Book Report: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1937, ?)

Book coverWhen we last left the Ingalls family (Little House on the Prairie in September), the Ingalls family had to leave their home in Kansas. Instead of returning to Wisconsin, they headed to Minnesota. The book opens with Charles, the father, trading his horses and wagon for a sod house beside a creek with a Norwegian farmer looking to move west.

The book covers a couple of years, unlike the first ones in the series. Hopeful of a good crop of wheat, the Ingalls family builds a house on credit only to run into trouble when plagues of grasshoppers destroy the crop right before harvest. Charles has to walk a hundred miles to the east to find work through the harvest season to support the family. And although the first winter is very mild, the second is definitely more snowy than they’re used to–even in Wisconsin.

The book hints at some perhaps poor decision making by the father who had previously been omnicompetent. He buys a bunch on credit, and then cannot pay it off with the wheat crop. When he’s harvesting back east, he sends four dollars back to his family–and buys himself a new pair of boots for three dollars. One wonders how these stories appear in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s adult book Pioneer Girl.

Of course, I might just be reading more into this children’s book than I should. But I’m looking for a double-effect narrator that the author does not intend.

So I’ve got the next book, On the Shores of Silver Lake, so I will probably read it before the summer. I’ll also keep my eyes open for the others in the series and for Pioneer Girl, her more adult memoir, at the coming spring library book sales. Given how close we are to her home down in Marshfield, I should find them pretty easily. I hope. Because I really am enjoying the series and, apparently, my second childhood.

Book Report: The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan (1939, 1941)

Book coverIt took me two tries to make it through this book, a single full evening play that says it’s in three acts on the cover but is actually five acts. That’s not why it took me two attempts, though.

It’s a thematic play set in a dive bar in San Francisco on the eve of World War II (written in 1939, this edition came out in 1941). The cast is quite a few people: A guy who has a lot of money with no visible means of support; a simple man who does errands for him; a man who keeps trying to call a woman he loves on the payphone; a guy playing the marble game (a forerunner of pinball); an Arab who basically spouts two ‘profound’ lines over and over; a black guy who can play the piano; a guy who wants to be a comedian but is not funny; a woman of the night; a vice detective; the bartender; and a couple of others who have a couple of lines and disappear.

So you can tell it’s a very busy play with all of these people interacting with themselves and a full stage.

The text of the play is very patter-like interaction between these characters along with a whole lot of stage direction that identifies more than stage directions. They include treatises on the characters’ back stories and whatnot that really don’t belong in a play. The play itself follows a long introduction by the playwright which is a pre-war essay on the importance of art in a time of militarism or something. To be honest, I might have read it the first time I tried to read the play, but I bailed on it this time after I couldn’t understand what the playwright was trying to get at.

It reminded me a little of Picasso at Lapin Agile, which I saw staged by the Clayton Community Theatre almost twenty years ago, but with less of a point.

I have a new thesis: Twentieth (and the beginning of twenty-first) century art and literature is a triumph of theme over plot or characters. The rise of the university put the academics at the forefront of “art,” and, as they give outsize weight to theme over the other elements of art. Plots and characters are hard. Themes are easy and allow one a very easy, and unfortunately obvious way, to expound on a moral or political message without having to really engage the viewer/reader. This play would serve as evidence.

Apparently, it’s the middle of a trilogy, but I’m in no hurry to read the other four (let me explain the joke: It says it’s a play in three acts, but it’s actually five, so…. get it?)

Clearly, Twitter Knows What’s Best For Me

I used to tweet every day. I set up a Twitter account a long time ago, not long after a fellow I worked with recommended it because I would set my Yahoo! Messenger status to clever things throughout the day, and he said that Twitter was a way to do that where the clever things would persist.

So I used it to post ‘clever’ things about the work day and quality assurance and to chit chat with other testers.

But a couple of years ago, both my Twitter feed and Twitter started to change. Twitter decided to make its Notifications screen not a mention of tweets to you and retweets of your tweets, but also unrelated and trivial things, like noting that people you follow followed someone or liked the tweet of someone, and it started to make recommendations for you. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I also found that the tweets on the feed were becoming mostly political. In the embryonic stage of the #MeToo moment, the women testers on my feed started talking about the gender disparity in tech, and soon that overran my feed since men either agreed or moved on. Once that started, and perhaps somewhere at or after 2012, the formerly tech-specific people I followed were all-politics most-of-the-time. Twitter wasn’t fun any more.

I still log in once every couple of months to see if I’ve missed and Direct Messages (I have not; the last DM I have is from former reader and commenter John Farrier, and that’s from years ago).

