Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One more treasure, then it's off to Phoenix.

First, let me say how much I hate moving. I don't mean it's just a hassle. I'm saying that it makes me seriously look at torching the house rather than pack up all this crap and schlep it to another house.

What stops me is we'd lose things like this. In that trunk we unlocked were these dog tags. They belonged to Jenny's father. I've written about him before, but it's a story that's worth repeating.

Bill was a young lieutenant in June 1944, when he jumped from an airplane into the darkness over France. His boots would be among the first on the ground on D-Day. It was chaos. The pilots, never having been shot at before, lost their formations as they tried to evade German anti-aircraft fire. They missed their drop zones and when Bill and his men did jump, they were scattered all over the countryside, some far from their objectives. Bill was cut off from his men, alone in enemy territory where he survived for nearly three weeks until he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp.

We have his medals, his CIB and his rank insignia, but we didn't know we had these, his dog tags, probably the most personal of all military items any dogface ever carries.

This is why I don't just torch the house.

Now, I'm off to Pheonix. When I return, I'll have pictures to share.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rush can't get Little Newt to stand for the national anthem.

So to speak.

I know, schadenfreude is such an ugly emotion, and yet, there is a certain breed of human lamprey that so embodies the concept of bad karma that it is incumbent upon the spiritually-minded to pass along this news as a cautionary tale.

Rush Limbaugh, noted champion of Republican Family Values™ was detained by authorities for possession of a prescription medicine. Viagra.

I guess Rush is going to have to change his network from Excellence in Broadcasting to Impotence In Broadcasting.

Now, I care more about Rush's rigidity on Iraq than I do about his lack of rigidity in the rack, but I am curious as to why Rush was in the Dominican Republic with a purloined bottle of Blue Pills.

It's not like the Dominican Republic is tops for tourists, unless you're looking for a little boots knockin.' I'm not saying Rush was down there with his chemical wood looking for little boys, I'm just saying that, according to a quick net search, that kind of thing is widely available to American men who, for some reason, can't seem to stay in a stable, monogamous, heterosexual relationship.

Hey, maybe Rush was down there trying to save those tykes from a lifetime of sin and degradation. Or maybe it was just an afternoon. It's hard to know.

Whatever his mission, it makes me sleep comfortably at night knowing that Rush, the golden-miked spokesman for the Family Values™ crowd, is out there living a life of virtue and good example.

But if I were a little Dominican, I'd sleep with one eye open. You never know when El Gordo Americano is in town, the pills in his pockets shook-shook-shooking like maracas.

Muchacho, are you awake?

(Don't you just love it when you can get a great picture to work twice?)

Did We Attack Someone Else While I Was Sleeping?

More stuff from my mother-in-law's trunk. As we peel back layer after layer of papers, letters, magazines, cards, catalogs, drawings, clippings, wedding announcements and pictures, we come upon this.

It's a big job, going through this house, tossing the effluvia we've accumulated in twelve years, and as we sift through it all, I also have the job, a film treatment, a screenplay, a magazine article and two novels to contend with.

Which means it's the perfect time to chuck it all for a few days in Phoenix. I'll see some old friends like Dusty Rhoades, who just got the news that he's short-listed for a Shamus, and I'll see some new friends I've gotten to know through this and other blogs.

If you're at Thrillerfest, look me up. I'll be easy to spot. I'll be the guy behind the giant smile.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Opening A Treasure Chest

I was going to write about last week in politics, a truly shameful and defining moment when Congress gave itself a raise but denied a hike in the minimum wage, but it all makes me a little ill. Instead of current events, let's do a little time travel.

My mother-in-law (that's her on the right in the spiffy little hat) never threw anything away. Anything. When we cleaned out her apartment last year it took days to sort through all the stuff. Lillian Vernon catalogs from the 80's packed together with newspaper clippings and family photos from the 1800's.

Yesterday, we opened a trunk we've moved around for years, one we've never opened because we didn't have a key. I broke the lock on this trunk stuffed with old newspapers, birthday cards, letters and pictures like this one.

This is a picture of Jenny with Jack Dempsey, the prize-fighter, in his restaurant on Broadway. Jenny had talked about this photo before, and wondered where it was. She remembers the picture being taken, having no idea who this big beefy guy was, just that he was famous.

As we open other boxes we haven't cracked in decades, I expect we'll have a few more surprises. Tomorrow, more treasure.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Gumbo Ya-Ya

Here's a bit of New Orleans to warm the chilly parts of Scotland.

This one's for Stuart, the Bearded Wonder.

Gumbo purists insist that true gumbo contain okra, and I normally stand with them. However, this recipe does not call for the divine veg yet is still so authentic it'll have you dancing second line and calling your neighbor Boudreau.

I warn you, this is a lot of work and just reading the ingredients'll send you into cardiac shock, but the work and the fat make this a true championship gumbo. I've tried making a lower fat version using skinned chicken breasts, and while my guests raved I said, fie on low fat and swore it would never sully my cast iron skillet again.

So here we go:

3-lb. chicken cut into pieces
Garlic powder
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 ¼ cups flour
Vegetable oil for deep frying
7 cups chicken broth
½ lb. smoked sausage (andouille if you like it hot, kielbasa if you like it milder. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you like.)
3 cloves garlic, minced

1. Cut excess fat off the chicken parts, rub the chicken with a light dusting of garlic powder, salt and cayenne and let sit at room temp for 30 minutes. If you use a lot of cayenne, this will be very hot, so I use a light hand when I know those I'm serving are sensitive to heat. I also use a light hand with the salt so it doesn't overpower the flavors.

