9.29.2010

Planes and how they Work by Clint Twist



Easily one of the best children's books I've ever read. Each interactive, pull-out, colorful page, is loaded with so much aeronautical information, from the cockpit on down through the fuselage and all the way back to the tail fin, that I learned as much about airplanes while reading it to my kids as they did! Fun fun fun! And the pages are nice and thick as well, not chintzy and easily tear-apart-able in the destructive hands of a four year old, like so many interactive children's books, which get wrecked the very day you purchase them oftentimes, once your ravenously reading, though rough handed, curious kids have their playful way with them.

Kids will learn the answers to fascinating questions such as ... how on earth can a huge piece of machinery weighing over 800,000 pounds -- nearly half-a-million tons! -- lift off the ground and ever get airborne? And what does a jet engine block look like from inside the block? Way cool stuff!

The book also features a page on the Past and Future of aeronautics, including interesting tidbits on the Airbus A380, which is over 230 feet long, has three levels and can fly 5,000 miles nonstop without refueling -- which is like flying from San Francisco to Tokyo without having a stopover in Honolulu! Holy cow! It's like a Carnival Cruise ship that flys!

Planes and how they work is supposed to be for kids, but I think adults (well, maybe only dorky adults) will enjoy it as much, if not more so, than their children. Listen, it sure beats the heck out of reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dick And Jane over and over anyday, trust me. Reading this book is like watching Finding Nemo or Monster House, you can read it multiple times and yet it remains fresh and fun for both children and adults. I wish all children's books were this interesting.

9.28.2010

Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano

What better book about booze has ever been written than Malcolm Lowry's alcoholic masterpiece, Under the Volcano? I don't know that I can think of a more self-destructive, self-loathing, sad alcoholic character ever depicted so poignantly and so lyrically in literature than Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul, living in Quanhnahuac, Mexico, the depressed, self-exiled, drunken protagonist of Under the Volcano.


It's the Day of the Dead when the novel opens, and its the same Day of the Dead when the novel closes. "Quanhnahuac possesses eighteen churches and fifty-seven cantinas". With a lopsided ratio of liquor looming over religion at 3:1, it's no wonder Firmin won't remain sober, not even to save his estranged wife, Yvonne, from the arms of a man he's been close to all his life.

How, or when, Firmin, wound up so addicted we do not fully know; the reasons and the origins of his alcoholism are not fully outlined in the novel -- it's not cut and dry as to why he let himself go so completely (he can't blame it all on his bad marriage can he?) -- we just know he's pretty much lost, and we're witnessing the consequences of his life's accumulation of bad decisions, on what turns out to be the last day of his life: the Day of the Dead.

And as Lowry lowers the boom of Firmin's eventual demise with abundant literary allusions and foreshadowing (I don't pretend to have grasped them all) with increasing intensity page after page, we can't help but say aloud to this sad character depicted on the page, "please stop; this is too painful to watch." Lowry writes of Firmin:

"Dark coils of shadows lay in the deserted barroom. They sprang at him. "Otro mescalito. Un poquito."

"The subdued roar of the falls filled the room like a ship's engine...Eternity...The Consul, cooler, leaned on the bar, staring into his second glass of the colourless ether-smelling liquid. To drink or not to drink. --But without mescal, he imagined, he had forgotten eternity, forgotten their world's voyage, that the earth was a ship, lashed by the Horn's tail, doomed never to make her Valparaiso. Or that is was like a golf ball, launched at Hercules' Butterfly, wildly hooked by a giant out of an asylum window in hell.... Why lost?....What is man but a little soul holding up a corpse? The soul!...."


We know that a bitter (though beautifully penned) end is swiftly approaching...

The Consul (Geoffrey Firmin) is easily my favorite anti-hero in literature. So melancholic, yet strangely inspiring, how Malcolm Lowry, with his authorial gifts, elegantly elevated the tragedy of Under the Volcano; taking a man's addiction and somehow transforming it into a triumph of modern language. It should be required reading for the alcoholic who truly, finally, wants to quit drinking, before it's too late …

For more on Under the Volcano, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of David Markson's book-length study, Malcolm Lowry's Volcano: Myth, Symbol, Meaning.  I reviewed the book right here.


Novel excerpt by Enrique Freeque

The remembrance of that life is fraught with so much pain to me, with so much mental suffering and want of hope, that I have never had the courage even to examine how long I was doomed to lead it. Whether it lasted for a year, or more, or less, I do not know. I only know that it was, and ceased to be; and that I have written, and there I leave it.
--Charles Dickens, David Copperfield



The prison chaplain wanted me to open up about my life, about the events that led to the murder and my incarceration. He must've been frustrated after six months of mostly one word responses to his probing questions. He suggested, on one visit, I write something about my life instead. So I did. And do pardon me if my diving right in seems rather abrupt, I figure cut the bullshit, I've already wasted enough of my life as it is. Skip the unnecessary background build up and just get to the meat and bones of it, the basics, so here goes. And besides, I don't have enough paper in here to waste it on inconsequential details.

"The backyard of my youth,” I wrote, in long hand, on a yellow legal pad left for me by my public defender, “Was the High Sierra of California. My father and I would camp in the Sierras every other weekend, even in winter (we were nuts, or, my Dad was, I should say), and even when it snowed, the plowed roads on Friday nights in the high country slick with black ice, dangerous to drive (and boy did we encounter danger) especially when chains were required.

The main road up from San Bernardino ran like a back alley behind my backyard - 395 - mythic highway. While the alleys we inevitably lived on, in a neighborhood called "Muscoy": nothing but mountains of trashed mattresses. No Mount Whitneys here. Bald tires would magically appear overnight piled high against the crooked, about-to-fall-over wood fence lining the narrow, pot-holed, gravelly lanes. Junked husks of rusted trucks rotting in neighbor's yards, or sometimes ours, attracted graffiti and gangs. Not so sublime a view as the back alley of the High Sierra, these back alleys of the Inland Empire. Though 395 knew some decrepitude too.


We rode, Dad and I, over Cajon Pass, past nameless ramshackle hamlets. Through desert encampments scattered willy-nilly out in that vast acrid expanse as if blown about and deposited down indiscriminately by marauding dust devils. Intubated towns on life support, vitals not good, the life seemingly sucked out of them, all along 395, south of Lone Pine. I saw lots and lots of skeletal remains: Fire-gutted one-story buildings, entire walls missing, the front doors two-by-four’d, windows barred, roofs warped by the relentless sun and wind, if not caved in, nonetheless demanding: KEEP OUT. As if everyone who journeyed past the wreckage were just dying to break in. The Mojave Desert's dereliction of low rent, unkempt habitations, mocked the majesty of the High Sierras looming invisibly - like wind, like prayers - in the night due west. Abandoned school buses' faded gaudy yellows glowed in the starlit dark. Other odd, idiosyncratic structures, mostly businesses out of business, appeared intermittently, sparsely lit, if lit at all. They existed - survived somehow - looking as lonely and solitary as the deformed Joshua trees, clawing at us, lickety-split, in our headlights sudden glance, and gone. I don’t remember those ubiquitous habitations much - paintless, sandblasted trailers, outposts of mobile homes, dirt yards separated by chained-together flat-tire "fences" - emaciated residences shrivelled up by daily holocausts of heat and wind, I don't remember them much individually, I think, because they seemed little different than the home I lived in. Everything man-made that existed out there in the desert, besides the Los Angeles Aqueduct, existed in such a conglomerate of constant disrepair that, whether home or independent gas station or parked Volkswagon bug, might as well have served doubly as a Pick-a-Part. Such was the Mojave Desert's haphazard history of decay and indubitable drift. Demise was all around as we drove north every other Friday night up 395; demise as palpable to my eyes as the staggered road signs with ever decreasing mileages to Big Pine, Bishop, Bridgeport. Which is why I remember historic places like Manzanar mostly, just south of the town of Independence. Manzanar with its unsturdy looking sentry tower easily visible even at night from 395, constructed from once stately, centuries-old pines, felled and hauled out of the High Sierra to make lumber for a lookout.


"Very descriptive," he said, setting the paper down. "But what's this b.s. with all those big words?"

"I've been taking correspondence courses. Pursuing a degree in English. Putting my punishment to good use."

"Looks like you have. But that's not what I'm asking. What's with the writing?"

"You don't like it?"

"No no, don't get me wrong; I'm glad you wrote it, it's good I guess, but where are you in these trips? And what exactly does "ubick," he pointed at the word on the paper and showed me.

"That's ubiquitous," I said.

"And what the hell does that mean?"

"It means-"

"And this word right here too: "indoobytable"? What's that about?"

"Indubitable," I correctly, and pridefully pronounced. "It means 'unwavering, unyielding, persistent, always there'".

"Well then say 'persistent' and stop showing off. Shit. I understand 'persistent'".

"I chose the word 'indubitable' because the 'd' sound fits nicely with the next word, 'drift'. That's called 'alliteration," -- 'indubitable drift,' -- you hear that?"

