Friday, April 17, 2015

Book reviews: As Close As You’ll Ever Be … Words to Die For … ESPN’s Britt McHenry … Bolts vs. Wingless in Detroit … Johnny Porno in Poland …

Amici:
As Close As You’ll Ever Be, by Seamus Scanlon … see, how it works is, you keep looking and sometimes you luck out and find it … and sometimes it finds you. The author was looking for people to help fund his McGowan Trilogy (previously performed in New York and now heading to Galway, Ireland), so I thought, why not? Let me take a bite … and its taste was delicious. This is some very powerful writing, amici. The stories in this book are violent, often hilarious, and always profound. From Galway to where one of my sons lives these days, Washington Heights in Manhattan … just powerful, powerful stuff.

VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED …

 
Words to Die For, Lynn Kostoff … well, it’s already received a *STARRED* review from Booklist, so all I can add is the following: Simply put, Words to Die For is another brilliant novel from one of the very best in the business, Lynn Kostoff. It’s 1986 in Indiana, where Raymond Locke works miracles at a public-relations firm called Public Domain. What he does is provide damage control to fuck-ups (whether they’re individuals, corporations, or the greedy SOB’s running the corporations). He’s very good at his job and is famous in the industry for saving a Bishop after the Bishop’s mistress committed suicide and left a very destructive note behind. Raymond is married to the love of his life (love at first sight), Kate. They have an autistic child, Andrew, who requires constant attention and care, but the strains of his job and their son place their marriage in jeopardy.

When an outbreak of salmonella and other poisoning occurs on the heels of Public Domain’s biggest client, Happy Farms Chickens’ (whose motto is: Only The Rooster Gets A Better Piece Of Chicken) grand opening of a couple of fast-food restaurants, a 10-year old girl winds up in a coma. Raymond has to step up big time to try and save the company from the greedy corner cutting it may have enacted for the sake of profit. Not a very envious task to have (protecting scumbags), but Raymond has to do his job and it’s crucial he get it done if he wants to save his marriage and maintain the week-to-week affordability of his stress-filled life. The girl, Tina Brackett, has a father who’s been to hell and back as regards luck, but he’s now sporting less than half a deck. He’s a major problem for all concerned, especially since nobody can figure out what exactly his angle might be … does he intend to sue his former employer, Happy Farms, or take a settlement (of sorts). There are a couple of opportunistic journalists seeking higher profiles of celebrity (and perhaps a Pulitzer) determined to bring down the owner of Happy Farms Chicken, an unlikeable little shit named Lamar Ditell. There’s also an opportunistic prosecutor looking to hang a murder charge on Ditell should the young girl die. There’s a ton going on and all of it is intriguing and very thought provoking. One is constantly asking oneself, why is this decent man working to protect such scumbags?

Against the backdrop of this 1986 story is Iran-Contra scandal (talk about spinning something into nothing) … Kostoff does a wonderful job of juxtaposing the two disasters; how they’re ultimately perceived by a public helplessly hypnotized by the drama spun by professionals. Think that’s not possible? This morning a public opinion poll show 56% of Americans in favor of putting ground troops back in Iraq.

A passage I particularly loved shows how Raymond often felt about his job rescuing people from their lapses in judgment and/or stupidity and/or bad nature(s): As long as he continued to feel appalled. Raymond told himself, he’d be all right. Appalled kept him from getting lost. Appalled was good. Appalled was the line of breadcrumbs he dropped in order to find his way back home.

Words to Die For is brilliant writing, start to finish. Kostoff once again leaves this reader envious of what is obviously his natural gift of masterful craftsmanship. He remains one of the very best in the business today.

ALWAYS VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED … ANYTHING BY MR. KOSTOFF




ESPN looks horrible, yet again … and they can thank this beauty queen.



“I’m in the news, sweetheart, I will (expletive) sue this place,” McHenry said in the video published online by LiveLeak.

“Yep, that’s all you care about, is just taking people’s money,” McHenry said. “With no education, no skillset, just wanted to clarify that. … Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing? Why, cause I have a brain and you don’t?”

As she walks out of the lot, she tells the attendant to “lose some weight, baby girl.”

Remember that the woman actually warned Ms. McHenry that she was on camera … so, afterward, once the video went viral, the ESPN starlet had this to say: “As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake,” McHenry said.

TK responds to her response with a great big, FUCK YOU, LADY!

And, of course, TK has a resolution to this mishap. Forget a 1-week suspension. How about ESPN do the right thing and FIRE THIS OVER-PRIVILEGED ASSHOLE.
 
I'm in the news? Really? What a fucking accomplishment. So is Aaron Hernandez in the news.

Bolts-Wingless in Detroit … Oh, Baby … we SO OUTPLAYED the Wingless in Detroit the other night, I couldn’t sleep all night. What was keeping pucks out of their net? No problem, luck like that won’t happen again. Saturday, we begin the sweep!

GO BOLTS!

Johnny Porno in Poland … well, here are the covers …


—Knucks


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The McGowan Trilogy (Seamus Scanlon) … Breathing Lessons … Hockey Playoffs … Crazy Coppers …

Amici:
 
 
It’s time for some of us to put our coin where our hearts are … Seamus Scanlon, an award winning author and playwright, has a request for some support for his highly praised McGowan Trilogy. It is to be staged again (it first appeared in New York by the Cell Theatre in 2014), this time in Galway, Ireland. Check out the Fundit! Site and drop some coin his way. Support the arts!

Some reviews: A trio of plays that begins with comedy and irreverence and ends with pathos and loss is surprising, original and hugely enjoyable - Christian O’Reilly (Chapatti)'

Scanlon’s irreverent evisceration's of the pieties of Irish nationalism are darkly comic, disturbing and curiously affecting - Declan Hughes (Digging For Fire, All The Things You Are)'

Wolf Meets World are pleased to announce that we will be producing and staging, the Irish Premiere of 'The McGowan Trilogy' by Seamus Scanlon.

