Book Report: Shopgirl by Steve Martin (2000)

I bought this book for like a buck at the Jewish Community Center book fair this year, fully conscious that I risked my life to help fund the organization and to add to my library. Sad, I know, but in this modern world, I did note the dangers of being near a Jewish center. If I hadn’t gone, the terrorists would have won. Also, I would not have gotten a good deal on some books I have been meaning to buy.

This book, though, doesn’t fall into the class of books I’ve been meaning to buy, but I bought it never the less. I’ve been intrigued by Steve Martin’s writing forays, in a “if they fall into my lap” sort of way, for some time. I liked Bowfinger, which Martin wrote. I’ve heard good things about L.A. Story, which Martin also wrote. I dragged my poor wife to see a local community theatre production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Crikey, soon to be a major motion picture). I’d heard about Martin’s work for The New Yorker. So I wanted to read something on my own. Okay, I probably had read somewhere about the movie version of this film, too. So I bought it. I spent like a buck, okay?

This novella (130 pages) describes a glove department salesperson and her involvement with an older, rich computer guy and how they define intimacy and how it helps them both along in the long run. To make a short book shorter, there you go.

The story is presented entirely in the present tense but for some future tense foreshadowing. The tense choice isn’t particularly jarring, however, to those of us used to past tense whether in third person or first person. I thought the first portion of the book interesting, as the characters develop in their (purposefully limited) fashion. However, when the relationship progressed, it got a little wearing (but not for long–this ain’t Tolstoy). Finally, the end and the resolution seems a bit forced and chopped. Perhaps this would have made a better short story with less, a better novel with more. Or maybe it’s a good prose screenplay–I’ll have to catch the film version sometime later to compare (probably after Sharky’s Machine).

Still, it’s not a bad work if you can get it cheap. If you cannot and want to see what this wild and crazy guy writes like, click the helpful link below. You, gentle reader, have the ability to put MfBJN over the check-cutting threshold from the Amazon Associates program sometime before never.

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We’re Just CB Radio in Web Browsers Redux

Lieberman, ‘Snakes’ and the seductive mythology of the blogosphere:

If ever America needed a wake-up call about the mythology of blogging, we got it this month.

On Aug. 8, Connecticut businessman Ned Lamont defeated U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, a triumph widely credited to the rah-rah racket produced by pro-Lamont armies stationed along the Internet.

Indeed, the bloggers had scored big. They had helped vault a local politician to national prominence and cemented the Iraq war as Issue No. 1 in the congressional elections. Not a bad day.

But their victory was short-lived. Even before the primary, Lieberman announced that, should he lose, he’d still run in November as an independent. This electoral chutzpah effectively rope-a-doped the bloggers and recharged the senator’s fabled Joe-mentum. Lieberman’s still the man to beat in the general election.

If this wasn’t enough to drain the effervescence from the blogger bubbly, America’s noisy Web wags were dealt an even more sobering blow 10 days later when Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide to a decidedly flat $15.3 million box office.

Before its premiere, Snakes had been the latest blogger darling, as swarms of online film geeks prematurely crowned it the summer’s big sleeper. This hyperventilating fan base even convinced Snakes’ distributor, New Line Cinema, to up the movie’s rating to R, to ensure a gorier, more venomous snake fest.

But all that clapping and yapping couldn’t put enough fannies in the seats. Ticket sales for Snakes’ debut barely topped those of Talladega Nights, which was already in its third week.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m proven otherwise: blogs are CB radio with permalinks.

And we know how much CB changed the face of citizen media in the 1970s. It spawned a number of books, three Smokey and the Bandit movies, and Convoy. Some of its slang lives on, but you don’t see many cars with the antennae on their roofs any more, do you?

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Informal Caucus Recommends Republican Nominee

Here in Missouri, we convened the informal Republican caucus that occurs during the family reunion, usually after the barbecued dinner, when the fat cat elder statesmen of the family and I gather in the living room of my uncle’s home and commune in the warmth of similar opinions. Although we tend to all lean Republican, we espouse different basic philosophies. But over barbecue, turkey, or ham, we come together to share brief commentary on the sad state of the world and those darn liberals.

Cousin Tat, a doctor, represents a seemingly evangelical bent, almost a liberation theology knowledge of scriptures combined with personal belief translated to action. He’s concerned about the environment, the corrupting effect of money in politics, and promoting alternative and holistic medicines and treatments. Still, he doesn’t believe the media is telling the truth, and he tends to deplore the Democrats more than the Republicans.

