Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Newer doesn't always mean better

I've been on a Lawrence Block kick lately. Actually, as I eye-ball my bookshelves, I've been on an LB kick my entire life. Looks like he ranks as my third most-read author, behind Dean Koontz and John Sandford, with 35 titles to his name.

The three LB books I just finished come on the tail of the four Donald Westlake novels. The two were best buds and wrote a couple books together. I would've loved to have eavesdropped on their coffees together (or more likely whiskeys) as they talked books.

The ones I finished are: "The Topless Tulip Caper" (in which Tulip is a stripper); "Deadly Honeymoon" and "A Stab in the Dark."

These, and Westlake's, are primarily 1970s and 1980s mystery novels, and I strongly encourage people to look beyond the latest Oprah Book Club selections when picking out your next book. These guys wrote for 40-50 years and have won all the big awards. You don't have that kind of longevity without immense talent.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The rare DNF

You never want to see the initials "DNF" after your name, especially if you're a racer, be it running, automobile, horses, skiing or bicyclist. It stands for Did Not Finish.

Throughout my road racing years I am proud to say I never had a DNF. I had race results that could've said: Haugen, Mark, sucked. But never: Haugen, Mark, DNF.

Unfortunately, when I went to file my index card for Chris Bohjalian's book "The Night Strangers" it won't get a numerical rating on the Haugenometer. It will get a DNF and maybe even a "sucked."

I rarely start a book and don't finish. I can only think of one other and that was Jennifer Eagan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad." Oddly enough, both were highly-touted books. They just weren't for me.

"The Night Strangers" was a New York Times best-seller - not that that holds a lot of oomph for me. I picked it up because Bohjalian wrote "The Flight Attendant" and I really enjoyed that so thought I'd check out some of his other books.

I don't really even know what I didn't like about it. I guess it just dragged and droned. The main character kept having flashbacks to an airplane crash in which he was pilot of the plane. It got old.

Early on I was intrigued because of a unique writing method the author used which I haven't encountered before. He wrote in the second-person, which is rare. When referring to the main character the author would write "you." As in: "You are the pilot ... you see the flock of geese ... you feel them hit the engines ... you hear the engines sputter ... you see the lake ahead ..."

Then he would go back to third-person when talking about the pilot's wife or children.

It was interesting early on, but apparently not interesting enough. I might go back to the book someday, as it will sit on one of my bookshelves taunting me; but I probably won't.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

An author with 19 names

Donald Westlake is one of my favorite authors. He died in 2008 after writing over 100 novels. I've read 32 of them.

The craziest thing about his career is that he also wrote under 18 pseudonyms. 18! He used different names for different genres, in the 1960s some soft-core stuff. Some short stories. Some for science fiction. His best known fake name was Richard Stark under which he wrote the Parker novels.

Recently I read about a four-book series he wrote in the 1980s under the name of Samuel Holt, who was also the name of the main character in the books. I found them on Ebay, as I've pretty much given up on Amazon and their 45-day delivery.

In the fourth book, Westlake wrote an author's note about why he used the fake name. Basically it was because, as he'd become successful and famous as Donald Westlake, times had changed, the business had changed, and he wanted to see if he could have success as an unknown writer. His agent and publisher were sworn to secrecy, and then just when the first book came out the publisher apparently chickened out and announced it was Westlake who wrote the books. So his entire purpose/experiment was blown up. He was pretty peeved about it.

The books are: "One of Us Is Wrong," "I Know a Trick Worth Two of That," "What I Tell You Three Times is False," and "The Fourth Dimension is Death." The first two were pretty good, the third I didn't care for, and the fourth was excellent. He was contracted for the four books, and wrote two more, but was mad at his publisher and didn't release the final two.

In the books, Holt is an actor who hit it big in a television series for five years, got rich, but then was type-cast as a private investigator and never really managed to get any more acting jobs. So of course he ends up getting thrown into situations where he has to basically play the part he played in the television series and be a private detective to solve crimes as they popped up in his life.

It's a good premise, clever, and I'm glad I read them.

For Pete's sake, read some Westlake, or any of his other names. Start with the Dortmunder series of books. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The beat goes on ... for now

So I'm one of those guys now - the one wearing a FitBit on his wrist. Bought it as an early Father's Day present.

I've generally turned up my nose at them as I found them a bit pretentious. Like, hey, look at me, I work out and count my steps. Frankly, most people who look at me probably figure I already work out or that I'm malnourished. And, as I've written before, I don't need any help counting my steps.

But, the past couple years I've had a little issue with my ticker. After all the tests were done it was determined I have Premature Arterial Contractions (PAC). I'm told everybody has them; it's just that I had A LOT of them. Basically, the heart skips a beat and then does a double-beat to catch up. It feels like a thud in my chest. It's an electrical thing. The heart muscle is more than fine. So says the doc. I take a half a beta blocker pill a night and the problem went away for the most part.

But it's made me want to keep better track of my heart rate and I finally succumbed to the only thing that could monitor it for me, daily, by the week, by the month.

Turns out I like it, though it's caused its own issues.

For instance, it has a sleep monitor and provides you a sleep rating every morning from 1-100. So far, I hover around the 90 mark, which is good. But, like the other night, I woke up at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, solving the world's problems, and then started thinking: "Dang, this is really going to mess up my sleep rating! You better get to sleep! Go to sleep, idiot! Sleep! You're going to hurt your rating!"

