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When Super Bowl Commercials Ruin A Game…

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

As much as I love football, the worst part is the commercials.  Nothing destroys the flow of the game like a series of commercials after kickoffs, turnovers, and short series punts, not to mention time-outs.  And the worst game of all for commercials is the Super Bowl.

If the hype of the game itself has gotten out of control, the hype for Super Bowl commercials is even worse, with talk about how much time-slots cost, what stars are going to be in the ads, what new products are being introduced, etc..

Yeah, some of the commercials are funny, but the Super Bowl isn’t the time for funny.  The Super Bowl is a serious game, and a funny creative commercial is still just a commercial that gets in the way of the game.  And now I’ve just heard a news report (on a NEWS show) about a company promoting its Super Bowl commercials a week before the game.  I won’t mention the product because they’ve already gotten enough free advertising (unless they want to pay me).

Since the hype for upcoming Super Bowl commercials has already begun, it’s the perfect time to present…

Let’s Talk Football: A Super Bowl Joke!!!

The Super Bowl to a hardcore football fan is like New Year’s Eve to a drunk: it’s annoying because that’s when the amateurs come out.

So when a hardcore football fan was invited to a Super Bowl party, he was actually dreading it because it would be packed with a bunch of amateurs (women and guys who didn’t really care about the football game) and all they’d do is talk about the commercials.  Still, the hardcore football fan didn’t want to watch the big game by himself, so he decided to go.

And the party was worse than he thought it would be.

The amateurs cackled and guffawed at the commercials and talked really loudly about them during the game so that the hardcore football fan couldn’t hear the game commentary (If John Gruden’s not calling the game, the commentary doesn’t really matter, but still…).

During the halftime show, the hardcore football fan wanted to discuss the game, but everybody else was still ranking the commercials and talking about the teeny-bopper chick performing at the show.

When the third quarter resumed, the hardcore football fan tried to talk about the game some more, but the partiers were still discussing the teeny-bopper chick half-time performer and were still re-ranking the commercials after each new ad. The hardcore football fan had had enough (Using the phrase “had had enough” is grammatically correct in this situation).

The hardcore football fan couldn’t hear the game, and he was about to complain when the host approached him.

“I’m really sorry about this,” the host said, “but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“What?” the hardcore football fan replied, exasperated even though he felt out of place.  “But why?”

“Because people are complaining about you,” the host said.  “Whenever you talk about the game, nobody else can hear the commercials.”

*****

This isn’t quite a true story, but I was told during a Super Bowl party a few years ago to shut up because other people couldn’t hear the commercials.  This particularly offended me because these same people usually complained that I was too quiet (and I have a monotone voice).

Because of this, I’ll always be a little bitter towards Super Bowl commercials.

But enough about me!  How do you watch the game?  Do you like commercials better than the game? Ugh!  What seemingly trivial event in your life has made you irrationally bitter?

Nothing Strange Happens To Me

I've found stains and blotches much stranger than this stuck inside of library books. (image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Sometimes I think looking for books is more fun than actually reading them, but nobody in my family shares my passion for finding books that I might never even finish.  So when I announced my intentions to go to the public library this morning, my wife was silent and my daughters groaned.

“You take too long,” my youngest said.

“Not true,” I proclaimed.  Ever since my daughters put me on a timer a couple years ago, I’ve been able to get in and out of the library in under ten minutes.

“They don’t have any good books,” my oldest daughter said.

“Not true,” I countered.  Our local library has almost as many good books as the book store, but the library atmosphere can’t compete with stores like Brick & Mortar Booksellers.

It was my fault my daughters didn’t want library books.   I’d shown off too many blemishes in old books that I’d checked out in the past, green sticky substances that stuck pages together, red blotches that triggered the gag reflex, and brown stains that saturated several pages at a time.  Grossing my daughters out with book blemishes was fun, but today I was to pay an expensive price.

Even though my wife didn’t want to go with me to the library, she asked me to check out a book for her, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.  I cringed.  Checking out Lena Dunham‘s book was like purchasing feminine hygiene products.  Plus, I’d heard that some strange things happened in her book, but maybe the strange things didn’t happen or if they did happen, they didn’t happen the way Dunham described them in the book.

If you want to make money writing about yourself, you probably have to do strange things or have strange things happen to you, and if they haven’t happened, then you have to pretend they happened.   At any rate, I don’t know much about Lena Dunham, but I’d get her book if the library had it.

When I stepped into the library, I gave myself ten minutes and within my time limit found a spy novel, a biography, and an anthology of fantasy short stories.  With my own personal goal accomplished, I checked the new releases in the nonfiction section for the Lena Dunham book, and it wasn’t there.  When I turned to the check-out counter to ask about the book, I saw the cranky librarian on duty.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the cranky librarian.  She can get through the entire check out process without saying a word.  She snatches the library card from the patron’s outstretched hand, scans the card, and then slams it down on the counter (sometimes with a grunt).  Some people find her rude, but I respect her.

When I asked the cranky librarian if they carried the Lena Dunham book, she snapped, “We don’t carry THAT book.”

“Oh, it was for my wife,” I said quickly.

