Welcome to 2019!

I woke up with what might be hints of a story echoing in my head, and spent this afternoon watching my beloved Kentucky Wildcats vanquish a gutsy Penn State squad in the Citrus Bowl for their first 10-win season since I lived in Tennessee. So we’re off to a good start.

Of course, the New Year is a time for resolutions, and while I don’t typically make them, I’ve decided to try to be more positive this time around. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to claim optimism, but if I can stay out of situations like these, I think I’ll be OK.

I know there will be big changes this year. The Spawn will graduate at the beginning of May, and then we’ll see about grad school in the fall. At that point, the Mid-Century Mondohaus will seem capacious indeed. But that’s why we raise them, I guess, and if it brings her closer to the life she wants, then I guess we’re doing pretty well. All the same, I can see some trips up I-95 later this year.

I have three stories coming out this year, and if my hand is in luck (correction: When I write as well as I can — positivity), more good stuff will happen. Similarly, I look forward to doing music again, and for those new opportunities to express ideas.

But now it’s time for dinner. I hope 2019 gives you everything you want, and that it’s still what you want when you have it.

Happy New Year, gang!

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New Year’s Eve Potpourri: Beach Reading Edition

We’re sliding out of 2018 in a skosh more than three hours here in Mondoville, and I think I’ll get things going with a piece from the Golden Trashery of Ogden Nashery:

Good Riddance, But Now What?

Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.

Tonight’s December Thirty-First,
Something is about to burst.

The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.

Hark! It’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year.

***

Mrs. M and I decided to wrap up the year with a long weekend’s trip, in this case, to Myrtle Beach. We left the Spawn in charge of the Hound of the Basketballs and departed Mondoville around one on Friday afternoon. We had been on the road about ten minutes when my phone blatted with a tornado warning. The Spawn retreated to the downstairs with the dog, and we let her know when the all clear was sounded. As it turned out, however, the warning was for a different area of the county. After that, the remainder of the drive was uneventful, and we rolled into town about 4.

We stayed at a place we’ve visited in the past, and got a room with a balcony overlooking the sea — oceanfront views are pretty much my dealbreaker, and I spent quite a bit of my downtime looking at the waves and listening as they fell against the shore. But that wasn’t an issue when we arrived; the rain had followed us from Mondoville to the coast, and had turned into a pea soup fog. I could hear the ocean, but seeing it would have to wait a couple of hours. We resisted the concierge’s blandishments to attend a timeshare sales presentation in exchange for attraction tickets, and instead went to a branch of a semi-upscale pizza joint. Part of our division of labor for road trips of this sort is that I drive the long hauls, while Mrs. M frequently does the driving around our destination. This allows me to sightsee as she drives, and Myrtle Beach after dark is actually a fair amount of fun to observe, with plenty of neon marking the assorted beachwear shops, pancake houses, and other monasteries of the Tourist Trappists. Eventually, though, we found the restaurant in a less touristy section of town.

Brixx

Mrs. M’s Roma Tomato special, and my meatfest.

The fog had lifted by the time we returned to base, so I spent a half-hour or so sitting on the balcony and watching the crests of the incoming waves inscribe white lines against the darkness of the water. Occasionally I’d see someone jogging along the edge of the water. But after a moment, I saw a flicker of light over to my right, about 100 feet up. It reminded me of a hot air balloon at first, and then I realized it was a Chinese luminary (the paper kind, not an Asian celebrity). I called Mrs. M onto the balcony, but it had disappeared. Fortunately, a second one appeared within a few seconds, and we watched as it flickered eastward, over the sea and into the night.

***

The next morning, I went down and took advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet while Mrs. M slept in for a bit. When I got back, she was getting ready for the day, and a member of the housekeeping staff stopped by to bring us fresh towels and such. In the past, I’ve noticed that a lot of the service folks in the area tend to come from other countries, often in Africa or Eastern Europe. That wasn’t the case this time, but I knew the dialect immediately. The housekeeper was a young woman from Kenosha, WI, but her accent was pure Chicagoland. We learned that she had only been in town for about a month, and had moved to be with her boyfriend, who works at the registration desk.

We had been talking for a couple of minutes when another staff member came by to make sure everything was all right. I was glad to see that — it’s a really hard job, and one with the potential for unpleasant moments as well (After all, you never know just who that guest may be.), so it’s good that the staff look out for one another.

