Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Finished Jimmy Stewart bio

 Needed a quick break from Lawrence Block's "Burglar" books so knocked off a biography of Jimmy Stewart by Michael Munn.

As opposed to the John Wayne bio, I haven't seen as many Stewart movies, so Munn's dives into the making of them didn't interest me too much. But I came away from the book feeling like Stewart had lived a gloomy life, when in reality he hadn't. He came across as very introspective and a worrier. Maybe it was just the end of his life that made me feel that way, as he spent it largely as a recluse, with his wife, parents and many friends having passed away.

I was surprised to learn what a horn-dog Stewart was in his single days. He and his best friend, Henry Fonda, roomed together and bedded most of the leading ladies of that time. Despite that, due to their close friendship, rumors abounded that the two were gay. Both denied it and it really bothered Stewart.

Stewart was a war hero. He was also a rat for J. Edgar Hoover as they tried to out commies and the mob from within Hollywood. It seemed to conflict Stewart who was remiss to turn in any of his friends. Most of it was for naught, as the mob had the goods on Hoover, thus he pursued very few of them in court. So Stewart's efforts, and his worry, were mostly wasted.

It was a good read if you're a fan of Turner Classic Movies and that era of film-making. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Not a fan of Dolly's music; but big fan of Dolly

 Dolly Parton seems to be one of the few celebrities who has used her fame and money (lots of it) to influence society without alienating her fans nor offending half the population.

In addition to the millions of books she's given away to children, she also played a tremendously important role in the development of a COVID vaccine (words I never thought I'd write). To my knowledge I've never heard her tell people who to vote for, tell us us which lives matter, nor which guns we should or shouldn't be allowed to own. She's just performed her craft, kept a smile on her face, and used many millions of dollars of her income to make people's lives better.

I'm probably one of the few who is not a big fan of her music. Her voice grates on me a bit. In her duets and ensembles with other stars her voice dominates rather than enhances. But, I think she's a fabulous person and a great example for other famous rich people to follow. 

Sure, anyone is allowed to voice their opinion, kneel, raise a fist or wear socks with cops dressed as pigs. But they shouldn't whine or act shocked when criticism comes from doing that. Maybe, just maybe, there are better ways to do good, to make a difference, without losing fans, endorsements and even your job. Dolly has pointed the way.

I'm a Kid Rock fan. Not because of his MAGA, Confederate flag waving ways. I was a fan before MAGA and before the Confederate flag became the racist symbol some think it now is. I liked his energy, his music and his concerts. I'm still a fan despite his new shtick. I'm guessing he'd have more fans without it but is probably at a point in his career where he doesn't need them. 

I was a fan of David Letterman before he became political. And I didn't quit his comedy because he became political, but because he became one-sidedly political. I'm a fan of Chris Rock and David Chapelle because they are funny and aren't afraid to skew both sides and the middle. 

Taylor Swift and Kanye West have become political on opposite sides of the spectrum. I don't care because neither one has ever struck me as particularly intelligent or somebody I'd listen to on any subject. It doesn't seem wise for either one as far as branding, marketing or growing their base of fans. But that's their choice. Again, notice, they did this once they became established, not when it actually could have hurt their careers in their infancy. They aren't brave for doing it now; it actually show-cases their cowardice for not doing it earlier.

While there are other athletes and performers who do good without getting political, Nelson Cruz of the Minnesota Twins is one such individual who comes to mind, so many of the ones who spout off their opinions are no wiser than any other man on the street. And their opinions shouldn't be given any more credence than them.

Just do good, lead by example and people will notice - eventually. 

Along those lines but on a different note: We've had all the sports leagues and numerous athletes engaged on the matter of race in America - particularly black athletes, particularly when it comes to concerns about law enforcement. Most of it is symbolic, messages in the end zone, messages on jerseys, taking a knee, etc. Yet there's been very little talk of substantive matters they could take. Again, things that matter, like Dolly has done.

