Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Singing for Salvation

After a heavy-duty post, I believe something a bit lighter is in order. Plus, it gives me some time to write my next book review, a contemporary Japanese murder mystery.

This is a true story except . . . well, you'll find out.

* * * * *


When my little sister and I were in grammar school, either Mom or Dad taught us George M. Cohan’s song “Harrigan” using our name, Callahan, in place of the name, er, Harrigan.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of the Snoop Sisters at school found out about our personal family song (to this day I suspect it was my blabbermouth little sister). If sharp pointers and flying erasers weren’t bad enough, then forcing me to sing “Callahan” to the tune of “Harrigan” in front of the whole class was the ultimate humiliation, degradation, and penance for my massive amount of sins.

I mean, I couldn’t carry a tune in an iPod. I made Lurch sound like Josh Groban. If old George M. had heard me sing, he would have spit up in his Guinness before rolling over in his grave.

Luckily, my blabbermouth sister was a pretty good singer when she wasn’t blabbing. She took the spotlight off me, plus she was something to hang onto when I felt like toppling over from performance anxiety. She would belt out “CALLAHAN!!!” like a pint-size Ethel Merman, while I stood there shaking and squeaking like Spanky’s pal Alfalfa (not to mention that I looked like him too).

Whenever we had a visitor at school, which was usually one of the parish priests who had nothing better to do than bug the piss out of everyone, Cathy and I would have to do our big (and only) number:

C-A-Double L-A, H-A-N spells Callahan!
Proud of all the Irish blood that's in me,
Divil a man can say a word agin me!
C-A-Double L-A, H-A-N you see!
It's a name
that no shame
has ever been connected with,
CALLAHAN, that's ME!

One time, we had to sing for the bishop. Not just your ordinary, garden-variety bishop mind you, but Bishop Fulton J. Sheen himself.

You remember him, the fellow in the 1950s who had eyes that could peer straight into your soul and see every filthy corner of it. I have no idea how he did it, but whenever he was staring at you out of the television set his piercing eyes followed you all over the room. You could lie under the carpet, hang out the window by your toes, or swing back and forth on the ceiling light fixture: It didn’t make a damn bit of difference where you tried to hide because he could . . . see . . . you.

This guy was so good that he even scared the crap out of the Protestants.

When the Bishop came to visit our humble St. Agony’s Parish, one of the Snoop Sisters made us sing the stupid song for him. Twice. He stared at us the whole time, just like he did on television, and I had my normal Bishop Fulton J. Sheen reaction: I wet my pants.

But then, when we were finished, he smiled and said we were very good. Well, he told Cathy she was very good, and he gave her a nice holy card of some beheaded saint with her head lying in a wicker basket, bloody-stump-first. “It’s an omen,” I thought bleakly.

About a week later, though, I got a package in the mail. It was a brand-new box of Sunday collection envelopes with my name, “Charles Harrigan”, printed on each one of them, along with this note:

“Please use these instead of your voice and we will all be thankful.”

(I made the last two paragraphs up because I think they’re endearingly and heartwarmingly Catholic.)

* * * * *

For those who would like to sing along, here's the tune and words. It is mandatory, however, that the name "Callahan" be substitued for "Harrigan." This is the best recording I could find, so you'll also have to turn your speakers UP. It's worth it, though, just so you'll know what I went through. [Thanks to Kim Ayres for the suggestion—the man is always thinking.]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne

David Flickling Books, Trade Paper, 2008
ISBN 978-0385751896
240 pages

Reading Level: Young Adult

First Sentence:

"One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family's maid — who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet — standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he'd hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else's business."

Bruno is astonished when his family leaves their elegant five-story mansion in Berlin and moves far away to a much smaller home literally in the middle of nowhere. It is all because of Father’s new job: just the week before, the Fury (and the pretty blonde lady named Eva) had dinner at the mansion, where the Fury promoted Father to Commandant of Out-With.

“Fury,” for the uninformed, means the Fuhrer, and “Out-With” means Auschwitz. Puns that I did not find the least bit funny, but Bruno (Boyne) uses them throughout the book. “Fuhrer,” “Auschwitz,” and “Holocaust” are never mentioned; Hitler is used once when Father and Bruno, standing side-by-side, perform a perfect heel thumping “Heil” salute.

In a praise blurb, New York magazine says, “A book that tells a very bad story, gently.” Gently is an understatement; without prior knowledge of Auschwitz, the other concentration camps, the horror, and the German psychopaths who ran them, the reader will learn nothing of the Holocaust in this book.

