Book Report: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1987)

Book coverThis book is pretty short, about 130 pages with 30 some pages of introduction. As I’ve recently rediscovered, one should generally read the introduction to classical literature college textbook editions last. So I did with this book.

Spoiler alert: Ivan Ilyich dies.

The story itself covers the life of Ivan Ilyich briefly, discussing his youth, his entry into government service, his marriage (happy, then tolerated), and his pursuits. One day while preparing his new home in the city for his family, he slips on a ladder and hits his back on a knob. Although he laughs about it at the time, the injury eventually causes his death as some internal damage grows over the course of months. Ivan goes to various doctors and tries various medicines and therapies, but comes to believe he’s dying. As he does, he sees life slipping away and people beginning to move on with their lives without him.

It’s a pretty grim story, and one that resonates with me and threatens to trigger my latent hypochondria. I know exactly what little pains revealed my aunt’s and my mother’s cancers which would kill them in a matter of months. Now I’m going to worry about little bangs when I’m working around the house and floating kidneys.

The introduction gives a brief biography of Tolstoy and then muses on death in literature and philosophy for a length equivalent to a third of the book.

The book itself comes from a university bookstore sometime (although I didn’t get it from one, obviously). As such, it includes someone else’s underlining and marginalia. In this case, a studious student, who underlines metaphors and writes “metaphor” in the margin and who underlines names and writes the relationship to Ivan Ilyich alongside the text, which pretty much gives the relationship in the same sentence. Although my professors encouraged me to “dialog with the text” by marking up my textbooks, I didn’t really enjoy defacing the books that way. Fortunately, this one is not marked up to the point of illegibility.

At any rate, it’s a nice little piece of Existentialist Russian literature, a short read that tackles a subject you don’t get in a lot of books.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

Artificial Intelligence Catches Up With 1990s Era English Majors

Back when I was a young man majoring in English and philosophy at the university 1990-1994, I took sport in asking my compatriots in the English department to ask three morals. Not any morals, not even morals that the interrogated actually followed. Just three morals. The question tripped up most of them as they were enlightened in the ways of relativism and would not identify morals at all under threat of possibly being considered a prude somewhere. Now, friends, this is a Catholic (!) university, and the Christian faith has ten prominent morals specified in Exodus and hundreds in other bits of the Pentateuch. Most people could spell out at least three of the Ten Commandments even if they didn’t adhere to them or think they could. But oh so many of those adults would not or could not.

Fast forward twenty years, and these same people are full professors teaching the programmers who have built an AI that gets testy when pressed on morals:

Over at Google, a computer program using a database of movie scripts was asked again and again by researchers to define morality. It struggles to do so, and in a conversation recorded by its human engineers, becomes exasperated and ends the conversation by lashing out at its human inquisitor.

The transcript presented at the link could have been one of the conversations I had while selling doughnuts to support the small literary magazine.

Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics would have counted as three morals, by the way, but neither the English majors in those days nor modern algorithms read Asimov.

(Link via Ed Driscoll at Instapundit, which sounds weird.)

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

Memo for File

In advance of a pool party this weekend, we picked up a couple of theme-oriented pool noodles from the dollar store.

Each of which had this set of warnings on them:

Caution: This is not a lifesaving device. Do not leave child unattended while in use. Adult supervision required. Submerged product, once released, may propel out of water and strike face or eyes.

Retain information and keep for your records.

Do I file that under P for pool or N for noodle? I wish the instructions were more specific.

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

Book Report: Awesome Projects from Unexpected Places edited by Noah Weinstein (2013)

Book coverIn my mind, there’s a line between crafting and Making; I’ve capitalized the m to emphasize the Make movement which is a combination of crafting along with power tools and harder materials. Since many of the projects in this book involve power tools, electricity, and metal, it’s definitely toward the Maker side of the spectrum. You’re not going to do many of these projects at your kitchen table. Most of them require a workshop.

At any rate, the book includes a gamut of projects from embedding objects in an resin tablet top to making a bracelet out of paracords. There are some metal art works, such as a metal flower or metal vases. There are some furniture pieces, including a dining room table made from a recycled bowling alley or a coffee table made from a recycled car tire.

