Browne Barr: Vocation?

The poem below was written in the late 1930s by my father when he was an undergraduate student.


My friend, upon the world that lies below,
Now, look, this night, and think of all it knows.

The shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.
All joy in life is here at end of day.

A song we’ve sung; a prayer we’ve said; the crowd
Dissolved; the night is here; our faith we’ve vowed.

Today a politician’s pimple broke
And shot its friendly filth on simple folk.

The statistician raved and said we might
All be extinct before the fall of night.

The dietitian thought we could not live
Without the vitamins she had to give,

That clean and purge and make men strong.  She said
The children were obnoxious if well fed.

The politicians, statisticians, too
Know only of the Lilliputians’ view.

Perhaps they’ve never thought at end of day,
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away

That there is not abidance in the facts
When they alone administrate our acts.

Perhaps they’ve never felt the warmth of night
That mitigates all aching in its light

Or seen the hills that lie around their town
And heard their deathless call to eyes cast down,

“Lift up unto the hills.  There find the source
Of power, strength, tenacity and force.”

Tonight, my friend, we think of life ahead.
We see some bodies ache, some minds ‘most dead.

Let’s go awake their minds, relieve the pain
Of Lilliputian views that never gain

For them a favoured hour at end of day
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.

Final Favorite Films (for foreseeable future)

If you need to search a little to find these, I think it’s worth it.

  1. THE THIN MAN (1934).  The camera makes its way through the tuxedoed gents at a posh bar to find our leading man, William Powell, the most elegant of them all.  So what if the character he plays is such a consummate alcoholic he can hardly stand?  Or if he’s living off his rich wife and sprawls across the sofa Christmas morning to amuse himself with his new BB gun by shooting the ornaments off the tree?  None can match this couple’s gentility with the possible exception of Astor, their dog.
  2. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).  Sizzling tale of insurance fraud.  Possibly the classic film noir of all time.
  3. DEAD RECKONING (1947).  Speaking of noir, this one with Humphrey Bogart includes Lizabeth Scott, the queen of noir.  I just hope I remember Bogie’s advise at the end when it’s my time to die.
  4. BLADE RUNNER (1982, original theatrical release with the old gumshoe-detective voiceovers).  Moving right along to neo-noir and in anticipation of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to be released in October, please don’t miss my all-time favorite film for many years.  Director Ridley Scott’s steamy, deliciously exotic but grubbily believable future haunts me still.
  5. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (2003).  Worth it for the artistry of the animation alone, but a delightfully weird romp overall.

Further Favorite Films

You may also need to search for some of these.  Again, in my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. GUNGA DIN (1939).  Not to have seen this rollicking, Saturday-afternoon-matinee-style tale of British India isn’t an oversight; it’s a crime.  Afterwards (spoiler alert), treat yourself to both the Rudyard Kipling poem it’s based on and its 1939 movie review in The New York Times.
  2. D.O.A. (1950).  Starts with a guy staggering into a police station:  “I want to report a murder.”  Cop:  “Who was murdered?”  Guy:  “I was.”
  3. HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959).  Nothing has ever illustrated with such accuracy the nutty, optical-illusion-like reality shifts in a relationship.
  4. NIGHT ON EARTH (1991).  When I saw the Rome sequence with Roberto Benigni the first time, I laughed so hard I honestly feared choking.
  5. HORATIO’S DRIVE:  AMERICA’S FIRST ROAD TRIP (2003).  Folksy, fun and imaginatively convincing reconstruction of the true story of the first person to successfully cross the United States in a car in 1903.  The best part is that Horatio had no qualifications whatsoever to do this…starting with only a whim, a $50 bet, and no car.


