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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

I hate to disappoint you all, but I'm back. And I'm fine, or at least as fine as you can be at my age. So thank you for your messages of concern, but no, I am not sick; no, I was not attacked by my neighbor Margaret's goddamn yippy schnauzer; and no, Gerry, I did not "realize the stupidity of this entire enterprise." What happened was, my grandson sent me a health report from Breitbart News that said you can get COVID over the internet and that elderly people were particularly susceptible. This resulted in some very peaceful weeks of solitary reading in my La-Z-Boy, but it turns out that once again, Jackson is full of shit! Furthermore, that Breitbart guy isn't even a doctor! So I will add this to the list of things that young people don't know shit about, and against my better judgment, I will return to wasting the small remaining portion of my life on this damn machine.

Another thing young people don't know shit about is American history. As a mature adult, I have found that reading about American history is both depressing and infuriating. In this way, it is similar to reading about the American present and the American future. One particularly enraging aspect is how different we think we are now from how we were then. But politics at the birth of the nation is just today's politics with asinine accents. I promise you that anything that pisses you off about today's politics was happening in Washington's era. Politicians lying to the public? It's in there. Presidents complaining about fake news? Pandering to public opinion by repeated flipflopping on the issues? Scapegoating immigrants? It's in there. Supposed statesmen enriching themselves by exploiting people of color while unironically complaining about encroachments on their freedom? Looking at you, Jefferson. It's like a goddamn jar of political Ragu - it's all fucking in there! And we think our society is advancing.

I'll tell you one area where we are actually advancing, and that is killing each other. Given today's state of arms, the Revolutionary War reads like a playground skirmish. Half of military strategy appears to have been predicting the weather, which of course they couldn't do for shit. The war turned multiple times on this idiocy! The kidnapping of a general foiled by uncooperative river currents. The destruction of an army avoided by fortuitous fog. At one point, our army's major strategy was to stack hay bales so the enemy couldn't see what we were doing! These are our national heroes, people. When my kids were young, I once built a hay maze for Halloween, which I believe would have qualified me to be a brigadier general under Washington. I was just a few years too young, as it turned out. It makes you wonder where we might be if we had advanced politically at the same rate we did militarily. Or maybe you don't wonder that - what the hell do I know?

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Wrongful Death by Kenneth B. Andersen

The Wrongful Death by Kenneth B Anderson | Blog Tour

This is the third book in the Great Devil War series, and shockingly, it was good! I was surprised not only because I expect most things in life to be terrible, but also because everyone knows that the third book in a series is usually when things start to fall apart. Remember The Hunger Games? I loved that book! But I used Mockingjay to start a bonfire. Not convinced? Try the third Hannibal Lecter book, the third Divergent book, or any John Grisham book after The Firm. Even the third volume of my Encyclopedia Britannica sucks. Do you care what a cuttlefish is? I sure as hell don't.

This phenomenon does not confine itself to books, of course. Remember the third Matrix movie? Or Superman III? Pirates of the Caribbean 3? Fast and the Furious 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14? Do you know which planet has the highest rates of crime, COVID-19, and furbies? The third. What's the worst day of the week? Wednesday, obviously. King Richard III? Worst Richard ever - fucked up the whole dynasty. Third hole at the Masters - most boring hole in all of Augusta. A short par 4 that they never even change up. The third element - Lithium, so reactive and flammable that it has be to stored in mineral oil. Thomas Jefferson - our third president - total asshole. Third Eye Blind is shit too. Once you start seeing the pattern, it is everywhere.

When Eleanor and I started a family, we knew well enough to stop at two. Trying for a third seemed like tempting fate to give you a home-intruder or axe-murderer or something like that. As it was, we barely escaped with a soup-intruder and an axe-thrower, so I think we made the right choice. What I'm saying is that sometimes it's good to go in a new direction. I mean, I hate to admit it, but this stupid blog probably peaked after about two reviews too. So, congratulations, Mr. Andersen, for defying the odds and producing a humorous and entertaining third novel. Maybe I should have a third kid after all.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

As Good as Can Be by William A. Glass

This novel is a fast-moving, entertaining story about Dave Knight, a kid growing up in a military family across many parts of the globe. Dave and his siblings have their share of hijinks, and they get in a fair amount of trouble, but when the rubber hits the road, they know who is in charge of the family. I would kill to get a tenth of the respect from my family that their father gets, and he is a wayward alcoholic! Maybe I should have sent my kids to military school - it might have straightened my son out, that's for sure. I mean, he may be a college professor, but what the hell kind of adult wears velcro shoes? Jesus.

And the next generation? Hopeless. I accidentally had a conversation with my grandson yesterday, and he treats me like a senile idiot. I had called to complain to my daughter that the chicken soup she left on my doorstep had kreplach instead of matzoh balls, and she knows damn well that I prefer matzoh balls and kreplach give me gas! But after 2 minutes of silence, Jackson told me that she was "unavailable," which I assume meant crying tears of shame for sabotaging my soup. So I tried to make some small talk with Jackson by asking what he was reading these days, and he says to me - I shit you not - "I don't read."

