Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Review of Books for 2009

Despite its title and look, this is not a book blog—or rather, it isn't a blog dedicated only to books. In my humble opinion, reading is just one facet of my remarkable intelligence. I have a life outside of books—like bitching, waiting for the UPS guy to deliver "stuff", and planting cash crops of radishes on my future burial plot to help pay for it—and I write about those things too. This duality offends many dedicated book bloggers (none of whom are on my sidebar), and the snoots shun me. I don't mind a bit of shunning here and there, but the notion of burning at the stake for The Great Pretender of Book Reviewing bothers me.

During 2009, I read 72 books, and I have 3 in progress. Of the 72, I reviewed 25 that I opined would be of interest to my general readers. Books that are different, something new, something borrowed, something blue. DISCLAIMER: Please remember that these are my opinions; your results may vary.

THE BEST BOOK OF 2009


The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Young Adult

Innovative writing (Death is the narrator), a story that takes place inside Hitler's Germany, and unforgettable characters like Liesel Meminger and her best friend Rudy Steiner made this book unforgettable. As I wrote in my review, "Despite foreshadowing by Death, I was a wreck by book's end."

The quote I used also bears repeating. Death tells us, shortly after the Allies have bombed a place named Köln where five hundred were killed:

Five hundred souls.
I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I'd throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.
This book haunts me still.


THE WORST BOOK OF 2009


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne, Young Adult

I cannot for the life of me understand the popularity of this book, other than the supposed tear-jerker anti-climax. Bruno, the nine-year-old "protaga-nist," is a self-absorbed brat and just about as dumb as they come.

In a praise blurb, New York magazine says, “A book that tells a very bad story, gently.” Wrong, New York magazine. There is no way to tell a story as horrific as the Holocaust gently, especially when Bruno uses numbskull puns throughout the book: "The Fury" for the Fuhrer and "Out-With" for Auschwitz.

As I said in my review, "I do not take negative reviews lightly, and they are never a snap decision. I gave this book a lot of thought over several days, a lot of time writing and rewriting and, in the final analysis, I recommend it to no one . . .  it is a disgrace to the Holocaust."


OTHER GOOD BOOKS THIS YEAR (In no particular order.)

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Her second book of long short stories, I thought it was better than her first collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which won a Pulitzer.

Collected Stories; Sanctuary; Absalom! Absalom!, William Faulkner. I like the guy—what can I say?

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote.

“Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.”
So begins the story “Children on Their Birthdays,” and I dare any reader to put it down after an opening sentence like this one. Unfortunately, Capote only published twenty stories during his early career, but every  one is a gem.

A couple of fun ones:

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Another Young Adult book, it is a sci-fi thriller with a strong female lead. The story and action does not stop, making it almost impossible to put down. Wandering Coyote has read the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, and she assures me that the pace is even faster and the story superb.

The Lovers, John Connolly. The eighth installment in the Charlie Parker series, his books are getting darker and playing up the supernatural angle. And John, in person, is such a funny, likeable guy. I guess you can't tell a book by its author, a statement which makes absolutely no sense at all.

*  *  *  *  *

You can read the full reviews of these books by clicking on or around the wormy apple on the sidebar. Coming up next is a review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road—one of those books I have to think about before I review it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Housekeeping, Not

About this time every once in a while, I do computer house cleaning. The goal is to rid the machine of old and useless files, which is just about all of them. I never get the job done, though, because I always end up . . . farting around instead.

Like yesterday, I decided that a new blog template would be nice for the New Year. I don’t know where the idea came from—probably my automatic procrastinator—so I started surfing template sites. And a few more, and a few more after that, until two hours totally disappeared, never to be regained. I must have looked at 37,874 templates, exactly two of which I really liked. But they both had black backgrounds with print that was difficult to read, so I nixed the whole idea. It's not the medium, I told me, it's the message.

Next on my mental farting around list was a trip to that evil place, Microsoft—the company that owns my computer. My computer is growing elderly, I worry about the hard disk, and I would like a nifty new notebook like the one St Jude got for Christmas. So I went to Microhard to do a software test with Windows 7.

Sorry Charlie, but little of my software will work with their newest piece of crap. I wasn’t aware that Microhard’s nerds have a sense of humor: Word 2003 and Excel 2003 will work with 7 "with modifications." Yeah, right. There used to be a time when new versions of Windows were backward compatible. No more, not even with their own Office products. The problem is, I’ve built Excel worksheets with VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), but 7 has a new VBA. Martha found that out at work when her programmed worksheets wouldn’t work with Vista, the temporary moneymaking piece of crap.

I’m willing to bet that if I had games, music, movies, Book Face, Tweety, and all the other stuff that works on my cell phone (don’t get me started), all of it would work seamlessly with Windows 7.

So another hour or more wasted looking at dozens of helpless help files, never to be regained. I was tired and dejected and pissed, but I did manage to do a bit of hard disk clean up: I deleted all of Martha’s Spider Solitaire games, which she saves by accident.

Microhard now has an additional 256 KB to download bug fixes to its six-year-old XP system.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Christmas Wish

To us, this song is the meaning of Christmas.




Peace & Goodwill To All

From Martha and . . . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Resolutions, Part 2

In my aptly named post, Resolutions, Part 1, I promised there would be a second part—that’s the main reason for putting a “1” after the word “Part.” I heard all the groans, and don’t think that I didn’t; I have excellent cyber hearing. At least I’m being kind by sneaking in Part 2 while you’re all busy with Christmas preparations.

Lettuce review Part 1 then, where I stated my major resolution:

1. I will reduce stress.

Okay, that’s enough review, so here are the rest of my New Year’s resolutions for 2010:

2. I will reduce stress. On the surface, this appears to be somewhat similar to number 1. The difference is I resolve to not listen, read, or watch ANYTHING that has to do with politicians.

3. I will reduce stress. Another similarity, except that I resolve to cease my attempt to reconcile the Nobel Prize for Peace and the “surge.” Sending 35,000 men and women to search thousands of caves and patrol the sand dunes is like sending 10 guys to fight a Santa Ana-caused wildfire in Southern California.

4. I will reduce stress. Are you starting to notice a pattern here? I resolve to ignore the plight of the poor banks, the poor health insurance companies, and any large corporation that has out-sourced its operations to China at the cost of American jobs.

If it sounds like I’m sticking my head in the sand for the coming year, I suppose I am. All of the things I’ve mentioned make my blood boileth over, which is not conducive to my longevity. Lung disease has me on the ropes as it is, and getting all upset over people and situations I can do nothing about is counter-productive. With that in mind,

5. I will continue to blog.

6. I will be here next year to resolute for 2011.

7. I will religiously change my socks once a week, whether or not they need changing. When I say “religiously,” I don’t mean with incense and holy water and a pulpit . . .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Should She Tell?

When you live with a woman for over thirty-five years, you have a tendency to pick up on her moods. Anger is simple, especially (and mostly) when I am the target. So is happiness and sadness. Sex is a crapshoot, meaning yes, no, or let me get back to you on that sometime next week.

The easiest mood for me to notice, however, is when something is bothering her. I not only see it, but I can also feel it—bummer electrons, I think they call them. Martha, by nature, is not a worrier; she takes things as they come, deals with them, and then moves on. For the past month or so, though, she’s been bothered.

