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Legend of the Almost-Expired Milk

(image via wikimedia)

When I was in sixth grade, I knew not to drink expired milk.  Everybody knew.  Even the dumb kids knew not to do that.  When dumb kids drank expired milk, it was because they hadn’t known it was expired.  Sometimes dumb kids didn’t check the expiration date on the cartons or didn’t sniff the milk before they drank it.  But everybody knew not to drink expired milk if they knew it was expired.

Almost-expired milk was a little different.  A bunch of us sixth-grade boys (and maybe a couple fifth graders too, now that I think about it) had collected stacks of almost-expired milk from the cafeteria ladies (you can read more about it here).  My classmate Kevin had just challenged me to a milk-drinking contest, and there were only a few minutes left in lunch.

We had to establish the rules quickly.  We each would drink a carton at the same time.  After were were done, we would drink the next one simultaneously.  Whoever gave up first, lost.  I don’t remember if we shook on it.  The winner didn’t get anything out of it except pride.

Bets weren’t always like that.  Sometime that year (I don’t know if it was earlier or later), some kid bet me $20 that the droids in Star Wars, R2D2 and C3PO, were real robots.  I knew there were actors inside the droids, so I took the bet.  Weeks later, I found a magazine that had an interview with one of the actors (the internet didn’t exist back then, so stupid bets could take a long time to settle), and that was that.  I didn’t even take the money, it was such a stupid bet.  My mom actually got mad at me for not taking the money because she knew that kid would have taken mine (and probably would have tried to charge me interest).

When it came to drinking milk, pride was enough.  We drank the first pint-sized cartons together just fine.  The second was uneventful too.  I don’t even think the third was a problem.  To be honest, I don’t remember how many I drank.  I just know that at some point my stomach told me to stop, so I bailed out.

“I can’t do anymore,” I said slowly.  I hated saying it.  I really hated losing to Kevin.  A couple classmates behind me called me names.

Kevin took one gulp from the next carton and slammed it down on the table.  The boys cheered.  Most of them had wanted me to win, but they cheered anyway.  If we had kept drinking milk, I told myself, we would have gotten in trouble for being late to class.

As we were walking out the cafeteria and into the school lobby, Kevin kept badgering me.

“Hey, stick.  Who’s the Milk-Drinking King?  I am.  And don’t you forget it”

And he kept going on.

“You think you can drink more milk than me, stick?  I’ll beat you again tomorrow if you challenge me.  I’m the Milk-Drinking King.”

Kevin sat behind me in class too.  The classroom was set up in rows of five, and I was in the fourth desk of a row.  The teacher was late (it was okay for her to be late, but not us), and most of us were just sitting around talking, and a couple of boys were wandering around like they always did and would keep wandering until the teacher told them to sit down.  I think I had a comic book out while I waited.  I was reading when I noticed that Kevin wasn’t talking anymore.

I turned to see what he was up to.  The smirk was gone.  His eyes looked a little glazed.  He stared straight, but he wasn’t looking at me.  His mouth hung open a bit.

I recognized that look.  Oh no, I thought.  I didn’t want to say anything.  Saying something could make it worse.  I was in Kevin’s direct line of fire, but if I moved abruptly, I could cause him to… I didn’t want to think about it.

Nobody else seemed to notice Kevin.  They had forgotten that he’d consumed a bunch of almost-expired milk.  Milk drinking wasn’t the kind of contest that people remembered for long, unless afterwards the contest caused the participants to…

“Kevin,” I said slowly and quietly, “do you need to walk to the bathroom?”

His eyes focused for a moment, and he nodded.

“I don’t think the teacher will mind,” I said.  She wasn’t even in the room.

Kevin stood up.  I really wanted to jump out of my desk and get out of his range, but I kept still.  It’s weird what causes me to panic and what doesn’t.  I’ve been in life-threatening situations where I handled things cooly and without thinking.  In other times, I’ve panicked and freaked out over nothing.  I’m not sure this situation was life-threatening, but my instincts told me to be very still.

Kevin took a step and looked down at me, his glazed eyes watering.  I pointed the opposite direction to the door.  Please at least look toward the door, I thought.  He looked at the door and took another step.  Then another step.  And another.  And he was past me.

I slumped in my desk.  I was safe.

Meanwhile, Kevin kept walking, step by step.  He made it to the front of the classroom by the teacher’s desk and turned toward the door.  The class was silent.  Even the wanderers had stopped moving.  The wanderers were frozen in the back corner of the room.  They weren’t going anywhere.

