15 October 2014


I'm moving to new digs:
I've been here at Ten Pound Press since March of 2007. Seems it's time for a change!

I know I've had a few readers and followers over the years and I am grateful to all of you. Writing is lonely--you've made it easier. I hope you'll still come along for the ride!


28 July 2014

The Southwest Chief

When I'm old and gray and settled down
If I ever get a chance to sneak away from town
Then I'll spend my busman's holiday
On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe

The lyrics are by Johnny Mercer and the tune by Harry Warren (who also wrote "Chattanooga Choo-choo"). Here's a film version featuring Judy Garland. There's no more Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, alas, the closest thing we have today is Amtrak's Southwest Chief. And the AT&SF never did go to Santa Fe--directly. The terrain was too rugged and the line went through Lamy, New Mexico instead, and a spur had to be built later to accommodate the capital.

Our fall trip to Philadelphia for NoirCon 2014 will start in Los Angeles with the 2265 mile journey via rail to Chicago. Here's the route map (from Wikipedia):

Yes, that's Kansas. Hence the "Topeka" part. And the "Atchison" as well, although the Southwest Chief doesn't stop there. It crosses the Missouri River and the state line at Kansas City instead, going from KC, KS to KC, MO. The rails nick the southeast corner of Iowa and cross the Mississippi River near Fort Madison on the way to Illinois. Chicago is Amtrak's rail hub, with the Empire Builder, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans, Cardinal/Hoosier State, and Capitol Limited runs all originating or terminating in the Windy City. The Chief passes through Galesburg, Carl Sandburg's birthplace, the one who gave us:
HOG Butcher for the World,
      Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
      Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
      Stormy, husky, brawling,
      City of the Big Shoulders:
We'll find out. Los Angeles and Chicago are the third- and second-most populous cities in the United States. In between are desert, mountains, more desert, more mountains, and plains, lots of plains. There are scheduled stops in Flagstaff about five a.m., Albuquerque about noon, and La Junta, Colorado, about eight p.m. so the mountainous portions of the trip will be in daylight. Freight trains no longer use Raton Pass through the Sangre de Cristos and it is a National Historic Landmark. The scenery should be spectacular. I had intended to take the Zephyr, which crosses the Sierras and the Rockies, but got a better deal on the Chief. I'm looking forward to seeing the Southwest again.

p.s. WordMan™ wanted to know about "busman's holiday." The best I've come up with is from Word Detective. Taking a holiday doing what you do for a living is the basic notion of the phrase and it can be applied to someone who can't seem to put his tools down even on vacation.

22 July 2014

In Search of Noir

I like a lot of things. Beer, for example. Whiskey, too. Giants baseball. Snow-covered mountains. The seashore. People who are funny. That sort of stuff. I also like noir. What is noir, you ask? Here's a definition I like:
Noir tells the stories of tortured souls—losers, psychopaths, loners, obsessives—driven down deadly paths, following desperate plans that are doomed to failure.
Film noir is perhaps what most folks think of as the noir ideal. Cheaply made and poorly lit, Hollywood churned out dozens of B-movies in the 40s and 50s that embody the essence of noir. Watching Burt Lancaster lust after Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross, you knew he couldn't help himself. You knew it was going to end horribly, and it wasn't going to matter how hard anyone tried to stop things from spiraling out of control. When Robert Mitchum laid eyes on Jane Greer in Out of the Past you knew he was a dead man walking, and that everything in between would mean nothing in the end.

But noir is everywhere. Tell me Hamlet is not a loser. An obsessive. Tell me Iago is not a psychopath, and that Macbeth and his Lady are not on a deadly and desperate path. Genesis 4--Cain & Abel--is the first noir tale. Kinsmen, brothers in fact, locked in mortal conflict with the one cursed, the other doomed, their fates decided by envy, that basest of emotions.

Noir is about entropy. Entropy is the greatest, most powerful force in the universe. Things fall apart, man. And when things fall apart, people do crazy shit. Over at my favorite noir site Out of the Gutter, fiction editors Tom Pitts and Joe Clifford have a simple formula:
I wanted this, so I did that, and here's how it all went to hell.
Yep. That's it. A lot of the great noir literature, from James M. Cain to David Goodis to Charles Willeford is about stuff going all to hell. That's the kind of thing I like.

