TRUMAN REDUX:

by

Zachary Klein

zach1Profile

INTRODUCTION

Hard to believe, but In Cold Blood is fifty years old. Published in 1966, the book was not only a huge bestseller, but also a literary trailblazer. Capote kicked open journalism’s doors (despite Norman Mailer’s belief to the contrary) and they have remained open. A few recent examples quickly jump to mind: Serial, a This American Life podcast; Jinx, an HBO documentary; and, of course, Making a Murderer, a Netflix original documentary series. (A more complete discussion of MaM can be found @ http://zacharykleinonline.com/reviews/making-a-murderer/)

As some of you know, I enjoy interviewing the dead so, in November, 2012, I tracked down Truman Capote and spent a number of hours talking with him. Given his book’s golden birthday I really wanted another interview but this time was met with hostility and refusal.

Me: “I don’t understand. This is a celebratory moment. Why won’t you talk with me?”

Mr. Capote: “Mailer. That’s all the reason I need.”

Me: “I thought you and I hit it off pretty well.”

Mr. Capote: “As did I, until I read your interview with that self-serving braggart.”

Me: “I wasn’t particularly easy on him, you know.”

Mr. Capote: “’To be perfectly honest,’ as Nixon would mutter, it wasn’t your interview per se. It was your decision to submit the Mailer interview rather than mine to that anthology.

Me: Ahh, you mean the one for my local bookstore? (https://www.inkshares.com/books/what-happened-here-year-one-at-papercuts-j-p-.) Truman, please. We’re talking local, here.”

Mr. Capote: Don’t “please” me, Klein. Mailer, Mailer, and more Mailer—and that about wraps it up. Go talk to him again. We’re finished.

And we were as he slipped back into his grave-site. No amount of knocking would raise him from the dead. Still, the fiftieth anniversary of In Cold Blood demands respect. So, to honor his memory and all the room he’s given to generations of writers, I’ve decided to reprint my entire original interview. As Kenzaburo Oe once said, “The dead can survive as part of the lives of those that still live.”

————————————————————

I’m taking this opportunity to follow Truman Capote’s genre busting creation of the “nonfiction novel” with non-novel fiction—an interview with Capote himself. To that end we recently sat down and, I believe, both enjoyed our conversation. We met in a closed small tavern (I know the owner), called The Living Room where Mr. Capote sat on a club chair upholstered in peacock blue with me across a square table on a leather couch. Both of us drank sparkling water.

Mr. Capote: “Frankly, I was expecting the Ritz. Nothing this shabby.” Capote leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and raised his small hand to his chin.

Me: “I wanted a place where we could talk without being interrupted, Mr. Capote. Plus, I don’t know the owner of the Ritz.”

Mr. Capote: “Just call me Tru. It’s always so interesting to discover who one knows and doesn’t. And I do so much enjoy interruptions. It gives me a chance to observe. And of course, it means that people haven’t forgotten me.”

 ME: “There’s no chance of anyone who reads forgetting you. Anyone who ever saw you on television either.”

Capote’s hand dropped to his lap, as he leaned forward with a half smile.

Mr. Capote: “I really was famous, wasn’t I?”

ME: “Very much so. In fact, so much so that many people believed it was your driving motivation to write.”

Capote chuckled and shook his head.

 Mr. Capote: “I began writing out of loneliness and desperation. I’d been abandoned by my parents and was quite…different than anyone else—so I wrote. And wrote, and wrote. When my mother returned and brought me to New York, nothing really changed inside. Writing was all I wanted to do. To me, the greatest pleasure in writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make. And that music kept me sane. It’s all I ever wanted to do until Perry…”

Capote’s voice dropped to a whisper and his eyes began to rapidly blink.

Me: “Before we go there I want to ask about your statement that the music of words kept you sane. I wonder whether your first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms took it a step further. An opportunity to accept yourself, your upbringing, your sexuality?”

Capote’s eyes kept blinking but he reached for his glass, took a sip and continued to lean forward.

Mr. Capote: “I’ve said many times that the central theme of Other Voices, Other Rooms was my search for who was essentially an imaginary person, that is, my father.”

Capote ran the back of his hand over his forehead.

Mr. Capote: “You do know it debuted at number nine on The New York Times Best Seller list and remained on the list for more than two months!”