When Bruno eventually finds the boy in the striped pajamas while exploring along the camp fence (and on page 106 of 216), he is delighted. Shmuel is also nine and they share the same birth date, but there the sameness ends; Bruno is on one side of the fence, Shmuel on the other.

It is because of the fence that Bruno asks to crawl under it so they can play.
“I don’t know why you’re so anxious to come across here anyway,” said Shmuel. “It’s not very nice.”

“You haven’t tried living in my house,” said Bruno. “For one thing, it doesn’t have five floors, only three. How can anyone live in so small a space as that?” He’d forgotten Shmuel’s story about the eleven people all living in the same room together before they had come to Out-With . . .”

It is dialog like this, which permeates the book, that made me intensely dislike Bruno, the protagonist. Boyne, in the Author’s Note, puts it this way: “I believed that the only respectful way for me to deal with this subject [the Holocaust] was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather naïve child who couldn’t possibly understand the terrible things that were taking place around him.”

If the protagonist cannot possibly understand these terrible things, then why write the book at all?

So who is the audience for this book? That is another tough question. Amazon and B&N classify it as Young Adult, and the book cover concurs with "teens." Also on the cover is a blurb by the publisher: “If you start this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.)" Boyne, in an interview with the publisher, muddies the water even further: “I think of it as a book. I don’t think of it as a children’s book or an adult’s book. I’m not entirely sure I know what the difference is between a children’s book and an adults’ book.”

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 book about a self-possessed boy and a disgrace to the Holocaust.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Charlie Lloyd Webber's Katz!


Fact: There are no seeing-eye cats.

Fact: There are no bomb-sniffing cats.

Fact: There are no drug-sniffing cats.

Fact: There are no rubble-sniffing rescue cats.

Fact: There are no K-9 attack cats.

Fact: There are no St. Bernard cats with itty-bitty brandy barrels tied around their itty-bitty necks.

Question: What good are cats, except for singing and dancing their little hearts out on Broadway?

[Just funnin', folks.]

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hospital Diaries

Yesterday, I received this in an e-mail:

I've had two heart attacks and a triple bypass, accompanied by type II diabetes (genetic predisposition to create too much cholesterol as opposed to bad diet), have a slough of allergies and now have arthritis in both hips from 26 years of sitting torqued forward improperly on a chair, facing a monitor. Upper neck bones are shot too. So the former athlete (speed swimmer, breast stroke) is reduced to a woman of middling years who has to roll over onto her knees and push up from the floor and is trapped in bathtubs if there is no grab bar.

But I'm young between my ears, as are you, so our disabilities are annoyances in our lives, they aren't the definition of who we are.

It's that fighting spirit that attracted me to your posts and then to your blog. . . . But most of all,having a blisteringly good sense of humour makes ALL of it worthwhile.

She and I claim it is our ancestral Celtic blood—hers is Scottish, mine is Irish—that bestowed us with humor. Without it, I think our ships would be adrift in the water. With that in mind, here is a true story I wrote after hospitalization over Christmas, 2005.



No siren, no flashing lights, stop at every traffic signal and sit there even if it’s green, and keep blathering at the cargo even if he’s in no mood to blather. And then, when they finally arrive at the hospital, they carefully unload the cargo and punch in the door code so they can hurry him into the emergency room.

“The code isn’t working,” the ambulance guy standing at my feet said, pushing numbers on a keypad that would, in theory, open the emergency room doors if the numbers were correct.

“Do you know the code?” he asked, looking at the unopened doors with a mixture of frustration, longing, and stupidity—and like me, wishing that we could get inside the hospital. He was talking to the other ambulance guy standing behind the cargo (whom the cargo didn’t know was there), so the cargo assumed he was being addressed.

“Nope, haven’t got a clue,” I said from the gurney, no more in the mood for puzzles and ciphers and enigmas than I was for blather. I wasn’t feeling well, you see, but in a blast of oxygen-induced brilliance, it suddenly came to me.

“Try the da Vinci Code,” I suggested.


“Mr. Callahan, I’m here to take some blood BANG!”
“Uh, watch out there, fella, there’s a big fucking chair right behind the door!”
“Oh. Sorry.”

“Time to take your vitals, Mr. C., stick out your BANG!”
“Uh, watch out there, lady, there’s a big fucking chair right behind the door!”
“Oh. Sorry.”

