Sunday, July 31, 2011

WW2 Flicks

Still under the weather. Upside is that I’ve been doing a lot of reading. On the couch, on the floor, in bed, in the tub. Haven’t been this horizontal since my hospital days of oh-nine.

One item I did enjoy was a 10,000 word article on the rivalry between George Patton and Bernard Montgomery during World War 2. It was the author’s contention that this ego-fueled rivalry unnecessarily extended the war by at least six months. In a conflict that averaged 37,900 deaths per day, how terrible it must be for those two men – now – if any part of that thesis is true. (And I’m not necessarily agreeing with it; nor do I wish to pass judgment on two brilliant and courageous men.)

While pondering all this, I got to thinking about the war movie. The classic war movie. I’m not a huge fan, like I am with SF or fantasy or philosophically mind-bending flicks, but I will see the good ones. Plus, being a fan of TCM I’ve seen my share of good and bad WW2 films.

Off the top of my head, here are the ones I consider “favorites” –

- Patton (1970)
- Von Ryan’s Express (1965)
- The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
- Midway (1976)
- A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Midway and A Bridge Too Far are memorable from my youth. As a kid, with cable teevee newly piped into my home, me and my brother must’ve watched these two flicks dozens of times, and never once in their entirety.

Saving Private Ryan has perhaps the most intense and (I guess) realistic scenes of warfare ever filmed during those first forty-five minutes or so when Allied troops storm the beach. Like Tom Hanks’ character, I was shaking by the time it was over. The rest of the film, however, I didn’t really like for various reasons.

There’s also a film I remember from my youth that I have never seen since. Nor can I find it’s title based on the fragments I remember. I’m wondering if you can help me.

It takes place on a little island in the Pacific. A group of 300 American GIs are holding off a much larger force of Japanese. Something like 5,000 or so. I seem to remember those numbers. The no-nonsense soldier’s soldier commander of the GIs and a bleeding-heart American reporter embedded with the troops bicker constantly about the Big Questions. Quickly the Americans are retreating, and the Japs are picking them off one-by-one. They need to make it to some other point on the island to get rescued. Finally, it’s down to a handful and the reporter gets shot. The commander throws him over his shoulder, and just as they’re about to get saved, he gets shot. But the bleeding heart is rescued.

Anyone know what I’m talking about? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Twelfth Night

Just a quick observation about Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

I’m about an Act-and-a-half in, and I noticed something right away. Now, I’m just this joe-guy-off-the-street type who’s reading Will for the first time in most cases. I’m positive this little thing was noted a few centuries before I stumbled along. Probably written about, too, in great depth.

Right off the bat I noticed the names of three major characters –


Contain a preponderable commonality of the letters v, l, o, and i.

Indeed, Olivia and Viola are almost anagrams, save for the extra i. Take away the “mal” prefix from the last character and it’s still not too far removed from an anagram. And of course we all know that “mal” prefix denotes or at least infers something evil, or at least bad.

Now I’m excited about how this plays out with the characters’ personalities and, perhaps, identities. Surely Shakespeare is too great the wordsmith to not allow such similarities be significant.

We’ll see. I’m still under the weather, and I want to possibly finish the play soaking in a hot therapeutic tub later tonight.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Baby Trashes Bar

Hi. I'm sick. Head cold and a slight cough, infected by one of the children, or possibly the wife. Working way too hard at work, eating crapola, not interested in rest and recuperation, let alone getting some serious sleep. Now I'm paying the price.

So in lieu of anything moderately witty, borderline stupid, or appealing to me and four other people across the globe, I offer you this ...


This never fails to crack me up.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

O Brave Atheist

Takes a lot of courage to mock those whose religion demands they turn the other cheek, doesn’t it?

One additional reason I won’t ever watch anything with Ricky Gervais in it.

(Saw this online a few days ago and jokingly emailed it to my wife. She sent a one-word reply: “yuk”)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rich Man's Purgatory

So I’m driving like a maniac down the highway yesterday morning, fighting against all the other rats on the treadmill to punch a clock by the appointed time decreed by my masters. Yes, I’m in my forties, have a wife and two young children, have a home and $400,000 worth of debt, and now my number one goal in life is to stay off the Tardy Report. Normally I’m punctual as can be, but this week I have to drop my children off at day care, way out of my way, and one of those childrens is not digging the whole day care thing too much.

After I rush like crazy to sit dead still on line for an off-ramp, I reflect upon the dualities of modern American economic life. Now, I’m not one for all that class warfare stuff. I think that angle is just a smokescreen for other agendas. But there is undoubtedly a chasm in our society. Whether it’s widening or not, I don’t know. I’m just very aware of it, I guess, because now, at this stage of my life, I seem to be right in the thick of it.

There are rich people out there. No doubt about it. I see a couple every day of my working life. I’ve dealt with them on a daily basis. They drive nice cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice houses and generally have a nice outlook on life, as long as their economic foundation is not threatened in any way.

They do not worry about Tardy Reports. They are the ones who look at Tardy Reports.

Then there are people like me. I work a very difficult job as best I can for a meager wage, simply to pay the bills. And pay the bills my income does, barely. Just barely. It almost doesn’t pay to work, but it does, however slight, so work I do. If I work long enough and hard enough, eventually things will pay off, but I can’t seem to muster such long-term vision at the moment.

Taking a somewhat biblical outlook, I imagine how it might be divine justice if a rich man could walk in my shoes for a month or two. Just to know how we “little people” think and feel about life and work. I wonder that Purgatory for a rich man might just be living like me, check to check, month to month, bill to bill, nervous all the time that the ever-growing expenses might one day soon overtake the never-growing income.

Then, with horror, I realize ...

What if I’m a rich man doing time in Purgatory ? ? ?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tantalusian Toads

“Why did you stay here?” Moran demanded. “There must be some way out.”

“Hell, we’ve all tried that!” It was a scarred half-caste from one of Earth’s stray colonies. “There’s no way, only the way we came, and there you’ve got the toad to pass and the Stalkers if you make it. With her dead we’ll starve here. There was worse things than goin’ to her!”

Moran’s eyes narrowed. “Are you man enough to risk the Stalkers if I handle the toad?” They stared at him blankly. “They’re big but they’re stupid; some of us’ll get through. Do you have the guts to try?”

They shuffled forward, one by one, until they were crowding around him. “All right,” he told them, “you’ve got leather – make me two ropes, strong ones, and get together whatever you’ve got to fight with. Grandpa and me’ll do the rest.”

- from “Trouble on Tantalus” a short story by P. Schuler Miller, first published in 1941.

Neat little SF short stories from the golden age I read last night. This scene happens towards the end, and something in my mind just clicked. This would be something I would use, I thought, were I to teach a creative writing class.

I don’t know if it was all these references to the “toad,” or to “Grandpa” at the end that did it. But what wonderful possibilites, no? Moran, to me, is a musclehead, albeit a clever one, like Vin Diesel in his Riddick movies. Tantalus is Hell localized in the Sirian system. Stalkers … well, they could be just about anything, as long as that anything was vicious and very unpleasant.