I propose to those athletes a couple things they could do that might actually have an impact:

- Go speak at police academies going on now. Those recruits will be patrolling the streets soon. Tell what it's like to be a black person in America, your fears, what makes you uncomfortable, what makes one disobey an officer's orders, what officers can do better to bridge the divide.

- Go on a ride-along with an officer. Don't go for a 1-hour photo-op at 10 a.m. Ride along on a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. See what those officers encounter every night, perhaps get an understanding of why they may get jittery and make incorrect split-second decisions. Talk with them. Understanding is a two-way street. After doing a few ride-alongs, maybe players will have a new perspective or new ideas on how officers could approach things differently. Then use your powerful podium to talk about those ideas, with validity and experience now guiding your opinions.

- Use your voice to talk to the youth (of all races). Talk about getting an education, respecting other people. Talk to them about getting involved, going to city council meetings, school board meetings, becoming knowledgeable and perhaps running for office themselves someday. Encourage them to use their voices rather than their drop-kicks or throwing bricks. Talk to them about listening to the cops' directions - don't give cops a reason to suspect the worst of your intentions. Maybe you'll save a life.

- Use your voice to talk to the adults (of all races). Encourage fathers to raise their sons. Encourage people to stay off drugs and alcohol or to get help if needed. To be there for their children. To know their kids' friends and their parents. To know where they are and what they're doing. Take active roles in their lives. Keep them off the streets at night.

- Arrange visits with the decision makers - governors, mayors, police chiefs. Explain to them your concerns and what you've learned. 

- Encourage people to let the facts play out before they take actions that could have dire consequences on them or others. Sometimes, eventually, we find the cops acted justly, other times unjustly. Then use your voices for justice for whatever side was correct. When we blindly assume cops are racists or criminals, we're no better than the bad cops who blindly assume a black kid is criminal. People will notice when you are fair to both sides and your words will have more meaning and validity.

Or, just put a message on your shoes to make it look like you care and made a difference when you actually were just doing it because it was the cool thing to do.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The 2020 garden postmortem

 Per usual I planted my tomato seeds just before St. Patrick's Day, and then all hell broke loose.

The garden was unharmed by the Wuhu Flu, as near as I could tell, but it just as well could have been. It was definitely a down year, maybe the worst since moving here 15 years ago.

It endured three minor hailstorms but then got walloped good by the fourth. A good start on the zucchini season was wiped out as most of the foliage was stripped. The cucumbers bounced back okay, as did the green and hot peppers. Though both would've done better without.

The hail certainly didn't help the tomatoes, lots of broken stems and fruits knocked off; but mostly they suffered from a lack of rain. I maintain you can water to your heart's content, but tomatoes need the nutrients from the sky to really have a banner year. The best tomatoes I had were in containers on my deck that were best protected from the hail.

Then there were the rabbits. They bred like, well, rabbits last spring and held family reunions every weekend in my back yard. My garden is fenced in, but the fencing is 12-15 years old, so they squeezed through and under every nook and cranny they could find to mow down my snow peas and beans and lettuce and kale. I got nothing from those crops. I even had fences within fences and they found a way.

It got so bad the dozen deer who traipse through my yard every night didn't even bother joining in the fray.

The dogs did a number on one rabbit nest - inside my garden! It was like a scene from a horror movie with the mayhem and screaming as the baby rabbits met their demise. It was so bad, I actually helped a couple escape out the fence. Don't ask me why. Guess I'm an old softy.

So this fall I tore out the 200 feet of fence and plan to install three-foot-high rabbit fencing this spring. It's not as tall as the current fence, but I'm more concerned now about rabbits than deer. And, besides, the deer could jump over the four-foot fence when they desired. They just seldom desire. My new neighbor planted forty unprotected 2-to-4-foot-tall Ponderosa pine this fall, so I'm guessing those will keep the deer busy for a while.

I ended up drying plenty of herbs - basil, thyme and oregano - as well as plenty of hot peppers. So that wasn't a total loss.

