Monday, August 31, 2009

The New Bathroom

I have a LibraryThing friend, Tiffin, who also stops by here to read my nonsense and make comments on the aforementioned. She claims to live in North Cowpat, Ontario, but I’m not so sure: if I remember my fourth-grade geography, there is only a Southeast Cowpat, Ontario. I suppose I could look it up on the Innertubes, but you know the debilitating problem I have with sloth.

My slothfulness aside, Tiffin is an avid reader, gardener and, this summer, bathroom renovator. Its been a long, dusty, and dirty project, she says, and the new plumbing was a real backbreaker.

Then, just this morning, she sent me the first in-progress photo:

Nice, huh? I assume that is Mr. Tiffin testing the plumbing, but it isn't in my nature to pry. I especially like the faux-antique paint job and the stall on the left for little people.

I don’t know what the plans are for a sink and a shower but hey, this isn’t my project. I personally use the Peckerhead Method of Construction: I slap something together and once it’s completely fucked up, I read the instructions and try to un-fuck it.

But Tiffin is an intelligent woman, and I wish her good luck for the remainder of the renovation. (I also hope she has a sense of humor until it's finished.)

Welcome, Dr. Strangelove!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wanna See My . . . Bookshelves?

Peter S. at KyusiReader featured some of my bookshelves this week in his ongoing series, The Bookshelf Project. He didn't say it, but I will: I'm somewhat anal about my shelves. Take a gander if you're so inclined, and the two lower photos can be enlarged.

* * * * *

So where are the book reviews? For some reason, I had a lousy reading month: I completed a mere five books during August. James Lee Burke's Rain Gods was outstanding, but since I reviewed his short stories on August 12, I decided not to sing his praises again so soon.

Don't worry, though. Something will pop up, most likely E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley, to be released on Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Flunking Facebook

Is it possible for one to flunk out of a social website? The answer is affirmative. You bet. Yowsa.

I know, because I’m the one who flunked out after four days of Facebooking: from Saturday afternoon until this afternoon. Four days of constantly looking behind my monitor and under the desk to see if anyone was watching me.

Let it be known that I have absolutely nothing against Facebook or the people who enjoy it. But for the socially challenged, it was the wrong place for me: if someone comes up with a WallFlowerBook, let me know. We can all stare at our screens, scared to death to ask someone to be a friend, and never say a fucking word.

Or how about an OldFartsBook where we talk about our operations, sagging boobs, and the fact that our dentures don’t fit correctly?

I did make seven friends, except they were all friends to begin with. The best thing that happened was I reunited with Kate of itisi, a long-time blogger friend whom I’d lost track of and vice versa. She is now on my sidebar again, along with the return of my Yorkshire “lass,” St. Jude.

I might have had an eighth friend when I received this invitation:

“I’m a friend of a friend, so I decided to go ahead and ask you.”

Geeze, lady, don’t bust your ass being so enthusiastic. I can see us now as instant bosom buddies in a hate-hate relationship. Call me crazy, but I declined.

I can see how this “friends” thing could snowball, or even avalanche. What the hell would I do with 6,742 friends whom I don’t know from Adam and Eve (both of whom are probably in the mix somewhere too)?

Facebook has its time and its place and its purpose, but rather than Facebook, I think I’m better off with a book in my face.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Speed Demon Not

I am not a speed-reader, a fast reader, or even at the slow end of fast. On the other hand, I do not use my right index finger to follow the text, hold the book upside down (I saw that on the NYC subway), nor do I move my lips when I’m reading.

I am familiar with the English alphabet, including the archaic æ and œ, and I know the meaning of a shitload of words. But despite some amount of intelligence, I remain a . . . medium reader. A middle of the roader. Neither for nor against. Joe Average. You get the idea.

I am not complaining, mind you. I am slower than faster because I love the act of reading—of allowing a few simple written symbols fill my mind with pictures that affect, and sometimes play hell with, my emotions.

I have a tendency, then, to dawdle occasionally when I read. Strike that. I am a terminal dawdler. I re-read sentences, or paragraphs, or pages that please me, as well as those I have trouble understanding. I use a dictionary (which I believe is becoming as archaic as æ and œ). I attempt to translate foreign phrases when the author doesn't do it for me. And I love reading accents ala Dickens out loud (Yorkshire accents are a killer—try reading Nicholas Nickleby). Reading aloud, by the way, is one of the things Martha does not allow in bed, unless she is out of town.

So I stay happy being medium because I am a happy reader. Even when the book makes me sad. Or mad—in which case I happily throw it in the trash.

