the monozygotic mystery

This morning, I took my laundry to the laundromat, as I do on a pretty regular basis.

There’s a woman who works behind the counter on most mornings — let’s call her Maria. Maria was there this morning, and when she saw me come in she was doing something else, so she called into the other room, and Maria came in to take my laundry.

So, obviously, twins. Not identical like movie special effects — they had different blemishes and different clothes — but clearly twins.

It was a little weird — I think partly because they were both on the same side of the counter. If “Maria” had been on that side of the counter, helping customers, and “Maria’s twin sister” had been on my side of the counter, visiting, that wouldn’t have been that surprising.

But it sparked off some other questions for me. For one thing, obviously, which one of these two women was the “Maria” who had been taking my laundry for a while? Or did they both work there and I’d just never seen them together before? Is this why on some days “Maria” would remember my name, but on other days not?

And was there a story in all this…

In mysteries, at least, there are limits on how you can use twins. If you establish them at the start, or at least early on, you can do it, though of course you leave the reader with the question about whether one twin ever substitutes for the other.

But a third-act twin, a twin who is suddenly revealed to answer a major question? Not impossible (nothing is), but I don’t envy the writer who tries it.

Christopher Nolan directed a film which did that, and it was certainly a negative for me. Some people defend it, but Nolan has fans who pretty much defend anything he does. I suspect that if another, less prestigious, director had tried it, they’d have complained, too.

Still, there might be a story there.

By the way, the Nolan movie does something else which is also sometimes regarded as a cheat — a genre shift, where the movie you’re watching is not actually the type of movie you’ve been led to believe it is. I think it does that fairly well, but it’s something that I sometimes enjoy anyway, as I talked about here.

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not the new reading

I just saw an ad for Audible (which I guess is a part of Amazon these days), with the slogan “Listening is the new reading.”

I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to advertising, but this really caught my eye. I confess that my immediate reaction was negative, at least in terms of fiction.

I’m not anti-technology, and I’m not anti-Amazon (I’m writing this on a Fire tablet, in fact). I’m not against listening to things being read to me — I have my own drafts read to me all the time, as I’ve talked about before.

And I’ve enjoyed some audio books quite a bit. Douglas Adams reading his own books, Frank McCourt (my high school English teacher 🙂 ) reading Angela’s Ashes, and Ron McClarty reading Inherent Vice (which I’ve listened to many times).

But it’s not the same as reading, because I think reading encourages deeper understanding. For one obvious reason, the fact that you can reread sections until you really understand them, and go back to earlier chapters to check things — either to remind yourself of things, or in light of later developments.

And even something as simple as the ability to go forward at your own pace.

But also, with art, there is always a point to experiencing it the way the artist intended. Most writers wrote their books to be read on a page.

I saw a documentary years ago about the Beat writers which brought this home. As I wrote in my review:

“Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper and John Turturro show up to read Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg (respectively, and respectfully), but obviously only Depp understands the difference between reading and acting. Turturro is mannered and awkward reading parts of ‘Howl’ (they should have got Patti Smith, or just shown footage of Ginsberg himself) and Dennis Hopper does okay with some Burroughs, but Burroughs himself was one of the great performers of his time, and Hopper doesn’t even come close to his wonderful, arid, sardonic rasp. Depp, however, obviously knows that novels and poems, unlike plays and screenplays, are designed to deliver their effects without any additional help, so he simply reads Kerouac’s words, as plainly as he can, and of course that’s all that’s necessary. I wish he’d done more.”

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i think maybe i’ve had enough

I think about Logan, Wonder Woman, the new Spider-Man movie, and the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. What do they have in common? They’re the last four big superhero movies, and in each case I thought, “Hey, that sounds pretty good — I should see that,” and in each case I didn’t bother.

I also saw Dr. Strange on DVD and was not impressed.

I’m not sure why the loss of enthusiasm. After all, I’ve been reading comic books since around 1965, and I still remember the fun of the first X-Men movie, because they got the characters right (even with the stupid plot).

