Tuesday, April 20, 2021

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


There are few things to compare with that feeling when you find something of great value that you believed was lost. In this novel, it was a rare and wonderful diamond, and for me, it was a purple woolen sock. You see, when I was doing the laundry yesterday, there appeared a sock I had not seen in months, one whose partner has lived in my single sock box since the beginning of the Covid Era. The near tragedy of the story (similarly poignant to the tragedy in the novel) was that last week my son Lawrence - I shit you not - tried to make me throw the whole box out! This from someone who is lucky when he puts on matching shoes, let alone socks. His girlfriend (god bless her) recently told me that he got lost on the way to deliver a lecture, which might be understandable except that he was teaching by Zoom from his own living room! 

When I was a kid, our Uncle Morrie would always bring us socks as gifts. Boy, did we hate that fucker! He'd come in with his too long and overly bristly mustache, kiss us hard enough to leave chafe marks for a week, and give us "presents" for which we were forced to express our gratitude. Science has proven, of course, that there is an inverse relationship between age and appreciation of socks, so in part, he just didn't understand his audience. But now that I have reached the top end of that scale, does anyone give me socks? No, they do not. And just so you don't think he was some kind of saintly altruist, Uncle Morrie worked in a sock factory, so he probably stole them all anyway.

The real question, of course, is where the hell this sock has been for the last year. For it to show up my laundry suggests that it was either in the washer or dryer all this time (implausible), somewhere in my folding area where I didn't see it (unlikely), or stuck to some other article of clothing that I wore without realizing it (embarrassing). I don't buy fabric softener, of course, because I am not an idiot, so there is a real possibility that due to static cling, I wore that sock on the back of a shirt some time recently. At least I don't go anywhere or see anyone, so no one would have noticed.

Margaret has a more sinister explanation, which is that someone is fucking with me. This is the most obvious explanation, and usually the simplest solution is the right one. I have 37 other socks in my box waiting for their partners right now, and it is beyond logic to think that many socks could disappear by accident. My grandson suggested that they could have been stolen by rodents living in my walls, the sheer stupidity of which makes him my prime suspect. I could try to fenagle an invitation to dinner so I could snoop around his room, but that would mean having to share a meal with those people. So I'm a bit stuck for now, but at least my feet are warm!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde


This clever little book just came out, so why don't you get off your ass and go buy a copy? Seriously, would it kill you to buy an actual book for once? It's got a unique premise - you are dropped into the lives of famous people, but you don't know who they are. Things are slowly revealed as the character is developed, and then you get the payoff moment, when all becomes clear. It could be someone you really admire, or perhaps just a pompous asshole.

Speaking of pompous assholes, I was at my daughter's house trying to enjoy some overcooked brisket when my son-in-law Gerry says out of nowhere, "Hey everyone, I worked out every day for a year!" I mean, give me a goddamn break. I'm not sure if it was the comment or the beef that was drier than sand, but I gagged before I could respond, "Then why do you still look like that?" And before I could clear my throat, everyone else was gushing over him like he was a two-year-old who drew his first stick figure.

I took a nip from my flask to steady myself, and then tried to feign interest by asking what kind of workouts he had been doing. "All kinds," he said enthusiastically. "It was my COVID resolution! Sometimes I run or bike, sometimes I do some yoga or pilates, and sometimes I take a nice long walk around the neighborhood." It was honestly all could I do to not stick a fork in my eye right then and there.

Now before I get angry letters, let me say that I have nothing against yoga or pilates. In fact, I recognize the value of flexibility, and it is part of my long-term plan to stay alive to torment Gerry as long as possible. But even if your life is so meaningless that you have to count how many days in a row you are "working out," stretching does not fucking count! Neither does walking. Or gardening, bringing in the newspaper, refilling your coffee mug with gin, waving your clenched fist at people who skateboard on the sidewalk, leaving angry voicemails for Vlasic customer service, giving people the finger if they look at you funny, or any of the other things we all do every single day. That is called living, Gerry, and even if living is very hard for you, you don't get to call it a workout.

Furthermore, what is this bullshit about a COVID resolution? Is this some kind of party to you, like New Year's? While the rest of us have been masking up, foregoing our hobbies, and trying to protect our communities, you are doing Downward Dog and giving yourself a cookie? My new COVID resolution for you, Gerry, is called social distancing. It works like this - you see if you can stay away from all of us (I believe the new CDC recommendation is 6 miles), and if you can do it for a whole year, you get a ribbon, and we'll put it up on the fridge for everyone to see! Good luck!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Survivors by Jane Harper


More great stuff from Jane Harper. This one is a murder mystery set in the small town of Evelyn Bay, Australia. I, for one, have never been to Australia, and I very much doubt that they would let me in the country given my past, but there was still a lot that rang true for me about this book. For instance, when my kids were young, we used to take them in the summertime to a small seaside resort town not unlike Evelyn Bay, until we were eventually forced to leave due to the controversy at the ice cream store.

The store was called - I shit you not - Ye Olde Ice Cream Shoppe. First off, did they even have ice cream in medieval England? I suppose I could check, but I honestly don't give a crap. And more importantly, why do stores think misspelling their names will make people want to patronize them? The souvenir shop down the block was called Kountry Korner. What the fuck? If you spell it correctly, it's already alliterative. Do you think I'm going to take pity on you and buy a t-shirt that says "Chickens: The Pet that Poops Breakfast" because I think you're an imbecile? I am not. 

The shoppe had a sign in the window that said "World's Greatest Ice Cream," which was a bit of a stretch, although it was priced as if it were an undisputed fact. The more offensive sign, in my opinion, was the one that said "All Toppings 1 Dollar." This was at a time when a dollar could actually buy something, a lot of things actually, all of which were more valuable than a teaspoon of hot fudge. And the teenagers trying to fight through their hangovers who worked there seemed to get their jollies from stiffing you. You might expect a little acknowledgement from them, the nod and the wink that says, "Yeah, this cone is twice what it should cost, but we're going to pile on the Oreos to make you feel better." Not a chance. My kids liked sprinkles, and that dollar I shelled out got them such a paltry serving of sprinkles that I could count every one in the time it took me to bring the cone back to the table.

So I did the only reasonable thing. I started bringing my own sprinkles and heaping them on myself. Happy kids, 2 extra bucks in my pocket, win/win! It worked so well, I decided to go one step further. The next time, I got a table around the corner and out of sight from the window, brought a pint of (appropriately priced) ice cream from the grocery store, and just asked for a couple of cones. They were so surprised by the ask, they gave them to me for free! I assembled the treats (no skimping on the sprinkles) and brought them back to the kids - total victory! 

Someone must have been watching though, because the next time I showed up, the manager was waiting for me and refused to sell me empty cones. I offered to pay an appropriate rate for the cones, and I pointed out that their extensive signage made no mention of bringing food onto the premises, but before I knew it, the local Podunk police were there helping us "talk through this situation calmly," which was the last thing I wanted to do. And you know how small towns are. Despite the fact that I ended up buying the regular cones (no sprinkles this time, thank you), word got around quick. The next day I went into the coffee shop and the server asked me if I was planning on just buying a cup today. It was clear that our days in this town were numbered. But despite the mistreatment we suffered, we have kept our fond memories of those trips, and we moved on to even better family vacations, because everyone knows that going to the beach actually sucks.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger


Remember this guy? He writes good shit! This one is a mystery set in the northern Minnesota tundra, and it was apropos because I am currently trying to solve my own snow-related mystery, and like the hero, Cork O'Connor, there is no one I can trust! You see, as the snow melted, when one might be forgiven for feeling a slight, unconscious tinge of optimism despite one's better judgment, I went out back to clear sticks and found, right in the middle of my backyard, a big pile of dog shit. Now this may not seem abnormal to some people, but I don't own a fucking dog!

