Monday, January 30, 2006
When we were kids and would cry over nothing, my father would say, "I'll give you something to cry about." He never said what exactly, but it usually worked.
Not that there's a dearth of things awful enough to make you weep, but what is it that has the GOP ops wringing their hankies? The war dead? The wounded? The closing of VA hospitals? The corruption of otherwise good men by the twin whores of money and power? No.
It's the mean ole Democrats.
In the coverage of Alito's comfirmation, the news bobbleheads feel obligated to trot out some flack who will put on his ain't-it-tragic face and mention that the Democrats made Mrs. Alito cry during the hearings. They don't talk about Alito's ideas on expanded executive power, or his belief that there is no implicit right to privacy in the Constitution. No, they talk about Mrs. Alito's tears.
Those heartless Democrats. They made a woman cry.
This morning I heard Mary Matalin, GOP strategist and Cheney love muffin, sadly report that political discourse in America had degenerated into name calling. It's a shame, she said, that things have sunk this low. Then she called John Kerry "a clown."
But Dusty Rhoades covers all this beautifully over at his place. So suck it up and go take a look.
And quit your crying or I'll turn this car around.
I redesigned my web site and I'm not the most tech savvy critter. I thought it was fine, checked it in another browser and saw it was bollocks. So I'm enlisting your help. If you would click on My Web Site over there and run through as much of it as you have the patience for, and let me know if something isn't loading, or just generally fucked up, I'd appreciate it.
I owe you.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
My grandmother owned a mynah bird for 21 years. His name was Blackie (now you see where I got my mad naming skills) and he said a few dozen things in a voice that sounded like my grandmother speaking into a Dixie cup.
Blackie was a vicious bird. He would say, "I love you," lure you closer to his cage, and bite your finger with a beak-twisting, white-hot fury. Then he'd laugh like a bird possessed.
Love followed by pain. Good relationship training.
My grandmother lived on a narrow street in a dying steel town. Blackie learned how to honk like a car, sneeze, cough, imitate the Italian produce man's call of "fresh vege-tab," whistle La Vie En Rose, and ask "Do you want out?" which confused the hell out of the family dog. My grandmother loved that bird like he was her little baby.
By now, you're wondering why in the hell I'm telling you this. It's because we watched The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill last night. This is a gentle little doc about a man who befriends a flock of wild red-headed parrots. He feeds them, cares for them when they're sick, and patiently fields questions from tourists, even a guy who's a flaming asshole. I recommend this movie for the story, the birds, and the beautiful shots of San Francisco.
And remember, I love you.
Now come closer to the cage.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
After the White House promised that the president didn't know Jack Abramoff, the administration was shocked, shocked to find over a dozen pictures of the president up close and personal with the felonious lobbyist.
But they won't let us see them.
So we had to make one up.
My daughter brought home the first season of Lost. I'd never seen the show but I started with the first disc and several days later I shook myself from a video stupor wondering where that shaft goes, why Walt got snatched up by scurvy seadogs and how I could catch up on a new season that's half over.
But I have to ask, weren't any of these people in the Boy Scouts? Jesus, their survival skills suck.
And what about all those unnamed extras? The high school teacher with the dynamite personality was right - this is a clique. The beautiful people get their close-ups and agonize over turnip-head babies, urchin roe, Madonna smack, and a pharmaceutical supply so endless that the island must border Canada. Meanwhile, the extras mill about gathering wood and staring out at the horizon, wondering if that weekly check would be enough to pay a guy to rough up their agent.
Still, I'm tuning in. Someone pass the pipe.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Graham Powell has come up with an idea that will alert inveterate procrastinators everywhere when a blog is updated so we'll never have to question our freshness again. If you couldn't guess from that big-ass banner up there, CrimeSpot is the place, and I've added a little linky over there on the side for your convenience. Step right up.
And in true post-millenial, meta self reflexion, this post will go up as the latest from A Dark Planet.
Oh, now, I've made myself dizzy.
I'm trying to finish a novel, a ghost assignment that should have been done last October, so posting will be light this week. In the meantime, here's another cartoon from the days when I actually had the patience to shade a beehive.
Oh, and there's a very rough web site I put together for the band. Still needs pictures, some navigation tweaks, band dates, real bios and a few other details, but if you're so inclined, let me know what you think. It's here: www.twelvecentsshy.com.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Twenty-five years ago today, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president. The Iranians released the hostages. But the biggest news in our family was the birth of our daughter, Molly.
Life hasn't been the same since.