So what I would do would be to hand out copies of this scene to the class. Then I would simply say, “Finish it.”

Hint: can you intuit what those leather ropes would be used for? Hmm? When fighting a toad-monster? It winds up being very clever and very satisfyingly written.

I wanna write like this when I grow up.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Newest Acquisitions

Every two weeks or so I buy two or three cheapie paperbacks. It's an addiction, a positive one, I hope. It only takes me a couple of hours to read through each, and it provides fabulous escape from my humdrum monotonous existence. Plus, I like to think they make me a better writer.

Thing is, I've been stuck reading these two Zane Grey books over the past month. If I'm reading a book longer than a week, I start to get itchy. Hopper in me, I guess. But I wanted to get these two Grey books under my belt so I can visit the Zane Grey museum a coupla miles from my parents' home. Man, I just realized the geekiness of that last sentence, but, so be it, be it so.

Anyway, I've picked up five science fiction paperbacks over the past month. Dying to read them, unsure which to start first. Perhaps you can help? Worse comes to worse, I'll have my daughter pick one, though she usually picks the one with the best artwork on the cover (she's only six, so she can judge books by their covers). I have an idea in my head, so it might not even be one of these five. We'll see. I have to pick one later today. Else my head will 'splode.

Here's what I picked up and why:

Neverness (1988) by David Zindell. A 458-page portal into another world, comparable to Frank Herbert's Dune if the jacket is to be believed. Jackets aren't to be believed, so I based my purchase on that old SF compendium I had ranking the top thousand or so novels and anthologies out there. Neverness made the list, so it made mine. Not a book to be read in a few hours, though; I'm parring myself ten days for it.

Iceworld (1953) by Hal Clement. Cycle of Fire changed my mind about Hal Clement. This book should confirm my new opinion or unmask it for an imposter. We'll see, but I'm reallllllly excited to crack this one. Clement is a no-nonsense bare-bones world-builder probably diametrically opposed to the Zindellian work above. At least, that's the way it seems to me now.

Venus (2000) by Ben Bova. Bova's a long-time famous editor, a shaper of SF the way we know it (or knew it twenty or thirty years ago). Around the turn of the century he made a literary tour of the solar system, each book a tour-de-force of exploration about one of our planets. How to get there, why to get there, what goes wrong on the way, what goes wrong while we're there, etc. I read Mars sometime in the late 90s and was impressed, though a tad put off by the whiff of PC I detected. Or maybe I'm being curmudgeonly. Don't know for sure, so I'm looking forward to this one.

First Voyages (1981), ed. by Knight, Greenberg, and Olander. This anthology of twenty short stories takes us back to the early - well, earlier - days of SF. Included are selections by Heinlein, Sturgeon, Anderson, Smith, Dick, Aldiss, Ballard, among others. They advance chronologically from 1937 to 1962. This one should be fun. Maybe put away two or three stories a night.

Janissaries (1979) by Jerry Pournelle. Guilty pleasure.  Why?  Well, for one, there are Roman soldiers riding centaurs on the book's cover. Don't know nuthin' about anythin' with this, 'cept that it looks like a cross between the Bay of Pigs and Mars Attacks.

So there. My ace in the hole is a short 1953 novel called Shadows in the Sun by Chad Oliver, which has intrigued me simply by being so secretive about its plot. From what little I can glean from the back cover, it seems very Invasion of the Body Snatchers-ish. But we'll see. That's most of the fun of reading these dang things.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Busy, busy, way too busy to think or to write with any decent amount of satisfaction.

Still adjusting to the new work-life balance. Primarily it's Patch, who's taken a distinct disliking to being dropped off at day care. That manifests itself in various forms of toddler behavior ranging from heartbreaking sniffling to leg-kicking howling. My wife has had to deal with it twice this past week, me the other two times. It ain't pleasant, this thing called Tough Love, but it has to be done.

My job is settling into routine. I'm starting to know procedures and people and am starting to make a positive difference there. Though the heat's been beastly and the ACs weren't up to snuff on Friday, I'm liking it. The commute's fantastic. Only wish I wasn't working on a highway. Would like more opportunities to go out to lunch during the day.

Money became unexpectedly tight, something to do with the crossing of very expensive day care and my income, all coming due around the time the mortgage and the credit card bills come calling. Had to borrow some money off the Discover card, never a good thing, but we should be all right. A few sleepless nights, though. I question in the darkness whether the rest of my life will be like this, this neverending juggling of income and outgo, one step and a few dollars ahead of the thirty or so hands always reaching into my wallet. I guess I just have to persevere until the children get older, the economy gets better, and I get a little luckier in terms of a vocation. Writing this makes it sound trivial, but its a very real presence at 2 am, as real as the oppressive heat and humidity just outside my front door.

Spent a few well-deserved bucks on a handful of used books. More on that tomorrow, I think. I always enjoy writing about reading; I hope you enjoy reading about my writing about reading half as much.

Finished watching Richard the Second yesterday afternoon while the girls were out and about. Enjoyed it, as I have enjoyed all the BBC Shakespeare DVDs I've watched. Cooked some burgers and dogs on the grill last night reading the first two scenes of Twelfth Night, my next Shakespearean venture. The wife retired for the night shortly after putting the girls down. I cleaned up the basement, did some laundry, watched Serpico on the MSG channel while brainstorming on the laptop.

We're in the midst of refinancing the house - again - so I have a FEDEX folder of a thousand pages to review and sign. Anything to save one or two hundred dollars a month, I suppose. I'd like to lift a couple of dumbells downstairs and hit the exercise bike for a bit, too. Lung feels good; I think I can expand it to about 90 percent capacity before the sharp pain forces me to stop. This is an improvement; finally I feel optimistic about keeping the darn thing.

This post is meandering, so I'll end it now. It's starting to drizzle outside, so maybe the temps will come down a bit. At least it put a cessation to the girls whining to be taken to the town pool. I'm too tired to even get out of this chair. Need a new body, or a head transplant. Preferably both.

In the words of a famous priest, "You pray for me, brother, and I'll pray for you, and together we'll bring a little bit of God's will to fruition." Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat Wave

So we’re all in this together, suffering through this abominable heat wave. All the ACs in my house are cranking, and the house still festers in the high 70s. You’re bathed in sweat walking fifteen feet to the car in the driveway. The basement’s a rain forest from the humidity (oh, my books!). The little ones don’t even want to go outside to play, and I suffer from an onslaught of hey daddys.

Whenever it gets this hot, I remember back a few decades to when I was a kid. The late seventies. It was hot, but it never bothered us, as kids, as it does us, as adults. Wonder why. Must be that childlike innocence, that wonder that every new day brought.

Specific memories come to mind whenever the mercury breaks a hundred:

The six weeks of art school every June and July – Each week a different focus: drawing, painting, pottery, photography, filmmaking. Had lots and lots of fun with my friends there. Back in those days a boy under ten could walk six or seven blocks to the school unescourted, and parents wouldn’t blink an eye.

First forays into science fiction – I vividly recall reading Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles in the “cage” (my grandparent’s screened-in back porch) in the sweltering heat. Also The Amityville Horror and Watership Down, read under the fat old hot sun. (Surprisingly, the safety of bright daylight did little to keep the terror of Anson’s book at bay.)

