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My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Wednesday, November 28

Silver Linings Playbook

Anyone who reads my blogs knows I see a lot of movies, I mean, a LOT of movies. So what I’m about to say may, at first, seem extreme. In the past, my first favorite movie was An American in Paris, which I saw four times in a row, memorizing all the Gershwin and falling in love with Leslie Caron. Then my new favorite was On the Waterfront, and Brando was my favorite actor (but I didn’t fall in love with him). Then I bailed out for East of Eden, which I saw four times in a row, studying James Dean to see how he was able to mesmerize so many people, falling in love with Julie Harris, who mesmerized me. Then I saw (though it wasn’t really my favorite of all time) The Three Faces of Eve, in which Joanne Woodward wowed me with her acting, so much so that I saw it four times in a row to see how she did it. But I didn’t fall in love with her until later, in The Long, Hot Summer, but Paul Newman, old Blue Eyes, won her away from me. Then I skipped a bunch of years until Braveheart won my heart, despite its gore and because I loved Mel Gibson despite his being such a schmuck in real life. But now I have a new favorite movie of all time, beating out all that came before—Silver Linings Playbook. The entire cast was great, but especially great were Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who both gave amazing performances as two psychologically broken people looking for Excelsior. Black humor in plays and novels and film is sardonically, ironically, blackly, Catch 22ishly funny. Silver Linings was darkly funny, painfully funny, and both Cooper, as the bipolar Pat, and Lawrence, as the despairing, morally loose Tiffany, make us laugh even as we experience their pain. I wept for them, I laughed at and with them. An amazing performance. And Robert DeNiro, as Pat’s OCD father, gave probably his best performance since Awakenings, or maybe even Raging Bull. I don’t know if they were all so great because they all just decided to be great or if it was because David O. Russell directed them to be. He was also pretty great as director of The Fighter. In any case, I’ve fallen in love again (I'm so fickle), this time with Jennifer Lawrence, she of the oddly beautiful face.

I have an added Christmas t-shirt saying thanks to my daughter Jeri: “Baroque—when you’re out of Monet.” And we all may be baroque and out of Monet when this Christmas is over.

Monday, November 26

Christmas Quotes & Bill Gates

A month or so before every Christmas, we get in the mail catalogues with all sorts of clever items just waiting to be ordered and then given as gifts to loved ones. Many of the items are t-shirts and plaques with clever sayings. I decided to steal some of them to share with you. I especially like the first one.

“Listen” and “Silent” have the same letters. Coincidence?

I dream of a society where a chicken can cross the road without its motive questioned.

To save time, let’s assume I know everything.

I don’t expect everything to be handed to me. Just set it down anywhere.

If it moves, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.

“Let’s eat Grandma.” “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Commas save lives.

Grammar Police: to correct and to serve.

“Their,” “There,” They’re not the same.

Sarcasm is the mind’s natural defense against stupidity.

“Quondo omni, flunkus mortati” (“When all else fails, play dead.”)

“Irony,” the opposite of “wrinkly.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I don’t know when or where I got this, but it seems relevant today, as it must have seemed to Bill Gates, who gave a speech at a high school, about eleven things the students did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically-correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1 – Life is not fair, get used to it.

Rule 2 – The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 – You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you can earn both.

Rule 4 – If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5 – Flipping burgers is NOT beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping, they called it opportunity.

Rule 6 – If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 – Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So, before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8 – Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 – Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interest in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 – Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11 – Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Thursday, November 22

Happy Thanksgiving

The verb “to quash” is too often today, by writers who should know better, mistaken for “to squash.” Although they’re related, the two verbs shouldn’t be interchangeable. “To quash” suggests doing away with a plan or course of action whereas “to squash” suggests a physical crushing or squeezing.

Funny how "Petraeus" sounds so much like “betray us.” Funny how so many men in positions of power can’t seem to keep it in their pants. Is a momentary dalliance really worth it? Are we all still so obsessed with carnal desire that we’re willing to destroy our lives and the lives of those who love us for that momentary physical pleasure? Maybe someday it won’t be so—no more pedophiles or rapists or prostitutes . . . or generals or politicians or coaches or priests who can’t seem to keep it in their pants. I’d like to squash them all, to quash their plans for that midnight rendezvous.