Kevin kept his steady walk toward the door.  Just make it to the hallway, everyone thought collectively.  Not in the classroom, we thought, not in the classroom.  Kevin was almost to the door.  He had one more row of students to pass.

He was going to make it, I thought.  It was just milk.  He could make it to the bathroom if it was just milk.  He could at least get out of the classroom.  He had only a few more steps…

And then Kevin stopped.  And a a girl screamed.

You know what happened next.

To be continued.

Bill Clinton and James Patterson Team Up for a Sequel

This is getting a sequel.

I just saw a headline that James Patterson and Bill Clinton are teaming up again to write a sequel to their novel The President is Missing.  I didn’t read much beyond that.  I didn’t click the article.  I just said, “Of course,” and moved on.

Of course Bill Clinton and James Patterson are writing a sequel.  Why wouldn’t they?  The President Is Missing made a ton of money, and it didn’t require much effort.  When you make a ton of money from not trying very hard, you’ll do it again.

I read the first few chapters of The President Is Missing a few weeks after it came out.  It wasn’t as sloppy as most of James Patterson’s book, but it was still pretty bad, and the first scene didn’t make any sense once you realized what had really happened.

I understand why James Patterson and Bill Clinton would feel comfortable working together.  Both have been rewarded for their bad behavior.  At the very least, their bad behavior has been ignored.

James Patterson is a competent writer who intentionally puts out books that aren’t really publishable.  If any non-famous writer tried to get a James Patterson book published, the book companies would think the writer was incompetent.  I’ve listed the flaws in Patterson’s writing in the past.  Nobody argues about the flaws.  It’s just that nobody cares.

James Patterson has talent and the resources to write higher quality books and still make a ton of money.  Instead, he intentionally publishes garbage to make even more money, and he rarely gets called on it.  I think there’s a chance he purposefully writes crappy books just to see how much readers will put up with.

Nobody has ever really disagreed with me about James Patterson.  Like I said, people just don’t care.  I don’t even care THAT much.  I don’t lose sleep over it.  It’s just something interesting about book publishing that the big book sites won’t talk about, so somebody has to (even if I have no influence).

Bill Clinton’s bad behavior is a little different (and I hesitate to write about it because people turn demonic when it comes to politics, so I’ll tread lightly to make my point).  Some policy wonks believe that Bill Clinton has been rewarded for legislation in the 1990s that is now looked on with disfavor.  That’s not exclusive to Bill Clinton.  Most politicians enact legislation that looks good short-term but you find out 10/20/30 years later that a bunch of people got screwed over.

Some also believe that Clinton got away with really bad personal behavior too.  I’m not getting into that argument, but I understand. If you believe that Bill Clinton did what he was accused of doing, then you would think he got away with (and maybe was even rewarded for) bad behavior.  I mean, he’s been a politician for most of his adult life; of course he’s gotten away with something.

At any rate, both James Patterson and Bill Clinton are being rewarded because they wrote(?) a mediocre book that sold a lot of copies.  In my mind, the publishing companies used hype and celebrity to trick readers into buying a mediocre book, and they’re going to do it again.

The book publishers don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing.  From a trickster’s point-of-view, it’s up to the other person not to get tricked.

Now that I think about it, though, I’m not sure where the headline about the sequel to The President Is Missing came from.  I didn’t read the article, and I didn’t cross-reference the information.  I hope the article wasn’t from a hoax site.  I really hope I didn’t just write a blog post based on a headline from a hoax parody site.  Aaarrgh!

I hate getting tricked.

I’m Going To A Used Book Store Today!

(image via wikimedia)

I just realized today that the bookstores in my area are open!  So many stores have been closed for so long that I forgot that the places I used to like could reopen when everything else reopens.  So today I am finally going to a used book store

I haven’t been in a used book store for a long time.  Even before the abbreviated horror closed everything down, I hadn’t visited for a while.  A few years ago, I sold most of my book collection to help pay off debt (and clear up clutter), and I began using our public library for fresh reading material.

Even though I made the right decision in selling the books, I could have used some of those books right over the last few months.  A bunch of them were old paperbacks that I knew I wouldn’t read again, so they were just wasted sitting on my shelves.  I’m pretty sure I sold them to people who’d read them.  If not, that’s the new owners’ fault, not mine.  I did my part by parting with the books.

But I could really use a used book store right now.  I miss being surrounded by old paperback books, even if I know I won’t read them all.  I can find almost all those old books online now.  Access isn’t a problem.  It’s just that I want a real book.  Most of my work is done on a computer now.  A lot of my entertainment is on my phone now.  I want real books so that I’m not staring at a screen all the time.

