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 (www.jungseed.com). 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 tomatofest.com. 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 cheapseeds.com. 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.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Count on this being the best story you read today

Piggy-backing on the previous post a bit, I've had this thing for many years. Can't remember when it started. It might have been when I quit drinking a couple decades ago. I call it a quirk; others call it a mental disorder. Tomato, tomahto.

The first time I noticed it was while running. I counted my steps (in my head, not out loud, THAT would be crazy), then I'd zone out and forget about it, until I picked it back up a few minutes later: 245, 246, 247. My brain was counting without me knowing it. I can also tell you the number of steps in staircases throughout South Dakota, if there ever becomes a need. Also, while driving I count those breaks/bumps in the road. I'm sure the construction workers can tell me what they're called, but your car hits them and gives a quiet "thud." I count the thuds. Yes, it gets annoying, but it explains why my music is cranked so loud.

Thankfully, one day, maybe 20 years ago, I was listening to the radio in the car and the Dr. Dean Adel Show was on. He took a caller who described exactly what I just described to you and I said "Hey! That's me!" in between "thuds" on the road. She asked the good doctor what to do about it.

He said it was a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that is debilitating to some people, but just a nuisance to others (like me). He told her to pick a number, any number, and when she was counting to just stop when she hit that number. Seemed dumb, but I tried it. I picked 40. Don't know why. Just seemed like a nice number, not too high, not too low.

Lo and behold, it worked! Every jog I take, I count the first 40 steps and then I'm done with it. Weird. Really weird. My niece, in college a ways back, wanted to interview me for a psychology paper. But I never heard back. Probably a well she didn't want to dive into. Can't blame her.

I made the mistake of telling this story to a friend in the neighborhood. Now when he drives past and I'm jogging, he hollers out his window with a big smile on his face: "What number you on?" I show him the number one.

There's even an institute that studies people like me. It's called Hogwarts. Just kidding. It's called the New England OCD Institute. I might visit sometime. See how many stairs they have.

When I ran across it while writing this post, I noticed this from The Institute: "Often people with OCD will have a primary subtype, i.e. sexual obsessions, but will have the numbers as more of a secondary problem. In cases like this, it is not as stressful or intrusive."

Hmmm. Explains all the dead chickens in the house. I kid, I kid. Nothing like some good sexual obsession jokes to get the tongues wagging.

I have some other OCD type symptoms, but they are more organizational. Like my color-coded shirt rack, all the soup can labels pointing outward. My wife drives me crazy with that. She can return from the store and toss all the canned vegetable and soups all willy nilly into the lazy Susan. No rhyme or reason. I think she does it because she knows I will organized it.

But none of these seem to affect my life in the negative, as far as I see. In fact, the counting thing comes in handy.

For example, just the other day: My wife likes to end her workout regiment with a set of planks. But she hates them and likes to have a hype man there for her. Junior has been working out with her lately and fulfilling that role, but he left a week ago so the duty fell to me.

So she got out her yoga mat and told me to start my stopwatch on the phone and to tell her when 45 seconds was up. I said, "I'll just count in my head." She said, "No, I want it exact." I said: "Trust me." She didn't. So I did the stopwatch thing for her. Happy wife, happy life, don't ya know.

Later in the day, I was in the kitchen, she was in the living room. I tossed her my phone with the stopwatch ready. I told her to press "start" and not to hit "stop" until I told her to. She did as instructed. I walked around the kitchen a bit, got a drink of water, looked at the rabbits outside the window, then said: "Stop."

I said: "45 seconds."

She looked at me with that amazed look on her face I'm so familiar with: "44.6. Okay, you don't have to use the stopwatch anymore."

I'd do track meets also, but don't think they'd recognize my super power in the event somebody broke a state record. I'll stick to planks.

You can count on it.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Yes, Michael Scott, I'm a little sticious myself

Had a good year of reading in 2019. Plowed through 33 books. Wifey laughed at me because I reluctantly started the 33rd book a couple days ago, intending to finish it in 2020 and maintain the nice round 32; but it was so good I finished it today, thus ending the year with an odd number that will haunt me for months and hopefully is not a bad omen for 2020.

It was good to finish on a high note though, as Larry McMurtry's "Telegraph Days" was a joy to read. He is most famous for writing "Lonesome Dove," which oddly enough, I have never read. But I've read a handful of his other works and they are all great.
The narrator of Larry McMurtry's newest book is spunky Nellie Courtright, twenty-two years old and already wrapping every man in the West around her little finger. When she and her teenage brother Jackson are orphaned, she sweet-talks the local sheriff into hiring Jackson as a deputy, while she takes over the vacant job of town telegrapher. When, by pure blind luck, Jackson shoots down the entire Yazee gang, Nellie is quick to capitalize on his new notoriety by selling reviews to reporters. It seems wherever Nellie is, action is sure to happen, from a love affair with Buffalo Bill to a ringside seat at the O.K. Corral gunfight. Told with charm, humor, and an unparalleled zest for life, Nellie's story is the story of how the West was won.
I gave "Telegraph Days" an 8+ on the Haugenomter scale of 1-10, just because it was such a fun read. Amazonians gave it 3.8 out of 5 and Goodreaders a 3.5. The somewhat lower ratings there are, to my reading of the reviews, due to the fact that there's just so many fun-haters out there. It's not non-fiction, folks. It's not a historical essay. It was a fun romp through history told through the eyes of a spunky 22-year-old woman. The fact that Buffalo Bill couldn't have been with her in 1876 when she met the Earp Brothers, because Bill was in another town, doesn't matter. Or it shouldn't. It wasn't meant to matter. It was meant to be a fun read, and it was.

