Do Not Disturb

I was ready with a couple posts for this week. Or ideas for posts, really. Or just notions. Yeah. Probably notions. Notions to post.

But anyway, can’t work on it now. I just had a conversation with my editor in New York, and we agreed to some changes in my manuscript. So it’s time to put on my hunkering pants and get down to it. So I’ve got to turn off the DSL and get to work.

But don’t forget. National Monkey Day is coming in two weeks, so get your shopping done now.

Blood, Guts and Foam

I trust everyone had a reasonably fine Thanksgiving, and without too much heavy obligation, found a lot of things to be thankful for. It really is such a nice holiday, it’s a shame that so many horrible travel stories accompany it. Our family has plenty to be thankful for, but you might be able to guess many of them. But you want to know what I’m really thankful for?

The Nerf Arsenal.

I’m so thankful for the Nerf Arsenal, and the pandemonium it brought to our house on Saturday night, that I can only attempt to describe it.

My son Liam, who’s now eleven, had a couple of the boys from his old school over on Saturday night for pizza and video games. The idea and impetus was actually mine, because I thought it would be a perfect night for it, and December would be too busy for everyone’s schedule. In the afternoon, Liam worked on setting up the television room for it, even checking the settings on the Gamecube so there wouldn’t be any memory problems or technical snafus.

Then he got out his Nerf Arsenal and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. Mustering what he thought was a Schwarzenegger accent (like he’s seen many “Terminator” movies!), he greeted the boys at the door. They were stunned, “Wow, that’s the biggest gun I’ve ever seen!” For the rest of the night, allowing for respites in front of the TV, they ran around the house ambushing each other with orange foam projectiles and screaming and panting and laughing their heads off.

Why did all this chaos thrill me so much? Because Liam never has friends over unless it’s his birthday or something. Liam has Asperger’s Syndrome, which we diagnosed around his third birthday. For those of you who don’t know, Asperger’s is a form of autism that makes it hard to understand social situations. The best description I ever heard of it was that it’s like permanent culture shock, in which a person (usually a male) can’t really figure out why things happen as they do and how to keep himself involved in the interaction.

Asperger’s is a spectrum disorder, and not everyone is afflicted to the same extent. Liam is much, much better off than many with AS, and many people who meet him can overlook the condition completely. But I’ve seen him on his good days and bad, and I’m a worrier by nature anyway. For eight years, I’ve fretted about him–how he’s going to grow, how he’s going to function as a teen and adult, how much he’s going to get out of life, how much he’s going to enjoy himself.

So seeing him playing War with two other sixth graders–that’s about the best present I’m going to get this year.

When I bought him the Nerf Arsenal last year, my wife was reluctant. She’s not an incredible peacenik or anything, but the idea of these comically huge guns shooting missiles around her house made her a little uneasy. The trouble is, she never had a brother, and so doesn’t realize how much interaction and satisfaction men get from playing War. For Liam’s sake, I think any kind of interaction is worthwhile. And it looks like so far, I’m right.

So if you hear anybody this Christmas season get on their soapbox and spout off about how awful it is to sell toy guns, just remember that they can be very therapeutic, in a literal sense. It also helps the father, when he gets to shoot suction cup darts at the faces of football coaches on TV.

Thank you, Hasbro, for Nerf N-Strike, Action Blasters, and all your other fine squishy products!!

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays….

because where else can you pick up interesting news stories like this one, from the Great Lake State?

Jail Officers Urge Inmate to Strip and Run Around for Cherry Pie

The two jail officers were fired, of course, but my heart goes out to the inmate. I mean, it must have been one hell of a cherry pie. Michigan’s famous for them.

Thanksgiving visits are prime opportunities for this kind of news. While there certainly are strange-but-true stories wherever you go, a visit to your birthplace and the fields of youth make these stories stand out even more. I’ve got my reasons for not living in Michigan, and fair or not, my mind absorbs these kinds of stories at this time of year and congratulates itself on making the wise decision to move to Chicago. It’s probably all tangled up with nostalgia and regret and the Oedipal need to break away. The fact that Michigan is chock full of wackos certainly helps.

Since topics of conversation generally dry up after 24 hours, or about one-third into the trip, holiday visits are generally the only time I ever watch the late local news. And what the hell is that except a parade of freaky stories about hit-and-runs, trailer fires, parade preparations and the crowds expected for the Friday after Turkey Day shopping orgy? Any prolonged exposure to local TV talking heads will make you think the world’s fate is in the hands of grinning idiots. Maybe if we’re lucky, there will be some good video of hordes of shoppers stampeding into stores on Friday. Teacher says, Every time a shopper is trampled underfoot, an angel gets his wings.

