B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1978
Joseph Emil Blum was born in Ohio and raised in New York. His first paid job was removing ice from a Cadillac at the age of seven. Abandoning that promising career he then went on to the care of exotic animals, life-guarding, home insulating, construction, carpentry, fisheries biology, teacher of the living and the dying, and lavender farming. At the age of nineteen he moved to the Pacific Northwest and now lives in rural Oregon with his wife Nancy and daughter Ruby. He spends winters alternately tormented and pleased by the sounds of amorous frogs, and summers alternately tormented and pleased by slowly pitched softballs. He is very proud to have juggled fish in the Bering Sea while working aboard the world’s largest fishing vessel, the Sulak: an act he believes may have facilitated the end of the Cold War, and is equally proud to have sung in a Soviet fisherman’s dance band aboard the same vessel: an act that, no doubt, prolonged it.
Bedtime Stories: A Novel of Cinematic Wanderlust, Sawmill Ballroom Publishing Company, 2008
From chapter 23 of my novel, Bedtime Stories: A Novel of Cinematic Wanderlust:
"What was the first love scene you wrote?" I ask Tanner
"Oh, you'll love this. I was working on a nothing picture with Earl Cowell, one of the last giants of the early age. The picture has an eight-day filming schedule, still in the old system mind you. Cowell didn't worry too much about scripts, he fired the original screenwriter and then they hired me to do any fill-ins. He called me the skinny Polish Kid. Cowell, he just barked a lot and hoped things worked out like they did in the Twenties. "Get me lighting, get me wardrobe, get me make-up, and get me the skinny Polish kid! Write me a love scene and have it ready in two hours!" And he meant it. There's not a thing tying the two characters together and I have to write a love scene for them. I'm twenty-eight years old, my marriage is shot, my life is a mess, I haven't made love in over a year, and I have to write a love scene in two hours between two people who don't know each other and the same thing that is killing my marriage is dictating movies at that time: you can't reveal anything too truthful. She's a poor girl who got thrown out of her home, he's a rich guy off to prove to Daddy he's worth the inheritance. Pretty lightweight stuff, and, as I said, the Code maybe a little looser in the post-war environment but still hovering like the rhythmic requirements of a sonnet.
"So, what did you write?” asks Nina.
"I'm getting there. When I leave the set I've got no idea what to write and I'm starving, so I walk to the commissary and there I see these two extras who don't have enough money so they're sharing a hot dog. They're sitting at a table and each one has half a hot dog on a lonely porcelain plate. They didn't even have money for coffee.
As I'm watching them, I close my eyes and started dreaming everything I hadn't allowed myself to want or feel or demand or accept or believe was possible, and I had to do it quickly. I know you can appreciate the inspiration of a deadline. You can't write love scenes without knowing hunger. Love is the ideal; it's not the real. We feel love in Mother and Father, puppies, warmth and food, in shelter from the driving rain, in hot tea and strong coffee, in a cup of cocoa topped with little floating marshmallows in the hands of a frightened child, we feel love in sacrifice. Love is something sought after, seldom achieved, and despite all the Harlequins and the soap operas, love does not always conquer all. It is so rare and special that when I closed my eyes that day, all I could think of was everything I’d neglected to share with my wife, all the things I found fault with, and I wrote what I should have done in those times."
Nina says, "How did you bring them together."
"Well, first things first, I gave them a couple of bucks to buy some food and then I stole their hot dog and topped it with everything.
“So, here's the scene. Trudy and Hank, the characters’ names, are walking from different directions on the Coney Island boardwalk. It's dusk and they both spy the last hot dog stand with its lights on. They arrive there at the same time. It's the forties mind you, so he stands off for her to go first, and in that moment they look and see there's only one hot dog left. She offers to give it up to him but he's a gentleman and demurs gracefully while walking off. He's got his back to her, when she yells for him, "Hey, mister, wait," and they end up sitting on a bench sharing the hot dog, watching the moon come up and the rest follows from there."
"And Cowell, what did he think?" I ask.
"He hated it! He went nuts, "I ask for a love scene and you buy me a hot dog?" But, he was stuck for time and so he used it and then I was fired that afternoon."