Me: “I do. It also seems that the novel helped you come to terms with your homosexuality.”

Mr. Capote: “No, no, no. (Tru vigorously shook his head, almost spilling the water from the glass in his hand) Old news, darling. Frankly, I simply used that theme to make the book titillating. Looking down and back, perhaps it was my first stab at nonfiction novels. Although I must say, Other Voices, Other Rooms was an unconscious, altogether intuitive attempt to exorcise demons for I was not aware, except for a few incidents and descriptions, of its being to any serious degree autobiographical. Rereading it now, I find such self-deception unpardonable. I did know, however, exactly what I was doing when Harold Halma took my picture for the back cover. I wasn’t completely oblivious.”

capote-other-voices

Back Cover–OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS

Capote put his glass down and laughed delightedly.

Me: “Since you brought up the term “nonfiction novel,” maybe we ought to begin talking about In Cold Blood?”

Mr. Capote: “Not yet, please. It’s been a while since my last interview and, I must say, I’m enjoying it more than I thought. Also, it would be wrong to simply bypass Breakfast At Tiffany’s.”

Me: “You’re right, Mr. Capote. Though it’s still difficult for me to shake George Peppard’s image as Paul Varjak.”

Mr. Capote: “A gorgeous man, Peppard, too bad he spent so much time in the closet. Still, keep in mind I didn’t cast him for the movie. That was out of my control.”

Me: “Of course…”

Before I finished my sentence Capote placed his glass back on the table and sat at the edge of his chair.

Mr. Capote: “As badly miscast as he was, Peppard didn’t annoy me. Tiffany did. They never really appreciated the way I put them on the map. They simply gave me some sort of bauble.”

Me: “Do you remember what it was?”

Capote wiggled back in his chair.

Mr. Capote: “I don’t care to try.”

Me: “Not a problem. You know, of course, that after Norman Mailer read Breakfast he said, “Truman Capote I do not know well, but I like him. He is tart as a grand aunt, but in his way is a ballsy little guy, and he is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm. I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany’s which will become a small classic.””

Mr. Capote: “Small indeed. Certainly less pages than Mailer could ever write. And his remark that I’m a ballsy little guy and the most perfect writer of that generation was simply another way to insult me and my sexuality. I know George…”

Me: “George?”

Capote stared at me with rock hard eyes.

Mr. Capote: “Plimpton. George Plimpton. I might have been dead when he had the gall to say it, but I’m not blind or deaf. In an interview, he said I was at the top of the ‘second’ tier of writers and named Norman as being in the top. Now who do you imagine Norman really thought was the most ‘perfect’ writer of his generation?”

Capote raised an eyebrow but his stare remained cold as steel. But I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing. Eventually Capote joined in as both of us contemplated Mailer’s massive ego.

Me: “Point taken.”

I glanced at the clock.

Me: “This has taken longer than I had anticipated but I’d hate to end now. Would you mind staying longer or maybe meet at another time to finish?”

Mr. Capote: “Oh dear boy, I’d be happy to stay. I really don’t get out much anymore. But there is a condition.”

Me: “Yes?”

Mr. Capote: “I simply need something, uhh, better to drink. Remember, I do live in a dry town.”

I certainly didn’t want “Tru” to leave so, I scrambled behind the bar and quickly mixed two screwdrivers—vodka, orange juice, orange slices.

Mr. Capote: “Ahh, my orange drink.  You did your homework well.”

Me: “It wasn’t difficult.”

Mr. Capote: “I suppose not,” he said with a sigh, before taking a long sip from the glass.

Mr. Capote: “It is quite good, thank you and you made doubles. I hope you write as well as you bar-tend. Or perhaps I really don’t care.”

I placed my glass on the table, took a deep breath, and climbed back onto the saddle.

Me: “I hope so too. But now I think we ought to talk about In Cold Blood.”

A small smile played at the corners of Capote’s mouth but his eyes saddened.

Mr. Capote: “It was a hell of a book, wasn’t it?”

Me:Is a hell of a book. I call it genre busting, but even that doesn’t really express the sheer intensity and importance of the work.

Mr. Capote: “That intensity cost me my life,” he said quietly.

Me: “Perry Smith?”

