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“Yes” Is A Complete Sentence!

(image via wikimedia)

“‘Yes’ is a complete sentence!” some guy said harshly at the gas station. He was talking (probably on his phone) on the opposite side of the pump, and I couldn’t get a good look at the guy without making it obvious that I was eavesdropping while preparing to fill up my gas tank. I kept my blank face and made sure not to look in the guy’s direction. He sounded angry, but he wasn’t angry at me, and I meant to keep it that way.

I’m a pretty good eavesdropper. Eavesdropping was an important skill when I was a teacher. I usually gave students a significant chunk of time each class period to work with a partner or a group of friends on an assignment. The group time gave students a chance to blow off steam while (theoretically) doing something productive, and it gave me a chance to walk around the classroom and have informal interactions with students. A lot of times I’d just stand back and listen (and pretend to grade papers).

I learned more about what was going on around school and with students from my eavesdropping than I did from all the essays that they wrote for my classes. I’m pretty good at hanging around and being unnoticed, even when I’m supposed to be in a leadership position like teaching. I could teach a course on eavesdropping and its uses in the classroom. Or maybe I could write a book about it.

“‘No’ is a complete sentence!” the guy at the gas pump continued.

The guy sounded confident, but the former English teacher in me wasn’t so sure. By itself, the word ‘yes’ can be an interjection, a noun, an adverb, and even a verb, though that’s extremely rare. A part of speech by itself can’t be a complete sentence… unless… unless the ‘yes’ was meant as an implied complete sentence. Maybe you could make the case that ‘yes’ is an implied complete sentence if it’s following a question.

For example, if a wife asks, “Are you listening?” the husband’s automatic response is usually “Yes,” even though there was a 50% chance that the husband wasn’t listening. In that situation the word ‘yes’ by itself implies the sentence “I was listening.” That was an interesting idea, I thought, if that were indeed what that guy meant when he’d said that the word ‘yes,’ was a complete sentence. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s at least interesting.

“I don’t need to say ‘ma’am,” The guy continued. “I don’t need to say ‘sir’!”

This changes things, I thought. Did this guy think that the difference between a complete sentence and an incomplete thought was the word ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’? You have to have a subject and a verb to have a complete sentence, and adding ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ adds neither. The guy sounded pissed, so I wasn’t about to insert myself into the conversation to discuss grammar. Nobody wants to talk about grammar.

I might be a former English teacher and someday I might write an educational book about eavesdropping in the classroom, but I’m definitely not going to write a book about grammar.

Or maybe I will.

“It’s a southern thing, and I’m not from here,” the guy continued ranting.

It’s kind of a southern thing, I thought, but not exclusively southern. Before I moved to this southern city, I had lived in a small midwestern city for most of my life. The ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ thing was big up there too. People were very polite. I mean, they were polite until they weren’t, and then things could get ugly very quickly, and certain people could go from genial to genocidal in a blink.

“I’m not gonna say ‘sir,’ and I’m not gonna say ‘ma’am.'” I don’t do that.”

So he’s talking to somebody who thinks adding the word ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ is a big deal. When I was a kid, my parents made a big deal about treating adults with respect, but I’m pretty indiscriminate with my use of ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ now. It’s based more on my mood than somebody else’s status. I don’t expect to be called ‘sir’ either If an adult told me to my face (or on the phone) that I had to call him/her ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am,’ I might flip out too, though I’m usually not confrontational in public.

I resisted the urge to look when I heard the guy get into his car. I’d made it this far without looking, I wasn’t going to ruin it at the end, but I really wanted to look at the guy. I had so many unanswered questions: Who was he talking to? What had set him off? Was it a boss? A girlfriend? A boyfriend? A combination? What had even caused this conversation in the first place? What were this guy’s issues?

I had my own issues, I realized. I hadn’t even started pumping my own gas yet.

Harry The Dirty Dog vs. Dirty, The Hairy Dog

I remember reading Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham when I was a kid. Even back then, I knew there wasn’t much to it. Harry The Dirty Dog didn’t inspire my imagination like some Dr. Seuss books or Where the Wild Things Are or Harold and the Purple Crayon.

But it was still an okay book, I guess. It’s stood the test of time; I still occasionally see Harry the Dirty Dog in bookstores.

On the other hand, Dirty, the Hairy Dog never got published.

When I was in high school, our English teacher had us students create our own children’s books, and then we were going to read them to a class of 1st graders at the nearest elementary school. My children’s book idea was Dirty, The Hairy Dog. Of course, Dirty was very hairy, which caused his owners some grief, but it made the dog easy to draw. All I had to do was pencil and ink a ball of hair with four legs sticking out.

