Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain


Today's youth are being corrupted by a host of perverse, corrosive influences - things like strawberry milk, house music, carnival rides that go upside down, and sweet pickles, just to name a few. And I have always counted video games among those destructive forces. I mean, have you even had a conversation with a teenager lately? If you somehow manage to get them to put their phones down for a minute, it's all they talk about!

When I was a kid, we played a game called Tougher, or "Tuffs." Essentially, you took turns punching each other in the chest until one person quit. If you didn't quit, then you were Tuffs. It was a great way to pass the time, built character, and multi-player games required no extra equipment. Nowadays, everyone wants to blow up aliens or monsters or whatever it is, but it's all fake! Instead of getting character, teenagers are getting tendinitis. What a world.

The other day, I was sitting in my front lawn guarding it against my neighbor's schnauzer, who had that look she gets when she's ready to do her business, when I heard the sound of my grandson's skateboard (don't get me started) coming my way. I do appreciate it when he chooses this route home, but I was dismayed to look up and see him 1) on a skateboard, 2) in the street, 3) without a helmet, and 4) LOOKING AT HIS PHONE THE WHOLE TIME! After telling him that the fact that he was still alive was a minor miracle, I demanded that he show me this Fortnite or whatever it was he was playing, but he said that I wasn't ready for Fortnite and offered to show me a different game instead.

Now I don't know what Fortnite is like, but the game he showed me was mind-blowing. It is a kind of wartime simulation, and your job is to defuse a series of bombs before they blow up, killing everyone! I can't even describe the tension as you start looking for bombs. I was sweating terrible old man sweat after only two minutes! There is this grid, and numbers that give you clues about how many bombs are around you, and each time you click on one, you might die! It is called Minesweeper, and I have never done something so intense! The numbers don't really make that much sense, and a bomb could go off any minute! By the time I finished, I was so in need of a gimlet that I made Jackson pour it for me while I tried to slow my breathing down. It took me 624 seconds, but I saved the world! Apparently, there are intermediate and advanced levels as well, but maybe for another day.

There is a truism about war that nothing you can read can really make you understand what it feels like to be there. So we rely on books like this, written with craft, insight, and power to shed a little light on the experience. After reading this book, I felt like I understood the Iraq War in a new way. But thanks to Minesweeper, it's like I was actually there!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood


So yesterday my neighbor, Margaret, accused me of throwing walnuts at her house. Can you believe this shit? I have been accused of many things in my lifetime, including vagary, vulgarity, vacuity, slipping a piece of fake ham onto the buffet at a Golden Corral, lying, cheating, stealing, excessive anger, insufficient anger, an appropriate level of anger directed at the wrong person, hurting my grandson's feelings through excessive pranking, acting my age, not acting my age, smuggling a penguin home from the Shedd Aquarium (that is an urban myth!), farting on purpose, failing to return a library book on time, breaking into the Watergate Hotel, malfeasance, disobedience, moral deviance, sloth, taunting a sloth, and jaywalking. First, I would note that I have a plausible excuse for almost half of those claims! I might also add that none of them are nearly as bad as the things that virtually every character in this book does, so stop looking at me like that.

I demanded to Margaret that she present her evidence that I had thrown the offending walnuts, and she told me that she had seen me do it. So, one point for her. However, one must consider the context! The walnuts are coming from HER tree, dropping onto MY lawn, and my assumption is that this was part of a years-long plan she concocted just to fuck with me. I told her as much, and her defense was that a) she didn't plant the tree (possible, but she looks about 130 years old, and the tree does not, so debatable), b) she can't control nature (didn't see her trying, mind you), and c) my response was still unreasonable and not neighborly. I'll let you be the judge of that.

After all, what does being a good neighbor really mean? Some people, in this book for instance, might try to be a good neighbor by taking in the semi-abandoned child of a pair of derelict drug addicts. Other people, like me, might try to be a good neighbor by teaching someone a lesson about personal responsibility using walnuts. Who can say which is the more noble action? These are the kinds of things philosophers have debated for eternity, and answers are elusive. Not convinced? Fine - then I want you to go google "Trump," read the first article that comes up, and see if you are still mad at me for throwing walnuts.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Golden Monkey by Lance Pototschnik


So now I have a wart. It is truly anyone's guess as to how long it has been there. My granddaughter discovered it while I was trying to bribe her to rub my bunions. Not my most glorious moment. You must realize that I am not even close to flexible enough to get my eyes down near my toes, so the chances of me noticing it on my own were pretty slim. In fact, I can't even say positively that it is a wart. The only diagnostic assessment was my granddaughter yelling, "Oh my God, it's a wart!" She seemed pretty sure though.

