Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Brooklyn Nets ... Alex Smith v. Colin who? ... Beware of Mr. Baker ... Alanis Morissette ... Moonachie Green fans … Blackout in Buffalo ... Sarge’s Rocks!

My sons declared us Brooklyn Nets fans, abandoning our love of the Knicks for our new home team. This wasn’t an easy decision, amici. Sports loom large at casa Stella. Come to think of it, so does Stella loom large at casa Stella (although I’m sticking to the weight watcher point system for at least another few hours this weekend). To Nets or not to Nets, that was the question ... and even though I was born in Manhattan (I’m a shattered, shadoobie), the boys and the girl were all three born in God’s country (Brooklyn, U.S.A.). So, since they had NO SAY as to which football team they would consider the “home team” (my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills were DNA’ed, so to speak, to the Stella brats), I felt it only fair to yield to the youth of the program. So, Let’s Go Nets … even when they play the Knicks …
Brooklyn rocks!
Alex Smith vs. the kid, Colin Kaepernick ... wow, talk about a tough one ... for me, though, this is a no brainer. Taking the ball from Alex Smith is a guaranty for disaster, so if the 49’ers fulfill my pre-season prediction and win the Super Bowl, I’m proved wrong. If they don’t, we’ll never know, will we? You don’t lose a job because you get injured. The K-kid has proved he can play, but so did Alex smith prove he can play. Does anyone forget the way he threaded those TD’s at the end of the Saints playoff last year? What we don’t know is if he can play in the bigger games (i.e., the ones that will count come playoff time). I think Harbaugh has created a mess in his locker room. Smith is rightfully upset. Kaepernick will have his downs, too ... and Smith won’t appreciate having to come in off the bench. Playing QB is much different than Defensive Tackle. Reps count. Game time reps count more. Time will tell, but I suspect the 49’ers just shot themselves in the foot.
That said, how about an even up with Buffalo, Fitz for Smith?
BEWARE of Mr. Baker!
I can’t wait to see this film, amici. Ginger Baker was the jazz turned rock drummer (for Cream) of my youth. Nobody in the rock world was better (mostly because he was actually a jazz drummer and he knew what rudiments were). He can still play better than most in the rock world and his story looks pretty compelling, even if you don’t fall in love with the cantankerous Wildman from Lewisham, South London. His jazz roots go way back and it’s one reason no rock drummer came close ... ever.
A mini Baker Bio ...
You live, you learn ...
Alanis Morissette … on a much lighter note, the wife/boss/Principessa Ann Marie made fun of my latest interest in all things Alanis. First of all (and she knows this), Alanis played God in one of my favorite movies (Dogma), and will likely make an appearance in the fictional memoir I’m writing for my thesis. How do I not have me and Alanis face-to-face in deep conversation about all things heavy? Secondly, I love her voice, spirit and angst-ridden lyrics. Not to mention she did a stint on my favorite HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
And that fat guy with the cigar in the video isn’t me ...
Moonachie Green fans unloaded on the Turkey Day performance of their Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets. One has to feel sympathy for the players having that noise rained down on them. Hell, even I do. I suggest that the Mean Green fans do what all Bills fans do and restrict their angst to Facebook venting on their team’s page … my sons and I are forced to do it each week with each other (very censored for us) … and then I tend to go to the Buffalo Bills Facebook page and join in the chorus of boos there. There are three distinct points to being disappointed year after year by one’s football team. First comes the anger (Not again!). Second, the shock (Yes, again!) ... and third comes the jokes (they’re like the keystone cops out there, etc.). Think about it, even Fireman Ed gave up on his fellow Jets fans because of all the nasty discourse he was catching for wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey. If they hadn’t abandoned New York for Moonachie, I might feel more sympathy for them ... but that move (just like Tebow) was Woody’s choice, so screw’em ... just do it on some team facebook page, amici ... the players have enough problems playing for Woody and Rex.
Speaking of sad (and bad football teams), my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills are blacking out their game this week against the only team they may possibly beat for the rest of the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Seriously, are they kidding in Buffalo? Good old Mr. Wilson is lucky his workers show up, never mind the fans. A team that is LOADED with talent is once again the victim of impossibly lousy management and coaching … especially coaching. So we say to management in Buffalo (Grabbing our crotch): “Over here with your blackout.”
Sarge’s Subs ... in beautiful downtown Fords, New Jersey is the BESTEST ever hero joint, Sarge’s. I order every Sunday during the 1st quarter of the Bills’ weekly loss to whomever we’re playing, but for at least a few minutes I’m one happy fat man.
Yes, I’ve lost my mind ...
I just tried one of those Ice spin moves and broke the couch ...

