Unfinished Chapels

There are in Portugal a set of churches known as unfinished chapels.  You’ll have to forgive me, because it’s been a long time and other than being taken there on the annual “tour” which is mandatory for every Portuguese elementary school child, I don’t remember anything about them, not even where they are.

You’ll also have to forgive me because this post will also be a bit of an unfinished chapel — a lot of thoughts thrown together.  Bear with me.  I should be more myself tomorrow.

I have the vague idea the churches were so elaborate, and required so much carving and gilding, that the king worked on them as treasury afforded, but died before they were completed.

I suspect my fans are starting to think of the house we’re leaving this way, and I’ll admit there have been moments there, in the middle, when I thought so myself.  The dreary amount of little crappling (totally a word) stretched to infinity and I couldn’t see it ever being done.

But I remember this phase from the house in Manitou, which was smaller, and which had less to be done to it, and which I finished alone.  It took close to a year and most days I came home so tired I just wanted to cry.

The tired is still here, but fortunately I did not do this house alone, as Robert (and the other guys as they could, but mostly Robert) helped me for over-full time for three months.

It occurred to me yesterday this was a lousy run up to medical school, as he fell asleep in the middle of talking to me in my office, having come back for odds and ends he forgot to take.  On the other hand, the same dogged sense of what’s right and caring for those who need it led him to help me beyond his natural limits of energy, as it leads him to medschool.  All I can do is hope he gets a lot of sleep between now and start of classes.  (He told me, btw, he wasn’t asleep but thinking.  First time I heard thinking with so much snoring.)

But it is now near the end.  Even Robert, looking over the house, said “It’s all over but the shouting, isn’t it?”

In fact it would have been done a month ago, if my body hadn’t given up on me now and then and forced me to take weeks off.

In the end we had to contract a bunch of things out, because the alternative was my taking months to learn how to do them, and therefore we bled money and I will request your thoughts and prayers that the house sells fast and also that I recover fast and can write, otherwise we’ll be in a world of trouble.

What’s left, after I spend today and maybe tomorrow morning– but I think it will be done today — cleaning is the almost-fun stuff of dollhouse playing.  Setting the table for high tea, with a large vase of roses, putting pictures up, getting a potted plant for the fireplace.  That sort of thing.

As for the unfinished chapels of my writing — those worry me even more than the house.  I know they’ll never be done.  At least, barring Alzheimers (and sometimes not even then.  Enid Blyton spent her last years writing novels and forgetting she’d written them.  Her daughters found them all over the place, after her death) I expect to die with my fingers on the keyboard and mid-plot.  (I count on you to harass younger son, the one who writes most like me, into finishing them.)

Right now they worry me because several of them, including, yes, the Dragon trilogy and Darkship Revenge, are trying to beat a pathway out of my head.

So house will be done this weekend or bust, and Sunday I’ll likely be passed out.  This should have been done a little at a time over the last several days, but since the workmen were delayed, and I was really tired, we devoted our time to moving the boy out of the house, instead.

And in keeping with the scattered nature of this post: that annual bus trip in Portugal.  It wasn’t a field trip but the “excursion” that each year in schooling did, on touring buses.

The excuse was to hit all the patriotic or significant sites.  As an history nerd, I always fought for the inclusion of battle sites or significant Roman ruins, to my classmates’ annoyance.  (They preferred to hit places known for their “historical” sweets, or go to parks.)  In fact, I think it was a way of showing the country to people who, mostly (3/4 of my class) finished schooling in 4th grade and who would settle in, immediately after, to live in their little village all their lives.  (Porto was 20 minutes by train from us, and brother and I attended High School there, but until late in life when my parents undertook to show her more of the country, my grandmother had been to it exactly 3 times.)

In fact my parents stopped paying for my “excursion” in fifth grade, and I stopped going/engaging in the planning.  The magnet high school I attended didn’t have “excursions” since most of the people there came from families who vacationed in Switzerland and France.  (I vacationed in my backyard until the boon of an Euro-rail pass and menial jobs on student working visas abroad.)

More on this later.  A scattered thought in passing is that because most of the students ended schooling in 4th grade, they (we) were treated as little adults at that age (most girls and boys would be working the next year.  Yeah, it was against the law, but there were ways to get around it.)  So the castles had no railings to protect idiots who chose to pitch down from towers, and no one did.

