Pondering some bookworthy questions and then answering them

mega liberry

The inspiration for this – or, at least the questions for this – come from a magazine article in which Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) recounts the role of books in her life. I thought I would take the questions and add my own spin. By the way, I’ve never read EPL and have no immediate plans to.

kiidy bookThe book I enjoyed most in school: Aside from Mr. Bear Squash You All Flat I don’t recall many books from school that particularly riveted me. The frolics of Dick and Jane were pretty much lacking. I did most of my reading at home and loved the kid classics like Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, but definitely ‘not’ the Arthur Ransome books that my aunt thought I’d love and hence she gave me a full set of them. Bunch of poncey little English twits they were and hence I’ve never read them, but still have them.

A book I read in secret: I give credit to my mother who did not believe in censoring my reading. But she questioned a bit why I wanted to read Peyton Place when it first came out as the salacious novel of its day. Pretty tame stuff now, but it did make reference to Rodney Harrington’s hard-on, and you didn’t get that kind of stuff much in those days. That notwithstanding, I don’t think I read it in secret. But it embarrassed me to think my mom knew about that kind of stuff.

The books I’ve read over and over: Like Gilbert I have read certain poets and bit of poetry over and over because I tend to get a bit more from repeated readings, but I honestly don’t think I have ever read a book twice.

A classic I am embarrassed to say I have never read: I’ve always ‘meant’ to read Joyce’s Ullyses but other than the ribald Mollie Bloom passages, I have never had the energy. Loved the Dubliners, though. But when I tried to plough into Ulysses all I could think was WTF? Likewise War and Peace. Life is too short. I did read Dr. Zhivago, though and it was worth the slog. The film did not do justice to the magnificence of the novel. I have read some Faulkner but not much. Had to read Moby Dick in university. Always regretted the time spent. “Call me Fishmeal.”

A book I have pretended to have read: Like her, the Bible. I mean I have read bits. Practically everybody has read bits, and the 23rd Psalm and Ecclesiastes work for me, though in the case of the latter I prefer the Byrds version.

A book I consider to be grossly overrated: You have an hour to spare. Basically avoid 90% of what is on any bestseller list. Because it’s popular with the masses, it doesn’t mean it’s good, or worthy of your time. Various Martin Amis works I’d like to have liked better but I always end up finding him to be a bit of a shit. But, he comes by it naturally, considering his father, Kingsley, was even more of a shit.

The books I wish I had written: Easy, the complete works of Douglas Adams, followed by the complete works of Bill Bryson, with a considerable amount of Paul Theroux and Wally Lamb thrown in. I was also very impressed with the style and storytelling of Richard Ford with Canada.

My favorite movie versions of books: Not many. I’d have to opt for Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, mainly because it’s got Bogey, and then B. Traven’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, also Bogey and wonderful Alfonso Bedoya, the bandito’s bandito. And Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and also her chilling classic, Strangers on a Train.

What I’m reading right now: Paul Theroux’s The Last Train Ride to Zona Verde. If you have planned to visit some of the more troubled areas of Africa, peruse this first. It might change your mind a bit if you were thinking of some sort of Club Med adventure.

Let’s see how we make out on the second time around

reincarnation_o_3010729

I don’t believe much in reincarnation. But it comes to my attention that we all have a lot of things to pack into the time we get here on earth, whether it’s 50-75-or maybe even 100-plus years. I mean, there isn’t enough damn time to get it all done.

In other words, it’d be nice to have an extra life in reserve so that we can fit in the undone (or hopefully yet-to-be-done elements) and give them lots of space.

Something that becomes apparent, the older we get, is that our first (and probably ‘only’ go) is remarkably short. When we are young things seem to take forever to happen, but as our days dwindle down we get a chill when we recognize how fleeting it all is. Think back to the events in your life of 20 years ago. Seems like yesterday – no? Then think ahead two decades and feel that aforementioned chill.