Here it is, Thanksgiving, and it seems to me we have much to be thankful for . . . besides the cornucopia of sports events that will crowd the tv programming, that is. We should be thankful for the ease of living we have today. Even the poorest of the poor have it better today than the poor of the past. We should be thankful for the bounty of our tables on this day and for nearly every other day of the year. We should be thankful for the easing of the terrorist threats here and around the world. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see the end of such silliness, see the beginning of world peace and prosperity for all the peoples of the world, see the hand of friendship extend across all national borders. I hope so. And I hope that any of you reading this have a wonderful day of giving thanks for all we have.

Wednesday, November 21

Dust Bowl & Lincoln

We’ve had two history lessons this week—Ken Burns’ four-hour PBS examination of the Dust Bowl decade and the recently released Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis not just portraying Abraham Lincoln but actually becoming him.

First, the Dust Bowl. I was a young lad in South Dakota throughout most of the 30’s, and I vaguely recall how hot and dry the summers were, how the dirt would whistle down the unpaved streets in winds that never seemed to end. But I don’t remember anything as horrible as the drought and dust storms that went on and on in Texas,, New Mexico, the Oklahoma panhandle, southeastern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas.
The mountainous clouds of dirt and dust and sand that billowed up and over those regions must have been horrible, making the air nearly impossible to breathe, darkening the days to a black that was blacker than any eclipse could cause. The years of drought, of failing crops, of dropping prices for those smaller and smaller crops must have been awful. Nature and poor farming practices were to blame for the conditions, with greedy farmers and corporate farms plowing under the sea of native buffalo grass that had for centuries held the soil in place, held the moisture in the ground until drought conditions passed. Yet many of those people, according to Burns’s story, held on and on to what little they had left. Until finally, many of them made their way west to what they considered the land of milk and honey, California, only to discover their mistreatment there was nearly as bad as what the drought and dust storms had done to them back home. They were products of the Great Depression, all labeled “Okies” even though many of them were from places other than Oklahoma, most of them looked down upon as tramps and paupers and given jobs in the California fields for paupers’ wages. I learned that although Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath won all the popular acclaim for dramatizing this era in our history, a woman named Sonora Babb had written a similar novel just ahead of Steinbeck, a novel that took 67 years to find publication—Whose Names Are Unknown. I think I may need to find this novel and read it, see if, in fact, Steinbeck didn’t steal this idea from someone who lived it instead of someone who only investigated it and then wrote about it, winning a fame that might have more rightly belonged to Sonora Babb.

Then there’s the story of Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed at a time when the Civil War was nearly ended and the certainty that the amendment wouldn’t pass if the southern states, reinstated into the Union after the war, were allowed to vote on its passage. Interesting. Enlightening. I never knew about the chicanery he had to resort to for the needed twenty yes votes in the House of Representatives, the legal and not so legal bribes to congressmen to win their votes. I didn’t realize that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from severe headaches, that she was considered by many to be mad. I didn’t fully realize how much he was loathed by those who opposed his efforts to emancipate the blacks, or how much he was loved by those who sided with him, admired him for what he had done to save our nation and make slavery illegal. Stephen Spielberg’s film is long, dark, filled with dialogue and essentially actionless, yet very important in making statements that reflect on our past as well as our present. Daniel Day-Lewis has a very good shot at winning another Oscar for best actor. Tommy Lee Jones, as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, despite his growing ugliness as a person but not as an actor, may also win for best supporting role. Go see it, if not for the acting, for the history lesson we could all use.

Sunday, November 18

Thanksgiving 2012

Only four days until Thanksgiving. And then we have Black Friday. And then, suddenly, it’s Christmas. And then, almost immediately, it’s 2013. Time is fleeting. This will be my eightieth Christmas. That’s a bunch of Christmases. And I’ve decided to forego Christmas cards this year and in the future. In this cyber season, hard copy greetings don’t make much sense. Besides, too many people just sign a card and send it. Who needs that? And too often those that include letters simply send twelve months of what the kids and grandkids did, trips they took, etc. Who needs that? I’m always amused by the corner the writer paints himself/herself into. The writer doesn’t want to use the first person “I,” so he/she refers to himself/herself as Sally, or John, or Fido, or Jocasta. And I still say we need to introduce a new pronoun to take the place of he/she, such as “hesh.” And for him/her, “himer.” And for the possessive his/hers, “heshes.” But enough of grammatical conundrums. The relativity of time is conundrum enough. Why is it that the 30-second commercial seems to last forever, and the story segment that follows seems to last only thirty seconds? ‘Tis a mystery. Why is it that these last ten years feel like only one or two? How in the world did we race into another holiday season when only yesterday it was the Fourth of July? ‘Tis a mystery. Why does the time we spend in a doctor’s office waiting for the doctor feel like an hour? Probably because it really IS an hour. But that’s a pet peeve of a different color. In case I don’t get to say this before next Thursday, HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

