Book Report: Wars of the Ancient Greeks by Victor Davis Hanson (1999)

Book coverI’ve tried to pick up works br Hanson before, but I’ve never gotten far into them before putting them back. I thought I’d have better luck with this book because it falls into my specific interest of Greek and Roman history. So I got a good head start and then, when I wanted to put it aside, I was able to plow through it.

It’s not a long book; it is 213 pages plus some end material. Hanson’s premise is that the Greek way of war–farmers in Hoplite phalanxes defending their land–influenced Western warfare all the way to the present day. He talks about the the early tribes of Greece, the Dark Ages in Greece, and then the high point of Greek warfare, the aforementioned farmers in Hoplite phalanxes, and then beyond through the Macedonians conquering much of the eastern Mediterranean and then the Greeks being conquered in turn by the Romans who learned the lessons of the Macedonians well.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good book.

Hanson repeats himself a lot. In a lot of cases, the same thought will be expressed in almost exactly the same way just sentences apart.

The book lacks a narrative or thematic cohesion: It doesn’t go especially in order, and the chapters are titled like they’re going to flow thematically, but they kind of wander.

Also, Hanson interjects a lot of romanticism of the Golden Age hoplite, and he really, really does not like the Macedonians. He calls Phillip II evil and Alexander the Great an alcoholic and a megalomaniac. Over and over (the author repeats the same thoughts, as I might have mentioned).

As such, I really didn’t enjoy the book, and I’m not sure I learned a whole lot from it. Of course, these days, I wonder if I learn anything from anything I read, but I hope that reading a bunch of the same material will drum something into my head. So I guess I did learn a little about the topography of Greece and how it affected Greek warfare.

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Book Report: Dead Man Running by “Don Pendleton” (Stephen Mertz) (1984)

Book coverThis book is another turning point in the continuing Mack Bolan saga.

The first thirty-some books dealt with Mack Bolan waging war on the mafia; the next thirty some up until about this book (#64) dealt with Bolan working under the government aegis as John Phoenix fighting terrorists. This book changes that.

I’ve missed a couple of books in the series. The last one I read was #59, Crude Kill. So I missed the actual death of April Rose, although I knew it was coming somewhere. This book deals with the aftermath, as Bolan hunts the people responsible for the attack on Stony Man Farm. He can’t trust his government contacts, and some of the government is ready to end his Phoenix project.

Bolan has also been framed for the assassination of a Russian, so he’s being hunted by American forces as well as the Russians. He finds a tie between the remnants of the Mafia and the KGB, so he goes on the warpath against both, exposing a high-level Soviet mole after a couple of ambushes and hitting a couple of hard sites. Then he casts off the government and his pardon with them to return to his one-man rampage against the KGB.

I enjoyed the book more than others, but that could be because I read it amongst other books instead of reading a bunch of them together, or it could be partly because it represents a shift in the story arc that promises some freshness to the continuing series. But just to be on the safe side, I’m not going to read a bunch of them in a row. It’s not like I would jump into the next one anyway; I read Cambodia Clash (#65) in 2010.

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Book Report: New York: City of Many Dreams by Bill Harris (1983)

Book coverThis book is a collection of photos taken of New York, especially Manhattan, in the early 1980s. Clearly, this is a companion piece to New York At Night and, and author of the text introduction is also the author of Florida: A Photographic Journey. So it’s the same thing: A brief fluffy essay talking about the history and dynamism of New York and then a bunch of pictures of it. Or, more to the point, Manhattan.

Unfortunately, given the number of things one could take pictures of in New York, this book is a bit limited and repetetetive. We have a page dedicated to the Statue of Liberty and then other pictures of the statue and Liberty Island throughout. We have a number of pictures of Central Park from various high places. We have a page dedicated to the rangers in Central Park, which is the same four women on horseback in various poses and profiles. The same four women on horseback appear on other pages scattered around. As a result, it looks as though the book is really compiled from a limited number of photo shoots and set-ups shuffled together thickly to make it look like more than it is.

Which is a real shame, since New York and even just Manhattan are bigger places and could have included more things.