How about some audience participation on this one? Are you a Wiz kid, a dummy, or somewhere in between?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our 35th Anniversary

On August 23, 1974, you made a promise to me. You promised to take me, to have me and to hold me from that day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love me and to cherish me, until death do us part.

For thirty-five years, you have never broken that promise. Not once. No matter what I did, or what I did not do but should have done.

It was easy to have me and to hold me for the better, but you had me and held me for the worse as well. A lot of worse. Without thought for your own well-being, but for mine. When you came to Family Week at the alcohol treatment center you said, “I thought I was here to help you. If I had known it was to help me, I would not have come.”

And that broke my heart when I realized how badly I had broken your heart. How I had ignored your needs and wants for my own. You were always giving your Self away but never, ever taking anything for your Self in return.

But it was those two broken hearts, yours and mine together, that gave me the will, the strength, and the courage to change—so that, for the first time, I might give back some of the Self you always gave so freely to me.

I wanted to give you love, and respect, and comfort, I wanted to protect you from your fears—all the things I never knew how to give to anyone. Most of all, I wanted to restore the trust you gave me with your marriage promise because, without it, anything I ever tried to give would be suspect, hollow, and untrustworthy.

Twenty-one years of sobriety later, I think I have regained your trust, and I think I have given you some of the things I promised to give: To take, to have, to hold, to love, and to cherish you, until death do us part.

And I'm still working on it.

* * * * *

For the first time ever in Blogville, please meet Martha. (The photo can be enlarged by clicking on it.)

Dictator, nurse, best friend, lover

I love you,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Customer Serviced

A little humor never hurts, even if it's fictional. Or is it fictional? I'll let you decide.


I have a problem that needs fixing.

So I enter the Jiffy Fixit Shoppe and wait because there is no one behind the counter. I wait some more. There is a little sign in front of me: “Customer satisfaction is our FIRST priority.” Very nice. There is a bell next to the sign: “Please ring for one of our CARING customer service agents to assist you.” Now I’m getting somewhere. An agent. Armed with the powers of deduction and a spyglass, an agent can surely get to the bottom of my problem. DING DING! No response. While I’m waiting I do a Fred Astaire air-dance with the invisible Ginger Rogers. Swoosh, dip, twirl, tap dance up one wall and down the other . . . "Heaven, I'm in heaven," I warble . . . DING FUCKING DING!

“LISTEN, YOU, LAY OFF THE DINGING!” I nearly jump out of my skin with startlement. I hear the voice, deeply male and hairy-sounding, but I don’t see it. It has bellowed at me from somewhere deep within the bowels of the ceiling, or perhaps from a concealed speaker. At least I’m hoping it’s a speaker and not a dead ancestor yelling at me from the Great Ancestral Wherever.


Mystery solved. The agent wasn’t in the bowels of the ceiling—his bowels were in the bathroom.

Suddenly he is standing in front of me, a little man who makes Tom Cruise and Kiefer Sutherland look absolutely almost tall. There is a notable disparity between voice and corpus, and Mr. Turdwhacker senses my bewilderment.

“Microphone. In the employee bathroom. Twelve hundred watt amplifier with surround sound. Gets ’em every time,” he explains with glee.

“Ah, quite effective for a ten-year-old psychopath.” I wonder if I should slap him now or wait until I’ve been customer serviced.

“You have a toaster,” he says. I was right. Mr. Turdwhacker has incredible powers of deduction, considering the fact that it is sitting on the counter right in front of him.

“Yes, yes I do have a toaster.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It doesn’t toast. I have to eat my frozen chocolate Pop-Tarts frozen, so I think it needs an adjustment or two.”

“Bummer. How long have you had it?”

“Thirty-five years.”

“Oops, can’t help you there, Pops. Here, fill out this customer service satisfaction survey while I run to the bathroom. Glad I could be of service. And oh yeah, have a nice day."

Pops. Customer service satisfaction survey. Have a nice day. Before I can grab Turdwhacker by the throat and squeeze, he's disappeared again. Fast little man, and because I'm not prone to crimes of passion, I feel kind of sorry for him. I can buy a new shiny toaster for my Pop-Tarts, but he's in the back emptying the last of his brain into the . . .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ima Scribbler!

No, Ima Scribbler is not a Dickens or a Pratchett character name. Rather, it is an award for scribbling—something I learned to do at a very young age and seldom on paper.

Noting the scribbling progress I've made over the past sixty years, StinkyPaw (not her real name) has bestowed the award, crown, and wad of cash upon me. Thank you, Stink—I truly appreciate it.

