67 looks different now

One of my all-time favorite books has always been The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. It’s a lovely novel about good-hearted, hard-working people living in a terrible time of death, destruction, and fear – the days of World War II. It is also written in a simple, delicious style, reflective of a certain simple goodness that much of our society no longer seems to prize.

In the course of the story, Homer Macaulay, a 14-year-old boy whose father has died and whose brother Marcus is away at the war, takes a job at the local telegraph office. There he meets Mr. Spangler, the manager, and Willie Grogan, the old-time telegrapher.

The following excerpt from the novel has always moved me because of Saroyan’s writing, but now more than ever since as of today I am no longer sixty-seven years old, the same age as Willie.

Homer sings “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Grogan

Spangler asked suddenly, “You know where Chatterton’s Bakery is on Broadway? Here’s a quarter. Go get me two day-old pies — apple and cocoanut cream. Two for a quarter.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said. He caught the quarter Spangler tossed to him and ran out of the office. Spangler looked after him, moving along into idle, pleasant, nostalgic dreaming. When he came out of the dream, he turned to the telegraph operator and said, “What do you think of him?”  

“He’s a good boy,” Mr. Grogan said.  

“I think he is,” Spangler said. “Comes from a good, poor family on Santa Clara Avenue. No father. Brother in the Army. Mother works in the packing-houses in the summer. Sister goes to State College. He’s a couple of years underage, that’s all.”  

“I’m a couple overage,” Mr. Grogan said. “Well get along.”  

Spangler got up from his desk. “If you want me,” he said, “I’ll be at Corbett’s. Share the pies between you—” He stopped and stared, dumbfounded, as Homer came running into the office with two wrapped-up pies.  

“What’s your name again?” Spangler almost shouted at the boy.  

“Homer Macauley,” Homer said.  

The manager of the telegraph office put his arm around the new messenger. “All right, Homer Macauley,” he said. “You’re the boy this office needs on the night-shift. You’re probably the fastest-moving thing in the San Joaquin valley. You’re going to be a great man some day, too— if you live. So see that you live.” He turned and left the office while Homer tried to understand the meaning of what the man had said.  

“All right, boy,” Mr. Grogan said, “the pies.”  

Homer put the pies on the desk beside Mr. Grogan, who continued to talk. “Homer Macauley,” he said, “my name is William Grogan. I am called Willie, however, although I am sixty-seven years old. I am an old-time telegrapher, one of the last in the world. I am also night wire-chief of this office. I am also a man who has memories of many wondrous worlds gone by. I am also hungry. Let us feast together on these pies— the apple and the cocoanut cream. From now on, you and I are friends.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

The old telegraph operator broke one of the pies into four parts, and they began to eat cocoanut cream.  

“I shall, on occasion,” Mr. Grogan said, “ask you to run an errand for me, to join me in song, or to sit and talk to me. In the event of drunkenness, I shall expect of you a depth of understanding one may not expect from men past twelve. How old are you?’

“Fourteen,” Homer said, “but I guess I’ve got a pretty good understanding.”  

“Very well,” Mr. Grogan said. “I’ll take your word for it. Every night in this office I shall count on you to see that I shall be able to perform my duties. A splash of cold water in the face if I do not respond when shaken— this is to be followed by a cup of hot black coffee from Corbett’s.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

“On the street, however,” Mr. Grogan continued, “the procedure is quite another thing. If you behold me wrapped in the embrace of alcohol, greet me as you pass, but make no reference to my happiness. I am a sensitive man and prefer not to be the object of public solicitude.”  

“Cold water and coffee in the office,” Homer said. “Greeting in the street. Yes, sir.”  

Mr. Grogan went on, his mouth full of cocoanut cream. “Do you feel this world is going to be a better place after the War?”  

Homer thought a moment and then said, “Yes, sir.”  

“Do you like cocoanut cream?” Mr. Grogan said.  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

The telegraph box rattled. Mr. Grogan answered the call and took his place at the typewriter, but went on talking. “I, too, am fond of cocoanut cream,” he said. “Also music, especially singing. I believe I overheard you say that once upon a time you sang at Sunday School. Please be good enough to sing one of the Sunday School songs while I type this message from Washington, D. C.”  

Homer sang Rock of Ages while Mr. Grogan typed the telegram. It was addressed to Mrs. Rosa Sandoval, 1129 G Street, Ithaca, California, and in the telegram the War Department informed Mrs. Sandoval that her son, Juan Domingo Sandoval, had been killed in action.  

