Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking


I love science. You know why? It helps you make other people look stupid! Doesn't it feel great to drop a load of facts on some guy at a party spouting out about shit he doesn't understand? You know what I'm talking about. And so does my granddaughter Tina, I might add. She knows that there are only a few things in life I can't stand: 1) Sweet pickles (an abomination), 2) Being wrong (this rarely happens, of course), and 3) Being wrong about sweet pickles (not possible). So we have this little game of trying to catch each other making mistakes and teaching each other new things, and books like this come in pretty handy for that. I can pretty much guarantee that Tina knows shit about rifts in the space-time continuum.

But a terrible thing happened. We were having tea and apple tarts (aka gin in a teacup for me) after she got home from school and talking about the universe, and I made mention of the 9 planets and how to remember them with the mnemonic we all learned in grade school - My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles. I have always loved that mnemonic device, for obvious reasons. Only Tina tells me that no, there are only 8 planets. A rookie mistake, I thought, for which I was happy to correct her. But she pulls out some bullshit textbook from school, and lo and behold, someone stole Pluto!

God damn it, scientists! What is wrong with you people? You can't just go around changing the number of planets whenever you want to. What is my eager mother supposed to serve us now - Nectarines? Noodles? Nothing? It just doesn't work any more. Pluto is still out there, and it is the same damn thing it was when I was a kid, only now someone ivory tower nerd wants to redefine what a planet is and isn't? No chance, kid. If you like outer space so much, why don't you do something useful, like get out there and find some aliens. There's no way Stephen Hawking would approve of this bullshit. And you just made me look like a fool in front of my granddaughter!

Do you realize how important science is, and what you have done? How are people supposed to believe you about important things like global warming, nanotechnology, and sharknadoes if you can just change facts in retrospect for your own convenience? This doesn't end here, scientists. I want a written letter of apology that I can show to Tina, or I am joining the Flat Earth Society. I will be waiting.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Institute by Stephen King


My daughter and I are "working on our relationship." She knows how much I love Stephen King because reading about other people's terror and misery gives me a moment of illusory joy thinking that my own life isn't so bad after all. So this book was a kind of peace offering from her. "Working on our relationship" essentially means that she comes over on the weekends, suggests a terrible activity, and instead of telling her where to shove it, I smile and say ok and then have to give up a Saturday's worth of reading to take a crochet class or learn to make bubble tea. Side note - what the fuck is bubble tea?

Anyway, this past weekend was beautiful, and she decided we would take a walk along the bike path near my house. The trees are just starting to turn, and it is still warm, and truth be told, I wasn't having the worst time. Then, out of nowhere, a motorcycle comes flying past us on the path, nearly knocking me straight into a patch of invasive garlic mustard that nobody from the city bothered to eradicate (your tax dollars at work, people). I let out a string of expletives that would make Captain Haddock blush, and demanded that my daughter call the police to have the motorcyclist arrested. She then told me that it was not a motorcycle, but rather - I shit you not - an "electric bicycle."

Are you fucking kidding me? First off, what the hell is an electric bicycle? It looks like a motorcycle, it's fast like a motorcycle, it could have killed me like a motorcycle - seems like a motorcycle to me! The only thing missing is the obnoxious noise, which you might think is an improvement, but at least the noise of a real motorcycle warns you when you're about to get run off the road. These things are silent death machines, presumably lurking around every corner to hunt you down like those damn Prius cars everyone is driving! Only for some reason, they let these "bicycles" on walking paths! I mean - doesn't the entire concept defeat the purpose of a bicycle in the first place? You can't very well say you went for a bike ride if you had an electric motor pushing you the whole time.

This is just another prime example of American laziness. These days, people need everything automatized for them, even their exercise! And every time they make something electric, the new version is leaps and bounds worse than the original. I hereby declare my official opposition to electric bicycles, electric cars, electric stoves, electric fireplaces, electric guitars, electric blankets, the Electric Slide, electric eels, Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth album, the electric chair, and electric toothbrushes. If you want clean teeth, move your damn hands!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui


Let me tell you, some crazy shit can happen in a Nashville bathroom. And sometimes the things that happen in our youth can have lasting effects on us, even if we don't remember all the details. This, as it happens, is a central theme of this beautifully illustrated memoir, as the author takes us through her family history in Vietnam and Malaysia and tries to piece together how her early life experience, and that of her parents, influenced the course of her life. But enough about this wonderful book, because it reminded me about this other story, and I'm sure you're all dying to hear it.

