Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

My son, the so-called genius professor, stopped by this weekend and had that gleam in his eye that could only mean I was about to have a conversation I didn't want to have. He casually mentioned that he had been on a date Saturday night, and despite my better judgement, I decided to ask him about it. I mostly wanted to make sure it wasn't with one of his grad students or any of those dewy-eyed coeds who fawn over his inane lectures. But no, it was an actual adult, some kind of civil rights lawyer as it turns out. OK, one point for him. "Where did you take her," I asked, and he told me that he took her - I shit you not - axe throwing. At first I thought I had misheard him, that he was clearing his throat or had lapsed into German or something. But no, he brought this woman to an actual bar where they will serve you alcohol and then give you actual axes that you can throw at the wall. I told him that that was not something people did in any civilized country. Although, I have to admit, that after reading this beautifully dark and suspenseful novel by Jane Harper, it does seem like something they might possibly do in Australia.

But what could go wrong? Why not liquor up a bunch of strangers and then provide them with weapons they have never used before and encourage them to throw them around the bar? You can even save some money by not having to hire security! After all, all it takes to stop a bad guy with an axe is a good guy with an axe who really wants to impress his date and has had one too many floral, west coast IPAs and is feeling a little intimidated and self-conscious because his date does actual things to help people instead of just writing books about how the invention of the cotton gin influenced the civil war or other historical anachronisms that nobody cares about.

He seemed to think it was no big deal at all. "It's just like a Renaissance Faire," he said. First off, if you are using the sentence "It's just like a Renaissance Faire" to justify any aspect of your behavior, you are in serious trouble. Second, what does axe throwing have to do with the Renaissance? I do not recall that being a standard battle technique. Best not to throw away your weapons in hand-to-hand combat, methinks. Or perhaps that was how they used to cut down trees until they realized that if you just held onto the axe, the whole thing went a lot quicker. In the end, he left in a huff, as he always does, completely ignoring me as I called out suggestions about where he could take her on their second date. "How about a meat-packing plant," I yelled. "Or maybe a tannery! Or a morgue!"

Friday, February 15, 2019

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

Well, Valentine's Day came and went again. I guess it won't surprise you to learn that I was never really a fan of Valentine's Day to begin with. That's not because I wasn't romantic - Eleanor and I were always good about showing each other our feelings. But that's none of your business! Valentine's Day always just felt commercialized, and then you were supposed to have valentines for your teachers and all your kids' friends and your mailman and your dentist and your neighbor's stupid yippy schnauzer, and I just got sick of it. So these days I just pretty much ignore it and maybe buy myself a pickle-shaped cupcake or something. But this year my granddaughter Tina (god bless that child) invited me to go on a coffee book date with her. And she even picked a book for us to read! Oh, how I love that girl. Have I mentioned that she can talk to animals? She told me the other day that she had a 15 minute conversation with a squirrel. I didn't have the heart to ask what the squirrel told her, and I imagine it was pretty much a one-way conversation. When she gets on a roll, it can be hard to stop her, especially if she starts talking about her dreams. "You were there, grandpa, only you weren't you, you know? You were like you but a different you and so when you started talking it wasn't your voice but I still knew it was you, right? So you were saying you stuff, but not really like you say it. Understand?" I swear there was one time she was telling me about a dream in which she had to repeatedly take a math test and I fell asleep in my la-z-boy and when I woke up, she was still talking about fractions and didn't seem to notice I had taken a nap. But bless her heart, I can not say no to her, so I read the book and didn't even complain when she wanted to go to Starbucks. Which is not to ignore the fact that that infernal chain drove all my favorite coffee shops out of business and now that idiot CEO is on the news all the time thinking he can be president because he is rich (I wonder where he got that idea). I'm not sure I had ever actually set foot inside a Starbucks before, and it looked kind of nice until I started talking to the clerk (if you ask me to say 'barista', I will stab you with my swizzle stick). I asked for a small coffee, and he asked if I meant a 'tall' coffee. I assured him that I did not, just a small coffee. He said that a small coffee is a tall coffee, and laughed as if that made perfect sense. I told him that was the stupidest damn thing I ever heard and asked him if small was tall, what the hell was a large coffee? Tina suggested to him that he didn't want to start with me, but I hushed her, and he said that medium was 'grande' and large was 'venti'. I asked if he spoke Spanish, and he said no, so I explained that grande actually means large, and I apologized for saying that his previous statement was the stupidest thing I had ever heard because he had just surpassed himself. He was getting flustered at this point, so I decided to have mercy and just pointed to a bagel. He says - and I shit you not - "do you mean the 'chonga' bagel?" At that point, I had no choice. I really let him have it, and I may have mentioned how Cuppa Joe went under and something about Howard Schultz being an entitled piece of shit. Tina told him that I have dementia (which I do not) and ushered me to one of those purple chairs, which are really quite comfortable, I have to admit. But screw their purple chairs! I will never set foot in a Starbucks again. I think Tina was a little bit embarrassed, but I think she was proud of me too. And in the end, we really did have a great time. There are some things that can be hard for an old white guy to talk about with his granddaughter, and race issues in America is on that list. But this book helped make that conversation possible, and while we didn't necessarily solve anything, it felt good to dig into something meaningful with her. So I am grateful to Angie Thomas for that. On the down side, Tina now wants to become a rapper. Those poor fucking squirrels.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