Sometimes, being a competitive person is not a virtue. Even competing against yourself or your FitBit.

It's also a bit of a bother when I run. I shouldn't even look at it, but I do. Again, "What? Your heart rate is only 130. You need to pick it up buddy! You aren't pushing yourself hard enough. Get it up to 150!"

I remember when I first had the PAC issue and got it looked it. I was in pretty good running shape. In fact, the only time I felt good was when I was running. The docs got me wired up and put me on a treadmill and wanted me to get my heart rate up to 140. It started as a walk on a low incline. For about five minutes the techs stood staring at the monitor as it sat at 90-100. Then eight minutes. Not much movement. Finally, I told them: "Not to brag, but we're going to be here all day if you don't crank this thing up."

They did, gradually. I guess they've had too many people pass out or go into cardiac arrest. Soon I was sprinting hard and at a 40 degree angle and we hit 140 after 14 minutes. Then I needed to maintain that pace for a minute to get the fluid they'd pumped me with running through the veins. They were impressed, but that was then and this is now, where I run much slower and not nearly as many miles. That's more because of a bad back than a bad heart.

Then there's the corny part of the FitBit, where it emails you badges saying "Congratulations! You made 10,000 steps today!" But, even that isn't bad. At 55 a guy doesn't get a lot of "atta boys!" anymore. So you take 'em where you can get 'em.

I do wish it would give me like a cardiogram of my heartbeat so I can actually see when/if I'm skipping beats rather than just beats per minute, but I think I have to upgrade to a "premium" package for that. Of course.

Still, it's been fun and I enjoy having it. Not being a competitive runner anymore, as if there were any around to run in anyway, it does give me incentive to go harder on my jogs; even if it means that by beating myself and getting first place I also am in last place.

As long as it's still got some Beats Per Minute to read tomorrow, I'll be happy.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Bird watching is for the birds

I'm a lazy, novice bird-watcher and enjoy it.

Lazy, because it's not like I hike around the Black Hills or prairie with binoculars and Nikon camera, craning my neck for the rare Canadian albino warbler nest or crawling on my hands and knees to peek over the hill for a glimpse of a burrowing owl. Lazy, because I hang a couple bird feeders outside my kitchen window, fill them up once in a while and watch the birds while I eat my Mini-Wheats in the morning.

Occasionally, I lift my phone and take a picture of a pretty bird through the dirty window and wonder why National Geographic hasn't called.

Such was the case the other day when I saw a bird I've never seen before or don't remember seeing before. Sure, I could've seen it yesterday and forgotten, but I really don't remember ever seeing this kind of bird in South Dakota or anywhere. Ever.

It was black, with a yellow head. About the size of a blackbird. Real pretty. Kind of regal. Just one. Not in a flock. Didn't seem to have a girlfriend. I'd never seen one before. In fact, I wondered if anyone had ever seen one before. Perhaps I'd discovered a new species. If one does discover a new species, are they like stars where you get to name it? The Haugenbird, maybe. Or the Flying Mark. The Soaring Black Mark, yeah, that's it.

Before calling National Geographic or the CIA or whoever you call with a new discovery, I consulted my handy-dandy "Birds of the Dakotas" book I keep on the end table. My wife thinks it's nerdy, but it sits next to her Soduko book, so let's be real about nerd status in this house.

I like the book because it's so simple an idiot could use it. The birds are organized by color. There's even a color code on the side of the pages. But do I look under yellow or do I look under black?

There was nothing under the yellow pages, so my anticipation grew as to what this black bird with the yellow head might be called, if it had been discovered at all. What would they call such a rare bird? Probably something clever, as ornithologists are very clever people.

I began paging through the black pages. And there I found it, my heart saank. It had been discovered, probably by Lewis or Clark or maybe Custer.

And what unique name did they come up with for this yellow-headed black bird? So many options. Well, the geniuses, named it, get ready for this: the Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Really, buddy? How long did that take you?

My respect for ornithologists just dropped.

I should not have been surprised. After all, these are the same people who named a bird after the baseball team in St. Louis.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Being smart was fun while it lasted

For a couple weeks last month I looked smart.

If you walked into my library/greenhouse/office and looked at my desk you would see I was reading two books: a biography on Albert Einstein and a collection of columns by Charles Krauthammer. Both were deep thinkers and fascinating men. I even felt smarter holding the books.

But if you walked in last week you'd have seen that I returned to dumb old me with a serial killer novel and then a book from the dumbest series of all by Tim Dorsey.

Oh, well, being smart was fun while it lasted.

I enjoyed the Einstein book by Walter Isaacson. While some of it regarding his theory of relativity and other theories was over my head no matter how hard Isaacson tried to dumb it down, Einstein lived a fascinating life. He struggled with his religion, his politics, his wives and his girlfriends. But, hey, haven't we all? He was offered the presidency of Israel, but turned it down because he recognized he wouldn't be good at it.

One of the most interesting things I learned is that when he died his brain was preserved to be studied. But not by just anybody. It was carried around for 43 years by just a regular old shlub of a mortician who sold it off piece by piece with no real rhyme or reason to whom. Some to study, some for the heck of it. Weird.