But try to get anything out of her when I ask, “What’s the matter, honey?” “Nothing,” she replies, which is the most aggravating non-answer in the world. I learned a long time ago not to push her because it makes her angry. So she stews in her own juices, while I sit around with my one tooth in my head and worry.

Don’t you worry because all of this is leading somewhere; you all know me and my problem with verbosity.

During December, Martha has had several use-or-lose vacation days. She scheduled an appointment with her female gynecologist for a “wellness check,” which led to some testing—blood work, bone density, an ultrasound of her pelvic bone, and yesterday, the thrill of them all: a mammogram (she once used the analogy of having her boobs slammed in the car door), as well as an ultrasound of the same.

So last night at the supper table, I finally found out what Martha has been brooding about: a lump she found in her right breast. The doctor who reviewed the mammogram and ordered the ultrasound met with her to assure her that it is no more than a drainable cyst.

I’m super thrilled for her, but I’m also pissed off.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I asked.

“I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Don’t you think that I’ve been worried already, knowing that something was wrong, but all I get is evasiveness and mumbling? I thought we were in this together, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health?”

Martha apologized, and I felt lower than a worm’s belly button for getting angry, and then I grabbed her and hugged her as hard as I could.

So now, I have a couple questions for you, my dear readers:

Was I a self-centered horse’s ass putting my own worry above her's?

Most of all, should couples share their medical concerns and suspicions with their partners?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Resolutions, Part 1

I have decided, in my finite wisdom, to do my New Year's resolutions in two parts. This first part is about books and my top-priority resolution:

1. I will reduce stress.

Is reading stressful, you ask? Yes, if I do more than read for pleasure and get involved in book Challenges and setting goals.

For the last two years, I have participated in the 50 Book Challenge on LibraryThing. It’s no big thing to read 50 in a year when I have little else to do, but I still ask myself the nagging question, “Will I make it to 50 by December 31? Will I, huh, will I?” Stupid, I know, but I cause me stress. So, for 2010, I am not going to participate in any annual-number-of-books-read Challenges.

It’s amazing how many different Challenges there are in book-blogging land, and I’m going to do three easy ones—two of which I committed to in 2009.



This Challenge is sponsored by Jennie at Biblio File, and I have to read ONE book about China by September 1, 2010. Very doable since I have the ONE book waiting to be read.



This is a great Challenge from my friend Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea. This isn't a reading Challenge, but rather a give-away Challenge. That is, I've committed to passing on twenty books that I'll read in 2010 to other people—family, friends, library sales, women's shelters, nursing homes—even previously-owned bookstores.


This Challenge is fairly self-explanatory [cough, cough]. I'm signing up for the "Inquisitive" level, which means I commit to reading THREE books during 2010 over a wide range of genres. Too bad I just finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but I have more in my reading pile.

If you're interested in any of these Challenges, click on the picture for more information and sign-up. The links will then be moved to the sidebar.


So, for 2010, I'll reduce some stress by reading the l-o-n-g books I'm anxious to dig into. The Sound and the Fury is my next Faulkner, and I have several Library of America books to read—the latter of which are 800 to 1,100 pages each. I'll pepper them, of course, with mysteries and anything I find interesting in the book blogs (which is usually quite a few).

I'll tackle the rest of my resolutions in a couple days, so feel free to amuse yourselves until then.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Classifieds

WANTED: Dead or alive. Cell phone spammer who has texted me four times so far this week. Well boo-fucking-hoo, fella: go ahead and freeze my assets at a credit union that does not exist, and please do it at the North Pole in your underpants. You are the scum that rises to the top of the scum; I know all about scum because I used to cook. Reward for anyone who brings him in partially dead so I can finish him off myself. Inquire within.


WANTED: Cell phone provider that does not speak with forked tongue. I have complained twice to have text messaging turned off, and both times my helpful customer care representatives (Muffy and Puffy) have assured me they flipped the switches. Or maybe it was switched the flippers. In any event, I was bare-eared lied to. Inquire within.


WANTED: Cell phone that does absolutely nothing other than VOICE calls—the kind where one person talks while the other one listens, and then the other one talks while the one person listens. I realize that may be old-fashioned, but how much sense does it make to text message someone when you’re holding a fucking TELEPHONE in your hand? I do not need the following “features” on a mobile telephone: the weather (I can tell that by looking up), games, CNN or the BBC, music, sporting events, the stock market, movies like Lord of the Rings in THX Dolby surround sound, emails, or an itty-bitty keyboard with 400 tiny keys. And did I mention text messaging? Inquire within.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Love All Year Round

Santa says, "Piss on the commercialism!"

Everybody sing, "A lemming we will go ..."

I'm not against the religious meaning of December 25 (whether or not I subscibe to it), but I definitely detest the pressure and the guilt retailers put on the masses.

Think about this. Would Ma and Pa Ingalls have driven their wagon all the way to the Walmart in Mankato to buy Cheap Chinese Crap—using their Chase Bank Platinum Card at 19.8% (since Charles never had two nickels to rub together) —for Mary, Half-Pint, and Carrie? Nope. The girls got home-made and hand-made gifts, gifts made with love, and they were thrilled because they didn't watch the in-your-face advertising on TV.

Our friend Stinkypaw has the right idea with her Blogger gift exchange. Fourteen of her blog friends (she calls them Blends) are exchanging small, home-made gifts. Leave it to a lady named Stinky to come up with such a nice idea.

I also like what Fay has to say:

"It's not that I hate gifts, baking, entertaining, etc. It's just that I'd rather spread it out throughout the year. The giant flashing Santa on my neighbor's roof - that I could live without." [Italics mine]

Sorry, Fay. Just throw a brick or something through my bedroom window and I'll have Martha get out of bed, go out to the garage, and turn Santa off for you.

By the way. Our house didn't win the holiday lighting contest again this year.

* * * * *

Health-wise, I'm feeling a bit better after spending most of the weekend in bed. I'm still taking it very slow, though, and I'll be around to your blogs tomorrow.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Managing My Phobias


I, like all normal people, have a healthy assortment of phobias.

I have acrophobia (the fear of high places), as in puking my guts out when I peek over the railing at Hoover Dam.

I have hydrophobia (the fear of water), as in drowning. My anxiety level tends to increase steadily during the week until it peaks on Saturday nights, when Martha makes me take a bath—whether or not I need one.

I have claustrophobia (the fear of closed-in spaces), as in elevators and airplanes. Closets don’t bother me, though, because I’m used to sitting in them. Like whenever Martha says, “SIT in that closet, buster, until you are good and ready to EAT your Brussels sprouts!”

I have arachnophobia (the fear of spiders), as in, “DID YOU KILL THE FILTHY FUCKER, MARTHA? ARE YOU POSITIVE IT’S DEAD? POKE IT WITH THAT STICK THERE A FEW TIMES, JUST TO MAKE SURE!”

I’m pretty damn good, though, at keeping my phobias under control.

For acrophobia, I do not go up on the roof of our one-story house.

For hydrophobia, I piddle around in the sink a little to keep Martha happy. I also avoid birdbaths, puddles, and the North Sea.

For claustrophobia, I take the stairs instead of the elevator, unless the building is more than three stories tall, in which case I do not go in it at all because my acrophobia kicks in. I never travel, so there’s no reason to fly there.

