The only woman in the room – a novel about the amazing true story of Hedy Lamarr

Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler was born in Austria and would later become a famous and beautiful actress known as Hedy Lamarr. But, her story is far more compelling and complicated than that. Marie Benedict penned a novel based on Lamarr’s incredible true life story called “The only woman in the room.” Not only was she an iconic actress, she was a scientist and was in the room when her domineering husband, a munitions manufacturer in Austria, hosted Austrian, Nazi and Italian leaders.

I will stop short of giving the story away, but this fast-paced novel told in first person, provides a narrative of a woman frightened by her first husband and the plans she overheard. Staying only with the teaser written on the back cover, she would eventually flee to London where she met a movie mogul who was recruiting actors and actresses leaving Europe as Hitler expanded his evil reach.

Yet, she would lament what was transpiring in her homeland, as a Jew and as an transplanted Austrian. So, based on what she heard in these many meetings back in Austria, she would work with a talented avante garde pianist and composer to devise an electronic communication system for the war effort that laid a foundation that is used today. I will stop there at this strange point, so as not to say too much. I will leave you thinking the obvious – an actress and a pianist did this?

The book found its way to The New York Times best seller list. It is a quick and compelling read. I highly recommend this book as it is far more than an unknown history lesson.

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A man called Ove – a curmudgeon worth a deeper look

The title of bestselling author Fredrik Backman’s book “A man called Ove” or the reference to the subject may not be inviting, but give this book a chance. We all have curmudgeons in our lives and sometimes we may even channel our inner curmudgeon. But, why do some people act the way they do?

People Magazine opines on Ove, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.” I agree.

Backman introduces Ove in real time, so you will start off with a full-frontal view of a curmudgeon. But, through changes in his daily life and a series of reveals as Ove remembers the good and bad in his life, you gain a new perspective on how he has evolved to be who he is. You will learn Ove has a tough outer shell, but different layers are buried beneath.

To avoid any spoilers, let me mention what is written on the back cover to invite you to read the book. Ove’s daily routine is disrupted when chatty new neighbors with two young daughters announce they have arrived one November morning by accidentally backing their U-Haul trailer over Ove’s mailbox.

Their interactions and related others take an ice-pick to Ove’s icy outer shell. The book is an easy read, but do give Ove a chance. Your initial reaction to Ove will be like everyone else’s whom the character meets in the book. So, bring your proverbial ice pick along. And, some tissue.

He doesn’t think he did anything wrong

He doesn’t think he did anything wrong. And, that is a part of the recurring problem. The US president thinks nothing of trading something to a country for dirt on an opponent. He did it before and will do it again until Congress says it is not OK.

But, that is not the only problem among the recurring equations. He sees nothing wrong with making money off the presidency. It is unethical and, at times, illegal. People feel obligated to stay at Trump facilities to curry his favor. He need not order it to happen, he just creates an environment that people feel they need to do it.

He thinks nothing of lying recurringly. He lies everyday, even when he does not have to. In fact, with about 1,000 days in office and over 12,000 lies per The Washington Post, that averages to 12 per day. While that seems a little high, it is closer to being correct than Fox host Stuart Varney’s zero estimate.

We should recall the words of his long-time attorney and fixer of Trump missteps. Michal Cohen said under oath, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.” Maybe it is because he has gotten away with it all of his life, that Trump feels he can continue with impunity.

Country music documentary series

Ken Burns has done it again. While not a huge country music fan, I am four episides into the eight part series on “Country Music.” It has been a wonderful history lesson that goes beyond the storytelling of country music.

To avoid spoiling the series for those who have not seen it, let me offer a few key themes:

– the show utilizes historical insights from numerous perspectives – country performers, songwriters, radio DJs, historians and even performers from other genres;

– country music was influenced by and influenced other genres of music – mountain hymns, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, rock-a-billy, pop music, etc.;

– country music was born in Bristol, VA (and TN – the city splits the state line) due to an ad seeking talent to record, but broadened in a number of places based economic migration resulting from the dust bowl and depression, which created these intersections of styles and influences;

– finally, it is the stories within and behind the music – to offer one tidbit, the jazz great Charlie Parker was asked why he paid attention to country music? He said it was the great stories.