“Charles, we just got your sputum tests back from the BANG!”
“Uh, watch out there, Doc, there’s a big fucking chair right behind the door!”
“Oh. Sorry.”

“I have lots of nummy drugs for you, Mr. Calla BANG!”
“Uh, watch out there, nurse . . .”

Intelligent, caring, wonderful people all, but ten thousand idiots when it comes to MOVING a big fucking chair from right behind the door to the other side of the bed . . .


“OOOOH, my goodness, where did you get that TREE??? It is so BEE-UTE-A-FULL!!!”

It wasn’t a tree, actually, but rather a floral designer’s ceramic implementation of an imaginary visual concept of “a partridge in a pear tree”—meaning it was rather odd-looking.

But Victoria, the round, Russian, infinitely ebullient day nurse who kept correcting my English, loved it. I mean, she really loved it.

“It was a present from a co-worker,” Martha told her, “and I brought it to Charlie to cheer him up—he’s still bitching about the ‘no siren and flashing lights in the fucking ambulance’ thing, you know.”
“OOOOH, but it is so BEE-UTE-A-FULL!!!”

So Martha did a nice thing. She went home and got the bird’s box, a big red bow, and a gift card. She wrote “For Victoria” on it.

“You are KID-DINK!!! This is for ME??? OOOOH, it is so BEE-UTE-A-FULL!!!”

There were big Russian hugs all around, a few happy tears, a nice warm feeling in all of our tummies and, on December 24, it was a wonderful Christmas.

But I'm young between my ears, as are you, so our disabilities are annoyances in our lives, they aren't the definition of who we are.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Screaming Meme for BBAW

I seldom, if never, do a meme. But Harvee, the nice lady at Book Bird Dog who has turned me on to several good books, asked me to do this one to wrap up the BBAW.

Do you snack while you read? If so, your favorite reading snack?

No. Never. I tried crackers in bed one time, but by morning I was lying on a piecrust ready for the oven. Truthfully, I don’t want anything greasy or gooey gumming up the pages. Refer to my post The Incidental Reader for more information on this subject.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read? How do you keep your place while reading a book?

I make a very light pencil "star" next to a quote I want to remember, but once I’ve transferred the quote to a review or a notebook I erase the mark. I saw my mother-in-law’s bible one time and nearly every single sentence was underlined. “You ought to save yourself some time and underline just the sentences you don't want,” I told her. She was not amused.

As far as keeping my place, I have about 10,000 bookmarks. If I don’t have one handy, however, anything will do—like the prescription the doctor gave me and took over a week to find in a book I’d set aside.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

I lean heavily toward fiction—about 85%. I prefer the art of storytelling. Some non-fiction is storytelling too, like Marley & Me and memoirs, and that's the kind of non-fiction I prefer.

Hard copy or audio books?

Definitely hard copy. I tend to confuse character names on audio, and by the time I remember who the character is, the disc is way ahead of me.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

I can put a book down at any point, usually due to falling asleep or dropping it. I put a book down in a puddle one time (by accident) and I was heartbroken, so it was off to B&N for a fresh, dry copy. That was when I learned that I cannot walk and read at the same time.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

I could lie and say yes, of course I do, but the answer is no. The only reason I would buy a Kindle would be to have the entire Oxford English Dictionary—but I don’t have the $1,000.

What are you currently reading?

The Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Sourcery by Terry Pratchett, and Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto (for the Japanese Challenge 3). A book for every mood, and a mood for every book.

What is the last book you bought?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. I’m really starting to like YA (Young Adult) fiction, and a lot of it is much better than the popular fiction being "manufactured" for adults.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

I usually have three or four in the works at any one time. If a book really grabs me I may read it exclusively (The Book Thief comes to mind), but I usually switch back and forth.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

I read in the evenings at the kitchen table, and around 9 p.m. I move to the bed and read until my wife yells, “Turn out the light and go to sleep!” I could tell her to go somewhere else to sleep, but that would not be conducive to my physical health. If I’m up until 2 or 3 a.m., then I revert to my kitchen chair.

Do you prefer series books or stand-alone books?