1liketobeaniraqiCOLCPBearing that in mind I have decided to make out a list to address for my next go-around. I will ponder the things I want to do and will also ponder the things I would ‘not ‘do that I did this time around. In so saying, I am not offering thoughts that my life has been bad. All things considered and compared with the lives of some others I know of, it has been fairly decent. Yes, it has had its low and bleak interludes, but I survived them, and it has also had moments of exaltation, for which I am grateful. Most of all I am grateful for having been born in the part of the world I was. When I compare life here with some other places on this big ball of mud, it’s better to be here. So, I don’t think I’d change my current venue for the next trip.

THE NEXT TRIP:

I wouldn’t –

- Get married until I was relatively ancient. Too many lovely people to meet and get to know ‘really well’ without the complications of being already ‘connected’.

- Embark on a career path until I was truly sure of what I wanted to do rather than what was ‘expected’.

AluminumCansReincarnate- Forsake travel in order to complete my ‘education’. Travel is education, as I have found.

- be nervous about living in another country. I finally did live in another country for a year. A year that was in many respects the most notable in my life.

- sell myself short. I’d recognize my God-given talents, such as they are, and I would relentlessly push myself.

- be so unselfish. That’s right. I said unselfish. Compromises get made in life, but if those compromises keep me from following my dreams I can only end up resenting the person who put me in that place.

- begin smoking.

- ignore the addictive properties of alcohol.

- be afraid to let a teacher know he/she is an asshole and contributing nothing to my education, and in that context I wouldn’t be afraid to be expelled.

- be afraid to be fired for the sake of a point of principle.

- take no shit from nobody.

I would –

- travel more and at an earlier age.

- increase my circle of friends. I mean, I have many friends but sometimes I have missed out on some I’d like to have had.

- go to many more concerts than I have this time around

- learn to play a musical instrument.

- set a bucket-list early and endeavor to fulfil all the criteria. I mean I haven’t seen the Taj Mahal this time around, or the Great Pyramid. They’re right at the top of my list for the next go-round.

- take out a loan when I am very young and buy a Rolls-Royce. Then I’d never need to buy another car. It’d be worth the expenditure.

- recognize the signs of attraction in a female and be prepared to take a chance.

- be braver than I have sometimes been.

- recognize early-on that I have a decent singing voice and sing in a choir. Love good choral music.

- play in a rock-and-roll band and cavort with groupies but don’t become kind of a pathetic old horndog like Mick.

- learn to grow up when the time is right.

- gain much more mastery of Shakespeare. He said pretty much everything that needs to be said.

- work harder to get a syndicated column.

- work harder to get a syndicated comic strip.

- be more accepting of rejection and send much more of my stuff off to publishers.

- and above all, heed the words of Polonius in Hamlet, and above all to mine own self be true.

Oh, many more things that could be included, but at least what I have gives me a starting point for that wonderful ‘next’ trip.

I have my heroes and I choose them very carefully

willie

I’m not big on heroes. I figure that any of us who cope with life and go through our days without purposely hurting others are heroes in our own little way.

So, I don’t have a lot of heroes. People I admire, to be sure, but actual heroes in some sort of a Greek myth sense, not so much. But sometimes I find individuals who surmount adversity in a slightly different manner. They aren’t necessarily people of heroic mien, but their actions and the results of what they accomplish render them heroic in my eyes.

Two individuals come to mind to me. They are a couple of guys, Americans, who rose above themselves and faced adversity head-on, despite the fact they wanted little to do with the adversity.

They are two men who worked in realms of which I am familiar: One was a journalist, and the other was a cartoonist. No, they weren’t brave soldiers, but their offerings from World War Two made the lives of a lot of brave soldiers seem worthier.

They are: Ernie Pyle and Bill Mauldin.

