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’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


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


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.

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.

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


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:


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.”


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.)

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 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 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.]