Imagine my surprise going back to find railings defacing castles and Roman ruins.  You see, in euro-socialist Portugal everyone goes to school through 12th grade, whether they have any interest in it or not, and few have jobs on coming out, because guaranteed employment and no firing for those already hired, no matter how incompetent, means no new employees.

On the more on that — Son who has always assumed we were reasonably well off (so did I) even if we go through tight periods like during this house selling gamble.  I mean other than in the two or three tight periods in his life time, he’s never lacked for food or clothing, he’s had a computer since he was three (Dan’s company was upgrading and sold them for a song) and there was always money for books and lessons.

He’s met some of his classmates and found out he’s a pauper.  Apparently most people who make it into the school come from private schools or at least private tutoring and have toured Europe as a matter of course.

I told him it’s okay as my brother and I did the same, and attended college with people whose pocket money was about the same as dad’s salary, which didn’t prevent us from being the best in class and not even from having friends.  (I had a slightly harder time, because girls DO care about their labels.)

I suppose the motto of this household should be the same as Avis’ “We try harder” (Or like the t-shirts printed by the factory dad worked for, which were miss-corrected by someone with one year of English and were printed with “We Tries Harder”.  Yeah.  Avis weirdly didn’t take delivery and so I wore the illiterate t-shirts all through my weekends and free time in my teenage years.)

And now I’m going to try harder at doing the final cleaning on the house.  And tomorrow we’ll meet with realtors and walk them through.

And Sunday I shall rest.

146 responses to “Unfinished Chapels

  1. I never let the fact that I had no money get in the way of my goals ;-). I just found other ways of doing it. For instance I wanted to travel the world. The Navy took me places I couldn’t afford to go on my own and even better gave me a paycheck. There are ways around every problem.

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    So in fifty years younger son will publish your versions of “For Us, The Living” and “Variable Star”? [Very Big Grin While Flying Away Very Very Fast]

  3. Oh, I know how you feel. I swear that I’m still unpacking and trying to get re-settled from three moves ago and that every single time I get close to getting something finished, life throws another curveball my way and I wind up further behind.

    …we should start a club. 😉

    — G.K.

    • Reality Observer

      You’re only three moves behind? I still have boxes that were packed when I moved out of my parent’s house.

      FYI, I’m 55+ years old…

      • Ummmm, mebbe one of us should sell charter memberships?

        (I have at least one box either here or shuffled back to my parent’s originally packed — and still with most of those contents, plus additions — when I was in 4th grade. I’m 57 this summer…)

      • Well, in my defense, I’ve only moved four times since I returned to the US and since I treated my overseas move back to the States as a “reset” move where I just brought a few clothes and shipped my books, that’s why I’m only three moves behind instead of seven.

        — G.K.

      • My Dad was in the Air Force when I grew up. We moved every two to four years. Each time, all the household goods got boxed up and shipped somewhere and we followed along.

        Most of that stuff stayed in the boxes. I mostly grew up in houses without closets, as the spaces intended for that purpose were filled with taped-up boxes. Every move, Mom bought more “stuff” – dinnerware, sheets, clothing, tchochkis…

        After she died Dad finally went through some of those boxes. Some of the stuff he vaguely recognized; much of the rest, he wasn’t even sure it was from their own household. After going through one closet he just hauled the rest of the unopened boxes to the curb for trash pickup. 22 years later he said he’d never gone looking for something that wasn’t there, so he figured none of it had been important.

        • Yeah, my wife was an Air Force brat, too. Except her experience was of moving more often, sometimes multiple times in one year – and stuff being lost by the movers. Got so the only things she could be sure of having were what they took in the car with them.

  4. First time I heard thinking with so much snoring

    Snoring allows extra oxygen to a brain working overtime…….

  5. “Bear with me.”

    Bears? BEARS? Nobody said anything about bears! They start heading for the arms room, I am sooo out of here!