Krauthammer's book, "The Point of it All," is a collection of his columns he had almost finished compiling before he died. His son finished the project. Charles was also a fascinating man, deep thinker but able to put it in layman's terms. He loved politics, medicine and baseball. It's one of those bathroom-reader type books where you can knock off a column or two while doing your business. And read another couple when you just have a few minutes and don't feel like diving into a novel.

From there I took up "Thirteen" by Steve Cavanagh. I gave it a 7+ on the Haugenometer. It's about a serial killer who works himself onto a jury to convict a guy of his own crime. I liked the clever premise and enjoyed the book.

Lastly, I finished with Dorsey's "The Pope of Palm Springs." I gave it a 5. I've read close to 20 of his books featuring the adventures of Florida whackos Serge and Coleman. They're all pretty much the same and hadn't read one in a couple years. They're Dumb and Dumber go to Florida. I probably won't read any more of them because they're getting so lame and hard to differentiate one from the other; though I'll probably keep buying them to finish off the collection.

So much for being smart, eh?

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Happily waving goodbye to the handshake

You probably need another article about the 'Rona like you need a hole in the head, but I see one positive coming out of this mess and figured I'd take a shot.

It looks like hand-shaking will become a thing of the past. More so in some areas than others. My relatively remote part of the world is slower to change but I'll be happy when it does.

See, I don't like shaking hands. I'm not good at it.

I was raised to give a firm handshake but mess it up half the time. Ideally, you want to go in so the webbing between your thumb and index finger jam into the other guy's webbing between thumb and index finger. But for some reason I miss half the time. Sometimes I end up grabbing the guys thumb or going in between other fingers. I think I'm concentrating on looking them in the eyes while doing it and am not coordinated enough to look one direction and grab something in the other.

Or, some guys go for the bro handshake where you bend elbows and grip around the lower part of the thumb and your four fingers wrap around it. Never shall the two different versions meet. It gets awkward.

And some younger friends opt for that latter method but then pull you in for a man-hug chest-bump type thing. Trouble is, I never know which of the three types of handshake is coming.

Then there's the odd person at church during the "Peace be with you" portion. I go to shake their hand and they pull the "I don't shake hands" crap on you after you've reached out to them and they leave you hanging. It makes me want to wish them something other than peace.

To make me even more skittish about it, there's a fella I run into a couple times a year who lost his thumb years back in a calf-roping mishap. I always forget and go in for a hearty rancher handshake and end up with my hand sliding up to his elbow since there's no thumb there to stop me.

About the time I'm a total mess on the hand-shaking thing, I run into one of my non-Scandinavian friends. I never know what kind of fancy three-hand-shakes-in-one they're going to pull on me or if they're just going for the straight-up shake. I end up looking like an even whiter white guy as I try to be cool but end up waving my arm around like I've taken a handful of muscle relaxers.

So I'm all about the fist bump now. I just need everybody to get on board with it, because if that goes wrong, uncoordinated me will be punching people in the chest. And that can go wrong in even more ways.

If the fist bump doesn't catch on I'm all for the simple wave or the bow. Just let me know in advance what we're doing because I'm getting a complex about it.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Another life saved

In my free time I run a plant rescue operation out of my home. After my wife brings a plant to the point of death at work, with it walking toward the light (if she happened to provide it any), she brings it home for me to perform CPR.

Latest case in point is this orchid. I have no experience with orchids, but after a quick internet search, I re-potted it in an orchid mix, found the right window, put the humidifier in there a few days and misted it every day. It now has several flowers. They come one at a time up the stem, with more on the way. I'm impressed with how long the flowers stay on. The first is still bright as ever and it appeared a month ago.

Featured are before and current pics.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

'The Monkey's Raincoat' didn't meet expectations

Upon the suggestion of a friend I dove into the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series written by Robert Crais. "The Monkey's Raincoat" is the first book in the series. It was named one of the 100 favorite mysteries of the 20th Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

It wouldn't make the top 100 books I've read in a half century.

Yes, I gave it a 7 on the Haugenometer. Partly because it was a new series and I've been looking for one. And because it wasn't bad and Crais has a unique writing style.

I'll stick with the series but it didn't live up to the hype.

I really get annoyed when writers over-describe things. I don't need three paragraphs telling me what a room looks like, how it's decorated and where the furniture is situated. Crais did that too often.

Also, I get that I'm reading a mystery thriller, but that doesn't mean I want to have to suspend belief at events. Bond is Bond and Odd Thomas is Odd Thomas. I expect them to be over the top at times. But Elvis Cole is a private detective, supposed to be one of the guys. So when he murders a dozen people I expect there to be some legal consequences. Apparently not in California.

On top of it all, I never did get the meaning of the title of the book: The Monkey's Raincoat? I'm sure there's an obvious explanation, but I don't know it.

So I'm quibbling a bit with it, but enjoyed it overall. We'll see how the second book goes and take it from there.

** I also recently finished a nonfiction book, "Eichmann In My Hands." This was a first-hand account from a man, Peter Malkin, who was on the Israeli Mossad team who captured Adolph Eichmann in Argentina. He headed up the team and spent many days conversing with him while captive.

As opposed to some biographies I've read, Malkin is very humble throughout. He recognizes his faults, admits to mistakes made in his past and gave good insights into those on his team.

He struggled with Eichmann's personality and thoughts. Eichmann to the end claimed to not hate Jews, said he was only following orders, as if that somehow excused his actions.

It was an interesting read, with only a few discrepancies from what I've read earlier on the saga, but I'll trust Malkin's version since he was there.