Smith-Capote

Smith/Capote

Mr. Capote: “Oh yes, he was a major part, but everything about those six years of living in Kansas for long periods of time, especially in the beginning and the end left me empty, dry.”

Me: “Even though Harper Lee was there to help you?”

HP1

Capote/Lee

 

Capote sat taller in his peacock blue chair.

Mr. Capote: “No, no, no,” he said, that hard look returning to his eyes. “Harper and I were childhood friends. I thought bringing her to Kansas might help her with her own writing. She had very little to do, however, with either the research or writing of Blood. She did help me get to know a wide range of people who might not have trusted me otherwise. Harper is a very likable woman.”

Me: “She was pretty upset that you shared the dedication and didn’t even mention her contributions to the book.”

Mr. Capote: “Would she rather I had written that I appreciated her amicable personality since that was her contribution? But really, her upset was just a trickle of blood under the bridge. We did remain friends until I died.”

Me: “Much has been written and speculated about your relationship with Perry but very little about Dick.”

Mr. Capote: “Dick wasn’t particularly interesting, really. He just wanted the Clutters’ money safe and when he discovered they didn’t have one, simply wanted to get away.”

Me: “But Perry said in his confession that Dick shot the two women.”

Capote waved his hand dismissively.

Mr. Capote: “Nonsense, and Perry of course knew that. Which was why he never did sign that confession.”

Me: “So Smith told you that he did all the killings?”

Mr. Capote: “He didn’t have to. Only he had the makeup to murder.”

Me: “Was that what drew you to him? So many people have thought you were in love with him and that his hanging was the death of your creativity.”

Capote finished his orange drink, placed the glass on the table, and leaned back with closed eyes.

Mr. Capote: “People often see things quite superficially. I did love Perry, but it wasn’t the love of lovers. As the years passed, our correspondence and relationship grew very, very intimate. When his death grew closer and so much more real, I finally began to understand our relationship: we were the same person, although I used words to express my violence. It was as if we grew up in the same house as one person, then split apart as I went out the front door, and he the back.”

Capote opened his eyes, blinked furiously, then slumped back into his chair.

KCG

Mr. Capote: “Of course I was shattered by Perry’s hanging. And Dick’s. So many years of trust, of intimacy, of caring—and yes, love. Then to watch as he—they—twisted and writhed for ten minutes hanging from their ropes. How can one not be devastated?”

Me: “It didn’t stop you from living it up in grand style when the book became a huge success.”

Mr. Capote: “A bit tart, aren’t you? Which bothers you more, the book’s success or my wonderful swans?”

Me: “Neither, really. Well, maybe the success. But now that you mentioned your swans…”

Mr. Capote: “My society women. Not just the women, but the men as well. Frankly, everyone who was anyone begged for an invitation to The Black and White Ball. I actually had to run away and hide weeks before the party.”

i-1-a-night-to-remember1

Black & White Ball

Capote’s eyes lit up.

Mr. Capote: “What a night! Heavens, the guests from Kansas wouldn’t leave when it was over. But watching people scramble to get an invitation, well, that was even more pleasurable than the Ball. It’s quite hard not to be seduced by such attention—especially after experiencing heartbreak and the small death of myself after the hangings. During that time of life I did feel empty, written out. It was only fair to appreciate the accolades and bask a bit. I paid for it and I don’t mean the cost of the party—though of course I paid for that as well.”

I grinned in order to contain my laughter.

Me: “Bask a bit? Mr. Capote, you were all over every television talk show and newspaper.”

Mr. Capote: “Well, perhaps ‘a bit’ is actually an understatement. But you’ve looked at my life. You’ve seen how quickly people can turn on you. On me!”

It was my turn to shake my head.

Me: “Uhh, it was you who decided to pen a roman a` clef.  And you who published ‘La Côte Basque 1965’ in Esquire.  And you didn’t let it go. I can only imagine your friends’ fear and rage while they waited for the other shoe to drop in that follow-up book you were bragging about, Answered Prayers.”

Mr. Capote: “What could they possibly have expected? I’m a writer!”

Me: “I don’t think they expected you to write about them.

Capote’s head drooped.

Mr. Capote: “They got their revenge.”

Me: “Their ostracism didn’t seem to stop you. Studio 54, Warhol’s loft scene. You partied like it was 1999.