I shouldn’t have sold out my wife like that.  I don’t even know why I’d care whether the cranky librarian thought I’d want to read a Lena Dunham book. For all I know, Lena Dunham is proud that she wrote a THAT book, the kind that disgusts a cranky librarian.  Then again, I  don’t know the cranky librarian.  Maybe to her, every book was THAT book.  Maybe next time, I’d ask her about Pride and Prejudice or Emma and see her reaction.  Nobody ever says anything negative about a Jane Austen book.  If the cranky librarian called a Jane Austen book THAT book, then it was just the cranky librarian being cranky.  Then her disgust for Lena Dunham’s book would be nothing special.

When I returned home with my three books, my wife and two daughters were putting on jackets and grabbing purses.

“We’re going to the bookstore,” my wife said.  ‘You coming?”

I hugged my stack of books.  “But I just got back from the… yeah, okay, sure.”

When we got to Brick & Mortar Booksellers, I told my daughters to stay out of the coffee shop.  They weren’t allowed to buy overpriced drinks and brownies, even if it was their money, kind of.  There was no need to remind them of my James Patterson policy.  As soon as we entered the store, my wife pointed out the Lena Dunham book.

“Oh, good,” she said, pulling it from a shelf.  “Hold this for me.”

I cringed.  “Why don’t I carry your purse for you instead?”

“It’s just for a minute,” she said.  But in matters like this, my wife has no sense of time.

She followed my daughters to the YA section, and I hunted the bargain bins for $6.99 hardcover overstocks with the Lena Dunham book stuck in my armpit.   After a few minutes of staring at a bunch of mysteries and spy novels (most of them books I’d passed over at the library), my oldest daughter approached me with An Abundance of Katherines.  John Green books are probably a little mature for her, but she’s already read The Fault in our Stars, so I figured she’d finish this one too.

“What?” I exclaimed at the price.  “This is a paperback!  How can a paperback cost this much?  You could get it on your phone for half that.”

“It’s my money,” my daughter said.

“You’re right, you’re right,” I said.  But I still thought charging as much as they did for a YA paperback was a scam.

A few minutes later, I saw my wife with two more books.  I recognized the larger of the two, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.  I inwardly groaned, but my groan wasn’t inward enough.

“What?” she asked.  “It’s not any good?”

“We had that book for ten years,” I said.  “I sold it last summer.”  When we moved, I got rid of stacks of books I knew I’d never read again.  “It’s interesting, kind of, but it gets bogged down in boring details.”

“You can say that about any nonfiction book,” my wife said.

Then I saw that she also was buying Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

“We already have that,” I said with a sigh.  Cat’s Cradle was in a hardbound book I owned that collected five Vonnegut novels.  Yeah, it was a little heavy, but that’s what you get for five-books-in-one.

My wife rolled her eyes.  “I don’t want to hurt my shoulders holding that thing,” she said.  “Do you want me to hurt my shoulders?”

As we discussed the book situation, we found our youngest daughter sitting in a corner reading a book, Sisters, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.  “You going to buy that?”  I asked.

She nodded and kept her eyes on the book.

“Let’s go pay,” I said.

When my wife saw the graphic novel, she said, “That’s just a comic book.  She’ll finish that in 20 minutes.”

“I’ll read it,” I said.  My oldest daughter would read it too when nobody was looking.

“She needs something more challenging.”

“I read comic books when I was a kid, and I turned out just fine,” I said.  My logic was a bit flawed.  I have turned into a literary pretender, but I’ll be proud if my daughter can get away with just pretending to read most of the classics too.  It’s a useful skill.

As we walked to the check-out line, my wife stopped.  “I’m not going to read all three of these,” she declared.  “Which one should I get rid of?”

I was torn.  Cat’s Cradle was the biggest waste because we already had it.  I didn’t believe my wife would finish Guns, Germs, and Steel, and the Lena Dunham book was the most expensive book of the bunch.  I wasn’t sure what to suggest.

“Put that one back,” she said, reaching for the Lena Dunham book in my armpit.

“You sure?” I said, trying to hide my relief.

“It’ll be cheaper in a few months.”

That’s one of the (many) reasons I love my wife; she is very practical.  I felt a bit cheated, though, since all my cringing had been for nothing.  And when we returned home, I was the only one who spent any time reading, when I was the only one who didn’t spent any money on books today.  Strange.

*****

Geez, this was a lot longer that I originally intended!

Have you written something that went on much longer than you thought it would?  If you’re writing about your life, how strange does it have to be?  Is Lena Dunham’s book really THAT book, or was the cranky librarian just being cranky?  What is the most non-strange thing you have ever written about?

Shock Photo! Mark Twain Goes Shirtless!!!

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Who knew that Mark Twain took a photograph while shirtless?    I mean, Mark Twain is known for many things, such as writing classic literature like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Prince and the Pauper.  He was a satirist.  He came up with a lot of great quotes.  He hung out with Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and there’s even early film footage of Mark Twain with his daughter.

But I just found out there’s a picture of Mark Twain shirtless.  How have I lived almost 50 years without knowing that Mark Twain went shirtless?  How can people NOT know about a shirtless Mark Twain?

I didn’t know that people back in the late 1800s ever went shirtless.  I thought people back then were fully clothed at all times.  Whenever I see a photo from the 1800s, I see layers and layers of clothes.  Plus, taking photographs back then was a big deal.  It wasn’t like today, where you could get your picture taken at any given moment.  Back then, you had to make an effort to get your picture taken.  In other words, Mark Twain had to deliberately take his shirt off before getting his picture taken.  There was no way a photographer snapped that shirtless picture without Mark Twain’s permission.