Published by Galway based company Arlen House, The McGowan Trilogy follows the exploits of IRA Assassin Victor McGowan over a 2 year period in 1980's Ireland which consists of three plays, Dancing At Lunacy, The Long Wet Grass & Boys Swam Before Me, which will be staged in Galway City together as a 3 act showcase.

We are thrilled and honored that Seamus has chosen Wolf Meets World to be the company to stage the Irish premiere of this finely written, award winning play and that he has also come on board as co-producer.

The play will be directed by Galway Playwright/Director Adrian Lavelle, with John O Connor as production and stage manager.

Fund it here!:

 
Check out more about Seamus here:

And the play here:

And I just ordered a book of his stories here:

Come on, Amici … this is money well spent.

Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler … the last (for a little while) of my Tyler reads, this one deals with a middle-aged married woman’s attempt to salvage a relationship with her grandchild, repair her son’s marriage, and restore immediate family to some sense of normalcy. Maggie Moran can’t help being the busybody she is, nosing into one mess after another, albeit with best intentions. Her son is a wannabe rock star who managed to get a 17 year old (Fiona) pregnant. Maggie more or less steered them into marriage and help oversee her granddaughter throughout the impossibility of holding everything together. Her husband, Ira, is the opposite of Maggie. He sees things with the logic and reason of a scientist, except he has some preconceived emotional baggage that (at least) skews his perceptions of the world at large. Jesse and Fiona are already living apart for a few years when we meet Maggie. She's driving out of car repair shop to pick up her husband so they can attend her best friend’s husband’s funeral a full state away. Maggie is listening to talk radio about the state of marriage when she hears Fiona’s voice claim that she’d already married for love, but now she is marrying for security. Maggie is temporarily shocked; she's just pulled into the street when she reacts without thinking and hits the gas instead of the break ... and a Pepsi truck nails her fender. Tyler takes us through Maggie and Ira’s perspectives of what’s going on their lives, then Maggie’s perception of their past, bringing it back to the current situation (post funeral attendance), when Maggie schemes to bring Fiona and Jesse back together. No spoilers, but I’m convinced that anything by Ms. Tyler is well worth the time, effort and coin. She’s a wonderful writer.

Get Breathing Lessons here:

SNHU MFA News … two sign with agents … Beth Orozco '14 has signed with Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency for representation of her thesis novel At River's Edge … and Ted Flanagan has signed with Julie Stevenson of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. Major league congrats! As most of us know, there are far more publishable works out there than ever get to see the light of day … and finding and securing an agent is often more difficult than finding a publisher. So let’s hear it for Beth and Ted! SNHU MFA’ers rock!

And more good news from the program … Black Coffee, a short story by Heather Atwood '15 is in the spring issue of Blue Guitar. Read it here: We've featured Heather here at TK before ... she's well on her way.

NHL Playoffs … well, I’m filling out my bracket soon as I can so I can win, at the least, another cellphone I’ll never use. My pick to win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning … who else? Go Bolts!



Above, one of the California’s finest beats the shit out of a woman … yes, a woman.
 
Crazy Coppers … what’s left to say about this issue, except I think it’s pretty fair to stop assuming that only 10% of the aggregate police force (nationwide) are bad/corrupt/criminals, etc. Unless, of course, you excuse police for not reporting the crimes their fellow officers commit (whether it be engaging in an illegal beat-down or shooting an unarmed person in the back). I’m not sure what the percentage of cops in general are bad people (with licenses to do pretty much anything), but anyone who believes for a second that the stuff being caught on cameras these days is some kind of aberration, well … I hope the Easter Bunny left you something extra sweet.

And then there’s this latest California fiasco (below) … Nine cops going to work on a guy they just zapped with a taser … one has to wonder what percentage of their department should be locked up rather than carrying weapons and badges, although something tells me it’s probably higher than 10%.



And before we all laud the South Carolina Police Department for arresting and firing the cop who felt compelled to shoot at an unarmed black man’s back 8 times (hitting him 5 times and killing him), let’s not forget the same police department was perfectly willing to take his side of the story BEFORE someone released a video to the NEW YORK TIMES (because he feared the police might cover-up?) …

Let’s just hope the camera work of recent months forces some of these out of control punks/assholes into thinking twice before acting like the thugs the videos above show them to be. But let’s face it, video doesn’t always get it done. District Attorneys stall grand juries and avoid indictments for political reasons, and more often than not, it’s an accidental video that trumps a DA with motivations other than justice to do his or her job.

Until there are special prosecutors for incidents involving police, cops have no reason on earth to give up their unofficial omerta (the blue wall of silence) they continue practice day in and day out. The only difference between the way the mob once held judges, politicians, and dirty cops/police officials in their pockets and what we see today (as regards DA's refusing to indict police) has everything to do with District Attorneys being dependent on good relations with the police (i.e., the police have the D.A.’s in their pockets) … unless, of course, somebody films them doing something criminal … and even then, sometimes it won’t make a difference anyway.

—Knucks

Tom Waits … Romeo is bleeding


Old' 55 ...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Women from Baltimore (novels by Anne Tyler & Laura Lippman) ...

Amici:
 
 

The Women from Baltimore
 
Okay, so what does the Dominoes Sugar Factory have to do with the three novel reviews by two Baltimore authors below, yous ask?
 
Listen to me: The last scene of my next crime novel (Tommy Red) ends a few blocks from the Dominoes Sugar Factory, so when I was looking for images of Baltimore, rather than the gussied up harbor pictures, I went old school.
 