If you’ve got some time to kill online, go to this fabulous timesuck:

it’s an M&Ms ad for their dark chocolate, a Heironymous Bosch-style painting full of word puzzles about famous horror flicks. Supposedly there are 50 movie titles hidden in the painting. After more than an hour, I’ve only been able to find 38, and that’s even with movies that I’ve never seen. If you get a better score than me, let me know.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

If I Wrote This Post…

If This Knife Was Handy...By now, everyone in the English-speaking world knows that OJ Simpson has a book coming out entitled If I Did It, And Had Motive And Opportunity And A History of Domestic Violence And Pile of Evidence And An Idiotic Team Of Prosecutors Against Me, This Is How I Would’ve Done It, Hypothetically. A friend of mine is circulating an Internet petition to register his outrage at the publisher, ReganBooks, as if the company and Judith Regan thought the public would appreciate The Juice clearing the air and would be shocked, shocked by the outrage. But my friend is a lawyer, which might imply some respect for the law, so I’ll cut him some slack.

I don’t know why I’m not shocked. I know this is a new low for law, journalism and publishing. But Newton’s Laws of Motion are still in effect, so the momentum of civilization’s downward slope shouldn’t shock anyone. It would be shocking if that momentum were halted and reversed, and the nation boycotted the book, burned down the Fox studio where the interview is being held, and OJ announced, “Okay, I murdered two people, and it didn’t affect my golf game one bit.” That would be shocking, and so, I’m not expecting it.

Speaking of the TV interview, would any sane person conduct it without having a taser on the table next to the glass of water?

In other publishing news, the following titles are slated for the spring:

Poland Was Asking for It, by Adolf Hitler
In Cold Blood, Presumably, by Truman Capote
I, the Jury, and My Agents, by Mickey Spillane

UPDATE: So civilization has not fallen as low as I had presumed. Looks like both the interview and the book have been canceled. When everyone down to Bill O’Reilly questions whether something is despicably bottom-of-the-barrel, maybe it’s time to get on your hands and knees and look in the mirror.

How had I missed publisher Judith Regan’s explanation for her involvement, that

she had done it not for money, but as a victim of domestic violence anxious to face down a man she believed got away, literally, with murder.

Now will we have vigilante publishers roaming the streets, inflicting their own brand of justice when the law fails the citizens of the country? Publishers who right wrongs their own way, no matter what The Man would tell them to do? Outlaw publishers who are their own judge, jury and executioner, fighting for justice in black spandex outfits from their Batcave, fitted with high-tech lethal weaponry? (I take it back–I have no desire to see Judith Regan in black spandex, no matter how good her comic book might be.)

Hidden Treasure

An old saltNow here is a very cool find. The artists who run a site called Fecal Face (yeah, I would’ve thought it hilarious in my 20s, too) discovered a leather-bound book in a box of flea market items. Just an old curiosity, they thought, until they looked inside and found an unsigned sketchbook of a Chicago cartoonist from 1913!

The sketches are simply wonderful slices of life from back then, showing the restaurant where the artist worked, Chicago cops, “Jones out for a swim,” el train conductors and soldiers on parade. As the bloggers point out, 1913 was seven years before Prohibition, and four years before the US entering WWI. I feel lucky when I discover a receipt or a photo in an old book–imagine finding all of these!

In the comments section, someone posits with authority that the artist is one Andy Hettinger, a young Chicago cartoonist and animator who died in 1915. The commentator signed the message “Jay Lynch”–could this be underground comix legend Jay Lynch of “Nard & Pat” fame? Read all the comments, they’re pretty interesting.

via Gaper’s Block.

Accent on Accents

Considering the geographic mobility of most Americans and the homogenization of the culture, I’ve often been concerned that our regional accents have become less pronounced in recent years. Of course, I’m not a linguist, just someone who wants to get cheap laughs talking like a Southerner. But my concern may be misplaced. This page has a quiz designed to identify your regional accent. And it looks like it hit my nail on the head. Or something. Is there a bad metaphor quiz I can take?

What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak “Standard English straight out of the dictionary” but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like “Are you from Wisconsin?” or “Are you from Chicago?” Chances are you call carbonated drinks “pop.”

The Northeast
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

The term “Inland North” has come up in my reading in the past few years. I really like it. Majestic and remote. No one thinks the Great Lakes are all that great anymore. Reminds me of “Inland Empire”, in Southern California. Almost as good as “Hermit Kingdom.”

And listen. Nobody’s ever asked me if I’m from Wisconsin, or I’d give ’em my full blown Nort’ Woods act. I was born in Detroit and got my accent during my years working in the Merchant Marine on the big lake they call Gitchi-Goomee.

Via Cynical-C blog.

Another Red-Letter Day

Fifteen years ago today, on a very frigid and windy Chicago day, my wife and I were married downtown. An intimate chapel in a larger, very beautiful church. Wearing my grandfather’s tuxedo from the 1920s. A wonderful ceremony that I can’t remember anything of. A rollicking reception at a restaurant around the corner. Dancing till all hours to the jump jazz of Dominic Bucci and the International Fingers. Tributes from performer friends during the band’s intermission. Never had a bite of food. Overserving the band quite a bit. Dancing the Batusi. Friends, family, and the official start of a beautiful life together. My brother said it was the best blues wedding he’d ever been to.