And for arachnophobia, I spray nuclear spider killer stuff all over the place, including my important bits just to be extra safe. Everything glows an odd shade of green in the dark, but that’s okay—I’m not afraid of green.

Okay, okay, I confess. I am a phobic mess, a one-man train wreck (siderodromophobia).

I am afraid of being tickled by feathers (pteronophobia), so I avoid pillow factories, Las Vegas showrooms, and chickens.

I am deathly afraid of my mother-in-law, so I’m pentheraphobic.

I am ephebiphobic because teenagers scare the shit out of me. Come to think of it, they scared the shit out of me when I was a teenager.

So how do I control these newly confessed phobias? I take the meds, man, I take the meds.



[An interesting website: The Indexed Phobia List]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Throwaway Women

New Introduction


Some of you have read this before, perhaps several times, but I’m reposting it from the archives for all of my newer friends in Bloggerville. Even now, reading it for the ump- teenth time, tears roll down my face while I remember . . .

If I have any regrets about my illness and being house- bound, it is my inability to help drug addicted women in a clinical setting. I wrote this essay about three years ago in about ten minutes; it was one of those instances when the words go directly from the heart onto paper, bypassing the brain altogether.

Believe me, though, when I say that the reality was much worse than what I have written.

There were, of course, some rewards. A young Latina woman in her early twenties, her brain burned by crystal meth, her two children under the care of her parents, told me, “Charlie, my father was a 250-pound son of a bitch drug dealer who started raping me when I was eight. You’re like the father I never had.” I believed her. My bullshit detector never stirred.

All I wanted was one success. Whether or not I ever got it I’ll never know.


Throwaway Women

This is about interning at a two-year halfway house for female drug addicts, all of whom were diagnosed with mental disorders in addition to addiction, most of whom had been incarcerated or were on intensive supervisory probation, two of whom were pregnant, and how trite the concept of “treatment” is, and how the Twelve Step notion of turning one’s life and will over to the care of God is idiotic because he is not going to help them, and how worthless taking their moral inventory is because ninety-five percent of them had their morals torn from them by fathers and uncles and brothers when they were defenseless little girls, and how they cling to abusive men who are just like their fathers and uncles and brothers because they are desperate for love, any kind of love even if it is sick, and how much these women hate themselves, and how I saw the self-inflicted razor scars on their wrists and arms and thighs, scars on their bodies from physical abuse, and how hollow these women were inside, and how dead their eyes were, and how their minds and souls were pits of dying coals, but beneath the drugs and the pain there were sparks of beauty in every one of them, tiny glimpses of childish innocence and giggles, of the little girls they should have been, and that was the reason I went back there every day, and how the only way I could help them was by being kind because few of them have ever known kindness, especially male kindness, and how I listened without judging because who am I to judge, and how they wanted to talk because no one had ever listened to them, and how they wanted to trust because they had no one to trust, and how they wanted to hope because they had never had any hope, and how maybe they felt just a little bit better after spending a safe half hour with me.

I still remember those throwaway women, I still remember some of their faces, and I often wonder how many of them (and their babies) are still alive because their chances were so very small . . .

Friday, November 27, 2009

The New Old Me

Unless you're reading this through a feed, all you sidebar aficionados will notice my old but improved avatar—which is a really stupid name for "my picture."

Scary, I know, but it's all I have to work with. And this tiny photo (3.69 kb!) is all Kim Ayres had to work with in Photoshop (no, I didn't go to Scotland for a glamor make- over). He improved the contrast and focus, rid my eyeglasses of those unsightly flash reflections, and put an almost-smile on my mouth. Since I'm a Professor, he didn't dare fix me up with a full smile—we all know how drab- and dreary-looking Professors are.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because Kim has a great idea for "The Gifty Season": changing, enhancing, or restoring a photo of you or someone you love. The possi- bilities are endless. Wrinkles disappear; droopy chesticles perk right up; bald pates are hairy again. And who wouldn't love to lose a hundred pounds off their hindquarter or look twenty years younger?

Or maybe you just want a really nice photograph to give or to save as a memory.

While you're checking out the link to Kim for more information and some fun images, check out his incredible site, Kim Ayres Portrait Photography. His work is marvelous.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful

On this American Thanksgiving Day, I'm thankful for all the friends I have in Bloggerville and on LibraryThing.

I'm thankful for my beautiful wife Martha and our two beasts, Irish and Molly.

Most of all, I'm thankful to still be breathing and enjoying another day of life.


Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gramma

I am Irish American. Not an “Anglo,” “Whitey,” “Papist,” or a “drunken Mick.” I am descended from a long line of dead Irish people in Eire, and Ireland is in my DNA. Even though I have never been there—and will never go there—my great-grandparents brought my DNA with them when they came to America.

I never knew my great-grandfather, Anthony Callaghan from County Cork, who had the silent “g” chopped off his name at Ellis Island. My great-grandmother, the former Mary McMahon, is a different story. I celebrate my heritage through her, Gramma, and the memories I still carry of her fifty years later.

Gramma was a tiny woman, and tinier still in her 90s. But that didn’t stop her, like the good Catholic wife that she was, from birthing thirteen children, eight of whom lived. She was housebound, but never alone: the fruit she bore in turn bore two more generations, and that was a shitload of people “stopping by” to visit her.

And she loved every minute of it. And she loved every one of us, even if she didn’t remember (or know in the first place) our names. And she loved giving every one of us kids a kiss, telling God to watch over us in the beautiful accent she never lost.

About Gramma’s kisses. She gave huge, slobbery kisses just like her Golden Retriever, Paddy. Or Fluffy. Or whatever. Huge, slobbery, beery kisses because she drank. Just a glass of beer, mind you, never a bottle in sight, but there was always someone to keep her glass full. I could always tell who was kissing me by the after-odor: if it smelled like beer it was Gramma, or if it smelled like dog shit it was Paddy. Or Fluffy. Or whatever.

Well, that’s not exactly true because the two of them could fool the hell out of me. If the dog had a few laps of Gramma’s beer, or if she forgot to soak her dentures overnight, I was never sure who, or what, had just kissed me.

I didn’t really care, though, because I loved them both. I can still see her sitting in her faded blue horsehair chair, the arms covered with intricate crocheted doilies held in place with pins, a beer glass in her right hand, and always with a smile on her face.

Except, that is, on a Friday or Saturday night when everybody gathered around the upright piano in the basement for a sing-a-long. (The bar was in the basement too, and for good reason once the singing began.) We sang long and loud and off-key until my Uncle Jack took over, a fine tenor who sang in the church choir. He sang one or two Irish songs, but always finished with the one that brought tears to Gramma’s eyes: “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral”.

A lullaby. Were the tears for my great-grandfather? For the five children she never got to sing for? For the Ireland she left? I believe it was all of these things as I look at her in my mind, a tired, sick, fuzzy-faced old woman who lived to be 102.

I love you still, Gramma, and I hope you went out with a smile on your face.



[This piece was inspired by Mapstew and a comment he made about his mother on Kim Ayres blog. Thanks, Map.]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What If . . .

What if the world could be at peace through music and dance? What if all the people on this planet could sing and swing together, regardless of talent because talent doesn't matter? Is it worth ten minutes of your life to watch these videos and think about it? Or at least dream about it?






Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beam Me Up

Scribble, scribble, erase, scribble, break pencil point, tear big hole in paper, scribble around it . . .

Beam Me Up

My mind oftentimes drifts into uncharted territory, like the USS Enterprise without a rudder.

“Kirk to Charlie: Where the hell are we?”

“Charlie to Kirk: Damned if I know, Captain. The rudder is on the fritz and we’re drifting into uncharted territory.”

Uncharted territory. We sent men to the moon in 1969— why on earth we did that is way beyond me—but we can’t build a toaster that toasts toast or a coffee maker that makes coffee. Maybe Martha and I are unusually hard on household appliances because, over the years, we’ve had a dozen of each. Or perhaps our expectations are too high: when we buy expensive brands, we expect them to work for more than a week.

Take our coffee machine. It has a mind of its own (apparently ours isn’t good enough), because it tells us when it’s going to brew the coffee. Martha has the timer set for 4:50 a.m. so the coffee is hot and flavorful when she gets up at 5 o’clock.

“Fucking coffee’s colder than a witch’s TIT!” she screeched in outrage the other morning, which is a truly horrible sound at the crack of light—something akin to ten cats with their tails caught under the rockers of the rocking chair. Martha is not exactly perky in the morning, and neither is the coffee. It starts dripping at 2:23, 4:07, 3:49—whenever it damn well feels like it.

And don’t bother to ask what happened when I suggested to my beloved that she might have set the timer, uh, incorrectly. Martha likes to think she’s June Cleaver in the kitchen, but I don’t remember the Beaver’s mom ever calling her percolator “a piece of shit”.

But in addition to our piece of shit, we are also the proud owners of “a piece of crap”: the toaster. You ought to come over and see it sometime. It has buttons all over the place for toasting bagels, Texas Toast, English muffins, Belgian waffles, frozen waffles, unfrozen waffles, and banana sandwiches. The only problem is, it doesn’t do bread.

“Maybe you have to use that fancy forty-seven-grain bread for it to work,” I suggested.

“It isn’t the kind of bread you use, you idiot, the thing is a piece of crap!”

As the man of the house, I decided it was my duty to check out the toaster. Women, after all, aren’t always the greatest when it comes to repairing intricate electrical appliances. I set the browning dial at “2” (on a scale of “1” to “26”), put a slice of Wonder bread in the slot, and pushed the plunger. “How hard can it be to make toast?” I thought, watching the heating elements turn from a benign brown to a hellish red.

While I was waiting for my toast to toast, I had a nice cup of cold greasy coffee. At a setting of “2”, I expected a warmed- over piece of bread. What I got was something that looked like it barely escaped the Great Chinese Whorehouse Fire of 1847. Either the toaster (1) did not in fact work or (2) it was indeed a piece of crap.

Every man of the house has a backup plan to protect the illusion that he is the man of the house, secretly referred to as “Plan B”: I needed professional help.

“Charlie to Scotty: Yo, Scotty. I have a coffee maker and a toaster on the fritz. Can you fix ’em?”

“Scotty to Charlie: Negative, laddie. I have to fix this rudder because . . .”

“We’re drifting into uncharted territory, I know. Charlie out.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: The Coroner's Lunch

The Coroner's Lunch, Colin Cotterill


Soho Crime, Trade Paper, 2005
ISBN 978-1569474181
272 pages

The first in a series of six crime novels. (A seventh will be published in hardcover on 8/1/10.)


The time: 1976. The place: Vientiane, Laos. The detective: Dr. Siri Paiboun, a seventy-two-year-old man who wants nothing more than to retire and enjoy his golden years.

Nothing doing, the brand-new Communist regime tells him. Since the previous coroner swam across the Mekong River to Thailand, Comrade Siri receives the appointment of Official Party Coroner—a branch of medicine he knows absolutely nothing about.

Siri reports to his new job in an outbuilding behind the hospital. Above the doorway is a sign that says “Morgue” in Laotian and he adds a doormat, in English, that says “Welcome.”

Thus begins one of the most different, entertaining, and humorous crime novels I have read. The locale is exotic, which I have sampled in the Communist country to the right of Laos. Some politics are involved in the story, but Cotterill keeps them to a minimum—he gets in some zingers but this is, after all, a mystery.

Cotterill’s strength is the characters he has created. Siri’s morgue staff consists of Mr. Geung, an affable man with Down’s Syndrome, and Dtui, a “refrigerator-size” young woman who is an able nurse and assistant. When work is slow, however, she prefers the comics and movie magazines she has stashed in her desk drawer. With few tools and even fewer chemicals, Siri and Dtui perform their first few autopsies following the instructions in two old textbooks.

While there is plenty of sarcasm, dark humor, and repartee, this book is not a farce. There are dead bodies, too many gruesome dead bodies, and Siri is intent upon proving they were all murders. He has several helpers: Civilai, his closest friend inside the new regime; Phosy, a member of the new police force; and a pathologist in Hanoi whom Siri consults after learning how to use a telephone.

Siri has something else going for him: a sixth sense that manifests itself as dreams. Yes, Siri has some connection to the supernatural and charms, which he finds out when he attends an exorcism in a small Hmong village. I think this is where the reviewer is supposed to say, “This book requires a suspension of belief.”

I disagree. Siri is as baffled by the notion of the supernatural as the reader is—right up to the surprise ending of the book. And who, or what, can positively prove that the super- natural does not exist?

Rather, I suggest that this novel be read with an open mind; otherwise, a well-written and enjoyable mystery will be missed. I recommend it to all crime fans who crave a complex mystery with a simply wonderful cast of characters—especially Dr. Siri Paiboun.



A comment from Cathy, mystery guru and aficionado at Kittling: Books:

"I have a big ole grin plastered all over my face. I was hoping you'd like this one. And guess what? The series just gets better and better!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Doggie Double Feature

This is a clip from the David Letterman Show and his feature, "Stupid Pet Tricks." What I find so amusing is Letterman's reaction—this dog really tickled him.

video


Do you suffer from an itchy back, always in a place you can't reach? Well, this pooch in Brazil has it all figured out. If you live near a dirt hill, or have one in your back yard like we do, try it—you might like it.

video

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Think About It

  1. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

  2. A fine is a tax for doing wrong; a tax is a fine for doing well.

  3. He who laughs last thinks slowest.

  4. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

  5. A day without sunshine is, well, night.

  6. The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

  7. If the shoe fits, get another one just like it.

  8. Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries.

  9. The shin bone is a device for finding furniture.

  10. When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.


[Thanks to my friend Joyce for passing these on to me.]

Monday, November 09, 2009

Review: Agincourt

Agincourt, Bernard Cornwell


Harper, Hardcover, 2009
ISBN: 978-0061578915
464 pages


Trade Paper edition available December 29, 2009


On October 25, 1415 King Henry V led 6,000 archers and men-at-arms against a French force of 30,000 at Agincourt—and won. According to Cornwell's notes, only Hastings, Waterloo, Trafalgar, and Crécy rival Agincourt in renown. It is a gore-fest even by Cornwell's standards, and I don't recommend it for those with sensitive constitutions.

Unlike many of the English-French sweep-and-plunder skirmishes during the Hundred Years War, Henry's purpose was to "rightfully" regain the crown of France. Despite the odds against him, Henry never faltered in his belief that he would win because God told him so. From page 395:

"Henry of England was filled by a God-given joy. Never, in all his life, had he felt closer to God, and he almost pitied the men who came to be killed for they were being killed by God."

