Friday, May 30, 2008

I hereby officially declare June to be Donald Westlake Month

Ten years and one month ago I read my first novel by Donald Westlake, Castle In The Air. It was a convoluted, intelligent, humorous, intricate, stupifying tale of various groups attempting to steal an entire castle. While not revolutionary it was a very enjoyable and entertaining read so I immediately followed up with Smoke, a burgler turned invisible man premise. The summer went by and I dabbled with other authors, returning again in the fall to read God Save The Mark, a book written by Westlake in the late sixties. Hmmm... this guy is pretty good so I tried Adios, Scheherazade from the same period and found a favorite author.

Adios, Scheherazade is a semi-autobiographical first person story of a guy who is way past his deadline in writing his next smut book, causing him to be on the run from his editor, his angry wife (writing pulp is lucrative and they've gotten used to the money but he simply can't bring himself to do it anymore) and his brother in laws. Along the way he compulsively writes wherever he can, the most memorable being in a department store at their typewriter display where he tries to start a "smut" chapter that hilariously breaks down. And for book about "smut" you can be assured that Adios, Scheherazade is 100% smut free!

Since that time I've read a total of FIFTY Westlake books, both under his own name and under many of his pseudonymns: Richard Stark, Samuel Holt, Tucker Coe... I'm sure there are others. At last count I still have sixty-one novels left to read. Yes, the man has written over 110 novels. And they are amazingly consistent! Only one of the fifty I've read was mediocre. All the rest were very good to excellent. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, Stephen "retread" King!

Do yourself a favor and pick up a Westlake book at your nearest library. There are a number of novels about Dortmunder, a likable, non-violent thief whose ingenious plans always go wrong. Or if you're feeling darker go for anything written under the name Richard Stark - they're hardboiled crime novels that almost read themselves. Anything (other than Sacred Monster) with the Westlake name on it is sure to enrich your summer reading!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hands Down - Weirdest Dish Washing Ever

It started with an amazingly stronge sense of deja vu. "No biggie," I thought. "I'm just washing the same set of dishes and cups that I've washed hundreds of times* before and will wash (God willing) hundreds of times again."

Then came an elusive but nagging memory that teasingly bobbed at the surface but refused to show more than a few disjointed fragments no matter how hard I tried. As of this writing even what I could bring forth is gone.

Finally came an overwhelming sense of loss concerning friendships. Nothing is amiss in my life at the moment so I'm hoping it's not deja vu in reverse.

In the end it was back to the dishes with my brain a soggy slurry of incoherent memories and confused emotions.

From all this you'd think *I* was the one who was pregnant!

* May I point out that my wife does LOADS of dishes. We've been in this house over three years so even if I only did dishes twice a week during that time it would be in the hundreds.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


My wife spoke with one of her favorite librarians last night and got the details on why our library changed the hold process: Compact Discs.

It seems that it is not uncommon for employees to spend four hours pulling compact discs to fill holds. It's also not uncommon for people to have 100 or more compact discs on hold (especially from the Aboite area, though I'm not exactly sure why). There's even one patron who has, and I quote, "much more than one hundred" CDs out at any given time.

So it's obvious that they are ripping these CDs, possibly for profit, and abusing the system. What irks me is that the library has identified the problem and instead of focusing on fixing the problem instead issues a blanket policy that affects homeschoolers. They already have a policy where you cannot place holds on 3-Day DVDs and you are limited to checking out six at a time. If Compact Discs are the problem why not have a similar policy?

BAH! HUMBUG! Contact your local librarian and give 'em an earful!

Monday, May 26, 2008

More Frug

My very pregnant wife and I watched an episode of The Frugal Gourmet over the weekend and while it was enjoyable to revisit a childhood icon there were a number of things that rubbed us the wrong way. And so... please indulge this rant.

Jeff Smith is a very friendly and entertaining man. He makes you feel like a welcome guest.

Now for the bad.

The man is a pompous egalitarian! He continually slammed on America while praising other cultures. "They do this so well over there while we Americans, well, we just get it all wrong." I'm not saying that Americans do everything or even most things right but this constant harping during a twenty-five minute episode reminded me that he frequently did this on his show. In a show about food this left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Mr. Smith would also say things like, "The best dessert is to sit in Greece with a cup of espresso and a hard cookie. DeLIGHTful!" The phrase "You simply MUST go to [insert country name here]" occurred many times during the show. How many Americans can afford to go to Europe simply to sample the native cuisine? How out of touch is that?