Right now I’m reading The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John LeCarre.  I’ve had this book since I was in high school, but I’ve never read it.  When I sold my books, I kept it because I hadn’t read it yet.  Now I’m reading it because the libraries and used book stores are closed.

I have other old pulpy books that I didn’t get rid of.  I kept my Horatio Hornblower books because my dad had them as a kid and some of them are good.  I kept a bunch of old Isaac Asimov books.  I also kept a bunch of sword & sorcery from the 1960s and 1970s because it had been so difficult to find before the internet.  If I had struggled to find certain books before the internet, I usually get attached to them.  I worked to get those books, dagnabbit!

Even with all these old books still in my closet, I’m looking forward to going to a used book store.  I’m going to walk up and down the paperback aisles and browse through the fantasy section, the mystery/thriller section, the fiction/literature section.  I’m going to find a few old paperbacks that are almost falling apart, even if they haven’t been sanitized recently.  I’m going to take my time, even if there’s a line outside because of 25-50% capacity (I don’t know which).

I promise that I’ll wear a mask.  I’ll even wear more than one mask if necessary.  I’ll hold my breath the entire I’m in the store.  I’ll social distance and keep a thermometer in my ear the whole time, I promise.

I might even buy something.

The Tale of the Almost-Expired Milk

This story takes place before faces were on milk cartons. And who thought it was a good idea to do this? Why would you traumatize kids while they’re drinking milk? (image via wikimedia)

My memory isn’t always the most accurate, but I’m pretty sure this happened when I was in sixth grade.  I had a lot of friends in sixth grade, and this story took place in elementary school, and sixth grade back in 1977 was the final grade in elementary school.  This story couldn’t have happened without a bunch of friends around me egging me on.  I had friends in seventh grade too, but that was junior high, and there’s no way this happened in junior high.

The whole thing started when a kid named Kevin sat down with a tray stacked with pint-sized milk cartons from the food line. It was nearing the end of lunch time in the school cafeteria, and everyone except me was done eating.  I have a fast metabolism, so I ate a lot.  If a school gave me 30 minutes to eat, I ate for 30 minutes.  I’ve always been like that.

“They’re giving these away,” Kevin said.  “They expire tomorrow.”  He showed us the expiration date on one of the cartons.

I’d taken only one milk earlier, and I was still eating, so I asked, “Do they have any left?”

“Yeah!” he said excitedly, maybe too excitedly.

A bunch of us got up from the table and rushed to the food line.  I don’t know why everybody was excited about free milk.  I guess it was because it was free.  “Free” makes everything better to a kid.  Most of my friends threw away the milk they got in line every day.  Now they wanted more free milk just because it was there.

The cafeteria ladies gave it to us too.  We asked them to stock our trays with free almost-expired milk, and they did.  They piled the free milk on our trays.  They didn’t even ask us why we wanted so much free milk.  That’s okay.  We wouldn’t have had a reason.

And just so you know, they were all cafeteria ladies.  At least they were female and old.  Back In 1977, no man would work in our school cafeteria.  The men might clean the school, and they definitely did the maintenance and outside stuff, but no men worked in the cafeteria in 1977.  At least not where I lived.  So we called them cafeteria ladies.  And everybody liked it just fine.

Actually, I’m pretty sure not everybody liked it just fine, but I’m getting older, and I’d better start talking like I’m getting older.  It gives the story more of a nostalgic feel.

Looking back (another nostalgic detail), you can learn a lot about bureaucracy from this.  The cafeteria ladies ordered too much stuff, gave most of it away on the final day, and then they ordered too much stuff again because on paper they had run out of it on the last day; that or they adjusted the next order.  Either way, nobody would get in trouble for ordering too much stuff.  It would all look good on paper.  And if the bureaucracy plays funny numbers with milk, they’ll play funny numbers with anything.

But I don’t do math.  I tell stories.  And some of them are even true, like this one.

So a bunch of us boys (no girls were involved with this part of the story) sat at our lunch table with a bunch of full pint-sized milk cartons and maybe ten minutes to do something with them.  We all looked at each other like, what now?  I thought we were going to stack them.  And then knock them down.  That’s what we should have done, built a giant leaning tower of milk cartons and then knocked it down right before the dismissal bell.

When it comes to hundreds of almost-expired milk cartons, there are a lot of bad ideas that kids can get.  And my brain was just starting to get fired up.

