Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: I CAN EXPLAIN IT TO YOU

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Did you see it? Did you understand what happened? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t: Malcolm Gladwell who’s a pretty damn smart man said of LeCarre’s “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” that he’d read the book once every five years since he was sixteen, and only started figuring out what was happening on the third or fourth read. LeCarre doesn’t provide a road map for his readers, he sort of shoves them off a cliff and hopes they can keep up.

Digression!

The thing about working in a movie theater (hereafter referred to as “the Cinecave” – because it’s a cinema that’s underground. Literally. It’s an underground cinema, hence, it’s “cinema” + “cave.” It’s very clever, but only because I didn’t come up with it) is that you get to go see movies for free.

The other thing about working in the Cinecave is that you really don’t want to go to see movies there, for free or otherwise. It’s not because it’s not a nice theater. It’s not because it doesn’t play good movies. It’s because for the love of holy Jesus Mary and Joseph I already spend a lot of time there and I don’t care to spend my non-working hours at work, even if I’m enjoying myself.

But sometimes I do go there on my non-work hours, because there are films that I am so dammed excited to see.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of those films, and I wrote about going to the after hours staff screening of it roughly two weeks ago. Actually, two weeks ago exactly, now that I realize today is Thursday. I’ve been having a hard time keeping track of which day is which this week.

I went to see the movie again today, for a couple of reasons. First, because I was seeing it so late the last time, I drifted asleep in a few parts. Second, I’m reading the George Smiley books — in order! — and wanted some Gary Oldman in the role. I’ve also started the BBC series with Alec Guinness as dear Mr. Smiley — I almost prefer him to Oldman.

I mean. Obi Wan > Sirius Black. Sorry, Harry.

So I caught the first show today (I took today & tomorrow off from my full time job). After, I was the last person out of the theater (it was the biggest auditorium and it was pretty full for a Thursday afternoon), and I was talking with one of my coworkers who’d seen it with her husband. “Okay,” she said to me, “Explain this movie to me, because I didn’t follow it.”

So as she cleaned the theater, I explained. And since I’ve had lots of people tell me as they exited the auditorium that they didn’t follow what had happened, I thought that my explanation to my coworker would make for a good blog post.

A Warning in Two Parts:

First, this reconstruction of the film’s plot is based on what I remember of seeing the film. I may at times misremember certain things, either due to my failing memory, or because I’m confusing it with events in the book, or the BBC adaptation. Also, the reconstruction will attempt to proceed on chronological order (the film frequently utilizes flashbacks).

Second, spoilers. Lot of ‘em. You are entering a Spoiler Zone. Avoid Avoid Avoid!

*****SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON********
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Getting Home Around the Emergency Metro Closure Between Metro Center & Federal Center SW

Due to an accident on the tracks, the Blue & Orange line is suspended between Metro Center and Federal Center SW. This means you won’t be able to use Smithsonian or L’Enfant Blue and Orange line stops.

Does this mean you’re stranded if the train hasn’t been cleared away and the tracks reopened by the time 5:00 rolls around? Hardly. Here are some options for escaping to the ‘burbs:

Destination: Vienna/Fairfax & Franconia Springfield – take the Red Line to Farragut North, and use the “virtual tunnel” to move to Farragut West. Pick up your train there.

Alternatively … If you don’t want to transfer at the Farraguts, or fear the Red Line, Yellow line (yes, I’m verbing it) to Pentagon, then catch the Blue line to Rosslyn. From there, you could jump on a west bound Orange line train.

Destination: New Carrolton & Largo Town Center – Yeah, sorry, you’re gonna have to make you way to Capitol Hill. Even if Metro does get shuttle service arranged, guys, it’s going to be a cluster fuck. Trains hold way more passengers than buses can, and Metro can’t shift its entire bus fleet. Use WMATA.com’s trip planner to check bus routes from your work places. Off the top of my head, you should be okay with any of the 90 or D# routes.

Basically a post about nothing, but I do write about the northbound L2 stop at New Hampshire & Dupont Circle, as well as a moron at the auto checkout lane at the Giant Food in Van Ness. You know, if you read the title, you can probably skip the post.

After the midnight screening of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I made my way home, and shot off an email to my boss telling him that, as I’d mentioned as a possibility, I would be taking the day off from work. I answered a few emails, wrote a blog post, and finally found myself in bed around four-ish.