That quote bothered me because how many millions of people have died over the ages because of the same belief?

Cornwell, as usual, uses a fictional character for intrigue, to carry the story, and to have access to the bigwigs for strategy and whatnot. In Agincourt it is Nick Hook, a master archer. Anyone who has read the Grail Quest series will notice a lot of duplication about archers in this book and will be reminded of Cornwell's excellent description of the battle of Crécy.

The battle of Agincourt (Azincourt in French), does not take place until the last quarter of the book. In addition to the story's set-up and some dawdling by Cornwell, the majority of the book is about the siege of Harfleur in Normandy. Expecting a swift victory over the small walled city, the French fought brilliantly for over two weeks—decimating many of Henry's force with cannon, tunnels, and dysentery. To me, the siege of Harfleur was as interesting as the title battle.

Overall, this stand-alone book is a Cornwell festival and will please fans of historic battles and strategy.


[A belated thank you to Harper Books for the advance finished copy]


* * * * *

COMING January 19, 2010:


The Burning Land, Bernard Cornwell


Harper Books, Hardcover
ISBN 978-0060888749
352 pages


This is the fifth book in the Saxon Chronicles series.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Happy Birthday to Martha

"Maxine"


Today is Martha's birthday.

She is fifty-six, but she still looks like the girl I married thirty-five years ago.

She disagrees.

"Do you think I look like Maxine?" she asked, and I'm pretty sure she was serious.

"Of course not," I said. And I was serious. She smiled.

But you know me and my hoof-in-mouth disease. "You've got the crabby part down cold, though," I added, one of those truths that is best left unsaid.

Smile disappeared. And she's been crabby ever since.

That 55-gallon drum of "Oil of Gulag" vanishing cream I ordered from Jimmy B. hasn't arrived yet.

Perhaps duct tape would work better for hoof-in-mouth.

But no worries.

Tonight, when I sneak up on her in bed and give my birthday girl one of my excellent back rubs, she'll start purring.

And then tell me to go screw myself.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wimmin, Baseball, & Foot Fungus

Scribble, scribble, scribble . . .


Wimmin, Baseball, & Foot Fungus


This is Susie, my very first girlfriend. Even at the tender age of three, older women were attracted to my boyish good looks and devil-may-care attitude. Susie was a mature woman of four and a sucker for a little kid in a sloppy uniform. Never mind that I couldn’t hit the side of an elephant with a bat—it was the uniform and rakish tilt to my cap that made her swoon.

You know, it’s eerie about the baseball thing. When Susie grew up, she married a real ballplayer. When I grew up, I fell down a whole flight of steps at the ballpark in my frenzied haste to catch up to the beer guy.

And then there was the day Susie and I played a spring training exhibition game behind the outfield bushes in our shared back yard. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours,” she said, and I was . . . game.

We were innocents, of course, but somehow we knew that one does not push one’s pants down in public to satisfy one’s curiosity. We weren’t too intelligent, though, because it never occurred to either of us to hide from the lady who lived in the house behind the bushes we were hiding behind.

As luck would have it (and of course we had none), the lady who lived in the house behind the bushes we were hiding behind was the neighborhood snoop and town crier. Within minutes, everyone within fourteen blocks knew about the two village idiots. If we’d had a neighborhood newspaper, Susie’s and my mugs would have been on Page 1, above the fold, with this headline in 36-point bold type:

BOY, 3, SHOWS HIS TO GIRL, 4, WHO IN TURN SHOWS HERS TO BOY, 3!

Justice was swift in the world of small people in 1951. Arrest, booking, arraignment, trial (with no defense counsel), automatic verdict of “guilty” (with no chance of appeal), and automatic sentencing to death row (with no chance of appeal) were all carried out by Judge Mom in less than fifteen seconds.

Death was equally swift. My pants weren’t up for more than ten minutes before they were right back down again so Mom could spank my little fanny. The irony of exposing myself because I exposed myself was entirely lost on me, but I remember thinking that, at the rate I was going, the elastic band in my brand-new baseball pants wasn’t going to last even half a season: up, down, up, down . . .

But even though the whole sordid and tawdry affair with Susie was traumatic, I learned two valuable lessons from it:

1. Never play any game more dangerous than solitaire with a woman—and make damn sure it isn’t strip solitaire.

2. Never go behind any bush, shrub, hedge, evergreen or nevergreen, tumbleweed or standingstillweed, potted plant or sober plant with a woman, even if she is your wife and she is screaming at you.

“Hey Charlie, c’mere and look at this! I think I found the source of your disgusting toe fungus! HEEEEY, CHARLIE!”

“I hear you, I hear you, but where the hell are you?”

“Back here, behind the bushes.”

“AARGH!”

One interesting fact, however, is worth mentioning. You know the bushes Susie and I were hiding behind, the ones where the circus could have been in full swing and we would never have known it? They were the dreaded pukeberry bush, the same ones my wife found in our yard and the reason I’ve had this disgusting toe fungus for nigh on sixty years.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Try Not to Look UP!

With no disrespect to the famed Black Watch of Scotland and its illustrious history since 1681, I present this Candid Camera-style clip of a Scotsman sans his underwear.

(TIP: Lower the volume control before playing the clip—it is quite loud.)

video

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Review: Dolan's Cadillac (Audiobook)

Dolan's Cadillac and Other Stories, Stephen King


Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition, 2009
ISBN: 978-0743598200
Number of Discs: 5
Running Time: Approx. 5 hours


Just in time for Halloween! Oh. Wait a minute. Halloween was the other day. Well then, just in time for next Halloween!

In 1994, King published a book of short stories titled Nightmares & Dreamscapes. 912 pages of short stories, including a non-fiction piece about his son's baseball team (Steve is a big fan of the sport). The entire book was never released on audio cassette; Highbridge Audio claimed an unabridged collection, but it was really just a few unabridged selections from the book.

In July, Simon & Schuster changed that with the release of six audiobooks on CD. And they did it up right: each story is read by a famous person, mostly actors, who give the stories their actorly best. To me, the readings were similar to recording the soundtrack for an animated film: lively, different "voices" for different characters, and just plain fun.

Dolan's Cadillac is the first in the series, and this is the lineup (a bow to baseball):

1. King reads his Introduction.

2. A school teacher discovers her students are not what they seem in Suffer the Little Children, read by Whoopi Goldberg.

3. In Crouch End, read by Tim Curry, a woman fears that supernatural events may have led to her husband's disappearance. (Curry is excellent!)

4. In Rainy Season, read by Yeardley Smith, a young couple is forced into the ultimate battle of Man vs. Nature when torrential rain turns deadly.

5. A widowed husband spends seven years plotting revenge for his wife's murder in Dolan's Cadillac, a long story read by Rob Lowe.

I like S&S's modular approach to this big book of King's tales. The CDs are packaged nicely in a fold-out similar to some DVD sets. Each module retails for $10.19 (US) at Amazon, or they can be dowloaded from Audible.com if you're a member. If you like King, like short stories, and commute, one of these sets may strike your fancy.