Dinner at the Homesick Diner … by Anne Tyler … Pearl Tull is blind and on her deathbed as she reflects on the hard life she’s lived. Her husband, the father of their three kids, ran off without plans to return. Pearl never really told her kids their daddy took off and instead claimed he was away on business (which he often was), but that he’d be back … until they no longer bothered to care or cared to bother. The three kids are very different, but all shared similar experiences living under the often cruel mothering Pearl often exhibited. The novel is told in each character’s perspective. Her eldest son, Cody, has it in for his younger brother, Ezra. Ezra isn’t a whirlwind of energy or the contrariness often exhibited by his older brother, but he is Pearl’s favorite (not that that saves him from some very cruel discipline) … Cody hates how so many people take a shine so fast to his brother, especially girls. He has a desire to exact some kind of revenge on Ezra, while Jenny, Pearl’s second child, is an adorable young lady with the smarts and desire to excel in spite of some romantic mistakes. Ezra is the child readers will find closest to their hearts (much like Pearl’s protectiveness) … he befriends those shunned by most others … he takes on a job in a restaurant and dreams of one day owning one he can equate to home (albeit a fantasy home he never really experienced) … Ezra wants to have a restaurant with a homey atmosphere that would quell homesickness … no point in spoiling any of this wonderful novel. Just read it and see how it turns out.
 
Another EXCELLENT Anne Tyler read … how I found this (and so many other great authors) so late in my stay on this planet doesn’t really baffle me. I was good at being ignorant to anything that didn’t have to do with the sports I followed religiously, and later the streets I earned from, but that’s the beauty of surviving past mistakes (and remaining healthy enough to read) … you get to keep learning.  All glory goes to teachers.
 
 
Earthly Possessions … also by Anne Tyler … although the concept initially intrigued me (a woman about to leave her husband goes to the bank to withdraw some cash and winds up a bank robbery hostage) … this one took some time for me to engage. The fortunate thing about that is it is a short read … and although it doesn’t measure up (for me) to either The Accidental Tourist or Dinner at the Homesick Diner, it did come around towards the end. The last few chapters really made the difference for me. Charlotte Emory has had it with her preacher husband, two of his three brothers, and her life in general … which is what takes her to that bank in the first place. The story is told in alternative time, the hostage situation, versus Charlotte’s past, and how she came to meet, marry and later want to leave her husband in the first place. Earthly Possessions was my 3rd consecutive Tyler book and I’ll no doubt read all her works before the end of the year … I’d go with one of the other two first, but this one is also worth the time, effort and cost in coin.
 
 
After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman … I read a Laura Lippman book every few years and I’m never disappointed. I don’t follow her Tess Monaghan series, but that has nothing to do with whether or not they’re worth the follow—I’m sure they are, but I prefer standalones in general. After I’m Gone caught my eye when I read somewhere about it having to do with a former bookmaker with a wife, three kids, a few mistresses (but just one that counted) fleeing the scene (business/family/everything and everybody) from fear of a federal charge. What happens to the women he leaves behind is the crux of the story, although following the Cuban born retired Baltimore homicide detective working as a consultant on cold cases is the character we follow every other chapter throughout his investigation into the missing/murdered mistress. Her mysterious disappearance occurred ten years to the day the bookie, her love interest (and husband and father to the other women—his wife and three daughters) went on the lam.  It’s a tale well told via clever character introspections. I was sucked in early on to Sandy Sanchez (the retired homicide detective/consultant doing the cold case investigation ), quickly sympathizing with everything about the guy, from his understandable (yet seemingly unacceptable) flaw of not having a relationship with his severely autistic son, to the heartbreak of losing the wife he so loved. By mid-book I was rooting for everybody, it seemed. There’s some great touches of Americana dating back to the 1950’s, through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’ and so on (when I appreciated the introspection most), and the ending is an exciting surprise.
 

 
—Knucks

Sara Bareilles ...
 
 
 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

SNHU MFA Graduate, Shane Remer … The Accidental Tourist … Official Dogfella Cover … Robert Durst/The Jinx … Netanyahu (or is it Netanyahoooo) … Matthius Steiner …

Amici:
Shane Remer … received a B.A. in Communication in 2011 and his MFA in Fiction in 2013. He currently works as a paraprofessional at Charlestown Middle School in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Shane also coaches the Charlestown Middle School boys' soccer team, and is co-author of a blog with Jon Stern and Darren Rome Leo called Three Guys and a Keyboard.
 
Shane is also a devout Seattle Mariners and Seahawks fan … and has convinced himself that it was a great play by the Cheatriots that lost a back-to-back bid to repeat as world champions for the Seahawks rather than the obvious FUCP (F’ed Up Play Calling).
 
Shane’s thesis, A Grave for the Living, finds two homeless men meeting a boy running away to save his mom’s life. The two men, Goose and Beans, must decide whether or not they should help the boy (Ten-Speed). Turning the kid in could mean abuse for the boy and his mother at home, but leaving him alone could mean letting him wander the drug-stricken streets of Bridgeport, CT.  And then there’s Goose’s background, which hints at pedophilia. Beans suffers from schizophrenia and has occasional auditory hallucinations.
 
From Shane’s graduate reading:
 
Never let anyone tell you that you’re good enough. It’s a dangerous trap that wrecks creativity, ambition, relationships, and love. You don’t have to be the greatest at anything you do. Most of us aren’t even the greatest versions of ourselves. And that’s fine just as long as you’re passionate.
 
What I’ll read tonight is my best work to this point, but it’s not the best work I’ll ever create.
 
I truly thank everyone who has supported me, told me I could be better – a better writer, a better friend, a better man. I thank you for allowing me not to live trapped by the fears I create, or sustained by the dreams I chase, but instead by the reality I direct.
 
And to the mentors who have told me plenty of times I could be better – Jessica Anthony, Rick Carey, and Merle Drown – may my thanks and gratitude be expressed by acknowledging you, not in this speech alone, but in published works, too.
 
My thesis, A Grave for the Living, joins two homeless men who meet a boy that runs away to save his mom’s life. The men, Goose and Beans, have decided to care for the boy, Ten-Speed, mainly because of Goose’s direction. Beans is a man with schizophrenia and Goose has a troubled past that hints at pedophilia.
 
At this part of the story, Goose has located a foreclosed home where they camp out for the night.
 
