Today would have been the 71st birthday of my mother, Diane Cucinello Torres. It's been almost four years since her passing, and even now the thought of memorializing her seems otherworldly and strange. The idea that she's no longer with us is still shocking to me, and the realization that among other things, I'll never hear her generous laugh again from the other room is more than likely why I've waited so long to revisit this topic.
But as the story goes, six months before Hurricane Katrina, and one month to the day after my father's passing, my mother suffered a debilitating stroke that left her bedridden and in a state of mental regression. During this time, most of which was here in Alabama, there were good days and bad days, and the good days were almost always highlighted by stories of old New Orleans. My mother was a bit of an amateur historian when it came to the Crescent City, and as the few years we had together here went by, she would love to tell both myself and her nurses alike about how her and her friends would take the streetcar into downtown on a Saturday afternoon to shop at all the big department stores. And one doesn't have to think hard to imagine the scene with all of its period automobiles and wardrobe, the image of a group of young girls from the 1950s dressed in their best, huddled together at the malt shop with bags from D.H. Holmes and Maison Blanche scattered at their feet. Yeah, that was my Mom. She knew about all the old restaurants, from Antoine's to Brennan's, from Court of Two Sisters to Tujague's (the latter of which I remember going to as a very young boy), and one always got the impression that she'd lived the New Orleans experience all of her life, was truly a resident of the city in every way.
And she would go on to tell the nurses and I about the family that we had who settled into the old Italian section of the French Quarter, and about how she used to visit them during her downtown shopping trips as a little girl. These particular stories always brought up conversations about her side of the family, which unlike my father's side, was scattered with aunts and uncles that lived until just about my own teenage years. And they populated her stories like something out of a historical novel, vivid and colloquial as she spoke with her heavy New Orleans accent. The nurses used to ask her, "Mrs. Diane, say 'New Orleans' for us," to which she'd smile up at them and say, "Nawlins!"
As a real estate agent through most of the late nineteen-seventies and early eighties, Diane was a member of the Business and Professional Women's Club in our home parish of St. Bernard for many years, and prior to that, she worked for the St. Bernard Parish courthouse under Sidney Torres, a position that would prove to be a fateful one as Sidney arranged for her and my Dad's first date. After that date, according to my godmother, Teddy and Diane were like teenagers. They were married in 1968, and four years later, I was born.
I've mentioned that I believe I've inherited certain real-life skills from my father, and it has been my longtime assumption that I've inherited a certain type of imaginative trait from my mother, one that is directly related to storytelling, and more so, to stories about New Orleans. It was my mother who I could talk to about movies, books, and music, about my favorite directors, writers, and rock stars alike, and it was my mother that took me to the movies and bought me the books and the records. She instilled a love of the city in me from very early on, one that has been a thread of fascination for me when thinking about her, all the way up to the point where we both discovered Anne Rice at right about the same time, loving the rich tapestry of the novelist's stories, and as always, prompting my mother to tell me more stories of her own. She always supported every endeavor into the arts that I undertook, and like the photo I've written about in my father's memoriam piece, one of the only surviving pictures that I have of my mother was one of her holding a copy of The Petrified Christ in Barnes & Noble, the picture almost a bookend to the one of my father doing the same thing.
They both now sit framed side-by-side in my office.
And it's those pictures that I look upon regularly when I need reminding, reminding that grief is always more of a personal process than anything else. The truth is, in no way would Teddy and Diane want me to live in a perpetual state of grief. My parents dedicated their lives to the sole purpose of protecting me from harm and pain, much in the same way I was devoted to protecting them from the same in their final years.
Why would any of us want to stop now?
Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you. And don't worry … I'll take the stories from here.
"The Green Hornet" A Movie Review
I'll be totally honest and not pose a bit when I say that I have absolutely no frame of reference when it comes to The Green Hornet television show aside from the iconic images and the knowledge that Bruce Lee, whom I've been a fan of since I was a kid, played Kato. And the television show probably was not the only incarnation of these characters, but again, without doing any research for the sake of objectivity, I'm admitting ignorance on the universe of The Green Hornet.
That being said, the new "The Green Hornet" movie worked for me on levels that I didn't expect, nor do I think most audiences would have anticipated after seeing the less than impressive trailers that hit theatres not too long ago. Turns out, it's a damn good blend of action and comedy, a really fun ride rooted almost entirely in the chemistry between Seth Rogen as Britt Reid A.K.A. The Green Hornet, and musician/actor Jay Chou as Kato. Throw in some pretty impressive ... and violent ... action sequences, and I was reminded of what Rogen contributed to "Pineapple Express," which was a surprising balance of his trademark ironic humor within a kinetic action movie that gave him more than enough opportunity to play into his everyman vulnerability. The character of the Green Hornet is making it up as he goes along, hoping he doesn't get too badly hurt in the process, and we're right there with him. I don't want to say that liking this movie totally depends on whether or not one is a fan of Seth Rogen, but it sure does help. Rounding out the cast is the always charismatic Christoph Waltz, who more than adequately fills-in the blank of "villain," and Cameron Diaz, who to be honest again, I kept forgetting was even in this movie until I finally saw her on screen.
