On Expression and Violence

A third of a century ago, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction, was published. A fatwa calling for his murder followed shortly thereafter, and there has been a bounty on Mr. Rushdie’s head for decades. Someone came awfully close to collecting it yesterday, and even if Mr. Rushdie survives, he has been grievously injured. While media sources such as the NYT say the assailant’s motive was unclear, it isn’t hard to draw an inference here.

Twelve years ago, cartoonist Molly Norris proposed an “Everybody draw Mohammed” day. She has been forced into hiding by threats against her life, and remains off the radar to this day.

Seven years ago, employees at the French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo were massacred by men who affiliated themselves with al-Qaeda. Twelve people died and eleven others were injured.

Not quite five months ago, comedian Chris Rock was assaulted on stage by actor/musician Will Smith after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife. Three and a half months ago, comedian Dave Chappelle was assaulted on stage by an individual claiming to be upset by Chappelle’s jokes about various marginalized groups.

A common rhetorical strategy these days is the designation of unwelcome speech and expression (or even the absence of the expression of a favored idea) as “violence.” This attempt to elide the two activities is at best bonehead stupid, and in general disingenuous. That someone can present the argument without meeting disdain and scorn is itself evidence of society’s rush back to a variety of caves.

Or to put it closer to my home:

Parents and children disagree. During occasional disagreements with my folks, we spoke harshly to one another. My parents also had disagreements with my brother. He shot them both in the back of the head.

These are not the same, and to treat them as even remotely equivalent is to dishonor the magnitude of what happened. The conflation of speech with violence is an insult to victims of violence, and a poorly disguised attempt to cow those who disagree. As a corollary, to treat acts of speech or expression as acts of violence is to justify violence in return, and thus to take the side of the attackers in the examples I’ve offered above.

When I look around social media today, I see condemnation of the attack on Rushdie, as there should be. But I ask you — I ask everyone — to remain consistent. If people express ideas you loathe, it’s okay to be hurt or angry. But if you demand that those speakers be forced into silence, then don’t claim to support freedom of expression. You aren’t on Rushdie’s side — he just didn’t happen to piss you off.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Politics | Leave a comment

Goldengrove Unleaves Once More

The body of my friend, former bandmate, and occasional commenter here at the blog Dennis Cossens, was discovered by his landlord today in Cincinnati, a few weeks before what would have been his 55th birthday. Dennis was a diabetic since his childhood, and his health had wobbled back and forth in recent years, but this was not anticipated. He leaves a son, Kiefer, and two sisters. Kiefer was the one who let me know this afternoon.

I met Dennis in early 1986, in the first of my two semesters at Northern Kentucky U after Transy gave me the boot. I was walking across a parking lot with a mutual friend, and I noticed a guy wearing a Ronnie James Dio T-shirt. This gave me a conversational in, and we immediately bonded over loud, fast music. It turned out that Dennis was in the University’s Honors Program, and after I talked my way into the program, we started hanging out on a daily basis. The connection became even stronger when we realized that his sister was married to a good friend of mine from high school.

Dennis (at right), circa 1986-7

I learned pretty soon that he had a background in piano, and I talked him into getting a keyboard and starting a band with a couple of other guys. We called ourselves Black Rose (yeah, I know — but none of us had even turned 21 yet) and wrote our own material. Specifically, I wrote the lyrics while the other guys put the music together. We were on the verge of looking for gigs when I was accepted into grad school at UK, and after I left, the guys got a new drummer, changed the group’s name, and played a few shows around Northern Kentucky. When I could, I’d drive up from Lexington to go see them.

(L-R) Dennis, Mondo, and the Mad Dog

If you’ve ever been in a band for any length of time, you know how tight the relationships are, and even when we weren’t playing, Dee and I hung out almost constantly. The Mad Dog was in the Navy for much of that time, and so Dennis and I were pretty much a constant tag team when I was in Northern KY, both before I graduated and when I would come back to town on weekends during grad school. Likewise, he came to Lexington from time to time and would come to shows, even though the Groovy Kool were decidedly not what he was into. His taste ran more toward music that emphasized technical skill, the sort of thing that we used to call shredding and nowadays gets called prog-metal. So we’d hang out, listening to lots of that, along with music that amused us both, like Motorhead and the Misfits. I turned him onto Blue Cheer and Zappa — he got me into Tony MacAlpine, Queensryche, and Michael Schenker. And we spent a lot of late nights at a 24-hour chili parlor in Florence, KY, about five miles from my house in Union. He was with me the first time I saw Motorhead in 1986, beside me in the front row at an Alice Cooper show, and with my girlfriend and me on my 21st birthday when we saw Yngwie Malmsteen opening for Triumph. (I worked at Sears in the department that operated Ticketmaster, so we went to quite a few shows.) Later, a lightly disguised version of him would appear in Broken Glass Waltzes, as Kenny’s friend and bandmate Chris. All the time we knew each other, he kept a sense of humor, though his sense of humor was never quite as bleak as mine. Still, we knew that everything was fair game for a laugh, something that kept us both going from time to time.

We found another common passion in baseball, specifically the Reds. Even though we were hanging together during a low point in the franchise’s activity, we frequently went to games, buying tickets for the cheap seats and illegally working our way down to better ones when we could. For some reason, it seemed like nearly every time we went, Jerry Reuss was the starting pitcher and would get shelled, but Reuss only played for the Reds for part of 1987, so we certainly saw others as well. The last time we chatted — a few weeks ago — we talked about the Reds’ ingoing struggle, but we were content in the knowledge that we remembered the Vern Rapp years, and that it wasn’t going to be that bad.

Dennis was a math major — a lightning calculator and whiz at equations. Ideally, he would have found a job with the Elias Sports Bureau or something along those lines. But after he graduated, he drifted from job to job, seemingly never quite finding what he was looking for. His longest stretch was a few years he spent as a math teacher at the high school in his home town, where he himself had graduated. However, health issues and conflict with the administration forced him out of the job. He had taken a lot of satisfaction in his work, but never went back into the field. His health issues made it difficult for him to stay in a position for a long run, but I think there was a fair amount of restlessness at work there, too. At the end of his life, he worked in the insurance business as an annuity specialist.

He stayed with music, though. After I finished the Masters and came back to the Cincinnati area, three of us from Black Rose reconvened with a new bassist and singer. The new group, called Crushing Flowers, was another original project, and occupied an odd intersection between goth and hard rock. We played a number of shows in Cincinnati’s University District (and we were invited back to every venue we played), and one live broadcast on a community radio station. Our last show was at the Cincinnati Zoo, at a party sponsored by the publisher I worked for. We were both married by then, so we didn’t hang out as much as we once did, but we were in the same neighborhood, and would get together when we could. Then Clan Mondo headed off to Muncie and my Ph.D., and we kept up with each other, but life, jobs, and (on his part) a couple of unsuccessful marriages got in the way.

