Book Report: Baby in the Icebox and Other Short Fiction by James M. Cain (1981)

I bought this book for $1.00 at the Greater St. Louis Book Fair because, as some of you know, I’ll soon need to know when it’s appropriate to place your baby in the icebox. After all, my beautiful wife is reading a number of parenting books; why shouldn’t I pitch in?

Imagine my feigned surprise when I discovered that this book was not actual book about child care, but rather a collection of short pieces by the author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity!

As its title indicates, this book collects a number of short pieces from Cain, including a number of the bucolic “dialogs” he wrote in his early career as well as some of the grittier crime fiction he wrote for some serious money.

I enjoyed the book. The early pieces reminded me of Franz Kafka in that they’re more slice-of-lifeish than anything earth-shattering, as though they were written as fictional smalltalk than I’m accustomed. Still I appreciated their language more than Kafka’s.

The crime fiction portions were more pedestrian pulp, but that’s what I handed over the dollar for. Enjoyable, and slightly unrealistic crimes, but set in the thirties and fourties, so they provide small glimpses into the past as well as into lurid crimes.

And in case it ever comes up, the time to put a baby in the icebox is if your husband has unleashed a hungry tiger into your house to kill you and you’re holding the tiger off with a flaming brand which will inadvertently set fire to the house. As soon as I finish this review, I’m going to scan the indexes of some of Heather’s parenting books to see if this holds as true in the 21st century as it did in the 1930s.

Books mentioned in this review:


Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Milwaukee MATC Party

Time to dump some textbooks into the Milwaukee River, what with unelected representatives levying their own taxes:

A budget endorsed Tuesday by the Milwaukee Area Technical College Board would increase the school’s tax levy 5% in the coming fiscal year, outpacing inflation and contradicting the growing anti-tax sentiment in the state.

After breathing a sigh of relief that the Legislature had failed to pass constitutional tax and spending limits earlier this month, the board backed a budget that would increase spending about 6.3%, based on current projections.

The $309 million MATC has budgeted for 2006-’07 represents a 32.4% increase from its spending at the start of the decade and tops the rate of inflation for that period by roughly 14 percentage points.

Contradicting the anti-tax sentiment? I’d say not; these bureaucrats are actually acting on it and feathering their nests while they can, because taxpayer relief of some sort will pass in Wisconsin, accidentally, one of these days, and the tax districts want to make sure that they get as much loot as they can before they’re leashed. And if it never comes to pass, well, it’s even better, as it’s a precedent for ever-inflating percentages into perpetuity.

Over at Boots and Sabers, Owen thinks it’s wonderful. He’s being sarcastic.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

New Market For Venezuelan F-16s?

If Greeks and Turks are going to play chicken:

A mid-air collision between jousting Greek and Turkish fighters in disputed airspace over the Aegean Sea yesterday threatened to reignite age old rivalries.

The two planes are believed to have rammed each other, in full view of a passing commercial jetliner. The Turkish pilot, Halil Ozdemir, was rescued by a merchant ship after ejecting, but last night emergency services were still searching for the downed pilot of the Greek F-16 jet.

might provide a unique marketing opportunity for South American dictators with too many F-16s on their hands.

Come on, people, think outside the box. We can get this deal done.

(Link seen on Outside the Beltway.)

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Even An Unset VCR Is Right Twice a Day

In Illinois, Rod Blagojevich wants to privatize the lottery:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday proposed selling or leasing the state lottery to raise $10 billion as part of a plan to reform Illinois schools.

His proposal includes $1.5 billion for school construction, performance pay for teachers and the consolidation of school districts.

As a libertarian, I stand in favor of all fornicating, liquoring, and gambling. As a matter of fact, I would do Rod one better: instead of offering a government-sponsored monopoly on number-running, why not let everyone do it?

Sorry, I guess getting the government to give up one of the things it’s seized from the syndicates is a start toward a libertarian paradise.

But that it comes from Illinois, and Blagojevich, irkles me.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Slow Reader Mooching

Geez, gentle reader, I know it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book for you to ignore. To make sure you have plenty of book reviews for you to pass over completely, check out Ace’s review of The da Vinci Code.

And since I said it, I must link to the Amazon page for it. In case you accidentally click through and buy it so I can make another eight cents.