"I hear someone with way too much time on their hands. This isn't creative writing class, Greg. I was just asking for you, since you've had such a difficult time talking about it with me, you know, face to face, to maybe try and put pen to paper and tell me something about your self that way. Those fancy-schmancy words don't really tell me anything, except that you're trying to show off your vocabulary or something. You're still avoiding revealing yourself. You're still hiding, Greg, which is your choice, I guess, but then why am I spending my time here when I could be somewhere else with someone who wants to talk to me. It's been six months, Greg. Open up. That's all I'm saying. Shit, just write your story, pretending no one will ever read it, if that'll help you not be so flowery. And then if after you've written it, you still don't want me to read it, that's fine. Just get this shit out of you. The important thing is that you get whatever shit you got inside you out, or you'll just stay stuck forever. And it doesn't seem like that's what you want."

"So you want me to strip the prose down some?"

"The prose? See, that's part of the problem, in my opinion, you looking at your life like it were prose rather than like it was your life. This is your life you're writing about it, right?"

"No, I'm writing about the Buddha's life. Jesus Christ, man, of course I'm writing about my life. Maybe you need to let me set the stage of my life some!"

"O-kay o-kay. It's just you say 'prose' and that word makes me think creative writing class: fiction. We all know the imagination you've got, Greg, some of the strange shit you've pulled here in prison. I just want to make sure that what you're writing is you and not more make-believe."

"It's my life, Chaplain. My memoir. An autobiography. You're going to have to trust me on that."

"Me? Trust you?" The Chaplian chuckled. "Tell you what, Greg, you write me something real, something not all hoity-toity and pretentious, and then maybe I'll trust you that you're bein' on the up-and-up with me. Giving me your life on the page, and not more of your bullshit. How's that sound?"

"Fantastic."

"All right then. Lose the sarcasm. But keep writing. It's good, don't get me wrong. Very descriptive. Maybe too descriptive. I mean, too much impertinent details about a road. What do I care about what's out there on that road-"

"That road is hugely important to me, man, and just because you wouldn't know a decent bit of writing if it bit you in the ass; and of the struggle that a writer must go to..."

"Oh ... so you're a writer now. And I'm the Pope, Greg. Or wait, no, I'm the Apostle Paul."
"I'm just saying it's a struggle to write, to try and be a writer. Whether I'm a real writer in your book is irrelevant. I'm just saying it's hard to write this shit, and maybe you need to be a little more patient with me. 'Love is patient,' right?"

"Fair enough. I love it when you throw the Bible at me! That's good. You do seem, I'll grant you, seem to communicate much better on paper than you do in person. Were you aware of that?"

"No," I almost smiled.

"Well, good then. This is progress. You're learning something good about yourself. So keep writing, okay? Shoot, even if it's pretentious. Just not pretend, okay? I'm not ragging on your writing. Just bring it down to earth some so an idiot like me can understand it, is all. Know what I mean?"

"I think so."

"And if you must describe stuff in great detail, then describe stuff about you or your life in great detail. Okay? That's your homework for this week."

"Okay," I said. "I'll try. But I may not let you read it."

"Fine by me. This process has got to be for you, Greg, anyway, not for me. I'm just a change agent, tryin' to help you grow and get along better inside this shit hole, and for when you leave this shit hole. See you next time." He stood up.

"Next time." I watched him leave.


--


I couldn’t wait to leave, even though I knew what would probably happen.  It's hard to explain how I could look forward to the trips knowing what would probably happen eventually on the trips, but there were enough times when, nothing did happen, so I was somehow able to look forward to each trip, forgetful of the previous trip -- assuming it had been a bad one -- as only a resilient, hopeful child could be. The never ending hours spent in elementary school the days before each trip seemed to last for years. The clocks in Mrs. Mulholland’s, Mr. Hollis’, Mr. Maeda’s, and Mrs. Webb’s class, too, wouldn’t move quick enough. The teachers often noticed my impatience, my fidgeting, my hurry-up-already glances at the clock, and enjoyed embarrassing me in front of the entire class. Mrs. Webb, especially, liked saying: “Do you see something up there that the rest of us are perhaps blind to, Greg?”

I turned (too late!) from the clock and looked down at my desk. Someone had carved “F-U-C-K” atop it. Might’ve been me. I blushed, almost smiled, grimaced.

“Look at me, Greg!”

I looked at her. Not quite as beautiful as Mom. Tied her brown, graying hair in a knot in the back. She wore thick rimmed, pointed glasses too. Her head looked so tight, tense – like a ball of twine. I imagined it might explode, out pop a hideous monster, like in The Alien, but unfortunately, her head just remained another head.

“What do you see up there?” she persisted.

The other kids in class joined Mrs. Webb, egging me on, pestering, “Yeah, Greg-eee,” they said, dragging out the “e” sound like their vocal cords were stuck. “What’s up there?”

“A clock.”

“That’s so very perceptive of you, Greg,” Mrs. Webb, who I imagined held a broomstick, said.

All the other kids laughed, none of which were my friends. The other kid’s laughter hurt my ears. Gave me a headache. Then that Webber-Bread (yeah, she’d eaten lots of loaves by the looks of her) asked the class if they saw a clock up there on the wall above the door out to the hallway too? Snickers, giggles.

“Yes, Missus Webb,” they replied in unison, like wind-up dolls.

“So, Closs,” she sounded English when she said “class,” “If we’re all already well aware that there is a clock up there,” she pointed, “on the wall, do we constantly need to look at it?”

“No, Missus Webb.”

“I did not hear your voice Gregory.” She knew I hated being called Gregory. She knew that.

“Yeah, Gregeee, speak up!”

“What?!”

“What did I say?!” She said.

“That we don’t need to look at the clock!” I said, though I wanted to tell her, yell at her, that we didn't need to look at the goddamn clock, and get sent to the principal's office pronto, get suspended and get to stay home from this - another shitty school - but I wanted to go camping worse.

“Oh good!” she clapped her hands. “We’re all so proud of you for coming to this conclusion on your own. Aren’t we, Closs”.

“Yes, Missus Webb”.

“Now please, resume your reading.”

To spite her, I gazed at the clock whenever she wasn’t looking, not caring if anybody snitched, and tried telepathically inching the clock forward to 3:00pm. Sometimes it worked, the school bell would ring but I’d still have to wait impatiently for the stupid teacher to dismiss us. I don’t know, teachers back then had a weird thing about making the “closs” wait until we sat up straight with our arms folded on our desks, fingers intertwined like we were praying, and a sweet smile plastered on our faces.

“Teaches discipline,” Webber Bread said.

By the time she was finished “teaching discipline” it was practically tomorrow and I figured I might as well spend the night in class. Not really. I ran all the way home – sweating, wheezing, coughing, hocking loogies - anticipating the long drive into the High Sierras.

When my father got home from work near dark, I’d hear him pull his truck into the driveway and jet out of my room to meet him at the front door. We had a flimsy screen door in those days, a good foot of metal threads torn open in the top corner, that let in insects during summer, that Mom always wanted Dad to fix. “Fix it yourself,” he’d invariably tell her, “I fix things all day at work. Might do you good fixing something besides dinner around here.”

Talk like that made Mom mad. They’d argue about that screen a lot – and about other things too. I don’t recall a day they didn’t raise their voices. I’d just turn up the TV when they did, and watch reruns, unless Laura, my older sister, was around, and then I'd have to watch one of her dumb shows, like The Joker's Wild or The $20,000 Pyramid, but at least she never made me watch Lawrence Welk or Hee Haw like my Gramma and Grampa did, when I'd spend the night over at their house. Sometimes, though, even if I turned the TV up full blast, it wasn't loud enough to drown out the perpetual parental roar. Or the TV screen would get smashed in (we went through a ton of TVs back then, black-and-whites mostly, Mom's favorite retaliatory target that'd send Dad into a tizzy) or something else would shatter - an ashtray or a picture frame - and I'd look at Laura, or she at me, and though we rarely spoke during these tirades, I could tell by Laura's look - a tooth grinding determined look, communicating, "Stay calm, Little Bro, the chaos will soon be over. Everything will be okay." I held on to Laura's eyes for protection, and ducked when I had to. Of course, the drama rarely ended soon, and Mom and Dad's marriage didn't turn out okay. But that's another story.

When Dad would pull up, I'd hide behind the front screen; one of those screens that made you near-invisible to anyone who might peer in from outside. I liked that. Seeming invisible to people on the outside. I could stand behind the screen and watch neighbors pass by, without their ever knowing I spied on them, like on I Spy.

Dad would lumber up the cracked walkway in his Levis, boots, and blue t-shirt, pick at his nose, spit, but he didn't know I was there, behind the screen, observing him. I really really liked that, watching my Dad when he thought he wasn’t being seen. It was like watching the Truth, capital "T".

I knew to get out of his way when he walked in, smelling of smoke, sweat, and sawdust. I could see he’d been working hard by the dark blue patches under his armpits. My Dad stank a rich humid wood smoke smell, but I sure did love him no matter how bad he smelled, and would’ve hugged him, stink or no stink, but knew not to. He’d give me an elbow ambling past, and I’d play-punch him in the gut. “Oh,” he’d say, “You got me good,” and I’d laugh as he play-boxed me back, our bodies careening toward the kitchen.

