Book Report: Black Hand The Executioner #178 (1993)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, I now have a new metric for Classical literature. Out: The Anna Karenina moment where I’m reading a long piece of literature and determine I could have read a whole other book by that point. The new metric is the Bolan number: The number of Mack Bolan or other paperbacks that I read while reading another piece of literature. This is the first Bolan book that I’ve read while going through Wuthering Heights, and Wuthering Heights will have a Bolan Number greater than 1.

But we’re not here to talk about Wuthering Heights; we’re here to talk about Black Hand, a novel that finds Bolan in Turkey after an attack on the American embassy that is laughably underguarded ten years after Beirut. He teams with a director of counter-terrorism and then an attractive sub-director of terrorism to free some hostages and smash the terrorist group, which is five people. Well, clearly, a diminishing number of people once Bolan gets involved, but they certainly seem to punch above their weight.

So it’s not one of the better entries in the series. One incident in the book that I read out loud to my poor long-suffering but beautiful wife was when a terrorist invaded a hospital to kill the anti-terrorism director. He bypasses a supply closet, shoots a surgeon in the head while the surgeon is in a break room, hides the body, and puts on the surgeon’s white coat as a disguise. Except why hide the body after making a mess in the break room? And just how white is the lab coat going to be after that gunshot luridly removes the surgeon’s head?

Yeah, not one of the best entries in the series, but it helped get me through another couple chapters of Wuthering Heights.

2020: The Year In Reading Review

Well, gentle reader, as you might know, I like to post a recap of my annual reading to look at some of the trends I discover only at the end.

This year, I apparently read about 126 books this year. A little more, a little less–my book year started on December 28, 2019 with the completion of the first Jack Reacher novel and ended about the same time this year. Not depicted in this total are books that I started but did not complete, including the collected poems of Andrew Marvell, Wuthering Heights, and some reading I’ve done on the complete works of Keats and Shelley that are upstairs now and will probably gather dust until the springtime, when I read a little poetry on the deck.

With further adieu, here’s the list for 2020:

Well, 126 books is the most I have done since I’ve been keeping track in 2010ish as I ran out of cells with borders in the Excel spreadsheet–although my previous high was 2019 with 110, so I don’t know why I ran out of bordered cells at 123. I stopped the numbering at 125, and I blew past it. Strangely enough, my spreadsheet was missing three titles that I added at the end when going back through the Book Report category to make this post.

I think I padded out the numbers a bunch this year because I read a lot of poetry, plays, and artistic monographs. The only big piece of literature I read was Barnaby Rudge, but I also condensed the numbers by only counting various omnibus editions (five Miss Marple novels, Lord of Janissaries, and Euripedes II) as single books.

I read 10 Executioner novels. I read a lot of science fiction and a lot of local authors. I read a bunch of plays, including the aforementioned Euripedes, Eugene O’Neill, and Dylan Thomas among others. I read a lot of art monographs, but not much of artists I like.

Next year, I will read more classical literature under the influence of The English Novel audio course–although, if Wuthering Heights is any indication, I will read a lot of shorter works in between chapters.

And, of course, even at 126 books, I start the year further behind as I have surely bought more books than that. But I will never want for something to read.

Good Album Hunting: Christmas “Shopping” and Redeeming Gift Cards

Gentle reader, although I have not actually employed the one-for-me, one-for-you Christmas gift buying protocol this year, I did pick up a couple of inexpensive records at Relics the week before Christmas whilst Christmas shopping. I also spotted some Chuck Mangione records at Vintage Stock whilst I was scoping out Pink Floyd CDs for my oldest who has come of that age. As I am still present, I am trying to steer him into more David Gilmour than Roger Waters, but I can certainly speak intelligently about something he likes.

At any rate, on Monday night, we stopped by Vintage Stock for the Chuck Mangione records with the power of a $25 Visa gift card of unknown provenance that has been in my gift card collection for a while.

