Wilko Johnson, R.I.P.

Wilko Johnson (ne John Peter Wilkinson), the British guitarist whose unorthodox style was an inspiration during the mid-70s transition to punk rock, died last week at the age of 75.

Johnson was a focal point of Dr. Feelgood, one of the leading acts of what was called the “pub rock” movement. Pub rock was a reaction against what many saw as the musical and visual excesses of the progressive and glam rock scenes. The music was rootsy, sometimes with an English spin on R&B, and the look was simple as well. No capes and platform shoes for these guys — Dr. Feelgood often dressed in suits, which did nothing to disguise the fact that they came across as working class hard men, of the sort it would be unwise to heckle.

(L-R: Johnson, Lee Brilleaux (vox), John “The Big Figure” Martin (drums), and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass). Let history record that I envy Martin’s nickname.)

The band never really made it in the States, but had several hits in the U.K., including “Back in the Night” and “Milk and Alcohol.” In many ways, Johnson’s guitar work drove the band. Oddly enough, he didn’t use a pick, preferring to play fingerstyle in a manner that allowed him to switch constantly between rhythm parts and lead lines. He was also a commanding, even threatening stage presence, wielding the guitar as if it were a machine gun. He was almost the antithesis of the guitarist-as-gearhead stereotype — he ran his guitar directly into a solid-state, transistorized amp, of the sort typically used by players who can’t afford high-end equipment. When an interviewer asked him about using (effects) pedals, Johnson snapped, “I’m a guitarist, not a [very naughty word] cyclist.”

As I mentioned earlier, the pub rockers and their stripped down approach were a key influence on the UK punk and New Wave scenes. Joe Strummer of the Clash had played in a pub rock band, and the pub band Brinsley Schwarz provided members of Rockpile, the Rumour, and Nick Lowe’s backing band. Johnson, meanwhile, went on to join Ian Dury and the Blockheads and had some solo projects. He even did occasional acting gigs, including a brief part as an executioner in Game of Thrones: “They said they wanted somebody really sinister who went around looking daggers at people before killing them. That made it easy. Looking daggers at people is what I do all the time, it’s like second nature to me.”

By then, Johnson’s look had changed from the “pudding bowl” haircut of the Feelgood years to a close-cropped, even shaved appearance. Part of this may have been the result of medical issues — he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer in 2013, although it was later discovered to be a less virulent ailment. At the time, however, he had every reason to believe he was dying, and commented later that discovering he wasn’t had challenges of its own. Even then, he spent what he thought were to be his last days in the studio, doing an album of covers with the Who’s Roger Daltrey.

Johnson is survived by two sons, and was predeceased by his wife Irene, who died in 2004. He is the second of the original Feelgoods to die; lead singer/harmonica player Lee Brilleaux died of lymphoma in 1994. Meanwhile, a version of the band (containing no original members — a rock version of the Ship of Theseus) continues to record and tour.

I think I’ll close this post with one of Feelgood’s biggest hits, a track that demonstrates the group’s no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach. This is “She Does It Right.”

So long, Wilko — thanks for the music.

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Turkey Hash Edition

Well, not literally, but we are post-Thanksgiving, and once again, I found a great deal for which to be thankful, not least of all, your willingness to read my assorted meanderings. And since I’ve just graded a batch of papers, let’s get to those meanderings, shall we?

***

Mrs. M and I spent a large chunk of the break on the road, visiting her mom (or as the Spawn calls her, Grandma) up in Lost-in-the-Woods County, KY, This allowed me to give the Blue Meanie a proper shakedown cruise, and by the journey’s end, the odometer had made it past the thousand-mile mark. I established base camp at a low-budget motel about half a mile from Grandma’s apartment. Grandma herself seems to be flourishing well enough. While she still is not entirely over some of the injuries and medical issues of the past few years, she seems to have most things under control, and can get around under her own power a fair amount of the time, We all found this encouraging.

Mrs. M handled the cooking during our stay, leaving Grandma and me to watch television. Because she has home field advantage, Grandma and I watched a great deal of old-school TV, from 50s Westerns (Wagon Train! The Rifleman!) to Adam-12. We even got to enjoy a Gunsmoke two-parter about the hazards of boiling nitroglycerin out of dynamite. One of the things that struck me was that while the pace of these episodes would likely be seen as dull by today’s standards, I thought the slower pace allowed more room to build suspense and to explore even secondary characters as we went along. It was also surprising to discover how well I remembered the Adam-12 theme music. (Of course, readers of James Ellroy can’t really approach Jack Webb productions in quite the same manner we once did, but it’s still a good TV experience, reminding me of many Saturday evenings at my own grandparents’ house in the 1970s.