Uncle Jim, a realtor, comes from the socially and fiscally conservative milieu. He attends church every Sunday, sits on the boards of several charitable organizations, and participates in the local Republican party extensively.

Uncle Mike, an information technology professional, uses Clinton as an invective, trends isolationist on foreign policy, and thinks the federal government spends too much money.

Me, I’m a libertarian-conservative who votes futilely for the Libertarian candidate when I’m upset with the Republican incumbent or just to burnish my independence. I think the best government balance would be a Libertarian legislature passing few laws and a Republican administration rigorously enforcing them.

So we gathered in the tastefully-appointed living room, let our belts out, and looked beyond the 2006 elections toward the 2008 presidential election. After deriding the Bush administration for its immigration policy and the wildly out-of-control spending afforded us by the “winning” combination of a Republican president and a Republican legislature seeking to be compassionately conservative, but mostly re-elected.

Uncle Jim lamented the lack of an obvious candidate. John McCain won’t do, we agreed. Besides, Uncle Jim—or maybe it was Tat—said, he knew some people who’d heard from someone in another legislator’s office that McCain was a real hothead. Not to mention the McCain-Feingold Act. Come to think of it, I didn’t mention it, but it’s why I’ll not vote for McCain again, even though I contributed in 2000.

What about Guiliani? I said.

The social conservatives won’t come out and vote for him, Uncle Jim said.

They’ll come out to vote against Hillary, I said.

No way. My uncle sounded like he was already penciling in other plans for the first Tuesday in November.

He’ll prosecute the war on terror, I said.

Even though Uncle Mike doesn’t think that the United States should be the world’s policeman, he was for Guiliani. But Uncle Jim insisted that the social conservatives wouldn’t vote for Giuliani.

I flipped through my brain’s pages for the lists of contenders to whom the blogosphere and the newspapers are paying early attention. George Allen came to mind. But I didn’t want to explain to them who he was. Matt Blunt will be old enough, I said. The Missouri Governor will turn 35 by the election, and I had once run a small-time blog called Draft Matt Blunt 2008.

Perhaps his dad could pull a few strings, Uncle Jim said, but the rest of the group didn’t think Blunt had a chance. I mentioned that in 1992, an unknown governor from Arkansas had come out of nowhere to win the presidency, but ultimately, we knew that Matt Blunt wasn’t the man around whom we and the party could rally.

I thought about strong, effective, charismatic executives who were born in this country and whom the nation recognized and respected. Probably not Missourian John Ashcroft, whose name has become synonymous with overreaching government authority and covering statues’ breasts. I remembered Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin. They still like him well enough in Wisconsin, a state that tilted Democrat last time. He also served in the cabinet in the Bush Administration, but not in a department anyone pays much attention to. Then, I thought, that’s the wrong Thompson.

Fred Thompson, I said.

He was going to nail Clinton until John Glenn traded all his respect for a ride in space, Uncle Mike said.

You know, everything that comes out of his mouth is common sense, Uncle Jim said. I’ve heard a rumor that he is going to replace Paul Harvey.

He’s got a good voice and he’s recognized, I said. He plays a lot of good guy roles.

Who’s Fred Thompson? Cousin Tat said. After an explanation that the man was an actor and a former senator, Tat still couldn’t place him. However, Uncle Mike drew the Ronald Reagan comparison.

So there you have it, men in power in the party: 75% of the caucus in that large suburban home in the middle of the country approved of Fred Thompson for president, and the other 25% hadn’t heard of him. He will be recognized by much of the voting public, has bona fide conservative credentials, and has gravitas (but that’s so 2000).

Fred Dalton Thompson is an experienced legislator, but not one who held office long enough to feel its corruption. He left office of his own accord to pursue a lucrative career that doesn’t require schmoozing current legislators or offering them campaign contributions or kickbacks. He offered a stern, strong voice of national defense when he narrated the Citizens United ad about terrorism and Iraq. So if he wants to take a pay cut from network television and movies, he should be our man in 2008. He unites the party, or at least our small portion of it, like no one else does.

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Ask Dr. Creepy: I Need Some Boss Wheels On A Budget

Dr. Creepy
Dear Doctor Creepy,
I am finally on my own since I have my mother’s basement all to myself! I’ve finally paid my student loans from three semesters of community college with the wages I made at the mall’s Sunglass Hut and then the mall’s theatre after the Sunglass Hut manager fired me because nobody would stop at the shop when I was on duty. Now, I’ve put some money into my “savings account”–a hollowed-out Strawberry Shortcake on my nightstand, and I’m thinking about what kind of car I could get to replace my Schwinn. I’ve looked at some of the cars with For Sale signs on them in my neighborhood. I’ve seen a 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier sedan in grey that I can afford and a 1986 red(ish) Nissan Pulsar.