Friday, November 23, 2012

3 Generations of Stella ... Back to School ... WTF? ...


That’s my Mommy (a GREAT grandmother-to-be), my daughter-in-law (Leslie) and granddaughter (Evelyn, I believe) touching up above ... from yesterday’s Thanksgiving with Momma Stella ... where my son-in-law (Anthony) helped her with the wireless headphone we bought her (so she doesn’t get into anymore fights with her roommate).
Speaking of which ... from last week (the “fight”).
MSR = Momma Stella’s roommate.
MS = Momma Stella
MSR: Turn off that television, will ya’?
MS: Go take a walk.
MSR: All day and night with that thing.
MS: And what the hell else you want me to do? Watch you go to the bathroom fifty times a day?
MSR: I can’t stand it anymore.
MS: Go shit in your hat.
MSR: Oh, yeah? I’ll turn it off when you’re asleep.
MS: I’ll turn you off when you’re asleep. How’s that?
MSR: Why don’t you just get out and take your tv with you?
MS: Go fuck yourself.
I love my Mommy!

Last night I submitted my workshop pages for my upcoming last semester of school. If I thought one of my sons (Charles, not Charlie) turning 30 last week (11/19) was a blink-and-it’s-gone affair, two years of graduate school went a lot faster. MFA programs, for all the ridicule they often suffer, are a beautiful thing; one takes what one puts into them. For me, it’s not only been an adventure into literary writing, it’s been one hell of a catch-up on reading authors I never would've known without the program. The friends one finds and the overall sense of community are huge bonuses.
So, here’s my spin on MFA programs (versus common arguments against them).
1. You can’t teach someone how to write.
You maybe can’t teach someone how to write a masterpiece, literary or otherwise, but you sure can sharpen one’s skills. Unless someone is adverse to learning anything, one can always be taught something that progresses their skill levels.  Does that mean they'll be publishable upon graduation?  No, but the vast majority will be a hell of a lot closer than going it solo.
And ... “most” writers benefit from reading. Reading lists of any sort will ultimately improve any writer’s skills (subconsciously or otherwise). While one might garner as much benefit from a straight literary graduate degree, the fiction/non-fiction writing one does in an MFA program, (although there are research papers, critical essays, etc., as well) is obviously more in tune with their goals.
2. An MFA guarantees you nothing; is a worthless piece of paper, etc.
If one measures success in the form of dollars, pretty much any degree that doesn’t include the letters MBA, JD, MD, Ph.D, etc., is pretty much a worthless degree these days. Usually (my assumption here), when one opts for a humanities degree of any kind, they are in it for something other than the dollars. Teachers, contrary to the moron running Wisconsin, the tea party, Rush Limbaugh, et al, aren’t “in it” for the money. Teaching isn’t the way to riches. Becoming a hedge fund manager might be the way to riches. So might be dealing drugs. An MFA degree will likely not sit you behind the wheel (if that’s what it’s called) of a yacht someday. But ask the vast majority of writers how they earn their living and if they're honest, they’ll confess it isn’t from the sales of their books. I have a political science degree that didn’t do much for me when I was a window cleaner, or in any of the other careers I’ve had (legitimate or otherwise), but what I learned from the pursuit of that degree has obviously influenced every aspect of my life ... and life experience to any author is as invaluable as it gets.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for “guarantees”, the New York City Sanitation Department continues to have a much better retirement package than what authors can depend on. So does pretty much any municipal career, as well as the armed forces, offer better retirement packages than what the vast majority of authors will ever have.
I opted out of a union window cleaning job after ten years. It’s a pretty good gig, with a pension and benefits that extend into the life of the member, but I’ve never looked back. It just wasn’t what I wanted; playing it safe has never been an option for me.
Although half the reason I originally pursued an MFA degree was as a hedge against outsourcing in the field I’m currently employed, using my degree for future employment is no longer a concern. I’m enjoying all this school stuff way too much to want to stop. I’ll begin pursuing an MA in American literature within a year after graduating from the MFA program.
3. MFA’s are way too expensive and just another university cash cow ...
There’s no doubt education in general is way too expensive, especially in the richest country in the world. It is a beef I have with our economic system in general, but when in Rome, one needs to make decisions. To pursue something I want and opt for a more Spartan lifestyle, or go for the money, that is the question? Knucks (borrowing from Billy) says: To thine own self be true, amici ... to thine own self be true ...
As for the cash cows MFA programs have become ... yes, there’s no doubt they are cash cows. Universities across the country now literally recruit students for all of their programs for the sake of fattening their coffers, but unless a program (any program) is purposely engaged in blowing smoke (out and out fraud), then individuals pursuing such degrees are doing so of their own accord. I know of no university program that guarantees its students either publication and/or riches beyond their wildest dreams. While most MFA graduates may not find a publisher, something especially difficult these ebook days, what they learn about their craft will always be proportionate to what they’ve put into it, making the degree itself an accomplishment equal to their efforts. Such satisfaction may not be acceptable to those critical of MFA degrees, but that in itself is kind of the point. Quote the ugly Knuckster quoting Billy again: To thine own self be true.
For me, the MFA program I’m enrolled in at Southern New Hampshire University is another tool, another guide, and/or another step in a constant pursuit of what I love (writing and reading). Yes, reading too. I came in with a fairly good reading background (having played catch-up since I turned forty), but that background has been well expanded and will continue to expand. The financial cost of the degree (especially to a socialist), is irrelevant because I choose to make it so. At fifty-six, I’m sorry, but there’s not enough time left in my life to give a shit about the cost of something I want badly enough. Ten years ago I worked 6 and 7 days a week for a year and a half, doing 12 and 14 hour shifts on the weekends to put money toward a house that has devalued $50K since its purchase ... but I also bought a drum kit I enjoy playing from time to time to offset the pain of that devaluation of our “American dream”).
American dream my ass ... my dream (America has NOTHING to do with it) has been my wife, family and all the neat things I enjoy doing like working, writing and going to school. Getting an MFA in fiction and later an MA in American literature, should I live that long, will be further fulfillment of my dreams.
All of the above said, I do wish the programs (all of them), could add two full terms (making it a total of 8 semesters) AT THE SAME COST (i.e., freeze the cost and expand the length of the programs), but that goes to my feeling about education in general in America. Wouldn’t it be great if his words were treated the way I believe Mr. Lincoln meant them to be treated: a government of ALL the people, for ALL the people, by ALL the people?



