Graham Rides Again, Again

I’m pleased to report that “The Birthmark and the Brand”, the latest adventure of my Western character Graham (and no, I don’t know if it’s his first or last name, although people he meets seem to assume it’s his last name), will be appearing in a new anthology in about six weeks, at the beginning of October.


The anthology’s theme is domestic violence, and proceeds will go to, an organization working against domestic and sexual violence. The stories are a mix of fiction and survivor testimonials, and contributors include Shane Gericke, Chris Philbrook, Elizabeth Heiter, and Wendy Tyson, along with many others. Good reads for a good cause — What’s not to like?

And of course, later in October, Broken Glass Waltzes will catch its second wind thanks to the nice folks at Down & Out Books — so if you haven’t picked it up yet, you’ll be getting another chance quite soon. And last in the year but certainly not least, my story “Ampurdan” will appear in Alive in Shape and Color, Lawrence Block’s follow-up anthology to last year’s In Sunlight or In Shadow. That one is due out in time for Christmas shopping (he said, hinting strongly.) So the last quarter of the year should provide you with plenty of chances to meet your Mondo fictioneering needs.

I’ll probably have a few more things to say about all of this in the coming weeks, but I just figured everyone deserved an update, and I hope you’ll forgive me for blowing my own horn a little. Talk to you soon!

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On an Amusement Park and Darker Pleasures

I’ve talked before about the ongoing horror show of heroin-related deaths in my old Northern KY stomping grounds. Last year, overdose deaths in the region exceeded traffic deaths by a 5:1 margin. Other, related ailments (e.g., Hep B and C) have exceeded national averages by a factor of ten. And although I haven’t lived in the region in nearly 20 years, I’ve been touched by this as well — I’ve talked about it elsewhere.

Well, as I glanced at the headlines from the area a few minutes ago, I ran across a story that somehow strikes me as emblematic. I had lived in Kentucky a couple of years when I got my first band together up there , with a couple of guys who were a year behind me in school. One of our gigs was at a small amusement park (really, more along the lines of a pool and picnic area) in the region — Pleasure Isle. I think one of our members had a family connection to the place’s management, but we went, did our few numbers, and may even have been paid, although I doubt that last bit and wouldn’t have cared much anyway, being about 14 at the time.

Apparently the place closed a few years back, and today, as I said, I noticed a report in the local paper that said a local government may purchase Pleasure Isle — for use as a heroin treatment facility.

Thomas Wolfe wasn’t kidding, was he?

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Deviant Drum Kits

If I earned more money, I’m pretty sure that in addition to my hoards collections of books and CDs, I’d likely accumulate drum sets as well. But while a collector of, say, guitars can find a wide variety of body styles — from Flying V to Fender Mustang to a particular fave of mine — from a visual standpoint, drums are chiefly distinguished by finish, as they almost always fall under the heading of closed cylinders (or semi-closed, in the case of concert toms, which lack bottom rims/heads.)

But that almost” leaves room for some interesting stuff, and as I browse sites like and Ebay, I make a habit of looking for some oddball stuff. For example, in the 1960s, German drummakers Trixon (sold in the US under the Vox brand) were known for some… quirky designs. Presenting the Speedfire set:

Trixon aqua sparkle speedfire

The most obvious weirdness is the “egg-shaped” bass drum, which was meant to replace a double-bass configuration. A dividing board inside the shell allowed for different pitches from the left and right halves of the drum, which were struck with double pedals. But other aspects that draw my interest are the legs of the floor tom (which seem to double as part of the tuning apparatus for the lower head) and the configuration of the mounted toms. These days, it’s pretty common to use rack-mounted rigs for tom placement, but it’s a separate rack, whereas this thing is clearly integral to the kit. Also of note here is the fact that the drums appear to be set up for a left-handed player, with the pitches/tones descending as the drummer turns from right to left. In fact, all the Speedfire kits I’ve seen are configured that way, which makes me wonder if they can be set up in a traditional right-handed arrangement.

On that particular note, it occurs to me that the “left=lower tone” configuration is also that of a keyboard instrument — and how most timpanists arrange their drums. (When I played timps in college, I set them up “backwards” — because I’m used to playing set and turning right to get lower tones. The connection here? My percussion instructor told me that my “backwards” timp set-up was actually common in… Germany. And…. scene.)

Trixon was also known for its “Telstar” line of kits, where the individual drums had top and bottom heads (“batter” and “resonant” heads, if you’re persnickety) that differed in diameter. Here’s one such kit, in a finish known as “blue croc.”

trixon telstars

Two other unusual brands of drums from the 70s and 80s were the North and Staccato drum companies. Both firms developed synthetic shells and worked from the same principle — the drums were designed to project sound directly into the audience (or the vocalist, who likely deserved it). The North kits (designed by Roger North, who played for the Holy Modal Rounders, among others) were unusual looking:

North kit

but they were downright tame compared to the Staccato design, which headed into science-fiction (or Salvador Dali) territory:

Staccato kit

When I was a teen, there was a music store (now a pawn shop, which strikes me as a pretty natural progression) in Covington, KY that had a set of Staccatos in its window. My dad told me several times how much he wished he could afford to get them for me. Eventually, I bought my own pro-level kit, the one I still use with the Berries. Other than being oversized (as of course am I), they’re pretty conventional drums. But one thing I remember thinking is that if you play a kit like the ones I’ve discussed today, you’d best be able to play well, because you’re gonna get noticed.