This fall, October in fact, my lovely bride is taking a cross-country journey with me and we will be on a search for noir. Our destination? Philadelphia and NoirCon 2014. Our means of transport? The train. Our starting point? Union Station, Los Angeles. There are about 700 road miles between here and there, so we'll be smack dab in the middle of that other great noir landscape, the highways of the American West. Interstate 5 may be a little too crowded these days for Route 66 flashbacks--no hitchhikers or radiator boil-overs in the lonely desert spaces--but blacktop, chrome, and meth-addled truckers are their own special noir sauce.

Our very dear friend Betty Rosen Ziff will be hosting us during our arrival and departure stays in the City of Angels. (Thanks, B. We love you. You too, Stuart.)

From Siskiyou County to the seamy and seedy sides of the SoCal scene, so let the search begin!

21 July 2014

The View from the Top

I posted about Speed's Trail before--it's the end of hour-long hike that's about a mile west of my house here in Yreka. I've been up there twice this month and it's a good workout with some rewarding views. The elevation gain is about 1100 feet:

That's Badger Mountain in the center distance and the lower part of Humbug in front of it with the old Lange Ranch property in the foreground. The pictures aren't the best as I was using my cheesy phone camera.

Here's Mt. Shasta, Black Butte, and Greenhorn Reservoir. You can see I-5 snaking southward:

Here's a selfie by the sign for "Speed's Trail":

I left at 0800 but it was hot nonetheless and I was soaked in sweat by the time I reached the top. Most of the hike is on dirt roads but the last push to the summit is cross-country. I followed a few deer trails or clambered over the rocks. There's a fading footpath or two that will get you about half the way up, but then you scramble. Last time I wound up in the tall grass and spent an hour plucking stickers out of my wool socks! This time I looked for open patches. Avoiding ticks is always a good thing. It's so bloody hot and dry in these parts that even those pesky little guys seem to be done for the season.

I'm not entirely sure of the land ownership. The map suggests it's Klamath National Forest, but there are posted signs prohibiting vehicles and hunting. There are clearly private property parcels surrounding the bulk of the route, and you have to pass through City of Yreka tracts that border Evergreen Cemetery and contain some of the emergency water storage tanks we hope never to need. Some day I expect to be fenced out as at least two of the roads that branch off the main path are signed "No Trespassing." For now, no one seems to mind me huffing and puffing my way to the top. I'm going to make this a monthly ritual. It will be fun to see how the landscape changes over the seasons. It ought to get a little easier, too!

p.s. click on the photos to enlarge

12 June 2014

Not just for breakfast

Old pal Rykoff brought me rye whiskey for my retirement. One of the things you can do when you are retired is drink rye whiskey for breakfast. And I'm here to tell you, it's good. It seems old Joseph Hooker--he of Civil War General fame--was a Sonoma man. That's California for the geography-challenged, wine country as renowned as the adjacent Napa Valley. Seems General Hooker was fond of whiskey and women, quite the mac daddy of his day, perhaps this explains him getting distracted at Chancellorsville. But that's no matter. It's the whiskey we are talking about. Prohibition Spirits has a 95% rye whiskey called Hooker's House Rye that is made in Kentucky and then aged in Sonoma Zinfandel barrels. The result is spectacular. The bold, spicy quality of the rye is perfectly balanced by the wine flavors. I wouldn't have imagined that mixture myself, so kudos to the lads who figured it out!

On an etymological note, WordMan™ was curious about the assertion that General Hooker is responsible, via his many parties, for the term "hooker" being applied to women-of-the-evening. According to William Brohaugh's English Through the Ages, the term "hooker" for prostitute was in documented use by 1845, when Fighting Joe was only 31 and had yet to serve in Mexico where he made his army reputation. His national renown didn't come until 1863 when he was given command of the Army of the Potomac. The Online Etymology Dictionary agrees that the connection to the General is remote. The venerable Eric Partridge, in his magnificent Origins, makes no mention of it, linking the word to both "huckster" and "hawker" which seem to fit. "Hook" as a verb meaning "to catch" is a very old English word of Germanic ancestry.