And I’m pretty sure the photo is real.  Photoshop and other technologies weren’t around in the 1800s to tinker with Twain’s torso.  And if this photo had been tampered with recently, Twain would have a bunch of weird tattoos and a woman’s body, so I’m certain the photo is authentic.

Maybe Mark Twain was the first celebrity writer to go shirtless.  Did Charles Dickens ever go shirtless?  Did Edgar Allen Poe or O. Henry?  I’ve seen Ernest Hemingway shirtless, but that was Hemingway being Hemingway, and other writers like Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner have taken pics without tops, but Twain was the first (I think) and the best.

Maybe a picture of Oscar Wilde shirtless will turn up.  He had such cool hair that a shirtless Oscar Wilde would have had women throwing undergarments at him.  That’s not sexist; I’ve seen women throw undergarments at shirtless guys before (yeah, it was in Las Vegas, but still…).

When I mention shirtless authors, I only mean male authors.  It’s okay for a male like me to talk about male shirtless authors, but if I start talking about female shirtless authors, then I risk coming across as a pervert, and I don’t want to be thought of as that kind of blogger.

I thought Mark Twain looked pretty good in his shirtless picture.  My opinion of Twain’s physique is probably irrelevant, so I showed my wife the shirtless Mark Twain to get her opinion.

She said: “Not bad for a writer.”

I know what she means.  Even back then, writers must have had a sedentary lifestyle.  If anything, it had to be worse.  With no word processors, writing must have taken up a lot more time than it does now.  I remember hand-writing all my stuff decades ago, and it was time-consuming, and it was a lot of sitting too.  Somehow Mark Twain could write and still be kind of buff.  I’m impressed.

It takes a lot of grit to take a picture shirtless.  I haven’t done it in almost 30 years, when I posed with a weight lifter/bodybuilder.  It didn’t take any guts for the bodybuilder to pose shirtless; he had a great body.  Everything about him (that we could see) was bigger than me.  The photo threw people off because I had a reputation as a serious guy and wasn’t the type to pose shirtless with a bodybuilder.  If I had been known as a satirist, my peers would have understood, but I had a reputation as a serious guy.  Twain was a known satirist, so his readers (hopefully) understood.  My peers looked at the picture perplexed, and a couple people told me to start working out.  One guy told me to get a tan.

What would Mark Twain do for satire if he were alive today?  For some reason, I don’t think going shirtless would be enough for attention-grabbing satire.  In this age of narcissistic selfie tweets, Twain might have to reveal much more than his chest.  Maybe a known satirist could get away with it.  If anybody else tweeted body parts lower than his stomach and called it satire, he’d be called a perv (and deserve it), but if Mark Twain had done it and called it satire, he could probably get away with it because everybody would already know he was a satirist.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not condoning the Mark Twain body part tweet.  I think it would be a bad idea.  I’m just saying that if anybody could get away with it, it would be Mark Twain.

*****

What do you think?  Which vintage authors would you like to see shirtless?  Do you take pictures shirtless (women don’t need to answer; I’m not that kind of blogger.)? Could Mark Twain get away with the satirical body part tweet?

The Introvert’s Guide To Talking Politics

If you value the family or friendship, then don't talk politics.  (image via wikimedia)

If you value the family or friendship, then don’t talk politics. (image via wikimedia)

It’s tough for an introvert to talk about politics because when things get loud, nobody listens to the introverted guy with the quiet voice.  And political discussions almost always get loud.  The last one I heard (but did not participate in) turned into a “suck” contest.  A “suck” contest is when two or more participants tell each other they suck, much like the following (not quite fictional) exchange:

“Republicans suck!”

“Democrats suck!”

“You suck!”

“Your mom sucks!”

Once Mom is brought into the “suck” contest, things always go downhill.

It’s easy to see why political discussions break down so easily.  Government and law are full of boring details.  I’m a boring guy, and even I don’t like the boring details in politics.  So instead of talking about boring but important details, it’s easier just to say “You suck!” and move on.  But that’s not very productive.

Political discussions should be treated with more respect.  Government officials make (and usually break) the laws that the rest of us have to follow.  It’s serious stuff.  People in other countries kill each other over politics.  Dozens of other countries have their own versions of Game of Thrones, and even George R. R. Martin doesn’t know how these conflicts are going to end (except that everybody gets killed; we just don’t know in what order).  In the United States, we just call each other names and then get back to watching football or reading books.

I think I’m at least as intelligent as everybody else who talks politics, but I don’t do it because it always gets ugly.  The good news is that over the last couple years I’ve discovered a few ways to talk about politics without destroying friendships or being thrown out of the family dinner.  These techniques are so effective that even extroverts can use them, as long as the extrovert can be quiet long enough to hear the advice.

 1. Leave

Maybe this is a cop-out.  I don’t like conflict.  When I hear people get angry, my stomach gets queasy.  I try to avoid arguments at all costs.  So when I hear people arguing about politics, I usually just turn around and leave.  It’s the smart thing to do.  But sometimes I can’t leave.

2. Change the subject.

Years ago, it was impossible to change the subject once political combatants got themselves embroiled in an ad hominem attack contest.  It was tough to find another topic that everybody could suddenly switch to.