In this highly readable psychological thriller, a famous painter shoots her husband repeatedly in the face and then clams up and refuses to talk to anybody. How rude! I certainly do not endorse that kind of behavior. I also do not endorse all this nonsense about 'organic foods.' And believe me, I am pissed off at people on all sides of this. My Uncle Ray was a farmer, and if he knew that people were changing the genes of their crops or squirting hormone cocktails into their cows, he would absolutely shit himself. Which he actually did once, after a dinner party featuring Aunt Martha's meat loaf, but that is beside the point. When I was growing up, we had a word for what is now called organic food. It was, 'food.' Nobody even thought of creating Frankenfood in a lab somewhere. So I am pretty angry at all these mad food scientists that have made this debate necessary. But here's another thing. When I was a kid, we would go to the market, and we knew who had good tomatoes and who had crap tomatoes. You just looked at them, and it was obvious. Now, if you check out the tomatoes, and they look good, you assume they've been injected with steroids or grown hydroponically in a pesticide bath or something. So you have to have an awkward conversation with some farmer who got up at 2am to schlep his vegetables all the way into town and then you walk away like a total snob, which you are. And meanwhile, the guy who sold the crap tomatoes still sells crap tomatoes, only now he gets to call his 'organic' crap tomatoes and charge 5 times as much. So screw him too! Ah, but how can we tell what is really organic? We need a whole new crop of bureaucratic middlemen, of course! These are people who couldn't grow weeds on shit but they now have the power to bestow the gilded title of 'organic' on those who meet their whimsical standards or are willing to pay bribes. Oh, pick your jaw up off the floor. You think there is no corruption in this business? It is business, after all. But today, I am most angry at supermarkets. They are laughing all the way to the bank about this tomfoolery, because it means they get to charge 4 dollars for a cauliflower just by intimating that if you buy a non-organic cauliflower, you will either grow a third arm or drop dead in the parking lot before you even reach your car. So I walk in to get some apples, and there are two bins. A bin of regular apples, and a bin of identical apples with bright orange 'organic' stickers. I thought it might be a fun experiment to peel off some of those stickers and see if the mopey teenager at the cash register whose parents forced him to get an after school job because he was playing 8 hours of Fortnite a day could tell the difference between the two apples. But the stickers don't come off that easily, and they leave a thick, slimy residue on the apple. Is that glue organic, I wonder? Was it made from the hooves of free range horses who eat bruised local kale salads? I think the act of putting those stickers on the fruit actually renders them no longer organic, but I will probably have to bribe someone at the USDA to find out if I am correct or not. In the end, I bought a banana. It was not satisfying.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Animal abuse alert! And no, it is not the crawdads. It appears that my neighbor Margaret is dressing her schnauzer in clothes again. I have mixed feelings about this - both anger and fury. First, let me be clear - I do not like that dog. It yips, it snarls at me when I get my mail, it stares at my house for no reason, and it is ugly (yes, a bit of the pot calling the kettle black here, but being cute is part of the point of a dog, not of me (admittedly not entirely sure about the point of me at this juncture, but that is for another post altogether (now wondering if it is acceptable to use multiple parentheses in a sentence like this, as if it were math))). In any case, that dog has created significant hardship. Perhaps not as much hardship as is suffered by Kya, the Marsh Girl and protagonist of this novel, but pretty close. And if she had had to deal with a dog like this, she probably would have left the marsh much sooner and had a more normal and fulfilling existence and not gotten wrapped up in the whole murder thing. But that is less important than the current pet abuse I am observing. There is no question that that dog is miserable. And who wouldn't be? There is no human or animal that could possibly maintain an ounce of self-esteem wearing that outfit. It is the kind of Elvis meets Santa Claus ensemble that could only be worn by a being with no agency. Surely there is a 1-800 number or something for people to call when they witness this kind of animal maltreatment. Still, I have to admit that there is part of me that experiences a little bit of schadenfreude watching that little mutt have to prance around in a frilly sweater - perhaps it is nothing more than it deserves. But the smug look on Margaret's face is too much to take. She clearly thinks that she is both doing the dog a favor and impressing everyone with her haute canine couture. Well, not this guy! I know inanity when I see it, and I just saw it walk by with a fake rhinestone collar. For those of you unfamiliar with dogs, they have fur! They survived for millions of years without being domesticated, fed organic goat liver, and dressed up like Christmas ornaments. They do not need clothes. And they certainly do not need to be paraded back and forth in front of my house in a taunting manner by a neighbor who is clearly coaxing that dog to do its business on my lawn. And she'll probably clean it up afterward, but she'll smile at my window when she does, because she knows the traces remain. It makes me wonder how much it would cost to get a pet coyote.