There are some rules that go along with this award, all of them with the word "must" in them:

1. Each Superior Scribbler (SS) must pass the award on to 5 most-deserving bloggy buds.
2. Each SS must link to the author and name of blog from whom he/she has received the award
3. Each SS must display the award on his/her blog and link to this post which fully explains the award.
4. Each blogger who wins must visit this post and add their name to the Mr. Linky list at the Scholastic-Scribe's blog so we can keep track of all who win this prestigious award!
5. Each SS must post these rules on their blog.

I'm not passing on this award because these are bloggy buds, but because I truly think they are Superior Scribblers:

Kim (the one with the beard)
Kim (the one with the breasts)

The five award recipients may accept or decline at their discretion. I'm fresh out of cash, and I have no idea when the next shipment will come in until my ship comes in.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"No, but I saw the movies."

I seldom have anything to talk about with an eleven-year-old, especially of the female variety. After I ask something brilliant like “How is school?” and the instant reply is “Okay,” the conversation is over.

When my wife happened to mention Harry Potter, then, I went for it. Hoping to engage a little girl in a lively duel of Potter trivia (and at the same time put a small dent in my old-fart image), I asked if she had read the books.

“No, but I saw the movies,” she said.

End of lively duel with eleven-year-old female. Old-fart image, intact.

With hindsight, I should have known the child does not read. Ever since babyhood, her own personal TV and her own personal collection of four gazillion movies have raised her. They have kept her occupied, you see, which is another way of saying “out of sight, out of mind.” Nowadays, she also has her own personal computer to share the raising-up duties, which I suspect she uses for watching . . . movies.

I feel sorry for her.

When I was a kid my bedroom was the size of a walk-in closet, nicely furnished with a twin bed, a small desk for both schoolwork and assembling model airplanes (hence all of the schoolbook pages glued together and little pieces of paper stuck to my planes), and a chest of drawers for stowing my boyish unmentionables. Now that I think about it, my room was a lot like a monk’s cell—except it didn’t have wet and cold stone walls during the summer. Or a television set. Or monks.

By choice, I spent a lot of time in my room because it was the launching pad for my imagination. Just by opening a book my mind was floating down the Mississippi with Huckleberry Finn and Jim, it was painting a fence for Tom Sawyer, or it was traveling in The Time Machine. For all I cared I could have lived with a flashlight in the closet of my walk-in closet. Fancy surroundings weren’t necessary when I was on an adventure with Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Exploring The Mysterious Island was my favorite.

Simple words on a page took my imagination on incredible journeys that transcended my real life. It was the only time I found peace in a world I never truly felt a part of, a world that was nothing but chaos to me.

The reason imagination is so great is because only humans have it, and it is why stories, either read or heard, are its greatest stimulant. It is an amazing process, the ability to transform simple word-symbols on paper into complex mind-images of character and scene and time. In his book On Writing, Stephen King said he seldom describes facial features because it is up to the reader to imagine what his characters look like.

Not so with movies, the fast food of the mind, because everything is pre-imagined for the viewer in a neat two hour, two-dimensional package. The whole purpose of fiction, and especially children’s and YA fiction, is to stimulate the mind and stir their creative juices. A movie does neither, and to mangle a cliché, a moving picture is definitely not worth a thousand-word book.

So that is why I feel sorry for this little girl. Not only has she missed the mental delight of imagining the invisible railroad Track 9¾ in Harry Potter, she has missed the imagery in Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Women . . .

Unless a child is creative in some manner—art, crafts, learning an instrument, or sitting against a tree just dreaming—then imagination is a terrible thing to waste.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Library Science 101

"Today's lesson, boys and girls, is on the proper shelving of books. We could hardly call ourselves professional librarians if we merely placed the books haphazardly on the shelves (the Professor B. Worm Method), or God forbid, just hurled them on the floor in a huge pile . . ."

Liar, liar, pants on fire. This is the Newton Library in Massachusetts, which had an overflow after being closed for a three-day holiday weekend. "Overflow." That's a good one. It looks more like a tsunami to me.

I have a feeling that tomorrow’s lesson will have something to do with two-hundred-book-pick-up—and placing the empty return container (in the lower right corner of the photo) under the return window.

Then again, since I’m not a librarian, what do I know.

* * * * *

I permanently borrowed (instead of stole) this photo from Peter S., who found it at the online New Yorker.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: The Convict and Other Stories

After my rant War Cry, I felt the review of this book was apropos.
* * * * *

The Convict and Other Stories, James Lee Burke

Pocket Reprint, 2009
ISBN 978-1416599258
240 pages

Louisiana State University Press originally published this small volume of nine stories in 1985. Their intensity, however, have not been diminished by time. Four of the stories are about war and the effect it has on individuals—both warriors and civilians. For me, these were the best stories of the book, three of which bear noting.