Mr. Grogan handed the message to Homer. He then took a long drink from the bottle he kept in the drawer beside his chair. Homer folded the tele- gram, put it in an envelope, sealed the envelope, put the envelope in his cap and left the office. When the messenger was gone, the old telegraph operator lifted his voice, singing Rock of Ages. For once upon a time he too had been as young as any man.

Saroyan, William, The Human Comedy, Harcourt, Brace and Company (1943)

Willie is 67, and has lived a hard life. Alcoholism takes its toll. I don’t feel as old as Willie, but I haven’t lived through two world wars or known the privations of the Depression. But the number stuck in my mind, and brought back these recollections.

Age is a funny thing. It’s relative. When I first read The Human Comedy as a young man (one of the few books that has ever made me weep like a grade-schooler), sixty-seven seemed far, far away and ancient. Now that I’ve passed that mark, aside from the wear and tear that comes with an aging body I don’t feel as old as Willie – somehow I’m still around 24 inside. Or sometimes 15. Or sometimes five.

I remember that even as a child, I was amused by Gelett Burgess’ poem “Consideration” found in Goops and How To Be them:

When you’re old, and get to be
Thirty-four or forty-three,
Don’t you hope that you will see
Children all respect you?

Will they, without being told,
Wait on you, when you are old,
Or be heedless, selfish, cold?
hope they’ll not neglect you!

But it’s important to remember that life expectancy has changed radically over the last century and a half.

  • Today, in 2019, the average human can expect to live to age 79.
  • in 1943 when The Human Comedy was published, the average US life expectancy for a male was 62.4, so Willie was well past the mark.
  • In 1900, when The Goops was written, the number was considerably lower: 46.3
  • And in 1853 when Herman Melville wrote “Bartleby the Scrivener,” lower still – around 38, so the narrator can be forgiven for calling himself “a rather elderly man,” ” somewhere not far from sixty.”

Much of the rising life expectancy can be attributed to advances in medical science, the eradication of many infectious diseases, and the judicious application of vaccines against diseases such as polio, smallpox, and the many childhood diseases that carried so many people away.

Public Service Announcement: Vaccines are generally safe and prevent far more suffering than they cause.

I’m to the point now where I can no longer count on the fingers of both hands the number of family members, friends and associates who have graduated from mortality at an age younger than I am today. We never know when our number will be called; like everyone else I will board the bus (“Heart and Souls” reference) when it comes for me, and while I hope for significantly more time here on earth I will be grateful for what I’ve been given. By the standards of days gone by, I’ve already beaten the odds by a mile.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Internet’s Addiction to Anger

Generally I use this forum to express thoughts of my own, but now and then I encounter something that someone else wrote which expresses what I’m feeling far better than I ever could.

This article is one such. It’s worth reading, every word. Includes a quote from one of my favorite writers, Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station.

The Exaltation of Anger

This is something that I have struggled with since the dawn of the internet, and long before.

I remember my sense of dismay when I read a letter in the newspaper (remember those?) to an advice column, from a reader who basically said “my husband’s kind of a slob but he’s a good man and I love him.” Shortly after that, the columnist posted a response from some uppity SJW who had to write back to the effect that “My husband cleans up after himself, and I’m so much better than you, you worthless doormat.” I was saddened that the columnist felt a need to diminish an honest sentiment for the sake of readership.

Nowadays the outrage over anything and everything flows like the Mississippi River, wide, full, and neverending. Anytime something begins showing up on the Internet as a meme or a recurring joke, you know there’s some truth behind it.


In 1960, A.J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” In our day, the Internet provides a pulpit and a bullhorn to every genius, idiot, savior, preacher, or troll who has access to a terminal. And the cacophony can be overwhelming.

I learned from reading the linked article that Wil Wheaton (aka Wesley Crusher) just walked away from a Twitter account with 4,000,000 followers because so many people were not following what has come to be known as Wheaton’s law: “Don’t be a dick.” If a celebrity who has dedicated his life to making the world a better place has to step back from the fury, you know it’s bad out there.

And the thing is, it’s not just opinions. The Greeks have a saying: “Η γλώσσα κόκαλα δεν έχει και κόκαλα τσακίζει” (I glossa kokala then exi kai kokala tsakizi). It means, “The tongue has no bones, but it breaks bones.” This kind of madness hurts. Actress Kelly Marie Tran who played Rose Tico in “The Last Jedi” had to leave Instragram because of months of harassment from drooling, racist cretins. And that’s just a crying shame.