At that moment, I felt a brief pang of something which, judging from other people's descriptions, may have been empathy. So I tried to pick him up by telling him he was almost a goddamn adult already and couldn't he get Hooked on Phonics or something to sort that shit out. He clarified that he actually can read, but that he chooses not to because he is more entertained by TV and video games. What the fuck? I gave him a list of reasons why books are superior, including the fact that you can read them whenever you want and don't have to wait all day for your show to come on, and he called me an "ignorant Boomer" and said that you can watch any show any time. If that were true, I said, why do you get TV Guide? He didn't have an answer for that one, but he insisted that everything is now "On Demand" with no waiting necessary. 

So, to prove him wrong, I demanded that he come over and show me what the hell he was talking about, and he had the audacity to use my own words against me! "Just yesterday," he reminded me, "you had said that the world is a disease-infested hellhole, and no one crosses the entryway into your house without a goddamn Hazmat suit, especially family." Fair point. I explained that yesterday, I didn't want to see anyone in my family (this is, of course, my default setting), but today, he had something I wanted, so my rules had changed. He did not find this to be a persuasive argument. 

But, he agreed to talk me through it over the phone, which took no less than 90 minutes because for some reason I have two remote controls even though I have only one TV. I mean, give me a break, they can put a man on the fucking moon, but they can't make a remote control that operates both the TV and the VCR? Idiots. And, just an FYI, remote controls are unidirectional, and Jackson says that if you don't point it right at the TV, you will turn something else off. Note, it did not work when I tried to turn off my neighbor Margaret's goddamn yippy little schnauzer. 

As it turns out, and as much as I hate to admit it, Jackson was right. You can actually watch anything at any time. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring this new, limitless world of entertainment, and you know what I learned? There isn't anything worth watching anyway! Worthless garbage, the whole lot of it. So I have refined my argument for the next time I talk to Jackson about this, which is to basically point out that books are good, and TV is shit. Next question. And Jackson, when you are ready to expand your mind a little, I will be willing to trade my advance copy of this lovely novel for some real matzoh ball soup.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Die of Death by Kenneth B. Andersen

The Die of Death: The Great Devil War II

Well folks, we are on week 3 of social distancing, or as I like to call it, the greatest fucking thing that has ever happened to me! I finally have a legitimate excuse to never leave my home! No more knocks on the door, worrying that it might be someone selling magazines, or even worse, a family member coming to visit! My daughter Rachel said that because I have been here on my own for more than 14 days, she was comfortable with me coming over for Sunday night dinner. But oh, no, I said - sounds way too risky. Maybe I got infected from standing too close to the window or something, and I wouldn't want to put her family at risk, even for some overdone pot roast. I mean, think about the children! It was only responsible of me to decline. See ya, suckers!

To be honest, I'm not too worried, because what's the worst that can happen? Dying? Bah. I made my peace with that a long time ago. The way I see it, I'm just close to the front of the line to learn the answer to life's most confounding metaphysical contradictions. For example, if there is a loving and forgiving God, then we should all be welcome in Heaven. However, if my son-in-law Gerry is there, then it's not Heaven at all. Boom - mindfuck! Not that I'm not open to all possibilities of course. By this time next week, I may be reincarnated as a water buffalo, and you know what, I'll just make the most of it. At this point, I just need to sort out some details, like making sure all my pickle recipes get destroyed so no one can get rich off my secrets once I'm gone. And figuring out who gets all my books. I love my books, and I want to make sure each special one goes to the right person. Spoiler alert - Gerry, you get jack shit.

And speaking of pickles, while I may not be too stressed about the whole death thing, I have a real catastrophe on my hands here at home. I am down to my last pickle in my very last jar from last year's canning season. Holy shit! It's one of my secret Ghost Pickles™too. Too spicy for you, snowflakes! Try again when you lose 90% of your taste buds. But anyway, I usually try to can a whole year's worth at one time, but lately, with the world freaking out, I've been on a rapid cycle of self-soothing strategies. Mainly: pickles, gin, books, nap, repeat. It's actually a pretty great lifestyle. I just need to make more pickles next fall, assuming next fall comes. And that cucumbers still exist! Who the hell knows, these days? Oh, by the way, the book was good.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Five Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley

Well, hey, it's a blog tour! Pretty much the only tour around that hasn't been cancelled lately, so thanks, Dave. It's kind of ironic actually - when my grandson was teaching me how to use the internet so I could write this inane blog, he kept warning me about viruses and how they would destroy my computer. And now, the virus is here, and every part of the world except my computer appears to be broken. So it looks like Jackson didn't know what the hell he was talking about - AGAIN! 