Friday, November 16

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I’ve never before sat in a movie theater all by myself, watching a movie all by myself. It felt strange. But I sort of liked it, made me feel special. I went to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower, all by myself, ate popcorn all by myself, never once had to scowl darkly at an impolite cellphoner or growl at a nearby chatterer, laughed as loud as I wanted, wept with no fear of being noticed by a fellow moviegoer. I sort of liked it. Did I sort of like Perks? Yes, quite a bit more than sort of, yes, even though it was a story directed more at a young audience than an old. I guess I must still be young at heart because I didn’t feel at all discriminated against. I could identify with the themes of being an outsider yearning for acceptance, of feeling the pain of first love, of finding friends and loves and then losing them to the vagaries of time and life. Been there, done that. What I couldn’t identify with is the picture of life in a modern high school. It’s certainly different from the high school I attended or the high schools in which I taught. These kids seem so much wealthier and more sophisticated than I was, more advanced in their studies than I was, than any of my students were. Charlie is given books to read that I would never have given any of my freshman students—Walden, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, to name only a few. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is the freshman wallflower of the title. He’s very introverted, sensitive, intelligent, wants to be a writer someday, but he can’t seem to fit in anywhere in his new school. When Mr. Anderson, his freshman English teacher (Paul Rudd), tells him “If you make one friend on your first day you'll do good,” to which Charlie responds, “If my English teacher is the only friend I make today, that'll be sorta depressing.” His alienation continues until two seniors notice him holding up a wall at a school dance. Sam (Emma Watson) and her step-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller) coax him onto the floor to dance with them, then accept him into their group, their “island of misfits.” Naturally, he falls in love with Sam. Naturally, she’s dating a fellow senior. Sam asks him just before she leaves for college if he’s ever kissed a girl. He tells her no. She says, “I just want to make sure that the first person who kisses you loves you. Okay?” They kiss. A silent tear from me. The story plays out in a series of brief flashbacks that explain themselves only at the end of the movie. I would recommend Perks to any and all wallflowers out there. And I pity all those who chose not to join me today, I being the only wallflower in attendance.

Thursday, November 15

Skyfall & Pickles

I’ve been an Ian Fleming fan for years, having found him in the seventies, after most of the 007’s had been written and quite a few of the early films already come and gone. I found all the books in the series and ate them up like popcorn. I hadn’t seen most of the Bond films in recent years, but I thought I’d give Skyfall, this latest one, a try, especially since it got such great reviews. After two hours and twenty-three minutes, I don’t think I quite agree with those great reviews. It was good, not great. But the cinematography was excellent. Shanghai at night looked like a futuristic fairyland, and Bond’s old family castle, Skyfall, out in the Scottish boonies was starkly beautiful. The action was as violent and exciting as ever and the cast were all good, especially Judi Dench as M and Javier Bardem as the oh so blond, oh so vile Silva and, of course, Daniel Craig as the aging agent 007. This was no country for old agents, and 007 was weary and felt outdated, just as M and the entire agency was outdated. But someone had stolen a computer that held the entire list of agents in deep cover within terrorist organizations around the world. Thus the reason for Bond and his young fellow agent Eve chasing the thief through the streets of Istanbul. It seems that auto and motorcycle chases through Istanbul are a required ingredient for many current action films. And this one was almost a carbon copy of Liam’s Neeson’s pursuit in Taken 2 and Jeremy Renner’s Manila chase in The Bourne Legacy, lots of smashed autos and flying fruit and who knows how many people killed in collateral damage. I’m willing to follow Coleridge’s dictum of willingly suspending my disbelief, but Skyfall asks me to hang from a suspension bridge as high as the one Bond falls from into the river below. No one, not even James Bond, could have survived such a fall. But he did, and only a little worse for wear. There were also too many questions left unanswered, too many details that, although maybe not nonsense, didn’t make a lot of sense. Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), head of the Foreign Intelligence wing, would cast out the old relics in the agency, especially M, in favor of the new, younger people like Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond’s new quartermaster, who tells him they no longer use all those high-tech gadgets from the past. Now it’s all cyberspace and computer wizardry. And Bond, although not what he once was, seems fated to return for another fifty years.