I woke up at 7.

And I woke up again at 8.

Again at 9:30.

Finally, by 11, I’d broken away from the snuggling, purring, drooling cats, burned my scrambled eggs, and shivered getting dressed because I hadn’t turned the heat on before stepping into the shower.

I jumped the Metro for Silver Spring. I’d heard about a used bookstore near the Metro station I hadn’t been aware of, and I’d heard it had a great genre selection. I’ve been looking for Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, and I was hoping to find the few still absent from my shelves. Notable the second book, because, yes, I know you can read them out of order, but man, I like to read them IN order, okay? The store was pretty decent, and I found some John le Carre titles (Call of the Dead and Our Game) and headed back into the city, intending for a grocery run.

But of course I hopped off the Metro at Dupont to visit two of my favorite used book shops: Second Story, and Books for America. No Lee Child at Second Story, but I found two at Books for America. I was hesitant about the hardback copy of Worth Dying For until I realized it was $3. Oh, okay. I can live with that.

I walked over to the L2 stop at New Hampshire and Dupont. Given the choice between Metro rail and Metro bus, I’ll always choose the latter. Riding a bus I feel connected to the city in a way I don’t in dark, underground subway tunnels. Also, if I miss my stop, I can just yank the chain and walk a block or two, rather than having to wait for a train heading in the opposite direction.

With a twenty minute wait at the stop, I said “screw it” and started walking south. This can sometimes be dangerous, depending on how long the wait is for the bus. It’s like this: if you’re trying to walk to a bus stop that’s closer to the bus’s current location, you might always find yourself halfway between the two stops when the bus comes past. That’s a recipe for shit-outta-luck.

Everything worked out fine, though, and I got on the bus. And then the bus went right past its turn on New Hampshire.

Look: I get that traffic on Dupont is fucked. I’ve literally been on buses that have taken ten to fifteen minutes from that turn from 20th Street to being able to get across the circle and make the left on 18th. Fucking sucks. Nobody knows how to drive that damn circle.

Anyway, the driver cut up to P Street, made a right, and entered the circle with little trouble. Problem: there was a woman waiting at the stop on New Hampshire.

And then the driver stopped along the curb, opened the door, and ran over to the stop to get her on the bus.

Which was awesome, but I couldn’t help but think about how trouble that bus stop can be when traffic’s high volume. Not so long ago, there was a long line of cars waiting to enter the circle, and the bus pulled up past those, the doors opened, and the driver was like “C’mon man!” and I ran over, between cars, and jumped on, and the driver was like “Sorry man, these idiots are supposed to be doing this double-lane like.” And a minute later, BAM!, we were across the circle.

I napped a bit on the long ride up to Van Ness, but got there okay, got some milk and some other stuff, and was checking out, and listened to the most ridiculous exchange.

I’d used one of the four automatic check out lanes. If you’ve never used them before, when you’re done, they print out receipts for you to use on your next visit. It’s a way to get you to come back. Or to buy the same products again.

“So, can I use these coupons?” this guy asked the clerk assigned to the automatic lanes.

“Yes you can.”

“Great. But I already paid, so …?”

“Well, you can’t use them now.”

“So I can’t use them?”

“You can use them. You just can’t use them on the purchase you just made.”

“Well, that’s dumb. I’m never coming back here again.”

Oh. Retail.

Tinker, Tailor,/Soldier, Sailor,/Rich Man, Poor Man,/Beggar Man, Thief.

Mid-December. 2:30 in the morning. The streets are deserted. I wear no hat. My coat is open. I contemplate taking off my scarf. Because it feels like a spring night. And I walk from city block to city block, looking for a cab. There: ahead of me, a cab, a block away. By the time I reach the corner, it is long gone, but as I turn, I see another cab rolling down the street I just left, and a block west, and a block east, and a block north, passing cabs. Yet as I move in any direction, it is like I am some predator the cabs are wary of, for they and I never seem to occupy the same space at the same time.

It’s like a fucking episode of The Twilight Zone.