Anyway, now we are social distancing, and it kind of feels like I died and went to Heaven. No knocks on the door, no obnoxious neighbors, no skateboarders on the sidewalk, just peace and quiet. Speaking of dying, before we received the beautiful, wonderful order that we were no longer supposed to interact with other people, I was at a funeral for a friend. Now first off, stop right there. Save your sappy sentiments for another day. At our age, you recognize death as a part of life, and the spirit of the occasion was generally positive. You'll understand someday.

However, having just read this book, I had some nagging thoughts. The newspaper (and my friend's family) said that he had died of natural causes, but Sherlock Holmes would remind us that things are seldom what they initially seem to be. I started looking around the room at everyone thinking, "Was it you?" I mean, killing someone our age is a relatively pointless endeavor, but my friend did have a well-curated collection of LPs, numerous bird feeders, and an expensive set of extra dentures. So the motive is obvious. The means wouldn't have been hard to come by either - a moderate bump from the side would probably have been sufficient. It could have been anyone, but when my son-in-law Gerry made a snide comment to me about wearing cargo pants to a funeral, he became the prime suspect!

First off, there is nothing wrong with wearing cargo pants to a funeral or anywhere else. I am at the point in life when function surpasses form on the priority list. And I needed all those pockets! One for my handkerchief, program, breath mints, list of people's names I was supposed to remember but didn't give a shit about, etc. One for a book for when my friend's daughter starts talking (Jesus Christmas, people, it's like a verbal Mount Vesuvius). One for garlic and a crucifix - hey, you never know what might happen when you get that close to a cemetery. And one for a bag of Takis (those things really are addictive, although in retrospect I recognize that the crunch factor and orange fingers made it possibly not the best choice for the occasion). The point is, why would Gerry be casting aspersions my way if not to deflect attention away from himself? Case closed, people. Now I just have to decide whether to go to the police or avenge my friend myself. Once social distancing is over, of course.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Sparrow Alone by Mim Eichmann

Well, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about these days is the coronavirus, and lo and behold, everyone thinks he's an epidemiologist now. You couldn't find this many armchair experts at an antique furniture convention! Every five minutes we are told to either panic or just relax, and it's starting to piss me off. Luckily, I never listen to anything anyone tells me in the first place. But I'll tell you one thing I'm tired of hearing - "No big deal, folks. It's only old people who are really at risk." Hey, fuckers, that's us! Who do you think is actually watching the news, instead of just reading people's tweets? Know your audience, for crying out loud.

The thought of contracting this virus is far less aggravating than having to listen to people talk about it all the time. The hysteria bubbling up from people's inner psyches makes me wonder about our resiliency as a species. You've got more chance of dying from being punched in the face over the last bottle of Purell at the store than from the actual virus. Yesterday I saw a pick-up truck drive by overflowing with Costco sized packages of toilet paper. What do people think is going to happen? Does coronavirus cause uncontrollable diarrhea now? Are they going to wrap themselves up like a mummy for protection? Can you eat that stuff in an emergency? Jesus.

One reason for all this panic is that people don't know actual hardship any more. All these young "adults" whose parents wiped their noses for them all through high school don't know what to do with themselves in an emergency. People like me could tell them a thing or two about hard times. Or maybe Hannah Owens, the plucky protagonist in this coming of age novel. She would handle this situation a lot better. When your mom dies abruptly, you get sent off to live as a housemaid, get stuck in a brothel, abused, cheated, threatened, and you still come out the other side, you don't freak out and go on a toilet paper shopping spree at the first sign of trouble.

So to summarize, could you please just wash your damn hands? And listen to the professionals. Last I heard, the recommendations were to stay at home and socially distance yourself from others. Sounds like a reward to me! Some generations were asked to protect their communities by going to war. You are being asked to play XBox for 2 weeks. We can do this, people.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls

So I get a call from my grandson after my last review, and he says that he and his friends want to know my story about shaving an elephant. Oh, I see. Now that you and your friends are off to college, I don't ever hear from you, I am as forgotten as PSY's followup single to "Gangham Style," and now you want something from me? Well guess what, snowflakes? Forget it! It's good to want things. So keep wanting. You can all go console yourselves with your collection of participation trophies, Fortnite, and your vaping parties, or whatever it is you do. Good to know you're reading the blog though - keep it up!

For the rest of you - want to know something else stupid Jackson and his friends did? Last weekend, they did something called the "Polar Plunge." Have you heard of this shit? A bunch of so-called adults cut a hole in a frozen lake and then jump in the water. On purpose! When I asked him what the point was, he said it was raise money for some charity I never heard of - Save the Despondent, Socially Stunted, Screen-Addicted Millennials or something like that. First of all, lost cause. Second of all, if there is a charity doing good work that you would like to support, how about you give them some damn money? Or volunteer? How the hell is jumping in a lake going to help anyone except by giving you a chance to show off your half-naked bodies on Instagram?