Mr. Capote: “I partied better than those in 1999. Remember, there are many ways to die. Which, having said, I really must leave. I can’t say this has been entirely pleasant, but it’s good to get out occasionally.”

Capote began to slide off his chair.

I stood up with him.

Me: “I have just one more question—did you ever complete Answered Prayers and, if so, who has the manuscript?

This time a wide smile crossed his face.

Mr. Capote: “That, my friend, is an answer I will take upstairs.”

 “Everything he had set out to do Truman succeeded in doing,” wrote Gerald Clark in his 1988 Capote biography. “On a superficial level, ‘In Cold Blood’ is a murder story of riveting vitality and suspense. On a deeper level, it is what he had always known it could be, a Big Work – a masterpiece, in fact, that he has infused with the somber energy of a Greek tragedy.”

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS: FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH

By

Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly

Stop right here if you plan to go the self-publishing route. That has its own rules, and ones with which I’m not familiar. The kind of bromides I’m prepared to dispense wouldn’t be useful to you.

Otherwise, in no special order:

  1. Assume eventual success. Operate on the assumption that some book publisher, somewhere, someday, will buy your novel. Maybe not your first attempt at a novel, but your second or third. (Or fourth, which is what happened to me.) Or that a magazine editor will take your story or article. There is no point in slaving over a manuscript unless you’re convinced it will eventually appear in print. What’s worse is that if you do lose your confidence in eventually being published, you’ll lose the impetus to write, and what you do write thereafter will reflect that lack of enthusiasm and spirit.
  2. Be prepared for rejection. We sensitive artiste types are not known for having thick skin, but in this business—and it is a business—you have to develop the hide of a rhino. Otherwise, you’ll wilt and wither, because you will be rejected far, far more often than you will be accepted. Yes, it’s infuriating. Yes, it’s frustrating. And sometimes it seems to be totally arbitrary. But it’s part of the game. Everybody gets rejected.
  3. Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. Do you want to be a writer, or do you want to be a poseur?
  4. Don’t be a prima donna. You are a writer. You are not Kim Kardashian.
  5. Get yourself a good literary agent. This is a necessity, and has been for decades. Most editors are far too busy to read manuscripts sent “over the transom,” which means mailed or emailed to them directly by the author. (Don’t email any manuscript to anyone unless specifically asked to do so; it will be automatically deleted.) Editors are also far more inclined to read work that has been sent to them by a reputable agent. As for getting an agent—it is hard, but it can be done. Do not send an agent a completed manuscript until he or she asks for one. Instead, write a literate, polite letter of inquiry introducing yourself, describing your work, and listing your credentials to write it. Three paragraphs on a single page should do that. The agent may thereafter ask for the three opening chapters and an outline of the rest, if she or he is interested in pursuing the project.
  6. Believe your editor. Should your novel be accepted—and when you learn of the acceptance, by the way, it will be somewhere in the Top Five Best Moments of Your Life—your editor will have a lot of suggestions for making it better. Pay attention. These people know of what they speak. If the editor says a scene needs to be cut, or developed, that is almost invariably the case. Don’t argue. Every single word you write is not sacred. If there’s a suggestion with which you really disagree, you can negotiate that—after you’ve followed the rest of the advice. Bonus: This will earn you a reputation for being professional, which is highly valued. Editors who have to work with temperamental celebrities (and their long-suffering ghost writers, who do all the heavy lifting) really appreciate working with sane, reasonable authors not suffering from clinical egomania.
  7. Be prepared to promote yourself. This is antithetical to most real writers, because it’s almost a contradiction in terms. This is also something at which I am really terrible, so all I can say is that you should never turn down an invitation to speak at a library, sign your work at a bookstore, or be interviewed on the radio, for a podcast, or appear on television. You should have an author website, and, when your work is published, an Amazon Author Page. Some writers—I am not one—find Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook useful.
  8. Write when you have something to say. I know that aspiring writers have been advised to write every day, for the practice of it, if nothing else. I don’t agree, because some days, you have absolutely nothing to say, and you end up churning out a useless batch of sludge. But, when the urge strikes you, you should by all means write. When the words come pouring out of you, instead of being forced through some mental extrusion process, it’s usually a good sign. Which leads me to point out that…
  9. If writing on a set schedule—say 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.—works for you, then by all means stick to it. If it doesn’t, go with what suits you best. The point is to get something good on the page, and no one cares how or when you do it, as long as you deliver it on deadline, or slightly before. (Meeting deadlines is essential.) Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to put in a nine-to-five day. Write when you write best, whether it’s four a.m. or 10 a.m.
  10. When you get discouraged, read, and re-read as necessary, Marge Piercy’s    magnificent poem “For the young who want to.” This says everything that needs to be said to aspiring writers. I’ve been re-reading this for over thirty years. It never loses its impact.