So which moron is responsible for the NFL rule that states if a coach throws a challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewed, they don’t review the play? Bad enough the replacement refs robbed Green Bay of a legitimate win early in the season, now we have the NFL rulebook doing the same. Unbelievable. Somebody should inform the geniuses in the league front office that football isn’t one of the other 3 major sports; the season actually counts for something. There are only 16 games, not 162 or 82 ... stealing a win from any team is a very big deal. That was one bogus TD, amici ...

And how ‘bout that RG III? A phenom, amici, pure and simple. But his speed is what will hurt him down the road. The kid is literally too fast for his own good. Watching him get tapped on his way out of bounds and seeing him roll for 10 yards was scary. This guy is destined for as much pain as he is greatness ... but he sure is entertaining. A GREAT athlete.
3 Cheatriot TD’s in 52 seconds vs. the Yets ... oy vey.
As for the Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets ... oy vey, could it get any worse than yesterday? I called them the keystone cops about two minutes before Chris Collingsworth did on national tv. No, really, ask my wife. If I didn’t dislike their owner as much as their loudmouth coach, I’d want to see Ryan fired for turning out to be one big fraud. Lord knows how or why they did so well his first two seasons in Moonachie, but he’s turned this team into mud the last two years. I’ve gone from feeling sorry for the mismanagement of Mark Sanchez to feeling sorry for Tim Tebow. Moonachie Green is a disaster program and because all shit flows down, one has to believe it started at the very top: Owner, General Manager and Head Coach.
What can I say, I’m on a Stones kick this weekend ...
And the Principessa Ann Marie and myself still love this one by Harry Chapin ... speaking of great writing ...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

French Week at the Movies ... Baseball’s MVP “WAR” … Other Stuff …


My Piece of the Pie ...

