15 June 2007

Taking the good with the bad

Today we leave on our holiday, and TPP will be on hiatus until our return. The road trip will be fun and relaxing--new places, old friends, lots of time to write, it's all good. We had a fine send-off last night with our special pals after a busy day of last-minute preparations. One of the final pieces that failed to fall in to place yesterday was the Goddamn US Mail. I normally don't bitch about the mail, but my two newest subscriptions have not shown up yet. One is California, the magazine of the Cal Alumni Association. I've gotten my membership card and a pile of advert circulars, but no monthly magazine. My neighbor got his! So what's the deal? To further my chagrin, OOTG failed to arrive. Imagine--I get a story published, make my print debut, and I have yet to see it. My friend received her copy! Where's mine? Now, I'm supposed to get a T-shirt for being a contributor. Or is it an extra copy? I don't know. I do know I wanted the stuff before the vacation started so I could show my friends! Alas, I'll have to wait. It is a cruel blow, to be sure, but perhaps it is for the best. I have been anticipating Out of the Gutter #2 for so long now (March 31st I got word about my story) that I have not moved forward. Time to move forward with a new project. OOTG will be here when I come back.
a.d. XVII Kal.Iul.

14 June 2007

Powell's redux

Yes, I've blogged about Book Heaven previously, but on the eve of our road trip I couldn't stop thinking about our impending visit to Powell's. We will be in B.C. and Washington before the stop in Portland, but Powell's is a kind of traveler's epicenter for me. I found out yesterday that the orthopedic surgeon's office (the one who did my arthroscopy) gave me a 300 buck discount on the cost of the operation. Guess what I'm spending at Powell's? You got it--300 clams American. Three C's. Trecenti. My list is 6 pages long, so I imagine I'll have to be selective. You can drop a Franklin or two in that place within a couple of heartbeats. The store is so large, occupying a city block and five stories, that you can't take it all in, even if you set aside an entire day. It requires multiple visits and re-visits. Much like a city. Hence the name, "City of Books." Living in a rural county and a small town, I get starved for doses of urban madness. I lived in the beautiful city of Berkeley long enough to have had my fill of noise, crowds, crime, and hustle and bustle. I wouldn't trade my small town existence for anything these days, but I do need a decent city fix now and then. This trip will take us to Vancouver, a new city on our list, and Portland of course, an old favorite. Tomorrow's posting will be my last for a while, and I'll resume when we return home.
a.d. XVIII Kal.Iul.

13 June 2007

Baker's, and Beware the Ides

The quartet that is Small Batch Bourbons includes Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek, Baker's and Booker's. These are products of the Jim Beam Whiskey Empire, and damn fine ones I might add. Beam, Inc. has something for every palate and they claim to have sold ten million barrels of their spirits! We had the good fortune a few years ago to attend a function in San Francisco called "Whiskies of the World Expo." (You can check out that experience at Celtic Malts.) We were at the 4th and 5th annual events in 2003 and 2004, and one of the highlights was a seminar with Mr. Frederick Booker Noe III, a great-grandson of Jim Beam himself. He led us on a tutored tasting of the four Small Batch Bourbons, starting with the delicate Basil's and ending with the explosive Booker's. All of them were excellent, and it was a real treat to learn about bourbon appreciation from a member of a "royal" whiskey family. I kept thinking at the time "you can't go wrong" with any of these four and I have followed that dictum ever since. Last few evenings we have been pounding the Baker's, and it is some seriously deep shit. I like a complex drink, one that requires repeated visits, and Baker's fits that bill. I expect we will hit the fifth again with our pals tomorrow before our road trip commences on Friday. Hope the fifth survives.
Idus Iuniis