We came back yesterday, stopping at the halfway point (Johnson City, TN) for lunch and a bookstore run (well, for me, anyway — Mrs. M preferred to check out TJ Maxx.) I got a frozen coffee for dessert, and found a paperback copy of a recent Megan Abbott novel I can tuck into once the grading settles down. As an added bonus, I can pass it to the Spawn when she gets into town at Christmastime.

I happened to be wearing my “Crime Writer” T-shirt yesterday, and as Mrs. M and I reunited at the bookstore, a woman I didn’t know commented on the shirt. I got the opportunity to plug my work, and to feel at least marginally significant for a minute or two. But the highway was calling, and we got home and settled in just in time for me to watch the second half of Kentucky’s win over archrival Louisville for the Governor’s Cup — the fourth consecutive Cup victory for my beloved Wildcats, putting a nice cap on a somewhat disappointing season. To be fair, it’s a weird feeling for a UK fan to see a winning football season as a letdown, so I think that’s testament to how the program has improved in recent years.

Of course, I also returned to the official arrival of Gradeapalooza, and a couple of student crises, but those are to be expected at this time of year. It was a good trip, and a fine start to Turkey Season — in fact, Mrs. M is cooking another one (the annual freebie from the college) this very afternoon, with another one to come when the Spawn and Main Squeeze arrive.

***

One of the neat aspects of the drive this time was the presence of satellite radio on this trip — the Blue Meanie comes with a trial subscription. This allowed me a trip blessedly free of pop-country and radio preachers. I was even able to enjoy my Spotify feed as the spirit moved me. This last will come in handy when the satellite subscription expires, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

***

Since I mentioned writing a little while ago, I just want to remind you that Playing Games, the new Lawrence Blockthology that contains my story “Lightning Round,” will be coming your way in just a few weeks. . . assuming that you order it, that is. Meanwhile, Black is the Night (with my historical story, “The Jacket”, will look really good under your Christmas tree as well, so why not check it out?

***

And with that, let’s wrap up this particular batch of potpourri. In keeping with the theme of Thanksgiving and other harvestide rituals, this seems like a good, slightly wintry piece from one of my favorite mands. From their 1986 Evening of the Harvest LP, here’s the title cut.

See you soon!

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Time-Release Gradeapalooza Edition

The research papers started coming in earlier this week, and I’ll be receiving batches this week and next as well. So there’ll be a fair — or perhaps unfair — amount of grading in the next couple of weeks. Still, I have a few moments of peace in my office this weekend, so why not share them with you?

***

For much of my time here in Mondoville, I’ve listened to Hans Kesteloo’s Utrecht-based stream of garage and psychedelic rock, Beyond the Beat Generation. However, Mr. Kesteloo decided to pull the plug some weeks back, so I’ve had to hunt around a bit for streams of ear candy (Spotify handles most of my post-Spirit of ’66 needs). I seem to have run into some luck, though, having discovered two such streams, including a brand-new one curated by collector/expert Mike “Mop Top” Markesich.

Markesich is the author of TeenBeat Mayhem, a definitive documentary guide to more than 18,000 American garage rock tracks, and a book that holds a place of honor on my office shelves. The volume also lends its name to TeenBeat Mayhem Radio, now audible here. Well, at least some of the time: the channel is weekends only until the new year, but will eventually go 24/7 with the thousands of frat rockers, surf and hotrod tunes, would-be Beatles, and gas-huffing psychedelicists in the Mop Top’s collection. Interstitial announcements come from Freddy Fortune, late of Fortune & Maltese, and more recently of Freddy and the Four Gone Conclusions (whose version of “Dracula’s Deuce” is a fave of the Spawn’s.) I can see this becoming a regular soundtrack chez Mondo.

But there’s also Psychedelic Jukebox, a stream based in Apex, NC. The Jukebox offers themed days (for example, Sundays are reserved for folk and folk-rock), but also offers music from beyond the US, and from revivalist acts (including, ahem, The Berries). Either way you go, it’s a musical good time.