My Piece of the Pie ... Karin Viard is wonderful in this tale of class warfare waged from Dunkirk to London, Paris and back. A single mother raising three girls is laid off when vulture capitalists gobble up the plant she works for. Despondent and desperate, she goes through a rough time before taking a job as a house cleaner/maid ... unknowingly for the main man (played brilliantly by Gilles Lellouche) responsible for her plant closing. He’s about as arrogant and abusive as a person can get, but that’s where I’ll stop. This will make you smile, laugh and furious before you know it ... an excellent movie very appropriate for the times.
Potiche ...  a fun movie about a trophy wife (Catherine Deneuve) with a past forced to take control of the business her husband runs ... against an old flame communist (Gerard Depardieu) ... family politics, amore and some very funny moments. A bit of a silly ending but getting there is a joy.
Paris ...  Short Cuts with a French twist .... a dancer with a weak heart requires a transplant ... his sister (Juliette Binoche) comes to take care of him ... other subplots revolve around the city the dancer watches from his window ... not as good as Short Cuts or the those above ... but not bad either.
The Woman in the Fifth ...  great cast, but this one left me wanting so much more. I’m a huge Kristin Scott Thomas fan, but not in this one. I like Ethan Hawke a lot, and he was fine in this, but the movie left me wanting.
Baseball’s MVP War … call me a dinosaur, but WTF with the stats already? Wins Above Replacements? Are they kidding? One more statistical device to show what, exactly? If the games aren’t actually being played (“above the replacements”), then why the hell would anyone take this virtual statistic serious? And it is a virtual statistic … until MLB finishes ruining the game altogether and plays a virtual version, seriously, WTF?
Mike Trout is worth 10.(whatever) wins a year “above replacements.” Some numbers cruncher figured that out? Can the same numbers cruncher figure out why Mike Trout’s team didn’t make the playoffs? Are there another 10,000 variables for him to plug into his calculator? Might one include the pitcher he hit three doubles against in one game had a blister on his finger ... or had sex eleven times the morning of the game?
The MVP voting was simple enough for me. One guy led the league in all three major batting categories: Home Runs, RBI and Average. That GIVES him the MVP. The fact HIS team not only made it into the dopey round robin tournament MLB runs, they made it to the final round, was icing on the cake.
Mike Trout is obviously a great player and he may well have even greater numbers in his future, but this year Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown. I remember the last time it happened, when Carl Yaztremski did it in 1967 … when I LOVED baseball more than anything and would run home from school as fast as I could to catch however many innings were left in the world series game (because they were played during the day and in October, not November). Now, I could care less who plays in the tournament. I watched maybe two innings of one game of the series this year (that includes the regular fugazy season), and quite frankly, could care less if baseball disappeared tomorrow. I’m missing hockey right now (and I’m a very recent fan of the game) way more than I’d ever miss MLB.
The above said, how about a knuckleballer, A.J. Dickey, winning the NL Cy Young award? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Let’s Go Mets!
Other Stuff …
Romney’s conference call … looks like he really did mean what he said about the 47% … glad he’ll be home for the holidays … imagine the nerve of the public not adhering to his royal desire to be president? Well, with all those gifts Obama was giving out (anyone notice it was mostly to the 1%) besides me?
Go Green in 2014, baby!
Twinkies no more … of course the company is blaming the unions for all their unreasonable demands … this should keep the flames of the insane on the extreme right burning bright into the next election cycle. Imagine workers having demands? Why, they should be happy the owners provide them with working toilets (see the French film, My Piece of the Pie above)!
Oy vey …
Cessation ... Now we’re up to fifty states that want to secede from the union. Does that make Obama even better’n Lincoln? That should make the secessionists rethink it.
Bills Squish the Fish … a punt return and a bunch of field goals … offensive touchdowns? We don’t need no stinkin’ offensive touchdowns! What should’ve been a cakewalk was another nail biter, but this time we came out on top. Can we string together six more in a row? It’s doable … BILLIEVE!
I forget how many times I’ve read the book, this week one more time, but here’s the opening scene from the movie ... The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ketchup … Lindenhurst, L.I. … and a book review: Bernard Malamud’s, The Assistant …


The dust has settled and the most expensive presidential campaign in the country’s history is over. For all the talk of “one of the closest elections of our time”, it was a near blowout. So it goes. For all the talk of it being “the most important election of our time”, it was the last in a series of the same ... ever since I can remember.

But feel relaxed amici ... for this will be the last (for a while) of TK’s political posts.

So, let’s get started: For all the talk of how important voting is to our democracy, let’s just take a look-see at the following facts: 1) in most cases, you get to do so on your own time (it isn’t a national holiday), and although some employers will give you a few hours off, others won’t do so; 2) unless your state has early voting, you have about a dozen or so hours to make it count; 3) if you’re in a hotly contested state, there’s a good chance games will be played and you’ll be standing in line for 3-4-6 or more hours.

The wife gave me some flack for not voting (she also likes to break shoes). She and her son were about to leave to vote for the Democratic nominee, and she said, “We’re going to vote, like good Americans.”

I said, “Do we have any ketchup?”

I know TK has endorsed Obama over Romney, but that’s all it ever was; an endorsement of one guy over another (note how I didn’t call either one of them clowns this time—it’s a last ditch attempt to score some points upstairs, just in case). I’m sure they’re both nice guys (in their way), but if I had to choose one over the other as someone to “have a beer with,” it’d be Obama—but I doubt he’d want to have one with me after hearing what I have to say.

What I do think is that our political process is a circus act meant to distract people (i.e., if you’re yelling back and forth at each other loud enough, and you were, there’s a good chance you won’t see the elephant in the room). The elephant for me is capitalism, but rather than stir that shit storm up anymore than is necessary, let me defend my non-voting statement as follows: Until someone I would consider my choice (Jill Stein, this go) has a genuine voice (is on all the ballots, has the same amount of air time private, corporate and union sponsorship buys the two major parties, etc.), I have no desire to lend the process any legitimacy.

Many will say, “If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.”

And I say, “Do you know if we have any ketchup?”