But I think there are a few problems, ones that can’t be solved by how terrific Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Jr. are. Too many cosmic artifacts, too many cities and famous landmarks torn to shreds, too many ancient evil beings suddenly set free (it was while half-heartedly watching X-Men Apocalypse that I realized how played out this idea was — and it wasn’t that compelling to begin with), etc etc etc.

I do feel very positively about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though. A threat that the government is working on a way to kill, by remote control, anybody on earth who has caused trouble in the past, or who might cause trouble in the future? Defeated by a man and a woman (ultimately two men and two women), working as equal partners, with no Hollywood romance in sight — just friends?

And with a villain played by a really great actor, not encumbered by weird makeup, prosthetics, or CGI?

That’s a good story.

I think this relates to the appeal of the Fast and Furious movies, despite their own problems.

Dominic Toretto, in the most recent movie, doesn’t do what he does because of some ancient blah blah — he does it because there is an immediate threat to the lives of people he cares about. That anchors the increasingly outlandish stunts and car crashes.

I do still enjoy the Resident Evil movies, not least because they delivered what blockbuster superhero franchises pretty much never provide, which is a satisfying ending.

Or it’s possible that I’m just sick of waiting for superhero movies to be as good as the best comic books — to be as goofy and optimistic as Squirrel Girl, or as earnest and down-to-earth (and funny) as Ms. Marvel, or with the wonderful deadpan humor of All-New Wolverine, or as odd and somewhat creepy as Mother Panic.

Or the moment in a recent issue of Hawkeye when you realize she’s wandered into Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye? I can’t remember the last time I saw a superhero movie that made me think of Robert Altman.

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the bus station mystery — part nine

This story started here.

The birthday candles were doing a pretty good job of illuminating the waiting room, and it was surprising how quickly you got used to them.

Billy kept an eye on them, though. He didn’t want to start a fire, or to suddenly end up in complete darkness again.

One of the cousins stood looking out the window at the bus outside. “What do you think they’re doing out there?” he asked over his shoulder. Stephanie and Kelly had gone out right after Stephanie’s announcement that she thought she knew who had committed the murders.

“Do you think she really knows the answers?” his cousin asked, walking over to stand beside him, shading his eyes as he looked out.

“I’ll bet they’re making out in the bus,” said Lombard. He saw the general reaction to this suggestion. “Oh, come on. You’ve seen how they look at each other.”

“That’s disgusting!” Hilda Powell said. She looked around. “No, but if they’re on the bus, whatever they’re doing, there’s a dead body on that bus with them.”

Lombard nodded slowly. “Okay, that is a point.”

Dr. Grassi lit a cigarette, offering the pack to Miss Quest, who accepted one and lit up also.

* * *

“Does it really say that on the tickets, that you have to surrender them to somebody from the bus company?”

Kelly laughed. “How would I know?”

They were sitting side-by-side near the front of the bus.

“Something’s bugging you,” Kelly said after a moment.

Stephanie slumped in her seat. “I should have figured it out sooner, by searching this bus, and the body, and the other murder scene, much more carefully, before I started questioning people. As Jan Sleet — the great detective, yes, and yes, I know her — said to me once, if you don’t examine the scene, thoroughly, before you question the people, you won’t know what questions to ask.”

* * *

Mr. Randall looked at Billy. “Come on. We should check the fridge.”

Billy almost asked what fridge, but he followed Mr. Randall behind the ticket counter and into the office. Where he had almost never been.

As they moved through the darkness behind the counter, Mr. Randall reached up to a high shelf and took a flashlight.

“Those people are going to need something to eat besides donuts,” he said as he led Billy to a far corner of the office, where there was a small, cube-shaped refrigerator, which made Billy think of his one year of college.

“Ah,” Mr. Randall said, kneeling and pointing the flashlight beam into the refrigerator. “I guess I’ll have to reimburse Patsy for all this yogurt.” He frowned. “I wonder if I can expense it…”

Mr. Randall and Billy came back into the waiting room, each carrying several containers of yogurt. As they stepped into the room, Mr. Randall slowed.