"Losses" takes place at St. Peter's Catholic School in New Iberia, LA (Burke's home) in 1944. The cast includes Father Melancon, the parish priest; Sister Uberta, a teacher; and a passel of somewhat unruly fifth graders. Claude, a student and the son of a mean drunkard, narrates. If I didn’t know better, I would have said that Claude was doing a retrospective of my life. Until, that is, Sister Uberta begins to act very strangely—and there I have to leave it or else spoil it.

"When It's Decoration Day" switches to the Civil War just after Sherman had set fire to Atlanta. This is the longest story in the book, and it follows a rag-tag bunch of Confederate soldiers making their way to Alabama away from the Yankees. The narrator is Wesley Buford, a sixteen-year-old boy from S. Carolina and one of the only survivors or non-captured in the battle at Kennesaw Mountain.

Burke doesn't pussyfoot around in this story: this is in-your-face war, as descriptive and gory as anything he has written. A regiment of Yankees has doubled around from Atlanta to Alabama, where Buford and his fellow soldiers fight the valiant fight. The final sentence is a stunner and not one I will soon forget. (Again, spoilage, despite the fact that's product reviewer revealed it.)

"Lower Me Down with a Golden Chain" takes place in Guatemala during a rebel uprising. The nameless American narrator is a journalist who has access to both Guatemalan Army Captain Ramos and a rebel leader. The Army is equipped with a U.S. Marine Corp. howitzer, and the journalist is outraged when the Captain blows a rebel contingent to hundreds of body parts.

The rebels, in turn, burn a local village bus filled with civilians—men, women, children, infants—and the journalist is both infuriated and sickened.

This is where Burke makes his strongest stand against war—and the reason why I believe the reissue of these stories at this time is not a coincidence. Captain Ramos asks him what is different about what the Guatemalans do from what the Americans did in Korea. in Vietnam, and to our Southern Blacks with vigilantes and the KKK. Ramos tells the journalist,

"Ah, my friend, you can afford to be a moralist because you are not a participant."

Because I wasn’t looking for them, lines like Ramos’s sucker-punched me repeatedly. All nine of these stories attest to Burke’s powerful mastery of evoking emotion, be it positive or negative—there is no middle ground here in the boxing ring of good versus evil.

Highly recommended for enthusiasts of short stories.

Monday, August 10, 2009

War Cry

Yesterday morning, Sunday, we received a gorgeous floral arrangement. It wasn't for either Martha or I, but for the young woman, Brooke, who lives next door. When Brooke came home, Martha took the flowers to her.

The occasion was Brooke’s second wedding anniversary. Gurgling in the background was Tucker, her three-month-old son. The flowers were from her husband, who ordered them on the Internet from . . . Afghanistan.

When Tucker was born, his dad flew home from halfway around the planet, stayed five whole days, and then flew halfway around the planet again, back to one of the hellhole fourth-world countries.

Sad. Newlyweds who have spent about four months, total, together. A baby boy who doesn't have a dad to coo at him and make goofy faces and tickle his toes. And for what—for daddy to hang around until he comes home in a black plastic garbage bag?

So I have what I think are three perfectly reasonable questions.

What the FUCK have we been doing in Afghanistan since 2001?

What the FUCK have we been doing in Iraq since 2003?

When the FUCK is Mr. Obama going to put his foot down and say, “Enough!"?

Proud member of a Commie organization,

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Blog o' the Day: If it Wasn't This . . .

Occasionally I find a blog or a piece of writing that blows me away and I feel compelled to point it out to my blog friends. In this case, the blog is if it wasn’t this . . ., and the blogger goes by the same name (except for the ellipses).

"Ditzymoi" is one of her other handles, but the piece that got to me, No more waiting, is anything but ditzy. I’ve known this woman for a long time through several blog incarnations, but in my opinion, this is by far the finest and most poignant piece she has ever written.

To me, one of the best things about blogging is finding gems written by just us regular folk. I think we are all capable of it when we write from the soul . . .

Welcome back in a big way, Kim.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Coming Attractions

With fall just around the corner (or winter in Canada and the UK), it's time to start planning what to read while sitting in your easy chair and warming your tootsies by the fireplace (or in the fireplace in Canada and the UK). In addition to Stephen King's Under the Dome on November 10, I found authors of interest while surfing the electronic bookstores.