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“I Can Only Receive”

(Title source may be found here.)

Depending on how you look at things, I may never have owned a brand new car (a term I always hear in my head with the inflection and cadence of a game-show host). Many of the cars I’ve owned were hand-me-downs, from my first car to my grandparents’ 1974 Gran Torino and the ’03 Santa Fe the Spawn inherited from my folks. Others I bought at dealerships, but they were used cars, or at best (as was the case with the drum hauler) an unsold model from a prior year, back inventory taking up lot space and deeply discounted. Even the convertible I bought when I was younger and foolishly burning through an inheritance was an “executive program car”, a nice way of saying used.

Our most recent automotive purchase was Mrs. M’s ride, which was 2 years old when we bought it, with 40,000 miles on it. We’ll have it paid off pretty soon, I think. I’m not complaining about any of this — they get us where we need to go and they have CD players and air conditioning, so they meet our needs. Still, over the years, we’ve grown used to saying, “We got a new car — well, new for us.” I don’t expect that to change in the years to come.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, a couple of weeks back, Edward N. Luttwak wrote a piece in the Times Literary Supplement, a review of several books about the surprising US election last year. Luttwak performs his own post-mortem in the process, and while it would be an understatement to say his conclusions don’t thrill me (he suggests that we may see 16 years of Trumpian presidency, with Ivanka succeeding her dad), he suggests that the inability of many — most? — Americans to afford a new car may be a key to understanding the rebellions we saw in both major parties last year.

[T]he cheapest new car on sale in the United States in 2016 was the Nissan Versa sedan at $12,825, twice the level that average households could afford in Detroit or Cleveland, and more than average households could afford in cities ranging from Philadelphia, Orlando, Milwaukee, Memphis, Providence, New Orleans, Miami and Buffalo, as well as, a fortiori, in a very great number of smaller localities across the United States, even in high-income states such as California and Oregon, as well much more commonly in the lower-income Southern [Hi there! — Prof. M] and rust-belt states.

Part of this, Luttwak contends, is due to wage stagnation, to which the major candidates at least gave lip service. The other big reason, however, is interesting as well:

It was the other phenomenon, the other blade of the scissors that cut off the possibility of new car ownership for more and more Americans that Trump squarely attacked as Sanders did not and could not: the regulatory regime that has been relentlessly forcing up new car prices from the 1977 average of $4,317, equivalent to $17,544 in 2016, to an actual average price today that exceeds $30,000. Those regulations prescribe that American cars must be very, very safe, and steadily more demanding safety requirements have been forcing up manufacturing costs: the latest addition is the provision of rear-view cameras in all cars that will be mandatory in 2018, the result of an Obama decree prompted by the campaign started by a wealthy driver who had suffered the tragedy of killing his own young daughter while reversing. Because of his suffering, and his energetic lobbying, and because of Barack Obama’s enthusiasm for promulgating more regulatory decrees, in 2018 the additional cost of those rear-view cameras – only a few hundred dollars – will deprive thousands more households of the chance to buy a new car.

Also costly are the ever-more stringent fuel conservation norms and pollution restrictions that mandate pricy engine ancillaries, and that strongly favour inherently more expensive hybrid cars, as well as drastically more expensive all-electric cars. And both those purposes are much more costly to achieve than they could have been because they are subverted by the safety norms that prohibit the much lighter vehicles I happily drive in Japan, whose K-cars merrily drive up steep mountain roads in spite of their minuscule engines, and that also prohibit the several small cars sold in Europe for much less than the $12,825 of the cheapest US car.

What, one may ask, is wrong with the pursuit of automobile safety, fuel economy and pol­lution control? Only this: mandatory regulations that prohibit choices between better and cheaper cars force the average household in too many parts of the United States to drive second-hand, third-hand or simply very old cars that are drastically less safe, less fuel efficient and also more polluting than the prohibited cheaper new cars would be.

It’s not hard to see how the people who might want — might need — a newer, better car would get frustrated by the situation, and politicians ignore those people at their peril. And when it results in the election of folks like the Current Occupant, at ours. As for Luttwak’s article? RTWT, as the kids say.


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Sayonara, Nakajima-San

Reports are that actor Haruo Nakajima has died at the age of 88. Here’s a picture of him:


However, here he is in his most famous role (He’s the one in the middle):


Yes, Mr. Nakajima was the original actor to play Gojira (or Godzilla to us Occidental types.) While he also performed in numerous other roles (including Seven Samurai, where he was a bandit, and The Hidden Fortress), it was his work as a “suit actor” playing the granddaddy of kaiju that made him part of the consciousness of TV-watching kids across the burbs of the 1970s, even if we never knew his name.

