“International Bake Off Season 1 on Netflix, Finale!!”

Episode 7: Slice of Pie? Filling in the finale, the contestants are tested by the more than just today’s challenge, as the epic finale comes down to a tie-breaker vote!  

Elon White looks up to the skylight of a ceiling. An unexpected Hurricane has hit Miami, rendering the sky the color of ash. From outside, wind sings the lullaby of the dead and the kitchen ceiling is accosted by an unyielding downpour and bolts of lightning. White is flanked by the two suits of Samurai Armor, two Knights, two Conquistadors, two Pirates, two Aztec Jaguars, two Roman Legion, and 27 terracotta warriors, their faces dour in the dim light of the hurricane.

The challenge is delayed, as Luka Bretzagalatzin of Romania drives a stake soaked in Holy Water through the heart of the Vampire Raleigh Simone. She cracks like plaster and turns to ash. Luka bows to the camera, another noble hunter of the damned from Eastern Europe who fulfilled his job. He will receive a hefty commission from this job, which he spends on women and alcohol.

The remaining contestants become the new judges as they wait patiently for Elon White to describe the final challenge. The two suits of Samurai Armor sous-vide a rack of lamb for their mutton-apple pie. The Aztec Jaguars lightly dust their sweet potato and corn pie with sifted powdered sugar, a white cloud rising to meet the Hurricane outside.  Sam Brown gets the tie-breaker vote, which he awards to the Roman Legion’s Chocolate-Potato Chip and Bourbon pie. He is gruesomely sliced in two by the Samurai Katanas as Elon White’s eyebrows bounce like Groucho Marx, a giddy goodbye escaping his lips from a crowd of 1,000 Terra Cotta Warriors, who, in anger for losing despite the best Cardamom- Rhubarb Pie anyone has ever had, form one Giant Warrior before the roof crashes down and breaks them back into 1,000, easily portioned remnants of the Qin Dynasty.

 

“SUNY West-Cayuga Men’s Basketball”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Leviathan’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

It was the first time in the history of March Madness a 16 seed had beaten a 1 seed. For those who don’t speak Basketball, all that needs to be known is that the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans won a game they weren’t supposed to win. Not the don’t-win-this-game-or-your-family-will-be-mysteriously-relocated-to-an-island-in-the-South-Pacific-no-one-will-discover-for-another-150-years kind of not supposed to win, but the team-they-beat-has-bigger-stronger-faster-and-better-players-with-better-scholarships-and-are-all-one-foot-taller kind of not supposed to. From there, the miracle run lasted far beyond anyone’s expectations. In the blink of an eye and the space of a few weeks, the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans were playing in the National Championship game.

 

 

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Poseidon loomed over the battlefield, a web of shallow rivers in a dry plain filled with palm trees. Odin, grinning a grin from a cartoon noir, stood tall over the other side of the battlefield. Poseidon’s Leviathan had fought better than expected in the Tournament of the Gods, first beating Bast’s Wildcat, followed by Loki’s Azure Frost Giant, The ‘Blue Devil’, Hephaeustus’ scrappy Wolverine, Badb’s menacing ‘Fighting Irish’ Crows, and Tyr’s new alliance with Fenrir’s Wolfpack.

All in all, it was surprising to everyone involved that the Leviathan was able to defeat such strong opponents, but with her long neck, sharp teeth, narrow, gar-like jaws, mud colored scales that shone blue in the water, and sharp mind and focused eyesight, Poseidon’s creature was the feel-good story of the Tournament.

Hermes blew the horn that signified the start of battle. The Leviathan darted forward through the system of rivers, plunging without fear into the fight. From a cloud of darkness and static electricity emerged her opponent, Odin’s Great Bruin.

 

 

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SUNY West-Cayuga huddled around the bench, grief and consternation brushed across their faces. In 4 minutes, UCLA had gone up 28-3. After sinking the first three point shot of the game, SUNY West-Cayuga had lost the ball, missed blocks, fouled far too many times, and allowed three Sports Center worthy dunks.

“SUNY West-Cayuga is going to call a timeout here, Jim,” said one commentator.

“They’re going to see if they can get the tires back on this thing. Only 3 points, allowing UCLA to score 28, I can’t think of a worse start to a game.”

“Arlington Roberts has a stat line that reads 0 points, 0 rebounds and -2 assists. I don’t even know how you can get negative assists Jim, but this team found a way.”

“It’s a shame too, because SUNY West-Cayuga has really played some great games in this tournament, but the narrative around them was that a 16 seed in the Championship Game would lead to a blowout. That’s certainly been the story so far.”

Over in the huddle, Coach Cavanaugh took a breath and tried to compose himself.

“Okay guys, listen up! I didn’t think I’d have to make this speech until the last minute of the game, or until the last three minutes, or at least halftime. Or, at least the last minute before halftime. Or-”

“Coach!!” Arlington Roberts cried.

“Sorry,” Coach Cavanaugh said, waving his arms as if to clear the thought. “Sorry. You guys deserve to be here, so don’t give up. You’ve got nothing to lose at this point! Those guys over there? Yeah, they may be bigger, they may have scholarships or a chance at the NBA, but they don’t have the wild run you guys have had. No one expected you to be here, so get out there and keep fighting! Keep fighting your butts off because tomorrow, you either wake up the greatest underdog champions or the greatest underdog story. Either way, people will be talking about you for years to come. We might as well give them one more shock, huh? Alright hands in, Leviathans on three!”

 

 

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Odin’s enormous Bruin swatted a morning star sized paw at the Leviathan, who, to her credit, dodged the brunt of the attack. She darted forward, nimble jaws outstretched to close around the bear’s throat, but was knocked away by the other paw. The Bruin pounced onto the Leviathan’s back in a thunderous bolt of crackling energy.  The Leviathan screeched in pain, a cry that echoed around the battlefield in a sickening Doppler effect. She dove underwater as fast as she could; losing the Bruin’s snapping jaws to the surface of the water. She turned and gave herself a burst of speed and rammed into the furry mountain, managing to knock the wind out of the bear as it was pushed back to land. It recovered more quickly than she thought. Machine-like jaws clamped down on her back, blood flowing under the scissors of teeth. She flailed awkwardly and detached herself. Poseidon called timeout.

The Leviathan swam lazily to the God of Water, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He set his trident down and knelt to greet her.

Poseidon gave her a few reassuring pats on the head.

“I’ve been thinking,” he murmured. “Now, no one expected you to get this far, but we did, and I have an idea of how to win this.”

He looked across the way to Odin’s plastered smile. Odin laughed in Poseidon’s direction.

“Go for the bad eye.” Poseidon said, staring at Odin’s eyepatch. “It’s the fat man’s weakness; it must be the Bruin’s.”

The Leviathan nodded. A horn blow from Hermes signaled a resume play. The Leviathan dove as far as she could, letting the deep silence of her underwater world surround her before she propelled herself out of the water. The Bruin was waiting for her, but she managed to snap forward, jaws closed together like a jab connecting with the Bruin’s eye.

Nothing happened. She splashed back into the water and peeked her head out to examine Odin.

“Other eye!” Poseidon yelled.

The next jab she landed.

 

 

==============================================================

“Another three!!”

“Jim, this is incredible. But did we really expect anything less from SUNY West-Cayuga?”

“Their Cinderella story is NOT over yet!!”

“It’s incredible, with one minute left to play SUNY West-Cayuga takes a 68-61 lead. “And Arlington Roberts is fouled! He will go to the line and shoot two!”

“I don’t get it Jim, it’s almost like someone punched the Bruins right in the eyes! They cannot make a shot! SUNY West-Cayuga is playing great defense, hitting the three point shots they need and, as Roberts sinks one and they go up 69-61 with 45 seconds left, it looks like the Leviathans are going to be National Champions!”

“You’re A Mean One” (short story)

February fucking sucks.

Actually, this February is the only one that’s ever been really bad. Usually, February means Mom, Dad, my sister Cassie and I skulking through Miami International at 6am, luggage in tow, barely anyone around to soak up the morning sun and smell of too much coffee, to catch a flight to the land of lake effect snow, Syracuse. It’s such a stark difference, going from the beaches of Miami to a city that looks like it’s covered in sludgy marshmallow. My grandparents don’t live in Syracuse, exactly; they still live one rent-a-Volvo away in Pelopidas, a small town in a large valley that keeps the strange tradition of naming towns in the glacier emptied valleys of central NY after Greek and Roman politicians and cities.

This February though, the warmth of my Grandparent’s house, all pine and down comforters, christened by cold and snow, usually a welcome change during February break, feels less like it looks in movies and more like how it looks in people’s crappy Facebook pictures. Grandpa died in November, which meant I got one more trip to New York last year. It had already snowed, but we still stood outside in the cemetery said our goodbyes as they lowered his casket down into the ground, quarter-sized lumps of wet snow pelting our heads and intruding on our frozen grief. We stuck around for a few more days, my aunt and uncle and cousins piled into the house filled with cold cuts and baked ziti that no one in our family had bought but had still somehow materialized on every inch of every counter, just to make sure that Grandma would be okay. She insisted she would be, but I know that the loneliness would set in once we left.

Our trip to New York was always the bright spot in a barren post-Christmas landscape. Christmas break never seems to last long enough, and dragging myself back from days spent in front of a Legend of Zelda marathon instead of slogging though brain scorchingly boring high school classes is always far too difficult. January brings a welcome day off or two, but February break was always what kept me going, the thought of seeing Grandma and Grandpa for our ‘Second Christmas’, spending time in front of a roaring fire to gain back the warmth lost from Grandpa and I exploring the valleys that surround their house, is what kept me awake and tuned in on a week to week basis. After dinner, Grandpa would build said fire and, from his ancient celadon and moss patched chair, tell us stories of his time in the Pacific during World War II, how he and Grandma met in San Diego during his extended stay in the Navy, or the strange people he met as owner of the local theatre he opened when he and Grandma moved back to his hometown. He had met so many celebrities; Johnny Carson, Eartha Kit, Boris Karloff; even the Who.

