Sunday, September 30, 2012

Goodbye September!

... and a taste of things to come ...

Little One is Eight

(Alternative title: Man, Am I Getting Old)

This was Little One’s birthday weekend. Eight years ago she came into the world … wanting to sleep. She slept so much we nearly had to return her to the hospital for intravenous feeding. She still does sleep, too, going to bed usually between 8 and 8:30 at night and waking up … when I yell her name from the bottom of the stairs on a school morning.

Anyway, she had a birthday party for a half-dozen friends at a bakery, and they all spent ninety minutes making chocolate this and chocolate that. I’ve been partaking of the leftovers all weekend. Friday evening we had dinner and cake and she opened up her gifts – lots of cool clothes; a sassy jacket that makes her look, er, twelve; some games and bracelet kits from her friends; a pair of sparkling red shoes; Dracula, an edited version for third-graders; a recorder. The last two gifts were inspired by me.

To celebrate, I took her to the DMV with me to renew my license. No, just kidding, I took her there for company as I waited on lines for two hours, not to celebrate her birthday. She read the first fifteen pages of Stoker’s novel. Then we went to Blimpie’s for a birthday lunch. Then, soccer (her team won!), then a playdate, then we went over to our friends’ the next town over and watched their kids (with ours) while they went out and celebrated fifteen years.

Today we lounged around the house doing laundry, cleaning up, watching the football games. All in all, a very exhausting weekend. But a fun one nonetheless.

A shout-out to the MVP, my mother, who came, cooked, cleaned, and conquered. The girls loved her!

Thorn Update

Well, wouldn’t you know it, but the phone won’t stop ringing! Home phone, cell phone, even my email is off the hook!

With my post yesterday, it seems that everybody wants to know how my hand is doing. ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS. Ideology doesn’t matter – FOX and MSNBC have been leaving messages, driving my wife and daughters nuts. The print media has been pounding on my front door since last night – The Times, The Post, The Herald, The Tribune, even The Bee and The Post-Dispatch. If this avalanche of concern doesn’t recede, I’m gonna have to escape out the back window incognito and spend a couple of days at an anonymous motel.

The hand is better, thank you. There will also be more posts forthcoming, even today. Little One’s birthday was Friday, and we all had a blast. A crazy night last night, too, watching our friends’ kids. And now I’m faced with the continual existentialist crisis: What to read next.

As to the hand, non-professional opinions ranged everywhere from Slept On It Funny to Premature Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Dunna about all that. But the pain – really, an uncomfortable ache; not a “pain” like lower back pain or dental pain – seems to have migrated from the thumb area to the area below my ring and pinky fingers. The wrist itself still aches.

When I splay my fingers, really spread them out, in a west-northwest-north-northeast-east pattern, I get a burn like I get when I do yoga for the first time after a couple months’ layoff. But it feels good after a minute or so. Other than that, I haven’t tried any over-the-counter medication, primarily because of my irrational fear of poisoning myself to death.

So … make of that what you will, George Stephanopolis. I will return to writing, Diane Sawyer, in fact, already have. And you, Frank Rich, yes, you’ll get my reviews of The Virginian and The Lord of the Rings, part trois. Be patient; Hopper has a shipload of ship to do today. But a return to the electronic page is not only immanent, it is achieved!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tolkien 3: Logistics

Okay. Finished my third reading of The Lord of the Rings earlier today. Full post on the experience, different from the previous two, to follow.

But for now, logistics, for what it’s worth and before I forget.

The first time I read Tolkien’s masterpiece, I was thirteen years old. I read it during the summer of 1981. My parents were in the midst of divorce. I began it in my home and finished it in my new home, the basement of my grandmother’s house. I vividly recalled reading it in: a tree, on the roof of the house, in a rowboat, on the hood of our family car, at the stock car races, beneath the dining room table, in the basement by the light of a washing machine, among other lesser dramatic locales. It took me most of the summer, I imagine, since I kept no logs at this point. Perhaps 90 days. Three months.

The second time was a little over a year-and-a-half ago. Almost fully recuperated from my surgeries, in the thick of unemployment, feeling the economic and financial pinch of being out of work. I read it from Christmas Eve 2010 to January 27, 2011. Five weeks, exactly. Started at my in-laws in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Finished on the big brown catcher’s-mitt couch in my living room in northern New Jersey. Read it for 35 days, and didn’t miss nary a one.

The third time began on June 30 and ended today, September 29, 2012. Ninety-two days, though I didn’t read every single day. I actually missed 28 days of reading. So though it took me three whole months, it was actually a little over two months of reading. But this third time was different. Looking for a unique way to experience Tolkien, something different from the youthful enthusiasms of childhood imagination or the feverish readings of an adult seeking escape, I decided to listen to the books on tape, and read along. Geekish to the max, yes. A unique experience, also a yes.