So I’ll think about steering clear of another of these books. At least until such time as I come across one on my to-read shelves or cheap at a book sale and a football game comes on. But, still.

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Top Euphemisms For Mowing the Grass at Nogglestead

Here at Nogglestead, we could simply say mow the grass. Not mow the lawn which implies a square footage of uniform grass, and Nogglestead has myriad types of grasses, ground cover, and weeds in lieu of a lawn. However, mowing five acres minus the buildings that make Nogglestead truly a compound leaves one with plenty of time to think of expressions to more poetically capture the experience. So here, gentle reader, are some of the best ones.

Running the Nogglestead 500.
Because the discharge is on the right side of the mower, you’re always turning left, just like NASCAR.

Driving to St. Louis In My Backyard
Early on, I realized that the three to four hours I spend on the lawnmower when cutting the grass is about the time it takes to drive from Springfield to Saint Louis.

Listening to a Long Country Marathon
As I have recently mentioned, my radio headphones can only pick up one station relatively clearly on every spot of the grass, and that’s a newly bro country station. So I get four hours of girl-get-up-in-my-truck punctuated with some heartbreak. Mowing the lawn does not often put me in a good mood.

Closing the Flower Shop
The youngest son still likes to pick flowers for his mother, and when I’m about a week late in mowing, it has a wide selection of flowering weeds and wild daisies for him to choose from. Until such time as I chop them all down.

Feeding the Birds
Once in a while, when I’m out mowing the back field, one or two birds will start swooping and diving around me. It weirded me out the first couple of times. I thought perhaps I was nearing their nests, and they were trying to drive me away, but it’s a relatively flat field and not good nesting for anything. Later, I realized I was kicking up some insects, and the birds were eating them.

Chasing the Wildlife
In addition to the birds and the bugs, from time to time, something will take off running or hopping ahead of the mower. I’ll slow to let a frog get out of my path, but yesterday I chased a rodent a ways to make him reconsider Nogglestead as a future home. Of course, if a rabbit takes off running, it’s best to go very, very slowly, as parent rabbits will run away from their babies to try to draw the predators away.

At any rate, there are others I thought of and have forgotten. Four hours is a long time.

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Oh, Susann, How I Cry For Thee

A line from a play review for Valley of the Dolls:

Welcome to “Valley of the Dolls,” a spectacularly awful 1967 movie revolving around three young women whose starry dreams of showbiz glory fade faster than most New Year’s resolutions. If you somehow missed it, imagine a cross between soap operas like “Mad Men” and “Sex and the City” — mixed with a campy dose of Charles Busch — and you get the idea.

No mention of the book, which was the source for the film and one of the best selling novels of the 1960s.

Fun fact: I read the book not long before starting this blog because I saw it at a lot of garage sales and estate sales, so I picked up a copy. I don’t tend to see that many books at garage sales these days, and if I do, it’s about having a baby and/or small children’s books.

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Modern Education Has Made History Full of Spoiler Alerts

The latest fad amongst the cool kids and the people who talk about the cool kids is a Netflix True Crime documentary series called Making a Murderer which not only has the cool kids in an uproar about an old murder case but

In a Washington Post piece designed to enflame the cool kids’ ire against Bad Man Scott Walker, we have this bit:

(CAUTION: Some mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the show.)

Dudette. It’s a documentary. Can a documentary have spoilers?

Anything that really happened that you don’t know is a spoiler waiting to happen. The modern education system just ruins all the good surprises. Or it would if they taught history. Do they? I don’t know.

But it’s a documentary with a narrative.

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The Clearing of the Drafts Folder

Apparently, I’ve somehow started and saved fifty-some draft blog posts over the last couple of years. Some of them are fairly complete posts, some of them are incomplete enough to warrant dumping because I don’t know what I was thinking, and some are stubs for longer posts.

Regardless, because I’m lazy, I’m clearing it out and publishing things I can make whole posts from. So some of the links in the posts over the next couple of days are going to be from news items and tidbits from over the last couple of years. So comment “Dude, that’s from 2015!” as you like, but I know.