His strangest story by a wide margin, however, was of the snow monster that lived atop the high peaked hill behind the house. He told the same story, of the time he was young and his Border Collie ran off after a raccoon and up the hill. Through the thick pines he chased the dog, calling after it until he found himself flat on his back in the snow, cold and out of breath. Over him loomed a terrifying creature, covered in green lichen with yellowing teeth and watery eyes. It let loose a broken roar and sent grandpa fleeing through the trees back home where he found the dog already at the door, pawing to get inside.

Frequent internet searches tell me the locals constantly report strange happenings in the town but no other sightings. The strangest thing about this creature was that every February, when we would have our make-up Christmas, Grandpa would, on ‘Christmas Eve’, forgo It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or even my dad’s favorite, A Muppet Christmas Carol and instead put on How the Grinch Stole Christmas, all the while pointing to the green monster on the television screen and, over Boris Karloff’s crooning voice, insist, “That’s him! That’s the monster on the hill!”

______________

 

Our rent-a-car pulls up to Grandma’s house late Friday evening. It’s not a long flight from Miami to Syracuse, but we always leave as soon as Cassie and I are done with school and never end up getting there before 11.

The usual Christmas lights were not on the house, which should have been my first clue, but I thought maybe they just weren’t on. We step out of the car and into the slush, me frantically packing my Ipod away while Dad grabs luggage from the trunk, and we bound into a frenzy of hugs from Grandma.

The house was alarmingly different, not only because Grandpa’s larger than life presence was missing, but because there was no Christmas. No tree, no lights, no garland on the stairs or stockings by the fireplace.

Grandma sighs as we fumble into the living room. “I thought everyone was getting too old for all the decoration and fanfare,” she said.

It looks wrong. Incongruous, even. To see the snow outside, wet and stuck to the pines, but not Christmas inside is a spirit breaker. I feel what little anticipation I had built up deflate a little. I flop on the floor next to Grandpa’s chair and pick at a hole in my jeans.

My mom nods. “How are you mom? How’s the house doing?” she asks.

“Oh, it’s quiet. The deer will not stop eating the trees out back. Gus Spirilios -you  remember John’s son? He came over and put those mesh things around the trees to discourage them but they keep coming back. Does anyone want coffee? Anyone hungry? Cassie?”

From the couch, my sister shakes her head no and pats the cushion. “Come here Grandma,” she beckons.

“I’m going to bed,” I mumble, and Grandma insists on giving me a hug and a kiss before I head upstairs and crawl under the flannel sheets.

______________

 

I wake up the next morning to the sound of my mom opening the bedroom door.

“It’s 10:30,” she says. I mumble a strong nothing and close my eyes again after she descends down the stairs. “Let him sleep!” I hear my Grandma urge.

“It’s almost noon!” My mother cries an hour and a half later. She bursts into the room and opens the blinds, which, true to their name, blind me with the reflected light of a valley’s worth of snow covered peaks.

I pull the covers over my head and fume silently for a moment, pressing my head into the pillow. The bed is as warm and welcoming as I remember it always being.

I forcibly remove myself from the embrace of the down and flannel and flop down the stairs to stomach a bowl of cereal while the rest of my family sits in the living room and talks. Usually, Grandma has some fresh Christmas cookies I can steal after breakfast, but these too are absent.

“I didn’t even bother with a tree this year,” I can hear my Grandma explain.

“It’s okay, we don’t need one,” my Dad says.

“So what did you do instead on Christmas Eve instead of buying a tree?” Mom asks.

Cassie interjects: “People are always like, who buys a tree Christmas Eve? And I would tell them how my Grandma and Grandpa would do that just for us.”

She’s right; they would always wait until Christmas Eve and keep the tree up until we came and visited. Grandpa would jokingly decorate it as a President’s Day tree and a Martin Luther King Jr. tree while they waited for February.

I head upstairs and start to layer up on clothing, putting one pair of socks on, then long underwear, then another pair over that. I grab my heaviest hoodie and return downstairs. I put on my gloves, hat, boots and heavy coat that I keep here in New York. I waddle into the living room like an engorged penguin.

“Where are you going?” My mom asks.

“Outside.” I say, crossing to the sliding door that leads to the back porch and into the valley beyond.

“You can’t go outside!” My mom protests.

“Why not?” I ask.

“It’s too cold out there.”

“I’ve got layers, mom.”

“Well, still. There’s too much snow.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the point. It’s not like we get a bunch of snow in Florida.”

“Why do you want to go outside?” She asks pointedly. My sister stirs uncomfortably and I feel my cheeks get hot.

“He can go outside if he wants!” My Grandma says.

My mom shakes her head and turns to my Grandma. “Mom, it’s too cold outside. Aren’t you a little too old to go out and play in the snow?” She asks disparagingly.

“I’m not going out to build a freaking snowman and make snow angels while I wait for Santa to read my letter,” I spit sarcastically. “I just want to go outside.”

“Why are you such a pain in the ass?” Cassie asks.

“Cassie.” My dad warns.

“Stay inside. Come on.” My mom urges.

“I don’t understand why I can’t go outside. It’s just outside.”

“Because you don’t need to go outside!”

“No one needs to do anything! I’m not going because I need to, that’s not the point! And I’m not a pain in the ass. I’ll be back soon, for Christ’s sake it’s only right outside!

“Fine! Go!” My mom shrieks.

“THAT’S WHAT I WATNED TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE!” I scream and it feels good to scream, to make some noise in a house that feels like an abandoned amusement park. I open the sliding glass door and a cold wind slices through and into the house. I leave it open for a moment, to remind my mom exactly where I’m going  before stepping through the doorway and out into the quiet, white and green world.

I crunch through the most striking contrast between where I’ve grown up and where my Grandpa grew up, following the trail into the evergreens that he made years and years ago. It’s still well worn and well marked and I intend to keep it that way. I replay my mom’s biting words in my head, kicking up snow and punching my way through low hanging branches. I fume and fumble through the woods, not paying attention to where I’m going, stepping out of my way to kick at smaller trees in frustration. Snow whips around me as I head farther up the hill and, as I realize with a wash of cold sweat, well off the path. The world expands in a sickening lurch. My vision, once focused on the feet in front of me and how they could express my anger, now unravels outward up and all around me. The silence of snow meets my ears. My ever expanding vision is accompanied by ever expanding panic. The forest seems too large and too quiet; too damn depressingly empty around me. I try to keep calm, but my natural response to this seems to be to run faster and faster until I’m even more lost than I was before.

I stop walking and make a full 360 turn. Nothing looks familiar to me. I take a deep breath and fumble with my scarf and hat, trying to let some excess heat I’d built up out. It feels like I’m hiding a small star in my coat, threatening to burst and turn my stomach into some sort of black hole, primed and ready to feast on infinite quantities of white, wet snow.

I walk back the way I came, breaking into half a run. The path is completely gone, replaced in front of me by a sloping hill that, thanks to my quickening pace, I slip on, tumbling down in a violent storm of snow, dirt, pine branches and despondent curses. My cartoon tumble stops finally and I come to rest in front of a small clearing that looks out to another valley filled with houses. I desperately search to see if any look familiar before realizing that of course I wouldn’t know any of the houses and even if I did, what would I do next? Ask for a ride back to my Grandma’s house? I’d have no idea how to get back.

A crack splits the sky and rings sharply through the trees. It’s an incredibly familiar sound that I realize, with a fuzzy, nervous clarity, is the sound of a gun.  I drop to the ground and stay there, trying to make myself smaller while frantically working out what kind of danger I’m in.

“Shit, kid! I thought you were a deer!”

I look up and see a man dressed in hunting gear, a long rifle in hand now pointed at the sky for safety. I mumble an apology and he helps me up.

“You okay?” he asks. His face is red and splotchy under a heavy mountain of layers. I nod and start to brush myself off.

“What are you doing out here? This is a designated hunting space, don’t you know that?”

“No, sorry. I’m not from here. I’m visiting my grandpar- my grandma. I got lost on the path.”

“Oooooooh yup, that’d explain it. Come on, I’ll take you back to the Nature Center. Do you have a phone?”

I shake my head no. I left my cell phone by my bed this morning.

“You can call for a ride from there,” he chuckles.

“Thanks.” I say, not wanting to go home but ready to get out of the snow. We trudge down the mountain, dodging pine trees until they thin out. The hunter, who, thorough talk of snowfall this month and diseases that are killing the trees, sneaks in that his name is Rudy, manages to also tell me about the sudden emergence of far more deer in this area. He talks all the way to the nature center, which is a large, wooden structure, designed to look rustic and alpine but offset by modern looking doors and windows. . We walk through an enormous set of glass doors that open automatically before walking through a second set and into an open room. I get the feeling that I’m walking into a snowy Jurassic Park. A full Mastodon skeleton greets me, set next to an ornate staircase in the middle of the room that runs to the second floor. Angled skylights grace the ceiling, letting bright, snow-white light inside in gluttonous quantities.

Rudy takes me to the Director of the Nature Center, an older, skinny man named Xander. “Short for Alexander,” he tells me, shaking my hand.

Rudy claps me on the shoulder and says goodbye.

“I’m gonna see if I can get at least one before sunset,” he says jovially.

Xander looks at the clock. “You’ve only got a couple more hours!” He calls to the man’s back. Rudy raises a hand in acknowledgment and laughs. I still can’t get used to the sun setting at 4:30 here, but these guys have known it all their life.