The following links take you to the other five sets (with a major reader) for your perusal: Chattery Teeth (Kathy Bates), Sorry, Right Number (a full cast), It Grows On You (Grace Slick), The End of the Whole Mess (Matthew Broderick), and The House on Maple Street (Robert B. Parker).

* * * * *


Story lines (numbers 2-5) are from Amazon.com product information for Dolan's Cadillac.

[A note to WC: I know you don't "do" King, so don't waste a perfectly good comment to tell me you don't "do" King.]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sex

Okay, it's time for another one of my silly scribblings.

Sex

I don’t want to talk about it.





Now there’s a brilliant essay for you. Seven words. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Period. It reminds me of an essay I did in grammar school titled, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

“My family and I went to the mountains for two weeks. We stayed in this crummy log cabin with about a million spiders, and Dad kept yelling at me not to scream and throw his good shoes at the walls. The bathroom was in this old house outdoors, and Dad kept yelling at me because I wouldn’t go in there and sit down. I didn’t do my business for three whole days. Mom yelled at me too when she caught me whizzing on some lady’s flowers. We came home ten days early because Mom and Dad were tired of yelling and I really had to take a dump. We had fun, but I just don’t want to talk about it.”

The reason I don’t talk about sex is because I don’t talk about sex. I could care less about other people’s sex lives. The same goes for celebrities and pseudo-celebrities (although I thought the Monica and Bill thing was amusing). The same goes for gays and lesbians. What people do in private is their business—not mine.

So whether my sex life is between Martha and me or just between me, it’s none of your business. If I am straight, bi-sexual, gay, or any combination of the three, it’s none of your business. If I’m a cross-dresser or get dressed in the crosswalk, it’s definitely none of your business.

I will tell you one thing, though. I didn’t marry a good Catholic girl.

A GOOD CATHOLIC GIRL


“Okay, Charlie, I’ve taken both my oral and rectal temperature—”

“—I hope you took the oral temp first—”

“I’ve counted backward fourteen days, counted forward fourteen days, computed the mean, median, and mode, checked the Xs on the calendar, and I’ve been watching the moon on the Weather Channel. Everything is favorable, which means we can have sex within the next twelve minutes.”

“Gee, honey, you didn’t have to go through all that for a simple quickie. You sound like Mission Control.”

“A QUICKIE! Do you think I’m having sex with you for FUN? This is for making a little Mary or a Benedict XVI."

"Great. We can call him Bennie. Or ExVeeEye. Or better yet, 16. 16 Callahan—I like it."

"Now turn off all the lights before I take off my clothes—and don’t you dare try to peek at me either, you filthy pervert.”



This just in! A memo from Martha:

“Thank you for keeping your big trap shut for once and respecting my privacy and womanly dignity. You’re right: the story about you trying to put a conundrum on in the dark is nobody’s damn business."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins


Scholastic Press, 2008
ISBN 978-0439023481
384 pages


Reading Level: Young Adult




I am not going to wait until the end of my scholarly review to tell you what I think of this book: it’s great, and to mangle a tired old cliché, nearly unputdownable. Collins has written a non-stop sci-fi tale that is light on sci-fi, stars a sixteen-year-old female protagonist, and stresses personal moral beliefs without preaching.

The place is Panem, site of the former United States, and consists of twelve districts and the Capitol. The time is the near future. Collins does not employ the five basic requisites of journalism—who, what, when, where, and why—because they aren’t relevant to the story.

What is relevant is the total subjugation of the people in the districts by the Capitol. There was a thirteenth district, but because the people dared to protest the meager distribution of “food”, the Capitol, in a show of Sci-Fi wizardry, obliterated the district and every human being living in it.

The Hunger Games. Held once a year, they are the ultimate tribute to the power, greatness, and largesse of the Capitol. Chosen by lottery, each district sends two teenagers as its representatives to the Games; twenty-four to start, one to win both personal fame and extra rations for his or her district.

The other twenty-three? They are all dead, either at the hands of the other contestants or by the Capitol’s tech- nological ability to alter the playing field environment.

Amazon and reviewers have revealed way too much of the story, which I believe should be the reader’s privilege. Katniss, however, the sixteen-year-old rep from District 12, bears mentioning. She is a strong-willed girl who refuses to give up her mind and soul to the monsters who run Panem. She is determined to retain her humanness, and she will do anything to keep it—including killing if necessary.

But isn’t that a dichotomy? How, exactly, does Katniss reconcile the notion of killing in order to retain her humanity?

I’m sorry to say this, but we the readers, don’t know. This is Book One of a trilogy, so I will have to read the second one: Catching Fire, published on September 1, 2009.

I'm glad that Collins chose a female as protagonist, making this more than a "boys' book." School Library Journal recommends The Hunger Games for Grades 7 and up—despite the graphic violence—but what do I know about twelve- and thirteen-year-old kids nowadays? Or what their parents allow them to read?

Rather, I give it two pinkie fingers up for adults.

Friday, October 23, 2009

15 Books

I just finished telling y’all that I’m a compulsive maker of lists, and here I go again. This list is not compulsive, however; it is requestive from Peter Sandico, my creative book blogging buddy in Manila.

A few days ago, he challenged readers to list, in his comments section, fifteen books (in no more than fifteen minutes) “That will stick with them forever.” I like that wording: not favorites because, by definition, only one book can be a favorite.

I didn’t time me because I have no idea where my watch is (I’m watching out for it, though), so I cheated on the time factor. And I don’t know if this is cheating or not, but three of my selections include multiple volumes; listing just one book of a trilogy seems really dopey to me. If I'm a cheater then so be it—this is my blog and I’ll do what I want with it. [large raspberry]

On to the list. These books will stay with me forever because they either affected me emotionally or were just fantastic reads (in no particular order):

1. I Know This Much is True, Wally Lamb

2. The Snopes Trilogy, William Faulkner (3 vols., duh)

3. The Journeyer, Gary Jennings

4. The World According to Garp, John Irving

5. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

6. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

7. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

8. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

9. A Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R. Martin (4 vols.)

10. The Source, James Michener

11. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

12. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

13. Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

14. The Dark Tower, Stephen King (7 vols.)

15. Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham


A bonus book from childhood, one that has stayed with me all my life:

16. The Little Engine That Could, Watty Piper ("I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.")


[Feel free to steal!]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Listing to Starboard (or is it Port?)

I am a compulsive maker of lists. I make a list for everything, including a master list that lists all my other lists. I’ve made a million lists over the years, most of them on cocktail napkins (both wet and dry), on the back of junk mail envelopes, and in the margins of the newspaper. A ton of my lists have been washed and dried, which makes for a very clean and softened list but alas, also a very blank one.

Even if I have nothing in particular to do, I make a list:

TODAY’S THINGS TO DO LIST

1. Nothing in particular.
2. If something in particular comes up, I'll let me know.

* * * * *

With hindsight and regret, there is a list I never made—or ever thought of making. It is a list (best kept in a wirering notebook), of the good books I’ve read during my lifetime.

What made me think about it was a discussion of Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase on LibraryThing. “I’ve read that!” I thought, and in fact I’ve read it twice, back about the time it came out in 1964 or so. But do you think I could remember anything about it? The story, the characters, maybe a quote or two? No, on all counts. All I could do was read the discussion, keep my yap shut, and feel the frustration.

The same thing has happened with Steinbeck, Chaim Potok, The Catcher in the Rye, and On the Road. It isn’t that my memory is shot; rather, it’s a matter of reading too many books too long ago and not remembering anything but the title and author.