When I logged in yesterday, all of the above culminated in this “recommendation:”

Clearly, Twitter is not sharing data with Facebook, where the political leanings silo puts me to the right of the Birchers.

So, does Twitter recommend this particular vocal representative to me because:

  • A lot of people I follow follow her?
  • A lot of people I follow are left wing, so I must be left wing, too, so here’s someone else who is left wing?
  • The congressional representative or some shadowy dark money enterprise paid Twitter to suggest her a lot?
  • Twitter, the company, the organization, the entity, wants me to follow her?

Given the opacity of Big Tech and its algorithms, it could be any of them.

The Capstone To A Very Monday Monday

So I spent most of yesterday in a serious mood given the events which transpired. So I thought I would give myself the chance at an easy win by examining and correcting a problem our vacuum had.

You see, on Sunday evening, it was time to do a haphazard and quick job on the weekend chores for my boys. The chores include vacuuming the common areas of the main level of the house. The youngest claimed to have done it, but when I came up, the floor contained visible bits of thread, paper, and the litter bits that vacuuming should clear. I told him to do it again, and he claimed to have done it again, with the same results. So I tried calmly to show the by-now angry, nay, GRIEVIOUSLY OFFENDED young man the proper way to vacuum, and as I started, I noticed something was resisting.

I turned it over, and the roller was not rolling. Apparently, on a previous vacuuming, somechild had vacuumed a cat toy. Which is a 45″ shoe lace tied to a ring of pom-poms and bells. Which must have immediately stopped the roller, but not the vacuuming. It might have been this way for weeks.

So I removed the obstruction and turned the vacuum on, but the roller did not spin, so I brought it down into my office for later investigation.

Which was late Monday afternoon, after, as I mentioned, my car broke down on the way to the DMV.

I thought I might have to open the roller housing and adjust the belt or something. So I plugged it in and turned it over and before looking for the means to open it, I thought I’d try it again, so I hit the power button.

And got a face full of dust and cat hair and the roller began to spin.

So it capped off the Monday of all Mondays, but it made me laugh, so it was worth it.

Also, I continue to look like a Real Man as I fixed another appliance.

The Most Mondayest Monday Yet

So my driver’s license expired on my birthday, and I forgot about it because they sent me a reminder card in early December, which is far ahead of my birthday, and I treated it like a license plate renewal: You don’t want to do it months in advance, otherwise you’re early and losing some value.

But I remembered last Wednesday when I saw a headline in the newspaper that said REAL-ID compliant licenses would become available today, Monday, March 25. So I thought I would wait until today to renew.

So I got my beautiful wife to act as my chaffeur for the weekend, and this morning, I piled the boys into my the truck I just bought to take them to school and to stop by the license office on the way home.

As we started up a hill about a half mile from our place on the two-lane farm road, the truck lost power and would no longer go forward. I tried to power it up to the next turn-off, but no dice. The road does not have a shoulder; it has ditches. So I called my beautiful wife to bring the old, high-mileage SUV to take the boys to school, and I waited for a tow truck. While blocking traffic. Even with my flashers on, cars pulled up behind me and honked until I opened the hood in the universal symbol of This truck is going nowhere under its own power. A couple of people offered to help, which was nice. A young lady offered to help me push the full size SUV up the hill to the next turn off, which I thought was overly optimistic.

The guy at the garage was rubbing his hands together on the inside when he said it sounded like the timing belt. Which can cause significant damage to the engine if it breaks while the vehicle is running. Frankly, I’m hoping for less than half the cost of the vehicle at this point. It’s under warranty, hopefully, but we’ll see.

So eventually, I made it to the license office and found a great line of people getting their new REAL-ID licenses. With only one person processing driver’s license renewals. Which are taking about ten minutes per person because of the additional paperwork required. Which I did not bring because my instructions card from December covered a regular driver’s license, not the REAL-ID compliant one which, of course, requires more than the old driver’s license and a postcard.

So my truck broke down on the way to the DMV, where I couldn’t get the license I’d hoped for when I finally got there.

But everyone’s been very nice, and when they’ve said, “How are you?” I’ve responded “So far, so good,” and when they’ve said “Have a nice day,” I’ve said, “Thanks.”

Book Report: Trace by Ike Keen (2014)

Book coverI bought this book by a local author at ABC Books, but not while the author was in evidence. ABC Books has quite a good selection of books by local authors (present company excepted), and, as you know, I try to support both ABC Books and local authors whenever possible. And sometimes I read the books.