12 June 2007


Like its namesake, the Boeing aircraft, Barry's 747th streaked through the night in defiance of gravity. It had been a long time coming. Barry hit his 746th on the 27th of May. The long homer drought would not normally be news for a power hitter. After all, these guys are human and they go through slumps--even the best of them. But Barry being Barry means every nose hair is scrutinized. The steroids "scandal" and the on-going federal investigation of Mr. Bonds' alleged perjury in front of a grand jury has dampened enthusiasm for his record chase, and made sure his name will live in baseball's Hall of Infamy (along with Mark McGwire). Funny how "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's image was rehabilitated by a couple of films--the quirky and interesting Eight Men Out and the smarmy and maudlin Field of Dreams (based on the terrific novel Shoeless Joe by the Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella). I wonder if Messrs. McGwire and Bonds will find a similar cinematic redemption. The king of the baseball bloggers, John J. Perricone of Only Baseball Matters (indeed), has written incisively about Barry, MLB, the Feds, and the steroid silliness, and it would take a week of posts to give a precis that does Mr. Perricone justice. Check him out for yourself!. If it weren't for the bloggers, there would be no decent baseball journalism to read. The clowns in the national media have NO FUCKING CLUE (excuse me) and it pains me that they get paid to re-hash the drivel someone else has already regurgitated. Love or hate No. 25, he's the best hitter you will ever see. And that's what we pay our hard-earned dollars for. Number 13 last night brought The Dark Prince one step closer to the King's Throne.
Hank Aaron--you will always be a champ. Like Frank Robinson, you played in the big shadows of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, and never got the kudos that was due you. One thing Barry Lamar's chase will do is remind every fan what an outstanding ballplayer Mr. Aaron was. And that's worth something.
prid. Id.Iun.

11 June 2007

Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death

Donald E. Westlake is one of the grandmasters of crime fiction. Hell, he's a master of fiction, period. His output is prodigious--over sixty novels under four pen names are in his bibliography. Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death is a "Mitch Tobin" mystery written by "Tucker Coe," originally published in 1966 and reprinted in 2000 by International Polygonics. I think they are out of business--I picked up Mr. Coe's book from Edward R. Hamilton, a treasure trove for book junkies. TPP has praised the virtues of ERH before, so check 'em out if you haven't already. Mitch Tobin is a disgraced ex-cop who takes a job as an unofficial private dick solving a murder for a mob boss. Mitch is an honorable fellow, and struggles with the ethics of the job. He is properly hard-boiled but without the machismo and propensity to violence. His dogged persistence and bullish integrity eventually earn him the respect of the criminals he works with, and his unspectacular but thorough investigative techniques eventually solve the crime. In the end, the story is about Mitch earning back his self-respect by doing a job with detached professionalism and seeing it through to the end. That is the very ethos of the hard-boiled investigator: the job is paramount, the nut has to be cracked regardless of who gets hurt in the fall-out. Think about Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon--he has to finger Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) as his partner's killer even though he's in love with her. Life is tough when you're a dick!
a.d. III Id.Iun.

10 June 2007


This is the 84th post for TPP--that is 84 days in a row! (My anniversary is the Fourth of August, MCMLXXXIV, or 8-4-84, so the number 84 has a special connotation for me.) So far I've learned that blogging is fine and wonderful, but it is not what I want to do this summer. I want to write stories and other things. The blog has become what I write. I would rather blog about my writing if you catch my drift. The blog should be an adjunct to the daily business of writing, not the daily business itself. On Friday, 15 June, I will make my 89th blog entry and then we go on holiday for 2-1/2 weeks. During that time I will forgo the internet. No blogging, no e-mailing, no 'net surfing. Just road tripping, visiting, walking, exploring, relaxing, etc. And writing. Lots of writing. My pal and soon-to-be-former colleague Nurse Becky bought me a journal which I will take on the road with me. It is 100% recycled material, "tree-free." Made in India from garment industry and agricultural waste, it is very groovy. I'm going pencil all the way, and will even try my hand at sketching. When we return, TPP will resume, but it won't be a daily. I'm not sure what it will evolve into, but that will be the fun of it. Meanwhile I'll be putting pencil to paper, getting back to the business of WRITING. Nulla dies sine linea.
a.d. IV Id.Iun.

09 June 2007

Finis coronat opus

The end crowns the work.
This First Day of Summer was toasted with our northern neighbor's lovely brew, Crown Royal. According to their website, the Canadian whisky Crown Royal was created in 1939 to honor the visit of King George VI. King George VI was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and the father of the current Queen, Elizabeth II. Although Canada is a sovereign nation, it is a Commonwealth Realm, and thus recognizes the British monarchy. Accompanying George on this trip was his wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lytton, the late Queen Mother (who lived to be 101). Royalist pretensions aside, this is a fine whisky. The website unfortunately has a bland corporate feel, but the FAQ has an item about the spelling of "whisk(e)y." I doubt whether the distinction in spelling will survive, or even matter. Whisky and Whiskey taste great either way. The Crown was our Thursday tipple, the pub treated us to schoolyear-end shots of Crown on Friday, and it is our choice of tipple this afternoon. I used to think Canadian whisky meant bland, but I've since learned that just because something is smooth and mild doesn't mean it can't be full of flavor. Subtle would be a better word for it. Bourbon is characterized by its hearty robustness, which makes it my favorite, but Irish, Scotch, and Canadian, they all have their own style, and I pour them as occasion demands. Crown is smooth but rich, with lots of vanilla and spice (rye, perhaps?), and the long, clean, dry finish makes it a satisfying dram, and easy-drinking. TPP will visit more Canadian whiskies in the future.
a.d. V Id.Iun.

08 June 2007

Graduation Day

Today marks the end of the school year. We hold "commencement" exercises this morning at eleven o'clock. I like that we call it "commencement" since the word means "beginning." After all, it is the END for ME but only (we hope) the BEGINNING for THEM. I've been a public school teacher for twenty-three years not including substitute work and student-teaching. People ask me what the best thing is about my job. Simple. Iunius, Iulius, Augustus. This year I have a 10-week summer. Once you get long holidays you can't abide by short ones. I'm not sure I can do a "real" job where you only get a few weeks off. I know I'm burned out, and I know I'm skeptical about public institutions, but I'm not completely cynical. I'm a good teacher. I do a good job. I'm sick of it, though. I don't want to do it anymore. But I give of myself to the teenagers and try hard to help them and be a positive influence on their lives. But I'm like the toothpaste tube that you keep squeezing because you forgot to buy a new one. There is something left, it just takes more effort to get it. So summer has come at the right time. I'm ready to let it all go. Tonight I'll be knocking back a few pints with the gang and the tension will evaporate from my neck and shoulders and I'll know the work year is done. And I won't have to think about it until the middle of August (it is a travesty that school starts before Labor Day, but that is a rant for another time). By the way, it is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edward Elgar, the composer of Pomp and Circumstance.
a.d. VI Id.Iun.

07 June 2007

I want my T-shirt!

OUT OF THE GUTTER issue number two, according to the website, is shipping this week! TPP readers, I've no doubt, are weary of hearing about OOTG. "Click on the chick getting beat with a stick." Well, my print debut as a fiction writer is in OOTG #2 (my short story "Tweaker"), and I'm pretty stoked about it. I'm going a bit crazy waiting. I want my magazine and I WANT MY T-SHIRT!! (Contributors get a shirt.)
Speaking of waiting, my work year ends in two days. Waiting for summer vacation and waiting for my magazine is like waiting for Godot or something. Except Valdimir and Estragon are still waiting, I reckon. At least I know my wait will end. Soon.
a.d. VII Id.Iun.

06 June 2007

Back to Block

Just finished The Girl with the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block. Although first published over 40 years ago, Hard Case Crime has re-issued it (#14, Nov '05) in their excellent line of noir novels. If you aren't tuned in to HCC, you are missing out. Mr. Block is a master of the noir story, this tale of grifters and their "long con" is compelling from start to finish and even gives you a nice surprise at the end. The femme fatale is more complete and believable than many of the sirens that grace the pages of these kinds of books. It is sometimes hard to swallow that writers like Block work in relative obscurity while lesser artists sell mountains of mediocre mysteries. I know life is not fair, but I've read too many lousy best-sellers, especially in the "mystery" genre. What impresses me about this particular Block book is its freshness. The story is dated in the sense that they use typewriters and telegrams instead of computers and email, but the idea of a con, a rip-off, a scheme to defraud someone is ageless. The motives of the characters are real--greed, the thrill of the hunt, revenge--and are the same things that motivate today's high-tech hustlers. Good writing has staying power, and Mr. Block is a good writer.
On a personal note, I got to see my friend Stuart Ziff play guitar on TV last night. Mr. Z is the guitarist for WAR, and they played the ALMA Awards which aired on ABC. The special award to George Lopez was backed by "Why Can't We Be Friends?" and "Low Rider" from WAR, both big hits from my high school days. I hate awards shows, but I stayed up past my bedtime for this one! Stuart's wife, Betty Rosen Ziff, is also an artist, and an old pal. Check out her site on my links list. It is easy to forget that most writers, artists, musicians and etc., plug away making a living just like cops and teachers and truck drivers. A tiny tiny tiny percentage of these guys make millions, the rest just make it. Remember to support your small-timers! On the same note, the interesting (but bizarre) Harpers's Index reports that 1.446 million different books were sold in the US last year, and 1.123 million of them sold less than 99 copies. Subtracting 1,123,000 from 1,446,000 yields 323,000 books that sold 100 copies or more. Gives one pause when thinking about writing for a living, eh? Finally, The Reel Fanatic, another blogger, chimed in on TPP yesterday. Thanks, Reel. Always nice to know a post gets read now and then.
a.d. VIII Id.Iun.

05 June 2007

The Departed

Martin Scorsese managed the big score with The Departed, grabbing "Best Picture" and "Best Director" at the Oscars. According to the end credits, the movie is based on a Hong Kong film, and the screenplay was adapted from that. That's OK, one of my favorite SF films is 12 Monkeys, which Terry Gilliam based on a previously-released but mostly-unknown French film. It does make one wonder if Hollywood has any genuine screenwriters. At least you have an excuse with crime fiction--the plots have probably already been done, given the massive amount of crime lit and crime movies this country has created. The Departed is long, very long, but brisk and well-made. The action moves along and the actors shine in their tough-guy roles. I might be a minority, but I think Jack Nicholson has worn out his creep act. Surely a brilliant actor, he seems to go downhill as a movie goes on. I started out enjoying his sleazy Irish mob boss, but grew weary of his smirks and groans as the thing went on (and on). I was glad to see him get plugged. Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin get the best lines and seem to steal the show, Wahlberg with his profane dramatic intensity and Baldwin with his over-the-top bits that border on comedy. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent, and the only real sympathetic character. He plays the undercover cop penetrating Nicholson's mob, and has the expected identity crisis and psychological meltdown. John Le Carre writes about the "running of joes" (agents handling their foreign spys) with great depth and sensitivity in a number of his books. The work between Wahlberg and Martin Sheen as "handlers" and DiCaprio as the "joe" is the strong part of the movie, giving it an espionage drama vibe, and ratcheting up the tension. Despite the violence and fast pace, tension is lacking a bit, but DiCaprio's tortured juggling act keeps you glued to the seat. The Boston setting is beautifully filmed, and the accents are mostly realistic (Matt Damon) but sometimes uneven (Sheen). Remember, my folks are from Boston, I know how to "pahk a cah." The love interest is mostly pointless, and the fact that she provides the link between Damon and DiCaprio is a little far-fetched. The climax is an exploding-head-fu festival that would make Joe Bob proud, and the penultimate scene sews up the good-bad morality tale rather neatly. All in all, an entertaining plot-driven film made by a top-notch skilled crew. I don't put much stock in Oscars, and couldn't tell you if it was indeed "The Best Picture" or not, but it was a quality work. They made 90-minute movies "back in the day" when men were Robert Mitchum and women were Ava Gardner, and I get antsy with today's epic-length efforts. But The Departed has a big enough cast and plenty of story to make it work.
Nonas Iuniis

04 June 2007

The Big Con

The Big Con: the Classic Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Trick was written by David W. Maurer in 1940, but not readily available until it was republished in 1999, 18 years after the author's death. He was a professor of English at the University of Louisville, his archive there in the library contains over 1,000 items, mostly on the socio-linguistics of the underworld. According to his archived obit in the NY Times, Prof. Maurer sued the maker of the film The Sting, claiming it was plagiarized from material in The Big Con. I remember loving that movie when I was a kid, and I also remember enjoying Prof. Maurer's detailed descriptions of such "long cons" as "the wire," clearly the same hustle the movie depicts. The edition I have is a hardcover from Century/Random House UK, which I picked up for a few Irish pounds in a bookstore in Galway in the summer of 2001. It has an introduction by the writer Luc Sante, and includes the original glossary, which reveals such gems as "Pogy O'Brien" (a grifter who won't pay his debts) and "mudkicker" (a prostitute). The book is dated, and charmingly politically-incorrect, but an enjoyable and informative read despite getting bogged down a bit in technical details. Maurer clearly admires the con artist, and appreciates the urbanity and sang-froid necessary to rope in and fleece a "mark." The book is a treasure trove for crime writers. Powell's has a paperback edition for $8.95--M.C. sez get it while you can!
prid. Non. Iun.

