Reprint from Last Summer

At some time in 2006, my ISP lost a few months worth of my posts, and me, being the self-lacerating type, thought that the big gap in posting was entirely my doing. When I realized that I had actually been posting intermittently from May to September, it was too late, and the posts were gone for good. And probably, for the good of us all.

But I remember one post, because it was an essay that is still up on another site. Coudal Partners, a design and web firm in Chicago, had a project going called “Field-Tested Books,” in which writers penned small essays describing an indelible link between a certain book and a place. It’s a great project to poke around in, so go to the site and check it out. I was flattered to be included, and so I wrote about the connection I feel between my cottage and a certain collection:


Summer reading should be, by definition, that which Fall-Winter-Spring reading is not. And since my cold weather reading tends toward the current, the now, the wow-pow!, I set aside Summer to enjoy the things no one is talking about. At my family cottage I have a personal rule to read only books more than 50 years old. In this way, modern novelists and their narcissistic obsessions get the heave-ho, and I can enjoy stories from Twain, Dickens, London, Chesterton – hell, even Beowulf – that would otherwise get stacked in the pile of good intentions.

A couple of years ago at a book sale near the cottage, I found a copy of the Modern Library edition of Damon Runyon’s collected stories. If anyone remembers Runyon now, it’s because of Guys and Dolls, which adapted his yarns of mobsters, strippers, and tough eggs for the stage. His writing, I think, is a snapshot of style bordering on comic genius; at least there’s been no one like him before or since. Runyon writes strictly in the present tense, with no contractions and a cadence that sounds like feet scuttling hastily through a back exit. His narrative voice has influenced gangster-speak to the present day. Joe Pesci’s “I’m funny how?” speech in Goodfellas and the best dialog from The Sopranos would not exist without Runyon’s inspiration.

Runyon reportedly preferred his later, bucolic stories about small-town life in the Colorado of his youth, but these are tiresome “more than somewhat” when compared to tales of Harry the Horse, Blooch Bodinski and Nicely-Nicely Jones. The plots twist enough to please but not enough to vex, which is important in the evening after a glass or two of Canadian Club. These stories of thieves, grifters and racketeers carry a special tonic for a visitor in this part of Michigan, which was settled by Dutch Calvinists whose idea of a good time is a hard day’s work. Like P.G. Wodehouse’s, Runyon’s stories feel like a blip in time, profiles of a moment that had passed by the time they were first published, if it ever existed at all. If summer days can be well spent relaxing in the shade with Bertie Wooster and his Aunt Agatha, then the nights belong to the idle denizens of Mindy’s Restaurant, the Golden Slipper Nightclub, and “the racetrack at Saratoga, which is a spot in New York state very pleasant to behold.”

“Dennis Miller Radio” Postponed til Tuesday


Hey, for all you Dennis Miller fans out there, here’s a chance to catch me on his radio show. Tuesday morning, at about 10:30 EST, 9:30 Central, drive time Pacific, I’ll be on the air chatting about “Recut Madness” and other business.

The show airs on WIND-AM 560 from 12-2PM in Chicago, and on WDKT-AM 1400 from 6-9PM in Detroit. Any place else, you’ll have to check the local listings.

Tune In! Phone In! Drop Out!

A Visit to the Fair

It’s summertime, so that means it’s time for Ferris wheels, junk food and carnies—in other words, the county fair. Yesterday we went with our German visitors to the Ottawa (Mich.) County Fair, to give them a taste of good ol’ American wholesomeness. In fact, it was very wholesome—so wholesome, in fact, that it wasn’t very interesting. Maybe at night the carnies get a little more loud and lascivious, and the teenagers and rednecks get a little more reckless. I certainly hope so, cuz it was just a little too sedate for me.

(Last summer on our trip to Germany, these friends had taken us on a surprise trip to the Circus Roncalli, a fabulous one-ring circus with its HQ in their hometown. We had the most fantastic time, and I was hoping that this county fair would at least be as diverting. No such luck.)

The big event that our kids wanted to join in was The Money Booth, one of those phone-booth sized Plexiglas boxes with fans in the floor into which cash is poured and people get in to grab as much flying money as they can in 15 seconds. We signed up early, then waited and waited for one of our names to be called. While more than 50 kids eventually got to grab some cash, our names were never pulled from the bucket. It struck some doubt into my kids’ faith into the splashover of the free enterprise system. But shove some elephant ears in them and they were fine again.

