February 3rd, 2016
1. Stop procrastinating! I will tackle simple tasks with gusto, and not waste weeks (or even a month) with indecision.
2. I will stop waxing nostalgic for eras in which I ever lived (eg., the 1940s), or which never existed at all (eg., “Game of Thrones”).
3. I will politely pick up my shirt, pants and underwear from the floor when asked to by the restaurant management.
4. I will stop with the whining already.
5. I will stop shouting curses at other drivers in the cold weather, to prevent problems in warm weather when the car windows are down.
6. I will take time to smell the roses, taste the rainbow, live the dream, burn the bridges, and make the donuts. Not necessarily in that order.
7. I will decide on an answer to the question, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” and I will stick with it.
8. I will stop judging people based on superficial traits, except detached earlobes. Those bastards.
9. I will stop hoarding dynamite and admit to myself that I really don’t like to fish that much.
10. I will take everything to 10, even when the stream of thought has obviously run dry.
November 17th, 2015
Nobody was there last night to lick the dishes in the dishwasher.
Nobody was in the bedroom last night to trip over, or this morning to clean up after.
Nobody needed to get encouraged down the stairs last night before I went to bed, to walk outside for 50 feet, look confused and walk shakily back inside.
Nobody slept all day, making me tread lightly so he wouldn’t wake up and painfully stumble around the kitchen, looking to see if anything had changed in his world.
Nobody walked into the legs of the kitchen table, or peed on the carpet when he couldn’t remember to walk over to the back door and signal to go out.
But even at the end, nobody was a better, sweeter, more affectionate dog than Duffy. Rest in peace, old friend. I hope you catch what you were running after in your dreams.
June 2nd, 2015
YOU’RE INVITED TO KAYLEIGH’S MEASLES + BIRTHDAY PARTY
The happy day has finally arrived! Our little jewel Kayleigh will be turning SIX YEARS OLD this month and we will be throwing a big party this Saturday!
And, as luck would have it, she also has just contracted the measles right now (hence the rush to squeeze in a party this week), so all her friends who have not been vaccinated can come to share! Yay!
Little Kayleigh is still in her “princess phase,” so the theme of the party will be Kayleigh’s Kupcake Kastle. We’ll have lots of “royal” fun and games, starting at 2 o’clock. These will include “Cough-Cough-Goose,” “Lick the Mutton” “Germ Jousting”, and the Share Your Hankies relay. Forsooth, m’lords and ladies, twill be fun!
Then we’ll enjoy a magnificent feast, eating with our unwashed hands and quaffing from a big communal cup, just like kings and queens of old. Then everyone’s favorite: cake and ice cream, again in a great big bowl to share. (if your child has any dietary restrictions, please let us know.) The take-home goodie bags will include special virus lollipops and other surprise to make sure EVERYONE receive the gift of natural immunity.
(Of course, our children’s safety is our top concern, so we are strictly limiting partygoers to those children who have yet to contract measles, mumps or chicken pox. If you or your child has been to equatorial Africa in the past eight weeks, we’re sorry but please don’t come. We need to be responsible in our efforts to infect our precious ones. On the other hand, if you’ve subjected your child to vaccinations, giving in to pressure from Big Pharma-Medicine-Government-Science-Media-Conventional Wisdom-Grandparents, please disregard this invitation.)
Attached you will find a legal waiver that absolves our family, Kayleigh, and other attendees of liability in case your child contracts a disease OTHER THAN measles. We’ll do our best to make sure every child is exposed to the virus, but we cannot guarantee everyone will come down with the disease. Sorry! The Waiver was downloaded from MomsAreSmarterThanDoctors.com and, according to my neighbor who has taken internet classes in contract law, it is very fair for everyone.
So come and celebrate ye the Olden Tymes with us when children were strong and healthy. Please bring your signed waiver and join us Saturday for exciting games, yummy food and natural communal health. The fun will be infectious! (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
May 13th, 2015
Okay, this fine writer gets it. Gets the whole Top Town vibe.
I’ll also mention that I’ve known him for 35 years, went to high school with him, and lived with him for two years in college. None of which, I think, makes him an unreliable reviewer. Just a long string of coincidences, that’s all.