** Other books I knocked off recently include:
Daniel Silva's "The Other Woman" - a 6
Craig Johnson's "Spirit of Steamboat" - 6
And three John Sanford books that slipped by me: "The Fool's Run" 6; "The Empress Files" 6; and "Neon Prey" 7.

Next up is Charles Krauthammer's "The Point of It All." Seems an optimist like him might be just the tonic I need during these times.

Some random thoughts from the past few weeks

* I'm sure glad we got our Florida week in just before the Wuhu hit or I'd really be bouncing off the walls. Missin' the salt life.

* It's not the staying home part that bugs me so much. I'm not a party animal or even that much of a social animal any more. It's the fact that it's not an option that bugs me. I liked at least knowing I could go listen to a band on Saturday night, even if half the time I chose not to.

* The other thing that weighs on my mental health a bit is that there's no end date and I know it's impossible to set one. But it would help if I knew that things would return to some semblance of normal on June 1 or August 1. Then I could start checking off the days. The OCD in me likes a plan, some order.

* We've had a houseful the past few weeks: My son (stuck in job search shutdown) and his girlfriend (whose college is shutdown), my Illinois teacher daughter (whose school is shut down) and her professor husband (whose college is shut down). They figured, correctly, that it's more fun to be locked down together than alone.

* I've seen a different side to my daughter when I overhear her on conference calls and Zoom. I never new her as department head or in her teacher capacity and she's impressed me.

* I've talked to friends on the phone more than I have in the past 20 years. That helps. My two best friends from college retired recently. Can't believe my friends are so old.

* Facebook has become almost unbearable. Twitter is okay, but I had to mute a few people for a while. Seems a lot of my social media "friends" are epidemiologists and I didn't even know it. Frankly, if they don't have an MD in front of their name or access to more information than I have, their opinion is being ignored.

* We broke out the ping pong table. My son isn't the push-over he used to be as my eyesight has gotten worse.

* Did people really need videos to show them how to wash their hands? To fold a facemask?

* Why does everyone assume there's going to be a vaccine/cure for this? It's a virus, not bacterial. There's still no vaccine for AIDs or the common cold. Even shots for the flu are a best-guess scenario. Some years they nail it, some years not so much. My degrees in journalism and English qualify me to say I think this is going to be around for years.

* My daughter brought her cat. The cat hates my son and hisses at him like a caged lion. Nobody else, just him.

* I get that some people hate the President and some love him. But that shouldn't mean everything he does is wrong or everything he does is right. Weird that some people feel the need to politicize a pandemic and live with blinders on either way. Playing partisan politics with decisions you make regarding your health doesn't seem wise.

* I appreciate nice people even more than I use to. I have even shorter patience for idiots than I use to.

* My wife makes friends with everyone and became friends with the gal who owns the small gym she worked out at. The gym got shut down by the city, because apparently we don't want people being healthy and better able to fight off the virus. So the owner rented my wife the Cybex bike she used most and we now have it in our basement, which has turned into a small gym itself. Everyone in the house is somewhat of a fitness/weight lifting freak, so you practically need an appointment.

* Trying times reveal true character in people. I've determined I'm even more impatient than I thought, but am making a concerted effort to be less so. "God grant me the serenity ..."

* Funny how quickly times change and the new vocabulary that goes with it. Six weeks ago nobody talked about "social distancing," "six feet," "asymptomatic," "flattening the curve."

* This is no way to live. I get the people protesting shut-downs. I get the people wanting everyone to stay home. I appreciate our governor trying to find that fine line between the two.

* The next time I get beer spilled on me at a concert or baseball game, I'm going to high-five him.

* Thank God for books, dogs, friends, family, health and Menards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

12 books in 12 weeks

I've been on a bit of a reading frenzy this 2020 and looks like that will continue as there's not a heck of a lot else going on to distract me. It would be nice if the writing bug bit me, but I'm a bit blocked at the moment so I'll keep turning the pages. I doubt I can keep up the book-a-week pace, but we'll see.

I won't give you a review of every book (you're welcome) but here's the list with their Haugenometer rating and a comment or two:

* "As The Crow Flies" by Craig Johnson, 6
* "Deep Freeze" by John Sandord, 7, a Virgil Flowers novel
* "Fear Nothing" by Dean Koontz, 8
* "The Flight Attendant" by Chris Bohjalian, 8, really enjoyed this one by a new author for me.
* "Stolen Prey" by John Sandford, 7+, a Lucas Davenport novel
* "Stick" by Elmore Leonard, 7
* "Dry Bones" by Craig Johnson, 6
* "Blackberry Juice" by Ralph Hamm, 5, a low rating but a thinker and worth a review down the road.
* "Suspect" by Robert Crais, 8+, great book, tear-jerker about a man and his dog, both with PTSD.
* "The New Girl" by Daniel Silva, 7, Silva is always good.
* "Victims" by Jonathan Kellerman, 7-
* "The Nigh Window" by Dean Koontz, 7+, the final in his 5-book Jane Hawk series, after faltering in books 2-4 it ended on a high note.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Going away gift

My friend and coworker of the last 14-plus years, and occasional contributor to this fine blog, Wes Roth, had his last day in the office on Friday as he begins a new career as a pastor.

He presented everyone in the office (4 of us) with a personalized going-away gift.