One line I liked and have found true myself: "It's odd how it can take but a second for things to get out of kilter in this life."'

And this: "Being its first telegraph lady and then its mayor, had helped make me a responsible young woman. I had never been one to suffer fools gladly, but the main thing I learned, in the end, was not to insist on too lofty ideals. If you want to be part of a human community you have to suffer --patiently, if not gladly -- and you must practice civility as best you can. there were normal people, like the McClendon sisters, and great driving fools like Bill Cody, but the tribe of human beings is never likely to be crowded with Aristotles."

If I had to compare myself to another writer, it would be McMurtry. I am definitely the poor-poor-man's version and only aspire to be as good as he is. His books are mostly set in the Old West, but aren't really Westerns. They are more about eccentric characters who just happen to live in the 1800s. They are funny, sad, a little naughty at times, and some real thinkers.

Also, while I was posting chapters of "Pet Teachers" on this blog (I was pleasantly surprised by the number of you fine folks who were reading it) and pimping out my new book, Mustang Lang, I managed to read three other books but didn't find the time to post reviews of them.

They were more of the same I usually read and all good:

"The Confessor" by Daniel Silva filled in a hole I'd missed in the Gabrial Allon series. Gave it an 8 on the Haugenometer.

"Tanner On Ice" by Lawrence Block is from the Evan Tanner series and wasn't among Block's best. Gave it a 6.

"Bloody Genius" by John Sandford is of the Virgil Flowers series and was a fun one to read. Gave it an 8.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Six books for six kids

Like my great-aunt Nora could always be counted on to give me gloves every Christmas, my kids and their significant others know they'll get a book from me.

I take the job seriously and don't just willy-nilly grab books off the shelf. I try to tailor them to the individual, knowing their reading habits and interests. While I can't take all the credit for having three smart kids and their intelligent counterparts, I like to think my promoting reading in their lives helped some. And science agrees with me. So why stop now?

This year's gifts were the following (all but one interest me):

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

A Death in White Bear Lake: The True Chronicle of an All-American Town by Barry Siegel

In 1962, Jerry Sherwood gave up her newborn son, Dennis, for adoption. Twenty years later, she set out to find him—only to discover he had died before his fourth birthday. The immediate cause was peritonitis, but the coroner had never decided the mode of death, writing “deferred” rather than indicate accident, natural causes, or homicide. This he did even though the autopsy photos showed Dennis covered from head to toe in ugly bruises, his clenched fists and twisted facial expression suggesting he had died writhing in pain.

Harold and Lois Jurgens, a middle-class, churchgoing couple in picturesque White Bear Lake, Minnesota, had adopted Dennis and five other foster children. To all appearances, they were a normal midwestern family, but Jerry suspected that something sinister had happened in the Jurgens household. She demanded to know the truth about her son’s death.

Why did authorities dismiss evidence that marked Dennis as an endangered child? Could Lois Jurgens’s brother, a local police lieutenant, have interfered in the investigation? And most disturbing of all, why had so many people who’d witnessed Lois’s brutal treatment of her children stay silent for so long? Determined to find answers, local detectives and prosecutors rebuilt the case brick by brick, finally exposing the shocking truth behind a nightmare in suburbia.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger pulls us into a world of servants and masters, age-old superstition and modern idealism, sibling rivalry and forbidden love. But anchoring this dazzling, propulsive novel is the intimate coming-of-age of a child and a young woman, each searching for their place in a society that would rather they stay invisible.

How to Have Impossible Conversations by Peter Boghossian

Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay guide you through the straightforward, practical, conversational techniques necessary for every successful conversation -- whether the issue is climate change, religious faith, gender identity, race, poverty, immigration, or gun control. Boghossian and Lindsay teach the subtle art of instilling doubts and opening minds. They cover everything from learning the fundamentals for good conversations to achieving expert-level techniques to deal with hardliners and extremists. This book is the manual everyone needs to foster a climate of civility, connection, and empathy.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations―a search for the truth that threatens to consume him.

The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern by Thomas Knock

Drawing extensively on McGovern's private papers and scores of in-depth interviews, Knock shows how McGovern's importance to the Democratic Party and American liberalism extended far beyond his 1972 presidential campaign, and how the story of postwar American politics is about more than just the rise of the New Right. He vividly describes McGovern's harrowing missions over Nazi Germany as a B-24 bomber pilot, and reveals how McGovern's combat experiences motivated him to earn a PhD in history and stoked his ambition to run for Congress. When President Kennedy appointed him director of Food for Peace in 1961, McGovern engineered a vast expansion of the program's school lunch initiative that soon was feeding tens of millions of hungry children around the world. As a senator, he delivered his courageous and unrelenting critique of Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam―a conflict that brought their party to disaster and caused a new generation of Democrats to turn to McGovern for leadership.

Friday, December 20, 2019

My Christmas letter to ya'll

Welcome to the almost annual Haugen Yule/Hanukkah/New Years Letter, where I update you on the family's arrests and goings-on without having to spend money mailing it and deciding who is worthy of receiving it. Do I send it to best friends, the type that will help you bury the body? Good friends? Average friends? People I know but don't really like? People who think I like them but I don't? Well, since you are reading this, you are a really super-good friend (as far you know).

I think on the Haugenometer the Year of 2019 was a stellar 8 out of 10. Amazonians gave it a 4.2 out of 5.

"It sizzled," one reviewer wrote.