He’d set his tool belt and steel-sided toolbox on the kitchen table with a thunk, kiss Mom, if she’d let him, since he stank so bad (he’d sweat an awful lot, especially in summer), and she’d shoo him off, “later, later,” she’d say, turning her face from his, if he stank real bad, telling him to go hit the showers "Jim, and then you can kiss me”.

Usually, it took Dad about an hour or so to get cleaned up and dressed and fed and ready to leave. After showering, he’d shave. Trim his mustache and goatee, comb flat his bushy black sideburns. Sometimes he’d let me watch him. I'd pretend to shave with him with the black comb I kept in my back pocket. Then he’d change into some clean jeans, a clean t-shirt - his favorite, a Union Jack that said "The Who" - and put his boots back on. He’d then watch a bit of the news, watching for the weather mainly, seeing if we might need chains, assuming it were that time of year, which could run as late as Memorial Day Weekend in the High Sierras.

By now Mom would’ve made dinner. Country fried steak that smelled better than it tasted, along with the usual mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn. We’d sit on our big L-shaped couch, covered with hand-knit afghans Mom had made to hide the holes and eternal stains, in front of the TV, instead of at the kitchen table, on these Friday nights just before leaving, so that Dad could keep watching the news. Laura would bring us our dinner on paper plates, and then she'd sit on her and Mom's side of the couch, against the wall, pick at her plate in her lap, and soon pout. Mom would enter next and hand Dad a Coors. He’d indent the can with his grip in one hand everytime, and chow down with the other, his right. Mom would say to me, "almost forgot," and hand me my blue and yellow LA Rams plastic cup of milk. That was our dinner ritual before a trip.

“Let’s get this par-tay started,” Dad would say, during a commercial, between bites, or after taking a long swig of Coors. “Are you ready for some good times, Greg? Are you?”

“I’ve been ready, Dad!”

“How come I never get to go,” Laura’d inevitably complain.

I tried explaining it to her one time, but Dad said that what I'd said was untrue, and that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. But I knew what the hell I was talking about all right, since Dad had told me. He just didn't want Laura to know what he thought of her. Laura would repeat "why can't I go" over and over, sometimes, I think, just to piss Dad off, while Dad ignored her, for awhile, at least, studying the news, stuffing his mouth full of steak and nearly liquid mashed potatoes, making these weird humming sounds while he ate.

“It’s not fair I never get to go.”

Dad didn't like "it's-not-fair" talk, and he'd explode. He'd yell at Laura, "Life's a bitch," and add that if she didn’t shut the fuck up "right now," then she might as well be a bitch too. Laura would throw her dinner at him but usually miss.
“Jim you talk nice to her,” Mom warned, stepping between Dad and Laura. Mom always warned Dad about everything seemed like, as if she were his mother instead of his wife.

“Just sit back down, shut up, and clean up your goddamn dinner, Lore, without bein' such a baby about it for chrissakes. Fuck.”

Laura stood staring him down, arms folded, fuming.

"Don't you use that kind of language around the kids, Jim - I've told you that. And that's the last time I'll be telling you!". Or, probably the next-to-last time, maybe.

Laura would shout something like, "I hate this fucking family" and storm off to her room. The next significant sound would be that of her door slamming. Sometimes she'd slam it twice, or three times, like she was furious at her bedroom door, trying to knock some sense into it. Mom would rush after her - too late, as usual. Then Dad and I would hear Mom knocking on Laura's door harder and harder, asking to be let in, warning her of the consequences if she refused. Tired of knocking, Mom would come back to the couch and try reasoning with Dad - like trying to reason with a grizzly bear - reminding him he’d promised her just last night to try and be nicer to Laura, since he tended not to be nice to her, because, as only I knew, he didn't consider her his "real daughter" (and I guess, technically, she really wasn't) - or at least that’s how Dad explained it to me the few times talk of Laura would come up on our camping trips.

“I am being nice, Janet. Now you be nice too and go grab me another beer.”

Mom took her time returning from the fridge, tidying up the kitchen, and when she returned and handed him another beer she said "that was it, no more!" Because we had plenty of driving before us tonight. She'd say she wasn't going to be privy, "oh no," to any more drinking-and-driving fiascos, or any of Dad’s nonsense or schenanigans.

"You got it, Mister," she'd point at him, scolding him like a little boy, and then reiterate that she wasn't going to tolerate it anymore. Dad's misbehavior.

“Yeah yeah,” Dad would say. Then he’d belch. Or fart. And even though the timing of Dad's belch or fart made Mom mad, it was still hard not to laugh. She'd call Dad a pig and then stomp off in a huff back to Laura's door and, by now, Laura would probably let her in.

“All right, Greg, let’s go.”

"Aren't we gonna say goodbye to Mom and Lore?"

"Lore's crying, and your Mom's probably crying with her too. Wah wah wah. Screw 'em. That's what women do. Wah wah wah. Let's just get the fuck - after I go grab me another beer - and we'll be cruisin' on outta here. What's wrong," he'd say, since he could see by my expression I wanted to say goodbye to Mom and my sister. "Nut it up a notch, Sonny Boy...Look...we'll call 'em from a payphone when we get to Lone Pine, when we get gas, okay?"

"Lone Pine's a long ways away."

"Greg! Okay?! Deal?!"

"Deal," I knew to say. And smiled the best I could.

And he'd say, "done".

We’d take the 215 to the 15 and head up the long slow grade over Cajon Pass in the dark. Near the summit, as the distant lights of Victorville appeared, Dad would always say something like: “Damn, gotta go back!” At first I’d ask why but since Dad said the same thing on every trip, I knew it was a joke.

“I forgot my comb,” he’d say. “How are we gonna survive in the Sierras without my comb!” He’d crack up and I’d laugh along too.

Dad would be in a very good mood by now, having drunk more beer I’d poured out of the Coors cans into a Styrofoam cup for him. I tried telling him maybe he shouldn’t do that, since it was illegal to have an open container – or a cup – of alcohol in a moving vehicle (and we were definitely moving, Dad drove like a NASCAR racer, or Speed Racer, like he was being chased); a fact I’d learned firsthand the last time Dad got pulled over:

“Did you know you were weaving, Sir?”

“I was reaving?” Dad slurred.

“I hope that’s not alcohol in that cup, Sir. Sir, please step out of the car.”

Boy was Mom mad when the California Highway Patrol dropped me off at home the next morning. I was sort of excited being transported by the C.H.P. since CHiPs was one of my favorite shows. Mom seemed mad at me at first (like the whole Dad thing was my fault, and maybe part of her was mad at me), but she was mostly just mad at Dad. Incensed, is more like it! Tramping through the house, saying, "that was it, we’re outta here,” hurriedly tossing clothes out of the closet, packing our suitcases to go.

To go where, though? Where?

So we’d always end up unpacking, Laura, Mom, and me, and having to put our belongings, mostly clothes, and my three-ring album of baseball cards, back in place. Mom always insisted we never speak a word about nearly leaving Dad to Dad. And we didn't.

Another problem that arose from Dad drinking so much beer, besides it being illegal to do so while driving, was that it made Dad have to pull over and pee a lot. But sometimes there wasn’t a good spot on the highway to pull over and pee.

“Hold the cup for me – hurry!” Dad would say, and while driving, he’d unzip with one hand and steer with the other, his member, I mean, since he could use his knees to steer the steering wheel. He'd aim his stream into the cup I held beneath him. When he finished peeing, and Dad wasn’t exactly accurate in his aim while peeing, and my hand would get damp, I’d carefully transport the full cup, hoping Dad wouldn’t hit a pothole or rut in the road while I did so and cause all that piss to slosh over the sides - disgusting! - toward the passenger window, roll down the window as fast as I could, and be mindful not to make the same mistake as last time when I emptied the cup in a manner that caused a blowback in my face – yuk - a fate far worse than spitting into the wind. Learned that lesson the hard way a couple times. Contents emptied, I’d roll up the window, drop the cup by my feet, and dry off my hands on my jeans.

By the time we’d merged off the 15 onto 395, Dad would start smoking what I considered then, at the time, his "homemade cigarettes" I’d seen him roll in the gas station bathroom all by himself. How many Dads could do that? One trip, he taught me.

“These are called ‘buds’,” he said, removing what looked like parsley from a little rolled up plastic baggy. “But all you need to know, Sonny Boy, is it’s some really good shit.”

I certainly thought it smelled like shit. A pungent whiff, even unlit, made me want to cough. Then Dad removed from his pocket another plastic baggy containing a lighter, some tweezers, and something that looked sort of like Grampa’s tobacco pipe, only shorter and stouter and stinkier, and some rectangle white papers he called “Zigzags”.

“What’cha do is, Greg, you listnin’ to me? This is important.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“Now watch close, I don't want to have to explain this to you again."

I bent forward, hands on my knees, my face practically in the sink, eyes squinting at Dad's hands.

"What’cha do is,” he set some papers on the gas station bathroom sink, showing me how it was done. Dad liked showning me how things were done. “You put just enough of the buds like so (don’t put too much ‘cos that’s just being indulgent and this shit ain’t cheap, believe me…) just fold the ends over like so, see, so that none a the buds can slide out, and slowly…slowly…roll it closed like this, like a twist-tie. See.”