Now, I’ve never been very lucky with the ladies, and I’m hoping to snare one for a long-term relationship. My question is, what should I look for in a set of boss wheels? Something sporty, or something traditional to indicate that I am a dependable mate, at least until curfew?

2 Wheels, 4 Eyes

Dear 2 Wheels, 4 Eyes,
You’re on the right track with your lingo, son. Although kids of today would refer to a pimpin’ ride or something similar, remember, to achieve the zen of creepy, you need to remain slightly asynchronous with your fellow man. Boss wheels works.

Dr. Creepy remembers the days of limited budgets, but only barely, since I’m a doctor now. However, I suggest an alternate to the vehicles you suggest. To really impress a woman, you need a grey cargo van.

I fondly remember the Ford Econoline I drove. It was a former business vehicle, with no windows and side-lettering painted over in a mismatched color of paint. When I drove that truck, I felt my masculinty coursing through me with every chunk-chunk-chunk of the bad bearings in the right front wheel. That sound drew attention, and the people were looking at me.

I customized some of the van myself; I put the “If the van’s rockin'” bumper sticker on the rear bumper and replaced the passenger side mirror with the passenger side mirror from an old Ford Fairlane. I hitched the fuel tank up with a chain and a nut and bolt. Although I didn’t have to do it with mine, I’d recommend spray painting the windows in the back of the van for privacy. Perhaps a couple of moving blankets for private time. That sort of initiative shows a woman that you’re handy.

Yes, friend, you can take the Jaguars and you can take the Porsches of the world, but a woman takes note when you slow down in a grey cargo van to check her out. Who is that man, she wonders. Or the tingle of excitement a woman feels when she comes out of work at night and sees that van in the parking lot. Is he waiting for me? she asks herself, and her breathing quickens.

Would any mere BMW do that for a woman? I think not.

Plus, you can haul your G.I. Joe collection, weight bench, and bed when your mom throws you out.

Dr. Creepy

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It Could Be Nothing

Up to 14 hurt in SF hit-and-run spree:

As many as 14 people were injured this afternoon by a motorist who drove around San Francisco running them down before he was arrested, authorities said.

But it could be something:

Authorities have identified the man who was arrested as Omeed Aziz Popal, who has addresses in Ceres (Stanislaus County) and Fremont.

I’m certainly sensitive to the possibility.

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Book Report: The Golden Gate by Alistair MacLean (1976)

I bought this book for a quarter at the Bridgeton Trails Branch of the St. Louis County library. Because, I guess, I’m frugal and wanted to save the seventy-five cents extra it would have cost me for a non-former library copy of this book at a book fair somewhere. No, more likely, I saw it and knew that I didn’t have it, and I wanted it now, which was then.

As you know, I’m revisiting my Alistair MacLean fixation from high school (I read Partisans, Caravan to Vaccares, and Floodgate last year, as you remember, gentle reader).

Like Floodgate, this book ventures from MacLean’s strongest topic matter, World War II and early Cold War espionage. In this book, a band of criminals hijack the motorcade of the President and a couple oil sheiks as it crosses the Golden Gate Bridge. There, the criminals hold the hostages for ransom, but they have to deal with an FBI agent in their midst.

The book is written in the typical MacLean potboiler fashion, with characters reminiscient of others in his line. The plot is novel and preposterous, but one expects some of that from MacLean. Some of the scenes and technical descriptions within the book–more the depictions of technical details–let us know that the author has carefully considered and choreographed what he’s talking about, but the prose doesn’t bring it to life. Fortunately, as with Clancy, one kind of skims these to get to the action.

So the book is an acceptable piece of the genre work, but more importantly, it solves a discussing I had with a (foreign national) co-worker (who left Oklahoma City in late 1995) about how easy it would be to damage the Golden Gate bridge in a terrorist attack. I was right that an attack on the road surface or the towers themselves would probably be ineffectual, but we didn’t consider the effectiveness of attacking the suspension cables themselves. Probably because we’re not engineers, we’re not committed terrorists, and we were only killing time with spurious talk while watching the smokers gather on the sidewalk outside the entrance to the building across the street.

Never the less, this anecdote should at least illustrate the depth and the breadth of the Noggle Library. Odds are, I probably have a book about it, no matter what it is.

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L’il Dig?