    Hmmm…wonder if I can get some of them to assist with planting a huckleberry patch…

  6. For The Daughter in Elementary school — every year a trip was taken to Old Salem.

    On the other hand growing up in the Philadelphia area we did not take the same annual trip each year, but had a known series. In the course of elementary school you would see the Liberty Bell (which was still housed in Independence Hall) and Betsy Ross’s house. You would also get to go through the giant heart at the Franklin Institute a different year. Then there was the Academy of Natural Sciences. And so on. But they never did take us to the Mutter Museum (http://muttermuseum.org/), a trip which somehow I have to believe that just about every 10 year old boy would have adored.

    • Rob Crawford

      Oddly, we were never taken to see Grant’s birthplace or boyhood home OR the Rankin House.

      • The Other Sean

        You know, I just realized that’d make a nice daytrip some Friday or weekend. Thanks.

        • Rob Crawford

          I have driven past Grant’s birthplace a few hundred times, but never stopped. It’s ridiculous, really.

          • We always took day trips to Ohio historical sites, even ones that are nothing but a marker. I do remember we went to the Rankin House, but I do not think it was very restored at the time. And I was little.

            And if we were going anywhere out of state that could include Civil War battlefields, we went. Sadly I did not learn to read terrain until I took archaeology in college, but battlefields are always neat to visit.

            • But that was parental. School field trips were always to farm tours and stuff like that.

              • I know I went on more, but right now I can only remember two field trips. One to the Natural History museum in Cincinnati (grade school), and one to Shakertown in Kentucky (high school).

            • The Daughter likes to claim that I have hauled her to every Civil War battlefield and site. When she does so I will begin by pointing out that we have been to none in Tennessee or the Shenandoah Valley … I rarely have to continue the list because she, knowing a bit of history, will stop.

              • Have you been to the Civil War sites in Missouri, Arkansas or the pre-civil war fighting on the border of Missouri and Kansas? Lot’s of interesting history that is often neglected.

                • The Daughter and I have been in each of the mentioned states when on a trip to visit a friend in Albuquerque. Unfortunately we had very limited time to do any touring, and the weather was largely uncooperative.

                  One of my favorite Civil War films is Ang Lee’s Ride With The Devil.

                  I first heard about the film when The Spouse read us a review of the film while we were driving through West Virginia on the way to Tamarack. — thanks for reminding me of so many happy memories… 🙂

                • egads. *lots*, not lot’s.

          • I believe there are numerous people south of the Mason-Dixon Line who wish Poppa Grant had emulated you…

    • Our sixth grade class trip was to Hannibal, Mo. After reading Tom Sawyer, we went to see the fence he was supposed to whitewash, and the caves where he and Becky Thatcher wondered. It was interesting. Seventh grade class trip is to the Indy zoo, and eighth grade was to King’s Island. I only made it to two of those trips. The first two.

  7. Don’t forget to SIGN your house, and use that as a marketing fact: famous SFF writer lived here and worked on the floors and painted the ceilings and…

    SOME people might care; bury a time capsule in the yard somewhere for history.

  8. I now want a T-shirt with the legend: “Tried Harder, Now trying Smarter”.

    Which strikes me as an invitation to indecorous comments. I could go with “Tried Harder, Now trying Cuter” but I can already envision the pitying glances.

    • I think there might be a market for a pair pf T-shirts reading: Tried Harder, Now trying Moe. One, of course, would have a depiction of Moe Howard and the other of some adorable big eyed waif or kitten.

      If you wanted to be really twisted you could have a third bearing the likeness of Moe Szyslak with big eyes…

  9. sabrinachase

    Anybody else have sixth-grade camp? It was a Thing out in the Pacific Northwest, which still has plenty of Nature Trying To Kill You. We learned how to find civilization if lost, how to scavenge food on the tideline and how to build a fire on the beach, identification of poisonous plants and critters…all sorts of useful stuff.

    We also had swimming as part of PE, because let’s face it, out here the question is not so much IF you are going to fall in water as WHEN.

    • Certainly went to summer camp. More than once.

      Parents were also fond of camping, climbing, and canoeing.

      • sabrinachase

        This was part of the regular school, not summer camp. For just a week.

        • They had a week at Glen Helen for the sixth graders in public school, but I was in parochial school that year. But we did that stuff in Girl Scouts and at summer camp.

        • Raised in PNW, just the Inland / small town part of it, so woods and boat safety wasn’t a thing in grade school.

