Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tap, tap, tap....
"Now, I have to remember how I did this?"
Tap, tap, tap... pause... tap, tap, tap.
"I did one of these -last week?"
"That's not right. Why is it giving me..."
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap-tap.
"Okay, so you'll need $5,000 for the down." Scratches head. "That doesn't look right. Let me try..."

(20 minutes later)

Tap, tap, tap...
"Wait. Alright, based on this, you won't need a down. That's covered. Hmmm... No, no, no. (sigh) Let me try it this way."

(20 minutes later)

Tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap, backspace... tap.
"Okay, You'll need $2,000 at closing."

In the course of an hour, the amount of money we need to have down (and the money is not in hand) went from five thousand dollars to zero to two-thousand dollars. I think if we'd stayed longer, we might have had a couple of more quotes.

As a snapshot of why the economy might be the way that it is... this might not be a bad example. Meanwhile, I'm checking the want-ads for second jobs, looking at creative ways to stretch our finances. I've got the grocery bill down. We're running on pancakes and beans and rice. I'm starting to take money saving tips from Les Miserables.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I just barely got these nailed down, but in my own defense, I went against my own advice and started a book dealing with Buddhism. Those tend to slow me down since I try to think about what's being said. More about that next week.

Fargo Rock City: Chuck Klosterman -God bless you, Chuck. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I feel a little better about the crap I listened to growing up. As has been mentioned before, my musical tastes are a bit suspect. I was into Billy Idol, Iron Maiden, Huey Lewis and The News and often whatever was in medium rotation on MTV. I was stationed at the the farthest outpost from cool. I owned both a Ratt and an Air Supply album.

Klosterman's book revisits mostly glam/pop metal, the music the two of us grew up on. It looks at the history of the genre's movement, where it came from and how it died (Damn you, Cobain). It's a funny, light read, full of insight and takes to task the poseurs (which was virtually everybody) in a sentimental way. There were times I laughed my ass off. He had wonderfully awful, but smart things, to say about Guns N Roses, Ratt, Poison and Motley Crue --bands with occasionally dubious artistic qualities, but bands he nevertheless loves. He also reminded me, an honest to goodness fan is more than justified to rant and rail, even against bands they love. It's okay to bitch. You can love something completely without having to drink the Koolaid.

The Namesake: Jhumpa Lahiri -This one won the Pulitzer prize. Look at the size of my brain, people.

The novel follows the story of Gogol Ganguli, an ABCD (American Born Confused Deshy -means, basically, east Indian born in the west), the child of Indian immigrants, as he tries to find equilibrium in a western culture that doesn't really understand him and an eastern culture he often rejects.

The book takes a careful approach to how the two societies mix (both view each other with curiosity, but consider the other, in some way, inferior). Lahiri does a remarkable job of capturing some of the wonder and difficulty of the immigrant experience without screaming intolerance at the top of her lungs. She doesn't try to put anybody on a pedestal and neatly sidesteps turning this into an Indian-American fairytale with a crowd-pleasing traditional Bollywood ending.

It's a wonderful piece of fiction and truly, a great American novel.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Late night blogging leads to maudlin posts...

The other day I was talking with someone. No big surprise, I'm kind of an "over-sharer," meaning I tend to speak a little too much about personal matters. I guess I feel a bit overwhelmed at times with my various roles as a father, a husband, a friend, even as an employee. I tell little stories about the strange things that happen to me, often cast in a humorous light. It's better to find the joke, I think. Real life, every one's life, is a little disturbing.

The friend I was talking to, a kind ear, was remarking very positively how they thought I was a good man. I'd taken on what I didn't have to. Others would have stepped aside, and I've thought about that a lot this weekend.

What I didn't say, but should have, is I'm not that great. I'm not that good. The sly, silent observers know this to be true.

The truth is I'm better with the people I've chosen in my life than without. This was accidental. I didn't choose to be a parent or a husband again because I thought it would make a better me. I didn't think of it that way. My improvements, and I think I've grown, are because of the people I've chosen to spend my days and nights with. Certainly, I didn't expect some of the weirdness or the conflict, but there have been good things, too. A lot of them.

No matter what else, I have always gotten the better end of the deal.

Friday, March 27, 2009


There was a point about a year ago when I went into a Kohl's store to get things for my daughter. She needed some kind of outfit for a school concert. I remember watching people piling clothes into carts and pushing them up to the register while I looked around for black pants.