The projects in the book are not junk chic or recycling junk to make new items; some of the projects involve a decent outlay in supplies.

So this wasn’t much what I like to think I do sometimes, but I haven’t done anything of the sort lately. Hopefully checking these books out of the library–before football season even–will inspire me to do something, especially with the junk I’ve already accumulated in the garage.

The projects in this book come from, by the way, so you can head over there to see these and others of their stripe, but not in the handy browseable book format.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

Book Report: Shaman King #17 by Hiroyuki Takei (2008)

Book coverThis book is my very first manga, and this book report is my first chance to make the joke Manga but pawn in game of life, although it could probably have used more setup. I wonder if anyone else has ever made that joke before; however, in lieu of researching it (I mean, searching the Internet for the phrase), I’ll just accept my primacy.

Where was I? Oh, manga.

Well, this is the seventeenth volume in this particular story, so I’ve missed quite a bit. There’s a page of characters in the beginning and a couple of paragraphs of The Story So Far. So, the story: There’s a tournament of shamans in Japan. Every five years, they choose a shaman king, and there’s a tournament to see who it will be. There are a bunch of young sorcerors fighting each other to win; there are some alliances happening, and one of the boy’s father comes to teach something but first fights a couple of them. Then the bad guy allies of one come to fight the couple using dirty tricks. And then there’s a cliffhanger. To be continued in Shaman King #18. I think there are 36 in all.

This ain’t my bag, baby.

For starters, it was definitely odd to read from right to left. Undoubtedly, it is good for my brain to do strange things like that, but. Also, the influence of video games on the art and plots mean it’s full of interludes, combat, reflections on player stats (everyone goes on about one character’s 1,250,000 mana!), and panels that identify some power, attack, or spirit animal by putting it all in capitals amongst an explosion image. Also, the book contains numerable-but-why-count-that-high panels of character reaction shots where the startled characters say, “Huh?” I don’t know how many ways Japanese language has to convey this; maybe a bunch of subtle things have been simplified for English readers. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m not the target audience, either, since I’m not all about the comic art and gauge books on the words and plots. But I’m unimpressed.

I still have three or four of these to go through from my recent purchases, and I’ve been warned not to judge all manga from a single volume of some series, but I’m not that eager to jump into another one. Except they’re short, and I’ll be able to let my son look through them. So I’ll probably knock through the whole bunch by the end of the summer.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

Oh, Yes, I Did

So I dropped a couple items off at Trinity Church on Tuesday for the Lutherans for Life garage sale, and I discovered there that they had a couple of TI-99 4/As in the original box.

So you know I went up there today the minute the garage sale opened to buy my precious.

I haven’t hooked them up yet, but I’ll try them out soon and perhaps dig out a couple of cartridges from my stash. I’ll be the children would like to play Surround or Hustle.

I have to wonder about the story behind these two becoming available at the same time. A pair of TIs for a pair of siblings in the 1980s whose parents cleaned out the garage? Probably something like that.

And this means that I’m now at parity between TIs and Commodore 64s in the house as I have five of each (although a Commodore 128 means I’m still tipped to favor Commodores). In case you’re wondering what I’m going to do with them, my beautiful wife suggested that I display them all in my House on the Rock clubhouse. When I get insanely wealthy. Which I have a better chance of than finding an old Apple II variant at a garage sale in the 21st century.

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

Surprisingly, Government Numbers Don’t Bear Up

Home efficiency upgrades fall short, don’t pay: Study:

Home efficiency measures such as installing new windows or replacing insulation deliver such a small fraction of their promised energy savings that they may not save any money over the long run, according to the surprising conclusion of a University of Chicago study.

The study, which used data from a random sample of 30,000 low-income Michigan households that were eligible for an Energy Department home weatherization program, found that the projected energy savings were 2.5 times greater than actual savings. As a result, energy bills didn’t decline nearly enough to eventually pay for the initial cost of the upgrades.

“The problem is that the real world is screwy,” said Michael Greenstone, an energy economist and head of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “The models project much larger savings than are realized by homeowners.”

