Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Annual Post Where I Get All Mushy Like Peas and Mashed Potatoes.

Once again, I have so much to be thankful for, including the people who read this blog.

No one makes you come here. No one quizzes you on the topics week to week, although that doesn't sound like a bad idea. I think some of you aren't paying close enough attention to my life.

And yet you return, and when life tosses the inevitable spanner and knocks your interlocutor for a loop, you give me a hand up and a dusting off. For that I'm grateful.

I'm also grateful for other people's hard times because without them, we wouldn't have email like this from a coworker's mom this morning. This is the whole thing:

Happy Thanksgiving! Don't know where you will be or who you have chosen to spend Thanksgiving with, but hope you have a safe holiday.

Hug the children for us. Love, mother

And another thing to be thankful for is YouTube because, on a whim, you can watch the great and greatly missed Mitch Hedberg. The reason I'm including this bit comes around minute 7:00.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving to all. See you next week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Welcome to The Planet, member FDIC.

I've decided to become a bank.

Don't believe it? Open an account and I'll send you a toaster.

Sometime, when I get around to it.

In the meantime, I will reluctantly be forced to charge you a handling fee, a storage fee, an accounting fee, a cash-touching fee, a free gift fee and a vodka surcharge in order to process your account, which you can rest assured is completely protected by real locks with keys, a barking dog and an old man with a .45.

Why, you may ask, would a perfectly sound blog (caring for you since 2004) want to become a bank just when our financial system is looking less like Hamilton's dream, and more like an Amway pitch from a guy who used to sell car insurance?

So I can line up for that sweet, sweet government cheddar the Treasury is shoveling into banks with abandon. And I'm not alone.

American Express, the credit card company, is no longer a credit card company. Now, if you please, they are a "bank holding company" so they can get in line for their share of taxpayer bucks. Now, you could argue that credit card companies loan money and banks loan money, so it's not that big a stretch to morph from one to the other.

But insurance companies are also getting in line, their hands out. All these hardened free-market capitalists need to do is buy an old bank or S&L and then they're magically eligible for a slice of that tasty socialist pie.

Some of the largest life insurers like the Hartford, are buying up tiny savings and loans on the cheap. It's probably a coincidence that just as the Hartford bought a threadbare Florida bank, they applied to become a bank holding company and, again, another conicidence, asked Treasury for their slice. So, by spending $10  million for a saggy old bank, they're now eligible for as much as $3.4 billion in shiny federal aid. It's like a bank hold-up, in reverse.

Another insurer, Lincoln National, is buying Newton County Savings and Loan (with a full-time staff of three people who will most likely be laid off before New Year's), for just over $7 mil. In return, they could get up to $3 billion in Bernanke Bucks.

Three billion could make Daddy's Christmas a whole light brighter.

So, from now on, I'm a bank, not a blog. And, as a Grand Opening invitation, send me a thousand dollars and I'll send you a free calendar. It'll probably be for 2008, but I don't care. I don't have to. I'm a bank.

Now where's my money, bitch?

An apology:

Sunday's post scared a lot of people and I'm sorry for that. I'm trained to hold off the resolution to the end, and for several paragraphs I had readers thinking the worst. That was unfair, and while I'm touched, and more than a little amazed that so many people care about my health, that was wrong.

So, I apologize and promise not to be such an insensitive ass in the future.

(Yeah, like that's going to happen.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Yesterday I woke up around four, got up to head for the head and the room reeled as if I'd been aboard ship for days. Still half in a dream, I figured it was just the unsteady foot of too much darkness and too little sleep. But deep inside my cerebral sponge lived the word - stroke.

Three hours later I awoke again, this time reeling toward the bathroom for a single aspirin. I said to Jenny, "I need to go to the hospital."

All the debaucheries, the drink, the meat, the late night rambles that have beached my carcass on this aging shore, swam through my head as Jenny drove me toward the ER. The fat that swirled throughout my blood became a living thing, and not merely numbers on a printout. My family history, let free from its resting place, swirled around the car whispering one word - stroke.

Kinder choruses sang optimistic caveats of ear infections and lesser dires. But all the angelic voices eventually spiraled down and, after clearing their throats whispered - stroke.

Without cataloguing my past, I assure you that I have been places and endured things that have scared me to the marrow. I have wrestled with panic and beaten it, and know that I have the courage, if not of the warrior, than at least as much as most men.

But that single word - stroke - scared me more than any outward threat I've ever known.

The hospital took me in quickly. It was early and the ER was barely populated. The nurses questioned me, took my blood pressure and made me comfortable. The doctors asked more questions, all while probing and tapping my corpus with trained fingers, listening for the untuned tympany of disease.