But smart phones and tablets have changed all of that.  Whenever co-workers or friends or family members start arguing about politics, all I do now is find a mean cat video on my phone.  Everybody loves mean cat videos, especially when the mean cat bites a guy in the crotch.  Republicans, democrats, libertarians, it doesn’t matter.  If a mean cat bites a guy in the crotch, everybody will laugh.  And then they’ll stop talking about politics.

All an introvert has to do is say: “Hey, check out this mean cat!”

Even with my quiet voice, if I say “mean cat,” everybody pays attention.  A mean cat video is an introvert’s best friend.

3.  Agree, agree, agree!

If I feel like I must argue about politics, if I’m in a position where I feel my quiet voice must be heard, then I start off by agreeing with the people I disagree with.  When trying to have a true discussion, it’s important not to come across as a partisan (even though I might be one) or an ideologue (even though I might be one).  If I agree with the people I disagree with on some part of the discussion, they will be more likely to listen to me on the part where I disagree with them.

At least, they listen until they start yawning.  When they start yawning, then I know they don’t want to talk politics anymore.  The great thing about a monotone voice is that it can end political discussions quickly, but people have to listen to that monotone voice first.

4. Find a scapegoat.

Nothing unites opposing forces like a scapegoat. The United States needs a good scapegoat, but we don’t want to blame just anybody.  We want to scapegoat somebody who’s powerful enough to defend himself/herself and won’t polarize a huge segment of the population.  And if you’re looking for a small but powerful group of people, look no further than the Ivy League.

The Ivy League is the perfect scapegoat. The Ivy League can get scapegoated without Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, getting defensive.  All of our last four presidents are from Ivy League schools. That’s over 26 years of Ivy Leaguers in the Executive Branch.  That’s two democrats and two republicans.  And you can make the case that all four of them sucked.  And you can say that without offending ideologies or political parties.

I don’t mean that we should hunt down Ivy Leaguers and do mean things to them.  I’m not into all that.  I just mean we should blame them on political issues.    If Ivy Leaguers are as smart as their disproportionate representation in positions of power suggests, they’ll understand how important it is that they allow themselves to get scapegoated.  It’s important for the United States to be unified during these troubled times, and we can’t be unified as long as conservatives and liberals are so quick to blame each other for all of the country’s problems.

This is something that introverts and extroverts alike can agree on.  If you want to blame somebody for all the country’s (or even the world’s) problems, blame the Ivy League.  But please remember that an introvert thought of it first.

*****

What do you think?  How do you handle political discussions?  What is better than a mean cat video to change the subject?  If you are an Ivy Leaguer, are you willing to be scapegoated for the greater good of the country?

Was Edgar Allen Poe Really That Weird?

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Every time I take a selfie, I end up looking like Edgar Allen Poe.  It hurts my feelings.  After close to 50 years of posing in a mirror, I still can’t get my facial expressions right.  Maybe it’s my fault for trying to take a selfie in the first place.  I’m too old for that, I know, but I’d feel better if I didn’t look like Edgar Allen Poe. I mean, yeah, he was a prolific author.  He arguably created the detective story genre.  People still read his stories/poems 150 years after his death.  But people think he’s weird.

If I look like somebody famous when I take a selfie, I don’t think I want it to be somebody who’s that weird.  But maybe I’m wrong.   Was Edgar Allen Poe really that weird, or is his weirdness exaggerated?

First of all, some people think Poe is weird because of the content in his writing.  His stories were violent.  His poetry was depressing.  I don’t know; lots of poetry is depressing, but not all poets are weird.  Compared to 20th century poets, Poe’s poetry was a laugh riot.  And the violence in his stories?  CSI and Law & Order episodes are more violent and with less emotional impact, no symbolism, little theme, and no big words to make you feel educated when you get through it.  People who binge-watch Special Victims Unit are more deranged than somebody who reads “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado” or “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  Anybody who writes for those shows is way more deranged than Edgar Allen Poe, and they either don’t know it or they’re probably proud of it.

From what I understand, some of Poe’s obscure stuff is truly weird, but I don’t know because I haven’t read his obscure stuff.  Maybe it’s weird.  But even if the obscure stuff is really weird, and Poe is weird because of his obscure stuff, it’s not the reason that people think Poe is weird, so it doesn’t count.  After all, if we think Poe is weird, but we haven’t read the stuff that proves he’s weird, then we have no business thinking he’s weird.

Even if Poe’s writing wasn’t weird, people think his lifestyle was.  After all, he married his own cousin. Some people react to this by saying/thinking: “Ewwwww, he married his cousin.”  Maybe the correct reaction should be: “Hey, at least he married her.”  A lot of men are afraid of commitment.

Back in the 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon to marry a cousin.  I’m not defending it.  I’m just saying it wasn’t that uncommon.  In fact, our longest serving U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt married his cousin Eleanor, and that was 80 years after Edgar Allen Poe.  Eleanor Roosevelt might not have been 13 at the time, and she might have been a fifth cousin once removed (whatever that means), but she was still FDR’s cousin, and a cousin is a cousin.

Eleanor Roosevelt is considered by experts (I don’t know how you become an expert at this) as one of the best First Ladies Ever!!!  Eleanor Roosevelt set the standard for the modern (or pre-modern or post-modern… I get my moderns confused) First Lady.  I never hear anybody complain that the Roosevelts married each other.  Nobody thinks Eleanor Roosevelt is weird because she married her cousin or that FDR was weird because he married his cousin.  Therefore, if Edgar Allen Poe is indeed weird, it isn’t because he married his cousin.