The last time we were in the same room was in 2013, when I was in Northern KY for my brother’s trial. Mrs. M and the Spawn were stuck in Mondoville for a while before they were able to come up, so Dennis and I would get together some evenings (he worked during the days) for dinner at a Chinese buffet or another chili joint. The death of my parents hit him really hard — it did a lot of people, of course, but he told me that he couldn’t imagine coming to the trial, seeing my brother, and thinking about what had happened. Of course, since he was at work, he didn’t have to, but he did make sure I was doing okay.

In his natural element, circa 2011

He kept playing in bands, mostly hard rock cover bands, and while he enjoyed the technical demands of the music he was doing, he also developed an issue with alcohol. This resulted in a couple of DUI arrests and some jail time, but that apparently did the trick, and he stayed sober thereafter, even trying to help some former students with addiction issues of their own.

But again, his health got in the way. He developed a condition called Dupuytren’s Contracture, causing his fingers to flex uncontrollably, and a similar problem with tendons in his hands called trigger finger. He had surgery to correct the condition, but it was only partially successful, Rather than wait for him to recover, his band replaced him — he never got over that. I don’t know if he would ever have gotten back into playing shape; he had his doubts, but he would have appreciated the chance. Even if he wouldn’t have been able to play keyboards any longer, he was giving serious thought to looking for singing gigs.

Despite all this, he generally kept a good attitude, and hoped to find another love, a new musical avenue, and satisfaction, not necessarily in that order. And that’s where he was when we lost him sometime this week. I hate thinking of him lying there alone.

Obviously, none of this was anything I wanted to think about today, and I hate knowing that the world is once more a little less funny, a little less smart, and a little less talented. I hate knowing that like so many people, he deserved better than he got. But that’s what happens. Leaves fall, and lights go out. I’m glad I got to know him when he was here — I wish you could have, too.

Posted in Education, Family, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | 3 Comments

In Which the Prof Is Surfed and Turfed

Mrs. M and I made it back to Mondoville from Myrtle Beach this morning, having had to hurry back in time to return the rental car. There were moments of adventure, but the casualties were light.

The Spawn and her Main Squeeze were there, having come down from Terpville with the Squeeze’s family for a week, and we decided to meet up and hang with the girls for part of that. So Mrs. M and I headed out from the Mid-Century Mondohaus on Tuesday morning. We made a couple of brief stops along the way, including Mrs. M’s first visit to a Buc-ee’s, in Florence, SC, about 2/3 of the way to the beach. She was as impressed as I was, and while I got a couple of burritos for lunch, she got a bit of fudge. Clan Mondo spent a fair amount of time embracing our general lack of sophistication this trip, as further events will demonstrate, and I think Buc-ee’s was a nice start to the whole business.

The Squeezes are staying in North Myrtle Beach, an area less cheesily touristy than the one we chose, but it was still a delight to pick the girls up at about 2:30 that afternoon. We made our way down to our resort, on the southern part of the main drag. After getting unloaded, we had supper at a beach town bar and grille with surfside elements and a wide array of unusual alcohol delivery systems. Although we aren’t exactly the Jell-O shot crowd, we all agreed that the burgers and fries had much to recommend them, and the girls got a kick out of the early-21st-C. pop-punk soundtrack with occasional dashes of Nu-Metal along the way. It would appear that I may in fact be too old for the current nostalgia soundtracks, but as I said, the food was good.

Afterward, we ambled back to our suite and got caught up on goings-on here and up North. Wednesday, things got interesting.

Mrs. M decided to make a run to Krispy Kreme for our breakfast, within a few minutes, she sent me a picture on my phone. The passenger’s front tire had gone flat. She called Triple-A to get it changed, and from there, she took the car to a local tire dealership for repairs (a screw had found its way into the tread, but the tire was patchable.) During the delay, the girls were starting to rouse for the morning, but Mrs. M suggested that I go down to the beach — something I love to do. I put on some sandals I bought for the trip and got down to the surfline.

Please understand, I was dressed as I usually am — T-shirt, khaki shorts, phone and wallet in the pockets. I had no intention of doing any swimming, or even serious wading. I stepped into the surfline and stood where the water lapped just above my ankles, rarely making it to mid-shin.

But.

I’m a big guy, and my sandaled feet sank into the sand beneath the water. As I tried to adjust my balance, my left sandal decided to shovel deeper into the sand and my right knee (as it is known to do from time to time) decided that it was going to betray the rest of me. Thud, or really, thumpf, as I was falling into wet sand and receding shallow water. I made a four-point landing — left hand and knee, right elbow and knee. I’m okay, just trying to scramble up, but again, the right knee is not the least bit interested in scrambling anywhere, and a larger wave than usual breaks into me, soaking me from about the bottom of the ribs down. I have now become (again not for the first time) either a very bad bodysurfer or flotsam.

God only knows what I must have looked like. Well, no, that isn’t true, as I can make a pretty good guess, based on the fact that four or five people (including the lifeguard and a vacationing nurse) rush over to help me. I’m thinking that if I can just stand up, I’ll be just — SPLASH! Another dousing. And now I’m surrounded by very nice people, and I don’t have room (or footing) to work my way back up.

“He just collapsed!” I heard the vacationing nurse say.

“Do you want me to get the ATV, sir?” the lifeguard asks me. Oh God, no. I’m already mortified enough.

“No, I’m okay, really,” but they insisted on helping me to my feet, which we managed, and then I realized that although I wasn’t dressed for a dip in the ocean, the ocean hadn’t cared, and that I now needed to get into some dry clothes, and maybe try to divest myself of the Continental Shelf bits that had found their way into my wardrobe. The nurse is adamant about walking me back to the hotel pool area, and offering me helpful advice, like telling me I should be wearing a hat in this heat. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I had been on the beach for a total of 3-5 minutes, and had only been in the water for about one of those. It’s just that I have a bad knee, and am incredibly clumsy.

“It’s not the heat,” I thought. “It’s the stupidity.” But I kept that to myself. Until now.

I thanked the nurse again, hosed some of the sand off myself, and discovered that I had managed to bark my right shin pretty well, so I’m bleeding a little, and…

Then I remembered my phone. Yep. Insult to injury. Admittedly, the phone was already a dinosaur — I think an iPhone 6? But it didn’t appreciate being sacrificed to Poseidon any more than my shin did. And of course my traitorous knee, while about as functional as it usually is, was paining me at more than the usual rate.

Still, I made my way back to the hotel room, walked in, and announced, “Well, that went poorly.” The Spawn and Squeeze rushed over and were properly concerned, but I waved them off, applied some Neosporin to my latest case of beach rash. Not long after that, Mrs. M showed up, driving the car with the minispare while the original tire was being patched. And she remembered the doughnuts.

Later, the Spawn said, “You know, Dad, every time I have a memory of you, you seem to have a scrape on your leg.” It’s true — I fall down or bump into things a lot, and am frequently scuffed. But I suppose there are worse things to be remembered for.