They whisked me into a mechanical room where they took deep soundings of my interior. The technician, an aspiring writer, plumbed my brain with rougher instruments and it was a welcome diversion.

In the end, as in all sappy endings that go on far too long ( think Lord of the Rings, a movie ending that overstayed its welcome like a broke in-law), the answer was an anticlimax. Vertigo was the word. The cause unknown, fitting for one who lives with mysteries. Tomorrow I will see another doctor, and quite possibly another on Tuesday.

Later, as I lay dazed by drugs, I spun around the TV dial and just as a fated roulette player who has put his last chip on double-aught sees it come up roses, Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak came up on the screen. How could I not watch?

It had been a while since I'd seen this movie, and remembered fevered pre-psychedelic camera work and Bernard Herrmann's usual high-drama Hitchcock score. I also remembered all the great shots of San Francisco. The movie, and the city, were a welcome tonic for an afternoon on the couch.

I learned that Vertigo was a flop when it came out and critics had an almost casual dismissal of the film. But later critics have taken a shine to it, some lifting it to the top of the Hitchcock canon. The AFI places it as #9 in the best 100 films of all time and tops in mysteries, a height that causes my head to spin a bit.

Or maybe that's just the vertigo talking.

Tomorrow, our correspondent drives himself to the doc's and to work, all the while hoping a cop doesn't pull him over and ask him to walk a thin white line.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Clothing the bones.

Wednesday night I was not in a good place. There's something really wrong with my ears, I don't feel good, Jenny's car broke down, work is stressful and when I sat down to write, nothing was happening.

No, that's not exactly true. Something was happening. Words were getting put on the screen but nothing felt right. The scene was flat, with cardboard people saying uninspired things. I felt like I'd seen this scene a gazillion times and I was just typing. There was no writing going on, nothing original was being said and the story was becalmed in a sea of noir cliche.

Part of the problem is the time frame of the novel. It's 1941 in Washington DC. Needless to say, I've never been there. So I have to make up everything. Yes, the streets are still there and I've done a lot of research on the time, but all the viscera of life, the smells, sounds and energy of the period is something I have to imagine whole.

So here's the scene: A man walks into a nightclub before it's open. He's stopped by a bouncer and asked questions. His boss overhears the interaction and let's the man in. You've seen it before. I've seen it before. And it probably won't stay this way for long.

But last night, I went back to it and suddenly the three men were talking, and acting, like real people, and it felt great. I'm still sick, my ears still hurt, Jenny's car is still in the shop and work is still stressful.

But the writing went well and that makes everything else worthwhile.

I've been doing this long enough that you'd think I wouldn't have to relearn these lessons. Some days are going to suck. Some days aren't. Some days you just write down the bones of a story and later, you get to dress up those bones with original clothing, and then the skeletons start to take on flesh and dance on their own.

I'm impatient. Beneath A Panamanian Moon came out four years ago. Other writers who had their debut alongside me, writers like our friends J.D. Rhoades and Stuart MacBride, are on their fifth or sixth novels. Not that it's a competition. I celebrate their success and try, in my own small way to support these guys.

But it does remind me that I'm not holding up my end. So I get impatient to get this manuscript done and out. I'm too slow and take too much time with the work. On nights like Wednesday, I wonder if I'll ever get this, or any other book, done and published. Then on nights like Thursday, I relax and just enjoy the fun of creation.

I know I'm not alone in this frustration. In fact, if you're going through some tough times, here's the place to vent.

That's it. No punchline. No revelations of epiphanies. Just a story of a writer writing. This is why movies about writers are usually boring.

So, in the interest of entertainment, I leave you with this great little dance. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A lazy man's post.

I've never done one of these memes before, mostly because of #37, but they also remind me of those giggling sex surveys we passed around in middle school (Have you kissed? With tongue?) that taught me how to lie boldly and without shame.

But someone sent this to me and I thought it might amuse while I recover.

So, here ya go:

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Yes, King David of the Bible. (Actually, I don't have any idea.)
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? This morning when I woke up and realized I had not been embraced by sweet sweet death while I slept
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I prefer cutting letters out of a magazine and pasting them onto the note paper
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Unfortunately for my daughter, yes
8.. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS No, I donated them to science.
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Depends. Which, coincidentally, is what I would wear to bungee jump.
12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? My strength lies in sarcasm.
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? If they look like they could lend me money.
15. RED OR PINK? Red, as in Commie Red.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My father.
18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Only if their answers are revealing, entertaining or embarrassing.
19. WHAT COLOR SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Red, as in Commie Red.
23. FAVORITE SMELLS? Baby heads.
25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? I’m madly in like with the person who sent this to me.
27. HAIR COLOR? Elvis black.
28. EYE COLOR? Red, as in….
30. FAVORITE FOOD? I am Omnivore, see me consume.
31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Depends. Which is what I wear watching scary movies.
35. HUGS OR KISSES? Inappropriate touching.
36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Vodka tonics.
37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? People with too much time on their hands.
38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Reverse of #37.
39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? Charlie Opera by our friend, Charlie Stella.
42. FAVORITE SOUND? Childrens’ laughter.
43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Depends. (Make your own geezer joke here)
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I have an amazing ability to annoy people.
46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Donora, Pennsylvania, a steel town with air so toxic it killed 19 people on Halloween night, 1948.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What happens when one lone jackass tackles too much.

Maybe it's the post-election blahs. I've got 'em so bad that news scorches my retinas the way holy water burns a vampire.

Maybe it's the full days here at work.

Maybe it's the novel I write after work.

Maybe it's this mysterious illness I picked up while traveling.

Maybe it's the nearly three years here at The Planet with a new post, on average, every day and a half.

Whatever it is, I'm tired.

Give me a few days. I'll be back.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to fuck up an industry, a city and a country, all in record time.

If you want to sabotage an entire sector of the economy, start at a time when the largest cohort of car buyers are entering their 20's. This is when they'll be looking to make their first big purchase. This is also when buyers will begin to form brand preference, even loyalty.

Then offer them crap.

Start with the Pacer, the Gremlin and the Pinto. You know, cars that rust right on the showroom floor. Forget reliability, style, safety and fuel economy. That's for suckers who speak with funny accents.

And if you are "the Cadillac of cars," make sure you coast on your laurels until your loyal buyers die off or are lured away by BMW and Mercedes.

Then, when good sense suggests you invest in breakthrough technology like you used to, roll out big ugly SUVs instead so you can cash in on those big profit margins. Sure, it's short-term profit, but you'll be sippin' Pina Coladas in Boca before the real feculence smacks the ventilator.

Along the way, make sure you outsource as much of the work as possible to places where they have no minimum wage or environmental standards. And don't forget to appeal to your buyers' patriotism with phony "Buy American" ad campaigns. Hell, the rubes will never know that they're SUV was made in Juarez.

Screw 'em.

Finally, as the city around you dies and people get wise to the crap you've been pushing for two decades, go on a last ditch quality campaign and complain when the buyers you so arrogantly fed shit all those years refuse to come back.

And when they don't come back, and you're going broke, that's when you appeal to the last customer who will listen - the government. And all the taxpayers who got stiffed with a rusted-out Fuckmobile will be forced to pony up for decades of bad management.

Thanks, auto executives. I didn't think it was possible, but you actually pulled a George Bush on an entire industry. Way to go. Make sure you give yourselves a big bonus on your way out.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unexpected things that end up changing your life.

Like the young man with the sign, a casual encounter convinces him that he'd really, really like a wing from that other young man's bucket and so spins his life in a whole new direction, one without a girlfriend or place to stay, but a fondness for those eleven herbs and spices that cannot be denied.

We all have them, turning points that, at the time, seem trivial, but end up taking us places we never expected.

The biggest for me was when I answered a classified ad for actors and joined a theater group where I met Jenny. That was nearly 30 years ago.

A few years later I was sitting in a hotel room in Cincinnati. I turned on the TV and caught the Maltese Falcon for the first time. I was 35 or 36 and had never read any of the greats. I had been taught, unintentionally in most cases, that mystery fiction wasn't worth my time, that I was better off reading Donald Barthelme and John Barth.

It took John Huston's Maltese Falcon to convince me that I was a bonehead. I figured (duh) that if I liked the movie that much, I'd like the book. And from Hammett I went to Chandler and McDonald and then to Dutch Leonard.

When I had the time and temperament to write a novel, it was my love of crime fiction that was my foundation.

Why bring this up?

Because this weekend, Jenny and I watched Gun Crazy. I had seen it before, years ago, but this was Jenny's inaugural ride with Bart and Annie Laurie. Man, I love this movie. (Jenny liked it, but doesn't have the same affection for it that I do.)

Originally titled Deadly Is the Female, the movie tanked on opening so they renamed it Gun Crazy, a title so great that it reminds me of Victor Gischler, the writer whose Shotgun Opera and GoGo Girls of the Apocalypse are the gold standard in great titles, in my opinion.

But, as much as I love Gun Crazy, what attracted my attention was the actor who plays the judge in the beginning of the movie, the seemingly kind judge who callously sends young Bart to a reform school for a little B&E. The actor was Morris Carnovsky.