“I’m not sure I know you,” Xander says leading to me to a sort of large, open cubicle where his desk resides. The skeleton of the Mastodon looms overhead as if to say, we’re all here because the ice age, am I right? He sits at his desk and I have to suppress a bit of a laugh because he looks like a man in a Boy Scout uniform or like a Park Ranger from a Hanna Barbera cartoon. He even wears the wide-brimmed hat and an orange and white checkered ascot. He moves with the grace of an old movie star.

“I’m visiting my Grandma from Florida,” I say. He asks my name and when I tell him my name and my Grandma’s name, his features depress themselves into sorrow.

“Your Grandpa and I go way back,” he says and sighs. “I was heartbroken when he passed. I think I remember seeing you at the funereal, now that I think about it.”

“I miss him,” I say, and Xander nods knowingly.

“Did he ever tell you,” he says dreamily, taking off his ranger hat and setting it on the desk, “About the time the snow monsters on the hill came down and tried to steal Christmas?”

I narrow my eyes and sit down.

“There used to be two monsters, you know, but back in…oh let’s see, this was ’41…there had been more and more sightings of the creatures. Then, and I’m not kidding, Christmas Eve, they came down the hill and snuck through town in the middle of the night. They smashed their way into houses and stole presents and even stole the lights we put up on the big tree outside of town hall. But! Your Grandpa and I, we were up late with Phil Cazzarelli and John Spirilios, both dead now too, over at John’s house, oh about quarter mile down the road from here, and the monsters tried to break in. As soon as they saw us they turned and ran.

John grabbed his Dad’s hunting rifle and Phil grabbed a net and I grabbed flashlights and we chased them down. Your Grandpa kept shouting about not hurting them, about wanting to talk to them, but John and Phil didn’t care. The two monsters split up, so Phil and John followed the one. Phil almost caught it with the net, but a Spruce tree cut the thing when he threw it too high. But John, now John never missed a shot when we went out hunting, even when it was dark. And when we hit the clearing up by Drucker Pond, he shot the thing square in the back.

Well, the monster was on the other side when John shot it, so before we got around the other side of the pond, the other one comes crashing through the trees, roaring like a gorilla. John could’ve shot it, but none of us wanted to stick around after we heard that thing scream. We got down the hill back to John’s place but your Grandpa was nowhere to be found. So we start calling his name and finally he pops out of the trees about twenty yards away. He caches up to us, all out of breath, and says that he called after the thing, asked it to wait, but it just scooped up the body of the other monster and walked back up the hill.

So we start to head back when your Grandpa pulls out this little box and says he found it buried in the construction site that was all set to become this very nature center. We get back to John’s house and open it up and inside is, well…”

Xander reaches into the top drawer of his desk and pulls out an oversize, ornate bronze key. Lines of silver glyphs are carved into the surface and, as he holds it up in the light, I can make out an inscription:

?Λllæ

“Your grandfather kept that key as proof of the night we encountered the monsters. He was fixated on the idea that the key belonged to the monster, that he wanted it back. We told him he was nuts, it was just an odd key buried somewhere, but he wouldn’t listen. He took the key with him when he joined the Navy, where his CO was a Princeton Grad with a degree in Linguistics. Even he couldn’t tell what the inscription on the key were.”

Xander leans back in his chair and heaves a sigh as dense as the forest.

“Your Grandfather came by for a visit a few months ago. He gave me this key, but I think you should have it.”

“He gave it to you.” I respond, my taking the key an opposition to what I’m saying.

“I don’t know what this key is or what is does, but your Grandfather seemed to think he knew. Whatever it’s for doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is that you can carry a little piece of him with you.”

The key feels cool in my hand and I swear that as I stare at it, it gives off a high, clear tone, like someone running a wet finger on the rim of a wine glass. It’s strange to think that this is something my Grandfather took with him everywhere, at least for a small part of his life. It was with him when he served in the Navy in World War II, when he met my Grandma in San Diego after the War. He even took it back to New York when he came back and bought the theatre.

And through this, the inescapable thought that this key never really belonged to him crashes lazily around my brain. There is something more to this key; whatever innate sense Grandpa had was right.

“Let’s call your folks, shall we?” Xander says as he pulls out an old school rolodex. He dials a number on his phone and waits as it rings. “I’m glad to have met you,” he says to me as the phone rings, “Sharing stories of your Grandfather was as much a treat for me as I’m sure it was for you. Maybe while we wait I’ll tell you about the time he and your Grandma and I drove all the way to Rochester to see Perry Como- Hello?”

When I hear my Grandma’s voice on the other line I decide to run for it. Now might not be the time for this but there is something in this key, something unfinished that my Grandpa surely would have wanted me to do. I hear Xander call after me, but I’m faster and he gets tied up in trying to explain what’s happening on the phone and trying to put the phone down and chase me. I speed through the enormous glass doors and tear around the building, not knowing where I’m going but sure that somehow, I’ll get there. All the while, the inscription on the key floating in front of my field of vision, like the afterglow of sparklers on the Fourth of July; the more they burn my eyes the more they resolve themselves clearly into a word, one I can’t believe is churning in my head, one I need an answer to.

Whoville

______________

 

I can tell it’s getting darker, but I bumble frantically through the snow. The key acts like some sort of diving rod, singing louder if I head in what I can only assume is the right direction and staying quiet if I make a wrong turn. Soon, the tallest hill in the valley resolves itself from the dense canopy of trees and the key adds a second tone, one that harmonizes with the first and creates the illusion that I have a tiny choir in my hands.

The hill gets steep as I march closer to the sky, which does its part by darkening ominously as I get closer. When the key sings a third tone and an angelic chord sounds from my hands, I know I must be close. Sure enough, there is an outcropping of rocks that forms a cave. Squinting, I can see the dim light of a fire somewhere deep inside. Every bone inside me screams not to go in, to do anything else, to roll down the damn hill and see where I end up, but I know I have to go in. I didn’t come this far not to.

The cave splits into two paths only a short way in. In one direction, the key practically sings an ‘Amen’ to me; the other, murderous silence.

I take the right path and follow the squandered light from something deep inside. Strange groans join my humming friend and soon the mumbling of a voice pricks my ears. I reach the end of what I hadn’t noticed was a sloping hill as it resolves itself into an atrium of sorts, a high walled portion of the cave. In front of me is a sheer wall about 10 feet high with an ornate wooden staircase leading up.

Part of me wants to believe that I’ll meet not the monster up there but I’ll discover that it’s just some old farmer named Old Man Biggs or Farmer Smith in a mask who, Scooby-Doo style, will reveal to me that he found some valuable substance here in the cave and he’s only scaring people away because they want to take his cow land away.

The top of the staircase is behind me now, and I’m in what appears to be some vile imitation of a living room. The cave is almost dome shaped here, like a birdcage with a blanket thrown over top. A beautiful red Persian rug offsets the cave floor. The far end of the wall holds a fireplace carved of stone, more of a hearth than anything else. Torches line the walls and spill flickering light onto a couch and matching love seat. An enormous desk, overflowing with books and papers sits against the farthest wall. On top of it, bookshelves line the walls. Another, more crude staircase leads to some unknown portion of the room. To my right, a door twice the size of me sits, made of stone the color of graves, detailed carvings of elk and pine trees forming an upside down U shape around it.

A green blur shocks me from my right side and a roar, somewhere between a car engine and a polar bear, blasts my eardrums. My brain desperately tries to make sense of the sound as it turns me around and pushes me to the ground at the base of the loveseat.

I look up and meet a set of yellowing eyes, wet and sharp. The creature has a sort of white fur that barely peeks out through a strangling amount of pale green lichen. It looks almost fuzzy in the dim light, the lichen covering it from head to toe, as if a tree came to life. It has a wide, pear shaped body, with thick legs and thin, taught arms that can’t be more than just muscle and skin and fur. A thin neck supports an almost otter-like head, complete with whiskers but without ears. It has canine teeth in its top jaw and horse-like flattened teeth on the bottom row. It roars at me again, pinning me against a chair.

“Please!” I sputter, “Please, I only wanna talk. And I know you can talk. No creature has a couch and a desk filled with books that can’t talk.” I unleash more anger than I want to in this statement, mad at myself for being here and running away but mad too, at this monster for thinking me so dumb as to think I see it as another wild beast.

The monster clamps its mouth and narrows its eyes, straightening itself. It has a fat, flush nose with almond shaped nostrils, which flare menacingly at me for a moment. The lichen that covers its body is a darker green in some places and almost white in others.

“Forgive me,” he says in a voice completely not fitting the beast that it comes from. He sounds like Noel Coward reciting his thesis, like Stephen Fry reading the encyclopedia.

“You’re the Grinch,” I say, and it sounds just as dumb coming out of my mouth as it sounded in my head.

“Would you like something? Some port, perhaps?” he asks.

“I’m sixteen.”

“Nothing takes the chill out of your bones like a little port,” he says, crossing to a refined looking bar and pouring two glasses. “Come, please, hang your coat and sit.”

I stand and do as he asks, accepting the port that he offers. He sits in the loveseat and takes a sip. I follow suit. The port really is warming, even if it does taste like someone put their cigar out in a cherry.

“Thank you,” I say, giving him a slight toast. “I’m sorry for barging in. I didn’t think you’d… well…”

“You didn’t think I’d welcome you, let alone wish to talk?” he offers.

I nod. “I expected… Well, I don’t know what I expected. I guess I thought you’d try to rip me apart and eat me. Anyone who’s met you seems to get that greeting.”

“My dear boy, there is a wide margin between entering with a ‘Hello’ on your lips and entering with a gun in your hands.”

A moment of silence passes. The Grinch seems content to sit and enjoy his port. I have too many questions to ask, so I settle for nothing for a moment.

I find one. “How did you get all of this in here? The couch and stuff, I mean.”

He polishes off his port and stands to refill his glass. “This is only a small part of a larger cave which I used to call home. Many years ago, I lived in another world, one of many of my people. We lived in the caves above another race of people, the Suntermilactarianistvunderststs.”