They found what looked like foreclosed property about half a mile away. The back door was unlocked and there were old blankets in one of the rooms. Cats had pissed on the mattresses, so they flipped them over, slid the beer bottles and trash against the wall, and fought off headaches from the stench. Windows rattled in the frames. Beans tried bleeding the furnace in the cellar and had as much success with it as he did finding money in his wallet.
 
Goose woke up six times during the night, which meant he slept well. The sixth time he woke up, gray light filled the room and his breath formed heavy puffs that sank immediately. It was late morning, maybe close to ten, and clouds were settling in thick patches outside. Ten-Speed slept with his head poking out from a blanket. He slept on a mattress on the far side of the room. Goose slipped out from his blankets and stepped over his backpack next to Ten-Speed.
 
Ten-Speed breathed deeply. A bruise was turning yellow on the back of his neck, just below his ear. Goose brushed some of the hair away. Ten-Speed took a deeper breath and Goose leaned back, waited until the kid’s breathing had settled, and pulled the blanket up against the kid’s neck. He placed a hand on Ten-Speed’s shoulder and smiled.
 
He rubbed his hands on the way to the bathroom and rocked on his feet to stay warm while waiting to piss, but nothing wanted to work. Outside the window two teens hopped a fence on the property’s backyard. One carried a camera. They raised their heads and the kid without the camera pointed at him and laughed. Probably hadn’t seen a grown man piss before.
 
Not that Goose was pissing. He was still waiting. Maybe the lumps in his body weren’t knots from tired muscles, or cysts, or misaligned bones. Maybe they were cancer. And maybe it didn’t matter anymore if he ever got off the streets. Cancer doesn’t care where a man lives, it just cares that he’s capable of dying.
 
Hushed voices came through the hallway – not Beans’ or Ten-Speed’s. They were young and excited. Feet slipped past the bathroom along the hall. Goose zipped his pants and pried the door open enough to see into the hallway. Two thicker bodies with hoods pulled over their heads stood in the doorframe leading to the bedroom. The taller one had a camera aimed at the other kid, his friend. The friend had his fists curled and Goose knew immediately. They were Bum Beaters, people that filmed themselves beating up the homeless so they could post it online.
 
Goose searched the bathroom. Outside, a fist hit muscle – it was a sound he couldn’t mistake. Beans’s yelled at the teen to stop. Another first, this time against a face. Goose found a plunger and lifted. It wedged between the toilet and the wall. Another strike and bodies crashed against the wall in the room. Goose struggled with the plunger. Outside, another punch, another yelp. Goose freed the plunger and charged into the room where the shorter one, the teen, was on top of Beans and whaling him in the side. The teen had wide eyes filled with the kind of evil pleasure a man should never have. Goose hit the teen above his ear with the rubber part of the plunger. It stunned the teen and he rolled off Beans, pressed a hand against his head and rubbed it.
 

The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler.
I never saw the film, but was intrigued by the title when searching for something new to read … very fortunate choice, it turned out to be … the death of a child has the potential to ruin any marriage/relationship and it’s no different in this wonderful novel that begins after the tragedy.  Macon Leary writes travel guide books for a living. He comes from a particularly persnickety family. He believes there’s a method to life and it shouldn’t be altered … Macon is often devoid of emotion so when he gets the bad news from his wife (she wants to talk) … it turns out that what Sarah wants is to talk of separation, and separation it is … so she leaves and Macon is left alone with his dog, Edward, to write his books and deal with life on his own … except he quickly finds Edward to be unruly (he bites people, Macon learns from the dog kennel where he’s used to housing Ed) … forced to find another on his way to the train/airport, he comes across one Muriel Pritchett (she’s a Godsend, you ask me) … she’s kind of the opposite of Macon and his whack-a-do (yous ask me again) family … and from this point on, even though I cringed at some of her desperation, I was rooting whole-heartedly for her to be saved (and to save) Macon from the life he seemed destined … Macon breaks a leg, goes to live with his whacky family … and … and there’s more (so much more), including Sarah making her comeback to the marriage with a surprise visit on foreign soil … it is all so well told, I ordered 4 more Anne Tyler books (I’m reading Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant now, which is also amazing) … so no spoilers … why do both members of the Stella famiglia continue to work 2 jobs, yous ask? Because we buy books like crazy persons, that’s why … so, amici … trust me on this, if you haven’t been as neglectful as I have regarding this (and so many other) wonderful authors, take a dip in Ms. Tyler’s pool … I promise you’ll be back for more.
 
Here’s the official Dogfella book cover … go get this book!
 
 
Robert Dust/The Jinx … Okay, so all the Principessa Ann Marie and I want to know is how the hell does the New York City cop featured in the documentary sleep nights?  Was he totally incompetent, paid off, or (more than likely) told to ignore Durst’s self-proclaimed explanation about his wife going back to New York (where the doorman saw her, except he didn’t) … and/or the telephone call (apparently made by another Durst murder victim, Judy Berman), or any of the other lies that didn’t seem to bother Detective Struk.  Seriously, is there something we’re unaware of regarding Struk’s neglect of obvious lies?  Durst lied about making a phone call, lied about stopping for a drink at his neighbor’s, lied about the doorman seeing his wife … and that’s okay? Nothing to follow there. The guy’s wife is missing? Oh, well, those things happen …
 
Hopefully, at least ONE investigation (obviously not the police in NY and/or LA) will permit his first wife’s family to sue for wrongful death … and hopefully they’ll win and get every single dime that corrupt crop of losers possess … TK used the HBO poster for the Durst case rather than anything else, because as of right now, HBO deserves the credit for busting this 30 year old fiasco of a missing persons turned likely serial killer case.
 