My immediate assumption was that my neighbor Margaret and her goddamn yippy schnauzer were responsible, and all her pretending to be nice lately was just a set up so I would let my guard down. I demanded a DNA test to prove my theory, but when she inspected the evidence, she pointed out (correctly, to my chagrin) that her little neurotic demon-dog would never be capable of producing a specimen of that size. That's when it hit me.

Did I even know for sure that it was a dog? I wouldn't call myself a shit expert, and the fuzzy mold all over the sample made it difficult to inspect, but I couldn't rule out a source perhaps closer to home. Truly, there is no overestimating the depravity of some people these days. My son-in-law Gerry would want to brag about doing something like that, but he doesn't have the cojones. Still, I can see him hiring one my grandson Jackson's friends to do it for him. College kids will do anything for a few bucks to buy beer, and Gerry hires people to do everything for him and then says that he did it. "I put in new gutters!" he told me last week, with the service truck - I shit you not - still in the goddamn driveway.

So case closed, more or less. As much as I wanted to solve the mystery definitively, thinking about collecting the necessary evidence to prove a match was a difficult idea to stomach. So I disposed of the remains, using about 25 of the plastic shopping bags that I save for wrapping presents (when I am absolutely obliged to give them). I mean, can you believe how expensive and wasteful wrapping paper is? Talk about a goddamn racket! Anyway, best to let some things go, and more productive to focus on the future than dwell on the past. Because when you think about the future, you can plan your revenge!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump


It's been damn near tropical around here lately, and anything less frozen over than Dick Cheney's heart has begun to thaw. This means, first of all, that it is safe to walk around outside without worrying about people like Mr. Fischer, who "cares too much about the environment" (read: is too damn cheap to spend $5.99 at True Value) to put some salt down on the ice. It also means the end of the shovel mafia and the beginning of lots of new ways for the neighborhood kids to try to fleece the rest of us. God knows there's no relief from people wanting to make a buck.

My neighbor Margaret and I had the unfortunate accident of leaving our houses at the same time yesterday, and because it was too awkward to do anything else, we agreed to take a short walk around the block together. On the back side of our block was a girl who had set up what appeared to be a lemonade stand. Normally I hate lemonade stands, for all the obvious reasons, but as we approached this one, I saw a sign that read "Pickles for Nickels!" God bless you, child! A pop-up pickle stand? If my mouth muscles were still capable of forming smiles, I would have been beaming!

I decided to make some small talk with the child, and as it was 1:00 on a Tuesday, I started with "Why aren't you in school?" I thought I was using my "friendly grandpa" voice, but the glare I got from her mom suggested otherwise. "I have virtual school," she said, "so I finish at 11:30." Virtual school? 11:30?!?! Your tax dollars at work, folks. The smug nod from Mom indicated that she was apparently cool with that, probably because it let her get some child labor out her kid in the afternoon. The mom was undoubtedly on the clock for her "virtual job" somewhere, enjoying the sun while the money flowed in. Anyway, end of that conversation.

I pulled a nickel out of my pocket and asked for a pickle. "That will be 50 cents," she said. What the fuck? The sign says pickles for nickels, I pointed out (actually, it said 'nickles,' the correct spelling of which was probably part of the non-existent afternoon curriculum). "Right," she countered, "Nickels, not nickel. You can't buy anything for just one nickel." It's hard to argue with that last point, but this was still undoubtedly false advertising, and I was ready to pull the plug on the whole bullshit exchange until I saw Mom coming over wielding a menacing sneer and a pair of garden shears. 

So I paid 50 cents for a small, sour, flaccid pickle that was truly not worth any number of nickels. I mean, it wasn't Vlasic, but it wasn't good. Credit to the kid, I guess, because she closed the deal. I remarked to Margaret that Trump probably would have been proud of her. "Indeed," she answered. "Couldn't have been prouder if she stormed the Capitol herself." Well, god damn.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Smoke by Joe Ide


So, I had coffee with Margaret. I know I said that I would not do this, but I got ambushed and I had no choice! I was shoveling my sidewalk, which one must begin before the snow even stops falling, because if you don't, some sneaky opportunist boy scout will be out there first, trying to earn points toward his Bother the Elderly badge. In any civilized country, it is understood that if you are going to do a job for someone, you agree to the terms ahead of time. But around here, it is apparently open season for taking advantage of your neighbors. You, as the homeowner, are then expected to pay more than market value for a half-ass job, and if you don't throw in cookies or hot chocolate on top of it, you're the asshole. If I actually let a kid shovel my walk for no reward other than the satisfaction of doing an act of kindness, I'd have their helicopter parents at my door within minutes with Child Protective Services on the iphone they bought him when he turned seven. So not today, Braden! I'll shovel my own walk, thank you very much.

Truth be told, I was shoveling Margaret's sidewalk as well, but NOT as an act of friendship, mind you. I was merely trying to prevent the pre-pubescent predatory capitalist shovel gangs from getting a foothold in the neighborhood. And I didn't want someone to slip on her walk, fall onto my property, and then try to sue the both of us. Plus, I had shit all to do. But before I knew it, there she was at her door thanking me and saying that coffee was ready when I was done. What could I say? I tried to think of an excuse, but you don't have to look at my calendar to know that my next firm commitment is showing up for my funeral. I thought maybe I would just keep shoveling until it was too late for coffee, but past Margaret's house is Mr. Fischer, and that fucker certainly doesn't deserve to have his sidewalk shoveled.

So I went in. And not only was there coffee, but also those tiny little sandwiches that no one eats unless you think you are better than other people. No thanks! But I guess the hard labor piqued my appetite, so I had a few and they were kind of delicious. It had been a long time since I was in that house. Margaret reminded me of how well she and Eleanor used to get along and played cards together. I reminded her of the time she was hanging her laundry and her undergarments blew into Mr. Fischer's yard and created a neighborhood scandal. She recalled it as less amusing than I did, somehow.

When I was leaving, she said she had something for me. Oh shit, I thought, she figured out the pizzle incident and is bent on revenge! But she presented me with a copy of this book, which I had actually been waiting to read and just came out. I assumed that she laced it with anthrax or something, but after a thorough disinfecting job, I had a lovely afternoon with this latest IQ novel and have fortunately developed no symptoms. I do love the resolution of a good mystery, but in my case, it seems that there is something sinister that remains unresolved. What the hell is Margaret playing at?

Monday, February 15, 2021

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope by George Lucas (more or less)


I'd like to start by offering a word of thanks to all of you who recently sent me messages suggesting that I should be nicer to my son-in-law. I did not read them. And if I did, I did not care. And to the gentleman who wondered if I can take a joke as well as I can dish one out, I offer this story. It took place almost fifty years ago in a dive bar in Los Angeles. I was out with some business associates, and an opportunity arose for a dare. I was then, as I am now, known for never backing away from a challenge. After all, who kept courting Eleanor even when her father threatened to literally rip my arms off if he ever saw my face again? This guy. And who, just last week, summoned the manager when the clerk refused to allow me to use multiple coupons for the same extra large tub of Metamusil? Me again. And who was it who made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs? Yes, of course that was Han Solo, but the point is, I wrote that line! Let me explain.

Back to LA - I was at the bar waiting for another round of Lucky Lagers when I struck up a conversation with a guy making furious notes on a napkin. His name was George, and he was working on an outer space movie script, so I started spitballing some ideas, and he loved them! I was making things up off the top of my head, and he was writing them all down. I don't recall everything, but it's possible that I made up Wookiees. Anyway, when I came up with the idea of the Kessel Run, he told me we should definitely work together. I wrote down my number on his napkin of brilliant ideas, and he was about to give me his card, but then my friends started calling me back to our table.

