Louder Than a Mom

One of my favorite Chicago reading series is Louder Than a Mom. It’s hilarious, it hits my demographic sweet spot, it brings many of my old friends back together, and it takes place in a dark tavern that hosts rocknroll the rest of the week. The closest I will get to enjoying myself in a rock club at this stage of the game.

I’ve performed in the show 3-4 times, but in the March show, I finally had a performance I was proud of. The Link is below. If you are in or visiting Chicago, Louder Than a Mom happens every third Monday at Martyr’s, 3855 N. Lincoln. You should definitely check it out.

Spitballing Stage Concepts for Alice Cooper 2017 Tour

  • Video projections of Alice’s liver spots
  • Alice learns to use SnapChat onstage
  • A mean caddy (maybe a Cyclops!?) whistles while Alice lines up a putt
  • During “School’s Out”, a bunch of teenagers treat Alice rudely at the CVS
  • Alice realizes he should’ve kept all his vinyl
  • Dancing car keys taunt Alice while he searches for them
  • Eight-foot-tall “roughage monster”

An Oldie from Bardball

Feb. 17, 2017 —  but updated for today’s realities:

Life is Good

Winter’s been raw as a campout in Banff.
Your new basement walls are moldy and damp.
Your drapes caught fire from a knocked over lamp—

.         Relax!
.         Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Your check-writing hand’s developed a cramp,
Your bills are all due and you ain’t got a stamp,
Creditors cling to your neck like a clamp—

.          Smile!
.          Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Your yard now faces a new freeway ramp.
Your son is engaged to a gold-digging tramp.
Your “guitar hero” neighbor’s just bought a new amp—

.         Life is good!
.         Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Breaking news makes you break out in a rant.
You want to stop watching; duty says you can’t.
I fear Lady Liberty’s being measured for implants–

.         With luck we’ll survive,
.         And pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.


Now that baseball season is on the horizon, take a break and check out our doggerel, served fresh daily, and maybe even contribute if you have a mind to.  Consider it part of your “self-care” regimen.  We ALL need a short break now and again!


RIP Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey

People sometimes ask me, since I write about a noir circus underworld, whether my parents took me to the circus a lot. Actually, they didn’t. The main excuse was that all the hay and animals made my mother allergic, though it might also be that doing things with the kids never struck my father as a particularly good use of time.

I don’t remember ever going to the circus, though I might have. My appreciation of it only grew when I began to research circus lore and practices for the “Rex Koko, Private Clown” books. One of the top perks of this research was taking my own kids and nephews to see live circuses, like the Big Apple Circus (on its one and only tour of the Midwest), the UniverSoul Circus, Cirque de Soleil, and of course, the old reliable, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

Like the seasons, Ringling came to Chicago with regularity, always at the end of November, forcing the Bulls and the Blackhawks to play on the road for two weeks. Tickets were pretty affordable. The crowds were always nice, though the arena was never more than half full. Many big Mexican families would attend, probably because circus still has a big legacy south of the border. I liked smaller circuses better, but Ringling brought that particular American value of “make it big, make it splashy.” I liked how they always tried to squeeze another buck out of us, as tradition requires. I liked it in much the same way I like opera: It’s people at the top of their profession, doing something strange and thrilling.

The news that Ringling Brothers would no longer tour hit me like a gut-punch last Saturday night. “Big Bertha” couldn’t end, could it? It had been going since 1870, since before Germany and Italy were nations. Since before professional baseball. Since before the Great Chicago Fire. For 146 years. And now, nothing.

I like circuses for the same reason I like parades: To reflect on how people are entertained. Beneath the high tech gimcracks of video and lights, the circus still exists because people want to see something extraordinary. A girl who can twist her body into shapes. Daredevils who like to walk on wires. Human cannonballs (how great is a human cannonball! Also something that premiered after Barnum & Bailey, in 1871).

And the animal acts. Protests against animal acts were what forced Ringling to shut down. When they “retired” their elephants from performing, their shrinking audience lost even more interest in attending. PETA can crow about it, and has been, of course. They’re zealots, in my mind, as unbending as abortion opponents. No middle ground, no grey areas. In much of the world, an elephant is a working animal, and only an idiot would harm a valuable animal that helps them make a living. Not denying there are lots of idiots in the world, of course.

I think the circus loses its appeal as its audience gets further away from the land, and further away from working with their hands. Only someone who climbs to fix a roof can grasp what it’s like to walk on a high wire. Only someone who knows horses can appreciate a really fine equestrian act. This is another part of the circus that tickles my imagination: What it must have been liked when it arrived in small, isolated towns. When locals saw an elephant for the first time, or a pretty acrobat in spandex. (Many young men also found other ways to enjoy women at the circus, though Ringling never had anything like that.) It was a venue of amazement, the Greatest Show on Earth. As someone said of Ringling, not admiringly, “The Biggest. The Grandest. The Goddamnedest.”