“The who?” I ask. He gives me an ironic smile.

“Funny you say that. They called their village Who-Ville,” he pronounces the word in such a strange way, more like Hyuo-Fil,  that it takes me a moment to understand he said Who-Ville.

He continues: “Every winter, my people and I would carry on a tradition that spanned centuries, wherein which we would sneak down to the town and interrupt their Winter Festival. It was always in good fun, you see. Their mayor would pretend to take offense, we would destroy a few things, steal gifts and eat their food, until finally the smallest child of their people would make an offering to us. Then the party would commence in splendid fashion.

It was a reenacting of the first meeting of our people, before any contact had been made. It looked as though my people would destroy their village entirely, when one of the children made a peace offering. From then on, our two races formed a symbiosis.

In return for this act and for a share of their crops the rest of the year, we protected their village from all manner of fearsome creatures that would otherwise see them as a fast meal.

One year, I lead the procession down and into the village, but no gay horns or tempting feasts greeted us. There was no Winter Festival. The Mayor’s wife had been dragged off and mutilated by a pack of Rtrs the night before,” I open my mouth to ask what a Rtr is, but The Grinch waves my question away.

You did not protect her! The mayor shouted at me. I attempted to explain that we did our best, but accidents happen. They had before. But this particular mayor, a young one who had previously shown disdain for our traditions, rebuked me. He and a group of his strongest, armed for battle, offered us an ultimatum: Stay or Die.

I wanted no bloodshed, so we left. I would give the young one time to calm and mourn, then try to establish a fresh, new rapport.

The mayor did not see things my way. He had one of his most deft wizards follow me home. When I was warming myself by the fire that night, he snuck into my cave, closed me in this room, cutting me off from the rest of my home, and sent this room away to another world.”

He points to the cathedral-like door. “I was enraged and alone for quite some time. Everyone I had ever known was gone and I was stuck in this strange, foreign land. I was completely abandoned. Then, one glorious summer evening, my cunning Sister walked through the door. She held a key triumphantly in her hand, beckoning me home.

Unfortunately for us, the key she had fashioned to link me home via that door had been discovered by the Suntermilactarianistvunderststs. They sent the wizard in after us. He put a spell on the both of us and stole the key. Rather than bring it back to our world and risk it being discovered, he decided to hide it here in this world. I can only assume he killed the keymaker upon returning, because no one has come for me since.”

The sound of the fire, burning and popping fills the room. I can feel the key in my pocket, now silent but heavier than ever. I consider giving it to him, but can’t shake the thought that Grandpa never did. There must have been a good reason.

I can’t help it anymore, so I ask: “Do you know that you are the main character in a children’s story?”

The Grinch gestures behind him to his desk. In the dim light, I hadn’t noticed how high the bookshelves stretched to the ceiling, but now that he points it out, I can make out books spanning at least twenty feet high. Ten feet of shelves is made up of an assortment of the same book, in various publications, through the years. I stand and, squinting in the firelight, I can make out How the Grinch Stole Christmas on each and every copy. They come in a myriad of colors, with mostly red, white and green spines. Some are old and dirty, some new.

“I collect them. Whenever I can take a copy from somewhere, I do. From houses, libraries, even the bookstore in town. I sneak into town often for supplies.”

That explains the port.

“How?” I ask, pointing to the books. I need to know how he came to be a character in a book.

“From what I understand, someone told my story to this Dr. Seuss person.”

“Wow.” I say, admiring his collection.

“You didn’t ask what happened to my sister,” he remarks dryly. I can’t quite make out the tone with which he says this. Was it anger? He seems calm, but there is a terrifying ferocity in him. I try to remember not to let the British fop in him lull me into letting my guard down.

“I know what happened to her.” I say, locking eyes with him. He tilts his head up and narrows his eyes.

“I think,” I begin, “I think you knew my Grandpa. He told me stories about you. Earlier today, I learned some friends of his shot your sister when he was young. I also know that he tried to talk to you. Many times. I think you met him. I think that he also came to you with a hello instead of a loaded gun.”

The Grinch sets his drink down and slowly walks to the silent, useless door, staying silent for a while.

“I was inconsolable in regards to my sister,” he pauses, as if expecting an apology. I certainly don’t owe him one. “We were depressed and angry at being trapped here. We thought trying to revive the old tradition, this time with the humans in village down the hill, would cheer us up. We weren’t trying to steal Christmas,” he elongates last two words with a poisonous amount of disdain.

“I paid them back though. I descended from my mountain peak and killed their most beautiful, most fertile girl. I watched and waited and, one night, when she and her lover had parked their car, I flung open the door and dragged her out. The young man she was with begged me not to kill her, to take him instead, but I slashed her chest open and left her to die. That was the third time I saw your Grandpa.”

Grandpa never told me that story. He did tell me his high school sweetheart was killed, but never by the monster. Never ripped apart. My head spins at the image of my Grandpa, looking on as The Grinch tore his first love to shreds. I grab the desk for support.

“My Grandpa wanted to talk to you. He never wanted to kill you.”

“Still. I learned a lesson that night to leave humans alone. Too much unnecessary bloodshed.”

I shift uncomfortably, surreptitiously checking that the key is safe.

“It was your Grandpa, you know, who told my story. He told me that while stationed in a Naval base in San Diego, he met Dr. Seuss. He told him my whole story.”

“Which means you my Grandpa your story.”

“Yes. I remember, only a few years after the incident with my sister and the girl, he came. I chased him out, but he kept coming in, insisting that he only wanted to talk. He said he was to be shipped away to another part of the world to fight a war. Not his own personal war, but his country’s war. I relented, and we talked for a while. When he left, he turned to me and thanked me. I asked him why ever would he thank me, and he told me, If knew you weren’t a monster. I accept that I might die out there in the Ocean, but I couldn’t leave without you knowing that someone in this world cared to hear what you had to say.

My eyes fill with tears. “He was a great man.”

The Grinch doesn’t seem surprised to hear me talk of him in past tense. “Even now, after all this time, I’d give anything to go back,” he says, despondent. He traces the patterns of glyphs on the door.  “I miss my family and my people. I miss my world. It’s too hot here in the summer, too cold in the winter. I’d do anything to make things go back to the way they were.”

He’s moves behind the couch now, talons gripping the fabric tightly.

“I didn’t see your Grandfather again for a long time. Last year, however, he paid me a visit. He told he had something to apologize for. He said that he could not forgive me for killing his love. He said he had something that I needed, that he never gave to me. He said he had given it away. I didn’t deserve it, he told me. When he had come to see me all those years ago, he was so sure he wouldn’t return from the war. Then, he could offer me understanding, but not forgiveness. In seventy years, he said, that had not changed.”

He moves closer to me now, the fire casting wild shadows on his otter-like face. He looks more brown than green in the light, like he’s part of the cave walls.

“I realized later that he meant he had my key. He had my way home. If I hadn’t killed his love, he would’ve given it to me. Of course, I wouldn’t have killed her had his friends not killed my sister.”

“Which they wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t broken into people’s houses and terrorized them!” I protest.

“He had my key. So I came down from my hill and found his house and I asked him where it was. When he didn’t tell me, I killed him.”

My body coils with rage. I want to attack, to cry and bash his stupid face in, but he’s pressing me back towards the cliff face.

“He didn’t have the key, lad. It only follows that he gave it to someone else, someone special, perhaps. Maybe his Grandson?”

“No!” I cry. And I realize, in a sad way, that I’m right. He didn’t give it to me. Grandpa knew I would be in danger if I ever had the key and yet, like an idiot, I walked right to the most dangerous place I could possibly be in.

“I THINK YOU DO!” he roars. I see his arm raise, feel the talons ripping me apart, scattering me to pieces across the floor like a piece of glass, where I reflect the fire one thousand times over as he crushes every part of me to dust.

Instead, I’m shocked to hear my second gunshot of the day. A bullet whizzes above my head and through The Grinch’s arm. He howls in pain, stumbling back into the couch.

“Leave him alone you freak!” the last voice I ever expect to hear shouts. Cassie, my sister and now savior, comes bounding up the stairs and levels a hunting rifle at The Grinch. He rises, but stays where he is.

“Xander told us you had run off. You are a complete idiot, you know that?” she says to me.

“Yes,” I mumble.

“Don’t ever come near my family again.” She says to The Grinch. He growls a ferocious growl. She turns to me. “Come on, Theo.”

I don’t want to turn my back, because I’m scared he’ll come after us, but as I look him in the eye one last time, I see something. It’s sorrow. It’s complete despair, a loss of control; the inability to go back. And I can help him.

“Wait,” I say to Cassie. I pull the key out of my pocket and cross to him. I place it in his hand. “You can go back, but I’m not sure it will be the same. It’s not my choice though, just like it wasn’t my Grandpa’s. It’s yours.”

He grasps the key and his yellow eyes fill with tears. He only nods, looking at the ground instead of at me.

My sister and I turn and leave the cave, carefully navigating our way back down the mountain.

“Thanks.” I say as we walk through the snow. She pulls me into a one armed hug and holds me close as we head back, following the trails my Grandpa had painstakingly made through forest and back to his home.

 

 

 

History is Art! Take that, Sculpting! Part II

I’ll Hold My Breath for you, Mr. Crichton: When I was younger, maybe 13 or 14, I read a book called Prey, by Michael Crichton. It was terrifying and wonderful, and my mind was blown when I learned that the author of the book was the man responsible for Jurassic Park. I quickly picked up Crichton’s Dinosaur epic and was enthralled. It still, to this day, sticks in my mind as a book that, while different from the movie that ultimately came from it, was a book that I liked just as much as the movie and vice versa. I can’t think of a movie I liked more than the book (at least a movie based on a novel, not something like a Star Wars book).

In retrospect, the second and third Jurassic Park are pretty good, but nowhere near the first movie. They are, however, still movies that feel like a Jurassic Park movie.