Simply put, time has become way too precious for me to waste. Without any dog in the hunt, so to speak, and without any faith in either of the major parties, there is simply zero interest for me to wait on a line that doesn’t provide me with gasoline for my car. Me, I’d rather do something else. On election night we had Ribs and Fries and I can’t eat the Fries without ketchup. As a former coach used to say, “It’s as simple as that.”

I know, I know … the lesser of two evils ... yada, yada, yada … but that is fear winning the day and I refuse to buy into it. My endorsement of Obama over Romney was nothing more than that; there was no way I was going to vote for somebody who did to labor what this president has done since his inauguration; unforgiveable in my opinion. The truth of the matter is, he hasn’t been much different than Bush, and in some ways, Obama has been Bush on steroids. The Democratic left went after Bush full throttle for some of the same things Obama has continued (and he’s been given a pass for them). The list is too long to bore myself typing, but drones killing innocents (most of those killed being people of color, something for the 93% African-American vote to consider) is a hard one to excuse. His ignoring union busting in Wisconsin was but the tip of the iceberg for me; he’d long before that turned his back on workers with his carte blanche bailout of Wall Street. Again, much of the left remained silent on those issues as well. At best they were “disappointed”, but quickly pointed to what the other candidate “said he would do,” somehow justifying a vote for a guy who lied to their faces over a potential vote for a guy who told them what he’d do (with the results being the exact same, either way).

Now there’s logic!

Nor is there any way to walk back some of the stimulus money being handed over to campaign contributors. Solyndra wasn’t just another “Woops.” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein doesn’t feel that way, but as a guy who has been on the street a fair number of years, I feel pretty confident in telling Mr. Klein (someone I often read and agree with), “Listen to me: The expedition of that loan, no matter who initiated it, was a payback, pal. Next time use caffeine in your coffee.”

As for the Republican candidate, there was no way they could possibly represent most of what I want to see happen because of the Ayn Rand influence the tea party exerted over their candidate. Not that Romney was ever consistent about anything that might, or might not, get him elected, but the belief that those who don’t “make it” in society are “parasites” and “moochers” (classic Ayn Rand), is way too offensive to acknowledge. That he was caught on camera denigrating 47% of the American people should have disqualified him from running alone, and one would think Obama’s victory would have been much greater than 50-48% with that in mind, but it wasn’t, which is scary. In fact, very scary.

So long as the Republican Party flies a flag of arrogance and hatred, they will dwindle toward the same insignificance as one of their spokespersons this past election season, The Dopey Donald.

For those of you still in need of basic Ayn Rand philosophy, here are two sources.

  One on her philosophy (“in a nutshell”) …

And this on her HUGE novel, Atlas Shrugged (from back in the day, William F. Buckley interviewed by Charlie Rose).

If yous wonder why I use the terms arrogance and hatred, see Donald Trump’s “tweets” during election night, although I now understand most have been deleted. He may not represent all Republicans, but he was someone the major candidates cow-towed to over and again during the primaries and after. Here are a few of The Donald’s quips:

This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy! [Note to Donald: Actually, we are a democracy.]

Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice. The world is laughing at us. [And we're laughing at you, Donald.]

We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided. [Divided?  And you figured that out all by yourself? It must be your smarts that made you wealthy and not your daddy's dollars after all!]

He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country. [Many of us agree about the revolution, Donald, but we doubt you'd like the end result.]

The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one! [Ehhh, again, Donald ... and it's "won" not "one" AND the winner had more popular votes AND electoral votes.]

More votes equals a loss. Revolution! [We'll leave your good friend Sarah Palin to figure that one out.]

Brian Williams on Trump’s tweetfest: “Donald Trump — who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and peered into something closer to irresponsible here — is tweeting tonight.”

For me it’s a simple choice: until I actually have a choice, I’ll make damn sure I know whether or not we have ketchup before I join my wife in voting. For one thing, if we had run out, she could’ve picked some up on the way home (or told me to get off my fat ass and go to the store myself) … and if we did have ketchup, better to know where it was than to throw a fit trying to find it.
The morning/mourning after the election tea party crazies were out in full voice … Whacko Marc Levin was yelling at the top of his lungs that Tyranny had won the election. Tyranny? Really? It’s bad enough the extreme right has been trying to associate the Democratic party with Joseph Stalin forever, it seems, but does Levin really believe what he says? Is Obama really working toward a Marxist ideology? One has to wonder ... the 1% had earned more under one term of Obama than it did under two terms with Bush (remember that Bush on steroids analogy?). Until this election, Wall Street had put more money behind Obama than any other presidential candidate in history (maybe because they knew a Democrat had to win post Bush?).

If Obama is a socialist, he’s not a very good one. Back in June 2011, featured an article advising the GOP to nominate Obama (since he’s really just another moderate Republican). My theory a couple of years ago was that the Republican Party, at least those pulling their strings, were more than happy with Obama, but according to the talk radio heads (Limbaugh, Levin, Hannity, et al), America is a lost cause; liberty and freedom were flushed down the toilet; the takers/moochers/parasites won.