Ernie Pyle was a correspondent on the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and ultimately Asia. In Asia, on Okinawa, he lost his life to a sniper’s bullet.
ernie

GUAM, April, 18–Ernie Pyle died today on Ie Island, just west of Okinawa, like so many of the doughboys he had written about. The nationally known war correspondent was killed instantly by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Pyle hated war. It not only frightened him, it disgusted him, and the brass were offended when he sometimes offered words of compassion about wounded and dying German soldiers, who he saw as just kids, like the boys from Iowa or Brooklyn, The power fucks may have disliked what he wrote, but the GIs loved it and his honesty boosted their morale. Indeed, so powerful was his message that they even made a pretty honest and decent movie out of his writings: The Story of GI Joe, with Bob Mitchum and Burgess Meredith.

As I say, Pyle (pictured left) was not, in his mind, cut of heroic cloth. He was in peacetime a profligate womanizer, slackass and alcoholic who wrote well but was pretty directionless in his life. And then came the war, and he signed on as a correspondent. And the rest was history of a sort. He notes in his diaries when he had been in North Africa for months that it had come to his mind that he’d not had a drink in a year. He had other things – like survival – on his mind.

As I noted, he died in the Asian campaign, and died ignominiously by a sniper’s bullet. Kind of a Shakespearean demise. I once embarked on a quest to find his grave situated in the Punchbowl of the Pacific military cemetery on Oahu. Despite the fact Pyle was not in the military he was laid to rest with full military honors. It was a moving experience for me.

snoopy 2Bill Mauldin was a cartoonist, so again I could relate (at a much lesser level). He was also a soldier in the European Theatre of War. And he sat in the foxholes and mud and shit with the other dogfaces and from that experience a couple of guys evolved. They were named Willie and Joe, Mauldin’s prototypical infantrymen. Roughhewn, unshaven, profane, drunk when they got the chance, they came to represent every soldier in every conflict in the world. The forgotten guys who spilled blood and guts and prayed to get home to Becky Sue or Brenda. Some did, too many didn’t. Mauldin captured their reality wonderfully.

After the war Mauldin became a noted editorial cartoonist, but it is for Willie and Joe he’ll be most remembered. He was remembered by fellow cartoonist Charles Schulz each year, when Snoopy always made a Bill Mauldin reference on Veteran’s Day in the US.

My heroes: I choose them carefully.

Oft I have traveled in realms of gold — but I’ve also stayed in some godawful dumps

Sleep-eazy_motel

It is tourism season and as a public service I am about to offer you my thoughts about hitting the road and staying in beds other than one’s regular one. And yes, I confess that this is a repeat blog.

I am repeating an oldie because, aside from the fact it’s brilliantly witty, I am also a bit uninspired today, not to mention feeling indolent because I’d rather be out in the sunshine than at my computer. So, I hope you enjoy (again). Oh, and if you’re a newcomer to my blog you might not have seen this before.

The current vogue is to refer to upscale hostelries as ‘boutique’ hotels, giving the desperate-to-impress traveler visions of shopping on Rodeo Drive or some other equally posh Mecca of extravagance. The word boutique is simply French for small store, or department within a larger store, but it exudes, in translation at least, a hint of having arrived. Something very important to arrivees. ‘Arrivee’, by the way, is French for pretentious bastard with more money than sense.

A few years ago hotels and motels (which used to be called auto-courts until the owners of such decided the term was a little too reminiscent of images of the Joad family making their way to ‘Californy’) came to be called ‘inns’. Actually there are still a lot of inns around. Most of the places that aren’t boutique hotels still stick with the nomenclature.

A few years ago we stayed in a boutigue hostelry in Palm Springs. We loved it. The place was a completely revamped and redecorated 1950s motel, but now boasting king-size beds and lots of other fancy-schmantzy accoutrements like Jacuzzis, etc. It was wonderful and we would stay tthere again and immerse ourselves in its retro ambiance willingly.

But, I say call hotels, motels, or flophouses what you will, they are ultimately just places that for a certain paid sum, one can hit the sack and hope for a reasonable night’s sleep, without being too distracted by noisy guests in adjoining rooms, drunks in the corridor, sirens in the streets, screams in the streets, or developing obsessive thoughts about just how stained the mattress might be beneath all this seemingly spotless linen. Oh, and why should items in the mini-bar cost more than a case of the stuff in a liquor store?