I don't buy clothes new. I haven't bought a new shirt, a pair of pants or even a new pair of shoes in over a year and a half. Actually, my mother bought me my last pair of tennis shoes, which ended up in the trash after the cat vomited on them a few months ago. They were on their last legs anyway. The gaping hole on the outside of the shoe was getting hard to ignore.

Partly, my staying away from major retail outlets is a natural inclination. I get more interesting stuff at Goodwill. I like the thrill of the hunt. It's fun to come out of a second hand store with an Armani tie you paid three bucks for. I'm always on the look out for another ivy league school t-shirt. Mostly, however, it's economy. When you're clothing budget is twenty bucks for a season (or two), you look to where that twenty will go the farthest.

Anyway, walking inside that full-on retail store I felt alien and unwanted among the shoppers. In our culture, having the ability to purchase is considered power. You are driven to judge yourself on what you can afford. Sure, you can deflect part of that. You can say to yourself it doesn't mean anything. Things don't matter. They are just things, but they aren't. The constant bombardment of messages reminds you you're inferior, you can't provide as well for yourself or your family as others because whatever you do is always making do.

That day I was powerless and couldn't wait to get out the door.

I don't go into stores any more. I haven't been to Target since before Christmas (where I did most of my Christmas shopping), haven't seen the inside of a Wal-mart since last summer and that trip to Kohl's was the last time I went into a clothing store of my own freewill. These are places where I'm not welcome any more.

Last night was the first time I remember feeling that way at a grocery store. At least, it was the first time in a good, long while.

I'm just an average guy. My wife and I both have okay jobs and health insurance. On paper, we're part of either the upper lower class or the lower middle class -at least for the area. I have no idea how people one rung down are making it.

I'm starting to think we're all fucked.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Total disclosure

Here's the new blog... This is just to divide topics. I'm not closing this blog down, but rather focusing more of my attention of music and entertainment related stuff to the other blog. Painful admissions, dull talk about what I'm reading or writing and the like will still be here. Over there, I'll try to keep my attention on music, pop culture and how it relates to me or the local scene.

Anyway... Here's the new place.

Pretty original name, huh?

Monday, March 23, 2009


Three more this week...

The 20 minute Gardener: Tom Christopher/Marty Asher -This is a book for those of us who vainly hope to raise a garden in their backyard, but who can't seem to find the time. One of these days, I'll have a little place where I can raise peppers, garlic and herbs. I dream of having fruit trees and keeping weird flowers. I also think it would be great if I could grow dope on the front porch (which I could trade for tomatoes and pretty much everything else the neighbors grew), which seems about as likely as me having a cherry tree and a peach tree in the backyard. Anyway, this book gives some basic information and a lot of encouragement. It makes the idea of trying a small, manageable garden seem possible --if not entirely probable in my case.

The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs: Irvine Welsh -Not his usual work. I like Welsh, but several of his books (Trainspotting, for example) are disjointed, stream of consciousness kind of things heavy on image and mood. They can seem very non-linear. The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs is a straightforward story about Danny Skinner and Brian Kibbey, who are bound under an odd curse. Whatever evils befall or are inflicted on one are transferred to the other.

What makes it fun is they hate each other. In standard Welsh form, the contemptible (Skinner) takes out his rage on the innocent (Kibbey) through self-debasement. He takes a crippling amount of booze and drugs, gets hurt and manages to force poor Kibbey into a hospital.

The book revisits Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Corsican Brothers, only with a wry sense of humor and a deeper emotional contract with the characters. The conclusion is a bit predictable, but Welsh manages to twist it, making it deliberately unsatisfying. He purposely takes the joy out of Skinner's deserved retribution. Irvine Welsh is a weird, but brilliant asshole.

Democracy Matters: Cornel West - Ugh. Okay, growing up, my best friend's dad was a barely educated hothead who worked at the local factory. He chain-smoked cheap cigarettes and when he was in a mood, would explain all of life's mysteries. He bemoaned the fact people couldn't walk around all the time armed like Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior. He saw many of the country's problems as the cause of overeducated idiots, well-meaning busy bodies who didn't get out much --oh, and mysteriously, black people. I could never figure that one out.

Giles County was something like 3 percent black and 97 percent white... and my friend's father scarcely left the county.

Anyway, regardless of whatever truth was in what he was complaining about, it all came down to the usual complaints of who was screwing things up. When necessary, he revised events to make them fit. He changed the context of things, altered their motivations, and made weird leaps of logic. Most of the time, he seemed to say, all the problems of the world would be solved if everyone would just do what he said.