At the table next to ours, someone appeared to have left a full, untouched pint of beer. They had determined that one of us had to go take the beer and down it with all due speed. No one else at the table was willing to do this, for fear that the rightful owner would reappear, and we would end up in yet another massive bar brawl. But as I knew no fear, I was happy to oblige. After all, free beer, right? Wrong! As it turns out, it was a full pint of cider, which at the time I didn't even realize was a thing. But a dare is a dare, and so I chugged the rancid beer with no second thought. Take that, suckers!

My reward from my friends was whiskey, then more whiskey, and then over the next round of beers it came out that the whole thing was a setup they came up with while I was making business connections with George Lucas. Oh shit! I had forgotten about him, and when I looked up, he was on his way out the door. I caught him just in time (by the shoulder, and maybe more strongly than I had intended), and I asked him for his card so we could continue our work together. I was a bit sloshed at this point, so when I referred to our collaboration, he may have misunderstood me. He seemed to suggest that he had my number and would give me a call tomorrow.

Friends, I think you can guess how this story ends. He never called, and he went on to become a multi-millionaire with my ideas. To my knowledge, he never acknowledged my contribution, and no fewer than 4 intellectual property judges have declined to validate my creative input. And in terms of taking a joke, did I terminate my friendship with the people who robbed me of my chance for filmwriting immortality? Well, I guess I did mostly, but not all of them! So I think I showed that I was the bigger person there, thank you very much.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai


Sometimes reading a work of genius only serves to highlight the stupidity that surrounds you. Any by this I am referring not exclusively, but in large part, to my son-in-law Gerry. I had just finished this heart-wrenching gem when who should show up at my door but my granddaughter, Tina. Apparently, it was my family whose calls I had been ignoring all day, not, as I had assumed, lawyers from Vlasic calling to negotiate with me about my Free the Pickles! campaign (I am playing hardball with those fuckers). Tina looked both relieved and somewhat bemused to find that I was not, in fact, deceased in my La-z-boy, and more than willing to come over for dinner. And truth be told, we were having a lovely time making homemade kreplach until Mount Asinine erupted.

As we were working in the kitchen, it was brought to my attention that the faucet on the kitchen sink was no longer functioning correctly. They had even purchased a replacement, although no one had bothered to install it. My son-in-law, being an idiot, was in favor of calling a plumber. This from a guy who once paid an electrician $97.50 to come press the red reset button on an outlet when he couldn't figure out why his electric yogurt maker wasn't working. So I asked him to bring me his tools, and he brought out a little tool bag that a 5-year-old would have been embarrassed to receive for his birthday. But all I needed was a screwdriver, and I even magnanimously refrained from testing him to see if he knew the difference between a flat-head and a Phillips (he doesn't). But despite my generosity, he still would have "just felt more comfortable" calling a plumber, and that is probably why I did what I did next.

The faucet could have been fixed by any primate with opposable thumbs, and it took me all of 3 minutes to complete the job. But while I was in there, with one simple twist of my wrist, I reversed the faucet so you had to turn right for hot and left for cold. Not my best prank, I admit, but just a harmless little something to let Gerry know who was in control here. That's what practical jokes are for, after all. Now, did I  mention that my son-in-law is an idiot? Because it took him - I shit you not - all of two minutes of washing dishes to seriously scald his hand. Which, as I then pointed out, would never have happened he didn't have his water heater turned up too high, so it was really more his fault than mine. I mean, why would you intentionally set your water to be hot enough to burn yourself? Jesus.

Leave it to Gerry to screw up a perfectly good, harmless prank. I would say that overall, reaction was mixed. My daughter, for the sake of appearances, had to take his side publicly, but I could tell that deep down, she could see the humor in it. I think her exact words were, "Really, Dad? Even for you, this is pretty juvenile. All we do is offer you kindness, and you keep pulling this kind of crap. I don't even know what to say any more. This is not funny, and I mean it." So you know, I think you can hear the "wink, wink" in there, right?

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America by Kurt Andersen


So many small businesses going under because of COVID, and still, Vlasic survives. Mr. Andersen explains the system in more detail, but that's all the evidence I need to know that there is no justice in America. And they won't return my calls either, unless you count the Cease and Desist letter I recently received after giving them the basic outline of my Free the Pickles! campaign. But I don't mind standing up to powerful enemies. After all, this is America, and that is what we do.

Now that the election is over, I'm hearing all this talk about unity and healing and coming together. Can you believe that bullshit? Unity is not what we do here. Coming together is not what we do here. In fact, there is nothing more American than the belief that someone is out to to get us and we are being screwed. The only question asked more frequently in this country than "Do you want fries with that?" is "Can I sue them?" If people came together and treated each other the way they wanted to be treated, we wouldn't have a damn clue what to do with ourselves.

The truth is, we define ourselves by what we are against. You've got your anti-fascists on the left, anti-socialists on the right, and anti-Vlasic patriots all across the political spectrum. And we thrive on these divisions. People from other countries say Americans are fat, uneducated, imperialistic assholes, and instead of defending the country as a whole, we're like, "Oh, not us. You mean those Americans." It's those Northerns/Southerners, or those city/country folks. Even within the town where I live, we pretend that eastsiders and westsiders are different species because of the relative length of their beards and the odds that they would enjoy a nice felafel. It's like the only way people can know who we are is by knowing who we are against.

Which is why I will not be accepting my neighbor Margaret's invitation to have coffee this weekend. Who the hell does that lady think she is? Apparently, she misinterpreted the bag of penises I left on her doorstep as some kind of peace offering (full story here), and now she thinks we are going to be friends. Hell no! If people see me going over there, they'll think I'm one of them! And whatever they think that is, I don't want to be associated with it. Not in MY America!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder


I believe that it is the responsibility of the older, wiser generation to teach you younger folks about our history, so you don't repeat old mistakes with regard to our government. But based on what has been going on in this country lately, it seems like either we are doing a shit job teaching, or you fuckers aren't listening! So I invited my grandson Jackson to come over for some bagels and a history lesson, as long as he promised to stop by Dollar General on the way and buy me some toilet paper. It's like a war zone in there these days, what with all these Covidiots and their hoarding - last time I had to beat away a crowd of children with my cane just to get the last package. It didn't feel great, but better than wiping your ass with a towel. 

My two instructions when Jackson arrived were to put the toilet paper in the bathroom and not to hog all the lox. But we never got to step 2 because of what Jackson did next. I knew something was up because of how long he was taking in there, and after a minute or so, he comes out dangling a loofah and asks me - I shit you not - "Grandpa, did you have a lady friend in here?" I could hear my sweet Eleanor rolling in her grave - not at the preposterous idea of me dating at my age, but at the fact that our grandson was snooping around our bathroom! I told him that when he gets as old as me, he'll be lucky if he can still stand up in the shower, let alone wash himself, and I reminded him to mind his own damn business. But the reality was that instead of explaining to him how he and his father (and the rest of their generations) were ruining America, I now was in a position to have to defend my own personal hygiene choices.

The case for the loofah should be open and shut just based on frugality. If you are using liquid soap (a necessity if bending over to touch your toes is a reminiscence from another decade), using only your hands leads to the soap washing away too quickly and having to use more and more. The loofah, however, maintains a bubbly lather from a small amount of soap that you can use for the whole shower. And as you get older, making sound financial decisions is paramount. I estimate that in the past year, the loofah has saved me enough money to buy 6 scratch-off tickets, with which I have almost won untold thousands of dollars. So there you go. Which is not to mention that the loofah helps create a soothing aroma of freshness, exfoliates my iguana-like epidermis, and I rather like the way it feels on my bunions.