Then Kevin started it.  This wasn’t my idea, I promise.  I had a bunch of bad ideas, but this wasn’t one of them.

“”Hey, Jimmy,” Kevin said to me.  “You gonna drink your milks?”

“Some of them,” I said.  I hadn’t even counted all my milks yet, but I was going to drink at least one of them.  I didn’t want to be too wasteful.  Even back in 1977, there was talk about how humans were too wasteful.  If I remember correctly, back in 1977 everything was supposed to have been dead by 1999 because of human wastefulness, so sometimes I get skeptical when I hear people talk about the end of the world.  I remember acid rain, ozone layer depletion, overpopulation, and destruction of the Amazon Rain forest.  We humans were supposed to have destroyed the world by 1999.

The thing is, whenever I mention to doomsayers that we’ve lived an extra 20 years and act like it’s great news, doomsayers get sour (even more-so than normal) and push the date back.  I think now they say we have 12 years, but I’ve lost track.  If we’re still alive in 12 years, they’ll probably get mad.

“I bet I can drink more milks than you,” Kevin said.

Kevin was shorter than I was and kind of pudgy, but he couldn’t put down food like I could.  Or milk.

“No, you can’t,” I said.  I didn’t mean it in an argumentative way.  It was factual.  From anecdotal data that I had witnessed myself, I knew that I could drink more milks than Kevin.  Yeah, there was ego involved too, but I knew he was factually wrong.

“You skinny stick,” he said.  “”There’s no way you can drink as much milk as me.”

You can imagine the circular argument that followed.  And there was only one way to resolve this kind of dispute.  And I’ll get to it in the next episode.

To be continued!

Literary Glance: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is kind of noteworthy because it’s Whitehead’s second Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  Winning two Pulitzers is a pretty decent accomplishment.   If you write one Pulitzer Prize winning book (his first was The Underground Railroad in 2017), anything you write after that will get publicized.  If you win two Pulitzer Prizes, you’re at great risk of being treated like a literary deity.

I actually feel a little bad for Colson Whitehead because a lot of literary people are going to start freaking out around him.  Whenever he says something slightly clever, they will laugh hysterically.  Whenever he says something slightly insightful, his audience will grunt in unified agreement.  It’s not Whitehead’s fault that people act like this.  It’s not Whitehead’s fault that he’s written two Pulitzer Prize winning novels.

The good news for Colson Whitehead is that most people still don’t know what he looks like.  He’s not like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling; outside of a few snooty literary circles, he can go anywhere he wants without being disturbed.

I still wonder, though, what does it take to get Pulitzer to notice your book (other than having won one already)?  What does it take to win a Pulitzer?    Since I’m just reading a free sample (I’m a cheap bastard during the abbreviated horror), I decided to focus just on the beginning of The Nickel Boys.  I wanted to see what would make The Nickel Boys look like a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The prologue focuses on the history of a villainous boy’s school.  It’s an evil place, almost unrealistically evil, but that’s okay because unrealistically evil things happen in real life.  After the villainous Nickel school is established, chapter one starts with a boy named Ellwood (who was briefly mentioned as an adult in the prologue):

So here’s the first paragraph of Chapter 1, which starts providing details about Elwood:

Elwood received the best gift of his life on Christmas Day 1962, even if the ideas it put in his head were his undoing.  Martin Luther King at Zion Hill was the only album he owned and it never left the turntable.  His grandmother Harriet had a few gospel records, which she only played when the world discovered a new mean way to work on her, and Elwood wasn’t allowed to listen to the Motown groups or popular songs like that on account of their licentious nature.  The rest of his presents that year were clothes- a new red sweater, socks-and he certainly wore those out, but nothing endured such good and constant use as the record.  Every scratch and pop it gathered over the months was a mark of his enlightenment, tracking each time he entered into a new understanding of the reverend’s words.  The crackle of the truth.

Yeah, this paragraph is solid, but it’s nothing noteworthy by itself.  This chapter establishes Elwood as a sympathetic young man but with some issues.  The readers know something bad is going to happen, especially after the foreshadowing of the first sentence and the prologue setting up the villainous boys’ school.  I’m also guessing the readers will see Elwood later in the book as an adult dealing with the trauma from the time at Nickel, probably searching (and finding) other boys from the school.

I foresee trauma, lots and lots of trauma.  Hopefully, The Nickel Boys won’t be melotraumatic.  Trauma is bad, but melo-traumatic is really bad.