Five Favorite Films

You may need to search for some of these.  In my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. PICCADILLY (1929).  What could be better than seeing a gorgeous black-and-white exactly as it was seen in 1929?…which is to say not in black and white.  This rare theatrical-release version is tinted blue for the exterior shots at night, where stately vehicles discharge elegantly clad customers in front of a posh London nightclub.  The interior sparkles with warm, peachy brilliance from its amber tint.  The absolutely luscious Jameson Thomas, as the swanky nightclub owner, drips elegance with every move.  Anna May Wong, the immigrant kitchen worker who claws her way from rags to riches, is the consummate femme fatale.  Finally, the newly composed music for the soundtrack is magnificent.
  2. NOTORIOUS (1946).  Hitchcock directed this sizzling noir with a notorious Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains.
  3. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).  Poor Orson Welles is no match for Rita Hayworth.
  4. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950).  How can you resist a film that starts with the camera looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool at the main character…who’s floating face down, dead, and about to tell us how he got that way?
  5. LIMELIGHT (1952).  You thought The Little Tramp was a soulful charmer in silent films?  Wait till you hear Charlie Chaplin talk!  He wrote and directed this story of a fading performer that fits him like the proverbial glove.

A Christmas in the Fifties

Christmas 1947 in New York, New York, had its Miracle on 34th Street.  But for my brother John and me, exactly ten years later, Christmas 1957 in Hamden, Connecticut, had its miracle on Giles Street.

It started when something I would never have believed possible occurred:  Instead of my brother John and I waking our father up on Christmas morning, he woke us up.  Then, before we could even get out of bed, he gave each of us the strangest possible gift, a teeny ball of string.  And it wasn’t even all wrapped up.  Groggily I got out of bed to wrap up the rest but realized it went all the way across my room and out the door.

My father called after me, “Promise me that, no matter what, you won’t look up from that string till you find its end.”

“I promise,” said I, with no idea what I was in for.

I tottered along the upstairs hallway, wrapping the string up as I went.  The teeny ball was getting bigger.  I heard my older brother John up ahead of me somewhere, wondering where the end of his string was, but I didn’t look up.

The string I was following led into the spare room.  Ah, thought I, it must end with something that’s hidden in here!  But no.  I followed the string over boxes and under old furniture and around a cracked mirror, but then it lead me back out of the room.  The teeny ball I kept adding to, as I rewound the string I was following onto it, wasn’t at all teeny any more.

As I followed my string down the stairs, I realized without even looking up that the whole house had been festooned with string like cobwebs.  John and I were crawling under and over everything from the furniture to the dog to each other.

Finally we arrived in the living room where I followed the instructions exactly but John looked up just before he got to the end of his string.  I heard his sharp gasp of surprise.  Then my hand came to the end of my string, against what seemed like an oddly opaque window, slightly green.   Looking up at last, I saw that the window had a large picture-like frame, but it wasn’t anywhere near an outside wall of the house.  Instead it was part of a huge, boxlike piece of blonde-wood furniture.

Our father turned it on.  The Lone Ranger called, “Hi-Yo, Silver!” as his white horse reared before galloping across that green-tinted window.  It was our first TV.

Five Great Spec Fiction Books Amazon Ships for Free

Twisted (new author's edition 2015)

Even if those people you still have to get holiday gifts for aren’t great speculative fiction fans, I think these personal picks of mine will please just about any intelligent person with an active imagination.  Some aren’t even technically speculative fiction, or purely speculative fiction, but rather a “slipstream” mix of speculative fiction and mainstream which should appeal to all.  And all qualify for free shipping on Amazon if your book order totals $25 or more.

  1. ALL THE NAMES BY JOSÉ SARAMAGO.  I don’t think anyone else would classify this as even slipstream, let alone speculative fiction, but I argue any book where a character lies in bed and talks to the ceiling…and the ceiling talks back…qualifies!  While certainly not for the hardcore fan of military sci fi (no photon torpedoes), I believe most will be charmed by the gentle whimsy of this tale of a lonely and lowly clerk by an author who won the Nobel Prize for literature.
  2. ENDER’S GAME BY ORSON SCOTT CARD.  This one’s definitely speculative fiction, in fact sci fi.  Many, including the author, seem to prefer the next book in the series, Speaker for the Dead.  While I agree that Speaker for the Dead is an excellent book, I fear it sometimes eclipses Ender’s Game, a fate Ender’s Game does not deserve!  Personally I prefer the greater power of story and plotting I found in Ender’s Game.  This is a book that I believe both teens and adults can appreciate, and I don’t think one has to have read any of the previous books in the series before reading Ender’s Game (though I did, and they were good, too).  Ender’s Game won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards.
  3. 2312 BY KIM STANLEY ROBINSON.  This is an amazing feat of science fiction writing, which opens with a sequence set on a colonized Mercury that is sheer perfection.  Among its many achievements is the author’s way of segregating longer scientific explanations into separate sections that are really enjoyable and interesting…but also very easy to skip if one just wants to keep going with the story.  2312 won a very well-deserved Nebula Award.
  4. ROCOCO BY SUE HOLLISTER BARR.  What?  You doubt my objectivity?  It is sci fi, set in a future I think you’ll find amusing if your sense of humor, like mine, is a bit on the dark side.
  5. TWISTED BY SUE HOLLISTER BARR.  This one’s horror, and it could be argued I went overboard by making it really sick horror.  But many have enjoyed this tale of 60s hippies attempting to escape a fate they can’t outrun since it was first (conventionally) published.  And I believe my new author’s edition, published in 2015, is even better.