2. Combine the flour, a pinch of salt, ½ tsp of garlic powder, and ½ tsp (or less) cayenne in plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces and shake until well coated.
Reserve ½ cup of the flour mix.

3. In a large skillet, get 1 ½ inches of the oil very hot and fry the chicken until the crust is brown on both sides and the meat is cooked. This should take 5 to 8 minutes per side. Don’t crowd the chicken, or add so many pieces that you lower the temp of the oil. If you have to, fry in batches. Drain on the Book section of the Times Picayune (or paper towel).

4. Pour hot oil into a Pyrex glass measuring cup, leaving as many brown bits in the skillet as you can. Scrape the pan with a whisk to get the brown bits unstuck and then return ½ cup of the oil to the skillet.

5. Place the skillet over high heat and when oil is hot, gradually whisk in the ½ cup of the reserved flour mix. Stir constantly. This is called making a roux and it is the heart of all gumbo. In 3 to 4 minutes the roux will turn a dark red or brown color. When it does, remove from heat and stir in the onion, pepper, and celery.

6. Return the skillet to low heat and cook until veggies are tender.

7. Place broth in a big pot and bring to a boil. Stir in, spoon by spoon, the roux mixture until it’s dissolved. Return to a boil, stirring often.

8. Add sausage and garlic. Reduce heat to a simmer for 45 minutes.

9. While the broth is simmering, bone the chicken and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. When the broth is done, stir in the chicken, heat through and adjust the salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over rice. Throw your hat in the fire. You're not going anywhere for a while.

Oh, yeah.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Finally, an answer to the question, WTF?

Knowing that so many Planeteers are from other, saner places, this might explain everything except how this fucking guy won the election.

Rock Me With A Jelly Roll.

This weekend we'll clean a little house, politically, but right now I want to recommend a radio station you can get anywhere in the world thanks to the 'net, and that's WWOZ out of New Orleans. Check it out here.

This radio station plays what you might expect a New Orleans station to play, but they slip in a few surprises just to make sure you're paying attention. Tired of Jack White's Raconteurs? Listen to Bessie Smith singing about how she's "wild about that thing." Wish the Arctic Monkeys would succumb to global warming? I got Ike Quebec in my ears as I write this.

I know you're an eclectic bunch, or I wouldn't be tossing you these pearls.

The city itself is still trying to stagger home after the double-shot of Katrina and bureaucratic incompetence, top to bottom. WWOZ is the place to hear about new places opening and bands coming home after being too long in exile.

So do yourself a favor. Put on some gumbo (you need a recipe, let me know and I'll post a great one), tune in and imagine New Orleans back on its feet with its juke joints and jazz halls, to go cups and powdered beignets. No place like it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Let Us Lift Our Gaze...

...and focus on Salma Hayek's breasts.

(I had a great picture of Salma's breasts ready for upload, but blogger said bollocks to that. What is it with blogger and image uploads lately? Fucking free blogspot POS.)

But back to Salma's breasts. This isn't just any story about those beamers of love, boys and girls, this is about the power of prayer.

Regular readers will remember that we reported on the lethal influence of intercessionary prayer. Now, it seems that a direct appeal taps into God's more generous nature, as it did when Salma prayed for a pair of divine Winnebagos.

As a flat-chested teenager in despair, she asked for God's help. "I went to a church that was supposed to do miracles and I put my hands (her hands?) in holy water and I said, 'Please God, give me breasts."

Ladies and gentleman, if you've seen Salma Hayek's breasts (and really, who hasn't) you know that if Thomas Aquinas was around today, he would amend his proofs of God's existence to read:
"It is possible to demonstrate God's existence, although not a priori (by pure reason), yet a posteriori from some work of His more surely known to us and what is more known to us than Salma Hayek's hooters? I mean, check them babies out and then tell me there's no God. Fah!"

For further proof that these are indeed blessed bazongas, there's a tribe in Africa that worships them. Yes, Planeteers, according to Weekly World News, the Mandinka tribe of Gambia, Africa, worships Salma Hayek's breasts. It started, according to the Planet's Paper of Record, when Chief Tuamanguluka arranged Desperado to be screened for the villagers.

"When Hayek appeared on screen, the Mandinkans were blown away" recalled a a remarkably eloquent local farmer. "Salma was breathtakingly exquisite. She gave off a force, a light, an energy that came right through the screen and entered our very souls."

In the years since, the tribe has arranged screenings of every one of her films including Frida, because of Salma's holy unibrow. "Salma's chest globes are magnificent forces of nature," one of the villagers said. "They are large and firm and perfectly formed. Whenever they appear on screen, it is almost as though they are calling to us: 'We're here. We're here for you. Take power from us. Let us be your energy force. Close your eyes and let us engulf you.' "

And haven't we all felt that way when in the presence of Hayek's honkers?

The Mandinkans even have a chant, but it's too ridiculous even to copy here. Really, don't even ask.

But the round-up of Hayek breast news is not over, Planeteers, not by a long shot. According to something I ripped off the Internet, Salma "wants to 'kill herself' every time she sees her breasts on-screen. Salma revealed those bouncing beauties in Desperado, the same flick that coverted the Mandinkans, but Salma says that every time she watches the love scene with Antonio Banderas, she wants to kill herself. I, however, want to kill Antonio Banderas.

And so we come full circle.

Prayer may get you what you desire, but you will live to regret it.

And we can assume that intercessionary prayer is still lethal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Look At A Dark Planet's Even Darker Workings.

OK, this is real navel gazing, but as a lot of you are bloggers, I thought we'd tackle the question of self-editing.