Netanyahu (or is it Netanyahoooo) … so Bibi came here and shit all over Obama and the Democrats, and then raced back home to declare there would never be a Palestinian state while he was Prime Minister, AND that Arab voters were turning out in droves so Israeli wingnuts needed to vote in droves to counter the Arab vote … because he wants to live in peace? Batshit crazy as that reads, the guy is no nut. He was a desperate politician looking to lock arms with what he perceives will be a never-ending relationship with the United States, especially with the GOP behind him. I don’t think he fears a Hillary Clinton Presidential victory, because let’s face it, Hillary is a lot more hawkish and much less trustworthy than Don Barzini. Our myopic view of Middle East events has become alarming, especially when one considers the amount of support the GOP is feeding Netanyahu’s war drums (and their own representatives of defense contractors, oil companies and other defenders of sending other kids off to war) … the public blow jobs the GOP continues to give Bibi would be funny if they weren’t so divisive. Bibi accomplished what he set out to do (Part I) … it’s Part II that is dangerous.  Will we be drawn into another war? Only time and another Presidential election that offers us two sides of the same coin will tell …
 
And before anyone send me ALL CAPS messages about how I’m a self-loathing Jew (I was born and raised Catholic and couldn’t reject that bullshit fast enough) or that I’m an Anti-Semite (I think ALL religions are silly but respect their right to be so, so long as they don’t harm other people—which they all tend to do—I’m just sayin’) … do me (and yourself) a favor … join the IDF and have at it already … or if you’re too old, send YOUR kids to fight wars you’re so passionate about … or join one of the American Militias going over to Syria to fight … otherwise, it’s nothing but smoke you’re blowing, and I already have my own pipe.
 
The Strongest Man in the world … Matthias Steiner (back in 2008) … an incredible lift … all emotion … his wife was killed in a tragic car accident. He’d sworn to her he’d win a gold medal one day in the Olympics … here it is.

 
—Knucks
 
Bibi talked to Boehner … and Moe talked to Barzini …

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lighting the World, by Merle Drown ... TK Feature on Harold Raschke-Robinson ... Oklahoma University ...

Amici: 

 
Lighting the World, by Merle Drown … the action takes place in Rumford, New Hampshire in 1985 in this brilliant novel about a boy (Wade Rule) emotionally and verbally abused by his mother … he falls in love with a girl (Maria) who has befriended him (she has equally traumatic and terrible issues at home with her father) … Wade has nothing but good in him … he has a crippled uncle he loves in Vermont he hopes to run away to live with … he’s a well-read kid who can live off the land and has little use for a life that requires others doing his work for him … he has a job washing dishes at a diner where his mother works (and takes half his pay each week), he has friends he can sometimes count on, friends he has sympathy for, and there’s a bully he has no use for … he wants to bring Maria with him to live with his uncle in Vermont, and when he brings a shotgun to school to expedite their escape, well, suffice it to say, shooting first and asking questions later is just the wrong way to go … no spoilers here, but this is another brilliant novel from the author of The Suburbs of Heaven (a superb book) … Drown is a master of dialogue, simile and metaphor … his down home tales of a hidden Americana, of people trying to keep pace with a world moving way too fast for its own good, are literary masterpieces. I was floored by The Suburbs of Heaven when I read it a few years ago and have been very anxious for his next works.
 
 
I read the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) Lighting the World … it’s a brilliant, brilliant book that will be available March 15, 2015 from Whitepoint Press … … and read more about the author here:

Visit the author's webpage here:

 
Harold Raschke-Robinson … I remember him as a football player at Brooklyn College when I coached OLB’s back in the day …
 
Harold was always one of the nicest players we had; always respectful and always giving his all … Harold is a proud father now. He has a son and daughter, and he’s a goalie in the Chelsea Pier league. A goalie about to play in the playoff round as he put his team into the tournament with a 3-2 win in OT last week. Harold said, “I stood on my head to get that win.”

 
When I asked Harold if that was his daughter in the picture above, he wrote: Hi Coach, yes that my daughter Bella she my biggest fan. One year when I was playing someone ran into me while I was in goal. My son and daughter had booth come to watch me play, I found out later that my son had to grab my daughter and pull her of the ice because she was going to kick the guy butt who ran into me! I always want to play goalie but going up as a kid my parents could not afford the equipment. So a few after I started working at Chelsea piers I met the guy who was I change of the rink. We were talking one and he ask me to come skate at the rink during a skill session class. I am almost done with my Phys. Education degree, I had to work full time to take care of myself and family, so it's taken a little longer to get it done.
 
Harold has been playing ice hockey at Chelsea Piers for the last 17 teen years. Before that he played floor hockey at Brooklyn College and street hockey with his friends on Staten Island. In 2009 his team won the Division 7B championship!

 
The trophy above is given out after the championship games of the fall and spring season. His team was in a best of 3 to earn the championship trophy.
 
 
Congrats to Harold on his family, his hockey championships, his OT win to get them into the playoffs this season, his racing … and for being one of the nicest guys around.
 
 
 
Oklahoma … when institutional racism is discussed, and then completely blown off by "some" conservatives desperately clinging to a blind faith that knows no bounds (in this case, a constitution originally written during a time of slavery with a three-fifths stipulation).  To wit … Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. ... well, it's difficult not to want to smack them upside their heads.
 
I’ve read the article where numb nuts, Rush Limbaugh (and his minions) claim that African-Americans today owe their freedom to white men (ignoring why they were slaves in the first place) … and like most people with a functioning brain, I shake my head … but Oklahoma University was a good example of how institutional racism continues to thrive in America these days … Those were college boys (and girls) singing for their supper … future bastions of American liberty (if you’re one of those conservatives referred to above, feel free to read this part with your hand over your heart) … many will no doubt be in positions of power (whether economic, social or political), and one doesn’t have to wonder as to whether or not they’ll open any doors for minorities.
 
Yeah, there was a 15th Amendment (145 years ago … and then it took another act of Congress in 1965 (just 50 years ago) to at least make believe that all men will be treated equally under the law, but let’s face it, we’re still about 150 years, if ever, from realizing that goal. Should the idiots on the bus be expelled from school when, after all (and no matter how obscene) they were exercising their freedom of speech?
 