***

Mrs. M wanted to do some shopping, so I let her drop me off at a bookstore/frappuccino reserve while she went on safaris of her own. Our hotel sits on the eastern side of Ocean Blvd., which as the name implies, is the main beachfront drag in town. Most of the hotels on the eastern (beach) side are big, sprawling complexes, forming a sort of wall between the street and the ocean, only allowing glimpses of the ocean between one structure and the next. On the other side, however, most of the hotels are older, and I suspect many of them date to the 1960s, and some to the 50s. While I opt for the oceanfront rooms, I occasionally find myself tempted by these reminders of other times.

And as it turns out, I must not be the only one. I noticed one of these facilities was advertising itself as a retro experience, and I think I may have to check it out before too awfully long. The Waikiki Village Motel, built in 1963, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was recently renovated/restored to something rather like its old glory.  It’s hard to resist the thought of sleeping in a room like this:

waikiki

Even though I’m a teetotaler, this just seems like a place built for drinking zombies while chatting with Shell Scott. And that’s pretty cool.

***

While I hung around the frappuccino preserve, I read Eric Idle’s new autobio, which struck me with its humor (unsurprising) and with Idle’s gratitude for the way his life has turned out. It’s a gracious book, which isn’t a word I typically apply to showbiz bios. I also very much enjoyed his accounts of his friendship with George Harrison, and the evident love the two performers had for one another.

It was maybe an hour’s read, and I had time to look at a couple of graphic novels before Mrs. M returned so that we could catch an early-bird special at her favorite touristy buffet. Not that I’m complaining, mind you — I had to spend quite a while letting dinner settle when we got back to the hotel, and resumed my position on the balcony. I noticed there was a small pride of cats that patrol the hotel’s outdoor pools and beach area. An orange tabby appeared to be the leader, but there was also a black-and-white wingcat, and a gray tabby showed up from time to time as well. At one point, I amused myself by making little noises from my balcony, which would cause the cats below to stop and look around in befuddlement before resuming their rounds.

After a bit longer, I went down to the beach myself, standing at the edge of the incoming surf. The light from the hotels behind me threw my shadow toward the waves, which erased it as they approached, only for it to reappear as they would ebb. I particularly enjoy the bass rumbles of the larger waves that broke amidst the general white noise.

After some of that, I returned to the room and watched enough of the Alabama-Oklahoma game to know how it was going to turn out, and then we called it a night.

***

Yesterday began as the day before had, but Mrs. M spent a little time on the hotel’s elliptical machines, and we both made it to the beach before we resumed our sightseeing and shopping.

Deb and Me MB

At a different bookstore, I ran across Written in Dead Wax, the first of British author Andrew Cartmel’s “Vinyl Detective” series. It’s an amateur sleuth novel, with the hero in this case being an obsessive record collector and reseller. A beautiful woman hires him to find an absurdly rare jazz album, with the promise of a significant finder’s fee. As you might expect, complications ensue. The first-person narrator’s voice is funny and charming, and presents a world of audiophile obsession that some of us (ahem) might recognize. In that respect, the book reminded me a little of The Music Lovers, Jonathan Valin’s penultimate Harry Stoner novel. But Cartmel’s book is much lighter in spirit (even though Music Lovers is probably the lightest of Valin’s series), and leaves the reader (or this reader, anyway) snickering if not guffawing.

I made it through the first two-thirds or so of Dead Wax before Mrs. M showed back up, so I went ahead and bought it to finish last night at the hotel room. As it happened, Mrs. M had picked up a few things, and encouraged me to find some stuff I wanted as well. So I went ahead and ordered the next three books in the series. That bodes well.

We decided to try a Mexican place for dinner, and it seemed to be much more of a local place than the other restaurants we hit this weekend. Like the pizza place from Friday, Fiesta Mexicana is past the most touristy stretches of town, and we enjoyed a leisurely meal.

Fiesta Mexicana

Pictured — Nachos con chorizo

Afterward, we found an ice cream parlor and had dessert before getting back to the hotel. As I said, I finished the book I had bought before spending another half-hour or so on the balcony and calling it a night.

***

We were on the road back to Mondoville by about 10:30 this morning, and after a lunch break and a couple of other stops, we got home around three. The Spawn and Hound both seemed glad to see us, and we’ve taken down the Christmas decorations and prepared ourselves for our customary New Year’s carbonated grape juice in a little while. Not a bad way to wrap things up, I think, but I think we need a little music, don’t you?

See you in the New Year!

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A Little Seediness in a Small Town

The gas station/convenience store nearest my home went under new management early in the year, for maybe the third time since we moved here 15 years back. I still swing by there occasionally, and the family that runs it treats me nicely, but the store’s attitude and atmosphere have changed this time in a way that they hadn’t under previous regimes.