Paris_Update_fleabag_HOTELThe less expensive rooms of my experience are basically cookie-cutter in accoutrements. They all generally have the same chenille bedspread, with the only variation being in color, as long as those colors are pink, white or beige. They will also have the same vinyl headboard, simulated wood desk; orange, yellow and brown curtains that invariably fail to keep out the flashing neon light of the bowling alley across the street. There will also be a few questionable, though not horrific, stains on the carpet. Oh, and there will be a fake oil painting of a quaint bucolic scene bolted to the wall. As if anybody would actually steal one of those hideous things. Oh, and a TV. A TV for which the remote, as often as not, won’t work.

Each time I enter a new room I follow a basic routine. My first stop is the bathroom, sometimes out of necessity, but more usually out of curiosity. I flush to make sure the mechanism on the john works. I regard the bathtub, usually with certain dismay, since they are invariably midget-sized. I scrutinize the toiletries, the little shampoos and soaps just to see if they will be worthwhile pilfering. There is always a shower cap. I imagine few shower caps get ripped off.

My next stop is that aforementioned television. Have you ever noticed that motel and hotel TVs are often some obscure brand like ‘Eddie’s?’ Expensive rooms have big flat screen top-end sets that make one feel a bit cheated upon returning to the crappy and archaic home TV. Cheap rooms are better in that regard because you don’t suffer TV envy when the vacation or business trip is over. A lot of hotel/motel TVs have extra-cost cable connections that will bring you relatively recent motion pictures or sleazy porn right to your own home-away-from-home. Some sort of a nod to contemporary mores, more for the lonely commercial traveller than anyone else, I suspect.

Oh, and I always check the bedside table drawer to see if there is a Gideon Bible present. While not being a man who is known for his religious devotion, I invariably feel more secure if the Bible is in place. For some reason I think this will protect me from being murdered in my bed. “Wait – don’t shoot! You wouldn’t shoot a man who was holding a Bible, would you. If you do it will mean you are definitely going to Hell when you die.” Works every time. Or so I tell myself.


I never really bother much with the ‘in case of fire’ escape routes. If there is a fire, I am going to be in such a blind panic that I won’t remember the diagram, in any case. I just know one rule, therein. Don’t take the damn elevator!

Mini-bar equals rip-off. Designed only for those too lazy or afraid to go down to the lounge, or for those who were silly enough to no bring their own supply at a fraction of the cost, or for alcoholics who have finished all their own stuff and who are still not ready to call it a night. Lushes are notoriously bad planners. Nowadays irrelevant to me, but there was a time, dear friends. Indeed there was a time.

As I suggested, my observations, and in some cases, caveats, apply only to the middle ground of hostelries. I have stayed in some really crummy places, rarely, and some very high end digs, equally rarely. We stayed once, at off-season rate, at a very, very posh Waikiki hotel. My basic feeling was I didn’t even want to hit the beach. I just wanted to stay in the room. It was a room that put to the lie my long-held belief that a hotel room is just a place to lay one’s head, so why pay the big bucks? I know now that if I had the big bucks on a regular basis, I would go top-drawer all the way. But, I digress.

But, even with cheaper forms of accommodation, I do have my standards. When I am paying hard-earned money to avoid sleeping rough on a park-bench or in a railway station, I expect a basic value in return for my expenditure. For example, I would never think of staying at the following places:

- A room with more than three beds. One of which seems to be already occupied.

- A room with bullet holes in the wall.

- A room in which the door to the hallway only locks from the outside.

- A room with no window. Even if it overlooks the local stockyards, I demand a window.

- A room in which there is a gas heater that suggests ‘Use at your own risk.’

- A hotel or motel with hourly rates. (Also known as the ‘Cocky-Locky’ Syndrome)

- A hotel of which the clerk at the travel agency has told you: “Well, if there’s nothing else available, we can always get you into the Buena Vista. You do not want the Buena Vista, believe me.