In a word(s), fuck yeah!
 
Personally, I feel for their parents. It reminded me of the moron who held up a watermelon for all the world (and cameras) to see the day Al Sharpton was knifed in Brooklyn during one of his opportunistic marches for future celebrity and a seat at MSNBC's tabloid table. I’m no Al Sharpton fan, but holding watermelons up for the cameras had to be one of the dumbest things I'd ever seen ... until the Oklahoma Frat video. My wife and I often talk about that (watermelon) day and that idiot holding the watermelon. We say: What if he was your kid?
 
How do you ever feel pride in little Johnny again after something like that?
 
—Knucks
 
How 'bout those Buffalo Bills!  Ground and Pound, baby ... GROUND AND POUND!
 
 
 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of … Ferguson … Netanyahu … Hillary’s e-mails …

Amici:
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, by Dana King … The Shamus Award nominated Nick Forte series remains strong as ever … great writing, which is what I look for most when reading anything. Nick starts off with a Maltese Falcon redux with dialogue so good, I was seeing/hearing Sydney Greenstreet throughout …
 

 
Obese and sexually perverted, Russell Arbuthnot (I couldn’t pronounce it so I used Arby throughout) is playing the Kasper Gutman character in a soon to premier one man play about the Falcon … he’s got the diction and mannerisms down … he’s also got the actual/fabled (and treasured) bird itself (or so he insists) … he’s been receiving threats, so his very attractive middle-aged manager hires Nick to protect the famous actor for $10K for 2 weeks (not bad work if you can get it) … but something doesn’t sit right with Nick …
and there are IRA issues and general bad guys in the mix … Nick has a love interest on the police force (he’s a former copper), but he also has a kid of his own and an ex-wife who gives him daily doses of agita. Fatso’s manager is years Nick’s senior, very sensual, and the kind of woman he (and many others) is/are attracted to (her eyes do it, for one thing) … the dialogue is superb, start to finish, in this fast-paced story that has much to do with the bird … or does it? No spoilers here. Just know that King is on his game big time with this wonderful read. I dare anyone to read any of his books and not want to get hold of his others. Terrific writing, end of story.
 
 
Ferguson … for those in denial of systemic racism in America, take a gander at the statistics culled from the Ferguson Police Department … along with risking their lives every time they left their homes (sarcasm attended), many members of the Ferguson police force were having fun with e-mails that tell as much of the story as does the one-sided statistical divide, one that rivals any from the old south. How old? I suspect if all police departments were investigated the way Ferguson was, we might see similar statistics south and north of the Mason-Dixon line. Not to be unfair about it all, I’m also sure it works both ways (the racist jokes/emails ... I've been called a cracker more than once for Sharpton bashing ... which doesn't bother me quite as much as being called a fat cracker).
 
So it goes.
Netanyahu … Oh, the drama … the sideshow the Republican Party orchestrated in the form of an end run around the President last week, aside from the entertainment value, was yet another drum beat for U.S. involvement in yet another war in the Middle East. Netanyahu used the survival card at every opportunity, rallying the yahoos in Congress to stand and cheer, while some Democrats grimaced, and one turned her back.
 
Talk is cheap. Iranian zealots have been calling for wiping out Israel for a long time now. They’ve also called for “death to America” … somehow the two aren’t equated. We laugh at such threats to America because we know a nuclear attack on us would require a similar response, thus ending (for the most part) this absurd form of human life as we know it. Israel has nuclear weapons. Does anyone really believe that Iran, should they acquire nuclear weapons, would risk a response? The suggestion that they might is NOT a justifiable reason to a) attack their nuclear facilities or b) preemptively hit them with nukes … or why bother waiting. You’re so sure they’re going to try and wipe you out? Really? So, what’s stopping you from wiping them out first? Can you see the insanity here? Is it at least on the horizon of your thoughts, Mr. Netanyahu?
 
Utah Congressman, Jason Chaffetz, on national television last week said he’d “take out” Iran for the threat they pose to Israel and America now. Does that count as a threat to survival? Does Iran get to claim we’re looking to wipe them off the face of the earth now? Politicians talk shit. They’ve been doing it forever. The one thing anyone can count on is their ability to lie and spin facts in the direction they’re heading (usually guided by the money behind them).
 
Netanyahu guaranteed there would be enormous positive reverberations after we took out Saddam Hussein.
 
Okay, so how’d that work out?
 
The simple(ton) answer is to bomb away … everyone who disagrees with us or our proxy in the Middle East gets in line or else. Nation states don’t get to protect themselves unless we (or our proxy) let them. With that mindset driving our policy there, is there really any wonder why so many in the Middle East hate us?
 
Nobody denies Israel’s right to exist. Nobody denies Iran isn’t to be trusted. Somehow, however, we and Israel are to be trusted, hands down, end of story. A couple of FACTS for the untrusting to consider:
 
We are the first and only ones to ever use a nuclear weapon in war ... and we did that twice.
 
We’re the ones who recently enough preemptively invaded two different nation states in the Middle East.
 
And our net gain from those fiasco wars? Instead of the enormous positive reverberations Mr. Netanyahu guaranteed, aside from those who have died and/or have been maimed, we average 22 American veterans a day committing suicide.
 
22 A DAY!
 
So, thanks, but no thanks to another war in the Middle East.
 
So, for those who claim criticizing American policy is traitorous (or that they’re self-loathing Americans), try using caffeine with your morning coffee. We are exercising democracy by questioning policy, which is OUR right (the same right we’re always reminded of by those who point to the sacrifices our military makes “so we can complain”). This goes for those who criticize Israeli policy as well. We/they aren’t anti-Semitic. That’s as absurd as Al Sharpton claiming that criticism of his opportunism and tax evasion makes us racist.
 
Larry David handled this wonderfully ... "You know, they got a mental asylum a couple of blocks down. I suggest you check yourself in ..."
 