How nice it would have been, then, to start a book list, a book journal, when I was in high school—in conjunction with (or instead of) making lists of dates in history and the abbreviations of the elements in chemistry. The high school lists are long gone, but I sure wish I had some notes on Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There and Pinball.

Perhaps I'll be a bit smarter in my next life when I come back as a library cat named Louie.

* * * * *

Poor Martha and her grocery lists. She makes one every week, and every week when she goes shopping, the list is on the kitchen table right where she left it. Not occasionally or once in a while, but every single week. We even have a routine when she gets home:

“You, uh, forgot your shopping list,” I tell her.

“I know, but I remembered almost everything on it.”

[This part varies]
“Did you remember the double-chocolate triple-fudge brownie with quadruple-dark chocolate sauce on top ice cream? And the hot fudge for it?”

[This part doesn't vary]
“Nope. Those are the two I forgot. I did get a nice strawberry rhubarb pie, though.”

The reason she “forgot” is because the ice cream was for ME and the pie was for HER. To prove it, listen to this:

“You know I can’t eat strawberry-rhubarb pie—it lies on my chest all night,” I say.

“Well no one is forcing you to eat it. Don’t worry; it’ll get eaten before it turns green."

It would be easy to get angry, but I don’t. She’s the one who spends her time and energy shopping, schlepping the bags around, and putting the groceries up—all because I can’t do it any more. Martha does her best, and I find her list- forgetfulness kind of endearing, something that’s unique about her.

But damn, I sure miss my family-size bowl of chocolate crash cart before I put on my jammies . . .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Excellent Award

I received this award from Wandering Coyote of Way-Out-West Cowpat, British Columbia (not to be confused with North Cowpat, Ontario). I considered giving her a big (((hug))), but then I reconsidered. “WC is liable to slap the shit out of me,” I thought, and I imagined her saying something like this:

“We may be friends, asshole, but nobody said anything about touching.”

The reason I imagined her saying something like that is because she says something like that all the time. WC is the real deal, what you see is what you get, she says what she means, and she means what she says.

Please know, Bloggerites, that I’m not blowing my horn—hell, I don’t even own a kazoo. But I don’t take an award lightly, either. It is a symbolic thank you, and for that I’m grateful. Delighted. Even tickled pink.

You can sure as hell bet, though, that it won’t be WC doing the tickling.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Peckerhead

When I read a piece today titled "Home Improvement" by Robert the Skeptic, I just had to blow the dust off this old chestnut. I'm in no way, shape, or form accusing Robert of being a Peckerhead but, then again, take a gander at the photo on his banner.


Peckerhead


Pound. Pound pound pound. Eyeball a thirty-nine inch straight line across the wall. It looks right just about HERE. Pound. Pound pound pound. Screw the screw into one wall anchor, and then screw the other screw into the other wall anchor. Hang the bulletin board. Step back and look at my handiwork. Shit. Either the left side is too low or the right side is too high. I’ll lower the right side an estimated two and three-eighths inches so it’s equally low with the left side.

Eyeball an estimated two and three-eighths inches down the wall. It looks right just about HERE. Pound. Pound pound pound. Screw the screw into the wall anchor. Hang the bulletin board on the left screw and . . . it’s still crooked as hell. Several tries and several exposed wall anchors later . . .

I call it the Peckerhead Method of Home Repair, Assembly, and General Whatnot. The Peckerhead Method involves no thinking, no planning, and no questions asked. Just plunge right in, pecker first, and to hell with the instructions.

Peckerheadism (from the Latin skullus bonerus, or head of the pecker) is unique to the male of the species for an obvious reason. The female of the species reacts to peckerheadism with extreme peckishness and often responds by henpecking. Some (without naming her name) become selectively frigid:

“The henhouse is CLOSED, buster, until you FIX those big holes you made in my good fucking wall!”

* * * * * *

We didn’t have shop in grammar school, so I learned all the basics of peckerheading by watching Dad. I learned how to be impatient and always in a big goddam hurry. I learned how to use the wrong tools. I learned how to use vulgarities, expletives, and dirty words. I learned to forget to unplug it before taking it apart.

But most of all, I learned to never follow the instructions.

One of my boyhood pastimes was putting model airplane kits together. The jet fighter models always had a little plastic pilot, and it was crucial—crucial—to glue him into his seat before assembling the fuselage; otherwise, there was no way to get him into the cockpit.

I had the largest collection of lonely little plastic pilots in the universe. Mom wanted to have my head examined because I kept grumbling about “little men” and “my desk drawer is full of them”.

“Chuckie needs to have his head examined,” Mom told Dad. That was rich. Here was the man who took all twenty or thirty tubes out of the television set, put them in a grocery bag, hauled them down to the repair shop to test them, hauled them back home, and didn’t have a clue how twenty or thirty tubes went back into the television set.

“Fuckers all look alike,” I heard him mumbling from somewhere inside the TV cabinet. So do light bulbs I wanted to add, but that would have been an overt allusion to his red-line personal wattage on the peck-o-meter; when Dad was in peckerhead mode, he was in no mood for either wisdom or levity.

* * * * *

Intelligence. Reason. Logic. Common sense. I’m lucky to possess these cerebral gifts all in one thin brain. With just a tad bit more luck, I might have been Charlie Einstein instead of Charlie Callahan.

So why oh why can’t I repair, assemble, or generally whatnot like a normal person? Why oh why do I not think, plan, or ask questions before plunging, pecker first, into a project? Most of all, why oh why is my desk drawer of life overflowing with little plastic pilots?

Because I am my father’s son, and the peckerhead never falls far from the tree.

Because peckerism is in my genes, all tangled up in the fabric of my DNA.

Because, in the end, I just pecker along the best I can.


[Ladies, please monitor your blood pressure when responding to this essay!]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

50 Things I've Never Had

This is not a meme because there is only one of me-singular, not plural-therefore, it is simply a me. I wonder who came up with that stupid term in the firstfirst placeplace.

50 Things I've Never Had


1. A dream where nothing happens. Mine are all Spielberg/Lucas blockbusters with THX surround scream.

2. Pistachio ice cream.

3. A bunny.

4. Bunny slippers.

5. A heavy metal record album. Mine are all made of light-weight vinyl.

6. A rap album made out of anything.

7. Sex on top of the refrigerator. I’m afraid of heights.

8. A riding lawn mower.

9. A lawn on which to ride a riding lawn mower.

10. Road kill.

11. Garden kill from the riding lawn mower I don’t have.

12. Ringworm.

13. Crop circles.

14. The vapors.

15. PMS.

16. A broken bone.

17. Remedial English. I only know American.

18. An infant of my own.

19. A child of my own.

20. A teenager of my own that I wish belonged to someone else.

21. Tuba lessons.

22. A personally autographed bible.

23. Labor pains.

24. A job that didn’t give me a pain.

25. Breast implants.

26. A firearm.

27. My arm on fire.

28. Just one potato chip.

29. Just one beer.

30. Cocktail hour.

31. Distemper.

32. Rabies.

33. Chest hair.

34. Farah Fawcett’s hair.

35. An Afro.

36. The heartbreak of psoriasis.

37. Capri pants.

38. A military mind.

39. A bureaucratic mind.

40. A clusterfuck (see numbers 39 and 40 in triplicate).

41. Anything designer. I don't do status or free advertising.

42. Anything made of Spandex.

43. An ability to sing.

44. An ability to dance.

45. An ability to sing while dancing, or to dance while singing.

46. Erectile dysfunction.

47. In-laws who like me.

48. A tattoo (because I was never a drunken sailor on shore leave in the South Seas.)

49. A life-long friend.

50. A hero.


[Feel free to steal!]