- A hotel of which, when the address is given, causes a cabbie to shake his head with dismay.

- A hotel that asks you to leave the names of next-of-kin when registering.

- A hotel in which the fire-charred areas above the windows have been inadequately covered by cheap paint.

- A hotel in a foreign country in which the chambermaids speak English as a first language, and look suspiciously like North American College girls, a little the worse for stress.

If you should receive a message saying “help me,” scribbled in eyebrow pencil on the napkin that comes with your morning coffee realize that you finally know what ‘white slavery’ truly means. Do not let your female companion out of your sight at any time.

Lotto ticket buyers, feel the wrath of my curse and know that I hate you, win or lose

lottery

Just a little information for the public: If you are a purchaser of lottery tickets and especially scratch-and-wins that you dither over for twenty minutes before making up your mind on what to purchase, and if there is a queue of 20 people behind you at the till at which you are making your dumbfuck purchase, be forewarned that I have put a curse on you that holds that not only will none of these tickets be winners, but also that no future lottery ticket purchases will ever be winners.

Take that Mr. or Mrs. self-indulgent ditherer. This person should also know that if my curse doesn’t work and they do win I am obligated to hate the winner for eternity. I’m like that.

I might add that I have a slight fear that somebody might have cursed me in the same manner considering my luck with any lottery purchase.

Often the ditherer is on the far side of elderly and moving into the one last stop stage of life. Why do they bother? If they were to win big there isn’t much time to indulge all the passions that lack of funds prevented. Are they going to leave the big winnings to some layabout ungrateful bastard heir?

Do I indulge in such purchases myself? Sometimes. I don’t know why. It’s ridiculous. Daffy, because I never win anything. I once won $100 on a scratch-and-win. I figured I’d peaked then so there was little point in playing again. But, I do buy the odd ticket, although I subscribe to the theory that my chances of winning are about the same whether I do or don’t buy a ticket. The ticket money’s paid in by saps like me or the ditherers go, of course, to the huge golden handshakes given to lotto execs when they pull the pin from an obscenely well-paying (ha!) job.

I didn’t grow up in the era of gambling. In fact, when I was younger there was no such opportunity to acquire tickets to gazillions. There was, of course, the famed (or infamous) Irish Sweepstakes ticket. I recall being rather shocked to learn taht my father bought such things. It meant he was dealing with mooks who were breaking the law by selling them. Sort of an early form of crack dealers.

In truth, damn near everybody bought those and risked (theoretically) getting busted. Though I reckon it was those doing the selling who ran the risk of being busted. Sort of in the manner prostitutes are treated in their transactions wherein the johns get off the hook but the bad girls are busted. But that’s a whole other matter.

irish-sweepstake2Once, in the spring of 1981 a touring companion and I were strolling along the streets of Killarney, Ireland. We passed a shop that had a sign in the window stating that Irish Sweep tickets were available. We went in. My friend said to the proprietor: “I am surprised that you advertise those tickets so openly.”

Where the hell do you think you, son? It’s the Irish Sweepstake and you’re in Ireland.”

Exactly. A different time and ethic. I think I preferred it. In those days I didn’t get hung behind people when I wanted to buy a newspaper, and I wasn’t obliged to place a curse on otherwise well-meaning, albeit hapless, souls.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls — no, really, don’t ask

dead

That old grim-reaper reaps us all in eventually, hopefully later rather than sooner, especially if you are somebody I hold dear and truly if you are somebody I hold really dear – like me, for example.

But, I’m not here to talk about death – well, yeah, I am, but in more of a roundabout way. What I really want to talk about is magazines.

Being of a certain generation (i.e. old) I still like to read magazines. And all magazines have, by their very nature, a ‘last page’. And the normal style is for the last page to have a certain feature unique to that mag. Vanity Fair, for example, has the Proustian questionnaire, in which somebody of some sort of note in somebody’s eyes answers questions that range from the profound to the profane to the outright silly as in: “If you were reincarnated as an animal, what would it be?” I honestly don’t really care if Gwynneth Paltrow wants to come back as an Afghan – in that I mean the dog breed not some Taliban terrorist.