Both. I prefer fantasy series (George R.R. Martin every five or ten years) and mysteries that require knowledge from earlier books (John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is one), but the majority of books I read stand all by themselves.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Not including the authors and books I’ve already mentioned, I recommend James Lee Burke, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Denise Mina quite often. It usually depends on whom I’m talking to and what their interests are. If someone loves whales, I don't recommend Moby Dick.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

Organize? That’s for corporate types. The closest I get to organization is keeping an author’s books together—all Dickens in one place, all Cornwell in another place, etc. Any other kind of organizing is too much work. Disorganization affords me the pleasure of bitching when I can’t instantly put my finger on a book, or I realize that I never owned a copy in the first place.

So there you have it, biblioholics. And I had fun, Harvee, even if I digressed here and there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Very Important Announcement

It is time once again, boys and girls, for one of my silly scribbles.

A Very Important Announcement

Dear Friends,

I have a very important announcement. Breast of chicken, leg of lamb, rib eye, eye of newt . . . uh, I believe I have the incorrect notes. It appears I was reading from Martha’s butcher list, which she has a nasty habit of leaving betwixt the pages of my authorly papers. Wait just a moment and I will begin again.

Dear Friends,

I have a very important announcement. We have come not to bury Caesar, but to praise Caesar. Long live Caesar! Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render the remainder to the IRS . . . blast it all, I have the incorrect notes again. I will be giving the keynote address next Thursday at the opening of a new 99¢ Salad Dressing Store . . . I know I have the proper notes here somewhere . . . ah, here they are . . . I will, with my sincerest apologies, commence once again.

Dear Friends,

I have a very important announcement. Attach flange to butterfly net. Tape ducts with duct tape and ducks with duck tape. Use flashlight and flash lighting at flashing. Combine WD-40, hydrochloric acid, and cat piss in bathroom sink . . . crap on a Ritz cracker, these are the wrong notes too—they are the instructions for the new bookcase I’m assembling, which is not going at all well. A quick look through the trash may be fruitful . . .

Dear Friends,

I have a very important announcement. Since I cannot find my fucking notes, forget I said anything.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lost Symbol: Update

Well, the reviews are coming in to Amazon.com just a day after its release. So far, it’s garnering a wishy-washy 3½ out of 5 stars. Lettuce look at a couple reviews, shall we?

Here is a 5-star review from D. Vasko in Pennsylvania:*
This novel was everything I expected: an exciting, fast-paced, page turner with numerous plot twists. It follows a writing pattern similar to Brown's other novels, and that's a good thing. I absolutely love the writing style of his other novels, and expected his new book to follow a similar format. What would anyone else expect? Before The Lost Symbol was released, it was known that Robert Langdon was going to be the central character, and the storyline would revolve around codes, symbols etc. These are obviously the types of topics that DB knows well, and is able to weave into a very captivating story....which he has done yet again. Keep up the good work Dan!
How exciting!

But wait just a dagnab minute. Here is a 1-star review from Roy A. Teel, Jr. in California:*
This book should have been titled the lost plot, the lost creative writing style or where's my character? While I have enjoyed Brown's other works this is a cut and paste of his other two best sellers with little new to offer. His use of the Free Masons and the secret society is not only getting old but plain wrong. The Mason's are a wonderful and peaceful society of people dedicated to do good for mankind. Brown takes great pains to slander the order for the purpose of making money.

The book is slow and tediously detail oriented to the point of boredom, I fell asleep several times trying to read through this brick sized book. I found myself scanning over his boring detailed paragraph after paragraph writing to get to the point. In the end the POINT was a total disappointment. . . .

I thought after close to six years of writing we were going to get a gem, instead the reader gets a lump of coal.
Oh poo!

"How exciting!" and "Oh poo!"

You all realize that this debate will be going on for the next five years while books of merit will languish by the wayside. It's a damn good thing there are plenty of excellent book bloggers and LibraryThingers who find and review books from, as Carlos Ruiz Zafon calls it, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

* Reviews are from the Amazon link.com above.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review for R.I.P. IV: The Cellar

This review is my entry for the R.I.P. IV Challenge sponsored by Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings—a unique blog you should visit. Sloth that I am, I chose Peril the Third—meaning I had to read just one measly book to satisfy the Challenge requirement. Here, then, is my one measly book.

* * * * *

The Cellar, Richard Laymon

Leisure Books, Mass Market Paperback, 2006 (Reprint)
ISBN 978-0843957488
309 pages

Thrillers should thrill, mysteries should mystify, and horror should horrify. Over the years, I have read some truly fine horror: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, to name a pair. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho made me physically nauseous.

So did The Cellar.