So let's get right to it, youngest to oldest, dumbest to smartest, ugliest to prettiest:

* Huckleberry. The Basset Hound added to his limited skill set by teaching himself to pop the lids off empty Gatorade bottles. Might come in handy someday, but can't imagine when. He's still pretty stubborn, self-centered and worthless, except for comedic relief, cuteness and warmth when sitting on your lap (coincidentally pretty much what they say about me).

* Stanley. The Man celebrated his 10th birthday a couple weeks ago. Considering he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and given 2 weeks to 2 years to live, he's doing well. Actually, very well since we got him on some anti-inflammatory pain-killers three months ago. He's spry as a pup and enjoys jogs, hikes and frankly anything with me (it's nice to be adored so).

* Luke. Junior surprised us all and graduated college. He surprised us even more by graduating a semester early (Dec. 14) and with a GPA approximately 1.0 points higher than his father. (So, yes, he graduated with a 5.0 GPA!) He majored in criminal justice with minors in international affairs and sociology. While taking a full load of internet classes, he spent five months (July-November) on an internship in Georgia where he served with the Secret Service detail for former President Carter. He's on his Christmas Card list even! (It's a lot classier than mine, but smells like boiled peanuts.) Now he's on the job search, not sure where he'll land but if I were a betting man I'd guess the D.C. area.

* Rylee. Fresh off a root canal a couple weeks ago, she is in her third year teaching science to seventh-graders in the bubbly town in Illinois. Hubby Stetson continues to pursue his PhD at the University of Illinois and has already begun enlightening young skulls full of mush there. We made our annual visit in October and had a great time, hitting the Illini-Michigan football game, bowling in the student union and perusing the Jane Adam's Bookstore. They still have their cat and are Green Bay Packer fans.

* Kirk. He and his wife, Julie, live in Minneapolis with their two boys, Cooper and Turner. He's having his best year ever as team leader at US Bank Stadium. We hope to see them in Miami in February. They have a dog and hate the Packers.

* Katie. As West River director for Rep. Dusty Johnson, she has his Rapid City office up and running very well. She will also be his statewide campaign director, as the two-year terms of congressmen allow for little rest on that front. Just when I was getting use to the 4 x 8 election signs taking up room in my garage, they will be gone soon. She continues to hang out in the Keystone area a lot and has taken an interest in gold mining.

* Nancy. Wifey had a great year. She found a job and boss she greatly enjoys at Nelson Chiropractic in RC. She is a certified Chiropractic Assistant now, so she can take care of the pain in the neck she causes me. I kid, I kid. For fun she enjoys riding the new Peloton bike I bought her for Christmas. She also enjoys live music and we hit everything from Neon Trees to Halestorm to Charley Pride. She managed a trip to Jacksonville to hang out with some relaticks and to visit Luke early on his southern stay.

* Me. Still working for The Whip and just finished my 15th year with the best boss ever, besides the time I was self-employed. Otherwise I mostly read, write and grow tomatoes. The tomato crop was average by my standards, but better than a lot of others I heard from, as crazy wet, cool weather wreaked havoc across the state. I published a novel recently. "Mustang Lang" is available in paperback and e-book form on Amazon. Check it out. Support struggling artists. Also, this Fall, I made a long-desired trip to Savannah, where Junior came over from Americus, GA, and we did the town for a long weekend. It was a great time.

For 2020, I foresee a late winter trip to Florida in our future. Not going this year made the winter excruciatingly long. Waiting to see where Luke lands as well, as that will be good for another road trip. Otherwise Nancy and I will be staying put for the most part with Stan and Huck and the rabbits, Hank and Waylon, and the nine fish. Our dog-sitter went off to college at MIT in Boston, so that hampers our travels as I antagonize the wife by not allowing my dogs to be kenneled. The moral to that story is to pick dumber dog sitters who don't go anywhere in life.

Here's hoping your 2020 is fun, happy, prosperous and safe. If it's not, keep it to yourself, because I'm really not interested in listening to other people's problems.

Monday, December 16, 2019

A glimpse of Mustang Lang

A couple excerpts  of my new novel "Mustang Lang" to give you a little look at the man:

When they give you that name, you’ve got to dress the part, cowboy or not. My six-foot-four hefty build was augmented by the two-inch heels of my six-hundred-dollar Tony Lama ostrich boots. They are round-toed and color of peanut brittle. My Levi’s were held up by an alligator belt. My turquoise long-sleeved shirt was layered with a nifty brown, lambskin vest. A lot of animals gave their lives for me to look this good, including the beaver for my black cowboy hat. Undoing Noah’s good work on the arc seemed to be my calling.

***

I’d always sensed a little disdain from my father that he needed a hired hand while having a perfectly able-bodied son living fifty yards away. Anna tells me I read too much into the thoughts of my Pops, since he’s never voiced any disappointment in me. But sons do that. I could solve the mystery of who really killed JFK and probably feel like I’d still let him down because I hadn’t helped him vaccinate calves that morning instead.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

BOOM! My new book, Mustang Lang, is now available

My newest novel "Mustang Lang" is now available at Amazon in paperback or ebook form - pick your poison.

In a nutshell, Mustang has a PhD in French, but lives in a guest house on his parents' ranch near Belle Fourche where he was raised. He's not much of a rancher though, only helps his dad when needed. His fulltime job and passion is as a private detective, where he picks up most of his work from his longtime girlfriend, who is a local defense attorney.

One day he is approached by the purveyor of a call-girl operation. Ruby wants him to track down her high-end call-girl, Sara Kay, who has gone missing. A day later, an obnoxious cattle baron from Texas approaches Mustang to find a girl as well. Turns out it is Sara Kay, too. So Mustang double-dips on them and begins the search.

