Monday, July 15, 2019

The Legend of Jake Howell by Charles Reap Jr.


This is a charming story about a young boy in 1805 who discovers gold on his family's land. And lo and behold, all of his problems are not solved! It reminded me of something I read about people who win the lottery. Apparently, more often than not they end up worse off than they were before. You know what I think about that? Bullshit! Show me the money, and I will prove that all wrong! If any of you people want to give me $62 million, I promise you that if I can not find a way to make myself happier than I am now, you will never hear from me again. You know what the problem with these lottery winners is? They're too young! If people my age won the lottery, we wouldn't possibly have enough time to screw up our lives the way young winners manage to do.

First things first - as soon as I become a millionaire, I am going to buy the Vlasic pickle company. Not because I want to own it or get free pickles or anything like that - I am going to shut that shit down! No more terrible pickles for America. Honestly, I get more crunch from the month-old celery in my fridge. Which reminds me, why the hell do I still buy celery? And all those sweet pickles? Truly an abomination. We are going to have a ritual destruction of all of them, like they did with all those disco records at baseball stadiums in the late 70s. That's right folks - Americans made musical bonfires because they thought songs like the 'Safety Dance' were the way of the future. And we wonder why the Taliban hates us.

After the great pickle cleanse, I will take my family on a tropical vacation. Not as a favor, really, but more as an act of revenge. After all those vacations where I had to play along and do what everyone else wanted, this vacation will be on my terms. None of the 'local flavor' nonsense my son-in-law is always going on about. Each day we will have a mandatory mah jongg tournament, and I don't give a shit if we happen to be in Tahiti - dinner is at an Italian restaurant and everyone gets fettuccini alfredo. Deal with it, Gerry.

Now don't get me wrong. I will perform many acts of random generosity - as many as it takes to assuage my guilt at being so rich. So there, I'm already more ethical than half the members of Congress. I may also swim in my money like Scrooge McDuck, but that's my business, so stop judging.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Come Back for Me by Heidi Perks



Big thanks to Arrow Publishing and Penguin Books for sending me an ARC of this great summer read. My bunions were really after me last week, and I had shit else to do, so I read it almost in one sitting, as I will explain in a moment. The novel moves quickly, with a plot unpredictable and twisty enough to keep most people off track. I mean, my son-in-law, for instance, won't even be able to tell you who killed whom after he's finished it, but that is admittedly a bit of a hopeless case. I, on the other hand, am a wily son of a bitch and can usually see plot twists a mile away. I know you're not supposed to promote yourself too much in a review, but to quote my second favorite Puerto Rican playwright, "I don't mean to brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish." (Yes, after that debacle, I did actually go see it, and I have to admit that I am a reluctant convert). Anyway, you've got to get up pretty early to sneak a whodunit past me. Remember The Sixth Sense? I was on that shit in scene 2!

Which leads me to another story about sniffing out a nefarious plot. While I was reading this book, really getting into a groove in my la-z-boy, I heard the unmistakable, noxious sound of skateboard wheels. The sound approached my house and then stopped. I looked out my window and briefly saw my grandson's head go past my side window. By the time I lumbered across the room to open the front door, he was gone, with no trace of his villainous deeds. He would later claim that he had seen my rake lying in the driveway and put it away in my garage, but who knows if that is true? After the stinkbugs and everything else, I had cause to assume the worst.

I'll tell you this. I was not going to wait around to let whatever plot he was hatching come to fruition. The best defense is a good offense, that's what I say. So I took action. Jackson has been dating a girl for the last few months, and from what I hear, Rachel isn't too keen on her, so I thought I might make my daughter happy while I got my preemptive revenge. I knew they would be at his friend's graduation party on Saturday, yet another party to which I was not invited. Never mind that I have known that kid literally from the day he was born or the fact that I delivered special birthday pickles to his house on multiple occasions. But I am not bitter. Not in the slightest.

So they're all at the party and what should arrive at the door, but a bouquet of roses addressed to Jackson with a note that says, "Don't worry - our secret is safe with me. Love, X." OK, I kind of wish I had been invited so I could see that shit go down. My granddaughter Tina said it was "epic." I didn't get too many details, but I did have a message from Rachel on my answering machine saying that we had to talk. Calling to thank me, no doubt.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso



First off, this is - I shit you not - an actual goddamn book written by actual scientists. Let that sink for a minute and ruin your day. That's right - while you are out there making peanuts slaving away for that supervisor that always looks at you funny, there are people making a comfortable living trying to figure out if a sea cucumber has an anus (it does). Kind of makes you question your life choices, doesn't it? Stay in school, kids! In my next life, I am going to be a seacucumberanusologist, and I am going to live that shit up.

You may wonder, is there anything actually interesting in this book? Shockingly, yes! Did you know that herring can communicate by farting? If you said yes, you are a liar and I want you off my blog immediately. If you said, no, here's another fun fact for you. A beaded lacewing can kill termites with a chemical fart. Now there's a nice conversation starter for a dinner party. Also, baby koalas eat their mothers' feces, and hyenas eat bones and have white shit. So there you have it.

My grandson gave me this book after a relevant conversation we had at a family dinner. It had something to do with the relationship between age and farting power. I was unable to find any extant research on the topic, but when Metamucil becomes a staple of your diet, what do you expect? I think he did it to shock or embarrass me, but please. The thing about teenagers is that they seem to forget that everyone older than them also used to be a teenager, and the idea that I would blink at a book about farts is ridiculous. And if someone gives me a book, I am going to read it and review it, so here we are.

