Friday, July 30, 2010

At the Counter: Some of Your Blood

This time it's Steppenwolf who has another novel to share:

I should have honestly paid more attention to Theodore Sturgeon as a younger man, I was so involved really in Arthur C Clarke and Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton that I suppose I just missed him, but I picked up Some of Your Blood the other day, and even though you really don't know exactly what it is you're reading at the time, you just can't put it down,

I mean, this is a story within a story within a trick frame, and it's about this guy, he's in the army, hit an officer, and instead of sending him to the hoosegow they send him to a psychiatric hospital, because there's something not quite "right" about him. This story's told through letters back and forth between the shrink and his superior, and the centerpiece is "George" (that's the guy) autobiography.

But after reading the autobio, you're thinking "this is no big deal - just some kid who was raised in the back hills, drunk immigrant father, bunch of hillbilly locals, nothing for the kid to do but wander the woods, no big deal, right?

And that's where it starts to unwind - because through the letters the pshrink begins to unravel the true meaning behind this little autobio, and soon what you've read takes on a totally different connotations, and you find youself thinking "How could I have missed that when I read it the first time?"

I mean - this is incredible - this is not only a book about what a vampire would REALLY be if there were such a thing as Vampires, but this is also a study in the craft of narration - I mean, this is a primer on How to Write A Narrative.

Absolutely incredible. Basically, this book is what would have happened if Jim Thompson and Mary Woolstonecraft Shelly had had a baby together: it's got the Gothic 19th Century feel, and the twisted backwoods Depression-era psychology.

Basically, it's got everything!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bumper Stickers #2

Verble was cleaning the counter while the Barista was bringing another cappucino to Niall Carter and Emily Winfred was sitting beside him idly dipping her biscotti into her coffee mug, and Verble started chuckling and Niall asked "What is it?" and Verble said that he was remembering the other day when he told his wife about all the bumper sticker ideas they were coming up with and she mentioned one that beat them all, she had looked straight at him and said, "I want one that says


And all the rest agreed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Overheard in Booth Three

- so let me get this straight

- ok

- yesterday, a conservative blogger posted a video of a woman in the Department of Agriculture in front of the NAACP telling them some story about how she used to screw over the white farmers.

- yeah.

- and so they fired her?

- right, they fired her right out.

- and the President apologized.

- well, the President apologized later. After they rehired her.

- they rehired her?

- yeah.

- why?

- turns out they shouldn't have fired her.

- why? She admitted she was being racist.

- that's what the conservative blogger wanted people to think. Turns out he didn't see the whole video.

- the whole video?

- yeah, she said, "Watch the whole video." Turns out she was telling a story, about how bad it WOULD be to be racist, and how they should learn from this.

- so the conservative blogger didn't show the whole video?

- he says he never saw the last part. Just the first part. The one he posted.

- how could he have only seen the part that supported his agenda? Did his computer just crash right when it got to the part that would have made him go, "Crap! I can't use this!"

- yeah, probably. Least that's what he says.

- so, the President apologized to her, didn't this guy at least apologize.

- of course not, he said he was trying to expose the hypocracy of the NAACP.

- seems like all he exposed was the spinelessness of the Department of Agriculture.

- and, sadly, the whole Obama Administration.

- dang, even when they're right, they're so afraid to admit it.

- think they've been so spanked so many times they're just scared of getting slapped around some more, so whenever the conservatives scream an accusation, they fall all over each other to atone for it. Then, when it turns out they're wrong, they apologize to the original targets.

- basically, even though the conservatives are lying conniving vicious scumbags, they always get the liberals to apologize and prostrate themselves.

- sounds about right.

- so, who's running this show anyway?

- Fox News is the only one I can think of.

- God, that's scary.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

At the Counter

John Steppenwolf:

OK, so you got me into it as well - this must be "Summer Book Club" or whatever, but 'Tash gave me one from one of her buddies, some guy called Oz Shelach, she said it reminded her of the year she spent training with Mossad in Tel Aviv, and while the book isn't about the war,

it is political, because hey, it's Israel - everything's political - down to basic survival.