The final mark against the man was the implicit "frugal" of the title. Every recipe called for rare and expensive ingredients. "I brought this back from Spain... simply WONderful!" Kids, have you seen the price of arugula these days? Even if I could afford to make these dishes only one of the fifteen or so he presented actually sounded good. A whirlwind of international dishes? Check. A cavalcade of delights for the mouth? NEGATIVE!

In a nutshell, Mr. Smith, with his out of touch elitist America bashing was a perfect match for PBS. I bid you peace.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Things I Learned At 12:17 A.M.

1- My son Matthew really liked dinner last night. He ate a LOT of it.
2- My son Matthew needs to chew his food better.
3- My son Matthew can make a bathroom look like a scene from a horror movie.

I just stood there looking at the mess and wondering even where to begin. It was a wonder of completeness. Floor - check. Rug- check. Walls 1, 2, and 3 - check. Tub- check. Shower curtain - check. Base of toilet - check. Cabinet - check. I'm half wondering if he was doing his impression of a lawn sprinkler or if his head really was spinning.

In less gastronomic news, across from the courthouse there are poles with a plethora of ribbons: pink, purple, and yellow. I think this whole ribbon thing is getting out of hand. In fact if you want to join me in protesting the proliferation of ribbons feel free to tie a dark green ribbon around the ol' oak tree.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Candidate Confusion

Confused about which candidate to vote for in the upcoming election? Just memorize this handy-dandy guide for easy voting!

I will unfortunately only look at the top three candidates. While the smaller-party candidates hold positions closer to the majority of the American people they do not hold positions favored by those in power (business, media, politics, you name it). Paranoid? You betcha!

Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton
She will sell this country down the river (or to China or the highest bidder) as long as she makes a buck off the deal.

Mr. Barrack Hussein Obama
Hates America. So does his wife. They'll sell this country down the river just for the sheer joy of it.

Mr. John McCain
Will back any idea as long as it gets him attention from the media. Won't intentionally sell the country down the river (what does that mean, anyway) but it'll happen anyway.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Snarky But Creative

There is a story over on WANETV about how schools are faring one year after being crushingly defeated in their bid to get a few hundred million dollars from tax payers. Read the article in its wonderful entirety if you want. I had me some thoughts:

They are bemoaning that students have to sit in the halls for extra assistance. "You can hear other people working." Yep. Same as where I work, three other guys within ten feet of me and I have it good compared to the call center. "We have kids in learning spaces that aren't really learning spaces," sez FWCS Superintardent Wendy Robinson. In my book a learning space is any place where learning occurs. "Sorry... can't learn at the moment as the official learning space is being used by polar bears."

However despite having tables along one wall they are able to evacuate the school in 45 seconds. KUDOS!

They clearly state that the problem isn't overcrowding. In fact there were more students enrolled when the school was built than there are now. What has changed are the level of students with "special needs" which somehow dictates that they need more space for less kids to learn less than they used to learn. Me got A.D.D. so me needs more square feet. YES!

The school in question doesn't have separate rooms for music, art, and book storage (?!?!?). I'm a big fan -o- the arts so I really wish they had a room each for music and art, and a special little closet for book storage. But this is the way the school was built and they didn't include it then so why is it an issue now (and why does it bring to mind the Einsteins at uber-liberal Columbia University that designed a library but didn't account for the weight of the books)? Since there are less students why not (gasp) free up one room? Obviously I just don't understand. I am callous and stricken with severe sarcasm.