At Vintage Stock, I bought:

  • Fun and Games, Encore, and Chase the Clouds Away by Chuck Mangione. No “Feels So Good”, his biggest hit I think, because that’s on Feels So Good, but Encore has “The Land of Make Believe” which also appears on WSIE from time to time. I paid $5.99 each for these, which might be a record (ahut!) (actually, no I bought Eddy Grant’s Killer on the Rampage and probably some Tommy Reynolds records for more). But I will definitely enjoy these three records.
  • The Four Freshman, Funny How Time Slips Away. I used to listen to the one Four Freshman album I owned, The Swingers, a lot. Partly because I owned fewer records then. I have bought a bunch of Four Freshmen records since and don’t play them as often. Also, I am not playing records as often.
  • Evie, Come On, Ring Those Bells. You see a lot of Evie records around. She’s a Scandinavian-influenced (second generation Norwegian) Christian music singer from the 1970s. So it might fit in with The Swedish Gospel Singers and The Teen Tones.
  • Two by Al Jolson: “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet” and The Immortal Al Jolson

Anything under four dollars was buy one get one free, so I only paid for one Al Jolson record (at $2.99) and the Four Freshman (Evie was free). The total came to only $24 roughly, so I had some left on the gift card for Barnes and Noble.

At Relics, the week before Christmas, I got:

  • Frank Sinatra, “My Way”. For $2.00. Friends, are we reaching a stage in history where even the young hipsters driving up the price on records everywhere are not driving the price of Frank Sinatra records up? I mean, $2? More for me, then.
  • Henry Mancini, Big Screen, Little Screen movie and television themes. From the Mancini Orchestra and Chorus. I have a tape or two of theirs from when tapes were a thing. I was old before I was old.
  • Frankie Carle, Play One For Me.
  • Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Together: The Genius of The Oscar Winners. Given that Gene Pitney sings, it sounds an awful lot like a country album.
  • Donna Fargo, Shame On Me bought because it has a Pretty Woman on the Cover (PWOC, in the MfBJN nomenclature). Turns out this is mid-70s folk country. As are so many PWOC records in Brian J.’s collection.
  • Perry Como, Close To You and Perry Como Sings Just For You. Now that the Christmas records are put away, these will help ease the transition into the normal record life.

Those were less than $10 after discounts and whatnot.

I have a gift certificate for an actual record store from Christmas, gentle reader, and to be honest, I am not sure how to shop for records. Basically, I tend to acquire LPs browsing through unsorted bins or bundles at thrift stores, book sales, antique malls, and used game and music shops. So to browse records in good condition and that cost real money? I will be lost. I’ll probably find a single Herb Alpert record from the 1980s that I don’t have and that will be that.

At any rate, I think the Chuck Mangione will be the real score of the trip. I need to take another $1 flyer on a band I have not bought before to see if I can find something else to acquire cheaply. Because one day, I will organize my records, and I will be able to pick out something to fit my mood instead of what’s closest to the front of the records that matches my mood. Won’t that be nice?

Like A Modern Sports Record

The headline on the article is a little more, erm, accurate: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ hauls in $16.7M with highest box office opening during COVID:

Released on Christmas Day, “Wonder Woman 1984” was the highest box office opening of the pandemic, hauling in $16.7 million in ticket sales in the US and $36.1 million globally, according to Warner Bros.

During the football game on Sunday night, they mentioned that Aaron Rodgers was about to break–and broke–the record for the most touchdown passes thrown in the second quarter of a regular season game.

Sports records, and apparently all records, are getting very granular indeed to make sure that every game or every movie or every celebrity somehow gets to break one in an artificially historic moment every time they make a doody.

Question to ponder: Is it more because of the modern participation trophy mindset (I have a collection of medals for runs and triathlons I have merely finished kept separate from medals for events where I actually, you know, won or placed) or is it more because commentators and talking heads of all stripes have to fill up the dead air with something? Or is it an even balance of both?

(See also: Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers become Packers’ record-setting connection for more granular Historic Record news.)

