Sunday, March 17, 2019

World War Z by Max Brooks

Yes, zombies are bad, but what the hell is going on with all these damn stinkbugs? Ever since the beginning of winter, it seems like I find at least one a day, whirring around in my bathroom or staring menacingly at me from the lamp next to my la-z-boy. I know it's been an unusually hard winter, that can not fully explain this infestation. Where are they coming from? What do they want? And why only one or two per day? Is there a General Stinkenwald somewhere sending out scouts every morning to see if I might vacate the house so they can come in and take over the place? And does he care that I keep crunching his sentinels into little bits? This is my house, Stinkenwald.

Usually, come winter, I can expect a couple of mice to get in through the basement walls. But that is understandable, predictable, and easy to manage. It gets cold outside, mice want warm. They come in and look for food. I set traps in the pantry, kill a few mice, feed them to my neighbor's schnauzer when she's not looking in the hopes that she will get a taste for blood and turn on Margaret, and that's it until next year. But these stinkbugs just keep coming! It's like the zombie hordes in this book - slow, stupid, irritating, relentless. And I just keep crunching them. It's such a rewarding feeling, too, much better than slapping a mosquito or choking out an alligator (a story for another time). Then the other day, my granddaughter Tina came over, and she was appalled that I was killing these worthless pests. Do you remember that Tina can talk to animals (see here)? Well, I asked her to please communicate to them that it would be best for all involved if they kept away from my light fixtures, but she said it didn't work like that. Get this - she actually wanted me to "relocate" the stinkbugs. I explained that what she was asking was for me throw an insect out into the snow to die slowly instead of giving it a quick, painless trip to bug heaven, but she would not relent. She said it was the "principle of the thing." I imagine she would be against killing zombies on principle as well. But I told her I would make a deal with her. I would escort these crunchy critters out my back door into the freedom of winter if she promised that when it was my time to go, she would kill me quickly and not throw me into the snow. It did not go over well.

So there I was, a grown human adult, carefully scooping up the most annoying of God's mistaken experiments, and placing them out on my patio. It was more degrading than anything zombies could do to me. And then the thought came to me, could Jackson be behind this somehow? He doesn't know about the shower (see here), does he? Hard to know for sure, but it's time to start plotting again...

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

There is a serious war on, people. And I am not talking about the Americans, the Mexicans, and the Apaches who take turns slaughtering each other in this historical novel - I am talking about me and my grandson, Jackson. It seems that Jackson was feeling salty (this is my granddaughter Tina's word, and I will trust her that the usage is correct, as I truly have no idea what it means to feel 'salty') that his Fortnite youtube channel has fewer hits than my book blog, so he tricked me into reading this book. He knows that I love Cormac McCarthy (see here), and he knows that I love giving his uncle (my son, the wayward genius) a hard time about seeing movies without reading the books first (see here). So he comes to me with a story about how this book is getting made into a movie and how it's McCarthy's best and whatnot, so I dive right in. And things started out pretty great. After about 50 pages I had virtually doubled my vocabulary and was waxing rapturous about his prose. If I could write just one McCarthyist sentence in my life, it would make up for all the times I said 'I shit you not' because I couldn't think of any better way to convey emphasis.

But Jackson also knows that I can't stand reading scenes of gory violence. And the more I read this book, the grizzlier it got. I should have been expecting it, but it blindsided me. It was like going to see Mary Poppins, but you accidentally go in the wrong theater and watch Requiem for a Dream. I understand now why the movie has been ten years in the making - they must have run out of fake blood! It was so intense that I found myself thinking things like, "Well, they killed them with clubs instead of axes this time, so that's not so bad," and "At least they were dead before they scalped them - that was humane." These are not things I want to think, and no amount of exquisitely crafted prose could remove those images from mind as I was trying to sleep. It was then that I realized that I had been, as they say, punked.

So I did the only thing I could do - and just what any character in this book would have done - I got revenge. I went over to Rachel's house around 9:00 on Saturday morning, and as expected, Jackson was a long way from waking up for the day, so I had plenty of time. While she made coffee, I excused myself to the bathroom. Once in there, I unwrapped a bullion cube (beef, to really make my point), unscrewed the shower head, put the cube inside the shower head, and then reattached it. Then I enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee with my daughter, who remarked on what a good mood I seemed to be in. Around 10:30 or so, we hear something stirring upstairs, and eventually, the shower turns on. It couldn't have been more than 15 seconds later that Jackson started screaming for his mother. But here's the genius of the plan - by the time she got up there to hear his panicked ranting about soup coming out the shower, all the evidence had dissolved - literally - and the shower was functioning normally. I expressed my sympathy and concern, and then somewhat loudly suggested that Rachel inspect his room to make sure there weren't any hallucinatory drugs of any kind. He didn't know what to think. One point for Grandpa!

Monday, March 4, 2019

How to Complain When There's Nothing to Complain About by Susan Goldfein

If someone is giving you something for free, it's a safe bed that it is a pile of crap. If you don't believe me, check out the next morale-boosting free chili cook-off at your office. Under no circumstances should there be chick peas in chili, Janet! For the love of God. But despite the fact that this book arrived thanks to the kindness and generosity of the folks over at Citrine Publishing, there was actually a lot of funny stuff in it. Not pie in the face funny, or Sedaris cringey-funny, but more situational comedy. Like, say, your grandson says you should write a blog, and he'll even help you set it up, but you can tell by the way he says it that he thinks you are either too old, too stupid, or too boring to actually do it. But you do it anyway, and it's kind of fun, and one day you ask him if he can help you figure out if anyone is actually reading it, and it turns out that you have more views than his youtube channel where, I shit you not, people actually watch him play Fortnite, and you watch his face sink as he has this realization that his grandfather is cooler than him, and you think, Ha ha ha ha ha Jackson, take that, sucker! That is a hypothetical example, of course, but you catch my drift.

Anyway, like everyone, sometimes when I am reading, something really speaks to me, but at times when I read this book, it seemed like it was speaking as me! I mean, this lady nails it on the head with what it's like to get old. That bit about losing your fingerprints - hell yes, Susan! The struggle is real, people. My daughter got me an iPhone for my birthday last year, and when I tried to open it with my finger, Siri started talking to me in Klingon. And the section on "getting in touch with your inner hostile person" should be required reading. It was so uncanny that I was forced to make the following pro/con list:

Evidence that suggests that Susan Goldfein is my long lost soulmate and that we should meet for a blind date at a Sandals resort somewhere in the Caribbean: We are both people of a certain age who love to write, have a good eye for finding things to complain about, no longer have fingerprints, and even have similar names! (Mine is a secret, though, because Jackson tells me if I put my real name on the internet, I will be abducted by Russian sex traffickers)

Evidence against: She seems to be married, lives in Florida, and appears by all available evidence to be a normal person.

So I guess the noes have it. Which is typical. Whenever I get a brilliant idea or make a novel suggestion, 'no' is always the answer I get. Hey family, want to skip Thanksgiving dinner and go out for pastrami sandwiches? No. Hey grandkids, want to come over and massage my bunions? No. Hey everyone else in this restaurant, can we all agree that the meatloaf tastes like cardboard? No answer. You know, finding things to complain about feels like it's getting easier every day. Maybe I should write a book too.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

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

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

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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

Monday, February 4, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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