Once he finds her (spoiler alert) he begins to doubt the motives of those looking to find her and assists Sara Kay in keeping her hidden.

Sara Kay is a major player in the book and details how she got into the profession and the series of events that led to her being a wanted woman.

In the book, stuff happens. Hookers will hook, detectives will detect, as both find themselves in various jams along the way.

One problem I had was choosing the genre. It's not a romance, though both characters have romance and problems with it. It's not a murder mystery, though there is a dead guy who may or may not have been murdered. It's not a smut novel, though there's a couple PG scenes and some language unfit for members of the clergy, unless they're Catholic.

So let's call it an adventure and leave it at that.

I also had trouble deciding on a title. It just as easily could have been called "Sara Kay" as "Mustang Lang," but I like to rhyme, most of the time. It was even called "Murder. Period." for a short time until I decided that didn't really fit, though it's kind of funny as you will see at the end. It was also "Love Travels" for a brief period, of which you'll see why at the end too. "Mustang Lang" seemed to be the most all-encompassing without giving an incorrect allusion to it being some kind of book it's not.

So it's "Mustang Lang." It's not an opus. You should be able to knock it out in three or four days.

It's also very reasonably priced. Remember, Kindle Unlimited subscribers get the ebook version for free. It doesn't get much better than that unless I paid you to read it, but I haven't gotten that desperate yet.

If you like it, please leave a review at Amazon, as they tell me people really rely on those things. If you don't like it, don't bother.

Thanks again for supporting your independent authors (even if they've sold out to Amazon).

Here are some other Haugen classics to put in your cart in case you missed them:

Runaway Trane Paperback edition Ebook editions
Bags of Bodies Kindle edition
Bags of Rock Kindle edition
Joshua's Ladder/Amy's Ladder Paperback edition
Joshua's Ladder Ebook editions
Amy's Ladder Ebook editions
Zoo Falls Kindle edition






Friday, December 13, 2019

Pet Teachers - The Saturday Epilogue

THE SATURDAY EPILOGUE

Candy and Buster sat in lawn chairs outside the motor home and watched the sun set over the lake. She had her top off to "let the little girls breath.”
“Is the kid going to be able to breast feed with those piercings?” Buster asked.
“Probably, but I ain’t going to breast feed anyway.”
“Why not?”
“Don’t want him to starve,” she laughed.
“Did you say ‘him’?”
“Just a feeling. Mother’s tuition.”
“You gonna stop smoking?”
“Do I need to?”
“That’s what they say. Bad for the baby.”
“Then I probably will,” she said, snuffing out her Marlboro in the grass.
“And what about drinking?”
“You mean booze?”
“Yeah. Bad too.”
“Okay, I’ll stick to beer,” she said, sipping a Bud.
“I think they consider beer to be booze too.”
“Jeez are you going to be ragging on me for seven more months?”
“Just looking out for Junior.”
“Then, I suppose,” and she tossed the half full beer to Buster.
“And I hear lots of sex is really good for the woman’s health,” he smiled.
“Now you’re just making shit up,” she said.
“Figured I was on a roll.”
“Well, I guess if I’m not going to be drinking or smoking I gotta find something else to do with my time.” And she took him by the hand and led him inside.
As she shut the door, she hung a sign on the door handle. “If the RV is rocking, don’t come knocking.”

**

With Rose off working and shopping all day, Reuben used his Saturday to tend to the roses he’d been neglecting of late and to run some errands. He returned home just in time for supper, which was also at 6:00 on the dot.
He opened the kitchen door and lifted his nose to drink in the smell of fried chicken. The bucket of KFC on the table caught him off guard as Rose wasn’t the fast-food chicken type. He was caught more off guard when Rose beckoned him from the living room: “We’re in here.”
The “we” surprised him. More so when the “we” turned out to be Rose and Slug sitting on the couch drinking iced tea.
Reuben gave her an apprehensive peck on the cheek and Slug a hearty handshake.
“Slug, you’re out?”
“Thanks to your lovely bride here,” he growled in his nicest growl.
Reuben looked at Rose and with his hands at his side, opened his palms and shrugged his shoulders to signify “what the heck?”
“Sit down Reuben,” she said. “We need to talk.”
Slug gave him a reassuring nod and Reuben sat on the edge of the recliner across the room from them and flashbacked to his collegiate day-of-reckoning with Dean Alma. His usual ice-coolness was beginning to drip down his armpits.
“Reuben, you know I love you,” she began. “You’ve been the best husband a woman could have. You’re kind to me, you’ve provided well for us, you’ve loved me, doted on me and treated me like a queen. That’s why over the past several years, I’ve looked the other way when you’ve taken imaginary classes and pretended to take up new hobbies; while I knew full well what you were really doing. I always had full confidence in your ability to pull these things off. But you aren’t the only smart one in this family.
She paused to take a sip of tea. Slug gave him another “hang in there” nod.
“As such, I became aware that this last motorcycle stunt of yours seemed to have you in a delicate pickle with the Black Lords. So, given my particular friendship with Mr. Slug, I thought it might benefit you to have our friend back on his home turf to keep things from getting out of hand.”
Then she offered an open hand to Slug to take it from there.
“So she drove to Denver this morning and bailed me out. We got here about five minutes before you.”
“That’s why we are having KFC tonight. I’m sorry,” Rose said.
Slug continued: “While I’m not happy my top two lieutenants are going to be spending the next couple decades in prison, I am glad to know that they weren’t as loyal to me as I thought they were. It was better for me to find out under these circumstances than under other circumstances later that might’ve had more dire effects on me and the Lords.”
“So we’re good?” Reuben said, looking at Slug, then Rose, not sure whom to address first.
“We’re good,” Slug said. “You got nothing to worry about from my boys.”
“And we’re golden,” Rose said endearingly. “I only ask if you have future summer plans like this that you are more open with me about them so I don’t have to resort to my other means.”
Not wanting to ask what her “other means” were, though he was racking his brain as to what they might be, he concurred. “I promise.”
“Can we kill that chicken now?” Slug asked.
“Let’s kill the chicken,” Rose said. And the trio retreated to the kitchen.