Book Report: Savings by Linda Hogan (1988)

Book coverI picked up this collection of poetry at ABC Books on one of the classified gift card runs this December. I didn’t do Good Book Hunting posts on them because I bought only a couple of books each time and a handful of gift cards. I mainly hang out in the martial arts, poetry, philosophy, local, and now the classical literature sections over there. I tend to start with the local and rotate counter clockwise through these sections. I’m prone to picking up inexpensive poetry collections. I think I got this one because it’s from Coffee House Press in Minnesota, and the title is similar to my collection Coffee House Memories. So I spent $3.50 on it.

Which might have been too much.

Even though it’s from 1988, it’s still too modern for my tastes. The short line breaks and the choppy mouth feel don’t lend themselves to good, evocative images or pleasure in reading aloud (even if it’s just in your head). The poet is Native American, so there’s a lot of Mother Earth, Brother Crow tropes in it; given that there’s not much else, it really stands out in not a good way.

So someday I’ll have to pen my “What makes a good poem?” essay, and it’s the contrasts with material like this that help me really dial in on the good stuff. Most of which comes from the ninteenth century.

Good Book Hunting, December 28, 2020: Gift Card Redemptions

In addition to gift certificates for a record shop and antique mall, I also received, along with the each in the family, an ABC Books gift card. So we headed out yesterday to spend them along with a Barnes and Noble gift card the youngest had and a Visa Gift card for $25 of some unknown provenance that I found in my gift cards.

So we stopped at ABC Books and “talked with Val” for a little bit and then Vintage Stock to pick up a couple albums I spotted whilst Christmas shopping and Barnes and Noble.

Here are the books I got:

The haul includes:

  • Sid Meier’s Memoir!. I got this at Barnes and Noble, not off the discount rack, but sales and remnants of gift cards (my youngest gifted me the remaining $3 on his after he bought a toy–to the boys, any place that sells toys or candy means the gift card will go at least 50% to the candy or toys). Given how much of my life has been given over to Sid Meier’s games–starting perhaps with Gunship on the Commodore 64 and up to Civ IV–which I still play too much–and onto Civ VI and Sid Meier’s Pirates, which I just installed on my Windows 10 box, and it runs, but I haven’t spent much time on it because, well, Civ IV–I thought I might as well buy his book as well. It cost a little over $10 after old gift cards were applied.
  • Like the Pieces of Driftwood, a short collection of poems by Tom Francis. So I can keep my poetry reading going during football games–and short collections of poetry are less expensive than art monographs at ABC Books.
  • Descartes in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern, a short bit on Descartes.
  • The Great Optimist and Other Essays by Leigh Mitchell Hodges, a 1908 collection that was misshelved in the Poetry section. To be honest, I didn’t look too closely at the contents. I figured in 1908, it would not be too modern, and I was kind of shopping on price.
  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson, an early epistolary novel mentioned in The English Novel audio course.
  • The Complete Poems of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Dunbar was an 19th century poet whom I read about somewhere in the past. I bookmarked his Wikipedia entry a long time ago in case I wanted to write an essay about him. Maybe after reading this book. It’s a nice edition from 1970 with mylar over the dustjacket and a left-handed inscription to Ann Elizabeth Quinn from Granpa(?) Lucas. The book was priced $18.95, so I put it back when I first spotted it on one of my Christmas shopping trips. However, this time, with the power of a Christmas present gift card, I bought it.

Now, gentle reader, I want you to understand that I behaved myself pretty well this trip. I actually put a couple books back. For example, because I had a gift card and because the nice leather editions of books are often 25% or 50% off at ABC Books, I took a look at them first. I spotted Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, mentioned in the audio course The World of George Orwell, I picked it up. It was priced at $275. Even with a quarter off (“Honey! I saved $70 when I talked to Val!”), I could not buy it. It’s unusual, but I also put back a $10 boxed hardback copy of Tom Jones, also mentioned in The English Novel (in the same lecture as Pamela, if I recall) because I figured I should only buy them one at a time and maybe, I don’t know, read the books I already have before buying another. Besides, by the time I might have gotten to Tom Jones, I might have found some other bit of classical literature on my shelves already. Especially if Pamela disappears into my to-read bookshelves for years. Which might happen here in a minute when I take it off of my desk.