Both Limbaugh and Levin, ignoring the Hispanic vote less than 24 hours after it helped cost their candidate the election, were hurling insult after insult at the same constituency. A Limbaugh quote: “What do we have to do for the Hispanic vote, open the borders and let in all the illegals?” Paraphrasing Levin: “Let’s go to India and welcome those people here, register them as Republicans, the Hispanics are mostly illiterate anyway.”

On the conservative site I haunt, I was particularly annoying the day after the election ... but that had much more to do with letting a few imbeciles get under my skin for poking fun (literally making fun) of hurricane victims on the Jersey shore and on Staten Island for, get this: not preparing better. Where was their sterno, peanut butter and crackers? some wanted to know.

As if those who’d lost their homes, whether swept out to sea, demolished by the tidal surge, or burned to the ground from electrical and gas fires, should’ve had boats and/or fire trucks in their pockets (not to mention sterno, peanut butter and crackers). To be fair, there was also a very fair assessment of the situation and some good community planning advice at the same site, but the Ayn Randers aiming at my “emotions” won the day and pissed me off enough to play a game I happen to be pretty good at—paybacks. They got my goat post hurricane and I made them pay post election.

Yes, I know, like children.

As far as the election goes, the same site’s gloom and doomers couldn’t help themselves ... essentially, many of them feel like the The Donald: The country went down the shitter ... the people who want stuff won ... their parent’s America is no more ... we’re all lost … so much so, not only did the re-election of Obama doom the country, but just agreeing with me apparently does too! A direct quote from one of the contributors (one I actually respect quite a bit): the minute you agree with Charlie…..all hope is lost. But, we have a spot reserved for you on Pluto.

The Pluto reference is for me. I'm captain cannoli on the site (and proud of it) ... and they suggest I live on Pluto.

To be fair, not all commentators on that conservative site are unreasonable. Some are very reasonable, but the leaders of the group so ascribe to Ayn Rand’s objectivism, they can’t divorce it from reality; interjecting black and white in a world turned very gray a very long time ago. Rather than adapt to an ever changing world, they cling to ideological fabulism (what William F. Buckley called, Atlas Shrugged), and thus, a fantasy no less so than what they deride as the utopian communist state.

I suggest they take a look-see at the real estate values of average American citizens. The American Dream is no longer a desire to own a home. It has become a desire to own the winning Power Ball Lotto ticket.

One has to wonder if the extreme right exists in a parallel universe all the time or only when they blog. The realities of the 21st century in America require a much more inclusive and compassionate game plan than what Ayn Rand would prescribe.“Screw them, it’s great to be me” is a dying theme. Advances in technology reduce the need for workers at a much faster pace now than ever before. Global markets combined with technology permit outsourcing for greater profits far more easily now; why Nike and Apple, among others, use Chinese labor rather than American. Exploiting workers overseas (where labor is more than happy to take the work due to economic conditions in their homeland) for profit here is now the way of doing business. Somehow, no matter how you look at it, workers are the ones being exploited, whether here or abroad. Not a very good game plan for an ever expanding population, it seems to me. And like him or not, Mr. Marx made a very valid point when he stated: “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”

So, the day after, the extremists on the right saw the end of America as they have believed in it heart and soul ... and then some became nastier than usual ... over at Keith Rawson’s blog, he posted about this beauty:

Keith is a terrific author and a hell of a nice guy … and a lot smarter than I am mostly keeping his politics to himself … some people really do hold it against authors when they voice their opinions … but no one (EVER) has accused me of being the sharpest knife in the drawer (just ask my buddies on that conservative site and/or The Doc), so I’ll often say what’s on my mind (using my real name). Check out Keith’s blog here: … and buy his work here (where I was honored to write the forward to The Chaos We Know).

Whatever is going to happen in America, the election process is finally over … or is it? Talk of 2016 has already begun.

Oy friggin’ vey … except at least this political rant is exhausted ... and done.

From Lindenhurst, Long Island ...