Now it’s gone. And no 3-D movie or virtual reality headset will ever replace the thrill.

Harry Lichtenbaum is an 86-year-old survivor of the Ringling Bros. Great Hartford Circus Fire of 1944. You can read an interview with him here.

RIP to the Best Dog Ever

There’s no one begging to be walked when I get home late at night.

There’s no one pushing himself into my lap whenever I dare to sit on the floor.

There’s no one who will bark at phantoms he hears in the Chicago night.

There’s no one who will leave a mess for us to step in when we wake up in the morning.

There’s no one who will sniff at every corner of every fence in the neighborhood, especially when it is windy and below zero.

There’s no one who will love us so strongly and unreservedly.

A couple of days ago, we had to put down Duffy, the wheaten terrier who had been part of our lives for 15 or more years. He was named Harley when we adopted him, but that macho name didn’t suit him at all, so we re-named him Duffy. I’ve never not liked a Duffy. And no one ever disliked him. If anything, he acted too much like a human in the family, getting underfoot, barking to be included in everything. He was pretty uninterested in food yet extremely well behaved. He might have had a dumb name when we got him, but his owner had trained him extremely well.

But his quality of life had gone downhill and wasn’t improving. He’d gone blind and deaf, and didn’t know where he was. Seizures would hit him when he went out for a walk in the sunshine. (I think the sunlight somehow triggered them, but was never sure.) His intestinal tract was irritated more often than not, and when he could find the back door to be let out, sometimes he needed to be carried down the stairs. So it was time to end his suffering. My wife did it while I was out of town on a college visit, because she’s a little tougher than me. (Okay, a lot tougher.)

We probably won’t get another dog soon, because we’d like to travel a little more. But also, because no other dog could really match him. He was one of a kind. He was the dog of dogs. So long, little buddy.

Minnie Minoso, Your Name is a Song



Minnie Minoso
Your name is a song

And why it took so long
To integrate Chicago baseball
God only knows

But you came and showed
The joy of speed
The command of glove
And changed the game
But why do I love
You, Orestes, besides your name?

The Cuban Comet
You flared and flamed
and lit up the place
Wherever you came

Minnie Minoso
Your name is a song
I hope to recall
My whole life long

Big Giveaway for Double Indignity

Hey all you kinkers and flatties out there!

I’m trying to gin up a little flash for Double Indignity in the weeks before Christmas. So I’m going to wade into the waters of a book giveaway, like all the experts tell me.

So if you’ve been waiting for the chance to get a signed copy of Rex Koko, Private Clown #2, as well as a signed poster and who knows what else I’ll throw into the envelope, click on the button below, or head over to Goodreads and look for it in the Giveaway listings before December 10.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Double Indignity by James Finn Garner

Double Indignity

by James Finn Garner

Giveaway ends December 10, 2014. See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Even Circus Fans Love “Honk Honk, My Darling”

Just received a glowing review from The White Tops, the official publication of the Circus Fans of America:

“The style of the book is breezy and clever, much like any Sam Spade mystery dialog. Mr. Garner is a master of puns and satire. This is not a book to skim….HHMD is a fun read. It’s a great gift for your circus- and mystery-minded friends.”

Maxine House emailed me about the review, and we had a short interview in which I admitted where I found most of my circus lingo (ironically enough, “Circus Lingo” by Joe McKennon), and the situations when I had to invent my own. It’s in the September/October edition of the magazine.

While I’m sure I’ll get some mail from purists who will tell me that clowns and midgets aren’t natural antagonists, or will ask me what type of diesel train took Boots Carlozo away, it’s very gratifying to hear from someone who knows the circus and understands that I’m going for a rollicking, bigger-than-life story here.

Why Can’t I Quit Football?

I drove up to the cottage Wednesday, in order to get up to Grand Rapids Thursday and meet a couple of Thai tailors who’d flown to town to get everyone fitted with nice cheap suits. (Yay!) For dinner, I drove to a sports bar nearby Saugatuck, hoping to catch a little of the early action of the Tigers-Indians game. From my barstool, I could look at 11 different TV screens at once.

Little did I know, the whole country was counting down the minutes to something monumentally important.

No, not the Democratic convention, but the start of the NFL season!

The countdown to the kickoff! The clock running down in the corner of the screen! The clash between the Dallas Cowboys (America’s Team to some – shudder) and the NY Giants! In the middle of the media capital of the country! More forced amusement and community than in 10 Rockin’ New Year’s Eves! How could such monumentalosity escape my attention?