    • Oops … momentary distraction caused error reading post. “We learned how to find civilization if lost,” transcribed as “We learned how to find if civilization lost,” … which struck me as useful to know if already in woods.

      I gather it already has lost in San Francisco. Pisser.

      • sabrinachase

        Now THAT would be a useful class. Especially in these piping times. Time to scribble our version of the Trivium and Quadrivium? Hey, Undead Caesar! Wanna be Editor Imperator? 😉

    • We did fifth grade camp. I got lost as all get out on the compass hike. Geology was fun because we spent the whole time smashing rocks. Sleeping sucked because we were half a mile from a rock quarry and we slept on rocks all night. It was a good time though.

      And I can also tell A TON of stories that start out as “There was this one time, at band camp…”

      • What is it about band camp? All the kids I knew who went to band camp came back with much wilder tales than the hiking-fishing-boat-sinking folks.

      • Compass hike in Boy Scouts – with distances to be measured in paces over uneven ground. Lucky if we came out anywhere near our targets!

    • We had plenty of nature trying to kill you in Philadelphia, but that was generally human nature.

      I gather in Philadelphia even hitch-hiking robots are not safe.

      • I recall hearing of kamikaze deer, launching themselves from the parapets above the Schuylkill Expressway onto passing vehicles.

    • Don’t recall if it was 6th or 7th grade but we did something like that in Juneau.

    • We had outdoor lab where you got to take cold showers for a week, sleep in unheated cabins with 3-7 other students who were randomly assigned to be your roommates and hike up a different mountain everyday then come back for cafeteria food made by people who don’t like kids.

      No, I didn’t enjoy it much. Why do you ask?

    • That is such a neat idea, BCR. I wish they had that in schools here now. But unless the children are covered from head to toe in bubblewrap, school boards would decide that kind of adventure is way too dangerous.

      • Are you in NY? It sounds like my hometown.

        • No, I’m in Kansas, in a rural district. I was on the school board for one term, but gave up because everyone else on the board had their special snowflakes in the schools and were happy to spend tons of taxpayer money to keep their children the safest.

          • Yeah, the mental infection has travelled everywhere. We need better school boards!

            • I was astounded at how the men bullied me about every suggestion, every question, every anything I mentioned. They were all pro-union guys, perhaps that is why they were so insufferable.

      • Translation from BureauSpeak:
        Way too dangerous = We might get sued

        This is not (just) a criticism of gutless bureaucrats, it is also condemnation of over-protective parents and a judicial system* gone off its rails.

        Between such concerns as this, union members’ “rights” and administrators’ convenience tools required for managing the system it often seems that actual education of children has become the lowest system priority.

        *N.B., it is entirely probable that the judicial system would never get involved as the insurers of the school’s liability would deem the cost of settlement preferable to the risk of adjudication.

        • Yeah, school boards will do about anything to avoid litigation.

          • A jogger just got hit with the medical bills of the biker who ran into him, for doing a “sudden u-turn,” when the jogger said he heard no warning from the biker and the biker said he didn’t remember what happened.

            • There was a big todo over things like this in Audubon Park in N.O. The path around the park was actually paved because of the League of American Wheelmen,(dirt roads were dangerous for a Penny Farthing!) so the bikes were quite put out that they wanted to ban them from using it, and the joggers and walkers were great at randomly changing direction, or running a pet on a leash that was yards long and would randomly dart back and forth from tree to tree on either side of the path. Most wore a Walkman of some sort (this was the ’80s/ early ’90s) and the path got “lanes” with a painted line separating the walking portion from the bike portion, and bike were to go in one direction. The breaking point was the mom wearing said walkman, pushing a baby stroller, doing a u-turn right in front of a pack of bikes drafting around the park. Witnesses agree the leader of the bikes had called out “On your right!” but her music was too loud for her to hear, and the guys, and one gal in the pack managed to not take out the kid, but half of them ended up in a pile atop mommy dumbest. They then put a speed limit on the bikes to protect stupid walkers and runners, and bikes now have to train in the safety of N.O. streets. There had been talk of the L.A.W. demanding compensation for the paving, but they had done too good a job of getting the City to foot the bill over the years.

              • That’s the danger of doing improvements on land you don’t own, that isn’t dedicated to whatever you’re improving.