When I posted about shaving, I originally used fig. 1. But that pushed the post from one of a cultural inquiry into licentious territory, and that's not what we're about here at The Planet, at least not in public. So I switched it out for a safe and funny fig. 2. I still didn't feel completely comfortable with the topic, but I figured, what the hell, they can't all be about the Supreme Court.

Obviously, I don't see anything wrong with language, but the use of the first picture pushed us too far into heavy-breathing territory for my comfort.

So I censored my own blog.

(As a side note, I got more comments, off the record, about the shaving post than I have for just about anything else. Interesting. )

Sandra has written some revealing things about her upbringing and Bryon's struggles are played out in living color over at his place. It's one thing if you have a stated topic, like Barry's political blog, or Sarah's focus on crime fiction, but the rest of us fall into the shiny object category, more or less, so I'm curious, are there topics you won't touch? Are there things that are out of bounds?

What makes you uncomfortable?

Or, in other words, I've shown you mine, now you show me yours.

Monday, June 19, 2006

My family should move right along, nothing to read here.

After writing about the Supreme Court, fatherhood, and service to one's country, it's time I turned my attention to something really important.

Do you shave? Are you obsessed with treating your nether hair as some sort of topiary? And is my generation the last to let nature take it's short and curly course down there?

I wouldn't bring it up at all except that I was playing a party recently and knew no one there except other members of the band. During a break, I wandered into a conversation about shaving and waxing and I quickly got a drink and skedaddled back to the moral certainty of my fellow musicians. But not before I heard one woman say that men like it because they really want to be with a little girl. "It's creepy," she said. That stuck with me.

This isn't something I've ever had to confront. I've been married for 26 years, longer than this has been a cultural phenomenon. Back when I was dating, a woman who didn't shave had hairy legs and armpits. And to be honest, I thought that was fine. I don't like to shave my face and the idea of a woman shaving some place as sensitive as her armpits makes me blanch. Not to mention shaving the happy taco. Ouch.

I've heard jokes about this on Sex and the City and I once overheard a girl say she shaved completely. A guy asked, "Not even a landing strip?" To which the girl replied, "They know where to land."

Back to that woman at the party. Are men who like their women shaved closet pedophiles? How is this different from preferring women who shave their legs?

And what about men? The idea of a razor sweeping around down there in the close company of the boys is not a comforting one. Sharp edges and soft flesh are not a happy combination.

So I'm putting it out there. I turn to you younger Planeteers for wisdom and guidance. Is this creepy? Is this generational? Is this just another manufactured fad like nose rings?

Let's talk about hair.

Or shaved. Your choice.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day, Pop.

That's my father, Adrien, known to his friends as Terry and to all the people who worked for him as Mr. T. He's in his element up there, at a party, talking to people he didn't know and drawing out what was best about them. He had that ability to make you better than you thought you were and it served him well as a store manager for Montgomery Wards, 35 years in retail, loyal to the company until Mobil Oil bought out the chain and forced him into retirement.

In his retirement, he started a Food Bank and worked a dozen other charitable concerns. My father had two speeds: Fast and fast asleep.

He loved people. If he stood in a line for more than five minutes, he knew the stories of the person in front of him and behind him. I never heard him tell a lie to anyone and, although he was a drinker, I never saw him drunk. Not once.

He could shoot pool like the devil. He was raised in a steel town, and his father took him into those neighborhood bars and taught him how to hold his first cue when Dad had to stand on a box to reach the table.

When my mother was in the hospital he took me to a bar he'd found, one with a decent table, to pass the time between visiting hours. We pulled into the parking lot, full of Harleys, and I asked Dad what kind of place this was. He said it was a club. "They call themselves The Pagans, I think." When he opened the door, a dozen long-haired, leather-wearing outlaws shouted, "Terry!" He'd been there before.

Everything I know about being a good man, I learned from him. Everything else, I picked up on my own.

Here's what he taught me, directly and otherwise:

1. A man who doesn't make mistakes is a man who isn't doing anything.
2. They can take everything away from you except an education.
3. Marriage is hard, and nobody else's business.
4. It is possible to fall in love at age 19 and stay in love for the rest of your life.
5. Leadership is not a popularity contest, but if you're a good leader, you'll be popular.
6. Don't let the fact that you can't sing stop you from singing.
7. There's always something to do.
8. If you have a choice to laugh or cry, go for the laugh. You won't regret it.
9. Oil companies are run by lying, thieving, bastards.
10. Give even the biggest assholes the chance to not be assholes and occassionally they'll come through for you. Not always, but more often than you'd expect.

Thanks, Dad, for everything, but especially the license to make mistakes. I've used that one a lot.

To all you fathers out there, Happy Father's Day. And if he's still around, call your dad.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Knock Knock. Who's There?

It's the 19th Century.

The 19th Century who?

On the floor, motherfucker! Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!

The Supremes, with their new lead singer John Roberts, just crushed another bit of our right to privacy like a crack vial under the DEA's boot.

Before this new ruling, police officers had to "knock and announce" themselves before entering your house. But announcing that you're the police as you bust down a door is such an inconvenience.

The right wing majority (Thanks, President Bush! What a swell idea!) decided that if cops don't tell you they're cops as they break into your home, the evidence they find is still admissable in court, ignoring precedence that dates back to 1914 when the Supreme Court said that evidence seized in violation of the Constitution was inadmissable.

This is called the exclusionary rule, and in that 1914 ruling the Supreme Court said that without it the Fourth Amendment "might as well be stricken."

But last week the Supreme Court said, "Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, who gives a fuck?" Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, dismissed the 1914 precedent, saying it gave Americans "the right not to be intruded upon in one's nightclothes," and anyone who was worried should sleep fully dressed, like he does, he said. "On the bench it's a different story," he added. "Under this robe, I'm as naked as a newborn kitty."