He gestured at where Miss Quest had been sitting. “Where’s…” his voice trailed off.

“Miss Quest,” Dr. Grassi supplied, “along with the two young gentlemen, her admirers, has repaired to one of the busses, back in the garage. I gather there was a flask involved.”

Mr. Randall glared at Harvey, as if this inappropriate behavior might have somehow been his fault, but Harvey continued to sleep quietly, smiling.

Mr. Randall and Billy put the containers of yogurt on one of the little tables. “These are for everybody,” Mr. Randall said. “There are a few more, if we run out.” Billy went to the coffee station and leaned way over, reaching behind the counter to grab a handful of small, plastic spoons. He brought these over, along with a napkin dispenser from the condiment stand.

“Thank you both,” Dr. Grassi said, taking a container of yogurt and a spoon. Mrs. Coe and Ms. Powell followed suit.

Lombard took one also, though his posture seemed to be trying to convey his indifference to the whole idea of food.

Billy waited a moment to see what Mr. Randall would do. When he didn’t reach out to take a yogurt, Billy took one for himself.

Given his pay rate — and was he even going to get paid for this time? — he didn’t intend to go hungry, at least not until the food ran out completely.

He glanced at the front window. What were Kelly and Stephanie doing out there?

* * *

A little while later, a figure climbed out of one of the windows in the bus station and jumped down to the pavement. The rain might have been letting up, but the sky was still dark, and of course there were no electric lights anywhere around.

The figure moved cautiously around the building to the side where bus number forty-two was parked. It stood motionless for a moment, facing the bus, until there was a movement in one of the windows. The figure pulled out a small pistol and aimed it.

The gun didn’t fire, though, because someone jumped down from the roof of the bus and landed on the figure, knocking it to the wet pavement. The pistol skidded away and went under the bus.

“Don’t move,” Stephanie said. She was straddling the murderer’s back, and she cocked her revolver for emphasis.

to be continued…

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slip inside the eye of your mind…

This is not what I usually write about, but this article caught my attention: “13 musical acts we wish we could’ve seen live” — mostly because I actually have seen a few of them live. 🙂

Queen: Saw them right after they did “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They were really good, but obviously they couldn’t play that thing live, so they chopped it up and stuck bits of it (the bits they could play, which turned out to be most of them) into other songs. Very clever solution, I thought.

Talking Heads: I didn’t see them on the tour that was filmed for the movie Stop Making Sense but I saw the Remain in Light tour (the one before — and arguably better because the band included Adrian Belew and Nona Hendryx). I had been a fan for a long time (I saw them 35-40 times when they were just a trio, including many times before they were signed), so I was excited for Remain in Light. I liked it, but my girlfriend at the time hated it (I think she wanted them to be the old band forever), so she refused to go after I had bought the tickets. So, I went with an ex-g/f instead, and we had a great time. Which also pissed off the current g/f, of course, but then most things pissed her off.

The Ramones: Didn’t see them before their first album, but saw them right after and many times after that. The first time was at a club called the Bottom Line, and I think they were the opening act, and I’m pretty sure Andy Warhol was there (but that could have been a different night). They were awesome, though.

The Cramps: Saw them quite a few times. Met them at a party once, too — for all their super-creepiness on stage they were really nice. One of the great things about seeing them open for the Ramones was that all the Ramones fans hung back by the bar, complaining that the Cramps couldn’t play their instruments and all their songs sounded alike. Which was, of course, what the rest of the world said about the Ramones.

Continuing the musical theme, I do enjoy this, by Haim (with Lorde).

Then I found this, which is pretty awesome. If I’d heard that Haim was covering Fleetwood Mac, I’d have figured maybe something by Stevie Nicks, but instead they went really old-school Mac, from back when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were in rompers.