All in all, it was a lot of work for not much fruits of my labor (canned maybe 30 pints of tomatoes compared to the usual 70). But there's always next year! 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Notes, quotes & antecdotes

** I hit the 50-books-read mark for the year last week. That's way more than the usual 30 or so I read annually. Appears I'll hit the book-a-week mark for 2020. A silver lining of the Wuhu Flu. And, did you know, 2020, of course, technically has 53 weeks? 

** Pictured is my desk and one wall of my office/greenhouse/aquarium room. My refuge.

** My sister texted me the other day and said a person near her in Milbank was selling 25 C.J. Box books for $25. Wondered if I wanted them. I've heard good things about Box but haven't read any. So I told her to buy the Box box. Hope I like them or they'll just take up space I don't have on my bookshelves. Stay tuned.

** Don't dawdle if you're buying books for friends and family this Christmas. Amazon, even with Prime, is getting slower in its old age. I've found much faster results with Ebay. Seems the independent bookstores and private sellers care a little more about customer service.

** Speaking of customer service, I tend to gripe about bad service so let me point out some excellent service I had recently. I was sideswiped by a truck a couple weeks ago (in my old pickup, not the Mustang, thankfully). It was his fault so I had to go through his insurance - Progressive. It was the slickest thing ever. They emailed me a link to an app. I took pictures of the damage with my phone and uploaded them. They called back a couple days later and said they were going to total it. Gave me two options: for them to buy it or give me a check to repair what I wanted. Then they just needed a few more pictures inside and out to get an idea of the overall condition of the vehicle. I had a check deposited within two weeks. 

Along the repair lines, the guys at AB Auto body and A-1 Auto Recyclers were remarkable in their service and putting up with my dumb questions.

Even the cable guy with Midco was great this week. Said he'd be at the house at 9:30. Pulled in the driveway at 9:28. Fixed the cable, answered a few other dumb tech questions I had and was very friendly. 

** I need to pick it up on the book-buying front. I usually get the kids and their significant others a book for Christmas. So far I have two of the six done. It's a little more difficult when I try to tailor the choices to their interests.

** One of those six is my son-in-law who is getting his PhD in history, with emphasis on Native American history, from the University of Illinois. Last summer he was given a list of 150 books he needed to read by yesterday. Today he will be tested on them. Gets the essay test emailed to him at 8:30 a.m. and needs to return it by 4:30. Then he will get another list of 150 for the next go-round. So try picking a book for that kid for Christmas!

** How about that election, huh? I'll go out on a limb and say nobody could guess how I filled out my ballot. It was about the most eclectic one I've ever filled out. Not even sure I could repeat it if I went back in today. I am noticing a lack of #resist and #notmypresident hashtags on Twitter now. Seems #coexist is back in vogue. Funny how that works.

** Seeing a lot of people leaving or threatening to leave Facebook and Twitter because of censorship of the news. I know it's a new world out there and a lot of people get their news on social media. If you're getting your news from Facebook, I think you're making a mistake. Mostly, I'm just on there to sell books and see dog and garden photos, first-day of school pics and photos of my friends' travels. I like my friends, but I don't trust their news judgement. 

For news, I go to a wide variety of sources, none of them Facebook. If the site wants to censor news, it seems a poor business model, but it doesn't affect me. Try reading several news sources, including ones you perceive as having a different political bent from yours, and you might find the truth lies somewhere in the middle. At least you can make up your own mind rather than having it made for you.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

So, yeah, I talked with Lawrence Block!

 I'm not a hero worshiper or deluded by somebody's celebrity status. I don't look to them for advice on my personal life, not even which shoes to wear. Mostly, I do what I want, think with my own brain, wear what I want. Thus I have nobody else to blame for me except me.

I do have people whose skills I admire. Mostly it's people who do things I can't do. Watching a guy run a sub 4-minute mile or with mad skills on the guitar. Great speakers, super intelligent people, craftsmen, etc. I can build a rabbit hutch; but I cannot build a roll-top desk with tiny drawers, intricate etchings and hidden compartments, like the one I have built by my great-uncle Oscar.