For the moment, anyway, that about wraps up what I have to say to anyone who wants to write. But if you’ve borne with me thus far, let me share with you my absolute favorite rejection letter of all time. It was actually sent to my agent, and she phoned me to read it to me because she couldn’t believe it was really real. Ready? “Susan Kelly’s book is too well-written to be commercially viable.”

Random Musings

By

Susan Kelly

Susan KellyI had gotten about six hundred words into a “normal” column when, to my chagrin, I realized that I’d already written pretty much the same thing a few months ago. I attribute this to the fact that I have a major-league head cold, and when I have one of those, my cognitive and creative processes (apparently my memory as well) seem to slow. That, of course, is a civilized way of saying that I’m currently sneezing and blowing my brains into a handkerchief.

So, given my currently limited capabilities, I thought I’d try to amuse you, and myself, with some random musings on various topics.

  1. Does anyone seriously believe that Donald Trump is questioning Ted Cruz’s eligibility to be president because he’s worried on behalf of Cruz? Isn’t this what’s known as “concern trolling”?
  2. If you live in New England, you’ll be gloomily aware that we are, as I write, undergoing that ghastly meteorological phenomenon known to the weather soothsayers as “wintry mix.” Rain. Snow. Sleet. Rain. Snow. Sleet. Rain. Then the temperature drops and the whole mess freezes into cement. I would—as I complained in an email earlier today to our gracious host—rather have all snow. It’s much easier to clean up after. I’m not asking for a re-run of January 2015, when the greater Boston area got buried under 101 inches of snow over the course of three weeks. But “wintry mix”—which sounds like it should be something you serve with drinks at a cold weather cocktail party—is the pits.
  3. Biographies of celebrities, particularly those in the entertainment biz, are usually awful: badly written, for one thing. But I read one recently that I really enjoyed. That was Girls Like Us, a literary triptych about Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, by Sheila Weller. If you have any interest at all in the history of rock, soft rock, and folk-rock music, and more specifically in three of the great women practitioners of the genres, you’ll enjoy this. Weller can write.
  4. I also enjoyed Jay Parini’s Empire of Self, a biography of Gore Vidal. It provides some analysis of Vidal’s writings, which Fred Kaplan’s 1999 Gore Vidal didn’t, though Kaplan provides a more detailed look at Vidal’s life. Vidal apparently hated the Kaplan book, which was written while he was still alive. Memo to all prospective biographers: Wait till your subject has kicked the bucket before you begin your opus.
  5. Back to politics. It seems—are you ready for this—that Donald Trump is claiming credit for the release of the Iranian hostages. Yes. You read that right. Apparently it was his blustering that terrorized the Iranians into submission. Good thing D-Day took place on June 6, 1944. Otherwise he’d be taking bows for having masterminded the seminal event of the twentieth century. And I think some of his fans would believe him.
  6. Well, according to the latest weather prognostication, it’s going to snow here tomorrow and Monday. Just snow. No rain. No sleet. Best of all, I don’t have to shovel it.

And with that, I think I’ll sign off for the time being. Gotta go blow my nose. Have a good MLK Day.

MAKING A MURDERER

By

Zachary Klein

zach1ProfileWhat’s important about Making A Murderer ( MaM) isn’t the fate of the defendants in and of itself, but what it exposes about the cancerous underbelly of our criminal justice system. We read or watch the ongoing news reports about police shootings of unarmed citizens and the mass incarceration of people of color, but what MaM brings to the table is the gut shock of knowing that this case is no isolated incident. Rather, some variation of theme happens somewhere, maybe more than one somewhere, all across our country every day.