A couple of months ago, I noticed a hand-lettered sign on the door — “NO HOODS OR MASKS.” A couple of weeks back, I noticed an equivalent sign adjacent to the first one, with the offending garments behind a “DO NOT” slashed circle, presumably for the less literate locals. I understand that — there’s a reason C-stores are called “Stop ‘n’ Shoots”, after all — but the store had done OK in the past without such warnings.

Some of the merchandise selection has changed as well. The store has always sold beer, but now there’s a fortified wine display near the register as well. What’s interesting about this display (to me, anyway) is that the beverages aren’t the T-birds and Mad Dog bum wines that I associate with high schoolers barfing at a party in the burbs. These are apparently meant to recall other (better?) beverages, with bottles shaped like those that usually contain bourbons or vodkas, and contents dyed (or in the case of the ersatz vodkas, clarified) accordingly. But a closer look at the labels indicates that these are in fact wines with some extra kick added. There’s also a new display of bootleg and independent mix CDs at the counter, and a case of folding knives of the flea market persuasion  — I was particularly struck by the one with the “Stars and Stripes” decoration on the handle. The blades all looked to be about four inches long.

(For what it’s worth, South Carolina is what aficionados call a “knife-friendly” jurisdiction — not surprising, given our sizable hunting and fishing population. Switchblades, butterfly knives, dirks, daggers, stiletti, and knives disguised as belt buckles or lipstick cases are all perfectly kosher here. By those standards, the hardware I saw today seemed pretty tame. All the same, it was new, and I noticed them right after I walked past the locked plexiglass cabinet of stroke mags.)

Oh, right — I hadn’t mentioned those, and that cabinet is new too. There appeared to be two or three different ones in there, but the one that stuck in my mind was sold with an accompanying DVD and a headline that informed me that someone named Connie “Craves” something equally alliterative, but the rest was covered up by a belly band. In a way, I found it almost quaint that there are still folks who are 1) willing to pay for their smut, and 2) wanting it in print form, even with a bonus DVD. Takes all kinds, I guess.

No one is required to shop at this particular store, and as I mentioned earlier, the new managers have been polite and efficient when I’ve gone in. All the same it’s the closest one to my home and to the campus in general, and I wonder a little whether or not I just heard a canary chirp in the coal mine of this neighborhood in Mondoville.

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Merry Christmas, 2018

The gifts are open (mine were heavy on Travis McGee novels, replacing the ones I’ve lost over the years, and also included collections of Borges and Philip Larkin), the breakfast is eaten, and the dinner is in the oven. Mrs. M may be getting her well deserved nap, and the Spawn is happily ensconced upstairs as well. But that doesn’t mean the day has lacked adventure…

***

Mrs. M was well into cooking breakfast when she called to me in the living room. We didn’t have enough milk to make the gravy that would accompany the biscuits. “Can you run down to a convenience store and get a half-gallon?” Of course I could — biscuits and gravy are some of my favorite things, so off I went.

The first gas station? Nothing. Gas station #2? No dice. Gas station #3? There were four pint bottles — with a sell-by date of 17 Dec. The cashier said he couldn’t sell them to me, but thanked me for bringing them up. Gas station #4?  Ah! There’s a half-gallon… with a sell-by date of 23 Dec. A swing and a miss.

Meanwhile, Mrs. M had called my cell to tell me to abandon my quest. Fortunately, I had left my phone in the living room and didn’t get the message, because as I was pulling out of the lot of Station #4, I saw cars moving through the drive-thru of the local McDonalds. I saw a solution, and pulled into line. When my turn came around, I asked what size their milk bottles were.

And that’s how I paid almost nine bucks for a half-gallon of milk, half a pint at a time. But you know what? Those biscuits and gravy made for a happy meal indeed.

***

I hope your Christmas morning has been as happy as ours, and less hectic. And to celebrate, here’s one of my favorite carols, in a version I ran across last year. From SoCal psychsters The Jigsaw Seen, here’s “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” (And ladies, please feel included as well.)

Merry Christmas — may there be peace on earth, and good will to all.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Family, Literature | 1 Comment

Potpourri: Christmas Eve 2018 Edition

Mrs. M and I made a run to Real City this afternoon, and got home a few hours ago. The gifts are wrapped (in the case of my gift to Mrs. M, with the assistance of the Spawn, and by “assistance,” I mean she did it while I watched. But I lugged the package back and forth, and that should count for something.) So we’re relaxing quietly tonight before tomorrow’s festivities.