I nodded.

“And then when you’re just about outta paper to roll, give it a good lick, back and forth with your tongue like so,” Dad licked it, back and forth, back and forth, “see? Volia,” he said, licking his lips, “that seals the deal! You ready to wheel and deal, Greg?"

"I guess."

"Okay, here, you try it.” I took the Zigzags and the buds - rolled, twisted, licked - and learned how to roll my first homemade cigarette.

The farther north we drove, the more Dad laughed at everything I said. He’d laugh even when what I said wasn’t intentionally funny, stuff like, “what time is it?” or, “how much longer till we get there?,” or “I thought we were going to call Mom and Lore in Lone Pine?”.

He’d laugh and laugh. He smiled a lot too, for no apparent reason, just glance over at me, grinning.

He'd stop grinning when we passed Manzanar. He'd nearly tear up, shake his head like he couldn't believe it, say what a terrible blight Manzanar was on American History. How he couldn't understand how Americans could be so cold hearted, so paranoid, so unjust, and falsely imprison so many innocent people just because they were Japanese. "Japanese Americans," he'd say. "Not right, not right". Dad's best friend, about his only friend, was Japanese, and everytime Dad's Japanese friend came over Dad always enjoyed kidding him, saying in a fake Japanese voice, "Remembuh Pewl Hawbuh". Dad's Japanese friend would laugh.

Sometimes Dad would cross the double yellow lines on 395 even if he wasn’t trying to pass anybody, at least not any cars I could see. I’d lean over and sock him in the shoulder. He’d jerk his head up, startled, and steer the truck back into our lane. I had to watch him constantly late at night on these trips, to make sure his head wouldn’t dip down. I had to watch him closely at all times, studying him for the slightest sleep signs, always ready to snap him to attention, especially as we began the long, precipitous ascent of Sherwin Summit, out of the Owens Valley, into the high country, where blackened snow banks lined the road.

I’d try turning up the tape deck, whatever 8-track Dad had going at the time – Hendrix, Eagles, The Doors, Manfred Mann, Grand Funk, Foghat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, whomever - roll down the window and let the smoke out (and the brisk air in) anything I could think of to help him stay awake. I’d take off my seat belt too so that I could slide over closer to him across the squeaky vinyl bench seat - squeaked like a fake fart sound - and sit with my knees underneath me so my legs wouldn’t interfere when Dad moved the long stick shift directly ahead. The sleepier Dad got, almost nodding off, the more I’d punch or even pinch him. Yell at him. "Dad! Wake up!" Shake him from his sleep. The pine trees in the headlights alongside the road – there and gone, there and gone - looked huge, hard, and I didn’t want us to hit one.

I’d shiver uncontrollably inside the cab, the passenger window still opened, practically hugging on Dad, but being freezing cold seemed better than crashing – or worse! The cold combined with sitting in so much smoke for so long would cause my asthma to come on strong – good thing I always remembered my inhaler. I’d take a puff, inhale as deep as I could, sort of like how Dad inhaled his homemade cigarettes, and there, almost instantly, I could breathe. Dad’s smoke gave me a headache too, but at least the headache helped me stay awake so that we would remain on the road. Talk about a backseat driver! Try front seat driver!
After Dad had smoked maybe four or five of what I’d rolled for him in my lap, drank maybe a six pack of Coors on top of what he’d drunk at home, and played probably ten 8-tracks, we’d be at our turnoff to Convict Lake. I couldn’t really see the mountains as we pulled into the campground, just a dark ill-defined outline, separating solid earth from night. Straight overhead, though – whoa! – stars, gazillions of them, like gold fireworks frozen in space. Immobilized, but glittering, bright pockmarks splattered across the night's ceiling. Like neon acne, though a much worse case of it than what my sister Laura often had.

Since we had a built-in fridge in the camper, I’d have to jump outside, open up the back door, duck inside, open the fridge, check the level thingamajig affixed to one of the interior horizontal grates, to see if the air bubble was bulls eyed in the red circle; doing all that (as Dad had taught me) because we had to be “level” (or at least the fridge had to be “level”) in order for it to operate right and keep everything cold. Mostly Coors. Invariably, the fridge wouldn’t be level and so I’d reach around the wheel well where Dad secured the wood boards whose ends he’d cut at angles to make little mini-ramps so that the tires, whichever side of the truck wasn’t level, could pull up or back up onto more easily. Dad was always smart and practical with stuff like that. But Dad being drunk didn’t help us any getting the fridge level, whether the ends of the wood boards were cut conveniently or not. He’d regularly inch up the boards but not stop in time even though my hands were up, palms out, in the headlights, shoutingStop Stop, but he’d drive right over the length of board, the tire bob off with a bounce, and a couple times he'd nearly run me over. I’d secure the boards back in place, and we’d repeat the process over and over, until Dad's reflexes finally got it right, perhaps having sobered up some by then.

Once we’d gotten level, I felt elated. We made it! Though my elation would be short-lived, since I knew, seeing Dad up and not passed out in the driver’s seat, that the worst, most likely, was yet to come.

From inside the camper, I’d turn on the light above the kitchenette and could hear Dad throwing up outside. Awful sound. I’d cover my ears. I'd turn on the space heater and then hop up into the bunk above the cab and unroll Dad’s sleeping bag for him before he came inside. Then I’d plop down from the bunk, disregard the short ladder, and unroll my sleeping bag. I’d have Dad’s aspirins ready for him along with a Dixie cup of water. Sometimes he’d want Pepto Bismol too, so I’d have the pink bottle out for him as well. I’d set everything out on the little table we had, cramped next to the fridge and mini-sink. The table would unlatch from the wall and fold down and become a makeshift bed supported on each side by small, fifties- style red booths Dad had built in – the same booths him and Mom got into a huge argument over – something about the camper having nicer stuff than our home. This is where I’d sleep, atop the fold-down table, once we’d folded it down, assuming Dad didn’t snore; otherwise, if it was above freezing, I’d take my sleeping bag and pillow outside.

Dad would knock on the door to the camper. I’d jump up from the storage bench opposite our table : “It’s open, Dad”.

“Open the fucking door.”

I’d open the door and back up quickly out of his way as he stumbled and tripped inside, being careful myself as I walked backwards not to trip over the space heater.

“Here’s a napkin for you.”

Dad would take the napkin I gave him and wipe off the throw-up that had attached in goopy strings to his goatee and mustache. Even some on his sideburns. His throw-up stank worse than his sweat walking in the door fresh home from work. He’d clear his throat, deposit what he’d cleared from his throat into the napkin, and then hand the napkin back to me. I’d open the cupboard beneath the sink and drop the napkin into the trash.

“Shit,” Dad would say, and bolt as best he could, wobbly (Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down, unless they’re Dad), back out the door, if he could make it to the door in time, and throw up again outside. Then back into the camper he’d come; back outside to hurl: this regurgitation ritual might last half an hour or so, well past midnight, the wind blowing, a full moon out sometimes.

I’d shut the small window curtains on both sides of the camper, and place the piece of rectangular cardboard we’d cut just right so it would completely cover the cab window separating the cab from the camper. I’d do this all because in case somebody was up late at night in the camp ground, walking around with a flashlight to go pee or something, I didn’t want them to see what Dad might do next.

I’d open the door again for Dad when he’d finally finish his throwing up. He’d wipe his mouth with the back of his hand and shoo my napkin away. He’d wipe the back of his hand on his right pant leg. He’d look over at me sitting on the built-in storage bench. I’d look down at my Adidas. He’d grab a beer from the fridge, pop it open, and take a sip. He’d use his hand to sweep the aspirin off the edge of the table and catch it with his other hand, his left, though he usually dropped the tablets and in bending over to pick them up off the orange shag floor, would often lose his balance and fall forward on his face. Sometimes he’d pass out right there on the floor, but not always. If he could stand back up, sort of ducking so as not to hit his head on the ceiling, he might take a slug of Pepto too, and wash it down with some Coors. He’d set the beer down on the counter surrounding the sink. He’d belch long and loud. I’d laugh. But I wouldn’t be laughing for long.
“You okay, Dad?”
He wouldn’t answer, not at first, just stare at me all dazed and glossy-eyed. I knew that look, hated that look, and looked away. But to where? Not much place to look without looking at him inside the cramped camper - the dimly lit and cluttered confines not much larger than a prison cell.

Dad would instruct me to put the table down, make the bed (which meant moving my sleeping bag off the storage bench over to the makeshift bed, and grabbing a pillow too) and then sit on the bed.

“Take off your clothes too,” he’d say.

I might hear another camper like ours, or something larger, a motor home maybe, perhaps the very make Dad hoped to buy someday; I’d hear it drive past our spot, just outside, within reach, it’s lights briefly casting muted glows through the curtains, pulling in late on a Friday night like us into the camp ground for some fun times fishing and hiking and exploring in the High Sierras.

I took off my shirt first. Then I removed my shoes and socks, then my brown corduroys. Dad would let me keep my boxers on. By now he’d have removed his own shirt. He had a hairy chest – a jungle! – I’d sometimes call him an ape as he stood before me, but he didn’t like that.