People need to just clean up their acts and begin cultivating a sense of social decency rather than unbridled rage, rudeness, meanness, and bullying. As a species we will never be able to crawl out of the mud and shoot for the stars unless it happens.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

In praise of the writers

I’m just coming down from a rather intense Blue Bloods high, after having binged Season 4 on Netflix. Not exactly sure what prompted me to start watching this one, but it hooked me right away… perhaps it was Tom Selleck, whom I have long adored as an actor, or perhaps it’s because at heart and always I’m a New York City boy.

Commissioner Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck

Mr. Selleck, as usual, plays an excruciatingly ethical character. He seems to ooze goodness, even when his rôles portray very human (with all the warts) individuals. And the lines he delivers leave one breathlessly hoping that there really are people like Commissioner Frank Reagan out there.

But those lines… well, they aren’t really his. He takes them from the script, and makes them his own, and follows the director’s guidance, and delivers them with incredible grace and stolidity and aplomb, much like Patrick Stewart does as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but they were written by someone else. Or several someones. And it is not lost on me that an incredible speech or soliloquy delivered by Mr. Selleck or Sir Patrick are lines from the minds of people who only get a single line of text as credit for each episode. People in the background, whose faces we never see, but people who deserve just as much praise as those in front of the camera.

Picard’s line, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” probably came from Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, or Ronald Moore. The incredible soliloquy by Soren in the TNG episode, “The Outcast,” was likely written by Jeri Taylor, who also wrote “The Drumhead.” Melinda M. Snodgrass examined in excruciating detail the issues of what defines a human being as a free agent or property. And unless there’s some unrevealed ad-libbing in Blue Bloods, every amazing thing that Frank Reagan says (along with all the other recurring characters) came from the pen of a writer.

Now, forgive me for waxing a bit scriptural here, but in the New Testament book of Matthew we read,

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.”

(Matthew 7:17)

Good fountains don’t bring forth bitter water. Bad human beings don’t write the amazing kinds of things one hears in TV dramas like this. Someone who is not dedicated to the cause of humanity clawing itself out of the mud and reaching for the stars can’t write like this.

In the end, the outstanding quality of a show like Blue Bloods, or the Next Generation, or Fringe depends on everything coming together – producers, directors, writers, actors, cameramen, editors, sound technicians, stunt people, special effects people… the whole ball of wax. It’s seldom that you get everything clicking just right. But it’s usually the thoughts behind the show that provide the biggest takeaway, and for those feelings that we are left with we have the writers to thank.

Hats off!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The many faces of Dr Pepper

I touched upon brand imitation in a previous post, but a recent image posted on Facebook by an acquaintance of mine made me want to revisit one such example in detail.

55 Dr Pepper clones. There are more.

While Wikipedia relates many details about the brand and its history, apparently the original owners failed to trademark the “Dr.” part of its name, and as a result there are almost more doctors in grocery stores than you can find at an AMA convention.

Hannaford’s version of Dr Pepper. Not bad, actually, and half as expensive as the real thing. Sadly, the diet version has recently disappeared from shelves in the 12-pack form, and can only be found in 2-liter bottles. Hannaford was both obscure and uninformative when I pressed local management and national customer service as to reasons why.

I have found two fairly complete lists of Dr Pepper clones out there.

I never dreamed that there could be so many.

The origins of Dr Pepper are fraught with rumors; what is known is that the formula was originated by pharmacist Charles Alderton of Brooklyn, NY in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. The Dr Pepper FAQ reports that “Dr Pepper is a unique blend of 23 flavors.” Prune juice, despite popular opinion, is not one of them. There is a suggestion that Alderton wanted to come up with a soda that had the smell of walking into an old soda shop. Its formula is as closely guarded as that of CocaCola™.

Whether these alignments are based on the names or on one person’s assessment of the relative accuracy of the flavor, I have not been able to determine, but I thought it was funny at any rate.

As for who owns Dr Pepper, that is also a tale of the ages. It’s now marketed by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a business unit of the conglomerate Keurig Dr Pepper. (You can see Dr Pepper on the far left in the image at this post – it was at that time still a part of Cadbury Schweppes.)

But regardless of who owns it, or who distributes it (sometimes it’s the local Coke distributor, sometimes it’s the Pepsi people), as long as it continues to be available in some form or other I’ll be happy.

