Missing Her.jpgMichio Kaku and the late Stephen Hawking, a couple of spoilsports in my estimation, both have maintained that time travel to the past is impossible. Their conclusions throw cold water on an idea that has stirred the imaginations of writers, film-makers, and ordinary people from, you should pardon the expression, time immemorial.

But J.L. Willow (it’s a nom de plume) isn’t deterred by theoretical physics, and so she has employed time travel to the past—her own original take on it—as the critical factor in her new novel, Missing Her.

This is the writer’s second novel, and she has just graduated from high school and is en route to the study of mechanical engineering. Her first novel was The Scavenger, a tale rooted in the New York City drug culture; I wrote about that book here last April, focusing on Willow’s talent as a story teller and her inventiveness in structuring the story she tells.

J.L. Willow

J.L. Willow

I’m impressed with the same things in Missing Her in which a teenaged girl, Eliza, vanishes after leaving a party alone, and her closest friend, Vanessa, is determined to find out what became of her. I don’t want to drop a spoiler here, so I’m going to rely on the description of the plot that appears in the promotional material:

“Months pass without a break in the case, until one day Vanessa wakes up . . . in Eliza’s mind. Even more disturbing, she discovers she’s woken up two days before Eliza goes missing. Vanessa has no choice but to relive her best friend’s memories leading up to the disappearance and discover the truth about what happened. . . . But is the past set in stone?”

That last question is a point on which Kaku and Hawking and others have based their conclusion that we can’t go back. If we visited the past, we might change the present, and, as Hawking pointed out in a PBS series, if you visited the past you would already be there!

The paradoxes involved in going back in time play a part in the story Willow weaves, a story in which the time traveler is not walking around in plain sight in her own persona, but rather is observing events from within the mind of another person, at times influencing the behavior of that person—acutely aware of the risks involved in altering events that have already occurred. If and when she does get to the point at which Eliza vanished, how will she be able to prevent it?

Willow creates a perplexing mystery, so much so that I was late for work one day, because I had to read one more chapter—and I still had to drive to my office wondering where this story was going.

Somewhere around here, I have two citations I received for stories I wrote in the first grade. I have no recollection of those stories, and, while I never mastered fiction writing, I have been a writer all my life.

In that respect, J.L Willow and I are two of a kind, and that’s why reading her first published works, and being captivated by them, is such an exciting experience for me.

You can view the book trailer by clicking HERE.

 

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Doris Day - 6 - soap

DORIS DAY

If you ‘re looking for a way to do homage to Doris Day, who died today, I recommend The Thrill of It All, which she made in 1963. I’m not a fan of this genre, but this movie has been a favorite of ours since it appeared in theaters the year before we were married. The story is about Beverly Boyer, a perky wife and mother-of-two, who stumbles into a career as the spokesperson for a soap manufacturer.

Doris Day 10 - Garner - NBC

JAMES GARNER/NBC Universal

The fact that the principal product in this tale was called Happy Soap, will give you an idea of the tone of the movie. Beverly—played by Day, of course—makes a big salary from television commercials and becomes a celebrity, but the demands on her time play havoc with her marriage to Dr. Gerald Boyer, an obstetrician played by James Garner. And although I’m not crazy about slapstick, the scene in which Garner drives a Chevy convertible into a swimming pool tickles me every time I see it.

Doris Day - 11- Carl Reiner

CARL REINER

I have read that Carl Reiner, the comedy genius who wrote this screenplay with another genius, Larry Gelbart, had wanted Judy Holliday in the female lead, but Holliday became ill with what proved to be terminal cancer. I have also read that Ross Hunter, one of the producers, wanted to invite Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald to return to the screen in supporting roles, but they do not appear in the film.

Doris Day - 5 - Edward Andrews

EDWARD ANDREWS

As it turns out, the cast that did appear in this film was golden. The players included Arlene Francis, who was 56 at the time, as a patient of Garner’s character—a woman who is delighted to find herself pregnant well past the standard age for such an enterprise. Her equally delighted but frantic husband is played by Edward Andrews. I presume these were the roles Hunter had envisioned for Eddy and McDonald, but, with all due respect to those classic actors, no one could have played the parts for more laughs than did Francis and Andrews. In a scene in which the expectant couple gets stuck in city traffic when the birth is imminent, gives Andrews a chance to give the comic performance of his life.