Mine was an autographed copy of Peter Malkin's book, "Eichmann In My Hands." It was signed by the author, not Eichmann, as ol' Adolf was apparently busy in hell. It's called "a compelling first-person account by the Israeli agent who captured Hitler's chief executioner."

Wes and I share an affinity for the history of Israel, particularly the Mossad. So the gift was very much appreciated and moved to the top of my queue of books to read.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Why did God make music?

It strikes me as odd sometimes sitting in an audience listening to a musician or a band. It seems like a weird thing to do and made me wonder how music began and what is it's attraction and allure to us?

Did Eve just start humming one day and Adam started tapping along with his foot? While beating the drum to chase away predators, did Grog the Caveman just start spittin' out some lyrics to go with it? Then people started gathering around to stare at them?

Then it hit me last night at the Deadwood Mountain Grand. God invented music so he could hear Lyle Lovett sing. He and his Acoustic Band were awesome.

The band consists of  Luke Bulla @lukebulla on the fiddle; Jeff White @jeffwhitebluegrass on the guitar and mandolin (played many years with Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and The Chieftans); Viktor Krause @kraussviktor, brother of Alison Krauss, on bass; and Josh Swift @joshswiftmusic on the resophonic guitar. They are grand masters in their field. It's fun to hear such musicianship.

Bulla and White joined Lovett on several songs, putting together tight harmonies that entranced the packed audience of I'm guessing 1,000.

Lovett has such a unique voice and the sound set-up was perfect and allowed his voice to resonate perfectly. We could hear every word.

You'll never find Lovett playing at halftime of the Super Bowl because he doesn't jump up and down, shake his ass or climb a stripper pole. But if those acts were chosen on talent alone, he'd be at every one. He just stands there, plays his guitar and sings spectacularly.

And they do it with class. Lovett and the band were decked out in black suits and ties. He engaged the audience with stories of his east Texas childhood and got a particularly rousing cheer when he mentioned his love of motorcycles that began at the age of 11 and mentioned his desire to attend the Sturgis Rally. At that point, the Sturgis city council member I was sitting next to leaned over and said: "We should invite him to the Mayor's Ride!"

Like a good book, when a musician is great, I find myself zoned out, oblivious to those around me. It's like they are singing to me. His performance of "God Will" was mesmerizing.

He also played his better known songs: "Cowboy Man," "Give Back My Heart," "She's No Lady," and "If I Had a Boat."

They played for 2 hours and 15 minutes non-stop. Not a hiccup along the way. It was a pleasure to listen to some of the best musicians in the world, and a great singer, on top of their game and to see them do it with class, charisma and humor.

Other artists should take note.

** On a side note. A coworker of mine told me a couple months ago that she bought tickets. Leaving work the other day she said: "Maybe we'll run into you Friday night."

We did. Her seat ended up being right next to me. What are the odds of that?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Music with a view

It is said that a Jack Reacher novel is sold somewhere in the world every nine seconds. Acknowledging the adage that statistics lie and liars use statistics, the song "Wagon Wheel" is played somewhere in the world every eight seconds.

Wifey and I had the pleasure of hearing ten different versions of "Wagon Wheel" last week while otherwise enjoying a week-long vacation at St. Pete's Beach in sunny, crazy Florida.

We stayed at a hotel on the Gulf Coast called Beachcombers and it had everything we like. We'll be going back. Every afternoon they had a different singer outside on their beachside deck/outdoor restaurant/bar. Then each evening they had a band at the adjacent indoor bar.

So we heard a wide variety of musicians, which is right up our alley. Most of them played a version of "Wagon Wheel" with their own spin and varying degrees of success. Another popular one was "Ring of Fire." If I go a few weeks without hearing either, I'll be good.

A couple random thoughts:

* Rapid City musicians we hear regularly can more than hold their own with the Floridians.

* If you're going to do a set, be organized. Don't take 30 seconds of silence between songs while you fiddle with your iPad to get the next lyrics or chords ready. Know your list, hit it, keep the momentum going.

Musician Josh Morningstar tweeted a while back that musicians should take some pride in their work and should take the time to know the lyrics and music well enough so that they don't need iPads to read off of.

* Have some personality, especially when you are a solo act. Don't just get up there and play "Margaritaville" and Kenny Chesney songs with no rapport with the audience. They're supposed to be fun songs. It's supposed to be a fun job. Have fun. Not everybody is a lead singer or font man, but if you're going solo, guess what, you are. Bands can hide the grumpy ol' man behind the bass guitar. You can't hide.

* Bands. Do your sound checks quickly and do them once. You don't have to do them for five minutes every time you begin a new set. Nobody was up their messing with your mic or your drum set while you were out smoking your cig. Get at it. I've heard hundreds of bands of varying ability over the years and never once walked out saying "Boy that snare drum sure sounded out of tune."

While I sound like I'm complaining, I'm not. I loved it. But when you listen to a dozen bands or solo acts in a short amount of time you can't help to compare and contrast what works for some and not for others. FYI, the Greek band at the Greek Fest event we attended on a whim was the best Greek band I've ever heard.

Next week we're going to see someone who does everything right. Heading to Deadwood to hear Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group. Looking forward to it and will probably report back.

Friday, February 14, 2020

PSA for dudes on Valentine's Day

The trap has been set. But like a three-legged badger who has chewed his way out of this kind of mess before, I'm not biting.