Oh, the majesty. They’re just so… so beautiful…

I have not yet seen Jurassic World, its release date being this past weekend, but from the trailers and hype surrounding it, the fourth movie does not feel like a Jurassic Park movie. Watch the trailer for Jurassic World and then watch a trailer for San Andreas. They feel like the same movie just packaged differently. Please, don’t let the nostalgia get to you; Jurassic World already feels like it’s going to be a disappointment. I’m sure the effects will be amazing, but it’s the story that seems off. Jurassic Park wasn’t just a survive-the-horrors/disaster-porn sort of movie; we came to love the dinosaurs that eventually attacked the human characters. They captured our imagination and the human characters had a real connection to them. In a movie like San Andreas or Twister, the disasters that fall are less enchanting and more terrible, horrifying things. We don’t need to love an earthquake, we need to fear it. But in something like Jurassic Park, the love that grows in the first part of the movie fosters the fear from the second part. In Jurassic World, it seems like they’ve turned the dinosaurs into killing machines. We need not love them or be amazed by them, just fear them.

Who knows, maybe they’ll build up the first part of the movie as the park being a wonderful, enchanting place, but it feels more like it will come off as poorly written foreshadowing; ‘Oh wow, look at all the Pterodactyl! I hope a large number of them doesn’t somehow escape and terrorize the populace of the park, strangely picking someone up for no reason and dropping them in water, leaving them to drown. Dying is scary! So are Dinosaurs!’

It’s a numbers game to me. The first one was so good because it was a small group of people trying to survive a situation that pit them against a few dangerous foes.  The second one had more people and more faceless foes and it wasn’t as good. The third returned to the formula, the problem was that it felt a little phoned in.  I always hated scenes in movies that were just needless destruction and killing. It’s the difference between twenty random people dying at the hands of something dangerous and then the movie forgetting about them and the same scene playing, only with our main characters to connect to that scene in some way. Think needless deaths in any sort of Day After Tomorrow movie versus the scenes in The Avengers where NYC is under attack. Every scene where people’s lives are threatened connect to our main characters.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do hope Jurassic World is good, I’m just expecting to be let down. But please, let me be wrong.

 

Books In the News: If you haven’t heard, E.L. James is writing a new 50 shades of Grey novel from the point of view of the male…um, protagonist? Sex guy? I don’t know what to call him.

This is a bad thing. But I’m conflicted because it’s a book that will sell well so it is something that will help keep my store in business.

So… thanks E.L. James?

Actually, I’d rather she just didn’t write the damn thing. Really, it’s not going to be good.

I’d rather wait with the Jurassic park raptors, thanks.

We receive books in advance of their release date all the time. We get the books in a box with the release date labeled and just keep them safely tucked away, putting them out on their release date. Publishers label the boxes and sometimes let us know on an invoice when the book is being released, asking us not to put it out ahead of time.

When it comes to books coming our way before their release, I have never before seen a contract sent to us regarding not putting the book out early. We received such a contract for Grey. It was intense. We had to sign this contract that said we would not put any copies out  for sale early, give any away early, and keep it in a locked, secure room before its release date. We don’t even have the damn book yet! There must be something going on with the rights to the book now being owned by a movie studio wanting to keep their property safe.

But damn.

 

 

Adventures in Retail: I very much dislike when people make a fuss about the price of an item and then tell me, “You know, [Other Store] has [item] for [very cheap].” This happens every now and then with the price of books and Amazon. I don’t have the patience to explain to people why Amazon sells books for so cheap, but that’s a different issue. When it really bothers me is for gift-like items, such as candles, scarves and cards.

We are a bookstore, but have a wide selection of gift items like the ones previously mentioned; selling these items helps keep us in business. A quick look around the store tells you that they fit a certain style and clientele. One would think a quick glance around the store would key anyone in to the fact that we are not a convenience store.

So please, don’t complain that we don’t sell 99¢ cards or, as one woman informed in a huff while buying a candle, “You know they sell candles at Michaels for $10.” That is very clearly not the type of store we are.

Here, buy this. That can’t cost more than $10 I swear.

You don’t have to buy the candle. Don’t act like you’re doing me a favor by buying a candle, as if you were forced to do it. If you’re buying it as a last minute gift, maybe you should have thought ahead and made some time to go to Michaels? I hate feeling like I need to apologize for selling someone something.

That’s like apologizing for speaking too loud on stage in the middle of a play because I interrupted an audience member’s nap.

 

Check in for Part III next!

Andy Reads Books- April 2013

Hiatus over. Back to books.

I find myself in wild swings of reading this year. Last year, I read at least three books per month. This year, I find myself finishing one book one month and five the next month. Ah well, such is 2014.

But! Back to 2013. What a range of books last April brought me! I had just finished re-reading and finding my favorite quotes in all of the Christopher Moore I had, and so I decided to do the same with my favorite deceased author, Kurt Vonnegut. I love Kurt Vonnegut so much that I have his ‘self-portrait’ tattooed on my right shoulder, my first tattoo, done in 2008. http://tattoolit.com/post/64217618788/when-i-first-read-kurt-vonnegut-i-was-amazed-at I also read more Pirates! Books, my first Ian Flemming, and possibly the strangest but most interesting book I’ve ever read. Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Casino Royale (image from amazon.com)   To be honest, ever since my brother, my cousin and I played Goldeneye 64 I’ve been a fan of James Bond. We watched many of the movies, including one memorable occasion where the three of us watched Live and Let Die in Thessaloniki, Greece. As much as I enjoy the movies, however, I had never read a James Bond book. I decided on a whim to give one a shot, and ordered the first in the series.

I of course couldn’t help but compare the novel to the movie. I usually dislike reading a book after seeing a movie adaptation because I find the movie’s visual style pervades my imagination and shapes the picture of the book. Happily for me, Flemming’s novel escaped this curse. The tone of the book was incredibly different than the movie. I found the book moved at a steady pace with a steady climax; more intellectual than action packed. Bond sees his fair share of the fist and firearm, but he uses his brain far more often.

Daniel Craig’s Bond is human in that he can be hurt, both emotionally and physically, and so is Flemming’s Bond; but the novel also offers us a man that is not only calm, cool and collected, but also obsessive and sometimes too quick to make up his mind. In the book, James Bond doesn’t go around shooting people or jumping off pipes to chase down criminals. Instead, he methodically checks his hotel room each night to make sure no one has tripped his traps, he methodically plays cards, he uses his money to get what he wants. Sure, Bond gets in his fair share of scrapes and physical altercations, but James Bond is a spy more than an action hero and that was what was so enthralling about the novel. Flemming constantly keeps us in Bond’s head, and the reader feels like they are trying to thwart Bond’s enemies along with him. There’s even a love story that keeps us interested. And, may I add, a damn good drink recipe, the Vesper.

“Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”Casino Royale, Chapter 7

I found the book to be well worth the read and very well written. Flemming brings a character to life that we, the reader, can both admire and relate to. He creates high stakes. Bond is such a guarded character, it makes everything he holds close to him that much more important to lose.

2. The Pirates! In An Adventure With The Scientists!

Ah yes, back for more Pirates. Spoiler warning: we’re getting a double dose here. We start with my second experience in Gideon Defoe’s hilarious books and the first in the series. Here, the Pirate Captain and his loyal band of pirates, named after a distinguishing feature (Pirate with the Scarf, Albino Pirate, Pirate who loves kittens and Sunsets), meet up with Charles Darwin. After a bad tip from his arch-nemesis, Black Bellamy, the Pirate Captain accidentally sinks Darwin’s ship, mistaking it for an English bank ship. Feeling bad, The Pirate Captain agrees to take Darwin and his ‘man-panzee’ (who is really just a very smart chimp) back to England. Hilarity of course follows as Defoe brings another dose of irreverent humor, non sequitor, engaging characters and fun with history. I can’t recommend these books enough, they always left me wanting more and, luckily for me, this book came with another one in the back….

3. The Pirates! In an Adventure With Ahab

Each of these two books is only 100 pages and they exist back to back in the same volume of nautical themed hilarity. In this particular Pirate Tale, The Pirate Captain gets the crew in trouble by spending too much on a new ship. Beguiled by a ship salesman named Cutlass Liz,  the Pirate Captain sets off to find the White Whale, collect the reward for its capture, and save the crew’s shiny new ship. Along the way, he makes a rival in Captain Ahab and the two chase Moby Dick all over the world, including the casinos of nineteenth century Las Vegas.

Again, Defoe uses a good deal of off-the wall humor and his intentional use of anachronism makes the book even funnier. What I love about these books is that Defoe writes them as if nothing is off limits. It would not be surprising to me to open the pages of his next book and find out that the Pirate Captain somehow found a spaceship and is on the moon. Hell, one member of his crew is probably the Pirate From Mars or the Pirate Who Earned His Astrophysics Degree. These Pirate books are like a Monty Python sketch, an episode of the Simpsons, and a Terry Pratchett novel all rolled into one. I can only hope that Gideon Defoe is currently writing another.

4. Player Piano (image from wikipedia)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/18/Player_Piano.png

As I wrote earlier, my quest to finish tracking all my favorite quotes from my favorite living author, Christopher Moore, came to a close last March. I then decided I would do the same for my favorite departed author, Kurt Vonnegut.

With Mr. Vonnegut’s works, I decided to read them in the order they were written. The way I see it, Vonnegut’s works partially circle around Slaughterhouse-Five. Given the historiographical circumstances surrounding the plot of the book, namely the firebombing of Dresden, it sometimes seems like Vonnegut spent a long time avoiding writing about Dresden. In the beginning of the novel he says just as much.

But! More on that later!

Kurt Vonnegut’s early stories mainly focused on the frightening rate at which technology grew. Many of these themes are still relevant today, although the type of technology from these seems a bit antiquated now, much the same way the ‘futuristic’ devices the Jetsons used seem like a madman’s dream from six decades ago. Seriously, food pills?