“Unbutton my pants,” he’d say. I’d place my fingers on the denim and carefully slipped each brass button (four in all) out of each individual slot…intently, methodically, like lighting the candelabras at Sunday Mass, trembling.

When I finished, he’d let his Levis drop to the floor, step out of them, and kick them out of the way, now wearing only white boxer shorts, Nikes, and white socks with three blue stripes each. Dad also had hairy legs; not quite as hairy as his chest, but they were still pretty hairy.

He’d then tell me what he wanted done and that he wanted it done right. He’d notice my hesitation and say what he always said: “You love me, don’t you, Son?”

I’d slowly nod yes, as my eyes got big, watery.

“Then don’t disobey me. You know what the Bible says don’t you? – it says, ‘Children, obey your parents.’ The last thing I want to do is to have to hurt you.”

I nodded again, and did my best to believe him. The residual scent of Dad’s homemade cigarettes reminded me of Mom’s burning incense.

“I’m only doing this for your own good. It teaches discipline, and the Bible also says, ‘Parents, discipline your children.’ And you don’t want to be disobeying God do you?”

I nodded no, vehemently, and said, “Okay, Dad. I trust you.”

Everything my father instructed me to do, I did. Like a good little boy.

Outside, the wind howled and moaned; as I did, quietly, on the inside.

"Club Manhattan" by Peter Weissman

Peter Weissman is the author of I Think, Therefore Who Am I?

I Think, Therefore Who Am I?

"Club Manhattan" is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress.



They weren’t kids, but I thought of them that way as they frolicked in the circular fountain, beneath the geyser, glided around it on wheels, up and down paths that spoked out through Washington Square Park. I sat cross-legged on a patch of worn grass, attempting to read a book on Buddhism, staring at the page as if the Four Noble Truths or whatever might acclimate me to this new reality. But in fact the wavering words were a rebuke, refusing to afford me an escape. I was only thirty-four, but I felt old.

Where did these kids live? What pictures were on their apartment walls? What drugs did they take? Where hippies had sauntered not that long ago, they moved with a different kind of carelessness, dominating the landscape as if spring full-blown from it.

I was the outsider, having just moved to Manhattan, a dense warren of compartments. I’d beat out dozens who’d seen the same classified ad, ready to surrender two months’ rent in advance, to secure the place. Within a week, I moved in with a suitcase of clothes, a typewriter, and a carton of notebooks and of manuscripts.

It wasn’t much: a basement studio to which I added a convertible couch and bamboo blinds to block the sight of pedestrian feet and a moribund flower bed. As if I’d recently died; a sober thought tempering newfound freedom. Time had moved on in the ten years I was away. Even the neighborhood was new -- SoHo, for South of Houston -- a former manufacturing district whose buildings had been renovated into high-ceilinged lofts, the older streets abutting them becoming prime property as well, accounting for the blue and white faux marble facade of 101 Sullivan Street, with its screeching floors and roaring plumbing. There was, of course, money to be made from the latest fantasy boom that brought a new wave of people into the city.

The Roaring Seventies. Disco music, which I still didn’t like; movies I couldn’t stand: memories of another time accentuating the difference.

I delved for it at night, and encountered ghosts; traipsed the old tenement streets to find once familiar oases gone. The Forum, the head shop next door, the Cave on the corner, even the Subway sandwich shop, all gone; boarded up or reborn as a boutique, a record store. Only the ghosts were there, flitting through the coffeehouse that now sold furniture; gathered at tables in the former nightclub, entombed now, sealed shut with cinder block. Startled, I stared in disbelief at the emptiness where the band shell had been, a trepanned skull the night of my undoing; razed, I later learned, because of the junkies who congregated and sheltered there.

Yet, to my surprise, the old streets had lost something else too: the noumena that elicited fear and dread.

How had it happened? Had I relived those days so often, recalling them again and again as I rewrote my still unfinished book, that I finally came to accept the past and make peace with it? What part had seven years of marriage played? Work? Friends and acquaintances? Books? Travel? How had I become a different person?

The fire escape facades still conjured stories, but perhaps the people had become characters. You can live with them more easily.

The people I knew now gravitated to eateries and cafés in other, more pricey neighborhoods. But then, they had jobs now. In the evening, they gathered to discuss this and that, to assert and nest within a larger, collective identity. I didn’t quite fit in -- I never have -- but like them, I was bemused that our disco descendants lacked our social commitment, didn’t care about Vietnam, civil rights, and the other things that characterized us while coming of age.

These were Mark’s people, his friends, and they had become my acquaintances. Since moving in, I saw more of him, accompanied him once a week to the group he’d put together to talk about society, serious conversation that spawned banter, which I preferred. Once in a while, I’d have something to say, from a welcome perspective, so far as the others were concerned, though they didn’t know where I was coming from: the drug era, and its lessons; marriage, which no one else had experienced; working a deadline job for the post office, running out of money in Europe, languishing in a gardener’s cottage on the Gold Coast of Connecticut as my life fell apart.

In fact, I was losing interest in theorizing and opinionation, even skipped a few meetings, which might have been why Mark decided to form a new group, one that would appeal more to me.

In fact it did, viscerally, because of Denise Kaminsky.

* * *

The first session took place at Denise’s apartment, though her inclusion was a puzzle. She wrote badly, had trite things to say about the women’s movement -- the most frequently discussed topic in that group too.

“So,” I said to Denise when the session was over. “Mark tells me you know Gerry." I'd never liked him and didn't understand why Mark did, except out of loyalty to an old friend.

"How do you know Gerry?" she asked, flicking hair off a shoulder, animated, curious.

"He was editor of the college newspaper when Mark and I were reporters, and then he lived in the building next door, in the tenements."

"I wrote a column for him," she said. "Gerry's a hoot."

"I haven't seen him in years. He must be pleased, ruling the roost at his own magazine." A glossy thing specializing in photos of naked women and editorial filler about sex.

She snickered. "Why wouldn't he be, presiding over a harem?"

Which was what I'd imagined.

She laughed; a light, tinkling sound. “Presiding ... is a bit strong. He looks but doesn't touch, flirts with the interns and once in a while gets a blowjob under his desk.”

I pictured Gerry Gornish with his pants around his ankles, buddha belly protruding as he got blown. Like the photo in his old pad, tacked on a wall with other candid shots of women he’d known in college.

“He gets off on that,” she said, grinning “He's harmless."

I'd watched Denise, deflect whatever the men in the group might say about the glib piece she'd read aloud with a glance and a knowing smile, implying a disarming expertise about the world of sex. Though it was politically incorrect in that circle, it had the desired effect; no one had been as tough on her, taking her well-formed legs in tinted stockings, her dress sliding up her thighs as she recrossed them. I'd been taken too as she smiled at me across the room, her glossy lips a moue.

No one had said anything interesting about writing, but after that first session, I came to them regularly. And because Denise became a participant in that other, larger group, I didn't miss any of those either. Mark had indeed rekindled my interest.

Her pert body, so well put together, long lashes blinking open to present eyes firmly set on mine: I was awash with lust. Effortlessly, she made a mockery of my indifferent male power pose, as someone in the other group called it; the facade I’d adopted as an adolescent, having heard that women responded to men who weren’t needy. In fact, I could not have been needier, and felt like a discombobulated teenager around her. Which amused Denise, who seemed to delight in disconcerting me, with knowing smiles, a tilted head, the flick of hair off a bare shoulder, as if baring it for me.

One night after the larger group regathered as usual at a restaurant someone swore was reasonable and good, I overcame my teenage directive and offered to drive her home.

“You have a car?” she asked, surprised.

“Sure,” I replied. “I was living in America, y’know, before I showed up here. I can take you for a ride, if you want.” A nervous blurt, not intended to be lascivious, though it sounded that way.

But Denise smiled as if it had been, and now chose to pretend otherwise, saying, “I only live a few blocks away. Not much of a drive.”

“No, I meant--”

“Yes, I know. Chivalrous Sir Launcelot." She reached across the table and rested a hand on my arm. "The noble knight, offering to usher a lady back to her castle.”

A surprising fantasy, as if she'd been considering it awhile. That occurred to me and then was gone, like the makeup she so carefully applied, the tinted stockings and sheath dresses, the coy glances, which left me aswirl in self-consciousness and wondering what she thought of me, excluding what Denise revealed about herself.

Myths of male and female sexuality, with wine or sangria at those late night dinners, led to clinical talk about clitoral and vaginal orgasms. The women then took center stage, held sway for a change, the supposedly enlightened men conspicuously silent. Me too. After seven years of marriage I knew next to nothing, felt that lack as I drove Denise home, detouring through adjacent tenement streets to point out former hot spots before finding a parking spot in Stuyvesant Town. Getting out of the car, I stood bemused on a road in the red brick complex of identical buildings until she slipped a slim arm into the crook of my elbow and led me, as she would from then on.

In her apartment we took off our coats, hung them on a rack in the vestibule, then Denise kicked her shoes off and told me to take off mine. In the living room, she poured glasses of wine, scattered record albums on the parquet floor and told me to pick whichever ones I wanted. I sat down cross-legged, studied the covers as she perched herself above me on the couch, tucking her tinted legs beneath her.

