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 -

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.

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

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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!