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!