Ink Splatters 3

Then again, did Trump have anything at all to do with electing Trump?


Adventure.  Romance.  Drama.  Suspense.

Love ’em.  Why do you think I (mostly) write fiction?

I’m not alone.  Why do you think there’s so much news coverage for a presidential election?

But what if the (reasonable) assumption that the campaign might have anything al all to do with the outcome of the election is, like the stuff I write, also fiction?

Below is a link to National Public Radio’s Hidden Brain podcast.  Check out the interview with Allan Lichtman in Episode 51, entitled “What Happened?”, from November 15:

Ink Splatters 3


Two-Way Street


lib·er·al  ˈlib(ə)rəl/  adjective  open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values

Truth be told, I’ve never really respected the opinions of anyone at all religious, let alone fundamentalist.  And my traditional values have always included Ralph Waldo Emerson’s distinction between freedom and license.  (As I see it, according to Emerson’s distinction, I should have the freedom to get high on whatever odd substance I chose and have sex with my dog…assuming, of course, that he or she is a consenting adult…in the privacy of my own home.  But the minute I walk out my front door and inadvertently kick a leaf into my neighbor’s yard, who will then have to remove it or endure its potentially unwelcome presence on his or her property, I have committed an act of license for which I should be held accountable.)

These and other of my opinions and traditional values justify referring to me as a liberal, part of the “coastal elite” who pompously presumed…when an elegant, intelligent black man was elected president to serve for two terms…that “fly-over” America was finally beginning to “grow up.”  (“Grow up” meaning, of course, see things from my point of view.)  Part of the coastal elite that never actually took anything rural America had to say all that seriously anyway.  (It all seemed so preposterously irrational after all.)  Part of the coastal elite that was totally floored when what I originally took as what must be some kind of joke, Donald Trump running for president, actually resulted in his being elected.

So I understand my fellow liberals’ horror all too well, as we struggle to come to grips with Trump’s election.  I share the pain of feeling helpless and lost and powerless as we witness our country on the brink of being taken over by what appears to us to be total illogic.

But what does rural America feel whenever a Democrat is elected?

The link below resonates with many coastal elite, myself included.  But does it, like all the liberals with which it resonates, fail to see beyond its own myopic ways of thinking enough to realize it has very successfully answered the “unanswerable” question it poses after all?  The answer is accepting that rural America has a right to arrive at conclusions without utilizing the methods coastal America uses.

Now that the bloodbath that was the election campaign is over, both Trump and Pence are promising to represent and care for all Americans.  But are we, who call ourselves liberal, open to new behavior or opinions, willing to discard any of our traditional values, and equally prepared to accept all Americans, including those that voted for Trump?

Ink Splatters 3

The Taliban Within


“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Matthew 7:3, The Holy Bible (King James Version)

That beam is the election of Donald Trump, if not by the majority of the people that live in this land…at least by the people who live on a very clear majority of the actual, physical land mass of the United States.  That brother…depending on what the Trump administration does to the rights of women and other equally important groups of people who aren’t white, Christian, and heterosexual…is the Taliban, about whom we as a nation may soon lose any right to complain.