With the sound off, it was surreal to watch the interviews, and the other interviews, and the retrospectives of the interviews. However, sound-free was definitely the way to enjoy the music and dance-a-ganza taking place midtown in Rockefeller Center (30 Rock, for the more macho announcers). Mariah Carey sang and danced, looking like she had just enough time on the subway to do her hair. Some fat bald rapper recited from a big gold throne, while everyone who wanted to be part of such scripted joy shoved and pushed to wave to their fans at home. Meanwhile, the dancers around Mariah wriggled and shimmied wearing modified shoulder pads. Too bad they were male dancers.

Oh football. Why can’t I quit you?

You embody so much that is crass and overblown in American culture. Every Sunday, we’re urged to get down, pig up, chest bump, drink up (though with shitty beer that only gets you drunk in the manner that Mariah Carey gets you dancing) and roll back evolutionary progress a couple of centuries.

You make us cheer for brutality, long for overstuffed blonde barmaids, treat a 3-hour relaxing TV respite like it were a matter of life and death. You force us to identify with still-adolescent meatheads whose goal in life is not enlightenment or service or ecstasy, but merely to own a mancave decorated entirely with promotional items, an Ali Baba’s cave for the soulless and rudderless.

Still, I can’t quit you.

To enjoy a game, you force us to ignore millions of dollars wasted in glitz and advertising, not to mention millions of tax dollars siphoned off to build high-tech stadiums for the rich and connected. You force us to forget how many former players are hobbling around their houses on shattered knees, or trying to keep from shaking from the concussions they’ve suffered. You require us to forget about the thousands of young men who never make it, but are sold a bill of goods by sadistic, power-mad coaches that they must sacrifice themselves to the game to get ahead when they could be getting an education or learning a trade.

Still, I can’t quit you.

Football, you force me to admire jocks who not only were assholes in high school (the last time we ever existed on the same plane) but now are rich and even more entitled. You force me to make excuses for the players who get arrested for beating up their girlfriends, or even casual passersby. You encourage me to lard stories about heroism and sacrifice and honor upon a bunch of arrogant steroidal gorillas who would only pull over to help a stranded motorist if there were a film crew nearby, who sometimes play with less enthusiasm than a 40-year-old stripper on a pole. And some day, I am completely certain, I will watch a player die on the field from blunt trauma.

Still, I can’t quit you. How can that be? What in God’s name is wrong with me?

The Chicago Bears connect with me more thoroughly than ever did the Detroit Lions (godawful for my entire life in the Motor City) or the Michigan Wolverines (just not that exciting to me). Plugging into the enthusiasm of Bear fans makes me feel like I grew up here, which is a feeling I like to cultivate from time to time. I like to think of my late father and me watching a game on TV sometime, with his long-gone Aunt Helen smoking cigarettes in her kitchen in Homewood and yelling at Butkus. And the time I spend watching the game (even better when my daughter joins me) gives me a chance to suspend responsibility for just a little while, and enjoy watching someone else’s well-laid plans either go well or ill. But these are only partial reasons, dressed in play clothes of nostalgia.

So what is it about you, football, that keeps me coming back? I never played the game. While short-tempered, I’m not a violent person. We have an artistic household, not an athletic one. My wife and son give me grief for watching a game every weekend.

Still, I can’t quit you.

Must be the logos.

Enjoy the season, fans!!

Thanksgiving Ramble

I sat down today, fully intending to write up a blog post that people could read over this long holiday weekend. This post would be clever and erudite, but also ground-breaking. It would cement in the reader’s mind that, despite the comical trappings around here, I was someone to take seriously, that my musings were something to tap into on a regular basis, that any sliver of spare time spent here would be rewarding. And from a crass commercial angle, it would get me a little web traffic and remind readers I was still alive and still flogging all my e-books, especially Honk Honk, My Darling.

Sorry, gang. It didn’t happen. Whatever thoughts might have been pacing around up there in the waiting room, ready for their debut, have somehow vanished. Maybe they were in a pique because I’d ignored them for most of the month, and they were loath to be trotted out hurriedly like a kid reciting “Twinkle Twinkle.” Maybe thoughts of baking, cooking, hosting and running around locked the door on them and pretended the key’s been lost. Maybe the thoughts are stuck in the security line at O’Hare. Maybe I ain’t got a cogent thought to present in any interesting way, and never did.

I started a list of things I was thankful for, but that started getting a little mawkish. Besides, everyone else’s lists have been on Twitter and blogs all week. While it was nice to read them all, it pushed me closer to the idea in Matthew 6, about praying by yourself in a closet.