Richard Loranger is a poet currently in Oakland, but his impact is felt nationwide. He’s traveled internationally for his poetry — if you ever see his name on a performance bill near you, you need to go. He is a mesmerizing performer and mind-bending writer, author of numerous books, including Poems for Teeth and He Orange Boo. (All his publications can be found here.) He knows words, and makes ideas bend into pretzels. So when he says “ultimately James Finn Garner doesn’t mess around,” you’d best believe him.
Thanks, Richard. As we used to say in high school, you’re the tits.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a review of an unusual and thoroughly enjoyable book by James Finn Garner, Honk Honk, My Darling. It heralded a new genre that was destined to be born from the rubble of the Twentieth Century: Clown Noir. Stirring (not shaking) a fine blend of mid-century crime tales and circus fiction, Garner created the world of Top Town, a ghetto for washed up circus folk who eek a living with their big top skills in the fine city of Spaulding. The story focuses on Rex Koko, a once-famed clown who’s just about hit bottom, and whose luck only gets worse when he unwittingly witnesses a series of very suspicious and acrobatic deaths. Rex is eventually forced to solve the crimes, using his many grouchy and theatrical talents, before they get pinned on him. This book tickled me from start to finish, both with its wild world and its skillful and highly amusing patois of noir and circus speak.
So why am I bringing this up again? Because to my ludicrous delight, Garner has recently published not one but TWO sequels – Double Indignity and The Wet Nose of Danger – and each is better than the last. I’m going to give you three reasons to dive into this trilogy, assuming you have enough sense of humor to handle it. And that’s not one reason for each book, but all three for each. I ain’t foolin’ around here.
Three. These books contain scenes that you won’t find anywhere else. Sure, you’ve read books with car chases, but with tiny clown car chases? Unlikely. How about a snake charmer with a thing for size 42 feet? Ever imagined the chaos of a clown bar, where all the clowns are real? Or a clowndown, a full-on one-on-one competition of circus skills – to the death? And these are just a glimpse of the cornucopia of strange, and strangely convincing, scenes that run consistently through these tales.
Two. Koko’s world gets bigger and more detailed with each new book. One of the things I really liked about Honk Honk My Darling was how vividly the world of Top Town was painted. But as each story grows, so does Garner’s vision of it; not just that of Top Town and its abundant (and colorful) inhabitants, but as well its environs, the broader scape of Spaulding, and eventually the America and globe in which it plays. The trilogy is set in the mid-1940’s U.S., amidst the real struggles and issues of the times, and in those struggles dwells the circus subculture in all its bedraggled realism. But it’s not just a lifestyle culture here, it’s a real, born and bred, oppressed minority culture trying to make due in a non-circus power structure. Both in it’s own hijinks, and in intercourse with the “townies” and the world at large, the circus culture becomes more hilarious and poignant with every page.
One. The mysteries and the stories themselves are really very good. Because ultimately James Finn Garner doesn’t mess around. Sure, he’s having a spree of things with this bizarre admixture of styles, and the tone ranges from amusing to hilarious (even the grim scenes, however alarming, somehow tickle), but he’s also dirt-familiar with the trappings and tropes of good old fashioned noir, and doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to those. The who-(or what-)dunnits are many, and twisted, and dark, and should satisfy the cravings of any craven mysteryphile. At least, as I say, those with a sense of humor – and who says mystery readers don’t have one, or can’t have one about their beloved genre? I’m sure at least four or five must. Wait, what’s that snarling crowd pounding at my door?
Forgot there was a countdown, didn’t you?
Oh! And one more reason: the totally fun language-mash I spoke of never gets old. Through scene after scene, the rube-plus-flatfoot vibe stays fresh and vibrant, and the recombinations just keep on coming. Here’s a little taste from The Wet Nose of Danger, in a vignette featuring a fete at a certain slinky senator’s estate.
The first guests started to arrive, drifting onto the lawn like autumn leaves, only infinitely better dressed. This crowd had more upper crust than pie on a trampoline…. You know that old saying, money will never make you happy? That’s a lot of elephant wash. These flatties were having the time of their lives.
And that’s just a whiff of cotton candy in a whole circusful of redolence. (Yeah, I ain’t as good at this as Garner.) If you like that taste, you’ll find a bigger serving of it in my original review of Honk Honk My Darling. And if you get tripped up by any of the language, don’t worry, there’s a glossary at the end of each book. By the time you finish the trilogy, you’ll be fluent in Clown Noir yourself.