Unfortunately, Dirty had a dirty mind and some dirty thoughts that were accompanied with dirty word balloons, and the rough draft of the book had a few double entendre dirty jokes that elementary school kids probably wouldn’t get. My English teacher, however, understood the double entendre dirty jokes and shut down my project. He didn’t get mad; he just strongly suggested that I go in a different direction if I wanted a good grade.

I understood. I’d gotten a few laughs from my friends about it, and I half-heartedly put together something stupid but suitable for a general audience. I scribbled something dumb like Bobby the Balloon. Balloons were easy to draw and color, and the book was kid friendly, but it wasn’t worth saving.

Looking back, Dirty, the Hairy Dog wasn’t a bad idea. It was kind of like Ted (the movie), but decades before Ted. I hate it when I’m ahead of my time and nobody notices.

The children’s book assignment should have been easy for me, but it wasn’t. Children’s books are more difficult to write than people think. I know people think children’s books are easy because every celebrity who wants to be thought of as a literary genius tries writing a children’s book at some point, and they almost all suck.

I sympathize. Bobby the Balloon sucked. But I was kind of forced into Bobby The Balloon.

I know I was onto something with Dirty, the Hairy Dog. The intentionally inappropriate children’s book is a cheap way to sell books nowadays. A few years ago Go The F*ck To Sleep was a giant hit in publishing. It was designed to look like a children’s book, but it had lots of profanity. I’ve felt a bit of resentment towards that book. If Go The F*ck To Sleep was allowed to be published, I should have been able to produce Dirty, the Hairy Dog.

I admit, the illustrations in Go The F*ck To Sleep were way better than my illustrations for Dirty, the Hairy Dog, but I didn’t rely on the same joke over and over and over again, like the author of Go The F*ck To Sleep did. Once you’ve read the title of Go The F*ck To Sleep, you’ve already read the book.

At least Dirty, the Hairy Dog would have had original content between the covers. And most children could have read Dirty, the Hairy Dog without knowing that it was dirty. If a 1st grader had understood the dirty humor in Dirty, the Hairy Dog, that wouldn’t have been my fault. I would have blamed the parents. Or better yet, blame the schools. When given the opportunity, always blame the schools.

I’m not still bitter about Dirty, the Hairy Dog. I’m just pointing out my former bitterness. It’s okay to talk about former bitterness in order to show your own personal growth.

I’m reading Harry the Dirty Dog again. I’m in the middle of it now. It shouldn’t take me too long. I can probably finish it by the end of the day. It’s not like reading Finnegans Wake.

The illustrations in Harry the Dirty Dog are okay but bland. There isn’t any rhyming. It’s not very colorful. The story isn’t imaginative. It DOES have a happy ending, though. I don’t see the big deal behind this book. Maybe the author bl… knew the publisher or something. I’ve heard that stuff like that happens.

What was the deal with… ? Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice

The novel Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice never should have meant anything to me. It wouldn’t have, except my first ever girlfriend broke up with me after I told her it sucked.

I had a tough time with girls when I was in high school. I had no money and no status (I had a lot of acne, but that wasn’t a currency I could use to my advantage), and therefore, no shot at a decent girlfriend.

Things didn’t change much in college. The women in college were more intelligent than the high school girls I was used to, but they still weren’t interested in me. Some sudden changes happened my junior year, though. My face cleared up, I started dressing a little better, and I became a Resident Assistant at one of the better dorms at my university.

This seems really stupid, but the status I had as an RA changed women’s perspective of me. From my point-of-view, I was just a doofus RA stumbling through campus regulations like I’ve always stumbled through everything else in my life. To a bunch of college women, I was suddenly a guy who knew everybody and knew everything that was going on around campus and I wasn’t acting like a dick about it.

I’m getting to Interview With The Vampire, I promise.

I ended up with a pasty literary chick who had been in a writing class with me the previous semester in my sophomore year. I admit, I had quietly dominated that writing class with some relatively high quality stuff. Some of it had been polarizing, especially when I’d used first-person point-of-view for a despicable character who’d made a logical, humorous case for justifying his actions. A lot of students in that class couldn’t understand that the narrator wasn’t really me and that I was writing a character, so they hated the story and they hated me because they thought I actually was the character.

I’d had to sit there quietly in class while my story was getting butchered with student criticism, and finally this pasty literary chick with big glasses vigorously defended my story. I was grateful that somebody had understood what I was doing with my writing, but I felt like that pasty literary chick was fighting my battle for me. I still can’t believe that college students couldn’t grasp that first-person point-of-view doesn’t mean the author agrees with the narrator.

Even though the pasty literary chick had understood my story, she wasn’t interested in me that sophomore year (and I don’t blame her), but one day during my junior year for some reason she showed up at my RA dorm room. She was displaying a lot of cleavage for a pasty literary chick with thick glasses. She quizzed me about all the books I had on my shelf. She stood really close to me. She kept brushing her hair back. She kept hinting about stuff she wanted to do around campus.