A few minutes ago, I was on Twitter and ran across the Christmas, 1969 card from Robert and Virginia Heinlein:

Heinlein Xmas

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that RAH’s “Year One” began with Apollo 11. These days, that optimism seems a bit quaint, but who knows? I wouldn’t bet against the Wise Old Man.

***

In other news, as I was hanging out at the used media emporium this afternoon, I was alerted to a really cool article by Levi Stahl, who considers one of the more interesting footnotes to our knowledge of Samuel Johnson. Nathaniel, Johnson’s younger brother (and only sibling) died in 1737, when he was 24 and Samuel was 28. We don’t know much about the younger Johnson’s life or death — while Samuel moved away from Lichfield and eventually made his way to London, Nathaniel took over the family’s not-very-successful bookselling business (a combination of publishing, manufacture, and sales), but was no more successful than his father. A few months before his death, he wrote to his mother, where he alludes to his financial and business failures, and mentions “crimes […] which have given both you and me so much trouble. ” We don’t know the specifics of those crimes — or even whether Nathaniel was perpetrator or victim. Some biographers have suggested that he may have engaged in some sort of forgery. In any case, he was seemingly in dire straits, and talked of emigrating to the North American colonies — specifically Georgia. He didn’t follow through, however, and as noted, he was dead six months later. Again, the circumstances are obscure. John Wain is among the biographers who suggest that the younger Johnson may have committed suicide, although Stahl notes that Johnson’s burial in consecrated ground argues against that.

But what we do know is that in that same letter is that Nathaniel complains of having received little or no help from his big brother, who perhaps could have assisted in Nathaniel’s effort to expand the business to a new city. We also know that Samuel Johnson said little about his brother, even to his friends. However, late in Samuel’s life, he made inquiries. From Stahl:

[…H]e wrote to a Miss Prowse near Frome, asking if she could have her servants “collect any little tradition that may yet remain, of one Johnson, who more than forty years ago was for a short time a bookbinder or stationer in that town.” Receiving no useful information, he wrote again to supply additional details—yet still not identifying himself as Nathaniel’s brother:

What can be known of him must start up by accident. He was not a native of your town or country, but an adventurer who came from a distant part in quest of a livelihood, and did not stay a year. He came in ’36, and went away in ’37. He was likely enough to attract notice while he stayed, as a lively noisy man that loved company. His memory might probably continue for some time in some favorite alehouse. But after so many years perhaps there is no man left that remembers him. He was my near relation.

If he received an answer, there is no record.

We also know that in Johnson’s prayers and meditations, there is a single sentence at the end of his prayers for his mother’s soul, shortly after her death in 1759: “The dream of my Brother I shall remember.”

Stahl explores all this in the context of Johnson’s lifelong sense of guilt and failure to have done the things he believed he should have done.

A few weeks ago, as I was teaching Johnson to my 18th-C. class, I hadn’t read Stahl’s piece, but mentioned Nathaniel’s death as a bit of a footnote in my discussion of the poverty Samuel endured. And even as I spoke, it occurred to me that I, too, have a brother four years my junior. Like Nathaniel Johnson, my brother could be described as “a lively noisy man that loved company.” And perhaps like Samuel Johnson, I find myself wondering if there were things I could or should have done. I tell myself there weren’t — my family’s dynamics were such that even when I spoke to the matter, it didn’t make a difference; my mother said “I can’t just put him on the street.” But I wonder all the same, and when I dream and my family is there, I remember it as well.

Stahl’s article is worth your time, although its ending may be more optimistic than my similar tale — I am no Johnson, after all.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Lawrence Block.

***

I’ll wrap this one with a couple of my Christmastime favorites. This one I know I’ve run here before. From Chicago, here are Saturday’s Children, with “Christmas Sounds.”

And here’s the flip side, “Deck Five.” (Side note: Despite the titular allusion to Dave  Brubeck’s famous song — and despite the similar riff — this song is not actually in 5/4, but has a 6/8 groove.)

But I still think my favorite rock music Christmas song is this one. Even Pete Sinfield’s lyrics work. Here’s Greg Lake.

See you tomorrow — Merry Christmas.