Justice Stephen Breyer, noted left wing moonbat, dissented, saying that even a century ago we understood that when the police barge into our crib unannounced, it is an assault on "the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life."

Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Roberts, according to court records, nearly fell out. "LOL" giggled Sam Alito, the newest member of the court. Clarence Thomas pretended to sneeze, saying "Asshole!" which sent Roberts, Scalia, and Kennedy into renewed fits of laughter.

The New York Times editorial I stole a lot of this from said, "it is sobering how easily the majority tossed aside a principle that traces back to 13th-century Britain, and a legal doctrine that dates to 1914, to let the government invade people's homes."

Today, in response, came the right's answer to every erosion of our privacy rights. A letter writer wrote, "If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear."

So, I Googled wrong house raids and in five seconds came up with these:

A police antidrug squad overturned furniture, destroyed appliances and smashed a toilet into bits during a raid this week. Then the officers discovered that they had raided the wrong house. The errant raid occurred Wednesday at the home of Lloyd Miner, a 33-year-old construction worker, who says officers hit him with blunt objects, possibly flashlights, to make him lie down. He was held in jail for about five hours.

An unidentified elderly Horn Lake couple were hospitalized Thursday after police burst into their home thinking it housed a methamphetamine laboratory. The incident occurred Wednesday about 4 a.m., said police Capt. Shannon Beshears. Beshears said a heavily armed tactical force stormed the house. "It was the wrong house," Beshears said. A man and a woman — both in their 80s — were injured as TACT team members secured the house although no drugs were found. The woman received a dislocated shoulder and the man received bruised ribs.

Working on a tip, Chicago police raided the wrong house during a search for a gun trafficker. Jeanette Marsh says she came home from work to find police waiting. "I go inside, you know, because everything was a mess. So I was like wow, how can they do this?" Police say an informant gave them the wrong information.

LaDana Ford said she was awakened early Friday morning when more than a dozen police officers kicked in the front and back doors of her Robbins home, stormed inside and "stuck flashlights and guns in my face." Then Harvey police and Illinois state troopers ignited a "flash-bang" device in the family's hallway for diversion, searched closets for drugs, handcuffed her 13-year-old son and peppered her 7-year-old daughter with questions, Ford said. Then they realized they were at the wrong address. Ford said the experience was terrifying, and that officers refused to show her the warrant. "It was hard seeing my son sitting in his room on the bed in handcuffs," she said. "He's 13, and they wouldn't let me talk to him."

and finally..

A 61-year-old man was shot to death by police while his wife was handcuffed in another room during a drug raid on the wrong house.

Why was that 61-year old man killed? Because he thought it was a bunch of criminals breaking into his house and he shot at the cops who did not identify themselves.

Expect more of this. Considering how well-armed Americans are, expect a lot more of this.

If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear, they say. Let me guess if that smug asshole, so quick to give up your 4th Amendment protections, has ever had his front door kicked in by a gang of armed, violent men. No, probably not.

Welcome to the 19th century, ladies and gentlemen, where if you ain't rich, you ain't right.

Friday, June 16, 2006

If you're looking for enlightenment, you're in the wrong place.

I love Balloon Jesus, and I want to thank fafblog for it. If you haven't read fafblog, you should consider yourself deprived. It's right here. fafblog, ask for it by name.

Work has been soul-crushing. If I could have found my way to the roof yesterday, I would have tossed myself off the building and into the abyss. The reason they don't allow firearms into these cubicle farms has nothing to do with protecting you from other employees. It's to keep the employees from blowing their brains out before lunch.

I've got another long day today and a short-fused deadline this weekend, so unless something hits me that I absolutely must pass along, like more stories about teen underpants, the Planet will be dark for a few days.

Play nice and try not to break the furniture.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Today's Modern Army! Fun Travel and Adventure!

Here's White House Power Rangers Tony Snow and Dan Bartlett getting a first hand look at how soldiers live in Baghdad's Green Zone.

As someone who has tossed a lunch or two into my helmet, I'm not going to criticize Mr. Bartlett for turning a bit green. But from the look on Tony Snow's face, I think Mr. Bartlett has also learned a new meaning of evacuate.

Quick, somebody crack a window.

High School Superintendent Looks Up Student's Skirt, Goes Nuts

Like that's never happened.

And no, I am not above adding salacious teen sex in order to goose The Planet's numbers, so to speak.

It appears the barest glimpse of a young student's underpants sent authorities into a frenzy of white hot, page ripping fury. The photo appeared in the Phillipsburg High School yearbook (on page 224 for you pervs) and showed a female student wearing a skirt and sitting on a desk during a play, flashing a bit of underwear. The offending page has been ripped from the yearbooks.

"The picture was questionable," said the school superintendent. "But I plan to take it home with me for further intensive study."

Some students, including the Chess Club and the Phillipsburg Mathletes, were upset by the removal of the page. "Dude," said Barry Whitmore, president of the Computer Kings, "This is like totally bogus."

"First of all, people paid for these. Like, they belong to the students," Phillipsburg High School senior Katie Rockware told the newspaper. "They're like so expensive. It's like them saying, 'Excuse me, can I just destroy your personal property?' I thought it was like so ridiculous."

The yearbook is being reprinted, this time without panties.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Got a light?

It must be an election year.

Last week my mailbox was stuffed with breathless warnings about the dangers gay marriage posed to my own union, which surprised me because I didn't know Jenny was gay.

