to find out.
Again, remember that I have only one side of the conversation. And I also have my fading memory. I can't remember if I wrote my Raytown friend or tried to call her. But I can also remember I never heard back from her, either way.
How is your writing going at the moment, or don't you have that much time to devote to it now that you have to go to college full time! I know that I would love to spend all of my time writing, but I guess I would feel a lack of personal involvement with people. I need to be around people, I guess.
I didn't have that need, but every so often, when I wasn't burned out from school work or other papers, I would plunge back into the world of the unfinished novel I had created, writing and wallowing in it. I had no deadlines to finish it. I found myself content to just wallow in what was finished and add a little bit to it at a time. That's less like writing a book and more like escapism.
I'm trying to get into my photography when I actually have some spare time. I guess I just feel the need to have an artistic skill. I do appreciate art, ballet, etc., but I'm not really good at anything -- but rather average at photography.
I got an international roommate for my sophomore year -- Ting Chay from Singapore. I got on with him much better than Andy, seeing as we were both journalism students, both studyholics and both broadcast news junkies. He was getting a free ride from the Singapore Broadcast Corporation, and a job was waiting for him after college. That's a great deal all the way around. Chay kept mostly to himself, although I loved meeting his friends when they occasionally ventured into the dorm. Every so often I'd get a call from a girl asking for "Tingy."
About this boy that you're sharing rooms with? I personally would believe that the exchange student sharing a room with them, if you know what I mean, would be really interesting. Tingy sounds like quite a fun typed guy, someone that you can really have fun with. I don't really have any justification to not like as he appears to be really studious -- like you! I don't really believe that you could actually get a better roommate. Don't you actually get any choice in who shares your room with you? I bet it can be really a little disturbing if you don't get on with your roommate, would they move you? What's Chay studying? You don't really explain that much!
I probably didn't. Or Lady Darley forgot. But getting Chay was my choice since I rolled the dice and desired to opportunity to have an international roommate. I figured that might be a better fit for your humble servant, although I didn't know why. My Queen Mother was not so sure, as was the Royal Father. What bothered them a little more was that they never spotted Chay during those times they picked me up to go back home to St. Louis for a weekend, or elsewhere.

"He's like The Phantom," my mother once said.

I only just saw Silence of the Lambs on video and I believe it was actually an amazing film. It appears to me to be a sad world when there are people around in the world like that. He [Hannibal?] really was once kind of ousted man. Robin Hood [Prince of Thieves] had a lot of hype in my area as it's almost a regional film. The only thing that disappointed us was the fact that Kevin Costner never entered the woods around Nottingham -- but it was filmed in Hertfordshire, Southern England. It's such a pity that we couldn't have met -- as we've been to each other's part of the world but never met? What do you reckon to Nottingham? I think it's great.
Months earlier, I had been to Lady Darley's beautiful country with my family, to London and Scotland and Nottingham. But I didn't get the chance to meet her. If I had only written to her like I should've, we could have set something up.
Please write me as I'm beginning to believe that I'm losing touch with all the people I know in America. [Your Raytown friend] has taken offence over something I said even though I don't know why.

I will be eternally grateful to you if you can write to [her], or ring preferably and let me know as soon as possible.

Take Care of Yourself,
[Lady Darley]
She forgot to include the address she said she would give me for that friend she hadn't heard from, the one who had -- according to Lady Darley's previous letter -- apparently forgot who I was.