**

Even by Larry’s standards, he was putting on the ritz. He made pasta noodles from scratch, his own Alfredo sauce and Caesar salad. A candle flickered in the middle of the dining room table. His finest China and cloth napkins were set for two. Norah Jones softly warbled through the Bose speakers.
Auburn Thrice showed up at the tick of 7. In a white floral pattern blouse and knee-length pink skirt, she looked like a spokes model for Georgia peaches. Her blonde hair shimmered and her skin seemed illuminated in the setting sun. She looked so angelic Larry almost felt guilty as he opened the door - almost.
“You are heaven on earth,” he said, giving her a soft kiss on the lips.
“Thank you, Laurence, and you’re looking dapper as well.”
He was decked out in black dress pants and bright purple dress shirt, the collar held together by a turquoise Native American-made bolo tie. His usually unruly red hair was slicked back with half a bottle of hair gel.
Larry motioned to the dining table with one arm, the other around her waist. “I threw together some pasta Alfredo, if you’d care to join me?”
“Actually, Laurence, I’ve been thinking about this night all weekend and I’m too excited to eat. I don’t want to offend you, but could we go to your bedroom first and eat later?”
That was about the dumbest question Larry had ever been asked, but didn’t tell her that. Instead, he kept his composure and blew out the candle. “Let me turn down the water. It wasn’t quite ready for the noodles anyway.”
Turning off the stove, he attempted not to appear too eager and nonchalantly led her to his bedroom at the rear of the bungalow.
There too he’d gone all out and washed the purple satin sheets and added a couple throw pillows. He turned on the lights and dimmed them a bit.
Auburn moved to the foot of the bed and turned to face him. She pulled the blouse over her head, somehow barely moving a hair on her head. She reached behind her waist and unclasped her skirt, which floated to the floor like the closing curtain of a Broadway musical. She wore nothing else.
Larry’s mouth fell open as he his eyes moved up and down her nude body. He was transfixed. He’d never seen anyone so beautiful, so perfect, so blonde, so pure. This was the best weekend of his life.
Then a police siren sounded in his driveway. “Whoop, whoop!” was the short signal, not the long police chase type. It was the “I’m here. Pay attention” siren.
Larry’s stomach sank like a guy who hit all the winning lottery numbers but lost his ticket. “Just ignore it,” he said. “Probably at another house.”
“But yours is the only one up here,” said Auburn, who’d somehow dressed even quicker than she’d undressed.
“Stay here. Let me go see what’s up.”
Before he could get to the door, somebody was already knocking. He didn’t need three guesses as to whom.
Larry opened the door and stood firmly in the doorway to prevent entry. It didn’t work. Diedra Deeds busted through him like a bear through a young willow tree. In blue nylon sweatpants and gray “Colorado Buffaloes” sweatshirt she didn’t look as appealing to Larry as she had in the past.
“Hey, Laurence,” she said overlooking the table. “Expecting company?”
A tongue-tied Larry stood mute.
“He has company,” Auburn said from the bedroom door. “Who are you?”
“I see college has put some spunk in the school board president’s daughter,” Diedra said. “I’m Laurence’s girlfriend.”
“No, no, no, no,” Larry sputtered, waving his arms like trying to put out flames.
“I thought I was your girlfriend,” Amber said, arms crossed in the universal sign that meant trouble for a dude.
“She’s lying,” Larry said.
“Oh, that wasn’t you I was sleeping with last week and the weeks before?” Diedra twisted the knife.
“Laurence! Is that true?” Amber said.
“But she’s not my girlfriend, just a friend.”
“With great benefits,” Diedra said.
“And to think, Laurence, I was saving myself for you!” Amber marched to and out the door.
Larry was shell-shocked at his change in fortune.
“Easy come, easy go,” Diedra said. “What’s for supper?”
But Larry wasn’t having any more of it. “Nothing for you.”
“Oh, but Laurence, you know better than anyone what I can do for you on a full stomach.”
“I’ve lost my appetite for food and women,” Larry said. “I’m going celibate.”
“Well you know how to find me,” she said. “And I for damn sure know how to find you. Toodles.”
And then Larry was alone. He sat down at the gorgeous table for two, put his head on an empty plate, and wept real tears that would’ve made the original Laurence Olivier proud.