And get this, they are planning another one. And he wants me to do it! I think even suggesting such a thing is tantamount to attempted murder, because I am certain that if you put me in that lake, I will die. Even if I am not killed instantly by the shock, I can barely get my arms over my head these days, so swimming is pretty much a non-starter. To get to the point, I would rather get sucked through the Saint Louis arch and have to deal with a bunch of werewolves, vampires, and succubi, like the main characters of this book. Unbeknownst to them, they are Venators. Venators, for you newbies, are magic wielders and defenders of justice. Kind of like American Senators, only with actual power, capacity for independent thought, and a moral compass. I am hoping that in the sequel, Rune and Grey are released into the Senate to kick some ass.

But I do not have time to get angry about politics right now, because I am too busy still being angry at Jackson and his faux-philanthopist buddies. So here's an offer for you and your roommates, Jackson. Dig through the layers of moldy nacho cheese and hardened Ramen noodles on your couch, collect all your loose change and bring it over here, and together we can find an appropriate way to donate it to a good cause. And I will let you borrow this exciting book. And just maybe, I will tell you that story about the elephant. By the way, don't tell your mom.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Kingshold by D.P. Woolliscroft

Guess what people - I grew a beard! Just goes to show that you are never too old to try something new. And what a beard it is! Noble, elegant, distinguished. It is a beard to put all other beards to shame. Think Harrison Ford. Or Sean Connery. Or maybe Harrison Ford playing the lead role in a biopic about Sean Connery. For a dissenting opinion, you can talk to my daughter Rachel, who told me I look like the Unabomber. But what the hell does she know? I bet she never grew a beard or met the Unabomber, so she can shut the hell up.

I am at least partially indebted to this book for this glorious, regal beard. This is the kind of adventure story in which everyone should have a beard - character or reader. In fact, the more the action grew, the more I imagined that everyone had a beard! Bards, wizards, servants, male or female, old or young - beards for all! In my opinion, it made the book even more exciting. I also appreciated the idea of replacing a monarchy with a democracy, especially since around here, we seem to be currently experimenting with the opposite. But dictatorships aren't all bad, I suppose. When I succeed King Trump, I will decree that all American shall don beards! And pickles will be named our national food! And our national drink will be gin in a coffee cup with the words "World's Best Grampa" misspelled on it. I am already ahead of the curve.

To be fair, this book is not the only reason I decided to grow a beard. Beyond the fact that I have scant purpose in life and literally no need to look respectable any more, it's fucking cold outside! Don't get me wrong - I try not to leave my house intentionally, but sometimes you have no choice but to go get the mail or yell at a teenager on a skateboard. My neighbor Margaret has her little schnauzer dressed up in a sweater that matches her overcoat again, which is a sign of two things. First, it is too cold to walk your dog. Second, my neighbor is an idiot.

The elephant in the room here is that my face is becoming virtually unshaveable. I have been diligent about this for a long time, but the writing is on the wall. The wrinkles in my face are starting to resemble the Mariana Trench. I may have to actually iron my face before shaving it from now on. The hairs themselves are thick enough to be used as toothpicks, and last week I used my cheek to smooth a wooden banister when I ran out of sandpaper. It's pretty much like trying to shave an elephant's balls at this point, which I can tell you is nearly impossible. But that, friends, is a story for another day.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Rise of Gaia by Kristin Ward

Image result for rise of gaia

Well, it appears that I am not qualified to be a sheep herder. I was actually able to talk to a guy who runs a ranch in Wyoming, and I explained my predicament. He agreed that my neighbors sound like a bunch of assholes, and when I asked about his, he told me that due to his location, he has no neighbors. Could it be Heaven on Earth? I begged him to let me come, but he said that I wasn't qualified, not only due to my age (I think he smelled a discrimination lawsuit), but also due to my "lack of necessary skills, knowledge, and relevant experience." Well, damn. I told him that if you basically just sit on a horse all day, I am already a champion sitter here in my La-z-boy, and he told me that if I came out there and tried to do that job, "the land would destroy me." Funny, I told him, I just read a book about that.

It was a good book too! I was grateful to be included in this blog tour, as I don't think I would have found this one otherwise. But the theme was timely, the characters were compelling, and the plot moved quickly. I always like seeing bad people (read: most people) get their comeuppance, so I settled in for some nice schadenfreude as the Earth punished everyone. And I was reminded of battles with nature from my own past.

When Eleanor and I moved into this house, there was a big old stump in the backyard. Eleanor wanted to put it in the contract that the previous owner would have to remove it, but things got a little tense when I commented on the recent abysmal paint job and the cracks in the ceiling they had tried to plaster over, so we were worried that anything more might jeopardize the sale. I assured her that I could take care of it, and she gave me the look. And God bless her, she was right, as usual.

