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.