The big heat

Is there a way to win?

There’s a way to lose more slowly.

It’s hard to escape this week the feeling that we’re all playing a role in an artfully directed film noir. The stifling heat-wave acting as a skillful metaphor for the stupefying complexity of Brexit; cheap fans recirculating hot air over the people recirculating year-old arguments; everyone hoping for the slightest breeze to bring relief.

Like the hard-boiled detective we stake out our mark, David Davis, watching the building across the street, looking for any clue as to what he’s up to in there, sweat on our shirt collars, a camera and a hip-flask our only companions. Slowly we’re starting to see the big picture. This isn’t a film with a happy ending. There are no goodies and baddies. Instead we’re caught in the cross-fire of two rival crime gangs; they hate each other, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that either of them cares for us.

may b&w
“From the minute she walked into office I knew that dame was trouble”

In fact we might have the sneaking suspicion that we’re nearing the point in the plot where one or the other sends their goons to beat us senseless, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to us.

First there’ll be a scene where we can’t sleep. We toss and turn, entangled in the unpleasantly damp sheets of tedious negotiations, before heading to the sash window and looking to the sky for relief. All this heat means that the storm must be coming. We can taste it on the air and convince ourselves that we can hear the distant rumble of its thunder.

may B&w2
“She had legs that just wouldn’t quit. Not just the legs, actually”

The director, of course, won’t allow the storm to break just yet. It as to wait for the climax of the film, when the McGuffin we’ve been chasing is almost within our grasp. That’s when the rain comes hammering down, and the drowsy daydream we’ve been living is violently washed away.

That’s when, torrents pouring down parched gutters, we must face whichever gang boss remains. First they’ll appeal to our reason, and ask us nicely to see things their way. If that doesn’t work then that’s when they up to stakes and the threats are unveiled.

corbyn B&W
“Made it, Marr! Top of the world!”

Then we find out what kind of story this was. Whether it’s the kind where the hero dies, or has a clever plan to get out of it all. Whether there’s any sort of ‘happily ever after’, or even a beautiful friendship. Whether it’s just the kind where the hero has to accept that they’re part of an imperfect world, and try to find morality not in being moral, but rather in recognising that they’re not.

But we won’t know until the storm breaks.

Until then, how can one sleep or work or think in this insufferable heat?

One thought on “The big heat

  1. “Is there a way to win?
    There’s a way to lose more slowly.”

    I live in California but most of my family moved to Nevada and two sisters working in casinos. In Reno, years ago you had small casinos, good (basic) food, only quality all-you-can-eat buffets, and that once a week on Friday at one hotel casino.
    You had the mountains and the people who lived in the country and raised cattle and alfalfa and some of the best melons in the US.
    Since I lived in San Francisco and appreciated the distance between the two if I wanted to see them, I’d catch a tour bus for a weekend. I’d seen enough of the casinos and what working in them did to a lot of people and if I wanted to be lucky I’d rather it was some other place, some other time. I didn’t gamble.
    But someone I was living with wanted to meet my family (my stories rather than a ‘get to know them’ experience and he liked to gamble a little.
    None of the entertainment was that interesting at the time so we needed a way to spend time while waiting for my sister to get off work. He asked my sister about odds and such. She dealt 21 and the wheel so that was what she knew and the guy wasn’t interested in craps anyway.
    The premise was what game could he play that would get him free drinks and had the best odds.
    She explained a simple system, which he tried but decided there was no thrill to it and he’d rather have a rush from winning or losing so gave it up.
    She said:
    There are rows and columns. Three of each. You place one chip at the head of two of the rows, and two of the columns. And she said basically what you said:

    “Is there a way to win?

    There’s a way to lose more slowly.”