03 June 2007

55 games

26 wins and 29 losses in 55 games comes out to a .473 winning percentage. That's not good. That's below the league average of .500, thus it qualifies as 'bad.' Right? Something 'not good' is 'bad,' correct? There are 30 teams in the Major Leagues, and 18 have a better winning percentage. Of those 18, 12 are over .500, and 2 are at .500, one being the Phillies, who beat the Giants today to get to .500. The Giants aren't as bad as the Rockies (almost!) or the Reds or the Nats or the Astros or the Devil Rays or the Royals or the Rangers or the--hold your breath--Yankees. But they are bad. Sure, I know, there are 107 games yet to be played, but 55 games is just past the one-third mark. You can tell a lot about a team at this point. The Giants don't win the games they should win. Either the hitting, fielding, pitching or some combination will fail at a critical point in the game, and a chance for a win becomes a nearly certain loss. The Giants look like a 78-84 kind of team. I find myself wishing for the team and the season to get worse so that dumping high-salaried older players to pennant contenders for young prospects becomes a real possibility. Barry can still break Hank's record. The fans will like that, and they will tolerate the losing if they get to see some talented youngsters. Fans can live with losing if they know it is a transition period to a new team. The Giants don't have to worry about the gate--the tickets are getting sold and the team stinks. But the Giants do need a new team, and the sooner the better.
a.d. III Non.Iun.

02 June 2007

Pain medicine

It Won't Hurt by Dwight Yoakam

It won't hurt when I fall down from this bar stool
And it won't hurt when I stumble in the street
It won't hurt 'cause this whiskey eases misery
But even whiskey cannot ease your hurting me

Today I had another bout with sorrow
You know this time I almost won
If this bottle would just hold out 'til tomorrow
I know that I'd have sorrow on the run

Your memory comes back up with each sunrise
I reach out for the bottle and find it's gone
Yeah, Lord, somewhere every night the whiskey leaves me
To face this cold, cold world on my own

So rather than whiskey as the agent of the devil leading you astray (see 28 May), we have whiskey as medicine, essential medicine for the heart (even though it doesn't really work). Imagine facing "this cold, cold world" without it! In fact, I'm getting thirsty. So I'll be brief. Whiskey writing isn't just about taste, color and aroma. Or trips to the distillery. Whiskey lore is rich, and I'm just scratching the surface here with songs about our favorite spirit. Thanks, Dwight, for the inspiration. Look for more whiskey lore from TPP in the future.

01 June 2007

New noir

The Good German is a "new" noir film by Steven Soderbergh. Do you have to make noir films in b & w and 1940's settings? I don' t think so, but that seems to be the approach Mr. Soderbergh takes in this interesting and entertaining film. George Clooney plays The Investigator--a reporter covering the Potsdam Conference. Tobey MacGuire plays The Sleaze (a nice role reversal for him), while Cate Blanchett checks in as the Teutonic Femme Fatale. It is a decent mystery, our hero gets the crap beat out of him more than once, the bombed-out Berlin backdrop is properly menacing, and the acting and photography is superb throughout. The narrative is interspersed with some actual footage of post-war Berlin, and the whole "Checkpoint Charlie" vibe is omnipresent. The story revolves around the US effort to get the Nazi rocket builders out of Germany before the Russians grab them. Never mind they were war criminals! We need missiles, damnit! The film ends with an obvious homage to Casablanca, with Cate and George and the plane and all that, and it sometimes tries too hard to be "noir-ish." Noir is an outlook, an attitude toward storytelling, not a style. You can make a noir film in the blazing desert sun or on a space station. Noir, for me, is about motivations and characters. The settings of those wonderful old Hollywood films were more the result of budgets than artistry--the good directors and cinematographers made lemonade from lemons. Film noir is dark themes, not just dark scenes. The Good German does delve into the moral qaugmire of the Nazi state and its corrosive effect on the ties that bind a society together, and explores the theme of survival in wartime. I give it an "A" for effort, and a "B" overall. Stylish and enjoyable, but not particularly original.
Kalendis Iuniis.