I need a few days to digest this third voyage through Middle-earth. Then, perhaps, a lengthy post and, perhaps and more especially, hopefully, something enlightening and interesting about the whole trip.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing Injury

Well, I didn’t get injured while writing, but it is affecting my writing. It’s more a sleeping injury, if you can believe that.

Woke up this morning with a nagging pain in my right hand that refuses to go away. The first joint of my thumb seems to be the focal point, though the jab of discomfort moves around, weirdly, from the base of my thumb, my wrist, and the back of my hand, depending on how I move my opposable digit. I have no explanation for it, other than I might have slept funny on it

As a result, it’s uncomfortably uncomfortable to type. Found this out all day at work. Subsequently, this small post shall be, er, small. An evening of relaxation is called for, then maybe my wife the all-purpose nurse can find something I can put on it and wrap it up overnight.


Wounded-Wing Hopper

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

So my pal and I went and saw Resident Evil: Some Ominous Word last week. Actually, I read something interesting about the titles of these movies. There ain’t no number in them. There’s Saw 4, Saw 5, Saw 6, Saw 27, etc., but Resident Evil movies have no roman numeral (or any sort of number) after them. Kinda makes them cool, I think; sets them apart.

Anyway …

It was okay.

My initial observation was that there was too much damn shooting. “What do you expect in a Resident Evil movie?” my friend asked incredulously. Though he plays the first-person shooter Resident Evil games on his Wii.

What was I expecting?

I dunno. More horror, I guess. More monsters, more suspense, more Alien-ish-type tension. But then it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil flick.

Perhaps now’s the time for Full Disclosure: I never played the video game the movie’s based on (does ten drunken minutes last New Year’s Eve count?). And I don’t watch the movies with an eye for in-depth cinematic and thematic analysis.

No, I watch them for Milla Jovovich.

Now, I’m kinda embarrassed to admit this, but I have a school-boy crush on her. Is it mid-life crisis? you ask. No. I first noticed her fifteen years ago in The Fifth Element and was smitten ever since.

I reviewed the previous movie, here. For those keeping score at home, I think Milla looks a lot better in this one.

Okay. Now let’s pretend I’m a mid-forty-year-old wanna-be film critic, not a fourteen-year-old boy.

The story is quite convoluted though it kinda makes sense by the final scene. If you sit back and decide to let the logical part of your brain sip an ice tea in a hammock, you’ll enjoy the movie. That’s what I decided about five minutes in. So, in one sentence, the ninety-minute flick is about … a captured Alice being recruited by an outside force to break out of evil Umbrella Corp’s underwater Arctic facility to help said outside force – who’s an enemy turned ally or is it? – save the world from the Evil that Umbrella Hath Wrought.

How’s that?

There was plenty I liked. The opening scene is played completely in reverse for the first couple of minutes as the credits flash by. That fascinated me, drew me in. And I liked the underwater facility, complete with pre-Star Trek holodeck versions of Times Square, Moscow, Berlin, “Suburbia.” A couple of monsters from the previous movie make cameos, and there’s a giant toothy slimy thing that pops outta nowhere several times to claim unsuspecting victims. Alice does a full-out Ripley in her attachment to a deaf child. And the ending, the ultimate scene, was one of those camera-pull-back sequences where you see How Bad it really is and wonder, “How the hell will mankind survive?”

There was also plenty bad, too. The aforementioned endless shooting. I think 20,000 rounds of ammunition were fired, fairly consistently, throughout the film, an average of 222 rounds per minute of screen time. And I like my zombies ambling at moderate speeds, not tooling around on dirt bikes or manning anti-aircraft guns on the backs of jeeps. The members of the team sent in to rendezvous with escapee Alice all look as if they just walked off a Karl Lagerfeld runway. Too much kung-fu that would kill a normal human being. I mean, can a hundred-pound woman really kick you forty feet airborne across a sheet of ice? And can you still do jujitsu and stuff with broken ribs and, well, what seems to be a ruptured aorta?

I’m imagining a sort of see-saw scale, with one dish labeled “Crap That Took Me Outta the Movie” and the other “Awesomeness That Made Me Forget My Life Outside This Movie Theater.” I take the two preceding paragraphs, chop up all the main points and supporting details in each and pour them into the appropriate dishes. Then I remove my hands. And the verdict is …

Resident Evil: Retribution tilts noticeably but not definitively towards the Cool End of the Scale.

Grade: Solid-B.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Zen Like Yoda

Me, 7:45 am, Monday morning: Okay, girls, this is going to be a beer-free week. That means every night, when we come home, I’m going upstairs into my room and do twenty minutes of meditation. That’s how I’m now going to fight stress. Understand? Meditation. But I need twenty uninterrupted minutes. That means You Do Not Disturb Me. Understand?

Little One: Yes.

Patch: Yes.

Me: Now, when we get home and I go upstairs, I’m going to close the door. You are not to enter. For twenty minutes. I don’t want to hear “Daddy?” or any fightin’ words. Understand? See, when I close that door, three minutes later all sorts of urges are going to bubble up into your little minds – how can I disturb Dad? You just have to subdue that urge. That’s part of growing up, part of becoming an adult. Subduing that urge to distract other people. So give me twenty minutes of peace every night. Understand?

Little One: My Daddy is a Master Yoda.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

License to Kill

Don’t mess with the Hopper …

Just ask two pheasants and two bunny rabbits.

Oh. Forgot. You can’t.

They’re dead.

Don’t mess with the Hopper.

[My brother found this ancient document in a strong box containing a bunch of his old stuff. “Keep this,” he advised, “you can renew your license without having to re-take all the old tests.”]

[Also, the mathematics buff in me just loves how the State of New Jersey decided to issue me a five-digit palindromic number!]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Body Outta Whack

Hi – just a quick post, because I can. Well, have to. Promises made to self and all.

My body is out of whack. More specifically, my biological clock is screwy.

Went to bed last night around 10:30. Woke at 3. Watched miscellaneous In Search Of episodes online in the dead of night. Girls got up for breakfast. Napped 7:30 to 9:45. Did brief errands with Patch. Went to Little One’s soccer game. Napped 2:15 to 3. Visited great-grandma with the girls. Got home, had sushi for dinner. Now I’m wired, yet on the fringe of that charge is extreme exhaustion.

What the fudge?

This time it’s a combination of heartburn (thank you middle age, beer, lunch meats, and bread) with financial worry (thank you creditors – all twenty-four of you).

Also, slight worries about –

How I’m doing at the job
How I’m doing as a dad
Why I’m putting off doing what I should be doing
How the old pulmonary system is doing
How the country is doing
How my girls are doing
How the wife is doing
What am I doing?

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Hopefully, I’ll have a glimpse of sweet oblivion tonight. At least from, oh, eleven p.m. to seven a.m. I need to get off this merry-go-round.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Middle Class Blues

I’m looking at my town’s tax bill, which came in the mail yesterday. Roughly, I’m paying about $8,600 a year. When I bought my house eight years ago, taxes were around $4,800 a year. So they’re now in my wallet 1.8 times as much as they were before I provided them with two more future tax potentials (bureaucrat-ese for my daughters).

What’s interesting is that just under $6,000 went to the town’s public schools. Now, we have great schools here, Blue Ribbon schools (look it up), so in theory I have no problem with that. I’m paying $33 a day for Little One to get the best public school education she can. In two years, assuming tax rates stay the same (I know: ha ha ha ha!), I’ll be paying $16.50 a day per child for a Blue Ribbon education.

But imagine this … imagine if I got a voucher for that $6,000. That is, if I didn’t send my child to the town’s public school, I could take that money and apply it to a private school of my choosing. From what I hear, tuition this part of the country for a decent Catholic school runs about $12,000 a year. So I’d still be in the hole six grand, but my child would receive a Blue Ribbon Catholic education.

I can dream, can’t I?

Well, it will never happen in our lifetime. As my wife cynically remarked, and I dare you to refute –

“The poor get [almost] everything handed to them. The rich can afford anything they want. We’re middle class. We get screwed.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I'm a Millionaire!

It’s true! The U.N. sent me an email saying so:

ATTENTION OF: Entitled Beneficiary of Huge FUNDS


The United Nations Financial Authority (UNFA) have just concluded the
general meeting of today, in which good progress was confirmed in your
favor. The meeting lasted for three (3) hours because all the officials
from various parastatals were present. The delegates from London, United
Kingdom; sent by the honorable President of EUFC (European Union Financial
Commission) were in the meeting, the officials of IMF World Audits
(including Mrs. Margaret Powell and Alvin T Clyde) arrived in good time
before commencement of the meeting. Also, present in the crucial meeting
of today were Mr. Gabriel Alanson and Kenneth Irwin Dickson from
Commonwealth Financial Network Office in California-USA; and the Senior
Financial Auditor from Bank of England. The meeting started in a good time
and all the invited officials plus the top executives of United Nations
General Assembly (UNGA) joined at the Conference Room and the meeting
commenced in earnest.

The Remittance FILE bearing your last-name, was presented for
deliberation. The executive financial auditors have unanimously resolved
to include your full-name amongst the favored beneficiaries who will
benefit from the amount earmarked for payments of Long-overdue debts. In
accordance with the resolutions each of the favored beneficiaries will
receive the sum of US$28,500,000.00. (Twenty Eight Million, Five Hundred
Thousand USDollars). The remittance officials must as a matter or
necessity, proceed to effect the transfer of the authenticated/ approved
amount of US$28.5Million FAST to your own nominated account. The Chairman
of Intercontinental Credits Commission (ICC) opined that he will handle
the remittance directly to your account. He will oversee the whole
processes and to make sure that there shall be No more hitches. After
that, the IMF Auditor and two other top executives (Marilyn and Wilbeck)
who came with him from New York pleaded that we should allow the Office of
the honorable Chairman of ICC in Edinburgh, Scotland; to effectuate the
successful 'Wire Transfer Execution' of the Funds into your account.

The ICC Transmittal Regulatory Office shall protect you from any
unexpected encumbrances on the Funds' movement. This will further provide
maximum protection to you as the beneficiary, and ensure easy reception of
the Funds into your destination account. During the meeting of today, the
international financial authorities resolved that all favored
beneficiaries must quickly send application to the Chairman of 'ICC'
(Prof. Thomas Hamilton) requesting for 'Accelerated Remittance' of your
Funds to your bank account nominate. Send your full contact details (name
/address) and your 'correct' bank account particulars via this email

You should also call his Office Telephone number: +44-784-273-2689.

Awaiting your prompt updates, as all hands are on deck to effectuate the
smooth final release of your entitled Funds.

Yours sincerely,

CHAIRMAN; United Nations Financial Authority.

Wow! Woo-hoo! Hurray, my money problems are all gone! Yippee!

What should I do with that 28 million?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Thought on The Virginian

So I’m reading this classic western The Virginian, and one detail keeps forcing its way front and center for me.

Seems the Virginian has his eye on this school marm, and she her eye on him, to the extent he keeps a-callin’ for an afternoon horse ride with her, and she fancies educating his untamed mind. So they strike themselves a compromise: she’ll give him a book, and when he finishes it, he can come a-callin’ on her for a ride.

What does she give him?

Well, the author doesn’t out-and-out say, but implies: a detective story, a “Shakespeare”, a Russian novel. (That “Russian novel” bugs me – Dostoevsky, perhaps? Sadly, I’m lacking in my “Russian novels.”)

The thing is, it takes him about two months to read one of her books.

Two months!

One book!

Now, I’m not mocking him. No, I’m envious in a weird sort of way.

Take the Virginian. He has – no commute, no wife, no children, no soccer practice, no girl scouts, no trips to the dry cleaners or grocery store or recycling center or library. He doesn’t spend two hours a week in front of a computer balancing his checkbook and paying bills. He has no teevee, no DVR, no DVD-player.

Yeah, he has to take care of cattle from sunup to sundown. Yeah, he has to hunt his own food, unless biscuits and jerky satisfy his hunger. Yeah, he has no electricity, so he would have to read by campfire (or candlelight) if he wants to do some serious nocturnal reading.

But I can imagine him at noon, lounging under a tree with the herd spread out on the fields and watering holes below, reading that Dostoevsky for an hour or more. He could probably do the same by the evening campfire, provided there wasn’t a card game up or an overly social companion jawboning his ear off.

Two months – that’s about sixty hours of reading time by my reckoning.

I put the average science fiction paperback away in three to five hours. A hardcover history of five or six hundred pages … maybe a dozen hours.

How I would learn a book if it was the only thing for miles and miles to read and I had five to ten times as many hours to read it … to absorb it … to experience it.

That’s why I’m envious of the Virginian.

Of course, I’d probably be scalped in my sleep were I in his shoes. And he might sit mouth agape watching me type this post into my “magic box.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Birthday Haul

A book about Paris

A DVD about the Giants victory season last year

A gift card to Applebees

A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon

A gift card to B&N

A check from the parents

A home-cooked filet mignon and baked pertater meal

All-in-all, not a bad take for a middle-aged, middle-income man living in Obama’s America.

What will I spend the B&N gift card on?

Not sure … but I decided to let it sit for a while in a desk drawer. I have something approaching fifty books stacked vertically atop the top of the book shelf behind me. Half science fiction paperbacks, a couple of histories, a couple of fantasies, and the remainder falling into some strange religion-philosophy-science continuum. Three-and-a-half months left in the year, I’ll probably put away around fifteen of them. Then I want to start my Philip Jose Farmer books (I have something like a dozen of them). So, books ain’t the use for that gift card.

Music? I used to be heavily into classical music. Then I began revisiting the classic rock / hard rock / grunge stuff I was into dating from my teens to thirties (I had a box of 200 CDs stolen from an apartment storage room about ten years ago, so I lost all that music then). Right now, though, I’m not really into anything definably musical.

DVDs? Two years ago I did my Hitchcock experiment. I bought Strangers on a Train with a birthday gift-card and watched it three times over three weeks, each time trying to analyze the movie in the way geeky film students would, each time spotting clues and motifs I did not see on the previous viewing. Enjoyable exercise. Should I do it again? Dunno. Maybe buy a favorite monster movie from my youth, to watch with Little One? Again, dunno.

So in the desk drawer it goes – outta my wallet, temptress! That is, until something wild and weird really inspires me. And, no doubt, it will be something right out of left field.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Think I'm Going Bald

I looked in the mirror today;
My eyes just didn’t seem so bright.
I’ve lost a few more hairs.
I think I’m going bald,
I think I’m going bald.

Seems like only yesterday
We would sit and talk of dreams all night,
Dreams of youth and simple truths.
Now we’re all so involved,
So involved with life.

I walk down vanity fair,
Memory lane everywhere
Wall Street shuffles there,
Dressed in flowing hair.

Once we loved the flowers,
Now we ask the price of the land.
Once we would take water,
But now it must be wine.
Now we’ve been and now we’ve seen
What price peace of mind.
Take a piece of my mind.

My life is slipping away.
I’m aging every day.
But even when I’m gray,
I’ll still be gray my way.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Birthday Girlz

Patch is four, and Little One is eight!

[Yes, we’re at an age – and a financial level, unfortunately – where, since their birthdays are but two weeks apart, we now celebrate with the family at one single party. Enjoy, my beautiful little ones!]

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Insomniac Verses

Here’s what I watched between 3 and 7 am this morning:

Item 1

Item 2

Item 3

Enter at your own risk ...  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Boor-ing Tolkien

Additional items on Tolkien and (potential) Cinema I did not know:

In 1970 United Artists asked the director John Boorman to make a film of The Lord of the Rings. With Rospo Pallenberg, Boorman developed a two and one-half-hour script for a live action motion picture; but new management at United Artists chose not to pursue it, and it was eventually abandoned. Janet Brennan Croft has commented on the many liberties Boorman and Pallenberg took with Tolkien’s book when writing the script: ‘Characters, events, locations, themes, all are changed freely with no regard for the author’s original intent. Situations are sexualized or plumbed for psychological kinks that simply do not exist in the book.’ These include the seduction of Frodo by Galadriel, and the marriage of Aragorn and Eowyn. ‘Pipeweed seems equivalent to marijuana in its effects, and the hobbits’ beloved mushrooms are hallucinogenic’ (‘Three Rings for Hollywood: Scripts for The Lord of the Rings by Zimmerman, Boorman, and Beagle,’ unpublished paper (2004)).

- page 21, The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Reader’s Guide, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, © 2006


Thanks be to Ilúvatar such garbage was never brought to the masses.

On a more interesting note, this book, The JRRTCaG RG, is increasingly growing on me. It’s a thick, hefty 1,256 pages and reads like one of those ten-pound journals I used to file when I worked in the Library of Science and Medicine when I was a freshman in college. I mean, you could seriously brain someone with a well-placed blow using this book. And – most baffling of all bafflements – it has no Table of Contents! It’s a encyclopedia of scholarly articles on all things Tolkien, and it has no Table of Contents!

Actually, the entries are about fifty percent Tolkien himself – biography, career, influences, friends and acquaintances – and fifty percent on his literary output. Of which The Lord of the Rings is but a part. A major part, yes, but the Reader also delves into The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, his other fictions (Farmer Giles and Smith of ...), his nonfiction essays on literature and history and historical literature and literary history. All in all, a very intriguing read, to be read like an encyclopedia and not cover-to-cover.

More tidbits if and when I come across them.

The Magical Mystery Tolkien

For that subset containing the intersection of Tolkien fans with Beatles fans –

Did you know …

In the late 1960s the Beatles planned to make a film of The Lord of the Rings, with themselves as Gollum (John), Frodo (Paul), Gandalf (George), and Sam (Ringo), but were unable to purchase the rights.

- page 21, The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Reader’s Guide, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, © 2006

Don’t know if it’s true or not, or what the source for this is, but it does appear in this thick, scholarly tome I’ve been perusing. I’m kinda glad that it never happened and, truthfully, I can visualize no positive outcome from the Beatles bringing the LotR to life, save in that brilliantly trippy melodic poetical songstyle they mastered, which while it may have defined music to come, would do absolutely no justice to Tolkien’s magnum opus.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Magic by William Goldman

© 1976 by William Goldman

First, let me say, the commercial for the movie version of this novel seriously creeped me out as a kid.

Second, to this day I have never seen this movie version. It stars a pre-Hannibal Lecter Anthony Hopkins.

Solely based on the first point above, I picked up Goldman’s novel in a $1 used book bin a few months ago. While I was a huge horror fan – reading close to a hundred books by King, Koontz, Barker, and others in the 80s and 90s – I’ve tempered off considerably in the past ten, fifteen years, reading horror only around October for old times’ sake. So, on a whim, looking for a quick and easy read and a change of pace, I cracked it open last Saturday.

And finished it that Sunday.

You know what? The book is just as creepy as the commercial.

Similar to clowns, ventriloquist dummies (and sometimes ventriloquists themselves) have this inherent capability of scaring the hell out of certain individuals. This is what Goldman taps into, and I think he does it effectively. Effectively for me meaning, a story tight and compact, with all the right words and not a single extra one thrown in, using flashbacks appropriately to the best illuminative effect, to highlight a man – a magician on the cusp of nationwide success – suffering from severe mental illness to the lethal detriment of others. No need to include spoilers; suffice it to say that the dummy takes on a life of its own, and that several murders are involved in its overprotective dominance of the magician.

Since the majority of the novel takes place in one of the most basic settings of the horror novel, the cabin in the woods, all the ingredients for a scary tale are thusly present. There’s the ventriloquist dummy, that cabin in the woods, knives (one of the victims is a knife salesman, natch), and a “trick” ending. But this is before all those ingredients became clichés, became horror staples. All together, they work. Surprisingly, I felt very touched reading the last two pages, something I’d never expect from a novel like Magic.

But even better, and perhaps the best accolade I can give, is the layers of intricacies in the plot. Corky – the ventriloquist –acting not entirely under his own free will, thanks to the dummy, “Fats” – increasingly slips deeper and deeper into difficulties, those like you might find in a classic mystery novel, and our poor magician has to juggle missing victims, dead bodies, incriminating clues, spider webs of spoken lies, a heavier and heavier load, in ever-burdensome attempts to shift blame and suspicion and somehow stop the madness that is eating him inside out.

I bestow upon Magic the Hopper Seal of Approval: an A. It ain’t Dostoevsky (or maybe it is, come to think of it – editor), but it does what it sets out to do with lethal single-mindedness: an increasingly eerie tale that brings you in and keeps the pages turning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Roadside Treasures

So I’m driving to work yesterday morning, zipping along some 40 mph backroads trying to make it to the main highway to get to work a little bit early, when something catches my eye. Something gleaming, golden, sparkling, with a chorus of angels “ahh-ahh-ing” in symphonic stereo in soft-blur focus.

What did I see?

A bookcase on the side of the road.

How weird! A bookcase on the side of the road. Sitting there, loaded with thirty or forty or fifty books, just sitting there on that little stretch of grass between the curb and the sidewalk. “Take me!” it pleaded to anyone who would walk by, “take me, or at least take one of my books! Free!”

Believe me, I was sorely tempted to pull over and do just that. Problem was – well, there were a couple of problems. I was trying to get in before my normal scheduled time to get some work done and earn some OT. Also, I had just zoomed through a traffic light and had a line of cars inches off my back bumper. There wasn’t any place to pull over anyway, and the nearest side street was like a quarter-mile down the road.

So I drove on.

But guess what I thought about all the way to work?

What books were on that shelf?

What books was the owner throwing out? Couldn’t he / she donate them to a local library? That speeding sideways glimpse told me they were all ancient – no glitzy pictures on the jackets like those in the book armada that confronts and assaults you as you step in a Barnes and Noble. No, these were treasures. Treasures! And what was the story of each one, I wondered, driving all the way to work. And wondered off and on during work yesterday, and today, and now as I write this.

Remember Hopper’s Laws:

I. Most of the best books have been written before I was born

II. Most of the best books written before I was born are out-of-print

So I never, never, ever, pass up an opportunity to peruse a dusty shelf of ancient books.

Now – what treasures did I pass on yesterday!

Nine Reasons I'm Reading War and Westerns

- It’s a break from SF (shocking! … but I hop from this to that by nature)

- It tests me by making me seriously wonder how I’d function in such an environment – would I thrive or simply survive? (or even that?)

- It’s historical – and I’ve always loved History (with a capital-H)

- There’s a code of morality, a code of ethics, there – yes, there is – that’s simpler, bolder, more obvious, and more masculine than the cultural relativism we’re forced to swim in these days

- Similarly, it definitely and brutally ain’t PC ... guaranteed to induce crying jags and apology manifestos from college professors who may accidentally read in the genre

- It’s escapist, and does the trick that SF hasn’t been lately … pulling me into a world vastly different from my own

- Cinematic tie-ins: literally dozens of Westerns and War movies for every quality book in the field I can read

- And, like SF, it brings me back to my childhood days (“playing war”, mostly, as opposed to reading about it, though I did read The Man Who Never Was and a slim paperback history of WW2 as a kid)

- Details, details, details … six shooters, tactics, living off the land, the fog of war, horses, ammunition … it’s what interests me of late

[Note: I tried to come up with ten reasons, of course. The first nine flew off my fingertips in less than ten minutes, then I spent yesterday’s commute home, dinner preparation, and the half-hour before bed wracking the brain for the tenth. It wouldn’t come. So – nine it is!]

Monday, September 10, 2012

Magic - the Commerical

Child of the Seventies? Remember this?

This was on so frequently that me and my brother, ages eleven and nine, memorized the dialogue. Magic was a creepy movie with an even creepier 30-second trailer that came out around 1978 or so. Probably because of the explosion of cable at the time (I think my whole neighborhood wired up in a year or so, based on how me and my friends discovered all sorts of new programming on our alphabetized cable boxes), this nightmare-enducing horror visited us nightly – and daily, several times a day – for most of that summer and fall.

I discovered the book in a bargain bin and bought it for a buck. Read through it amazingly fast, too – two days. Couldn’t put it down. Review forthcoming, when I get an hour or so free to jot my thoughts down.

Hint: it was mesmerizing

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Two Vid'yers

To help explain where I’m coming from and what I’m seeing in terms of the 2012 Presidential political debate. While neither is Oscar-worthy, I found them spot-on in terms of illustrating the fallacious thinking that’s foisted upon our culture by the mainstream shapers of said culture. Check them out; they’re only a couple of minutes each and well worth a look-see:

Saturday, September 8, 2012


© 1953 by Hal Clement

[opening page spoilers ...]

Yeahhhhhh. (That was said in a quiet sigh meant to evoke equal parts disappointment and embarrassment, with just a tinge of sarcasm.) I read Iceworld, by Hal Clement, last week.

First off, let me say that I am ashamed to admit that the cover did not clue me in on the big reveal concerning the title. Well, by “big reveal” I mean more the word irony. See, Iceworld is – Earth. Instead of a highly technical journey into the systematic exploration of a frozen world, say, like Pluto (still and always a planet - editor), we’re treated to fiery aliens encountering Earth. That cover of a massive, flaming devil-looking critter eyeballing our globe flew right by clever me.

Anyhoo, even this wouldn’t be that bad a novel. Aliens used to breathing gaseous sulfur and drinking liquid copper, aliens used to a balmy 500 degrees Celsius, aliens who set up a base on a mirror on the sunward side of Mercury – those creatures attempting to make contact and/or explore Earth (or an Earth-like world) would make an interesting story. And in fact, when Clement focuses solely on such aspects, I like it. It was intriguing. Enlightening, even, the way being forced to look at a common picture or a commonplace notion from a different angle will do for you.

Unfortunately, the story Clement chooses to tell is just batty, bizarre, and – forgive me – amateurish.


Well, the aliens communicate with earthlings through “torpedoes”, robotic probes I guess, filled with their superheated technology. They even design a sort of deep-sea-diver-ish suit to survive our chilling temperatures to interact with us. Okay, that’s all well and good, but the earthlings they happen to encounter are the family from Leave It to Beaver, if all the members of that family were eggheads. Eggheads out in the isolated mountains of some unnamed northwestern state.

Still, that may make for an interesting tale if told with skill and verve and vivacity.

Truth be told, it was the major subplot that killed it for me.

The aliens are actually … drug runners. And the drug they thirst for is … wait for it … not something esoteric … not something ironic, like “steam” or something … no, the drug is … nicotine.

They crave a good smoke.

And one of the aliens is actually a narc. One of those, they-forced-me-to-be-a-narc narcs.

And none of these revelations really matter to the novel, though fifty percent of it directly hones in on the drug runner-nicotine-narc angle.

Why spoil a good technical exercise with this bad noir melodrama? And I mean bad in a bad way.

I didn’t like it. My relationship with Hal Clement is not a complicated one; I either love his work (Cycle of Fire) or I despise it (Half Life, and now Iceworld). Doesn’t make me want to read his acknowledged masterpiece, Mission of Gravity, but read it I must if I am to ever claim the mantle of Science Fiction Aficionado.

But I’ll wait another year or so, I think.

Grade: C-plus.

Canine Dreams

A few nights ago I had a very vivid dream. My family lived in an apartment building a couple of floors up. Didn’t have an elevator, so I had to take the stairs.

Anyway, I was a worker bee and they all stayed at home. A 1940s worker bee, with the hat and the overcoat and the galoshes. I came home one cold and rainy night and discovered the girls had bought a puppy!

All well and good. We played with the puppy a bit, when suddenly – in that way dreams have – I was trudging up those stairs again. Opened the door and guess what! They bought another dog, an older one, rescued from a shelter.

Then, just like Groundhog Day, I walked up those stairs again and again, and more dogs! One that looked like a cocker spaniel, one that looked like a golden retriever. One was a fat little bull-doggish-looking thing.

Five dogs! My girls (wife included) had got five dogs to live with us as a family, in our apartment.

I freaked out. “I’m going to be the one walking them!” was my plaintive yet voluminous cry. “Me! Not you! Me!”

At the time, it was a very emotional, highly charged outburst that reverberated with much passion through my dream-mind. Though now, a few days removed from the episode, it seems petty and miniscule, a drop of rain compared to the fury of a category-5 hurricane. Also, it’s kinda funny now, whereas when I awoke I was bathed in a cold sweat. (Gotta aim those air conditioner vents at the other side of the bedroom.)

Driving to work that morning, I realized: the dogs are symbolic of tasks at work. My company just bought another, smaller company a month ago, one that we are energetically growing. As a result, people like me – people doing the background work, the accounting end of things – are getting swamped and tsunamied. Battered and brained. And it’s taking its toll on all of us in various ways. This past week for me, for reasons I can’t go into on an anonymous blog, was particularly hellish.

Now, it’s not that I don’t want more work at work. I do; work at work generally makes the time go by faster. It’s the whole disorganized, figger it out as you go, fake-it-until-you-make-it, we-will-find-a-way-or-make-one style – a style chosen out of necessity – that is genuinely grating on the soul. Sure, I can take not know what I’m doing for a few days, but as a few weeks draw out into a month, month-and-a-half, it takes a toll. I desperately need systems in place so I can do my job efficiently.

Plus, I’m hoping to parlay all this into a nice big well-deserved raise when I’m up for review in two months. So I guess this system-creation is where it’ll all hinge come that cold, crisp early-November day. We’ll see.

As of now, though, every time I see a dog I can’t help thinking about my cubicle at work, and the stacks and stacks of paperwork within it.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Sorry that posting’s been sparse this week – ’twas the proverbial week from Gehenna. Insanity at work, insanity at home. To cope with insanity, Hopper eats insanely, which contributes to insane amounts of manic depressive walking zombie syndrome. Back-to-school, new day-care and after-care adjustments, doubling of work duties, financial stressures, soccer practices, toddler death screams in the dark, be here, there, here and there, don’t forget this or that, oops, forgot this, that –


Can’t decide on a second book reading … so my only pleasure (aside from junk food, that is) is Tolkien. Return of the King, first chapter, is where I’m at, and I’m already wistful that the end is in sight. What will come next? Will anything? Will anything printed interest me again? Ever again?

Probably. Just not while I’m under mental siege.

I do have some posts on the way. As a matter of fact, I’ve preloaded something for tomorrow morning. Dreams – odd dreams, ones that I think have easy interpretation – are the subject of that post.

But right now, I’m looking for some blessed deep sleep.

After a little visit to Minas Tirith.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Third Grade

In the midst of all our insane busy-ness, Little One started the third grade today. All I could think all day was, “ [blasphemous expletive] – where is the time going?”

I remember my time in third grade … all those decades ago. Times were different then, but not much so for an eight-year-old. Did crazy things with my friends, both in and out of school. Hung out with a new kid in town who’d remain friends with me off and on until senior year. As far as scholastics go, for some reason I remember learning long division this year. Could that be right? Little One is just starting simple division, and still has yet to truly master multiplication. I sat somewhere in the middle of the class and proudly raising my hand when I knew an answer. So the shyness didn’t kick in yet.

Anyway, now an adult, now a parent, the time is just slipping through my fingertips. Before long I should be an old man, all wrinkles and white hair and regrets. Boy, did the summer fly by. Wasn’t it just last week we were in Paris –

Gotta stop this navel-gazing and get practical. Tangible. Need to create. I’ve had three book project thingies sitting on the shelf (actually, sitting undeveloped in a file folder on my desktop) … perhaps I should race Little One whether I can finish a book before she can finish the third grade.

On your mark – get set –

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Weekend

Went “down the shore” this weekend … Saturday morning to just a little while ago. Got plenty of R&R, the girls got their fix of the beach. We slept two nights at The Bungalow, always a great little stay. My father-in-law very generously bought and barbecued enough for a small army (which I guess the Hoppers are).

We did our annual pilgrimmage to the fair down there, and for the first time I rode the giant Ferris Wheel with both my girls, who enjoyed the whole experience immensely. The wife, feeling justifiably lucky (she did win a trip to Paris a few months’ back), bought a couple of raffle tickets to win either an iPod or an iPad or … $13,500 first prize. Yowza! The family accountant in me drooled at the amount of bills we could pay with that stash o’ cash. But alas, it was not in the cards, this time.

I was able to finish The Two Towers on audio CD while they were all sweating in the sun. Two-thirds of audio Tolkien down, should be an interesting post on my third trek through Middle-earth in a month or so. Tried to get in to Alan Dean Foster’s Icerigger, but couldn’t, despite some good characters and a good plot (shipwreck in space).

My father-in-law attends a very old, traditional Catholic church down there, probably the closest thing to pre-Vatican II that I’ve been to. Beautiful church, vividly ornamented, every inch of wall telling a story or flaunting a symbol. They have Mary recessed in a grotto at the rear of the church! Anyway, I enjoy going there, but when I got back to the Bungalow a heavy depression fell over me, one I just could not shake. Lasted just about all day yesterday. Depressing.

But I’m better now, now that I’m home. Me and Little One have already gone food shopping and I mowed the front lawn. Laundry’s going right now, and I’m listening to Michael Medved as I type this. Busy next couple of days at work, but I have some decent posts on the near horizon.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Listen to the radio often? Have you heard that Tommy Hilfiger commercial about autism? Where he cites something like one in ninety-eight are born autistic, or that one in a hundred and seventy-six million gets to fulfill his dream as a fashion designer?

That last statistic interests me. How did they figure that out?

Ever hear that commercial where one in eight Americans are hungry? You know, the one that does the countdown … Eight – I’m the guy who rides the elevator with you … Four – I’m you’re babysitter … One – I’m the woman who plays bingo with your grandma.

That commercial cracks me up. It’s also been thoroughly debunked, statistically-speaking. See here.

Statistics …

Did you know that seventy-nine out of eighty statistics are used incorrectly? That’s a fact.