Tuesday, April 20, 2021

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Survivors by Jane Harper


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger


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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Smoke by Joe Ide


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

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

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

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

Monday, February 15, 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai


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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America by Kurt Andersen


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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 10, 2021

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


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

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

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

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