                • The path was called “The Bike Path” on maps right up until the trouble started, then it was always called something else, and the maps changed the names to what each portion was called (International Blvd etc.) The other thing that chaffed the bikes is there was a walkway around the outside of the park they never used. But so many folks took up walking and jogging more and more migrated over because the “road” was wider, having at one time having autos allowed on it. After the cars were banned, it was wider and the meandering directionless had more pavement to occupy.
                  I, as you might have guessed, was on the cyclist side of that. Later, some of the same whiners from the walkers/joggers, wanted something done about the Golf Course. Golf balls are dangerous, don’tcha-know, and they should not have to look out for golf balls, even if the course had been there about as long as the bike path, and the people actually pay for use. That never got traction.

            • Wow. I suppose people need to take out liability insurance if they are walking or jogging these days.

  10. They call that Think Apnea

  11. the t-shirts printed by the factory dad worked for, which were miss-corrected by someone with one year of English and were printed with “We Tries Harder”. Yeah.

    When I was on Tokyo we wanted some T shirts printed with text printed in engrish (i.e. rs and ls mixed up) as a joke. Someone knew a guy in Hong Kong who did T shirts quick and cheap and someone else was going to HK on a business trip and could pick them up so it was all arranged. Except for when the person picking up the shirts got them and saw that the helpful Chinese person had “fixed” the Engrish.

      • Schwinn Airdynes were never frozen because they had a sign that said “Not Ice” instead of Notice.
        one of my flammable labels at work is also a bit off. it is supposed to have this:
        (ALCOHOLS N.O.S.)

        Instead it is:
        ALCOHOLS N.O.S.
        ( )

        Still have no idea how they managed that, but working with some of my co-workers kinda makes it easy to see why stuff gets made so wrong.

        I once used Google Translate and Dictionary.com translate to change a label, until we got it professionally done. a native reader said mine was actually easier to read, but both were stilted and grammatically challenged.

  12. On your son finding out he’s a pauper—I had a similar experience going to Cornell in the eighties. This was still early enough in the education bubble that they could pretend to make sure that everyone who was accepted was able to afford to go (and for the most part, they did). But, boy, there were a lot of people with a lot of money there. Interestingly, even the people with money didn’t always (claim to) know it. We had a running joke among my friends about which of us would be the next to discover there was a trust fund we didn’t know about.

    The experience made me try very hard not to bother my parents for money both during college and immediately after. I had begun to understand how hard they’d been working to give us what we needed plus. That not everyone’s mom worked part-time in the asparagus fields. Of course, this was back when there were fewer illegal workers—jobs Americans won’t do? not in our town.

    • In the early-mid 90s it was “I’m more broke than you are.” There was a real one-downsmanship on campus of people acting snobbish about NOT having money and coming from impoverished backgrounds. That this was when the admissions department decided the school had to be at least 20% minority (black) might have something to do with it.

    • I knew the parents couldn’t help much – but went to college so long ago that you could earn enough part time + summer to make living expenses & books, and kept up an annually renewable tuition scholarship. It worked well enough to get married halfway through. Interesting times.

    • One of the Vanderbilts… William Henry I believe… didn’t know his family was the rich (much less one of the richest in the world) until some of the other boys he ran around the streets with (in that un-enlightened age when kids were allowed to do such things) convinced him to go into a candy shop and ask for a LOT of candy for them all on his parent’s tab. The young Vanderbilt was amazed when the store owner did so. Then he was even more surprised when his parents found out and gave him a good beating to clarify that THEY were rich, he was not.

  13. “The house will be done this weekend.” Gee, that sounds familiar, where have heard that before?

  14. Look, now that you’re an expert house flipper, my wife and I have this three bedroom fix-it-upper that we moved out of; 1800 or so sq. ft., 15 minutes from one emergency room, 40 minutes from a trauma center, 20 to 25 miles from an Air Force base (up wind, alas). It’ll be a cinch; you’ll love it!

    (Ducks a bucket of carp.) 🙂

  15. found out he’s a pauper.

    So has he run into the rich kid who looks exactly like him yet so they can switch places?