* * * * *

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

Release date November 3, 2009
Harper Books
ISBN 978-0060852577
528 pages

There's no other information on this book right now, but could we possibly be due for a return to Africa? Or the ancient Indians of Mexico? How about a vampyre?

* * * * *

Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett

Release date October 6, 2009
Harper Books
ISBN 978-0061161704
384 pages

Sir Terry is at it again: this is the 37th installment of the amazing Discworld series. A teaser:

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork — not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.
Something tells me that this isn't going to be a nice, quiet, orderly game of Quidditch.

* * * * *

Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving

Release date October 27, 2009
Random House Books
ISBN 978-1400063840
576 pages

Like King and Kinsolver, this new book by Irving has the potential to be a hit or a miss. A description:

In 1954, in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire, an anxious twelve-year-old boy mistakes the local constable’s girlfriend for a bear. Both the twelve-year-old and his father become fugitives, forced to run from Coos County pursued by the implacable constable. Their lone protector is a fiercely libertarian logger, once a river driver, who befriends them.

In a story spanning five decades, Irving’s twelfth novel depicts the recent half-century in the United States as a living replica of Coos County, where lethal hatreds were generally permitted to run their course.
Irving and his bears.

* * * * *

Bloom County Complete Library, Volume 1, by Berkley Breathed

Release date October 29, 2009
Idea & Design Works LLC
ISBN 978-1600105319
288 pages

Now how in the world can anyone go wrong with Opus the Penguin? Next to Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County is one of the all-time greats. It ran for nearly ten years (1980-1989) in 1200 newspapers, so I wonder how many volumes it will take for the entire series.

I met Berke 5 times at book signings, but Martha met him 10: as soon as our book was inscribed, she got right back in line again so she could stare at him—the woman had a very bad case of the hots for Mr. Breathed.

Me and my penguins.

So long for now,

Monday, August 03, 2009

Taking the Rap

I awoke around 3:30 this morning because it was time to get up. Oh, I didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do, but I was too wide-awake to go back to sleep. The feature nightmare was over, including the theatrical trailer and the director’s commentary, so there was no reason to stay in bed.

Whenever I get up at a ghastly hour, I am very careful not to disturb my beloved. After all, why should my ghosts affect her sleep? And even in the pitch of black, the little drool bubbles she blows sound absolutely adorable.

So I s-l-o-w-l-y pushed the bedclothes back, s-l-o-w-l-y sat up, and s-l-o-w-l-y lowered my left foot to the floor.


Dammit to hell! I stepped on either my teddy bear or one of the dogs' toys. It didn’t take long to find out which one it was: Molly, who was formerly sound asleep and snoring on the bed, was instantly wide-awake and jumping around like a lunatic. Irish came running from wherever he came running from, worried to death that he was missing something good. Or, more likely, that I was playing with one of his toys. Suddenly, at 3:32, it was PLAYTIME! including a festival of growls, snorts, sneezes, and my personal favorite, earsplitting barks.

So much for careful.

“Snarbogritz? Diddlegum? Whackerturd?”

That was Martha speaking Sleepinese. Translation: “Is it time to get up for work already? Is the house on fire? Did you plug up the toilet again?”

“No, honey, nothing like that. I was just fucking around here in the dark. You know me and how I like to fuck around in the dark.”

Why blame the dogs, I thought. After all, they can’t help they’re idiots.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge 3

This has to be one of the easiest challenges of all time, hosted by Dolce Bellezza. These are the rules:

"All you have to do is read one work of Japanese origin. It can be literature of course, but don’t feel confined to that. You may choose to read poetry, biographies, short stories or even manga. If you are willing to read one such piece, you’ve met the challenge. If you read more, all the better.

"I have set the time frame between July 30, 2009 and January 30, 2010."

During the past two years, I have read five mysteries by Scotland's Denise Mina, three by Iceland's Arnaldur Indridason, two by Ireland's Benjamin Black, and one by Italy's Andrea Camilleri. It is time, then, for me to expand my mysteriousness to Japan.

I plan to start with All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe. The Amazon product description not only sounds intriguing, but also contemporary to our love of plastic money:

"Recovering from a leg injury, a 43-year-old Tokyo police inspector named Shunsuke Honma realizes how out of touch he has become when a relative asks him to make some private inquiries into the disappearance of his fiancée. While he wasn't paying attention, it seems that everyone in the country but Honma has been caught up in a consumer feeding frenzy--going into heavy debt and declaring bankruptcy at a snowballing rate. This engrossing story of the search for happiness through shopping marks the first appearance in English of one of Japan's leading writers."

If you are interested in participating, Mary (or anyone else), visit Bellezza' site and sign up.