I’m no stranger to conspiracy theories. Researching an aborted espionage novel way back when, I pored through the 1975 United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (Church Committee) and, the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Pike Committee). These hearings made public the “family jewels”—that is, the CIA’s clandestine and covert actions throughout much of the world—which left little doubt that, at times, conspiracies do indeed exist.

But my relationship to conspiracies didn’t turn out to be purely academic. While working for a number of national law firms as a trial and jury consultant I was asked to spend most of a summer investigating the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City in an attempt to discover whether the Federal government had any foreknowledge about the attack. (Another story for another time.)

And my connection to conspiracies didn’t stop at alleged federal malfeasance. I also spent years with different law firms uncovering an entire industry’s lies to its workers, the government, and the public for more than two decades about the lethal effects of its manufacturing processes and some of its products. Thousands upon thousands of documents were unearthed, clear evidence that major players from different corporations within that industry conspired to keep virtually all negative information buried.

Still, despite my library time and personal experience, I’m really leery and usually react with skepticism when I hear people talking or writing about one conspiracy after another. It all begins to feel like Mad Magazine. So, when I first read about Netflix’s original documentary, Making a Murderer, I had, as usual, a raised eyebrow.

Filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi spent ten years working on this series which traces Steven Avery once he was freed from prison after spending eighteen years incarcerated due to a wrongful rape conviction. (Project Innocence and DNA were responsible for his exoneration.)

Thirteen months after his release, October 12, 2004, Avery brought a thirty-six million dollar federal lawsuit for a wrongful conviction against Wisconsin’s Manitowoc County, its former Sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and former District Attorney Denis Vogel. About a year and change after filing suit (November 9, 2005) Avery was arrested and charged with the murder and incineration of a young, twenty-something photographer, Teresa Halbach. Eventually his sixteen year old nephew, Brendan Dassey, was also charged along with Steven.

The series explores the incredibly sloppy, manipulative, and likely illegal police work that went into Avery’s first conviction and, subsequently, MaM takes a hard look at the police, Manitowoc’s sheriff, and DA as they build the Halbach murder case against both the uncle and nephew.

In stark terms, the documentary raises the question of whether the defendants were flat-out framed in response to the lawsuit which might have ruined the county’s finances and exposed the extraordinary incompetence and/or outrageously illegal police behavior.

About halfway into the documentary, the police’s unwillingness to look at any other potential perpetrators, the hinkiness of evidence discovery and collection, the refusal by the Sheriff’s office to stay away from the investigation despite their own self-recusel, and what appeared to be a coordinated love dance between the DA, Sheriff’s office, police, and eventually the judiciary made neutrality unimaginable—whether or not the accused were, in fact, innocent or guilty. The interrogation scenes of Brendan alone were a textbook rendition on how not to conduct an interview if one was after even a scintilla of truth. Worse, this “Reid Method” of interviewing suspects is used throughout the U.S. despite the serious and significant issues with its reliability.

(More unnerving than the police’s behavior toward Brendan, his own court appointed attorney and the attorney’s “investigator” worked hand in glove with the authorities—using the same interrogation techniques—to ensure convictions, not only for Steven, but Brendan as well. The fact that this attorney is still allowed to practice is mind-boggling.)

The scope of the series also includes the effects of the murder charges on the extended Avery family and, at least, Teresa Halbach’s brother as they react to the investigation, trials, and verdicts. Although none are folks with whom I could particularly identify, (including the two defendants), watching the toll those ten years take is excruciatingly painful.

As with any controversial work, the discussion that has ensued following the film’s release rages on. Those who believe the two men were railroaded have petitioned and demanded federal investigations of Manitowoc County. And, of course, those who are, or were, in positions of authority within the county, decry the film’s point of view claiming much of what was ignored in the documentary confirmed the State’s case, the jury’s conclusion, and the two judge’s sentences.

No matter the arguments, Making a Murderer raises huge questions about how our criminal justice system actually functions. I really don’t know whether Avery and Dassey are guilty or not. Frankly, the courtroom drama and verdicts aren’t the film’s wake up call. The Manitowoc County’s police, Sherriff’s office, D.A., and judges are worse than simply an embarrassment to a country that claims justice is blind. Blind does not mean corrupt and venal with revenge as its first order of importance which was the likely reality behind Avery and Dassey’s prosecution. The overt and clearly detailed abuse of power that rained upon the two defendants left me sickened. And this despite my “conspiracy” experience and my work with a Court appointed criminal defense attorney.