Edgar Allen Poe died in a weird, mysterious way because of his drinking.  Poe was probably an alcoholic.  Back then, there were no 12-step programs for addictions, and if there were 12 step programs, they were so anonymous that nobody knew about them.  Therefore, alcoholics couldn’t get much help back then.  Supposedly, Poe belonged to a support group for a while, but speculation is that it didn’t work too well.  It might be sad that Poe died relatively young because of his drinking.  The way that Poe died might have even been weird.  But Edgar Allen Poe wasn’t weird just because he died in a (maybe) weird way.

Even if Poe wasn’t weird because of his writing and lifestyle, he was weird because of his appearance.  He looked sleepy because he was probably drunk (or maybe he hadn’t slept, or maybe he wasn’t photogenic), and he had a Hitler mustache.  Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if Poe had a porn mustache or a Hitler mustache, but neither of them are good.

To be fair, people didn’t stand in front of the mirror finding their perfect angles and expressions back then. Some accounts of that period claim that Poe was a nice-looking guy until his later years, but I haven’t read those accounts myself.  I’ve seen a couple pictures, but they’re not the pictures in the Poe books that I have, so I’m not sure if the pictures of the nicer-looking Poe are really of Poe.  People can put anything on the internet.

I’ll defend Poe on the Hitler mustache.  Poe wore a Hitler mustache before Adolf Hitler was even born.  I’m not sure what the Hitler mustache was called before Hitler grew one, but it was a popular look (I think) until Hitler ruined it.  Now, you can’t wear a Hitler mustache without people associating it with Hitler.  It’s not Edgar Allen Poe’s fault that he had a Hitler mustache before Hitler did.

Just because I’m defending Poe’s Hitler mustache doesn’t mean I’m defending Hitler.  I despise Hitler.  It’s possible to defend the pre-Hitler Hitler mustache without defending Hitler.  I don’t want anybody accusing me of defending Hitler just because I defended a guy who wore a Hitler mustache 100 years before Hitler committed a bunch of crimes against humanity.  People get offended by the silliest of things nowadays, and I don’t want anybody offended because they think I’m defending the Hitler mustache before Hitler was born.

And if it’s a porn mustache instead of a Hitler mustache, the same basic argument applies.

*****

Nowadays, people take pride in being weird.  Johnny Depp seems to have adopted the weird mannerisms of the weird characters he plays, and people find it charming.  The city of Austin has a slogan “Keep Austin weird,” but I’ve visited Austin and didn’t think it was weird at all, even the places that were supposedly weird.  I’m suspicious of people, including cities, who call themselves weird.  If you have to call yourself weird, then you probably aren’t.  But if I have to look like a weird person when I take a selfie, I’d rather look like Johnny Depp than Edgar Allen Poe.

*****

What do you think?  Was Edgar Allen Poe as weird as people think?  What authors are/were truly weird?  Are any authors today considered to be as weird as Edgar Allen Poe?  Can somebody who claims to be weird truly be weird, or are they automatically fake weird?  Have you found your perfect angle when you take a picture?

Oh My God! I Just Met James Patterson!!!!

He actually has more than this one facial expression.  (image via Wikimedia)

He actually has more than this one facial expression. (image via Wikimedia)

I can’t believe this just happened to me!  My family and I were at the airport (I probably shouldn’t say which one) switching planes, and we were running/jogging to the terminal when I saw this guy who looked just like James Patterson (at least he looked like the guy on the back of all the James Patterson novels).

“Hey!” I shouted out before I could contain myself.  “You’re James Patterson!”

Now I’m kind of a critic of James Patterson on this blog.  I’ve called him a hack (in a nice way) and a literary fraud (well, there’s probably no nice way of saying that), Even though I’m not wild about how Patterson brags about how many bestsellers he has while his coauthors probably do most of the work, I’ve never thought of what I’d say to him if we met face to face.  I’m too polite to call somebody a hack or a literary fraud to his face.  That’s what blogs are for.

Instead I said, “Nice to meet you.  I’m a huge fan of yours,” and I heard my wife snort.

Patterson looked like he wanted to move on, but he seemed gracious and said, “Thank you.”

I wasn’t sure what to do next.  Here I had a chance to speak to a prolific author, and saying “Nice to meet you” didn’t seem adequate.  I couldn’t just leave it at that.  But I was mentally/emotionally unprepared for this situation.

“Your Alan Cross series, it’s great.  It speaks to me,” I continued.

Patterson gave me a quizzical look.  My oldest daughter next to me started coughing something that sounded like “Alex.”

“And… and… all that money you’re giving to indie booksellers, I really really admire that kind of philanthropy,” I said.

My daughters were giggling.  I knew I was an embarrassment.  I could feel my face turning red.  I was causing a scene, but I couldn’t control myself.  I knew that James Patterson had every right to call security on me, but I couldn’t stop talking.

“I… I… I’ve read every single book you’ve ever written,” I stammered.

“Just stop right there,” James Patterson said with sudden authority.  “Now you’re going too far.  Even I haven’t read every single book I’ve ever written.”

*****

Okay, okay.  Just so you know… this didn’t really happen.  But something like this could happen, you know.  And in an alternate reality, maybe it has.