Esquire (which I have never really forgiven for axing their annual ‘Dubious Achiever’s feature), often concludes with some bit of satirical whimsy, some of which is quite subtle and often very funny. Time (yes, it still exists) closes with questions of a notable also. The last one I saw was questioning Barry Gibb, now the sole remaining Bee-Gee. “Here he is, folks, the Brother Gibb.” As for Playboy, I have no idea. That was why God invented porn surfing.

macleansBut, Canada’s own Maclean’s features on its final page a thing called ‘The End’, which is an extensive obituary of some person who recently passed away. That’s pretty dreary. I mean, it’s true that once you reach a certain age the reading of the obits becomes a mandated obsession. But, do I want to conclude my reading of a mag about stuff in my home and native land with a tale of somebody who didn’t manage to cheat the Reaper? And often the person is not one who dies at 97 after a fulfilling life safely tucked in his or her own bed. No, it will be some poor man or woman who is smites by a giant icicle falling on his or her head at age 47 after a lifetime of caring for the needy or handicapped. That really sucks.

I get suckered in by these things and will end up reading them through, sometimes vainly hoping that nothing bad will happen to this person – which would kind of defeat the point of the exercise. But often, in the reading of the piece, which is usually composed by a friend or family member I will find myself getting wound up in the life of another and will find myself thinking, ‘please don’t snuff this person, I have come to like this person’.

I have a suggestion, which I know Maclean’s won’t act on, but it would serve me better, but if you insist on running ‘The End’, why not make the stories about the lives of real assholes and then I won’t care at all if they shuffle off this mortal coil in an untimely manner.

We as a society are treated as people uncomfortable with their naughty bits and what they do

babe in bra

Photo on a Facebook entry shows a woman seemingly in the throes of amour atop her male partner and, as somebody aptly pointed out, she is wearing a bra. Who does that at such an intimate moment? Nobody I have ever encountered.

Yet such modesty is still rampant in TV-land. This is akin to the regular depiction of the woman parting the bed after coupling and heading off to the loo, during which process she either wraps the sheet around herself or is inexplicably wearing panties. How did consummation take place, one would be well to ask.

flasherWhile the cinematic world has become more honest and graphic in its depictions of what a lot of otherwise respectable people refer to as ‘fucking’, TV seems to have a long way to go in terms of getting real. And in that I don’t mean just real in terms of the wanton behaviours of rampant horndogs but also in terms of the behaviors of good God-fearing Baptist sorts who also doff all their duds when they are fulfilling their nuptial duties. Some of them may “ utter the odd dirty word when it gets good, as long as they are not blasphemous words. I don’t know if “Oh God!” at a high point qualifies as blasphemy.

No, much of television, in lieu of being honest about sexuality, has lapsed instead into nudge-nudge innuendo, or rampant vulgarity. I hate vulgarity because it is suggesting that broadcasters and the people who make this stuff still think human sexuality is a kind of icky thing and must be regarded with an excess of juvenile humor. Juvenile humor is a misstatement because it is rarely humorous, just juvenile.

mileyBy television here I am referring to regular network stuff, by the way. I know that HBO and other ‘pay per view” options are more frank and candid as pertains to full frontal nudity (complete with naughty bits) and graphic sexuality. All of which means it’ll cost you money to see the spicy stuff, and therefore you just may as well porn-surf.

I also notice that UK productions aren’t quite so nicey-nicey, and that can be rather satisfying since British production values and writing are usually superlative.

This leaves us in North America with the sluttly pseudo-sexuality of a Miley Cyrus – who is a smart little mynx since she knew her fakery would get all the neo-puritans cranked up and maybe secretly turn them on. It seems to be either Miley or coupling with vampires.

In conclusion I can only say the inclusion of undies in scenes of sexual behavior only indicate to me that a lot of people are not comfortable with their sexuality.

What a pity. It’s really rather fun.