Before I knew it, things got out of control, and I hadn’t even bought her dinner yet.

The next few weeks were great! The pasty literary chick became my pasty literary girlfriend. Everybody knew she was my girlfriend because she was wearing my Cerebus the Aardvark t-shirt; I didn’t just let everybody wear that. I kept my grades up. The RA job was cushy. Between classes, RA stuff, and a girlfriend, there was a lot to juggle around, but I managed. And then…

My pasty literary girlfriend told me that I needed to read Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice. Interview With The Vampire had come out in 1976, but it was massively popular in the 1980s, and author Anne Rice had already written a sequel. Everybody who knew anything about books knew about Interview With The Vampire. I knew enough about it to know that I didn’t want to read it.

I shouldn’t have agreed to read it. I had a bunch of books I had to read for classes. I had a ton of college stuff to do, plus a pasty literary girlfriend that I liked hanging around with. I was annoyed at the double standard; I never would have given her a book and told her to read it. I’d never have given her a Mickey Spillane or Mack Bolan pocketbook. Those books are relationship killers.

To my credit, I tried reading Interview With The Vampire. I tried, but it gave me Moby Dick headaches, along with yawning and heavy eyelids. I couldn’t get into it. It affected my mood. When my pasty literary girlfriend asked me what I thought of Interview With The Vampire, I flippantly told her that it sucked.

I could tell immediately from her eyes that I’d hurt her feelings. She got quiet and went home early. I had that aching feeling in my gut; I knew I’d screwed up. I should have handled it better. She had tried to share something she liked with me, and I had rejected her. I hadn’t intended to hurt her feelings. I just didn’t like the book.

Even though she didn’t return my phone calls over the next few days, I thought we’d patch things up, but then I opened up my campus mailbox one morning and saw that my Cerebus the Aardvark t-shirt had been stuffed inside of it. Yeah, that was the sign things were over. At least she hadn’t shredded the shirt.

As disappointed as I was with the break up, I felt even worse a week later when I heard that she’d been spotted holding hands with the campus poetry professor. The guys on my floor gave me grief that I’d been dumped for an old dude who looked like Shel Silverstein. I had to take it. I couldn’t tell them that I’d been dumped because I said that Interview With The Vampire sucked. At least the guys on my floor understood that a poetry professor had more status than an RA.

Plus, I bet that poetry professor had pretended to like Interview With The Vampire. Damn, I thought, that’s what I should have done.

Later on that semester, I ran into that poetry professor in a men’s bathroom. He recognized me as a former student, so we talked for a few minutes. I don’t know if he knew I had been his girlfriend’s boyfriend first. At that point, it didn’t matter.

I could have blamed myself for the way that relationship with my pasty literary girlfriend ended. I could blame my own insensitivity, my inexperience with women at the time, or my general lack of social awareness. I could have blamed my pasty literary girlfriend for putting too much emphasis on a book that wasn’t written for a guy like me. Or I could just blame the book. Yeah, I just blamed the book. I’d rather blame an inanimate object than a real person.

I’ve never tried reading Interview With The Vampire again. I’ve never seen the movie. But still, I kind of wonder… What was the big deal about Interview With The Vampire?

The Worst Book I Have Ever Finished Reading!

Deadly Welcome by John D. MacDonald isn’t the worst book I’ve ever started reading, but it’s probably the worst book that I’ve finished.

It’s one of those old pocketbooks from the 1950s and 1960s. Pocketbooks were straight-to-paperback novels printed on really cheap but aromatic paper. They’re kind of like the literary world’s version of movies that go straight to cable/video/dvd/redbox, except straight-to-video movies usually suck (or have a limited potential audience) but a lot of the pocketbooks could actually be pretty good.

John D. MacDonald’s books were often pretty good. Decades ago I owned one of his short story collections The Good Old Stuff. I’ve always liked that title. It’s not pretentious. He admits that the stories are just good. He doesn’t try to oversell his product. He just calls it “stuff.” I respect that.

Deadly Welcome is old (if a book published in 1959 is considered old), but I don’t think it was ever good. It’s bad even by pocketbook standards. I finished it only because it was short, less than 200 pages long, and I wanted to see if John D. MacDonald could actually write a book that was 100% crappy. He almost succeeded. I think I found one good page in the whole book, and I’m being generous; that one page was only almost good.

The book has four major flaws. The first is that the protagonist doesn’t have to work that hard to solve the mystery. Characters just show up and talk and inadvertently give him the information he needs. That happens in a lot of mysteries, but in most books the protagonist has to try a little bit.