Oh oh! And one more one more reason: these books give yet more proof of what idiots the publishing industry are. Despite the fact that James Finn Garner is a much-published author, with three NYTimes bestsellers to his credit, he couldn’t find a publishing house that would touch these tales. They just couldn’t figure out how to package them – yet they get acclaim after acclaim. So I say, throw a great big pie in that publishing house face, and buy, buy, buy these books. Buy hundreds of them! You can get them both as paperbacks and e-books on Garner’s site and, if you must, on Amazon. You’ll be gum-on-the-shoe glad you did.
Step aside, James Ellroy – the Clown is back in town.
April 21st, 2015
Rick Kogan is probably my favorite journalist in Chicago. A wealth of information, a wry attitude, an engaging style, and always supportive of the goofy crap I try to make a living doing. He gave our baseball doggerel website a mention in his Sunday Tribune column last week, in anticipation of a baseball writing discussion at the Newberry Library. If you’d like to read the whole article, click on this sentence. Below is one of my quotes in the piece.
“We avoid cosmic highfalutin importance and stick with subjects like the previous night’s blown save or the price of beer. But we do doggerel, not poetry. We also post song parodies and videos. We are profound only by accident at Bardball. There’s enough stuffy bloviage written about baseball already.”
November 14th, 2014
Hey all you kinkers and flatties out there!
I’m trying to gin up a little flash for Double Indignity in the weeks before Christmas. So I’m going to wade into the waters of a book giveaway, like all the experts tell me.
So if you’ve been waiting for the chance to get a signed copy of Rex Koko, Private Clown #2, as well as a signed poster and who knows what else I’ll throw into the envelope, click on the button below, or head over to Goodreads and look for it in the Giveaway listings before December 10.
November 5th, 2014
One of the best parts of my author chat at the Beverly Arts Center on October 19 was meeting my host, Penny Bigelow Golden, and her 8-year-old daughter, Flannery. A stylish scamp, sporting a fedora and a tartan skirt that day, she has told her mother time and again that she will grow up to be a famous French artist. Judging by her depiction of Rex Koko below, she may just make that prediction come true.
And she signed her note that came with the art “Your friend”. That’s cool by me, Flannery.
October 30th, 2014
Eric Hosmer’s modified mullet
MadBum casually firing bullets
Superfans from South Korea
The panicked look on Kelvin Herrera
Phantom sighting of the Freak
Plugging Aoki’s defensive leak
Peavy shelled like the Hellespont
Escobar laying down a bunt???
Joe Buck opining from his tuchus
Of redoubtable Mike Moustakas
Gordon’s single to the wall
What the hell is Ned Yost thinking?
I’ll have whatever Pence is drinking
Crawford gobbles up ground balls
Bochy weeps, and Affeldt bawls
Young Joe Panik, Dyson, Cain…
Can we please do it all again?
October 23rd, 2014
KC fans are crying like their fountain
That James Shields
A smorgasbord yields?
A surprise (save Joe Buck) to no one.
The Giant hill ace
Has a fall ERA
So small as to be microscopic
While it’s time for “Big Game”
To drop the nickname
And meetings for that MLB biopic.
October 14th, 2014
Don’t be glum
Don’t ask why
Albuquerque’s just a 6th inning guy
Don’t you fret
Don’t you worry
After the 7th, we’ll turn to Soria
Don’t lose hope
Just have faith — when
It’s down to one inning, we’ll bring in Nathan
No matter where
Or what or when,
I’m skipper, and would do it all again.
October 11th, 2014
After a spring and summer of scrivening in the salt mines — how’s that for alliteration? — it was more than high time for a book release event. What good is writing a couple of books of clown noir if I can’t bring a little bit of circus excitement to my fans and readers? Is the writing life all practice and no spectacle? Emphatically NO!
Last July, I had just published Double Indignity and was busy working to finish The Wet Nose of Danger. I went to talk with Suzy Takacz, who owns my neighborhood store, the Book Cellar, about doing an event in the fall. She was interested.
“What do you think about having a couple of fire-eaters in the store?” I asked, just trying to get her attention.
Suzy thought about it. And thought and thought and thought, with the usual sparkle in her eye. (I think she had seen one too many boring, unattended signings where the writer droned on and on about his/her process.) Finally, she had to say no. Not because she was worried about torching her store, or filling it with chemical smells, or disrupting business. She said no because there are tenants living above the store, and she wouldn’t want to displace them if anything happened.