Now the bells of alarm are being rung over flag burning. We have to amend the Constitution! People are burning the flag! This has to stop! We're running out of ways to distract you, the mouth-breathing electorate!

It may surprise The Planeteers, but I attended a few demonstrations in my youth, even attracted the hard attention of the police on one occassion. But I have never seen anyone burn a flag. A doobie, a draft card, sure, but never a flag.

And that's too bad, because I'd like to see some asshole catch himself on fire, like that asshole up there.

One of our great American rights is the right to be an idiot. Without that right, we'd have a lot fewer people running for office.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Court Goes Chronic

Authorities discovered marijuana growing outside the Federal courthouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When reached for comment, Federal Court Judge John Simko said, "All right! 4:20!"

Alberto Gonzales, US Attorney General, immediately arrested the entire Federal bench and sent them to an undisclosed location. "We can't be sending the wrong message," Al said. "Think of the children."

President Bush added, "That was dirt weed, anyway, like that dime bag those Mexicans in Matamoris sold me when I was in the National Guard. You could smoke a pound of that stuff and never cop a buzz. Not like that hash we're getting shipped in from Kabul, hell, we wouldn't be in Iraq today if Rumsfeld and Cheney hadn't fired up the bong. Man, we were so toasted," the President giggled, "we didn't know what the hell we were doing."

Congress made it illegal in 1970 to grow any form of the marijuana plant by anyone at anytime for any reason. The bastards.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The hamster with the rabbit's foot.

Somewhere in Wales lives a hamster with a permanently puckered sphincter. His name is Mike and he narrowly escaped being mulched into a sticky paste of rodent goo by a monster machine built to tear washers and stoves into mangled little bits of twisted scrap.

The little guy stowed away on a pallet of trash that was fed into a giant shredder. There our plucky hero survived the Rotating Blades of Death and a Spinning Drum of Instant Abrasion before he was discovered by the staff, who to a man said, "Fuckin' eh." They named him Mike because Lucky Goddamn Fuzzy-Assed Little Bastard wouldn't fit on his collar.

The ordeal lasted around four minutes, which is six and a half years in terrorized hamster time, and left the rodent with nothing more than a sore foot and a nervous tic. He now lives with 10-year-old Liam Bull, whose father Craig works in the recycling plant.

"I can't believe he's still alive after what happened, but he's doing fine now," Liam said, "except for the explosive incontinence every time someone slams a car door."

To get an idea what Mike went through, go here and check out stuff (a BMW!) getting pulled in and pulverized by one of these machines from hell. As one viewer said, it's oddly satisfying.

To everyone but Mike, I'm sure.

A note on accommodations from one of our most accommodating readers.

Ms. Tarquini (rhymes with martini but after six or seven, what doesn't?) sent me this about the upcoming Thrillerfest hotels. My room will be full, what with the twins Eloise and LaQuaunda (they had different fathers - don't ask, they're very sensitive about it), but you can still find room at the inn according to our intrepid correspondent. Here's what she says:

"I almost choked to see what hotels they were offering as overflow hotels. The Phoenician is one of the most expensive in the city and the Pointe Hilton is great if you already have points, but pretty freaking expensive.

Here are two other possibilities. One is only a half block further away than the pointe and I've stayed in it myself. The other is 10 blocks further east than the Phoenician and five blocks further south, but at least a hundred bucks a night cheaper. You could rent a car for the difference and still come out ahead.

Does Thrillerfest think that everybody attending the conference is independently wealthy?"

Best Western Papago Inn & Resort. Rates From: $59.52. 602-480-947-7335.

Best Western Inn Suites Hotel & Suites. Rates From: $62.99. 602-997-6285.

If you still haven't checked in, check 'em out.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Ten Percent Rule.

When I was in basic training, my drill sergeant told us:

"Ten percent of you will be soldiers. Ten percent will be fuck-ups. The rest of you, the first ten percent will try to keep alive. That last ten percent, you better pray for Europe."

I've adopted that ten percent rule. Over the years I've noticed that ten percent of my work, whether it was music or writing, sucked, no matter what I did. On the positive side, ten percent of that work was pretty damn good. The rest of it fell somewhere between embarassing and not shit. (John Rickard's trenchant blurb)

This is my 200th post at The Planet, and it has been a joy. If my DI's ten percent rule holds, and I believe it does, twenty of those posts were pretty goddamn good.

Some of my favorites? Posts that cover Rusty Trombones, write what you know, the kids' school projects - from Benjamin's kayak to the kid in Florida who tested the ice at fast food places, How Not to Blog, Decline in the Death Rate and Pooping Our Way to Energy Independence.

You might be able to think of a couple of your own.

I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this place as much as I have. I don't know how much more I'll do, but I'll keep posting as long as people keep reading, and I hope that at least ten percent of you find ten percent of the posts worth your time.

By the way, that's me up there, back when smoking a cigarette seemed to be the least dangerous thing I could do all day.

Jesus, we send kids out to do men's work.

How do we know it wasn't fan mail from our friend Ann Coulter?

This certainly isn't the first time shit has been a part of politics. A few years ago, a Georgetown prankster left dog shit under SUV door handles, something I found highly entertaining, and then there's Karl Rove, a six foot stack of shit in a thousand-dollar suit.

But the coiled turds that decorate lawns from The Hamptons to San Jacinto are in the news again. Someone slipped an envelope full of the stuff through the mailslot of Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Pooville) where it went unnoticed for days, camouflaged by the corrupting stink of lobbyist funds.

Sending shit through the mail is nothing new. I've been on Jesse Helms' mailing list for years. But apparently the person who left this particular pile of poo on Musgrave's doorstep also left her return address on the envelope proving that, unlike the GOP, Democrats have no real talent for shit-slinging. The trick is, people, NOT TO GET CAUGHT.