I started with my saw, figuring I could get the majority that way, as well as some roots. I have to admit that I didn't fully understand the depth, length, or width of the roots, and after losing three teeth (two on the saw, one of mine when I pulled too hard trying to get it unstuck from a particularly large root), I was pissed. So I got out my ax, and I went to town. After about an hour, I had made virtually no progress, but I felt better. It's always good for your mind to swing an ax at something, I think. Anyway, I thought I might be able to wrap a chain around it and pull it out with my car, but then I realized that I had axed away anything I might be able to chain it to. It was about that moment that I saw my new neighbor Margaret peering through her windows and laughing at me. Thirty-four years later, I have not forgiven her.

The next day, a friend stopped by with a housewarming gift, and he told me that he had removed a stump in his yard with dynamite and that he had a couple extra sticks leftover. Something primal and  manly deep inside me was triggered, and I knew that this was the solution. What I did not know was that dynamite sticks are directional, and it actually matters what way they are facing when you blow something up. I ended up with a crater big enough to be designated as a lake in Minnesota, and the entirety of the former contents were splattered all over my newly (abysmally) painted house. HOWEVER, the stump was gone, and I painted the house an appropriate color. So, in the end, Seymour 1, Earth 0. Take that, Gaia!

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Erlich

Well butter my biscuits, did I ever get some, let's call it "feedback," after that last post. Apparently, some people don't see the obvious dilapidation of society all around us as clearly as I do. Some people think we all love each and march down the street hand in hand singing Kumbaya and eating apple pie every day. Hell, even my neighbor Margaret had to offer her opinion. She said that this is a lovely neighborhood, and we all get along and trust each other. Well, guess what Margaret? I don't trust you, and I don't trust your schnauzer either! Admittedly, that is beside the point, but I hate that damn dog. Anyway, I told her there was no reason for her to be reading my blog anyway, but she laughed and said it was "charming." I was infuriated. I assume she didn't read this, this, or this (Look Jackson, I can do hyperlinks!).

Anyway - if this neighborhood is such a perfect, trusting society, explain this to me. A few years ago, my granddaughter Tina was visiting, and Eleanor and I had just bought her some new roller skates. No, not roller blades, you idiots. Real, actual roller skates, like God intended. Why do people have ruin everything and call it a technological advancement? But that's beside the point. We just wanted Tina to do something other than talk to insects and squirrels all day, and she liked the roller skates, so one point for us! She asked if she could go skate around the neighborhood for a while and show her friend Sally.

So 20 minutes go by, and I start to think I should check on her. I am about 60% sure I know where Sally lives, so I walk up there, and there's nobody home. Another kid comes by on her bike, and I stop her and ask if this is Sally's house, and she confirms that it is. She must have gone somewhere else then. I figure Tina will come home when she's hungry and I so I walk home. Sound normal to you?

Lo and behold, the parents of the girl on the bike were about a block and a half behind her and observed our 10-second conversation. About 15 minutes later, Tina comes home in a panic saying that a woman had stopped her to warn her that a creepy old man had been sneaking around the neighborhood looking for little girls! She asked where Tina lived and told her to go home right away. Five minutes later, the woman shows up at my house to further expand on her warning, and when I open the door, she shouts, "It's you!" I politely explained that it was my damn house, so who else should it be? The look on her face told me that she knew she had fucked up, but she was so high on righteous anger and pathological fear that she told me her story anyway, only adding at the end that I must already know the story because it was me all along. I explained what had really happened and invited her to talk a walk, unescorted, away from my property. She did so.

So, the point is, don't give me any pie in the sky story about the state of society. I know what's up out there, and it's not good. Luckily, this beautiful book has given me a new idea. I now intend to move to Wyoming and become a sheep herder. It seems that sheep have a lot more humanity than humans. I have already sent some letters inquiring about positions. So if this turns out to be the last review I write, I'd like to thank you for reading it, and I hope you all have a nice life or whatever. AOM out.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The End by MLT

Hold on to your seats, suckers! This book is an action-packed thriller, as a bunch of misfit heroes, laden with all kinds of emotional baggage, try to save the world from a bunch of vampires, multi-headed hydras, dragons, giant metal monsters that are beyond my gin-addled brain's ability to properly understand, and a plethora of multi-colored hellhounds. No small task as you might imagine. But what really gets in the way, beyond the myriad creatures from the abyss, is their lack of a sense of community. If they had just been able to get along better, I'm sure they could have closed the portals and confined these otherworldly beasts to other worlds. But that's just typical for society these days, isn't it? Let me share an example.

Now that I have become fluent with "electronic mail," my grandson put me on some kind of list where I get a bunch of stupid messages from everyone in my neighborhood. And you would not believe the crap people write. When I moved here, the neighbors all spoke to one another with their actual mouths. You would see everyone at school or neighborhood events, and you might spend a moment or two thinking before actually speaking. Conversely, I guess thinking before sending an email is not a thing.