  16. What’s that Sophie Tucker line? “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” But even better to have been poor, and then to be rich, because you’ll always have the lessons of working within constraints you learned being poor. Should fortune fail you, you can cheerfully get up and do it again. People born rich tend to have more trouble recovering from misfortune. So tell your son you prepared him well. 🙂

  17. >I expect to die with my fingers on the keyboard and mid-plot.

    G. Harry Stine started off with a CP/M system, then later went to DOS and a particularly abstruse word processor called XyWrite.

    Harry had been bitten by a crash once, and lost at least a full day’s work. After that he kept each chapter on multiple floppy disks and saved his files every few lines, or whenever he stopped to think. A few people made fun of him, but he claimed he hadn’t lost any work since…

    One evening I got a call from a mutual friend. Harry had passed away at his desk. And the friend swore that Mrs. Stine told him the monitor still had a dialog box up, saying Harry’s file had been successfully saved to drive “A:”.

    Good work habits will last you all your life. And maybe slightly beyond…

    • Ctrl-S is engraved into my fingers. It does not need my mind to intervene.

    • And the reason everyone takes science class in high school ( or should I suppose) is so you won’t be like the English grad student who kept the back up copy of her thesis on her refrigerator with a magnet. I need to go burn a back-up DVD now to put in the safe deposit box–it’s not a back-up unless it’s offsite.

      I miss Mr. Stine’s work.

  18. I’d like to take that tour. I like the thought of an old school church with some history behind it. Not just for the looks but because I’m a history nerd. What could be better than that?

    • You should have been with me this past summer. Old churches, heretical churches, Baroque churches that leave you gaping in amazement, Romanesque churches, Gothic, ancient . . .

      • We did our first trip to Europe in April – upper Bavaria (Franconia), following another event spent a week specifically looking at and, as possible, photographing the wood & stone carvings of Tilman Riemenschneider. “leave you gaping in amazement”, indeed.

        • Yup. I spent too much time in the museum in Würtzburg looking at Riemenschneider carvings. The “small” altarpiece in St. James in Rothenburg o.d. Tauber (up behind the organ) is also quite something.

          • Indeed – spent 2-3 hrs examining and photographing that altarpiece (recording details that don’t show in the museum books, ’cause I do a little very amateur carving) – then the camera was stolen. Gotta go back when we can!
            In the Marienberg museum, I took a bunch of (what I hope will work as) stereo pairs – same closeup from two positions about 3″apart. Still have Mom’s old stereoscope, passed down from grandparents – want to try printing the stereo pairs to work in that.

  19. I had the impression that Nurse Chapel had been completed on several occasions. I must have been mistaken …

  20. IIRC, many European Churches took generations to build. Do any of our Middle Ages experts know whether the Church employed union construction labor?

    • There was a French cathedral where the king and several princes of the blood dragged the first stone into place. Certainly the union would have objected.

    • The medieval guild system is one of the origins of trade unions. And where I grew up, the medieval free (i.e., non-serf) masons were said to associate in guilds that resembled in structure and some ritual (if not in content) the esoteric society that would be named after them in the 18th century.

      • Masons differed from other trades in that, owing to their being needed all over the place for relatively short term assignments, they were often on the move. This meant that they could not go on the reputation of a new (claimed) mason, and if he did the job wrong, he could be long gone before the roof fell in.

        As a consequence, they needed some way to verify whether he had been properly trained. The chosen way was to have a secret ceremony. If you knew the ceremony, you had been certified as competent.

    • Also, construction on the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) was suspended in 1471 and lay still for 400 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral

  21. Interesting to hear that railings have appeared on the old castles and churches recently. Two months ago saw me and mine up at Niagara Falls. I was astonished to find out, up close and personal, that over on the Canadian side one can walk alongside the Niagara River all the way to the top and behind the falls themselves … with the only thing between us and the river being a waist-high parapet. Our tour guide admitted when asked that they lose at least a dozen people a year there, with no way of knowing who jumped and who was pushed, and whether or not alcohol was involved.

    • Which made me think of a sadly short lived pixilated TV series, but then, it was run on Fox…:

      Thank you.

      • Wow! I never saw a second of said TV show, but thank you VERY much for a tune from Andy Partridge that’s new to me! I do so miss XTC… (PS: Sorry for the belated reply, but Sabbath observance will do that to a schedule.)