After that, we headed to the boardwalk/touristy area, or at least the Spawn, Squeeze, and I did, while Mrs. M went to a teacher’s supply store. In keeping with our kitsch tourism theme, we started out at the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! “Odditorium.” The Main Squeeze had never visited a Ripley’s before, and the Spawn had only gone there once before as a little kid. I remembered many of the exhibits, optical illusions, and special effects, and also recollected the experience of going to its counterpart attraction in Gatlinburg when I was a kid.

The exhibits seem a bit less freak-showish than they did in my youth, and are longer now on celebrity paraphernalia (An Indiana Jones whip with an autograph from Harrison Ford! A portrait of Keanu Reeves done in ash!), but there were still the two-headed calf skulls, “medieval torture chamber”, and model roller coaster made from toothpicks that I remember from my youth. Another nifty bit is at the entrance, with a life-sized animatronic statue of Robert Wadlow. “Wadlow” is seated near the ticket window, but every once in a while rises to a standing pose, reminding us how startling a nearly nine-foot-tall human is, or was. And of course, it also reminds me of a famous joke from Spider Robinson.

[Side Note: One of the highlights of the Ripley’s museums when I was a kid was the chance to buy (or have my folks buy) paperback collections of the newspaper strips done by Robert Ripley and his successors. I didn’t see anything of the sort this time. Those books were a significant source of fuel for my youthful trivia obsessions, and it seems a shame if they’re gone. End Side Note.]

After the girls and I finished there, I treated them to lunch at a Myrtle Beach institution, the Peaches Corner restaurant. Again, this is vacation food, or the sort of eats one can find at a state fair, but it’s well executed and plentiful, and the music here was much more to my taste, including stuff like Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd” and the Isley Brothers’ version of “Shout.” My double cheeseburger was exactly how it should be, and the Spawn and Squeeze enjoyed their meals as well. After that, we went to an arcade next door, where I watched the ladies try their luck at skee-ball and another couple of games. The arcade’s prize stash was not endangered by their efforts, but it was fun to watch them, and after a bit, Mrs. M caught back up with us, so we headed down the street to what might be the apotheosis of the tourist trap tchotchke shop: The Gay Dolphin. Dating from the 1940s, the store’s 35,000 square feet offer everything from shark tooth jewelry to whoopie cushions, and the place is almost precisely at the intersection of kitsch and camp.

In a truly stunning development, the store had a souvenir bicycle license plate with my name on it! (No, not Mondo — Warren!) You have to understand: I have spent my whole life seeing mass-produced “personalized” gewgaws for every Jason and Jennifer out there, from T-shirts to fridge magnets, and yes, the little metal license plates from Aaron to Zachary. Charity? Sure! Tiffani with an I? Yep! But Warren? Not a freaking chance. My brother, named Mike, was always in luck and in stock. Even in recent years, when we were looking in Toronto for fridge magnets, Emily and Debbie were easy to find. Mine just said Dad. But at last, my quest has ended. Apparently, the store used to offer a prize to people whose names couldn’t be found on the license plate rack, but that is no longer the case. All the same, I appreciate their effort, and will proudly display the plate in my office.

After a while, Mrs. M and I peeled away from the young people and got the repaired tire reinstalled on the car. We made it back to the hotel room and relaxed for a while until it was time to come back and fetch the kids. Later, at nightfall, the ladies went down to the beach with flashlights and walked around. I stayed in the room, watching the surf roll in from my seat on the balcony. I may be a slow learner, but I can be taught.

Yesterday was our last day with the girls, but the Spawn had to take care of some remote work for the Federal Reserve and Mrs. M had some professional training that required her virtual attendance. When that was taken care of, we went to a Barnes & Noble in a somewhat upscale shopping center. I found a collection of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard stories, so that became another of my souvenirs. After that, we went back to the room so the girls could pack up, and we delivered them safely back to the Squeeze family condo. It was wonderful seeing and goofing around with the girls, and I can hardly wait for our next opportunity, likely this fall.

Meanwhile, Mrs. M and I went to one of her favorite restaurants, known for its buffet and its selection of seafood. Mrs. M had a go at the crab legs, but because my dad and the Spawn both had/have shellfish allergies, I opted for several servings of an absolutely delightful pot roast and mashed potatoes, along with some terrific pecan pie for dessert. They didn’t quite have to roll me back to the car, but it was a near thing.

As I said earlier, we had a deadline for returning the rental car, so we made an early start. We refueled at Buc-ee’s again coming home, and this time I had a go at the breakfast burritos. Well worth it, and Mrs. M really liked her coffee, too. All in all, the trip was pleasant, and a great deal of fun, even in addition to the opportunity to hang out with the Spawn and Main Squeeze.

And Mrs. M has already taken care of ordering a fresh phone for me — it should arrive Monday. I’ll have to grow my own new skin, though.

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

THIS JUST IN: Bouchercon 2022 Update

Flash! Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea!

Although I was late in registering for this year’s B’con (at the lovely Minneapolis Hilton), the wonderful folks at the organizing committee (looking at you, SKM!) have invited me to participate as a panelist. Specifically, I’ll be appearing Thursday afternoon, on 8 Sep:

PANEL NAME: The Key to Murder: Mysteries with a Musical Theme.

DESCRIPTION: How writers use their past experience in bands, as critics or fans, to serve a story.

PANELISTS: Holly West, Jim Fusilli, Cheryl A. Head, Denise M. Jendusa (Moderator), Richard Cass, and now Mondo.

To describe me as “stoked” would be a massive understatement. I’ll be appearing with some terrific writers, and I’m incredibly grateful to the Bouchercon folks for reaching out to me at this late date.

I think I’m reasonably qualified for this one — both Broken Glass Waltzes and “Rough Mix” (my story in Lawrence Block’s At Home in The Dark antho) take place in the world of low-rent rock and rollers, and regular readers of this blog are aware of my tendency to inflict music on unsuspecting passersby. So I hope to see you there! And of course, I’ll be happy to sign what you bring my way

What’s that, you say? You still haven’t registered for Bouchercon? We can fix that — and I hope you do.

In the meantime, while the Twin Cities have been home base for numerous important, influential acts, from the Replacements and Husker Du to His Royal Badness, Prince, I’ll close this one with the Minneapolis track that has most influenced my snotty, post-teen rock and roll stylings. All the way from 1964…

Posted in Culture, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Saturday Afternoon Potpourri: Prose and Cons Edition

I’m relaxing in the office this afternoon, having just offered up a pint at the local blood drive. Mrs. M is doing some shopping, and both of us are starting to think about the approach of the new school year.

But we’re not quite there yet. So…

***

First off, a few words about the disaster in my adopted home state of Kentucky. Although Mrs. M’s people are from Eastern Kentucky, they were north of the devastated areas. Thankfully, none of them were terribly affected, although a large piece of siding blew off a building and landed on a car belonging to one of my in-laws, doing some cosmetic damage (to the car, not the in-law.)