It's called Picnic Grounds, a Novel in Fragments but it doesn't read like a novel, more like just a collection of one page vignettes about people who live in Isreal, people who lived in Israel, people who died in Israel. The narrator uses "we" when telling the stories - that kind of draws you into the stories, these fragments of lives. It's spare writing, I guess you would call it - I heard that term somewhere.

Niall Carter: I think a true literarti would call it "Hemingway-esque."

John Steppenwolf: If "literarti" means "stuck up book reader," then yeah, I guess so. Yeah, I did like that - it's like he just let the stories BE stories, didn't try to embellish them or make them more grandiose: he just told the stories. Kind of like the Z&T just tells stories.

Niall Carter: In fragments.

John Steppenwolf: Yeah, and another thing . . .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Overheard at the Counter: Bumper Stickers

Niall Carter at the counter, telling John Steppenwolf and the Barista about the bumper stickers that he wants to have made, with which he expects to (as he puts it) "make the mint"

Procrastination NOW!

Eschew Obsfucation

("I had that on a t-shirt when I was younger," says Steppenwolf)

My other car is a shuttlecraft

My other car is an X-Wing

My other car is the BATMOBILE

Marry your Best Friend

("I'd put that one on my car," says the Barista)

"Yeah" Niall says, "and this one you can't put on a bumper sticker, well, you could, but the print'd be so small you couldn't read it, but I overheard someone at the office today saying about spouses in general that you should try to keep 'em happy because they're the ones you 'GOTTA' live with . . . 'you gotta live with this person every day'

"And I thought to myself, 'we need to change that' - this concept of you HAVE to live with this person, so I want to put the word out that:

"If you want to be happy, go from

I GOT to live with this person , to

I GET to live with this person!"

"Nice," says Steppenwolf.

"Very nice," says the Barista.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Physics of the Acoustic Guitar

The stringsThe pitch of a vibrating string depends on four things.
The mass of the string: more massive strings vibrate more slowly. On steel string guitars, the strings get thicker from high to low. On classical guitars, the size change is complicated by a change in density: the low density nylon strings get thicker from the E to B to G; then the higher density wire-wound nylon strings get thicker from D to A to E.
The frequency can also be changed by changing the tension in the string using the tuning pegs: tighter gives higher pitch. This is what what you do when you tune up.
The frequency also depends on the length of the string that is free to vibrate. In playing, you change this by holding the string firmly against the fingerboard with a finger of the left hand. Shortening the string (stopping it on a higher fret) gives higher pitch.
Finally there is the mode of vibration, which is a whole interesting topic on its own. For more about strings and harmonics, see Strings and standing waves.
The strings themselves make hardly any noise: they are thin and slip easily through the air without making much of disturbance - and a sound wave is a disturbance of the air. An electric guitar played without an amplifier makes little noise, and an acoustic guitar would be much quieter without the vibrations of its bridge and body. In an acoustic guitar, the vibration of the string is transferred via the bridge and saddle to the top plate body of the guitar.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Overheard at Booth one

Henry Thoreau Payne, recounting the two books that he has just finished, by his newfound heartthrob, named:

Amelie Nothomb

Fear and Trembling

Brilliant little gem! Follows a brief overview of a year in the life in 1991 of a young young twentysomething Westerner who wants to work for a Japanese corporation - who starts off as an office clerk and works her way down to bathroom attendant, all because of her ignorance of the subtleties of the oriental culture that she so completely admires and, in fact, is part of.

But knowing a language is only half the battle, it seems, and to be a part of the culture, sometimes you have to actually be part of the race.

There was a review of the movie that called the book "racist" - imagine! They were reviewing the MOVIE and called the BOOK racist! Really, though, it was the Japanese who are racist in this book, beleiving that Amelie could never be Japanese, because Westerners simply do not have the mental capacity. And to the reviewer who says that some of the characters are mere caricatures, I say PHFFFTTT! Sometimes it is people who live their business titles and entitlements who become caricatures - caricatures of the people they think they should portray themselves AS!