Movies – in the early days of cable teevee, I remember melting and overheating on the living room couch, watching in rapt attention Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Smokey and the Bandit. There were others, sure, but these stand out as true heat wave memories.

Marathon sessions at the playground – diagonally across our house was a park about an acre in size. Two monkeybars, swings, “the witch” (a two-story slide / tower), a see-saw, a merry-go-round. Whenever it got reaaaaalllly hot, the neighborhood parents would kick us all out and we’d congregate at the park, a dozen or two dozen of us, and we’d play for endless hours.

The dark headlines of the New York Daily News – my parents subscribed to it for a summer or two. It helped shove me a bit towards adulthood, I think, and by that it I mean that the paper showed me the world could be a dangerous, deadly place. Jonestown, Skylab, the Son of Sam. I also recall reading the Gasoline Alley cartoon and not being able to make head or tails of it, but I had to see how the arc finished.

Miscellaneous memories – going to a nearby lake with the family and feasting on grapes and grilled chicken; a pack of me and my friends on bicycles trekking over to the grammar school and back one hot summer night; exploring the misty, Jurassic trails of the Woods a block behind my house; reading James Blish’s Star Trek novelizations while sweating in my bed at night; listening to Glen Campbell’s Summer Nights on my brothers yellow transistor radio that had an ear plug.

Yes, all these things come back to me, especially now as I sit in the basement click-clacking this out while perspiration is pooling on my neck and arms. Just don’t ask me to explain that last miscellaneous memory – I have absolutely no idea how or why that’s stuck in my noggin.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bunny Got Shot

Tic Tac Toe

Gimme an X, gimme an O

Gimme three in a row

Bunny got shot by a U F O !

- The “nursery rhyme” taught to me by Little One.

It’s been in my head ALL day yesterday. Have you ever been with your boss in your boss’s boss’s office, discussing something of tantamount importance to the latter? Well, I have, yesterday, and all I could think of was

Bunny got shot by a U F O !

And worse, every time he – my boss’s boss – opened his mouth, all I heard coming out was

Bunny got shot by a U F O !

See, it starts off simple. The same tempo of “Hot Cross Buns,” I suppose, at least for the first three lines. But when you come to that finale, you have to say it as faaaaaaast as possible. No – faster than that! Whilst simultaneously pounding your fist into your open palm:

Bunny got shot by a U F O !




You’re welcome.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Words I Hate IX

This is a new one:


This word-thing was coined by those who run screaming, ears covered, when someone speaks the word “manned,” as in “the first manned lunar landing occurred on July 20, 1969.”

I first spotted this travesty, this ugly ornament to political correctness, on wikipedia:

It’s awkward, unsatisfying, wimpish. It’s reminiscent of the bad writer’s credo: never use five words when five hundred will do. Blech.

After all, all the astronauts in the Apollo space program were men. Sorry, but that’s the way it was forty and fifty years ago. Every single American who walked on the face of the moon, was a man. Apollo spacecraft thusly were manned, literally as well as figuratively.

I also recall posting a while back about a writer using “persons” when referring to the Apostles (another all-male group). I have yet to see the neuter “persons” in reference to the Popes, or the New York Yankees, or the Navy Seals. But that’s only a matter of time, I suppose.

Human-crewed: how I despiseth thee.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Apollo 11

42 years ago today

Some notes from a project I was working on


CDR Neil Armstrong, LMP Buzz Aldrin, CMP Michael Collins

CM: CSM-107 Columbia

LM: LM-5 Eagle

Launch: 7/16/69 from Pad 39A on Saturn V at 9:32 am

Launch Vehicle: SA-506

Lunar landing: 7/20/69

Location: Sea of Tranquility (maria)

Lunar stay: 21:36:21

Splashdown: 7/24/69 in the Pacific; retrieved by USS Hornet and welcomed there by Nixon.

Mission duration: 195:18:35

Returned to LM with 48.5 lbs of carefully selected Moon rocks and soil samples.

Destination: Apollo Landing Site 2 (one of three considered for first lunar landing). Located at the southwestern edge of Sea of Tranquility, just right of center of the Moon viewed from Earth. Surveyor 5 landing site just 15 miles northwest. Landing planned during lunar morning, when temperatures outside would range 40-50 degrees F, with shadows being about 150 degrees below zero.

* * *

Early afternoon of July 16th, after leaving Earth orbit, Collins pulled ahead of S-IVB, docked with LM, and extracted it from third stage.

Two days later, 48,000 miles from the Moon, astronauts gave a televised tour of the LM.

On July 19th they fired the CM’s SPS engine, braking them into lunar orbit.

On the morning of July 20th Armstrong and Aldrin entered the LM and powered it up. A few hours later they separated from the CM. “The Eagle has wings!” – Aldrin. At 3:08 pm EST Armstrong fired the LM’s descent engine, descending to 50,000 feet.

At 6,000 feet above the lunar surface, and again at 3,000 feet, a warning light flashed (1201 alarm – computer overload) in the Eagle. Houston advised to continue, despite four more warnings over the next four minutes. Armstrong had to override the LM’s automatic pilot, which was steering them into a boulder field.

At 4:18 pm EDT, Armstrong radioed Mission Control: “Houston … Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Six-and-a-half hours later they left the LM to explore the lunar surface. At 10:56 pm, Armstrong stepped on lunar soil: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The astronauts were allocated 2.5 hours for their Moonwalk. They unveiled the American flag, laid a commemorative plaque, accepted a congratulatory phone call from President Nixon.

Most of the time dedicated to collecting rock and soil samples, taking photos, setting up three experiments:

- Passive Seismic Experiments Package (PSEP) – to record/measure Moonquakes and meteorite impacts

- Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LRRR) – to precisely measure Earth-Moon distances

- Solar Wind Experiment – sheet of aluminum foil to collect particles of solar wind. Referred to as the Swiss Flag because it was sponsored by Swiss government and looked like a flag.

All experiments (EASEP – Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package) powered by solar panels.

They rested in the LM that night; Aldrin slept on the floor; Armstrong on the ascent engine cover. Next morning the Eagle ascended at redocked with CM.

Quarantined for three weeks upon their return.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Strangest Interview, Part II

The second part of the interview will take place with Ivan, the HR rep. “Ivan” is not his real name, his real name being even crazier. Suffice it to say that now I know exactly how it feels to be interrogated by the police, in one of those concrete rooms with the one-way mirror on the wall.

Physically Ivan is a bald Hispanic man with a build similar to Mike Tyson’s from The Hangover. He’s dressed barely-business-casual, as were the ladies, wearing a denim-colored button-up shirt (unbuttoned at chest level) and no tie. His room is even more Spartan than the ladies: about 10 by 20 feet, industrial carpeting, wood paneling on the walls, a desk, two chest-high shelves, and a big Mercury Plasmatics calendar on the all. Giant phone and Dell PC. Two metal chairs, but with fabric cushions on them.