The first message that came through was from someone claiming to be putting a fully functioning, never used ice cream maker on the curb for anyone to take. This was obviously a lie. I mean, who would do that? First of all, get off your ass and make some damn ice cream! Is it too much work for you? I hope you realize that that machine was explicitly made for lazy fuckers who can't be bothered to make ice cream the real way. And even that was too much to ask? Pathetic. Second, if you really had one that worked, wouldn't you give it to a friend instead of putting it on the street? Too lazy put dial the phone too, or just no friends? My thought on this ice cream maker was that it was broken at best, and a trap at worst. Sadistic child poisoners or something like that. I lumbered up there just to save the kids but it was gone before I arrived. I'll be scanning the obits even more closely than usual this week.

Then a message came through from someone "concerned about safety in the community." According to this armchair vigilante, someone was peeking over his fence to scope out the premises, then knocked on his door in broad daylight to see if anyone was home. He then left, but we should all be on the lookout! An hour later came a response that read, "That was me. I am your neighbor and have lived next to you for 10 years. I got some firewood, saw that your pile was low, and came to offer you some." And that pretty much sums it up, folks. We don't need vampires to destroy our communities - we are doing it ourselves! Any chance that portal is still open? I might prefer to take my chances on the other side.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Friday Edition by Betta Ferrendelli

It's a blog tour, folks! Dozens of people writing reviews of the same book, and you chose to read mine? I can't say that speaks highly of your judgement, but I am grateful to you nonetheless. As I was grateful to read this suspenseful murder mystery! Samantha Church, our cunning protagonist, faces a slate of obstacles in her quest to make sense of the circumstances of her sister's death, but believe it or not, as she gets closer and closer to the truth, she has to deal with the possibility that people won't believe her because of her own personal flaws. And that, my friends, is something I can relate to.

You will probably find it shocking to learn that I have often been accused of having personal flaws myself. And not all of these relate to my personal hygiene! I have at times been demeaning to others, especially people who deserve it, mind you, like my no-good son-in-law Gerry, who insists that laundry be sorted into 5 groups from light to dark. God damn it - don't you realize that all those fancy buttons are lies? The washing machine only does one thing, for crying out loud.

Also, my language is not always pristine, I have occasionally spoken ill of my neighbors, last week I told a cashier that I had a coupon for Metamucil that didn't exist and asked him to give it to me half price anyway, I once put bullion in my grandson's showerhead, I hate puppies, I am a bad listener, I don't understand how the internet works, I won't share my pickle recipes, I occasionally berate people in public with scant provocation, I have poor feng shui, and I tend to write run-on sentences.

And because of these trivial shortcomings, my opinions are often discounted unfairly. And yet, I am almost always right! When they came out with New Coke, I was in one of the first taste tests, and I told them if they thought anyone would drink that swill, they were a bunch of fucking idiots, and you know how that turned out. And no matter how many times I have told my family that we should invest in one of those underground bunkers because one day the whole world will be run by trigger-happy fascists, they never listen, and now look where we are. And I told my grandson that Golden Corral was the absolute last place he should take his prom date, but even after two liters of IV fluids, did he ever admit I was right? No, he did not.

So, the moral of the story is, don't kill people. And the moral of the review is, listen to me, damn it!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz

Tony Horwitz retraces the pre-civil war travels of Frederick Olmsted and draws interesting parallels, commenting on his diverse experiences in the rural south. It is expertly written, but not always a flattering picture, with a heavy dose of racism, misogyny, and violence to really brighten your spirits about American culture, both past and present. But if you really want to hear about a trip to make you depressed about America, forget the rural south, you should have been with me last weekend. I went to an indoor waterpark.

Let me briefly summarize this experience. Waterparks are cacophonous, fetid cesspools of germs and filth, filled with screaming children, drunk adults, and people demanding that you buy something at all times. And I haven't even gotten to the pools yet - I'm just talking about the lobby! The actual pools are much worse. 

I have to admit that it was shockingly poor judgment to allow myself to be roped into this trip. My grandkids and some of their friends were going, and my daughter thought it would be good "family time" for all of us to go together. I protested that there was nothing for a mature gentleman such as myself to do (it has been 30 years since I was on a 'ride' of any kind), but she told me about the hot tubs and the "lazy river" that would surely make me feel relaxed and peaceful. In short, I got suckered.

We arrived at 9AM, and I ambled over to the hot tub to take a peek. My first observation was a guy wearing sunglasses (indoors, mind you), holding a nearly empty, mammoth margarita glass with neon letters on it, proclaiming "72 oz. MARG! Biggest in town!" His previously unattended 4-year-old came wandering over, half-crying with snot running down his face. Without putting down his margarita, the man pulled the boy into the hot tub, rubbed off the snot in the pool, then told him to "go find a slide or something." And so ended my interest in the hot tub.