He played everyone’s favorite 25-story reptile from 1954 to 1972, and in retirement made a number of appearances on the fan circuit and published an autobiography, Monster Life. He is survived by his daughter, Sonoe, and fans worldwide.

Sayonara, Nakajima-San, and arigato.

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Camp on Wheels

I’ve mentioned in the past that I spend a lot of time listening to the Mondoville campus radio station. This means that I’ve heard the station’s limited selection of PSA’s way too often.

In particular, I hear a spot for Meals on Wheels a few times each day. It’s a terrific organization — one of those examples of volunteerism in action that I love to see — but I find this spot to be unintentionally amusing.

The commercial features 94-year-old spokesclient Lola Silvestri, a charming woman. However, the radio spots open at this point in her narration. And because of her pause for breath, I invariably start singing this song.

I may require an exorcist.

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Gig Non-Report, and a Bit of Potpourri

Getting a bit closer to the start of a new school year, but there are still things to do that are less than scholarly, so. . .


About that gig we were supposed to play last night? Well, last Monday night I got notified that the venue (Simpsonville’s Soundbox Tavern) had closed down. That’s a drag. Of course, it always is for the people who work at a place that’s gone out of business, and so I feel first for the bartenders, cooks, and other folks who worked there. But it’s also a bummer because it was a nice place to play, and venues that are open to original music are hard enough to find that when one goes away, it’s a big chunk out of the options for bands like ours and the others with whom we play. And if you like music that may be a little quirky, or just something other than a reflection of “I Heart Radio”, this reduces your chance of finding something different, or even your next favorite band.

In the poetry workshops of my M.A. years, James Baker Hall (my instructor and guru) would talk about getting published. He always pointed out that writers need to buy small press books or issues of the little magazines in which they want to appear — not in a quid pro quo or reading fees/scam sort of way, but because (particularly in a niche like poetry or — ahem — short fiction) it’s an act of self-preservation. If a magazine or journal prints the kind of stuff you like to read or write, you should want it to stick around for your pleasure. . .  and as a possible habitat for your own work. The concept holds for a wide variety of creative fields.

So adieu to the Soundbox — we enjoyed playing there, and you made good pizza.


In other Berries-related news, we have a show scheduled for two weeks from today, as part of the region’s festivities for the Great American Eclipse on 21 August. We’ll be playing at the New Brookland Tavern in Real City with friends from Turbo Gatto, Pig Head Dog, and the New York Disco Villains, and the show will be headlined by the punky soul or soul-infused punk of Debbie & the Skanks. So if you’re one of the million or so people expected in the Real City/Mondoville area that weekend, we’d love to see you!


Speaking of the eclipse, Mondoville College’s football stadium is actually a NASA-approved viewing location for our two-and-a-half minutes of totality. As it happens, Eclipse Day is also check-in day for our returning students, and classes begin the following day. Safe viewing glasses are being distributed to faculty, staff, and students, and honestly, you can’t swing a cat around here without smacking the safety goggles. (No cats were harmed in the composition of this post.) Still, I keep finding myself thinking about Triffids.


Mrs. M and the Spawn are making a Real City run today to take care of a bit of back-to-school shopping. I, meanwhile, am starting to assemble syllabi for my classes. One of the classes (the one on theodicy in literature) is a new one, and another (History of the English Language — HotEL for short) I haven’t taught in a number of years. Meanwhile, our admissions staff worked overtime, and we have 400+ incoming freshpeeps, which has led to larger sections of Froshcomp than we’ve had in quite some time. Should be an interesting term.


We had a Freshman Orientation session yesterday, and while I was having lunch with some colleagues, the subject of celebrities who write poetry came up. The obvious/famous ones came up first (Leonard Nimoy and Jimmy Stewart), but after a bit, we started imagining “Collections We’d Like to See.” Some of them were “The Collected Sonnets of Carl Weathers,” “Bonnie Bedelia’s Haiku,” and “An Epic by Meredith Baxter Birney.”

We’re an odd lot, sometimes.


And I’ll go ahead and close now with a bit of music. I’ve mentioned in the past that my fondness for garage rock and progressive rock includes a common DNA strand in the form of psychedelia. Still another genre of that ilk is a particular sort of hard rock known variously as stoner metal, desert rock, or doom metal. It’s pretty much Music to Watch the Walls Breathe By, and although I’ve never engaged in the sort of chemical augmentation associated with this stuff, I’ve always dug the music.

Well, I was listening to a stream of this kind of thing today when I ran across a track with a decidedly late-60s/early-70s vibe that really caught my attention. It turned out that it’s a group called Fuzz, which includes noted garage revivalist Ty Segall on drums, rather than on his usual guitar, and that they still seem to be something of a going concern. So here’s “Let Them Live”; I hope you like it.

See you soon!

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