Happy Birthday to a smart, kind, talented and beautiful young woman.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Finally, the Republican Party has recognized my moral rectitude, my commitment to the President's never-ending wars, and my desire to stuff lobbyists' money into my pockets until my pants split.
Hell, I might even take up golf.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Bryon Quertermous loves show tunes. Ray Banks has an unhealthy obsession with Tom Russell. Dusty Rhoades would gladly be a groupie for Steve Earle. Duane Swierczynski knows all the words to In Heaven There Is No Beer.
I'm a sucker for girl groups.
In the years between 1958 and 1964, girl groups dominated the airwaves. Think Party Lights by Claudine Clark, Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups, or One Fine Day by the Chiffons. Songs written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier and Holland, Leiber and Stoller.
These songs celebrated teen existentialism, the highs sparked by the heavy chemistry of adolescent infatuation, and the unbearable lows of unrequited love. The Shangrilas gave us Leader of the Pack and the Ad Libs (that's them up there) sang about The Boy From New York City. The sheer joy of the sound makes me want to dance, and I do, like no one is looking.
I got my first transistor radio in 1963 and when I hear The Chiffons sing He's So Fine or Betty Everett do The Shoop Shoop Song, I am back in Catonsville Junior High with Martha Reeves, Darlene Love, The Crystals, and The Ronettes on the radio.
Only a year later, most of these girls would disappear, replaced by The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Kinks, and The Beatles. But for a few years, the girls owned the airwaves, and sometimes I just have to put those songs on the stereo ... and dance.
This is a Purple Heart. I have two of them in my desk. One belonged to my father's brother, a kid killed on Iwo Jima. The other belonged to my wife's father, wounded after parachuting into Normandy on D-Day.
The grinning asshats of the GOP disgraced themselves and this medal by shamelessly sporting Purple Heart band aids at their convention. These are the same people who claim to honor military service (as long as someone else's kid does the fighting). Now, I've been around the block a few times, but I'm still capable of being surprised by the depths of cruel, clueless hypocrisy that politics brings out in otherwise decent people.
Today I see they're going after another combat veteran. In today's NYT Op Ed page, James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy, takes a look at the swift-boating of Iraq war critic and fellow Marine, John Murtha.
A group called Cybercast News is questioning Murtha's right to his Bronze Star and Purple Heart. According to Webb, "Cybercast News Service is run by David Thibault, who formerly worked as the senior producer for 'Rising Tide,' the televised weekly news magazine produced by the Republican National Committee. One of the authors of the Murtha article was Marc Morano, a long-time writer and producer for Rush Limbaugh."
Rush Limbaugh, the guy who was 4-F because of a boil on his ass, and the Republican Party, home to chickenhawks like Tom DeLay, a man who said he didn't serve in Vietnam because minorities had taken up all the prime combat slots. That's right, those pesky minorities stole Tom's glory. I don't know about David Thibault or Marc Morano, but I'd bet good money that neither of them have been closer to a uniform than a Burger King paper hat.
Is George Bush and the GOP really this vindictive, this scared, this petty? Are they so lacking in basic decency that they allow their surrogates to attack an American's honorable service? These are the acts of bullies and cowards and they should be ashamed of themselves.
I have a suggestion for anyone who thinks this is just hardball politics. The next time you're in the airport, and you see a young Marine wearing that purple ribbon on his chest, go up and ask him if he bled enough to deserve his medal. Then e-mail me from the hospital and tell me how it went.
Tomorrow, I'll return to funny stuff, I promise. Today I'm pissed.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Stop me if you've heard this: Soldiers who bought their own body armor may void their death benefits if they're KIA. No joke.
But the Pentagon suggests that military families learn to laugh it off. To help, the Pentagon has deployed a roving drill instructor of yuks, teaching familes how to walk like a penguin and bubble "ha, ha, hee, hee and ho, ho."
Not as funny as searching the Oval Office for WMDs, or putting Purple Hearts on band aids, but you go to war with the jokes you have, not the jokes you wish you had.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the papers are full of deserved praise. This is also a good day to compare the life of King with one of his avowed enemies, my state's former senator, Jesse Helms. Jesse fought this holiday for years claiming King was a communist, a womanizer, and rabble rouser. If you can judge a man by his enemies, then MLK was indeed a great man. Let's take a look at the record.
A few quotes from Jesse Helms:
"I was with some Vietnamese recently, and some of them were smoking two cigarettes at the same time. That's the kind of customers we need!"