The other kids were just as rabid to stick it out in the blazing sun for their chance to grab a free $6. Hey, they were Dutch-Americans, which means for free money – or free anything – they’d sit on a nest of fire ants waiting their turn. And holy moley, the NAMES these kids have been burdened with! I lost track of the Tylers and the Taylors and the Brodys among these little suburban urchins. Might parents be naming their kids after their favorite taverns? Not in this dry neck of the woods. One little girl was named Brooklyn, apparently being groomed by her parents for a prizefighting career. And two different boys were named Stone. What the hell is up with that? Are the parents big fans of NBC News? Are they afraid any less sturdy names will mean their boy will turn gay? Do they get their inspiration for baby names at the building center? That would explain little brother Caulk and little sister Sheetrock. These people must be watching a lot of television that I’m not, considering how exotic yet generic their kids names sound.

I remember hearing about a mother some years ago looking up her child’s name in one of those reference books to find out what it really means etymologically. Imagine her disappointment to find that the name Tyler, which sounds so classy and Ivy League, actually means “a laborer who installs tiles.” No, no, how will he ever marry a Rockefeller now?

A Little Bit Here, A Little Bit There

If you were reading the Huffington Post last night, you might have seen one of my posts up there on their “Politics” page. Of course, if you missed it, I wouldn’t blame you. (I’ve created a page for it at the right.) Since I’m not starring in a cable series, and my Q rating is not what it should be, my posts are last-in-first-out as others are submitted. Hard to amass a huge following there, which is the reason for doing it. Well, not a “huge” following, but I’m trying to get some bump that will help Recut Madness along. Six hours up on HuffPo, effectively buried in the Home and Garden section, won’t really do much.

But I press on, because what else is there to do? It has proven a challenge to get PR and press for the book. We’re still trying, and have a few new ideas that will be implemented soon. But we need to give this thing a boost so we can make it to the fall and take advantage of the Christmas buying season. If you’ve read Recut Madness and liked it, ask Barnes and Noble the next time you’re there to order a couple copies for the store. They don’t take your phone number, and it costs nothing, and it will get copies on the shelf for me. Also, it ain’t like I’m begging, but — BRANDEN! Are you listening? ——— it sure would be nice to get a review on Amazon, one that seems very independent and shows no hints that you are a friend or relative of mine. Every little bit helps, and I’m grateful for your support.

On the other hand, BARDBALL is enjoying some nice attention from real baseball fans out there. Just my luck that the project I’m doing for fun is performing better than the project that’s for money, but hey, I live for irony. We’ve got a backlog of poems already, and have stopped doing any guerrilla marketing for a while. It’s going to be very interesting to see where BARDBALL is by the end of the season, but I’m certain we’ll have enough material for a book.

Best Compliment All Year

A friend heard the tail-end of my interview on WBEZ some weeks ago, and sent the message:

A much welcome break from the pledge drive (though that is doing you an injustice — the sound of cicadas boffing would be a pleasant break from the pledge drive. You were much better than cicadas boffing.)

JFG: “Much Better Than Cicadas Boffing.”

A Week Off, Then WGN Radio on Sunday!!

Well, after feverishly working on various projects from our cottage (where my desk space is only slightly larger than an airplane fold-down tray), I get to quit worrying about book sales and PR for a week and go up to Camp Owasippe with the Boy Scouts. No worrying up there, right? As long as everybody sticks to the buddy system. And people stay away from the poison ivy. And a storm doesn’t come through and send a tree cleaving through someone’s tent like happened last year. No worries at all.

But after that, on Sunday, July 15, I’ll be the guest on Rick Kogan’s radio show on WGN-AM, a station so powerful I think they can pick it up in Helsinki. Rick is a famous journalist and boulevardier, and we’ll be cutting wise about “Recut Madness” and probably BARDBALL as well. I’m very excited. So tune in, from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m., and be ready to chortle over your Ovaltine.

See ya in a week.

The Post Turtle

An excellent joke from my old friend, Lou Bolf:

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old Texas rancher whose hand had been caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to former Texas Governor George W. Bush and his elevation to the White House.

The old Texan said, “Well, ya know, Bush is a post turtle.” Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.

The old rancher said, “When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a post turtle.” The old man saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he continued to explain. “You know he didn’t get there by himself, he doesn’t belong there, he doesn’t know what to do while he’s up there and you just want to help the dumb shit get down.”