Next, the book is almost all exposition through dialogue. Most of the action is told through characters talking in giant block boring paragraphs. Again, this is standard in a lot of mysteries, but authors usually figure out a way to break up the monotony a little bit.

Even worse, the femme fatale sucks. This book had two potential femme fatales. One got murdered before the book even starts. If a female character is already dead at the beginning of the story, then she can’t be the femme fatale. Plus, she never got any guy to kill for her before she died. If she can’t get a guy to kill for her, then she’s just a slutty chick, not a femme fatale.

Don’t get me wrong, slutty chicks are great in fiction. I’ve learned to stay away from slutty women in my own personal life (man, they can cause serious problems), but they’re great in fiction. The only rule for slutty women in fiction is that they actually have to be alive in the novel, at least for a little while. A dead slutty woman is useless in a pocketbook novel.

The other femme fatale candidate was the dead slutty woman’s sister, who of course was overly-virtuous. The overly-virtuous sister would have been alright if she’d loosened up a bit, but no, she pretty much stayed virtuous throughout the novel. A woman who can somewhat maintain her virtue is great in real life (and possibly in literary fiction if the character’s goal is to maintain virtue in a world full of sin), but it makes for a lousy pocketbook novel.

My last complaint about Deadly Welcome is that even the violence sucked. I’m not a violent person. I haven’t been in a real fight since I was 15, and I lost in grand one-sided fashion. Years later, I sucker-punched a guy, but that doesn’t count as a real fight because I cheated. Looking back, I probably could have gotten into huge legal trouble, but luckily the crowd was on my side. If the crowd is on your side, you can get away with almost anything.

Deadly Welcome has maybe two violent sequences, and there’s no emotional impact to either of them. Even when a couple minor characters get killed, nobody really shows that they care. The characters in the book cared that the slutty woman had gotten murdered before the book started, but nobody cared that a couple guys got killed while chasing the guy who had murdered the slutty woman.

The book had a couple opportunities for a good bar brawl but failed to deliver. Whenever I have a slow spot in my own fiction, I throw in a good bar brawl. If I’m really desperate, I’ll have a slutty woman get a couple guys to fight, and everybody in the bar starts pummeling each other for no reason. Those scenes are fun to write. But I’ve never killed off a slutty woman in any of my stories. They’re too valuable to kill off in fiction. John D. MacDonald should have known better.

If you’ve never read a John D. MacDonald novel, don’t start with Deadly Welcome.

Robert E. Howard’s Letter to Two Nerds in the 1930s

I have mixed feelings about author Robert E. Howard. He’s written some of my favorite short stories, but he also murdered one of my favorite authors. I’ll get to that a little later.

The first part is about two nerds who were fans of Robert E. Howard in the 1930s. I’m not 100% certain these two fans were nerds, but they definitely had nerd tendencies. One fan was an educator, and the other was a chemist. Plus, they read Conan the Barbarian stories from this pulp magazine called Weird Tales. Yeah, they were nerds.

I’m not making fun of these two Robert E. Howard fans by calling them nerds. I’m the last person who has any business making fun of somebody else for being a nerd. I’m just calling them what they probably were. It makes explaining things easier.

Back in the 1930s, nerds didn’t have the internet; there was no social media, no email, and no television. There weren’t any comic books yet and no video games. By today’s standards, life would seem boring. There was nerd stuff like math and literature and philosophy and history and classical music, but there wasn’t much fun nerd stuff, except for Weird Tales and other pulp magazines.

I understand the nerds’ admiration for Robert E. Howard. Most normal people know Conan the Barbarian only because of some mediocre movies, but Robert E. Howard’s short stories are really good. Since Howard’s death, other authors have been allowed to write Conan novels, but they’re not the same. Any Conan the Barbarian story written by somebody other than Robert E. Howard is just a story about a barbarian who happens to be named Conan.

Anyway, the nerds wrote Robert E. Howard a letter, and then Robert E. Howard wrote them back! And he didn’t just send a quick thank you note. This was a long, well-written response. Obviously, the nerds were thrilled because they kept the letter, and it was later published in this 1967 edition of Conan (which reprinted a few of Howard’s stories from the 1930s).

The nerds’ letter was first published in this 1967 book.

The letter itself is going to be boring to anybody who isn’t a Conan fan. Even if I weren’t a fan of Howard’s Conan stories, I’d be impressed that Howard wrote a letter like this to people he had never met.

Robert E. Howard was just getting warmed up. Here’s more!

If you’re actually reading the letter, don’t worry; he’s about to wrap things up.

Unfortunately, Robert E. Howard committed suicide a few months after writing this note. That sucks. Robert E. Howard murdered one of my favorite writers.

The nerds had to have gone through a quick contrast of emotions: Oh my god! We’ve gotten this awesome response from a writer we admire! Oh my god! Robert E. Howard respects the work we put into our map and history! Oh my god! There’s the possibility of future correspondence with Robert E. Howard, one our favorite writers!

