Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Devil's Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen

Many thanks to both Dave and Kenneth for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. It is a privilege I hardly deserve, and a pleasure to read such a great book! I liked a lot of things about it - it had a novel idea, and it was a fast read with entertaining characters. It has action, humor, and nice tips on how to be evil, if that's your thing. And these all are reasonable things to say in a book review, right? More or less what you would expect? Certainly not "a bunch of snarky bullshit," as my son-in-law Gerry would have you believe. Are you fucking kidding me? This from a guy who didn't know that you can make corned beef hash without just getting it out of a can!

Some people can never get over their jealousy, that's their problem. Even when I did more or less give my consent for Gerry to propose to Rachel (I think my exact words were, "If you're going to do it anyway, then have at it"), he knew he could never really replace me as the top dog in her heart. And living so close just reminds him of his relative unimportance. If it were up to him, they would have moved to some hellhole like Arizona years ago, and I would never get to see my grandkids. And I can tell he's still plotting. Come to think of it, he would have been a much more successful devil's apprentice than that kid, Philip.

My relationship with my father-in-law was not like this. The first time Eleanor brought me home to meet her dad, I challenged him to Indian leg-wrestling. He kicked my ass seven times in a row, but he knew from that point forward that I wasn't afraid of him. And that was important later when I did things he didn't like, which was most of the time. But Gerry is so weak. You should have seen him when he came to ask for some help with a down payment for their house. We had already told Rachel we would give them the money, but when I gave him the line about how money was tighter than I thought these days, I thought he was literally going to cry. Pathetic. I still refer to it as "my house" sometimes just to watch him cringe. So I recommend this book to everyone, but especially to Gerry, who I think will learn some useful life lessons.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Gold Ring: Wall Street's Swindle of the Century and its Most Scandalous Crash - Black Friday, 1869 by Kenneth Ackerman

So I was at my daughter's house last weekend, ostensibly for coffee, although whatever it was she served me came out of this little pod that she popped into some futuristic machine, and on top of that she refused to let me put any whiskey in it, on account of it being 8:30 in the morning, so it goes without saying that we were off to a rough start. She was talking to Tina, my granddaughter, in the next room, and they were discussing Black Friday. "You know about Black Friday, right grandpa?," says Tina. "Of course!," I reply, thinking to myself, "Oh shit, here we go again." After the debacle with the planets, the last thing I wanted was for Tina to have another I Told You So moment, so I excused myself by claiming that I had a pickling emergency to attend to, and I hobbled up to the library and got this book.

In case you were unaware, the story of Black Friday is a couple of rich assholes trying to get richer at everyone else's expense by cornering the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. The market collapsed and the country was temporarily fucked. Sound familiar? Anyone? Jamie Dimon, perhaps? 150 years later, and it's the same old shit. God Bless America. At least I learned enough to put Tina in her place this time.

Here's the kicker, though. I called her up and asked if she would be kind enough to stop by with a real coffee (made from beans, by a human), and I started talking about what I had learned, and she explained that Black Friday is actually a holiday where - I shit you not - everyone spends the whole day shopping. Can you believe this bullshit? Can anything be less of a holiday than that? Is there a holiday where we spend the day sticking forks in our eyes? Or listening to my son-in-law talk about jazz? No, Gerry, it is not the goddamn notes that he didn't play! Tina talked about going shopping with her mom as if it was a recreational activity! Like fishing! Or drinking!

My philosophy on shopping is that you only go shopping when you know what you need, then you go in and get it, and then you leave. No wandering around like mindless sheep, impulsively buying whatever strikes your fancy, as if money grew on trees or expired if you didn't use it. I think I'm less offended by the idea of some rich asshole trying to steal all my money (looking at you, Bezos) than by a holiday devoted entirely to shopping. So sorry Tina, you may know more about Black Friday than I do, but you get no points for this one.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Hamartia by Raquel Rich

You know, even after everything that happened, I still do love Canada. It's a shame that there seems to be a tacit agreement between my family and the Canadian government that I am no longer allowed in the country. Because I keep finding more things to love - including this young Canadian's riveting debut novel about time travel, soul stealing, and parenthood.