Strangely enough, projections and modeling designed to influence or dictate behavior don’t bear up under actual scrutiny and real world experience. Just another place where science and government statistics diverge. Well, no, I guess it’s the same place, the one called “everywhere.”

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

Book Report: Kickback by Ace Atkins (2015)

Book coverMy beautiful wife saw this book at the library and brought it home for me to read in a hurry, since it’s a new book and is only available for a week checkout. So I did.

Welp, the book is an Ace Atkins Spenser book, and he’s moving more into his style than merely imitating Parker’s here. In the book, Spenser works to investigate the relationship between a judge in a small Massachusetts town who sentences juveniles to a for-profit rehabilitaton facility and the for-profit company running it. Of course, the new mob is involved somehow, although I’m still unclear as to how.

My enjoyment of the book is probably diminished by how soon after the Travis McGee books it came.

Atkins’ style for these books, as I’ve mentioned, seems informed by television; the scenes are television-like scenes of scenery and dialog, and the ending of the book wraps the plot up with an explanatory resolution and then some things that might be woven into a future episode. Or not.

The writing also suffers from a couple other flaws:

  • The reliance on the italicized other point-of-view chapters. Instead of the criminal, though, we get a tangentally related unfolding story of not Spenser’s focal point on the island, but another youth sentenced to the facility for a crime we’re only sort of aware of. His story isn’t fully fleshed out, but it’s included because it gives the book a Youth In Jeopardy storyline so favored in Brandman’s Jesse Stone books and gives the book grounds for a cinematic but otherwise extraneous Spenser swoops in in the nick of time to rescue said youth.
  • Some extraneous wordage, including some repeated things. At the outset of the book, when Spenser’s in his office, there’s a touch of description and interaction with the mother of a teen sent to the institution, and there’s a sentence tacked on that says his Brooklyn Dodger hat and peacoat are hanging by the door. But the sentence is tacked onto an unrelated paragraph. Throughout, we’re told about his Dodgers hat and peacoat over and over. Aside from that, there’s a whole chapter of Spenser meeting someone at a textile museum that adds nothing to the story but does describe the museum in detail. It makes one wonder if the author researched it or visited it and had to throw that in to justify writing the trip off.
  • It lacks the depth of MacDonald’s writing, where the asides add some resonance and muse on the meaning of life aside from the crime story. To be fair to Ace Atkins, Parker’s writing started to skip over those flourishes around the time of his trips to California for the television series Spenser: For Hire.

Is it a good book? Is it a bad book? It’s a modern crime fiction book, and it’s probably not a bad example of the genre. But it’s nothing compared to the paperback originals from fifty years ago.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

Book Report: A Tan and Sandy Silence and Two Other Great Mysteries by John D. MacDonald (1971?)

Book coverThis book collects three Travis McGee novels from the late 1960s into a single hardback edition. The originals, it should be noted, were in paperback. The three books are A Tan and Sandy Silence, The Long Lavender Look, and Bright Orange for the Shround.

In A Tan and Sandy Silence, McGee investigates the disappearance of an former lover after her husband comes looking for her upon The Busted Flush and tries to kill McGee. Travis discovers a disturbing financial plot, philandering, and a sociopathic French Canadian accountant involved in a land development scheme with the husband. The book also has a subplot about McGee contemplating retirement and marrying a wealthy widow. In The Long Lavender Look, McGee and Meyer find themselves framed for murder in a remote Florida county where they’re mistaken for murderers of a local hoodlum who just got released from prison after his last score. Locals, including some of the police, are on the hunt for the proceeds of the heist. In Bright Orange for the Shroud, a formerly well-to-do acquaintaince finds Travis and eventually tells of how his new wife involved him in a land development swindle that picked him clean. McGee tries to recover some of the money from the swindlers and finds a backwoods badman of which nightmares are made.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a McGee book (actually, it’s only been four years since I read The Turquoise Lament). It seems like longer, though, because I tore through these in high school and have not made a concerted effort to re-read them since (unlike the Spenser series, which I last read through from start to finish about fifteen years ago–there were a lot fewer to get through fifteen years ago). So after a little taste of MacDonald with End of the Tiger and Other Stories, I picked up this collection I had standing around. And I’ve rediscovered how much I like this series.