However despite lack of space they have come up with creative ways to deal. There's lots of creativity going on. "We obviously have to be creative in order to make use of the space we have," said Principal Smith, about the art/music/book room. "I have to be real creative as far as making my gym schedules so that we have time to eat lunch," said Principal Smith about the combination gym/cafeteria. I would also suggest being creative and purchasing a thesaurus. Yeah... that was mean and low. It was also malicious and underhanded. I'm sorry. And apologetic. And remorseful. I'm also sitting in a windowless room with three other guys so I'm a bit edgy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Library Census

Our library system recently changed their policies... no more than five holds per card member at one time and instead of ten cents a day in fines it's now twenty-five cents per day per item. That's a 150% increase for those of you who slept through math class. The biggest thing, though is the holds as it affects my wife and homeschoolers all across this fruited county. Yeah, I suppose we could start putting holds on the kids' cards but then there's an increased risk of missing due dates and getting hit with those massive fines. They say they made the change because of budgetary reasons and recent changes in property taxes. Of course their budget deficit has nothing to do with recently building a massive downtown library and upgrading each and every local branch.

I work downtown I visit the library at least twice a week so today I decided to do an audit, walking through every area and finding out how many employees I could see. It was fairly typical of what I've come to notice. Unless otherwise noted all were staring at a computer monitor with that "I'm surfing" look. The time was between 12:30 and 12:45.

2 employees at the Readers Services desk
1 at the non-profit corner
2 at the general reference desk
2 in the childrens area
1 in the PC room
1 in the business and technology area ACTUALLY ANSWERING A QUESTION!
2 in the teen area (one surfing, one helping)
2 in the Movie/Audio area*
2 in Geneology
1 in Arts
2 at the checkout area, one helping, one surfing
3 in the glass area behind the main checkout area, checking in books
1 looking secretarial just inside the "Employees Only" area.
2 guards, one at each door, both looking near death
3 janitors (two of which were standing and talking to each other)
3 reshelvers (one in the kids area, one in geneology, and one in the business area)

To be fair, on my way out I noticed three employees who had previously been sedentary were now assisting others. I'm sure I missed a bunch as I didn't go into the TV studio or non-public areas. Adding them up, one gets a whopping 30 employees (insert The Count's thunder), BWHA HA HA HA!

I'm just wondering how cutting a few reshelving jobs while keeping an army of immobile librarians is going to cut costs. It's not as if they were already operating at lightening speed... last summer I thought I may have tucked a prescription into a book that I just turned in. No problem, I'll just go to the stacks the next day and check. Except that the book hadn't been reshelved yet. In the end it took a full seven days for the book to be checked in and placed on the shelf about a thirty-second walk from when I turned it in. That's government efficiency!

* The people who work in the DVD/CD area always seem to be bustling. Today there was one checking out and another shelving movies. When I passed later both were shelving.

Monster Cellos

I realized that I haven't written about music lately. GASP! After a conversation with the Night Owls I thought I'd write about one of a series of albums that changed the way I thought about music. This time out: Space In Your Face by Galactic Cowboys.

My first experience with The Galactic Cowboys was a frustrating one. They were supposedly musical cousins to King’s X, one of my favorite bands at the time. They even had the same manager/producer. I preordered their debut album and had to suffer a month past the release date to actually get my hands on it (durned slackers at the local record store). And it was heavy. Way too heavy for me. And a bit sludgy. But after a few listens the strong melodies got to me and suddenly the guitars didn’t seem as heavy as before.

Space In Your Face, their second album, was released the summer after I graduated from college. It was sonically much sweeter than its predecessor. Gone was the sludge, allowing the rich four part vocal harmonies and power pop candy melodies to really shine. However it was still massively heavy, causing a roommate at one point to wonder how I could listen to such heavy music and then turn around and enjoy the light fare of Keith Green.

And listen I did. This album captured my imagination all that summer and beyond and with good reason. Everything the first album did well this one did better. “Blind” had intelligent but strongly Christian lyrics set to incredibly rich and complex vocal harmonies. “Circles in the Fields” and “Where Are You Now?” had humor in spades. “You Make Me Smile” and “I Do What I Do” were perfect examples of glistening power pop with a triple dose of power. “If I Were A Killer” took the pro-life/anti-abortion debate over the line and back. They even threw in a progressively twisted rhythm finale in the form of “Still Life of Peace”, which is to this day one of my favorite songs. Let’s examine it, shall we?