Furthermore, to address the sexist nature of my grandson's question, I would refer you back a couple of decades to when Ironhead Heyward clearly demonstrated that loofahs are appropriate tools for all genders. Case closed. My similarity to Mr. Heyward in terms of physique is only a coincidence. Anyway, this was the basis of the first part of my loudly delivered lecture to my grandson on American culture. So he could fully appreciate the current phenomenon of Cancel Culture, I have (once again) banned him from my house for an undefined period of time. At least until I need more toilet paper. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien


Okay folks, it's Christmas, so out of the kindness of my heart, I am giving in to the wishes of my daughter, who pleaded with me to write something positive and uplifting for a change. Personally, I always feel uplifted after writing my reviews, but some have noted "excessive sarcasm" and "unnecessary frankness" that could be misinterpreted by my more naive readers. So I chose this book, which is lovely, and what with COVID and all, I spent most of the day by myself re-reading it in front of the fire.

And you know what, there's nothing like being alone on Christmas to make you reflect on your own existence and what truly brings you joy in life. Number 1 on the list - being alone on Christmas! Hallelujah! This was the best Christmas I have spent in years! No small talk with relatives who are shocked to see that I am still alive another year later, no explaining why some people deserved presents and others didn't, no pretending that prime rib is something people actually like to eat, or listening to my son-in-law cycle through the same three jokes (using the term loosely) about it that I hear every damn year, namely: 1) "The bloodier, the better!," 2) "I like it rare as a purple diamond!" (which, as a side note, he reportedly tried to find to propose to Rachel, if you can believe that shit), and 3) "I'd serve it raw if it was legal!"

Speaking of which, did you know that around here, it is a tradition for some people to eat raw meat sandwiches on Christmas Day?  I do understand that once upon a time our ancestors killed animals and ate them raw, and I am grateful that they survived, but shouldn't we be a bit more civilized at this point? This custom apparently comes from the Germans (no surprise there, am I right?), and it has been passed down by generations of idiots who somehow missed the culling that natural selection was supposed to enact to gradually improve our species.

You might hope that if someone was going to try to make you eat raw meat, they would fancy it up somehow or give it a sophisticated-sounding name as they do in Europe like carpaccio or tartare. But no, here they call it a Cannibal Sandwich, and just in case you think you might not get sick from eating a pile of raw ground beef on white bread, they throw a raw egg on there to guarantee puking within an hour. Classy! And this year, of all times. It's painful to picture these people who have spent 9 months giving up everything to avoid getting COVID, only to be rushed to the ER on Christmas because they stuffed their pie holes with a raw hamburger.

So there you have it, people. Merry Christmas! Are you not uplifted? If you have read this far (which suggests an emptiness in your life that no blog can fill) and are still not feeling the Christmas spirit, just remind yourself that you don't have to see any of your family today, and you have the option of cooking all of your food. It's a Christmas miracle!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston


When my kids were young, we used to take them for drives around the neighborhood this time of year to see all the lovely Christmas lights displayed by our neighbors. It was so peaceful, in part because of my rule that if anyone in the back seat said a single goddamn word, they got out. No matter where we were. It's good for kids to understand geography. Of course, back then, people decorated their houses with style and class. These days, it's a complete embarrassment just to show my face outside and admit that I live around here! All the flashing lights, the gaudiness, the neon colors, the giant blow-up monstrosities, the goddamn pastels! 

But the worst - worse than Elf on a Shelf and blow-up dinosaur Santa combined - is when people set up projectors in front of their houses because they're too lazy to put up actual lights and beam lasers onto their house to try to look like lights. You're not fooling anyone, Stanley! And those things flash and rotate and strobe too. It's tackier than an indoor roller skating rink around here! Just looking at them for a minute is almost enough to give me a seizure, like the time in the 80s when my friend's roommate made me go to one of those rave parties and gave me magic mushrooms. Jesus, I hate mushrooms.

But I love magic! Which is one reason I liked this book so much. When I read a book about magic, I like to imagine all the wonderful things I could do in the world if I had magical powers. I'm not talking about world peace or renewable energy or any of that crap - I mean stuff that would really make a difference. Like maybe one day, my son-in-law Gerry would wake to up find that his lips were magically glued shut, and he couldn't open them until he actually sat down and listened for a full goddamn minute to what someone else was saying instead of reminding us for the sixth time that he almost decided to get a minor in immunology when he was in college and mansplaining the COVID vaccine again. Or maybe I could magically create a cucumber that grew into a pickle while it was still on the vine. Can you even imagine? The possibilities are simply glorious. 

But, alas, my skills are limited. So unless I am invited to join Amari at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, I'm stuck with my more pedestrian magic tricks, like pulling quarters out of my grandchildren's ears and not letting them have them, or making gin disappear from my coffee mug. Shazam! I did it again! Bet you didn't even see that. Still, I believe in constant self-improvement, so I'm going to spend the rest of the morning practicing my technique. Toodles. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus


Don't get me wrong - I'm all for personal freedom and making your own choices and all that crap, but when it comes to having cousins, take it from me, don't bother. And if you don't have the option of making that choice for yourself, just stay away. When I was a kid, I had a shit ton of cousins around all the time, and while I can say that they certainly shaped my world view, the world doesn't look that great when seen through the bottom of an outhouse seat. And yes, by that I mean that they literally stuffed me down through the outdoor shitter on my uncle's farm.

When I was a kid, this town was so small that I could put some bacon on, go buy eggs at the market on the far end of town, and be back before the bacon burned. And God damn, how I hate it when people overcook bacon! If I had a dollar for every time my useless son-in-law served me bacon that would have been better used as charcoal, I wouldn't have had to list my extra pair of dentures on Ebay (thank you Jackson, by the way, for your help with that). It's just not that hard to cook bacon, people! Nowadays, people are so inept and scared of the fat that they think to make it taste good you have to smoke it on applewood or make it out or turkey or some shit. Idiots! But if I start listing all the ways life was better when I was a kid, I'm going to trigger my arthritis before I even get to the invention of Taco Bell.

So anyway, my parents and my two uncles all had adjacent land with some woods and a creek in between, close enough to carry someone home if they got injured but far enough away that no one was going to hear anything if the older cousins (hypothetically, of course) killed a skunk and put it in my sleeping bag, rubbed honey on my face and dragged me toward a nest of ground bees, or tried to raise me up the makeshift flagpole by my skivvies. And that was just the tame stuff! Some things I can't write about because I'm not sure about the statute of limitations.

There was only one rule when we were together: Keep It In The Family. Which meant that if I were to ask my father for help with the abuse I was getting, his answer was going to be "Well get back out there and sort it out!" or "Why did you let him do that to you?" I mean, I don't know, Dad, maybe because he's fifteen and I weigh 47 pounds? But god forbid one of the neighbors heard enough to ask questions, because then it was the belt for everyone, whether you were at the bottom of the flagpole or the top.

But here's the crazy thing. This gang of sadistic monsters somehow wove their way into normal adult society! One became a teacher; others included a farmer, a dentist (ok, he was still sadistic), a nurse, a middle manager, etc. Which just goes to show that as you go through your daily lives, there are remorseless sociopaths hiding everywhere in plain sight. Have a nice day. And so, I guess my point is that while the cousins in this book are not perfect (some worse than others - no spoilers), on the whole, they're not that bad.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


My car is a goddamn piece of crap. Which probably shouldn't be a big deal, seeing as I am no longer supposed to drive. But there are emergencies, like the mornings you wake up and you really need a bagel. In this novel, Mr. Haig invites us to imagine other lives we could have lived, and in all of mine, there are more bagels. But back to my car. My grandson Jackson has proposed buying the car from me, to which I have agreed in principle, but we have arrived at some sticking points. First off, I have virtually no need for money at this point (how much Metamucil can one person buy?), so I proposed that Jackson come do some "unspecified work" for me as compensation. He suspects that my sadistic imagination may run wild, and he is showing some reluctance. His mother also insists that I let an auto shop inspect the car. This, obviously, is a non-starter.