The company also includes Reginald Owen, ZaSu Pitts, and Elliot Reid, and Reiner himself in some cameos.

Doris Day - 1I don’t know if most of the news reports of Doris Day’s death will adequately express the magnitude of her fame as a singer and movie actress. She was publicly recognized for that in many ways, including the Presidential Medial of Freedom. She was also a philanthropist with a particular interest in animal welfare.

A more jaded generation might dismiss The Thrill of It All for what it was, fluff, but it was designed as nothing more than entertainment, and it has entertained us again and again, and we have already planned to watch it again so that we can renew our appreciation for Doris Day. I know the feeling will quickly be dispelled, but we’ll give in to the fantasy once again and, when the Boyers have resolved their crisis, we’ll actually believe just briefly, that, no matter what we heard on that last newscast, everything will be all right.

 

James Holzhauer - abc

JAMES HOLZHAUER/ABC photo

I have never watched Jeopardy, and consequently I have no vested interest in how James Holzhauer has run up his record-setting winning streak. I can’t help knowing, however, that there is a kerfuffle over it in which some critics say Holzhauer is ruining the game for others. If I understand the complaint correctly, the issue is that Holzhauer’s success has as much to do with his mastery of the buzzer as it has to do with the breadth of his knowledge. Considering other moral and ethical issues confronting the Republic at the moment, I’m not sure now much urgency to assign to this one.

Joyce Brothers - Denver Post

Dr. JOYCE BROTHERS/Denver Post

The dust-up did remind me, though, of Dr. Joyce Brothers, the psychologist, who was known for the bulk of her career as a television personality and author but who first burst into the public’s consciousness as a contestant on The $64,000 Question. Several of the contestants on that show become instant celebrities. In Joyce Brothers’ case, the immediate interest was in the fact that this young woman was presenting herself as an expert on boxing. I have read that the producers recommended that topic to her, but I don’t know if that is true.

Dr. Brothers decided to seek a spot on the show in 1955 in order to shore up her family’s finances while she was caring for her daughter and her husband, Milton, was in a low-paying medical residency. She had quit teaching positions at Columbia University and Hunter College in order to stay home with her child.

Hal March

HAL MARCH/Host of “The 64,000 Question”/TV Guide

Whether she or the producers chose the topic, Dr. Brothers was not historically a boxing aficionado. Apparently a person with a strong will and outstanding capacities for concentration and retention, she memorized dozens of reference books on boxing. As a result, she won the top prize. Two years later, she won the top prize on The $64,000 Challenge in which she was pitted against seven experts on the prize ring.

The $64,000 Question was later mired in scandal as it was revealed that some of the contestants had been fed answers in advance, but Dr. Brothers was not implicated in any such scheme. In fact, it has been reported that the producers tried to derail her progress by throwing obscure questions at her, but she answered them correctly.

Whether Dr. Brothers’ approach was any less in the spirit of the show than Holzhauer’s, I’ll leave to minds more acute than my own.

Phil Baker

PHIL BAKER

Meanwhile, the name of The $64,000 Question obviously derives from the idiomatic expression “The $64 question,” meaning the most important or perplexing question in a given situation. The idiom itself originated on a radio show of the 1940s, Take It or Leave It, on which the top prize was $64—about $925 today—which a person won by answering “the $64 question.” The big prize was paid in 64 silver dollars.

Time magazine reported at the time as follows:

“Take It or Leave It gives each of five people from the studio audience a chance to answer seven questions correctly (or quit with a cash prize after any number of correct answers less than seven). Seven correct answers in a row nets the maximum $64.”

Members of the studio audience would encourage or heckle the contestants with each decision to take the money and run or move on to the next level.

The host of the show was a comic actor named Phil Baker. Time, reporting in 1944, gave this account of an incident that reflects the character of the show:

“The program pays out about $250 a week, mostly to servicemen on leave and other citizens who can use the money. Men are much more apt to shoot the $64 works than women. Men are also more apt to get Phil Baker in the kind of trouble he encountered recently when a sailor, asked to give the navy definition of ‘noise,’ gave not ‘celery,” which was right, but ‘Boston beans.” Baker gave the sailor $64 and told him to get back to his ship.”