And then Robert E. Howard kills himself.

Shit.

The Secret History of “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE!”

(image via wikimedia)

My high school friends were shocked when I called my mom the devil incarnate to her face.

I don’t remember the reason. It was probably a curfew situation. All I know for certain is that a couple of my friends were with me at my mom’s apartment (this was after my parents divorced), and my mom had said no to something, and I responded loudly in a self-righteous tone, “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE! YOU ARE NOT MY MOM!”

My friends were shocked at my seemingly disrespectful behavior. They were further shocked that my mom just smiled and rolled her eyes at me.

After my mom and I figured out the curfew situation (or whatever it was), I explained the DEVIL INCARNATE comment to my friends. The short version was that when I was in elementary school, my dad had gotten drunk and then had turned his drunken rage at my mom about something stupid and yelled in that same self-righteous tone: “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE! YOU ARE NOT MY WIFE!”

And then my family laughed about it later whenever my dad wasn’t around.

That’s the short version. The longer version gets a bit more intense.

*****

When I was a kid in the first house that I remember, my bedroom was next to my parents’ room, and I could hear my parents fight in there when they got drunk. I couldn’t tell what they were fighting about, but I recognized the sounds, and that’s all I need to say. I’m not trying to relive the experience. I’m just trying to explain what happened.

Once I understood that my dad was slapping my mom around, my senses were alert to any sound from their bedroom. I’m still kind of a light sleeper because of it, but I’m not on any medication or anything like that. I just run a fan at night to block out random noise.

It didn’t happen every night. I couldn’t tell you how often I’d hear him hitting her. Maybe once every few weeks when he was with us and not stationed somewhere else. But it happened enough that every sound at night made me alert.

My dad was in the air force and would be stationed in Southeast Asia for months at a time because of the Vietnam War. We kids actually liked it better when he was gone. My oldest brother would act up a little more when my dad was gone, but there were lines he wouldn’t cross, so everything seemed okay from my perspective when my dad was gone.

There wasn’t much I could do about my parents fighting. I was in elementary school; I couldn’t bang on their bedroom door and tell them to keep it down, that I was trying to sleep. I just closed my eyes and tried not to listen. My older sister and brothers were aware of what was going on, but their bedrooms were farther down the hall or in the basement, so they could drown out the noise if they wanted to.

The physical aspect of the arguing ended one Friday night after my mom finally hit my dad with a fireplace poker stick. I wasn’t home when that happened. I had spent that night at my best friend’s house and then heard about the fight from my older siblings the next morning when I returned home.

The story goes that my mom and dad were at a party with a bunch of friends, and I’m sure everybody had been drinking. When my parents left the gathering, my mom had said something like “Let’s go home and screw.”

For some reason, this comment embarrassed my dad and the following argument at home escalated into physical violence with my dad shouting (according to my siblings) “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE! YOU ARE NOT MY WIFE!”

I don’t understand the logic of a man getting violently angry that his wife wants to go home and screw (unless she was talking to another man). But that’s what supposedly set off the fireworks. Dad start hitting my mom in the living room, she bashed him in his knee with the fireplace poker stick, and I think that ended that. My dad never hit her again.

When I asked my mom about the incident years later, she admitted that she hit him with the poker stick (I didn’t ask about the “Let’s go home and screw” comment), and she verified the “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE! YOU ARE NOT MY WIFE!”

My mom claimed that she was not the devil incarnate and that she was indeed his wife at that time of the incident. I understand that the devil incarnate would never admit to being the devil incarnate, so she could have been lying, but Dad was her only accuser, and he lacked credibility because he was the violent drunk in the family. Then again, the devil incarnate could have driven him to drinking.

As demonic as my father could get when he was drinking, I appreciate a good line when I hear it, and I have to admit, “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE! YOU ARE NOT MY WIFE!” is a keeper.

I can’t use it on everybody, though. Without context, people can really misunderstand what we’re saying. When a family member and I have a disagreement, I can occasionally end the conflict with “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE! YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER/SISTER/MOTHER!” and they understand it. It’s our way of showing that there’s no hard feelings.

Like I’ve said, there are limitations. I’ve never said “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE!” to my wife. She doesn’t see the humor in it. I don’t think I’ve ever brought it up with my daughter either.

Unfortunately, my mom died recently, and I don’t disagree with my older brothers enough anymore to use the line very often. I’d hate to see “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE!” die out. It’s a good line, but… sigh… maybe it’s time for “YOU ARE THE DEVIL INCARNATE!” to go away.

Fight White Supremacy… and Give Us Lots of Money!