For 24 years I have done all the repairs on this car by myself. This is partly to spite my son-in-law Gerry, who is so inept with regard to basic life skills that he takes his car in whenever the windshield wiper leaves a streak on the glass. But the real issue is one of trust. I don't trust car people. It is well known that auto mechanics are always looking to put one over on you, and they smell weakness. They are high on the list of untrustable professionals, right up there with lawyers, politicians, ballerinas, actuaries, fishmongers, snake milkers, bricklayers, drug smugglers, dentists, people pretending to be dentists, falconers, haberdashers, hoteliers, and robots.

I can remember a time when we were on a family road trip, and we pulled into a full service gas station. Some context for you young folks - full service gas stations used to be a thing because they didn't trust ordinary people to pump gas without blowing things up. So you would pull in to a gas station, and a professional (read: kid who dropped out of high school because he huffed too much glue) would pump your gas for you, call you "sir" a bunch of times no matter what kind of person you really were, and then beg you for a tip. It wasn't so bad, really. 

Anyway, when we pull in, the guy says, "Top off the oil for a buck?" It was a really long road trip that summer (I was probably punishing my kids for something), so I say sure. They guy lifts my hood, unscrews a bottle of motor oil real fast and puts it into the engine hole upside down while he pumps the gas. Now, I don't know if for some reason he thought I looked like a sucker, but any idiot (except Gerry) knows that if oil is coming out of a plastic bottle, the bottle is going to suck in and out as it does. This bottle did not, because obviously, he hadn't unsealed it. Even Eleanor could see what was happening and encouraged me to "be cool," which I initially tried to do. Gasman whips the bottle out, screws the top on, and throws it on the ground a few yards away. "Good to go!," he says. "You topped off the oil?" "Yup." "OK if I take whatever's left in the bottle?," I ask. The cracks in his composure start to form, but he's not sure if the game is up. "Sorry sir," he gambles, "can't do that. Company policy." Well, that was that. I let him have it, and in lieu of getting the manager involved, we ended up with some extra motor oil, finely washed windows, free gas, and a ten-spot for our trouble, which we spent on dinner at Big Boy. Happy vacation to us! 

The point is, trust no one. Which brings me back to Jackson. I don't want him to grow up to be a sucker like his dad, so my latest offer is that he can have the car if he comes over, learns how it works, and helps me fix whatever issues it still has. What's your goddamn problem, Jackson? You'll probably even get an essay out of it for college or something. Given the state of higher education these days, I imagine you're taking some kind of Snowflake Writing class where you just write about your memories and feelings and shit. I can picture it already: My grandfather died from complications related to his bunions, but at least I learned what a carburetor is. Come on kid, I know you're reading this - get your ass over here!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

So last week I got a call from my friend Vernon saying that he was going on vacation and wanted to drop off a few things at house. Can you believe this shit? A vacation in the middle of a pandemic? Who the hell does he think he is? He wouldn't even tell me where he was going. "Someplace warm where no one will talk to me about the election," he said. Good luck, pal. I didn't want to push it, but my guess is Cuba. I know there's a travel ban, but still. In fact, I still have some connections from my time working in international relations, if you will, so if you need some travel assistance, contact me privately and I'd be happy to help. I'll take my finder's fee in gin, thank you very much, and no plastic bottles!

Anyway, Vernon's house is so full of crap that you can barely open the front door, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. Among the treasures he brought over in a pile of plastic bags were half a roll of duct tape (how thoughtful), a coffee can filled with marbles (I told you, this guy is a legit hoarder), a copy of this novel (which I should say I quite enjoyed - typical Mitchell genius), a purple tupperware container of tuna salad (which I knew I should throw away, but it smelled ok and it had chopped celery and thinly sliced green olives in it, which is just the way I like it, so I figured if it's my time to die, this seems like as good a way to go as any, and I put it in the fridge), and half a bag of dog treats.

"What the Hell, Vern," I said - "you haven't owned a dog in almost ten years!" He just shrugged. "You never know," he said, and he told me he remembered my neighbor had a dog and thought maybe I could give them to her. Fat chance! I guess he forgot that I hate that dog, and furthermore, I can count on two fingers the times Margaret ever did something for me, and I would still have a finger to spare. But I didn't tell him that, and he left for sunnier climes. I was on my way to throw the treats in the garbage, when on a whim, I thought to look at the ingredients. I was curious what it was that dogs went so crazy for, but the list of ingredients was just one solitary item: pizzle.

Pizzle? What the fuck? Is that even a word, let alone a food? It wasn't in my (abridged) dictionary, so clearly something fishy was going on. Are dogs, perhaps, making up words now? Was someone at the dog food factory fucking with me? Pizzle? Was this snack created by Snoop Dogg? Then I remembered what my grandson says whenever I try to get him to expand his withering mind by reading a goddamn book for a change: "If I need to know it, I'll look it up on the internet." And there it was! I only had to type the word into that bar thing near the top there, and sure enough, I had the answer. Pizzle, my friends - I shit you not - is bull penis!

That's right - these little twisty rawhide-like sticks are nothing more than 100% desiccated bull cocks. What a stroke of mad rhetorical genius to fool millions of people into unwittingly buying schvantzes for their dogs! Suddenly, the idea of giving them to Margaret didn't seem so bad any more. What followed is probably best described as a geriatric version of Ding Dong Ditch. I left the bag of penises on her doorstep and hurried home. A bystander may have heard the competing creaks of her walker approaching the door and my knees trying to escape, but I was safely inside before she opened the door. I left a note that said "with all due good wishes" on it, which I thought was a clever turn of phrase because, of course, I had no good wishes for her, but then again, she was due none, so I wasn't technically lying. And now I am in my breakfast nook with my binoculars waiting for that goddamn little schnauzer to come out of her kennel. I think it's going to be a good day.

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Becket List: An A to Z of First World Problems by Henry Becket


Finally, someone who really gets me. A person who sees the world for exactly what it is: one steaming pile of dog crap after another. And I meant that as a metaphor, although living next to Margaret and her goddamn yippy schnauzer for all these years makes that sentence more apropos to my life than it should be. Come on Margaret, have you ever heard of a goddamn fence? But I digress. In compiling this exhaustive list of things to be angry about, Becket has not only justified my world view, but established himself as a connoisseur of complaints, a potentate of protestations, a baron of beefs, a true kindred spirit of kvetching. At least, that was my initial thought.

Now let me tell you - there are a lot of things to be pissed off about in this book. And the more I read, the more a thin stream of self-doubt began to creep in around my steely, angry veneer. I mean, there were things in this book I had never even thought to be mad about before. How did I miss those? And there were things in this book I'm not sure are even things. Anaglypta? Are you fucking with me, Becket? As the list went on and on (and on), I started to wonder about my own place in the world. Am I just a JV angry person, ranting above my station? Or worse, has this guy made me obsolete? I know I am old enough to be the Angry Old Man, but am I angry enough? "This is some fucking bullshit!," I yelled out loud, but it sounded like I was just trying to convince myself.

Then I started reading some things that sounded eerily familiar. It seemed that at times, Mr. Becket and I were on parallel soap boxes, driven to fury by the same things: the snowflake generation, bad sequels, and airport security, just to name a few. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but then it was like a dim light started to emerge in a dark room, and the only things in the room were a pick-axe, a rope, a large puddle of water, and - oh, fuck it, I'll fix this metaphor later. The point is, HE STOLE MY ANGER! I'll tell you what I did not find in the "I" section of things he dislikes - intellectual property theft! 