It's just a good time at the movies. And let me report that the 3-D is quite good, an instance where, for lack of a better word, they seemed aware that they were making a 3-D movie. Hang around for the end credits. You'll see what I'm talking about.
"Tron: Legacy" A Movie Review
The world of "Tron" (1982) was one in which as a ten-year-old, I was completely immersed. I played the video games, I had the toys and action figures, and I even engaged in Frisbee fights with my fellow "Tron" nerds on our front lawns that doubled as the Game Grid. I was in love with the colors, and perhaps unique to me, I loved the sterile coldness of the world, a world of corners and canyons that existed entirely inside of a computer. It was the dream of running around inside of a Lite-Brite!
But I didn't stop there. I actually went further into the psychology of the movie, programming my Commodore 64 computer with a series of "programs" that would respond to me and go into my imaginative little system of 64 bits and do things. What I saw going on in my computer's mind was exactly what the filmmakers of the original "Tron" had fully intended me to see, and it was this charm that kept me engaged as I watched the new "Tron: Legacy," an updated version of the vision, but the charm wore off quick.
I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I was disappointed, and I contribute this entirely to the elephant in the room, which is that technology has advanced so much since the early nineteen-eighties that the mere concept of "Tron" crumbles under its own weight. In a world where the Internet is commonplace, and where smart phones and GPS navigation systems and everything else that technology has given us is fully integrated into our everyday lives, "Tron: Legacy" feels like it's strangely behind the times. Even attempts to update the role of programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) as sort of a Buddhist philosopher trapped inside of his own creation, seem far too expanded to work inside the parameters of such a simple, initial concept. Back in 1982, it was somewhat easy to surrender to the idea of this universe due to our own collective naivete about computers. Today, it just seems ridiculous.
With the exception of the somewhat impressive digital manipulation of Jeff Bridges to play both the Kevin Flynn of the eighties and his program counterpart, Clu, the technology of "Tron: Legacy" is not at all groundbreaking. And I'm sad to report that once again, the 3-D is not used to its full potential, an asset that would have more than likely kept me intrigued strictly for the sake of the visuals. Remember, I did love the colors!
If you were a fan of the original, all the reminders that you loved "Tron" are there, from the glowing disc duels to the iconic light cycle races. But in the end, what you're left with is an attempt to update a universe that not only didn't require updating, but also defied it.
It's a new year, and what a better time to get back to one of the main purposes of TedTorres.com, which is to trace the creation of a new novel through completion for my fellow writers out there. And so, here's one of what will be many progress reports to come.
Okay, what you see above is a single page from one of the opening chapters of the manuscript, and what I'd like to point out here is the amount of red ink scribbled in both the text and in the margins. Yes, it's been a difficult beginning so far, but I know exactly why, and it has everything to do with the approach with which I took this time around with the actual writing.
I'll tell you this: no more will I run through a draft without looking back. I don't care what Stephen King preached in his book, On Writing. It never worked for me during the first two books, and even the initial thought of working that way in theory never settled well, even as I started this new approach. I do not recommend it. The experiment was a success only in the aspect that I learned what not to do the next time around.
It's quite obvious that these opening chapters, written over four years ago, were done in times of great distraction, and only in completing the first draft did I finally develop a tone for the book, one in which I now have to go back and keep consistent throughout. In essence, it doubles if not triples the amount of work during this next run-through, making me think twice about a previous statement I'd made claiming that the red pen stage was my favorite ... not like this, and not with such admittedly amateur prose.
However, I can report that as of a few days ago, I have chiseled through the marble of the early expository stuff enough now to where I'm starting to see the better written pages. Whew! I knew they were there somewhere. I mean, it hasn't been that long ago that I was writing the thing, and I certainly remember how meticulous I was then. Who knows? Maybe I hit some sort of stride as I writer somewhere in the early sections of this book, finding my style and then going on auto-pilot throughout to the end, with those early pages the only evidence of my stumbling around looking for a voice.
But then again, it could be that I got sober somewhere in there, which made me pick up speed in every aspect of my life, especially the productivity part.
There. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I'm going to go with that second one. If it weren't for putting that bottle down, and if it wasn't for the support of my Jessica, I would have never even completed a draft.
You know this book is going to be dedicated to you, Jess. Just deal with it.