My poison of choice

The Old Wolf has spoken.

My Facebook Manifesto

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Two suggestions I’d make to Facebook would be the ability to make a post “sticky” (so that it always appears at the top of my timeline) and the ability to disable comments for any post. That would pretty much solve a lot of issues I find with this online corner of my world.

Until that happens, however, I craft this little “manifesto” in an effort to uncomplicated my life a bit.

There are only so many minutes in a day, and only so much energy – physical and emotional – that I have available for use in moving my life forward and making a difference in the world before my earthly sojourn is over. I enjoy sharing bits of my life and my thoughts and things that I think are important or just ways to brighten someone’s day on Facebook, but endless political/social debates are draining and serve no purpose.

My online presence is essentially an extension of my home. I wouldn’t let someone come into my house and decorate it, in the words of Huck Finn, with “the ignorantest kind of words and pictures made with charcoal.” And while I have nothing against honest and meaningful exchange of ideas, the Internet has changed the way people interact – and I don’t have time to read or deal with the conflicting opinions of thousands of people. It’s just too draining.

So it comes to this: My wall is not a place for political debate. I will post things I believe, things that are important to me, and things I want to see happen in the world. Or sometimes just something to make others smile. If I see a comment appear on one of my posts or a link on my wall that I don’t happen to agree with, I’ll simply delete it – without fanfare and without response. This doesn’t mean I don’t value you as a friend or as a person – it just means that I’m doing some virtual housecleaning. If you have differing opinions, you have your own page: feel free to use it as a place to express those things that are important to you. If I’m interested, I’ll come over and see what the opposition is thinking. That said, sometimes (rarely) I get caught out posting something that’s patently false because it seemed plausible and I didn’t do my research. I’m always grateful for vigilant friends pointing out my folly.

It works both ways. Your wall is like your home, and I’ll do my best to keep my mouth shut if I see things you post that are not in harmony with my beliefs. My one exception to this is if I see someone posting things that are hateful, hurtful, bigoted, or abusive – in such cases I would have no compunctions about speaking out.

To me, this approach makes more sense than blocking or unfriending people whose friendship I value, and from whom I doubtless have much to learn in many areas – and it will help me to preserve my sanity in these most “interesting” times.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

Cannabis: the case against decriminalization

Cross-posted from Livejournal and updated 11-8-2018

☞ The executive summary is, “Because it doesn’t go far enough.” ☜

A photo gallery at Time Magazine brought this issue to the front of my mind again, where it has been many times. Swirling around in the mass of insignificant facts and rabid squirrels that inhabit my brain are thoughts that keep coming back to me over and over again, many of which have to do with the overwhelming societal cost that we are paying for a failing war on drugs.

If recent statistics (CDC, 2009) are to be believed, 6.6% of people over 12 were using marijuana at least once a month – a total of 23.1 million people (minus the ones under 12). That’s us. We’re the ones who are funding the carnage in Mexico as drug cartels battle for turf and slaughter countless people in their quest for American drug dollars.

Prohibition is Ineffective

We saw how well Prohibition worked… all it did was put the country’s alcohol revenue into the hands of the criminal element. Whenever money is to be made, the bad guys will be there in force, because they don’t care how they get it.

“Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition.” Cato Institute Policy Analysis

The Social Costs are considerably less than those associated with tobacco and alcohol

The societal costs of alcohol are enormous, whereas the social impact of cannabis use is significantly less.

“In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.” (Cannabis, Tobacco and Alcohol Use in Canada)

I can’t recall the last time I heard of some high-flying husband beating his wife and children; it’s hard to be aggressive when you’re giggling. That’s said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but in all my life I have never encountered an angry pot user, whereas the number of bar fights that go on in cities and towns all around America, followed by nights in the slammer and subsequent taking out of infantile anger on innocent domestic partners and children is beyond anyone’s ability to count. The same holds true for violent crime, sexual assault and date rape.

Ask any emergency-room doc, nurse, or EMT: alcohol use contributes to reckless behavior and serious injuries, and it is highly associated with emergency room visits; such visits directly associated with cannabis would hardly make a blip on the radar.

Take the Money Away From the Criminal Element

Drug tunnels like these, as well as illegal farms in national forests and elsewhere, with all their associated risks to innocent citizenry, would become a thing of the past if cannabis were freely available, regulated and taxed in the same way tobacco is.