Books mentioned in this review post about a review:

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Short Story: "The Brooch"

     I was walking down Commonwealth towards Berkeley with a spring in my step. I was wearing my nice clothes, the slacks with no holes in them, and a white shirt with a string tie, and my hair was combed. I had things to do. The day after tomorrow was Megan’s birthday, and I had seventeen dollars in my pocket. The weeks of working at Mr. Roy’s grocery store had paid off, and I knew just what I was going to get Megan.

     When I had been walking her home last Wednesday, we had walked past the jewelry shop in the Park Square Building. She stopped to look inside, like all girls do. She asked me what kind of ring I was going to get her when we got married. I didn’t know, and I don’t even know if we’re going to get married. But she likes to think so. After she looked at the rings in the bottom of the window, she looked up at another glass case, and ooohed at a brooch.

     I didn’t think it was anything special, but I’m a guy. It was gold and silver, and there was a big M in the middle. It was cursive writing and fancy, and Megan liked it a lot. I wondered how much she would like it when she saw it in a box in her hands the day after tomorrow.

     “Hey Kevin,” Sid Leary called. He was sitting on his front porch with his brother Ronald and the rest of the Dunston Boys. “Where’ve you been the last month? We haven’t seen you around.”

     “I’ve been busy,” I said without stopping. I didn’t want to stop. Sid might find out I have money, and if he did, it’d probably get spent on pool or whiskey, neither of which would do Megan any good the day after tomorrow.

     Sid called out after me as I walked past, and as I turned the corner he shouted again. I hoped he wouldn’t be too mad at me, but I had things to do.

     I imagined how Megan would look opening the box, how the brooch would look on her favorite red sweater, how her friends in school would like it, too.

     Officer Mulready was out walking his beat along Berkeley, his hands behind his back. He looked me over, but I wasn’t doing anything wrong today, so I looked back at him. “Well, Mr. Murphy, out and about this afternoon?”

     “Yes sir,” I replied. He stopped in front of me, and I had to stop, too.

     “Where you going?”

     “I’m going to my girlfriend’s house, sir,” I said. It was just habit not to tell the truth to him.

     “Isn’t she in school?”

     “Yes, sir, but I’m going to wait for her.”

     He cast a disbelieving eye over me, but nodded and continued on his way. He turned the corner and I could hear faint notes on the wind as he started to whistle. It ended abruptly, and I heard his booming voice questioning some other innocent person.

     And then I was at the Park Square Building, outside the jewelry store. I fingered the rolled money in my pocket and went in.

     A bell jingled and a man appeared from another room. “May I help you?” he asked.

     It was warmer inside and it smelled nice. There were glass cases with all kinds of necklaces and things, but I looked at the case in the window. I could see the back of the brooch. I could very plainly see the little white sticker with the number 21.00 written on it. I felt my stomach drop and my throat got tight.

     “I, ah, want to see something in that case,” I said.

     “Come around,” he said, waving his hand around the display in front of it. He pulled a big ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked the display.

     Then the bell over the door jingled, and Sid Leary and the Dunston Boys came in. “Look at that,” Sid said, pointing at one of the rings in another case.

     The jeweller stepped around the glass case. “Can I help you boys?” he asked coldly.

     The case was open, and the brooch was hanging on velvet. I snuck a glance at the jeweller. He was watching the Dunston Boys and paying no attention to me. I could just reach in and take it.

     It was just like the sham we would pull in Wheeler’s drug store. One guy would go in and look around and then the rest would be rowdy and while old man Wheeler was throwing them out, the first guy would be loading his pockets. He’d then buy something cheap and split. It was usually good for a few packs of cigarettes and gum. It was my turn to be the pigeon.

     Megan wouldn’t like something that was stolen. Some of the girls didn’t care, but Megan wouldn’t wear it if she knew it was stolen. She’d probably get mad at me too.

     “If you’re not buying anything, you should go somewhere else,” the jeweller said, and I thought he was talking to me. I turned and he was pushing the last of the Dunston Boys out the door. Reggie appeared in the window and made faces at the jeweller, but then Sid called and Reggie disappeared from sight.

     “Now what was it that you were looking at?” the jeweller asked after brushing his hands together.

     “Well, sir, this brooch,” I said softly.

     “The lacework is silver. The letter is inlaid with gold. It’d make a fine gift,” he said.

     “It costs twenty-one dollars?” I asked.

     “Yes, son, it does. It is a good deal for the piece. It was hand-worked, you know. Imported from Peru.”

     “I only have seventeen dollars. Could I work here for you for the rest?”

     “For your mother?”

     “My girlfriend. It’s her birthday tomorrow. She really likes this brooch.”