So look at me: I put some books back which should somehow represent virtue.

I don’t know if I have mentioned this, but I have a definite pattern of browsing at ABC Books: I look at the local interest, I go down the aisle to the martial arts books, might stop by the art monographs down the same aisle, and then I go to the poetry and philosophy section (which are right next to each other), and then down that aisle to the classical literature (a new stop after listening to The English Novel. If there’s an author in the front of the shop, I’ll pick up one of that author’s books, and then I will be done. So I do all this damage to my poor bookshelves in only two aisles, essentially.

At any rate, I am excited to get started on these books. I predict I will read probably 2/3 of them in 2021 if I don’t lose them. Which I very well might.

Book Report: The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster (1983)

Book coverAlan Dean Foster might well be the greatest living science fiction writer. There, I said it. At the very least, I have enjoyed his work ever since I got a book in the Spellsinger series in middle school.

Since then, I’ve read and reported on:

It looks like it’s been nine years since I read one of his paperbacks, which is odd since I have several of his books in the to-read shelves, but if you’ve seen the to-read shelves, you’d understand why I have a wealth of things from which to choose. Given that I posted about Some Paperbacks of Note, the in middle school link above, in 2016, that means it’s been four years since I last completely dusted and shuffled the to-read shelves lineup. I should probably do that again. Likely I would shake out other Foster paperbacks to read next year.

At any rate, I have reached the point in Wuthering Heights where I want to read something else after a couple of chapters of that Literature, so this was just the thing.

In it, a low-level thief kills a jewelry store owner who won’t pay protection to the local crime boss and then kills the crime boss’s killers who come for him because he’s… different. So he works his way up the levels, and that is numbered levels, of being an illegal, and when some of the political powerbrokers on Terra take an interest in him, he pulls a trick to become legal businessman, again starting at a low level number and working his way up. He makes an alliance, essentially becoming a spy for an alien race but seems to play both humanity and the aliens off of each other until a grander scheme comes to fruition–allying the humans and these aliens against a menace from the galactic core.

The first half of the book focuses on the main character himself and deals with how he goes about what he’s doing; the second shifts to a psychologist of the alien race who suspects the main character has some sort of plot going against his race and tries to thwart him–all the while playing into his hands. The book ends with a short resolution where these antagonists talk it over and discover that the main character does all his plotting, including his latest, a mocked-up alien armada that looks as though it is about to invade the combined spaces of the humans and their new allies–he does all this just because he does not want anything to have control over him. Also, the improved commercial environment makes the humans, their new friends, and the man himself richer.

So ultimately, it’s a little thin, but it’s a roaring read. I thought the ultimate twist would be that it was some sort of video game, what with the marking levels playing so much of a part early. That was not the case, though. But a fun read, interesting characters–the main character is an amoral, pragmatic man much like say Raymond Reddington in the television series The Blacklist or similar anti-heroes that abound here in the 21st century. It seems a bit ahead of its time, but I am sure one could find other examples of it in other works preceding this one.

Ability to Play Petula Clark’s “Downtown” Hastily Removed

Tesla’s new Boombox feature will let car owners fart at unsuspecting neighbors:

Tesla’s new holiday update will finally give people the ability to use a new Boombox mode, which can broadcast custom audio on the outside of the car (hence the name). As is common with new Tesla features, Boombox combines real utility with lowbrow humor: owners can use fart and goat sounds in lieu of normal, boring honking sounds car horns usually make.

(Link via Ace of Spades HQ.)

Lies My Accounting Software Tells Me

Apparently, I’ll have to create an online account and log into it every time I run software that I purchased and installed locally.