***

Yesterday was the home opener for Mondoville’s women’s basketball team, who got past a stubborn squad from UNC-Pembroke. On my way out of the gym, I heard a woman telling her daughter, “You should take pictures of all the colleges you visit. They were looking for an appropriate backdrop, and I pointed out a couple of possibilities while striking up a conversation. The family is from Florida, and while the daughter is a high school junior, they’re starting to make unofficial visits and look at schools. So we chatted for a few minutes and I told them a bit about why I’m glad to be here and why it might be a good place for them as well.

But one interesting moment was when the mom asked me if I was related to any of the Mondoville squad. I said that I wasn’t, but that I’m a regular at the games (three rows up, just barely on the home team’s side of midcourt). She asked why, and I explained that like numerous colleagues of mine, I want to show the kids that I’m interested in who they are and what they do when they’re outside my classroom, just as I am when they’re in class with me. I don’t know if it made an impression on the visitors, but it has the advantage of being true. In any case, I wished the family the best of luck and safe travels. Who knows? She might be in my Froshcomp class one day.

***

Meanwhile, the Spawn has started a new gig with a company that provides marketing and creative management services to other companies. Her job title is Content Steward, but I still think she should wear an ascot and beret and become a content stewardess. Even so, she’s excited about the position, and we wish her luck. Even more importantly, we’re eager to see her and the Main Squeeze when they come to visit over the semester break.

***

I’ll go ahead and wrap things up here with a song I’ve shared before, but that I heard last night as I listened to TeenBeat Mayhem. From Aurora, IL’s West Aurora High School, here are the Shadow Casters (NOTE: Check the comments after the linked post, where some of the band members join the discussion!), with the moody, melancholy “Cinnamon Snowflake.” Good stuff for an overcast November day.

See you soon!

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Happy Birthday to Orillia’s Finest

. . . Gordon Lightfoot turns 84 today. Bob Dylan once said of Lightfoot, “When I hearr one of his songs, I hope it goes on forever,” and over the years, a lot of folks have come to agree.

I was lucky enough to see Mr. Lightfoot ten years ago, when last he came to Mondoville. At that time, he was a mere slip of a lad in his early seventies, and the evening felt like one spent with old friends (in part, I suspect, because his group had been together for decades, and in part because his songs have become old friends to us all over the years.

His warm baritone was getting fuzzy then, and is doubtless fuzzier now, but I suspect that once the music starts, it doesn’t matter. I wish him many happy returns. I’ll close the post with the first of his songs that I remember. It turns out the song was written about the late Cathy Smith, a noted singer, groupie, and junkie from the seventies, now best known as the woman who set John Belushi up with his last speedball.

Ms. Smith has been gone for a couple of years herself now, and none of that mattered when I was eight or nine years old and this song came over the AM radio in my parents’ VW Beetle. I didn’t need the backstory — the song was enough.

Many happy returns, Mr. Lighfoot. May you and your songs go on forever.

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Poetry Corner: Lawrence Tierney Edition?

While attending the virtual version of NoirCon with plenty of fascinating stuff, I caught a discussion of the actor Lawrence Tierney, who was accurately described as a “real-life tough guy.” He was gruff, difficult, and known to get into brawls on occasion, and in those senses, he was much like many of the characters he played. But of course, like any of us, he was also more than that. The panel discussing Tierney would occasionally cut away to clips of the man, and during one such moment, we caught him reciting today’s poem from memory. So without further ado, here’s William Butler Yeats.

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

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(Jacques Cousteau Voice) “Three Weeks Later…”

Yes, I’m still around. It’s Thursday night, I’m at home, and the rainy remnants of Hurricane Nicole are putting a literal damper on things. However, that’s supposed to clear out by tomorrow night, allowing for good football-watching conditions on Saturday afternoon, as Mondoville hosts the conference championship game. If we pull it off, that’ll make back-to-back conference titles for the Wolves, although due to the ranking system used at this level, it would not guarantee a second consecutive playoff trip. No, I don’t like that either. But I’ll be there Saturday afternoon, pulling for the kids and hoping for the best. Meanwhile. . .