     He looked at me for a moment, probably to see if I was lying. “Tomorrow’s her birthday?”

     “Yes sir.”

     “How old will she be?”

     “Seventeen, sir.”

     “I tell you what. Seventeen dollars for seventeen years sounds about right to me.”

     I breathed again. “Thank you, sir,” I said. He took the brooch from the velvet and punched numbers in the cash register. It chinged and the number seventeen appeared in the windows on the top. I pulled out my two five dollar bills and seven ones. He put the brooch in a little white box and gave it to me.

     “The other condition is if you marry this girl, you have to buy the ring here.” He smiled. “Would you like a receipt?”

     “No, thank you, sir,” I said, and I took the box in both hands and left.

     Megan was going to be so happy. I opened the box as I walked. The gold and silver didn’t look as good against the cotton as they had against the black velvet. Megan was going to love it.

     Sid and the Dunston boys were standing on the corner of Commonwealth waiting for me. “What’d you get, Kevin?” Sid asked, uncrossing his arms and standing up from the lamp post he had been leaning on.

     “Nothing.” I walked wide around the group.

     “Hey,” Sid said, grabbing my right arm and half turning me. “What’s in the box?”

     “Buzz off, Sid,” I said, shaking my arm out of his hands. I hurried up, and the Dunston boys stood, staring at me from the corner. Sid called my name again, but I ignored it. I went home and spent most of the night looking at the brooch and thinking of Megan.

     Megan smiled when I held the box out. “You remembered,” she said with fake surprise. She opened the top and gasped. “Oh, Kevin,” she said softly. Her green eyes looked at me. I thought she was going to cry. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

     “Do you like it?” I asked.

     “I love it.” She stopped. “Can you put it on me?”

     I stopped. “Sure,” I said, swallowing. I put her books down on the sidewalk and took the brooch. I unfastened it and tried to hide my trembling hands. I put it on the right side, right over her heart. I didn’t stick her, either.

     “Wait till Judy sees this,” she said after we started walking again. “Thank you, Kevin,” she said when we got to the fence around her high school. She kissed me lightly and went in.

     I watched her walk proudly into the building. Halfway up the steps, her friends Judy and Sandy met her. She gestured at the brooch and pointed at me. They smiled and looked wistfully at me. I felt good.

     I got home from Mr. Roy’s store at eight thirty. My father and mother were screaming at each other in their bedroom. My little sister was in the living room and the radio was turned up to try and cover their disagreement. She ignored me as I came in, and I went up to my bedroom to change clothes. I got my tie off and the top button on my shirt open when Catherine called me from the living room.

     Megan was pacing on the front porch. I closed the door behind me. “Hi,” I said.

     She turned, eyes blazing. “Don’t ‘hi’ me, Kevin,” she said. She was still wearing the red sweater, but the brooch wasn’t on it.

     “What’s wrong?”

     “Where did you get this brooch?” She stuck it in front of me like it was a cross and I was a vampire.

     “I bought it at Taylor’s Jewelry Shop. It’s the one we pass going to your house.”

     “Did you buy it, Kevin? Or did you steal it?”

     “I bought it.”

     “Sid Leary told Sandy that he helped you steal it for me. That they made a distraction and you stole it while the jeweller was throwing them out.”

     “That’s not true,” I said. “I….”

     “Tell me they weren’t in there with you, Kevin. Tell me you were at the jewelry store alone.”

     They were there, though, and I couldn’t lie to Megan. “They were, but….”

     “Kevin! I thought you were done with the Dunston Boys. I really did. I thought I meant more to you then those hoodlums. If I don’t, then you can take your stupid brooch and find another girl.”

     I didn’t want another girl, it wasn’t like that at all, I did buy the brooch, but none of these words came out. She looked at me for a moment as I stood there with my mouth half open. She then threw the brooch onto the porch and ran down the steps and into the night. The big cursive M glared at me.

     I picked it up, and wondered what I’d do now. I went inside, drank a couple glasses of water, and went into my bedroom. Girls are crazy anyway, I thought.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Another Helpful Hint From Industry

Whereas the Chicago Tribune quotes a helpful, neutral expert (registration required) who suggests improvements for workplace productivity:

“If you’re watching video, you’re probably not working,” said Vimal Solanki, director of product marketing at McAfee Inc., a software vendor whose products to block Web access are selling briskly.

Not to be outdone, the makers of Stadium Pal not that if employees are going to the bathroom, they’re probably not working, either.