Valentine's Day is tomorrow. Wifey's birthday is two days later. Shortly after that is a little get-away to a warmer climate. Because of that trip, she told me: "You don't have to get me anything for Valentine's Day or my birthday. Maybe a single flower or a card, but don't buy me any presents."

I pursed my lips and nodded my head, as I always do when she tells me something. But I am not stupid. It's not this cowboy's first rodeo.

That all sounds fine and good and fiscally prudent two days before, but when the big V Day hits and her friends are posting pictures of roses and balloons on Facebook and the other lady in the office gets a big stuffed teddy bear while she gets nothing, will the green monster of envy rear it's head? Yes. Will she have forgotten her previous words? Yes. Will the cold-shoulder emerge until the Florida sun finally thaws it? Yes.

I'm not risking it. I have a Plan B set aside in my doomsday bunker. A secret stash of gifts. Always, always, always, have a Plan B. Haugen's Golden Rule.

For you young'ns, never fall for the "you don't have to get me anything" line. It's a test early in your relationship. It's like an IQ test. They want to see how dumb or smart you are. If you fall for it, soon they'll be telling you they're going to "Walgreens" and come home smelling like Daiquris. Then it's "oh, my mother is so sweet, you'll just love it when she stays over." You'll be trapped and it's a trip through Dante's hell to get out of it.

Early in our marriage, wifey told me she wanted an exercise bike. So I bought her one for our anniversary. Rookie mistake. That one's been hanging around my neck for years. But that's more of an advanced lesson.

The first is: always buy her something. Birthday, Christmas, Anniversary, Fourth of July and for God's sake, yes, Valentine's Day. Even if you are flat broke and have to sell a kidney, get her something.

Trust me on this, from one bro to another. But don't ask me for a kidney. I'm down to my last one.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The night Huckleberry OD'd

We've been on one of those streaks everybody has where if it weren't for bad news there'd be no news at all.

So it was on Friday morning when I was getting dressed for my father-in-law's funeral in Sioux Falls that I received a text from the neighbor watching our dogs: "Sorry to bother you at this time. One of the dogs knocked the medicine bottle off the counter, chewed it open and ate it."

It's actually a pretty good system the dogs have where if you aren't careful, and we often aren't. Stanley, the 10-year-old Golden/Lab, puts his front feet on the kitchen counter or oven and sees if the idiot owners have left anything good. Mmmm, bacon grease in the frying pan. Mmm, a bag of chips, box of chocolates, sleeve of crackers, etc.

Then he knocks the goodies onto the floor and he and Huckleberry, his six-year-old sidekick Basset Hound buddy, dive in. This time the results were more than one of them bargained for.

Before we'd left for the funeral I'd refilled Stanley's medicine. He is on Rimadyl, a pain-killer/anti-inflammatory he's been taking this past few months to help him deal with his long-running battle with cancer. One pill in the morning and one at night has really helped and he's seemed as good as new. The good and bad thing about Rimadyl is that it tastes good. It's liver flavored and he takes them like treats.

So I had a full 60-count bottle on the counter for the sitter that I'd even added a few from the old bottle. They were all gone.

A quick Q&A with the dog-sitter revealed that Huck most likely ate them all. He does that because he eats every meal or treat like it is his first and last meal. He attacks food with a fervor. Wifey even tossed some blame my way for teaching him how to open bottles. It's a trick he does when we're done with a hike or jog and I drink my Gatorade. He takes the bottle, chews the lid off, spits it out and licks up the last couple drops of liquid inside. It's a talent of his, the only one.

Anyway, in between bathroom duties I called the vet. She said we better get him in. I told her I was 350 miles away and I'd get back to her. As the family waited in the church basement before the funeral I hit up my niece, a pharmacist for humans, for some free advice. She looked up Rimadyl on her phone, read the ingredients, said it was basically ibuprofen and if we didn't get it out of Huck in the first hour or two it was probably already soaked into his system and not much we could do.

There was basically a window of about 12 hours now where Huck could have eaten the stuff. So we didn't know. After a little more Googling, I made the executive decision to put my faith in Huck's cast-iron stomach and general orneriness. The dog-sitter checked on him every couple hours and said all seemed fine.

Back home on Friday night. Huck heaved up several times during the night more food than I thought his 60-pound body could hold, but was otherwise the same old Huck. Symptoms to look for, according to the computer, were drowsiness, depression and laziness. Heck, that's him on a good day.

Twelve hours after the last puke, I started him on a diet of small servings of white rice and canned chicken breast. Saturday I noticed a little blood in his stool, but not much. He was peeing plenty and eating and drinking fine.

Sunday he was his usual self, annoying Stanley, barking at neighbors, and barking at wifey while she was eating popcorn. He didn't get any.

So it looks like his liver and kidneys may have survived. Only my checkbook took a hit for another $100 when I had to go in on Saturday morning for another bottle of drugs.

Oh, and on the way, the brakes went out on my old pickup and I had to take it to the repair shop.

The hits keep on coming.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A word about Maynard

If you’ve spent any time around me, you have most likely heard me crack wise about my in-laws. If you’ve spent any time around them, you would accuse me of understatement.

But one person you’ve never heard me joke about is my father-in-law, Maynard Hennings.

There are two reasons for that: 1, there are only a couple topics off-limits, lest my wife catch word of it, and one of them is any slight toward her father; 2, there’s just no material there because he is such a solid man.