Richard Laymon wasn’t well known in the U.S. (he died of a massive heart attack in 2001 at the age of 54). Not only did the market for the horror genre die in the early 1990s, Laymon had trouble finding a U.S. publisher because of his penchant for graphic gore and sex. He was popular in Great Britain and Australia, however, and for the past few years Cemetery Dance and Leisure Books have collaborated on printing his novels in North America. He was a personal friend of Dean Koontz, who wrote an introduction for one of his books, and Stephen King blurbed the cover of The Cellar: “If you’ve missed Laymon, you’ve missed a treat.” Steve must have been desperate for the money after his early “retirement” from writing.

The story. Donna receives an early-morning phone call: her husband is out of prison, thanks to good behavior. Donna flips out because daddy dearest, Roy, has a vendetta; he made a vow to kill her for putting him in San Quentin. She knows she must disappear and, loading her Maverick with clothes and their twelve-year-old daughter Sandy, drives north on the 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Everything is peachy until somewhere north of Mill Valley, Donna drives off the road and toasts the radiator (wouldn’t you just know it?). She, Sandy, and their stuff catch a ride to the nearest town—Malcasa Point—and the first thing Donna, Sandy, and their stuff see is an old Victorian house called Beast House (wouldn’t you just know it?).

Donna checks into a fleabag called the Welcome Inn, but the next morning she runs into some good luck. While having breakfast in the dining room (I had no idea that a fleabag would have a dining room), she falls in love by eye contact with a man sitting at another table. His name is Jud, short for Judgment, and he is a mercenary. He has come to kill the Beast in Beast House for his client Larry, sole survivor of an attack by the non-human monster. Jud and Donna hook up (in more ways than one) to rid the Beast House of the Beast, and the story is off to the gore festival.

Enough story, except for Roy. While there is mayhem in Malcasa, Roy is conducting his own horrors in Los Angeles while searching for Donna. Roy has a problem called pedophilia. The reason he was in prison was for raping Sandy, his daughter, when she was six. But that isn’t the worst of it. Without details, Roy kills the parents of an eight-year-old girl, kidnaps her, and has graphic sex with her in several scenes throughout the book.

Now you know why the book made me nauseous. I read the book to the end, but I skipped over the child sex just like I do in books that detail cruelty to animals. But the ending, the last chapter, caught me off guard. **SPOILER** Sandy, sweet twelve-year-old Sandy, is mating with a beast (there are several of them), to replicate the line. **END OF SPOILER**

Laymon was a hack, he used coincidence to fit his needs, he had a predilection for underage sex, his writing was often puerile (no pun intended), and he had no sense of humor (Josh Whedon he wasn’t). He did deliver horror, however, but I cannot recommend this book to anyone.

Maybe I’ll carve a punkin for Halloween instead, just before I set up the Happy Holidays tree.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Review: Homer & Langley

Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow

Random House, Hardcover, 2009
ISBN 978-1400064946
224 pages

First Sentence:

“I’m Homer, the blind brother.”

Homer and Langley Collyer were real. They lived together in an opulent mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue—privileged, wealthy, and while growing up, two normal boys. But something happened to them. They gradually became reclusive and, in their mid-sixties, were found dead in 1947 amongst mazes of stacked newspapers, rooms full of useless junk—and a Model-T Ford in the dining room. The press being the press, the tabloids sensationalized the Collyer brothers with photos and skewed facts, making laughingstocks out of two men who only wanted to be left alone.

Rather than rehash what little is actually known of the Collyers, Doctorow has chosen to fictionalize their lives in this short novel (203 pages). He becomes Homer, the narrator throughout the book, who types on a Braille keyboard and prints the English characters on paper. With prodigious imagination and authorly license, Doctorow does a superb job of recreating Homer and Langley as flesh and blood people.

Homer started going blind in his late teens, but he accepted it by honing his other senses. Langley went to France in WWI, where a surprise mustard gas attack permanently seared his throat and lungs. In 1918, their parents died of the Spanish flu epidemic, leaving the brothers in the care of the household staff. Eventually the staff left too, leaving the Collyers to fend for themselves.

They weren’t very good at it. Langley was a man with big ideas, quite possibly a genius, but his mind came home from France as damaged as his body. Homer said, several times, that he though Langley was going insane. And later in life, increasingly paranoid.

So where did the tons of junk come from, and for what purpose? I leave that for you, the reader, to find out.

And why did Homer, growing helpless and hampered by all the debris in every room, stay with Langley? Because of love. Quite simply the brothers loved each other, and that is what made them human.