***

When the pandemic was holding sway and illimitable dominion not long ago, the college adapted the academic calendar, adding a one-month online term in January. One of the consequences of that is that two weeks of classes were shaved off both the fall and Spring semesters, truncating them to 13 weeks. We’re still trying to jam the content of our fifteen-week classes into the new format, however, and that means we’re having to work at a fairly blistering pace. There’s little time for reflection between assignments — instead it feels like a loop of assign and grade, with any remaining time consumed by lesson planning and the day-to-day faculty tasks of keeping the college functional and, well, collegial. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Don’t get me wrong — I know it still beats selling tires and batteries, and all things considered, it’s still work I love. But at the same time, I can see some of my colleagues wearing thin, and I wonder in turn if I’m starting to look frayed at the edges. The good news is that the administration is noticing what’s going on; discussions are underway regarding further revisions to the calendar. They may mean that we start the fall term a little sooner and end the spring term a bit later, but I think that’s a change most of us are willing to make. Until then, though, we’ll keep dancing as fast as we can.

***

Speaking of classes, my schedule for spring includes (along with the customary 50% FroshComp load) the return of the Shakespeare course and a creative writing workshop in fiction. Several of the kids in the latter are folks I’ve worked with before, and I think it looks like a pretty good group. Here’s hoping. I’m using one of El Bee’s books as the text this time around — I’ve used it before, and past classes have appreciated Mr. Block’s combination of encouragement and practical advice.

Meanwhile, I may tweak the Shakespeare readings a little, with an eye toward exposing the kids to more performances. In particular, I think I’m going to see what they think of Chimes at Midnight (not least because I’m a film geek.) But a syllabus is a zero-sum game under the best of conditions, and as I noted above, the semester is tighter this time than it was when last I taught the course. If the course were strictly about Awesome Bill from Stratfordville, it would be easier. However, it’s an “Age of Shakespeare” course, so I have to keep room for folks like Jonson, Marlowe, and Webster as well. Decisions, decisions. . .

***

And since I was talking about writing in the previous item, I’ll go ahead and mention that Black Is the Night (the Woolrich-themed antho containing my story “The Jacket”) is in the world, and would make a lovely Christmas gift for the any readers of criminous fiction. Of course, if you’d rather start the New Year with a bang, you can hold out for Playing Games, the new Lawrence Blockthology that contains my bar-trivia themed story, “Lightning Round.” Or what the heck?

Juat sayin’, is all I’m doin’…

***

And with that, I probably ought to tend to the laundry and wrap this up in my customary fashion. Not long before my birthday, Mondofaves The Green Pajamas released another album joining the literally dozens of others they have issued over the past four decades. From Forever for a Little While, this is “Six Minutes in Heaven.” Psych out, everyone…

See you soon!

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In Which the Prof Chokes Up

In my Contemporary/Urban Fantasy/Magic Realism class, we’re currently working through Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I hadn’t read the book in 15 years (since the last time I taught the course); since then, my parents and some of my close friends have died, the Spawn has grown up, and I’m now four years older than Charles Halloway, one of the protagonists of the novel. I read the book differently now than I did last time, and certainly differently than when I read it in prior decades.

[Side note: I occasionally encounter people who are puzzled by my habit of re-reading books — particularly fiction. “You know what happens; you know how the story turns out, who lives and who dies. Why do you read them again?”

I often ask in return, “Do you only talk to your friends once in your lives?” End of side note.]

Yesterday’s chunk of the text included Chapter 28, which is a conversation between Charles Halloway and his 13-year-old son Will. They talk about what it means to be a good person, and about the mixture of good and bad in each of us, and about the beauties and terrors of life and death, and how they sometimes overlap. All of this feeds into some themes of the book — age and youth, innocence and experience, as Charles is aware that he is nearer his life’s end than its beginning, while Will and his friend Jim Nightshade (such a Dickensian name, that) are approaching adulthood with varying amounts of enthusiasm and anticipation.

And I remember having conversations like Will’s and Charles’s with my father, and as I was talking to the kids yesterday, I found myself once again reminded that Goldengrove is always unleaving, that “to look at things in bloom/ fifty springs are little room”, and all that jazz about the moving finger having written. My throat tightened up and my eyes started to water, and of course the kids noticed, so I felt obligated to explain the wonder and melancholy that brought me to this point, and about death being the mother of beauty, and before I was finished, I noticed at least a couple of the kids were getting sniffly.