    Since she was married and divorced five times (at least) by my calculations, she gambled on the wrong things for reasons I didn’t understand.
    My eldest sister was working in Reno when they filmed 5 Against the House so we heard about it (the rest of the family was still in a small town in the Sierras ( where High Noon was filmed) and went to see it. I didn’t know film noir from anything but the reality of the story was eye-opening to someone less
    than 10 years old. But as I looked around the small town and smaller lives I applied what the film had shown me and prepared me a life different from what my classmates (and family) expected. I came to see that my life would need a non-American director and it would take me to decide for myself what mattered. I had disliked Disney films, I felt manipulated.

    When I lived in San Francisco (a cocktail waitress in the Financial District who hung out in North Beach and went to after hours jazz clubs or went to Playland at the Beach to ride the merry-go-round on foggy days when there were few around. (and across from it was the Fun House on which Wells based the Crazy House where Lady from Shanghai ended.
    I rode the Angels Flight funicular in 1958 (a school trip) and saw the fascinating tenements of Bunker Hill. I think I decided a long time ago that it wasn’t where you were (as long as it was different, and had history) or what you were doing (as long as you could support yourself) or what other people thought (especially people in authority) because there’s no way they can be right.
    It’s a prefab world they want to foist on us but I won’t take it. If it means going through all you’ve written about here, then I’ll take it and while I’m waiting, think about what I’d change. But it wouldn’t be changes that would go over with anyone else. And if they’ve really fucked things up, well one person can’t change it but they can still call it out for the shit it is.
    Los Angeles may be bright and sunny (too sunny for my taste) but the corruption still runs deep (watch True Confessions–great acting, wonderful script from good book).
    In your scenario I found myself hearing some long forgotten samba that has rain in the background. I can remember which albums it might have come from but I don’t have them, and the soundtrack of your script doesn’t need my music.
    But from experiences of waiting for storms (both needed and feared) I think it is not when the rain breaks that we sense a resolution (unless you’re a fan of Dorothy L Sayers who uses breaking rain in both Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night) but for film noir, I think it’s when the actual rain falls and it either vanishes, leaving us without, or overwhelms that which might control it.
    I’ve seen several large rivers reach flood stage to where lowlands are evacuated and bridges closed, river courses changed and hundred foot very old fir trees swept along in the flood waters, to beat themselves against the center support of a trestle bridge until the steel plates are torn and the pieces, too heavy to be carried by the water, fall to mark what was there on the gravel bank below once the flooding ceases.
    Film noir always suggests or hints at horribly destructive forces (Kiss Me Deadly is so good) but it’s never gone beyond that because the writer, director or producer knew the suggestions were enough. We’re talking about the human forces beneath and we don’t want to know what might be loosed if
    too much darkness, too much raw emotion is given freedom.
    But I have seen that after intense flooding, the rivers return to their banks (however altered), the beds of the rivers cleansed so the creatures who need a vital river can return and take up their natural lives again, unchoked by pollution, diversion and overgrowth by the trees along the banks.
    The Aswan dam in Egypt, the Three Gorges dams in China, they’re showing how foolhardy it really is to think we can control wild forces and not pay a price later.
    And in other, different ways you in the UK, me in the US, we know there will be change. But do you also sense changes that have not been discussed or considered? What if people decide something isn’t enough? What if the anger of the Brexiteers becomes unacceptable and others decide to show them what anger truly is? The ones who have threatened this and that find themselves confronted with changes they could not have imagined and forces behind them that didn’t exist before.
    Dams which had the capacity to hold two seasons rainfall which had been almost emptied refilled (and still not receiving the snow melt) in one winter season…
    I’m not talking global warming, I’m seeing parallels between earth changes and people changes. And the people changes are more fearsome.
    and I believe T S Eliot is wrong. The ones who might have whimpered will be silent and as for a bang, there may be a series, a Ragnarök of sorts. Not full destruction; it’s not needed. But the emotions underlying our lives–not just you and not just me–are not stilling nor going away. I am no seer to think to say what might be. I have no children. I have few personal hopes. I am 75 and accept what my life has been. And I am ready for the storm, ready for the storm.


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