"That is why I fought against abortion and that is why if I were still in the Senate I would be doing everything I could to defend the sanctity of marriage."
"The big secret to winning elections is to get more votes than your opponent."
In 1984, Helms accused his opponent, Jim Hunt, of being supported by "homosexuals, the labor union bosses, and the crooks." He said he also feared the "bloc vote." Asked what bloc vote, Helms clarified, "the black vote."
For years, Helms championed the most repressive, murderous thugs in Latin America, including Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Raoul Cedras in Haiti, and Roberto D'Aubuisson in El Salvador. Confronted with evidence that D'Aubuisson directed death squads to murder civilians, Helms said, "All I know is that D'Aubuisson is a free enterprise man and deeply religious."
Helms also said, "My values and beliefs were imparted to me by loving parents, committed teachers, demanding mentors and wise elders."
A few quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
"The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
In one of his last speeches, King reminded his audience that "in the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives."
Happy Martin Luther King Day.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Kevin Wignall, author of People Die and For The Dogs, has started a serialized novel, Like Plastic. The first two chapters are up now.
Below is a quick excerpt from Kevin's comments about the new project. You can read his complete introduction here.
Friday, January 13, 2006
"The truth is what matters. It is what I should be remembered by, if I am remembered at all. Remember the truth..."
This was written by James Frey, a man who made millions telling people not to buy any bullshit and then selling them a giant load of pure caca de vache.
I wasn't going to write about this, as others have already written so eloquently elsewhere. Seth Mnookin in Slate, for one, Duane Swierczynski over at Secret Dead, for another. I hadn't read Frey's book and I am so out of it, pop culture wise, that Frey hadn't even pinged my radar until now. I've been too busy reading terrific books like The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen, People Die by Kevin Wignall and Bridge of Sighs by Olen Steinhauer. Inspirational memoirs are not something I care to ponder. Reformed drug addict? Good for you. Convict who's turned his life around? My hat's off. Do I care to read about your experiences? No thanks, but I might rent the movie. Unless Adam Sandler is in it and then probably not.
When I first heard about this, I thought, cynical opportunist, and let it go. But as the news came out and Frey went on TV saying no one expects memoirs to be true for God's sake, my gag reflex kicked in. This smug piece of pampered detritus couldn't sell this as a novel - most of the readers of this blog can share that particular pain - but then Frey passed off this self-aggrandizing purply prose as memoir and shamelessly went on Oprah so housewives could shed tears over his redemption and manly inner strength. The guy doesn't even have the decency to blush when he cashes those checks.
And it's not just the money.
We would all love to make Frey's millions. Hell, most of us would be happy just to pay the rent. But I'm not going to tell my readers that I'm the man with the corner on TRUTH, only to be revealed as a fabricating ass with the morals of a GOP lobbyist. Because, as Frey himself wrote, "The truth is what matters. It is what I should be remembered by, if I am remembered at all. Remember the truth..."
Let's hope the next time readers are tempted to pick up Frey's book they'll remember the truth and reach instead for some really honest fiction. Allow me to suggest a few titles...
Just in time for Friday the 13th! Fresh blasphemy! Kewl!
I know there are quite a few links over there, but if you haven't checked out Overheard In New York, you're missing cultured exchanges like this:
Guy: Did you hear that the dude who shot the Pope got let go from jail?
Girl: Yeah, and the Pope forgave him and everything.
Guy: Wow, I totally want to shoot the Pope now!
Girl: Yeah, he'd probably be cool with it.
I understand this actually happened and was not written by James Frey, noted memoirist.
And here's yet another firearm footnote. The Pope is wielding a Colt 1911A1 semiautomatic .45 caliber pistol, popular with Vicars of Christ for nearly a century. This particular firearm was manufactured in 1943 and is currently owned and operated by the author. Hoo-ah.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
First, Olen Steinhauer's mom over at Contemporary Nomad reminds us of something Ike wrote:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952
Then my brother-in-law, Chris, sends me this:
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." -- Herman Goering
And finally, from Mark Twain, this description of a politician he'd met:
"You could lay a trap in the night and catch twelve more able men."
Remind you of anyone?
There's a new magazine in town that hopes to fill the hole left by the quiet demise of Plots With Guns. Editors Bryon Quertermous and Dave White premiere the site with short stories by Anthony Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, Mike Maclean and Pat Lambe. They're calling for some hardboiled submissions, so toughen up your prose and send them something. As long as it doesn't involve tea or cats.
Dead cats are permitted, Mr. Banks.