Having my personal information and who knows what else stored in Intuit’s servers somewhere or the cloud does not, in fact, give me more security or better control of my data. It gives more of my information to Intuit, puts it out there for hackers to scoop up in mass, and moves me closer to having to pay Intuit every year for my new “subscription” model instead of buy it and use it into perpetuity as is. I don’t need an account to unite my Intuit products. I only have one, which might fall off to none sometime soon.

So, yeah, the company is lying to me. And we both know it.

We’ve gotten there, ainna? The bald-faced lie and what are you going to do about it? In business and in governance.

I long for the olden days when I only lamented that the off-the-shelf products I bought prompted me to buy an upgrade.

Which is why I still use Paint Shop Pro 7 from 2001, Wen Book Library from 2006, and as many old timey utilities as still run on Windows 10.

Now That The Christmas Records Are Put Away

It’s true: At Nogglestead, the lights will be up probably for another week, but the Christmas records get re-sorted to the bottom and back shelves until next year. By which time, I expect I will have gotten more. But that’s neither here nor there.

I didn’t get a chance to comment on this YouTube video, entitled “Cheddar Explains Why Almost All Christmas Music Is From the 1940s and 1950s”, which I saw on Neatorama:

Ah, well, Cheddar explains. Apparently, this is a YouTube channel that explores, explains, and in a brief ten minute clip condenses things for you.

It starts by comparing a Justin Bieber song to Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song” and says the only difference is time. Even though you can hear, quite clearly, that the orchestrations are completely different. The video goes on to interview a single expert on camera and circle a paragraph in a New York Times article and to say that, basically:

  • The changing of the music industry from selling sheet music to selling records;
  • Television;
  • World War II;
  • The commercialization of Christmas

All of which can sort of explain why the music of the 40s and 50s remains the stuff of our shared Christmas canon and more recent stuff does not.

Although the YouTube video says that sometimes a song breaks into the canon, like:

I guess Cheddar never heard of Spike Jones, does not own the Reader’s Digest Christmas Through The Years box set, or has not listened to DirecTV’s Christmas station, which plays the 1952 Spike Jones version of this song every night or so:

So, yeah, that comes from the 1950s, too, not a late-breaking 1970s addition to the canon. So, yeah, it looks like the 20-something on YouTube has an obvious gap in the knowledge she’s presenting. Say it ain’t so!

Off the top of my head, what other factors influence this affection for the old songs?

  • World War II and troops away are pat, easy answers to the changes taking place in the 1940s and 1950s. Other changes across the country include electrification of rural areas and the actual transition from many rural people from carts and sleighs to cars. Not to mention urban population movements and migrations. So many of the most urban of people remembered sleighs, carts, and some of the trappings of simpler Christmases with family in the country–unlike our second-hand memories of the songs talking about them. These people in the 1940s and 1950s hearkened back to that time when they were young, and that’s how Christmas was.
     
  • After the 1940s and the 1950s, the sound of popular music changed. They went from big band orchestrations and crooners to smaller arrangements with a guitar or two, drums, and a singer–rock and roll. The transition wasn’t immediate and simple, but if you flip through the music charts, you’ll see what I mean. So even when people released Christmas albums, the new kids didn’t generally sound like the things people had heard on their radios back in the day.
     
  • Let’s talk about the content of the modern Christmas songs. All the way back to “Blue Christmas”, “This Christmas I Spend With You” (shudder), “Hey, Santa”, and the new canon “All I Want For Christmas Is You” are songs about the singer and the significant other. Not the singer and family. I cannot emphasize enough that the most resonant Christmases, er, resonate because they’re shared with family, not just the significant other (see also the film The Family Man, which is actually a Christmas movie but forgotten for some reason). The ones I remember most are from my youth that I spent with my parents and the ones that I have spent with my own children. So of course songs that play up the family will hit me and the Christmas music consumer more than ones about being young and in love (although, I hasten to say, I am still both). It’s kind of like how pop music (and country music to a lesser extent) has narrowed even in the most recent decades to targeting a very young demographic. So, yeah, these songs are not going to be favorites throughout the years.
     
  • Also, the music industry has diversified greatly in the last decades; the popular songs on the radio (the music expert in the Cheddar video says radio drives popular music–really? In 2020? I am unconvinced) and the popular songs on the charts sell far fewer copies than popular music of the previous decades. So even if you write a “popular” song, a lot of people aren’t going to hear it, and it won’t reach a critical mass of “canon.” Not to mention that songwriters looking for a payday are no longer writing songs for the movies–many examples from the Cheddar video, such as “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” were written for movies. Instead, they’re writing for the clubs and for the WAP fans. That’s where the money is. Not music a family can share, even though Christmas songs and Christmas records represent a good backlist item to have.

This blog post, too, is not really enough to explore in great detail all the forces that made those songs from that transitional time so resonant (that word again!) with the generation that experienced the transitions in the early part of the twentieth century and how their appreciation of those songs carried through the generations–their children (the Baby Boomers) and their children’s children (us) and onto our children (the people making YouTube videos as ways to share “knowledge”). But it recognizes the complexities the Cheddar video misses.

Now that I’ve finished this post, I can put the last of the Christmas music on the back shelf in my head, too.

The Christmas Gifts of Nogglestead, Only Slightly Snarked

So let’s get on with Christmas presents: I am often underwhelmed on the gifts I receive. Sometimes, it’s a little premature that I look askew at something under the tree, as the time when I got a Keurig single-use coffee maker which I thought I would never use, but as my life changed from upstairs-mind-the-children-by-the-coffee-pot to get-up-early-and-go-to-my-desk-without-waking-anyone-else-up, I use it every day. But sometimes I get some things that I’ll never use. Like an embosser that would put my initials in all my books–jeez, my hand hurts just thinking about using it.

This year, I received a Battery Daddy.

Which is a nice thought as I have a whole desk cubby stuffed with batteries, but it’s more than 180 batteries. Also, although the Battery Daddy says it has place for 8 button batteries, I have far more than 8 button batteries of various sizes, not to mention a couple spare rechargeable batteries for sundry devices. Well, they might be spares, or they might be the old ones I replaced waiting for me to take them back to the battery store the next time I need to replace their replacements. Regardless, this packaging would only neatly store some of my batteries, so I’ll probably continue with the existing system, which is old check boxes with sorted batteries. Not an unsorted junk drawer.

I also got this piece of Packerphernalia:

My mother-in-law tends to get me Packers stuff, as I generally get her Mizzou things, our respective gift schticks. She also gave me a calendar; looking on the back, I only know the numbers if a couple of the players these days, which means I am getting old, I guess. As to this particular bit of art, I opened it, and I liked it right away, and my thought process went, a bit slowly, like this:

I like it…. Hey, that’s kind of like that thing on the wall at that sports bar…. Coyote’s Nixa…. I took a picture of that and texted that to my mother-in-law…. With the message “Christmas gift idea….”

She found something similar on Etsy, I guess.

I also got a gift certificate to Stick It In Your Ear, a full price record store downtown–and the intel that they know someone who works on old stereos, so perhaps when this person returns from Europe I will be able to play records on the console I inherited from my aunt–and you probably won’t get me out of my living room. I got gift certificates to Relics Antique Mall which I will be more careful with this year since I know they expire relatively quickly. To be honest, I already have an idea on what I want to get–I saw a starting fencing set for about fifty dollars; I think it said it contains 2 sets of everything. If it has two vests, two masks, and two foils, I will be all over that. And in case you’re wondering about that trip to Relics that I took for last-minute gift buying last weekend, I might have picked up a record or two–but I did get some nice gifts for others as well.

More important than what I got is what I gave. The home run gifts this year were those silly-but-expensive titles of nobility. I bought the oldest a Lord title in Sealand whose story he loves. I couldn’t let the older boy be a lord and not the younger, so I did a thing where I bought a square foot of Scotland to for the youngest, and according to tradition, any landowner in Scotland is called “Lord.” To be honest, the he is more excited about owning the land than being the Lord. So that worked out. Other gifts included apparel with the logos of the older boy’s high school for everyone, pajamas (a tradition here at Nogglestead), and socks for my beautiful wife. That’s right, mostly clothes.

My boys are becoming young men with tastes that make them more difficult to buy for. I try to get everyone something unexpected and delightful, something they would not have thought of but that I did. I don’t think I did as well this year as in years past–such as the 2007, the year that I had my wife’s then-unused trumpet re-silvered and repaired, and she cried with joy and asked, “How did you know?” To be honest, that’s a hard bar to clear again, but I’m ever hopeful.

And I always start very early in the year buying gifts, so when it comes time to opening them, I get the same surprise that they do. I wandered away when my brother and nephew started opening their gifts, and my brother thanked me for the tie. “What tie?” I said. “The Marine Corps tie,” he said. Oh, yes! The one I bought in Branson in May, when I predicted:

On the way back from breakfast on Monday, we stopped at a craft mall and bought a couple of Christmas gifts which I’ll wrap up and forget what they are by Christmas. Which gives me the same surprise and joy for the gifts I give that I get for the gifts I receive.

Do I know me, or what?

I also got my nephew the first two books in the Earthborn series, probably in June right after I read the first, Earthborn: Awakening.

At any rate, you might be wondering if I have started Christmas shopping for 2021 yet. Well, I have been burned in each of the last two years by people dying before Christmas. But that won’t dissuade me. One of the gifts I ordered for my wife has yet to arrive, so that’s either a gift for her birthday or a gift for Christmas. As to buying for my boys, well, there’s no telling what they will be into in a year, whether interests or, heaven forfend, clothing sizes. So I will likely wait until at least spring before I start for them.

Scandalous Christmas Eve Shenanigans From Nogglestead

Well, Christmas at Nogglestead, along with its various stresses, near-crises, and scandals, has passed.

We went to church on Christmas Eve–my beautiful wife and youngest son played trumpet for three of the services, but I only attended the three o’clock. In lieu of candles for the candlelight service–which would have required people to move their masks to blow out and to close the gap between families to light the candles–we got little battery-operated candle simulacra.

Which allowed me to re-enact a scene from one of my favorite Christmas movies, Lethal Weapon.

Come on, you know what I am talking about, ainna? I mean, I realize it’s an old movie, but:

Let it be noted, though, that Lethal Weapon 2 is not a Christmas movie.

And just so you know, I cannot recreate this scene on a normal year because it’s packed, and we don’t light the candles until right before singing “Silent Night”. Also, I am a sissy.

Thank you, that is all.

Nogglestead Christmas Crisis: Averted!

When I was up at ABC Books this last weekend, I got to chatting with the owner while she prepared the final batch of emergency gift cards for Christmas, and she mentioned that they would not be able to travel to spend Christmas with their family this year as her husband works for a school district which has placed restrictions on its employees.

So I got my beautiful wife to extend an invitation to have Christmas dinner with us. And they accepted.

Which caused a bit of a CRISIS! here at Nogglestead. We have not had dinner guests aside from immediate family in years.

I mean, my brother and nephew are coming for Christmas this year, and we have had my mother-in-law and a family friend for holidays in the interim, but they only trigger a normal cleaning of the house. With guests who have not been here before, we would need a real cleaning and other preparations.

CRISIS, I say!