There’s action and interesting plots that we discover along with McGee (remember when this was a thing–that the reader discovered the plot along with the protagonist instead of having the bad guys have their own chapters in italics so everything was clearer at the outset? Modern readers must lack patience, or authors fear the old people who still read books might die off before seeing their genius machinations at the end of the 400-page thriller). The books are at times a bit wordy, a bit musing, but the passages include digressions such as this from A Tan and Sandy Silence:

I went below, turned on a few lights, built a drink, ran a thumb down the stack of tapes, picked Eydie, and chunked her into the tape player and fixed volume.

Eydie has comforted me many times in periods of stress. She has the effortlessness of total professionalism. She is just so damned good that people have not been able to believe she is as good as she is. She’s been handed a lot of dull material, some of it so bad that even her best hasn’t been able to bring it to life. She’s been mishandled, booked into the right places at the wrong time, the wrong places at the right time. But she can do every style and do it a little better than the people who can’t do any other. Maybe a generation from now those old discs and tapes of Eydie will be the collectors’ joy, because she does it all true, does it all with pride, does it all with heart.

So I settled back and listened to her open her throat and let go, backed by Trio Los Panchos, Mexican love songs in flawless Mexican Spanish.

Twenty five years later, and I know what he’s talking about.

At any rate, the asides, philosophical musings, and bits of self doubt have more depth in them than the similar things you find in the Don Pendleton Executioner novels; given how Pendleton’s paperback originals came after MacDonald’s, I can’t help wonder if the former didn’t directly influence the latter.

I didn’t remember much from these books–the subplot from A Tan and Sandy Silence being the thing I remembered the most–I should really look back to this series and reread it for pleasure. Although I’ve got few of them on my to-read shelves, and I feel obligated for the most part to hit those before returning to books that I actually enjoy. So maybe I’ll get lucky and find some other omnibus editions in the book sales of Springfield sometime soon. Of course, I have plenty of other MacDonald paperbacks to read, and my recent experience has reiterated that they’re worth my while.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

The Story of the Easter Chewbacca

It was Easter, so I was at church in a suit that Ace Atkins would mock. After the morning service, the church offers a fellowship half hour where you can generally eat doughnuts, drink coffee, and socialize, but, on Easter, the youth group made real breakfast food as a fundraiser. And, man, I could use it. The church service, filled with infrequent visitors, included a communion.

As I got into the very long, line, a couple of family friends met with me. The wife presented me with a bag and said it was a gift for my beautiful wife and I.

“I hope it’s something to eat,” I said. “I need something to tide me over while I go through the line.”

The wife said it wasn’t, but the husband disagreed, saying it could be if you were hungry enough.

So I looked into the bag, and it’s a little stuffed Chewbacca, a Hallmark Itty Bitty. “You’re right, it looks to be a little Chewie,” I said. Ha! I kill me* and make others want to.

So I stuffed the plush sculpture into my suit jacket pocket where one would normally put a handkerchief. In my university days, the early denim jacket days before the final trench coat days, I carried a little stuffed panda (Edwin) in the jacket pocket. I was a strange young man, but I’ve evolved beyond that.

On Easter, I hoped someone would ask me about the Chewbacca just so I could respond with, “Do you know the story of the Easter Chewbacca?” When the questioner would undoubtedly answer in the negative, I could respond, “Neither do I. I was hoping someone would tell me, because someone gave me this on Easter, and I hoped there was a story.”

So I’ve brought the Easter Chewbacca home and put him atop the grandfather clock in the parlor.

He sits opposite a small leather mouse whose story I know, sort of: Slim, the man who bought the clock and later married my aunt, put the mouse on the clock because of the nursery rhyme (“Hickory Dickory Dock”, I explain to you young people whose modern nursery stories are Minecraft or Five Nights At Freddy’s). As each new owner has inherited the clock (my aunt, my mother, and then I) and as each owner moved, that little mouse ended up atop the clock.