And now, finally, Bernard Malamud’s, The Assistant ... this is one of my favorite all-time American novels. It was one of the very first novels to catch my eye when I was a kid without much direction. It made me think for a change, especially about the town I grew up in, where a very Jewish-Italian mix would come together in an attempt to ward off busing (a microcosm of the racial ugliness permeating the 1970’s), but where many felt mingling was one thing, dating and/or marriage another. I revisited this particular novel because of a short story I’m currently writing about something I experienced just prior to my senior year of high school. This has been the fifth time I’ve read this novel.
Beware of Spoilers (a first on TK): The assistant is essentially a story about suffering in all its forms; financial, emotional and physical. An Italyener drifter from the west coast with a tough past takes part in the holdup of a grocery that has fallen on bad times. The owner of the grocery is Morris Bober, an honest man trying to survive a mostly dishonest world. He has a wife and daughter, but has lost a son to illness. He’s been the victim of a thief partner, economic circumstances, and an unfriendly neighborhood where Jews aren’t very welcome. He slaves away in his store day and night for barely enough to reopen the following day. When Frank Alpine (the assistant) can no longer live with the guilt of holding up such a poor man, he returns to the store and does his best to make amends (without confessing his part in the crime). Eventually, because Morris could never ignore a poor soul, he takes on Frank as his assistant. Business gets better, but is it because of Frank or changes in the neighborhood? Of course Frank falls for Helen (Morris’s daughter), but that’s where I’ll leave off.
I say it’s one of the best American novels ever written. Anyone turned on by great writing, whether it’s dialogue or narrative, need look no further.
Yesterday was my daughters 33rd birthday ... don’t ask me how that happened. A beautiful quartet from Rigoletto ... the opera, not our doggie.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

If for no other reason ... dogs are people too!


It’s election day ... the Bills haven’t lost (today) and let’s face it, they probably will Sunday. So let’s do something right ... Dogs are people too!

Can you imagine putting your pup on the roof of your car? How about putting Mitt up there?

It’s cold on the roof ... and windy ...

And dogs don’t change their minds ... they always love yous ...

Doggies should ride inside, no?

Dogs have GREAT memories ...

Talk about scandals!

And vengeance is theirs, sayeth the Rigoletto monster!

And, hey, don't roof-rack me, bro!

Go Bills!


Friday, November 2, 2012

A marathon? Really? ... the Storm ... Books: The Long Fall, by Lynn Kostoff ... Thanksgiving Night, by Richard Bausch ... a couple opera schemes ...


A marathon?  Really? ... One has to wonder how and why Mayor Bloomberg would even consider going ahead with plans for the New York marathon this Sunday. Staten Islanders continue pulling bodies out of the water while the disaster within the borough is being compared to Katrina. If the mayor intends to reassign police, etc., to handle a marathon, it won’t do much for his problem relating to those making less than a million a year (and that’s not much of an exaggeration). Never one to concern himself with the plight of the working class, Bloomberg’s assigning emergency personnel for a marathon while Staten Islanders continue to suffer without food, water and shelter seems so far removed from reality, one has to wonder if he plans to serve those homeless from the hurricane cake.

Jersey shore devastation ...

The Storm ... early Sunday morning I drove into Staten Island to see Momma Stella. My kids and my sister’s former partner had a memorial planned in the nursing home; they’d all meet there and celebrate my sister’s life. Winds had already begun to blow, so I assured my mother I’d get in touch with the kids and suggest they call off the celebration for another week. On the way home I stopped at a Pathmark and picked up some canned goods and two cases of water. What I forgot to do was get gas--so far, a huge mistake. We had 3/4’s of a tank in the Volvo and less than 1/2 of a tank in the Honda before the hurricane.

The day passed without incident. I watched Moonachie Green get dismantled by the Miami Dolphins, and then Moonachie Blue avenged their early season loss to the Dallas Cowboys. If people didn’t know the town of Moonachie reference before this past weekend, they sure do now. Moonachie was one of the towns severely devastated when levees were breached in the middle of the night catching residents completely unaware of the flood that ensued.

Seaside, New Jersey ...

The winds started howling here in Fords, New Jersey at about 6:00 p.m. We have two huge trees on our property and one small one a woodpecker drills holes in during the summer. The big trees were our biggest concern. Would they fall? Would they take out part or all of the house if/when they did fall? And what about the cars in the driveway?

We moved the cars into the garage around 6:30 p.m. By 7:00 p.m. the winds were strong, but we still had power. The news claimed our winds were in the 40 MPH range. I sent a Facebook message when the lights flickered, went out, then came back. Sometimes between 7:00 - 7:30 p.m., power was gone. We used flashlights and candles, but went to bed early because we knew the real storm had yet to arrive. Winds picked up during the night. When we woke up early Monday morning, a few gusts shook the house.

That's a shark in somebody's flooded backyard above ...

By the time it was light outside, we were surprised at the lack of rain. The forecasts claimed 24-36 hours of pouring rain, but somehow we wound up in the dry cycle of the storm.  Although there was some rain, it was nothing compared to the forecast. The winds however, had picked up dramatically during the day. By nightfall, they were downright scary. I spent the night in my writing room (facing the street) with the shades open so I could see our tree out front. I went outside several times during the early evening to check for damage, but could see nothing of concern. I took a sleeping pill at 10:00 p.m. and around 1:00 a.m. a loud thud woke me. I grabbed a flashlight and headed outside. The tarpaper roof of one of our neighbors was in the middle of the street. Shingles covered the street and our yard. The big tree was bending up top, but holding. I went around to the back and the other big tree (much thicker than the one out front) was barely shaking. We’d had it trimmed last year because some of the branches had reached the siding on Casa Stella.

