Bouchercon 2018: Day Zero

Greetings from St. Petersburg — the Floridian, not the Russian. Bouchercon gets rolling in earnest tomorrow, so I’m getting ready to make an early night of it.

***

About an hour before I headed out this morning, the Spawn called and told me my office door was standing open. As this was not how I had left it yesterday, I headed over and discovered that our maintenance guys had been by. Over the years, the classroom building where I work has settled a bit, and it had reached the point where I had to slam the door repeatedly to get the lock to engage. That has now been corrected, and the precious valuable contents of Horse Badorties’s #2 Pad are now safe from random depredations.  I then walked by the classroom where the Spawn was, and saw that they were discussing 19th-C. British social ranks (They’re reading Jane Eyre.) This reminded me that I had a book about such matters and other period whathaveyou, and I handed it to the Spawn when I met her in the hallway after class to tell her goodbye. Thanks for looking out for me, kid.

***

I drove to the Real City airport, arriving the prescribed two hours before my scheduled departure, and as I was loading most of my personal possessions into the X-ray trays, I heard someone call my name. I looked around, and discovered it was one of my friends from the local music scene, and that he works as one of the TSA screeners. We’ve played on some of the same bills, and it was nice to see him. Let the record show, however, that I did receive a pat-down as we talked. The man’s a professional. As I’ve said before, I’m always nervous when I go through these things — not in a cop-behind-you-when-you’re-driving way, but just because I’m always aware that I’m slow and awkward, and am likely holding up the line. But as these things go, this one was more pleasant than most. The power of music. Or something.

***

From Real City, I flew to Charlotte, where I caught a connecting flight to Tampa. I arrived in Charlotte about 10 minutes prior to boarding, but the airline gods chose to smile on me — the departure gate was only about 100 yards from the one through which I arrived. The flight to Tampa was full, so I wound up apologizing in advance to the gentleman in the seat next to mine for my contribution to the cattle-car conditions we would endure for the next hour and twenty.

He was a good sport about it, though. Of course, some of that may have been because he was going to Tampa for a three-week visit with his dad in celebration of having just completed a degree in engineering from the U of Ottawa. After this, he heads back up North for a job at Labatt’s. I didn’t ask if he gets free samples.

Upon arriving in Tampa, I booked a round-trip with a local shuttle company, so my trip back on Sunday is already arranged. By the time the van arrived a few minutes later, I looked as though someone had dumped a bucket of water on my head. The temperature was about 95 degrees, and the humidity made it feel like 95 Celsius. The van was crowded and the AC was intermittent — in fact, the heater would switch on whenever we traveled uphill. But I survived the trip and got situated before I called Mrs. M to let her know I had completed the trip.

As I was talking to her, I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything since this morning, so I found a decently rated Chinese restaurant nearby and walked there. Once again, cue a sweat dousing. I placed my order, only to realize that as with the van, air conditioning was not among the place’s strengths. Fortunately, there was a supermarket in the same strip center, so I bought some sodas before starting my walk back to the hotel.

And that’s when I discovered something. To get to the restaurant, I had followed the instructions from the map app on my smart phone. When I exited, I saw that rather than walking about three blocks, I could simply cross the street, step over a chain, and cut across my hotel’s parking lot. Clearly, my map app respects the distinction between private property and public thoroughfares. However, that’s not always admirable, especially when one is walking through an open-air sauna.

But I made it back, got some ice, and have set my room AC to 66 degrees. I do hope the shuttle to the convention hotel stays cool, though.

***

Things get rolling early tomorrow, so I think I’ll wrap things up for now. But stay tuned — there’s sure to be good stuff coming, if my brains don’t boil.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Saturday Potpourri: Motel Menace Edition

The long weekend has begun. Mrs. M is at the gym, the Spawn will likely arise at the crack of noon, and the Hound of the Basketballs is napping near me in the den. Here’s more of what is going on.

***

So we’re now a week-and-change into the new school year, and the bloom is not yet off the rose. Thus far, the kids seem to be attentive and receptive — and boy, are there plenty of them. Our incoming class is the second consecutive record-breaker, with about 450 new faces this year. When I arrived in Mondoville in 2003, the total enrollment was around 800. We’re now in the neighborhood of 1200, with an eventual target of 1400 or so. Of course, there are growing pains that go with this, as we have to work on both our physical and staffing infrastructures to keep up with things. We also have to work on keeping the kids we get, and retention has been a constant refrain for the last couple of years. Still, the trends seem to be moving in a pretty positive direction.

One of the things this has meant in my case is that I have some Lucky Strike classes — they may not be round, but they seem to be firm and fully packed. And then some: several of my classes are over cap, not least because I’m a sucker for the “I know the class is full, but I really need it” routine. Of course, it helps that there’s a fair amount of truth to that — the staffing infrastructure issue I mentioned earlier. So I try to do what I can, and in fact, the caps were higher when I started, so relatively speaking, I’ve been through worse. As I said, maybe it’s the fact that we have so many freshpeeps this year and three of my four classes are frosh-level, but the kids seem alert and still trying to impress at this point. So far, so good.

***

My friend and colleague the Nerd Girl passed me a really cool article from the Society for Commercial Archaeology this morning, regarding a moral panic around the rise of roadside tourist camps and motels in the mid-20th century. Even J. Edgar Hoover (and his ghostwriter, Courtney Ryley Cooper) found it necessary to place an article in a popular magazine warning Mr. and Mrs. America (and perhaps the ships at sea) of the dangers one might find in these “Camps of Crime.” Likewise, true-crime and Confidential-style magazines warned (and titillated) their readers with tales of the thugs, orgies, human trafficking (still known back then as “white slavery”, so you knew it was worse than the usual kind) and other sleazy goings-on to be found in America’s roadside dens of iniquity. I would suggest it isn’t a coincidence that a tourist cabin is a key location in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, an adaptation of Lionel White’s Clean Break.

And not surprisingly, the cruddy motel became a staple of the period’s crime and softcore porn um… “midcentury erotica” paperbacks. Pulp paperback fans will love some of the covers depicted in the article:

Motel-Mistress-Backroad-Motel

I’m guessing they had to pay extra to get her to use the whisk broom. It was a little number she liked to call “Cleaning Home Plate.”

Eventually, of course, the hospitality industry became much more respectable, to the point where South Carolina lists tourism as a top industry and colleges offer couuses in hotel and motel management. But as I was typing these paragraphs, something occurred to me. Over the couple of days before my brother murdered Mom and Dad, he had been on a major drug binge in the town where we had gone to high school. Where did he do it? Well, sometimes life imitates art. In any case, you really should read the whole article.

***

Of course, I’m going to be traveling later this week, but my accommodations will be much nicer as I make my pilgrimage to Bouchercon. One really cool aspect of the trip is that St. Pete is the home of the Salvador Dali Museum, which happens to host The Pharmacist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing, which was the inspiration for my story in Alive in Shape and Color.

ampurdan

So I’ll finally get to see it — and I’d love to see you as well. Even at an event as crowded as B’con, I’m not hard to spot, but if you’re looking for specific opportunities, I’ll be among the adoring throng for Noir at the Bar on Thursday, 6 Sep. I’m not reading at this one, but with readers like Sara Paretsky, Sarah Weinman, Reed Farrell Coleman, and Lawrence Block, you won’t even notice my absence from the list. It starts at 8:30 at the Vinoy Hotel Bar, and I’m told there are plenty of seats, but I’m getting there early.

Friday night, I’ll be hanging with a bunch of my Down & Out Books labelmates at Hops and Props, 335 2nd Ave. NE. Come on by! The party starts at 9.

And as I’ve mentioned previously, my panel, “Writers Who Rock”, will be at noon on Saturday. The other panelists are great, and drummer jokes will likely abound, so make sure you swing by.

bcon promo

And that’s the thing about B’con — you never get to see everyone and everything you want to see. But give it a try, and as I said, I’d love to see you!

***

And for my closing bit of music, here’s one I know I’ve run before, but given today’s entry, I can’t resist. Once more, here’s Southern Culture on the Skids, with “Cheap Motels.”

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Family, Music | 2 Comments

Potpourri: Busy, Busy, Busy…

OK, so the first week of class (plus a day) has gone into the books, and this is the one day this week that I don’t have some kind of meeting as well, so why not get a post in while I have a little spare time?

***

One of my duties here at Mondoville is to serve as parliamentarian at faculty meetings. This has historically been something of a sinecure (which is good, as I tend to have things to say, which is often considered poor form for holders of the office), but things were a little lively at the meeting we had Monday afternoon, and we ran into a bit of a Chesterton’s Fence issue, where Robert’s Rules occasionally conflicted with the more laid-back forms by which we’ve traditionally transacted business. But in fact, I think the more laid-back forms have evolved for a reason and have helped the faculty operate in a generally collegial manner. Given the usual degree of cat-herding that goes with a faculty gathering, I suspect that a sudden move toward strict parliamentary procedure is just asking for ill feeling and a possible mutiny. Still, after this meeting, I heard a degree of grousing about the looseness that we’ve indulged over the time I’ve spent here.

Perhaps the solution (for me, anyway) is a unilateral change of office. Were I not essentially libertarian, I think I’d usurp opt for the office of Sergeant-at-Arms. (We do, in fact, have an equivalent position of Faculty Marshal, but a non-ceremonial exercise of that office would be lively indeed.)

***

On the creative front, I finished a story over the weekend and put in in the hopper for the anthology for which it was requested. With luck, I’ll have more to say about that before too much longer. However that turns out, it does at least put me in the right frame of mind for next week’s Bouchercon in St. Petersburg. This will be my third B’con, and the first one at which I’ll appear on a panel.

bcon promo

As part of gearing up for the panel, I’ve been thinking of some songs, lyrics, and writers that tend to inspire me. Some of them are probably kind of obvious — Tom Waits and Stan Ridgway, for example, have been telling seamy, noirish narratives for decades. But others may be more obscure. A few years ago, I mentioned “Then Came The Last Days of May” by Blue Oyster Cult, with its tale of a drug deal gone sour. But another of my favorites is the opening of “Scream” by Blotto, an Albany-based bar band whose quirky sense of humor got them some play in the early days of MTV. This is a great opening verse:

I’m over here; you’re over here.

She’s over there getting dressed.

I didn’t expect you back so soon…

As you probably guessed.

Always makes me chuckle evilly.

***

But enough chuckling. Since I have to talk about “Lycidas” at 8 tomorrow morning, I’d probably best wrap things up, but I’ll do it with a track from the abovementioned Mr. Ridgway. This song is basically a James M. Cain novel with backing vocals by Tori Amos, of all people. I hope you like it — I certainly do.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

News(paper) from a Former Home Town

I moved to Northern Kentucky forty years and ten days ago, on 13 August 78. Like the city I left (Nashville, TN), my new home had two daily newspapers. Nashville had the Tennessean (morning) and the Banner (evening), while Cincinnati’s respective counterparts were the Enquirer and the Post. (As an aside, both cities went on to lose the evening papers, and both are now one-paper towns.)

In any case, we would joke about having a morning paper called the Enquirer, given the existence of the lurid national tabloid of the same title. Among other things, we laughed at the contrast — the Cincinnati morning paper was rather conservative and staid. (The Post was considerably yellower.) It wasn’t the sort of place one would go for outrageous celebrity gossip or Bigfoot stories.

But these days — ah, these days. Given the news that the National Enquirer‘s cozy arrangements with the Current Occupant of the White House have attracted prosecutorial interest (and an immunity offer for its publisher), lots of folks have taken to social media to hoot, jeer, and otherwise engage in tribal identification rituals. The only problem is that many of them are calling out the Cincinnati paper, to the point that the daily has posted the following on its Twitter feed:

| ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ |

|      WE            |

|  ARE NOT      |

|      THE           |

| NATIONAL    |

| ENQUIRER    |

| _______ |

   (\__/)  |

   (•ㅅ•) |

    /   づ

And I used to think it was a challenge when people would confuse my dad (Warren S. Moore, Jr.) with me (Warren S. Moore, III).

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Sunday Potpourri: Farewell to the Old Year Edition

I’ve mentioned before that because I’ve spent most of my life in academia and am married to a public schoolteacher on top of that, Clan Mondo’s rhythms are more closely aligned to the academic calendar than the traditional one. As such, there’s always a sense at the Mid-Century Mondohaus that the New Year begins in August. Mrs. M starts with her kids tomorrow, and my first day of classes will be Tuesday. So Happy New Year to everyone.

***

I spent a chunk of the weekend watching Disenchanted, the new Netflix animated series from Matt Groening and some of the other folks behind The Simpsons and Futurama. This series is set in a quasi-medieval sword-and-sorcery fantastic world, so it should pretty much be in my wheelhouse, and I did watch the entire run over Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Still, the series isn’t quite everything I hoped it would be.

Part of it, of course, is that we’re used to the styles of the creators’ previous work and we’re harder to surprise/amuse with the background jokes and minor characters. And ever since the development of the Comedy of Humours, we’ve learned to recognize types and subtypes pretty quickly. For example, we can look at King Zog and see that he’s a version of the irascible Yosemite Sam, or more tellingly, that Luci (a demon whose design reminds me of an Edward Gorey drawing) owes a lot to Futurama‘s Bender. Ingenue Elfo’s crush on lead character Bean also echoes the relationship between Futurama‘s Fry and Leela a little too closely. So it’s harder for the show to give us the essential unexpectedness at the root of comedy.

The show also has a problem, I think, in that it’s obvious the creators are setting up a multi-season story arc. This goes beyond the obvious cliffhangers at the season’s end. We’re seeing characters who are clearly Up To Something(s), and while we trust that eventually stuff will be made clear, we may become impatient to see how the subplots (and Plots) fit together.

Having said all that, I did watch the entire season, so there are clearly some good qualities in play as well. I think some of the best moments in the series came in the segments that went full Fractured Fairy Tale. There’s a Hansel & Gretel element in one episode that had me laughing really hard, and that built enough goodwill on my part that when that setting is revisited a few episodes later, I still smiled. Likewise, the episodes that involves the goings-on in Elfo’s home of Elfland (think Keebler, not Tolkien) are a couple of my favorites, and included the power to surprise.

Watching the episodes, I smiled frequently, and got a few outbursts of laughter each episode that were loud enough for the Spawn to notice from upstairs. And really, what more can you ask from a bunch of funny drawings? So Disenchanted isn’t dazzling yet, but it’s amusing and it has potential. I’m looking forward to the next season.

***

Had a nice ego-boost on Friday. My department chair swung by the office and told me about meeting with an incoming freshpeep who plans a double major in English and History. It seems he visited several campuses (as one often does) and sat in on classes. On his visit to Mondoville, he came to one of mine and he told my chair that attending my class made him decide that this was the school for him. Thank you, sir — I look forward to teaching you in the future.

Later that afternoon, I got an e-mail from a student who had been in my FroshComp class a couple of years back. She asked if I’d be willing to make room for her in one of my classes, because she really wants to have me as a prof again. As it happens, she’s a really good student and a great kid, so I’m happy to add her. It’s nice, though, to know that even for students outside the major, I may be worth a return visit.

***

Not long ago, I noted the ugliness going on in the U of Maryland’s football program. I’m pleased to note that I’m not alone. Here at Mondoville, I’ve known several members of our training and medical staff over the years, and I’ve always been impressed by their dedication and professionalism. Similarly, we’ve tried to stay conscientious in caring for athletes — our concussion protocols tend to be stricter than average, for example — and I’ve seen no evidence of the sort of “regulatory capture” of our medical staff that seems to have happened at UMD.

In that vein, I was pleased to see a letter from our president and our athletic director that came out this week. Among other things, they wrote:

In terms of student athletes, it is our policy that the final approval of a student-athlete to participate in practice or games rests exclusively with our sports medicine staff and team doctors. Our coaches will always adhere to the guidance from our medical staff. Our sports medicine staff is held accountable by our team doctors.

And by the way — our Athletic Training team even has its own twitter account. They’re good folks — if you tweet, give them a visit, and even a follow!

***

And speaking of visits, I’m looking forward to a trip to St. Petersburg in a few weeks for the 2018 installment of Bouchercon. Here’s a bit about my panel:

bcon promo

I’d love to see you there!

***

I’m also looking forward to picking up the sticks for the first time in a long while over the next couple of weeks, so there’s a new year dawning on that front as well. And as is my habit, I’ll give you a bit of music to tide you over til my next installment.

I have a couple of songs that have been running through my head this week, so I’ll share them with you. The first one is from Canadian garage revivalists the Maynards, and should move you at the very least to twist and frug with depraved abandon. From 2005, this is “Break Out the Make Out.”

And here’s another one from a few years back. Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen performs under her first two names, and is involved in the Norwegian rock scene that isn’t black metal. This track’s pre-chorus was lifted from the Banana Splits’ theme song, but the lyrics have a decidedly different, um, thrust. From 2008, this is “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked.”

As for me, I’m just happy that you visit at all. See you soon!

 

 

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In Which the Spawn Must Deal with Her Garage Rocker Parent

The Spawn has a fondness for herbal teas. In particular, she likes a spearmint tea, of a sort we can only get through Amazon. She orders the stuff as her supply requires replenishment, and before I came to the office this afternoon, she reported the presence of a box on our front porch.

I brought it in, and she told me that she had ordered four boxes, each of which contained two dozen tea bags. I started to giggle. With the look of anticipatory dread that I’m used to getting from her, she said, “What?”

I said, “You mean that you have… 96 teas?”

I heard her sigh as I walked away, but I was singing:

“Too many tea bags, for one pot, to be steeping.

Too many tea bags, for one cup, to carry on…”

Posted in Family, Music | 3 Comments

In Which the Prof Has A Gas

One of my lower left jaw teeth has been giving me trouble for about a year. There’s a cavity right about at the gumline, and food would pack in there, despite brushing, flossing, mouthwash, and all that good stuff. This has led to irritation, pain, and all that good stuff. Our family dentist has tried to fill it on several occasions, with several different materials, but within a day to a month, the filling would break or fall out, and it was back to the merry-go-round.

It was acting up a couple of weeks ago, and I was told that I probably should just go ahead and get a crown. I agreed, and scheduled the first part of the process today. And not a minute too soon, as it turns out — it hurt enough last night that I decided to skip dinner, and 10 this morning couldn’t get here fast enough.

toothache

Now as it happens, I tend to get really twitchy in the dentist’s chair (and you can save your Kentucky jokes — I already know them), so nitrous oxide is a regular feature of my dental visits. I even have my own little nosepiece that I keep in the car, and that they hook to the tank for my visits. I get pretty loopy, but I have thus far managed to avoid going full Dennis-Hopper-as-Frank-Booth on any of my visits, for which I’m sure the staff is grateful.

When I’m waiting for my procedures, I tend to find myself kind of abstracted — aware that I’m buzzed, and maybe about a quarter-beat slower than I’m used to. I observe myself from a sort of intellectual third-person perspective, floating along at one moment and then making an art-film jump cut of awareness. “I’m at the dentist. The song is “Jungle Love” by Steve Miller. I think I’ll float again. He’s giving me some Novocain. It doesn’t hurt, but I know that it would, were it not for the gas. I should look around, so they know I’m still pretty alert and with them. Am I getting enough of this?”

op art

I suspect the soundtrack should have been “White Rabbit”, but hey…

And that’s where things get interesting. Because of the whole nervousness thing, I would just as soon be knocked out with a truck while they work. But I recognize that’s poor form. So I try to demonstrate a balance while all this is going on. I try to be cooperative, and to show that I’m relatively alert, not overdoing this a bit, nope. So when I heard the dentist ask the nurse if Aretha Franklin was still alive, I said “As of this morning she was.” And when everyone else was out of the room, I got my phone out of my pocket and checked my e-mail, which reported that Ms. Franklin’s death had been announced while I was sitting there. The nurse came back in, and I told her the news. She said she’d tell the dentist.  So see? I’m pretty aware. On the other hand, you know, what you just did wasn’t agonizing, but it was uncomfortable, and if I let you know that — subtly — you might want to maybe boost that Nitrous a skosh?

And so I started talking to the nurse this morning. “It’s a balancing act, you know.”

“What?”

“The gas. I know it costs money, and that you don’t want to use more of it than is necessary by getting me blasted. Whereas if it were up to me, I’d vote for ‘getting blasted.'”

“Sure.”

“But at the same time, you know you need to give me enough so that I don’t come unglued here.”

“Right.”

“So you have to keep that balance — effective, but economical.” And about that time, the doctor came back in, so naturally I explained my take on the economics of the situation to him as well. And while he worked, I again found myself wondering if I was appropriately wasted for the occasion. And how does one really determine that sort of thing?

But after a total of about 90 minutes (that felt subjectively like 45 minutes to an hour), I had received my temporary crown, been switched over to straight oxygen, and was ready to put my nosepiece back in the Ziploc bag and return to the regular world for a few weeks.

How are my teeth? Go ask Alice.

Posted in Culture, Music | 2 Comments