The New York Times panned the book, calling it “episodic.” But what is life if not episodic? Life is a series of episodes, some planned and many not, a path filled with hills and valleys, the good and the bad, and most of all, no plot.

So it is with Homer & Langley, a small masterpiece that I highly recommend.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Catholic School, Part 2

Welcome to the further adventures of Charles and Catholic school, circa 1955. Here is Part 1 in case you purposely skipped it and have reconsidered reading it.

* * * * *


One of my best subjects was spelling (the other one was 16th century apologetics). Even in the third grade, I could spell the hard ones like inquisition, eviscerate, anathema, and excommunication. There were two exceptions, however: When the word was in Japanese, and whenever we had a spelling bee.

Every Friday afternoon Sister had a spelling bee—except during Lent, when we spent about sixteen hours in church for the Stations. The class would line up against the blackboard, which made it impossible to hide when you were standing there execution-style.

“Charles, spell ‘heretic’.”

Hallelujah! My best word! I could spell it backward: citereh. I could spell it standing on my head. I could spell it while walking on stilts, falling out of a tree, or swinging on the dining room chandelier.

“Heretic. h, a, i, r, y, t, i, c, k. Heretic.”

[Gleeful singsong from Sister] “IN-cor-RECT! TAKE your SEAT!”

Extending my string of first-round spelling bee losses to thirty-seven, I wondered if I was out of my mind. Hairy tick, for heaven’s sake. How enormously dumb. I was so disgusted I sent me to the cloakroom to save Sister the trouble.

Maybe it was bad juju: Twenty-nine kids against one, all praying like crazy to the patron saint of spelling bees:

“Calling St. Bovine the Udderless, come in St. Bovine, can you hear us? Please make Charles spell his word wrong, something enormously dumb. Thank you, over and out.”

Non-sense. The reason I made a mistake is because I made a mistake. I was a darn good speller (on paper), I knew I was a darn good speller (on paper), and when I grew up, the only place I would ever use my good spelling would be on paper.

Unless I had to spell the words in Japanese.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Catholic School, Part 1

I decided that it's time for a bit of humor around this dump, so here is a piece I wrote some time ago.

* * * * *


[Wave. Wave wave. Wave.]

“Charles, put your hand down when I am speaking.”

“Yes, Sister.”

[2 minutes later. Wave wave. Wave. Wave wave wave. GIGANTIC WAVE!]

“Charles, I told you to put your hand down when I am speaking.”

“Yes, Sister.”

[2 more minutes later.]

“Alright, Charles, I am finished speaking.”

“Yes, Sister, I'm finished too [squish]. So what page are we on [squish]?”

It was a completely different story when a girl had to go to the bathroom. Wiggle one plump finger for a nanosecond, Sister would nod and smile (even when her back was turned to the room), and it was zooooom, out the door and down the hall to the can.

The girls, you see, had “needs” the boys didn’t have. For heaven’s sake, what “needs” did a bunch of goofy nine-year-old girls have? Mascara re-do? Training bra malfunction? A quick smoke? I suspect that Sister didn’t dare piss them off because every little girl was a candidate for the convent, a possible martyr if she was lucky as hell, and eventual sainthood.

But the boys? Since we were male, we were automatic perverts.


(This was the sixth-grade cloakroom, my favorite.)

“Charles, are you touching yourself down there?” Sister asked suspiciously, noting that my right hand was not on my desktop devoutly entwined with my left.

Of course I was. When I was a child I suffered from frequent attacks of itchy balls, and the only known cure was (and still is) to scratch them. But try to tell that to Sister Mary Godzillus or any of the dopey girls, all of whom looked at me as if I was both worm innards and a Protestant.

Charles, go to the cloakroom!

Going to the cloakroom was my favorite banishment, except in winter when thirty wet coats made it smell like essence of dead water buffalo. But even if it smelled bad, at least I could scratch in . . . blessed . . . peace. And switch all of the girls’ mittens around when I wasn’t scratching, picking, or fumbling with my static-cling underpants.

I spent so much time in various (eight) cloakrooms over (eight) years that I’m surprised I didn’t grow up to be a professional hatcheck girl in some hoity-toity gin mill:

“Ah, good evening, Bishop Torquemada! May I check your staff and sheep? Your bed of nails, perhaps? Your bingo cards for winners? Surely you don’t intend to wear that silly rat-hair rug all evening—Please allow me, your Bishopness, to check it for vermin . . .”