Anyway, all that just to say that I should never read the reviews of others - just makes me mad and I can no longer see the work on its own. Before I read that stinky review, I loved that book. Now, sadly, I feel bad for liking it. One of my own faults, actually, I always absorb the opinions of others and make them my own. Bad habit, that, really,

But, then, onto

The Character of Rain

And I promise you I haven't read any reviews of it and don't plan to, either, because this book is brilliant! It stems from the Japanese idea that all infants are gods until they reach the age of three and then are sent off to boarding school. This book tells the story from the point-of-view of an infant during the year of the age of two, and wonderfully captures the absolute megalomania of the infant mind. The child thinks that she is god, acts like she is god, wonders why nobody else understands her god powers. What's truly amazing is the description of the absolute bewilderment that this god faces when she can't undersand the occasional mispronuncation of a word, or the inability to correctly move her limbs in the way she wants.

Both of these books are by my new favourite author of the summer, and yes, they both appear to be autobiographical in nature, and yes, I read the Fear and Trembling first and then went right out to get Character of Rain, and it turns out that was a good choice, because the second certainly filled out the character of the narrator - because in Fear and Trembling she made mention of thinking she was god as a child, and the second really illustrates that idea, and when i looked at Nothomb's bibliography, turns out she wrote the books in the sequence in which I read them.

Ergo, I believe that as she was writing the former, she got the idea to expand in the latter. Fascinating, that little insight into the writer's brain.

I can see all your eyes are glazing over. Fine, then, my review may be boring, but the books are not. You'll be captivated. You'll want to finish each in one sitting, maybe two, but definitely no more than that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Overheard at Table Four

1 "D'jya hear they're gonna build a mosque on Ground Zero? How's that for a sharp stick in the eye?"

2 "Does seem like they're trying to make a point - like 'Hey look, we won!'"

3 "Actually, the way I see it, if we as Americans don't want mosques built over here, we should just outlaw Islam."

2 "Yeah, but you can't just outlaw Islam, that's part of the Constitution. Freedom of religion."

3 "Actually, it's freedom FROM religion - it was only put there so that the government could not create a state-sponsored religion."

1 "So basically, even if a muslim were ever made President, he couldn't make us all convert?"

2 "Like any muslim would ever be elected President!"

3 "Don't laugh at that . . . thirty years ago who'd ever thought we'd have a black President!"

2 "Yeah, there are a lot of idiots who STILL don't believe it!"

3 "Yeah, but the way I really see it is this - we're all up in the air about the mosque near Ground Zero, and yeah it is symbolic, because muslims brought down the towers, but to be honest, the hatemongers on the radio getting people all p'o-ed about it is not the way to go. The only way to stop mosques being built in this country is for everybody to get back into church.

1 "Whad'ya mean by that? How's going back to church going to stop mosques."

3 "Why do you think all the muslims hold on so strongly to their faith? It's not becuase it's just a feel-good religion, I mean, come on! The constant inner struggle, the image you've got to live up to, the pillars you have to follow. I mean, it's miserable! The ONLY way to get people away from such a freakily oppressive existence is if WE go back to church, get really involved, and show everybody just how wonderful Jesus Christ is. The only reason why we're so weak in our faith is because we've never had to struggle for it. We're weak in our faith, because we don't EXERCISE it. If we exercise it, we grow in it, and this is the religion of LOVE, baby, LOVE is the strongest emotion in the world - and if everyone came over here and saw every one of us worshipping the God of LOVE, then they would want some of that too and instead of building mosques they'd be building churches, more and more, until they were more prevalent than gas stations!

2 "Hallelujah brother!"

1 "Dang, you almost got me convinced to get back into church."

3 "Don't make in an 'almost' - go do it. See where it leads you!"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Overheard at Booth Six

I came across this poem the other day, here, read it:

Anna Imroth

Cross the hands over the breast here--so.
Straighten the legs a little more--so.
And call for the wagon to come and take her home.
Her mother will cry some
and so will her sisters and brothers.
But all of the others got down and they are safe
and this is the only one of the factory girls
who wasn't lucky in making the jump when the fire broke.
It is the hand of God and the lack of fire escapes.