As a young man, I happened to find myself in Nashville on Halloween night. The circumstances of my arrival are inconsequential, but I found myself in a full body cow suit in some honky-tonky bar with a bunch of new "friends." I don't know which bar it was, but there was line dancing involved. And there was a crowd of "cow-girls" there that I was drunk enough to believe were interested in my cow-self.

So a bunch of us were piled into this big booth - me, some cowgirls, a pirate, a rodeo clown, and the man from UNCLE. The whiskey we were drinking was worse than the stuff my buddy was making in a bathtub in the shed behind his barn, but it was better than not drinking whiskey, so there you go. At one point, I got up to relieve myself, and when I returned, I had a story to tell. I was somewhat agitated, almost disturbed, but mostly excited to share some shocking news.

"You will not believe what just happened in the restroom," I told them. "It was profound." I started to tell my story, but just at that moment, another round of shots arrived, and we had no choice but to take care of them in the customary fashion. Then the man from UNCLE said something that offended one of the cowgirls. The rodeo clown came to her defense, and in a matter of seconds the table had erupted into fistacuffs! We were all unceremoniously escorted out of the establishment and thrown into the street, where, being Nashville, it was impossible to tell the real cowboys from the Halloween cowboys.

Somehow I ended up face-down in a hammock in somebody's yard, and when we all woke up the next morning, we agreed that just waking up was a victory of sorts. Then one of my friends asked me to tell everyone what had happened in the bathroom, and I shit you not, I didn't have a fucking clue. "But it was profound!," they said, so I spent the rest of the day waiting for it to come back to me. But it didn't! And to this day, I still have never remembered. The obvious questions plague me - what happened? Did it change me without my knowing? Is this why I'm so angry? At this point, I am running out of time and willing to try anything -  hypnosis, psilocybin, sensory deprivation chambers. I would look for witnesses, but the time frame suggests that they are probably all dead. If you have suggestions, email me at imnotreallygoingtolistentoyoursuggestions@aol.com.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


There is no fucking way I am going to buy gas from a gas station that makes you pay for air. Will not happen. Now I will admit that there is some debate in my family as to whether or not I should be driving at all "at my age," but my mind is sharp as an executioner's blade, and if Ms. Atwood can write a book this good at her age, surely I can handle going to HyVee for some Lean Cuisines and Metamucil.

But back to my point. It does not cost a gas station anything to provide air for you to fill your tires. But one after another, they are installing these indecipherable new air machines that cost 3 dollars and flash a bunch of lights at you while you check your tire pressure. And do you know why? Because people like you let them! You just shrug your shoulders, swipe your Kwik Trip reward card (Hey, free 264 oz. soda!), and surrender. You know where this leads, right? To a corporofascist state that will make Gilead look like Disneyland!

We have been here before, people. I can remember a time 30 years ago when I stopped by my son's house to criticize his lawn care and he offered me bottled water. "How can you buy this stuff?!?!," I exclaimed. "If you do that, people will think it is normal!" He assured me that he had gotten it at a conference and that no one would ever think it would be normal to buy the same water you can get for free, and now look at us! A bunch of brainless sheeple buying bottled water every day like our house was on fire. The only legitimate reason to buy bottled water is to smuggle gin into a baseball game. If you put a little hot clue on the cap, you can make it look unopened. But I digress.

The point is, if you think they will stop at air for tires, you are beyond naive. If you legitimize buying air, you will soon be buying the air you breathe. Giant air conglomerates will control the world's oxygen supply, and they will use it to oppress us all just like on Mars in Total Recall. I knew that movie would come true in the end! And so, even though the cruel irony of burning through gas driving across town to buy gas makes me want to stick a fork in my eye, I will keep doing it. For you. For Offred. For the children.

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill


This is a charming love story with the unique twist that the lovers are connected across decades by the quirk of a magical Camcorder. Which rang true to me, because when we got our first Camcorder, it sure as hell felt like magic. And at my age, I am particularly susceptible to a story that messes with the continuum of time, and it got me thinking about all the things I might do if I could go back and have a second go at it.

Now I recognize that it is convention to say that if you could travel in time that you would first go back and kill Hitler. And I do appreciate that, so yes, first I would kill Hitler. Hooray for me! But then, I have quite a list of important things to get done while in possession of time traveling powers. Top of the agenda is to prevent the invention of many things that have done irreparable damage to modern society. These things include Roombas, clothing for dogs, Tickle Me Elmo, buttonfly jeans, the Macarena, pumpkin spice anything, skateboards, sweet pickles, and guns.