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The Iron Maiden Poster That Got Me A Wife

As some of you know, I met my beautiful wife on the Internet. Not the World Wide Web: We’re old school and met on the rec.arts.poems newsgroup. She read something that I’d posted and thought it was good, and because my handle indicated I was from St. Louis, she emailed me to ask me where one could read poetry in St. Louis. Which was a good question to ask me, as I was a frequent performer at open mic nights and could tell her where to read and what audiences in the different bars and coffee shops expected.

So we struck up an email conversation an email conversation that stretched into hundreds of messages. We had a lot in common and connected pretty well–I’d read Atlas Shrugged a couple of times, and she had a cat named John Galt. And so on.

But I’m pretty sure the thing that sealed the deal was when I quoted an Iron Maiden poster to her.

Now, I’m a little late to the heavy metal party. I had long hair in college and listened to some hard rock at the time, but not the evil bands. Like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Pantera, Sepultura, and all that. But one of the Daves I know, I know, was into that, and his bedroom circa 1990 was covered in Iron Maiden posters. Including the one for “Wasted Years”:

We were talking about something or other about our youth (given that we were twenty-five at the time, we were still in our youth), and I said something like “As Eddie from Iron Maiden would have said, ‘Do not waste your time searching for those wasted years.'”

That, gentle reader, Sealed. The. Deal.

You see, she was an Iron Maiden fan from way back, and she emailed to tell me that if I was an Iron Maiden fan, she was going to come to St. Louis to kidnap me. I demurred, and explained how I knew of it, but she was not dissuaded. But the points still counted on the tally of whether I was soulmate material. Enough to overcome the whole he lives in his mother’s basement thing, anyway.

So, thank you, Dave. You could never have known that your teenaged choice of personal expression in rebellious décor would help me win a wife, but it most assuredly did.

In a slightly related note, once I married the girl, I got access to her Iron Maiden collection, and No Prayer for the Dying is my favorite album followed by Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Not Somewhere in Time, the album upon which the song “Wasted Years” appears.

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Book Report: Drawings of William Blake by Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1970)

Book coverThis book is a collection of drawings by William Blake. William Blake, if you have an English degree, is best known for his hit Eye of the Tiger. But apparently he was also a painter and artist as well, but we didn’t cover that in my poetry classes.

At any rate, this book collects a number of sketches of his, some of which were doodles essentially and some which were studies for later paintings. Unfortunately, this is a sketchbook of raw material for those paintings, so the finished pieces aren’t actually included.

So it’s like looking at a notebook of Stephen King with a couple bits of outlines, a few phrases here and there, but nothing complete and finished. So it’s more for serious, serious fans of William Blake or artists, I suppose, that like to look at techniques from other artists. Perhaps scholars would be interested. But if you’re looking for something interesting to flip through and marvel over, this is actually less useful than Hand Shadows To Be Thrown Upon The Wall. Which, if I am not mistaken, was also published by Dover Publications.

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Book Report: The Forbidden City by ? (?)

Book coverIt’s football season again, which means it’s time for the annual parade of picture books I flip through during football games. Sometimes, I watch extra football games just so I can page through picture books at the same time.

This book is a tourist take-away from the Forbidden City in Beijing. Its text comes in six or seven languages, and strangely enough the English text is often much, much shorter than the text from other languages. I have to wonder if the information is truncated for English speakers or if it really just takes that much longer to caption photographs in other languages. I mean, German, I can understand. But Spanish and French and the Asian pictogram languages?

At any rate, the book includes many full color pictures of the palaces and halls within the Forbidden City (but no terra cotta warriors, but I guess that’s a different place. The palaces look more opulent than the castles and other things I’ve seen from Europe, but the Forbidden City is a Ming creation, which means it’s a little younger and more modern than many of the medieval structures I might have previously seen. They’re still a head and shoulders above the things I’ve seen in Korean books (like this, this, or this), but China, especially Ming China, was a bigger and better empire than Korea’s kingdoms.