That was written by Carl Sandburg in 1916. It was based on a fire in a factory. Now, you tell me why that company didn't have fire escapes . . . because it would have increased their overhead. Nothing more. It wasn't ignorance, it wasn't stupidity - it was the bottom line.

And never forget that the reason why we have overtime, healthcare, fire exits, workman's comp, and even sprinkler systems is because we had to fight Big Business to get them. Tooth and nail, every inch of the way. Because if we hadn't, there'd be an Anna Imroth dying today.

"There is . . . only her name isn't Anna Imroth - it's Ana Inez, or Maria Gonzalez, or Concepcion Castillas de la Cruz."

The Rebellion of the Beasts

Niall Carter chose this one for the book club this month, and having chose it at random from the bookshelves of the downtown library, he says that what really caught his eye was the subtitle:

"The Ass is Dead! Long Live the Ass!"

And the author is in dispute, nobody really knows who he is, with the book having been written early in the 18th century, after the American and French revolutions but with the English aristocracy still full in power of the purse strings and able to shut down publishing houses with just a blink of their downward sloping eyes. Apparently the supposed author and/or his brother were both masters of a satirical paper, often on the run, often having to hide out on the continent to escape levies, fines, and taxes from the aforementioned British government, along the way cranked out this little fable about a man who drinks a potion to give him the power to talk to animals and lo and behold just suddenly happens upon a plan the animals have hatched to overthrow humanity and take their rightful place as masters of the world.

Now, of course there are obvious connections to George Orwell's Animal Farm, written 150 years afterward, but truly the only the only connection (apart from animals talking) is that both are savagely satirical pieces railing against prevailing oppressive political powers of their day: the Aristocracy and Communism. In fact, an enterprising student may indeed want to compare/contrast both books against their respective historical/socio-political backdrops to earn themselves one sweet "A" some day, but that's beside the point.

The point is: the writing itself is tepid at best, and its obvious, no matter what year in which it was written, that the author was more toward slamming the powers that be than in writing a story, with any sort of plot, characterization, or narrative. As such, it can hardly be called literature.

On the other hand, I have to give them full credit for being spot-on in their satire, not only agaisnt the nature of the aristocracy, but also against the religious establishment, which uses a crushingly oppresive power in order to keep themselves in material wealth without having to sacrifice much at all, and also using God as a dodge in order to allow themselves all kinds of perversions. Basically, the Elephants set up a church, along with the Book of the Elephant, which they smother with their own excrement to prevent anybody else from reading it, and quoting from it freely to proclaim their authority in all matters of enterprise, commerce, and morality.

The most poignant part of the book, and I'm not even sure if the author him- or themselves were conscious of this, was when the Ass, who had come to power from the most conniving of methods, admits to the narrator that even he cannot control the Elephants, and that he has to go along with them in order to maintain his own control. Here's the King who holds absolute power over all his subjects but these.

That makes this book as good a description of pre-Industrial Europe as any I've ever read.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Overheard at Booth Three

Lucky Moran, talking to Otis Redwing, playing a new game they created, called "Accidental Christians" which is to say, naming songs that could be interpreted as praise songs to Jesus Christ, but the rock-n-rollers who wrote them thought they were talking about some girl.

Lucky: Here goes -

Maybe I'm amazed at the way You love me all the time
Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love You
Maybe I'm amazed at the way You pulled me out of time
And hung me on a line
Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need You.

CHORUS:Maybe I'm a man and maybe I'm a lonely man
Who's in the middle of something
That he doesn't really understand
Maybe I'm a man and maybe You're the only one
Who could ever help me
Hey, won't you help me understand

CHORUSMaybe I'm amazed at the way You're with me all the time
Maybe I'm afraid of the way I leave You
Maybe I'm amazed at the way You help me sing my song
You right me when I'm wrong
Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need You.

Paul McCartney, probably thinking he was writing to Linda, but look - You "pulled me out of time - you Right me when I'm Wrong." It's so obviously about Jesus!

Otis Redwing takes a long draught of his coffee and says:

I got one even better than that.