ADDENDUM, 09/09/09: Best comment, from Tiffin:

We had to hold up one finger for a pee, two fingers for a dump. Can you imagine making kids advertise what they were going to do in the bathroom like that? I always used to hold up 3, claiming I didn't know what was going to happen until I got there.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Social Security Blues

Geeze I hate it when I forget to tell you people something important. I think I’m suffering from hardening of the brain arteries, but that’s not the important news—my brainular problems are common knowledge amongst those of you who know me.

The news is that, on or about September 8th (last month it was the 12th), I will receive my third Social Security check. I managed to live right up to 11:59:59 p.m. on August 31st, which means I will get a check since I didn’t kick the bucket anytime during the month. There are no partial monthly payments, you see, because why would a dead guy like me need partial money? If I had up and keeled over, though, Martha would receive a $250 burial benefit. Cripes, she can’t even rent a backhoe to plant me under the bushes in the back yard for $250.

To be truthful, I feel somewhat guilty about taking the money. Martha and I are not desperate or destitute like so many elderly people, but not taking the money would not help any of them anyway. To assuage my guilt I’m putting the money in Martha’s savings to help make up for the rape of her retirement plans by Wall Street and the thieving banks.

But none of this is the really important news. It appears, folks, that the Social Security and Medicare system are in . . . trouble. That’s right, brotheren and sisteren and assorted other brethren, the system is nearly out of money.

According to OneNewsNow on 8/27/09,

"A conservative congressman warns that another taxpayer bailout is likely if the government has to start putting money into the Social Security Trust Fund instead of borrowing money from it.

Earlier this week, the Social Security Administration announced it plans to cancel annual cost-of-living adjustments for the next two years, which means senior citizens will receive less money in that time period [but] their Medicare premiums will still increase.

Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama) predicts that the Social Security Trust Fund could be running a deficit as early as next year

Are you folks aware that the money withheld from your pay for Social Security (FICA) and Medicare completely bypasses the Trust Fund and goes directly to the General Fund, where it is instantly spent? That the General Fund issues “special” IOUs to the Trust Fund, to be paid when Social Security or Medicare needs it? That those “special” IOUs are worthless? And that Bachus is an asshole for using the term “borrowing” when he really means “stealing?”

We, the Great Unwashed, the peons, the peasants, the stupid, are dupes of the first order. From Reagan through Obama, every president has knowingly and willingly stolen our TRUST monies and spent them on things like paper clips, toilet paper, and wars.

I think I’m going to take every retirement penny I can get my claws on, totally and completely guilt-free.

Can I hear a big “Amen!”?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Coming Distraction: The Lost Symbol

On September 15, millions of copies of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol will hit the streets (where they rightly belong). The buzz about this book is louder than a nymphomaniac Queen bee:

The Lost Symbol is a brilliant and compelling thriller. Dan Brown’s prodigious talent for storytelling, infused with history, codes and intrigue, is on full display in this new book. This is one of the most anticipated publications in recent history, and it was well worth the wait.” *

Boy, is that praise or what? But wait just a darn tootin’ minute. The author of that exalted blurb was the Great Exalted Sonny Mehta, the Chairman and Editor in Chief of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. As the Great Exalted, Sonny could hardly say, “The Lost Symbol is a piece of crap,” now could he.

Lettuce see what Dan himself has to say about his new book:

"This novel has been a strange and wonderful journey," said Brown. "Weaving five years of research into the story's twelve-hour timeframe was an exhilarating challenge. Robert Langdon’s life clearly moves a lot faster than mine." *

Very nice. Langdon, the boring protagonist of The da Vinci Code (note the correct spelling of the title), solves whatever needs solving in a twelve-hour timeframe.

Then why is the book 528 pages long, Dan?

It is probably quite rude to dis a book before I've read it, but I don't give a damn. I read The da Vinci Code (note the correct spelling of the title) when it first came out and I was totally underwhelmed. I think I gave it two out of five stars: one star for Brown writing it (I'm basically kind), and one star to me for reading it.

I have been a fan of the mystery-thriller genre since I was knee-high to a CIA guy. There is no way Brown comes even close to early Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, or Robert Ludlum, just to name three. Brown is a mediocre writer, his research is questionable, and there’s nothing likeable or endearing about his characters.

So I won’t be reading The Lost Symbol because I don’t like Brownie. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

* Quotes are from Amazon.com