*****

Have you ever met a celebrity you didn’t approve of?  Would you be rude or polite to the celebrity you didn’t like?  How many James Patterson books have you read?  When you read a James Patterson book, do you have somebody else read it for you and then say that you’ve read it? Have you ever made up a story about meeting a famous person?

Harry Potter vs. Cormoran Strike vs. JK Rowling vs. Robert Galbraith

Pottercuckoo

First of all, in a fight between Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike, Harry Potter would win.  Most reasonable people would agree with that. But a struggle between JK Rowling and Robert Galbraith?  I’m not so sure.  I’m not comfortable with female vs. male match-ups.  Maybe I’m sexist, and maybe I should be careful about how I word controversial ideas, but… sometimes men have physical advantages over women.  Then again, JK Rowling claims that she’s Robert Galbraith, and so a JK Rowling-Robert Galbraith match-up would end up being an internal struggle, and those are always boring to watch.

I have to admit, I haven’t read any of the books involved.  I started the first book in both series (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Cuckoo’s Calling), but I didn’t get far.  Maybe I shouldn’t analyze novels I haven’t finished, but that hasn’t stopped me before.  I write about Moby Dick all the time, and I’ve never read the whole thing.  Maybe I’m the best person to write about these books because since I haven’t finished them, I have nothing emotionally invested in them and so I’m as unbiased as a book critic(?) can be.

I read 10 pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but I stopped because of the word “Dumbledore.”  I don’t know why I find “Dumbledore” annoying, but I do, and I can’t help what annoys me and what doesn’t.  I was surprised that Dumbledore was enough to make me stop reading.  I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my time, and I’m sure there are lots of names more annoying than Dumbledore, but I can’t think of them offhand.

Who knows?  Maybe I could get past Dumbledore and read a Harry Potter book, but there are seven books in the series, and I don’t read more than three books from any author anymore, so I might as well not try.  I won’t read A Song of Ice and Fire because it’s too many books, and I don’t think Dumbledore is even a name in Game of Thrones.

I read 50 pages of The Cuckoo’s Calling before I quit.  I didn’t see any annoying names in The Cuckoo’s Calling, and if there isn’t an annoying name in the first 50 pages, a book is probably safe to read, but I didn’t quit reading The Cuckoo’s Calling because of a name.  I quit because after 50 pages not much had happened

The first 50 pages of The Cuckoo’s Calling are kind of slow.  I have a feeling that The Cuckoo’s Calling is a 450 page book with a 150 page story.  When I read a mystery, I just want the case solved and justice served. I don’t care much for personal details about the detective.  I like my 150 page mysteries solved in 150 pages (or maybe even 200 if the detective is really really interesting).  There must be a market for 150 page mysteries in 450 page novels.  I keep running into them in libraries and bookstores.

Maybe comparing JK Rowling to Robert Galbraith isn’t fair to Robert Galbraith.  After all, Harry Potter was more groundbreaking for fantasy and YA literature than Cormoran Strike is for mysteries.  And whether she deserves credit for this or not, JK Rowling is seen as mainstreaming fantasy at a time when it was for oddballs (and I mean that in a good way because I was an oddball who read fantasy… I just don’t like the name Dumbledore).

The conspiratorial side of me believes that JK Rowling isn’t really Robert Galbraith.  The conspiratorial side of me believes that Robert Galbraith is a friend of JK Rowling and he wrote a book, and it didn’t sell that well, and so JK Rowling came to the rescue by having a lawyer “accidentally” reveal that she was using Robert Galbraith as a pseudonym.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy and far-fetched, but if the U.S. government can stage a fake moon-landing, then JK Rowling could stage a fake pseudonym.

This fake pseudonym thing could be a new career move for JK Rowling.  Whenever a decent new author writes a novel that struggles in sales, JK Rowling can swoop in and declare that she’s the real author trying a pseudonym, and the new book will become an instant bestseller.  She could be like the next James Patterson, and she wouldn’t even have to share valuable cover space with a co-author.

If JK Rowling really wanted to, she could compete with James Patterson for most-books-sold-ever.  I’m sure a bunch of new authors with no book sales wouldn’t mind.  If JK Rowling came out one day and said Jimmy Norman was one of her pseudonyms, and she had written a short ebook called The Writing Prompt and that she also writes a blog called Dysfunctional Literacy, and The Writing Prompt became a bestseller, and Dysfunctional Literacy got millions of hits, I don’t think the real Jimmy Norman would mind, as long as he got a good chunk of money out of it.  I’d even keep my mouth shut.

If this happened, I’d still badmouth James Patterson for having coauthors write (unknown portions of) his books for him.  I might be a hypocrite, but I’d also be JK Rowling, so I could afford to be a hypocrite.

*****

But enough about me.  What do you think?  If JK Rowling said you were her pseudonym, would you be okay with that?  Is it okay to write about books that you barely started?  Are the Robert Galbraith books as slow as I think they are?  Was I wrong about who would win in each fight?  Would you rather read a 150 page story in a 450 page novel, or a 150 page story in a 150 page novel, or a 450 page story in a 150 page novel?  Is The Silkworm also a 150 page story in a 450 page book?

What Makes a Bad Word a Bad Word?

I'm usually a polite guy, but sometimes certain inappropriate words must be said (image via wikimedia)

I’m usually a polite guy, but sometimes an  inappropriate word must be uttered. (image via wikimedia)

I yelled out “Sh*t!” in the grocery store today.  It was a little out of character for me.  I rarely use profanity or bad language when I’m out in public.