“The libertarian Cato Institute just issued a detailed statistical analysis on how ending prohibition – a favored term for supporters of pot reform – could help America’s budget woes. According to the much-discussed study, legalizing all illicit drugs would save the government $41.3 billion a year in law-enforcement costs and generate some $46.7 billion in tax revenue; marijuana would account for $8.7 billion of the savings, and another $8.7 billion in taxes. Legalized marijuana would certainly help fatten state coffers in debt-crippled California, where pot is the biggest agricultural crop, with $14 billion a year in sales that never appear on tax returns.” (Newsweek, “The Conservative Case for Legalizing Pot”).

Further thoughts on the tax advantages appeared in the LA Times on 8/27/10.

Prosecution of recreational THC users and those who require it for valid medical reasons is wasting billions of tax dollars directly and indirectly, and taking valuable law enforcement hours away from issues that are significantly more important. Based on everything I’ve seen, heard and read, legalization will have a negligible impact on usage which is already there, and will have societal benefits far greater than any potential increase in disadvantages.

I’m by no means for blanket legalization of all illicit drugs, but at this point marijuana appears to be a no-brainer in terms of cost-benefit analysis. The usage is already there. In a sense, not legalizing it is an immoral act, given how much blood and carnage is resulting from the activity of the Mexican cartels which we are directly funding.

If people could walk down to their local package store for some quality-controlled, legal cannabis, who in their right mind would risk buying it from illegal sources? The illegal marijuana market would simply dry up.

There will be those who question why I’m taking such a position, especially in light of my own religion’s stance on the use of things as mild as tea and coffee, let alone alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Make no mistake: I’m convinced that if people would give up the use of all harmful and/or addictive substances, the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our nation would rise dramatically, and countless billions of dollars would be saved. That said, I am simply looking at the numbers. Legalization would save lives, free up law-enforcement resources, and redirect funds from the criminal element to other critical social needs. I can’t look at it any other way.

Progress is being made. Canada has legalized marijuana, and just this week they experienced a severe legal problem: there isn’t enough of it.

In the United States, the non-medical use of cannabis is decriminalized in 13 states (plus the U.S. Virgin Islands), and legalized in another 10 states (plus the District of Columbia and Northern Mariana Islands), as of November 2018. (Wikipedia)

It’s time to get cannabis out of the hands of criminals, and good people – who have committed an offense no worse than a three-martini lunch – out of prison.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Critics: Anton Ego and Mr. Cranky

There was a time when I didn’t know what a film or restaurant critic was. These were in the halcyon days of my youth, when I would go to restaurants or movies in New York City with my mother, the internet didn’t exist, and the only critics I knew about were “us.” [Of course, my mother, being a stage and commercial actress was well acquainted with reviews since the earliest days of her dramatic career, beginning in the 1920s (I think she appeared in an elementary school play at age 4), but she charitably kept me insulated from their mercuriality.]

We had successes and failures. As I have written about before, we loved Fonda del Sol, Xochitl, Mamma Leone’s, Proof of the Pudding, and many others.

We loved Peter Sellers as a comedian, but when we went to see “Only Two can Play,” my mother was mortified and I – at age 11 – was uncomfortable – we left the theater and mom demanded a refund.

Bottom line, we knew what we liked.

Then came the electronic age, with Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster, Yelp!, Wikipedia, UrbanSpoon (much better than Yelp, but sadly defunct), and access to reviews from hundreds of sources. And because these things are highly subjective and largely a matter of personal opinion¹, reviews varied widely from one pole to the other, and I often found that if reviews of a movie were negative I would come away from a movie I had enjoyed, wondering what the critics were talking about.

The best summation of a critic’s rôle I think I ever heard came in the beautiful soliloquy of Anton Ego in the dénouement of “Ratatouille,” for which credit must be given to the inestimable Brad Bird:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

Over time I came to see that most critics indeed would shred films because negative publicity got more traction, more buzz, or in modern parlance, more clicks – and hence more exposure for their particular brand. (There were exceptions of course – Siskel and Ebert’s point/counterpoint usually gave a good feel for consensus, and the Deseret News’ Chris Hicks tried to be honest without being snarky, meaning that I usually found myself in agreement with his assessments.)