“Good choice,” she said when the first record was on the turntable, and patted the cushion next to her, indicating what I should do next.

Shifting closer when I settled in, her dress rode up, revealing a darker band of tint higher up, accentuating her supple thighs.

“You seem tense,” she said. “Why don’t you stretch out with your feet in my lap. I’ll give you a massage.”

I complied to that too, was relieved that she'd taken charge, watched her peel off my socks and go to work on my soles, my toes, my ankles, becoming more worked up at her touch rather than less …

There was physical certainty in Denise's world that precluded explanation. Bodies and what they responded to were beyond the subtleties of social and political opinion, whatever mental confabulation might be attached, including the confusing notion of pornography, since I was always aware of her monthly advice column, even though I hadn't read it. That incontrovertible physicality explained her self-assurance, the provocative half smile, her indifference to the hesitation of men when the subject of sex came up, as if it was something more serious than other things, rather than less.

Not for me that night, which had the aspect of an initiation. Her ministrations set my thoughts spinning almost uselessly, since they sustained me when I might otherwise have gone off like a firecracker. She would have woke me up the following morning, had I been able to sleep, but instead I rolled over to be dazed again, and afterward left in a stumble.

The next time, as if I now knew what I was doing, I went at Denise without hesitation, and she quickly put me off, took charge again. In fact, from the moment we entered her apartment, she always took control, with a massage, after applying baby oil from a bottle of baby oil; or food -- she was a good cook, could whip up a soufflé in minutes, then watched me eat, as if to make sure I was fortified for the upcoming activity; or she'd tell me to wait in the bedroom while she showered, and afterward slip under the covers next to me, moist and warm.

Her bed was a mattress on the floor in a room vaguely illuminated by a streetlight filtering through Venetian blinds, no frills at all -- the better to concentrate, it seemed, as she went to work applying lotions and lubricants, touching me with fingers, lips, tongue, then directing me to do her, from her toes to her earlobes, which she was particularly fond of, and then her nipples, which pearled as I laved one then the other, nibbled each, and down to her clitoris, to circle it, trill it, suckle it. From me, she asked for no instruction, took charge of my penis, stroked, engorged, or clamped down on it below the head as I throbbed in tumescence, then began to work it up again, up the shaft to the head, bringing me to an ever more heightened or agonized state before finally positioning me or herself to couple this way or that ...

There was a technical aspect to all this that would have been prosaic if not for the constant state of excitement. Then one night, sensing that I’d gotten the hang of things and was less in thrall than usual, she brought me up short, abruptly stopping foreplay by saying, “Are you going to fuck me or what?” as if I were suddenly a stranger expected to perform; letting me know who was in charge.

We were stepping out of her orgone pit by then, going places.

I drove us out to the racetrack, Denise wearing what was for her a casual outfit of tight jeans, a fur-trimmed leather coat, and chukka boots. With beginner’s luck, she hit a longshot in the last race and squealed with excitement, like a little girl, and for a while we were two different people, learning new things about each other. My parents were in Florida at the time, so we spent the night in their apartment in Queens, screwing with the illuminated span of a bridge visible out the plateglass windows, the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

We went to a gallery opening Denise knew about, though it didn't seem she had much interest in, only the happening. It was followed by a loft party with men who wore slacks and cashmere and women who looked as elegant and desirable as Denise. And on New Year’s Eve, I trailed alongside her, an appendant as we took cabs from one party to another, culminating at a penthouse on the East Side where we ran into her brother and his wife.

That was a shock, a dose of the ordinary, sitting on couches and plush chairs around a glass cocktail table, the three of them chatting about mom and dad as I nibbled crackers and cheese and sipped wine. It seemed I'd become part of Club Manhattan, as an associate member in someone else's niche.

But my alienation was an ineluctable thing, for though it seemed I somewhat belonged to something larger than myself, it was also clear that Denise and I were not a couple. I didn’t know quite what we were, and until then hadn’t thought about it.

Though secretive about it, I knew she saw other men, presumably on nights when she wasn't available; Tuesdays, Thursdays, sometimes Saturdays. Surprisingly, since I’m not immune from jealousy, it didn’t bother me. But then, by the time I realized that Denise went out with others, and might even have taken them home, like me, I’d begun to accept the limitations of our arrangement; and with that, viewed her from an analytical distance more typical of me, a detachment seared for a while by the heat of sexual promise and its satiated aftermath.

Her silence in certain settings, for instance, now made an impression. Though still self-assured within her sexual appeal in the writers’ group, where she was usually the only woman, I noticed that she never read anymore, only commented occasionally. And in the company of other women in the larger group -- a sociology professor, graduate student, and freelance reporter for a progressive weekly newspaper -- Denise often seemed uncomfortable.

By January, I sensed that our relationship had run its course, that I was less engaged when we were together; in fact, less interested in her. Like an opportunist riding a hot streak, I knew it would eventually end and meanwhile making the most of a good thing, since I was hardly jaded: an underlying attitude that Denise no doubt picked up on as she cooled toward me.

Still, when the truth of it surfaced, it came as a surprise.

She was as enticing as always, in a black form-fitting dress and open-toed high heels, turning her back to me in her living room, lifting up her silky hair so I could unzip her. She turned back as she shrugged it off, the dress slipping down her slim white shoulders, revealing the swell of milky breasts above a lacy black brassiere.

“But you still have your contacts on,” she said.

“I’ll keep them on,” I replied, ignoring the surprising dismay in her tone. Until that night, I’d always taken them off, at her suggestion, and put on the black-rimmed spectacles I brought along, knowing I’d spend the night.

It seemed inconsequential now, that I wouldn’t, but she frowned and narrowed her shoulders, the open dress top reclaiming some skin.

All along there were hints that would have explained her displeasure, but I'd been too besotted to carry them to a conclusion: that I was a character in a particular fantasy, one in which Denise exerted control over a nearsighted intellectual; and now that I declined the role, the rewards that went with the part would no longer mine.

9.27.2010

Brief Blip About The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson



I've flown through the first twenty pages of The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson's first novel.

His graphic depictions right out of the gate of what it's like to be in an end-over-end car crash off a cliff -- to survive it, resting upside down in your crushed car, immobilized, as flames crisp your scalp -- are stunning. His precision in detailing the medical differences between first, second, and third degree burns (and "4th degree" burns, which theoretically can enter a person's bones) are first rate.

Here's how Davidson describes what it would be like being trapped in a burning car:

"And hold it there {he means hold your hands there on the electric coils of a fully heated stove burner.} Hold it there as the element scorches Dante's nine rings right into your palm, allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever....I have another task for you: lean down, turn your head to one side, and slap your cheek on the same element. I'll let you choose which side of your face....The convenient thing is that your ear is right there to capture the snap, crackle, and pop of your flesh.

"Now you may have some idea of what it was like for me to be pinned inside that car, unable to escape the flames, conscious enough to catalog the experience until I went into shock."

A writer who can sear images like that into your brain, so that they burn there forever, is rare.

9.26.2010

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume I by Stephanie Meyer



***The Naughty Hottie is the author of this post***

twilight b dope, u b dope u 2 dmb 2 c it cuz u jus jlus

That's called text, yo, and if u dnt no u b dope 2 dmb 2 no yo cuz ed he b hot c, i do hm n he like it he like it, not cuz he mikey yo, cuz i hotty n no 1 say no to hotty not ed not ted not fred no 1 cuz i hotty b noty n i no dnt say no let m bite n frght his fangs alrght 2 nite he no how 2 suk dam rght o! ed bites ed bites n i let him yo neva no neva no not ed cuz he bled 4 me period

Text Interpretation (in case you're old)

Twilight is very good. If you don't think it's very good, then you're dumb, or you're just jealous that you couldn't write something as good as it and get paid tons of money for it.

What you're reading is called "text". If you don't know that what you're reading is text, then your streetwise intelligence is greatly lacking, or you're, like, elderly or something.

Edward is hot! I'll have sexual intercourse with him in a heartbeat (woo hoo!) and he'll like it, he'll like it. Not because he's like Mikey from that Life Cereal commercial, but because I'm the Ultimate Hottie and no one says no to the Hottie. Edward doesn't say no to the Hottie; neither does Ted or Fred say no to the Hottie. My high school football team didn't say no the Hottie either. No one says no to the Hottie. How come? Because I'm the Naughty Hottie and no one but no one says no to the Hottie because I never say no to no one either.

Let me bite you, Edward. Let me fright you! Your fangs will be all right tonight for sure! Because, Edward, you know how to suck it (darn right!).

OMG, Ed bites, he bites me ... and I let him! Oh God woo hoo!

You never know, you never know, you might like it if Ed bit you too, you never know. Ed bites my neck and I bite his and there's a lot of blood mingling between us. It's AWESOME!!!

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9.25.2010

Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic-Peek Behind the Pose by Paris Hilton



***The Naughty Hottie is the author of this post***


OMG! Paris can read!




OMG this is such an AWESOME book! Paris Hilton is my idol! I wish I could tell a story as well as she does! She's an AMAZING writer! Paris Hilton in 2011!