But we got through it, and as class wound down, I mentioned that I knew a couple of my students were considering majors or minors in English, and that they should consider the day’s events as they make their decisions. “Moments like today’s should not be set aside lightly.”

Then, as I turned toward the hallway, I saw one of my former students at the door. Katie is originally from Georgia, but she went from Mondoville to England, where she married and became a grade school teacher and the mother of two daughters. Her family had come to the US to visit, and as part of it, they took a moment to swing by the campus and to say hello to this particular middle-aged prof. The littles were shy, but it was a joy to meet them.

[Side note the second: I was wearing one of my Samuel Johnson t-shirts while I taught yesterday, and I learned to my delight that Katie and her family live a very short distance from Johnson’s home town of Lichfield. End of second side note.]

I was telling the Mad Dog about all this last night, and I observed that while my passions haven’t led me in the most financially rewarding directions, occasionally I get reminders that what I’ve done — what I do — is important, and that it never was something to set aside lightly.

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Sunday Potpourri: Voodn, Voodn

It’s the kind of sunny that makes me squint this afternoon, with an expected high around 82. By Tuesday, however, the high will have dropped by more than 20 degrees, and it may actually feel like fall, a condition devoutly to be wished. Meanwhile, Thursday and Friday marked my Fall break. I had hoped to grade some papers, but other things intervened. For example…

***

As I’ve previously mentioned, when the Spawn headed up to Terpville, we got her a fresh vehicle so that we might have one less thing to worry about. In turn, this meant that I started driving her previous car, a 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe that we had inherited from my parents. The timing on this was pretty good, because my old drum hauler had given up the ghost, so I still had a way to get to class, make my way around Mondoville, and other such very short trips.

However, entropy always wins, and back last winter, the power steering on the Santa Fe went out. I was told that repairs would run significantly more then the car’s value, and besides, maneuvering the thing was good for my forearm strength. Of course, the exhaust system had also largely rusted out even while the Spawn was driving it (remember — it spent its first six years in Northern KY, where the roads are frequently salted), but it had reached the point at which my students could hear me pulling into the parking lot from the other side of campus, and even inside the car, the auditory ambience was similar to that of a B-24 taking flak over Schweinfurt. On top of that, I noticed another noise that in the past had indicated a bad wheel bearing. While my family often says we’ll keep a car until the wheels fall off, we were getting a little too close to leaving the world of metaphor. Essentially, the CD player had become the most valuable component of the car, and filling the gas tank probably marked a substantial increase in the car’s value.

In short, the car was actively attempting to murder me, like something from Steven Vincent Benet’s “Nightmare Number Three.” Clearly it was time to find some new wheels — a nice, clean, affordable, late model used car of the sort we got the Spawn. Now, car shopping (as opposed to car wishing, which I quite enjoy from time to time) is an activity that I normally welcome about as much as a prostate exam from Captain Hook, but you gotta do what you gotta do, so Mrs. M and I started looking around on the Internet.

And that’s when we found out that nice, clean, affordable, late model used cars really aren’t on the menu these days. Apparently, the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues put a squeeze on the new car market, which led to a squeeze on the used car market, which in turn resulted in price hikes. In fact, I noticed that more than a few dealerships have decided that their inventories and customers could handle a bit of gouging market adjustment. While our local dealership didn’t fall into that category, Mrs. M and I still found ourselves dealing with sticker shock. We found a few potential rides there, but as we negotiated (or more to the point, while Mrs. M negotiated and I agreed with her — and this is why we have really good credit scores), eventually she said, “You know, I’ve seen new cars advertised for what you’re asking for a used version of the same model.”

And that’s when the bulb lit up. And when we left that dealership, we headed to Real City and a dealership for the brand of car we had been checking out. To make a long story short (“Too late!” you cry.), I found the first brand new car I’ve ever owned in my life. Ladles and Jellyspoons, allow me to introduce. . . the Blue Meanie.

2023 Hyundai Kona with 1965 Mondoville Prof.

How new was it? It still had the freight papers affixed to the windshield, and the odometer read 16 miles when I drove it off the lot. And in fact, we paid less than we would’ve had we gone for the 2020 version we had been looking at here. The car has lots of features I think of as bells and whistles (again, more than the used vehicle offered), although they’re apparently pretty standard these days. In particular, I find myself thrilled to discover that I can listen to my phone’s Spotify app as I travel along, and I did just that as I made my way home. It also has various safety features such as lane alerts, blind spot monitoring, a backup camera and other fancy stuff. Again, all this is pretty much standard these days, but given that my first car required me to enter and exit from the passenger’s side, it seems absolutely sybaritic to me. So I guess I’m a yokel — but I’m a contented yokel with a reasonable car payment.