After polite introductions, he asks me how my “interview” went with Morgana. A little unnerved, I decide to take a gamble and I mention some of the things Morgana told me. Maybe turn the tables on him. I ask, “What do you think of the long-term survival of Mercury Plasmatics?”

He puts his pencil down, sighs, rubs his eyes. “That’s the big question.” He goes on to tell me how there’s new management, how their focused on “going green,” and targeting the tri-state area with a vengeance. It’s slow going, and they take it – this phrase, again – “month by month.”

Then the interview really commences.

Ivan begins to go down my resume, line by line, job by job, responsibility by responsibility, questioning everything. He pauses ten or fifteen seconds before asking a question, then writes down notes on a yellow legal pad in teeny block lettering. When we’re done he’s compiled two pages on me and my answers! And this guy didn’t believe me for anything! If I told him I knew how to turn on a PC he’d re-ask the question twice in different ways, revisit it later in the interview, and jot a full paragraph on that yellow pad.

I notice that every time he listens to my answers, his eyes semi-close as if in a meditative trance. My overactive imagination has immediately assigned to my interviewer supreme skills of reading people, discovering their lies, their half-truths and embellishments, noting every poker tell I give off to avoid making myself look bad, as all his questions seem designed to do.

Some of Ivan’s better gems during the interview:

“So, I see you’re an ‘independent website consultant.’ That means you’re an LLC, right? No? Why not?”

“Did you ask your wife if there were any jobs at her company?”

“Did you go on your wife’s company’s website looking for jobs? If that was me, I’d be on my wife’s company’s website looking for jobs.”

“How well do you understand collective bargaining agreements?”

“Let me ask you this: You have three shifts. The second and third get a 55 cent hourly wage differential. A second shift guy covers for a first shift guy for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. He works his normal second shift for Thursday and Friday. What do you pay him?”

“How about this: Overtime is specified as working over eight hours a day or forty hours over the course of a week. A first shift guy works ten hours days Monday and Tuesday ... no, every single day over the course of the week. Tuesday he works the first and second shifts. Thursday he only works second shift. What do you pay him?”

(There were two more hypothetically convoluted payroll scenarios, but they’ve escaped me in the couple of intervening hours.)

“So you went from a help desk analyst to doing payroll. That’s quite a jump. Where’d all that trust come from?”

“You were let go and the controller from the sister dealership assumed your duties ... She was there twenty years and you were doing the job only two ... They must have been paying her a lot more than you, I’d assume. Why didn’t they fire her and not you?”

Finally, after 45 minutes in the hot seat, sweating in the air conditioning, face flushing, struggling to maintain that beaming, pearly-white smile, he’s wrapping up. “What was your most challenging accomplishment, and why?”

I describe the two weeks I had to get 45 union employees enrolled in medical, dental, vision, and life (or get signed waivers from them) between the signing of the union contract and the end of open enrollment. All while wearing the other three hats at the old job. Among my list of specifics about the challenge, I mention that half the guys didn’t even speak English, so I had to go through an interpreter.

“Oh,” Ivan says, stopping his notetaking and glancing up at me, “what language did they speak, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Ahhhh! Ivan is Hispanic! Red alert! Red alert! “Spanish,” I mumble, cringing inside and ready to bolt out the door.

How the heck did Morgana and Drusilla escape this guy’s clutches and get hired, I wondered. Then, while we’re chatting he admits to me he’s only been with the company since December, further corroborating my theory about recent mass firings to go with recent mass layoffs.

“Any questions for me?” he asks.

“What’s the next step?”

Ivan pauses and does the rub-eyes-sigh-put-pencil-down routine. “You’re the second person we’ve interviewed for the position. There are three more people coming in this week. Then we’re taking Monday and Tuesday off for payroll and then we’ll resume. We may continue running the ad to get a larger pool of applicants.”

“If I’m NOT going to be considered,” I say with a smile, “will someone give me a call?” Some places will give you a courtesy call if you didn’t make the cut, some won’t.

Ivan regards me with a look I interpret as disgust. “You have my card.”


Thus ended the weirdest interview ever. Seventy-five minutes into the Employment Land of Oz. My question to you is, if they make me an offer for the money I’m asking, should I accept?

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Strangest Interview, Part I

[Names have been changed to protect the guilty]

So I get a call-back from an online application from Mercury Plasmatics. They’re a local company, family-run for generations, making nuts and bolts stuff you’d normally have no clue who made. You can see their twenty-foot-high neon sign as you drive down the Turnpike. Seems they need a payroll coordinator to help with their 600-employee weekly pay check run.

I did a little research the morning of my interview and got some basics on the company. I also came across a little negative advertising in the form of a comment on a generally-favorable article in the local paper’s online site. More on that, later.

A nice woman name Georgia called me up about two weeks back for a pre-interview. She asked me what payroll systems I was familiar with. She discussed the bare bones of her company: 450 union workers, 100 non-union, both weekly and bi-weekly payrolls. She asked if I could handle “pressure.” I said “yes.” I worked in an auto dealership for 19 years, not exactly the Zen garden of businesses. Then she asked me again, and, later in the call, a third time, if I can handle “pressure.”

Georgia calls me back last Friday to schedule an in-house interview. I agree and set up a time. On Monday she emails me confirmation of the date, time, and their address so I can mapquest it. So far, so good. No warning signs, no flashing lights. I’m mildly interested.

The day of my interview arrives, and it’s a beautiful spring day. No humidity, 70 degrees, sunny, good weather to pull on the old suit. There’s no traffic and I get there with plenty of time to spare.

Mercury Plasmatics is basically a fenced-off couple of acres in a semi-industrial part of the county. I drive around looking for an entrance and finally find one. While doing so I note the barbed-wire, but that’s probably normal. Wouldn’t want trespassers coming on to your property, getting hurt on all the machinery and whatnot laying about, and suing your pants off. I pull into the designated driveway and come to a guardhouse.

I'm immediately greeted by a twenty-something smoking a cigarette. I tell him why I’m here and who I’m here to see. He squints in the distance and tells me to park vaguely “over there” where visitors park, then come back and sign in. I drive about two or three hundred yards past a couple dozen “reserved” spots until I come to visitors parking. I get out, get my jacket on, grab my briefcase, and I’m heading back to the guardhouse, whistling a happy tune of my daughter’s.

Now there’s three twenty-somethings arguing over who took the last cigarette break and who gets the next one. They don’t seem to be wearing any type of uniform except t-shirts and black jeans. I go in and sign a binder and a girl gives me a sticker to put on the lapel of my jacket. She tells me to wait.

Five minutes later Georgia escourts me to the main office, which is close to the guardhouse among this conglomeration of factory buildings and silos and empty 18-wheeler trucks. I’m introduced to Morgana and Drusilla. Morgana would be my boss; Drusilla would be my co-payroll-coordinator. Drusilla’s co-worker is retiring July 1.

Let me describe what has me overwhelmed, mind racing, all while trying to maintain a cool outward equilibrium. First, the office. State of the art ... 1976. Scuffed tile flooring. Water stains on the ceiling panels. A drab yellow-ish green on the walls. Lots of space between ancient file cabinets and fake-wood desks. Giant phones. IN boxes and OUT boxes. It looks a bit like the decor from my public grammar school. The only thing that’s remotely modern are the Dell flatscreens I see on the boss’s desk.

