From The ‘Sod Off, Swampy’ Files

Gym-goers urged to wear masks when exercising under new CDC guidelines:

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new recommendations for gyms after two outbreaks of COVID-19 were linked to group exercise classes.

The new recommendations urge gym-goers to wear a mask even when exercising. Gyms are also asked to provide more ventilation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Two outbreaks so everyone must conform? C’mon, man. This is America. And I think the powers that wannabe are going to find out how America this country still is.

Note the video segment features my YMCA and interviews a fellow Ozarks Multisport Club member rocking a Drown and Pound shirt. Neither the Y nor the OMC member seems inclined to require or wear masks whilst exercising.

Me, either.

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I Am Old Enough To Get The Allusion

The Low Spark of High-Speed Rail

Ha! An allusion to Traffic!

Alright, alright, alright, I am not old enough to remember that song contemporaneously–the album of the same title came out the year before I was born–but I do remember that album because of Dennis Cast, the assistant manager of the grocery store where I worked through college (one of many assistant managers–and even though it had a couple different names because it had a couple of different owners, but it was the same store to me). I listened to what they called Album Oriented Rock in those days–slightly older hard rock music–and he tried to broaden my horizons by loaning me a couple of cassettes, including The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. To be honest, the long-riffing lightly psychadelic sound of the middle 1970s didn’t do it for me. But I remember the song and have called it up once or twice since.

At any rate, I feel clever.

Also, I should note that I previously mentioned I remembered an episode of My Two Dads from The New Shows of 1987:

My Two Dads; I remember a single episode, where they give a party and try to engage the teens in conversation, and the daughter imagines them as really old.

In that episode, the B.J. and the Bear dad asks if the tween boys thought Steve Winwood did his best work with Traffic. That’s almost an exact quote, but not enough to put in actual quotation marks. Steve Winwood, at the time, had returned to the charts with his comeback songs like “Back in the High Life Again” and “Valerie”. However, it was not something the kids were listening to on their own–back in those days, I think adult attention figured into the charts.

At any rate, what is the article about? The usual highlighting the inefficiencies of light rail mass transit, I suppose. I already know the outlines of the argument, so plugging in this particular set of costs and overruns, which will prove less than the numbers plugged into the articles on this topic next year, doesn’t add much.

But the title took me back a bit. Not all the way back to 1971. Back to 1992, anyway.

And the time I spent on this post is about 12 minutes. The length of the song itself.

Thank you, that is all.

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The Whiff of Desperation

I have mentioned and alluded to the fact that I am not on Facebook much these days. I go some days without checking in, but I do like to go and see what I’ve posted on this date in the past, and some organizations with whom I deal use it as the primary communications channel. But I’m not posting a lot of content over there to fill the data mines.

And, seemingly, I have muted most everyone, or no one I know is posting much, either. Because my feed tends to fill with various non-sequiturs and seemingly random advertisements and recommendations. I think the ratio of random sponsored stuff and actual friends’ posts is closing in on 1:1, and as I mentioned, some of the things don’t really make much sense to me.

That’s not to say I’m going to poke fun at the advertisements and recommendations. I mean, they might be effective to appropriate target audiences, but to me?

Continue reading “The Whiff of Desperation”

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Ackshually Patrol

Tam K. misquotes Carlin:

Remember, everyone that drives faster than you is a maniac and everyone who drives slower is a moron.

Ackshually, it’s….

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?

I am pretty sure the bit is on What Am I Doing In New Jersey, which I got on audiocassette when it was fairly fresh. I listened to it whilst driving back and forth between St. Louis in Milwaukee every couple of weeks after I finished up at the university in the great northern land and returned to Missouri for what, seemingly, was forever.

This quote has been top-of-mind because, yesterday, after maybe contemning another driver but without any of the seven words you cannot say on television, I explained the quote and the perspective of each driver makes the other drivers seem crazy, but that I was likely as crazy as they were from their perspectives.

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So I Wrote A Short Story….