I think Cornel West and my friend's dad would have gotten along famously. While West's usual drumbeat of "blame the white man" is still a lot of fun to listen to, it's myopic and oversimplified. He focuses on black/white race issues, but glosses over the other varieties. He puts some weight behind condemning Christian and Jewish groups (particularly white groups) for their intolerance and political stands, but seems to soft-soap Islam. He also puts far too much value on the blues, jazz and hip-hop culture as being powerful instruments of democratic political change. Um... no.

To me, West's book sounded like a lot of cherry-picking to support an antagonistic view of America that verges on parody. It was a difficult kind of read and unsatisfying. I keep thinking I should have gotten something besides a feeling West is highly educated, very well-spoken, but ultimately narrow-minded.

I'll have to read something else by him, give it another go. Maybe I'm missing something.

One more time... with feeling.

I can now go back to my story about the snakes. My little book "Click" has been cut, reprocessed and punched up. I remember it started off as 135,000 words. It's now at 81,000. The cuts make sense to me and the story is tighter, though still pretty damned weird and hopefully, funny and a little touching.

In any case, this 5th full revision and repair is finished. I could use a drink. It's been a couple of years since I've had a good glass of bourbon. Buddhists are supposed to lay off the sauce and I'm inclined to follow, but if I land an interested party, it sounds like a fair reward.

So, we'll start sending it out again. This time around, I'll mix it up between publishers who accept unagented material and agents. We'll see if either bite. Last Fall's process was humbling, but maybe I'll catch a break in the spring. Part of the book deals with a corrupt bank, which makes it accidentally topical.

Meanwhile, tomorrow we get back to work with "The Snake handlers of Lee County," which is about half-rewrite. A lot of it is fine, but a bunch of it isn't. I'm also thinking of sending out portions of the book out for consideration as short stories. Some of these can stand alone.

Hopefully, I'll have a completed and readable book by the end of Spring.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Return of music blogging

It's been a while, but I'm going to start blogging again about music and entertainment, particularly the behind the scenes stuff like how bands manage to get publicity, how they often fail and a bit about the mind-numbing bullshit that goes on behind the scenes. It will be a lot like the Mountain Stage blog, only without a meaningful agenda, good pictures or actual music to listen to.

I actually sort of like their blog. It's not as loose as I'd like it to be, but they have to behave themselves. Whether an artist is swell or swine, they might want them on the show again. Some of the people who are great performers are not just difficult, they're giant-sized dickweeds. Their mission is to focus on the talent and overlook the goofiness.

I'm not so burdened.

And just to keep things a little less confusing, I'll run a companion blog to this one. Yes, Rusty... no need to send me another letter. This would be full disclosure, buddy. Plus, the new blog will be less of the personal stuff, my baggage and whatnot. I'll stick to music and entertainment stuff.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


My family has been looking into buying a home. If it were just me, I wouldn't care. I've wanted to travel light since the beginning, since as far back as I can remember. Renting is fine with me. I have friends who own homes and property. They bitch about repairs and taxes and the dissatisfaction with their rooms, roof and lawn.

The things you own end up owning you. My old man said that. He was quoting someone else, but it's good advice.

But... be head of household for a family like mine, where you're always a little afraid of the neighbors and the landlord, and owning something that can't be taken away so easily starts to make sense. Banks might be a little evil, but they don't care what you do or how you live as long as they get their money. The neighbors can think you're weird, even spooky, but they can't go running to the landlord to complain.

With renting, things can come crashing to the ground and suddenly. The neighborhood and the landlord can turn on you. Someone might notice the kid stacking sandwich bags of fluid out under the tree and wonder what that's about. Someone might complain about the hand-lettered sign on the front door advertising a paid bounty for breasts or the shouting match that occurs when the sign is removed. You keep your distance from everybody because you know what happens when things go sour.

So... we've been looking for a house. We may have found one. It's big enough for the lot of us, built solid and located near a set of train tracks. It would give me something to shout at every now and again. Sometimes you just need to, you know?

The parking sucks, but it's in our price range... It's what we could afford with a standard mortgage. Now we're trying to find our way through. Just from watching the realtor and the banker, neither of them think we can pull this off... and honestly, they're probably right. We don't have much of a down payment and my credit score, though improved from six months ago, would get me locked up in some parts of the world.

But fuck it... The worst they can say is no and if we get it, we need never worry about having to move again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

77, 76...

Two more for the pile.