In this case, I might have been justified. I was reaching for one of those metal handles in the refrigerated section, and I got zapped so hard I could hear the “ZZzzzpppp!”  I yelped out my profanity and danced around swinging my hand when I noticed a family with a bunch of kids watching me.  I’m not sure if they found my profanity or my dancing (or maybe both) curious, so I moved on, embarrassed.

Maybe I shouldn’t have felt bad.  “Sh*t!” is just a word.  I mean, it’s one of those words that I was taught not to say as a kid, but it’s still just a word.  It’s a word that led to me getting my mouth washed out with soap when I was a kid, but it’s still just a word.

Years ago, after I had gotten my mouth washed out with soap (it’s worse than it sounds) and I’d had a moment to reflect, I wondered why some words were so bad to say.  Why was it okay to say “defecation” but not “sh*t”?  Why is it proper to say “copulate” or “fornicate” but not “f*ck”?  Why is it tactful to say “male appendage” instead of “d*ck” or “pr*ck” or “c*ck”?  I almost feel sorry for the male appendage because there’s almost no way to mention it without offending somebody.

As an adult, I understand.  It’s all about the syllables.

If you’re going to refer to a socially sensitive body part or bodily function, you have to use a word with more than one syllable.  “F*ck,” “sh*t,” “c*ck, and almost every other good cuss word has a root word that is only one syllable.  “Fornicate,”  “defecate,” and “appendage” all have several syllables.  Yes, “motherf*cker has four syllables, but the root word is “f*ck,” and any word with “f*ck” is going to be considered a cuss word.  The same principal applies to “sh*thead,” or “sh*tty,” or “sh*tfaced” or “pieceofsh*t.”

The good thing about multisyllabic profanity is that I have a chance to correct or censor myself before I finish swearing.  If I’m with my kids, I try not to swear, but if I’m driving and others on the road aren’t cooperating, I can’t help it.  I catch myself saying/yelling things like:

“Motherf….!”

“You sunuva….!”

“You pieceof…!”

“What the…!”

If I don’t complete the last syllable, it’s not really cussing.  At least, that’s what I tell myself (and my kids).  I’m an adult; I can determine for myself what is profanity and what is not, and a half-swear is not nearly as bad as a full-swear.

Kids, on the other hand, are not allowed to half-swear.  If kids aren’t allowed to use full profanity, they shouldn’t be allowed to half-swear either.  If a kid yells out “Sunuva….!” without completing the word, it should still mean a good mouth-washing (depending on the child protective laws of your state or country).  I wasn’t allowed to half-swear when I was a kid.  Today’s kids shouldn’t be allowed to either.

Since kids sometimes accidentally read Dysfunctional Literacy, I feel obligated to censor the profanity in some way. I’m not sure it’s effective.  If I write “sh*t,” everybody knows what it means.  The * sign isn’t really hiding anything or changing the meaning.  It just makes me feel better as a human being.  I’m a better person than a blogger who actually spells out “sh*t.”  I don’t mean that, but it still makes me feel better.

H#ll, I don’t even know which symbol to use when I write censored profanity. None of them look right.  Is there a standardized symbol for each profane word?  If there isn’t, maybe somebody should develop one.  I’d do it, but I’m kind of wishy-washy, and none of the symbols look right to me anyway.

It’s probably because of people like me that words are considered vulgar at all. After all, I have standards.  I want civilization to be civilized.    If it weren’t for people like me, everybody could walk around naked in public yelling “F*ck!” all the time and nobody would care.  But yelling “F*ck!” all the time would get old quickly (and I don’t want to see most people naked).  It’s not really censorship because I don’t believe the government should put you in jail for yelling “F*ck!”  I think a disapproving look is enough (except for kids, whose mouths should be washed out with soap).

In a civilized society, some words (and maybe even ideas) should not be spoken publicly.  And some words should not be spoken by kids until they’re adults.  Kids should have something to look forward to, and freedom of profane expression is awesome when you’ve been getting your mouth washed out with soap for 16-18 years.  I just realized that my mom wasn’t being abusive when she was washing out my mouth; she was guaranteeing that I would appreciate profanity when I was an adult.

Profanity has its place.  It can be a useful stress reliever if the words are used sparingly.  Spout your curse words too frequently, however, and they lose their power.  I don’t know if that’s really true; it just sounds good to me.

So the next time you crack your head against a cabinet, and the only relief from the pain comes from screaming “F*ck!” really loud, thank people like me.

*****

What do you think?  Is there such a thing as a bad word?  Is there any logic behind it?  In what situations do you use bad words?  Was getting my mouth washed out with soap that bad (or is my memory over-dramatizing things)?  Is a half-swear as bad as a full-swear?

Bad Sentences in Classic Literature: Moby Dick

Reading about Moby Dick might be more fun than actually reading Moby Dick.

Reading about Moby Dick might be more fun than actually reading Moby Dick.

Despite a title that causes some snickering, Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a classic for a reason. When readers who love Moby Dick discuss Moby Dick, they talk about stuff like symbolism and theme.  But when readers who despise Moby Dick explain why they hate it, they usually mention the way it’s written.  The sentences are tough to read, and there are way too many of them.

