Cedar Rapids

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When I was a kid, my sister and I talked about jobs we wouldn't do. And my top-of-the-list job was: insurance salesman. Icky poo!

I'm here to tell you: I was a jerky little kid. This movie convinced me of that. Here's the protagonist, Tim Lippe, explaining his career choice:

I lost my dad in a sawmill accident when I was six years old.… But the insurance agent fought like a tiger with the sawmill to make sure my mom and I were taken care of, and we were. And I remember thinking, when I was a kid, I was just like: "This guy is a hero." I gotta say, I think insurance agents get a bum rap.
That quote is delivered absolutely straight, without a speck of mockery, or even meta-mockery. And it made me feel guilty about a smart-ass remark I made decades ago.

Anyway: Tim is played by Ed Helms, and he's a decent, if slightly naïve, guy, just fine with being an insurance guy in Brown Valley, Wisconsin. He's carrying on a torrid affair with an older divorcee—she used to be his social studies teacher when he was in seventh grade!—but it's pretty clear his intentions are honorable.

Due to an unfortunate-but-sordid fatal accident befalling his superiors, he's picked at the last minute to represent the agency at the big shindig in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The gathered insurance agents treat Cedar Rapids as if it were Las Vegas, an occasion for drunken partying and shenanigans. Tim (of course) tries to stay above that; he's blissfully clueless when approached by a Cedar Rapids hooker, and inept at dealing with Joan Ostrowski-Fox, an agent from Omaha looking to sow a few wild, but well-insured, oats.

But things eventually get wildly out of hand. (As the MPAA says, it's rated R for "crude and sexual content, language and drug use.") It's a lot of fun to watch. Ed Helms was a brilliant choice.

Consumer note: not actually filmed in Cedar Rapids. IMDB says: Ann Arbor, Michigan. So, they couldn't call it Ann Arbor?

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:33 AM EDT

Pegasus Descending

[Amazon Link]

This 2006 book is James Lee Burke's 15th novel featuring the intrepid Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux. As usual, it features incidents buried in Dave's checkered past reverberating back up to the surface in sordid and violent ways, described with writing so good it will bring tears to your eyes.

Back in the 80's, when Dave was drinking, he failed to aid Dallas Klein, a friend getting held up in an armored car heist; Dallas wound up dead. Maybe Dave couldn't have stopped it even if he'd been sober; but the possibility has weighed on his mind for those many years.

But in the present day, Dave is doing his detective job with the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Department. There's "Crustacean Man", a months-dead unidentified corpse discovered in a coulee by a highway, so named because his body is covered with crayfish when he's extricated; his injuries don't seem to be consistent with a normal hit-and-run. Also: a lovely young woman is an apparent suicide victim; although as far as anyone knew she was intelligent, sensitive, and virtuous, her body is full of drugs and booze, and there's evidence of multiple recent sexual partners.

And Dallas's now-grown daughter, Trish, has also appeared. And it looks like she's out to remove some money from casinos owned by the guy who was suspected to be behind the armored car heist. And (somehow) she hooks up with Dave's best friend, private eye Clete Purcel.

It doesn't seem like these things could be connected. But Dave has a feeling they are.

I really enjoy James Lee Burke's writing. See if you agree. Here's his description of the scene of the robbery, Opa-Locka, Florida:

Opa-Locka was a gigantic pink stucco-and-plaster nightmare designed to look like a complex of Arabian mosques. In the early a.m., fog from either the ocean or the Glades, mixed with dust and carbon monoxide, clung like strips of dirty cotton to the decrepit minarets and cracked walls of the buildings. At night the streets were lit by vapor lamps that glowed inside the fog with the dirty iridescence that you associate with security lighting in prison compounds. The palms on the avenues were blighted by disease, the fronds clacking dryly in the fouled air. The yards in the neighborhoods contained more gray sand than grass. Homes that could contain little of value were protected by bars on the windows and razor wire on the fences. Lowrider gangbangers, the broken mufflers of their gas-guzzlers throbbing against the asphalt, smashed liquor bottles on the sidewalks and no one said a word.
This is not going to get the author hired by the Opa-Locka Tourist Bureau, but I like it.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:33 AM EDT