Carnovsky's movie career was interrupted for a decade or more by the blacklist. According to his Wikipedia bio, he was one of the actors named by Elia Kazan for being a commie and because a free country can't possibly have actors with unorthodox political views in its movies, Carnovsky was banned from the big screen.

I guess it made sense at the time.

I saw Morris Carnovsky on stage when I was in college. He played King Lear. I had never seen a Shakespeare play before. Not one. I had read them, never really appreciating their greatness. But when I saw the action and heard people speak the lines, the scales, as they say, fell from my eyes. I was in love, and that love continues. Given a choice between seeing Lear or Hamlet for the hundredth time, or seeing just about anything else, I'll go with Big Bill.

Small things. Answering a classified, watching a movie, seeing a play, these are the things that make unexpected changes in life. And I love that, how seemingly inconsequential things can shape your life in ways no one could have predicted.

Think about the small things in your life that changed everything. And if you want to go public with that one time in band camp, or the time you smuggled hash in from Turkey, I'd love to hear about.

Talk to me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is Veteran's Day, a day I never get off from work, which doesn quite seem fair. But as my father drilled into us, "Life isn't fair."

There's so much I want to write about, but I have paying work, so this post will have to stand on its on.

If you know a veteran, take some time today to say thanks. No matter what they did, they raised their hands and swore to defend the Constitution, with their lives, if necessary. And that's something.

To the veterans who regularly read this blog, or to those who stumble across it while looking for something better, thanks.

And welcome home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This is why the GOP lost.


Please join Senator Elizabeth Dole and Senator Bob Dole at the Election Night Victory Party tonight. Senator Dole will hold her Victory Party at the Salisbury Train Depot located at 215 Depot Street in Salisbury. This event is free and open to the public.

For additional information, please contact: 704.633.0014

What: Senator Elizabeth Dole Victory Celebration

When: Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Time: Doors open at 7:00 p.m.

Elizabeth Dole became our senator by snatching Jesse Helms' seat just moments after the old sack of rancid goat entrails had vacated it. She hadn't lived in North Carolina since she was in school, was registered to vote in Kansas, and had lived with her husband, Bob, at the Watergate since the Cleveland administration.

But when it came time to represent our state, Liddy polished up her Tarheel bona fides by trotting out her ancient mother who actually lived in Salisbury. That's how our gal replaced Helms' saggy posterior with her much more ample tuchus.

By the way, Liddy Dole hates being called Liddy, which is why so many people call her that.

Since her election six years ago, Liddy's time in North Carolina can be measured in hours rather than days or weeks, and her interest in our state's problems was like the distracted concern you might show for the chronic bursitis of an elderly neighbor whose name you can't quite remember.

So it's no wonder she got that ample tuchus handed to her last week.

Liddy also ran a desperate ad in the final weeks of her campaign insinuating that her opponent didn't believe in God. That ad blew up in Liddy's face like a novelty cigar.

But what really lost Liddy her re-election was lame-assed campaign management, epitomized by this e-mail invite. No, it's not because they sent this invitation to a yellow dog Democrat. It's because of the time her campaign sent it:

Sent: Wed 11/05/08 3:12 AM

That's right. Liddy sent me an invitation to her victory party eight hours after the event was to begin.

It's this kind of incompetence that doomed the GOP this year, from the Bush administration's fuckups to McCain's erratic meandering, to the tone-deaf Bill Ayers ads.

January can't come fast enough.

Oh, and now that Liddy has lost her Senate seat, I'm sure she'll come home to live in Salisbury.

Yeah, like Bush is a cowboy, McCain is a maverick and Sarah Palin is qualified to be anything more than an Amway distributor, Elizabeth Dole is a North Carolinian.

Somebody pass me the barbecue.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


For the first time in a long time, the country will have adult supervision.

Congratulations to everyone who wanted this as much as I did.

To those who didn't, take it from a guy who's backed a lot of losing horses - you will survive, the country will go on, and the world will continue to spin. I guarantee, Obama is not as good as his supporters think or as bad as his detractors suspect.

But I think he's what we need.

The pile of ordure he's inheriting is so deep that I can't imagine why anyone would want the office, but I'm glad there are some men and women willing to step up, grab the wheel and try to steer this thing out of the ditch.

But let's think about that tomorrow. Today, my face hurts from smiling so much.

If you want something political to chew over, chew over this. Just how bad did George Bush, Dick Cheney and the GOP leadership have to be before a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could win in a landslide over a genuine war hero.

That's bad, people. That's bad on an olympic scale of bad.