All the same, Mrs. M has been especially torn by the flooding. She grew up in the region, and knows more than her share about how hard life can be there, and how hard it is for people who had almost nothing to start with, and who now must rebuild from a new zero. Even worse are the stories of a family’s entire generation being wiped out, pulled away by the floodwaters.

But of course, there are also those who would help. If you are among them, the state relief fund accepts tax-deductible donations here. Thanks for helping if you can, whether with funds, goods, or prayers.

***

In much better news, I was able to get registered and make my travel arrangements for this year’s Bouchercon. I’ll be staying at the secondary hotel, a short limp from the main one. I’ll be arriving on Wednesday evening and returning Sunday morning, and as usual, I plan to offer my daily reports. This will be my first one of these events since the COVID era began; I had to provide proof of vaccination (double boosted, thanks), and apparently masks may be in order as well. I’m okay with that — I’m a guest, after all — but it’s interesting to be reminded of the geographical and cultural differences around the disease.

This won’t be a worry for NoirCon, which is happening virtually this year after a multi-year hiatus, driven by the loss of co-founder Deen Kogan and that pandemic I mentioned a moment ago. I’m not entirely sure how they’re handling the program, but I can tell you that my new short story “Brothers” will be part of it, and I plan to be one of the numerous floating heads in attendance. Such a deal! Even so, I’m looking forward to getting back there in person — the 2016 edition was a great and educational time, and the last three letters of NoirCon may as well be short for Conviviality.

In any case, whether it’s in person in Minneapolis, or out there in Cyberia, I’d love to see you. Feel free to say hi!

***

And of course, in other writing-related matters, I’d like to remind you that Death of a Bad Neighbour: Revenge Is Criminal (containing my story “One of Us Is Dying”) is currently available for purchase, and that Black Is the Night: Stories Inspired by Cornell Woolrich (with my story “The Jacket”) is available for advance orders. Meanwhile, I hope to have more information coming your way in the near future about Mr. B’s new antho, Playing Games (where you’ll find my story “Lightning Round.”) As always, I appreciate your interest and encouragement in this work that I do.

***

A while back, I mentioned that in the course of organizing the house, Mrs. M had unearthed various sheepskins awarded to the Spawn, herself, and Your Genial Host. Conspicuous by its absence, however, was my Ph.D., and subsequent searching proved fruitless. However, after a minor expenditure, the nice folks at Ball State hooked me up with a duplicate, and it arrived today. Meanwhile, the Spawn’s MLIS diploma arrived from Terpville this week as well, so now Mrs. M is out pricing and gathering frames. The next step will involve finding places to hang the things that don’t suggest Ozymandian self-regard. Still, I have to admit that it does look nice, given that I last saw its twin nearly 20 years ago.

***

Our musical closer today comes from a band that has kept the torch burning for 60s-style rock for decades. The Fleshtones (from NYC) have been doing their thing since 1976(!), and remain as danceable and fun as ever. This track struck me as an evergreen, from early in the band’s run. I don’t know if it’s the harmonica or the claves that make me dig it so much, but both are cool. From 1981, this is “The World Has Changed.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Wednesday Afternoon Potpourri: Pats on the Back Edition

I’m relaxing in my office, listening to the Green Pajamas and taking a break from reading Nathanael West (an author who makes me look downright Panglossian.) And what else is going on?

***

The highlight of recent action here took place this weekend, as my office was thoroughly cleaned for the first time in the fifteen-plus years I’ve had it. This is no one’s fault but my own; our custodial staff has done the best they could with what I’ve given them to work with — taking out trash and such. But over the years, I accumulated numerous cubic feet of student work, along with books and interesting things from folks who “thought you might be interested” in whatever they didn’t want any longer — boxes of old magazines and such. A colleague of mine has called my office “the Archive” for years, but in fact, it was closer to a cross between Fibber McGee’s closet and the Augean Stables. I’m not quite a hoarder — I’m just terribly disorganized. (My mind, meanwhile, is far more cluttered than even that — a Collyer Brothers’ apartment of odd information, old song lyrics, and fanciful connections, like Prospero’s home in John Bellairs’s The Face in the Frost.)

Herculean tasks, however, are the sort of thing Mrs. M enjoys. She has been on an organizing kick this summer, and having dealt with the house, was approaching an Alexandrian desire for new conquests, so she set herself up in opposition to my office’s 15 or so years of cumulative entropy. I tagged along, chiefly to carry large objects and to explain what things were, lest items of genuine importance get chucked out in the general frenzy.

So by the time we were finished, we had carried three SUV-loads of stuff to the recycling center, repositioned shelves to add several linear feet of shelving to my existing storage, moved all the office CDs to the same side of the room, cleared/organized a freestanding metal cupboard, moved several years of odds and ends (gig flyers from my bands in junior high and high school and much of my collected writing since about 10th grade to now) from my desktop to that cupboard. . . oh, and she also repaired a broken chair, making it safe for human usage again.

When I came over on Monday, it was a little unsettling — not quite kenophobic, but enough that it took me a bit to get used to it. Nor am I the only one taken aback. As I mentioned, I’m on campus today, and ran into a colleague earlier. Unprompted, she said, “Warren, you nearly gave Ms. Retha [the custodian for the building] a heart attack.

“She came by and said, ‘Dr. Moore’s office is cleaned.'”

“Yeah,” I said. “She probably assumed that I had died.” We laughed. “You should come see it.”

My colleague laughed. “I already did. Ms. Retha made me come look.”

I understand that entropy is the nature of things, that everything winds down. Still, in the battle against the eventual heat-death of the Universe, I’d be hard-pressed to bet against Mrs. M.

The exciting conclusion.

***

For the next trick, Mrs. M and I had gathered numerous graphic novels, some belonging to the Spawn and others to Your Genial Host. After interstate consultations and reviews, I took a large tub of the comics to Real City, selling them at our comic store of choice (where in fact we had bought more than a few of them over the years — you may hum a few bars of “The Circle of Life” if you wish.) As has been the case in the past, we were offered a fair deal, and the bulk of the funds went into the Spawn’s checking account. I took some of mine, meanwhile, and picked up a few used paperbacks — some Ellroy, Westlake, Kotzwinkle, and the aforementioned Nathanael West volume.

Being in Real City also gave me the chance to score a couple of pints of one of Clan Mondo’s favorite treats: Graeter’s Ice Cream. My usual favorite was out of stock, but I was able to find Mrs. M’s drug of choice, and my selection hardly constituted a sacrifice. So it was a good day.

***

I’ve mentioned before that Roger Zelazny was my father’s favorite writer. In fact, one of my last conversations with Dad was about Zelazny’s final novel, A Night in the Lonesome October. Both of us loved the book, and its central conceit — a gathering of various 19th-C. horror and supernatural characters to take part in a Lovecraftian ritual that may or may not bring about the end of the world — was a delight to us both. The book is narrated by Snuff, a Very Large Dog who is a familiar/partner of Jack, one of the participants in the ritual, and the interactions between the various characters and familiars are by turns wry, charming, and quite funny. As I said, I love the book, as did my Dad.