In Player Piano, Vonnegut’s first novel, the theme of man vs. technology runs rampant. Paul Proteus, high-level engineer in Ilium, NY (sort of a fake Schenectady, supposedly in the same approximate location) finds his life thrown into chaos as he doubts the do-everything machines that he helps care for. He is a powerful high-up at a faux General Electric whose father was an even more powerful man. Paul lives in his father’s shadow and the ever constant pressure to keep the all-knowing machines running smoothly from everyone around him, including his boss, his friends, and his wife, Anita, who seems to have married him for his status more than anything else.

In Paul’s life, after a fictional third world war, Machines replaced people in the workforce. With everyone gone and no one to labor, men like Paul’s father invented Machines to take care of things. After the war ended and soldiers returned home they found their jobs taken by machines. Now, one can either keep the machines running like Paul, or find work in whatever way they can. This creates a large wealth gap exemplified by a division in the town. Paul’s side of town is for the rich, across the river is for the poor. When Paul’s old friend Finnerty comes to town, he must come to grips with his ever growing distrust of the way things work. Like a Player Piano, all manual skills are replaced by machines; and what could be worse than taking the soul of of music? Paul slowly realizes that a workforce made of machines is damaging, but before he can truly take one side, his wife leaves him and an ever-growing anti-machine resistance kidnaps him and uses him for their own plans.

A good deal of Vonnegut’s early work, mostly his short stories, dealt with the same themes Player Piano deals with; namely the unknown dangers of technology. Like most science fiction from that time, much of the story centers around machines damaging human lives. Unlike some of his other stories dealing with this theme, Vonnegut’s machines don’t physically damage people, but their mere existence causes them harm. Most of the workforce that made up the country in Player Piano is relegated to slum-like living conditions. Paul is painfully and blissfully unaware that people must live this sort of life, a fact more clearly demonstrated by his attempts to buy a farm and live technology free. The fact that he has the luxury to attempt to live a life some cannot choose to avoid separates him from the people he is kept away from, literally by a river that cuts through town.

This theme is hammered home more by a side story involving a Shah who visits America. As the Shah is shown America’s most impressive technological feats by the government, his language barrier prevents him from understanding what the machines do. The only thing he feels he has a good grasp on is that the other workers, those who have nothing to do with the machines and still get by doing whatever work is left to them, are slaves.

Looking back on these the themes of stories such as Player Piano, it is fun to pair our modern technology with the kind of technology that runs these worlds. Technology has moved faster and faster in the last ten years and it is funny to think that our modern Ipads and cell phones are essentially our version of these technologies. I don’t mean that in the sense that they are dangerous, more that they are our modern conveniences that are high-tech and created to benefit our lives. The funny part is then the idea of Ipads or cell phones or blue-tooth rising up and physically damaging the human race.

Vonnegut’s first novel remains more timeless than other similar stories of the time period because the idea that machines can just as easily damage human society is not an idea that has lost its value. As a protagonist, Paul is pulled in both directions of people advocating machines and people attempting to destroy them. He never truly makes up his mind as to what side he is on and is instead used by people close to him on both sides for their own gains. Paul’s plight is a familiar one. Technology is overwhelming at times, and it is hard to decide where one should place one’s attention. Today, we are constantly pulled in all sides from competing technology and, like Paul, sometimes those who advocate both for and those use us for their own gains.

As far as Vonnegut novels go, it’s not his strongest work. I did find that re-reading Player Piano was well worth it, as Vonnegut’s themes are still relevant today. If you haven’t read Vonnegut yet, don’t start with this. But! If you have read his work, I recommend picking this one up.

And, as always, I leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

“In short, Paul missed what made his father aggressive and great: the capacity to really give a damn.”

“Paul reflected that the big trouble, really, was finding something to believe in.”

“Things don’t stay the way they are… it’s too entertaining to try to change them.”

5. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. (image from Amazon)

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/91JyTAb5zVL._SL1500_.jpg

Um. Yeah.

Oh no, no, you read that right. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack.

What a peculiar journey this book was. It was apparently Mark Leyner’s first novel in fourteen years, and with he he makes a statement. It’s a tough one to describe, as is Mr. Leyner. A New York Times review published in 2012  says of the novelist, “Leyner’s greatest literary fear would seem to be that his reader might look away, so he crowds his pages with everything a rubbernecker could want: a twisted carnage of ideas and cultural objects high and low, as if your smartest professor in college were receiving tabloid transmissions through a filling in his tooth. Leyner wants to capture your gaze, or die trying.”

Okay, let’s try to describe the plot of this novel.

it begins with the creation of the universe. Not by any conventional God or gods, these are Mark Leyner gods. Gods like Fast-Cooking Ali, La Felina and Bosco Hifikepunye. These gods claim ownership of seemingly inane things, such as chicken tenders or the female behind (I guess that’s no so inane, it is an important thing).

In a very basic sense, the story follows Ike, who, in the course of his day, argues with his daughter’s boyfriend, has a tongue sandwich and then gets shot. Simple day, I suppose, but the novel is such much more than that. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is not only the novel, but an epic being told infinitely in the novel. Ike’s tale is recited and retold, exaggerated and riffed upon by bards holding cans of orange soda, rendered blind, of course. Ike has become a sort of Odysseus or likened hero, and the bards who recite do so in various ways that emulate Ike. They bang rings against their orange soda cans to signify the way Ike taps his foot. The Epic has become like a religious epic, but, Leyner lets us know that it is also under constant threat and revision by the god XOXOXO, so we can’t trust anything that is written.

The book is fun and different, it is certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

The novel becomes a chaotic sort of modern day Iliad or Aeneid, playing with the way these stories were passed down orally. Leyner weaves both the the story of what The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is about with what the story surrounding the Nutsack is. We are offered a strange timeline of the events of Ike’s day that are told and retold over and over again. It is a constant mix of pop-culture references mixed with Homer mixed with a reality TV show. It is most definitely weird, that’s the only way I can describe it, but it is also slightly genius in a way. Once you catch on the what Leyner is doing, the novel takes on a new life. It was slightly repetitive at times and didn’t really offer that solid story that makes a piece of fiction so great, but if you’re looking for something out of the box and wildly different, give The Sugar Frosted Nutsack a shot.

There. This took too long to piece together and was too much of a hiatus. Hopefully, the next entry will come more quickly.

Cheers.

Short Story- The Diary of Jonathan P. Willowbuss

The Diary of Jonathan P. Willowbuss

Day 1: I have resolved to set sail for the new world.  England has grown tiresome, and so I shall leave her behind. Like a woman I no longer love and who no longer loves me, she will be behind me. That is to say that the general direction I will be facing will be forward, and England will be at my back and therefore behind.

Father says I cannot be a writer but I challenge that!

I cannot think here anymore. Here the foggy nights cloud my mind over and I feel weak. I hear the new world is a splendid place full of sun and palms. I ache for warmth in the cold autumn.

That was pretty descriptive, I don’t know why father detests my writing so.

Julia, the girl I adore, shares father’s opinion. She loves me, I know she does, but she cannot see the value in the life of a writer.

I shall embark this afternoon. I keep this diary as a means of collecting stories that flock to me during my time in the new world. Someday, I will write a brilliant narrative based on these tales. I sip my morning tea with anticipation. The journey will be difficult, but I am ready. I am ready to prove myself. I will show father I am a man. I will prove to Julia that I am to be a worthy husband.

Day 2: I vomited over the side of the ship and the crew laughed at me. Our ship is The Gooseneck, named after the clam. I thought it was a silly name for a ship and suggested The Moon Lightning but the crew only laughed at me again. It is a spice ship, sent to the new world to collect the various peppers and sugars, just as I set off to collect peppers and sugars to add the flavours of spicy and sweet to my stories. All this thinking of flavours has upset my stomach again. I must relieve myself once again.

Day 4: Tonight at dinner I read a poem to the crew. I think they enjoyed it, although one or two sniggered. They were particularly fond of my comparing them to Albatross and me to gentle whale; admiring them from afar, wistfully beneath the sea.  Cracking good poem if I do say so myself.

Day 5: I saw Dolphins! They were beautiful creatures. I first mistook them for sharks and attempted to shoot them when Leon, the Captain, wrenched the gun from my hands and informed me they were the harmless jesterss of the sea.  Swim you jolly fools! Swim!

Day 7: Found the crew reading my poems and laughing at me. Not very nice of them. I am upset and have retired to my quarters for the remainder of the voyage.

Also, I must say their impression of me is nothing like me. I do not sound like a woman nor do I have ‘little chicken-boy legs’. Ingrates.

Day 23: I have not made an entry for some time, but I have been busy absorbing the wonders the New World has to offer. It is perpetually warm here and when it rains it is like the sky has built up an ocean that it needs to let out. I have been living on a tiny settlement next to a native village by the sea. Their habits are extraordinary and for an Englishman such as myself, refreshingly different. For example, every day Large Wilson, their chief, takes four men to go fishing for the night’s meal. Today, they caught many large fish and there was much rejoicing. I call the chief Large Wilson because I could not understand the chief’s native tongue when he introduced himself to me. Needing a way to refer to him, I nicknamed him Large Wilson, due to both his height and his uncanny albeit darker skinned resemblance to Wilson Pendergast, my riding companion. I have written Wilson already to inform him of his doppelganger here in the New World.

I have also written Father and Julia, expounding upon the wondrous sights and foods this land has to offer. I shall give my letters to the next ship that sails into port.

Day 25: I have taken on the role of designated water carrier, but the small stream where we get our water has begun to dry up. The waterfall has grown smaller and smaller. The natives seem worried but I keep assuring them there is an ocean full of water to drink!