Still a lot of unknowns in this story, though. For example, how the hell did it get there? My understanding is that warts are contagious. At least, when Tina was crying and frantically washing her hands, that's what she told me. If that is the case, who would have possibly given it to me? I don't go anywhere. I try to limit my interactions with family, for obvious reasons. I wouldn't ever get close enough to any of my neighbors to allow them to touch me. I seem impervious to something like this. So much so that my assumption is that someone did this to me on purpose. I haven't quite gotten to how or why yet, but I will Miss Marple this shit until I get my revenge.

The next question is, at my age, do I even do anything about it? At my last physical, my doctor said that I would probably live longer if I gave up alcohol, and he had to take two days off to recover from my response. Longer is not always the goal, friends. It is quality of life that matters. And gin for breakfast is high quality. So back off, Dr. Buzzkill, and everyone else too. Tina was in no small hurry to share this story, and the general opinion of the family is to get rid of it. Which may be reason enough to keep it. I certainly didn't expect any sympathy from them, and I was right on that account.

But do you know who I think would be more sympathetic? Lance Pototschnik. This guy seems like a much nicer person than my family. And he has been through the wars as well. Among other things, he has survived a terrible skin disease, Uncontrollable Farting Syndrome, and Aimless Wandering Writer Disorder. And he still seems to have a very positive outlook on life and is able to find humor in painful things and write entertaining stories. He also has a gift for similes. Here's my favorite: "He sounds kind of like Chewbacca if he were really happy to be getting burned alive." I was so intrigued by that description that I found myself trying to recreate that sound. It wasn't easy, but I think I nailed it. The fact that I was practicing in the shower when my son dropped by unannounced for a visit led to an awkward exchange, but at least he didn't notice my wart!

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Legend of Jake Howell by Charles Reap Jr.


This is a charming story about a young boy in 1805 who discovers gold on his family's land. And lo and behold, all of his problems are not solved! It reminded me of something I read about people who win the lottery. Apparently, more often than not they end up worse off than they were before. You know what I think about that? Bullshit! Show me the money, and I will prove that all wrong! If any of you people want to give me $62 million, I promise you that if I can not find a way to make myself happier than I am now, you will never hear from me again. You know what the problem with these lottery winners is? They're too young! If people my age won the lottery, we wouldn't possibly have enough time to screw up our lives the way young winners manage to do.

First things first - as soon as I become a millionaire, I am going to buy the Vlasic pickle company. Not because I want to own it or get free pickles or anything like that - I am going to shut that shit down! No more terrible pickles for America. Honestly, I get more crunch from the month-old celery in my fridge. Which reminds me, why the hell do I still buy celery? And all those sweet pickles? Truly an abomination. We are going to have a ritual destruction of all of them, like they did with all those disco records at baseball stadiums in the late 70s. That's right folks - Americans made musical bonfires because they thought songs like the 'Safety Dance' were the way of the future. And we wonder why the Taliban hates us.

After the great pickle cleanse, I will take my family on a tropical vacation. Not as a favor, really, but more as an act of revenge. After all those vacations where I had to play along and do what everyone else wanted, this vacation will be on my terms. None of the 'local flavor' nonsense my son-in-law is always going on about. Each day we will have a mandatory mah jongg tournament, and I don't give a shit if we happen to be in Tahiti - dinner is at an Italian restaurant and everyone gets fettuccini alfredo. Deal with it, Gerry.

Now don't get me wrong. I will perform many acts of random generosity - as many as it takes to assuage my guilt at being so rich. So there, I'm already more ethical than half the members of Congress. I may also swim in my money like Scrooge McDuck, but that's my business, so stop judging.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Come Back for Me by Heidi Perks



Big thanks to Arrow Publishing and Penguin Books for sending me an ARC of this great summer read. My bunions were really after me last week, and I had shit else to do, so I read it almost in one sitting, as I will explain in a moment. The novel moves quickly, with a plot unpredictable and twisty enough to keep most people off track. I mean, my son-in-law, for instance, won't even be able to tell you who killed whom after he's finished it, but that is admittedly a bit of a hopeless case. I, on the other hand, am a wily son of a bitch and can usually see plot twists a mile away. I know you're not supposed to promote yourself too much in a review, but to quote my second favorite Puerto Rican playwright, "I don't mean to brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish." (Yes, after that debacle, I did actually go see it, and I have to admit that I am a reluctant convert). Anyway, you've got to get up pretty early to sneak a whodunit past me. Remember The Sixth Sense? I was on that shit in scene 2!

Which leads me to another story about sniffing out a nefarious plot. While I was reading this book, really getting into a groove in my la-z-boy, I heard the unmistakable, noxious sound of skateboard wheels. The sound approached my house and then stopped. I looked out my window and briefly saw my grandson's head go past my side window. By the time I lumbered across the room to open the front door, he was gone, with no trace of his villainous deeds. He would later claim that he had seen my rake lying in the driveway and put it away in my garage, but who knows if that is true? After the stinkbugs and everything else, I had cause to assume the worst.