There’s someting thick and heavy overhanging this office, something akin to the cloud that escaped that plant in Bhopal. Both Morgana and Drusilla are overweight and pale. Heavy eye bags. Drusilla has yellow teeth. Morgana is a slow-mover, and conducts the interview entirely from her desk chair. Occassionally she swivels. After introductions, she begins, “Why ... don’t you ... start by telling ... us ... something about ... yourself.”

We spend about ten or fifteen minutes – pleasant ones, I have to admit – discussing my payroll experience, how it fits in with theirs, how I could help them, what new things their thinking of implementing, some of the operational problems they are facing. Then Morgana pauses and sighs and says, “I suppose I should tell you this ...”

She informs me the company filed for Chapter 11 in 2007. (That internet research I did has this as the reason: Mercury Plastmatics is the biggest polluter in the state and declared bankruptcy to avoid paying the EPA fines. But I wasn’t going to bring that up, obviously.) The family sold whatever they could to an out-of-state holding company. Since Morgana has only been there for four years and Drusilla for only two, I deduce that the new owners came in and fired everybody.

“I have to be honest with you,” Morgana continues, “we’ve laid off 250 people over the past two years ... We have lines sitting on the factory floor that we can’t move ... Things are ... really ... month by month around here ... We had an office ... out in St. Louis ... that we just closed ... Our contract with Pep Boys ... may or may not be renewed ... The union contract ... which was supposed to be renegotiated by June 1 ... still hasn’t been ratified ... Six months ago ... a man lost his arm out in the shop ... Payroll was delayed last week ... because of a fire in the factory ... ”

Yikes! Rather than thank them for their time and head the heck outta there, I decide to continue on. Something about gaining experience, etc.

Part II continues tomorrow …

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Biblical Worldview

Do you have a biblical worldview?

Since 1995, the Barna Group conducts a nationwide survey every five years on who holds a “biblical worldview.”

You can find a recent article about it, here.

What exactly is a “biblical worldview”?

Well, let me ask you a few questions.

Do you believe that absolute moral truth exists?

Do you believe the Bible is completely accurate in the principles it teaches?

Do you think Satan is a real being, not just a symbol or symbolic force?

Do you believe a person can not attain heaven simply by doing good works?

Do you believe Jesus lived a sinless life on this earth?

Do you believe God to be the all-powerful creator of the universe and everything in it?

If you answered “yes” to each of these questions, you have a biblical worldview.

In contemporary America, only 9 percent hold a biblical worldview.

I do. I am one of those 9 percenters.

Are you?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shark Punch

My favorite scene from Richard II is, hands down, the infamous “shark punch” performed by Sir John of Gaunt late in Act IV.

[Note: This post brought to you from a parallel universe.]

Friday, July 15, 2011

Last Trail Observation

Allow me to bow down again at the altar of Reverse Gauge Symmetric Synchronicity.

I'm in my car yesterday enjoying lunch in the low-humidity sunshine, reading a couple of chapters a third of the way in to Zane Grey's 1909 novel, The Last Trail. Suddenly, I'm yanked out of the story with this detail on page 49 of my 1994 Forge Paperback edition:

"Jim Morrison, I'll bet it's not you."

Hey! I know who Jim Morrison is. The Lizard King. He was an idol of mine during my stupid youthhood! But in Zane Grey's 102-year-old Western novel, he's a throwaway character at Fort Henry on the border, the border them days bein' somewheres in Ohio.

Then, twenty minutes later, on page 70, I read this:

"When I first seen him he was drunk, and I heard Jeff Lynn say as how the border was a bad place to come after a woman."

Hey!! I know who Jeff Lynn is. He's the mastermind behind the 70s band ELO. White guy with a huge afro and Elvis-style sunglasses. My parents were so into ELO that I heard Jeff Lynn's operatic howls every day over the course of a good six or seven years.

Now I gotta finish the novel. Who else will appear? Sheriff Ron Wood? The English dandy-slash-gambler Roderick Stewart? Maybe an Indian bounty hunter named Keith Crazy Moon? Chasin' a hardened no-good criminal name of Angus Young. And perhaps the infamous gunslinger Jimmy "Six-Guns" Page will saunter into town for the story's denouement.

I'm serious - I'm only a little past a third of the way in, so if Grey drops a few more names, chances are it will be a famous or semi-famous rock star from the late sixties or seventies.

Or maybe somebody named Paul Lennon or John McCartney.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jim Breuer ACDC Hokey Pokey

As part of my mental health day, I offer you one of the funniest things I have ever seen on youtube.

Tip of the hat to my brother for this one ...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I read maybe 25 to 30 fiction books a year. Some years more, some years less. Looking back over the past decade, I notice that I’m re-reading an average of about three books a year. Books that I read when I first became an avid reader, way back in that stone age known as the Seventies.

Which led me to thinkin’ and stuff. Like, what books did I read back then that I really should crack open again?

I came up with a list of five.

How about –

Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams. Phenomenal book that had me captivated throughout most of the spring and summer of sixth grade. Yes, the subject seemed a bit immature, I mean, bunnies! But there was something dark and menacing in the background that hovered uneasily on my still-maturing consciousness.

Roller Ball Murder (1975) by William Harrison. This disappointed me, because what boy in the Seventies wasn’t a fan of that future sports dystopia Rollerball? Cable just came into town and me and my friends would try to sneak a viewing of the R-rated flick. The book itself is actually a bunch of unrelated short stories if I remember correctly. But I still would like to re-read them.

Planet of Death (1967) by Robert Silverberg. C’mon – a spaceship crash-lands on a planet where everything eats everything else. Even the plants have a taste for meat. I still remember the cover, a vivid conjunction of Piscasso and psychedelia.

Uninvited Visitors (1967) by Ivan Sanderson. About UFOs. As a kid, the subject lured me to no end. My mother worked in a library, and I camped out and read every book (all eight of ’em, I guess) in the paranormal section. Remember the title and the author, the contents not so much. But I’m game for a re-read.

Star Wars (1976) by Alan Dean Foster, writing as George Lucas. What 1970s kid didn’t love this movie? And what 1970s kid didn’t carry around the novelization with him all that summer? I even remember reading it on line at the DMV with my grandpa. Wouldn’t mind checking into it again. A lot worse ways to spend three or four hours.

And, as a bonus –

The Great Alphabet Race (1972) by Janet and Roger Campbell. My all-time favorite children’s book when I was a child! Something I’d love to read to Patch, or listen as Little One reads it to her.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jon Finch

In my life, everything is related to everything else, usually in unusual ways. I call this reverse gauge symmetric synchronicity, if for no other reason than I think that sounds cool.

Most recent example?

For the past two months I’ve been reading a Shakespeare play and then borrowing from the library the BBC Shakespeare DVD of said play. I started doing this to cement the play’s experience for me, and also to bring out details and nuances in the text that I may have overlooked in a first read. But, strangely enough, I am really starting to enjoy watching them.