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The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann


***The Naughty Hottie is the author of this post***

So this book, you know, is about a cat. A tomcat to be exact. I used to have a tomcat when I was a little girl, black and white striped. I think the man who wrote this book also wrote The Nutcracker. LOL.

Emmy Ridgway illus., 1820 
I loved reading this book. It's about a tomcat. And have you seen the cover? OMG, it's to die for! There's this cute cat, right, I mean a tomcat, holding a "quill," which is another word for a pen. I looked it up. Woo hoo!

And my, what a long tail you have there on the book cover, Mr. Tomcat! You know what they say about tomcats with really long tails! Ha! LOL.

My stupid older brother accidentally ran over the tomcat I had as a kid, backing up out of the driveway in his ridiculous Trans-Am. I've never seen anything so sad in my life. My tomcat, in an instant, got turned into a tomcat carpet or floor mat kind of thingie. Can we say, like, steamrolled?!

I was traumatized for like months. My therapist said that all tomcats have to die sometime, and he's right, but it still hurts and makes me cry just thinking about it.

I'm sure glad that LibraryThing is a place where so many awesome people love not only books, but cats! (and tomcats too!) Woo hoo!

Daddy bought me a new tomcat after my brother killed the old one, but then the new one died too when my little sister accidentally left the door to the washing machine open in the garage. :(

My favorite name for a tomcat is Fedora.

I think you'll like The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. The book cover is AWESOME!!!

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9.24.2010

The Girls Next Door by Paul Ruditis



***The Naughty Hottie is the author of this post***


This AMAZING book (OMG!) is based on one of my all time favorite reality TV shows, have you seen it?, The Girls Next Door? It's AMAZING!

I think Hugh Hefner is AMAZING! He's a GENIUS. And he's so adorable too like my little teddy bear, all cute and cuddly-wuddly and so squeezy-weasyble. So what if Hugh's old enough to be my Great Great Great Great Grampa, I'd be his #1 Girlfriend in a heartbeat. Are you kidding me? I'd do anything for him! Woo hoo!

I'm hoping he caught my AMAZING performance in that Girls Gone Wild video I sent him, shot on location poolside at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, Georgia, just so he can see how talented I am and see that I'm soooooo like ready-Freddy for life in the Mansion. I can't wait to take a dip with him in the Grotto. Care for a skinny dip, Hugh? Woo hoo!

And I think I'm a lot prettier and smartier than all of those silicone SKANKS on the show. And I'm YOUNGER and HOTTER, and trust me, Hugh wouldn't be poppin' any Viagra with me, The Naughty Hottie, around.

So the book, The Girls Next Door, is like basically about the show, The Girls Next Door, right? There's lots of pictures in the book of attractive blondes like me (only I'm like way so HOTTER!), as well as pictures of boobs, really really BIG BOOBS (and my fine set, unlike the ones you'll see in The Girls Next Door, are real, as in REAL, thank you very much!) and then there's some pictures of Hugh in his AMAZING maroon bathrobe. I so love love love this book!

Don't be surprised if you see me on the cover of the next edition. OMG! Oh. My. God. Wouldn't that be a dream come true!

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9.23.2010

The Southern Sierras of California by Charles Francis Saunders



The title of Charles Francis Saunders' regional outdoor classic is a misnomer: The Southern Sierras of California refers not to the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains farther north in Central California, but to its lesser (elevation-wise) mountain nieces and nephews surrounding what have now, ninety-seven years removed from publication, become the greater Los Angeles / Inland Empire / and San Diego suburban megalopolis.

The BIG SANTA ANITA HISTORICAL SOCIETY ed., 1984
Introduction by John W. Robinson
In my teens and twenties I explored Saunders' Southern Sierras extensively, just about every weekend, whether it was up a remote canyon in search of a waterfall or abandoned mine shaft, following the tracks of "The Railway to the Clouds," visiting the ruins of "trail resorts," or huffing it to the summit of some obscure peak (like the top of Vetter Mountain, where I proposed to my then girlfriend (and now my wife) thirteen years ago, at sunset).

Saunders' Sierras include the following mountain ranges: The Santa Monicas above Point Mugu and Malibu; the San Gabriels (my favorite So. CA range) though now so fire gutted as to be nearly unhikable, including Mount Baldy, described aptly by Saunders as the "desert island in the sky," and it is (I've been to the top five times); the San Bernardinos, home to Big Bear and the largest population of year-round residents in any national forest in the United States, whose "Greyback" (San Gorgonio Mountain) towers over every mountain in the south half of the state (been to the top of it too!) at 11,502 feet, so high that it's the only mountain in So. CA whose snow melt forms a seasonal lake (a "tarn"); the San Jacintos south of Palm Springs; the Santa Rosas; and then the back country peaks in San Diego County, best represented around the rustic town of Julian.

That's a mouthful of mountains forming an aerial triangle-view over Southern California, stretching some two hundred miles in length. And Charles Francis Saunders, traveling on foot (sometimes horseback) wrote about every scenic nook and cranny of it, circa 1913, in The Southern Sierras of California.

Into San Andreas canyon he went (south of Palm Springs) and its hidden oasis of a waterfall framed by palms.

Up the water polished rocks and natural water slides of The Narrows in the East Fork of San Gabriel Canyon. Great place to skinny-dip, by the way, if you're still young, in the summer after a hot backpack in, in the refreshing boulder-walled swimming holes (though beware of rattlesnakes that swim!).

Along idling Malibu Creek in the heart of the Santa Monicas, trekked Saunders, the future site of several Hollywood film productions.

A harrowing journey to the top of "Greyback" during a thunderstorm -- with no place to hide -- a trip in which one member of the traveling party died:

"Suddenly there was a crash of thunder and a blinding flash. The bolt stunned the guide, and sent him plumb crazy, so I had to hold him by force to the ground for half an hour, or he would have thrown himself off the mountain. A second bolt that followed killed Wheeler instantly, ripping his clothes to shreds and leaving him almost naked. Then a third bolt struck close to me while I was struggling with Dobbs, who cried like a baby and was calling for his mother. I couldn't make him realize what had happened. Other bolts followed striking here and there on neighboring buttes, and I was with a dead man and a lunatic on my hands, and no help so far as I knew within a dozen miles, and the mountain wild with storm." - from the Higher Peaks chapter.

Saunders "vacationed" also at most of the San Gabriel Mountains long forgotten "trail resorts," -- Camp Colby, in particular, Saunders writes about, where a hot home cooked meal and a bed and good company awaited the intrepid traveler. Only one such trail resort from the "Great Hiking Era" (1890s - 1930s) so popular among weekending Los Angelenos during Saunders' day, remains in operation, Sturtevant Camp. See this link for details: http://www.sturtevantcamp.org/

Saunder's prose is a bit more flowery than his more famous contemporary, John Muir (maybe because Saunders was a botanist?), but even though he's less poetic and philosophical than Muir, he was still a fine writer. If Muir was Leo Tolstoy, then Charles Francis Saunders was Ivan Turgenev. Apples and oranges.

If you're a hiking addict (as I once was) living in Southern California as I've lived here since I was a kid, how fascinating is it walking the same trails Saunders walked (and John Muir too) observing, based on his vibrant descriptions of the scenery, how little has changed in the undeveloped swaths of wilderness over a century. And it's just plain fun, also, exploring the stone block ruins and foundations of "trail resorts" from a bygone, almost forgotten era in Southern California History, in which Saunders, now a relatively unknown figure, overshadowed by outdoorsmen more famous than he, once slept and unwound from a long day on the trail. Days when the mountains around Los Angeles were as wild and isolated as the Alaskan wilderness.


9.22.2010

Twilight: The Graphic Novel Version by Stephanie Meyer

***The Naughty Hottie is the author of this post***

So, this book, TWILIGHT right, the graphic novel version, has actual illustrations. Such dope pictures yo, to like make the book so much easier to comprehend and understand. To, like, read, y'know? And it's faster, but not any less exciting, reading this AWESOME and AMAZING graphic novel version too, since the scary and romantic pictures take up more space than the words. I'm like so glad Stephanie Meyer put out this graphic novel! Woo hoo!

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 (The Twilight Saga)

Everybody already knows what TWILIGHT is all about, right? So let me just say that it's like a bloodmance! Get it? "Blood," because of the blood sucking vampires like Edward (heart go pitterpatter pitterpatter), and "mance," which is like, I think, the third syllable of "romance." So, y'know, if you like put the two together, "blood," and then "mance," then it's like a "bloodmance"! It's only the best BLOODMANCE ever written! I can't wait for the three sequels to get their own graphic novel version too.

And now with this graphic novel version of TWILIGHT, there's probably no need for TWILIGHT SparkNotes, or even those older Cliff's Notes, to help you understand it, like, why is the book called TWILIGHT in the first place? Like, what does TWILIGHT really mean at a deep level like the level that THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Steinbeck really means, y'know? But still, even though there's no SparkNotes, if you read the book really really really slow, and don't skip ANY of the dope pictures that like bring out the deeper meaning of the words, I think the book can still be understood. Woo hoo!

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9.20.2010

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. by the American Psychiatric Association: Good Times!