All that legal work quashed much of my respect for our criminal and civil justice system. Making Of a Murderer has damn near eliminated the rest.

“Most of what ails our criminal justice system lie in unwarranted certitude on the part of police officers and prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges and jurors that they are getting it right. That they are simply right. Just a tragic lack of humility in everyone who participates in our criminal justice system”  ~ Dean Strang (One of Steven Avery’s defense attorneys.)

Weird Kid, Food Division

By

Susan Kelly

Susan KellyI’m pretty sure I was what, for my generation, would be described as a “weird kid,” at least in terms of my eating habits. Take, for example, a list of my favorite childhood foods. Here are the things I loved most, back when I was in the single-digit age bracket:

  1. Olives
  2. Oysters on the half shell
  3. Harvard beets
  4. Spinach

I ate my first oyster on the half-shell when I was, I think, nine. My parents, siblings, grandfather, and I had gone to the Molly Pitcher Inn in New Jersey for dinner. My grandfather ordered a plate of oysters on the half-shell as a starter. He noticed me gazing at them and offered me one. I took it.

Love at first slurp.

I don’t know how I acquired my love of olives—it goes pretty much as far back as I can remember—but I can tell you that one Christmas, again when I was about nine, I asked for my own personal jar of Queen olives (those colossal green ones) as a gift. I may be the first and only kid on the planet to have requested such a thing. I got my jar of olives.

As for the beets and the spinach, I have always loved all vegetables, apparently another thing that made me weird, since all kids are supposed to hate them. (I have always had a streak of the perverse.) The only vegetable I will not, cannot ingest—I suppose, strictly speaking, it’s a fruit—is lima beans. They’re disgusting. There is no form of preparation that will render them anything less than vile. Put this on my tombstone: Lima beans made her gag. That and: She screwed up every demographic she got into. The latter’s, however, another story.

As a kid, I didn’t care much for the two things kids then were supposed to adore: hamburgers and apple pie. I quite like either one now, but that’s because there are so many interesting ways to prepare them. (Try a shot of Courvoisier in the apple mix before baking the pie.) As a child, though, I found both rather dull.

But the all-time disgusting food I remember from school cafeterias is that culinary abomination known as…American chop suey.

Every kid I knew loved it. They’d gobble it like starving wolverines. As for me, I would eat it maybe as an alternative to being tortured. Under any other circumstance—no, no, a thousand times no. This stuff is slop: overcooked macaroni mixed with poor quality canned stewed tomatoes and overcooked pulverized gray hamburger meat. No herbs. No cheese. No touch of olive oil. No frigging salt and pepper, for God’s sake. Absolutely nothing to make it remotely palatable. But, as I said, every other kid seemed to love it.

Another thing I couldn’t stomach was those cold cereals in weird florescent colors. Worse were the ones that had rock-hard marshmallow bits in them. Even worse than that were the ones that were in the shape of animal, quasi-human, fairy tale, or horror movie characters. Happily, my mother refused to buy any of them. Even as a child, I hated getting up in the morning, and the only thing that would have made getting up worse would have been lurching to the table and staring down into a bowl of teeny green leprechauns or teeny brown vampires. (Lucky Charms and Count Chocula respectively, if you care.) To this day I avoid the cereal aisle in the grocery store, except on the rare occasions when I want a box of raisin bran, which I do find edible, although not as an every day or even weekly event.

The thing that strikes me, though—and I consider this a happy development—is that if I were a kid now, my tastes might be…mainstream. I once overheard a lively discussion about the level of cuisine in various Thai restaurants conducted by three of my nephews, who were, at the time, sixteen, eleven, and eight. More recently, another eight-year-old nephew informed that he’d eaten some “super-good” Indian food at a local restaurant, as opposed to the just “good” Indian food he’d had elsewhere. This is also a kid who, at age 2 ½ , devoured three helpings of a chicken-prosciutto tortelloni dish in an Alfredo sauce I made.

So perhaps I wasn’t weird, back then. Just…ahead of the curve?

Happy New Year to you all. And may your children and grandchildren never, ever have to consume a bowl of American chop suey.

If they do, and they like it…they’re weird.