Alas, I didn’t get to keep the bow, but I’m pleased all the same.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m no one’s idea of a motorhead, but I’m really happy with my choice. It’s a good buy, but I also wanted a car with some personality, that stood out among the various monochrome SUVs, trucks, and econoboxes in the local parking lot. The car’s color is officially “Teal Isle,” but I think of it as a more electric version of the color of my drum kit. And what the heck — our previous Hyundai served three generations of my family. Seems like a good deal to me, and Mrs. M and I are happy to have a vehicle we can trust for the two or three long trips we make each year.

So once again, welcome to the Blue Meanie — here’s to a lengthy relationship.

***

Yesterday also afforded me the chance to catch the season’s last home match for the women’s rugby team, which overcame a plucky squad from nearby Guilford College. Since this was our team’s debut season, the fact that we won some games (and even some full matches) was pretty impressive. As it happens, I found myself chatting with the parents of our team’s head coach during time outs and breaks in the action. They mentioned to me that their daughter had assembled/recruited the team, converted a former practice field into a rugby venue, arranged for uniforms, scheduling, training, and all those necessary components, and even won some games and matches, all in about 10 months. That’s rather nifty, and I think Mondoville is lucky to have her. Besides, it’s a fun way to spend a gorgeous fall morning. I’m already looking forward to next season.

***

Well, I do have some papers to look at, so I’d best wrap this up. Icehouse was a synthpop/new wave band from Australia that had some success in the 80s, most notably with this song from 1987. It was co-written by the band’s driving force (Iva Davies) and John Oates (of Hall and Oates, who contemplated doing a version of it themselves. As I said — I really like my car’s color.

See you soon!

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Anniversary Edition

Today marks Mrs. M’s and my 29th anniversary. Over those years, we’ve loved, argued, laughed, wept, supported one another through educations, seen our way through new careers, worried about each other, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve seen a new person into the world who has justified my existence far more than anything else I might do. That’s a lot, and it’s worth commemorating.

Happy anniversary, Debbie.

***

We celebrated our anniversary on Friday night with a trip to a favorite seafood place in a town a few exits up the Interstate, and it was as good as it always is. Since I’m caught up on grading until tomorrow, I spent yesterday watching Mondoville’s sports teams in action.

This meant that slightly before eleven yesterday, I was at what was once known as the Lee Atwater Practice Field (named after one of Mondoville’s more historically significant alumni), but what is now the home pitch for our women’s rugby team (in its inaugural season.) This was the team’s second home match, but I had missed the first one. Two of the players are in my Froshcomp classes, and one had invited me to a match, so I thought this would be an interesting way to start the day.

The team plays a form of the sport known as “Sevens“, which is faster-paced and shorter than the original, fifteen-a-side version. Doubtless there are many subtleties involved, but I’m sure they were lost on me — I know almost nothing about the sport, but that still put me ahead of a fair proportion of the few dozen Mondovillians in attendance to cheer our side on. As I said, it’s a new sport here. Still, it was a beautiful, sunny morning, and I took a seat on the grass behind one of the end zones next to another of my students. A decent chunk of the crowd appeared to be made up of parents, who were wise enough to bring folding camp chairs and the like, but the grass was good enough for me, and the chain-link fence made a reasonable back rest. No patrician I.

I had arrived about 20 minutes before the start of the match, so I got to catch the conclusion of warm-ups. At one point, our team huddled up and began a series of odd, wailing, screams that went on for a bit. Not a New Zealand Haka, but still somewhat unnerving. I turned to the student beside me and said, “This is why the pioneers in the Indian Wars preferred being killed to being left for the women.”

The student nodded. “Yeah; I get it.”

After the introductions and the National Anthem (sung by one of our players — nice job), it was time for the first of three scheduled matches between our squad and the Battlers of Anderson Broaddus U, from Philippi, WV. As I said, the game is fast-paced — there are relatively few players in a relatively large area, so there’s a lot of room to operate. A full game was completed in less than half an hour, with Newberry coming out on the short end of a 12-10 score, due to the Battlers making one of their conversions (think football extra point, but worth two points) while we missed both of ours.