Lucky for me, The Book Cellar is across a quiet street from a city plaza, big enough to be useful for whatever I was thinking. I went through the city and the alderman’s office, as well as the chamber of commerce, to make sure everything would be ducky. The only warning I got came from the alderman’s office. “I’m going to have some music and circus acts,” I said. “Terrific,” spokesperson pol said, “just don’t do anything like fire-eaters or something.” “No worries,” I assured him.
With gypsy music from the fabulous Paprikash Brothers!
It was a beautiful night, and a good-sized crowd gathered for the ballyhoo.
Then we all marched across Lincoln Avenue, into the store for the reading. After being introduced by Suzy T, I read a passage from Double Indignity, the teeny car chase scene from Chapter 22.
Next it was time for a little vocabulary quiz, to see who was up on their circus “parlari”. I was frankly surprised that no one got the first question (a woman with an unnatural lust for clowns is, of course, a “joey jumper”), but most of the audience was fairly literate. I tossed out popcorn balls for prizes to the winners.
Then the audience asked me some questions about my writing process. A friend asked, “Where do you think these insane characters come from?” I gave her some long-winded answer — that some come to mind from a story of circus lore, some are inspired by an old photo, some are born of plot necessity — when really the only true response is, “If I knew, don’t you think I’d have taken care of it by now?”
Next, I read a rather lurid section from The Wet Nose of Danger, involving a “joey jumper” and Rex at a high-society fundraiser. “She had more arms than a spider-woman, and the sex drive of a hippo after Happy Hour.” Then, it was time for the signing, and the crowd didn’t disappoint. I also gave away a lot of free posters.
One of the best surprises of the evening was an old geezer sitting in the front row. During the signing, he came up balanced on his cane and introduced himself. He could’ve been 60 and he could’ve been 80, but he told me that since the age of 18, he had worked backstage with the big cats for the Cole Brothers Circus! He had retired about 10 years ago, but he said he had all the scars he needed to prove he’d been with the show.
“It was all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “The cats were just like housecats, with their routines and their need for attention, and their litter box. I’d never train monkeys. Monkeys were vicious, unpredictable. Big cats were always marvelous.”
I’m pretty certain he lives in my neighborhood, because he was pulling around a shopping cart from the local sausage shop. I apologized to him in advance for anything I might have gotten wrong in my story, but said all I was going for was entertainment. I’ve met a few other kinkers like this before. Circus people and veterans are out there among us. You never know when you’re going to meet one!
All in all, it was a spectacular night! One for the record books! A fitting launch for the latest and strangest “Rex Koko, Private Clown” caper!
(For more pictures of the evening, please check out the photo album I’ve created on Facebook.)
October 7th, 2014
Tygers, Tygers, slinking low,
Humbled by the sailing O’s,
What makeup will yours be now
If Max and V-Mart take their bows?
We scarce knew you through this year
with superstars bought so dear.
With Triple Crowns and Cy Youngs
The faithful still bit their tongues.
What staff ace learns yet in May
He must recast how to play?
Which outfielder is there that
Can deftly wield both glove ‘n bat?
What cast of manager says,
“Pinch hit? Call Hernan Perez!”
And what manner of bullpen
Features Joba Chamberlain????
Tygers, Tygers, slinking low,
All these questions we would know,
Plus the reason for the fact
Ausmus has a long contract.
September 4th, 2014
Today, at BARDBALL, with apologies to William Carlos Williams:
We have traded
who was clogging
to the A’s
in a pennant race
for a bag
he was ridiculous
and so old
August 4th, 2014
Today, at BARDBALL:
Scherzer, Sanchez, Price and Verlander
An A-Team from Mr. I for all Michiganders
Sanchez, Scherzer, Verlander and Price
Dombrowski bets big with each roll of the dice
Verlander, Price, Scherzer, Sanchez
A squad made in heaven, so everyone says
Price, Sanchez, Verlander and Scherzer
Beef up the starters, the pen can’t get worser
Lester, Samardzija, Gray and Kazmir
Give the green-and-gold faithful reason to cheer
Samardzija, Gray, Kazmir and Lester
The A’s try not to let past losses fester
Kazmir, Lester, Samardzija and Gray
A huge power shift to the east in the Bay
Gray, Kazmir, Lester, Samardzija
Giving the rest of the AL neuralgia
It’s “win and win now”
They’re swinging their willies
And trying to ignore
The Phate of the Phillies.