A large public works project that goes hundreds of millions over budget, leads to suits and counter suits between the city and the contractors, and leads to an unsustainable business model that’s freshly-mewling for more tax money. What could make it better? Oh, yeah, brag about the tunnels:

Instead of burrowing underground like miners, crews ripped open Forest Park Parkway and dug a trench that in some places is 45 feet deep. Reinforced concrete shored up the tunnel walls, and massive precast concrete tops – some weighing up to 30 tons – covered the tunnel.

Oh, boy.

I suspect this one, as only a minor boondoggle, won’t collapse, but if it does, we can easily point our fingers at nearby home owners who will have cost lives to maintain their property values.

Also, the ACLU, somehow.

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ACLU Wants Little Girls To Die

Boy Scouts rescue toddler in river:

A troop of Boy Scouts on a camping trip saved an 18-month-old girl who had fallen in a river upstream from them and was floating face down, officials said.

James Taranto of Best of the Web Today reminds us:

The ACLU describes the Boy Scouts as “an organization that will go the way of the Daughters of the American Revolution in losing its place in American life if it does not end its discriminatory practices.”

If the ACLU had its way, the intolerant organization wouldn’t exist, and that little girl would be dead.

I suppose some secularists and nontraditionalists would say that something would arise to take the Boy Scouts place and to teach young men to love and respect themselves and nature and embraces homosexuality, but I’m not so optimistic. One thing’s for sure, though; the Boy Scouts were prepared when they needed to be in this instance (and, no doubt, in many others). Fortunately for the little girl, her family, and for the future people she’ll touch in her wonderful life.

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Chris Lawrence Said It (II)

He wrote:

Today’s Post-Dispatch has almost all the information you need to know about the grand opening of Metrolink’s Cross-County Extension next Saturday.

It probably didn’t cover this, either:

A woman was critically injured when she apparently jumped into the path of a MetroLink train early today near the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Wow, the enemies of light rail are going all out to sabotage the triumph of this inflexible marvel of modern transit just as its latest, and only second, rail line opens, only a year late and only hundreds of million over budget!

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Chris Lawrence Said It

He wrote:

Today’s Post-Dispatch has almost all the information you need to know about the grand opening of Metrolink’s Cross-County Extension next Saturday.

It probably didn’t cover this:

Several passengers suffered minor injuries when equipment on a MetroLink train got tangled and smashed into a window near Forest Park in St. Louis Monday evening.

Remember, friends, you can enjoy this sort of fun on the Shrewsbury-Clayton line starting this weekend!

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Wherein I Admit That My Offspring Is A Genius

That is correct, my Post Fetal Creature (PFC) is a freakin’ genius. He’s only six weeks old and he’s already talking. Well, he’s said his first word, anyway. That is correct, at only six weeks old, my heir said, quite clearly, “a.”

What, you noun-and-verb fetishists, an indefinite article isn’t good enough for a first word? No, you want “mommy” or “dada” or “absquatulate” before you’ll consider it a word.

You’re just jealous of my child’s obvious gifts.

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Unspoken Letters

Cardinals ticket sales are down, and they’ve got a million theories why, but none of the ones enumerated in the story match my expectation.

Here are two things that have alienated some of the out-of-town fan base:

A publicly funded stadium. Remember the signs that said “We’ll build a stadium when the Cardinals build highways”? The people who put them in their yards and on their farms do.

  • The Cardinals bought KTRS and moved their broadcasts to the underpowered AM station and a “network” that leaves the radio coverage spotty in St. Louis, much less within driving range of a weekend in St. Louis.
  • No, certainly the dive in tourism traffic comes from gas prices and the rumor that every game is a sell-out. Good luck with continuing delusions.

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    Northrop Grumman Marketing Material Front Page News in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    We’ve known it for a long time, but why is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch now running as its Sunday headline, page one, above the fold, Missiles may be next big threat to U.S. airliners?

    The nation’s airline industry is a shoulder-launched missile attack away from plunging into a financial tailspin, one that could trigger $1 trillion-plus in financial losses in this country.

    Five years after the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. passenger jets still have no response to a shoulder-launched missile that can be purchased on the black market for as little as $5,000 and can hit a target more than a mile away. If beefed-up airline security continues to keep terrorists and their bombs off commercial flights, shoulder-launched missile attacks pose a likely alternative, experts say.

    “Terrorists are a lot like electricity: They take the path of least resistance,” said Jack Pledger, an executive at defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. “Instead of working out elaborate methods, terrorists go to the next-easiest thing. If you take out these easy things, you drive them to using” a shoulder-launched missile.

    Pledger is director of business development for Northrop Grumman’s infrared-countermeasure program, which is testing a system that disrupts a shoulder-launched missile’s guidance system. The cost of the system would be less than $1 million for each plane if Northrop were to receive enough orders to warrant high-rate production.