Speaking of foreign tongues, I have to give thanks to Andrei, the Rykoff rye-meister in Russian, and haven't a clue. Alas, I like to say, this is why God invented the internet:


09 June 2014

Endless Summer

All my work obligations are done. Finals have come and gone. I turned in my grades, and more importantly, my keys. Graduation Day is past. We partied hardy later that afternoon and evening and that's all done. Today is Monday, the first day of summer vacation. This one is a little different--I don't have to go back to work at the end of it! Two things will have to happen before my retirement truly sinks in: (1) the first check comes from STRS and (2) school starts without me. Number one should happen next month and number two the month after that. I can't remember where I saw this but some wag described a retired guy's week as "Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Sunday." Hell, even God rested on Sunday. The best part is that everyone does stuff on Saturday and I can do stuff on Tuesday when most folks are working! Wow, that thought "sets my head a-reeling" (Thanks, Pete).

I'm looking forward to spending more time here at Ten Pound Press. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

24 May 2014

XXX: Three-day Weekend

This is the last of my three-day weekends. The nation celebrates Memorial Day on Monday and naturally the Yreka Union High School District is on holiday as well. After I return to school on Tuesday there will only be NINE more work days! Friday the 6th of June is my final teaching day and Saturday the 7th will be Graduation. Then I'm done. That same afternoon I am having my retirement party. If you are reading this you are invited to celebrate with me. The party starts at 4:00 p.m. My pal Tad is hosting the festivities at his house on 211 Henig Way in Yreka. Come join the fun!

20 April 2014

XXX: Easter Break

It's my last Spring Break. Our school district always takes Spring Break on either side of Easter Sunday and I was a Catholic school kid so it is 'Easter' vacation for me. If Easter is late, which it is this year, we take the week before, which we called 'Holy Week' back at St. Dominic's. If Easter is early, we take the following week. This year we get Easter Monday off as well--that's a holiday in Canada, the UK and much of the Commonwealth. Our district builds in a snow day in case a blizzard cancels school. I think it has only happened twice in my 25 years of teaching here in Yreka. This winter we had so little snow that neither of our local ski parks opened.

The last off-day left on my school schedule is Monday the 26th of May which is when the nation celebrates Memorial Day in 2014. Added all up, Graduation Day included, I've got 33 work days left. So, this is my last vacation! Once I retire from teaching I will have to schedule my own vacations. My job has always scheduled them for me. I must say that will be a weird feeling.

Saturday the 7th of June is Commencement at YHS. That's my final professional obligation. That afternoon my good friend Tad is throwing a retirement party for me. If you are in Yreka at 4:00 p.m. on that day, come by the White's at 211 Henig Way and join the fun. If you are reading this, you are invited!

06 April 2014

XXX: Appointment in Redding

I'm not yet ready for Samarra.

On Tuesday I'm playing hooky from school. Monday afternoon my lovely bride and I will head the 100 miles or so south to the Northstate metropolis of Redding where we will spend the night. The next morning I have an appointment with a representative of the State Teachers Retirement System at the Shasta County Office of Education on Magnolia Street. We are to finalize my retirement papers and set the wheels turning in Sacramento so my name can be added to the roll of pensioners. After thirty years of paying forward into the system I'll start drawing on it this summer. I could have opted for a phone conference with a helpful STRS counselor, but after over 5000 classroom days I wanted some face time. I want to see it all happen with my own eyes. Afterwards we will scoot home on the interstate in plenty of time for the Giants opener at 1:35.

My next milestone will be my final Easter Break which will start at 3:05 p.m. on Friday the 11th of April. I'll give you an update sometime that week while I'm enjoying my vacation. School resumes Tuesday, the 22nd. We get Easter Monday off this year as it is our built-in snow day, and we all know there wasn't a lick of snow this winter.

And I'm going to start reading John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra.

27 February 2014

XXX: 99

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall . . .

Just crossed the threshold of 100 days before I retire. Countdown is now at 99. At noon on Graduation Day (Saturday 7 June), I'll be done. Then I turn into a pumpkin. Anyway, I hope to turn into something. Just not sure what yet. Mostly I'll no longer be Mr. O'Connor. So that's addition by subtraction!  The very fact that I won't be something that I was means I will be something that I wasn't. No wonder they made me a math teacher.