(Link seen on this little blog out of Tennessee run by an obscure academic. Click through! He could use 1/10th of my traffic.)

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Sad Testament

So, how many of the’s Worst 50 Beers have you had?

My total:

  1. Busch NA
  2. Steelback Tango
  3. Black Label 11-11 Malt Liquor
  4. Sleeman Clear
  5. Steelback Silver
  6. Michelob Ultra
  7. O’Douls
  8. B-40 Bull Max
  9. Coors Non-Alcoholic
  10. Olde English 800 3.2
  11. Pabst NA
  12. PC 2.5 g Low Carb
  13. Natural Light
  14. Tuborg T-Beer
  15. Steelback Link
  16. Jacob Best Ice
  17. Natural Ice
  18. Camo Silver Ice High Gravity Lager
  19. Gluek Stite Light
  20. Miller Sharps
  21. Camo Genuine Ale
  22. Coors Aspen Edge
  23. Diamond White Cider
  24. Molson Ex Light
  25. Hurricane Ice
  26. Hurricane High Gravity Lager
  27. Labatt Sterling
  28. Milwaukees Best
  29. Tuborg T-Beer Citrus
  30. General Generic Beer
  31. Outback Chilli Beer
  32. Busch Ice
  33. Molson Kick
  34. Blue Ice Beer
  35. Cave Creek Chili Beer
  36. Tuborg Super Light
  37. Tooheys Blue Bitter
  38. Pabst Ice
  39. Fosters Light
  40. Hek Original Lager Blonde Beer (Blue label)
  41. Old Milwaukee Ice
  42. Fosters Ice
  43. Lucky Lager Force 10
  44. Zhujiang 10°
  45. Bootie Light
  46. Schlitz Red Bull
  47. Archa
  48. Bud Light
  49. Matt Accel
  50. Genesee NA

I have drunk 6 of the worst beers in the world. I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

You Can Download Anything

Ginned-up story of the day: Using Internet for drug deals is not unusual, authorities say:

While the wide array of drugs seized from a student’s car this week at Lutheran High School South struck authorities as unusual, the suspicion that a supplier used the Web to get them here was not.

No word on the obvious use of that dangerous technology the automobile in the lead, but there’s that demon Web.

Authorities indicate that with a broad enough band, you can download drugs right into your computer:

Investigators said they have indications that some of the seized drugs were obtained from Bosnia via the Internet.

But thanks to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for recycling this story from 1995 and reprinting it. One must wonder if a glance through its archives would have found a story a little over a hundred years ago explaining how madams were using stagecoaches to get women to their cathouses.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Recursive Logic Error

Looks like everyone’s running with this story today: Study finds we’re human-chimp hybrid.

Revel in the logic, friends. It’s GNUs Not Unix all over again. We, humans, are a cross between humans and chimps. The humans that they crossed with the chimps were a cross between humans and chimps. Which in turn must have been human and chimp hybrids.

Sloppy headlines reveal sloppy thinking. And we get a lot of that in the papers today, ainna?

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Boeing CEO Doesn’t Wear Horsehair Shirt, Self-Flagellate to Post-Dispatch Reporter’s Satisfaction

The CEO of Boeing gives a speech at Saint Louis University, sponsored by the Boeing Institute of International Business at SLU’s John Cook Business School. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Boeing chief skips mention of scandal in speech:

Boeing Co. Chairman Jim McNerney’s first public speech in St. Louis was filled with historical references: Lewis and Clark, the real story behind the invention of the Post-it and why aviation pioneer James S. McDonnell set up shop here nearly 70 years ago.

However, in his speech on Tuesday, McNerney steered clear of a recent development in Boeing’s history: a $615 million settlement with the Justice Department that allows Boeing to avoid admitting wrongdoing and criminal prosecution on corruption charges.

"Reporter" Tim McLaughlin goes on to list a number of scandals and shoddy business practices that preceded the CEO’s assumption of the Chief Executive post. McLaughlin then throws in an aside to why he thinks the CEO should half turned the collegiate appearance into a weepy, mea-culpa Oprahesque piece of failure and redemption at the audience’s pity:

Not mentioning the scandals and the subsequent tentative settlement in the speech was notable, given that McNerney left 3M Co. to rebuild Boeing’s reputation.

That’s nothing but a self-justification for this particular story list of anti-Boeing bullet points.

Meanwhile, we at MfBJN note that McLaughlin didn’t bother to mention the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s declining circulation or job cuts in this article. We have to wonder why not?

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories