Thursday, February 28, 2013


What better way to say goodbye to the longest shortest month of the year than with a song? And a song that links the name of one of my youngest daughter’s favorite book characters with the hard blues / rock stylings of one of my favorite bands from the mid-90s * ? Hmm?

A cautionary warning of the excesses of fame and fortune, told via a delighftul amphibian with a substance abuse problem who goes down to the netherworld, all in a hip-shaking three-minute rockabilly anthem …

Fun for the whole family!

* The Presidents of the United States of America

Best. Name. Ever.

Romulus M. Saunders.

Patch, Little One: you’re so lucky you were born girls!

[Note: Mr. Saunders (1791-1867) was a career politician in the majestic halls of old who ran for, and penned up laws banning, this and that …]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Summer Reading

Last summer I immersed myself in a half-dozen books on WW2. Not sure why, except that one day I realized that I knew very little about the “greatest war.” As a wee little one I read a slim paperback I found at my grandparent’s house on the general history of the war, and in fourth grade I read the book The Man Who Never Was, about an Allied attempt to deceived the Germans prior to D-Day by creating a fictitious intelligence operative. Everything else I knew was through pop culture osmosis.

That phase lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and I enjoyed the dual pleasure of reading and discovery.

In three months, I’d like to repeat that process.

Problem is, I’m not sure what I want to devote the summer to. My down-time is increasingly shrinking (there’s an oxymoron), what with Patchie communicating, gearing up for kindergarten next year, and Little One with all her after-school activities – soccer, girl scouts, basketball – and weekend playdates and sleepovers. I’m trying to work out with regularity and commence the writing of another book. Me and the Mrs. like a handful of teevee shows we watch together during the week.

So, all things considered, I probably have about 30-45 minutes a day “me” time, which I like to fill with reading.

Some subject matters I’ve been toying with:

The Revolutionary War

The Vietnam War

Modern Physics

Higher math / mathematics I have not studied in school

Early history of Catholicism (Fathers of the Church, etc)

Some “weirdity” or “history’s mystery” type thing

They all appeal to me, but nothing has definitively jumped out at me, the way WW2 did last summer.

Probably won’t know until May 24 or so.

But then I’ll let you know!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Right But Wrong

I just experienced first-hand one of those thankfully rare times where doing the legal thing is morally wrong. It’s “right” but it’s “wrong.” And because of our powerful, growing, and oft-times menacing legal class, I was forced to do the wrong thing. To put it bluntly, my company would be sued if I did the right thing.

Let me tell you, it’s an ugly feeling.

No need to bore you with backstory; a few essential and anonymous details will suffice.

There’s this guy that works for us off-and-on. He has a talent of bringing money into the company. Thousands-of-dollars-a-week type talent. When I say that he works for us off-and-on, I mean that he’s been fired once or twice in the past for disappearing. Abandoning his position.

And the reason is, he’s a drug addict. A heavy and hard narcotic drug addict.

When he cleans himself up, he comes back, all contrite, and they give him another chance. Because of his talent. I admit he’s very good at what he does. He’s a great person, really nice and legitimately friendly, when he’s clean and sober.

But when he goes back to using drugs, he’s not so nice. Or friendly.

We let him go in January. Right before payday last, his wife came in to see me. I could see right away how stressed out she was. She burst into tears and asked me if I could direct deposit his final check. It was his big, month-end commission check. She needed the money for the mortgage and medical bills she is incurring. I know these bills to be a fact, and knew that she wasn’t scamming me. We both know what he will do with the money as soon as he picks up his live check.

I tell her I’ll see what I can do.

Five minutes later he calls me up and demands a live check. Like his drug-using personality, the phone call is ugly, and I try to be as professional as possible. Believe me, it takes a lot of effort.

I speak with management. Legally, we have to give him his check, live, per company policy. We can’t accede to his wife’s request, though we all want to. His name is on the check. His name is on the employment applications. His name is on the pay plans. He gets his money, a live check placed right into his trembling hands, and there’s not a thing we can do.

Drugs 1, sick wife 0.

It was truly a gross, dirty feeling I wrestled with all weekend.

Still do.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What to Expect When You're Expecting

… the reading of some fine books.

Okay. Here’s my agenda, for those of you playing The Recovering Hopper game at home:

Track One:

Finish the rest of my Philip Jose Farmer series. That’s –

A Private Cosmos
Behind the Walls of Terra
The Lavalite World
Riverworld and Other Stories
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
The Cache
Riders of the Purple Wage

Then move on to something non-science fiction-y. Maybe a western or two, in time for spring and, perhaps, an early summer –

The Hawkline Monster (“gothic western”)
Warlock (classic western)

Track Two:

Finish Battle Cry of Freedom, and then –

The Killer Angels (the Pulitzer-winning epic of Gettysburg, to be read along with an audio CD).

After that, I think I’ll attempt The Making of the Atomic Bomb, for some more rugged history.

That’ll take me up to Memorial Day, I’m guessing. Not sure what I want to dedicate my summer reading to. I have some ideas in mind, but nothing strongly, which is okay, because as a Hopper these things just overtake me at any given moment.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Maker of Universes

© 1965 by Philip Jose Farmer

Imagine, if you will, yourself as an old man, with far fewer years ahead than those trailing behind, wondering what it was all about. Your marriage has grown stale; your wife a passive-aggressive storm of hate and disappointment. Then, one day during the inevitable shopping for a down-sized home, something in the basement of one house makes you put your foot down. Yes, you think, this is the house to buy. And all because of that hallucination you saw when you opened that basement closet door.

Does this have something to do with the strange circumstances of your early childhood – “found” in the woods by kindly older parents named Wolff? With your uncanny ability to master languages? With your lifelong passion with fencing, despite decades as a meek and mild-mannered community college professor?

Is The Maker of Universes a Philip Jose Farmer novel?

You bet.

When Wolff steps into that “hallucination” in his basement closet – with the aid of a … magical? alien? supernatural? flute – the adventure begins. Being a PJF science fiction slash fantasy novel, you know it will be fast-action rollercoaster with literary-mystical themes developed and just-touched-upon.

For instance, the first creatures Wolff meets (the first benevolent ones, I need to correct myself) are hinted to be the actual participants in the Trojan War, stolen / hijacked / kidnapped / abducted by some “Lord” who has seemingly omnipotent powers and a malicious temper. These childlike entities, often in perfect and beautiful bodies but sometimes in warped parodies of nature (the “zebrilla,” a black-and-white furry gorilla who’s probably the only mature being Wolff encounters), live in an Edenic paradise at the base of a 30,000-foot mountain.

This mountain is actually a world – the World of Tiers, each tier representing a continent peopled with radically different societies and cultures. There’s medievalish Dracheland, where knights joust and dragons prowl. There’s Amerind, prehistoric North America, where mounted war parties battle to the bloody end, for being captured always entails a fate worse than death. There’s Atlantis, modeled by this Lord on Earth’s fabled island – or was that mythical land modeled on this one?

During Wolff’s adventures as he scales the World of Tiers, he meets a kindred spirit – Kickaha. Now, Kickaha is a veteran here, famous and infamous on many levels. Kickaha he is known to the Indian tribes of Amerindia, but he, too, like Wolff, was once of Earth. There he was known as Paul Janus Finnegan (note the initials), and the two set-off on Wolff’s quest to find his True Love, even if it means scaling all tiers to reach the apex – the domain of the maniacal Lord. And, more than once, Wolff has the uneasy thought that Kickaha might be the omnipotent despot slumming it …

For 170 pages we travel with our heroes as they battle orc-like nasties, double-crossing Teutonic knights, Hasidic warriors, merciless centaurs known as Half Horses, primitive rain forest tribes, vicious intelligent eagles with thirty-foot wingspans, and a teleporting race so far advanced they’ve forgotten how to build the very technology they use to make their universes.

The Maker of Universes is Book One of PJF’s five-volume series The World of Tiers. Like all of his adventures, I’m discovering, I wish it had more “depth”, wish the ideas were more fleshed out and explored, wished characters who – though completely realistically sketched out – would stay with the story a little longer than their quick violent deaths often yank them away. Those 170 pages could have at least been double, with no sacrifice to the pacing of the tale, in the skillful hands of a writer as good as Farmer.

Grade: B-plus.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Little One has finally done something I’ve never done!

[Well, besides playing organized soccer, playing organized basketball, selling girl scout cookies, having a tarantula climb up her arm, starring as the Wicked Witch in the theatrical version of The Wizard of Oz, attending sock hops in 50s regalia, reciting poetry in front of a live audience … shall I go on?]

Rock climbing!

Here’s my little Spidergirl scaling the thirty-foot “Wall of Noses”, as Patch calls it …

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Planet Caravan

This is another tune that absolutely turned my musical development on end. Summer of 1985, I believe, me scrimping for a few dollars to buy Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Hadn’t heard it, but on the basis of hearing a friend’s album of Master of Reality, I bought a Sabbath music book. (Again, these were the days before “tab” was widespread; basically my book was in piano notation.)

Heard “Planet Caravan” and literally could not get the song out of my mind for days. Simple, sparse, haunting – a narcoleptic jazz-odyssey thing that blatantly defies the label of everything you think when you think of Ozzy Osborne and Black Sabbath. Though, as I’d find out over the next year or so, there’s a “Planet Caravan” on every album (“Laguna Sunrise,” for example).

You’ll either love it and believe it to be the masterpiece I take it for, or fall promptly asleep. Not sure which …

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Well Is Dry

Beaten … whipped … drained …

Just another week on the ranch.

Have a lot to write, but no inclination and energy after a trio of 10 hour workdays. Exhausting mental work with plenty of interruptions, crises, and fires to put out. I need a full night of relaxing reading. To be transported to one of the worlds of PJF and, perhaps, a Civil War battlefield of a century-and-a-half ago. After I put the little ones abed, that is.

Oh – and I am going to work out. It’s my new routine the past couple of days, replacing the traditional and habitual swigging of a Foster’s Oil Can. So far, it’s working. Improved sleep and energy and all that.

Good stuff on the horizon here at the Hopper. A song selection, perhaps tomorrow. Another encounter with a Jerk at Work, albeit a different one, an encounter of a more serious and sad nature. And a review of my last PJF conquest, The Maker of Universes.

See ya tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Has being overlooked when bagels are offered ever resulted in an apoplectic epileptic fit of near-aneurystic proportions?


Case in point: Jerk at Work.

This is an anonymous blog after all, and I’m hesitant to post anything about my job, but this is too unbelievable to pass up. And if Jerk at Work should ever read these words and realize that I’m writing about him – shame on you.

A third-party benefits company wants to come in to the new store my company bought over the summer. I’m only peripherally involved; they’re gonna handle the whole thing. Come in, pitch themselves and their products, gage interest, return in two days, hold one-on-one sit-downs with those employees interested. Me, I only need to get the word out at the new place and show up the first day. The second store is 40 miles further away than my present job location, so it’s a hike. But since I need to train someone over there anyway, I go.

I do my part in getting the word out the previous week and the morning of. Then I proceed with the training. The third-party benefits company comes in and brings a delicious spread of assorted bagels into the conference room where they’ll be holding meetings. I peek in on them every now and then, see that the meetings are pretty full. Things seem to be going well. I finish my training early and decide to leave after being there two hours. “Do you need anything?” I ask the third-party guys before I leave. “No,” their lead says. “We’ll finish up, come back in two days, let you know the results.”

Fireworks light up shortly after I leave.

Jerk at Work manages a small department over there – he and three other people. Somehow, the third-party benefit guys overlooked his department that first day. Despite flyers, posters, payroll memos, and Jerk at Work himself asking me when these people would be over, no one from that department thought to go into the conference room all day.

What would you do in his shoes?

Me, I’d just speak with them when they returned in two days. Or speak to the “me” who is kinda the company liaison with them. Or ask someone in the general office, perhaps.

But no. Jerk at Work is furious.


He throws a temper tantrum in front of the ladies in the office. He curses my name, tells me I can go xxxx myself. Of course, I’m not there to hear any of this, having left an hour earlier. And what’s the most egregious affront to his supersensitive, somewhat crazed ego?



Damn you, Hopper!

Make sure your Jerk at Work knows if you bring these in!

Unaware of all this, at the behest of the third-party benefits company, I send an email out to the employees who did not have an opportunity to sit in on the meetings. Jerk at Work is on the list. Uh-oh. His chance for redemption.

Which he blows. He responds to my email by telling me that no one in his department was invited to the meetings and no one was offered THE DELUXE BREAKFAST. Yes, he capitalized it. Then he informs me that no one in his department-of-four is interested in the benefits.

No big deal to me. I reply with an apology for any oversight, and ask them all to just sign waivers.

He can’t let it rest, so he responds back right away. He wants to make sure I understand where I failed. Because in failing, I somehow alienated “half the building.” (Note: more than eight people work there. Over thirty, by last count.) He “strives” to keep that from happening, because it is “detrimental to the business as a whole.”

Wow, someone make this guy Customer Relations Manager.

To cover himself, he ends with: “as far as myself I will not sign anything”, in regards to waivers. I bet the rest of his department, all three employees, might want to consider these bennies.

Anyway, I let it rest and did not reply. Despite this post, I bear him no ill will. I once heard it said that a professional never takes it personally, and it usually takes a year on the job to become a professional. I agree, and I hold myself to that standard, and I like to think I passed that mark years ago. So, I’ll still go out of my way to make sure he’s a happy employee (or at least as happy as he can be). Because a happy employee is a productive employee.

But boy was this a fun blog to write!

Monday, February 18, 2013

It Is Itself

Whoa – I had an awesome dream last night!

See, here’s my m. o. concerning the midlife crisis: I read lots and lots of books and I have bittersweet dreams about the good ol’ days. Specifically, my awesome bachelor pad of ’92 to ’00, and my days in the band.

Last night I dreamed about the band, man. The band, man!

But this time it was different. My old band mates were not there. Instead, I was participating in some sort of American Idol Hollywood week. You know, where all the contestants of the contest are forced to group up into foursomes and perform in front of the audience and the judges in twenty-four hours. Now, the details weren’t exactly the same. No judges and twenty-four hour performance, for instance. It was more like a casting call for auditions.

I had my guitar and my amp and I was playing with confidence. There are multiple layers of confidence when it comes to playing an instrument, I’ve learned over the years. First, you get comfortable on the guitar. Then, through a series of quick ascents and very long plateaus, you come to master it. Or you master whatever level is required of you, i.e., to the level of the other musicians you play with or the level of what you’re trying to accomplish, such as performing live or recording demo tapes or whatnot. Finally, you reach a level of confidence where you intuit that the audience – whether non-musicians or, better yet, other musicians – knows you can play.

The dream was awesome because I was playing at this high level of confidence. I was able to choose who I wanted to play with in our little band, and not have to rely on somebody’s mercy or pairing up with inferior performers. There was this bass player dude similar to the guy I played with for years, but not quite him. We started a band together. I remember thinking in the dream, “Our music sounds like Alex Lifeson playing AC/DC,” but then I also remember thinking, “How cliché,” for some reason.

Best thing about the whole thing was the names we considered for the band. A whole list popped up, like credits on at the start of a teevee screen, over us jamming out. The only two I remember, however, were –



It Is Itself.

We went with It Is Itself and actually designed a logo with wavy and intertwined lower-case i’s.

Ah, nothing like a midlife crisis dream!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hatin' Comedies

How come the Oscars don’t honor the best comedy of the year?

By my reckoning, the last movie to win Best Picture that was a “comedy” was probably Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. (Not having seen the flick, all I have to go on is that vague, pseudo-psycho-encyclopedia – or compendium – of all I’ve read, with a retrieval access of maybe one in twenty.)

Why this hatin’ on comedies, Hollywood?

I can think of at least four movies which should have won Best Picture over the last fifteen years or so, all films I’ve seen in the theaters and all films I have doubled over in laughter most of the running time:

There’s Something About Mary (1998)

Meet the Parents (2000)

The Forty-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

The Hangover (2009)

Which movies actually won Best Picture in those years?

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Gladiator (2000)

Crash (2005)

The Hurt Locker (2009)

I think the comedy should’ve won in, perhaps, three outta four of those match-ups.

Anyway, just sayin’

Something I just thought about standing, in the shower, thinking.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I Owe, I Owe

Well, for the first time in my adult working life, I owe the government money.

It’s not a lot, mind you, but it’s the principal of the matter. Two factors, mainly, made my family dip below the over/under tax figure. One, I claimed one more exemption than normal, so’s we could have a little more money in my take-home pay every week to help pay bills (mortgage, child care, groceries, etc). Two, the wife cashed in a small 401k account equal to a month’s pay for her, for the same purpose. Unfortunately, we discovered the investment company did not take out the ten-percent approximate tax when they transferred the balance to our checking account in September.

So, I owe Uncle Sam a little more of my hard-earned scratch. Gotta keep that expanding governmental juggernaut fed ever more and more.

It’s going to be a rough, rough four years.

* * * * *

Brisk twelve-bar blues, sung a la Robert Johnson sliding Led Zeppelin’s “Hats Off to Harper” –

Mr. Obama,

Please don’t take my money away!

Oh Mr. Obama

Please don’t take my money away!

Cuz if you do,

Won’t have none for a rainy day …

Friday, February 15, 2013

Plumbing the Dearths

Apologies for the dearth of blog postings these past couple days. Reason why? Just time- and energy-consuming stuff. Stuff like, and this is not offered as excuse:

- Two-point-something hours of OT at work

- Getting up earlier to get the little ones out the door earlier

- Fighting a low-grade but tough, mucous-y cold

- Ash Wednesday evening mass

- Little One’s basketball game (a 21-20 loss at the final second)

- Getting all 2012 bills and finances in order for tax time tomorrow

- Finishing up PJF’s The Maker of Universes

Wow, I’m exhausted.

However, should be some good posts coming up. Review of said PJF book, and an encounter at work where someone literally almost had a public stroke over not being offered a bagel.

Good reading, all …

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


So Pope Benedict XVI will be the first Pope in almost 600 years to retire.

Good for him.

At his age (85), without having a single day off in almost 8 years, a rest is both welcome and well-deserved.

Being of an introverted and, I like to think, intellectual bent, I always felt a stronger kinship to Benedict than John Paul II. Though I never made it all the way through two of his books (Jesus of Nazareth and God Is Near Us), it is unmistakable not to feel in the presence of a Great Teacher reading his words. He had a gentle yet firm demeanor that appealed to me. Watching and hearing him at one of the 9/11 anniversaries a few years ago, the wife and I were truly touched.

His successor will be determined before Easter. How exciting to be a Catholic at this time! Technically, it will be the fifth Pope of my lifetime, the others being Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, though I only really know JP II. Who do I think it will be? Have no idea, of course, though I would not mind an African Pope one bit – though the “front-runner”, Arinze, seems a bit old at 80. I definitely think a more youthful Pope is needed. JP II assumed the papacy at age 58 – I think something similar is called for here.

Whatever happens, it will no doubt be an extremely energizing and hopeful Easter season.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

© 1973 by Philip Jose Farmer

One of Jules Verne’s late 19th-century masterpieces was a little book called Around the World in 80 Days. Alas, I did not read it as a young padawan, nor did I watch the award-winning 1956 flick. Fortunately, Farmer summarizes it for us rarities in an introductory chapter. If you fall into the same category as I, you may associate ballooning with the tale. However, there is no balloon in Verne’s story.

Over a bet, rigid and regimented English gentleman Phileas Fogg, along with his valet Passpartout, embarks on a globe-encircling voyage that must be completed within eleven weeks and three days, to the minute they depart their gentlemen’s club. Along the way, as you can imagine, they encounter many colorful individuals, rescue a damsel in distress, have many breath-taking escapades, including fighting two different types of Indians on two different continents, and come in to win the bet in the nickest of times. Travel is as mundane as train and boat and as exotic as elephant. (But there is no balloon.)

Now, Farmer’s story:

The log book of Fogg’s that Verne allegedly finds to base his tale is actually a deceptive one. Farmer comes across the real book (and that sets up a wonderful revelation in the final sentences of the book worthy of the entire read) and that’s what this is all about.

Note: Mucho spoilers from here on in, most of which Farmer reveals early on in his book …

Turns out things are not quite what they seem in Victorian England. For thousands of years, two warring factions of aliens, the Eridaneans and the Capelleans, have been vying for control over mankind’s destiny. How they arrived is not fully explained (crash? tactics in a long-over battle?); indeed, most of the “Old Ones” have perished; the great game continued on by humans who’ve mixed blood with the aliens, giving them superpowers and extended lifespans. Turns out much of the great literary characters of the 19th century are not born of this world. Phileas Fogg is but one.

The question is – why the race around the world? It’s a cover story, of course, for the real mission. Something involving time-space distorters which would give the owners of such devices an almost unfair advantage in the conflict. Fogg and Passpartout detour in India to reclaim one such distorter from a renegade Indian-Capellan prince. However, hot on their heels is none other than Verne’s other hero, Captain Nemo, here more anti-hero than hero.

There are many side stories not found in the original Verne work for various explained-away reasons. The longest of which may have been the most enjoyable segment of the novel for me: a detour to the Mary Celeste. Yes, the strange, deserted ghost ship from naval yore of yesteryear. Her fate is now revealed to us, Farmer-style. And the crazy thing is, it all makes sense.

So the novel races with its protagonists across the globe, re-arranging facts and details from Verne’s well-worn tale, rushing from one scene to the next. If I had my druthers, I’d have extended it a bit, made the characters (paradoxically) more human, and not pace it so fast that I’m out of breath by novel’s conclusion. PFJ wraps everything up satisfactorily by the final chapter, and then ends the novel with one of the better sentences I’ve read in a long time.

While not my favorite of the half-dozen or so Farmer books I’ve read this year, it did grow on me once I had everything straight in my head regarding who’s who, who’s bad, who’s good, and what’s what. It even encouraged me to check out Verne again (that’s the subject of another post).

My copy also includes two long essays as afterludes by author-fans of Farmer’s. One extrapolates a thesis that Captain Nemo is also Professor Moriarty of Sherlock Holmes fame. The other devotes a bit more space expanding PJF’s thesis of “Wold Newton” – the name of the English town where a very special, powerful meteorite fell, causing genetic mutations which gave powers to such townsfolk descendents as Holmes; Tarzan, Lord of Greystoke; Professor Edward Challenger of Doyle’s The Lost World; Allan Quatermain of H. Rider Haggard’s novels; The Shadow; Doc Savage; Sam Spade; Nero Wolfe; Mr. Moto; The Avenger; and even James Bond, to name but a few. A detailed chronology finishes the entire work.

Verdict: I give The Other Log of Phileas Fogg a solid B-plus.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

4,800 Pounds

Even in the midst of muscle-breaking hard labor, the nerd at me is still hard at work.

We got about a foot of snow overnight. This morning, around 10:45, I went out to shovel us out. While doing this, I got to thinking: how much snow am I moving?

The internet tells me that a cubic foot of average-density snow weighs about fifteen pounds. Since everything you read on the internet is correct, let’s use this figure.

I started out doing the porch and front steps, the walk to the driveway, a lane along the driveway from garage to sidewalk, twenty-five feet of sidewalk and the driveway apron. I figure, conservatively, that I cleared 120 square feet of surface there. Then, as the girls came out to play in the snow and the wife came out to clean off the cars, I went up onto our flat-roofed garage and cleared that of snow: 200 square feet, approximately.

That’s 320 square feet of area. Since we got twelve inches of snow, give or take, that’s 320 cubic feet of snow.

Multiply that by 15 pounds per cubic foot.

That’s 4,800 pounds of snow.

2-point-4 tons of snow.

Yikes! No wonder my back is killing me.

And it kinda justifies my crazy nervousness about getting the snow off the garage roof. There’s a ton-and-a-half of frozen water pushing down on that roof! If it ever collapses – double yikes!

So – that’s my post for the day. I already soaked in the tub for an hour, and I may be going back in.

After a couple of Alleves.

Or a couple of glasses of wine.

Friday, February 8, 2013

8 to 10 Feet

Well, it’s snowing. And I’m home for the day, mainly ’cuz I had to leave work early to pick up the little ones from day care, which closed at 2.

I really laughed this morning: We are an easily whipped people. Easily frightened, easily intimidated. Granted, Sandy probably beat the heck out of us more than anything I’ve ever personally experienced. But still … it’s not like it doesn’t snow every year. Couple times a year, in fact.

Weatherman says we’re getting 2 to 4 inches today, followed by 8 to 10 inches overnight. That’s inches, not feet. By Saturday afternoon, the roads will all be plowed and the sidewalks all shoveled. Stores will be open. Gas will be available for purchase at gas stations.

On the way to work this morning I marveled at the lines of cars waiting to gas up. Three or four deep, at 7:30 a.m. I stopped at the local grocery store (my reward ritual – I pick up a soda, a bag of chips, and a roast beef sandwich for brown-baggin’ it all week) and it was packed with over a hundred people! I mean, me and a half-dozen seniors are usually the only ones there at that hour during the week.

But truth be told, it is nasty out there and getting nastier. The old Impala slid out twice, once going down a hill to a red traffic light, the other time rounding a curve and nearly curbing itself. So I slowed down, 20 mph max, incurring the wrath of SUVs and four wheel drive pickup trucks everywhere. One such jerk decided to drive eighteen inches off my rear bumper for a mile or so. Crazy idiots everywhere.

But now we’re home. The girls are eating kettle corn watching the Spongebob Squarepants Movie. The wife is en route from NYC, due in about an hour, burritoes in hand (her idea, not mine). I look forward to a relaxing day putting some mileage on my two books, Battle Cry of Freedom (a third through) and The Maker of Universes (haven’t offically cracked it yet).

Oh, and Isaac Asimov’s Nine Tomorrows came in the mail today. Joy!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cygnus X-1

This was it man, from 1989 to 1994 or so. This was the yardstick that we measured ourselves against. Whether me alone in my room, ashtray overflowing and empties scattered about me, or in the rehearsal studios with Mikey on bass and Rob on drums, this was what we jammed on for pure adrenaline’s sake, for the art of it, for the sheer joy and musicality of it. Sure, there’s tons of nerdity in it, but I defy any guitarist (or bassist, or drummer) worth his salt to play along with this without missing a note.

I almost can.

Back in the day, that is. Almost.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Location Location Location

Sometimes – well, a lot of times – where you read a book can drastically heighten the entire experience. I’m talking the whole gamut from emotional and literary at the time of reading to satisfyingly satisfied reminiscing on past reads. (True blue book nerds like me often do this, especially on the solitary commute to work.) I’ve known this since my well-written-about adventures with Tolkien as a very young man. It’s probably why The Lord of the Rings is my favorite work of literature. But there have been others.

Most recently, I made the wise choice (yes, I’m patting myself on the back as I write this) of reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame during last spring’s once-in-my-lifetime trip to Paris. Another neat novel to do, should you ever have the opportunity, is to try Melville’s Moby Dick when visiting Cape Cod. It’s not that masochistic. I did it over a dozen years ago during my first real vacation with my future wife. Nothing like inhaling salty ocean air while on the deck as Ahab is going batty over the white whale and everyone else is looking quite uncomfortable about their chances of surviving their stint on the Pequod.

For ten years my parents had a weekend home in upstate New York. Though located on a somewhat busy road (for upstate New York), it was horse-shoed by a very aggressive and impenetrable band of thick fir trees. And when it got dark up there, it got black as squid’s ink. (That’s pretty black, I’d guess.) So it was quite conducive to spooky reading, especially in the fall, when things got colder and the moon got fuller and imaginations got more suggestible. I read quite a few Steve Kings there, as well as some creepy Clive Barker stuff – Cabal, Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show. Made for some very fond memories.

Little things help, too. Back in my musical phase, as an amateur guitarist trying to become professional, I had a little recording / rehearsal studio in the basement. Very, very basic. Just some carpets and cushions to help dampen the sound. But I had all my amps and instruments there, and usually whoever was drumming for me had his kit there. So … guess where I read large portions of No One Here Gets Out Alive, The Hammer of the Gods, and ’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky?

As a single-digit kid I read Watership Down in the grass of my backyard. Couple years later read Alien in my dark and musty basement. I read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose – a large part of which involves a mysterious medieval library – in the relatively ancient library at Rutgers College. Read Killerbowl the weekend the Oakland Raiders upset the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl (that counts as a “location in time” instead of place).

Location, location, location! It isn’t just for making money. It’s for investing as wisely as possible the hours you’ll spend with a good book.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


You know you've become a Civil War buff when you catch yourself smirking when you say, "Buchanan" under your breath ...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Silly + Stupid = Fun Sometimes

Was thinking about three scenes from my early twenties today. Not sure why, except perhaps that, in light of the nice time I had at a neighbor’s Superbowl party last night, and having to do some 401k work this morning, I couldn’t help reminiscing about more carefree times. In this case, three events that all happened in 1989. They all involved two or three of my good buddies from back then, and , uh, beer.

First happened in August. I may have written about that elsewhere here; if not, it was in an email sent to one of the chums after we reconnected on Facebook a few years back. Anyway, that summer we went to a lot of Yankee games. By “a lot,” I mean maybe three or four. I was not a big baseball fan (still ain’t), but the tickets were affordable and me and my two pals would go there, drink a couple of beers and down a couple of dogs and enjoy the fresh night air. This time in particular, we came back to one of my friend’s house, and continued the evening doing some nocturnal swimming in his pool and guzzling more beer. It was a tremendously fun day and evening. No chicks, no worries, no fighting, nothing but three guys being stupid and silly together.

Flash forward two months. A cold, pea soup Saturday in full Fall, nothing going on and nothing to do. A few phone calls later, me and my two pals are driving south, not sure where or for what reason. But we wind up at a neighborhood bar in some town I’d never been to before or since, about mid-way down the shore. They have a pool table. Now, none of us plays pool, but the bar was empty so we picked up some pool sticks and racked up the table. Oh, and we probably drank a pitcher of beer between us for every game, all afternoon. There were lots of laughs and we had the whole place to ourselves. A great time, an uneventful time, probably a wasted time, save for the fact I am writing about it now, and the fond memories that silly and stupid afternoon brought me.

The third scene takes place a couple of days before Christmas. There’s snow on the ground. Though I have a girlfriend at this time, I am not with her. Come to think of it, I think this was one of those planetary-alignment rarities where we all had girlfriends at the same time. But for some reason we were solo, and I seem to imagine this, too, was something that just spontaneously popped up. Having nothing better to do, we hopped in one of our cars and drove to a nearby bar. Another bar in which I’ve never been to before or since *, though it was in a more urban setting than my pool-table bar. We sat around a circular table for three and the pitchers of beer kept flowing. There was a live band, which was cool, and one of my chums kept flirting with some chubby blonde chicks at an adjacent table all night. I don’t remember laughing harder than I did that night. And then – guess who comes in? Santa! Santa Claus blusters into the bar with a big rucksack and hands out all sorts of treats to all of us – I got a foam beer mug holder, imagine that!

This morning, twenty-plus years later, I’m doing groundwork for a 401k and financial retirement seminar for the employees at my work. I can’t help thinking how far behind I am in financial planning, how it seems like I’m in a big hole that gets deeper and deeper the more I try to climb out over the side. Hmmm. Is it any wonder I’m wasting time fondly reliving a couple of events oh so long ago when I had no responsibilities to anyone but myself and the only pressing urgency was to have a good time, however stupid and silly?

* Contrary to the nature of this post I never really enjoyed going to bars; still don’t. Over the dozen years after I became legal and before I got married, I probably went out clubbing or barhopping at the most a hundred times (out of over 600 weekends if you think about it … that’s but 8 or 9 times a year). And of that hundred, probably a quarter to half were at the local watering hole in town, where I could walk home from if I had too much to drink. The majority of Hopper’s nightlife episodes occurred in the late 80s and a brief but insane spell around 1994 or 1995.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

San Fran by 10

That’s my prediction. On paper, looks like a real close game, a toss-up to whichever team comes out wanting it most. But as we saw two weeks ago, it may just come down to whichever team comes out after halftime wanting it most.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. Back when I was thirty, me and the wife (then my fiance) lived down in Maryland for two years. I couldn’t root for the Redskins, so we became marginal fans of the relatively-new Baltimore Ravens. As luck would have it, that year they made it to the Superbowl and spanked my Giants.

But I still have a residual liking for them, whereas I don’t really have any feelings for the Niners. I don’t care for Ray Lewis – did you hear this is his last game? – but I do like the whole backstory of Michael Oher’s, and Joe Flacco is a New Jersey native. Jim Harbaugh proudly acts like a toddler in public, tantrum-wise, whereas his brother John maintains a more stoic outlook, so that’s another minor point in Baltimore’s favor from me.

So, while I’d like the Ravens to win, I think it’ll be something like

San Francisco 37
Baltimore 27

I guess. This one’s hard to predict.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Scared the You-Know-What Outta Me

As a child-of-the-70s kid who pored over scores of everything from science fiction novels to physics tomes, I must admit that

Much more than Star Trek

Much, much more than Star Wars

Much, much, much more than Battlestar Galactica

Much, much, much, much more than Close Encounters

THIS impacted me more than anything else:

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fruits of Labor

Well, been at the new job for a little over a year, and they rewarded all my hard work with a nice, big, fat raise. Woo-hoo! My first raise in, er, six years, give or take, given my spotty employment record of the past decade.

Anyway, seeing’s how the wife likes to treat herself annually when she gets her nice, big, fat bonus, I decided to treat myself in a similar fashion. But economically downsized; we still need to pay for this castle I live in and all the perks that go along with raising two children and providing for their needs. So I decided to spend $30 on myself.

Bingo! That means a trip to my favorite online bookstore,

I love ordering from this place for a couple of reasons. All the books are like a dollar or two. The shipping costs more than the book. Oh yeah – they’re shipped to my house! Every night I come home from work, I’m wondering if one of my books arrived! It’s one of the few sweet pleasures in my life. Don’t know if that’s pathetic or not, but that’s the truth.

So … here’s what I’m thinking about searching for this weekend, from most likely to least likely:

The Face of the Waters by Robert Silverberg. Read it twenty years ago, floored me, wanna read it again, haven’t found it in my bookstore rounds.

Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov. As I said in my top-100 reads post, the best of his non-robot stories. Read it as a kid, wanna read it again.

Invisible Residents by Ivan Sanderson. Don’t remember much, if anything, about this book, except that I borrowed it as a kid from the library and loved it. Cryptozoological stuff on one end of the spectrum, weird kookie stuff on the other. I think.

Roller Ball Murder by William Harrison. Short stories, the titular of which that 1975 James Caan movie is an adaptation. Read it as a kid, disappointed trying to read other stories in the anthology, but willing to give it a go as an adult.

Planet of Death by Robert Silverberg. How can you not love that title? Read it as a kid, wanna read it again.

The Monster from Nowhere by Nelson Bond. See entry above, except that I never read this, just read about it.

Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. His name raises red flags with me, but this whole thing could be just weird kookie enough to stimulate some weird kookie thinking in me.

I’ll probably pick up four of these, whichever ones I can steal off the website. Of course, anything of interest read will be blogged about.