Day 26: We have begun to ration water. Already, the diarrhea has come to our small village. Resolved to fix the problem, I collected water from the sea today instead of the waterfall. When Large Wilson drank it, he vomited and smacked me. ‘No water from sea!’ he exclaimed. I told him there was no reason to be so picky and drank a large gulp myself.

Ocean water is not drinkable! It burned like judgment day had descended upon my throat. I dry heaved for a quarter hour. The tribe seems very upset with me.

Day 27: It turns out the waterfall I believed to be drying up was only a small one on the wrong side of the small island we call home. It appears I was following my hand drawn map incorrectly. Large Wilson was displeased when I showed him the dried up little waterfall.

‘Not this!’ he exclaimed testily. He lead me about a half mile the other direction to a raging waterfall with a deep, clear pool at its base.

‘Here!’ he said.

‘Oh! Splendid. Sorry to worry everyone!’ He only grumbled and walked away.

I must win his respect back in some way…

Day 31: The natives talk in hushed tones of an exquisite visitor due to arrive tomorrow. From what I can gather, he is their God. I have decided in order to win Large Wilson’s respect I must kill this God and take my place as deity to these poor natives. It will be my greatest feat yet.

Day 32: As the Natives waited for their god, I laid in wait inside my hut. When I heard the Chief exchange greetings with this unknown all-powerful deity, I rushed from my hut, brandishing a bucket of ocean water. I believed it to be a toxic substance and therefore a deadly weapon. It certainly tastes the part. Well, as I ran down the beach screaming, I saw the god: A hairy, four legged beast with brown, matted fur and pointed ears. It truly was a noble, majestic creature that tensed as it heard my scream. I threw the ocean water at the creature and held my breath, expecting it to melt or explode or turn into the Devil himself. Instead, the creature merely shook itself off and turned to me. When it began licking my hand, I realized it was an ordinary dog. It seemed to enjoy the water bath and in fact and was very fond of me. I then realized that Large Wilson was in mid-handshake with Lord George Gingham, appointed mayor of this native province and a companion of my father.

The evening was spent catching up, and it was good to see Lord Gingham. I sent my first letters along with another set with his Ship for when he returns home. He promised to deliver them to Father by hand! Sweet fellow. His dog, Yale, was quite happy to see me and spent most of the night licking my hand. I am relieved there was no god. Being a deity sounded quite stressful.

Day 35: I truly have made a fool of myself now. Today, as I went to fetch the water, I came upon one of the native lads in the throngs of battle with a wild pig. Fearing for the boy’s life, I shot the pig. When the crack of my gun faded in to the distance, the boy turned to me furiously.

“You kill my pig!” he screamed at me. I explained that he was in great danger but he was not ready to listen. He threw a rock at my head and stormed off into the forest.

It turns out that young Lupitti, the boy, was fulfilling the tribal right of becoming a man by killing a wild boar. By interfering, I have robbed the boy of his chance to become a man. He has sulked all evening and ate dinner with the women. I feel terrible. I must remedy the situation.

Day 37: Lupitti has taken to wearing ladies garb and throwing rocks at me. To show solidarity, I too spent today wearing ladies clothing. Because of this, the men threw fish innards at me and called me names. I have returned to my normal clothing. I feel bad for Lupitti, but there is only so much fish anus a chap can have thrown his way.

Day 38:A party of Spaniards came to our settlement today. The natives, fearing them, presented them with elaborate gifts so as not to be killed. Or so I assumed. I told Large Wilson that there was no need to worry, that he was under English protection and, may I remind him, that we had thumped the Spanish Armada thoroughly. As I reminded the Spanish Captain of this defeat, he proceeded to pack away his goods. The Spanish, obviously still smarting from their embarrassing defeat, left in a tizzy. Large Wilson smacked my head again and explained that the Spanish were good trade partners. I believe I may have offended them and that they may not come again. Lupitti continues to throw rocks at me.

Day44: I have had a quiet few days until today. As I explored the island a bit, I came across a beautiful gemstone. Returning to the village, I showed the gem to Large Wilson who turned white as a ghost. He told me the precious stone belonged to their rival tribe and that they would surely think we had stolen it.

“Nonsense.” I assured him. “I will simply explain the situation. If there is one thing we English are good at that, it is apologizing for mishaps.”

A few hours later, a large group of rival tribesmen appeared. Their leader wore copper about his person in many places and snarled at us like a tiger. He and Large Wilson exchanged some words for a moment. Large Wilson then approached me and whispered in my ear:

“You may talk. Do not make bad.” He glared at me as I approached the rival chief.

“Oh, great chief!” I began, “There has been a terrible mix up. You see, I found this gem by accident.” I pulled them gem out of my pocket and showed it to the chief. His fellow tribesmen must have taken this as an aggressive act, because within a few seconds swords were drawn and pointed at me. It was at this moment that something in me snapped. My frustration with all my mix-ups loomed large over me and compelled my temper to burst forth like a great sea monster. I pulled my gun out and pointed it at the chief.

“Put down your swords or I will kill this man!” I screamed. Behind me, Large Wilson made frantic disapproving motions in an attempt to stop me. The swordsmen looked to their chief, confused. The chief’s brown eyes seemed to peer into my soul.

“Take it! I demand you take the gem!” I shouted, shoving the stone at the man. I grabbed his hand and thrust the stone into his palm. He looked at it blankly, then back at me. His countenance changed drastically as he smiled wide, laughing raucously. His swordsmen followed, laughing tentatively at first. Soon, everyone was laughing including me. The chief imitated me brandishing my weapon, laughing harder each time they did. After what felt like hours of laughing, the men departed. We breathed a collected sigh of relief and headed back to the village. I had finally done something right.

Day 47: I killed a snake twice as long as a man today. It scared me half to death and advanced upon me, so I shot it. The natives believe I have killed a sacred spirit and spit on me to ward off evil. Lupitti now throws rocks and spits on me. It has been a long day.

Day 50: As I stood by the ocean this evening, I brought my pipe along to see if I can map out a star chart. Smelling my tobacco, Large Wilson, his brother, and his sister’s husband came to me inquiring what as to what it was. I explained the pipe to them and showed them the aged tobacco I had brought with me. They took turns sharing the pipe and, in gratitude, shared some of their home-brewed alcohol with me. I fear I may have become a bit too tipsy and now find myself doodling Julia without her clothing. Ooops. Perhaps I should not have written that. Enclosed is a drawing. Oops.

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Day 51: I fear I may have gone too far this time. I woke up early this morning, beating the sun and feeling as though the Grim Reaper was en route to my doorstep. When I stumbled to the latrine to relieve myself, I lit a match to find my way. Unfortunately, I accidentally dropped the lit match into a jug of fermenting alcoholic beverage, which proceeded to explode in flames, burning down the temple and adjoining Shaman’s hut. The poor chap, infuriated at me, blew some sort of powder I believe was made of dried up birds in my face. He keeps cursing me and waving his Shaman wand in my face. To make matters worse, when the fire broke I did not realize I had caused it with a jug of alcohol. Believing the nearest jug to be water, I attempted to douse the flames with it, only spreading the flames and burning down Lupitti’s home. I may have gone too far over the edge today. I hide in my hut, taking no visitors. Large Wilson has already come looking for me three times today. Rocks have been flying all evening. I think Lupitti is waiting for me, possibly to kill me. I wait in fear.

Day 52: I fell asleep in terror last night and awoke this morning on a ship. From what I can gather, the natives paid this particular crew to take me from their village, fearing I was an Omen from their evil gods. Apparently, the crew accepted a small fortune to get rid of me. So I return to England. I will miss my friends in the new world but am glad to be returning home. I can hold my head high knowing my adventures have changed me for the better. I return to Father and Julia a new man: One ready for life’s most challenging moments.

Perhaps I’ll read a poem to the crew.

Andy Reads Books- March, 2013

From what country do I favor my authors to be? I’ve always read a mixture of American and British fiction. British fiction is wonderfully different from American fiction. My guess is I could tell you the nationality of an author based on the reading the book. Say, if you blindfolded me…and I ate the book? Damn.Wait.

Well, anyway, here is the breakdown of the nationalities of the authors I read this year.

American- 14

British- 8

Australian- 1

Scottish- 1

The authors I read were predominantly American, which is not surprising. I enjoy that I had one Australian and Scottish author in there as well. So far, I believe It’s a 1-1 tie of British and American authors (Tolkien and Moore). All that is about to change. In March, I made it to five books and a 3-2 ration of American to British authors. Here they are.

1. Snuff (image from wikipedia)

As soon as we got this book at the bookstore, I bought it. My love of Terry Pratchett goes back to Good Omens, a book Pratchett authored with another favorite of mine, Neil Gaiman. After reading Good Omens, I decided to give Mr. Pratchett a chance. I jumped in to Thud! and was thoroughly confused.

Terry Pratchett’s novels take place in a world of his own invention, the Discworld. Discworld is a large, flat world that sits atop the back of Four Elephants who, in turn, sit atop the back of The Great A’Tuin, a giant turtle who flies through space.

Pratchett’s novels often mirror our own world (the Discworld is a parallel universe to our own) and it’s great fun when it all clicks. I always describe Pratchett like the Lord of the Rings mashed together with Monty Python. The Discworld takes place in what is essentially late nineteenth-century England. I didn’t know that when I picked up Thud, and for a while I imagined it was modern day England.Once I realized what was going on, I caught on fast .

All likes of magical creatures exist in Pratchett’s world, some a bit more old-school fairy tale based than the post-Tolkien world much contemporary fantasy exists in. For example, pixies, gargoyles, werewolves and vampires all exist. Some Tolkien-esque creatures grace the pages as well, including Dwarves and Trolls. Snuff focuses on a much maligned race in Pratchett’s cannon: Goblins.