        • In Memorium …

          Falling for Wonderfalls
          Fox’s Wonderfalls is the funniest show on television and the best new series of the season. So why aren’t you watching it?

          11:00 PM, MAR 25, 2004 • BY JONATHAN V. LAST

          HURRY. Get your Wonderfalls quick. Before it’s too late.

          This season has seen the premier of two high-quality, hour-long TV series. The first, Karen Sisco, was an adaptation of Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 film Out of Sight. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Karen Sisco proved to be a large and unexpected improvement on the original (although, unlike Buffy, the source material was darn good to start with). ABC aired nearly a half dozen episodes of the smart, sweet, and funny Sisco before pulling the plug.

          The third episode of Wonderfalls airs tonight on Fox (now on Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. est), and if the early returns are indication, we’ll be lucky if the executives at Fox allow three more of them to see daylight.

          WONDERFALLS centers around Jaye Tyler (played by Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas), a 24-year-old graduate of Brown (with a degree in philosophy), who lives in a trailer park in Niagara Falls and works at a local souvenir shop. Jaye is sullen, standoffish, clever, and incredibly spiteful–not to mention a junior varsity alcoholic–and she seems to be living her life as a direct rebuke to her successful, wealthy, and pleasantly offensive family (Karen, Darrin, Sharon, and Aaron Tyler).

          That is, until she has a small neurotic breakdown. When Jaye comes to, small, inanimate objects–a toy lion, a brass sculpture of a monkey–begin talking to her. They urge her to do things and, unsurprisingly, no one else can hear them.

          Jaye’s new talking friends give her instructions–do this, go there, talk to this or that person–and Jaye, already on the verge of crazy, listens to them. She becomes a deus ex machina, by way of Rube Goldberg. Much hilarity ensues.

          LIKE ALL GREAT TELEVISION, Wonderfalls doesn’t look like much on the page. (Who’d want to see a program about four people who do nothing, or a girl who kills vampires, or a mobile Army hospital in Korea?) But in execution, it’s something else. Shot with David Fincher-style ingenuity, the show always feels as though it is about to careen off the rails, but if Wonderfalls is a roller-coaster, it’s Space Mountain–everything is so unexpected that we never see the turn or drop-off until we’re halfway through it.

          The cast does outstanding work–particularly Dhavernas, whose performance is cool, self-assured, and tartly funny (see if you can spot the line readings where she merges Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan). Even the theme song is memorable, thanks to XTC’s Andy Partridge.

          The real star, however, is executive producer Tim Minear and his crew of talented writers. Each episode is packed with home-run jokes, most of which are mercifully unreliant on pop-cultural references. For instance:

          Therapist: Tell me about your family.
          Jaye: I don’t really want to gossip.

          Obvious comparisons will be made to other faith-centric shows, particularly Joan of Arcadia, Mysterious Ways, and Touched By an Angel (Wonderfalls was at one point tentatively titled “Touched By a Crazy Person”), but none of these are apt–Wonderfalls substitutes black humor for earnestness:

          Boy with a crush: Why struggle with faith? Life can be sort of peaceful when you stop struggling.
          Jaye: It’s a lot like drowning that way.

          Forget Joan of Arcadia; if anything, Wonderfalls is the lovechild of Amélie and Northern Exposure.

          ALAS, the big wheels at Fox don’t seem to be 100 percent behind Wonderfalls. Sticking the mid-season replacement in the 9:00 Friday night casket was an inauspicious start. Advertising support has been lackluster. Then, last week, Minear was reduced to writing a letter to a popular entertainment website asking people to please tune in. Not a good sign.

          In a perfect world, Fox would take a chance on Wonderfalls–move it to Sunday night, pair it with Arrested Development, air its reruns on FX, and stay with the show for a season or two. But in the end, Wonderfalls will probably be forced to surrender to destiny.

          That doesn’t mean you should miss out. Tune in tonight and see what great television looks like.

          Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.

  22. Speaking of unfinished work: I had no idea what a never-ending labor a large-scale fiction project is. My WIP started out as an extended outline and in 1st draft was 30,000 words. After I got it back from developmental editing, I started rewriting, incorporating essentially all suggestions and… am now up to 55,000 words! And on every pass through it I find something else to tweak, research, correct, or improve. Today was my self-imposed deadline: am basically there but need to take care of a few more things. My two protagonists live rent-free in my head by now 😉

    • My first novel snuck up on me by pretending to be a novelette at first. . . . though I could see the flaws and it took me some work to master the novel form before I could revise it properly. (Still is the first one published. A Diabolical Bargain.)