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One of the awesome things about working part time at the Cinecave are the staff-only midnight viewings of upcoming films. These aren’t supremely popular for a variety of reasons, mostly revolving around a lot of people having full-time day jobs, and the lack of public transportation after a certain hour. Tonight — and by tonight, technically I mean yesterday evening — I left my apartment and made my way down to the Cinecave for a midnight screening of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the new adaptation of John LeCarre’s classic spy novel.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the film. I say “for the most part” because, c’mon, I’d been up since like 6am. I nodded off a few times during the show. In the picture above, from the very first scene of the film, Mark Strong (as Jim Prideaux) is given his marching orders by Control (John Hurt), head of the Circus (part of the intelligence apparatus of MI-6). Thus begins the chain of events which … well, I don’t want to give too much away.

I liked it. I need to see it again, because, as I mentioned, I dozed off a few times.

I’ve read in some reviews that certain folks don’t think the plot is understandable without having read the book. Here’s a confession from me: I’ve read the book, and I had to go to Wikipedia to figure out what the fuck had happened and how Smiley put everything together.

Lastly: if you’ve never read anything by John LeCarre, consider adding this to your library. For one thing, it’s a good fucking book. I kind of think a spy novel should leave you more confused about what happened in it then you were when all you had to go on was the back flap. For another thing, LeCarre’s publisher has recently released a lot of the author’s works with new cover art by Matt Taylor … and guys? It’s fucking gorgeous:

And yes, I did get a cab. And now I debate staying up, or getting a few precious hours of sleep. Folks, I think the latter takes it. Here’s hoping I turn off my alarm.

My Experience as a Charity Gift Wrapper

“Um,” the woman said. “You know what? I’ll wrap it myself.”

She’d just dropped $5 in the donation can. And I was mangling the hell out of the wrapping paper. Honestly, I don’t think I was doing that poorly wrapping the book. She clearly thought different, but agreed that I could at least hand her pieces of scotch tape.

“Don’t worry about it,” my wrapping partner said. “She’s got OCD.”

I think she was just telling me that to soothe my bruised ego.

Honestly, I don’t know why I’d volunteered to wrap. Actually, that’s a lie: I was doing it for a charity. I was doing it to help out a friend, who already gives too much of herself for an assortment of good, decent causes. I was doing it to feel like I’d participated in something good. I was doing it because for a few hours at least I would feel like I worked in a bookstore again. Yeah, sometimes I really miss Borders.

The charity I was wrapping for was the DC Books to Prison Project, which provides books to prisoners around the country, and develops and supports local prison libraries. When I first moved to DC, my friend had told me about her work here, and I was intrigued. It’s the Bookseller in me, I guess, whether it’s helping someone standing at an information desk, or someone writing a letter asking for a selection from a particular genre, it’s got the same appeal.

I was surprised by how slow the night was. At first it was just the two of us, but two other women arrived shortly after we’d started, and so what had been an under-staffed night (which is why I’d been inspired to volunteer in the first place) because a way crowded, and way slow, evening. There weren’t many people wanting to get their gifts wrapped, and the store itself seemed pretty slow for a “less than two weeks until Christmas” shopping season.

But I had a pretty good night. For one thing, I learned some tricks to wrapping I’d never before known. And for another thing, I met a few new friends. And for another thing I got to work in a bookstore again.

Well, sorta.

With all this talk about the DC cab rate hike …

… I figure it’s a good time to tell people about a really hilarious movie about DC cabbies. Hilarious, but hardly tame, so be cautious about this clip.

It’s a pretty awesome film. I mean – awesomely bad, but that’s still good, right?

The cast includes Adam Baldwin (not of the Baldwin brother, you might know him as Jayne from Firefly, or Casey from Chuck), Gary Busey, Bill Maher (first film role!), and Mr. T.

Let me say that again:

Mr. T

DC Cab. It’s worth an hour and a half of your life.

The drunk guy looks confused.

On a cold December night, me, leaning against a traffic pole, earbuds firmly entrenched in my ears, A Game of Thrones open in my hands (finally getting into it!), glancing up every moment in search of the D6, I can’t imagine I actually had an “approachable” vibe.

AND YET.

“Hey!”

“Hey – hey pal!”

Digging an earbud out, a guy leaning out of his car. The guy behind him honking, finally pulling around, because the light was green. “Hey, pal, where’s the Macy’s?”

Two blocks down, make a right, two or three up on the left. I think. But I didn’t tell him that last part.

Earbud back in, three guys in suits. Drunk. I can hear them over Meatloaf. “The guy said it was right down here … Hey, hey buddy.”