- THE END -

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 37-39

Chapter 37

“THIS IS THE PART that makes me nervous,” Larry said as he and Reuben weaved between concert-goers. “The deciding factor that lies between us and two-hundred grand each or twenty years in prison is Mr. and Mrs. Ding Dong being able to pull this off.”
“Exciting, isn’t it?” Reuben smiled.
“Not the word I was thinking of,” Larry replied.
About forty-five minutes passed by the time they made it back to their car and drove it around and through thousands of motorcycles until they were able to get within one-hundred yards of the employee gate on the other side of the campground. Fortunately for them, Kid Rock was in no hurry to take the stage, probably doing Lord knows what for pre-concert prep in his bus.
They parked again and moseyed about near the back staff entrance, where a half dozen hired guns in black leather jackets played rent-a-cop. They could see the busses and the back of the stage but were not able to make out Buster among the bustling concert-goers practically surrounding it.
“He’s back there somewhere isn’t he?” Larry groused as they paced in haphazard fashion, trying to look innocent and failing. But, really, if they did look innocent they would have stuck out even more as everybody else in a four-mile radius was probably doing something illegal or had been within the past twenty-four hours.
“He’ll figure out a way back there,” Reuben reassured Larry. “I think he was going to try crawling under the stage. He’s not as dumb as he looks.”
“That’s only because it’s not possible,” Larry added.
A slow rumble then began to emanate from the mountains of speakers and began to build into a crescendo of bass guitar announcing the coming of somebody important. Larry and Reuben couldn’t see him, but somebody had taken the stage and began playing the part of emcee.
“Ladieeeeees and gentlemen!” he bellowed over the bass riff. “From Detroit, Michigan, it’s the baddest-ass mother-fucking pimp in the god-damned nationnnnn! Kid Rock!”
Cannons exploded, flames erupted, guitars blasted and the Kid in bluejeans, wife-beater t-shirt and fedora sprang onto the stage and kicked into a rousing eruption of “Bawitdaba.”
“What’s he saying?” Larry screamed to Reuben.
“Bath water!”
“Bath water? You know this song?”
“No. But it’s what he’s saying.”
“I take it it’s not a Frank Sinatra song.”
“Hardly.”
“Let the show begin,” Larry added.
“Yup,” Reuben said, pulling out his cell phone and dialing Zeke.
Four rings later he picked up. “Ya!” he screamed into the phone.
“Do you see him in the wheelchair?!” Reuben screamed into his.
“Ya!”
“You got Candy?!”
“Ya!”
“See the briefcase?!”
“Ya! Under the chair!”
“Send her over to it. Keep behind her! Have her open it!”
“Don’t screw me!”
“Never! Just leave Buster there and Candy will wheel him out when the concert’s over.”
“Okay! We’re going!”
Since they couldn’t see anything but the back of the stage and a dense layer of smoke lingering around it, Larry and Reuben where at the mercy of the Lords now to unwittingly follow instructions.
Buster had indeed sneaked under the stage and was peering from under the front corner. With sweat dripping into his eyes he was able to make out Candy nudging her way toward the governor in the chair. Zeke was over her shoulder. Buster’s blood boiled at the sight of him.
As she reached the chair he could see her confusion in trying to figure out who was sitting in the chair. Still, she did as told and pulled the briefcase out from underneath. She knelt down behind the chair, fiddled with the latches and opened it. Zeke was trying to get a view but was sandwiched between a gyrating throng of rockers and unable to get a glimpse of its contents.
Candy closed the case and stood. Turning to face Zeke she nodded affirmatively to him and held the briefcase up to her chest with both hands. Zeke reached for it, and she slammed it into his face.
Having to choose between grabbing it or her, and with a bloody nose clouding his thinking, he chose the money. Candy chose to run towards the stage. She hopped up on it. A startled Kid Rock smiled. His bodyguards weren’t so enamored with her. One gave her a shoulder bump and she flew off the side of the stage and into the arms of Buster.
By now, Snake was at Zeke’s side and they both struggled to open the case. Finally succeeding, they were greeted with ten copies of the latest edition of the Rapid City Journal. Net worth: $5. About $99,995 less than they anticipated. Not being big readers, they were pissed. Zeke tipped the wheelchair over backwards. Both hopped on the Governor Formerly Known to Them as Buster and began pummeling him with their fists.
Now Kid Rock may be a bad-ass and his bodyguards doubly bad-asses and they may all appreciate watching a good fight, but nobody, absolutely nobody, is going to beat up a handicapped person in their presence! Seeing this monstrosity of behavior, Kid and three of his ilk leaped from the stage and began wrestling with Zeke and Snake, trying to pull them off their victim, who by now, had become mostly unraveled in the melee.
Other fine citizens untangled the governor from the chair. He was a bloody mess, standing in his Mickey Mouse underwear, bleeding from head to toe. Flash bulbs were flashing, video cameras were videoing and picture-phones were picturing and two nearby co-eds enjoying the last days of summer vacation lifted their tops for a moment of fame. Within five minutes they and the good governor of South Dakota were celebrities on You-Tube.
But the governor still wasn’t being treated like a celebrity among those around him.
On their stomachs with three-hundred-pound lugs sitting on each of them, arms bent groutesqly behind their backs, Zeke and Snake leered at the governor.
“You ain’t Buster!” Zeke screamed.
“Who the fuck are you!?” Snake screamed.
“The gubbenor,” Gov. Arnie McCall stammered between split puffy lips they’d given him.
“Oh, shit,” Zeke managed to eek before his head was stuck back into the dirt and real cops arrived on the scene.