[Side note: Zelazny died at the age of 58, a victim of colon cancer in 1995. My dad, having beaten colon cancer in the 80s after a thoroughly negative prognosis, was always bothered by that. I think he had a sense that the next trooper in the line had caught the bullet with his name on it. End of Side note.]

In any case, some months ago, I loaned Dad’s copy of the book to the Spawn. Having finished her degree work a few weeks back, she finally got around to giving it a read, and finished it today. She texted me and let me know that she really enjoyed it as well. After we had talked a bit, she thanked me for lending the book to her. (Of course, it’ll be hers eventually anyway, but it was a nice gesture — we raised a good kid.)

I said, “Thank Pawpaw [her name for my dad] for turning me on to it.”

“I did that when I patted the book on the back.”

And that made me smile, because that’s another inheritance of hers. When I finish reading a satisfying book, I close it, and I tap it a couple or three times on the back cover before I put it down or place it back on the shelf. I’ve always done that, and usually don’t even notice that I’ve done it. Did I learn to do that from my dad? I don’t know — I don’t remember his doing that, but it seems likely, and I suppose I learned the habit somewhere. After the Spawn arrived, of course I would read to her, and she actually noticed that I do this. At some point — maybe when she was in kindergarten or first grade, she asked me why I do that, and I told her that I don’t really know why, that it’s just something I do. And so she does it, too, and that’s one of those tributes a child pays a parent, I guess.

But I had never thought of it as patting the book on the back, with the celebratory connotations the words imply. It’s perfectly sensible (to me, anyway); I enjoyed the book, therefore it did a good job and deserves a tap or two of applause, as one might pat a teammate on the helmet or fist-bump him as he crosses the plate. I like that thought, and the habit, and it makes me happy to see that something else has passed to the next generation.

***

Well, it’s about supper time, so I had better head home, but here’s a little music before I take off. The Krayolas (name spelled to avoid trademark infringement) are known to some as the “Tex-Mex Beatles” around their San Antonio home turf, and this track features the inimitable organ stylings of Augie Meyers (previously of the Sir Douglas Quintet, and then the Texas Tornadoes) along with the Saldana brothers who are the heart of the group. This is an older cut, but I think well worth your time.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | 3 Comments

Saturday Afternoon Potpourri: How Many Books Make a Hoard?

It’s about a quarter past lethal outside — heat indices for the past couple of days have been well into the triple digits, and are already on the brink right now. A consequence of this is the ever present chance of a sudden deluge when the humidity hits the tipping point and we have a brief, intense thunderstorm, followed by the cycle starting again with fresh doses of heat and humidity. A friend says it’s like being in a bag of steamed crabs.

Fortunately, I’m safely ensconced in my office with air conditioning, a fan, and a cold beverage. But what else is going on?

***

Mrs. M and I harbor plans of moving to the Spawn’s locale — wherever that may be — in a bit less than a decade, with a goal of going into the grandparent business. Part of that means that barring a lottery win, we’ll have to downsize before we head to the next wherever. I know this on an intellectual level, but on the concrete, practical level (Mrs. M’s strength), I’m less effective.

There are several factors in play here. My father was an only child, so he wound up with the entirety of his folks’ estates — not much from a financial standpoint, but plenty of photos and such. My parents accumulated a lot of things — good quality things generally, but things nonetheless — and after the murders, I wound up sole possessor of an entire house’s worth of things that I had to fit into our place in Mondoville. We dealt with some of this by moving to a larger house, and gave away a fair amount of things along the way, but as I said, we’ll definitely have to cut back on volume before we go wherever we go.

Another couple of complicating factors for me are psychological. My mom was fanatical about housekeeping before the MS reduced her capabilities, and even after the flesh was weak, the spirit was willing. Before she got sick, the standard line was that you could do brain surgery in our kitchen, and because my brother was an asthmatic, dust was not to be tolerated. After she got sick, she couldn’t do as much as she once could, but she would still have bursts of what I hear called “rage cleaning”, which on some level I’ve come to associate with yelling and nerve-wracking stress. Meanwhile, in addition to inheriting my dad’s library (to go along with my own), I inherited his tendency to feel most content when surrounded by books and music. Add in a certain amount of indolence, and well… things can pile up.

Where I’m going with all this is that between my office and home, I have a lot of books — more than I have shelf space for, and certainly more than I can carry to the Wild Blue Yonder in nine or so years. (And if I don’t make it that far, it’ll be a pain in the tochis for Mrs. M and the Spawn, who deserve better than that.) Generally, they aren’t rarities or anything — a lot of Science Fiction Book Club editions, mass market paperbacks, that sort of thing. But darn it, they’re books (and in many cases, my Dad’s books), and aren’t they good in and of themselves?

In her usual wisdom, Mrs. M has suggested that it might be good to start the process of unloading things now. As I said, I get it… intellectually. But that was only small help when she brought a couple of large plastic bins of books from our utility room to the den and said it was time to start winnowing.

Some were easy enough to consign to the used media place in Real City — doubles I accumulated, books I knew I wouldn’t get around to reading or rereading (fewer than you might think — or if you know me, maybe not). Others, though, were harder. Not necessarily because they were books I wanted to read — after all, I’ve had them around (either at my parents’ place or mine) for almost all my life, and could have read them had I wanted to — but because I knew they were books my dad had read and enjoyed, by writers he and I had talked about, that had been part of his everyday routine, as much as the three packs of cigarettes a day he went through. (There’s some overlap there, too — in many cases I can open one of his books from the 60s or 70s and get hit by the lingering scent of Camel unfiltereds. His brands changed as prices went up, but Camels were his tobacco of choice when I was a kid; Mom smoked Marlboros in the red packs.)

But I managed to whittle the two large tubs to one smaller tub of keepers (for now, anyway) — Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, El Bee, a minor Jim Thompson, some of the early Spensers — the ones I could immediately recall, before the series fell into a rut — and others of that ilk. The others, I muscled upstairs to take to Real City, which we did Thursday. I filled two of the store’s bins and discovered that my accumulated angst was worth something less than ten bucks in store credit — probably about what I dropped on a hardback I found while I waited.

Thursday night, I dreamed of being at my folks’ home in Kentucky, and my father being upset with me for having let them go. And even when letting go is the right, the reasonable thing to do, it’s not something I do well. Yes, they’re just things, and apparently things of small value to the rest of the world. And yes, I still have the memories. And yes, it’s for a good cause, for a future I expect to enjoy. And yes, my folks have been gone for thirteen years now.

And that’s part of it too, of course. After the murders, I was dilatory about buying their grave markers. It wasn’t the financial end of it — that was covered, and the markers themselves were simple enough. But on some sort of atavistic level, ordering the markers felt like making their deaths a little more official, a little more real, and I didn’t want to do that. I finally went ahead and ordered them about the time that not having the markers there should have been embarrassing. But I held out as long as I decently could, if not a little longer.

This was like that, like burning old letters, like another set of markers, another acknowledgement. Even all these years later, I’m not good at that.