There are too many names to mention, many of whom I have never heard. But, exposure to folks like Maybelle Carter who popularized a guitar playing style or Earl Scruggs who popularized a three-finger banjo technique or Jimmy Rodgers who perfected the use of yodeling to accent a song are three examples of its influence.

Rather than give too much away, please watch. It is worth the effort. I look forward to the remainder of the series.

Immortality is indeed possible

My mother passed away almost three years ago. Yet, she lives on. Not just in our memories, but in the donor rolls of way too many charities. Even though she never lived in my sister’s new residence, her address has been updated after my sister moved away from our mother’s home.

So, each week, my mother gets mail from three to five charities. My sister tried stopping a few, but they did not heed her request or changed the name to hers. There must be a quantity requirement for the lists. So, more trees suffer to send out something that will find the trash.

When my mother passed away, I went through her stuff and found about 5,000 pieces of mail requesting money. Often, I found twenty to thirty from the same entity, where my mother wrote “Consider later.” As my mother’s memory faded, this was her coping mechanism. Since some charities send pennies, nickels and dimes in the request, I think we accumulated about $2.50 in change from the stash.

I know charities need money, but is this the best path forward? There are many fine charities out there with good causes, but there are some that are not well run or whose cause is a band-aid not effectuating change. Plus, those that use professional fund raisers, ask them how much goes to the charity and how much goes to them. So, we should all check the charities out.

It is also interesting that my father who passed away thirteen years ago will get an occasional piece of mail requesting money. One surprise was my brother got one and he never lived in the house that my mother and father bought after the kids were raised.

Immortality is indeed possible. At least the nice part is the letter makes us think of mom.

 

Impromptu conversations

Earlier this week, I had a delightful conversation with an 80 year-ish old couple in a doctor’s waiting room. Doing what I often do, I observed
a conversation starter and took the chance to inquire.

The man was wearing a white t-shirt that had the cursive “Dodgers” in blue on the front. Rather than speak across the room, I walked over, got a cup of bad coffee, stopped at their seats and dove in.

“Is that for the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Los Angeles Dodgers?” I asked indicating where the baseball team moved in the late 1950s. He smiled and said the answer I hoped to hear, “Brooklyn.”

In response to my question if they are from Brooklyn, he said “No, Cuba.” Rather than segue into a different subject regarding why they left Cuba, I stayed with baseball. I asked if he was a Jackie Robinson fan and he became animated. He said he actually got to see Robinson play.

We discussed what a treat that was and our collective knowledge of Dodger history. I can remember old baseball history much better than recent history. We meandered down the path of Robinson, beating the dreaded Yankees in 1955, the book “The Boys of Summer,” the pitching prowess of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres that swept those same Yankees in 1963 and the current team’s prowess.

His wife relished in his enjoyment of the conversation. She had a big smiile, Before I could move onto her, his name was called by the nurse.

It was a delightful conversation. I have shared before how much I like to uncover conversation starters, be it a name like Olivia or Aimee likely after a star or song or some version of double names like Mary Ellen or Betty Sue. Or, I love it when resort areas have someone’s home town on his or her nametag.

My wife said I made that man’s day, but he helped make mine better. I encourage everyone to have impromptu conversations. It brings us closer. Just look for those cues.

Why aren’t you in Brussels?

After several days of being taken to the woodshed, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was found walking the streets. And, he got quite an earful. One man said it clearly. “Why are you here? Why aren’t you in Brussels?”

The meaning is clear. Why aren’t you in Brussels negotiating a deal to leave the European Union? Whether you favor Brexit or not, leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous. CEOs have been consistent in this message. To their credit, many of them do not favor leaving rhe EU. They see Brexit as dilutive to the British economy. Yet, leaving with no deal would be a bureaucratic fiasco. Think long lines of trucks at the border, both ways.

Sadly, the PM is not known to be a detailed person, not unlike the US president. So, when Boris tells people a “no-deal” Brexit is manageable, those words should not give anyone comfort, even pro-Brexit people. Going one step further, the same could be said of Parliament whose inability to manage Brexit has put the UK in this predicament.

So, I think the man on the street has it right. Prime Minister, get your fanny to Brussels. And, take some detail people with you. You will need them. Either get a deal done or don’t leave the EU.