Chapter 38

BUSTER CARRIED Candy in his arms, not because she was injured but because he wanted to. He jogged through the makeshift parking lot behind the stage, zig-zagging between the pimped out busses of the rock stars and semi trailers of their less-affluent roadies. He made it through the back entryway, now unguarded because all the security detail had been dispatched to the ruckus at the front of the stage.
Crossing the dirt road he saw the always punctual Reuben sitting behind the wheel of the get-away car, Larry in the passenger seat and the back door swung open and inviting. Buster set Candy inside and she scootched to the middle. He plopped in next to her.
“Howdy, sunshine,” Larry said.
“Up yours, Larry,” she said.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” he grinned.
“Boy, am I glad to see you guys,” Buster said.
“You’re all sweaty and smelly,” Larry added.
“You’re no petunia,” Buster said.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Larry grinned again.
Candy cuffed him on the back of the head, but he knew sometimes there is a price to pay for a good one-liner and accepted it.
As the car kicked up dust, Reuben said: “You done good Buster. You too Candy.”
“What the hell took you guys so long to rescue me?” Candy asked.
“We’re thieves, not commandos,” Reuben said. “They treat you okay?”
Buster seethed, waiting for the answer – a wrong one would have sent him over the edge.
“Not as good as my Buster does, but they didn’t hurt me,” she said.
Buster breathed a little easier, but still steamed.
“Where to from here?” Buster said.
“The Mine Shaft,” Reuben said. “Where else?”
“Good. I could use a beer or twelve,” Buster added.
“Heard from Selma?” Candy asked.
“She’s got the motorcycles and should be near Sioux Falls by now,” Reuben said. “She said she would call when she delivered the goods.”
“Are you sure these Black Lords won’t rat us out?” Candy said.
“I’m sure.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because they know we would then tell the cops they kidnapped you,” Reuben explained. “Then they will have to explain how they trained us to ride the motorcycles, which makes them accomplices to kidnapping the governor too. So they’d get two counts of kidnapping instead of one. But there is probably a bigger reason they won’t narc on us.”
“What’s that?” Buster asked.
“Mostly because they don’t want to be known as rat finks, PLUS they betrayed Slug. They’re probably safer in jail.”
“Wow, you thought of everything,” Candy said, perhaps the first compliment she had ever paid anyone.
“That’s my job,” Reuben said, proudly.

Chapter 39

“School starts in two weeks you know,” Larry said, sipping a beer at the Mine Shaft.
“Yep,” Reuben said. “After this, it will make those little monsters seem almost bearable.”
“How about you, Larry. I hear you are single again.”
“Yes, but I hear the VA hospital in Hot Springs just hired ten new nurses.”
“Well that ought to get you through the first semester anyway,” Buster said.
“And you, Buster?” Reuben said. “Anything special you’re going to do with this payday?”
“Gonna add on to the house – a rec room with flat screen TV and another bedroom.”
“Why?” Larry asked.
“The baby’s room.”
“Huh?” Reuben grunted, almost dropping his beer.
“Yep. I wasn’t going to tell you guys until this was over, but before we came out here Candy went to see an optician. She’s pregnant!”
“Congratulations!” Larry and Reuben said in concert, lifting their beers.
“When she due?”
“March 17. Saint Patrick’s Day.”
“Maybe it’ll be a leprechaun,” Larry grinned.
“Maybe he’ll come out with a golf club and kick your ass,” Buster was quick to retort.
“I guess that’ll take you out of action for any jobs next summer,” Reuben said.
“Think we’ll have something?” Larry asked.
“Nothing for sure, but it’ll give me something to think about during study halls.”
“Like what?” Buster asked.
“I don’t know. Nothing for sure, but I hear there might be something popping at the Corn Palace in Mitchell - supposedly a Smithsonian tour including the original Declaration of Independence.”
“I’ll bring the butter,” Larry chirped.
“I bet you will,” Reuben said. “I bet you will.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 34-36

Chapter 34

“SO WHAT DO WE do with the governor for 12 hours?” Larry asked.
“We get him a bite to eat, pick up a few more supplies and take a nap,” Reuben said.
“Can I have a beer yet?” Buster whined.
“Sorry, big guy,” Reuben said. “Gotta hold on for a few more hours. Your work has just begun.”
“If all goes as planned,” Larry added, “we’ll have you back here before closing time.”
“Good. There’s a keg in the back with my name it.”
“I’m sure it’ll need rescuing, just after you rescue the little missus,” Reuben said.
“Boy, I bet she is gonna be pissed off,” Buster said, shuddering a bit.
“She’s always pissed off,” Larry added. “This time she finally has a reason.”
“Speaking of that,” Reuben said. “Let’s go check on the governor, get him something to drink and I’m sure he needs a bathroom break. Hate for him to foul my trunk.”
“I just hate the thought of a governor fouling himself, period!” Buster said.
“This is definitely a conversation I never thought I’d be having,” Larry concluded. “Where is this endeavor going to take place?”
“Let’s go to the Quick Mart,” Reuben said. “We’ll get him a big cup of iced tea and a straw. I don’t think we dare feed him. He’ll get hungry but he won’t starve. Then we’ll stop out in the woods for him to drink and whiz.”
Reuben laid a twenty dollar bill on the table and after a two-fingered wave to Shorty they strolled out the way they had come in. Larry rapped on the trunk of the car. The governor responded with a: “Hmphhhh grrrr gaaaak” which they interpreted to mean: “I’m still here.”
They picked up some junk food, all eight packages of the gauze bandage wrap they had on hand, and a couple Super Gulps at the Quick Mart and Reuben steered the car toward the interstate.
“Thought we were going into the backwoods?” Buster said.
“We will,” Reuben said, “but I want to get one errand out of the way. We need a wheelchair.”
“Where the hell we gonna get one of those?” Larry asked.
“Been considering that,” Reuben said. “Thinking the hospital in Spearfish always has a couple sitting outside their emergency room entrance. We’ll do a quick snatch and grab and then take a potty break.”
Fifteen minutes later they were in Spearfish and parked half a block from the hospital. After waiting to make sure of no passers-by Larry hopped out and moseyed along the sidewalk to the emergency room entrance. The bill of Buster’s baseball cap tilted over his eyes and with the car out of sight of any potential video cameras, he kept his head down and nonchalantly nabbed a wheelchair sitting near the handicap ramp, just like Reuben had predicted.
But the ring-leader had not predicted the white Dodge minivan squealing around the corner and  screeching to a stop just as Larry stepped off the curb.
A twenty-something string-bean of a man in running shorts and tank top jumped out of the van. His face was flushed and he was awfully excited. “My wife’s having a baby! My wife’s having a baby! Can I have that wheelchair!?”
Larry kept his head down. “Sorry Bud. My mom’s having a heart attack. Get the one up there!” He pointed to another wheelchair up near the dock where they unloaded ambulances.
The man looked even more confused, but thankfully followed orders and hurdled up to the dock.
Larry didn’t look back and picked up the pace, finally reaching the awaiting Cadillac. He folded up the chair, tossed it in the backseat and hopped in the back.
“Jeesh! Nothing ever goes as planned!” he grumped to the twosome in front.
“Tell me about it,” Reuben said, gunning the engine.