Was. He passed away Sunday night at the age of 84.

Maynard was one of those few guys who I don’t know a soul who could say a bad word about. He was a simple man, but not simple in any derogatory way. Simple, as in the kind of man many of you know, blue collar, devout and unheralded. They’ll never lower flags to half-staff statewide for guys like him, but they should. They don't interrupt your television show with breaking news of his death, but they should.

He worked thirty or so years at Morrell’s until they went on strike and never considered crossing the picket line. He worked many more years as maintenance man at the Cathedral and school before retiring. He was married for over sixty years to the same woman (sorry, no mother-in-law jokes today).

He spoke little, but I suspect he did earlier in life. That was before he had a son and four loud loquacious daughters. Then there was no dead air left to fill. So he just sat back and took it all in. The noise, the laughter, the arguments, the young, dumb son-in-laws.

Maynard and I were never super close or shared any deep thoughts outside of the Minnesota Twins and where the fish were biting. But I always admired him from across the room. I always had the feeling he looked at me like one would look at a three-legged chicken. Kind of like he was wondering about the private-college punk who thought he was hot stuff and what his daughter saw in a guy who couldn’t change his own oil.

But I grew on him, in large part because I gave him three grandchildren. Katie Jo, as he was apt to call her, and Rylee and “Luker,” another pet name used by him. Grandchildren were his thing and he had a ton of them. Sure, he loved his kids, but he adored his grands, and they him.

Fishing, hunting, his dogs (and mine as the photo shows Maynard sharing his ice cream with Stanley) and his grandchildren’s sporting events were his passions. The athletic events were about the only place I heard him speak much, sometimes loudly, and it was primarily directed at the officials and umpires. While he never uttered a cross word about anybody else, he saved them for the folks in striped shirts.

Maynard himself had been a very good athlete, serving as running back for some of Coach Bob Burns’ best Washington Warrior teams in the 1950s. Burns called him “Crazy Legs.”

And Maynard’s grand boys never failed as athletes – in his eyes. If they were tackled, it was because the pulling guard missed his block; if they missed a shot in basketball, it was because they were hacked. Every one of Luke’s pitches was a strike, no matter how high and outside, and if one happened to bean the batter (as was too often the case) it was because the batter "was leaning over the plate.”

He shared his love of hunting with the boys too. As my kids will attest, I was never keen to offer excuses for them to miss school or practices. Yet Luke convinced me a couple times to excuse him early so he could go antelope or turkey hunting with his grandpa. It meant so much to him.

One day I asked him: “So what do you and Grandpa talk about in the turkey blind for eight hours?”

Grandpa would’ve been proud of his one-word answer: “Life.” That's a lucky kid to have had that opportunity. I wish I could’ve had that talk with Maynard when I was 15, or 25. Might’ve done me some good.

Rest in peace, Maynard. You were one of the good ones.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

What's growin' on?

This is the time of year when the garden catalogs start to clog the mailbox and I start thinking about setting up the greenhouse in my conservatory.

Years back, before they moved out of Yankton, my dad was a Gurney's guy and that stuck with me. But, now, the one I buy from is called Jung Seed Company ( I don't buy much from catalogs but I like Jung because they offer a different selection than most and I usually try a thing or two out of the ordinary every year. They also don't charge as much for shipping and handling (only $4.95 if you order seeds).

This year I'm going to try Autumn Star Kalettes (a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts). Also, an Everleaf Emerald Towers Basil, which is a more columnar plant, and some Super Heavyweight Hybrid Peppers that I will start in my hothouse. Supposed to be monsters. We'll see. My luck with starting peppers is spotty.

On the tomato side of things, I plant certified organic seeds around St. Patrick's Day and move them into the garden around Memorial Day weekend. I order those seeds from Gary Ibsen at During their sale in January, I get a buck off a pack. The packs go for $3-$4 each. And the seeds still have great germination rates 2-3 years later.

I usually don't mess much with planting peppers by seed (run out of room in the house and they seem awfully tempermental), so I buy plants locally at Nachtigal Greenhouse and/or Jolly Lane Greenhouse. That's also where I'll usually pick up few cucumber plants as well.

On the flower side of things, I generally plant seeds for native pollinators (coneflowers, daisies, Black Eyed Susan, etc.) and have good luck with an online place called They're cheap, as the name suggests, and they send you a million seeds.

As for trees, which I'm about running out of room to plant (oh, just kidding, I can always find room) I'm also a cheapskate. I've purchased bare root trees from a cool nursery in Belle Fourche and I buy trees in the late spring/early summer when the stores start selling them 30-40-50 percent off. Then I get them from anywhere, Menards, K-Mart (RIP), Ace Hardware. I also have a source who gives me some small evergreen trees every year, just because she likes me and thinks I'm cute.

This year I'm going heavy tomatoes and peppers again. Looking to expand the perennial plantings and another succulent area. I also anticipate going to war with voles and rabbits, as they seem to have overtaken the neighborhood despite the best efforts of my two dogs.

Looking forward to a good spring, plenty of rain, and heat when we need it. That perfect growing season seems to come about once every ten years, and we had that 2 years ago, yet I'm ever the optimist.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Like Harry and Meghan, another Brit calls it quits

The literary world was shocked a couple days ago as only a mystery writer can shock them. No, Lee Child didn't tweet something the literoti found insensitive. He didn't shake Donald Trump's hand and cause them to get the vapors. Nor did he astound them like J.K. Rowling by sharing an opinion of which they disagreed.