It would be tempting to stop there, having virtually saved modern culture. But I am just too altruistic for my own good. So I would go back and eliminate all acts of major injustice in the world. Like that time in 2005 when Pedro Mendes took a shot from midfield in the last minute of the game and Roy Carroll fumbled it over the line, but a goal was not given because referees always cheat for Manchester United and they always will. I would rectify that bullshit. Also, while I'm at it, racism, sexism, homophobia, and global warming. You're welcome.

But, as a romantic at heart, and inspired by this book, I couldn't stop without finding a way to bring together the lovers whom fate or history deprived of their possibilities - those real life Romeos and Juliets who deserve a second chance. I'm thinking about people like Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Heloise and Abelard, John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Lancelot and Guinevere, Harry and Hermione, my son-in-law Gerry and literally any other human being in the world other than my daughter, Donald Trump and a Kraken, and Bette Davis and yours, truly. You get one guess as to whether or not I will be returning to the present.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan


You know what really pisses me off? CLAMS!! For the life of me, I can not figure out what people see in these terrible creatures. Tell me, what is the point of a clam? No, really, I want to know. These ubiquitous little fuckers are ugly, useless, and prone to bring on an existential crisis. I mean it - go open up a clam, take one look and tell me that you still believe in intelligent design. Jesus.

Now that I have that off my chest, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Egan for this book, because he has provided me with a whole list of additional aquatic animals to be angry at. Sea lampreys, quagga mussels, Asian carp, just to name a few. These are some real nefarious little bastards wreaking havoc on our lakes. I happen to live in a Great Lake state, and I am old enough to remember catching lake trout and not ending up with botulism from out of control algae blooms. It was a beautiful time. Never to be seen again, from what I gather.

I kept waiting for the part of the book that would lay bare the evil of clams, but it never came! And that's what really gets me about these sea-weasels - they have everyone fooled. I mean, everyone knows that zebra mussels are demon spawn, but people think clams are so nice! And tasty! And happy! Bullshit! Happy as a clam? What the hell does a clam have to be happy about? It is immobile, repulsive, and eats algae all day. Kind of reminds me of my mother-in-law, especially in her later years (may she rest in peace).

A little while ago, my son and his girlfriend (yes, miraculously, they are still together) invited me to a "clambake." I do not make a habit of accepting invitations from family (or anyone else for that matter), but I was excited about this because I mistakenly thought it was some kind of ritual in which we would get to kill a shit ton of clams. To my chagrin, they were already dead when we got there, and we were supposed to eat them! Can you believe this shit? But there was gin, so it worked out. In summary, great book!



Monday, August 26, 2019

Canada by Mike Myers



Well, I went to Canada and I didn't die. So I would consider this vacation a success. I don't even know exactly where in Canada I was, but the locals appear to subsist entirely on lobsters and potatoes, so I'm sure some geo-nerd out there can figure it out. And there are lots of cliffs that an old man can "accidentally" fall off of, but I kept my distance from my son-in-law Gerry while we were sightseeing, so no worries. I picked up this book to learn about this country before I visited, but it turns out that it was not a reference book or a travel guide, and this Mike Myers isn't even a historian. He did apparently write some pretty funny shit for a TV show once, so it wasn't that bad.

I'm sure the narrative from my family will be that I ruined this vacation for everyone, but it really was an honest mistake, and they forced my hand in the first place. We were staying in this big cabin not too far from the beach, and a short walk away (even for me) was this little bench behind some bushes with a great view of the ocean. It was a great reading spot, and I sure as hell didn't want the rest of my family to ruin it for me, so I didn't tell anyone about it. Which, as I later explained, was perfectly within my rights.

Now here's something that really pisses me off about Gerry. Whenever we go on vacation, he will pick up pamphlets from the visitor center and then - I shit you not - expound upon what he just read to the rest of us as if he were an expert on local history. I mean, come on. My son Lawrence is an actual historian, and he can't even button his damn shirts correctly, but he doesn't do shit like that. So when Gerry was on a particularly boring diatribe about the origins of confederation, I slipped out the side door and shuffled down to my bench.

At some point while I was reading, I must have fallen asleep (the book was about Canada, after all), but I think I was vaguely aware of some sort of commotion on the beach. When the police started arriving (in cars, not on horses, and without any funny hats to speak of, disappointingly), I stood up and encountered one of Canada's finest. The conversation went approximately like this:

"So, you're missing, eh?"
"I don't think so," (looking at myself to ascertain that I still exist), "Yup. Still here."
"You might want to tell your family that."
"Oh...Well, since you took the trouble to come out here, I wouldn't want to steal your thunder."
"I see. I'll take care of it then."

And that was the last I heard from him. And that was the nicest thing anyone said to me for the rest of the trip!