Chapter 35

OUTSIDE OF SPEARFISH Reuben found a gravel road into the forest and pulled off to the side once the trees blocked them from view of the highway.
“Remember, no names, and let’s get him out of the trunk,” Reuben said.
“Alright Zeke!” Buster said obnoxiously loud.
The governor didn’t put up much of a struggle exiting the trunk. He knew now his hero act had backfired, was soaked with sweat from a combination of heat and fear and wondered what they had in store for him now.
“Gotta pee?” Buster asked.
He nodded in the affirmative. With bandanas over his eyes and mouth and hands tied behind his back, the three teachers stared at each other, all wondering the same thing: “How we going to do this?”
Reuben pointed at Larry: “Unzip him.”
“Why me?”
“Because he can’t,” Reuben answered.
“No way,” Larry beckoned the courage to say.
“Oh jeez,” Reuben said. “I’ll do it.”
Both hands on his shoulders, Reuben steered the governor next to the ditch. He reached around, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his Wranglers and pulled down his shorts and boxers.
“Go here,” Reuben ordered.
Everybody turned away in embarrassment.
“Did you see his underwear?” Buster whispered to Larry.
“No. Tried not to look.”
“He’s got Mickey Mouse underwear.”
“And you’re surprised?” Larry said.
When the whizzing stopped, Reuben turned back around, pulled up the shorts and walked the governor back to the car, where Larry waited with the iced tea. He pulled up the bandana enough to slip a straw in and the governor took the opportunity to let out a wimpy squeal: “Help.”
Larry shoved the rag back in and asked: “Do you want a drink or not?”
The governor nodded affirmatively and they tried one more time. This time the governor took several long draws on the straw before Larry pulled it away and shoved the rag back in.
“That was the toughest part of the entire day,” Larry said after getting the governor back in the trunk and slamming the hood.
“Then we’ll be okay,” Reuben opined.

Chapter 36

THE DAY DRAGGED ON but with a long nap under their belts and nightfall having finally arrived, the teachers headed back to unfriendly territory and followed the slow snaking of cars into a pasture turned make-shift parking lot east of Sturgis. The Buffalo Chip was an infamous campground in a nearby pasture whose nightly concerts were legendary for debauchery, beer and rock and roll – all the things that make life worth living.
The teachers had transferred the governor into the back seat, and with the aroma of Mary Jane wafting through the open windows, they wrapped his head and hands in white bandages, leaving a small slit for his eyes and nose. He might get mistaken for the Governor of Transylvania, but never of South Dakota.
With the opening act of .38 Special playing in the background, they set him in the wheelchair and bound his feet with more gauze, making certain to tie them to the chair itself just in case he got a sudden urge to make another hero’s dash, though it would most likely be to a food stand than toward a policeman.
Reuben, who had locked the cash in the car trunk, set the briefcase beneath the governor’s seat behind his ankles. It was now filled with newspapers and a piece of white paper marked in large black print with: “Run behind stage!”
Approaching the gate, they flashed their passes they had purchased during their meanders of the day and were safely inside the venue. As they stopped to survey the surroundings, Buster was enthralled with a spectacle nearby. A gaggle of fifteen tough biker dudes were hooting and hollering and hoisting cameras as they encouraged every woman coming through the gate to lift their shirts in a show of solidarity to Eros, the Greek god of lust, love and intercourse. Most ladies obliged, much to Buster’s delight, but a few refused and were showered with boos, beer and other less mature derogatory comments.
Larry, steering the wheelchair for now, was careful to keep out of the way of wandering camera lenses as all three teachers kept the heads down and caps low – though Buster couldn’t help an occasional peek.
With the crowd cheering for an encore, they began making their way through the cigarette-lighter waving throngs of people toward the stage. Hitting a roadblock every once in a while, Reuben would holler: “Excuse us. We need to get him to the handicapped section!”
Then the crowd would part and take a couple seconds to ogle the burn victim in the chair while Larry muttered: “Thank you. Thank you. God bless you.”
The rock group returned for a rousing rendition of “Wild-eyed Southern Boys” and the teachers managed to move toward the front with nary a notice from others more enamored with beer and boobs than three dopes pushing a wheelchair.
By the time the music ended and roadies were busy rearranging the stage, the mummified governor was front and center. Reuben looked at Buster and Larry and motioned for them to huddle up behind the chair. Reuben said to Buster: “You know what to do. Play it cool. When Candy opens the briefcase and reads the paper, be back there watching, grab her and scram. We’ll have the car waiting at the employee gate.”
“Gotchas,” Buster said.
“And, don’t take this wrong, but Candy CAN read can’t she?”
“Of course,” Buster said, offended, but only for a second as the girl to his right lifted her bikini top and shook her goods.
“Then good luck,” Reuben said, grabbing Larry by the elbow and retreating to where they’d come.