Most, I'm sure, wouldn't consider reading the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.) for pleasure, and I think that's a shame. Because even though the DSM-IV is used primarily in a clinical setting by highly skilled psychiatric professionals for the differential-diagnosing and treatment of mankind's complex plethora of psychopathologies both common and arcane and every run-of-the-mill disorder in between, I opine that the DSM-IV, even though it's even drier than dry ice, nevertheless can be as wildly entertaining an alternative to playing charades or Pictionary at your next dinner or even office party. I recommend taking turns with your co-workers flipping through the DSM-IVs voluminous pages, so that you can self-diagnose your own and fellow colleagues' mental maladies.

"I think Susie over in HR has a delusional disorder, erotomanic type, coded 297.1, what do you think, Bill?"

"Hmmm. I always thought she was just a psycho bitch, 666."

Get the idea? Try it out with friends and family too, at Wednesday's Bingo Night, or as a fun, enlightening ice-breaker-alternative to Bunco at your next Church Newcomers Meeting.

However, before one would would ever want to engage in DSM-IV play just for fun, one should first have a very clear handle on it's appropriate uses in a professional, and preferably psychiatric setting.

The DSM-IV is organized along its five axes. Each axis corresponds to specific subsets of clinical disorders and their diagnostic (and differential-diagnostic) criteria, etiology, behaviorial profile of one afflicted with whatever disorder, treatment options, etc. Also, every specific disorder has its own specific code, just like there's specific police codes for every kind of crime or vehicular violation.

So, suppose you suffered from "Neuroleptic-Induced Tardive Dyskinesia," you'd be coded 333.82 on all the paperwork which would then hopefully help convince the insurance companies (the greedy goddamn fuckers always raising their premium rates) to pay your mental health practitioner so you could keep on receiving treatment and get better, psychologically, emotionally, and behaviorally, soon.

Axis I of the DSM-IV focuses on "Clinical Disorders and Other Conditions That May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention." Simply put, these are the psychopathological (love that word, "psychopathological") biggys: Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Anxiety Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified), etc.

Axis II is my favorite axis; it covers the Personality Disorders. And Personality Disorders are so much fun, guessing who in your circle of family and friends potentially leans toward whichever personality disorder. If people aren't seeking out a therapist for their depression or anxiety, it will undoubtedly be, according to the APA (American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM-IV) for their maladaptive personality types, which can wreak havoc on all levels of their involvement in the social spectrum, most notably, of course, in marriages and in the workplace and at school. There are only eleven Personality Disorders. Let's list each and every one of them, shall we? (sound fun?) along with their corresponding diagnostic codes.

1. Paranoid Personality Disorder (301.0). Self explanatory. Charles Manson. Mel Gibson (allegedly).

2. Schizoid Personality Disorderr (301.20). The loner. Oddball-type. Uncomfortable socially. Isn't interested in people. Misanthropic to the max.

3. Schizotypal Personality Disorder (301.22). People who act bizarre, do bizzare stuff, but don't hear voices and whose symptomatology presents with no clear-cut psychosis. Ergo, they don't make the all out schizophrenia cut. Easily confused with Histrionic PD. Histrionics like the attention, but they're not that bizarre.

4. Antisocial Personality Disorder (301.7). Every sociopath who's every lived; every serial killer also, has had this type of PD. It's the primary personality type of most criminals.

5. Borderline Personality Disorder (301.83). These are your stalkers and your "cutters". The teenage girl in White Oleander was on her way to becoming Borderline. Borderlines are miserable, and they're adept at sharing their misery, whether you like sharing it with them or not. Clinging manipulators whom you can love and hate simultaneously somehow.

6. Histrionic Personality Disorder (301.50). Think Liza Minelli, Liberace, or any of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

7. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (301.81). I'd argue a lot of actors have this PD. Some doctors or some brain surgeons. It's the God-complex PD of PDs, for those who deem themselves all-powerful, able to control any outcome; they are the center of theirs (and they think, our) universes.

8. Avoidant Personality Disorder (301.82). Closely related to social phobia. Anxiety driven PD. Differentiated from Schizoid PD by concern. Avoidants care about and want to connect with other people, but are shy and inhibited from doing so, while Schizoids, frankly, couldn't give a shit whether they connect with people or not. Avoidants can be quite miserable, lonely people, but this PD can be overcome with treatment, unlike, say, the Anti-Socials and Narcissists.

9. Dependent Personality Disorder (301.6). If you're 37 and have never left your parent's nest, you probably have Dependent PD. Or the classic spousal abuse scenario in which the person abused refuses to leave their abuser even though they know down deep they should, but they're terrified of being left alone and will tolerate (to a point) chronically abusive behavior from their SO.

10. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (301.4). All too common. Hard to overcome, as they all are. Think Woody Allen. Think Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets.

11. Personality Disorder NOS (301.9). Cop out PD for the clinician too lazy to examine long and hard enough their clients symptoms.

Axis III covers General Medical Conditions. Perhaps you've got a physical ailment - migraines, say - which negatively affects your mood. Or you suffer from diabetes which can also affect your mood. Any medical conditions that cause psychological problems or contribute to them would be specified on this axis.

Axis IV pertains to Psychosocial and Environmental Problems. Perhaps the most subjective axis for the diagnostician to determine, since they must trust what the patient is telling them; that is, how the patient perceives themselves getting along in the world: in their marriage, relationships, job, education, etc. Are there any outside factors like a flood, say, or a fire resulting in the loss of their home, negatively contributing to their psychological profile?

Axis V: Global Assessment of Functioning. This is where a good clinician can wrap up all the diagnostic criteria and observations and tie a pretty (or not so pretty) bow on the patients overall psychology, good or bad. There's a GAF scale the clinician uses, as well, to track a patient's progress and provide a numeric figure for a pretty nebulous construct: how well is the patient operating in all the psychologically and behaviorally pertinent areas of their life under inspection?

So that's the DSM-IV (and now it's the DSM-V, but I like this one better!) in a nutshell.

9.19.2010

The Woolly Mammoth of William T. Vollmann's Imperial




I've sampled some more of William T. Vollmann's amazingly massive Imperial, a non-fiction work on U.S./Mexico Border relations I actually plan on completing, but not until probably 2013 or 2014, assuming we survive 2012.  Vollmann, if you've never read him, is a complete nut, driven to death defying excess in obtaining the full story, and thank God he is.  In Imperial, he and a "river guide" he hired for $50 (which is cheaper than what the hardcover edition of this book retails for in the States), raft down the most polluted river in North America -- the New River in California's Imperial County -- in an inflatable raft; not for sport, but just because it's there basically. Shortly after the raft excursion, Vollmann developed a bad cough (as did his guide) and rashes on his hands where the river water -- industrial and agricultural and sewage runoff (plus some water) -- inevitably splashed on them. The book was ten years in the making (all 1,300-plus pages of small print of it), so perhaps it's appropriate that it may take me ten years to read it.  Vollmann is insanely committed (perhaps reckless, even) in his commitment to traversing every inch of the desert wasteland he writes about, even at risk of personal harm, so that he can know it in-
side out as if it were his lover; and I say "lover" because Vollmann begins early on referring to the desert land of Imperial -- the accident of the Salton Sea, the poverty, the desperation, the irrigation battles, the daily cat-and-mouse games between "pollos" (those who attempt illegal crossings into the U.S.A.) and the border patrol -- as if each component of the conflict were part of the flesh and blood and soul of his beloved lover; though his estranged lover that he can never quite grasp (oh how "she" pulls away from him at the most inopportune times) and whom he can never completely know regardless of how much time and energy he spends pursuing "her".

Vollmann makes pursuing the woolly mammoth of Imperial to it's last page an epic adventure. I'll let you know, in a few years, when I'm done.

9.16.2010

The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed by Alex Austin



I had the opportunity earlier this year in February, of co-interviewing Alex Austin with several members of Le Salon Litteraire du Peuple pour le Peuple in a month long, "real-life, under-appreciated authors" thread held in LibraryThing. Here's the complete interview.

I'd forgotten that I wrote a lot of reviewish/blurbish material earlier this year in another LibraryThing group, Club Read 2010, and so thought, as a way to further help promote a quality novel from one stellar author, I'd copy my comments from January 1, 2010, regarding The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed.

Jan. 1, 2010

I just finished The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed by Alex Austin this morning, and am very excited to have "discovered" this unknown writer worthy of a much larger audience. If I were to write a one word review, it would be: "Riveting." Intricate plotting, lyrical prose, poetic language, spot on colloquial dialogue, part mystery, part coming-of-age drama set in the late 1960s, part underworld New Jersey shore odyssey, part carnival ride through Hell (and then Heaven), filled with up-and-coming would-be-rockers haunting the summer clubs and bars, and full of surprising, twist-and-turning narrative resolutions. Austin seamlessly drops in historical events of the time -- the MLK and RFK assassinations, the Tet Offensive, ubiquitous race riots of the era, and music (so much good hippie-era rock references) -- to move the time line of the novel forward. It's a fun, fascinating read. Some novels leave a lot unanswered for and that's probably just as well, while The Red Album does eventually answer everything regarding, "what the hell happened?" and yet still leaves you wanting more. Much more. Can't wait for the promised sequel!