Now, the mouse has a partner. And we have a mystery for the ages: Why, exactly, did I receive a Chewbacca on Easter? Perhaps it was for my beautiful wife, and she knows the story. I suppose I could ask the friends who gave it to us, but, honestly, the truth is generally more disappointing than idle speculation, especially when you have an imagination as vivid as mine.

Perhaps you know the story of the Easter Chewbacca. Please feel free to leave the “truth” of the matter as your fevered imagination invents it in the comments.

Below, Chimera offers a commentary on the Easter Chewbacca:
Continue reading “The Story of the Easter Chewbacca”

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

It’s A Shame They Broke Up; Neither Love Nor Rockets Found Much Success Solo

The Love and Rockets song “So Alive” has entered the playlist of about 200 songs that the local “Most Variety” radio station runs through in roughly the same order but at different times during the day. Almost as though making the programming run on an 18 hour cycle will mask the fact that it’s canned and looping.

I don’t particularly care for the song and didn’t when it was on the radio as a hit; I remember hearing it come on as I was up late on summer vacation, typing computer programs from magazines into a computer room at the house on the gravel road deep in the Heads Creek valley between House Springs and Otto, Missouri, after the rest of the household had gone to bed. The reward was seeing a terribly low resolution ball bounce in a terribly low resolution maze if all the typing matched the checksums at the end of the line.

Now, I hear the song on the radio, and I quip to my children, “It’s a shame when they broke up, because neither Love nor Rockets had much luck solo.”

They don’t get it.

And back in those Commodore 128 summers, we didn’t actually have a way to easily look up whatever happened to those guys. They cut a couple records after the one that spawned their biggest hit, but did not have the same success and they broke up in the 20th century and briefly reunited in the 21st century for a bit of nostalgia.

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

Book Report: Wilderness Trek by Zane Grey (1944)

Book coverI was talking to a friend of mine, and he mentioned that he was reading a Zane Grey western. It’d been a while since I read one (December 2011 to be exact), so I picked up this book.

The book takes place in Australia; two cowboy friends hire on as drovers for a man who is part of a large expedition designed to drive several thousand head of cattle from several “stations” (ranches) across the Australian outback. However, during the course of the trip, one of the two vies for the affection of a lovely young lady with a suspicious drover who has cattle-rustling designs on some of the docile Australian cattle.

The book is 304 pages long, and it feels every one of them. The descriptions are lush, and the action is slow to start as the characters, the relationships, and the courtships begin. Strangely, the confrontation and gunfight with the bad guys takes place at about page 200, which leaves 100 pages of wondering what’s coming next. As it stands, natural disaster and natives provide the set pieces between then and the successful arrival a continent away and the promises of marriage that follow. As my friend says, Western novels are just romance novels with horses and gunplay.

The book isn’t paced as fast as I prefer, and it’s not my bag (although it’s more my bag than, say, the Gunsmith series). Still, the Australian setting triggered my rewatching of Quigley Down Under and might have inspired the recent purchase of Crocodile Dundee. So it’s got that going for it.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

Book Report: House on the Rock

Book coverThis book is a picture book sold at the House on the Rock to help you remember your visit. It does more than that, actually, as the photographers used lights in taking the pictures. You can actually see the rooms.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the House on the Rock is a domicile of sorts built by a man atop a sandstone column starting in the 1950s. The original house stands atop the column, but over the decades between then and now, the fellow (Alex Jordan) and the people he picked to maintain the building have continued adding to it. So the flavor is something between (I would presume) the Winchester House and Hearst Castle. The original house is now surrounded by gardens, other buildings, and a museum dedicated to Alex Jordan, so it’s not clear to the casual visitor that the house is on a rock at all.

But back to this book: It’s a tourist hagiography of the facility and a bit of Alex Jordan, so don’t expect any depth or criticism. Instead, it goes on in marketingese about the various collections and oddities that the attaction houses, which is useful, since one should expect to be overwhelmed when visiting the place in person. It took us almost four hours to go through all the stuff at a pretty consistent pace throughout, without dithering or lingering on anything in particular.

The images in the book are brighter and clearer than the underlit interior of most of the actual House on the Rock itself which has a definite cave feel. Whether they do this to spotlight different things in each room or just to save money on lighting, I don’t know; however, the images are better than the real thing in the areas that they depict.