Like a flash (over the course of a minute or so), I sprang (lumbered) up from my La-z-boy and began to furiously pace (hobble) around the room. I considered my options: could $237 in savings and whatever is in my jar of nickels buy me a proper lawyer, or perhaps an improper underworld mercenary? Doubtful. Should I challenge Mr. Becket to a duel? Or perhaps send him a mean tweet? But in the end, I realized that none of it was necessary, because the flames of righteous anger had been stoked anew within me, and I was consumed with joyous rage. I am not obsolete, I am the Angry Old Man! So watch out snowflakes, Grandpa is back!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger


So I read This Tender Land, and it was brilliant, so I decided to dig into this guy's catalogue and see if he wrote anything else that was halfway decent. I figured not, but I was wrong! It still pissed me off though, because when you start at the wrong end of an author's book list, it's almost like reading a book backward. You miss the evolution of the voice and all that shit. You know what I mean? Things are meant to happen in a certain order, and if the order is wrong, it fucks everything up.

It's kind of like going to Golden Corral and just diving into the key lime pie right off the bat. It's good enough, but you can't deny that something is off. Your son in law Gerry is giving you the "what the fuck is wrong with you" look, but at the same time, you have already been kicked out of a Golden Corral once, and if it happens again, at least you got your pie and didn't waste your time eating gumbo that came out of a dust covered #10 can that has been propping open the walk-in cooler for the past 6 months. And you can't get salmonella from key lime pie, which puts it in the top 10% of foods on the buffet safety-wise, so the more I think about it, the better the key lime pie option is sounding. 

Maybe a better analogy is when I took my grand-nephew to see Vanilla Ice in 1990 (opening for MC Hammer, to be precise - I was the cool old guy even then, although I did not understand the pants). Vanilla Ice comes out on stage and goes right into Ice Ice Baby. I'm thinking, motherfucker! That's his only song that doesn't sound like a bunch of people hitting you in the head with kitchen pans, and now we have to listen to a cacophonous noise salad that would make Schoenberg sick without even the promise of Ice Ice Baby at the end of it. As it turned out, I had no cause for worry that day, because a half hour later - I shit you not - he played it again! Twice in a 45 minute set. How's that for pathetic?

And while I'm at it, how about these fools who do Star Wars marathons starting with Episode I? Obviously, in that realm, chronological order doesn't really matter. It's about character development! If you don't know he is destined to become Darth Vader, who gives a crap what happens to Anakin? Sorry about the spoiler, snowflakes! Deal with it. Which is not to mention that Episodes I, II, and III are so terrible that they should never be watched under any circumstances. Truly the most disappointing movies of all time. Except maybe Pirates of the Caribbean 4 - I really thought they were going to turn things around with that one.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Venators III: Legends Rise by Devri Walls


If I get one more unsolicited phone call from a polling company doing a survey about this election, I swear to God I will punch someone in the face. Or if I can't get my arms up above my head, which has been difficult lately, I will punch them in the ribs. What is even the fucking point, anyway? First off, after the 2016 election, nobody is going to believe what your poll says. No one. Not one goddamn person. I don't want to hear about your improved methodology or sampling process or any other shit. You guys blew it, so piss off. Furthermore, as you repeatedly harass me, do you really think anyone out there gives a crap what I think? Hell no! The last time someone asked my opinion in earnest was 25 years ago when my daughter Rachel sat me down to ask me what I thought about her boyfriend. I told  her in no uncertain terms what I thought, and she married him anyway, and now they live in a house painted orange with pink trim. And God help me, Gerry, if I hear you utter the words "homage to a sunset" one more fucking time. Take this book, for example. Maybe I think that it was well-written sequel that gives us more development on the relationship between Rune and Grey, as well as some much appreciated backstory for the secondary characters. But if you weren't going to read it anyway, are you really going to read it just because I said so? Jesus, I hope you have more self-respect than that. Pathetic.

The pollster problem has turned out to be more complicated than I initially thought. I figured at first I could just go with my Plan A for most problems, which is yelling at people. But before I could even say, "Listen here, you parasitic nobody, spending your time harassing the elderly while your parents try to dig themselves out of debt from all the money they spent on your liberal arts education just so could end up in a dank, dirty cubicle with 100 other philosophy majors who couldn't cut it as baristas, without even so much as a picture of them up on your tackboard wall because of your intense internalized shame, why don't you go follow your passion and start an Etsy store or some shit before I report you to human services for elder abuse," they typically would hang up, and I felt unsatisfied.

Then one day I forgot to put my hearing aids in, and I enjoyed the conversation a lot more! So I decided to go with that, and even when I had them in, I started having conversations like this:

"Hello, sir, can I ask you a few questions about the election?" 
"What was that, sonny?"
"I'd like to ask you some questions about the election, sir."
"Well, you're a couple decades too late for that, not that it's any of your business!"
"Now don't you yell at me, you parasitic nobody, spending your time harassing the elderly, etc..."

Much more enjoyable, but still, over too quickly. As you well know, I try to be a force for good in the world, and I figured that I would be doing society a service if I could keep these morons on the phone as long as possible to prevent them from ruining other people's family dinners, so my new act is the eager, bumbling idiot. It's more along these lines:

"Hello, sir, can I ask you a few questions about the election?"
"Oh, of course! I would so much love to help!
"OK, first question: who do you prefer for president, Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden?"
"Oh my, what a choice! Can I only pick one, or can I vote for each of them, so neither feels bad?"
"Just one sir - who do you prefer for president?"
"Oh, I see. President of what exactly?"
"President of the United States, sir."
"Oh my! That is a lot of responsibility, isn't it? You sound like you know a lot about this stuff - who do you prefer?"
"I can't tell you that sir - would you like to answer the question?"
"Oh, but didn't I already?"

This approach has really allowed me to tap into my creativity (maybe I should have an Etsy store), and yesterday I set a new record by keeping a pollster on the phone for - I shit you not - 47 minutes! During which time, I hope, someone was able to read this book in peace. You're welcome, America.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Taking Flight: College for Students with Disabilities, Diverse Learners and Their Families by Perry LaRoque

Taking Flight: College for Students with Disabilities, Diverse Learners and  Their Families (9781642796063): LaRoque PhD, Perry: Books - Amazon.com

I can remember the first flight I took with my family. It wasn't that long after it was first becoming a normal thing for people to do, and back then, it was a classy affair. The planes were clean and shiny, people in the airport were nice to you, and the attendants dressed smartly, often with very stylish cravats. What the fuck ever happened to cravats? I'd like to know. Gone the way of cassette tapes, chicken a la king, and our self-respect as a nation I suppose - straight down the shitter! The closest thing I have seen to a cravat this century was a guy with a full neck tattoo, and I was not impressed. 

They used to serve real food on airplane flights too. In fact - I shit you not - we used to schedule our family vacations intentionally so that our flight would be during a meal time. Actual healthy meals came out in hot trays, with a warm washcloth beforehand and a lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate. And it was free! These days, for 12 dollars you can get a box full of bullshit that is less appetizing than what you might sweep up off the floor of the movie theater after a showing of Zootopia 4. 

And that is assuming you can actually get on the plane in the first place. The personal inspections you have to go through just for the privilege of sitting in an non-reclinable seat for three hours are enough to make the Marquis de Sade blush. I should admit that like many esteemed gentlemen my age, I have a few bits of metal inside me (not the parts that matter, mind you, and none of your damn business, Margaret!). But every time I go to the airport, I get a series of uniformed guards calling me "sir" and then probing me with an assortment of beeping wands. It's like a goddamn alien abduction in there! I have learned that anyone who calls you "sir" more than twice is about to do something unconstitutional. 