Is that in the spirit of the holiday? Who knows? One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it’s a little amorphous in how you approach it. There are traditions a-plenty, but the idea of celebrating the day “properly” rarely comes up. There’s no blowback if you choose to spend it by yourself or with friends, whether you eat turkey or lasagna, whether you go shopping or watch slasher movies at home. It feels like a real Do-It-Yourself holiday, and since it’s the first one of the season, everyone is a little less anxious.

At least, that’s how I feel about it. Family tensions certainly arise, as crowds gather for the celebration (or as people tell their families that they won’t be coming). The Black Friday stuff makes me want to join a monastery, in the Marianas Trench. The Christmas commercials during the parades and football games are nauseating (I feel so inadequate that I won’t be able to give my sweetie a Lexus this year, with a big bow on the top!). Seriously, it takes A LOT to turn me off from watching a parade, but CBS and Macy’s have perfected a formula for it. So, opportunities certainly arise for tension, disappointment, regret, but I’ve somehow blocked them out. Perhaps I’ve learned a few lessons in life by the half-century point.

At least we’re not the ones traveling this year.

And double at least, The Detroit Lions aren’t an abomination now, so both football games might be worth watching.

And I get to watch my darling daughter singing in “Boris Godunov” again tonight at the Chicago Lyric Opera.

So I’ve got lots to be thankful for. And I thank you for reading this far. Have a happy holiday weekend, y’all.

Latest Podcast for “Honk Honk, My Darling”

Attention all kinkers! The latest podcast of “Honk Honk, My Darling” is now up and available for listening! Death continues to follow Rex Koko like a yappy little dog as he follows the trail of Boots Carlozo to the trailer of her latest bunkmate, Flying Fleming! Brought to you by Robillard’s Shrimp Sticks, in handy stick form!

(Sorry this one took so long, but there were a lot of characters, sound effects and background sounds to tinker with and get right. Ever since my brother told me to get serious about the SFX, I’ve been getting more and more particular about how I put these together. Hope you agree!)

Download from this link or click on the embed below:

(Sorry the embed looks like a cheap piece of op art. It looked fine when I uploaded it. I’ve had continuing problems with the artwork when I try and manipulate it on Libsyn.)

“Honk Honk, My Darling”– New Podcast Chapter!

for the patient people out there who are following the podcast of “Honk Honk, My Darling”, I apologize that this episode took a while. While it was tough stripping in all the voices that I wasn’t satisfied with (particularly Bingo the clown), the biggest time suck was creating a sound pastiche for the big melee at the Banana Peel.

How does a brawl in a clown bar sound? Well, click on the player below and find out!

(BTW, you can find the other podcast chapters at the host site here: http://rexkoko.libsyn.com)

My Expertiousness, Part I

A couple weeks ago, I got an email out of the blue from an ABC News reporter who wanted to talk about L. Frank Baum and the myths that surround The Wizard of OZ. (A couple years ago, I wrote a review for a new bio of Baum.) We talked for a long time, very fun, and then she included me in her article like I was a professorial, talking-head type of guy. The article can be found here.

Little known fact: Baum called his landscape “OZ” because that was the serving size he required for his sinsemilla. And the Lion was meant to refer to Haile Salassie, the “Lion of Judah”, even though he was only 8 years old at the time.

Don’t believe me? Try that little trick with the movie and “Dark Side of the Moon.” Properly baked, of course.

Whining about Insomnia

Well. there goes another Monday morning. Any productivity shot down by a night of sleeplessness.

I just don’t get it. This year has actually seen fewer problems than last year, yet since my 50th birthday, I can count on a good bout of insomnia about every month or so. Usually hitting on Sunday night, because of the upcoming workweek, I suppose. This weekend I got it twice, even on Saturday night, after a day with two hours of driving and about 5 hours of hiking around state parks. Despite all that exertion, at midnight my body felt like it was poised to walk into a slam-dunk meeting or defend the house from raccoons or something.

So last night, it should’ve been easy to fall asleep, right? I took it easy, did some stretching before bed, read for 40 mins — and didn’t fall asleep for another 2.5 hours, even after warm milk and a couple of Tylenol PMs.

How ironic is it that the only thing weighing on my mind lately is that I’m not being that productive? That I’m still waiting to get answers from other people before I release my projects for public consumption? That I’m the person in the household with the least amount of pressure in their lives, and still sleep simply avoids me?

And how stupid is it that I feel like a failure for not being able to sleep? That’s the dominant feeling in those empty hours, that I am failing at something that the entire city has somehow been able to do. Grrrr. This is one aspect of getting older that I’m really detesting.