My wife received this “petition” in the mail a couple days ago. I’ve seen this kind of fund raiser before. There will be a survey with a bunch of questions asking for her opinion, and then at the end they’ll probably ask her for money.

Just so you know, my wife is not white, so the political organization might think she is more concerned about white supremacy than I am. I’m white, but I have my own concerns too. First of all, I don’t like people who don’t like my wife, and I’m guessing white supremacists wouldn’t be too fond of her.

White supremacists wouldn’t like me either. I’m the one, according to them (not me), who has betrayed my race by committing myself to a woman who is not white. According to white supremacists, I’m the race traitor. I’m the sell-out.

Actually, nobody has ever called me a sell-out. My wife, on the other hand, has been called a sell-out, but not by a white supremacist. I think it was a different kind of supremacist.

This political organization that’s (claiming it’s) fighting white supremacy should leave my wife alone. She’s already done her job. According to the white supremacists, she’s destroyed my perfectly pure white bloodline by giving birth to our biracial daughter. What more can they want?

That’s the problem with these political organizations; once you contribute, they never stop bothering you. They never say “Thank you. You’ve done enough for the cause. Now we’ll leave you alone.”

I’m no fan of white supremacy. I avoid white supremacists as much as possible. But I also don’t like rich people who try to con me out of my money. I wouldn’t be surprised if the political organizations supposedly fighting white supremacy were run by white supremacists who think it’s profitable (and funny) to raise money off of people who are afraid of white supremacists. I’m not a con man or a white supremacist, but if I were both, that’s what I would do.

But I’m not. So I don’t.

It’s times like this when I’m glad I’m a cheapskate. I don’t get mail from scam artists asking for money anymore. Charities. Political groups. Anything that says it’s… (sniffle)…. for the children. It’s taken decades of throwing stuff in the trash (or recycling), but they leave me alone now.

Most (if not all) charities and political organizations are run by rich people, and they ask people who are not rich to give them money. Then these rich people use the money to pay their friends and maybe a little bit actually is used for its stated purpose. Maybe. It’s almost like legalized money laundering.

The best term I’ve heard for this is “weaponized empathy.” The charity or political organization picks something that you care about and says it will do something about it. In my wife’s case, the political organization says it’s fighting white supremacy. This organization has said recently that white supremacy is more of a threat than ever, yet this organization has been fighting white supremacy for decades.

Evidently, this political organization sucks at fighting white supremacy. I’d prefer to give money to a political organization that’s effective at fighting white supremacy.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the petition. Since it’s addressed to my wife, I can’t just throw it out. I’ll leave it on the coffee table and hope she’s in a good mood when she sees it. I’ll make sure that the movie Mississippi Burning isn’t on the television when she sees the petition. If she sees Mississippi Burning and the petition at the same time, she might sell the house and give the profits away to fight white supremacy. I’ve been trying to get rid of the televisions for years, just so that we don’t accidentally see Mississippi Burning again.

On the other hand, if a Real Housewives marathon is on, the political organizations have no chance. Yeah, the needless bickering of the housewives can get on my nerves, but it puts my wife in a good mood, and our house has lots of doors so I don’t have to hear it. But no door can block out Mississippi Burning.

Ugh… Mississippi Burning… those damn white supremacists… Where’s my credit card?

Yeeerrrgh!… Those damn scam artists… Must not fall for their tricks…

Urrrrrrgh… Mississippi Burning…. I must not think about… scam artists…

Yeeeuuuaaarrrgh!

Back Briefly to Bestselling Fiction

Even though I write a book blog, I’ve been staying away from the bestselling fiction lists for a while because I’d gotten tired of seeing the same authors write the same books repeatedly. After a couple years away from the bestselling fiction lists, though, I’ve checked back and have seen… that nothing much has changed.

First of all, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has co-written a top-selling book. When I saw that Hillary Clinton’s book was called State of Terror, I thought it would be a memoir about her frame of mind during the Trump years. No, instead it’s a spy novel.

It makes sense that Hillary Clinton would co-write a spy novel. Her husband Bill has co-written a couple political thrillers with James Patterson over the last few years. There was no reason for her not to get in on some of that co-writing, money laundering action. If every FOX News contributor can get a book deal, then so should the politicians who actually make the news.

And from a sleazy, cynical publishing point-of-view, it could be worse. At least Hillary Clinton isn’t writing a children’s book. Ugh, children’s books. Those are the worst. At least Hillary Clinton hasn’t written a… oh yeah… It Takes a Village. Never mind.

To be fair, if Hillary Clinton called me and told me that she wanted me to write a book for her and that she’d share the credit with me, I’d gladly agree. For one, I don’t want to get murdered for saying no. Secondly, there would be decent money involved. I mean, I know she and her friends would get most of it, but a little bit of money for them is a lot for me, so I wouldn’t get greedy. And I’d keep my mouth shut if I accidentally overheard anything I wasn’t supposed to hear.