I never went to college so my Alma Mater (though I never finished it either) was Berkeley High School.  There, where even Bob Dylan performed in my high school auditorium, I gathered for lunch every day with most of the rest of the students to make and listen to each other’s political speeches and calls to action.  In the link below you will see that, over a half century later, Berkeley High’s student population still congregates in the exact same places where we did in the 1960s.

It therefore comes as no surprise to me that half the student population walked out of Berkeley High School in protest against the man who was elected president.

To quote the words of the woman who did in fact win the election by popular vote, and would have been our next president were this country actually a democracy:  “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

But, as we fight, we must still…at least in my opinion…heed that beam, in fact “own” that beam, in our own eye:  Whose rights…whose anger…did we so grievously ignore for such a long time that even just the Electoral College could elect a man with as much hate and as little political experience as Donald Trump?

Ink Splatters 3

On the Road, Egypt: The Sudan

RuinedTemple SORTA BLUED

It was hot.  I was the only one aboard.  Anyone else would have found a way to cancel.  Not The Sudan.

Dark wood.  Etched windows.  A tradition of serving royalty with more elegance and refinement than could probably be claimed by all those Highnesses combined.  Reduced, in this heat, to serving little old me.

Walking the quay at Luxor…towering, “mid-century-modern” cruise ships with faux pharaonic columns and Egyptian art sporting rhinestones that would shame Las Vegas.  Not my taste.

Suddenly…sleek, trim, all dark wood and sparkling brass…The Sudan.  Built in 1885 for King Fouad.

As I step aboard two men in floor-length burgundy shirts, with just a tasteful touch of burnished gold trim, greet me.  One opens an antique food warmer to reveal an artfully arranged moist towel to wipe the dust and sweat from my face and hands.  The other offers a refreshing drink, subtly spiced.  I hadn’t always been visible from the shore as I walked through Luxor.  Yet they seemed to know the exact moment when I would return.

After smiles, bows, and well wishes are exchanged, I ascend an ornate wooden staircase that would make a Victorian mansion proud.  It curves graciously, leading me up to the “promenade deck” where my cabin awaits me.  It’s deliciously cool, thanks to one of the very few intrusions from less gracious centuries.  But the air conditioning is delivered through wide mahogany louvers into a trim, 19th-Century cabin of gleaming brass and dark-wood paneling.  I can easily imagine a khaki-clad Egyptologist tossing his straw helmet with neat leather straps on the crisp white linens of the bed.  But the cabin is actually dedicated to Hercule Poirot because this is, in fact, the steam ship Agatha Christie was on when she was inspired by it to write Death on the Nile and was used, either actually or in a model based on it, in its film versions.

Naturally the professionally invisible staff sneaked into my cabin while I was gone to tidy up and leave me a treat to eat.  Dare I follow in the tracks of the likes of Queen Elizabeth to dine in the dining salon.  At least my father taught me which sterling silver fork to use for what.

But no hint of my relative insignificance from The Sudan.  Sympatico, perhaps, in a land where many may feel insignificant compared to thousands upon thousands of years of their own ancestors’ miraculous achievements?

Yet The Sudan’s current achievements are miraculous.

A waiter manages to appear instantly whenever I finish the last bite of a delicious dish.  With consummate elegance, he pauses just long enough to get my tacit approval before removing the dish…always managing a broad, seemingly both spontaneous and sincere smile that hints delicately that there is nothing he’d rather do than remove another of my dishes from the table and that somehow the whole thing…perhaps life itself…is an inside joke between us.

Although The Sudan is currently managed by a French tour company…Voyageurs du Monde, which would explain the exquisite cuisine…they supply an English-speaking Egyptian, who can read hieroglyphics as if taught at his mother’s knee, as my guide.  After showing me the ancient wonders of Luxor, the Sudan steams up for my leisurely, days long, trip to Aswan.  Ancient, well-oiled machinery purrs.  Paddle wheels slap the water quietly.  Luxor slips away and I enter a world from a dream as horses nicker, donkeys bray, oxen low, and children wave and call and run along the Nile’s shores.  It’s all so quiet I imagine I could hear a baby coo in a back bedroom facing the Western Desert.  Two-man fisherman teams…one rowing, the other standing to deploy the net…use the same equipment and techniques I’ve seen depicted in carvings almost 5,000 years old.

Ink Splatters 3