One of the opposing players, number 9, was particularly impressive — she ran and tackled ferociously, breaking tackles as if she were Jim Brown or Earl Campbell, There were several hits from both sides that drew impressed noises from the crowd. We may not know much about the sport, but this is SEC country — we know hitting. Our team appeared to be generally longer on speed, getting both of our tries (think touchdown, but worth 5 points) on long breakaways. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that some of that may be due to the fact that we’re a first-year team and have to rely more on individual athleticism than team coordination and strategy. But like I said, we kept it close.

Things fell apart in the second game, however. (Apparently, a typical “competition day” consists of three games.) A couple of minutes in, one of our players made a tackle, driving her opponent out of bounds. It didn’t appear to be a particularly violent tackle (and in fact, rugby is notable for having far fewer serious injuries than other collision sports), but the other player didn’t get up. The trainers hustled over, and it was quickly apparent that the downed player had broken a bone, either in her ankle or just above it. An ambulance arrived and took her away, and the game resumed.

But only a moment later, another player from AB — the impressive player I mentioned earlier — went down, again with a leg injury. While she wasn’t hurt as badly as her teammate, it was decided that her day was over as well. Unfortunately, this dropped the visitors below the necessary seven players to continue, so that was the end of the match. While the team’s roster lists fifteen players, it may be that some of them we unable to come along for some reason. (For the record, our team has seventeen players listed.) I’m told that game will go into the books as a win by forfeit for Newberry.

Between the first game and the abortive second game, I had noticed #9 talking to a woman on the sideline with the other fans. So after the abrupt conclusion of the match, I walked over and introduced myself to the spectator. Since (as I said) most of the spectators appeared to be family members, I asked if she was #9’s sister or friend.

“I’m actually #9’s girlfriend,” she said.

“Cool! My daughter is gay, and her girlfriend talks occasionally about joining a club team. Anyway, your girlfriend is really good. She trucked some people out there. Do you know if she’s okay?”

“Well…” and she looked across the field, “She’s moving around okay, so I think she may be hurt, but not injured.”

In any case, I asked her to pass along my compliments, and wished them a safe trip home. Then I made my way home for lunch and came back to campus to watch our football squad get back on the good foot, defeating Barton College by a score of 42-21. Over the course of the day I got a bit pinked up by the sun (thanks to my near-translucent Scots complexion), but not scorched, so all in all, it was a good time, and one of the days I always hoped to have when I took up the small-school academic life.

***

Speaking of the Spawn, she’s doing fine up in Terpville, working on a new short story while doing edits on a longer piece. Today, she, the Main Squeeze, and some friends are attending a local Renaissance Faire. Again, one of my favorite things about the Spawn, the Squeeze, and their relationship is how much it has broadened my daughter’s horizons, from trying new foods to a range of other experiences. They’re a good couple.

***

Just a reminder that LB’s Burglar Who met Fredric Brown hits the stands on Tuesday, 18 Oct, with Black Is the Night (containing my story “The Jacket”) coming out three days later. And with luck, all this may whet your appetite for Playing Games, the new antho edited by Mr. B and containing my story “Lightning Round.” You can order a copy, but you’ll need to wait ’til the new year for it. Even so, there’s plenty of good stuff to enjoy, and I hope you will.

***

Well, I think I’ll wrap things up here in my customary fashion. I noticed that at both the Rugby and Football games yesterday, the P.A. announcers played Joan Jett’s version of “I Love Rock and Roll,” and even our marching band covered the arrangement over the course of the day.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but there’s nothing wrong with the original version either. British glamsters The Arrows (not to be confused with Davie Allan’s backing band) wrote the track and released in 1975, seven years before Ms. Jett took it to the top of the US charts. So here’s the original, complete with Granada TV‘s station ID.

See you soon!

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Sunday Night Potpourri: Feels Like Fall Edition

It’s a couple of hours before bedtime, and back to the classroom tomorrow morning.