Hey, I try to stick to books and writing and stay out of politics; it’s not my fault when politicians wander into my territory.

Next, I saw that John LeCarre had a new book out, Silverview. At first, I was kind of disappointed. I had known that LeCarre has been dead for a while, and I thought maybe his estate was putting out books with another author using LeCarre’s characters. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. LeCarre was working on Silverview when he died (supposedly), so the book is being promoted as LeCarre’s last one.

I’m not sure that I’ll read Silverview. I liked The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but I’ve tried a couple of LeCarre’s latter novels, and sometimes I didn’t understand what was going on. I like to understand what’s going on when I read books. I’d feel disappointed if I didn’t understand what was going on in a dead author’s final book.

Speaking of dead authors, Danielle Steele has another book out, The Butler. I mean, I know that Danielle Steele isn’t dead yet, but I’m surprised that Danielle Steele isn’t dead yet. That old chick has been writing books since I was a kid. I don’t want her to be dead or anything like that. I’m just mildly surprised that she’s still churning out books.

I hope it’s actually the real Danielle Steele writing these books too. There’s no way for me to know, though, because I’ve never read a Danielle Steele book so I can’t compare her old stuff with her new stuff. I could, I guess, but I don’t care enough to do it.

Anthony Doerr’s new book Cloud Cuckoo Land is doing pretty well on the bestsellers list. I was initially worried about Cloud Cuckoo Land. I liked Doerr’s previous novel All the Light We Cannot See, and I respected Doerr for taking seven years to write another book, but that title Cloud Cuckoo Land… well… it sucks. Still, I’m glad Club Cuckoo Land is still selling copies, even if the title sucks.

There were a couple other familiar names with books on the list. Nicholas Sparks has a book on the list, The Wish. So do Amor Towles with The Lincoln Highway, Lianne Moriarty with Apples Never Fall (I’m suspicious of books with lies in the title; I’ve seen apples fall before), and James Patterson and some co-author with Jailhouse Lawyer.

There was one author I’d never hear of, Laura Dave with The Last Thing He Told Me. I hope I’m not the only book blogger who’s never heard of Laura Dave. It would be another astonishing gap in my knowledge.

Lastly, Stephen King has a book out called Billy Summers. I don’t know who Billy Summers is, so I probably won’t read the book. I think authors are lazy when they title their books after a character’s name and I don’t know who the character is. Now if Stephen King had written a horror novel called Hillary Clinton, I might read it. I’d at least know who the title is referring to.

I’m probably not going to read any of the above books, but if I have the chance I might read Cloud Cuckoo Land (despite the title) or Silverview (if I think I’ll understand what’s going on).

Truth, Embellishment, and Lying: My First Lie

It’s starting to come back to me.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t my first lie, but it’s the first lie that I remember. Growing up, I knew that my parents would punish me harshly if they caught me not telling the truth. My older sister had once brought home a rain-soaked report card from school and told my parents that the blotted out grades were all A’s and B’s. Unfortunately for her, my dad called the school and found out that two of her grades were D’s.

The punishment for lying was the belt, and that day my sister got a bad version of the belt. Back then, the belt was a common punishment. Every kid bragged about how bad his dad’s belt was. I had no frame of reference. I just knew my dad’s belt hurt, but I couldn’t compare his belt to anybody else’s.

Anyway, my sister got the belt, and I could hear her get the belt from her bedroom, and I knew I didn’t want the belt.

Still, no matter how cautious and quiet a kid can be, nobody could completely escape the belt back in the 1970s.

I don’t remember all the details of the first lie that I remember. I think it was summer because this had to have taken place on a weekday morning and I wasn’t in school. It was probably between kindergarten and 1st grade, and I was in my front yard, and a kid that I had known from school said hi to me as he was walking on the sidewalk past my house. I hadn’t seen this kid for a while, so I kept talking to him as he walked up the street. I don’t remember his name, and I don’t remember what we talked about.

I knew I was supposed to stay in my front yard. I’d always had to get permission from my mom before I left the front yard, and instead I’d followed this kid up the street. I knew I was breaking a rule, but I kept walking with this kid anyway.

The kid’s house was two blocks away, and as he stepped into his house, I turned to face my walk home, and my dad’s car stopped just in front of my house. I think he was on a lunch break from work, but he hardly ever came home for lunch. I guess this wasn’t my lucky day.

“Get in,” my dad said, or he said something like that. I think the passenger side window had already been down.

When I got into the car, my dad said something like, “Does your mom know that you’re here?”