But without question, the most savage movie reviewer of all time was Mr. Cranky, otherwise known as Jason Katzman.

cranky

From 1996 until 2008, Mr. Cranky reveled in writing the snarkiest, most deprecatory reviews one could imagine. His rating scale was only negative, with “one bomb” being the best one could hope for:

bombs

I once wrote to him, asking if there were any movies he liked, and he responded, “I don’t like movies.” As I learned when his website came to a close, this was simply part of his online persona. Much was revealed in his departing essay, making clear that his efforts over time were less about shredding movies than they were about shredding reviews and reviewers in general. I reproduce the entire essay below:

Mr. Cranky says “Goodbye!”

MESSAGE FROM YOUR HOST: In the summer of 1995, Hans Bjordahl and I were sitting in a friend’s dining room drinking beer when he posed this question: “Do you have any good ideas for a web site?” Hans was the creative director for a small internet firm about to build its first internet mall. I was the film critic for a local newspaper. After a few more beers for creative inspiration, Mr. Cranky was born.
The site began building in October of 1995 and was launched in February of 1996. It was an instant hit and the mall’s most frequented property. Traffic skyrocketed within the first three months. Emails came in fast and furious. Some were actually furious – mad at Mr. Cranky for trashing some recent film. There were death threats. However, most emails were ecstatic, thrilled that finally somebody was out there not blowing smoke up the ass of Hollywood, but dragging it over the coals for its failures. Mr. Cranky received mention in “The New York Times”, “The Guardian”, and many, many others. We were the “Cool Site of the Week”. When books printed lists of the best movie web sites, we were on them. The phone started ringing with offers of advertising revenue and such.

Much of the reward for doing Mr. Cranky all these years has been the excitement it created. There was a lot going on during the 1990’s and we frequently found ourselves in the midst of all kinds of developments. We were flown to San Francisco and wined and dined by an up and coming Internet company. We had our pictures taken for the Hollywood issue of “Vanity Fair”. We found ourselves with an agent and discussing book deals. Like most things that seem “pie in the sky” when you hear them, most of them fizzled out. Like most things, the excitement was never met by the potential financial rewards that seem to be mentioned in the same breath. That being said, Mr. Cranky did turn into a pleasant hobby with a small financial reward at the end of the year.

Even after the end of the Internet boom, Mr. Cranky still got by. We were excited to be picked up by “Redeye” in Chicago, a new type of daily directed at Gen Y. The feature was so well received that the editor of the Chicago Tribune mentioned it in one of her meetings. Google contacted us to assign our account its own ad representative – something they probably do for most accounts or groups of accounts, but still, it made us feel important.

Well, as they say, all good things…. Let’s face it, Mr. Cranky has been dying a slow death for a number of years now. It’s increasingly irrelevant, if not completely irrelevant. We’d rather sign off before that becomes the case and we’re probably already too late. Are there other reasons? Well, it’s not bringing in the revenue it once did. The time it takes to keep the site going is substantial. There’s too much other stuff to do. When I first started writing Mr. Cranky, I would sometimes see 8 movies in a week and make 6 trips to Denver from Boulder (70 miles RT). That was great when gas was $1.99. Now, not so much.

Before we retire Mr. Cranky, there are some questions that seem worth answering. Did one person write all the reviews? The answer: about 98% of the reviews were written by me, Jason Katzman. The other 2% were written by others, but mostly Hans, who took up the mantle when I was too tired or had a conflict. Not a single person ever figured out who wrote what even though we got many emails from people asking where “the real Mr. Cranky had gone”. In every instance, they were comparing two reviews I had written, just in very different styles.

Another question that was asked of me often was “Are there any movies you like?” I’m proud to say I never once answered that question and we never tried to pander to the people who just didn’t get it. Not only are there movies I like, I usually enjoy most movies in some way, shape or form. It’s actually pretty rare when I watch a film that has no redeeming value. Is there anybody out there who really thinks that I would spend as much time as I do watching movies if I didn’t enjoy it?

That being said, the reasons we started Mr. Cranky are more than simply “we like to make fun of people”. There are the simple ones, like we wanted to reject the culture of celebrity worship, which is utterly repulsive. Unfortunately, it’s only grown larger since Mr. Cranky started. During my time as a film critic, I did tons of interviews and went on lots of junkets. I can tell you, generally-speaking, most actors aren’t that interesting and aren’t that smart and will rarely tell you the truth about something, particularly what they think about another person in the industry (there are some exceptions, of course: John Sayles, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Guillermo del Toro come to mind. There are also the few stars one meets before they’re stars. I met Kate Winslet when she was 19, before the release of “Heavenly Creatures” and she told a story that I doubt she ever repeated).