He announced his retirement. Child is hanging up the typewriter at the age of 65 and turning Jack Reacher's fists over to Child's younger brother.

I'm a little apprehensive about that but willing to give the guy a shot.

What astounded me is: I didn't know writers could retire. That's like retiring from breathing or from loving dogs. Writers write until they die of a drug overdose or are beheaded for blasphemy, or so I thought.

Among my favorite writers, Lawrence Block is still writing away at age 81. He looks like death on skates, but he's still churning out the words. Thankfully. Cormac McCarthy is 86. Larry McMurtry 73. Stephen King and James Patterson are 72, as is Salman Rushdie, who's stilling plugging away despite a fatwa on his head. Ian McEwan is just a pup at 71. They haven't wimped out on us.

I suspect Child's quitting has something to do with being a Brit. They've been waving the white flag since the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Not as bad as the French, but they don't have any popular writers now to even announce their retirement.

He joins other famous English quitters like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Now I could give a rip about them. Heck, I don't know if either of them can write. But I know Child can and I hate to see such a talented writer retire to the tea room.

Some, as proposed in this New Yorker article "Do Writers Really Retire?" from 2013, say even Shakespeare retired.

I hope Child "retires" like Conor McGregor retired. Maybe, like him, he'll be back after his net worth slips below $100 million. We can hope.

Come on Child, be a man. Reacher wouldn't quit on you.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Link-oh-rama 2020

Some notes, quotes and anecdotes:

*** I'm generally loathe to criticize the Catholic Church, because the media is usually gleeful to do it for me. However, they do love this Pope and are careful to separate their criticism from him. But it seems several Cardinals and Bishops don't have a problem criticizing him (as seen in this story), so I shouldn't feel bad disagreeing with him either.

I've grown quite discontent with the Church the past few years, for various reasons, and am making an effort to fix that. But it's difficult. As I told my wife a while back: "Right now, I feel like I'm a better Christian than I am a Catholic."

Check out this article that outlines one concern with the Pope: Here’s why authors, theologians think Pope Francis cooperates with the Chinese government despite persecution of religious groups
Francis continually denounces all Western efforts at border control even as he stays silent on the Chinese genocide against Muslims, persecution of Christians, and crackdowns on Hong Kong.
*** Along those lines: Is It Baby Boomers’ Fault Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Less Likely To Go Back?
“Democrats brought up in religious households are roughly three times more likely than Republicans to have left religion. Nearly one in four (23 percent) Democrats brought up in a religion no longer identify with a religious tradition, while only 8 percent of Republicans say the same.”
*** Good news. Looks like Jack Reacher is coming to an Amazon stream. And I didn't know Lee Child lives next door in Wyoming.

*** Another review came in for "Mustang Lang" (he heard about it from the Ace of Spades Sunday book thread. Four stars. I liked the previous five-star review better. But we accept four stars. It apparently didn't reach the heights of great "literature" like Haruki Marukami, Robert Bolano and George R.R. Martin - you know, the Oprah Book Club types. But not bad for a shlub from north of Hermosa.

"This is not great literature. Probably not "literature" at all. But it is a fun read with interesting characters and plot. I thought I'd figured out the ending but the author surprised me with a twist that made the book even better. This is a great book for what it is. I enjoyed it a lot and will look for more by the author. I hope there are more Mustang Lang adventures as he and Anna make quite the pair (that's a hint, Mark)"

And I'd be remiss in not mentioning this 5-star humdinger:

"If you're looking for an easy, light-hearted read that still makes you think, this is it. One part mystery, one part comedy you'll certainly enjoy Mustang Lang. Just when you think you've solved the mystery yourself, there's a major plot twist you can't help put be shocked and a bit amused with. Mustang Lang is the guy you love but sometimes want to hate. Just give it a try -- there's nothing better than support independent artists."

*** Not quite buying this, but apparently koala bears aren't the cute, cuddly things they appear to be.

*** Warren Zevon joins forces with me in promoting free speech and an unbundling of undies.
The past decade saw the rise of the woke progressives who dictate what words can be said and ideas held, thus poisoning and paralyzing American humor, drama, entertainment, culture and journalism. 
“The U.S. economy is fine…. The problem is the rest of the world.”
*** One of the many "best of 2019" book lists comes from the Guardian magazine. Their suggestions come from other award-winning authors. A couple jumped out at me.

Lee Child suggests "The Accomplice" by Joseph Kanon. It "concerns the hunt for a Nazi hiding in Argentina – and what to do with him when captured."

Ann Patchett suggests Kevin Wilson’s new novel "Nothing to See Here" (Ecco) and it sounds just crazy enough that I might like it: "about 10-year-old twins who burst into flames whenever they become anxious or angry. The fire doesn’t hurt them, but it burns down everything else. The adults who made these children want nothing to do with them, and so a governess is brought in to keep them hidden away. What starts off as an outrageous premise soon feels uncomfortably realistic."

*** This guy really likes chess and writes about it well. Concentrate!
The challenge of chess – learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions – is also the challenge of life. Flow experiences are deeply rewarding, and they arise when our skill level and challenge level are optimally matched; too little challenge and we get bored, too much and we feel anxious.