As I've mentioned before, I'd never submitted anything to PWG. I was a Blue Murder man. Elise and David Firks treated me very well, buying everything I sent them including my recipe for The Blue Murder Martini ($50 and a T-shirt). Since Blue Murder shuffled off to wherever web zines go when they die, I haven't written anything in the short form that's worth a damn, concentrating on novels and paying the rent. I do have a rule not to write for free, but that could change. We'll see.
By the way, that's a great S&W 686 they put on their cover, one of the finest revolvers ever made with a trigger pull as smooth and constant as a good woman's love.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
OK, kids, it's time. Thursday is the debut of Twelve Cents Shy, the blues band that, with great patience and generosity, lets me play with them. I'll try not to fuck it up.
Showtime is 8:30. Steinhauer, Rickards, Wignall, Banks, I expect your asses here, front row. None of those international travel excuses.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
I post about books in New York. I post about a mummy in Cincinnati. Then I read this. I have powers, people, awesome powers.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Brown University's library boasts an anatomy book that combines form and function in macabre fashion. Its cover - tanned and polished to a smooth golden brown, like fine leather - is made of human skin.
In fact, a number of the nation's finest libraries, including Harvard's, have such books in their collections. The practice of binding books in human skin was not uncommon in centuries past, even if it was not always discussed in polite society.
The rest of the story.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (AP) — The mummified body of a woman who didn’t want to be buried was found in a chair in front of her television set 2 1/2 years after her death, authorities said.
Johannas Pope had told her live-in caregiver that she didn’t want to be buried and planned on returning after she died, Hamilton County Coroner O’Dell Owens said Monday.
Pope died in August 2003 at age 61. Her body was found last week in the upstairs of her home on a quiet street. Some family members continued to live downstairs, authorities said. No one answered the doorbell at Pope’s home Monday afternoon.
It could take weeks to determine Pope’s cause of death because little organ tissue was available for testing, Owens said.
An air conditioner had been left running upstairs, and that allowed the body to slowly mummify, he said. The machine apparently stopped working about a month ago, and the body began to smell.
True story: A friend worked in a record store back in the 70's. A guy walked in and asked for Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. My friend, a massive Beatles fan, happily showed the guy to the Fab Four bin. The guy looked at the cover and said, "No, man, I want the original. You know, by the Bee Gees."
And you thought High Fidelity was fiction.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Writers have to come up with more names than a fertile Mormon. Sarah Weinman even found an uncomfortable confluence of main character names in two different novels. That's gotta hurt.
This fall I gave the dubious privilege of having a forties-era hooker or pickpocket named after anyone who donated $100 to save my favorite bar. That's right, some people support charities. I supported a bar. I have my priorities.
How do you name your characters? Phone book? Ex-husband?
Friday, January 06, 2006
A friend of mine has a brother who swears he speaks Spanish, when in truth what he does is prattle Spanish-sounding gibberish. He says that his sister-in-law, a Puerto Rican, doesn't understand his Spanish because she's lived among Anglos too long. The guy's not brain-damaged, and in every other way except that he votes Republican, he's a normal human being. But he insists that he's speaking Spanish when he is not.
Now, if I put this in a story, I imagine more than a few people would say, "That's not believable." To those readers, my insistence that the guy actually exists would be moot.
In The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien manipulates what's true versus what actually happened until the reader has to consider what it is that makes a true story true and how fiction can be more honest than fact. He mixes fact and fiction so adroitly, constantly retelling the central story, that what actually happened no longer matters. The story is true to the time, the place, the people, and the event, even if it isn't solid, proveable fact.
We've seen reporters succumb to telling fictions to illuminate a story, and in those cases they've violated the Truth In Labeling law, if not the truth of the story. As writers of fiction, we have to draw on life for our made-up stories, and in my case, I lifted a real person out of my experience for a character in Panamanaian Moon. I changed little but his name, and he's probably the largest character in the book, much larger than the characters I made up.
So I'm curious, as storytellers, have you written something as it actually happened only to have readers not buy it? Conversely, have you ever made up a scene or character that is so real that your readers insist you took it from real life? If you use a real person, how much can you use without violating that person's privacy, or your friendship?
And what the hell is truth anyway?
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
So I do the right thing, go over to Swierczynski's place over the holidays and leave with this lethal flu, so maybe I wasn't rushing things with that obit post.
I'm sick as a dingo after eating Meryl Streep's baby so the posting will be light, but the forecast for phlegm and whining is high.