***

On a lighter note, I received a set of proofs for “Lightning Round”, my story that will appear in Playing Games, Mr. Block’s new anthology due to come out from Subterranean Press. I hope that bodes well for a release in the near future — I’ll let you know when I hear something.

I was also pleased by a tweet a few days ago, from Charles Ardai, the head man at Hard Case Crime. Mr. Ardai is also a writer (In fact, he’s something of a Renaissance man, having had considerable success in the early days of the Internet before turning to (fictional) crime), and he has a story in Black Is the Night, the forthcoming anthology of stories inspired by the work and life of Cornell Woolrich.

My name is on the back cover, but it’s there!
Told you so!

Anyway, Mr. Ardai had some nice things to say about the stories in the book, and mine was one of the first ones he mentioned:

So I’ll take that endorsement all week, and twice on Sunday. And if you haven’t already ordered your copy of Black Is the Night, you should go ahead and take care of that.

***

Meanwhile, I agreed last night to write a story for the program of the resurrected NoirCon, happening virtually this year with the expectation of re-entering meatspace quite soon. So if you want to get in on the action, you can register here. I’ll screen you there.

Or if you prefer to meet up in person, I expect to be in Minneapolis for Bouchercon in just a few weeks! While I don’t appear to be on the program, I’ll be more than happy to chat, sign books (or post-it notes if you use an e-reader), and otherwise hang out and make trouble — I hope you’re there!

***

Finally, although I eschew politics these days, that doesn’t mean I don’t read about them from time to time. Specifically, in his “News”letter, The G-File, Jonah Goldberg alluded yesterday to former Senator Ronan Hruska. Now, I have much respect for Jonah, who helped me with a paper on Richard M. Weaver during my Ph.D. studies, but he said that Hruska is apparently only memorable for his comment that a mediocre Justice of the Supreme Court would be okay because mediocities deserve representation as well. This only goes to show that Jonah didn’t listen to this Dr. Demento show favorite, near the two-minute mark.

So there’s that, and I’ll see you soon!

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Politics | 2 Comments

Sic Transit Gloria Wednesday

Another piece of my college years disappeared today, or more accurately, last night.

The Parkette Drive-In, a Lexington, KY landmark for 70 years, has announced its closure, effective immediately. As the saying goes, attention must be paid.

The Parkette originated on a dirt road on the outskirts of the city in 1951. That dirt road is now New Circle Road, a major beltway that has itself been superseded by Man O’ War Boulevard. Specializing in fried chicken and fried fish dinners, and double-decker burgers known for some reason as “Po-boys” (New Orleans notwithstanding), the Parkette was a real-life piece of American Graffiti culture come to life, with a classic neon sign beckoning drivers to stop in through the decades.

While it never achieved the fame of say, Atlanta’s Varsity, the Parkette was a staple of Central Kentucky life, whether for patrons wanting to show off their classic cars or folks wanting to grab a bite before or after watching their (and my) beloved UK Wildcats.

It survived the COVID pandemic — in fact, it prospered as folks didn’t have to go inside to dine (although the restaurant did have a dining room, complete with old-school pinball machines), and the restaurant was one of the few that managed to retain its full staff. However, the restaurant business is known for its razor-thin margins, and the owners have said that the combination of high fuel prices and cool weather had damaged traffic, and so the family that founded the restaurant and owned the lease allowed the current operators to escape the lease and shut down.

As for me, I went there a few times during my first two years of undergrad and my first trip through grad school, although it was more or less across town from my digs at UK. It wasn’t as often as I might have liked — I was generally dead broke in my Transy years and on a grad school budget later — but I always enjoyed the food and the experience, and Mrs. M and I went there a couple of times back when she was still Ms. W. And on those occasions when I might be driving on that side of town, there was something about the place that always made me smile.

As I mentioned the other day, a fair amount of the drive my friend Will and I took around Lexington last Friday consisted of “Yeah, that used to be…”, and reminders that most of our futures are now in the past. Now, the roster of used-to-bes is a little longer, and that’s the nature of things, I guess, but as I said above, I didn’t want it to pass unnoticed.

On a side note, another Lexington staple, Burgers Shakes, remains in operation. I went there when it was “Burgers 50c Shakes”, and I hope it lasts long enough for me to get there again.

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Sunday Evening Potpourri: A Time to Gather Stones Together

I got back to Mondoville about three and a half hours ago, after seeing old friends and saying goodbye to another one.

At 8 a.m. Friday, Mrs. M ferried me out to pick up a rented Hyundai Elantra, and I tossed my bags (well, a suitcase and a backpack) into the trunk, connected my cell phone to the onboard computer, and started my trip to Lexington, KY. The trip is almost entirely Interstate driving — I-26 to Asheville, 40 to Knoxville, and 75 to Lexington.

The occasion for the trip wasn’t a happy one — it was a memorial gathering for James Kolasa, who left us on 21 April, three years and change after the death of his wife, Amy. At James’s request, I read a poem at Amy’s gathering, and now it was time to read a different one for James himself. Like Amy’s, the gathering for James was held at the historic Meeting House at Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, about a half-hour from Lexington. And like last time, I stayed (as is my habit) at a cheap motel — the same one I stayed at last time.

I once again demonstrated that I’m out of step with things. The rental car lacked a CD player, and didn’t come with satellite radio. Because 1) my obsolescent cell phone has a full memory without any music, and 2) even if there were room, I wouldn’t have bothered to load my music onto it (Who has that kind of time?), this meant that I was at the mercy of terrestrial radio. Basically, then, my choices for most of the trip were classic rawk stations (mainly playing stuff I didn’t much like when I heard it in high school and college), contemporary country music, and NPR. I took option #3 when I could, but the broadcasts were almost exclusively devoted to the Dobbs decision, and since I was already in a dark mood, continuing coverage of our fragmenting country was not what I was looking for. I did find some contemporary orchestral music, so I took what I could.

One exception to this was an odd little radio station in Henderson County, NC, near Asheville. WTZQ describes itself as the “Q-munity oldies station,” and it lives up to the claim. The playlist is quite eclectic. For example, as I type this, I’ve heard tracks from Eddie Rabbitt, Rod Stewart, Kay Kyser, Perry Como, Neil Sedaka, and the current selection — the Dovells’ “Bristol Stomp.” Previous trips through the area have rewarded me with stuff like the Weavers’ version of “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” and Trini Lopez doing “This Land Is Your Land.” This is the kind of weirdness I can get behind, even if the station’s low power means that I only get to listen for about 20 minutes as I drive by. Fortunately (as the above link suggests), they are now available via the web.

Since I was passing through his part of the world, I met the Mad Dog at an outpost of one of my favorite fast-food chains. We caught up for about an hour, and even had time for a picture.