“Yes,” I said immediately. It was a stupid answer. I had a delusion that he wouldn’t double check with Mom. Maybe something else would happen when we got home, I thought, and Dad would forget to ask her. I think I actually believed that delusion. I’ve believed in more far-fetched delusions since then, so I probably believed that one too.

As soon as we got home, Dad asked Mom if she knew that I had been two blocks away, and she said no, and I got the belt. I don’t remember much about the belt, except I know I got it.

When my older sister and brothers found out about me getting the belt, they laughed; I hardly ever got punished for stuff, so they were probably glad that I wasn’t safe from consequences like the belt.

Afterwards, I reflected on what went wrong. If I had told the truth to my dad, I still would have been punished, maybe even with the belt, because I had left the front yard without permission.

The Watergate scandal was going on around the same time (I didn’t know what it was about; I was just ticked off every afternoon because the hearings pre-empted afternoon cartoons on television.). After the scandal, political pundits always claimed that it wasn’t the crime, it was the cover-up. I don’t believe that’s true. I think it’s the crime and it’s who commits it.

I believe if I had told my dad the truth, I still would have gotten the belt. I believe if President Nixon had just outright said, “Yeah, those were my guys, and the Democrats deserved what I did, and LBJ did a lot worse than what I did and nobody gave a damn,” he still would have been forced to resign. I’m not sure my sister would have gotten the belt for a couple D’s on her report card, but she still would have been grounded for a week or two, so in her mind it was worth taking the risk.

This version of my first lie (that I remember) is kind of dry. The writer in me wanted to recreate the conversation between the kid and me. I could have made up his name. I could have made up dramatic details of the drive back home and the tension I felt as my dad discovered the truth from my mom. I could have added traumatic details about the belt. I could have thrown in a serial killer to make things really interesting.

I could have, but I didn’t… not this time.

So here’s what I’m getting at. At what point do an author’s embellishments become outright lies? Do embellishments really improve a story? Or is a story better if the author just admits that he or she doesn’t know all the details?

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die… Yeah, I’m not going to make it

1001 books? That’s a lot of pressure. (image via wikimedia)

When I saw 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die at the library, my first thought was, “What kind of arrogant prick put this list together?

Then I lightened up a bit and thought, “I’m probably not going to get to all of these books, but let’s see what’s on the list.”

Literary websites sometimes cover this topic, but they usually limit the books to ten. If there are ten books I must read before I die, I could probably get to all ten (unless I’ve severely underestimated my lifespan), but 1001 is a little aggressive. I mean, I understand that the authors have to sell books, and saying there are only ten books you must read before you die doesn’t give you much of a page count.

The international critics who contributed to this book discredited themselves by including The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen on this list. I started The Corrections, but I didn’t get very far, and I’m not going back to finish it. The Corrections is pretentious and usually the opposite of insightful. Plus, the author kind of acted like a jerk when his book was published. To be fair, that was 20 years ago, and he might have changed since then, but I’m pretty sure his book is still the same.

I’ll admit, I’ve learned about novels that I’d never even been aware of before by reading 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. For a reasonably intelligent person, I have astonishing gaps in my knowledge (and my brain glitches a lot, which doesn’t help), and these gaps apply to literature. I enjoy reading about books I’d never heard of. If anything, reading about these new books is probably more fun than actually reading the books.

For example, I’ve never had fun reading Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, but I enjoyed the listing in this book by the critic who pretended he’d read it. I don’t think anybody has actually read Finnegans Wake (I mean, statistically nobody has read it), but the critic was pretty convincing. If I didn’t know better, I might have believed that the international critics had actually read Finnegans Wake.

I’m never going to read Finnegans Wake. I know this. But if I absolutely had to read all 1001 books on this list before I died, I’d read Finnegans Wake last because that damn book would probably kill me.

I’ve been manipulated into believing a lot of things that I shouldn’t have believed in, but I’ve never fallen for the Finnegans Wake trap. And I didn’t fall for The Corrections hype either.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Truman Capote is also mentioned. Of course it does. Every BOOK YOU MUST READ list includes To Kill A Mockingbird. If I ever create my own 10 BOOKS YOU MUST READ OR YOU WILL ROT IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY list, I’d probably leave To Kill a Mockingbird off the list just to be different.

Unfortunately, the 1001 books you must read before you die list keeps changing. The first version of this book came out in 2006. Since then, several updates have come out, each with new books added and old books taken off the list. That means the list of 1001 You Must Read Before You Die is fluid. If I had read all 1001 books from the 2006 edition and then found out later that there were over 200 new books that I still had to read, I’d be kind of pissed.

I mean, if you’re going to make a list of books that other people must read before they die, you should stick to the list. It isn’t fair to change the list. Readers won’t take you seriously. The next time the international critics publish a new version of 1001 Book You Must Read Before You Die, I’ll think, “Make up your minds already!”