Water filling the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel ...

I was up the rest of the night, checking outside every half hour or so, but saw no serious damage to our house, or any of the other houses (aside from the lost roof across the street). At 6:00 a.m. I met the guy whose roof had peeled off and we moved it to the side of the road. The winds were still blowing, but not nearly as strong as earlier. By 10:00 a.m., 40 MPH winds felt like a slight breeze.

Mid-morning Ann Marie took a shower and we learned our basement sewer line to the street had backed up. Bad but not devastating. Clorox saved the day until we could find a plumber; they came Wednesday and cleared the line of tree roots (those trees were going to get us one way or the other, it seems).

The tunnel after it was filled with seawater ...

Tuesday night, bored out of our minds waiting for power to be restored, we drove to see my mother at her nursing home. It was a tricky drive since Staten Island had (still has) very few working traffic lights.  Mom was shocked to see us and this Facebook posting kind of sums it up.

Post Hurricane with Momma Stella:

We surprised her last night when we were without power (as was most of Staten Island; no traffic lights).

MS: (upon seeing me first, then Ann Marie) What the hell are you doing here, you stupid bastid? There’s no li--Oh, Annie. Are you okay? Was he crazy driving over here? (at me) Why did you make her come? What’s wrong with you?

I love my Mommy!

We learned that one of Ann Marie’s sisters suffered a mild heart attack during the storm and was rushed to a Staten Island hospital. We drove to see her Wednesday afternoon. Again, there weren’t many traffic lights working, making the drive a bit dangerous. Susan (Ann Marie’s sister) had an angiogram Thursday morning. Her son Billy, the hardest working person I know (and I know a lot of hard working people), has been at her side throughout the situation.

Lines for gas form ... and nobody bothered to order restrictions ...

I was out early Thursday morning searching for an open gas station and couldn’t find any. My job was still without power as of 6:30 a.m. I check every few hours, but at this point I’d have to wait for a gas station before making the 42 mile trip (21 each way). As of Thursday night, I learned my job was still without power (Somerset, New Jersey).

The bottom line ...  We were spared big time. The people along the shores of New Jersey and Staten Island suffered unimaginable damage. Our hearts go out to them.

Storm Politics ... during the drive to Staten Island the other night, I bounced around the radio to hear what different people had to say about the storm. Predictably, the imbecile, Marc Levin, was trashing Chris Christie for kissing President Obama’s ass. As if what Christie should’ve done as Governor of the state hardest hit by the hurricane was piss on the guy who could help the most? The polemics are one huge turn-off. I turned the radio off, but later the same night on MSNBC, there was Rachel Maddow doing her thing, which is religiously taking down the GOP nominee (this time for staging a donation photo op). Let’s face it, both Obama and Chris Christie needed something from each other after this storm; one needed federal help, the other needed to look Presidential. I don’t doubt the concern of either man for the victims of the hurricane, but that staged lovefest was politics, pure and simple. We can evaluate their sincerity soon enough. Hopefully, the politics of the day will require genuine action for those who already have (and will be) paying the price for living close to the ocean for years to come.

The Long Fall ... this wonderful novel by one of my very favorite authors (literary and/or crime), Lynn Kostoff, is available in paperback through Tyrus Books. My brief review from way back in the day is here: The Long Fall was my Edgar winner choice on so many levels it was scary. Kostoff does some wonderful things with this story; brother vs. brother, brother and sister-in-law ... coveting both dry cleaning profits and the spouse ... it's a wonderful adventure for the reader from the start (a staged wild west shootout) to the novel's resolution (can't tell you that here). Just great writing and a wonderful story. This novel rocks.

Here’s an interview Lynn and I did with each other for Crime Culture a couple of years ago:

Richard Bausch ... so now that I’m finished with my critical essay and most of the rest of my MFA work, I’m reading for extra pleasure again. Thanksgiving Night is an incredibly funny, warm and poignant novel about a weird (to say the least) extended family and all the problems each of its members face navigating the crazy business of life. There are even “crazies” in this wonderful novel filled with subplots and some of the best dialogue one will ever read. I’m a huge Bausch fan since my first semester in the MFA program at SNHU when I was assigned a collection of his short stories (worth the price of admission to the program on its own). I haven’t stopped reading him since and have begun the rereading process ... because he’s that good.

Here’s the New York Times Review of Thanksgiving Night from 2006:


Talk about politics and scheming ... from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi ...

And then this bit of scheming (and because my daughter loves Cecilia Bartoli) ... some beautiful stuff, amici, especially with Renee Fleming ...