“Still Life if Peace” opens with an upbeat, rugged, gutsy rhythm of big guitars. What is that? Tabula and sitar? Indeed it is! The song backs off in the verse to these two instruments backing a tapestry of vocal harmonies punctuated by blasts from drums and bass. After two verses the rhythm kicks back in for a brief instrumental passage topped with a sitar solo… but there’s another instrument doubling the sitar part. Violin? Viola? A CELLO! Eight bars of stuttered 3/4 time bring on a brief carnival atmosphere but is gone quicker than cotton candy on the tongue, replaced by a guitar solo over the main rhythm that drops back into the 3/4 part for a measure or two when it feels like it, building to a speed metal riff that also alternates with the 3/4 part. Then the song backs off for another verse and the cello comes in full force, ebbing and groaning, filling the spaces with a chilling, slippery melody unlike any cello part you’ve ever heard. More main riff, more 3/4 carnival, more main riff but with the cello sawing away, then the entire band (with cello) building up the speed metal riff to a crescendo. When you heart stops pounding hit the repeat button.

The band went on to release a total of seven albums before amicably parting ways in 2000. Each album is good in it’s own way but none reach the lofty heights of Space In Your Face.

If they sound this good live, imagine their perfection on a studio album!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hats and Hearts

In 1998 Tom Brokaw released the book The Greatest Generation to rave reviews. However it is not widely known that Brokaw stole the idea for this book from the 1995 Daniel Amos album Songs of the Heart. Consider the lyrics of generational tribute from When Everyone Wore Hats:

Here's to the long-lost world of chain-smoking dreamers
War and baseball heroes, ticker tape and streamers,
Cocktail drinkers, Bible believers
When light was still filling up a New York river

They knew the grace of tradition
Possessed a love of decorum
Shook the hand of conviction
No one complained then of boredom

When everyone wore hats
They dreamed of ocean voyages
Believed in true romance
Found their hearts and voices

Here's to the long lost hopes of those mothers and fathers
Of rags to riches, of style and manners
To the American dream in a pledge to honor
Promises made to their sons and daughters

Threw off the chains of depression
Built up the arms of aggression
Left us a mixed impression
Some died before they learned their lesson

When everyone wore hats
In the land of immigrants and pilgrims
The world came rolling off their backs
And landed on their children's

They knew the grace of tradition
Possessed a love of decorum
Shook the hand of conviction
No one complained then of boredom

When everyone wore hats
And innocence found simple pleasures
They built the cities, drew the maps
With clues to find their buried treasures

When everyone wore hats
And handed down their pride and prejudice
They dropped good fortune in our laps
We traded it for vice and avarice

When everyone wore hats
Would-be kings with ragged crowns
They say the style is coming back
What's out-of-fashion comes around

Uncertain where the road was leading
But trusting God was on their side
They traced the moral chain of being
And filmed it all in black and white

And everyone wore hats...

I think it's time Mr. Brokaw stared passing Terry Taylor some royalty checks!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I May Be Dorky But At Least I'm Accurate