***

Mondoville was spared the wrath of Hurricane Ian; all we got was a cool, rainy, windy day, of the sort Winnie-the-Pooh fans might recognize as blustery. Out of the proverbial abundance of caution, the College opted to go virtual on Friday. As it happened, my Friday classes were scheduled as workshop sessions anyway, so I didn’t have to risk any pedagogical hit points. This allowed me to take care of some grading, so I suppose it was a win-win for all of us. Over the course of the weekend, I managed to grade papers from my three Freshpeep classes. I still have a class remaining, but I hope to be able to take care of those in the next day or two.

I also found out my teaching schedule for Spring term — two Froshcomps, Shakespeare, and a fiction workshop. I’m pretty comfortable with all of these, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to have a good time. But I’m not even halfway through this term yet, so as the philosopher said in the TB ward, let’s not put Descartes before the hoarse.

***

On 18 October, the world will officially become one book richer, as El Bee’s The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown sees release. In some respects, it’s an atypical book — in others, it’s exactly the sort of book I would expect from Mr. Block. In both respects, these are good things.

As the title indicates, this is the latest installment in LB’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series. While he was here in 2019, Block issued a collection of shorts involving Bernie’s adventures. A key part of that book is a conversation with Bernie, in which the gentleman burglar complains that technology has made both his jobs (used bookseller and burglar) much more difficult, if not impossible. Between Amazon and surveillance cameras, what’s a fella to do?

Well, the new book provides an answer to that. An interesting side of Mr. B’s career is that he has a longstanding interest in science fiction, both as a reader and on a couple of occasions, as a writer. A short story from early in his career was actually named in a best-of sf collection, and it isn’t much of a stretch to classify his 1988 novel Random Walk as sf of a sort. Heck, it was published by Tor and blurbed by Spider Robinson.

Now some of this, I think, may have something to do with the fact that there was a fair amount of intersection among genre writers of a certain era. These folks were pros meeting the demands of various markets. Some guys who worked in several genres included Harlan Ellison, Anthony Boucher… and Fredric Brown. (You knew I’d get back to things eventually, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?)

The new novel kind of picks up where the interview with Bernie left off. He still has the store (he owns the building, after all — the result of his moonlighting gig), but as I’ve noted, the times seem less suitable for him. He also still has his platonic friendship with Carolyn Kaiser, the lesbian and dog groomer up the street. As most of us do, they expect to muddle along.

But. In his overly abundant spare time, Bernie has been reading some of the titular Mr. Brown’s sf — particularly a book called What Mad Universe (about which here.) And when he wakes up one morning, he — and Carolyn — find themselves in a parallel universe of their own. It’s very similar to ours, but there are differences, some subtle (the names of transit fare cards), others less so. For example, the new universe seems devoid of Amazon and security cameras. And it just so happens that a fabulously valuable gem (or I suppose, its doppelganger) might be available for the taking. . . if the thief is particularly resourceful.

There are other significant differences in the lives of Bernie and Carolyn in this other universe, but I’m not going to give those away. Suffice it to say that at least one is heartwarming and another is startling. And of course, there’s a big question — will Bernie and Carolyn get back to their original world? Read it and find out.

It’s a fun read, but there’s another aspect of the book that I think deserves attention. Charles Ardai has described Block as an existentialist writer. That’s not a “transcends the genre” sort of thing, by the way — it’s just a consequence of what he writes, or more accurately, a driver of same. In quite a few of his books, we can find a recurring theme: In many ways, we get the world we imagine or create for ourselves. I think that’s a theme in Random Walk, and we see it in his recent Dead Girl Blues. It also shows up from time to time in the Keller series and in the Scudder novels (where we find a quote from Reverend Ike that we can go to the ocean with a teacup or a bucket — the ocean doesn’t care.) What happens in Bernie and Carolyn’s worlds is another example of this theory, and that is what makes Fredric Brown both unusual and characteristic of Block’s work.

But as I said, it’s also a lot of fun. Go ahead and place your advance order; it’ll make you happy in a couple of weeks.

And by the way: Why not go ahead and place your New Year’s order for LB’s Playing Games antho, which includes my story “Lightning Round”? Thanks!

***

Well, I do have to get up early in the morning, so I’ll go ahead and wrap this one up with a bit of music. I spent the afternoon in my office grading, and today’s listening was from P.T. Walkley, a songwriter I’ve mentioned before. In fact, I’ve shared this song before, but it’s been quite a few years, so here it comes again. From his album Mr. Macy Wakes Alone, this is the closer, “Somebody.”

I hope we all can be somebody just like us. See you soon!

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