I have talked to you about time travel before, but instead of revisiting my ever-growing list of people to kill and pickle recipes to steal, I want to discuss something else that this book really gets right - deference to authority! The schmuck responsible for everyone's souls dying only gets away with his nefarious deeds because people will basically do anything they're told by someone in a fancy suit. Even I am not immune! Just listen to what happened to me at the dentist!

First, I have to admit that I am no longer in peak physical condition. I have hypertension, bunions, hair loss, a bad eye, a worse eye, chronic osgood-schlatter syndrome, orneriness, sleep problems, pickle breath, arthritis, pumpkin spice allergy, and a wart - and these are just my G-rated symptoms! But I have always been told that I have wonderful teeth. And so I was a little peeved at my last check-up when I was told that there was a cavity developing that I should probably just take care of. Quick and easy, they said. But it's not bothering me at all, I argued. It will, they said. And that was the only verifiably true thing I was told that day.

If only I had read this book before that appointment, I would have told them exactly where to stick their rotating buzzy toothbrushes, but no, I just acquiesced like a good lemming. Predictably, it was a total shitshow. The young dentist (maybe just some kid who happened to be there for take your child to work day?) couldn't get the spacer in (whatever the fuck that is - that's just what they told me later), and he ended up scraping half the enamel off one of my teeth. I will never forget him staring down at me, frantically working this metal thing into my mouth, sweating bullets like the guy in Total Recall who is trying to convince Arnold Schwarzenegger not to shoot him because it's all just a dream. If only. You know, I have sometimes fantasized about living out parts of that movie, but not that part! Or the part where he pulls the giant tracking device out of his nose, for the record.

Anyway - now what have I got? One mangled tooth, with a "successful" filling that creates pain and cold sensitivity where it wasn't before. An angry message threatening a law suit that hasn't been returned. And a breakfast that consists of pickles on one side of my mouth and gin on the other, which is quite inconvenient. But at least I learned something. Which is, never go to the dentist. And also, question authority. And also, I'm sure that they would never do something like this in Canada!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I am a big fan of statistical anomalies. When something happens that defies the laws of chance, it temporarily creates in me a false belief that anything can happen, and that there is still a chance that the remainder of my life will not be a combination of meaninglessness and soul-sucking boredom followed by being spoon-fed soup. Of course, that idea is illusory, but on the upside, I do like soup.

Statistical anomalies even got me to watch the World Series last week! Now you know my feelings about baseball, so it took something special to convince me to waste a whole week of my time that I would have otherwise spent doing absolutely nothing. More than a week, if you count the time they spent on video reviews. He was out, for Christ's sake - just get on with it! Or safe - who fucking cares? It's baseball! The point is, the away team won every game of the World Series. Do you know what the odds of that are? If we assume that the home team has a 5-10% greater likelihood of winning any single game, and I break out my abacus here to compute this, the odds of 7 straight away wins are like who fucking knows? I can't do math like that, but it never happened before, so it can't be that likely. And just imagining 50,000 fans going home unhappy day after day after day tickled my funny bone enough to make it through all the games, with a healthy serving of gin for all the pitching changes. And congratulations to whatever team it was that won - I'm sure that was great for you.

Numbers can definitely be surprising sometimes - like the time I was shocked to discover that many items at Dollar General are priced higher than a dollar! Talk about some bullshit! People are afraid of the truth though. When I picketed Dollar General, did they lower their prices? No, they did not. Did I end up with a ticket for disturbing the peace? Why yes, I did. There is no justice in this world.

Anyway, this book has lots of practical information, like why professional hockey players are all born in January. That's an interesting anomaly, and a fact that is sure to make you popular with the ladies. I particularly liked the part of this book about the 10,000 hour rule, which basically says that it takes 10,000 hours or practice to achieve greatness at something. I don't know if I would have come up with that number, but it does explain why I am now the world's foremost expert at telling my son-in-law what an idiot he is. Jesus, Gerry - look what you turned me into.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Death Among Us by Stephen Bentley et al.

This is a great collection of dark murder mystery stories - just right for the Halloween season. Too much candy, not enough murder - that's the problem with Halloween these days. Anyway, I especially liked the story where the police chase a demented murderer into a cave and they all get eaten by a giant hairy slug-monster. I imagined it like that creature from Stranger Things on steroids. Some scary shit! I could use something like that around here to deal with my neighbor's schnauzer. But you can never find a ravenous, bloodthirsty monster when you need one, can you?