  23. Because writers are not sufficiently paranoid about saving WIP, look at this in a NY Post column:

    There have already been eight murders so far this year and a large number of other non-fatal shootings. Those new restaurants and coffee shops have been getting robbed. A writers group meeting at a Ditmas Park cafe in November had their laptops stolen at gunpoint.
    From: All neighborhoods matter — yet crime in some ‘hoods doesn’t seem to count.

    • Both T.E. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway had manuscripts lost when their luggage didn’t make it to their destination with them.

  24. For some reason, part of the grade school curriculum in the local school district includes a field trip to a working farm on the other side of the county. Which is rather odd, IMHO. But only because 99% of the students who don’t live in the village live ON a working farm, and the vast majority of people living in the village have close relatives who own the farms outside of it. My family is an exception to all that. But we’re surrounded by working farms. It’s easy to tell during the spring when the “fertilizer” from the dairy farms is spread around the fields.

  25. I think I found them! Part of the Batalha Monastery entry on Wikipedia:

    “As Capelas Imperfeitas (The Unfinished Chapels) remain as a testimony of the fact that the monastery was never actually finished. They form a separate octagonal structure tacked on the choir of the church (via a retrochoir) and only accessible from the outside. It was commissioned in 1437 by King Edward of Portugal (“Dom Duarte”, d.1438) as a second royal mausoleum for himself and his descendants. But he and his queen Eleanor of Aragon are the only ones buried here… The octagonal rotunda has seven radiating hexagonal chapels. In the corners of the chapels stand the massive unfinished buttresses, that were intended to support the vault. These pillars, designed by Diogo Boitac, are decorated with Manueline motives carved in stone.

    The portal rises to a monumental fifteen metres. It was originally built in Gothic style, but was transformed beyond recognition by Mateus Fernandes into a masterpiece of Manueline style (completed in 1509). It is completely decorated into a lacework of sumptuous and stylized Manueline motives : armillary, spheres, winged angels, ropes, circles, tree stumps, clover-shaped arches and florid projections….”

  26. (He told me, btw, he wasn’t asleep but thinking. First time I heard thinking with so much snoring.)
    Twasn’t snoring … twas the gears grinding and slipping

  27. Resolving the great question of our age:

    Three minutes three seconds of sophomoric nerdish humour.

  28. We took the kids to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the way back from a brief visit with the wife’s family, and we rode the ferries on the way there–the slow, but roomier way, as you can stretch your legs and travel at the same time.

  29. Imagine my surprise going back to find railings defacing castles and Roman ruins. You see, in euro-socialist Portugal everyone goes to school through 12th grade, whether they have any interest in it or not, and few have jobs on coming out, because guaranteed employment and no firing for those already hired, no matter how incompetent, means no new employees.

    Sort of reminds me of the safety tyranny that some companies engage in now, where you can get in trouble for not using the hand rail while taking the stairs.

    • We’ve had one EHS guy who likely would have went that route, but luckily he left because he was expected to do all the EHS duties, not just safety nazi, tin god wannabe lording over the workers.
      He threatened my job once, and I threatened his health, and we came to an understanding that he would never attempt to touch me again. He left not long after that. The next two were better, though the latest hit panic mode over GHS labeling, so I now have to wear either a rubber apron and arm covers (heat rash in minutes) or Tyvek suit, face shield or goggles with a face protector built in (those are like standing a half inch from a wall and re-breathing your own breath all day), all in an uncooled warehouse with this fine August 100 degree weather.
      Silly thing is, we now wear so much junk, people will walk up to talk to me when I actually am doing something that requires this and my full face mask with ammonia rated organic filters. Then they take a snoot-full of ammonium hydroxide fumes and get cleared sinuses. Before, if folks saw me in full kit, they avoided the area until I started taking stuff off.

    • One hand for you, one for the company-man. Having broken my tailbone on wet stairs, I’ve already taught that to my 6 yr. old.