If you are actually still reading this, I imagine it is because you are waiting for the summary of what farts and what doesn't. So here are a few highlights. Things that don't - jellyfish, anemones, pretty much all birds (though they are featured in the related volume, "Does it shit on your car?"), goldfish, sloths, and clams. Things that do - tortoises, buffalo, unicorns (inferred), pythons, wombats (who cares?), mongooses (not mongeese), geckos, hamsters, and humans, especially if they are familiar with my son-in-law's "authentic muffuletta sandwiches." Damn it Gerry, there is no "authentic" food that includes Oscar Meyer ham. For crying out loud.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Written by Ben Galley


Now be honest - if you were organizing a blog tour, would you allow me to be part of it? Hell no, you wouldn't! You're also a bad liar. I understand that I can occasionally come off as abrasive, and there is a reason why I no longer get invited to dinner parties. Besides half my friends being dead, that is. But someone screwed up and let me in here, and because of that, I got to read this wonderful book! So take that, suckers. And a big thanks to Mr. Galley, who sent me a physical copy because those electronic book machines hurt my bad eye, and also my worse eye. Which is not to mention that I can't figure out how to make them work in the first place. Did it ever occur to you people that some things do not need to be mechanically improved? That perhaps an actual physical book is the pinnacle of reading technology? Damn.

Back to the book, though. Compelling characters, and a sinuous, intriguing plot. The basic gist is that Farden, our tortured hero, instilled with powers through magical tattoos, must use his courage and 'fuck all' attitude, as well as alliances with dragons and vampires, to ferret out a plot from a nefarious and traitorous enemy. No more details, for fear of spoiling, although in fact, there were some eerie parallels to a night in college that I spent half-naked under various bushes on campus, on the run from intergalactic beings bent on condemning me to a life in the salt mines of Xergan. Of course, it turned out that I had accidentally eaten my roommate's chocolate laced with Amazonian frog venom that night, but we worked it all out the next day. I suggested that it shouldn't have been unlabeled in the back corner of the freezer in the first place, but he was unmoved. That is some expensive shit, but we were able to negotiate an appropriate exchange.

Oh, pick your jaw up off the floor, you prudes. Yes, your parents did drugs. We did drugs. Our parents did drugs. All humans did drugs, going all the way back to when people would just dig a hole in the ground and fill it with nectarines and wait for them to rot and then eat rotten nectarines to get high. So get over it. At least when we did drugs, we did things that expanded our mind and brought us closer to god and the universe. Today, kids just sit around vaping marijuana juice, and the only things they get closer to are bags of flaming hot Cheetos and diabetes. So you can add that to the list of things our generation did better than yours. It's a long list, snowflakes!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus


What the hell, people? Am I the last person in the goddamn universe to find out about "steampunk?" Even the most ignorant people I know are already up on this. My son-in-law told me that steampunk is "the most honest form of American literature." I mean, Jesus, Gerry, do you even hear yourself when you say shit like that? I swear to God. My grandson apparently went to Halloween last year dressed as a steampunk, and even my granddaughter stopped her conversation with a squirrel long enough to tell me that she thought I would have known about this by now. Well, thanks everyone. You're all a huge help, as always. However, due to the kindness of Lesley Connor over at Apex Publishing, I got to read this steampunk novel, and now I know that I like it! Or at least, I liked this one. Lots of action, witty one-liners, good characters, and some poignant social and political allegory. Still, I have a few questions.

Honestly, I'm not sure I understand what steampunk even is. First off, are we in the past or the future?  I mean, I can read the dates, but still. Second, there is clearly steam everywhere, but where is the punk? I asked my grandson about that, since he is the punk that I know best, and he said that if I couldn't figure it out, then I am more senile than he thought. That stung a bit, but touché, Jackson. Third, why does everyone dress like that? And fourth, if you write a novel but just change the available technology, does that count as a whole new genre? If so, I have a few ideas.

New genre number 1: futuristic space world sagas, except the only way to make fire is by rubbing sticks together. I call it Science Friction™. Now hold up a minute. I don't want to hear any shit from you people about making dad jokes. I was making dad jokes before you were born. I am incapable of shame. New genre number 2: explicit romance novels, only all technology related to sex toys is guarded by a reclusive family of bears. I call it Bearotica™. New genre number 3: Derivative novels from popular fantasy series, only they are all set in Houston in August and there is no air conditioning. I call it Fan Fiction™. I trust that none of these genre names have been taken, and I encourage all you writer types to get started. However, I have trademarked all the names, so you will all owe me big time royalties. It's not too late for me to make my millions!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Library Book by Susan Orlean



This book brought waves of nostalgia as it recalled two of the favorite things of my youth - libraries and setting shit on fire. I thought it was going to be a crime drama, but even better than the story of the arson investigation was the amazing history of the Los Angeles library and the description of the myriad things libraries are up to now. When I was a kid, the library in my town had a single librarian, Mrs. Peters, and she was a force to behold. She was grandmotherly in a way, often giving candy to us kids (as long as we returned our books on time), but if you were too loud, she would smack you on the arm with a long, flat stick that read, "Mama knows." And she sure as hell did. But if you got smacked, you knew you deserved it and you just shut up and moved on. Can you imagine what would happen if one of these snowflake children got hit by a librarian nowadays? Lawsuits, newspapers, insufferable parents bemoaning their poor victimized angel. Give me a god damn break.

The closest anyone got to setting our library on fire was when Eddie Walker tried to smoke a cigarette in the back corner and threw it into a garbage can when Mrs. Peters started walking over. She put the kibosh on that, and I will spare you the description of what she did to him. Looking back on things, I can recognize that Eddie was not a great influence, but we all sure loved him at the time. Mostly because we knew that if we turned up in his backyard after school, he would be burning things. Among things I can recall him lighting on fire are the following: newspapers, homework, piles of leaves, books (sorry Mrs. Peters), pornographic photos, a telephone directory, our math teacher's brassiere (no actual proof of ownership), a flag from an unidentified country (assumed to be an enemy of the US), his report card, the report card of any other kid not too chicken to hide it from his parents, stuffed dolls, electricity bills, his sister's diary (allegedly - we were not allowed to read it due to his concern for her privacy), the carcass of a raccoon, and unopened mail. Good times.