This whole collection got me reminiscing about my childhood because fear played such an integral role in it. I remember lots of scary stories my parents used to tell us. Like the one about don't you dare go near Old Man Palmer's House if you don't want to get kidnapped. Or the one about you had better have all your chores done by the time I get home or I shit you not you will regret it. In retrospect, they seem somewhat less like stories than threats, but there is a blurry line, I suppose.

I'll tell you this - we didn't bat an eye at that kind of thing back then. These days, when all the 9-year-old snowflakes get their mandatory cell phones, they come pre-programmed with the number for Child Protective Services so they can report their parents if they forget to say please when asking them to stop playing video games at midnight. What the hell happened to respect? And Halloween is a perfect example.

When I was a kid, you assembled some kind of costume from what you had around the house and walked up and down the block, collecting a few small pieces of candy and maybe a couple pennies. It was a wholesome community event that brought people together. And now look! If you don't buy an expensive, full body Disney get up, you are the cheapskate parent, and that's if you're lucky. Half the kids out there see Halloween as an excuse to wear the most inappropriate clothing (or lack thereof) that they can find. "Oh bye Mom, I'm going to the party as a sexy clown kitten in a tornado - don't wait up!"

Which is not to mention that it is practically warfare in the streets to obtain insane amounts of candy. When I was still foolish enough to give out candy on Halloween, I would open my door with a bowl and before I could give anything away, I would be practically knocked over by hordes of bloody mutants and sexy fairies ravenously attacking my bowl. And don't even try to set limits on what they can eat, parents, unless you've already deleted that CPS number. Sometimes we have to take it upon ourselves to restore meaning to our societal rituals, so this year I am just going to focus on that feeling of satisfaction I get from that look on a kid's face as you hand him a box of raisins. That, my friends, is the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Shamus Dust by Janet Roger

There are people out there trying to get me, and you can't convince me otherwise. This suspenseful,  intricate, deftly written murder mystery just reminded me of how far people will go. I couldn't help but relate to our brusque, headstrong hero, Newman. He's the kind of guy who can be a complete jerk but you can't help but love him anyway. I will admit that I have been described that way once or twice. The other shoe is persistently about to drop in this novel, and Newman justifiably seems to believe that there is always someone around the corner with eyes on him. And I can relate to that too! Just listen to what happened to me yesterday.

It started when I went up to the gas station to get some Takis. Have you tried these things? Not as bad as you would think. When you get old enough to count your taste buds one by one, you need something with a little kick. But that is not really the point. When I got home, the little string I leave hanging down over my screen door was INSIDE the door, definitive evidence that an intruder had been present. Since my children have forced me to have a "hidden" key for "safety" reasons, anyone with a metal detector can now break into my home at any time.

I entered my home slowly (admittedly, this is my default setting), and I grabbed the night vision goggles I keep by the door for emergencies and turned off the lights. Unfortunately, it was only 4:00 in the afternoon, so the sunlight made the goggles useless and probably did permanent damage to my bad eye and my less bad eye. There was a smell in the house, not unpleasant, and I could peer into the kitchen enough to see a foreign object on the counter. It was a kind of small, plastic bucket, and a gentle touch told me that it was still warm, indicating that the intruder had only just left, or in fact was still lurking in the shadows! I listened for a few moments but heard nothing. I opened the bucket and saw what appeared to be chicken soup. It looked and smelled delicious, but I am not an idiot. I considered my options.

My first thought was to run some tests, but most of my lab equipment was confiscated after my snake venom experiments. Did you know that you can buy that stuff on the internet? I knew it was shortsighted to have agreed to dismantle the lab, but a plea deal is a plea deal. With no better option coming to mind, I was left with no choice but to dump the entire bucket down the drain as quickly as possible. Nice try, assassins. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to outsmart me, and today is not your day!

A followup: This afternoon I received a call from my daughter, who asked if I enjoyed the chicken soup that she made me. I replayed yesterday's events in my head, and I had to admit that this alternative explanation made some sense, although who is to say if she is in cahoots with forces unknown and just checking to see if I was dead yet. I didn't want to outright lie, so I told her that her soup had indeed made quite an impression. Perhaps a missed opportunity on my part, but who is going to complain about a dinner of gin and Takis?

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.