Also, I look at them, and I think, Man, those must be hell to heat. I’ve got a big house, and it can be expensive to keep it toasty in the winter especially if propane is expensive and the winter is cold. But, of course, these palaces did not use wasteful forced air heating. Instead of heating empty spaces, they heated the rooms where people were at any given time with fires and whatnot. So it was much less expensive to heat. But there was the risk of catastrophic fire, and one of the pictures shows evenly spaced well-decorated urns containing water to be used in case of fire.

So it was an interesting thing to look at during commercials in a football game. And, as an occasional Sinophile, I wouldn’t mind seeing it someday assuming it’s not destroyed in any upcoming military conflict.

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Book Report: 12 Monkeys by Elizabeth Hand (1995)

Book coverKeeping with the “Is the person in the mental institution crazy or really a science fiction protagonist” subgenre reading I started with this book.

12 Monkeys is a novelization based on the screenplay (from the Bruce Williams/Brad Pitt film). Now, novelizations from screenplays can go one of two ways. You can get some additional depth that you don’t find in the film, or you can basically get prose from the screenplay. Unfortunately, this is the latter.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film (I had not), the main character is a convict from the future “volunteers” to collect samples from the contaminated surface and then to go back in time to find the source of a deadly virus that wipes out half of humanity and compels the remainder to hide underground in uncontaminated facilities. In the past, Cole arrives six years too early and gets taken to a mental institution where he meets a psychiatrist and the son of a famous virologist. He looks to find the source of the infection, gets yanked back into the future and reinserted in the past a couple of times, and begins to question whether he actually is crazy.

At any rate, it’s all right, but I didn’t like the ending much: I’m not sure if it was intended to be throught-provoking or was just sloppy storytelling (on the part of the screenwriter(s) more than the novelist). Actions don’t make sense, and the thoughts that are provoked try to explain the nature of the ending result in “That doesn’t make sense.” To be honest, I hoped for an ending not unlike the ending to the Kris Kristofferson film Millennium (book review here). But no.

A better novel would have explored more of the interior and back story of Cole, the convict, explaining where he came from and what he was convicted of. That’s not germane to the plot of the story itself. Also, it seems that mankind develops time travel really fast while recovering from a serious extinction-level event. So all the questions the book raises are with the story and plot itself, not with any philosophical things. Again, this is not the book author’s fault, but I wonder if it could have been handled better in the depths of a novel.

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Book Report: K-PAX by Gene Brewer (1995)

Book coverThis book is about as 1990s of a book as you can get.

The cover purportedly is a stereogram, which was a fad of crazy prints you were supposed to stare at to see a three-dimensional image. They were the big thing in the early 1990s, with complete shops in the mall selling nothing but Magic Eye products. I was trying to explain this to my beautiful wife, but she’d never heard of such a thing. Coupled with the fact that the spellchecker doesn’t know the word, I’m beginning to question whether it was a real thing. But it was.

I say this cover is purportedly a stereogram, because I am too smart to see them. At least, that’s what I told my friends in that era. They could see them. So if you see something in the book cover image to the right, let me know. Or you could just make something up, and I would never know.

I felt like that one guy in the film Mallrats.


The struggle was real.

Where was I? Oh, K-PAX. As you might remember, this was made into a Kevin Spacey film. Which is all I knew of the Kevin Spacey film except the basic conceit. The book is better than the conceit: It tells the story of the psychiatrist, the head of a small institute in Manhattan that works with hard-to-handle cases. The case at the core of the book: a young man calling himself prot who claims to be from the planet K-PAX. The psychiatrist works with him, and the book is structured around sessions the therapist has with the patient along with the psychiatrist (named “Gene Brewer,” which is the author of the book) musing about his relationship with his father and his family. The spaceman (played in the film by the Spacey man) offers some information that supports his assertions that he is from K-PAX, including sky charts from his homeworld, that check out to be true. He gets other patients to open up and start to heal. And he’s very good with animals. But as the doctor and an interested reporter investigate, they discover the disturbing story behind the patient.