  • Some people have nice towels to put out when they have guests over. At Nogglestead, we do not have ‘good’ towels. We have towels, and then beneath them but sometimes in rotation less good towels which are shortly on the way to the garage towels. So we would make sure that the less bad towels are out for the guests. And maybe that the towel holder was tightened against the wall so that it would not fall off the wall when the guests wash their hands. Well, all tight, it is held in with a toggle bolt that can handle a hundred pounds, but it still loosens to the point that it will jingle festively at times.
  • We do, however, have good toilet paper, and I’d need to make sure the hall bathroom had it. When toilet paper supplies briefly tightened this autumn, I picked up a couple packages of the most economical and, coincidentally, what Walmart had left. It’s single ply, little more than spider webs. It’s so sheer that if my beautiful wife wrapped herself in it, I would find it seductive. Of course, that’s not saying much as I find my wife seductive in pretty much any apparel. And I do not have any affinity for gossamer toilet paper, although I did watch The Golden Child over and over as a youth because it was on Showtime and I was not supposed to leave the trailer when my mother wasn’t home all day. Where was I?
  • Okay, gauging their relative heights, we would not have to clean the high places like the top of the refrigerator. We still would probably want to clean the walls, the floors, the furniture, and probably the ceilings. Given that we’re out of the home with church activities almost all day today, that would have meant a late night or two of cleaning and, worse, exhorting the children to help.
  • My beautiful wife planned a menu for six, a simple meal of turkey, salad, cranberries, rolls, and pie–I planned to pad it out by trying to make mashed potatoes for the first time in, what, seven years? and the second time in, what, thirty years? However, with Real Guests, we would need to have gravy, and this has been something that my mother-in-law has contributed in circumstances where we needed gravy. So what would I do? Try to make gravy from the, what part of the turkey is it that you make turkey from? Or I could buy a can of gravy at the supermarket–they sell gravy in cans, don’t they? And deal with the SCANDAL! of canned gravy. So the addition of two people made our menu suddenly an EMERGENCY!, although we would have had enough pie for everyone.
  • And let’s face it, Nogglestead is getting a little long in tooth. As I mentioned, it hasn’t changed much over the years. The carpets that were old when we bought Nogglestead are very old now. We have not done any significant upgrades aside from painting some of the walls. The kitchen floor and cabinets are in pretty rough shape–as is the trim throughout the house. I mean, I get excited and proud when I fix a little thing in the kitchen. So it’s looking a little shabby. However, given that I blow most of my money on charity and books instead of home improvements, perhaps they would understand–especially since I spend so much at ABC Books.

I know, I know: In the Christmas language, the character for “crisis” is the same as for “opportunity” (it’s right here on the Internet, so you can believe it). And, actually, I was excited to have some new people come to visit. I was looking to showing off the over-stuffed bookshelves and saying that it was their fault. I was concerned that I would say that the last dinner guests we had were serial killers (which is not likely true; the serial killers were the penultimate dinner guests, and as far as I know, the last people we had to dinner seven or so years ago were not serial killers, but they do travel widely, perhaps the better to keep the police from their trail of murder).

Unfortunately, the husband who works at a school somewhere, somehow, was exposed to The Continuing Unpleasantness, so he has to quarantine for two weeks, his entire Christmas break, and they won’t be able to attend after all. Which averts the artificial and not very crisisical crisis.

And it would have been a little different, a more memorable Christmas than the same-old, same-old Christmases from the past. The last couple of years, they have followed a pattern: Cinnamon rolls in the morning, church, opening presents, dinner, clean-up, and then a normal evening. I hate to be bored with such a blessing, but I need a little shake-up.

My brother and nephew are coming, though, so it will be a good Christmas. With less housecleaning.

Rule 5 Model Dies

I saw this headline at a British tabloid and remembered I used one of her photo spreads as a Rule 5 post: ‘SO SUDDEN’ Stella Tennant dead aged 50 – Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney lead tributes to model and ex-Vogue star.

The Rule 5 post is High Concept (II) from 2012.

I guess she did some other things besides appearing on this blog. And in the WSJ magazine spread that I made mock of back then.

Only 50. Which is awfully close to how old I am now. I have taken to reading obits in the various papers I take, not so much to see if I recognize anyone (I won’t) but to root for the deceased to be in their late eighties or early nineties. Because I’d like to think I have plenty of time to do those things even though I know I probably won’t.