The Nickel Boys so far doesn’t read like literary fiction.  A lot of literary authors seem to try too hard by writing overly complicated sentences and overusing stream-of-consciousness.  Colson Whitehead hasn’t done this yet.  It might happen.  I think the Pulitzer committee requires a certain amount of stream-of-consciousness in a novel before it can be considered, so it must be in there somewhere.

The Nickel Boys doesn’t have any obvious gimmicks right away.  Most Pulitzer Prize winning novels have a unique gimmick or a set of gimmicks that enhance (from the judges’ points of view) the story.  By gimmick, I mean overdone literary device.  Last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Overstory was told from the perspective of trees.  It was interesting but still a gimmick.  The gimmick in the novel Less was a loser whose name was… ugh… I’m not even getting into it.  A Visit from the Goon Squad flipped points-of-view and verb tenses throughout each chapter.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao inundated the reader with pop culture references (that are probably outdated now).

The Nickel Boys doesn’t seem to have any gimmicks yet.  That doesn’t mean it won’t have any later on.  That’s good because obvious gimmicks are annoying, and they’re even worse when awards committees fall for them.  Hopefully the novel doesn’t get melotraumatic.  I hate melo-trauma.  But so far it’s at least good enough to keep reading.  It feels like a normal book.  That’s good because if I ever meet Colson Whitehead, I want to act like he’s a normal person.

*****

What do you think?  Have you read The Nickel Boys?  What qualities made it a Pulitzer-winning book?  How bad will literature fanboys freak out around Colson Whitehead now that he’s been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction?

I Wrote A Letter To My Teenage Self (and you’ll be SHOCKED by what happened next)

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to my past teenage self.  Writing the letter wasn’t a big deal.  After I wrote it, though, I decided to send it to myself in the past.  What happened next was kind of surprising.

Whenever something weird happens to me, people don’t believe me, probably because I come across as such an average guy.  Maybe writing about a bizarre incident like this isn’t enough.  Maybe I have to tell it in order for people to believe me.  So I tell the story in the video below (but you can read along with the transcript too):

*****

What do you think?  Have you ever written a letter to your past or future self?  What do you think your past or future self would say to your present self?

What Is The BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!?

I hope I didn’t give the answer away with this picture.

There are a lot of good reasons to read a mystery novel.  The books are usually short, and they’re almost always self-contained.  Most mysteries follow a formula that the audience is comfortable with.  Plus, most mysteries deal with murder, and nothing is more interesting than a good murder, as long as it doesn’t involve you or anybody you know.

Figuring out the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!! should be difficult because so many mysteries are so similar and everybody’s BEST EVER!! criteria is different.  Despite various sub-genres (the whodunit, the hardboiled, the “think like a killer to catch a killer”), once you’ve read a couple within each category, you’ve read them all.

A BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!! should be a unique book.  It should combine all elements (except for the “think like a killer to catch a killer” because most of those suck).  It should be both a hardboiled detective story and a whodunit.  It should be so good that it can’t be copied (though it might have been tried).  And that book is The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.

Here are three reasons why The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett is the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!

1.   NICK AND NORA

The Thin Man has Nick and Nora Charles.  Some mystery fans think of Nick and Nora as the first husband-and-wife detective duo, but it’s not quite like that in the book.  Maybe by 1930s standards, Nora was considered part of the sleuthing team, but by today’s criteria, she is just kind of a nuisance at times.  At least she had the right to vote.

Still, the male-female aspect to sleuthing has been copied many times (or perhaps done better as an actual male-female detective duo).  Nick and Nora (deservedly or not) are considered the first.  I understand the movie plays on this a little more than the book does, but I’ll still use this as a reason.

2.   HARDBOILED SARCASM

The sarcasm in this book makes it stand out a lot.  The Thin Man was written almost 100 years ago, but with its heavy sarcasm, it feels like it came out much more recently than that.  The dialogue in the book is so good, that almost entire scenes were used in the movie version of The Thin Man.

Every script writer should read this novel (alright, maybe that’s a little presumptuous on my part), just to see how dialogue should be written.  Scenes with four or five characters are easy to follow.  Even scenes with long paragraphs of dialogue exposition have one-liners that make it dangerous to skim because you might miss something.

3.   IT’S THE ONLY ONE

Once you’re done reading The Thin Man, that’s it.  There are no other Nick Charles mysteries.  Yeah, you have the movie sequels, but they don’t count.  Yeah, I think The Thin Man movie is better than the book in some ways, but I still like the book a lot, enough to think it’s the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!