Like Stories of Suspense, I picked this book from my to-read floor after the recent bookshelf collapse. I figured the more books I read from the floor, the fewer I would eventually have to pick up.

This book is set in Springfield after World War II. After a woman’s body is found in the river, two men hire Max Black to find their sister, and he suspects it might have been her corpse found murdered. But Black discovers his employers are not the brothers of the woman they’re seeking, and the plot gets very tangled with the New York mob sending hitters to keep their operations in Springfield secret, and the operations include drugs and prostitution. It all becomes very tangled.

The book could have used a copy edit, and some elements of it seem a bit off–I’m not sure Springfield police in the 1940s would have responded to a body in the river since I don’t think a major river ran through Springfield until it later expanded. But perhaps I’m mistaken in it.

The prose is a bit clunky, but it fits in the pulp mold that the author is imitating (he’s a fan of Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins). The plot, too, convolutes in a way the old pulp ones did, albeit perhaps a little more than necessary.

But I enjoyed it enough to perhaps pick up something else by the author sometime when I’m up at ABC Books.

She’s No Steve Tyler

And that’s a good thing.

A new jazz crush: Morgan James, here with Postmodern Jukebox, covering Aerosmith’s “Dream On”:

I may not have used Amazon’s official social media buttons, but I’ll share with you, gentle reader, that I just ordered her albums Hunter and Reckless Abandon.

What can I say? When I fall, I fall hard.

Book Report: Stories of Suspense (1963, 1967)

Book coverI chose this book because it was on my floor. It’s a Scholastic book from 1963, when my mother would have been starting high school. Not that the books was hers, of course–I picked it up somewhere later. But it’s interesting to think that this book was targeted to kids, well, kids my mother’s age, in the middle 1960s.

The book contains:

  • “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier. The concept is the same as the Hitchcock film that came out in the same year–the birds are murderous–but the story, set in Britain instead of California, is completely different.
  • “Of Missing Persons” by Jack Finney, wherein a man is given an opportunity to travel to a far different place.
  • “Midnight Blue” by John Collier. A woman dreams that her husband has murdered his partner, and she recounts her dream in uncanny detail.
  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keys, which was made into the 1968 film Charly which I tried to watch recently.
  • “Taste” by Roald Dahl, wherein a host at an elaborate dinner party wagers a gourmand that he cannot guess the vintage of the claret, with the stakes being his daughter.
  • “Two Bottles of Relish” by Lord Dunsay, wherein a man suspected of killing his wife is watched but they cannot figure out how he would have disposed of the body.
  • “Charles” by Shirley Jackson, wherein a child’s tales about the naughtiest boy in the kindergarton makes his parents want to meet Charles’ parents at the school open house.
  • “The Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finney, wherein a man risks his life to retrieve a business paper that has blown onto the apartment building’s ledge and regrets his decision.
  • “The Perfectionist” by Margaret St. Clair, wherein a man’s aunt helps him out financially, but her methods for preserving art subjects make him uneasy.

Overall, I liked the book. The stories were short and clever and made me want to write short stories like this. Kind of like the inspiration I felt reading The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet inspired me yet to finish a short story like this. I am too busy reading these books to actually write anything.

Unlike The Other Leading Brands

This variety of Tide, unlike the other leading brands, leaves your freshly laundered clothing smelling like fresh linen.

Which makes me wonder what the other brands or, more importantly, the other varieties of Tide leave your clothing smelling like.

(I know, I know: “Clean Linen” is a particular scent that gets added to a number of cleaning products. We have a number of Glade Plugin things that carry the same scent. It’s kind of like the “Grape” flavor in candies and Kool Aid: a common artifice. And you’re saying: How many colons can he use in one parenthetical? Just this many: four.)

Book Report: The Face: A Novella in Verse by David St. John (2004)

Book coverThis book calls itself “A Novella In Verse”, but although it’s kind of pitched as a series of poems, they are not as related as one would think. The publication history indicates that many of the 45 poems within appeared in numerous poetry journals independently, and one appeared in an anthology of poems about September 11, 2001. So they’re more related thematically than perhaps intentionally built to convey a single story.

That said, I enjoyed the book for the most part. As you might know, gentle reader, I’ve been reading the complete works of John Keats lately (and have just completed Endymion after a couple weeks), so this book came as a breath of fresh air with its more modern language and imagery.

The connective tissue of the poems, I guess, is growing older and looking back on a relationship that recently ended. It’s the sort of things poets are best at, or perhaps the ones I respond to (my best poetry days were in that swirl of uncertainty).