A couple of hours and some more bad radio later, I made it into Lexington, got checked into the cheap hotel, and got in touch with my friend (and fellow blogger, and James’s college roommate) William Harris, Prof. of Math at Georgetown College, a little north of the city. While Transy is a small college, and my meeting Will and James would have been inevitable (particularly since I was wanting to study math (Will’s field), computer science (James’s field), and physics), we in fact sparked our friendship at the college’s radio station, where Will was program director and James was the engineer. And if you’ve checked out Will’s blog, you’ll see that he too is a music obsessive.

So naturally, our first stop on Friday evening was a CD store near the U of Kentucky. The building has housed a record/CD store as long as I know — that is, since 1983, but the name has changed. The Cut Corner Records of my college days is now CD Central. But the atmosphere hasn’t changed — it’s a good place for music geeks, even of the white-haired variety. Will and I were the only customers, and I struck up a conversation with the cashier and the proprietor. The first few artists I asked about were out of stock (not their fault — as you may have noticed, my tastes run toward the space between obscure and arcane.) One of the artists I mentioned was the late Paul K., a key figure in the Lexington music scene during my days there. The cashier mentioned that they Paul’s work disappeared in a hurry after his death in 2020.

“My band opened for him a few times in the late 80s.” As I said that, I remembered one such occasion — James was in attendance (He was always great about supporting the Groovy Kool), and I remember how tickled he was when Paul K. and the Weathermen opened their set with an alt-rock version of “Take the A Train.” I didn’t mention it in the store, but I’ll mention it now.

A minute or so later, I asked the proprietor what they had from the local scene. He pointed me in the right direction, and I discovered that the Psychedelic States series of 60s compilations (each looking, as you might guess, at the garage scene in a particular US state) has issued a 2-disc Kentucky installment. Twenty bucks later, I owned 62 tracks from my adopted home state. Will, meanwhile, had picked up Tales from Topographic Oceans, a two-album set from James’s favorite band, Yes. Oceans was kind of a running joke among the three of us — the two LPs contained a total of four songs, each occupying an entire side. Even people who like prog rock typically acknowledge that the album is Exhibit A for the prosecutors of prog’s noodly self-indulgence. In particular, the track “The Ancient” took on a sort of Holy Hand Grenade status in our circle of friends: “For God’s sake, don’t play ‘The Ancient’!” Turns out that the CD version even includes bonus run-through tracks. When Will told me that, we both laughed.

We drove around the University neighborhood a bit, and passed by a couple of the houses where James (and later, James and Amy) lived during our grad school years and after, until they moved to a rural place they called the “20 Acre Wood.” From there, we went to a location of my favorite eatery in Lexington, Ramsey’s Diner. As is my custom, I had a Hot Brown (an open-face sandwich of turkey, ham, Mornay sauce (or white gravy and cheddar cheese), and bacon. Traditionally, it also contains tomato, but I opted out on that part. Dessert was the restaurant’s signature chocolate brownie pie a la mode.

We finished with enough daylight to get another picture in.

I crashed pretty shortly after Will dropped me off at the hotel — it had been a long day, and the memorial was Saturday morning.

I got up at about 8, and had time for breakfast before I needed to be in Harrodsburg. One of my many weaknesses is an unholy delight in breakfast buffets — particularly in difficult times. During my brother’s trial, my morning routine involved a visit to the Frisch’s Big Boy with its buffet. Although Frisch’s is a Cincinnati-based chain, it has expanded into Kentucky, and so I figured I might as well expand along with it. So I did, and afterwards, I made the drive into Mercer County, arriving about 45 minutes before the memorial started. Facility staff were setting things up, and I saw one of the people who had organized the event, a friend of James’s from grad school and his job as a prof at the local community college. As we shook hands, I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Warren Moore.”

She looked perplexed for a moment, and I understood why. “You might know me as Smitty.” Click. It’s funny — although I pretty much exclusively go by Warren these days, the dividing line is 1987, when I started grad school. If we met before then, I’m Smitty (because my folks didn’t want to do the whole Big/Little Warren thing, and Dad vetoed the name Trey, because it reminded him of a Stephen Foster song.

More of our classmates drifted in — both from James’s class of 1986 and Amy’s class of 1989. I didn’t graduate from Transy, but I would have been class of 87, and I happened to bridge the two groups to an extent.

[Side Note: Our friend group wound up going long on academics and other advanced degrees. Four of us wound up as professors, with a couple of others becoming M.D.s, attorneys, and so forth. At one point, I thought I might call out to someone as “Hey, Doc,” but I realized that that really wouldn’t have been specific enough. End Side Note.]

James’s elder brother opened the memorial by reading James’s obituary, and Judith Collins (the English prof at the U of the Cumberlands Campbellsville U (Thanks for the correction, Will!) who spearheaded both this event and Amy’s) delivered the eulogy. This makes twice that she’s had to eulogize one of her — and our — closest friends. She reminded us of the breadth and depth of James’s passions, from Artificial Intelligence (his academic specialty) to beekeeping, woodworking, playing bridge, and tinkering with anything he could disassemble (and perhaps reassemble, but that was a secondary consideration.) She captured his childlike curiosity and fascination with. . . well, with everything, and reminded us of the many reasons so many of us loved him. Then, James’s brother-in-law played an acoustic version of one of James’s favorite songs — “Here Comes the Sun”. I spoke to him after things were done, to tell him he had done a fine job — including the odd timed sections in the middle. Again, this is twice he has had to do this; he played “In My Life” for Amy.

James’s classmate, Angela Ray (a Comm prof at Northwestern — I told you we run long on academics), read Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall,” followed by James’s mom who talked about what James was like as a kid, and shared a poem that promises God’s comfort to we who mourn. I hope she receives it.

A few of us shared anecdotes about our times with James. Will talked a bit about their time as roommates, but most notably, he talked about their correspondence over the years, and how James’s personality, wit, humor, and all the other things that made him lovable, showed up in those letters over the years. Again, we understood — many of us had corresponded over the years, though never as much as we should have, or than we would have wanted. But we always remember that, afterward.

After other people had finished speaking, it was my turn. I mentioned that while my relationship with Transy is conflicted, my friendships with my classmates — so many of whom were there — were not. And of these, I felt especially close to James, both in the two years at Transy, and in the years following while we both worked on out Master’s degrees. I mentioned hanging around together, listening to music, cracking jokes, wasting time, and all the other things that make a friendship. He made some of the challenging times of my life easier than they might otherwise have been, and I’ll always value that.

And after he and Amy became a couple, they were one of those couples that seemed as though it was something that had to be, could only be together. “James&Amy” were a single word early on, and that never really stopped, even after we lost her, and now I guess it’s true again. That in turn led me to the poem I picked for the day when Judy invited me to read.

An Arundel Tomb

By Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd –
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Finally, things concluded with a song I had last heard at Amy’s memorial. It was no easier to hear this time, but it was necessary.

Afterward, as we were mingling and catching up with each other, in the class reunion manner that attends these events, an older gentleman with what I think may have been a Central European accent approached me, carrying a very thick volume bound in the manner that those of us in the game recognize as the mark of theses and dissertations.