In the same way the locations and races of the Discworld mirror our own, so do Pratchett’s themes. He has previously played with technology, conflict in the middle east, culture shock, and in Snuff he explores inequality. The Goblin race is treated very poorly, much like Untouchables in Indian culture or slaves in the age of Mercantilism.

The main character is my favorite from Pratchett’s works, Commander Sam Vimes. Vimes is essentially the Police Chief of Ank-Morpork, the Discworld equivalent to London. He is a no nonsense type of man who started at the bottom and clawed his way to the top. In this novel, Vimes is forced to go on vacation. While in the country, Vimes learns the people of the village are using Goblin slave labor to manufacture cigars and then smuggle them into Ank-Morpork. Vimes is disgusted with the treatment Goblins receive and aims to straighten the mess out.

I enjoyed Snuff, although not as much as previous Pratchett works. His recent books have lost a bit of their old humor and taken on more of a serious tone. His previous book, Unseen Academicals, dealt with the same themes of inequality and progressive thinking in an otherwise old-fashioned society. Pratchett is as wonderful as ever, and I look forward to reading his new book, Raising Steam. 

That will come sooner than later for me because one perk of working at a Bookstore is getting free uncorrected proofs of books. And what did Andy receive?

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2. Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. (image from MHBbooks.com)

Kurt Vonnegut is my other favorite author (aside from Chris Moore, remember?) and I picked this up at the bookstore and read through it fairly quick. It contains Vonnegut’s last interview before his death in 2007 along with a few other conversations, the best addition being the interview he and Joseph Heller (Catch-22) gave for Playboy in 1992.

The book itself was worth a read, considering that it was only 166 pages, but it was only a compilation of interviews. Reading what Vonnegut has to say about his career and how he frames it was insightful. Vonnegut was in the German city of Dresden when it was firebombed during WWII, and his  most famous novel, Slaughterhouse Five, is a semi-autobiographical-but-still-fiction-with-aliens account of his time in the city as a prisoner of war. Vonnegut’s feelings on the bombing and time it took for him to write in full regarding the incident are a great representative of the Historiography of Dresden. Because the city was bombed by the Allies it was, for a period of time, looked over. As time passed, the bombing of a city with little to no military significance and a death toll comprised mainly of citizens became a point of contention, and many wondered if it was a war crime. Vonnegut kept silent about Dresden for a while, his fiction touching on other topics instead. Finally, almost fifteen years after his first novel, Vonnegut wrote about his experience. His novel reflects the anti-war, not-everything-America-did-was-perfect attitude that came about years later.

I love the interview he did with Heller. The two were good friends and the interview reads like they got together for cocktails by the pool to talk. They are both rather tongue-in-cheek the entire time and my favorite part comes about halfway through when Heller mentions that he is writing a sequel to Catch-22, the book that would later become Closing Time. He says to Kurt right then and there that he is going to write him in as a character in his book. Vonnegut pretty much just says, ‘Okay, cool!’ and that’s that. And it happened. Heller wrote a small character who had survived the bombing of Dresden, a man named Vonnegut. So there you go. BFFs.

I conclude this passage with this picture of Mr. Vonnegut that looks like a selfie.

Kurt-Vonnegut-in-1983

Brilliant.

3. Villa Incognito (image from wikipedia)

When my girlfriend and I started dating, she told me frequently that I needed to read the book Still Life With Woodpecker. Eventually, I did. I absolutely loved it and subsequently fell in love with the novels of Tom Robbins.

I’ve never read anyone who can make metaphors like Robbins. Before this, I had read Woodpecker and Skinny Legs and All. I decided to give this one a shot because, like Moore’s Coyote Blue,  one of the characters is a god. Specifically Tanuki from Japanese lore.

If you need a refresher, a Tanuki is a raccoon dog.

In Japanese Mythology, Tanuki floated down from the heavens using his scrotum as a parachute.

Also, Mario wears a Tanuki suit.

Robbins’ novel is about three American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. At war’s end, instead of coming home, they escaped to the jungle and lived in secret, hiding from the government for almost forty years. A great-great granddaughter of Tanuki is the female protagonist and fiance of one of the hiding American soldiers.

The book explores themes of patriotism and mysticism and begs the question, where is home? Where do we come from? Where do we belong?

As I read more Robbins later in the summer, I found Villa didn’t live up to some of his other works, but it is his most recent and most definitely worth a read. It is full of wonderful characters, a nice dose of mythology, exotic landscapes, and Robbins’ poetic language.

4. Sacre Bleu (image from nitlitebookreviews.com)

Until later this year when the sequel to Fool; The Serpent of Venice, comes out, this is Christopher Moore’s most recent work. Hopefully I can catch Mr. Moore when his book tour comes through the city.

Now, Moore’s books have, in my opinion, very clever, absurd, and inspired plots. Sacre Bleu is no exception. Our hero is Lucien, baker/painter living in late nineteenth century France. He grew up in the thick of the Impressionist movement in France. His father, also a painter and baker, was inspired by his artist friends. He died when Lucien was young, leaving Lucien to take over the Bakery and the unfulfilled dreams of a painter.

The action of the story begins with Vincent Van Gogh who, in a twist on reality, is shot (Van Gogh’s death is in the history books as a suicide) by a broken, twisted little man. The news of Van Gogh’s ‘suicide’ reaches Lucien and his best friend, painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. We soon learn that the twisted little man who killed Van Gogh is known as the ‘Colorman’. He and his friend Bleu, a muse who inhabits the bodies (mostly women) of those who inspire painters. Once they are inspired, the painter uses the blue Aquamarine color the Colorman sells them. The color, on canvas, is infused with the love and inspiration of the painter. This is used to make more blue paint and keep Bleu and the Colorman living eternally. Lucien and Henri discover they are both victims of this viscious cycle, but when Bleu falls in love with Lucien, things get complicated.

The book features many real Impressionist painters as characters, and again, Moore’s careful and detailed research makes the book that much better. I have the hardcover version of the book, which features blue text and full color paintings. When Moore refers to a particular piece, it appears in full, glorious color for reference. My favorite is Monet’s ‘St. Lazare Train Station’

I was dismayed to learn that the paperback version of the book is in black and white. How the hell can you read a book that constantly references paintings that all feature the color blue when the paintings included are in black and white!? That’s like telling someone all about your trip to China then showing them postcards. It’s almost the same, but not exactly what you were going for.

This story is a rich and humorous as Christopher Moore’s best works. My recommendation: get a hardcover copy. It is well worth it.

And of course, some quotes.

“…being of noble birth myself, if I were to discriminate on the accident of birth I’d have to eschew the company of you horseshit commoners, and then who would I drink with?”

“He shrugged eloquently, his Oops, I accidentally frightened the maid with my penis and shot the one-eared Dutch painter, couldn’t be helped shrug.”

“Better than a bear on a bicycle eating a nun.”

“She is too beautiful, I think, to not be inherently evil.”

5. Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics (image from wikipedia)

This is not the cover of the version I have, but these books seem to be under everyone’s radar. This was, hands down, the funniest book I read last year. It is the fifth book in a series by British author Gideon Defoe.

The main character of the book is the Pirate Captain and, along with his crew of other pirates, he sails the seas to do Piratey things. The other pirates are known by descriptors, such as the Pirate with the Scarf or the Pirate who loved kittens and sunsets, or the Pirate in green. The Pirate Captain is not the brightest bulb in the box, but he is admired by his crew. The book begins with the Pirates in Geneva, Switzerland, with the Pirate Captain attempting to get a loan. When he finds he cannot (he tells the banker that he lives no life, that he’s ‘Never tasted the salty air on your tongue and waved heartily at a mermaid!’), he and the rest of the pirates find they are in need of money. They are saved by a chance meeting with Lord Byron, Percy Shelly and Mary Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelly). Byron is just as big a blowhard as the Pirate Captain and the two get along famously. The Pirate crew are hired by the romantic Writers to give them an adventure which they travel to England to accomplish.

The book is like one big Monty Python sketch. Defoe keeps you laughing the whole way through. Whether it be the pirate crew’s lack of intelligence, love of ham, the Captain’s crazy antics, or the comedic straight man the Pirate with the Scarf, there are plenty of reasons to pick this book up. I would often read on the Subway and find myself laughing hysterically out loud. Defoe uses plenty of recall in his humor as well, as the Pirates often do the same things over and over. At the beginning of each book, for example, they are always discussing if something is better than something else. The Pirate captain inevitably waltzes in, says something that makes no sense to anyone but him, and goes about his business.

If you want a quick, hilarious read, then pick this book up. It is so,so,so worth it.

Phew. Done. More for next month, including more Pirates! YAR.

So, it’s a Blog.

Okay then! I suppose an introduction is in order.

Now, you may be thinking; Why should I read another thing on the internet? Particularly a blog? Doesn’t everyone have one of those?

If you are thinking that, then you obviously hate the internet. Just accept it. Then continue reading. Why? Because you’re already here.

My intent is for this to be less of a blog and more like a collection of essays. Think of it as an unpublished book of essays by me, Andy. Perhaps it has a cool title, like ‘The Whale and the Petunias’ or ‘Reflections of a life lived as a small Lithuanian Crossing Guard: Essays by me, Andy.”

Perhaps this is the Author photo on the back page:

(photo by Christopher Bacon)

(photo by Christopher Bacon)

At any rate, I, like many human beings on earth (or perhaps other planets, some Science Fiction authors may have you believe) have many interests. This blog/book of essays on the internet will reflect this.

In short: I have no theme. Just some things to write about.

Perhaps you’ll pick up on my writing influences. (Turn to page 261 for the answers!) [The answers are: Kilgore Trout, that monkey that can do sign language, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy in Doctor Doolittle, and J.M.M Llewellyn.] My hope is that these influence shine through and make my blog/Hardcover #1 NY Times Bestseller Book of Essays a more relatable experience for all.

Oh, and some basics about me. My name is Andy. I live in New York City. I am an Actor.

And so it begins.