A less obvious reason we started Mr. Cranky also emanates from some of these experiences. Film critics, in general (myself included), are full of themselves. They believe that their opinions actually matter. They also believe that somehow there’s a right and a wrong when it comes to film criticism. Mr. Cranky was started to thwart that notion by making fun of film critics and film criticism and pointing out that film writing could be subjective to the point of a critic who didn’t like anything. Besides, if these junkets proved one thing, it’s that most film critics could be swayed by nothing more than a plate of donuts (watching a group of largely fat film critics charge toward a free plate of food while in the midst of a junket in which they’re supposed to form unbiased opinions of the film is its own form of hell). And if the Internet has proved one salient Mr. Cranky point, it’s that anyone can be a film critic. The forums were put in place for just this reason. Mr. Cranky was the first site to invite the reader to challenge the film critic, in fact, to make that challenge a founding principle of the site.

And how could I depart without mentioning the site’s many fans – the Crankizens. There’s no doubt that the activity in the forums have powered the site over the years and become larger-than-life and something we never expected. Over the years, I’ve met a fair number of fans of the site and have been overwhelmed by it all. One of the people I met and befriended through Mr. Cranky is now a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. Early on, a fan from Perth, Australia embarked on a Mr. Cranky World Tour, visiting various places around the world populated by Mr. Cranky fans, culminating with a surprise visit by me in Los Angeles. Then there were the numerous Crankycons that spawned. I went to two: one in Toronto and one in Cedar Point in Ohio where I rode every roller coaster I was challenged to ride (keeping my cool on the world’s fastest, highest coaster, I might add). Heck, people met on Mr. Cranky and got married. I was truly humbled by the invitations and the interest in Mr. Cranky.

And we don’t want to completely close the door on this whole thing. For dedicated Crankizens, there is one sliver of hope: August 31 is our deadline to discontinue the site, but also the deadline to see if there’s any last-ditch means of selling or saving it. We’ve had ‘big plans’ for Cranky 2.0 many times over, but other priorities (not the least among them our “day jobs”) have always intervened, and at some point you’ve just gotta break that cycle and put up or shut up. Serious inquiries along those lines (i.e. those backed by serious levels of funding or remuneration) should be directed to mrcranky@mrcranky.com. Until that time, there won’t be anymore reviews, but the site and the “Goodbye Mr. Cranky” forum will be open for fans to search and recall the past.

Thanks to Randall Gaz for keeping the site going all these years. Thanks to Holley Irvine for all her design work. Thanks to Hans Bjordahl for all the hard work and 12 years of a partnership that was 99% fun with virtually no conflict whatsoever. And most of all, thanks to all the Mr. Cranky readers past and present who made writing Mr. Cranky so rewarding. It’s been a pleasure. We feel like Mr. Cranky introduced a certain style into the Internet world and we hope to hear Mr. Cranky mentioned when the history of the web is written. If not, we’ll be sure to contact whoever is doing the mentioning and tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine as only Mr. Cranky can.

The site is now passworded, but thanks to the miracle of the Wayback Machine, all of Mr. Cranky’s reviews are still accessible; if it ever comes to the Zombie Apocalypse and our electronic information vanishes, 100 of his most snarky reviews were published in a dead-tree edition. The reviews are interesting to peruse, especially the one-bomb category – if Cranky “hated a movie less than most,” it was usually guaranteed to be pretty good. That said, we didn’t always agree. The most scathing review he ever wrote was of “I am Sam,” and I thought that was a pretty tender film. (Note: Don’t read it if you either like the movie or have a sensitive soul.)

Nowadays, Rotten Tomatoes gives one a pretty good idea of which way the wind is blowing. A movie can have good critic reviews but be reviled by the general public, or vice versa. But for myself, it’s rare that I’ll read a review one way or another and decide to see or not see a movie based on critics’ opinions; I’ll generally give more credence to how the movie was received by viewers.

And in the end, like Mr. Cranky said, there are few movies that I don’t like on some level or other. Only rarely do I see a film and say at the end of it, “I want those two hours of my life back.” The last one to do that to both me and my wife was “The Lobster,” despite its 87% rating at RT, but an earlier one I actually took the time to write up myself at my Livejournal was “A Sound of Thunder;” my wife agreed.

Mercifully, those are few and far between.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ My opinions about food are, in the eyes of many people, questionable. Visit my Banquet from Hell for a taste.