I’ve heard a few other songs by Haim, but none that I like as much as these two — which is probably a bad sign, since both of these are covers.

Oh, yes, I found this to be moving: “You’re one of us now, Ariana Grande – a Mancunian

So, I’ll end with this.

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the bus station mystery — part eight

This story started here.

“I’m Dr. Grassi,” the older man said. “I have identification.” He handed over his ID and the stub of his bus ticket. Stephanie examined them and handed back his ID.

“I remember you on the bus,” she said. “You sat a few rows back from me.”

She turned to Kelly, who stood up and said, “I’ll get a stapler.” Taking the flashlight, she went behind the ticket counter and into the office.

The woman in the yellow slicker handed Stephanie her ID and her ticket stub. “Florence Coe,” she said. “Mrs.”

Stephanie looked at the papers and handed the ID back. “Thanks. If I remember right, you slept most of the way here, near the front of the bus.”

Mrs. Coe nodded. “I’d had a long night at work. I work in a hospital.”

Kelly had returned with the stapler, so Stephanie stapled Dr. Grassi’s stub to his ticket, and then did the same for Mrs. Coe.

She looked at the “rich kids.” “Let’s take you three as a unit, since you seem to be one. Your identification, please?”

The two boys brought out their wallets and handed over their licences. The girl shrugged. “Here’s my ticket stub, and you’re welcome to see my wallet, but I don’t have a driver’s license. I’m only seventeen.”

Stephanie nodded. “Let’s take the two gentlemen first, then.” She looked at the licenses. “Gregory and Jason Brenner. Brothers?”

“Cousins,” one of them said.

“And how long had you both known Miss…” Her voice trailed off as she turned to look at the girl.

“Violet Quest,” the girl supplied.

The cousins hesitated for a moment, and Stephanie said, “For all your appearance of… being old friends, I know that you two met Miss Quest on the bus. I saw you notice her, discuss her (in low tones, of course), and then move to seats next to and across from her, engaging her in conversation.”

Miss Quest didn’t betray her feelings, if any, about this description. She handed over her wallet and Stephanie examined the contents.

“How do you use these credit cards if you have no identification?”

Miss Quest shrugged and smiled. “In the stores where I shop, they know me. And my family.”

Stephanie then turned to the woman with the large purse, who frowned. “I can’t see that this is getting us anywhere, but here’s my driver’s license and my ticket. Hilda Powell.”

Stephanie looked at the papers, and then handed the license back.

“I slept most of the way, too, so I guess I missed all the romantic goings-on.”

Stephanie nodded. “I envy you both. I tried to sleep a few times but couldn’t manage it with all the thunder and lightning.” She turned to the young man with the horn-rimmed glasses. “And you, sir?”

He looked up, frozen for a moment, then he said, “I don’t acknowledge that any of this is legitimate, or that you’re any sort of real law officer.”

“You refuse to reveal your name?” Stephanie asked.

“My name is Lombard,” he said. “I refuse to show my ID or my ticket stub.”

Kelly thought that he was trying to decide if he should stand up, to appear more determined, or whether it was better to continue to sit and to appear unruffled by all this.

Stephanie seemed to be thinking about something else, so Kelly stepped forward. “You should read the fine print on your ticket,” she said to Lombard. “You are obliged to surrender it, on request, to any employee of the bus company.” She tapped the patch on her jacket pocket, and then stepped forward and held out her hand. “I’m an employee, and I’m requesting your ticket stub. Sir.”

He pursed his lips, then he reached into his pocket and handed her the stub, which she gave to Stephanie.

Stephanie looked at it, briefly, then stapled it to his ticket.

Billy asked, “Is that it?”

Stephanie pulled her own ticket stub from her pocket and stapled it to the final ticket in the envelope. “That’s it.”

“So, what have you learned from all this?” Dr. Grassi asked.

She looked out the window. “Two things. One is that the rain seems to be coming down even harder than before. The other is that I think I know who the murderer is.”

to be continued…

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