DISCLAIMER

The Thin Man is far from being a perfect book.  There is a lot of exposition through dialogue (that bugs other readers more than it bugs me because I love the dialogue).  Since the reader never feels like Nick or Nora’s lives are in danger, the book isn’t very suspenseful.  There are also a couple scenes that don’t seem to belong in the book (you’ll probably know them when you read them).

But The Thin Man is so great in other areas that its strengths far overwhelm its weaknesses.  I could be biased because of the movie.  I think The Thin Man is almost a perfect movie for its time.  Maybe my love for the movie makes me think more fondly of the book than it deserves.  Maybe.

MYSTERIES THAT AREN’T QUITE BEST EVER!

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie-

Readers who know a lot more about the genre might consider this one as BEST EVER!  It’s probably more famous than The Thin Man, and it’s considered the ultimate whodunit (or is Death on the Nile considered the ultimate whodunit?).

Maybe with Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie wrote the BEST MURDER MYSTERY SERIES EVER (if you call it a series), but once you’re done with one book, there are more to read, and in some ways they are interchangeable.

A Study in Scarlet– by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

How could this NOT be the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER?  It’s SHERLOCK flippin’ HOLMES!!  The greatest detective of all time in his first and maybe greatest novel of all.  Plus, the guy who played Iron Man plays Sherlock Holmes.  The guy who played Iron Man will never play Nick Charles (though I’d rather see him do it than Johnny Depp).

Sherlock Holmes may be the BEST FICTIONAL DETECTIVE EVER!!, but none of the novels stand out enough to be the BEST EVER.  There’s only one Nick Charles novel, and there are a bunch of Sherlock Holmes stories.  And again, if you don’t think that’s a good standard in which to judge BEST MYSTERY EVER!!, I understand.  I get it.

I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane-

Mickey Spillane could churn out novels in a way that John Sandford and Janet Evanovich can only dream about, and I, the Jury is the most famous one.  Again, once you’ve read a few Mickey Spillane novels, you’ve read most of them.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris-

I’m almost joking about this, but not quite.  This is a novel that benefited a lot from its movie.  The Silence of the Lambs inspired countless novels and movies about female protagonists hunting and getting hunted by serial killers.  The novel itself isn’t BEST EVER!!, but it’s probably the most influential serial killer mystery of the last couple generations.

*****

Alright, enough about my opinions!  What book do you think is the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!?

Awkward Moments in Dating: Prom Revisited

(image via wikimedia)

Students who are missing out on prom this year because of the abbreviated horror shouldn’t feel too bad.  The abbreviated horror has caused a lot of things to be canceled, and prom is probably the least important of them all.  Maybe it’s important to a few high school seniors.  And it’s important to the formal clothing rental business.

But to normal high school students? Prom is just an expensive date, if you can even get a date.

I went to my prom.  Yeah, it was over 35 years ago.  I wrote about it last year as a blog serial, but it took a while to finish.  Now it’s completed.  It’s not a pretty story.  It’s kind of awkward.  But most of my dating experiences were awkward.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t have minded if our prom had been canceled by an abbreviated horror.

Awkward Moments in Dating:  Prom

(image via wikimedia)

When it comes to me and dating, high school was the worst.  At that point in my life, it seemed like I had peaked in first grade when I’d had two girlfriends at the same time and they’d fought over me and I thought it was cool.  In 7th grade, I got hit on by a 9th grade girl, and that could have been a dating milestone, but my mom put a stop to that.  At the time I was ticked off, but now I know my mom did the right thing.

Then I started getting weird growth spurts.  I became really uncoordinated.  My clothes never fit right.  I spent all my time and money on comic books (it was cool in elementary school but not in junior high).  My face broke out, and 1980s dermatology usually made complexions worse.  Once I started wearing glasses, my transformation to nerd was complete.

The good news is that I wasn’t one of those lonely, angry, near-suicidal misfits who are often depicted in movies, TV, or books.  I wasn’t picked on.  I was tall and could talk sports, and I could almost fit in with every group (except jocks).  I had friends, and I had my share of fun (or an introvert’s version of fun).  But I didn’t date.

I knew in high school that girls weren’t interested in me.  It was a lousy feeling knowing that certain things weren’t going to happen, and even in the 1980s teenagers were bombarded with sexual messages in music and television/movies.  It’s gotten worse since then, I know, but the sexual messages were still out there.