Sweet weeping Jesus.

You know, this really is the perfect metaphor for US politics, and those of you who live elsewhere should count your blessings.

Incompetence, ineptitude, and big stinking piles of poo.

I can't stand it.

*Thanks to flat-lander for making it possible for me to steal that great cartoon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

When does Sam Brownback come out of the closet?

Senator Sam Brownback regaled us with a beautiful Leave It To Beaverlike tale of his very straight life as he took to the Senate floor and tried to convince the other senators that his very straight life would be in serious jeopardy, and giddy gayness would sweep the land in all its fushia fury, if the Constitutional Anti-Marriage Amendment failed.

I think that's what he was saying, but I can't be sure. Here's what he said, illuminating the debate in a way only Brownback can:

"On Saturday, I was at a wedding in Topeka at which my daughter was the maid of honor. I don't think I am too partial in telling my colleagues that she was beautiful, radiant--not to compete with the bride, but she was beautiful, and I was very proud of her."

So, now that the Anti-Marriage Amendment has failed, when does Sam put on the assless chaps and join a Village People tribute band?

And where can I find a picture of his hot daughter? The one he drooled over. Yeah, that one.

You are outta here.

Rarely do I celebrate the violent death of a fellow human being, but in this asshole's case, I'm happy to make an exception. Sayonara, pal. Give my best to the virgins.

On an even happier note, we have picture capability again. Oh joy.

Please help me, I'm blind.

For some reason, blogger doesn't like pictures and without pictures, I expect the president's attention will wander from the Planet.

What's up with that?

The pictures, I mean. The president, that's a whole other story.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Things that go bang.

If you wander over to Rickard's Mystery Circus, take my advice and don't eat the peanuts. But do read Steve Mosby's piece on guns. Steve is one of our UK friends, and as such, doesn't have the God-given right every free-breathing, flag-loving, third-world-stomping Amerkin has to blow his (or her) foot off with the sidearm of his (or her) choice.

I don't know how they stand it.

Over here, in the Greatest Country Ever™ we can pack heat to the supermarket and in Florida, if some crunchy granola type scoffs at the high fructose content of your Captain Crunchberry, you can blow her self-righteous shit away right there in the cereal aisle.

But I digress.

If you write crime fiction, the issue of guns is bound to come up sooner or later. How you handle it is up to you. Some writers prefer to ignore all but a gun's basic function. For instance, Kevin Wignall's assassin shoots people on a regular basis and has the good character to feel bad about it, but I don't remember a thing about his firearm except a hazy recollection that it was a semiautomatic. And I could be wrong about that.

On the other hand, Dirty Harry carries a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and can blow your head clean off, except that it's not the most powerful handgun in the world any more, but that's OK because he's Dirty Fucking Harry, so I'm not going to be the one to tell him.

If you write books like Stephen Hunter, you better know your guns, because his readers expect him to know about grains, riflings, scopes, windage and all the other things that go into lethal hardware.

I tend to work in the middle here somewhere. For instance, I can tell you what type of gun my character in the new book carries, and what type of gun he finds in his daughter's purse, but I keep it pretty simple. He carries a Colt .45 and she slips a a Mauser .32 into her handbag every morning.

You can write about guns and still keep it simple if you know a few facts. The Internet is good for finding out caliber, number of rounds, etc. Knowing how many bullets a gun carries could be important to know in a shoot-out, unless you're Hopalong Cassidy and can shoot the same six-shooter all damn day without reloading.

A few details might, or might not be important. For instance, that Colt .45 weighs nearly three pounds when loaded, which makes it a bear to carry all day. I know, I lived with one on my hip for two years and they'll wear your ass out.

On a more general basis, this all goes to how much research should you do, about anything. I'd say, if it's important to your story, or it can help identify something about place or character, then use it. If all you're doing is showing off, save it for the bar. I once ground a novel to a dead stop by showing how much I knew about sailing.

There's a really good example of this firearms business in the movie Ronin, when DeNiro's character is asked about his favorite gun. DeNiro says it's a 1911, which is the traditional Colt .45 semiautomatic. That answer tells us a lot about DeNiro's character, and the character of the guy who asks the question. Do you, as a casual film goer, need to know about the 1911 to get it? No, but if you do, the film is richer, and the exchange means more than if you don't.

If you want to write safely about handguns, here are a few general rules:

1. Revolvers are those guns with a big cylinder in the middle that hold the bullets. Most of the revolvers you see plainclothes cops or 40's detectives packing are snub-nosed .38s and generally carry five rounds. But if you have your guy packing six, you'll be OK.
2. The big semiauto you see in war movies and gangster flicks is almost always a .45. They load from a magazine pushed into the grip from the bottom. To load the round and get the gun ready to fire, you have to pull back the slide and then you're good to go. When the gun is empty, the slide locks back, making it easy to see.
3. Silencers only work on automatics because too much of the sound escapes from around the cylinder of a revolver to be effective.
4. There are no safetys on revolvers.
5. There are exceptions to every one of these rules.

But if you stick to these, you'll generally be OK.

If you do use a gun in your writing and you don't know anything about them, that's OK, too. Just don't use it as a pivot for a plot point or in an action sequence. Because if you screw a silencer onto a revolver, a lot of people are going to say WTF? and assume you don't know what you're talking about.

Or you live in the UK.

Really, what do you guys do when you get roaring drunk and want to let off a little steam in your neighbor's direction?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How can you tell when you've done something really fucking amazing?

They make you into an action figure.