Earbud back out. “Hey, hey buddy, where’s the ESPN Zone?”

Um.

Gone.

“No, no it’s right around here. Where?”

I point them up a block. The D6 rumbles down the street. It’s a tight bus stop, just past a bike stand in the parking lane. The bus makes a sharp corner.

“You ride the bus?” the drunk guy looks confused.

The driver chuckles. I’m sure I just look grateful.

The Cruel Sea

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Just today, I finished The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. Monsarrat served as a Naval officer during WWII, where he participated in escort convoys. He also wrote one of the three “classic” novels of World War II Naval fiction. I say “classic” because this information comes from Wikipedia … but I’ll go with it. As so happens, I’ve read the other two within the last year: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, and HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean (all three men served in their navies during the war).

I know this because I remember reading HMS Ulysses this past summer. I wasn’t sure when I’d read Caine Mutiny, but as so happens, I have a habit of tucking my sales receipts into books I’ve bought (they make good bookmarks), and I remember starting the book almost as soon as I’d picked it up. The sales receipt? Dated January 16th of this year.

The Cruel Sea tells the story of two Royal Navy officers — Captain and his First Lieutenant — over six years of convoy escort duty during the Second World War, first aboard the corvette Compass Rose, then the frigate Saltash. The book is at times boring, at times exciting, at times heart breaking.

HMS Ulysses focuses on the lead ship of the Royal Navy escort of a convoy bound for Murmansk, Russia. I read this book in the summer, and outdoors, in the sweltering heat of a Washington, DC summer, with sweat stains down my collar, the book convinced me that I was cold through the flesh, with bones replaced by solid ice. The convoy is brutal, the U-boats and attack planes are thick, and the story is just unbelievably, impossibly, heart breaking.

The Caine Mutiny takes place in the Pacific, and it’s not nearly as violent as the title might lend you to believe. It’s my favorite of the lot, Wouk’s an incredible writer. The officers of the destroyer-minesweeper Caine find themselves opposing their cruel commander, Captain Queeg, who is petty, vindictive, and lacking in seamanship. This builds to a head during a typhoon, when the first officer relives Queeg of command (the mutiny), and the ship’s junior officers face the judicial apparatus of the United States Navy. Fun fact: playing Queeg was Humphrey Bogart’s last film role.

**

Next on my reading list: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

Used Bookstores

These are some things I’ve noticed browsing fiction selections at used bookstores:

-If you see a Murakami, it’s not going to stick around for long.
-There will be at least one copy of something by Nick Hornby, and it’s usually going to be About A Boy.
-Lee Child? Fat chance. And if there is, you probably already have it.
-If you’re looking for something by Ben Bova or Frank Herbert, it’s probably there.

I am working on an addition to this blog. It’s going to be one of the Pages on the right: a comprehensive list of used bookstores in Washington, DC (possibly the DC Metro Area). This is a partial list of what I have:

Riverby Books (Capitol Hill)
Second Story (Dupont & Rockville)
Capitol Hill Books (guess)
Bridge Street Books (Georgetown)
Idle Times (Adams Morgan)
Books for America (Dupont)
Kultura (Dupont/Kalorama)

If you’re aware of one I’m missing, or know of good ones in the Maryland/Virginia area (let’s limit to Metro accessible), please drop me a line or leave me a comment.

Addendum:

I think I will include independent bookstores & local chains. So far:

Politics & Prose (Chevy Chase Circle)
Kramerbooks (Dupont Circle)

Updates II (12/13):

Silver Spring Books (Silver Spring, MD)
Red Onion Records & Books (Adams Morgan/Dupont)

Four Films I Want To See This December

There are four movies that I’m really excited about this December. The sad irony is that although I work in a movie theater, since it’s an independent art-house type, only one of them will be there. This means I’ll have to pay for the rest. Which is, I mean, kinda aggravating. Like, when I was working at Borders, I developed a strong aversion to paying full price for a book. I mean, why? I had an employee discount.

Now, post-Borders, I’ve discovered used book stores. You might think this was a great thing, but buying seven of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels for $3.50 just sort of illustrates the problem used book stores cause me. I counted all the books in my apartment this past weekend: we’re north of thirteen-hundred folks. In a four hundred square foot apartment.