At any rate, it’s worth a look if you find the book at a book sale. It might not be worth the $20 they charge for it (shrinkwrapped, so you can’t see its contents until you’ve ponied up the dough) at the gift shop.

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

A Loss, Finalized

LaVerne Holliday dies; former radio host sold peanuts outside Busch Stadium

I remember listening to her radio program daily when I lived in Casinoport, and when the linked article explains the way she announced herself on the radio, I heard it.

It’s sad to read how she spent her last days. I can’t believe nobody would give her a shot on some other station unless, as the story hints, there was more to her dismissal than cost-cutting.

(You can read more of my raving about WSIE here and here.)

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

Book Report: Old Trails and Duck Tales

Book coverThis book is a small booklet that recaps the tour of the Original Wisconsin Ducks in the Wisconsin Dells. I recently took this tour, so I know.

I was a little torn as to whether to count this as a book read or to write a book report on it, but I’ve done so for similar booklets offered by tourist attractions I’ve not visited (such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello), so I figured why not?

So the trails and tales are the same that you ride on if you tour with this particular flock of ducks (in Wisconsin Dells, there are many, many companies running tours with the Ducks, apparently). The tour talks a little about the Dells, about the history of the area (which includes a lost town of Newport), about the benefactor who donated land for the Wisconsin Ducks to tour on and the home her heirs still share, and about the flooding in 2008 that almost altered the artificial topography of Lake Delton and the Wisconsin River forever until a massive effort of man returned it to its “natural” original artificial existence.

The booklet is very lightweight and doesn’t delve much into the region or any of the historical anecdotes it covers, but it does serve its purpose of refreshing a visitor on the things he or she has seen. It might be a little fresher or novel for someone who hasn’t taken the tour; reading it without the experience of the ride and the guide’s patter as she recounted the stories from the book in order might make the book seem a little deeper (although the paragraphs in the book are slightly more detailed than the audio presentation, but not much) might give one more urge to learn more about the things herein. Or maybe not.

At any rate, it’s worth the quarter I’d pay for it in a book sale, and because I took the trip, it’s worth the fiver I paid for it on the duck.

Books mentioned in this review:

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

Good Book Hunting: June 12, 2015 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church

The Catholic church down on Republic Road had its annual garage sale this weekend, so I sneaked off on Friday afternoon to see if there was anything for me. I don’t know why, but I’ve been a little down on going to garage sales of late. In the past, I’ve found things I could use in crafts or around the house; I’ve found things to sell on eBay for a bit of walking around money; I’ve found things I collect myself, like old computers and electronics; and I’ve found books and music.

However, I’m not doing the crafts or the eBay much these days, and I’m stuffed to the rafters with books to read. You don’t find old electronics in garage sales these days, as they’ve already found their ways into collections by this point. And the household stuff available is generally ticky tack, and although I’ve been a bachelor and once had a cable spool covered with shag fabric as a central piece of furniture in my loving room, I’m entering the age of my life (that is, married a while) where I’m moving away from pressboard if I can. We’re even down to only two secondhand (garage sale, natch) Sauder printer stands as central pieces of furniture in our house. So the only thing I’m really interested in is maybe some music or records. But I’m still drawn to garage sales for old times’ sake and because, hey, who knows. But I favor the church sales because normal garage sales are rife with kids’ things and things young families want to get rid of. I’m not in a young family, so I don’t need what they have to offer.

At any rate, I did find something:

Among the books, we have:

  • A Norwegian-English dictionary, just in case I ever get to greet the members of a-ha in their native language.
  • Four books in Andre Norton’s Witchworld series in a box set.
  • A book of holiday jokes to scan during fall football games and then to pass onto the joke-loving children.
  • Two of the Richard Marcinko Rogue Warrior novels whose names I didn’t recognize.
  • The Book of Useless Information, another to flip through between football plays on Sunday afternoons.
  • A couple books of manga. I don’t know anything about manga, even how to pronounce manga. I want to pronounce it with a j sound, like mangia, but that’s because I did an open mic night at a little restaurant called Mangia Italiana a couple times back in the day. I’m not sure whether to try it like mango (as Americans pronounce it) or mango (like it’s properly pronounced by Spanish speakers). Given that I spoke Japanese with a Spanish accent back when I tried to learn it from a text-based computer program and pronounced all transliterated Japanese words with Spanish phonemes, I’ll go with the latter until I embarrass myself and say it in front of someone who knows how it’s pronounced.
  • Mele Abbey a guidebook for a landmark of some sort to flip through during football games. Hey, it’s OTA time for the NFL. I have to prepare for the season, too.
  • The Road to Serfdom by Hayek. For fifty cents.