The lazy river was no better. While the water does move slowly, there is nothing peaceful about it. It is basically a game of water-bound musical chairs, where 200 violent hoodlums of all ages compete for 50 floating tubes with no holds barred. I watched a full-grown adult tip a 10-year-old off a tube and run away with it. The "lifeguards" stood there ogling each other in their skimpy suits and making hook-up plans for closing time. 

With no watersports practically available to me, I had the options of inhaling chlorine fumes, surveying the variety of tattoos on display, or sampling the plethora of fried foods offered. The menu at this place would have given Michelle Obama a nervous breakdown. The closest thing I saw to a vegetable all weekend was a fried pickle, and after one bite I was offended on behalf of all pickles everywhere. Luckily, I had this book! So I put a layer of plastic bags over the bedspread (I can't prove it, but I guarantee there were bedbugs), and I read about someone on a better trip than mine. Thanks Tony, and God Bless America!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bulb by Bradley Wind

OK snowflakes - here's a dystopian thriller ready to obliterate whatever is left of your Adderall-riddled minds. Mr. Wind has created a world in which every single thing you do is recorded and available for viewing by anyone at any time. The sad part is that I'm sure a lot of you young people probably see nothing wrong with that! I mean, here you are, posting selfies of everything you eat, videoblogging yourselves picking your noses, and publicly rating every shit you take on a 5-star scale. But I am old enough to remember a world where dignity and privacy existed, and I found this book both spellbinding and terrifying.

I was going to call this book a futuristic cliffhanger, but the truth is - this future is not that far off! Look around you right now. Do you see the cameras? Look closer - they are watching you! The NSA, CIA, FBI, AAA, PETA, AARP, 4H, BBB, NBA, YMCA, LMNOP - they all want to know what you're doing. And why? Not for national security or anything like that - just because people are nosy fuckers, that's why.

The evidence is all around us. Just the other day, my son stopped by after his lecture at the university. After a nice discussion of how many holes in your shirt is appropriate for a professor and why he can't keep a girlfriend (perhaps two related issues), we talked about a book we were both interested in reading. Sure enough, just a couple days later, an Amazon package with no return address arrived with that exact book! How could that happen? Mr. Bezos - I know you are reading this, and while I appreciate the book, I will not be bribed! Did you know that if you sign up for Amazon Prime, they now insert a chip into your neck that can read your thoughts? It's amazing what people will do for a half-priced avocado at Whole Foods.

It's not just fancy technology that brings this on either. Wherever people exist, they will want to spy on other people. Take my neighbor, Margaret. I can see right into her dining room from my kitchen window, and half the time I look over there, she is just staring out the window at me, trying to see what I'm doing! And if I look from my upstairs hallway with my bird-watching binoculars, I can see her writing at her table, and I can make out little bits of it, and it looks like she is writing reports on my activities! Dammit Margaret - leave me alone! So enjoy this imaginative fiction for now, folks, because in a few years we'll be re-reading it as a documentary.

Monday, January 6, 2020

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer wants us to stop global warming by no longer eating animal products. And unfortunately, he makes a pretty strong case that is difficult to argue with. But I'll tell you this - I am not about to let a bunch of facts and rational arguments stop me from eating delicious juicy steaks! I earned that shit, people! But I'll make all you crunchy eco-warriors a deal - I will offset my steak consumption by no longer taking showers. We'll call that a win/win! Showers are a hassle anyway, especially because my son-in-law never got around to installing that shower seat he told he would put in - thanks for nothing, Gerry! You're just waiting for me to fall, aren't you? Anyway, maybe every time I would have taken a shower, I'll just eat a steak instead. It's much safer. Besides, I truly doubt that I will be alive long enough to eat a number of steaks that makes any discernible difference to the climate. I'm afraid this is something that your generation is just going to have to deal with on your own. Thanks, snowflakes!

Also, I hope all you pinko tree-huggers realize that there is some sinister shit happening in the vegetable world as well. For example, are you aware of how mini-carrots are made? I always assumed that they had spliced the genes of a carrot with those of a chinchilla or a pygmy hedgehog or something - I mean, what isn't a GMO these days, right? But get this, those are just - I shit you not - regular carrots! This is the most shocking revelation since Soylent Green! Apparently, they just shave those normal carrots down until they're tiny, because Americans are too damn lazy to peel their own carrots or to eat something too large to put in their mouth all at once. The amount of waste inherent in that process is mind-boggling. And it is pretty sad to realize that mini-carrots are not an agricultural advance, but just the impotent, empty shell of a once-proud species, like a neutered dog or a moderate Republican. So don't lecture me about my well-marbled t-bone.

Here's the craziest thing that ever happened to me involving a mini-carrot (it was tough to narrow this down, mind you). One time, when I was pissed at Gerry (deservedly), I threw a mini-carrot at him across the room (you'll have to trust me that this was an appropriate response at the time). Somehow I missed, and the carrot landed in the garbage can and impaled itself lengthwise on the open end of an envelope, like it was getting a giant paper cut, and it stayed upright on the envelope on top of the garbage. OK, now that I re-read that, it doesn't seem as amazing as it did at the time, but at my age you don't always have such crazy stories, so cut me some slack, eh? And still, what are the odds of that happening? I bet if I gave you 100 mini-carrots, you couldn't do that once. Any takers? That's what I thought. OK, steak time.

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (vintage edition)

It's becoming a bit of a personal tradition to read this book around this time of year. Some people have called me cold-hearted (bastard people, mind you), but this book does strike an emotional nerve at times. I mean, just to think of poor Jacob Marley, cut down in the prime of his earning potential, and by what even? It's a mystery. After a close reading, I bet it was a prostate thing - it would explain his demeanor when he returns as a ghost. It's the silent killer that no one wants to talk about, but here's a PSA - gentlemen, get yourself checked. I do it every year, whether I need it or not.

Anyway, this year I found this edition with the original typeface, and that was a nice novelty. The font reminded me of newspapers from when I was a kid. In the city, there was no paper delivery, so you had to go out and find a newspaper boy and buy a paper from him. The kids were a pain in the ass, and a weird lot too - always haggling about the price of papers, dancing around, and singing songs about New Mexico and stuff like that. Or maybe I'm crossing my memories with something, but in any case, it was nice when I moved out here and someone would actually bring your paper to your door. Now, of course, some guy just drives by at 40 miles per hour at 5 in the morning in a car with no muffler and chucks the paper out the window and you're lucky if it even ends up on your property, but hey, efficiency!

So I told my daughter Rachel that my Christmas gift to the family this year would be to not attend the big family Christmas dinner. I thought it would be a win/win, but Rachel told me with a straight face that everyone would miss me if I wasn't there, even Cousin Jim, the nose-whistler. I mean, Jesus - what the hell is up there that prevents him from breathing normally, and wouldn't you think that it could be removed? Do you think maybe someone stuffed a harmonica up his nose when he was a kid, and it's too close to his brain to operate? I can hear him from the other room even over the sound of my son-in-law pontificating about how walking the dog in the woods (for once) gave him a newfound perspective about nature and our relationship with the Earth. Damn it, Gerry!

So I guess I have to go, but I will not go quietly. My Christmas present to myself this year is the last jar of Ghost Pickles that I canned this summer (my spiciest ever!). I've been saving it for a special occasion, and I think this is it. My plan is to eat the entire jar in the morning just before I go over there, and then just let my digestive system take care of the rest on its own. Merry Christmas, suckers!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Acid Test: LSD vs. LDS by Christopher Kimball Bigelow

Ah, drugs. So useful for so many things. They are just right for scaring the shit out of your in-laws, making listening to Phish almost tolerable, getting into parties when you're too old to reasonably be there, creating temporary, artificial meaning in the midst of a purposeless existence, and in the case of Mr. Bigelow, facilitating one's exit from Mormonism. But just when it seems that he will be sucked forever into the underground Punk scene, there is a twist! Want to know what happens? Read the book, suckers! Meanwhile, let's talk more about drugs.

Here's one of the sad ironies about drugs. When you are young, when your brain is still not fully formed, when you have life goals still left to accomplish, kids to raise, and plenty to lose, drugs are everywhere! When I was in my twenties, I could hardly go to the post office or to an underground fight club without being offered drugs. They were everywhere! And it wasn't just the hippies either. The straighter the tie, the higher they fly! That's what people said anyway. And if I had a dollar for every schmoe I saw ruin his life with drugs, I'd have enough for a dimebag, at least.

But where would I get one? The flip side to all that is that once you have accomplished all you will in life, no matter how little that is, when you have nothing left to lose, no one to harm, no moral sensibilities left to offend, and nothing else to do anyway, the drugs are gone! I no longer get invited to parties where I can ask if anyone knows a guy, and if I went into the neighborhoods where I know people used to be selling, I would probably be dead before I was high, and that would defeat the whole purpose! What is a curious, very mature gentleman to do?

But there is some hope! Have you heard that they are starting to prescribe psilocybin to old people with "death anxiety?" They give it to people in supervised labs with whitecoat scientists guiding your LSD trips. I mean, can you think of anything more likely to kill a high than having to talk about it with a bunch of psychologists in the moment? And why are we not supposed to be anxious about dying in the first place? Off we go soon to perhaps something beautiful, and perhaps eternal damnation, and perhaps nothing at all, but hey, who gives a fuck, right? No worries, Mr. Psychologist, but if you really want me to feel better, maybe you could give me some privacy while I get my "treatment." And by the way - Jackson, if you are reading this, don't show your mother. It's embarrassing to have your own daughter give you "the talk" about drugs.

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.