So we’re leaving the kids with my in-laws and taking a long weekend in San Francisco together.

It is indeed a wonderful life.

Oh, Frabjous Day!

Three great things happened today. In no particular order:

1. I handed in my manuscript to my publisher.

2. Donald Rumsfeld resigned.

3. I got my iPod to work on my car receiver.

I was tempted to climb in bed at 4 pm, just so nothing could come along to wreck the day.

It’s Almost Over–Soon They’ll Be Back Under Their Rocks

I've sworn off the stuff...It was a mere ten days ago that the Detroit Tigers choked so miserably in the World Series and lightened the wallets of many gamblers around the country. It was a depressing thing to watch, and I was planning to post an entry here about the nostalgic pull that a team can have on someone throughout their lives, how what’s imprinted on the minds of young people ten or eleven years old may become weakened or modified during their lives but is never completely expunged. But ten days after the fact makes those kinds of ideas a little stale, or at least worth putting back on the shelf until the next season rolls around.

But the election tomorrow has me thinking all about the ideas of nostalgia, hope, and idealism all over again. Because just as I used to think that my baseball heroes were paragons of character and effortlessness, I used to think that most adults knew what they were doing and could generally be counted on to do the right thing. And I also believed that democracies worked because, win or lose, everybody involved believed in the process, because the alternative was tyranny.

But to watch the behavior of people during election season time after time descend into such treacherous filthy pits that I can’t talk about elections with my children makes me want to strangle a whole lot of people.

To catalog all the depravity and thievery that’s gone on during the last few elections is too time-consuming and infuriating, and there are many better places to get a more thorough catalog of them. Besides, here in Chicago, a person is supposed to adopt a devil-may-care attitude about corruption, stolen elections, filthy tricks and indicted officials. It shows you’re tough, worldly wise. If we didn’t have our corruption, we’d be no more interesting than Minneapolis.

But the turd du jour in the news—about many districts across the nation where robocalls are pummeling voters and pretending to be from the Democratic Candidate, when they’re actually paid for by the Republican National Congressional Committee—just makes me want to take all these clever dimwits and throw them in a cage with a couple of gorillas in heat. Is it really so hard for these numbnuts to keep their jobs that they can convince themselves this is a good idea?

At the risk of sounding like a motivational poster, I ‘d like to suggest that, before trying some crappy underhanded trick like that, a person would do well to try and explain it in his/her imagination to someone who was important to them when they were 10 years old. A mom or dad, a coach, a cool uncle, someone. And then maybe that person could get over the uneasy feeling that he/she is actually a lizard in human skin.

Or more simply, what would the ten-year-old inside them say?

Quit Pushin’ Already!

Okay, now I find out that November is actually something called National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, kemosabe). So here I’m patting myself on the back for settling down to blog writing again, and I’m told that it’s time to start scribbling a novel. Lay off, willya? Isn’t the world choked with enough bad novels as it is? To say nothing of airport bookstores.

Speaking for all us slow writers, John Green has launched “NAtional Finish A Draft Of Your Book I Mean Seriously Come On Month” , or NAFADOYBIMSCOM.

Instead of writing an entirely new novel in a month, all you have to do is finish one you’ve, say, been working on for many months.

Thanks, John, but I’m more at the stage where National Finish That Mad-Lib Sitting On Your Desk Month (or NaFiTMaLiSitOnYDe) is more doable.

The Eleventh Month

November is here. Probably the least appreciated month of the year, what with the dwindling daylight, the prospect of elections, somber Veteran’s Day, and that dutiful holiday called Thanksgiving. Don’t the calendar makers realize that every month should be fun fun FUN? Why are they keeping us from jumping straight from Halloween’s excesses to Christmas’ excesses?

Not convinced? Okay, here are some of the things we’re supposed to celebrate in November:

British Appreciation Month
Good Nutrition Month
National Alzheimer’s Disease Month
National Stamp Collecting Month
Religion and Philosophy Books Month
Peanut Butter Lover’s Month.

This dreary parade cannot even be saved by National Fig Week, which we are enjoying right now.

But I’m not letting it get me down. One reason is, I’m practically finished with the manuscript for my new book, which will eliminate a lot of tension around the house, at least until the weeks before publication in March. My editor and I have even agreed to a title, which is a long, boring story about which I may post sometime.

Another reason is, our TIVO is finally back and running, along with our DSL modem, cell phones, and dishwasher. Can you dispute the existence of gremlins at this time of year?

So it’s a good time to revisit my New Year’s resolutions and finally toe the line. One of those resolutions was, blog every day. This can still be accomplished, since I never designated a starting date. November 1 is as good a date as any, I guess.

Besides, Nov. 1 is also the birthday of the hydrogen bomb (1952) and the brassiere (1914).