These BBC Shakespeare DVDs were all originally filmed between 1978 and 1985. While everyone’s garbed in Elizabethan costumes, you still have to forgive the hairstyles.

Anyway, one of my favorite BBC Shakespeare actors is Jon Finch. I first watched him as Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing. Strong delivery, strong presence, rolling-writer rolling rrrrrrs. He had some brief screen time last week as the king in Henry IV part I, and last night I see he’s reprising the role (kind of – I’m watching them in reverse chronological order) in Richard II. He’s Henry Bolingbroke, deposer of kings, usurper of thrones, and hypocritical crusader wannabe.

Who is Jon Finch? Well, you wouldn’t really know the name. But in an entirely unrelated online surfage I came across mention of him on a blog devoted to the Alien trilogy.


Turns out Henry Bolingbroke was set to play Kane in the original Alien. Had actually filmed a couple of scenes over three days before a diabetic attack forced him to bow out of the project.

Too bad! While I can’t envision him in the role (perhaps because John Hurt played it perfectly), I have no doubt an actor of his talent would have found it a neat little springboard to wider fame and greater movie roles.

Reverse gauge symmetrical synchronicity: when your favorite Shakespearean actor is linked to your favorite SF horror movie.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2 + 2 = 5

Aside from "in mathematician's hell," where and when does 2 + 2 = 5 ?


How about ...

On the homework assignments of individuals who still haven't grasped basic addition?

Or in some alternate universe where the symbol 5 actually means what our symbol 4 means?

Or as the output from some basic computer program -

30 LET Z = X + Y
40 IF X = Y = 2 THEN Z = 5

Or in some sort of time progression scenario, such as -

Two couples survive an airplane crash on a deserted island. Nine months later, there are now five people on the island. 2 + 2 = 5, after a nine-month period of pregnancy.

Or as an alphanumeric substitution code.

Write TWO plus TWO equals FIVE as a column math equation. Then substitute numbers for the letters. When I did it I came up with this - O is 5, E is 0, W is 4, V is 9, T is 8, F is 1, and I is 6. Try it. I think it works, but, admittedly, it's late and I'm watching a bad sci fi show on the teevee.

Or when your comparing two different quantities.

Let's say your an MVP NFL quarterback, and you renegotiate your contract with something your agent calls 2 plus 2 equals 5. What he means is two postseason appearances in two years will give you a five million dollar bonus. Or something like that. I'm not hip to these things, but I can envision something like it.

Or when your adding quantities to something that already has a quantity.

We have a thousand dollars in the bank. This year, I'll add two thousand and my wife will add another two thousand, so that two plus two will equal five (thousand).

Or that old standby, my personal favorite -

Two plus two equals five ... for large values of two.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Little One's Faith

For someone who’s half auto-didact, half-homeschooled in theology, Little One knows a goodly amount of her religion.

Even though she’s not quite seven years old, even though she’s only had four months of official Sunday School – about a dozen sessions – she’s familiar with:

* The Nativity of Jesus (found in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke)

* The distinction between the Old and New Testaments

* The Ten Commandments

* The names of the Apostles

* The names of the Gospels

* The names of the cities where Jesus was born, lived, and died

* The general story of the Exodus (she watched The Ten Commandments with us this past Easter with a fanatical passion)

* The story of Samson (her favorite “hero” of the Bible)

* The story of Jonah and the Whale

* The story of David and Goliath

* The fall of Man in the Garden of Eden

* The Resurrection of Christ

Two years ago we sent her to her room as a punishment for some long-forgotten transgression. Alone, she read up to page 66 in her Children’s Bible, nearly the whole thing! That absolutely amazed me. That summer, at her own instigation, she had me spell out the Commandments for her to write out on a piece of green construction paper that she could hang up on the wall of her toy room.

I am firmly convinced that children are born supremely close to God. So’s Our Lord (see Matthew 18:3). It takes the World and their fellow men to bang the love of God out of them. I hope that doesn’t happen to my two little ones.

So I’m wondering what to teach her next. Usually as we drive about she asks me to quiz her on various subjects. Column math, multiplication, spelling, the presidents, geography, and religion are all in there. Sometimes we have impromptu learning sessions over dinner. Now I’m getting the sense that I need to expand her home study.

On my agenda are:

* The Sermon on the Mount (the only “how-to” book she’ll need)

* The 72 books of the Bible

* The Eucharist (she’ll be receiving Holy Communion next year)

* The Rosary

* The miracles of Christ

* The passion of Christ (edited and age-appropriate, of course)

* The creation stories

* The history of the Ark of the Covenant (perhaps before a viewing of the Indiana Jones flick …)

* A general knowledge of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) leading to the Twelve Tribes (though I won’t require her to memorize those names!)

* And some of the more fantastical elements of the Bible – Leviathan and Behemoth, the Witch of Endor, the fall of Jericho, angels and the names of the three angels appearing in the Bible, some age-appropriate elements of the Book of Revelation, etc, etc.


Did I miss anything? Anything that might fascinate a precocious girl of six and three-quarters interested in her faith, along with a healthy dose of all things weird, interesting, and slightly spooky (as is her dad)?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Shakespeare Reloaded

So I jumped feet first into Shakespeare with a vengeance back in May. The Tempest, read in two days. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing in four days apiece. Cymbeline took a full week, but As You Like It was knocked down within a seventy-two hour period. Henry IV part I took nine days, but I got sidetracked by some Thomas Pynchon nuttiness.

Then, my journey became somewhat derailed. What does “somewhat derailed” mean? Well, it came this close – and I’m holding the thumb and index finger of my left hand half a millimeter apart – I came this close to chuckin’ it off the tracks.

But no! I am stronger than that! Yes, I hopped over to Westerns for a while, and I just finished my first Zane Grey book. But there’s a purpose behind that passion, a reason for the roundabout rerouting.

More importantly, though, there was that couple of interviews in early June which led to my new position of employment in later June. For the past two weeks I’ve really been just way too busy, considering my available time has shrunk by over half, to focus on the great playwright.

My passion is still there though. I even had a dream about Shakespeare a few nights back. And I finished Riders of the Purple Sage yesterday (review forthcoming). So I am all cleared for a go-ahead with another play.

How should I proceed?

Behind me I have four Shakespearean works on the shelf: Richard II, Richard III, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet. Ham is a little too much to bite off just yet; that’ll probably be my final play. Richard III, the one about the evil hunchback king, I’m very interested in, but that, too, should be reserved for a cleanup position.

Richard II is the direct sequential predecessor to Henry IV part I, which I liked a lot. I’ll probably read this one next (and see the DVD if I can find it at one of the local libraries). Then I’m gonna need to switch to something lighter. Maybe Twelfth Night, or maybe off to the used book store to see if I can score The Comedy of Errors.

Whatever I select, I’ll do so tonight, and I want to complete it by mid-week. After all, the challenge I took up was the well-known (to those of us who travel in nerdy book circles) as the “Shakespeare in a year.” I started May 7, and so far I’ve read six out of thirty-seven / thirty-nine plays. I’m still on point to reach that finish line on time. But only if I get back on track.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Vern sat in the home office one morning going through the mail. A pretty bright envelope caught his attention. He opened it, and wouldn’t you know, it was an offer for a new credit card.