I rather enjoyed the first half of it for its evocative freshness (which I appreciated after reading the Keats and some of the other chapbooks I consume regularly), but towards the end of it, I got a little bored. An overarching conceit of having a movie made of one’s life didn’t work for me–the use of another art form as a metaphor and the narrative elements of it detracted from the poetry’s immediacy.

But I would read more by this poet and wonder if I would enjoy his earlier work more.

The Source Of That Thing Daddy Always Says (VIII)

Ever since my children were little, I’ve tried to instill in them good habits in crossing parking lots. Keep your head on a swivel, watch for the white lights in the red, and so on.

And whenever I saw a car in motion, I would say, “Be advised there are fast boomers inbound.”

Daddy was misquoting a line from Forrest Gump:

The actual line is “This is Strongarm. Be advised your fast movers are inbound at this time.”

Ah, well, if they haven’t learned by now, let them see now that their father is imperfect.

Also, I don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but Forrest Gump is 25 years old now.

In my defense, I probably haven’t seen it in 20 years, which explains the misquoting.

Movie Night At Nogglestead: THWARTED

Wednesday nights at Nogglestead are often Daddy Movie Nights during the school year because the boys have a church midweek thing and my beautiful wife practices with the choir, which means I can watch a full movie with violence or bad words in it. Or, more likely, an old movie, but I can watch it from start to finish without interruption.

But in the late winter and early spring, I often take a triathlon class, and this year is no exception, which puts Daddy Movie Night on hiatus for a couple of months–almost to the end of the school year.

So tonight, I skipped the triathlon class because I wanted to watch a movie. But the universe repaid me for my perfidy and thwarted movie night.

Here is the actual order of the movies I could not watch and the myriad reasons why:

  1. Adventures in Babysitting. As you might recall, I just bought this on videocassette, and I have fond memories of it from the 1980s, when it was on Showtime and I didn’t have much to do but watch movies on Showtime over and over again. I couldn’t find it on the unwatched video shelves, though, and I assumed that my children had rearranged things or got it out, as they often get out movies they want to watch and leave them in random places. But, no, I see now that I left it on the scanner when I scanned the cover for this post.
     
  2. The Secret Agent, the Alfred Hitchcock film from 1986. I put this in the videocassette player and it started; I wasn’t sure if it was a talkie or not as I know some of his early works are silent. The video had no sound, but it had no titles, either, and the actors mouths’ moved, so I thought perhaps the cheapie video was defective. Besides, I might have it in my collection of early Hitchcock movies on DVD (I later learned I do).
     
  3. My Favorite Brunette, a Bob Hope movie, was bundled with The Road To Bali on a DVD called The Road to Comedy. I worked myself up to some enthusiasm for watching this since the box said it was a send-up of noir films. A comedy. Oh, I could use a laugh. It was still wrapped in cellaphane, and when I popped in the DVD, it contained a collection of ten episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. I took it out and looked at it, aghast. The label on the DVD is, in fact, for the Bob Hope two-pack, and I did unwrap it and tear the little no-steal-it plastic from the table, but this damn thing was mispackaged and labeled.
     
  4. Charly. I just read “Flowers for Algernon” upon which this film is based, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It was not fully rewound, so I tried rewinding it and then play-rewind when it stopped prematurely on the rewind. But apparently this videocassette is blank, since it’s nothing but static from front to back.
     
  5. On the Beach. I figured this post-apocalyptic morality tale would cheer me up after the fiascos noted above. It came right up, but it, too, had no sound, so either the videocassette player is having trouble or something is disconnected on the back of the electronics tangle. I didn’t want to mess with it at the moment (I wanted to watch a movie!).
     
  6. Death Wish with Bruce Willis. All right, Roku and Amazon Prime it is, dammit. So I selected this film. I was just passed the very slow first part when I remembered that Amazon Prime movies choke out at about :47 minutes after the hour. They just stop, leaving me with a blank screen until I click Back on the remote a bunch at which point I can restart the movie. I don’t know if the fault is with my ISP, with Roku, or with Amazon Prime, but I do remember that I don’t like to watch Amazon Prime for this reason.

By this point, I was too beside myself to watch anything, and I really didn’t have enough time for a whole movie any more anyway.

So I gave up and did some housework. And wrote a blog post. And, soon, I will check the VCR connections to see if the audio is loose. I hope it’s something simple like that because I have a lot of videocassettes, and we’ve somehow already reached the point where you don’t see used VCRs at garage sales any more.

So let me foreshadow for you: MfBJN will not feature a post on a movie I just watched in the next couple of days.