For those so desirous of us going to war, whether to support Israel, or for the sake of spreading democracy throughout the middle east (that’s worked great so far—sarcasm again intended), why not join the military and walk the walk? So many of our politicians who’ve ducked their chance to prove their LOVE for America during Vietnam (Cheney, Giuliani, et al.) are always so anxious these days to send other kids to prove THEIR love of country. I call that convenient patriotism. Same goes for those who claim that any criticism of Israeli policy equates to anti-Semitism. Feeling extra passionate today? Join up. Too old? I’m sure there’s a militia somewhere in the Middle East that will gladly provide you with a uniform and rifle.  From what I gathered at the IDF site, age limits start from 26+ … I’m assuming that means way up (but I don’t know for sure). And if you are too old or don’t have the right qualifications, you could always go there and support the war effort up front and personal by doing something more than using ALL CAPS to express your patriotism.
 
The point being, curb your enthusiasm for war. At the least, try to understand that not all of the people catching American missiles dropped during drone strikes and/or from American bombers are terrorists. Try to realize that innocents killed in the Middle East during and since our preemptive wars there view us as the terrorists, no matter what label we put on our justifications.
 
So, Bibi, next time you need a stage to win an election back home, feel free to use the Congress again … it’s been enhanced as the theatre of the absurd since the party you court today (the GOP) took over anyway.
 
Hillary’s e-mails … so let me go on record and state that I am not a fan of the Clintons … in fact, it was Bill Clinton’s hard veer to the right that chased me from the Democratic Party for the two elections after he took his show on the retirement road. I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton either, and I once called her Satan (and caught flak for it) … why Satan? Because she appeared to be willing to stick it out with Slick Willy for the sake of her own Presidency. I thought she (and he) were big phonies back then and I haven’t changed my mind an iota. I find it absolutely dumbfounding that as we go into the next Presidential election cycle, we’re likely facing Bush v. Clinton yet again. How the hell does that happen in a so-called democracy?
 
I trust no politician who a) takes money from corporations (never mind foreign countries), b) flip-flops with the political winds and/or c) has a proven record of absolute duplicitousness … and Hillary hits the trifecta based on those caveats.
 
So, does that mean I turn back to another Bush mistake? Not in this life. I’ve changed somewhat over the last few months on who I’m willing to vote for … it’s one of two people now (it was only one prior to this narrowing of the field to Clinton-Bush). I’ll vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. No Bernie, no Warren = no vote. To quote my favorite coach ever … “It’s as simple as that.”
 
Now, to the emails … Seriously? She’s telling the State Department to release the emails she was willing to release? No thanks.
 
Run Elizabeth, run!
 
—Knucks
 
In honor of what STILL appears to be a Clinton-Bush Oligarchical 2016 slugfest …

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

This week's TK SUCCESS Feature ... Mike Callahan …

Amici:

Today’s feature is about a family business that has grown from small to substantial through the efforts of its owner, Mike Callahan, Jr. Mike’s ability to improvise an inclusive work environment formula has incentivized his workforce with a piece-pay system that engenders individual worker accountability as well as financial motivation.
 
Callahan Lawn Care and Property Maintenance, Inc. was started in 1994 by Mike Callahan, Sr. When Big Mike retired and turned the business over to his eldest son, the company served just six commercial clients. Today it is a thriving million dollars plus business. It is also a staple of the local community and economy it serves—Rochester, New York.
 
The last point is a significant one. Now that his business has grown, and continues to do so, Callahan finds his company up against national competitors with little to no community investment outside of profit; corporations whose investors live outside the city where the work they profit from is performed. Who would you rather have working your property, someone with a vested interest in the community, because it is where he was born and continues to live with his family, or someone looking over a faxed report in the clubhouse of a golf resort after playing 18 holes in the Bahamas?
 
If we’re talking about the snowfall in Georgia, I guess it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but when we’re talking about the kinds of snowstorms that hit western New York, having a local home-grown business with an impeccable work record seems like the smart choice to make.
 
So, how did this small business grow to the point where it has gained national attention and its owner is often quoted in national industry journals?
 
For starters, it took a lot more than muscle and good luck for Mike Callahan to grow the family business. Mike earned his business degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating with a 3.4 grade point (something his father points to with great pride). After he took over the business, Mike put his empirical and intellectual knowledge to work. Like any business, perhaps more so because of the unpredictability of Mother Nature, especially in Rochester, New York, maintaining profitability in the lawn care and snow removal business requires constant vigilance. What does or doesn’t produce employee and/or customer satisfaction directly affects the bottom line. Adapting to an ever changing business environment is as crucial as adapting to changes in the weather.
 
Mike didn’t just pick up a snow shovel one day and figure it all out. Nor did he learn everything he needed to attain success in some classroom.  Mike learned by getting his hands dirty working the business inside and out.  With pride in his blue collar roots and the requisite strong work ethic of independent business owners, Mike grew Callahan Lawn Care and Property Maintenance, Inc. with hands-on experience, and from the experience of other colleagues in the same business. Mike recognized the competitive advantage in applying technology to his trade and was quick to install web-enabled laptops in two of his company vehicles, as well as tablets in all his other work vehicles. In an article titled, “The Digital Divide”, in the national industry journal, Lawn and Landscape Market Leadership, Callahan’s use of technology is discussed.
 
During a rough year for him personally, Mike and his business took a financial hit that required spending some extra time in the field with a colleague in the business. Together they performed the necessary due diligence analysis to pinpoint the problem: where $70k of his business revenue seemed to disappear over an 8 month period. Their field research yielded the following result: wasted man hours for which workers were being paid without producing. Callahan’s solution was the implementation of the piece-pay system wherein workers were invested with accountability and rewards. Rather than pay per hour, they were paid per job.
 