Gee, he thought, it’s amazing with my credit history they’re still offering these to me. He thought a moment about his tough financial situation. Maxed out on four cards: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover. But now, in his hands, was an offer for a Capital One card with an introductory offer of near-zero interest and no annual fee.

Then a faraway look came over Vern. With this card, he mused, scratching his chin, I can finally get that gym membership I’ve been longing for. And I can buy those jet skis I keep seeing on sale at Creery’s. They’d be perfect for this summer’s vacation! Hey – we can upgrade to a better cabin, too! Just put it all on the new card!

Excited, he jumped out of his chair and hurried into the teevee room. Doris was there, hair in curlers, ironing his shirts while watching Judge Judy. He quickly put all his daydreams into words for her, waving the Capital One application about for emphasis.

Doris looked aghast. “Who do you think you are – Barrack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi?”

Vern was ashamed. He had never been called anything so bad before. How did he let himself go so far so fast? Quietly, he returned to the home office and threw the application in the trash. Rolling up his sleeves, he then prepared a long-overdue family budget and started to cut some of their more extravagant expenditures, at least until they paid off some of the other four cards.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aztec Holocaust

I’m reading through one of those “ancient mysteries” books. You know, the ones that claim earth was visited 10,000 or more years ago by “ancient aliens” who brought us down from the trees and civilized us. Only there was some cataclysm and all was forgotten, except for some pyramids and monuments in Central and South America, Egypt and Mesopotamia.


I don’t buy the hypothesis. But – I like the speculation. See, I really am a free thinker. I don’t march lock-step with contemporary Science; I like to entertain differing opinions. And then destroy them. No, seriously, I like reading borderline pseudoscience stuff like this because

a) I’m a writer and a science fiction buff

b) I enjoy having my mind expanded, even if it’s ultimate hookum


c) Occasionally it will spook me out.

Anyway, more on the book, perhaps, later. Today I want to comment on the Aztecs. In a completely non-PC way.

What an awful, horrible, demonic culture.

Now, I’m not an expert on the Aztecs. I know vaguely of them. I know of their bloodlust. A society completely centered on human sacrifice – infant, child, and adult. Up until last week I could probably score maybe 50% correct on a handful of Jeopardy questions about them.

Then, I read this book, and was completely appalled. One event in particular disgusted me. During one “holiday” 80,000 human beings were slaughtered to appease their gods. Or to frame it as they saw it, to postpone the end of the world. Well, at least for those besides the 80,000. But in order to kill that many people there needed to be four assembly lines ascending those death pyramids, at the front of each a squadron of priests yanking out still-beating hearts, working every minute of the day.

Is this not a Dante-esque vision of Hell?

Now and again you’ll hear moral relativists assert that it was a bad thing Columbus came to the New World. He brought with him evils such as disease and the slave trade. Most of that has been debunked, but that’s an argument for another day.

Christianity was also brought to the New World, in those early years of the 16th century.

But first, the canker that was the Aztec culture had to be excised mercilessly and completely, and the ground cleansed and sanitized. After reading the couple of chapters in this book, I actually said out loud: “Thank God Cortez came and wiped those b@stards off the face of the earth.”

How’s that for an un-PC statement? Un-PC: Sometimes it’s just plain common sense.

But let me go one step further and risk alienating the few who are still with me.

In the United States, since 1973, there have been at least 40 million babies aborted. In the United States, the beacon for the world, where freedom rings, the shining light on the hill. How can this be?

That stat is something like 4,000 babies a day. How can we call a barbaric, bloodthirsty culture like the Aztecs demonic when our own society kills that much innocent life? They killed to appease their gods, to put off a perceived end of the world. We kill to avoid a change in lifestyle, an extra mouth to feed, a possible dip in the tax bracket.

Which is worse, moral relativists?

Ugh. I need to take a shower.

Something more upbeat tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Hi. Still adjusting to the new schedule. I work 8:30 to 5, which means I get up at 7 and get home by 6. They give me a half-hour for lunch, which I appreciate, since it gives me that extra half-hour in the morning, but as a result I can’t get much reading or writing in at that time. So, my real day begins a little after 6 pm. Up till then I’m just payin’ the bills. My real day lasts until a little after 11. Five hours a day.

The first week I went back to work my parents took the little ones up to their house for a week-long summer vacation. Me and my wife took advantage of this, and while I spent the days acclimatizing to my new job and all its duties, we spent the free nights together doing things we normally don’t do anymore. Twice we went out to eat. Nothing too fancy, but fun nonetheless. Once we went to see a movie. Once we just drove to Barnes and Noble, two adults, and browsed around.

Though we love our children dearly, it was nice to have five days off from constantly feeding them, cleaning them, cleaning up after them, entertaining them, refereeing between them, teaching them. Oh, and no one got us up in the middle of the night or with any 6 am impromptu a cappella concerti.

Saturday they came back. Patch was a little sick, so the wife took her to see the doctor. Me and Little One did our recently-neglected errand run, and what a great time we had! On paper it doesn’t seem so – post office, dry cleaners, recycling center, library, drug store. But we ended it with lunch at our favorite local pizzeria. My God, she was so funny! This little thing, not quite seven years old, is making me hold my sides in laughter. Crazy. Want her to stay this age forever.

Then, I got it in my head to build a model with her. When I was a kid, I did lots of models – dinosaurs, Universal monsters, tanks, Star Wars ships. I was positive I could find something she’d be into, and we could spend about two hours later that afternoon working on it. So we drove to Toys R Us, and, wouldn’t you know, they don’t carry models. Haven’t for at least a decade. I’m at a loss where to buy them locally, so I need to do some research.

Sunday morning I drove the wife and the girls to LaGuardia, and they flew in nasty weather down south to my in-laws, until Friday evening. I’ve got a four-day work-week and quiet evenings ahead of me.

Which is okay. I don’t mind being alone. In fact, I can get a lot done, and have. Sunday I cleaned the house, primarily the kitchen, while it teemed outside, and went to the grocery store for a week’s worth of supplies. Yesterday I did the yardwork: mowed, weeded, clipped the hedges, swept the driveway. I put away close to 70 pages of Riders of the Purple Sage and nearly a hundred of this new book I’m reading, which I’m thinking of blogging about tomorrow. Finally finished the BBC production of Henry IV part I – phenomenal and superb! Watched a bunch of bigfoot teevee shows and got all spooked. Went for walks and meditated.

Some interesting posts later this week. Something grim on the Aztecs, something weird and speculative on Nothing. Some interesting comments on Riders, though I may save those until I actually finish the book and review it. Maybe a movie review; saw a bunch recently. Might do a compare and contrast on them. Whatever the Muse moves me to write; I do this for love and not a paycheck, and it’s the part of the day I look most forward to.

So, I’ve plenty to keep me busy.

But boy is the house sure quiet.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday America!

Sorry in advance to any reader of the liberal persuassion, but I just can’t resist another Reagan quote:

“Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but the democrats believe every day is April 15.”