You know I am a big fan of Prince. He was a genius beyond just the range of his voice, the ability to expertly play several instruments, but also in his marketing ability and foresight.

In the literary world, my Princes are Mark Twain, Dean Koontz and Lawrence Block. I can write a book; but I can't write a book with the imagination, plot twists and skills of those authors. I'm in awe of them.

So it was with great glee and surprise last night when I had a brief Twitter exchange with Lawrence Block. My wife compared it to Sheldon Cooper playing Words With Friends with his hero Stephen Hawking.

It was a book nerd chatting with his favorite book nerd.

As I've blogged about before, I've noticed that Lawrence (I call him that now) dropped obscure references to South Dakota. Last night while reading one of his "Burglar" books there was another reference to Sioux Falls. On a whim, I decided to check to see if he was on Twitter. I receive his email newsletter, so knew the 82-year-old was at least familiar with some aspect of social media. And, lo and behold, he is, so I followed him and sent him a message, never expecting a response.

I wrote to the longtime New York City resident: "Sir, I've read about 45 of your books and have noticed in several you make passing reference to South Dakota or places in SD. Seldom notice other state's reference. Did you visit or have some other connection? Full disclosure, I'm a 5th-generation SD."

Five minutes later, he responded: "Been there a few times. Ran a 10k in Clark in 1981, a marathon near Rapid City in 2005 or thereabouts. Been to the Corn Palace twice, ditto Rushmore and Crazy Horse. The Badlands. Brookings, twice, and I'd like to get back for another look at the Harvey Dunns. So yeah, I like SD."

That conjured so many questions in my head. First of which: Why the heck were you in Clark? I don't think I've even been there. But I didn't want to be an annoying Sheldon with twenty questions. So I settled for one response.

I wrote back: "Was a kick to see us mentioned. You and Donald Westlake got me through a lot of cold winters. I live about 20 miles from Mt. Rushmore. Thanks for all the great books. Also, I ran the Deadwood Marathon a few years before you. Guess that's the one you ran."

He replied: "Yes! Couldn't remember the name. Point to point, and I think a net downhill."

I'm still feeling a little giddy about corresponding with him in ways most people wouldn't understand. I also feel a little guilty feeling so good about it. Maybe I am a hero worshiper now - of one guy anyway - who took five minutes of his remarkable life to make me feel really good.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Finished: Chris Bohjalian's 'The Double Bind'

 This was a book that's hard to write about without giving away spoilers. It was a bit of a slow read at times but kept me going to see how it ended.

When it did end, particularly the last two pages, I sat stunned and had to ponder things a bit to bring it all together in my head. Then, when I thought I had it all put together, I went to Goodreads to read the reviews and see if I really did have it figured out. I did. 

I saw something coming, but the twist was about five times twistier than I foresaw. It was good, clever, but many of the reviews were scathing. Some people just downright hated it. They were some of the most gruesome reviews I've ever seen. But others loved it. I figure that's a good sign that the author took some risks. When you do that, it's sink or swim with some readers.

A particular one-star review made me laugh:

So I am left wondering: Why is this book all over the front door displays at Barnes & Noble? Probably b/c they are trying to get rid of it.

I gave it a 7+ out of 10 on the Haugenometer. Goodreaders gave it a 3.8 on their 5-point scale, so about on par with me.

Here's a portion of the Goodreads synopsis:

In Chris Bohjalian's astonishing novel, nothing is what it at first seems. Not the bucolic Vermont back roads college sophomore Laurel Estabrook likes to bike. Not the savage assault she suffers toward the end of one of her rides. And certainly not Bobbie Crocker, the elderly man with a history of mental illness whom Laurel comes to know through her work at a Burlington homeless shelter in the years subsequent to the attack.

Bohjalian is the author of "The Flight Attendant," which I really enjoyed. It's been made into a movie coming to HBO starring Kaley Cuoco of "Big Bang Theory" fame. She seems like a good pick for that part, a slutty, alcoholic, flight attendant.