    Such a deal! But the government and the airlines are not willing to choke up the million dollars’ plus that Northrop Grumman charges for the solution. Ergo, it’s time to gin up some outrage so The People force the airlines, hardly awash in slush funds, or the government, too awash in taxpayer slush, to bolster its bottom line.

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    Book Report: Barrier Island by John D. MacDonald (1986)

    This book provides an interesting amalgamation of some of MacDonald’s earlier work, the business-oriented novels, with some of the maudlin sentimentality found in the Travis McGee novels. As it was released as a heavy hardback, with nice paper, it aims to weightiness instead of brisk paperback sensibility. Unfortunately, it’s unsatisfying.

    The story opens on Tucker Loomis after a night with an old flame. He’s brought her out to a romantic rendezvous off of Barrier Island, a, well, barrier island off of Mississippi or Florida. He not only wanted to rekindle a little good lovin’, but he wanted his flame, a real estate agent, to witness a payoff to an assistant federal prosecutor. In case the fed fails to carry out his part of the deal, you see.

    The book then explores several of the players as the land scheme for which ol’ Tuck is being prosecuted unravels. An idealistic partner in a real estate firm tries to hold his marriage together while investigating the scheme. It seems that Tuck bought the land, envisioned a tropical paradise for millionaires, and sold its lots before the federal government condemned it and seized it for park land. Loomis wants a big settlement based upon the big profits he would have realized, but the idealist real estate man discovers some of the land sales Tuck had made were fraudulent. In addition to his marriage, the partner has to worry about maintaining his real estate firm with the wheeler-dealer who got involved with Tuck in the first place. Meanwhile, Tuck’s dealing with a wife in a vegatative state and an attractive nurse who imagines herself as the new Mrs. Loomis–after the current Mrs. Loomis dies.

    With this set of characters and framework, perhaps MacDonald could have done better. Unfortunately, the book suffers from two flaws:

    • The point of view is skewed. We’re introduced to Tucker Loomis in the beginning, so I wanted to root for him. However, he’s not the protagonist. He’s sort of the antagonist. The protagonist, as I can tell, is the idealistic real estate agent. Unfortunately, his voice isn’t very consistent throughout the book. When we get the maudlin asides about the pillaging of the environment by the newcomers to the Gulf Coast, it’s almost expository. It’s acceptable in the McGee novels because it’s a part of the character of Travis McGee; but here, it’s hanging out there on its own.
    • The end is abrupt. Tucker Loomis is laid low pretty quickly, and the masterful subplots and characterizations end up wasted.

    I think the book mixes, unsuccessfully, elements of his early work, elements of the Travis McGee novels, and elements of his later, longer, hardback work (such as Condominium and One More Sunday). As one of his last works, if not the last, it’s not a capstone of his career. But my copy is a first edition, nyah nyah.

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    Almost A Punchline

    Man falls into vat of chocolate, lives:

    An ordinary night’s work at the chocolate company turned dangerous for Darmin Garcia early Friday after he fell into a vat of the molten goo and was trapped for more than two hours.

    “I was pushing the chocolate down into the vat because it was stuck,” said Garcia, 21. “It came loose, and I just slid down the hopper into the chocolate.”

    With a picture that shows a dark-haired, bare-chested, 21-year-old muscular man more than waist deep in chocolate. Did I say Almost a punchline? I mean Every woman’s fantasy.

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    Leave No Hamster Behind Act

    Measure could force pet shops to keep better records; Bill also calls for stricter rules on exercise and care:

    Lawmakers will vote today on a bill that could require pet shops to abide by stricter regulations like keeping detailed records on the animals they sell and providing toys and exercise wheels for small animals like rats, hamsters, mice and guinea pigs.

    Face it, citizens, our civilization has peaked. The amount of civil liberties that citizens enjoy has reached its high water mark and is ebbing. Our government is now taking rights from us and giving them to animals.

    Say what you will about the totalitarian nature of the Chinese regime, but at least it’s using its totalitarianism to the ends of a human society and not the gerbil society.

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    Real Men of Criminal Genius

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lowers the bar on criminal masterminds in this story:

    A cigarette thief is taking great pains not to get caught as he makes his getaway from Madison County stores, authorities said Tuesday.

    Those great pains?

    He uses duct tape to cover the registration number on the temporary Illinois tag on the back of his black Saturn, which has no front plate.

    Because apparently the great pains don’t include obscuring his face, since there’s a full facial shot of him accompanying the story.

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