Now – if you voted for Obama, prove him wrong and up your street cred by acing my Independence Day trivia thingie:

1. Which president had the lowest approval rating of any president in the twentieth century?

2. Which president is the only one to have a classical symphony written in his honor?

3. Which president delivered his own collection of books to establish the Library of Congress?

4. Who was the only president to publish a book of his poetry?

5. Which president conversed with his wife in Mandarin Chinese?

6. Which president authored fourteen books before entering the White House?

7. Since Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955, only two presidents have refused to make their medical records public. Who were they?

8. Which president said "I only know two tunes: ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and I don’t know the name of the other"?

9. Which president was once shot down by enemy antiaircraft guns?

10a. Which two presidents died on the Fourth of July in the same year?

10b. Which president was born on the Fourth of July?

(Scroll down for the answers.)

Got these questions and a couple of hundred more from a really neat little book I bought in the bargain racks at Barnes and Noble: Which President Killed a Man? For the answer to that question, you’ll have to do a little bit of research. (winks)


1. Harry Truman, at 22 percent. Nixon’s at Watergate was at 23 percent. Makes George Bush Jr seem like Mr. Popularity. It’s not commonly remembered, but a bill of impeachment was introduced against Truman, and though he was untouched, several of his higher officials resigned, convicted of corruption.

2. Abraham Lincoln. Aaron Copland wrote a symphony entitled "Lincoln Portrait" in 1942. I’ve heard it, and recommend it; it’s very moving.

3. Thomas Jefferson. Heavily in debt, Jefferson sold his 6,500 volume collection to the US government for just under $24,000. The previous US library had been destroyed by the British in the War of 1812.

4. John Quincy Adams. His verse, inspired by nature scenes, was published after he left the White House.

5. Herbert Hoover. He and his wife learned the language in China in the early 1900s while Herbert worked as a mining engineer.

6. Theodore Roosevelt. He wrote biographies, histories, nature studies, books on patriotism. He also allegedly read over ten thousand books, sometimes a couple a week and some in other languages. It's also stated by biographers that he had a photographic memory. Puts a different spin on the rugged cowboy image with which he’s often portrayed.

7. John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Their failure to release these records have spawned many rumors, but the conclusive reasons for withholding them are unknown.

8. Ulysses Grant. Despite the best efforts of his wife to get him to attend theater and musicals, General Grant was no lover of culture.

9. George H. Bush, in WW II. In his 39 months of service he logged over 1,200 hours of flight time and was one of only four pilots in his fourteen pilot squadron to survive the war. After being shot down he was rescued by a submarine. He commemorated the incident by parachuting from a plane again, fifty years later.

10. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both signers of the Declaration of Independence. Both died in 1826, 50 years after the signing. Adams outlasted his foe and later friend by a few hours.

10b. Calvin Coolidge was born July 4, 1872.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mystical Dream

In my dream I am praying a Rosary. But this Rosary is somehow dependent upon the prayers I am saying. When I begin with the Apostle’s Creed, the beads linked together turn into pure white gems, the purest opal or pearl, with just a hint of violet or purple swirling deep within the whiteness. Each word of the prayer is a bead on this silvery chain.

Then, I start saying the Our Father. The beads transform into brilliant diamonds, bold diamonds, each word-bead a sparkling, perfect icosahedron. As I twist the beads as I say the prayer, dazzling streaks of red, blue, green, and gold flash out almost too quickly for the eye to register.

Next the Anima Christi comes from my lips. Each bead between my thumb and forefinger is now a deep, dark, rich purple, perhaps an amethyst or a ruby. Not as bright or as sparkling as the previous gem stones, these beads are more workman, more worked, somehow more functional, new from the earth.

Finally I recite the Hail Mary. The beads I see are now shiny, beautiful sapphires of an ethereal blue, turquoise and teal, azure, cerulean, cobalt and beryl, any and every term I have ever heard to describe the color blue. But as I say the prayer I realize that the best way to describe these sapphire gems are Mary’s blue.

And then I wake up, but it takes me a while before I realize this.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sonnet 129

If you’re of a mind to, read both these sonnets slowly. Which one do you prefer?


Th’ expense of Spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


Th’ expence of Spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action, lust
Is periurd, murdrous, blouddy full of blame,
Sauage extreame, rude, cruell, not to trust,
Inioyd no sooner but dispised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swollowed bayt,
On purpose layd to make the taker mad.
Made In pursuit and in possession so,
Had, hauving, and in quest, to haue extreame,
A blisse in proofe and proud and very wo,
Before a ioy proposd behind a dreame,
All this the world well knowes yet none knowes well,
To shun the heauen that leads men to this hell.

The first version is a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129. Editors over the centuries have updated much of the original spelling and punctuation seen in version 2. As a result, subtle and perhaps not-so-subtle changes in meaning have been forced upon the poem, which now has veered somewhat from what Shakespeare had intended.

So argue Robert Graves and Laura Riding in a short essay entitled “A Study in Original Punctuation and Spelling,” found in the back of my softcover version of the Sonnets. (My book has the poems in their original punctuation and spelling.)

Now, I’m a word nerd, and I read this essay enraptured. The authors begin by discussing the importance of punctuation and spelling, and to punctuate this they spell out the meaning behind a poem of e. e. cummings. You know, that dude we all read in grammar school whose poems never have capitals and often form pictures the way the words and sentences are laid out on a page, and so forth.

But to return to Shakespeare, let’s compare the two versions of Sonnet 129. I ain’t no English lit major, so I’m not going to deconstruct either version. Look up the essay if you’re into that sort of thing; again, I found it interesting, I thought they made their points. I prefer version 2, and I’ll offer some notes from the essay.

- Elizabethans had no typographical v, thus heaven is heauan and savage is sauage. Good to know. On first reading I had some doubts. Perhaps Shakespeare was coining new words or bringing words in from French or something. Perhaps he’s using an Old English word no longer in use. Or maybe it’s the queer spelling of the time. Now you and I know.

- Without knowledge of that u-v thing, however, that proud in line 11 is read as “proud” and not “proved.” Let the reader beware.

- Swallow’d needs to remain swallowed, with the note that Shakespeare often intended the –ed suffix to be a separate syllable. Thus, it should be a three-syllable word, not a two-syllable word some future editor changed it to.

- How much better is the word “murdrous” than the word “murderous”? To me, the former, found in version 2, contains a note of primal menace not found in its later equivalent. Know what I’m saying?

- How about that word “blouddy”? According to the authors of the essay, it should sound more like “blue dye” than our word which sounds like “bluddy.” Immediately I’m transplanted into Elizabethan England pronouncing that word in the original.

- See where that editor put a comma after “bloody”? I like version 2 much better. Compare “blouddy full of blame” to “bloody, full of blame.” Different shading, no?

And on and on. The authors of the essay go in and mention about twenty or thirty more instances.

But they’re preaching to the choir. Me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Best Political Weapon Ever

A paraphrase of a Ronald Reagan jab:

A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.

A depression is when you lose your job.

And a recovery is when Barack Obama loses his job!

I want the Republican nominee to end every single speech with this quote, giving props to Reagan every single time. This mantra can’t be repeated enough.