I asked my grandson about the librarian at his school, and he told me that she "gives no fucks." In truth, I have no idea what that even means, but I got the impression that she and I would get along. Of course, I have also heard him use that phrase to describe three other teachers at his school, his friend's mom, the guy behind the cash register at Culver's, a ferret, and himself. I told my daughter that I was concerned about his foul language, and she told me to look in the mirror. I replied that I saw a dapper gentleman who uses curse words sparingly, purposefully, and to convey important and subtle meaning not otherwise available. She said that was bullshit, and I told her I could see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. She gave me a queer look at that, laughed to herself, and left the room, which I interpreted as an admission of guilt. Another point for me!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Getting By: Understanding Lifelong Depression by Jack Trelance


So I was sitting in my la-z-boy enjoying my ginner (that's what I call it when instead of eating dinner, I just drink gin), when I heard an unfamiliar knock at my door. I was engrossed in this well-written confessional memoir about mental health, which traces the long history of symptoms and treatment of Mr. Trelance. He does well to convey the intensity of his experience without being maudlin, and there was a lot to learn from and to relate to. Thus, I was in no mood to be interrupted, and since I recognize the knock of the few people I would willingly allow into my house, I knew it was a stranger who was about to receive my fury.

It turned out to be a young bubbly do-gooder with a hemp necklace, Birkenstocks, and a clipboard. I've got a couple standard ways of handling people like this. Option 1 is the hard of hearing route. I let them start their spiel and repeatedly say "What was that?" or "Eh?" and see how loud I can get them to talk. Then, when they are inappropriately loud, I yell, "Quit screaming at me, you hooligan!" and I shut the door. Option 2 is the lost my marbles route. I keep saying, "Tell me more!" and encourage them to go on and on about their cause and then hit them with a deadpan "Are you my grandson?" or "Where's my soup?" That usually gets them on to the next house in a hurry, and their reward is having to deal with Margaret and her schnauzer.

But for some reason this time I was off my game. The kid was selling memberships to public television, which is all well and good, and my mind was wandering between the poignant scene in the book I was reading and that time when Fred Rogers went to Congress and convinced some mustachioed doofus not to end the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I thought back momentarily on how my kids used to watch public television all those years ago, and I offhandedly said, "Oh, thanks, but I'm already a member." "Great!" he says, "I can look that up right here." Damn it! What a rookie mistake. Far below my standards. It took him about 9 seconds to look up my address and figure out that I was not a member. But he played it smoothly. "Must have been public radio," he says, chuckling. "Must have been," I reply. But I'm rattled at that point, and I go with the next worst lie possible - "I think I donated at work." "Great!" he says, "Where do you work?" Now I know what I look like, and we both knew I was well past the age of gainful employment. Umm....I'm a greeter at the morgue? Backup cryptkeeper? Model for people learning to paint rhino skin? And it was way too late for the hard of hearing or lost my marbles ruse. This damn hippie was beating me at my own game.

I was nearly out of options, and out of pure desperation I just gave an indefinite cry of discomfort, put my hand across my stomach, mumbled "Excuse me," and backed out of the doorway, shutting and locking the door. I was embarrassed at my JV performance, but consoled myself by going back to my book and my gin. But not 5 minutes later, more pounds at the door! I was really going to read the kid the riot act this time, but when I opened the door, it was paramedics! The damn fool thought I was having a heart attack and called an ambulance! Now I was really pissed. I insisted that I was fine, but they made me go through all kinds of tests, and all the while, he was lurking in the background, still thinking he could make the sale! I told one of the beefy medics to thank him for his concern and tell him to move along, and eventually he went. After what seemed like an eternity, the main doc said "Is there anything else we can do for you, sir?" I was truly at a loss for words at that point, and the only reply I could manage was, "Where's my soup?"

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin


This time my daughter has gone too far. But I'll get to that. First, for you new folks, let me introduce myself. To summarize, I am just an old guy who loves books. I read everything - even the crap my son-in-law gives me in his misguided attempts to build a relationship. Jesus, Gerry - give it up. And now I write a blog called An Angry Old Man Reviews Books. It is truth in advertising. Doing this blog was not my idea, and on principle I do not typically like other people's ideas, but I have to reluctantly admit that it has brought me some enjoyment. At least with this, if no one cares what I'm saying, I can't tell in the moment. And as a retired person and a widower, I do have a bit of time on my hands. So that's the prequel on me - on to the Game of Thrones prequel and my daughter's unannounced visit.

My daughter and I have agreed on principle that since I still have four people's worth of stuff in my house, which has only one current occupant, that getting rid of some things makes sense. And I am all for letting the grandkids have old dressers and bookshelves and whatnot, but yesterday Rachel drops by on a lark and says that it is time for me to get rid of my La-Z-Boy recliner. I happened to be in said recliner at the time, finishing Fire and Blood, and was not quite ready to be yanked from the world of fantasy back to the horrid details of reality, but so be it.

Let me emphasize - this is MY chair! It was always known in our house as Dad's Chair, and then Grandpa's Chair. It was in this chair that I read to them as children. It was in this chair that I came up with the recipe for Grandpa's Secret Spicy Pickles, using fatalii peppers, mustard seeds, garlic, and a secret ingredient that I am not about to tell you here. It was in this chair that I read 90% of Fire and Blood (the other 10% was in the bathroom after my son once again chose the wrong Mexican restaurant). So I told her she could basically have anything in the house that she wants but to give it up with the chair. I wanted to tell her that she was conceived in this chair just to make her uncomfortable, but that seemed unnecessarily petty, and she probably remembers that we got it when she was about 8 anyway. But then she told me that my wife Eleanor never liked the chair anyway, and that was when I had had enough. It was Eleanor, after all, who bought me the chair. Or at least, she found the coupon that I used to purchase the chair, which is pretty much the same thing. I admit that she did at times leave furniture catalogs on the bedside table, and she occasionally commented that it didn't match anything else in the house, but it was always with a smile and a nod of understanding. It is, after all, the only piece of furniture I picked out in the entire course of our marriage. So no, I am not getting rid of this chair, no matter what Rachel has to say, and I escorted her from the house making sure she understood the situation perfectly. The book was good.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Song of Kieu by Nguyen Du



I must start by expressing the gratitude I felt to Sarah Wright and Penguin Classics for sending me this new edition of the Vietnamese epic poem, "The Song of Kieu," with lovely translation and introduction by Timothy Allen. This is a new area of literature for me, and I was grateful for the historical context Mr. Allen provided. I found the text to be remarkably readable and lyrical, and I finished it with satisfaction. It stuck with me in the following days, and I was intrigued to learn more about the author and the translator, and that was when I realized what a Trojan horse this gift really was.

First, some context. When I was courting Eleanor, I had a rival. He was (in my biased opinion) a short, weaselly fellow, but oh, how her parents loved him. He came from an established family that owned a successful glove-making company. He had graduated from an esteemed university (salutatorian) and had the option of taking over the family business or going to any number of corporations who were wooing him. He composed music on the french horn, volunteered for civic organizations, and sang opera. Total schmuck. I, on the other hand, had nothing but my sense of humor, my rakish good looks, and a handful of fantastic heirloom family pickle recipes. Hardly a fair fight. I won, obviously, but I did not emerge unscathed. For years, even after we were married, Eleanor's father had a favorite saying when he disapproved of something I did (which was often). He would grumble, "I don't think Walter would have done that." Fucking Walter. My self-esteem never truly recovered from him. Gets my dander up just thinking about him.

Enter Mr. Timothy Allen. Turns out this guy has been an aid worker in just about every impoverished corner of the earth. He can speak a brazilian different languages (if brazilian was a language, he would speak that too). He is an accomplished poet, wins fancy awards, is a professor at an esteemed university, a family man, and occasionally translates epic Vietnamese poems just for kicks. He is an ubermench! Rumor has it that he may also be ambidextrous, can juggle eggs with his eyes closed, and has a patent for biodegradable straws. And what do I do? I sit around in my lazy-boy, reading and drinking gin, make the occasional batch of pickles, and rant on the internet, which I don't even fully understand. I can hear Walter laughing from his grave (I actually have no idea if he is still alive, but the math is against him).

Then I started getting paranoid. I wanted to write something about how beautiful the translation was, but it occurred to me that I really have no way of judging that. The closest I ever got to translating anything was trying to decipher pictorial instructions for making kim chi, and that ended with a giant hole in my backyard full of rotten cabbage. So no points for me. For all I know, he could have made the whole thing up. I mean, is there really an ancient Vietnamese word that translates as "gobshite"? Seems unlikely. From there I started worrying about all the other things we just take on faith to be true. Do camels with two humps really live longer than camels with one hump? Is Fun Dip actually fun? Is the Earth truly flat? Is sea salt really saltier than regular salt? Does God exist? This list goes on. So, to summarize, great book, and I look forward to talking to you about it when I emerge from my existential crisis.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Overstory by Richard Powers


This book has got a lot about trees, which are things I happen to love. They are strong and durable, provide fruit, shade, and oxygen, and I also love the part of The Lord of the Rings when the Ents beat the crap out of some Orcs. Those were some badass trees. When my kids were young, I taught them all about the different trees in our neighborhood. If you live on the Earth, you should be able to identify the things you share it with, that's what I say. If you can't tell the difference between a birch and a beech, no supper! Oh, relax, snowflakes. These days, kids don't even know trees exist because to see them, they would have to look in the opposite direction from their phones. I bet one out of ten kids at most could even tell you the difference between an oak tree and a maple tree. What the hell is wrong with us? But that is not what I'm angry about today.

I also used to take my kids and their friends camping sometimes. We'd learn about trees, of course, and other aspects of nature, and sometimes I would stretch the truth a little bit - all in good fun of course. One time I hid a pile of Raisinettes in the woods, and then I led them "exploring" and stumbled across my pile. I told them that it was either rabbit poop or fox poop, but that they were hard to tell apart. "Rabbit poop is mushier," I said, "Anyone want to feel?" No takers, so I delicately picked up a Raisinette and rolled it around in my hands. "You can sometimes differentiate by smell," I continued. I got my nose right down in there, much to the children's dismay. They were starting to look a little green, I had to admit, but I wasn't about to stop there. "But to be honest, the only real way to tell rabbit poop from fox poop is by taste." Gasps all around. I pretended not to notice and just started popping the Raisinettes in my mouth, chewing pensively, swishing them back and forth in my cheeks while the kids were audibly gagging. "Oh well," I concluded when the pile was gone, "Still not sure. Shall we continue hiking?" I think my son might have been onto me at that point, but I gave him the look that said if he wanted to be led out of the woods at any point in the near future, he had better keep his mouth shut, and he did. On one camping trip I taught the group of kids about extraterrestrial life and then scared the bejeezus out of them by "discovering" a mannequin wrapped in tin foil. Heh - kids are stupid. But of course some of the parents complained after that one and that was the end of the big group camping trips. Parents are stupid too. But that's not what I'm angry about either.

What's really chapping my hide today is what happened in my front yard yesterday. There is a lovely Japanese maple tree that resides between my sidewalk and the street, so technically, on city property. There were city employees out there tapping at it and wielding a truck full of vegetation torture instruments. I asked if something was wrong, if the tree was diseased or something. But they said no, it was just normal maintenance, which turned out to mean that any branch within 30 feet of the ground got maniacally lopped off. I swear those sadistic tree-killers were whooping with joy when they did it, too. Now it's about 60% trunk and looks like a giant purple broccoli. Damn it all.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Godfather by Mario Puzo


I have definitive evidence to suggest that my next-door neighbor Margaret (the one with the schnauzer) and the guy across the street, Darren (I just fell asleep trying to find an adjective to describe his personality) are, as the kids say, in cahoots. I have seen them whispering on multiple occasions, and I doubt they are exchanging pleasantries, because there is nothing pleasant about either of them. I would rather make small talk with Luca Brasi.

It all started over the dandelions. It won't surprise you to learn that I am no fan of dandelions. They are like the sweet pickles of flowers - at first glance they appear enticing, but upon closer inspection, they reveal their sinister nature. Just as sweet pickles offend the very soul of pickling, dandelions seemingly mock the entire panoply of flowers by being beautiful for a day and then undergoing a swan-like metamorphosis in reverse, becoming an insidious, sharp, ugly, expanding blight on the earth. Although perhaps I overstate the point.

In any case, I feel like I have done my due diligence in combating dandelions over the years, although sometimes they do get away from me. It didn't help when my granddaughter Tina told me she would come over and help, and all she did was make a crown out of the yellow ones and blow the white ones all over the yard, setting me back literally years. But look, I was put on this earth to raise kids, not grass, and I don't know how well I did with the former, but it's hard for me to really give a crap about the latter. And I am not about to cover my lawn with chemicals and pollute the whole neighborhood, letting poisons run off into the lake and whatnot, despite the chance that Margaret's schnauzer might come over and become collateral damage. I wouldn't really mind if that happened, but that's not how you should do things. One thing I learned from this book is that if you are going to kill someone, you should do it on principle and with efficiency.

So Darren and Margaret saunter over with their fake smiles and ask about my health and my grandkids, and I can see where this is going. They casually mention that they are treating their lawns and even offered to have "their guy" do mine while he is here. They'll even split the cost! Their theory is something about herd immunity, like measles shots and whatnot, the implication being that by not treating my own lawn, I am ruining theirs. Well, guess what, folks? I have "guys" who do stuff for me too, and you don't want to mess with these people. When I was younger I hung out with this dude called Louie the Elbow, who had two friends named Big Tuna and Mr. Smooches (that moniker was intended to be ironic). Not exactly horse head in the bed types, but at the very least, bullion cube in the shower head types. They would know exactly how to handle his situation, and if Margaret and Darren don't leave me alone, I will go find them in their nursing home, and we will take this shit into our own hands.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari


You can learn a lot about our species by reading this book, but if you need proof that humans are idiots, look no further than the changing of the seasons. People wander about dumbstruck, as if this had never happened before! This week it got warm, because it is spring. And yet it seemed to blow people's minds. "Isn't it amazing," my daughter asked. "Did you see the buds on the trees?" I explained to her that the arrival of spring was not amazing to me, but rather a predictable and inevitable outcome of earth's travels around the sun, and that the buds appeared to be similar to last year's that arrived at more or less the same time. But she just laughed me off. My neighbor Margaret declared - I shit you not - that the sunny day was "literally a miracle." No, Margaret. A miracle would be if you got your Christmas lights down before February or learned how to appropriately use the word "literally." This is just nature.

My son came into my house beaming on Saturday, saying "Spring is here! Do you know what that means?" I began taking guesses. Extra yardwork? The return of mosquitoes? Time to file my taxes? People letting their dogs off leash? Excessive puddles? Migratory birds shitting on my lawn? Creeping charlie? The NHL playoffs? Skateboarders infesting public parks? Stupid people being amazed by natural phenomena? Shockingly, all my guesses were incorrect. "The Gardens are open!," he exclaimed. By this he means the local botanical gardens, in all their pre-blossoming splendor. Sigh.

Where the hell did you all get the idea that old people love botanical gardens? I believe this to be some kind of organized ageist conspiracy. Every time I am there, the whole place is full of geriatrics getting carted around by people who think they get double credit for spending time with grandpa and also doing something unbearably boring. If you think it is tiresome now, do you anticipate that at some point you are going to suddenly love going there? Hell no, Larry. You know how tedious it is. Why don't you drop the facade and just take me to the bar?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón


Allow me to say a few more words about pickles. My neighbor Margaret took a break from dressing up her schnauzer the other day to share a few words over the fence. I was doing yardwork, of course, and she was apparently waiting for leprechauns or fairies to do hers, but I refrained from pointing out the disheveled appearance of her lawn. Perhaps the arrival of spring made me a bit soft, but I decided to take the chance to make a peace offering in the form of a jar of homemade pickles. The darker (and larger) part of my heart wanted to slip her my famous Mouthburners made with fatalii peppers, but against my better judgment I gave her some perfect garlic dills. She took one bite and said - I shit you not - "Mmmm... Crunchy. Did you use Picklecrisp?"

Did I use Picklecrisp? Are you fucking kidding me? Do I look like the kind of person who would use Picklecrisp? In case you were born in a cave and raised by wolves or hipsters, you do not need calcium chloride, or alum for that matter, to make crunchy pickles. You just need to do your homework and take a little time and care. You have to choose the right cucumbers, of course, and not keep them around too long. Make sure to snip off the flower ends promptly, and give them an ice bath for a day or so. Pack them snugly, screw the lid on firmly, but not overtight, and for the love of god, don't process them too long. No chemicals. If you get the details right, the result is heavenly.

And that is why this book is so good. The details are just right. The plot is complex, but everything fits. The bad guys aren't just bad - they are bad for a reason. Even the minor characters have backstories, and they all fit in. Everyone's actions match their motivations, and those are revealed with patience and craft, likely a perfectly fermented pickle. And we all know that there are few things in life better than that. Bravo, señor Zafón. Si pudiera escribir como usted, no tendría que escribir este blog necio.

And one more thing. It isn't always necessary for your pickles to be extra crunchy. If you are brining sour pickles, it's ok if they have a little give to them. Sweet pickles, of course, are an abomination, so if that is what you are after, you should stop reading my blog right now before I completely lose my shit.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Vicious by V.E. Schwab


To call me a superhero may be overstating the case slightly, but I think I did my good deed for the world yesterday. It all started as I was walking out the library with a stack of new books to read. I had made a point of ignoring all my friendly librarian's suggestions because I fear she has a secret agenda (she offers too many romantic novels and self-help books), and I was feeling pretty good. But as I walked out, I observed three young hoodlums seemingly about to engage in fistacuffs! More specifically, it appeared that two of them were about to give the business to the third one, who seemed frail and malnourished, likely because he had spent all his food money on tattoos and piercings. Don't get me wrong - I respect all people's right to self-expression, but hey, you've got to eat!

What happened next must have been influenced in some way by having just read this book. Perhaps it had implanted the idea in my subconscious that ordinary people can have extraordinary powers. Or maybe reading about such blatant villainy triggered my inner justice warrior. But whatever the reason, I knew in that moment that I was not going to let this stand.

When I was younger, this would have been an easy task. I was never a fighter, but I could be imposing when I wanted to. I used to dabble in the martial arts, and I was not without skills. I once attained a brown belt in karate, and I could catch flies with chopsticks (ok, that part isn't true, but I watched The Karate Kid twice, so pretty much the same). It has been a few decades, of course, and I worried that I might be rusty, but this time I would have the advantage of surprise, as the young gentlemen in question didn't even seem to notice my presence.

I took a deep breath in, and I centered my energy. I approached the two aggressors from the side, and I assumed a shiko dachi stance. I was preparing to strike, but unfortunately, my legs had not been in that position in many years and were not ready to cooperate. Before I could unleash a vicious kansetu geri that would have likely destroyed his ACL, I experienced a hamstring cramp like none I have ever had before. I thought perhaps they had an accomplice who had struck me from behind, but as I fell to the ground, I was unquestionably alone.

Still, the move turned out to be quite effective. The young men were distracted from their quarrel and soon all three were helping me to my feet. While none was willing to massage my hamstring, once they had me seated on a bench, they appeared to forget their differences. After a couple of minutes, I thought they were initiating hand-to-hand combat, but it turned out to be a complex "handshake" involving a number of body parts and some simian grunts. It was so elaborate and violent that I briefly questioned whether or not I had read the original situation correctly or if they may have in fact been just greeting each other. But I discarded that notion as implausible and had no choice but to acknowledge that I had truly saved the day. I appreciate your gratitude and ask that you please send pickles in lieu of flowers or thank you cards.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie


Come on people - what's the big deal with vacations? You put all your shit in a suitcase, endure a day of misery and airport food, then unpack and do the exact same things you do at home in a different place. My family dragged me along on their spring break trip, and it was ridiculous. You are supposed to take a vacation from something, like Fortnite (Jackson) or talking about yourself (looking at you, Gerry). Or, at least immerse yourself in the local culture. But my family adamantly refused to let me swim with sharks or enter a wet t-shirt contest, so that was that. Plus, Jackson didn't tell me until we were on our way home that you can use Twitter on phones (It was MADE for phones, he says, but I'm not that stupid), so I couldn't even commiserate with my new blogger friends. But what the hell - I can read almost as well in a beach chair as in my la-z-boy, so that's what I did.

In the lobby of the hotel was a shelf labeled "Beach Reads," and it was generally an insult to both beaches and reading. A half-done coloring book (not even staying within the lines!) was about the most intriguing prospect, until I noticed a slim Agatha Christie mystery tucked away in the corner. I have read a few Christie books and generally enjoyed them, but I never read one featuring Miss Marple, as this one did. It seemed unfair, though, to jump into the middle of a series, so I noted the name of the first Miss Marple mystery from inside the jacket and asked the concierge if they happened to have that book. I don't think he ever read a book in his life, because without a second thought, he was offering me a coupon for 2-for-1 3-liter margaritas at the beachside bar. I mean - why would such a coupon even exist? I understand if you are going to have a fun giant drink with your whole family, but how many people do you need to drink 6 liters of margarita? And if you do drink a 3-liter margarita, do you really think it is the lack of a coupon that will stop you from ordering another? I wish I had thought to ask how much one 3-liter margarita costs, but at least I got directions to a book store.

My son was not too happy about taking me to the book store, and he was less happy when they didn't have the book. Luckily, there was one other book store in town. Unluckily, it also did not have the book. But believe it or not, there are libraries even in shitty tourist towns, and sure enough, Murder at the Vicarage was waiting for me there. Of course, not being a resident, I was not allowed to check the book out. But I was happy to sit there for the afternoon and have Lawrence pick me up later. He was not so happy about it, saying it was "just like me" and storming out of the otherwise unpopulated library. The librarian seemed pleased though - I'm not sure they get too much business there. If you are a librarian, and you are reading this, thank you for your service.

And it was worth it! Usually when I read a book written before I was born, I find that the language has become tired with age, and even the classics have a pace that rivals me lumbering toward the bathroom on taco night. But Christie is so clever, the turns and deceptions so quick, it rivals anything coming out these days in the mystery genre. I read the whole thing in one sitting, went back to the hotel, played nice with the family for the rest of the week and worked on my bitchin' beach tan, which ended up with me resembling a small strawberry ice cream in a wafer cone.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty


I have to admit, I did not see this coming. After the axe-throwing debacle (see here - and let me mention, I now understand that I do not have write "see here" when I add what I guess is called a "hyperlink," but I may continue to do so just to piss off my grandson), for some unknown reason, the smart, attractive, worldly lawyer agreed to go on another date with my son. Multiple dates, as it turns out! It has even been hinted that I may be allowed to meet her, as long as I don't mention my blog, axe throwing, his ex, the lecture I sat in on, anything about his teaching or his students, why basketball brackets are stupid, pranks I may have committed or plan to commit, politics, weird things that happen at the gym, my bunions, onions, Funyuns, why I hate skateboards, the general demise of society, zombies, what my son was like as a child, my feelings toward my neighbor, or my plans to booby trap my house. I have confirmation that I am allowed to talk about books and making pickles, so I presume that will fill what brief time I am given.

I didn't ask where they went this time, as I didn't want to ruin the conversation or the gentle softening of the heart I was feeling in the moment. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but not altogether unpleasant. I have often been critical of my son's mistakes, and damn it, he has earned it! But I do want him to be happy, and if that woman can beat away the throngs of swooning college students that follow him around, then good for her. Everyone deserves a second chance at life, right? I mean, that is essentially what this book is about. Lots of bad shit happens to people, but hope remains and just maybe, you get a second chance when you weren't expecting it.

Not me, of course. I never get a second chance at anything. When I called out "Bingo!" at the rec center Sunday night just because I was getting bored, did I get a second chance? No sir, they took my cards. And when I demanded to pay only half price at the movies because I said that my vision was so bad that I would only be able to see half of it anyway, did I get a second chance? Nope. And when I went to the Golden Corral buffet and the meat loaf was so terrible that I had no choice but to announce it to the restaurant and then slide the whole lot of it off my plate and back onto the buffet, did I get a second chance? I did not. They kicked my ass right out of there - at a Golden Fucking Corral of all places! Clearly second chances are for some people and not for others, so if you get one, you'd best be ready to take it.

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.

Monday, January 28, 2019

River Queens by Alexander Watson




Well, here's a shocker for you. While I was just minding my own business on Twitter (oxymoron noted), a real person, who is an actual author - I shit you not - asked me to write a review of his book. Clearly he hadn't read my inane ramblings before asking, so that was one strike against him from the start. So I told him to read some of my reviews and reconsider, and after doing so, he still wanted me to write it! So there's strike two for poor judgment. I considered the possibility that this was one of my grandson's friends putting me on, but sure enough, the book arrived in the mail with no traces of airborne pathogens or explosives, and I was gearing up to pan it as creatively as possible. But unfortunately, River Queens turned out to be pretty good. The basic plot of this highly readable memoir is this: two gay gentlemen from Texas and a dog fix up a classic wooden boat (the dog has a minimal role in that part) and travel together by river to Ohio. I'll admit that it is not the most circuitous of plot lines, but hell, we can't all write Harry Potter. Still, the book has a number of things going for it. Foremost, the protagonists are endearing and admirable in many ways. They are complex and imperfect, but eminently likable. Their journey is far from easy, and you can't help rooting for them the entire way. The other best part of the book is the glimpse it gives the reader into river culture, a subculture of America that few ever get to experience. I should more appropriately say river cultures in the plural, because as Alex and Dale travel through different parts of America's waterways, their experiences are vastly different. The people they meet are striking in myriad ways, and their brief encounters have lasting effects. I also learned that most boats are either a) broken, b) recently fixed, or c) about to break, and often two or three of those things at once. It reminded me of a cruise that Eleanor and I went on one time. We were with the Millers, and it won't surprise you that I didn't really want to go on the cruise to begin with. Eleanor and Marge were always close, and I liked Donald well enough, but he always struck me as a bit of an alcoholic who liked to gamble and talk too much. Well sure enough, there was a poker room on the boat, and within the first two hours, Donnie had wagered away his week's worth of spending money, and guess who it fell to to buy him daiquiris for the majority of the Caribbean? In any case, that turned out to be the least of our problems. Somewhere between Saint Who The Hell Knows and Isla del Get Me Out Of Here, the boat broke down. Some kind of electrical fire or something, down below where they keep the drugs and indentured servants. At first, it didn't seem like a big problem, because the weather was good and the view was nice. But as the days went on, things started to get hairy. And hot. Without being able to get into port, we started to run low on food and water. For two days, it was nothing but dry cereal and pineapple juice. Carnival, my ass! Then the plumbing reached capacity. Next thing you knew, it was like Lord of the Flies meets Cocoon, with all kinds of old rich people battling for what corner of the hallway they could shit in. We had helicopter drop-offs of water and supplies, and the whole thing was on the news! And I'm pretty sure that at some point, some old geezer fell off the side of the boat, but it's possible that I'm confusing my memory with that Jonathan Franzen book. Hell, let's just go with it. A guy fell off the boat. By the time we got tugged to safety, I had resolved to never get on a boat or talk to Donnie again. And I have kept one of those two resolutions. Maybe if we had had Alexander and Dale on our cruise, the boat would have been fixed faster and we could have spared everyone all the conversations about under what circumstances cannibalism is acceptable. So the point is, read this book.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan



Who the hell is responsible for the way we package cauliflower? It's completely ludicrous! I mean, the carrot industry managed to figure out that they could use a bag shaped like...wait for it...carrots! Said bag can be opened and closed at will with the help of a twist tie or plastic clasp. Want a carrot? Open the bag! Realized that you actually wanted a pickle? Good for you! Earn one point for taste, then put the carrot back and close the bag. Easy as pie. But the nefarious minds over at Big Cauliflower twirled their waxy mustaches and delivered a truly cynical and offensive product. "I know," they said, "let's misshape the bag, take a couple random corners and roll them up haphazardly like a kindergarten art project, then cover the whole thing in industrial strength packing tape! Mu ha ha ha ha ha ha ha." There is literally no way to remove the cauliflower and still have a functioning container. Perhaps I am meant to leave it in the fridge or on the counter unwrapped? Do moldy edges on a cauliflower confer a soupcon of musty aroma that only refined palates can appreciate? Or perhaps I am always meant to eat an entire cauliflower in a single sitting, and no bag is necessary! My doctor told me that more vegetables might help a bit with the plumbing, but eating whole cauliflowers seems a bit excessive, and he is probably on the take from Big Veg anyway, so I'll stick to my gin and donut breakfast, thank you very much. In this book, Mr. Pollan makes important observations about how we obtain and eat food, and I am fully on board with his suggestions. I will no longer eat meat unless the animal has given informed consent to volunteer its life for my nutritional benefit and has been offered deep tissue massage at least thrice weekly in a free-range bovine spa. But Pollan neglects to address the cauliflower packaging issue, and that is a major omission. He scarcely even mentions those crinkly english muffin packages that virtually disintegrate on touch. Perhaps he will take on these vital concerns in a much-needed sequel.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss



Well, I'm home. I have to say that this hospital stay was definitely more pleasant than my last. Tina snuck me in a pastrami sandwich, and that made all the difference. To be honest, I think she was feeling guilty about the whole Harry Potter debacle. I reassured her that it was mostly not her fault, and I think she felt better. And on the way out, I "borrowed" this book from the hospital library (actually just a cart, but that's what they call it), so at least I'll have something tangible to show for my ridiculously overinflated hospital bill. When Truss is done with her grammatical vigilantism, maybe we can set her loose on the health care system. Oh, and I also made off with a pair of those hospital pants they give you - perfect for lounging around the house with a book. Just put my trousers on right over them and walked out like I was in Shawshank Redemption. See ya, suckers! In any case, I appreciate someone who can get worked up in righteous anger over things most people think are silly (no, not you, Trump), and so I must admit to having a little punctuation crush on Ms. Truss. And of course, I imagine her rantings with a great British accent as well, because only a British person could write this book. There simply aren't people in America who care enough about English to do it! If we are a melting pot of culture, we are a Vitamix of language. We just dump it all in and destroy it! We make up ridiculous words like hangry, bromance, and chillax. We have literally destroyed the word 'literally'. And America is the land where grammar goes to die. It doesn't help that everyone has a cell phone, and "talking" now means texting, which people have no patience for, so all text conversations look like a bomb went off in an alphabet soup factory. But even when we are speaking, we have pretty much given up. No, Gerry, you don't shop at Kroger's. The store is called Kroger. There's no one in there named Kroger, and it is not his store. If you must know, Kroger is owned mostly by Cerebus Capital Management, who happen to bankroll a bunch of jackass politicians, but I understand that you need your discount cottage cheese, so no judgment. Meanwhile, it felt wholly satisfying to find someone as ready as I am to get pissed off about commas. Walking around these days is subjecting yourself to an assault of syntax no matter where you go. The examples are myriad, but I will summarize the inanity of the status quo with a sign I saw on a bathroom that read, "For disabled elderly pregnant children only." And as much as I was moved with sympathy for the poor kids who also happen to be disabled, old, and with child, I was even more sad for the irretrievable state of affairs of our language that made them that way. Maybe, just maybe, if everyone reads this book, we can salvage something. But I doubt it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling


I hardly even know where to begin to describe the incredible recent series of events. I should start by saying that I had absolutely no interest in reading Harry Potter, for obvious reasons. But my granddaughter Tina, to whom I have a hard time saying no (despite her manners), came over with her complete set and insisted, tearfully (I may have made a pejorative comment about the fantasy genre as a whole), that I read one. So to make her happy, and because I felt a little guilty, I started the first one - not because I planned to read them in order, mind you, but just because it was the smallest. But then the strangest thing happened - the book was good! Really good. I read the whole thing in my La-z-Boy in one sitting, and I went right on to the next one. And that one was good too! I became immersed. I read at a frenetic pace and lost track of time. I felt...happy! However, about halfway through The Prisoner of Azkaban, I had a realization. It suddenly dawned on me that everything I had read as a child was complete and utter crap. All of it. All my favorites, so hollow and thin and simple. I was angry again. I lumbered up to the attic, found a dusty box full of books from my youth, and dumped the entire thing in the recycling bin. Maybe they'll make more Harry Potters out of them, I thought! I made a brief stop in the kitchen for a deviled egg, then went right back to reading. I read until I fell asleep. As it turns out, it was only 4:00 in the afternoon, but after a brief nap, I finished The Goblet of Fire before bed. I slept better than I have slept in years. I woke up refreshed and determined. I poured a large black coffee with only half my customary whiskey in it, and I sat down to read. It was incredible! What amazing combinations of humor, wonder, and drama. What deftness in dealing with death, dating, and destiny. What years of my youth wasted reading Doctor Doolittle and Mister Popper's Penguins! But there was no time to worry about that now. I read like the wind, like a man possessed, like I had nothing else in the world to do (in truth, I had nothing else to do). I read all day, skipped lunch, pissed in a bottle so I wouldn't have to get up (just kidding, but I thought about it), and turned the final pages of the Deathly Hallows in the early evening. You would think I was exhausted, but no! I felt exhilarated, inspired - all was well! I decided that it was time for me to go out for a walk and admire the sunset. I was thinking that I should be more appreciative of the world and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. But when I got out there, all I could hear was my neighbor Margaret's little schnauzer yipping away like crazy. God damn that dog! Oh, the many times I have imagined slipping some Xanax into a burger and chucking it over her fence. It would be completely justifiable. That little cur was ruining my bibliographic ecstasy, and I was not going to have it. I started walking over there, but in my agitated state, I missed the patch of ice on the sidewalk (Margaret - do you see a law suit coming?) and next thing I knew, I went ass over tea kettle and landed right on my back. It knocked the wind out of me to be sure, and I needed a few moments to catch my breath. After I did, though, came another realization. I could not move. My poor old body was rattled and just didn't have the strength. And it was cold. How stupid was I? What had gotten into me? A couple of minutes on the sidewalk were enough to realize that I had no hat, no gloves, and the sun was dipping. Is this to be my undignified end, I wondered? Will I not get to sue Margaret for negligent sidewalk care after all? What a terrible shame that would be! And if she notices and comes out to help, will being in her debt be better or worse than dying on the sidewalk? It was difficult to figure out. Luckily for me, the mail was miraculously late, and Red, my longtime mail carrier, found me on the ground and obtained help. I explained that I was just trying to get a different angle to see the sunset, but he called an ambulance anyway. And so here I am, writing this on my grandson's laptop in a recovery room at the University Hospital. Nothing broken, I am told, just some bruised ribs and a harsh reminder about reality. I should be able to get a lot of reading done in here, although after Harry Potter, why bother? I would consider reading the series over again, but it is clearly too dangerous.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks


Congratulations, you failed! It's January 4, and if you are reading this, you probably have already cast aside your once meaningful new year's resolutions. Wait - let me guess. You resolved to do one or more of the following: spend more time with family, work out more, eat less, write that book you've always dreamed of, spend less time on screens, be more active, blah blah blah. And what are you doing? Surfing twitter and reading book blogs again! And I have a dollar that says you have a cheeseburger in your hand too. Pathetic. Now take it from me, the first rule of resolutions is to pick things you know you can accomplish. My new year's resolutions are to eat more pickles and get angrier. And guess what, I already accomplished them! Two points for me. At this point in my life, I really don't have time for all this pie in the sky, romantic idealism. People like that (meaning you - you are not off the hook here) deserve to read books like this, books that reinforce the goodness of humanity, the power of dreams, the limitless possibilities of the human heart, and all that bullshit. Go read it in a field of poppies under heart-shaped clouds, or something like that. And one more thing, and I hate to point this out, but did you realize that your resolutions are the same ones you made last year? Did you really think it would be different this time? Well, welcome to reality, my friend. Now go eat some pickles and feel good about yourself.