Anyway: four movies I’m really excited about this Christmas season. Is there any particular order? Well, of course: the order I’ve randomly decided. So, uh, I guess not, actually.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Opens December 16th.

John Le Carre’s spy novels aren’t like Ian Fleming’s. Hot girls, explosions, shoot outs? Not really. Try a web of deceptions and information that leaves you saying “Wait – what happened?” I read this book originally this past summer, and I was motivated by two factors. The first, of course, was that I became aware that this movie was being released. The second was the incredibly awesome cover illustration for a new edition of the book – take a gander here. Isn’t that a GORGEOUS and MOODY book cover? Yes, it is. (FYI – it’s by this guy, he did a bunch for some re-publications).

Sherlock Holmes: The Subtitle Sounds Like A George R R Martin Novel

Opens December 16th

I liked the first one! Sherlock Holmes without the silly hat, who can fight. I’ve only read a few of the stories, but I enjoyed I think just about everything about the first film. Of course, now the question is, will the sequel stand up to the first? Doubtful, but possible. Oh, and also: will seeing this film finally prompt me to take my Sherlock Holmes books off the shelf and read ‘em? Hopefully it’ll push me to do it sooner, rather than later.

The Adventures of Tintin

Opens December 21st

Okay, so it might be wrong to say that I’m excited about this one. I mean: I want to be. I want to come out of the theater and do a fast walk home to read a whole bunch of Tintin comics. But the simple fact of the matter is that I’m pretty much expecting this film to be nothing less than Hollywood raping a part of my childhood. In any case, by trying not to get my hopes up, I’ll either be that much less disappointed, or that much more enthralled.

Well, hopes up. If you ever read a Tintin comic as a kid: my folks got me this Tintin set two Christmases ago, and I spent the day reading all of them. It was a great way to spend a day.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Opens December 21st

There are plenty of reasons I should NOT want to see this film. Here we go: 1.) the book was better. 2.) A cover of Immigrant Song? Are you fucking kidding me? 3.) It was just turned into a film by a Swedish film production using actual Swedish actors 4.) Greedy fucking Hollywood. However, points in its favor: 1.) It’s not the greatest book in the world, so a film version would be less boring. 2.) It’s actually a really awesome fucking cover of Immigrant Song. 3.) Holy shit OMG David Fincher directed it! It’s pretty much gotta be awesome. Also, if you’ve never seen THE GAME, you should.

Dear Rick Perry

Dear Rick Perry,

I am a heterosexual American who has never served in any of the armed services of the United States of America. I am grateful for the service of all Americans in our military, and I wish you were too.

-Me

Jack McDevitt’s Firebird

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Jack McDevitt is one of my favorite science fiction authors, although I must say that I prefer his series to his stand alone work.

I just finished — and I mean ten minutes ago — Firebird, number six of his Alex Benedict series, which he began in 1989 with the delightful Talent of War.

The Benedict series is set ten thousand years in our future. Humanity has expanded to the stars, and encountered an alien race, the Ashiyyur (nicknamed “the Mutes”). Relations are mostly good, and sometimes not so good – a theme both of Talent For War, which explores a conflict two hundred years before the novel’s setting, and in the later book The Devil’s Eye.

Alex Benedict is our protagonist, and narrator of Talent For War (later books in the series are narrated by Benedict’s business partner, stellar pilot Chase Kolpath, the Watson to his Holmes). Bennedict’s a space-archeologist, an Indiana Jones of the galaxy, tracking down lost space stations and settlements for items of value to sell on the antiquities market. Sometimes he finds these valuables by going through ancient records. Sometimes he stumbles across mysteries, which puts him across the paths of people with secrets to hide, who are usually willing to kill to protect those secrets.

Firebird concerns the work of a physicist named Christopher Robin who’d been concerned with black holes. Robin disappeared under mysterious circumstances forty years earlier, and Alex and Chase become involved when Robin’s sister puts some of his items on consignment with them, following the death of Robin’s wife. Alex’s interest in Robin’s disappearance leads to an exploration of his theories regarding multiple universes, and his investigation of ways to cross to others. I don’t want to give too much away, except that McDevitt doesn’t telegraph the story’s end quite as you’d imagine. I will say that the end is quite emotional – I am afraid that this may be the last of the Benedict series, and that, honestly, will make me very sad.