Well, alright, alright, alright, I wrote a draft of a short story. Based on something my oldest said when he came into my office, “Imagine a soldier deployed gets a call that his spouse has died,” which I turned into a military sci-fi story, sort of. It’s kind of funny–I don’t read a lot in the genre of military sci-fi. Well, not counting The Hero (2016), Halo: First Strike (2011), Robotech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming (2016), Titan AE (2020)…. Okay, I read some, and I read a lot of men’s adventure novels with a military bent. So of course I mash them up. My next novel is likely to be a military sci-fi book–I already have a first chapter, almost, I think, and the rudiments of an outline in my mind.

You know, I have written, what, five poems since November 2019 (and recently got my first rejection for them from a publication!). I hadn’t written a poem in years, either, but I finally finished off the one that’s incomplete on the cover of Coffee House Memories and then had some late night ideas for others, and I took to laundromats and coffee houses to scratch them out.

I have a new technique for writing poetry–maybe it’s the same as my old technique–it’s been so long that I might not remember, but judging by my old notebooks, this is a new technique: I write the opening lines and subsequent lines over and over again. When I get to a spot where I’ve stalled on progress, I re-write the poem from top to bottom. I make some minor changes, but then, hopefully, I surge onto the next lines until I am finished (which, granted, is sometimes weeks or months later–whenever I get back to the coffee shop).

This, of course, is no way to write fiction, either long or short.

When I was younger–college or thereabouts–I could sit down and pretty much plow through a draft of a short story with no problem. Of course, in those days, I was often writing short stories when I should have been writing papers for school. But I wrote them pretty much straight through with confidence that they would come out okay and that people would want to read what I wrote.

Well, fast forward a couple of decades. I managed to, over the course of a couple of years, write a novel that I thought was pretty good (John Donnelly’s Gold–which I still think is pretty good). I could not get an agent nor a publisher for it–and aside from a couple of publications in the middle 1990s (“Reading Faces” in Show and Tell–for which I got paid $5, brah–and “Small Bore Gun” in Artisan Journal in 1997), all I got for my short story submissions were rejection slips (apparently, I have not yet done a feature on my collection of rejection slips, which fills a 3″ binder). So my confidence has been shaken.

I mean, I have banged out some nonfiction articles about software testing, some in actual printed publications, but nonfiction is pretty linear when it comes to writing. Fiction is… different.

I have a couple of short stories that I’ve started but never finished. One, called “Gunter Escapes”, is on its second decade of incompleteness by this point. Another, “The Understanding”, is only a couple of years old. And the military sci-fi novel, The Saviors from Mars Deep (working title) is only a couple of years old. Surely not five (right?).

On each of the incomplete fiction pieces, I’ve gotten to a certain point and have really gotten stuck. On some, I’m unsure what to add or what to take out. I would reflect on the paragraphs I’d written and get hung up on them to the point of immobility. It’s not like writing the poems, where I can rewrite the whole thing to build the momentum again. So I put it aside. I put a lot of things aside and for long blocs of time. Sometimes, it seems, decades.

So with this last short story, I said damn the torpedoes and vowed to bang out a complete draft even if some paragraphs were only sentences. A couple of times I got to that point where I would put it up and abandon it, but I stuck through and finished a draft. Even though I am pretty sure the last half of it reads more like an outline with a couple character names in it.

But it’s done. Now I can revise it to shuffle in some better prose, characterization, description, and whatnot.

Except, I’m a little afraid to look at it right now.

I have printed it out, and it’s on my desk and has been for a week now. I have not read it nor started in with the red pen.

I should probably do so before it gets cast aside for a really long period. Maybe I’ll have my oldest read it first to see what he thinks of it. After all, it was his idea.

I’m trying to find this an encouraging step to the return of my dream of being a Writer, but once the story is revised and done, will any publication accept it? Will anyone read it?

Time will tell, but probably, no.

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They Don’t Look So Young, But…

So the local papers to which I subscribe often have a “Remember When” sort of feature every week where they comb through their morgues and come up with news stories and photos that can fill column inches easily. Also, probably, their regular subscribers are generally older and have probably lived in the area for a long time, so when they go back twenty or fifty years, you might see someone you recognize. I just tend to glance over these sections, even though I sometimes linger on the ones from thirty-five years ago because they remind me of when I was young even though I was not young there, wherever there is.

This last week or so back–paper delivery was delayed because of the weather–the Douglas County Herald offered a picture of the the Ava High School Homecoming Court of 1969:

Those girls are, what, two years older than my oldest? But they look so much older. Partially probably because it’s black and white and partially because they’re wearing the clothing that my mother wore in some of her pictures, and my mother was old to me when I was young and my mother was younger than I am.

But, wait, look closely at the faces.

Ah, yes, now I can see teenagers in those old people clothes.

You know, I don’t know if fashion has flatlined since I was younger, but the clothes I’m wearing in the pictures from thirty-five or forty years ago pretty much match what I wear now, casually, and the khakis and dress shirts I wear when going grant aren’t bound by style. Aside from the fly hand-me-downs from our next-door neighbors in the projects that I received in the early 1980s (I was the last kid on the block wearing bell bottoms, and it wasn’t because I couldn’t let go of disco), we never got fashionable clothes like parachute pants or even polo shirts. I have been wearing jeans and sweatshirts or t-shirts for the duration. Actually, I guess some of the sweatshirts are actually approaching twenty years old themselves. But never mind.

So at least in my mind, when I look back at older pictures, I think I look like that now. Except the face, maybe. Also the fact that I was finally able to gain weight and grow into a man’s body instead of a spindly boy’s.

The women in these pictures are about to turn seventy. Which doesn’t seem old, now. But I go to church, so most of the women and men that I see regularly tend to be pretty vital and involved. I hope they still are. I hope I will still be.

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Book Report: Karate! by Russell Kozuki (1974)

Book coverThis book was previously published as Karate for Young People, and if I had read the back of the book when I picked it up in August 2019 at ABC Books, I would have seen that the book describes itself as being for all young people between 10 and 17. Maybe I did. I am not sure it would have dissuaded me. I certainly do pick up the martial arts books for young people at ABC Books. But not the ones for old people. I assume that’s the market for the tai chi walking books that are piling up because I’m not buying them.

At any rate, this is a very cheap paperback–almost pulp magazine quality more than a book–which offers a list of the basics of karate. Stances, strikes, kicks, blocks, and sparring. The techniques are shown with a series of three or four pictures, each of which takes up most of a page with a paragraph of explanation. The photos are not as helpful as the ones in Boxer’s Start-Up, but that books pictures and diagrams in that book really set a high bar. This volume has a couple instructive ones.

As I have said before, these books really serve to supplement an actual class since the motions are hard to learn from mere pictures. I mostly read them to draw comparisons with the martial arts class that I study. Some of the main differences that I see are that the karate ready positions tend to have a more closed stance (hips are aligned toward the opponent) and the hands are lower. But I’ve seen many of these forms already, but not lately–as I’ve mentioned, the school has focused a lot on boxing over the last couple of years.

But, still, there’s something to learn. One combination strike is called the U-punch, which is thrown from a front stance (which my school has never emphasized) and involves a cross and a backwards uppercut. It reminds me of my Matador combination, which is a knifehand toward the head from the forward hand with a low cross coming under it almost simultaneously. Although I haven’t really sparred in over a year with the way things have gone, this was one of my favorites. But, again, we’re not focusing on tae kwon do strikes these days.

So a good review over a couple of hours where I wasn’t at the dojo. Which I haven’t been much the last two weeks with the weather and whatnot. I need to get back so that I don’t fall further behind and I can wear my business gi again sometime.

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The Continuing Avalanche

Of course, I warned about this in 1991, but now it’s time to strip all traces of Native American nomenclature (including the English word Chiefs) from the culture.

Cherokee Nation asks Jeep to stop using tribe’s name

Because, as a society, we have immatured from the ideal of celebrating shared humanity to “It’s ours, and you can’t have it.” Which will work out so much better, but that’s tomorrow, not today when one can take a Principled, Popular Stand.

You know who’s next in line, don’t you?

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Usually, It’s The Opposite Problem

So I’ve got this puzzle piece on my desk.

The normal trouble is to find, when you’ve almost completely assembled a puzzle, to find a single piece missing.

However, sometimes during the disassembly process here at Nogglestead, a single puzzle piece will hit the floor, especially if the cats are helping with the disassembly, only to be found some time later.

At which time, I apparently put it on my desk.

I cannot throw it out, of course, since we might assemble the puzzle later and need it. So I will put it with the other stray puzzle pieces; and, if we think of it, we can look for this piece if we ever come one short.

Although, given the distinct markings on this piece, perhaps I can just look for the box.

But, no: why deprive myself of a future item for a Five Things on My Desk post?

Also note, gentle reader, that I still have a couple incomplete young children’s puzzles wrapped up in storage, each missing one or two large wooden pieces. I cannot give them away incomplete, so I have set them aside in case those pieces turn up. They’ve been in storage for probably six or seven years now, and Nogglestead does not shake out as many stray kids toy bits as it used to. But that’s something for my estate sale planners to decide.

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Book Report: The Judgment of Caesar by Steven Saylor (2004)

Book coverIt’s been six years since I read Saylor’s Last Seen in Massilia. I bought a bunch of these at a garage sale or something, and when I read Last Seen in Massilia, I had them together on the bookshelves, but I had put the first two I owned of the series out of order. Since then, the shelves upon which I’d put them in order collapsed, so they have kind of been just piled onto the remaining bookshelves. When it came time to find books to fill out the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge categories, I grabbed the Saylor book that was on top. This one.

It takes place well after the events of Last Seen in Massilia. After Caesar defeats Pompey. Gordianus, the protagonist, is returning to Alexandria, Egypt, with his wife, a native of that land, as well as his two adopted charges and the hulking mute brother of Gordianus’s recently deceased lover, whose ashes she wanted spread on the Nile. As they see the light of the Great Lighthouse at Pharos, a storm comes up and blows their ship into the remnants of Pompey’s fleet. Pompey hates Gordianus (Caesar is not terribly pleased with him, either), and he looks forward to executing the Finder (Gordianus’s nickname) after he returns from the shore expedition where he (Pompey) hopes to ally himself with the Ptolemeic royal family–but Pompey is assassinated before he reaches the shore.

The Egyptian fleet chases off the remnants of Pompey’s forces. Caesar arrives, and Gordianus finds himself caught between Caesar, Ptolemy, and Cleopatra in their various intrigues.

Basically, I thought the book was going to just come down to a historical intrigue book and not something hinging on a crime, but on page 209 (of 323), one of Cleopatra’s food tasters dies from drinking poisoned wine that she and Caesar were going to share, and suspicion falls on Meto, Gordianus’s adopted son who went missing in Massilia and whom the Finder disowned at the end of that book for throwing in his lot with Caesar. So Gordianus leaps into action to try to find out who really did it. Which he does in the back quarter of the book.

You know, I couldn’t help but think that this book is just like The Good Girl’s Guide To Murder (I mean, they even both came out the same year). The first half of the book deals with familial relationships, the pressures of mothers/daughters and fathers/sons (respectively), and the reader expects a crime but gets a lot of rumination until, yes, there it is, somewhere in the 200s, something happens (a murder/attempted murder). Then, very quickly, the protagonist solves it without an awful lot of legwork. You see? Exactly the same.

Except that this book has a lot of flourishes of interesting historical locations and events, even basing some of the dialog on things recounted in Caesar’s account of the Civil War (which I read not long after Last Seen in Massila). So it’s more relatable to me than the McBride novel.

Which is good. I have several others in the series hidden in the piles on the to-read shelves. Hopefully, it won’t take me six years and a prompt from a Winter Reading Challenge to get to them. But one thing I have recently rediscovered is that I have a lot of really cool books to read, starting with the partially finished David Copperfield (which I paused early in January so I could get a coffee cup from the library’s Winter 2021 Reading Challenge.

Oh, and things I marked:

I Feel Smart
The book talks about Crassus, the other part of the first triumvirite.

Pompey was not her first husband. Her previous marriage had been to Publius Crassus, the son of Marcus Crassus, the lifelong rival of Caesar and Pompey. When the elder Crassus set out to conquer Parthia some five years ago, he took his son with him; both perished when the Parthians massacred the invading Romans.

I am listening to an audio course lecture series called History’s Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach; one of the lectures is on the battle at Carrhae. So by the time I read this, I could talk about that particular battle in detail.

Me, Too

“I am a slave–of Isis. I serve the goddess and belong to her completely, body and soul, in this world and the next.”

Yeah, me, too. That’s what I get for naming a cat Isis.

Not a lot marked here, but what am I going to complain about, the description of Alexandria? I will say of the two Civ IV Great Wonders from Alexandria, I prefer the Great Lighthouse to the Great Library.

Thank you, that is all.

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Mission: Accomplished

On January 9, I announced my participation in the Springfield-Greene County Library Winter 2021 Reading Challenge.

Although the rules indicate that you only need to read five books from the fifteen categories, of course I had to try to hit all fifteen.

Which I did.

Click for full size

Actually, I read sixteen books in the fifteen categories so I could do a software testing boundary analysis gag on LinkedIn.

Still, that puts me at 25 books so far this year, which would put me on pace for 150 this year if I kept it up. Which I won’t, of course, as the last eighty percent of David Copperfield, which I paused to complete this challenge, awaits.

Still, having to select something from these categories directed my reading in a fashion that did not leave me wondering what I was going to read next. When I finished it up this weekend, I was at a bit of a loss as to what I was going to read in addition to David Copperfield.

But I got over it.

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Book Report: She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo (1983, 2008)

Book coverWhen I went to the library to get a book about food for the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge (Chocolate: The Consuming Passion), I also got this book, a collection of poetry by a Native American woman who, it turns out, is the current Poet Laureate. Which might explain why this book is in print nearly forty years after it or its content first appeared.

Well, her poetry lines are generally longer than those of Linda Hogan, whose book I read in December, short before I knew I would need to read something by a Native American author in the beginning of 2021.

But the same knocks I applied to Hogan, except perhaps the short lines, although some of the poems in this book also have short lines. But the poetry is not concretely evocative. It’s lyric in spots, and probably works better in performance than in reading from the page. But, come on, if the poetry depends upon a predetermined interpretation and delivery, it’s only so good.

The first paragraph and sentence of the introduction say:

What do the horses mean is the question I’ve been asked most since the first publication of the book She Had Some Horses in 1984. I usually say, “It’s not the poet’s work to reduce the poem from poetry to logical sense.” Or, “It’s not about what the poem means, it’s ‘how’ the poem means.” Then I ask, “So what doe the horses mean to you?”

Like most poets, I don’t know what my poems or the stuff of my poetry means exactly.

Spoken like a professional academic poet.

Maybe that’s my problem. I do know what my poems mean, and it’s my job as a poet to convey the meaning poetically, through words that feel good when you read them out loud, not that sound good when I read them out loud (although back in my open mic days, they did–or maybe they were just loud). Of course, I am not a professional poet, although I did get paid $100 for a poem once. Between that and my other sales to national magazines a decade ago, I am entitled to the professional tier in various writers’ guilds when I have been known to join.

At any rate, most of the poems flowed over me like water and back into the bookearth from which they came. I don’t expect to pick up another of her works, although the author is also a musician and a saxophone player, so perhaps I will catch something of hers on YouTube and order a CD.

Or maybe not. A little too Native American-influenced for my tastes.

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Book Report: Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boynton (2015)

Book coverBrian J., you might ask, exactly how low will you go to complete all fifteen categories in the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge? Well, gentle reader, I went to the library the other day to find a short collection of poetry by a Native American author and a book on food since I can’t find the book I pulled from my personal library about food. And I found this book on the shelves of the library in the food section. It’s a short humor book with lots of illustrations, but, c’mon, man. It was in the library’s own Food section, and not the kids’ food section. So it counts.

At any rate, it is an update of a 1985 volume that contains the sort of thing one would find in an “I Am….[Food Type]” article on Reader’s Digest if anyone besides me subscribed to it in the 21st century. You have information about how cacao is grown, how it is made into chocolates you can eat, where to buy the best chocolate, how to store it, all presented with a sense of humor and a lot of drawn hippopotami. Strangely enough, you can learn a lot from this book if you’re interested. It includes steps to grow cacao beans–step one is basically live in Africa or South America–and also recipes. So the book has it all.

But, yeah, it’s a very short read–it took me an hour or so. As I said, it’s more of a long article with the cartoons. But still informative.

I did flag one thing, though:

The new millennium has brought with it a quiet but insistent counter-trend to mass production: exquisite artisan-made food and drink. Wine, cheese, coffee, beer, bourbon–each has drawn a fanatical core of small-batch makers who strive for new vistas of nuanced taste experience. In turn, those makers attract a core of deeply devoted followers.

And so it is with chocolate.

The chocolate that these driven iconoclasts make is kown as “bean to bar” or “craft chocolate.” The makers begin at the beginning, working directly with smale-scale cacao farmers to determine how to grow and nurture the best possible beans, and how to optimize the methods by which these beans are sorted, fermented, and dried.

She’s talking about Askinosie Chocolate based here in Springfield, Missouri–and she does mention him in the thank yous at the end.

So I am down to two books to read in the next nine days. I am starting to feel very confident that I will complete the Winter Reading Challenge the hard way.

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Like A Modern Sports Record (II)

I spotted this image at Ace of Spades HQ:

Wow, the greatest extent on record. All the way back seventeen or eighteen years. Or, as I like to think of it, in my adult lifetime.

I remember snowy years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I realize most Internet content generators or the official variety cannot.

You know, if the Year 2000 Bug had completely erased history, what would be different? Nobody recognizes that history began before it anyway.

(See also Like A Modern Sports Record.)

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Shoveling Nogglestead

Gentle reader, you might have heard on the news that the south has gotten another visit from the jet stream this week, bringing with it not only the ice last week but also cold and snow this week.

It has basically snowed lightly all week until yesterday afternoon. We got a couple of measurable snowfalls, maybe six to eight inches total, and most everything closed down. My oldest has only had a partial school day in the last week and a half; the youngest has only had one. They have been off all of this week and have “virtual learning” for the day. So it has felt a little bit like the lockdown from last spring except that the cold has kept us from running outside or riding bikes. I haven’t actually left the house since church on Sunday morning.

So, yesterday, I needed a little me-time, and I was tired of sitting at my computer.

It had warmed to 20 degrees, so I went outside to shovel.

I have only shoveled the driveway at Nogglestead, what, two or three times since we lived here. Most snowfalls are an inch or two at most followed by days warm enough to melt them, so I haven’t bothered. But yesterday, the depth of the snow plus the lingering temperatures made it worthwhile to shovel. So I put on a coat, hat, and gloves (and my gym playlist), and I got to it.

It took me almost four hours of peace and quiet (well, except for the metal blaring in my ears), but it reminded me of home. The last winter I spent in Wisconsin, we got like 75″ of snow. It would snow eight inches, pause a couple of days, snow four inches, and so in. So I did a lot of shoveling then, but my father’s driveway was significantly shorter.

I have a birthday coming up, so of course I’m thinking about aging. I am blessed to be able to shovel for four hours in the cold with no ill effects. Or do triathlons. Or take martial arts classes. I just have to slow down and enjoy that I can while I can and not worry about that I’m not winning, or that I’m not super sharp on my skills currently, or that it takes me four hours and an eventual Advil. I’m trying to distill it into a pithy statement to put on a sky image and share tweeiously on the Internet, something like Someday I Will Can’t, But Until Then I Will Not Won’t.

I think I will venture out today for some errands, so the clear driveway will come in handy to be able to see it and avoid the ditch. And I won’t have to tromp through the snow to take out my trash since the can will likely be out there all week as well.

Next week, it is back to springtime. Today, I shall enjoy looking at the snow and listening to the snow-muffled silence when I take my trash out.

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True To My Life and My Truth

This Quickbooks ad made the rounds on television this season:

I chuckled, because it’s true.

My martial arts school awards black belts with special jackets and belts with the student’s name (and the school’s name) on them.

I, however, only wear those to testing, which means I only wore my first degree black belt and jacket four times: Once when I received it, briefly, and then every time I tested until I got my second degree. My second degree belt and jacket I wore only once, when I was awarded them almost two years ago. I am a little behind in the testing process given the events of the last couple of years; I should wear it for a formal occasion sometime soon.

For classes, I have a well-worn gi and a plain black belt that I have worn since I was awarded the black belt (although I might have replaced the gi since then). This is, of course, my casual gi.

So I can relate. Also, I use QuickBooks for my business, but not the live assistance since I have an accountant.

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Book Report: Vespers by Ed McBain (1990)

Book coverI first read this book fifteen years ago (or, at least, I first reported on it fifteen years ago). That was when the book was fifteen years old, so basically its age has doubled. Mine, almost, too. Or so it feels sometimes.

At any rate, this book precedes Widows, and as I mentioned, I spotted this volume on my bookshelves right after I read that book. I ordered this book last spring from ABC Books during the beginning of the Ongoing Unpleasantness; I got it because it is an autographed copy.

Not only is it autographed, but it is inscribed.

Much like the English copy of The Caribbean Mystery, I have to wonder how it ended up in Springfield, Missouri, for me to pick up.

The book has two unrelated plots: Carella and Hawes investigate the murder of a priest, and they have a bunch of suspects: A member of the congregation who has a beef with the priest; a member of the Satan-worshipping church down the street, whose rites are described in some tawdry detail; members of the the church staff; a local drug dealer who might have hidden drugs in the church; local youths/drug distributors who chased the drug dealer into the church after the drug dealer stole the drugs; someone who might be having sex with and/or blackmailing the priest; and the eventual murderer. The second features Marilyn Hollis, the former prostitute who is involved with Detective Willis, whose past catches up with her in the form of two South Americans who want the money she stole from her former pimp when she killed him.

The first plot moves a little recursively, as the stories of each person change according to the other peoples’ stories, until Carella returns to the scene and uncovers additional evidence that allows him to solve the mystery pretty quickly; the other meanders to a conclusion abruptly.

So not the best of the lot, but still an engaging read, and I read it in three nights, so pretty fast for my modern pacing.

I ended up picking it up because, when I was handling Widows, I saw that it was a selection of the Literary Guild. Which is a book club. So this is my Book Club Selection for the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge.

Oh, and I did mark some things as I went along.

Anachronism Alert

“This was late in the afternoon,” Krissie said, “this black kid came running into the church with his head all bloody. Hald a dozen white kids were chasing him with stickball bats and garbage can covers, chased him right into the church, right up the center aisle to the altar.”

I am not convinced a twenty-two year old woman from Minnesota would use the term stickball bat, especially since everyone else in the book calls it a baseball bat.

Attacking George Bush
I might have mentioned that in the 21st century, McBain let some sucker punches into his work. But here in 1990, he also criticises the earlier George Bush:

The black man in America knew where it was at. And where it was at was not here, not in these mean streets. Where it was at was uptown someplace, so far uptown that the black man had never been there, could not even visualize it there, knew only that uptown was a shining city somewhere high on a hill, a promised land where everyone went to Choate and Yale and a thousand points of light glistened in every cereal bowl.
Read my lips, Carella thought.

A little zinger for Reagan, too, who borrowed shining city on a hill from John Winthrop.

The Baddest Word
Clearly, there is a black kid in the book and it muses on racial questions, so we get the superbad word.

In the movie theater, sitting there in the dark with mostly white people, Hooper likes to wet his pants laughing every time Eddie Murphy does another one of his shrewd things. White people all around him are laughing, too. Not at any dumb nigger but at dumb Charlie who the nigger’s fuckin’ around. Hooper doesn’t completely understand why all these white people are laughin’ at theyselves, but he knows it makes him fell damn good.

Yeah, the superbaddest word of all appears throughout this book; it should be cancelled harder than Widows. But McBain does capture something of race relations at the time–Eddie Murphy’s characters were protagonists, black but relatable, and even white folk could identify with him. However, that’s not allowed or encouraged now–it’s not our shared humanity to discover and celebrate, but our assigned categories to defend.

Tie-In To Something I Just Saw

Marilyn wondered if there were such things as passionate, poetic men who looked like lions and made their homes in subway caves.

I just saw the intro for Beauty and the Beast when reminiscing about the New Shows of 1987.

McBain Knew No Goths

Carella recognized in the group of teenagers the two young girls he’d spoken to yesterday. They were dressed more sedately today, not in black–this was largely an alien color in a young person’s wardrobe–but in dark shades of blue that seemed appropriate to the day’s burden.

Apparently no metalheads either. In my high school years which ended in 1990, black was not uncommon.

Anachronism Alert (II)
One of the white local youths:

So we were, I don’t know, showing off for the girls, clowning around. I remember Allie was doing his imitation of what was supposed to be Tony Bennett singing I Lost My Heart in San Francisco, but he sounded more like Jerry Lewis, did you ever hear Jerry Lewis sing?

Probably not what a group of teens in 1990 would be doing, imitating Tony Bennett but sounding like Jerry Lewis.

Asimovian Self-Insertion

“Carlos Ortega,” Morente read out loud from the computer screen, and then turned to the faxed record and said, “Carlos Ortega,” and then kept turning his head from screen to paper like a spectator watching a tennis match, comparing records, speaking the facts out loud, “forty-two years old, born October fifteenth,” and said in an aside to Willis “Birthdate of great men” but did not amplify, “six feet three inches tall, two hundred and sixty-five pounds, brown eyes, bald with black sideburns, this is some kind of miracle, broken nose, knife scar over right eye, they sound like twins except your guy was born in Argentina and this guy in El Salvador.”

Ed McBain was born on October 15, you see?

White Privilege Alert
McBain also includes several slurs for white people and one for the Italians:

This was getting to be a regular reunion of WOPS, the World Order for the Prevention of Subterfuge, a watchdog society dedicated to the proposition that any American born with an Italian name must keep that name forever, neither changing it completely nor even Anglicizing it, lest he be mercilessly and eternally hounded to his grave with reminders that he is meely an ignorant peasant with hoity-toity pretensions.

As you might remember, Ed McBain’s birth name was Salvatore Lombino; he later changed it to Evan Hunter. Note that the aforementioned Tony Bennett also violated this precept and changed his name to a more American-sounding name.

So he is pointing out that anti-Italian prejudice and the reaction, Italians ‘policing’ themselves to find people who are not authentic enough, existed in living memory. Which, unfortunately, is not living memory to many people in the 21st century, or it would maybe give them some perspective other than what they’re given by the authorities.

At any rate, I flag things to comment on just so I can give a little more to these book reports. I don’t want to be pedantic, and I don’t want to spend hours composing these book reports, so you’re getting, for the nonce, a comment on things that strike me while reading the book.

In sum, I liked the book, and I tried to keep the Doritos dust off of this since it’s a warmly inscribed first edition, so it might be briefly collectible until the remainder of us who like to read physical books and not just content delivered to our devices and managed/’curated’ by big tech companies. Especially books with bad words in them even when the thoughts were, for the time, good.

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