Kill Your Friends: John Niven -Billed as the best English novel since "Trainspotting," "Kill Your Friends" reads more like a knock-off of "American Psycho" starring Ricky Gervais. Set in the behind the scenes of the British pop music industry, the action revolves around an A&R man, a kind of talent scout for a record label. He does drugs. He fucks people over. He has weird (but sort of dull sounding) monkey sex with everyone from hookers to his secretary. He kills a guy. In between he name checks everyone from Pink Floyd to Robbie Williams to Simon Cowell. It's not a bad read. It just ain't "Trainspotting" or "American Psycho."

Wittgenstein: P.M.S. Hacker -Short, dull book giving a very basic overview of the philosopher's ideas. Wittgenstein, evidently, attached the difficulties of philosophy, of understanding who and what we are, existence... life, the universe and everything... as being largely an issue of language. Intriguing, but some of the points the author illustrates are repetitive without actually getting anywhere. Some of what I read made me think of Plato's stuff about the cave.

Anyway, I didn't get enough from the book to satisfy whatever craving for philosophy I'm having. I'm off to the library tomorrow to reload.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Zombie apocalypse

Some of the long-time readers of my blog (not you, Rusty) know I used to do a little driving for the American Cancer Society. I picked up patients who needed to get to the hospital for chemo or radiation treatments. This wasn't something I did a lot. I stopped getting calls after a while. Mostly, from speaking to other drivers, I figured this was because I was less desirable. I had a job. The other drivers were retired. Scheduling for them was pretty easy. There was little chance they'd tell the coordinator "no."

I hadn't seen any of the other drivers in some time, but I spoke to one today. It turns out all three of the patients I drove have died. The blind dance instructor died last Spring. The retired chemical engineer died last fall and the smoking lady went about a month ago.

It's just incredibly depressing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Might as well jump.

I have a low opinion of the notion of attracting a creative culture to the area. It's not that I wouldn't like for it to happen. It's just not going to happen, not with the collection of donut heads running things. Bicycle trails and arts festivals? Pretty, but Puh--lease...

We're on our own.

Here's what I think: West Virginia could use a couple more high profile writers... and I don't mean C grade hacks who talk to bass players. Where is our Stephen King? Where is our John Grisham? Why don't we have a Joyce Carol Oates of our own? All helped out the little, rural places they came from with their books. King was a cottage industry in Maine. His state is very much in his books. The people of his state, good and bad, are in his books.

You want to change the way people think of West Virginia? Don't import ideas. Export 'em. Tell your stories.

From time to time, people ask me about writing and mention writing books, poems, short stories, but they get "the fear" when it comes down to taking it on. There are so many God-damned pages to fill and it's going to sound stupid. Maybe... maybe not and anyway, I am the last person anyone should listen to for good advice about writing, but I know a guy...

A friend and an occasional mentor offers a class. I took this class a year and a half ago and it helped me break a block. Now, I've now got about twenty rejection notices for my novel and I'm deep in miserable, seemingly endless rewrite, but I'm doing it. Sooner or later, I am going to fake my way into a string of books destined for the bargain table and hopefully, a contentious meeting with some library board. It's going to happen and if I can do it, anybody can. You just have to want to.

Geoff can help you get started. Here's his advertisement.

Become a confident writer.

Have you always wanted to write a novel, but aren’t sure how to begin?
Do you have a story that needs to be told, if only you could find the best way to tell it?
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Whether you're new to writing or have already started on a novel, this class is for you.

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Basic Novel Writing, presented by award-winning author and instructor Geoff Fuller, will be held on six Thursday nights from March 26 through April 30 (6:30 to 8:30 pm). The combination of lessons, writing exercises, and in-class critique will teach you all you need to know to get started on that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Classes are held in the Charleston Newspapers parking building conference center on Virginia Street in Charleston. The cost is $145.

Fuller’s classes will teach the tricks and techniques that successful novelists use to write the kind of novel people will line up to read. In Basic Novel Writing you'll discover

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Call 304.744.4556 to secure your place in the class. Geoff's classes fill quickly, and space is limited.

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Call 304.744.4556 to secure your place in the class. Geoff's classes fill quickly, and space is limited.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

81, 80,79 and 78

I'm reporting in four this week... Some were good. One was okay and one was... eh...

Foxfire: Elliot Wigginton - Almost 40 years ago, a teacher in Georgia got his students to work on a magazine project involving local history, customs and craft. What eventually emerged was Foxfire, an occasionally successful magazine and a very successful series of books. Volume one covered everything from favorite recipes to building a log cabin to how to slaughter and prepare hogs. It's insightful, in that you get a general idea of how something might be done, but wouldn't be like an actual education. Attempting to make a log cabin based only on what you read would probably end in disaster, but it might be a good start toward learning from someone else.