And if you feel that you can't go on.
And your will's sinkin' low
Just believe and you can't go wrong.
In the light you will find the road. You will find the road
Oh, did you ever believe that I could leave you, standing out in the cold
I know how it feels 'cause I have slipped through to the very depths of my soul.
Baby, I just want to show you what a clear view it is from every bend in the road.
Now listen to me
Oh, whoa-whoa, as I was and really would be for you, too, honey
As you would for me, oh, I would share your load.
Let me share your load. Ooh, let me share, share your load

And if you feel that you can't go on
In the light you will find the road
Though the winds of change may blow around you, but that will always be so
When love is pain it can devour you, if you are never alone
I would share your load. I would share your load
Baby, let me, oh, let me
In the light
Everybody needs the light.
In the light, in the light, in the light
Light, light, light, in the light
Light, light, light, in the light, ooh, yeah
Light, light, light, in the light

See? Jesus is the Light and the Way . . . you see the Light and He will show you the Way. Plus, He knows what it's like, because He has "slipped through to the very depths of [His] soul" - remember, Jesus was tempted by Satan face-to-face, directly, and He even had to fall directly down INTO Hell. Top that, Lucky, my man!

Lucky, musing, finally says:

I dunno. The lyrics say "share your load" - to my interpretation Jesus is going to carry our load for us, and we can carry His load, which He says weighs almost nothing at all.

Otis: Now you're just splitting hairs!

Lucky: No, the name of the game is to find a song that MOST CLOSELY resembles an accidental praise song. My choice is closer.

Otis: Mine has better imagery. Plus, McCartney already had prior credit for referring to Mother Mary in "Let It Be" and to Gideon's Bible in "Rocky Raccoon."

Lucky: Big deal! Zep wrote "Stairway to Heaven"!

Otis: Which was widely believed to be satanic in nature! Still is, by the way. I think overcoming that puts me wide ahead of "Maybe I'm Amazed"

Lucky: How 'bout we call it a draw?

Otis: Only if you spring for kolaches.

Read at the counter

I heard this boy speaking the other day on NPR and they asked him what he would miss, now that the oil spill has killed his home. And what he said, I realized, was a haiku. I mean, here's this kid, speaking his heart, speaking in poetry - I went over his words in my head, counted them, yes, I knew . . . it was haiku:

Cajun Boy, 13, Looking Out at the Gulf of Mexico, June 2010

Sand between my toes.
Fish fries with my grandfather.
This is what I’ll miss.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Verble's Two Youngest at the Counter Just After Having Seen the New Twilight Fillum

Verble's two youngest children are sitting at the counter, after just having come back from seeing the new Twilight Saga movie, Eclipse, with their cousin.

Verble: So, what'd you guys think of the movie?

G: It would have been a lot better without all that kissing and making out.

R: There's too much kissing.

G: Copier! You just say that because I said that.

R: I am not a copier, that's what I said, and I said it first even in the car.

G: No you didn't, you sicko! what's that on your lip!

R: huh huh huh huh!

G: That is so gross putting the foam on your chin, you know I hate you, 'burto!

Verble: Yeah . . . but what about the MOVIE??

G: It was all right. Jacob was hot!


G: Shut up, 'burto, you know you like Rosalieeeee!


Verble: I'm Team Alice!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Read over the shoulder on someone's Blackberry at Table Four

As posted in Adult Summer Reading Club presented by the Houston Public Library:

Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason
Found by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson

A very interesting read, with the presentation being integral to the story itself. The style is that of "found object" literature, in which the narrator is keeping a journal of printed emails, pictures, momentos inside an old book, being used as a scrapbook. Beginning as a light romance, of a housewife in Houston who has just lost her mother and her husband suddenly takes an incredible job in Boston, the separation and the introduction of a "friend" begins to lead the story in a strange turn, and, being told from Amy's POV, the reader never really knows how much of what she feels is paranoia or how much is real. This book obviously taking its place beside such presentation literature as Griffin and Sabine, and while for my money nothing will ever come close to those books, this nice little tome does very well for itself, indeed