I'll tell you this. I was not going to wait around to let whatever plot he was hatching come to fruition. The best defense is a good offense, that's what I say. So I took action. Jackson has been dating a girl for the last few months, and from what I hear, Rachel isn't too keen on her, so I thought I might make my daughter happy while I got my preemptive revenge. I knew they would be at his friend's graduation party on Saturday, yet another party to which I was not invited. Never mind that I have known that kid literally from the day he was born or the fact that I delivered special birthday pickles to his house on multiple occasions. But I am not bitter. Not in the slightest.

So they're all at the party and what should arrive at the door, but a bouquet of roses addressed to Jackson with a note that says, "Don't worry - our secret is safe with me. Love, X." OK, I kind of wish I had been invited so I could see that shit go down. My granddaughter Tina said it was "epic." I didn't get too many details, but I did have a message from Rachel on my answering machine saying that we had to talk. Calling to thank me, no doubt.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso



First off, this is - I shit you not - an actual goddamn book written by actual scientists. Let that sink for a minute and ruin your day. That's right - while you are out there making peanuts slaving away for that supervisor that always looks at you funny, there are people making a comfortable living trying to figure out if a sea cucumber has an anus (it does). Kind of makes you question your life choices, doesn't it? Stay in school, kids! In my next life, I am going to be a seacucumberanusologist, and I am going to live that shit up.

You may wonder, is there anything actually interesting in this book? Shockingly, yes! Did you know that herring can communicate by farting? If you said yes, you are a liar and I want you off my blog immediately. If you said, no, here's another fun fact for you. A beaded lacewing can kill termites with a chemical fart. Now there's a nice conversation starter for a dinner party. Also, baby koalas eat their mothers' feces, and hyenas eat bones and have white shit. So there you have it.

My grandson gave me this book after a relevant conversation we had at a family dinner. It had something to do with the relationship between age and farting power. I was unable to find any extant research on the topic, but when Metamucil becomes a staple of your diet, what do you expect? I think he did it to shock or embarrass me, but please. The thing about teenagers is that they seem to forget that everyone older than them also used to be a teenager, and the idea that I would blink at a book about farts is ridiculous. And if someone gives me a book, I am going to read it and review it, so here we are.

If you are actually still reading this, I imagine it is because you are waiting for the summary of what farts and what doesn't. So here are a few highlights. Things that don't - jellyfish, anemones, pretty much all birds (though they are featured in the related volume, "Does it shit on your car?"), goldfish, sloths, and clams. Things that do - tortoises, buffalo, unicorns (inferred), pythons, wombats (who cares?), mongooses (not mongeese), geckos, hamsters, and humans, especially if they are familiar with my son-in-law's "authentic muffuletta sandwiches." Damn it Gerry, there is no "authentic" food that includes Oscar Meyer ham. For crying out loud.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Written by Ben Galley


Now be honest - if you were organizing a blog tour, would you allow me to be part of it? Hell no, you wouldn't! You're also a bad liar. I understand that I can occasionally come off as abrasive, and there is a reason why I no longer get invited to dinner parties. Besides half my friends being dead, that is. But someone screwed up and let me in here, and because of that, I got to read this wonderful book! So take that, suckers. And a big thanks to Mr. Galley, who sent me a physical copy because those electronic book machines hurt my bad eye, and also my worse eye. Which is not to mention that I can't figure out how to make them work in the first place. Did it ever occur to you people that some things do not need to be mechanically improved? That perhaps an actual physical book is the pinnacle of reading technology? Damn.

Back to the book, though. Compelling characters, and a sinuous, intriguing plot. The basic gist is that Farden, our tortured hero, instilled with powers through magical tattoos, must use his courage and 'fuck all' attitude, as well as alliances with dragons and vampires, to ferret out a plot from a nefarious and traitorous enemy. No more details, for fear of spoiling, although in fact, there were some eerie parallels to a night in college that I spent half-naked under various bushes on campus, on the run from intergalactic beings bent on condemning me to a life in the salt mines of Xergan. Of course, it turned out that I had accidentally eaten my roommate's chocolate laced with Amazonian frog venom that night, but we worked it all out the next day. I suggested that it shouldn't have been unlabeled in the back corner of the freezer in the first place, but he was unmoved. That is some expensive shit, but we were able to negotiate an appropriate exchange.

Oh, pick your jaw up off the floor, you prudes. Yes, your parents did drugs. We did drugs. Our parents did drugs. All humans did drugs, going all the way back to when people would just dig a hole in the ground and fill it with nectarines and wait for them to rot and then eat rotten nectarines to get high. So get over it. At least when we did drugs, we did things that expanded our mind and brought us closer to god and the universe. Today, kids just sit around vaping marijuana juice, and the only things they get closer to are bags of flaming hot Cheetos and diabetes. So you can add that to the list of things our generation did better than yours. It's a long list, snowflakes!