As to music, I got:

  • The Denver Brass, Misbehavin’ on CD.
  • The Best of Romance of The Spanish Guitar on CD.
  • The Dave Brubeck Trio, Time Out (1959) on vinyl.
  • Pearl Bailey, Saint Louis Blues on vinyl.
  • A 78 rpm picture record of Joan Edwards singing “More than You Know” and “Go West Young Man”. It lists on eBay for 40-80 dollars. W00t! And it sounds good.
  • A couple of Bing Crosby 78s. It’s the binder for songs from the film Going My Way, but of the 3 platters, only one is included, and its spindle hole is damaged and requires repair; another disc is “White Christmas”.
  • A 78 song and story book for “Little Toot”.

Additionally, I picked up two videocassettes: Crocodile Dundee and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown along with a book about drawing heroes that I’ve passed onto my children.

The total cost was $17.50. I was tempted to return today to buy the rest of the 78s for a buck (it’s a dollar for a bag at noon), but I’m resisting it.

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

Things To Do In Wisconsin If You’re Brian J. (Checklist)

This summer, I returned to Wisconsin for the first time in seven years. Seven years? For Pete’s sake. I guess I’ve been living in the Springfield area for six years now, and I haven’t attempted the ten hour drive previously, so I guess it has been that long. Not that Wisconsin missed me as much as I missed it. I’ve built it up in the minds of my children as the closest thing there is to Eden on Earth, but they’re very skeptical of their father’s claims for some reason.

For my own future reference, here is a checklist of things to do in Wisconsin if you’re me.

Put a camouflage duck hunting hat on my father’s grave.

I don’t think of my father much as the flowers type. He wore a hat much like this one of most of his adult life, so I leave one to remember him as he was.

Drive down by the lakefront on a sunny afternoon.
As part of a whirlwind your of Milwaukee and showing my children where I went to the university, I did so. However, my children were more interested in their Gameboy Advances that they get to play with during long car rides. However, the older one did take a look out over the blue water, the beach, and the sailboats.
Breakfast at George Webb.

We spent the first night in the Milwaukee area, and when we discussed breakfast options, I said, “George Webb’s.” We looked for a location near our near-Menomonee Falls lodging, but the George Webb site tried to send us down onto Capitol Drive. I investigated further, and my beautiful wife sought out alternates, including Dunkin Donuts (which we also don’t have in Springfield). I found a closer one in Germantown, and my wife announced to my disappointed children that I had my heart set on “the George Webb place.” She is from the UP, as I explained to many, many of my fellow Wisconsinites on the trip.

Dude, you’re going to the Dells.

Our real target was a resort in the Wisconsin Dells. When we picked the destination, my beautiful wife asked me what there was in the Dells. I had to admit I didn’t know; mine was not a middle class upbringing, and when I lived in Wisconsin, we did not vacation at the Dells. Actually, in my youth, I went on one (1) vacation, and that was (oddly enough) to the Missouri Ozarks (Rockaway Beach on Lake Taneycomo specifically). We did take a couple weekends “up north” in the family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin and/or the UP (where I might have caught a glimpse of my beautiful wife in her childhood, forever bonding us before we knew it, but probably not). All I knew about was the river bluffs called the Dells. Which we saw.

Eat cheese curds.

Wisconsinites might not realize it, but you can’t get cheese curds to snack on everywhere, although you can get them everywhere in Wisconsin. So I bought some and introduced them to my children, explaining that where the gods have ambrosia and nectar, Wisconsin has cheese curds.