And furthermore, you have to have a PhD just to buy a ticket these days. It used to be that a flight from point A to point B cost a certain amount of money, but now the same ticket costs 4 different amounts depending on where you accidentally click on the damn website. The cheap ticket still gets you there, but if you read the fine print, you find out that you can't bring a bag, you have to sit in a middle seat, they intentionally separate you from your family (an unexpected benefit), you get no pillow, your crossword puzzle is already done, and the flight attendant gets to punch you in the face. The friendly skies! To be fair, that's not actually what this book was about, but I already went to college, so who gives a fuck?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

May Day by Josie Jaffrey


OK, so a couple things about pumpkin beer. First off, what the fuck? Whose stupid idea was this in the first place? Now don't get me wrong - I am all for culinary experimentation under the right circumstances. When I first introduced my Grampa's Extra Spicy™pickles made with fatalii peppers and a secret ingredient that there is no way in hell I'm going to tell you, lots of people said, what the fuck? But was more of a what the fuck, what mad genius came up with this incredible addition to our pickle panoply, and how is it possible that Vlasic has declined his offer to serve as a consultant, not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions? It would be like a publisher passing on this novel three times - inconceivable! Truly, is that company run by monkeys with pocket protectors or something? But back to the issue at hand, some guy was thinking about what might make his beer taste better, and he thought, I know! Let's throw in this gourd that people literally only grow to scare people or to obliterate with baseball bats. Stupider than the goddamn monkeys.

Also, let's do a little math, folks. Start with the date that you first see pumpkin beer on the shelves. If you're living in blissful ignorance, that was a few weeks ago. Go back another week for bottling and shipping. Then recognize the fact that on that date, there was not one fucking ripe pumpkin in all of North America. So I don't know what is going in that beer to make it taste like pumpkin, but I know what it isn't, and that's pumpkin. Just think about that for a minute.

I should acknowledge that typically, I don't drink beer at all. Not that I don't like it, but I prefer to drink out of the coffee mug that my granddaughter gave me for Christmas a few years back with a picture of her family. It has a big crack about halfway up from where I tried to chip my son-in-law's face off of it (mostly successfully), so now I can only fill it about halfway. And four ounces of beer never did anyone any good, which is why I pretty much stick to gin. At least in the morning.

But with all that said, I am not a someone to look a gift horse in the mouth, so when my son brought some pumpkin beer to share "in the spirit of the season," I did allow him to come in. After a single sip, I thought for sure that he had come to poison me like I always knew he would, but before I could even exclaim "You're out of the will this time for real!,"  he tasted it and assured me that the flavor was - I shit you not - exactly what they were going for. I swear to god, you would be better off making pickle beer with all the Vlasic pickles that should be taken off the market in the first place. Probably more lucrative too. Are you taking notes, monkeys!?!?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The First of Shadows by Deck Matthews

 The First of Shadows (The Riven Realm #1) by Deck Matthews

It's the best time of the year again, folks. Pickling time! The time when culinary artists like myself get to shine, while the rest of you chumps suffer through jar after jar of Vlasic's monstrosities. Really, what kind of world are we living in where a company like Vlasic still exists? I know there is a lot of shit going on in the world right now, but after we deal with COVID, racism, and voter suppression, we need a pickle revolution in this country. The other day I poured myself a bowl of Rice Krispies, and then I accidentally fell asleep in my breakfast nook. When I woke up two hours later, they were still crunchier than a Vlasic pickle. You might as well just dip a banana in vinegar and leave the cucumbers for the rest of us. Jesus H Christmas.

Anyway, this year I told my granddaughter Tina she could do some canning with me, with two conditions. The first was that she read this book ahead of time so we could talk about something other than animal rights and her endless, nonsensical dreams. Tina, I don't give a shit what the centaur with your father's face represents! The second condition was also important, but I'll be damned if I can remember what it was. Curse my gin-addled brain. Anyway, my rabbit issue reduced my yield a bit this year, but I still had enough cucumbers for a couple dozen quart jars, and I had some new breeds of spicy peppers to try out, so I was hopeful of a good time.

But no sooner had we begun than my neighbor Margaret showed up at my door, uninvited (obviously). She said she had extra cucumbers that she would gladly give me in return for a taste of the final product [insert sinister grin]. I told her in no uncertain terms exactly what she could do with her extra cucumbers and reminded her what they used to do to spies in the Old Country. But then it dawned on me, how did she know I was low on cucumbers? Could she and Tina be in cahoots?

I didn't want to believe it, but I couldn't afford to take any chances. I got out my old metal detector that I used to use on the beach to avoid spending time with my family on vacations (noteworthy finds included a nearly complete set of dentures, a krugerrand, and a leg shackle with a bone still in it), and I gave her the full TSA treatment. She wasn't wearing a wire, as far as I could tell, but I'm not sure that proves anything. She did briefly stop talking during the search, so that was a win. When all was said and done, we ended up with 13 varieties of pickles, which was acceptable. The frisk and search may have put a damper on the bonding a little bit, but at least we both liked the book!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

 The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

A timely book, this, as the kids are after me about my will again. Now don't get me wrong - I am no billionaire, but I've got enough saved away to support my extended retirement. Granted, I didn't expect to live this long, so the coffers aren't as full as they used to be, but every time my son-in-law is over here (not that I let him through the door if I can avoid it), I can see him sneaking peeks at everything he'd like to get his hands on. Filthy rat. The most valuable things in my possession, of course, are my secret pickle recipes, but I'll be damned if anyone is getting their hands on those. No sir, I will take those to my grave, and you all can just eat Vlasic's abominations until you puke.

But anyway, Eleanor and I were always very responsible, and we've had a will in place for decades, and we've never changed it. The closest we ever came was when I talked to a lawyer to find out if there was a way to leave money to our daughter Rachel without allowing her asinine husband to use any of it. It turns out that such a thing is possible, but it is a hassle, and Eleanor thought it was "mean-spirited," if you can believe that. So everything just gets split evenly with no fuss. Of course, the kids don't know that, and therein lies the fun.

If you've ever read my reviews, you know that my kids frequently do things that piss me off. In fact, pretty much everything they do pisses me off, and I am a very, very patient person. I can give it back though too. One year, at Christmas Dinner, I was so sick of listening to my son-in-law Gerry mansplain Art Deco that I announced out of nowhere, "So, I have changed my will." Oh, what a moment. At first, they didn't believe it (they were right, of course), but soon disbelief gave way to anxiety, anger, accusations, and despair. It was beautiful! It was like I had regained the parental power I hadn't had since my kids moved out of the house. I refused to give them any details, and I took my leave. Best Christmas ever.

Since then, I have made it a point to announce ambiguous changes to my will every six months or so, and for a while, it was working like a charm. But sadly, like all drugs, it lost it effect over time. So a few weeks ago, I told them that I had dissolved my will altogether. And they went batshit crazy! Two points for me! The anxiety of not knowing what to do when I die (and that being such a realistic possibility at my age) seems to really be getting to them. 

But this book brought up an idea I had not thought of. I could actually leave my entire estate (do normal people like me still get to call it that?) to a complete stranger. My last revenge! I don't imagine the fallout would be quite as extreme as in this novel, but it will be worth it just to see their faces (not sure how I manage that, but there must be a way). So, if you would like to be considered as a potential heir to my vast personal fortune, simply comment below as to why you are a deserving candidate, and also leave your name, address, bank account info, credit card number, PIN, mother's maiden name, internet passwords, answers to your typical security questions, birth certificate, SSN, a PDF of your thumbprint, retinal scan, and a signed affidavit with a notary stamp stating that all the above are given willingly, and who knows, you may soon be very rich!