The same national trade publication offers articles involving case studies that showcase solutions to specific issues confronting lawn and landscaping business owners. Mike has been featured in several such case studies, including the issue of labor and how best to provide a fair and balanced work environment. From Lawn and Landscape: “We had one crew that was backed up, and they were budgeted for 1.5 days of work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but they got the job done by 5 p.m.,” Callahan says. “I paid them until 11 p.m., and that was a big game-changer at our company. Employees heard about that when they got their checks Friday." Another game-changer was a lesson learned about travel time and preparing for jobs. One crew neglected to load their truck before heading across town to the job site. “They knew it would cost me more than $100 for them to drive back and grab the equipment,” Callahan says.
 
“I said, ‘Your shop time is 8:05 to 8:10, and I paid you for that, so you’ll have to come back and get the equipment (on your own time). Once we held those guys accountable, others heard about it and it changed the culture to where the guys are working for themselves under my umbrella – they are making the right decisions within the guidelines we set.”
 
Callahan says introducing the system to employees and gaining their buy-in required a couple of incentives. After a careful look at the numbers, he realized he could give employees a $1 raise with the new system, so he gave the team an instant boost. Then, he explained that the point of piece-rate pay is not to take dollars away from employees – rather, to reward them for doing good, efficient work. So if they finished a job faster than it was budgeted, they’d still get paid the full amount, plus have an opportunity to earn more by filling the “extra time” with more work.
 
The bottom line is once workers are invested in the process, they will treat the business as their own (because essentially, at that point, they become partners). It is a win-win-win scenario, during which workers are hustling and taking pride in their production, while simultaneously earning more for their efforts. The concomitant result is a happy client (for having their concerns handled in a timely fashion), and a happy business owner. While the business owner still has to oversee the entire operation, which is no small task, he/she can sleep a little better nights knowing that they’re building something good for everyone involved. Read about Mike's experience with piece-pay in this Lawn and Landscape article, "Case Studies" here.
 
No doubt Mike picked up his strong work ethic from both his parents (Mike Sr. and Donna), as well as his grandparents. Mike’s paternal grandfather was a fireman in the city of Rochester. His maternal grandfather was a milkman back when milk was still delivered door to door. Mike’s father worked as an electrician prior to starting the lawn care business, while his mother, Donna, taught special education in the Greece Central School District before retiring just a year and a half ago.  Donna’s mother, Adriana, born in Milan, Italy, 99 years ago, continues to live on her own in her own apartment.  Mike has a younger brother, Ryan, whose heart and soul NHL and Olympic hockey identity was also built around the same work ethic as his older brother.
 
So, what’s it like to run a growing operation during snow seasons the likes of which often blanket Rochester, New York? I asked Mike about a typical day in the life. His outline included monitoring the weather, especially for snow and ice, every hour, seven days a week. When snow or ice events occur, his trucks are immediately dispatched to make the magic happen. A normal day outside of snow removal involves getting summer crews out at 7:00 a.m., requiring his presence at the office an hour earlier to get things started. Mike estimates and QC run from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at which time he can call it quits, but not necessarily call it a day. Mike interviews Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
 
Mike believes in family time, then resting and regrouping for the next challenge. Recently Mike’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to their first child, Stella Harper (a great name).
 
Some of Callahan Lawn Care’s recent media exposure.
 
 
 
 
I thought about changing some of an article Mike wrote himself, but decided his words and experience far exceed anything I can add.  Here’s a terrific article penned by the owner himself.
 
Handling High-Volume with Efficiency & Ease
Written By: Mike Callahan, President
 
The familiar wail of your alarm jolts you to your feet. It’s two o’clock in the morning. Outside you notice the white flakes have piled up to the point of no return. You race to the bottom of the stairs, ruler in one hand; phone in the other. The cold smacks you in the face and you begin dialing your manager to alert him to the six inches on the ground. Your mind goes to work; it’s going to be a long night that will surely string into the following day. The feat – 575driveways, 69 commercial properties, 24 employees, and 20 vehicles on the road combating the storm with about six hours to deadline. The surmounting stress is paralyzing.
 
The challenge of handling a high-volume of snow removal jobs plagues many contractors in the northeast. Managing this feat is standard practice at Callahan’s. From November to March, Callahan’s manages the stress of snow with a simple three pronged approach.
 
 
The strategic benefits to standardizing equipment results in improved economic performance. Callahan’s quest for equipment standardization began with snow plows; all plows are the same make and model leading to interchangeability for every truck. Snow blowers and company trucks follow suit in the standardization. Callahan’s even works to hire subcontractors based on the make and model of the truck and plow they use; although it is not always possible in cases of subcontracting. The company even keeps a stock pile of back-up equipment at a central location. Equipment standardization allows for employee proficiency in operation, efficiency among crews, and preventative maintenance remains predictable.
 
The need for a standardized process for on-time job completion is essential. The system must be rigid enough for human accountability but remain flexible enough to adapt to unpredictability with equipment and weather conditions. Each employee and subcontractor signs an employment contract which outlines the following: job description, chain of command, details regarding payment for services performed, repercussions for failure to complete work, expectations for performance on-the-job, route sheets with budgeted man-hours to be met, and directions on how to complete and submit standardized work logs. Each employee receives on-the-job training regarding standard operating procedures.
 
Customer satisfaction is the critical element to success and technology is the key at Callahan’s. Routes are optimized using MapPoint. Service Autopilot and Ring Central automate communication with customers regarding service via text messaging and email during a snow and ice event. These same systems are utilized through mobile apps in vehicles to allow for seamless communication between employees in the field and those in the office. GPS is employed in all trucks to allow for real time crew tracking, job costing, and coverage for slip and fall litigation.
 
Through proper implementation of resources and equipment, early adoption of technology, and stellar training Callahan’s will continue to promote customer focused work of the highest quality. Continuous improvement of these systems will allow Callahan’s to remain a market leader and continue growth well into the future.
 
 
 
 
—Charlie
 
Sharing the knowledge… Mike has produce videos to aid colleagues in the business.


Should I accept one-time snow plow jobs?
 
Best Practices for hiring subcontractors …
 
Hiring & Retaining Snow Removal Employees ...