“So you are Warren then, yes?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you think you might be this Warren?” He opened the book — it was James’s Master’s thesis, and the gentleman had been his thesis advisor. I had never seen James’s thesis before, and the older man opned it to the acknowledgements page. About 5/8 of the way down, there was a list of first names, friends who had been with him along his lengthy journey through the work. It actually took James longer to complete the Master’s than it did me, but that was in his nature as well. As another classmate said, “James had two speeds: Slow and Reverse.” But he did get it done, and here on the acknowledgements page, I saw the names of so many of the people in the room, and my own among them. The list was followed by a quote, and knowing James and knowing us, I read it in the voice of a character from a cartoon we both loved.

“I told you I’d finish, but you didn’t believe me!”

And another friend (James’s grad school officemate, also in the list) and I laughed and nodded.

A group had reserved a few tables at a local watering hole not far from the Transy campus, and so I went back to the hotel, got changed, and caught up with everyone about an hour later. When I got to my seat, I found a plastic bag with my name on it, and that was my second discovery of the day. There were letters I had written to James over the years, chiefly during my undergrad days almost 40 years back. He had saved them, and all the other letters he had received from his friends, for all those years. I saw quite a few folks with similar packets when I looked around the room. Later, we chose packets of seeds from James’s house — among other things, he was a certified Master Gardener — and now I have a packet of Sorghum seeds. I wonder when I’ll plant them.

There were about twenty of us, and again, we engaged in the mix of catching up and reminiscence that such events inspire. The old refrain was uttered: “Why do we only get together when one of us dies?”

Life intervenes of course, that’s why. We were scattered across the country, from Mondoville to Denver, and unfortunately, it sometimes requires cataclysm to bring us back together. And we all agreed that we should work on doing things like this without a precipitating death.

I nodded. “Yeah, because if someone has to die for this kind of thing to happen, we’ll eventually have to start asking for volunteers.”

Will and I, along with his classmates/our friends Leah and Cathy, were the last four to leave. I gave Leah a hug goodbye as we headed for the street. A group of people a little older than we were were entering as we were leaving. One of them, a woman, said, “If you’re getting hugs like that, I want to know where the line forms.” And again, we laughed.

***

This morning, I woke up before my alarm had a chance to do anything. I threw my stuff into my bags, dropped off my keys, and made my way back — arriving (as I said) a few hours ago. The drive was more irritating than usual — there were a couple of wrecks and other traffic snarls along the way, and the never ending road destruction (I know what I said) near Asheville. But I did make time to join lots of my fellow wanderers at a new place south of Lexington.

That’s right — I went to a Buc-ee’s. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the American pop culture scene, you’re probably already aware of the chain’s status as a sort of Road Trip Nirvana. It’s famous for vast arrays of gas pumps (100 or more), a huge assortment of freshly prepared road food (from breakfast sandwiches and brisket to a bakery and beef jerky bar), spectacularly clean restrooms offering genuinely private stalls, and terrifyingly friendly staff. I can attest to all of this, and I actually get what the fuss is about now. If you’re in a situation where you need to take a break and there’s a Buc-ee’s handy, take advantage of it. The kitschy Beaver mascot statue at the entrance also made me smile, and I watched families take pictures of the kids posing with it.

***

So here I am, home again. I told Will yesterday that even though the occasion was awful, the opportunity to spend time with our friends is a leaven, and reminds us of Larkin’s last line. What will remain of us is love, for James and Amy, Judy, Leah, Cathy, Suzanne, Will, Angela, Judy, Julia, Tammi, Kevin, Jimmy, Michaela, and the dozens of others who gathered in an old wooden building on a hot day in Harrodsburg, KY.

Love to us all.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

Friday Potpourri: Adaptation Edition

I’m in the office this afternoon, having snarfed the last of the garlic bagels I bought in Real City over the weekend as an afternoon snack. The campus was fairly busy today, welcoming a chunk of this fall’s incoming freshpeeps. I didn’t have any responsibilities this time, as we’ve dropped the placement test we used to have, but I had some grading to do, so I came over anyway. While waiting for a coffee, I met one of the incoming kids and her mom. The student’s nametag said that she plans to major in bio, and I asked if she is pre-med. Indeed she is, and I asked if she has a specialty in mind.

“I want to be a medical examiner,” she said.

“Cool! I write crime fiction, and I know some folks who have worked in the morgue and coroner’s office here in town. When you get on campus for real, swing by — we need to talk!”

I wonder if she’s read Patricia Cornwell.

***

Checking my e-mail this morning, I had new mail from Peter Carlaftes, publisher at Three Rooms Press. They had published El Bee’s Dark City Lights antho, which contains my short story “Bowery Station, 3:15 A.M.” It turns out that a film student in California was interested in doing a film version of the story as a class project, and wanted my permission to make the movie for not-for-profit use (film festivals and such.)

I told the student that as long as I was credited and got a copy of the finished film, I was fine with that — as an educator, I’m glad to help out students, even if they aren’t mine. This is actually the third time that students have done versions of stories of mine. Unfortunately, I never got a copy of the first one (made in my Ball State days), but the second one got me an entry at the IMdB, so that’s pretty cool.

[SIDE NOTE: I have entries at IMdB and the All Music Guide. As best I can tell, that puts me a Wikipedia entry away from the Triple Crown of Dubious Pop Cultural Relevance. End of side note.]

Anyway, I have to admit that it’s a kick to think that the work I do not only entertains readers, but may even inspire artists in other media from time to time. It’s good to know that I’m not shouting down a well.

***

By this time next week, I’ll probably be in (or at least approaching) Lexington, KY, for my friend James’s memorial. I’ll be reading a poem, just as I did for his late wife Amy three years ago. I hope I can make it through more gracefully this time.

Of course, any of us who have been around for a while have had the experience of knowing people we value, but only seeing them on these dismal occasions. It’s a cliche, but a synonym for cliche is truism after all. Because I met these friends at a school I left without graduating, it’s as close to a class reunion as I’m likely to get.

[SIDE NOTE: I earned my B.A. from a non-traditional program that specialized (and specializes) in remote learning. Occasionally it amuses me to think of that school having class reunions attended by people who have never met before, with no idea about any of their classmates. End of side note.]

I will be happy to see old friends, even in unpleasant circumstances, and I suppose that’s a balance of sorts to the unpleasant business at hand. Even as we say goodbye to one of ours, we can also take the opportunity to say hello to one another again.

***

I’ll wrap this one up with an artist I discovered earlier this week. Nick 13 (ne Kearney Nick Jones) first came to public attention fronting San Diego psychobilly band Tiger Army. He’s done several albums with the group, but he also put out a solo album in 2011, and that’s what I’ve been listening to for the past couple of days. This track was released as a video in 2013, but I’m just now catching up to it, and I think it sounds good back to back with artists like the Ruen Brothers and Chris Isaak. So check it out: This is “Nighttime Sky.”

(And yes, I know the line at the end of the chorus should be “For you and me.” I still like it.) See you soon!

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