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Sunday Potpourri: Blood, Sal Mineo, and Green Pajamas Edition

I had an urge to change my scenery this afternoon, so instead of sitting in my den with my feet up, I’m sitting in my office with my feet up. Apparently the Bengals are making like a squashed possum,  so I thought I’d take a little time to blog…

***

While Mrs. M and were watching TV this morning (our usual Sunday mix of true crime and HGTV), it occurred to me that I was about due to donate blood. I checked online, and found out that not only was I eligible this very day, but that the bloodmobile (in this instance, a bus called “The Blood Vessel”) would be in Mondoville this afternoon. And then, as I ate my lunch, I got an e-mail telling me that I was in fact eligible to hoist a pint. Clearly the Magic 8-ball was telling me that signs pointed to Yes, so after lunch, I headed over to the WalMart parking lot, which was approaching a state my mom used to describe as “lipping full.”

The bloodmobile, however, was not full, and I zipped through the preliminaries in short order. I stretched out on one of the couches and was regaled by about 20 minutes of a movie based on a video game I used to play on a regular basis. From what I saw of the movie, I suspect the game was far more entertaining.

A snack and a drink later, here I am, and I just learned that my next visit will put me at the two-gallon mark, so I’m closing in on my second average person’s worth. And people do continue to need blood this time of year, so if you’re eligible, might I recommend that you make a donation? It’s an easy way to feel good this time of year.

***

A week or two before the term’s end, my friend Justin and I were talking to another friend and colleague, and the subject of James Ellroy came up. Justin’s a big fan, and I’ve read my share of Ellroy’s work as well, as you might expect given a lot of what I write. We were talking about the idiosyncratic prose style Ellroy has developed in the last few decades — a telegrammatic voice heavy on alliteration, choppiness, and a cross between hipster patois and 1950s scandal sheet text. I mentioned that I find Ellroy an arduous read, but agreed with Justin that there’s a weird sort of momentum that can pull the reader along even as it exhausts.

Our other friend asked what pleasure there is in plowing through the stuff, and I freely admitted that it wasn’t something I’d recommend that other writers try, and that it could all too easily veer into self-parody. But somehow, it works for Ellroy — at least often enough to make me turn the page. And there’s no other voice quite  like it. Thank God.

Well, as it happens, I found out this morning that Ellroy has a decent sized article in The Hollywood Reporter, looking at the investigation of Sal Mineo’s murder. So after I read it, I passed it along to Justin and my friend, and now I’m passing it along to you as well. It’s not Ellroy at his speedfreak weirdest, but it definitely has the flavor. Consider it the equivalent of those “fun-size” candy bars you give out at Halloween. Complete with little bitty razor blades.

***

In other reading, I got an advance look at At Home in the Dark, Lawrence Block’s forthcoming antho, including work from Your Genial Host. Friends, this one’s a corker. Although I may not be the best judge of my own contribution, I can tell you that the other stories run the gamut from Western (by James Reasoner) to fantastic horror, courtesy of Joe Hill. As you may have noticed on Twitter, I thought Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Senior Girls’ Bayonet Team” was a stunner as well, but honestly, every story I read was worthy of praise — I mean really, do you think Joyce Carol Oates is going to shoot blanks? The book comes out at the end of April in a collector’s edition and e-format, and a trade paperback version will show up in mid-summer.

It’s always an honor to be included in these anthologies, but I feel even more overwhelmed to have my little slice of the rock and roll world tucked in here. You can order the collector’s edition here, and I’ll keep you posted as the others become available.

***

And before I close, a bit of music for the season. In the past, I’ve talked about my affection for Seattle-based psychsters The Green Pajamas. However, chief Pajama Jeff Kelly engages in other musical projects as well, and one of them is an outfit called The Goblin Market. The duo’s name, of course, is derived from Christina Rosetti’s darkly fantastic poem of that title, and the musicians have done settings of poems by Ms. Rosetti, Poe, Emily Bronte, and Elizabeth Siddal, while another album was inspired by stories from the abovementioned Ms. Oates.

The group is described as “folk-Goth”, which makes a certain sense to me (and can be applied to some of the PJs’ other work as well), but even folk-Goth types can celebrate Christmas, right? So here they are, with their setting of Ms. Rosetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

See you soon!

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Street Cred: 2018 Edition

This afternoon I (along with most other bilaterally symmetrical life forms, I suspect) received an e-mail informing me that I have been nominated for inclusion in the 2019 edition of Who’s Who in America. It doesn’t appear to be a scam — the publisher and mailing address are correct and such, and no one asked me for my credit card numbers or the times of day at which I’m most vulnerable.

And if this is for real, whoever nominated me was very kind. Still, you know when I’ll actually feel significant? When I get my own Wikipedia entry. Take it away, Doctor…

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