Alas, it is still a lot of days, and the anticipation has made a mess of me. I had no idea it would be so hard. I thought I'd cruise through these last few months. I don't mean to complain, and I deserve no sympathy, it's just weird. I didn't expect to feel so worn down. Not just tired but mentally spent. I feel like a squeezed-out sponge slowly drying, down to its last few drops of water, aching for a cool dunking.

If one of those bottles should happen to fall . . .

10 February 2014

Remo Went Rogue

Plot summary:

Remo is a big-shot lawyer.
Remo is an asshole.
Remo has evil scumbags for clients.
Remo fucks over said scumbags.
Scumbags go looking for said asshole.
Chaos ensues.

Mike McCrary writes with a brisk, jabbing style reminiscent of Ken Bruen, and combines it with a visually-rich descriptive power that makes Remo Went Rogue a hell of a read. My lovely bride and I like to read books out loud to each other, swapping chapters. You find out pretty quickly which writers are suited to the spoken word. Crime fiction, in general, works wonderfully. (I hate to label anything. "Crime" fiction is just another box to to put a writer in--I'd rather just have a "good" box and a "bad" box. Or perhaps "more of this" and "less of that" boxes.) Mr. McCrary sounds great out loud and he sets a blistering pace that keeps you turning the pages. Remo Cobb is a particularly repulsive character, but the degenerate Mashburn Brothers that are his antagonists are even more heinous, and so you find yourself rooting for him despite his panoply of character flaws. A wildcard--one of the Mashburn gang that changes sides, sort of--is also part of the mix and plays a key role in the explosive showdown near the end of the story. Said showdown is written with a clinical precision that makes you feel like you are right in the middle of the hail of lead and spray of blood. Without giving away too much, Remo gets his chance at redemption, like any good noir anti-hero ought to, and the book has a satisfying sense of closure. McCrary doesn't tie up all the loose ends, though, and you are left with a tantalizing bit of unfinished business. Sequel, anyone?

Remo Went Rogue is a new title in the ever-increasing catalog at my favorite publisher, Gutter Books. This one is labeled as an Out of the Gutter release, a new imprint under the GB banner. Everyone talks about the decline of the independent business, and the ever-increasing hegemony of the corporate machine, but nobody does anything about it. Am I right? You want to do something about the hard-working little guys? You want to fight the big guys? Then support independent publishers and authors! I know a great place to start: Gutter Books.

23 January 2014

XXX: 1, 2, 3 . . . Ready, Set, Go!

Today I turn in my letter of resignation, thus making my retirement official. I like the date: 1/23. It seemed propitious. I was going to wait until the 31st, but 1-2-3 ready-set-go appealed to me. The timing matters, actually. I get a retirement bonus if I inform the district of my impending departure by the first of February. My colleague across the hall is also retiring this year, and we have had a lot of fun with goofy draft retirement letters and other "I'm outta here" stuff. I even created a flowchart that everyone had a good laugh about. In the end I wrote a respectful, professional note--the Catholic school boy in me is just too strong. I want to walk away with good feelings and the relationships I've cultivated intact. I feel like yelling "fuck this shit!" every damn day. So many times I just want to walk off and not look back. But those are urges, nothing more. They aren't the real me. I've worked too hard over the last twenty-five years building mutual respect and trust with my colleagues and co-workers. Even though I don't expect to go back to the school district in any capacity, including substitute teaching, or even go back to public education at all, I like having the feeling that the doors are still open. I want people to think well of me even if they never see me again. Some of those folks will, of course, see me again. One, it's a small town. Two, many of them are my dear friends.

I've only 88 more days to be "Mr. O'Connor." To some of my former students, I will always be "Mr. O'Connor." That's cool. I'm fortunate to have some nice connections with former students. That's a side benefit of the job I never really expected. But "Mr. O'Connor" feels more and more each day like a part I played on a long-running TV show. Imagine being a soap opera actor having the same gig every year for decades. That's me! (They aren't cancelling the show, just writing me out.)

One, two, three . . . GO!