The glorious return of Fake Study Night

My friend Bees moved back to town after a dozen years hiding out in Reno.

Her parents ailed. She tended. They died.

She worked almost up to the last dying days of the local newspaper. She got a job at a university, where they treated her humanely.

But with mom and dad gone, she decided to find a nice town to settle down. Des Moines is such a place.

Upsides: Cheap, easy to get around.

Downsides: Humidity and cold winters.

Bees and I became buddies at the Des Moines newspaper during the reign of an incomparable bully as editor.

This editor was the kind of horrible that never missed an opportunity to trample your confidence and attack your soul.

Of her, it was once said, “If you like your beer cold, hold it close to her heart.”

During this reign, and due to her parents’ failing health, Bees decided to study to become a medical technician. She took classes at DMACC about medical terminology.

Bees needed a place outside her swanky downtown apartment to study. I offered my cluttered apartment in the Drake neighborhood.

Bees, an excellent cook, came over and made a meal that was both health and tasted good, usually including ingredients I’d never heard of.

I ate and watched old movies. Bees studied.

Soon the studying became sporadic and then non-existent.

But the meals and movies continued.

We called the weekly gathering Fake Study Night. As a name, it lacks elegance, especially for two old newspaper warriors, but it is at least accurate.

Bees returned to the capital city in July, and we resumed Fake Study Night with vigor.

We made a shared list of 1970s and 80s neo-noir crime films. Bees and I both student film in college. Noir old movies set in shadows. Neo noir means new movies, set in shadows and sometimes in color.

I remember when I told Parents 2.0 I was taking a course in film study at Drake University. Dad 2.0 said, “You’re paying $300 a credit hour for moving watching? Don’t you do that for free every weekend here at home?”

He probably had a point. He usually did.

Still, Bees and I settled into the old routine.

She made some fancy salad with chicken.

We watched 1973’s “The Laughing Policeman” with Walter Matthau, who specializes in glowering.

The plot is incomprehensible, as are those of most noirs — neo or otherwise, but Matthau and his partner Bruce Dern chase around down, smack around hoods and prostitutes before a shoot-out.

I can’t think of a better way to spend two hours.

We followed up with “Blast of Silence,” a 1961 thriller about a hitman who comes to New York at Christmas to do a job but runs into some of his old orphanage school buddies.

The assassin gets tangled up in nostalgia at a time when he ought to be sharpening himself for the kill.

“Blast of Silence” is driven by a punishing narration that underscores the conflict inside the killer who longs to be domesticated.

It ends badly. There are no happy endings in noirs.

But there are happy times to be had by two old friends watching escapist movies on a weeknight over some good food.

Middle school teacher Daniel Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

1 Comment

  1. Daniel…I am so excited for your new life to begin. You are well prepared and have the right motivation. My husband taught 7th & 8th graders for years. He loved that age of kids. You offer these students more than just the subject matter, you offer life lessons that could help many. Our hearts are with you!


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