The narrative switching up between the sessions and the doctor’s life were interesting and paced the book well. The story the spaceman told had enough contradiction and ambiguity that one wondered whether it would prove to be a spaceman or just a really gifted mentally ill person. Heck, there was a similarity between the doctor’s youth and the disturbing story so that I briefly considered whether the doctor himself might be the crazy one (hey, forgive me, I just watched Fight Club for the first time, and that was the most 90s of movies). But the resolution at the end was a bit disappointing, I guess, as it tries a bit to leave the ambiguity.

I see that the author has five books in this series. Well, I enjoyed most of this one, but I have to wonder whether I would enjoy more books in the story. They cannot all follow the successful plotting and framing this book has, so I’ll probably not hunt them down. They’re not the kind of thing that you see in book sales anyway, which leads me to believe that the others were not as successful as the first.

Oh, and above, I mentioned that this was a very 90s book. That’s because the Buddhist-flavored perfect world and communist society described by prot fits with the zeitgeist of the time, with the end of history and all that, but it really doesn’t resonate in the 21st century.

So worth a read if you’re into the whole “Is the person in the mental institution crazy or really a science fiction protagonist” subgenre.

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Donating a Time Capsule

So for a couple of years, I kept a collection of scrap fabric in case I got into sewing. By “a couple of years,” I mean the last seven. By “collection,” I mean every bit of something worn out: children’s pants too torn up to hand-me-down; old towels; all the bibs; discolored t-shirts in line for use as dust rags; and so on. Sometime in that period, I got a single sewing lesson and a new sewing machine for Christmas. After a while, I recognized the whole “getting into sewing” thing was probably a non-starter, so I started taking bags of the used fabric to the thrift store drop box by the YMCA, as a friend told me that they can sell that stuff to crafty people like I could have been.

Then, I eventually emptied four or five bins’ worth of scrap fabric from the garage, and I wondered if there was anything else I could dispose of in this like manner.

Now, for someone who didn’t grow up in the Great Depression, I have a don’t-throw-it-away mentality. So I have bins of clothing in the closet for just-in-case I can’t afford to replace them with cheap stuff from Walmart sometime in the future. Including, of course, the collection of 20-year-old t-shirts I took out of the active rotation in my dresser:

I have a drawer full of t-shirts as it is, and I’m getting a new one or two every month from 5K runs and whatnot, so the odds of my needing one of these is pretty low. Still, it’s a time capsule of the early 1990s. It included:

  • The Queensryche t-shirt that I’d thought had already become dust rags.
  • A Neo-Futurists “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind” sleeveless shirt that I got in 1994 when I convinced a couple of guys we should drive from St. Louis to Chicago for the night, and a friend of mine in Chicago suggested we go see this improv group, so we did.
  • A Class of ’62 Surf Boys shirt with the sleeves cut off. I saw this band at bars and festivals a lot in my college years.
  • A number of workplace polo shirts that I bought at garage sales, including Walmart and Blockbuster. I’d often thought it would be great fun to wear the Blockbuster one into a Blockbuster and answer any question I got with, “We don’t have that kind of movie here!” But I never did, and the chance is gone forever.
  • A couple of shirts from places my sainted mother and mother-in-law had visited, including Las Vegas, Canada, and Albuquerque.
  • A GenCon 1996 t-shirt. This is not the year I won the costume contest as the Were-Smurf–that was 1995. In 1996, I went with a couple of people, Scott and Lisa, I was gaming with at the time, and we stopped at the convention on Sunday before leaving so I could get this shirt.
  • A couple of worn Jeracor and QA Hates You t-shirts.

And so on.

A couple of items did survive the culling:

The shirt I bought my father for Christmas just before he died:

A QA Hates You t-shirt in baseball sleeve length that I got for some reason or another, but I forget what. But it’s still in good shape.

A black t-shirt with a bear on it. I kept it because I think it looks cool, and I wear a lot of black t-shirts now in my middle-aged Goth phase.

A t-shirt I designed for the college writing group:

Briefly, a last gasp of my pack rattery asked, “What if one of the boys would like one of these shirts?” They’re turning the corner into adult sizes, and it won’t be long until they fill out these shirts (and go beyond, no doubt). But I don’t think they’re going to be as sentimental as their father, so I disregarded that voice, stuffed them in a garbage bag, and deposited them in the bin at the YMCA.