Apparently, the producers of Take It or Leave It didn’t have to worry about ringers.

 

Rama - 1

RAMA X/Anadolu Agency

I read a long story from Reuters today about Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun—not a household word in the United States but the king in Thailand. He became the monarch in 2016 upon the death of his father, and he is going to be formally crowned on Saturday. He is also, and more conveniently, known as Rama X.

According to Reuters, the king runs a tight ship. He has taken direct control of the family fortune, which is almost too great to be calculated. A career soldier himself, he has the support of the military in his authoritarian posture—usually not a good sign.

Rama X, Reuters reported, has established an enormous volunteer corps in Thailand, more than five million civilians who don uniforms and scurry around cleaning up public places, helping police direct traffic, and generally making themselves useful. They start each project by lining up to salute a portrait of the king.

Rama IV Mongkut

RAMA IV

Reading about this king called Rama reminded me of a Rama of a different sort who ruled that country when it was known as Siam—Rama IV, also known as Mongkut, who was in power from 1851 to 1868.

The western world, me included, probably would be oblivious to Rama IV if it weren’t for accounts in literature, film, and theater, of the experiences of the English tutor Anna Leonowens. As it is, however, these romanticized versions of the teacher’s interaction with the king have made him a well-known figure.

But the image of Rama IV embedded in western consciousness, notably by Yul Brynner’s portrayals on film and on the stage, only vaguely resembles the real man. It is true that Rama wanted to protect Siam from colonization by a European power and that he wanted to introduce modern ideas to the Siamese people. And it is true that to some extent he achieved these goals, although the reality was not as simple or successful as Oscar Hammerstein would have it.

In keeping with Siamese expectations for young men, Rama became a Buddhist monk when he was twenty years old, and he led a reform movement in monasticism. He studied Latin, English, and astronomy, and he became a close friend of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, the popular and influential apostolic vicar in Bangkok—the envoy of the pope.

Merton

THOMAS MERTON

Rama’s philosophical inquiry attracted the attention of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton—a student of Buddhism—who recorded in his journal the king’s observation that “There is nothing in this world which can be clung to blamelessly, or which a man clinging thereto could be without blame”—an idea that Pope Francis might endorse.

In his effort to establish Siam’s place among the community of nations, King Rama corresponded with world figures including Abraham Lincoln. Although it has often been written that Rama offered to send Lincoln elephants to use against the Confederacy during the Civil War, it appears that the king actually wrote to James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, offering the animals as beasts of burden. By the time the letter reached the United States, Lincoln was president, and he responded, explaining that the climate might not be suitable for elephants and that Americans were relying on steam engines to do heavy hauling.

Pius IX.jpg

POPE PIUS IX

In 1861, Rama wrote an expansive letter to Pope Pius IX, addressing him as the “Holy Father of the Catholic Christian World.” The letter was dictated by the king, taken down in Siamese by a scribe, translated by the king into a rather stilted English, and carried to Rome by Pallegoix. This letter is now in the Vatican Museum.

The king wrote that although Siamese monarchs for centuries had practiced Buddhism, they had also allowed people to practice other faiths unmolested and had welcomed refugees from places such as China and what is now southern Vietnam where Christians in particular were persecuted. Rama mentioned that Pius IX, in a letter hand delivered by Pallegoix, in 1852, had specifically asked that Catholic missionaries and other Christians in Siam be protected.

What is most compelling about this letter is the king’s frequent references to religious tolerance. After all, he wrote, the path to internal happiness and eternal life “is in fact difficult to be exactly known.’’ In this letter, the king asks “the Superagency of the Universe”—in other words, the one God—to confer “temporal and spiritual happiness” and eternal life on the pope. Some commentators have pointed out that the notion of one God is not a part of Buddhist thought, and that the king probably used this expression out of deference to the pope’s beliefs.

Rama’s interaction with the pope and his comments in this letter suggest that he would embrace an idea expressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic letter “Amoris Laetitia”:

“Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. … We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike.”