Here's some more cat truth from Pickles:



Monday, November 12

Starlings

We have a starling that sits on our eastern neighbor’s antennae every evening just before sundown, cooing and gurgling as only happy starlings can do. He or she seems so overjoyed to see another day end with no calamities, sort of like me in my November days. Starlings are such funny little creatures, ugly yet beautiful, awkward little bodies, short tails, sharp little yellow beaks. But oh how they can coo and gurgle and chirp. I remember our little starling family back in New York, living in a hole in our garage roof. Living there whenever they could take occupancy ahead of the squirrel that also wanted to call it home. Every spring, they’d return to clean it out before having their little starling babies. The female would sit in a nearby pine and simply sing her heart out before laying the eggs and then sitting on them until the little gluttons appeared. Then she and her husband would spend all day going back and forth catching bugs and worms to give to the tiny heads sticking out from the hole. And then, one day in late spring, they would all be gone, the parents off to wherever starlings went after the child rearing was over, the children off to raise their own families. We never saw them leave. Maybe they made their exits in the dead of night. Maybe the squirrel finally shooed them away. Or maybe they all joined the others in their amazing starling flights when thousand of them would all get together to perform for groundlings. If you’ve ever seen this amazing sight, you know what I mean by a performance—thousand of starlings cascading back and forth, in intricate sheets of flight, like smoke billowing and swerving and twirling. Better than talking about it, why not just look at it in this video on YouTube.

Sunday, November 11

Hugs & Cloud Atlas

Hugging is therapeutic. I don’t mean the kind where two people bend at the waist and pat each other on the shoulder. I mean full body hugging. More therapeutic than a kiss, especially the kiss on the cheek or forehead. Most men don’t feel comfortable hugging another man, but I do. The hug is comforting, saying by the act how sorry we are at the bad news the other has just received. Or how much the hugger loves the huggee. The world would be a much better place if we all gave each other a hug occasionally, or better yet, a hug often. So, dear reader, please assume that I just gave you an internet hug. There, don’t you feel better?

I went to see Cloud Atlas yesterday and was very impressed . . . and very confused. Almost three hours of Cloud Atlas. And I left the theater after nearly three hours just as confused as I was at the beginning. I felt like I’d just seen six separate stories all glued together in bits and pieces. The film tells us that everyone is connected in time and space. The Korean clone Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), when her interrogator asks her if she is afraid of death, explains that death is just a door. When the door shuts, another door opens, and we move through time as though through the chambers in a nautilus, back and forth from one chamber to another, all connected. The six main characters and their stories overlap as their lives play out, with each of them assuming different roles in different times. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, and Doona Bae all play up to six different but related characters spanning times from 1849 to 2346 and a postapocalyptic primitive society (Hanks as a nervous goatherder) and visitors from a distant planet (Berry as emissary). It’s sort of fun guessing which actor is playing which character. The critics are all over the map in their assessments of this movie, either hating it or loving it, very few taking the middle ground. New Yorker movie critic Richard Brody called it “synchronized banality.” Roger Ebert thought it was so good he saw it twice and was looking forward to seeing it a third time. He says, “But, oh, what a film this is! And what a demonstration of the magical, dreamlike qualities of the cinema. And what an opportunity for the actors. And what a leap by the directors, who free themselves from the chains of narrative continuity.” I guess I’ll go along with Roger and see it again, and maybe even again. Maybe I won’t be so confused after the third time.

Saturday, November 10

Book Sale

I noticed as I drove by the Johnson rec center this morning that they were having a giant book sale. Naturally, I had to go in, just to see what was there, paperbacks for two bits, hard-bounds for a buck. This is just after I spent a week trying to get rid of my own books, giving a third of them away and then sending the other two-thirds to a charitable organization. And there I was, browsing through the many tables filled with books, people everywhere, silently browsing through the books. So I browsed along with them, examining titles and authors, thin books, fat books, old books, new books, touching books spines, then pulling my hands back as though from an electrical shock. Here a Koontz I’d never read, there a King I’d never read, here a Grisham, there a Grisham, everywhere a Grisham Grisham. I still have about a hundred books at my house I’ve never read, and there I was, considering books to bring home to join the hundred. How stupid. Finally, after any number of electrical shocks, I left, bookless. Other bibliophiles will understand this odd compulsion of mine, the need for books, the need to have books available around me even though I may never get around to reading them. Non-booklovers won’t have a clue as they compulsively text friends and acquaintances, fingers and thumbs flying like caged canaries, eyes down, mesmerized by their tiny devices, oblivious to the world around them, the people around them, the people hidden in the many books on those many tables. Hmm, now that I see my words, I realize how anyone lost in a book is just like that cellphonaphile. Oblivion can come through reading as easily as through texting. But I'd never trade my books for a cell phone.