I almost didn’t want to write about Moby Dick because people will automatically assume that I am making fun of the title, but I’m not.  I’ve made fun of the title before, and it’s probably not fair to do that because the word “dick” didn’t mean the same thing back when Moby Dick was first published, so readers (probably) didn’t snicker at the title back then.  If they did, they were ahead of their time.

Even though I’m not a big fan of this classic novel, I have to admit that Moby Dick starts off strong with one of the best opening sentences in all of literature.

“Call me Ishmael.”

As far as opening sentences go, it’s not a bad sentence.  It’s short.  It’s diagrammable.  It tells you who the narrator is.  But it’s misleading.  It doesn’t prepare the reader for what comes next.  And a reader like me needs to be emotionally ready for a sentence that soon follows “Call me Ishmael.”

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral that I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

Maybe this shows my deficiencies as a reader, but I was okay with the “damp, drizzly November in my soul.”  I think Melville (or Ishmael) could have stopped right there and gone straight to “I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”  Everything else just made the sentence worse (and the novel longer).

There are a lot of these kinds of sentences in Moby Dick.  For example, at the end of Chapter 24 “The Advocate” is this sentence/paragraph:

“And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

Maybe the semicolon usage was correct back in 1850.  Maybe it was a stylistic thing.  I understand that. but it’s confusing to be taught one way to use semicolons in school and then see them used differently in classic literature.  If I had used semicolons the way Melville used them in Moby Dick, I would have failed my English classes.

A sentence doesn’t have to be long to be a bad sentence (but it helps).

For example, this bad sentence at the beginning of Chapter 28 “Captain Ahab” describes a “rod-like mark, lividly whitish” on Captain Ahab’s face and neck.

“It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded.”

Maybe I’m wrong to not want more, but I was okay with “rod-like mark, lividly whitish.”  To me, the sentence about “that perpendicular seam” is more distracting than descriptive.   The thing is, I’ve never seen THAT kind of “perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it,” so it’s difficult for me to visualize it.  Maybe rural readers in the 1850s were more accustomed to seeing seams in trees than they were in seeing scars.  Maybe I don’t appreciate metaphors enough.  Maybe that’s what keeps me from being a successful writer.

I’ll admit, it’s easier to read a difficult book when you look for bad sentences.  I’ll never read Moby Dick because I’m old enough now to decide what I’ll read and what I won’t read.  But if I absolutely had to read it again, I’d purposely look for bad sentences while I was reading.  It’s fun to look for bad sentences.  Also fun is trying to figure out what bad sentences mean.  It’s like doing a crossword puzzle without so much necessary prior knowledge.

Not all sentences in Moby Dick are bad.  I’d be foolish to suggest anything like that.  Some sentences are great.  I’ve already mentioned the first sentence.  And toward the end of the novel in the final full chapter “The Chase-Third Day”, Captain Ahab shouts out:

“What ho, Tashtego!”

That’s a great sentence.  It’s difficult to top a rhyming greeting or farewell.  I’d never heard of “What ho, Tashtego!”  I’ve heard “What’s up, Chuck!” but “What ho, Tashtego!” is way better because it rhymes.  It’s like “See you later, alligator!” or “In a while, crocodile!” except you can use it to greet people instead of saying farewell.

I think we should bring back “What ho!” as a standard greeting (but I don’t want to be the first guy to try it).  I think it’s time we mature adults reclaim the word “ho” and bring it back to its original meaning.  We should make “What ho!” so common that nobody laughs or starts fights over it.

After that, we can take back the word “dick” and just make it a guy’s name again.  But that might be asking too much.

*****

What do you think?  Were these sentences from Moby Dick really that bad?  Or do I just NOT get it?  What other bad sentences can you find in Moby Dick?  What other book would you like to see next in “Bad Sentences in Classic Literature”?

A Brand New James Patterson Joke!

James Patterson's co-authors wrote five books in the time it took to take this picture.   (image via Wikimedia)

James Patterson’s co-authors wrote two books in the time it took to take this picture. (image via Wikimedia)

It’s tough to write a James Patterson joke because you know that very few people are going to get it, and the very few who do understand it probably won’t think it’s funny.  Despite these obstacles, I felt again compelled to write another…

BRAND NEW JAMES PATTERSON JOKE!

*****

James Patterson, Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Danielle Steel, and an unknown author were competing to see who could write a 300-page novel in the fastest time.  The six authors gathered at a coffee shop, pulled out their laptops, tablets, and other assorted writing devices, and began composing furiously.

While the other authors stared at screens and tapped at keyboards, James Patterson sat back on a couch, smoked a cigar, and drank coffee.  I don’t know if James Patterson really smokes cigars and drinks coffee, but he does in this story.  He occasionally checked his tablet/smart phone, and then went back to smoking and drinking coffee.

After a few hours  of writing, the unknown author finally stopped and took a deep breath.  The other authors (except James Patterson) continued writing.

“Done!” James Patterson suddenly declared.  He printed out hundreds of pages of text and handed a manuscript to each of the competing authors.  James Patterson then left to take a break while the other authors judged his work.

“This manuscript is full of half-page chapters,” Stephen King said.  “That’s typical James Patterson.”

“The plot is far-fetched, and the dialogue is atrocious,” Janet Evanovich said.  “That’s typical James Patterson.”

“I can barely see my name because his takes up all the space,” the unknown author complained, squinting at the cover of the manuscript.  “That’s typical James Patterson.”

*****

Cough, cough!  Okay, it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these.  I guess I’m a little rusty.

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