UPDATE: Other lists to check out!

Wandering Coyote

Barbara Zombie

A Compulsive Liar

Stinkypaw

Volly

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Inspector Imanishi Investigates

This is my entry in the Challenge, sponsored by Bellezza (the link will take you to the other entrants and their reviews). Since I am a mystery fan, I chose a police procedural so I could compare it to the rest of the genre. It is not classic "literature," but I learned much about Japan—which is, of course, the purpose of the Challenge.

* * * * *

Inspector Imanishi Investigates, Seicho Matsumoto; translated by Beth Cary


SOHO Crime, Trade Paper, 2003
ISBN 978-1569470190
313 pages


First Sentence: "The first train on the Keihin-Tohoku Line was scheduled to leave Kamata Station at 4:08 A.M."

Before departure, the crew inspected the train for safety and anything untoward. They found untoward: a dead body under one of the cars. The police arrive, and on page 2, the autopsy report presents the findings: male, middle-fifties, death by strangulation and post-death, a beating of the face with a rock or hammer.

The victim had been drinking, so the police canvassed the bars around Kamata Station for possible witnesses. The workers at Torys bar, nearby Kamata Station, remembered seeing the victim with a younger male companion. They all agreed on one thing: the victim spoke with an accent of the Tohoku region, a dialect with thick zu-zu sounds, and he repeated the word “Kameda” several times. It must be a person’s name, the police decided, only to find out that there were thousands of Kamedas in the northern prefectures (similar to provinces). Identifying the body, as well as the murderer, was not going to be easy.

I will stop describing the story line because everything I have written so far happens in the first 13-page chapter. By comparison, a U.S. or U.K. police procedural might easily take half the book to get this far. I found this method of wrapping up the preliminaries in a few pages more than refreshing.

There were still 300 pages left in the book, however, so what took up the space? Already declared a dead case in the first chapter, enter Tokyo police Inspector Imanishi Eitaro (surname first, given name second) to solve it.

Anyone who is familiar with Magdalen Nabb’s excellent series featuring Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Italian Carabinieri will immediately relate to Imanishi. Both men cannot leave an unsolved crime go unsolved. Their lives revolve around the case, they dig incessantly for the tiniest shred of a clue, and they never cease . . . thinking.

While there were plenty of twists, turns, and especially dead ends for Imanishi, he had an advantage over Guarnaccia: coincidence. The first one is in my story description about finding witnesses close to Kamata Station—which the police do. There were subsequent murders in the book; one victim lived in the apartment building next to Imanishi, while another rented a room from his sister. While waiting at a small train depot in Akita Prefecture, Imanishi meets four young intellectuals known as the Nouveau group, who play a large part throughout the book.

While I found this a little annoying, it did not ruin my enthusiasm for the book. Keeping track of names, prefectures, cities, towns, and railway stations was a challenge, so I kept some notes and printed a map of Japan.

Written in 1961, Seicho is as fresh and relevant today as he was then. The translation by Beth Cary is skillful, avoiding the use of Western slang and euphemisms.

Best of all, though, was the modus operandi of the killer, so unique that I have never read anything even close to it. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a well-written, complex mystery, a lot of sleuthing, and a very likeable protagonist.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Please Read!

Dear Blogites,

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have fallen behind on your blogs as well as the comments you have made on mine.

Specifically, I am having some tests done for Dr. Lung, my lung doctor.

Specifically, I tripped over my oxygen line, causing me to stub my toe (the one next to my big toe on my right clod), causing the toenail to come 9/10s off, causing Surgeon General Martha to cut off the other 1/10 which hurt like hell, causing me to limp around with my toe wrapped up in gauze.

Specifically, I will be having another tooth extraction this afternoon in 3 hours, 5 minutes, and 18 seconds. But who's counting.

Since I appear to be a glutton for pain, and taking the specifics into consideration, I believe I will rest this weekend in my burlap jammies.


"Do not despair, Tribe of Blogites, for I shall returneth on the seventh day (or the eighth day, which will be Monday), and catcheth up on all things Bloggerly." (1T 1:23) (First Book of Testicles, Chapter 1, Verse 23)


If you need something to read, I suggest my review of Nora Roberts.


UPDATE, 5:15 P.M.

Not one extraction, but two. The second one was a bitch. Now I am on dry socket watch—or maybe the nice dentist said watch your socks dry.


"Do not complaineth, moaneth, nor whineth—elst thee shall be named Wussy." (1T 1:24)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Weird Kid

It's time to lighten things up again, and what's better than a piece I wrote about me? Both of these "incidents" are true.


WEIRD KID


Yes, that’s me in the photograph, Fatty Arbuckle, plopped on my fat ass. I think mommy had to sew two diapers together to get one XXL to fit me.

It was my second birthday party (June 2, 1949), but mommy wasn’t there because she was sick: two days prior, the stork brought my new sister, Pootsie. I was pissed about missing the stork but I forgot all about it, and mommy, and Pootsie, when I saw the XXL cake in front of me . . .

ROLLER COASTER

Before I learned to walk, I learned to playpen. It was a prison made of wood bars. On rollers. On a linoleum floor. Dumb mommy, smart baby. Somehow, baby managed to stick his fat legs through the prison bars and take himself for a roll. Without a rolling license. Oh, he couldn’t roll to New Jersey or anywhere neat like that, but his one-room world provided lots of places to explore. Like the sideboard where dumb mommy stored the . . . toilet paper!

Baby didn’t know toilet paper from a snow shovel, but who cared. Toilet paper was FUN! While baby was rolling like mad around the room the toilet paper was rolling off the roll, rolling off the roll, when one was empty grab another and roll it off the roll! It was a toilet paper extravaganza, and before long the whole place was forty-two inches deep in it! Baby was in TP heaven until dumb mommy walked in and screamed. That scared baby and he took a dump in his XXL diaper. No worries, though. There was plenty of toilet paper to wipe baby’s fat butt.

THE BATH

“ARE YOU TAKING YOUR BATH UP THERE?” Mom screamed from downstairs.

“YEAH MOM, CAN’TCHA HEAR THE WATER RUNNING? I screamed back, turning both faucets to “on” in the tub—but without the stopper in the drain.

We did a shitload of screaming at my house, didn't we.

To this very day, I don’t understand why I made life triply hard on myself. I went to more trouble not taking a bath than if I’d just taken the damn thing in the first place. I ran a tubful of non-existent water, I wet ten towels and the bathmat so it looked like I had dried off, I soaked the soap in the sink so it would get all slippery and shrink, I dunked my head under the faucet to get my hair wet, I sang all the arias I knew from The Barber of Seville at the top of my lungs and, to prove I was a slob, I squirted shampoo all over the bathtub tiles.

All that work, plus I actually used a washcloth so I would pass behind-the-ears-and-neck inspection.

And all along, I thought Mom was the dummy.