Wednesday, November 7

Oklahoma & Obama

Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of Oklahoma didn’t disappoint. The voices were all great (except possibly for Jennifer Molly Bell’s Laurey, whose voice was a bit too shrill for such a small venue). The sets were interesting, the costuming excellent as usual, the choreography better than one would expect of a small local theatrical group. And, best of all, nearly all the songs were familiar to most of us—“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and the huge closing “Oklahoma.” But even the less well known were familiar to me, since I had played the original score over and over again in my youth. I remember from the movie version in 1955 Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones as Curly and Laurey, Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie, and the nasty Rod Steiger as Jud Fry. And best of all? We didn’t have to listen to all the political garbage concerning the elections.

Speaking of which, at last it’s over and President Barack Obama can now get back to attempting to pull us out of the financial hole we’re in. He won’t be able to do it in his final four years, but if we exhibit patience, he’ll get us started on the road to recovery. And Obamacare is here to stay, causing needless heartache in all the conservative Republicans who keep telling us it will drive us to rack and ruin instead of national health. If it does what it’s set out to do—bring down ridiculous hospital, doctor, and pharmaceutical costs, allow medical help to all—it will be well worth it. All right, folks, just sit back and watch the value of the dollar go up, unemployment go down, the reputation of the U.S. as a world leader go up, heinous acts of terrorism go down . . . and down. We won’t achieve peace throughout the world in my lifetime, but it looks possible somewhere down the road.

Tuesday, November 6

Flight & Elections

I remember Ray Milland on his Lost Weekend binge. I remember Frank Sinatra as the Man with the Golden Arm. And I will always remember Denzel Washington, the drunken coke shooter, as he fled from himself in Flight. What an amazing performance. I think tour de force applies here. Although it’s not a one-man show—John Goodman plays the cocaine supplier for Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) and plays him very well, Kelly Reilly plays the addict Whip meets in the hospital and later brings to his farm to live with him, and Don Cheadle plays the lawyer who defends Whip, even though he doesn’t much care for Whip and his addictions—it may as well be. Washington brings it all to this role and his audience is fascinated to watch him create this cocky, arrogant, deceitful alcoholic airline pilot who manages to save most of his passengers when the plane he’s flying goes into a dive. This scene, the flight and subsequent crash landing, takes place early in the movie. But it’s easily the most realistic and frightening plane crash ever filmed. The rest of the movie shows us Whip, the bad alcoholic as well as the good person he might be. If alcoholism is both genetic as well as environmental, we see it in the apparently recently dead father who not only taught Whip how to fly but also how to drink. We never get to see exactly how Whip became what he is, now middle-aged and divorced from a wife who could no longer take his drinking, estranged from a son who hates him for what Whip has done to his mother. Yes, tour de force is appropriate. And I’d be very surprised if he isn’t nominated for best actor, surprised again if he doesn’t win it.

I think we all must echo the very loud YYYESSS! In today’s B.C. The winning or losing is no longer an issue. We’ll know the results soon enough. But oh my are we all happy to see it nearly over.
And the disappointing enlightenment expressed in Non Sequitur says exactly what I think about the Electoral College. It’s an archaic system that should be shit-canned.

Saturday, November 3

House & Electoral College

Another step in the process, straightening out the mess in the garage. Had to put into kitty litter containers all the books by authors I wanted to keep. Had to put away all the extra golf clubs. Had to sweep and sweep and sweep. Finally, it looks like a garage again. I don’t know what else I’ll have to do to finish this putting-my-house-in-order. It seems like it’s now pretty orderly. Maybe in another three or four years I’ll feel obligated to get rid of more stuff. Amazing how we all spend our entire lives accumulating stuff, only to try to get rid of it as we get old. And, oh my, does my back ever tell me I’m old.

Finally, only three more days before the vote is in and counted. Finally. I hate what the newspeople keep saying, that the winner will be decided by Ohio. What in the world does my vote and the votes of all the people in the other forty-nine states mean? Apparently nothing. But if I lived in Cleveland or Cincinnati, I’d feel proud as a peacock that I and my other Ohioans would decide who our next president would be. Two things that need changing in the future—get rid of the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote, and put a limit on what presidential candidates can spend on their campaigns. I think it’s stupid that the one who has the most money to spend can virtually BUY an election. Come on, Tuesday.

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