Stock up on Open Pit

Speaking of things unavailable in Missouri, they don’t sell Open Pit barbecue sauce in this uncivilized land, either. It’s vinegar with a hint of tomato for coloring. I didn’t remember its taste clearly because my family didn’t barbecue that much when it was a family and when I lived in Wisconsin. But I remember it’s what we used, so we picked up some at the local grocery.

I’ve since used several bottles and will have to find out if Amazon delivers it, or else I’m going to have to re-enact Smokey and the Bandit to bring a truckload home.

Visit the House on the Rock

Although it’s not really in the Dells, the House on the Rock is close (within an hour’s drive), so we went. Mainly because I’ve seen signs for it and misremembered articles about it and confused it with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. There, I admit it.

The House on the Rock instead is a crazy clubhouse tourist attraction built atop a column of sandstone. The fellow who built it intended for it to be a tourist trap, and it’s got rooms bored in the rock and an Infinity Room that extends like a finger over the valley so you can walk out and look down on the trees (come on, you can see why a house with a finger extending over a valley might be confused with a house extending over a waterfall, can’t you? Please?) The house maintains a large set of automated orchestras, a large carousel, and many collections.

Three good things came from the trip:

  1. The children loved it.
  2. My beautiful wife said if we ever get insanely wealthy, I can build one like it (which means the hard part is over!).
  3. When we got back, one of her friends asked her, “Did you go to the House on the Rock?” and my wife could answer, like a sophisticated Wisconsin traveler, “Of course, my dear.”
Stock up on Packers gear.

Here in Missouri, if you want Packers stuff, you have to order it off the Internet at Internet prices. Which are a premium. In Wisconsin, if you want Packers stuff, you go to Walmart. Or the gas station. They practically throw a Packers pennant into your plastic bag with purchase in Wisconsin.

So now I have Packers apparel for every day of the week. AS BEFITS ANY TRUE WISCONSONITE.

Pick up a Wisconsin accent.

The last time I was in Wisconsin was only for a weekend, and I came back to Missouri with a touch of the accent. During the course of five days, you can imagine how far up my nose I pronounced my vowels. When I came back, I spoke slowly to pronounce words almost in the fashion of these soft southern tribes. Even today, weeks later, I still pronounce words like car and bar in the northern fashion on occasion.

Eat fried cheese curds.

Because even a Wisconsinite needs variety.

All other tourist duties as assigned.

While in Wisconsin Dells, we rode the Ducks (the amphibious vehicles that drive a little way on the road and a little on the river); we took a jet boat tour (which showed better selections of the Dells and zoomed around and got everyone wet, so it’s a better time in my arrogant opinion); we did a puzzle game venue (Wizard’s Quest) where you go through different scapes looking for clues to type into a computer and to release wizards or something (too long and a bit frustrating with two younger children in tow); we ate at a couple of nice restaurants; we went horseback riding; we visited the outlet mall; and we went to the resort’s water park and arcade almost daily.

All in all, it was a pleasant trip home-ish. Although I didn’t get to spend much time with family in Milwaukee or any time with Milwaukee-area friends, it proved a successful ten hour car ride with children, so we might do it again sometime. Although I get the sense we have Michigan in the neared future, as my beautiful wife is from the UP and grew up in lower Michigan.

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

Mindless Repetition vs. Allusion

The headline is Sweep, it is: Gordon, Volquez guide Royals past Twins 7-2.

Friends, countrymen, do you think the 20 something Web producer has mangled an allusion to The Jackie Gleason Show, where Jackie Gleason used the catchphrase “How sweet it is”? Do you think the phrase has been thrown into the blender of modern American culture over the last fifty years, divorcing it from its origins, so that people today almost repeat it without knowing where it came from?

If so, it’s quite the metaphor for modern America in so many ways, where current utterances and thoughts are far divorced from their origins.

Or I suppose the headline writer could have put those words together that way because Yoda would. But Yoda would have used the article in front of sweep.

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

Tell Me You Can See It, Too

The diner where I often, well, dine, has its booths upholstered with a fabric I think looks like a bunch of hungry birdlings in a nest straining for a worm from their parents.

Tell me you can see it:

Or am I just overly imaginative?

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