Sixty-two years ago, Lt. Bill Nielsen of the 82nd Airborne dropped into France with the rest of his men and, for him, it was the start of WWII. It wouldn't end until VE Day.

Bill Nielsen was Jenny's father.

Thanks for what you did in the war, Bill, and thanks for Jenny, a great woman I am honored to call my wife.

In fact, I think someone should make Jenny into an action figure. Putting up with me for 26 years is nothing short of heroic.

Hardcore meets Hardboiled?

Here's a cover that'll grab your attention. According to Slate, this is the latest in what's been dubbed street lit (as opposed to chick lit, which this is definitely not) and, from what I gather, it's a mix of violence and porn which you used to have to buy two books to get so the reader saves enough money to buy hand lotion.

When I was in the service, we used to pass around what we called stroke books, which had zero plot, lots of sex and about the only violence was when someone flogged the bishop. I haven't read this book (and when did that ever stop anyone from having an opinion), but this seems to be a stroke book mushed all up with hardboiled noir, hence the author's name.

And what's with this name? Jesus, who would buy a book written by someone with Noire in the name? I mean, how obvious can you get?

But I digress. Here's what Slate says about this new fiction:

There is no shortage of inventive sadism in the pages of Candy Licker, the novel currently poised at the top of the Essence best-seller list. In the first chapter ... a 19-year-old singer named Candy Raye Montana is molested with the business end of a .44 Magnum.

Nice. But there's an upside. Apparently, Candy is a big fan of cunnilingus, and who isn't. Slate goes on:

...her first-person accounts of being pleasured rival the masterpieces of Penthouse Forum. Candy Licker's blend of vicious thuggery and raw sex is probably too harrowing for readers whose idea of steamy is Lady Chatterly's Lover. But it's a hit among aficionados of street lit, a pulp genre that chronicles the byzantine, Cristal-fueled world of pimps, hustlers, and the licentious women who love them.

Lady Chatterly's Lover? Damn, no wonder this book got Slate all heated. Lady fucking Chatterly? This is Slate's standard of steamy pulp? Oh my, Slate's got the vapors. Someone get the fainting couch. Really. Lady Chatterly's Lover?

Anyway, the article goes on to describe the true street origins of this stuff with authors hawking books out of the trunks of their cars which Jim Winter, Dusty Rhoades, me and John Grisham have all done with our novels, so WTF, why is that news?

They also say that "Advertising consisted mostly of handing out bookmarks to passersby."

And who does that sound like? Joe, are you reading this?

I could go on, but I have a job to get to, and since I haven't read the book I can't tell you if I think it's worth a damn. But I did check it's Amazon numbers yesterday, and the Slate piece put it in the top 1000, which is not bad. More from Slate:

At its finest, Noire's prose sounds like something that might spill from the pen of James Ellroy, had he grown up listening to Big L. Noire also has a remarkable knack for sexual invention; her description of a fantasy involving a jalapeño pepper and a strong-tongued suitor, for example, is nothing if not attention-grabbing.

OK, I like Ellroy and the jalapeño is hot, so maybe I'll pick this up on my way to Pheonix, get wood at 30,000 feet.

But Noire? Really, bitch, get your own fucking name.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Queer Eye For The Cynical Guy.

What's that smell? Since this is an election year, and the president's poll numbers show he's less popular than chlamydia at a No-Nonsense convention, that aroma wafting across the South Lawn must be the stink of cynical desperation.

Karl Rove is pushing Bush out into sunlight today so Bush can call for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, even though he knows it has as much chance of passing as my favorite bill, The Free Doobie In Every Lunchbox Act of 2006.

Yet, there he'll be, rallying his mouth-breathing religious base, promising to protect "the sanctity of marriage" and the "sacred union between a man and a woman."

I have a clue for you George, if Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, and Rush Limbaugh haven't destroyed the sanctity of marriage, I don't think two decorators in Georgetown are a threat.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't know where to start. But how about we begin with gay sex? People like Rick "man on dog" Santorum and the 70-year-old James Dobson think about gay sex more than anyone except gay men, and that's A LOT. They seem to be obsessed with gay sex and roll around in their public disgust until I suspect there's something more going on here. And I think I know what it is.

It's not gay sex. It's sex.

The same people obsessed with gay sex are also obsessed with teen sex, phone sex, video sex, solitary sex, latex, vibrators, sex with friends, sex with strangers, and just about any sex where there aren't tears and vomiting involved. These people can't stand the thought that someone, somewhere is getting righteously laid on a howlingly satisfying basis.

Now, don't get me wrong, the only time I'd be rooting around in Jake Gylenhaal's jeans is if I found him comatose in a ditch and I was rifling his pockets, searching for his sister's phone number (and if you saw Maggie in Secretary, you know what I'm talking about), but this fixation with gay sex seems a bit suspect, and taking a stand against marriage is a real mystery.

The right says that homosexuality isn't natural, well, I got news for you, buddy, neither is monogamy. They say it's outlawed in The Bible and yeah, there's a lot of crap in The Bible we gloss over in 21st Century America, including divorce, shellfish and slavery. They say homosexuality can be cured. I say, let's cure bigotry first and we'll work our way up from there.

How about this simple rule? You don't like homosexual marriage? Then don't marry one.

So today, as Bush backs his anti-marriage amendment, you can think about the naked cynicism involved, or you can do what I'm going to do.

I'm going to think about sex.

And if Maggie Gylenhaal's naked derriere pops into my head, that'll be between me and Jesus.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bow down, mortals, for you are in the presence of greatness.

Not just any great man, but a true god of commerce, a deity of the almighty dollar, a demiurge of dinero, in the pantheon of capitalists like Jack Welch and Warren Buffet.