Monday, August 31, 2020

You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles

You Have Arrived at Your Destination : An exclusive SIGNED short story by Amor  Towles | brookline booksmith

This past Saturday appears to have been "National Independent Bookstore Day," if you can believe that. I mean, come on people, I love books, but do we really have to have an official special day for everything? How does this even happen? Do we all just inherently have the power to declare a day to be in honor of something, and then everyone has to buy into that? Can my neighbor Margaret declare that tomorrow is Snooping Self-righteous Old Hag Day, and then we all have to give her presents? Or can my son-in-law Gerry decree that next Friday is People Who Made Repeated Bad Life Choices Day, and then we all have to get dressed up and pretend that his life still has the possibility of turning out ok? My daughter says that every day is something now, so I looked up an important day in my life, September 26, and found that it is - I shit you not - National Situational Awareness Day. What the fuck does that even mean? All these special days are simply ridiculous, and they take the meaning away from actual important holidays, like National Pickle Day, which is November 14, so write that down.

In any case, Lawrence decided to take me to my local independent bookstore in honor of the day, and you will not be surprised to learn that I wasn't too happy about it. I don't really like going into stores, or being in crowds, or buying things, or interacting with people, or celebrations, so there wasn't a lot going for this. However, I did not want to overlook the fact that Lawrence was still willing to take me somewhere after the Flat Earther incident, so I reluctantly agreed.

I was predictably bored and annoyed at first, but then I saw this book - something by one of my favorite authors that I hadn't even heard about. The disgustingly cheerful bookstore lady explained that this was book was printed exclusively for Independent Bookstore Day and not available anywhere else. I told her that struck me as the stupidest promotion strategy I had ever heard. Why write something brilliant and then try to ensure that people won't buy it? Might as well write poetry. I had promised myself not to let Lawrence trick me into buying anything, just so couldn't think he had done me a favor that I would have to repay some time in the future, but then the idea of having a book that other people couldn't get started to settle nicely in my brain. So I bought one.

It's not a long book, so I went to the coffee shop next door (apparently, for some fuckers, it's already pumpkin spice season) and I read it. And it was great! I was briefly happy, but then it started to gnaw at me that lots of other people might also be reading my exclusive book and enjoying themselves. So I went back to the bookstore and bought all the rest of the copies that they had. And I was happy again! I must say that they make a beautiful pile next to my La-z-boy, and it is tall enough to hold my coffee mug full of gin at just the right height. And if the mug leaves a ring on a book, I'll just rotate that one to the bottom. Plus, I can flaunt them in front of my visitors, use them as bribes, or maybe even sell a few at a profit on Tinder, or whatever it is. As I was admiring my stack last night, it did occur to me that maybe the promotion strategy for this book was more clever than I had originally recognized. Touché, Mr. Towles. And Happy Bookstore Day, everyone!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Heirs of Deceits by Elizabeth Reinach


This well-written debut novel is a suspenseful Victorian mystery that reminds us that people are not always what they appear to be. Of course, I could have told you that myself. In fact, I am perfect example. People who don't know me assume that I am just a surly old recluse, pissed off at the world, suspicious of my neighbors, looking for reasons to exact revenge on people while brooding away in my La-z-boy, soaking my bunions, eating pickles, and drinking gin out of a coffee mug that says "World's Greatest F*ck You." In reality, however... OK, so this is not as good an example as I initially thought. But let me tell you another story. 

My son came over the other day to take me for a walk. Of course, it was more like a forced death march than a walk - did he ask me if I wanted to go for a walk? No, of course not. I  mean really, what is it with all you people and walks? If I hear one more person tell me that walks are good for senior citizens, I will finally make use of the switchblade I had installed in my cane all those years ago. You think walks are so great - take your own walk! Preferably away from here. We know what's healthy for us - if we didn't, we wouldn't have gotten to be so god damn old! 

In any case, my son is wearing this t-shirt he bought for $200 at some Save the World charity event (I know how much he spent because he told me seven times) that has a picture of the earth on it. At least he got it on right side out and forward, so I should give him some credit. Then this guy walks up to us and tells him how much he likes his shirt, and I am thinking, oh great, here comes some hippie love fest where they talk about how to save humanity by "thinking beyond borders" and buying expensive t-shirts. But before my son can even tell him how much he paid for it, he follows up with "There's just one problem though - the earth isn't round." And now I can smell blood in the water.

My son tries to play it off as a joke, but this guy is set on pushing his flat earth theory, and he is raising the crazy level quickly. I figure he was in town for the Trump anti-mask rally and probably got lost looking for the corner of the world or something, but I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. "Tell me more," I said encouragingly, swatting my son with my cane as he tried to pull me away. Our new friend, delighted by a receptive audience, expounds on his theory and a few other conspiracies and asks me what I think. 

I took a minute, and then I told him that even though I am old, I still pride myself on having an open mind, but that what he had just told me was the most inane, idiotic bullshit I had ever heard in my life and that I could cry thinking about the time I would never get back that I had just wasted listening to him. And that was just my opening line! Then I really let him have it. Surprisingly, he didn't take my constructive criticism particularly well. In a matter of moments, we were in a full-on public screaming match (my first in months!), and my son was pulling me away and trying to convince the guy that I had dementia. Lawrence and I walked home in silence, and believe it or not, that part of the walk was quite enjoyable.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

This is a work of utter goddamn genius, and it deserves a thoughtful, laudatory review. Unfortunately, it will not get one here, because as I write this, there are goddamn bunnies wreaking havoc on my garden! It should come as no surprise to anyone that bunnies are one of the most reviled animals on the planet. Equally destructive and unsightly, these crafty little fuckers are hell bent on ruining my day, which puts them in rather copious company.

I'm afraid I have to take some responsibility here. For a number of years, I have surrounded my garden with three-foot chicken wire, which was pretty effective. But it was getting harder and harder for me to reach over the fence and pull out a radish from the center of the garden, what with my bad back, knees, shoulder, ankles, and hip. Which is not to mention my bunions, which don't really affect my gardening, but still hurt like a bitch. So this year I went with a more alluring welded wire fence that was only two feet high, which helped me out some and looked pretty good, if I must say so myself. Which I must, because no one visits me any more and my neighbor Margaret just stares out her window looking jealous.

But, as you can see, two feet was insufficient. At first, the bunnies just ate the kale, and I didn't really care that much. I don't even like kale. No one likes kale! People just like the idea of kale - it's kind of like marriage. I only started growing it as a conversation piece for when my son Larry used to take me to his university events. That way he could say, "Good afternoon, Professor Pretentious Asshole, this is my father - he grows kale." And all the pompous yuppie professors would swoon and say "Wow! That's amazing! Lacinato or curly?," as if they knew the difference (lie) and then say shit like "Oh, Seymour, you really must try the creme brulee here at the faculty club. It is one of a kind!" (lie), and then pontificate about nothing for an hour and tell me what an honor it was to meet me (true), but they didn't mean it (so really, another lie). Of course, Larry doesn't take me to those events any more, but what do I care?

Anyway, when the kale was gone, they started in on the beans, and that was when I got my M1 Garand rifle and my hunting cap and went out to sit guard in the backyard. Ok - the rifle is a replica that I found at a flea market, but I didn't think the bunnies would know the difference. It was going pretty well, actually, until Margaret starting calling me Elmer Fudd, and I just couldn't bear to give her the satisfaction any more. So here I am watching them out the window, just praying that they don't get into my cucumbers, because if I can't make pickles this fall, I'm not really sure what the point would be any more. It's like that famous gardening quote: "First they came for the kale, and I did nothing. Then they came for the beans, and I thought, oh shit, I do not like where this is going. And then they came for the cucumbers, and it was evident that I truly and royally fucked." Or something like that.