It was frustrating, but unintentional abstinence prepares you for adulthood better than things coming too easily.   When you know certain things aren’t going to happen, you’re better prepared to deal with those situations as an adult.  I later made some good decisions as an adult because of my high school (in)experience.  I know some guys who were smooth in high school who then made horrible life decisions as adults because certain situations with females had been too easy for them.

Here’s my point.  The prom was coming up in a few weeks, and I was hanging out with a bunch of guys at a restaurant on a Saturday night.  If a guy was planning on getting a date to prom, there was still time.  Nobody had that sense of desperation or urgency yet.

Proms back then were set up to be awkward.  If a guy didn’t have a girlfriend already, he was still expected to attend with a girl, probably one he’d never been out with before.  Today, kids seem to go to prom in groups, and that takes the pressure off.  But in the early 1980s, guys were expected to have dates.  I mean, it was okay to go with a bunch of friends, but that was a last resort, and it was seen as lame.

I liked my chances of getting a date.  My status had improved a lot my senior year.   Our school had just finished its musical.  I’d had a decent part (not the lead) and had stolen a scene (with the director’s permission).  My grades were good.  I’d been accepted into a Prestigious University (and hadn’t found out yet that I couldn’t get enough financial aid and scholarship money to attend).  The acne was clearing up most of the time.  I was fitting in better than I ever had in school.

Anyway, a bunch of senior guys who couldn’t get senior girls to go with them were asking out sophomore girls, but I wasn’t going to do that.  I knew sophomore girls who would go if I asked.  A sophomore girl would almost always go with a senior guy to prom, unless the senior guy was really detestable.  I wasn’t that undateable.  I was going to ask out a senior, and I already knew whom.

Once the guys at the restaurant that Saturday night started talking about prom, I felt I needed to join in.  And I made a rookie mistake.   Every teenager knows not to make this mistake.  Even a gullible naïve guy like me knew not to make this mistake, and I did it anyway.

And I’ll tell you about it in the next episode (and the link is posted below).

*****

To be continued in Awkward Moments in Dating: Prom Strategy.

Literary Glance: Masked Prey by John Sandford

Masked Prey by John Sandford starts off with two teens sexting each other.  It might not be the best way to start a book.  It kind of makes the author, not the characters, come across as a pervert.

John Sanford is an old guy; at least he’s older than I am, and he probably shouldn’t be writing a scene with teenagers sexting each other. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be allowed to do it.  I’m just saying it’s not a good idea.  He probably could have made the characters a little older… just because.

I haven’t been a fan of John Sanford’s books for a while.  I thought the old Prey series got tired in the late 1990s, but people keep buying his books, so he keeps writing them.  I think Masked Prey is his 30th Prey book.  I quit reading after Lettuce Prey because I couldn’t stomach a serial killer who was targeting religious vegetarians.  Plus, all of Sandford’s characters talk like tough guys, even the women.  I don’t mind tough talk in fictional characters, but somebody should talk like a normal person.

I have to warn you that this excerpt from Masked Prey might be seen as perverted.  Hey, I can’t help it if Sanford chose to put this scene on the first page of his new book.

Despite the teen sexting, I feel compelled to post this excerpt to demonstrate really bad writing, and most of that has nothing to do with the sexting (my comments are in parenthesis):

Audrey Coil and Blake Winston had been sexting each other for weeks.  Winston’s penis (at least his last name isn’t Coil), of which Coil had seen perhaps seven or eight iPhone views in a variety of penile moods (awkward phrase in a poorly-worded sentence) was not clearly different than the penises of a dozen other classmates that Coil had seen (Coil was a penis expert, I guess), circulated through the smartphones operated by girls in their final year at The Claridge School (another awkward phrase in an awkward sentence in a really awkward scene)- a school with a capital-T in “The,” so it wasn’t some Claridge School, (shouldn’t that comma be a semicolon or even a full colon?)it was The Claridge School of Reston, Virginia (how did editors let this sentence get through?).

And Coil suspected that images of her breasts wouldn’t exactly be breaking news among the selected males of The Claridge School’s senior class.  She was correct in that (awkward phrase).  Neither Coil nor Winston was a virgin, having dispensed with that handicap in the fifth form (awkward phrase), known in less snotty schools as eleventh grade.  They hadn’t yet fully engaged with each other, but were edging toward it (by sexting… for weeks?)… though, not yet.

All of that was neither here nor there (a high school senior wouldn’t talk/think “neither here nor there””… that’s an old man getting lazy writing about a high school senior).  Right now, Coil’s main preoccupation wasn’t with Winston’s junk (that term was more popular ten years ago), but with his totally erect (like…”totally” erect) Nikon Z6 camera.