See that thing up there? That crystal phallus isn't handed out willy nilly like condoms at the free clinic, partner. You have to earn that baby. Because that coveted objet d'art is awarded only to those who have returned the right surveys, checked the right boxes and appeared on the right lists. For this, ladies and gentlemen, is the award for

National Republican Congressional Committee
Business Advisory Council's
Businessman of the Year
That's right. And it came addressed to a guy so broke at the end of 2005 that he couldn't pay attention. A guy so broke that he couldn't change his mind. A guy so broke that a dollar once jumped from his pocket because it was tired of being alone.
That guy is me. The Republican Businessman of the Year.
You can write your own jokes here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I made this man laugh.

This man is Anthony Neil Smith and he's out on the hustings, doing the book promotion thing for his new novel, The Drummer.

Duane Swierczynski held a contest yesterday, asking for questions to pose to the esteemed Mr. Smith and I, being frustrated at work, gathered round Duane's medicine tent with the rest of the rubes and tossed off a few drummer jokes every musician knows by heart.

Duane showed them to Mr. Smith, he laughed and voila, I won an autographed copy of The Drummer, which is like the coolest thing to happen to me since Becky Knudson climbed up the tree in her school dress and we could all see her underpants.

Thank you, Mr. Swierczynski and Mr. Smith. This sure made up for a truly crappy week.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I promise, as God is my witness, this story is kosher.

OK, another New York story.

I graduated from DuBois High School in DuBois, Pennsylvania, a place where being ethnic meant you were Polish, maybe Lithuanian. I go to New York and get a job in a boiler room which, for those of you who don't know, is a small hot room filled with phones on long counters. Men, shoulder to shoulder, would dial all day, calling businesses, wheedling money with scams like this one, selling ads in the Police Athletic League yearbook. This yearbook would be published, otherwise this would be illegal, but it will never be distributed. Every volume, I'm sure, still rests in a warehouse somewhere in New Jersey.

I'm 18, a kid from the backwoods (DuBois was two hours from the closest city and that city was Altoona), and I'm working with all these middle-aged New Yorkers, honking their New York honk into phones, hunched over legal pads and lists, stacks of lists, of every business number in Manhattan.

It's lunch. My first day. The older guys, protective of the kid, take me down the street to my first kosher deli. I'm 18. I scan the menu. I see pastrami. Now, I've heard of pastrami, but being from DuBois, I've never actually had pastrami.

The waitress comes over, pulls the pencil from behind her ear and asks what we'll have. My turn. I order a hot pastrami on rye. The waitress asks, "Something to drink?" I order, in a kosher deli, a glass of milk.

The waitress says, "No."

I ask, making things even worse, "Are you out of milk?"

She says, "No."

The middle-aged men sigh a collective sigh for this goy from Pennsylvania and one man says, "We'll explain. Bring him a Doctor Brown's."

To this day, when I go into a deli, I get the Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray. I know, some people swear by the Cream Soda, but I go for the Cel-Ray every time. And when I take that first sip I'm 18 again, a kid from the sticks, with a whole world of things to learn.

Happy Birthday


I'm a sucker for women with sad stories and there's so much about Marilyn that draws me in.

She embodies all those questions about ambition and the arts, selling who you are versus selling what you do, confusing another's admiration and acquisition for love, all that really tangled crap that makes life so goddamn complicated, and so goddamn interesting.

I named one of my characters Marilyn for all these reasons and a few dozen more my analyst could list if I had an analyst.

For that, I want to say happy birthday, Marilyn.

And thanks.

Things would have been a lot less interesting if you hadn't stopped by.

Tales of the City.

No, I'm not blowing you off with another lift from Overheard In New York. But I will start with this:

Tourist guy: Excuse me, do you work here?
Uniformed employee: Yes...
Tourist guy: Oh good. Is this Central Park?
Uniformed employee: No, this is Dale and Thomas Popcorn.
Tourist guy: Oh, well the bus guide said this was it. Where is it?
Uniformed employee, pointing north: Just walk that way.
Tourist guy: Well that's not much help, how the hell am I supposed to find it?
Uniformed employee: Oh trust me, you'll find it.
Tourist guy: HOW?
Uniformed employee: IT'S A BIG FUCKING PARK!
--Dale and Thomas Popcorn, 48th & Broadway

Sometime in the mid-80's, I fly into Newark, take the shuttle to Port Authority and catch a cab from there. I tell the driver, a man named Xrhdtpzychntp, my hotel and he looks puzzled. I tell him it's on Central Park South and he nods, says OK, and we're off, heading north on Eighth.

I look at a script I was directing that afternoon, check the time I have to be at the studio, you know, gearing up for work. I look up and we're cruising through Columbus Circle. I say, "Hey, Xrhdtpzychntp, you missed your turn."

He says, No, he's taking me to Central Park South.

I tell him he's just passed Central Park South.

He insists he knows where he's going. INSISTS.

I point in the direction we're going and say, "Do you know we're heading north?"

He says he does.

I point to Central Park on our right and say, "See that big fucking green thing? Do you know what that is?"

He says nothing. He's steamed.

I tell him, "THAT, my friend, is Central Park. So, if we're heading north and that's Central Park that means we're going the wrong way and you have to turn this fucking cab around and go south until you see the statue of Columbus again and then you turn fucking left and THAT will be Central Park South."

Surprisingly, he didn't turn right and drown us both in the reservoir.

I have other New York cab stories, but they require alcohol and time, neither of which I have today at work. And no one is more disappointed about that than I am.

But if you're so moved, tell us a New York story. If you've been there, you've got at least one.