Someone is going to unpack it and know exactly where it came from, but that person might suspect the husband did it under duress or the wife discarded them. But, no, I did it on my own. And I probably won’t miss them as much as I expect I will, which, if I dwell on it, could really affect how I see the world and the things I accumulate.

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Book Report: Paper Lion by George Plimpton (1966)

Book coverI started reading this book to get ready for football season. As it was, reading the book took longer to read than I’d anticipated, and it ended up extending into the football season.

As a reminder, in this book, the author joins the Detroit Lions training camp as an old rookie quarterback. Supposedly, he’s undercover, but it comes out eventually. As such, he lives in the dorm with the players, does the drills, even participates in a scrimmage and dresses for a preseason game.

I enjoyed the book well enough, as it reminded me how complex the game of football is and how complex the individual motions of football are. Plimpton has a hard time learning how to take a snap from the center. This is something second nature to the quarterbacks who make it to the pro leagues, as they’ve done it at the very least in high school and college until the time they hit training camp. I’ve decided I want to be an athlete now that I’m too old for it, and I’m finding myself having to slow down and study very basic body movement to figure out how to stride properly while running and whatnot. So it had that going for it.

However, one knock about the book is the artificial conceit of it. In the second chapter, he’s skating with Robert F. Kennedy because he’s a friend of the family. Plimpton came from some station in New York, so he’s looking at everything with the eyes of someone from the upper West Side. It probably wasn’t so bad in 1960 something, but it’s a bit jarring in the 21st century, especially as some of the name-dropping comes off as just that. So I can’t help compare it to the Jerry Kramer books and unfavorably, as Kramer is a farm kid who’s in the NFL.

Also, I can’t help but note that the co-writer of Run to Daylight says Paper Lion is the best book about football he’s ever read. Well. He must be a Lions fan, or he must not be counting the book he wrote, ainna?

At any rate, it’s worth a read. I also have Plimpton’s Open Net about a similar stunt with the Boston Bruins. Time will tell how fast I get to it. Probably not in time for hockey season.

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Book Report: An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by David Letterman (1991)

Book coverI got this book recently for quick football season reading. I remembered reading Book of Top Ten Lists (apparently 13 years ago). However, I did not recall specifically reading this book before (which I did, about eight years ago, when before my sainted mother fell ill and before I moved to Nogglestead–was there such a time in my life?).

At any rate, I said of the first book:

The same politicians from almost fifteen years ago are the same punchlines in some cases. Al Sharpton, for instance, is a common motif in Letterman’s collection. In O’Rourke’s more serious obra, we see the same names we curse today. Diane Feinstein. John Kerry (who would almost seem to have served in Vietnam longer than in Congress based on the way he talks about it–as though the former determined his behavior and honor more than the latter–it’s almost like M*A*S*H in a way, wot?). Lt. Governor Gray Davis. O’Rourke exempts Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was 14 years ago.

It’s funny: now, it’s twenty-five years past the publication of the book, and it is lousy with Donald Trump jokes. That makes it the second book I’ve read this summer from days gone by that make light of Mr. Trump (The Know-It-All being the other). It continues to illustrate how long public figures remain in the limelight sometimes, I guess.

At any rate, to reiterate, the book works best if you were alive in the late 1980s so you can understand some of the recurrent punchlines ripped from the days’ headlines (G.E. light bulbs! Haw, haw!)

But it did give me some brief amusement again, and it did kill the time between plays in a couple of football games. So worth my time, but your mileage may vary.

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How To Tell What Song Just Came On Brian’s iPod At The Gym (IX)

When last we discussed my playlist at the gym, I said if I curled my lip, you could tell I was listening to Billy Idol.

Well, I’m afraid I’ve adjusted my playlist, and that instruction is no longer operative. If I curl my lip, watch to see if I’m subtly flipping long hair that I no longer possess. If not, it’s Billy Idol. But if I am…

Continue reading “How To Tell What Song Just Came On Brian’s iPod At The Gym (IX)”

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