This scene wouldn’t have been much better if a young author had written this, but Sandford’s age makes this a lot worse.  I’d expect a young writer, probably a male, to think it’s funny using the name Coil for a female character staring at male appendage pictures.  Reading old people writing about teens is like listening to kids use profanity for the first time; they know the words but not the context and the inflection is always wrong.  Anyway, this scene feels off.

I normally would try to ignore a bestselling novel with such a stupid (and maybe perverted) beginning, but Masked Prey has been pretty successful.  Even though a lot of authors are postponing releases of their books because of temporary store closures, Sandford went ahead with his, and it’s seemed to pay off.  The reviews are mixed, but the sales good.  It probably didn’t hurt that the word “mask” was in the title.  I’m guessing there’s a 75% chance Sandford changed the title within the last two months to cash in on the current situation.

If you want to read an old guy write about high school seniors sexting, then  Masked Prey might be the book for you.  If not, at least you have 29 other Prey mystery novels to choose from.

*****

What do you think?  Was this a well-written scene?  Was this the best way to start off a best-seller?  Am I a prude?  Is it possible that I am a prude AND John Sandford is a pervert?  Or are neither true?

 

Literary Glance: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Even though I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve never read East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  I’d always been aware of the book while growing up.  In high school, we read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and it was okay, but it didn’t lead me to search for more John Steinbeck books.  I knew of of an old movie called East of Eden with James Dean (and some other famous people too), but I never saw the movie.  I’ve never seen a classic comic book of East of Eden either.

East of Eden has been laying around my house recently because my daughter had to read it last year in a high school English class.  I hated admitting to her that I had never read it.  Since I wasn’t familiar with East of Eden, I expected my daughter to hate it.  Students hate every book they’re forced to read, except for maybe To Kill a Mockingbird.  When I was in school, nobody hated To Kill a Mockingbird.  At least nobody admitted that they hated it.

To my surprise, my daughter enthusiastically enjoyed East of Eden.  I was stunned!  She said it reminded her of a soap opera, only for smart people.  Her one complaint was that the descriptions were too long, especially at the beginning.

After finally getting around to reading the first few pages of East of Eden, I already know I’m going to continue this book, despite a few long descriptions.  Like my daughter, I’m not a fan of long descriptions. I like dialogue and story progression.  Still, I thought descriptions like this on the first page were pretty good:

From both sides of the valley little streams slipped out of the hill canyons and fell into the bed of the Salinas River.  In the winter of wet years the streams ran full-freshet, and they swelled the river until sometimes it raged and boiled, bank full, and then it was a destroyer.  The river tore the edges of the farm lands and washed whole acres down; it toppled barns and houses into itself, to go floating and bobbing away.  It trapped cows and pigs and sheep and drowned them in its muddy brown water and carried them to the sea.

And that wasn’t even the entire paragraph.  It carried over to the next page, and let me tell you, it was awesome!

I do have one minor complaint (of course).  Every once in a while, there’s an observation that doesn’t ring true to me.   Here’s an example at the beginning of subchapter 2 of Chapter 2:

When a child first catches adults out- when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgements are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just- his world falls into a panic desolation.  The gods are fallen and all safety gone.  And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck.  It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine.  And the child’s world is never quite whole again.  It is an aching kind of growing.

This whole paragraph is what I call literary nonsense.  It’s well-written and sounds profound, and maybe it’s true in some situations, but it’s not universal (and its written in a way to make it sound universal).  For example, my worldview wasn’t shattered when I realized my dad was full of crap.  I was relieved.  As a kid, I was kind of intimidated by my dad, so I felt somewhat vindicated when I realized he was just as flawed, maybe even more flawed, maybe even way more flawed, than was (or am).

Yeah, Steinbeck’s observation was literary nonsense, but stuff like that doesn’t make me stop reading the book.  I’m not going to proclaim:

“When a reader first catches a famous literary author out- when it first walks into his/her grave little head that literary authors do not have divine intelligence, that their judgements are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just- his/her world falls into a panic desolation.”

That’s a little strong.  My world is not a panic desolation just because John Steinbeck makes an occasional nonsense observation.  It’s just, “John Steinbeck is full of crap like everybody else.”

But I’ll still finish reading East of Eden.  It’s like a soap opera for smart people.

*****

What do you think?  Have you read East of Eden?  Do you like long descriptions?  Is your world a panic desolation?  I really hope your world is not a panic desolation.