UPDATE: The VCR uses a computer/TV switchbox to connect to the receiver, and the switch was in the wrong position. BOYS.

I should bookmark this so I know how to solve the problem when I next encounter it in 2024.

A Tale Wherein Brian J. Drew Strength From The Spice Girls

Last night’s triathlon class was brutal: We started with some hill running and then cooled off in the pool with some timed intervals. Let’s be honest: I have not improved in swimming in two years, and last night the swim about killed me. During drills, I focused on too many things and lost my breathing rhythm, which meant I breathed and swallowed a lot of air and a lot of water, both going to the wrong chambers in my torso.

But then, The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” came on the music piped into the pool.

Another fellow in the remedial swim lane has a strategy of walking most of the laps, and he was finishing a length of the pool not far behind me as I did whatever it is I do that is almost as fast as walking in water.

“I’m not going to drown and have the Spice Girls be the last words I hear,” I announced to him.

And I did not drown.

So consider me inspired by the Spice Girls.

Looking back on this blog, I see the other mention of the Spice Girls comes from 2005, where I boasted I could name them all even though I’d only listened to a complete Spice Girls song once. I think fourteen years later, I could go four out of five, maybe. Also, back in, what, 1997, I wrote about them in The Cynic Express’d.

In 2019, that might count as an obsession.

Consolation Prize

The Springfield Business Journal has selected the 2019 40 Under 40 list, and I didn’t make it, again.

Of course, I’m no longer eligible, and these magazines don’t tend to create 30 Who Try To Act Like They’re Under 30 lists.

That said, I’m pleased to be on the 7.5 Billion Not Under Six Feet list yet again today. So I’ll start there for the day.

Good Book Hunting, March 16, 2019: ABC Books

ABC Books has been doing a good job of lining up authors (well, all except one) to come in on Saturday afternoon, so I try to make an excuse to go up there when I can to visit the authors and get their books. Which is why I was up there on Saturday even though I already bought books on Thursday.

So I bought a couple.

I got:

  • To a New Mom… From A Used One by B.J. McCauley, the author in the store. When I saw the event announced, I thought it might be a memoir of raising kids a la Dammit Bre, but when I spoke to the author, she led me to believe it’s more about reaching out, as she not only had a number of kids on her own, but she also fostered a bunch of kids and once, a kid and its parent. So it might be more about reaching out to at-risk youth. I’ll find out when I read it.
  • The Zen Way to Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru. This should be right in my wheelhouse, ainna?
  • Dynamic Tension by Harry Wong. It looks to be a series of exercises pitting your muscle groups against one another for strength and better control of each.
  • A Path to Liberation: A Spiritual and Philosophical Approach to the Martial Arts by Herman Kauz. It might just be dynamic tension with The Zen Way to Martial Arts.

It was an hour round trip to the north of Springfield to support a local-ish author and my friends at ABC Books. And, I cleaned up after my recent bookshelf collapse by stacking the books horizontally on the surviving shelves, which means I have more room for books.

The Natives Have A Word For It

Spring, or as it is known at Nogglestead, “Repair the Gates Season.”

This year, I didn’t have any trouble with the hinges (so far) since I attached them with carriage bolts driven completely through the posts/gates and secured on the other side with a washer and a bolt.

But this year, the wind tore the edge picket off of one of my gates, and that’s where the hardware to close the gate attached, so it has been blowing in the strong winds of early march. So I replaced the picket today, eventually.

Because Spring is also known as “This Drill’s Battery Ran Out Of Charge/Where Is The Other Battery?” season.

I believe the Germans have a word for it, but it’s not as melliflous as the original Ojibwe.

Now That The Die Hard Battle Is Won (II)

Now that we have convinced America that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, it’s time to take our game to the next level.

Adventures in Babysitting is a Marvel film.

I watched this film over and over as a kid because it was on Showtime, and I wasn’t supposed to leave the trailer when my mother was working, which was all summer long for a couple of years. So if you’re a longtime reader, you know I watched a lot of films that appeared on Showtime over and over.

Which is why I remember that the little girl wore a Thor helmet throughout and even, if I’m not mistaken, wielded Mjolnir at the beginning of the film, and at the end, she thinks that the helpful mechanic is Thor. What if he was? He didn’t look to different from the Thor from the Incredible Hulk television movie (The Incredible Hulk Returns).

As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure Marvel has actually made this little girl Thor at one point in the comic books.

Also, look at the back:

A Marvel copyright statement.

Q.E.D.

(See also Now That The Die Hard Battle Is Won.)