I'm off on a corporate team-building retreat (oh joy) for three days, so the Planet will be dark for a while.

Play nice.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Let's try not to screw this up today.

I'm looking at you, Democrats.

I drove old ladies to the polls for McGovern.

I voted for Fritz Mondale.

Fritz Mondale, for God's sake.

I was there when Dukakis took his ride in that goddamn tank.

When Al Gore rouged his cheeks and sighed like an addled Gilbert and Sullivan ingenue, I hung in there.

When Howard Dean screamed and John Kerry spoke, I pretended everything was okey-doke.

So, tomorrow morning, I want to see these faces on the news. I'm not kidding.

I know Democrats would have trouble getting lucky in a women's prison, but there's no excuse this year. So make it happen, people. Make it happen.

Monday, November 03, 2008

OK, one more snarky post before Tuesday.

I took a trip north this weekend. Jenny and I drove up to meet a lovely German lady in an Obama button and to provide cheap manual labor for my nephew's latest home-improvement project - building the Taj Mahal in his backyard.

And we don't even speak Mexican. We thought trabajo was a car.

Drive the new Chrysler Trabajo!

While driving through the real Virgina, we saw McCain stickers stuck to big SUVs that got, in my estimation, about 12 MPS (Miles per Soldier). Smaller cars, driven with bigger dreams, sported Obama stickers and as we headed into the DC area, the land Joe McCain called Communist Virginia, we started seeing more Obama signs and stickers, proving nothing really, except that Joe McCain is a jerk.

Joe is John's brother, and you've probably heard that he called 911 last week to complain because he's cranky and he's old, although not as old as John. When the 911 operator asked if he was really calling the emergency line to bitch about sitting in traffic for 15 minutes, intimating that anyone who would do that is a flaming asshole, Joe McCain said "fuck you" and hung up.

Proving, once again, that 911 operators are shrewd judges of character.

Speaking of assholes, there's this story out of Michigan. (In fairness, Dusty Rhoades also picked this up over at his place.)

A woman named Shirley Nagel vied with Joe McCain for biggest asshole of the week. On Halloween, she refused to give candy to kids of Obama supporters. Here's from the Free Press:

As FOX2 News reported, Nagel planted a sign in her yard that read, "No handouts for Obama supporters, liars, tricksters or kids of supporters". Nagel, according to media reports, brought tears to the eyes of some of the young trick-or –treaters that she turned away.

Isn’t American politics great? Not only are the people you disagree with to be vilified; now their children are to be shunned? Forget the notion that reasonable people can disagree, politics is "war" and if a few children get caught in the crosshairs, well, what’s "war" without a little “collateral damage”?

Now that we've discovered a thread for this post, let's take a look at another Joe in the news. This is John McCain's new role model, Joe (not his real name) the Plumber (not his real profession).

As impossible as it is imagine, Joe the Plumber is an even bigger attention whore than Sarah Palin, soaking in his 15 minutes like a pig in manure.

Joe has become such a big celebrity in a campaign that once shunned the word that John McCain brings him up in almost every speech, introducing him even when Joe isn't there.

Supporters wave plungers in his honor, and considering the volume of feculence associated with Joe's rise to fame, those plungers are probably more appropriate than they intended.

What brought Joe to America's attention? One day, seeing a TV camera, Joe button-holed Obama and laid out the scenario that he was going to buy his boss's business (he wasn't) that would earn more than 250 grand (it wouldn't) and demanded to know how Obama's plan would affect his taxes (that he doesn't pay).

Obama calmly laid it out, assuming Joe was honest (he isn't), intelligent (he's not) and really wanted to know (he didn't). During the explanation, Obama used the unfortunate phrase "spread the wealth around," which McCain, being completely devoid of ideas, jumped on like a chihuahua on a goose dropping.

Joe the Plumber is just the latest Joe being pimped by the campaign, starting with Sarah's Joe Sixpack and, as it turns out, this Joe is just as genuine as the other Joe. Except this Joe has hired a publicist and is pursuing a country music career or maybe a shot at the Senate. What the hell, if that bundle of raw energy Fred Thompson can juggle two careers, surely Joe can handle both, too.

To bring this all back around to the beginning of this post, as we were working on my nephew's latest addition to his estate, I looked over at a neighbor's yard, where there was a NOBAMA sign and said, "I wonder if people like that know they're assholes."

My nephew said, "They should. Enough people tell them."

So here's to Joe McCain, Joe the Plumber and Shirley Nagel of Michigan. Three people who have worked diligently to make this year's Republican campaign smell a lot like ass.

It takes a lot to stand out in an election cycle, but these three have shown the grit and imagination to be True Assholes in a very crowded field.