After watching DVDs of Good Eats this past week I ventured to the library to see what else they had. Lo and behold (you know you're pushing 40 when you use such dad-blurned phrases like "Lo and behold") they had more Good Eats and also some dusty VHS tapes of Jeff Smith. Say what you will about the poofta, his shows were entertaining, if not exactly instructional if you tried to follow his directions in making the dish (there's a story here of ten pounds of russet taters but that's for a day when you're near comatose and begging for anything to push you over the edge).
The Jeff Smith show was a dandy (DANDY!) trip down memory lane, reminding me of Justin Wilson a.k.a. the Cajun Chef. He did this thing where he poured a pile of salt in his palm and declared (or rather he DE-clared) it a teaspoon, each and every time pouring it into the measuring spoon just to show you, the ney-saying viewer at home, that he was right. So in my impressionable youth I measured out a teaspoon and poured it into my palm, looked at it, and decided I could do the same thing. And I still can, checking myself every now and then to make sure the teaspoon hasn't grown or shrank in my mind over the years.
So when I was making a pie crust this evening and I measured out a teaspoon (very important to measure in baking so no cheating, no matter how big your ratings) and then, just to check, poured it out in my palm. And ifn' it didn't look suspiciously big. Now 'round this here house we have three sets of measuring spoons. We don't need 'em all but since we like to flaunt our wealth I like to have an extra set or two just laying around in case company comes over. So I picked up one of the other two sets and gosh darn it ifn' teaspoon #2 didn't fit fully inside teaspoon #1. Set #3 is a different shape so a comparison wouldn't be so easy. A challenge.
In honor of Good Eats it was time for SCIENCE! Water would be too squishy so I chose salt as my means. Carefully I poured a teaspoon of salt into #1 and leveled it off. Then I poured it just as carefully into teaspoon #2... emptied #2, and then managed to pour off another half teaspoon. YIKES! The teaspoon was actually a teaspoon and a half! I checked the imprint and sure enough, it said 5ml, 1 tsp, Made in India. HARUMPH! I ran the test against #3 and it was the same size as #2.
Because I am the ultimate dork (well, I guess if I was the ultimate I'd have taken pictures and taken extensive notes) I brought down the scale set from my son's room, similar to that shown above but less expensive... we put our money in measuring spoons, not fancy scales. #1 weighed out 10 grams of salt. #2 and #3... 7 grams. THOSE INDIANS HAVE TRICKED US AGAIN! How many marriages have been crushed by arguments over bad cooking when it wasn't the cook but rather the measuring device?!?!?! I've had the occasional "this is kinda salty" comments when I knew I was following the very same recipe but figured maybe I blacked out and dumped in extra salt. Finally the truth has been revealed. I'll most certainly be up the rest of the night checking the tablespoons, quarter teaspoons, measuring cups, gradiated bowls, kids medicine cups and syringes, and everything else. Should I find that those 6 oz Dixie cups hold a mere 5.5 oz I'll post an immediate update.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I Don't WANNA Eat Cake!

Are all two of my readers planning on attending the Ron Paul rally Monday May 5th at 7:00 on the IPFW campus? Good. I'll see you there!

With the primary coming up tomorrow I started thinking about the Republican party and the quality of candidates they've been serving up. Back in 1992 I remember being a bit excited about Senator Graham running but he quickly got lost in the sea of mediocrity and then it was a matter of "well, I guess it's the better of two evils." Of course that was the year Clinton got in and started selling off military secrets to China faster than my kids run away from cooked spinach. I wonder what would have happened if the "blue blood country club" Republicans had actually offered up a decent candidate.

For my entire life I've been voting for "the lesser of two evils" and I'm sick of it. In college I remember a very respected professor telling us that you should vote on the morals of the candidates and everything else will fall into place. Though I scoffed a bit at the time I think he was completely right. Integrity is everything, especially in a position where temptation to bend morals and give in are presented every day. I think a lot of other people are sick of it too. Republicans lost in 1992 because of independent candidate Ross Perot chipping away at the Republican base. The same is happening with Ron Paul. I flippantly put up the post about him getting 17% of the vote in Pennsylvania but it recently really hit me. How often have I lately voted for the independent or the Libertarian party because I'm sending a message to the Republicans? In Pennsylvania 17% of the voters sent this same or a similar message even though McCain is going to be the official Republican party candidate. 17% saying "Give us a candidate worth our attention and you'll get our votes!"

You would think the blue bloods would have learned but here we are again. I don't know anyone who's excited about McCain. I see lots of yard signs for Hussain Obama, Mrs. Clinton, and Ron Paul but not a single sign, bumper sticker, or button for McCain. Hopefully the Arizona Senator will pick a mondo-Conservative Vice President but I don't think that's the side of the aisle he wants to reach across.

Until then, get out there and vote, just not at my precinct... I like being able to run in and out during the Primaries.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy Feet At Here Again!

Last night I bought me some new shoes... $28 Walking Shos at Kohl's, baby! I suffered through my previous shoes, a pair of brown Converse, for far too long. They looked good (even had a teenager at church comment on them... positively, I might add) and felt okay at the store. But my old feet need a shoe with arches and ones that won't cause the back of my left heel to bleed (easily remedied with a band aid or piece of medical tape) or make my feet ache EVERY SINGLE DAY. But you know me... I'm just a slave to fashion and so I put up with them just so I could look ultra-hip. My feet were miserable but my social life was swingin'!

Now I'm back to dork status. No longer will hipsters with the moused-up intentionally slept-in hair speak to me. No longer will I get invited to swanky parties by the in-crowd. No longer will I move to the front of the lines at Aldis. I'm just a commoner now. At least my feet are happy.