I liked book one. I figure I'll read some of the others, though I'll take care on trying any of this stuff out. Foxfire had a nice long section of rural medicine. Some of these home remedies could kill a healthy person, let alone help you with burns or snakebite.

The Power of Positive No: William Ury - William Ury is a big league negotiator who has sat down with everyone from coal miners to Hugo Chavez to hammer out agreements. Ury's basic idea is that in order to be able to say "yes," you have to be able to really say "no." The problem with "no," of course, is that pisses the other guy off. He offers a formula for how to cushion the impact by wedging the "no" in between two yeses. The point is to spin positive, while telling someone else they're not getting what they want. This sounds vaguely like what we used to call a shit sandwich. Anyway, he does offer some decent suggestions for dealing with difficult people.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - David Sedaris is a funny, funny guy. This book revolves around the humorist's eventual move to France with his boyfriend Hugh. The stories, some of them cringingly personal, are Sedaris's observations of himself, his family and his friends. As what seems typical with Sedaris, he's not really coping or trying to understand anything, but just paying attention and giggling as it suits him.

Fabulous Hell: Craig Curtis -Curtis never bothers to name his main character who is a drugged out AIDS victim, who drinks too much, fucks nearly indiscriminately and can't seem to hold down a job. The nameless stranger veers from self-pity to self-destruction to vague and fleeting self-awareness. It's an interesting ride at points, set in a world that is apparently all gay. Other than the nameless character's mother, I never get the impression Curtis's world is populated with any heterosexual characters. Everybody is gay, in the closet and gay or an old lady.

The book has a few funny points, but is mostly a disappointment. It never goes far enough with the debasement to really mean anything or at least, be entertaining. It isn't funny very often and while there's a certain ring of truth to some of the situations, Curtis just doesn't push anything far enough to make Fabulous Hell anything more than a slog. It's like a Brett Easton Ellis book without the skin crawling desperation or the black wit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Strange Days Indeed

Well, I got a death threat today. That doesn't happen every day. I can't even remember the last time I got a death threat. It's been ages.

Here's the story.

The guy said he was one of the Whites, but he was pretty upset and sort of talked in a jumble. I couldn't make heads or tails (He was calling long distance) other than he first wanted to sue me for slander then shoot me with a 12 gauge shotgun and bury me out front of the building. He may have only wanted to shoot me out front of the building then bury me somewhere else. He conferenced in someone else and it got really confusing.

Not too surprising, they disagreed with some of the content, even after I read to him a news story from 2002 validating some of the information (well, part of a news story. He didn't let me finish). It was all lies, apparently.

I told them this was fun, but I needed to go get a burrito.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Two more for the pile...

I'm going to need to get away from the New Releases section of the library. The slender books I've been picking up over there are quick reads, but so far, have mostly sucked.

Girl Factory: Jim Krusoe -Jonathan works at a frozen yogurt place at the mall. In the basement, his boss keeps beautiful women in suspended animation. Sounds promising, but doesn't really go anywhere. The characters aren't that interesting (even with a talking dog and a sort of emotionally needy boss). This might be satire, but if so, it's either too personal to the author or too opaque for anyone not working in the frozen yogurt/frozen naked girls market. There's no resolution and if Krusoe is trying to make a point about society, it's lost on me. It feels like it's just a weird book for the sake of being weird, which isn't weird; it's boring.

Salvation: Lucia Nevai -An interesting book to begin with about a deformed girl named Crane who is raised by a polygamist preacher, taken into state custody, raised by nuns (molested by a nun and taught the hula), found out to be a genius and adopted by a loving social misfit and her husband (then knocked up and rescued by her sister). It's sort of about accepting who you are. There's also a lot of stuff about ants. There are moments of actual beauty in this book, where it was reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates and her perversely dark goodness, but Salvation kind of slips off the rails about midway through. It seemed like a nice start, with lots of wonderfully odd characters, but may have attempted to cover too much ground in too few pages. I just didn't buy the journey.

I had a motive in choosing each book (aside from obvious length). Both were written in first person, which is how I wrote my book. I wanted to see how a couple of recently published authors pulled it off. They didn't have a lot in common. The two authors styles were very different. Nevai was more descriptive and Krusoe's tone was whimsical. About the best I got out of it, as far as a writing lesson, was Nevai tended to describe around her main character, with emphasis on the secondary characters and their actions as opposed to her narrator. This would reduce "I" statements, which can grate on the reader.

Anyway, I'm reading Kafka this week. That should be cheery.