July 8th, 2014
Today, at BARDBALL:
Teams have shown over and over
(At least those who ain’t dozing)
If you want to play in October
@#$%!!! Always be closing!
Swing for the fences? Go ahead, then.
Make your double plays — great for posing
If you want to stand among men, friend,
@#$%!!! Always be closing!
Put that coffee down!
Coffee is for closers only!
It takes brass balls to win
Which you ain’t got, not remotely!
Second place is a set of steak knives.
Third place? Your job’s decomposing.
You think you deserve the hot leads?
@#$%! you! Always be closing!!
June 5th, 2014
Today at BARDBALL, an ode to an old baseball lifer.
When I think of him
Looks like chaw and tar
And a grand har-har
To those squares
Who don’t care
And giving your all
For what you love.
And when push comes to shove,
Had Martinez been 70,
Zim would’ve pounded him plenty.
You’re our kind of guy.
May 28th, 2014
I’ve been too busy with speeches and the latest Rex Koko novel (COMING VERY SOON!) to come over here to the blog and talk about the latest in baseball doggerel. For those of you who miss it, here’s my latest piece of hackery from over there, about Derek Jeter’s farewell tour.
Remember, if you like your baseball poetry fast, loose and unsentimental, check out Bardball daily during the season, and tell your friends about it.
The Captain’s Yard Sale
A dining set of broken bats
A navy pinstripe yoga mat
A year’s supply of Genny Cream
A keg signed by the vending team
A “2″ carved out of northern granite
A solar-cell vibrating hammock
A zircon-slathered Yankee topper
A 2,000-gallon popcorn popper
Another ugly pair of boots
A vid lip-synching with the Roots
“2s” in crystal, onyx, steel,
Beer cans, tree trunks and fresh veal
A wondrous Joe-Girardi-shaped ‘tater
A Japanese robot fellater
It’s not a hoarder’s dream or last mirage –
Just what’s stuffed in Jeet’s garage.
May 22nd, 2014
Think political correctness is dead? Think again, pally. There’s been lots of news to take apart and make fun of, both on the left and the right. (Remember, extremism and identity politics is an equal opportunity befuddler now.)
So last week, I traveled up to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to talk to the nice people at Grand Forum, which is a speakers series run throughout the year at the GR campus of Grand Valley State University. More than a hundred folks spent part of their morning, listening to me carp and mock and jape and chaff. It was a great time, with both the speech and the Q&A afterward. AND folks bought a lot of books, both PCBS and Honk Honk, My Darling, which is a great way to win the heart of a writer, in case you had any question about that.
This appearance was especially enjoyable because I have a lot of family up in the area. So, my in-laws, my aunt, cousins, my niece and nephew and his girlfriend were all there, as well as an old college friend that I’ve reconnected with (and who has been a huge promoter and beta reader of Rex Koko). They remarked that it was interesting to see me up their in my “public” persona. In other words, shaved and wearing pants.
The funniest part of the morning was all the self-effacing West Michiganders who kept asking me, incredulously, “And you drove all the way up from Chicago for us?” Yes, I really did. Lake Wobegon has got nothing on these folks. Thanks again for having me up there, Grand Forum.
May 1st, 2014
Last month, I had the distinct pleasure to head down to Indiana to visit Culver Academy. The writing center at this private secondary school was having its annual Excellence in Writing Awards, and they asked me to come down and give a few words for the occasion. Don’t think I wasn’t a little intimidated at the prospect — they gave out awards for, among others, best original composition in Chinese and Latin and best mathematical writing. The students, like all teenagers, tried to be flip about the significance of the event, like “I write in Latin every day, but usually not in verse like this.” But somewhere down inside they were proud, and they had every reason to be.
The next day, I conducted writing workshops with the Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors — around 175 all told. I was a little nervous to start, but each class ended up being a rousing time. In our short periods together, I wanted to give the students some pointers on making their writing more vivid and precise. We started out talking about warm-up exercises, then did some “quick writing” to show the importance of lively, precise verbs and vivid sensory information. I also included a few lessons from improvisational acting to give them hints to goose their writing along when things get bogged down. By the end of each class, I had the enviable problem of getting them to leave off their editing and let me give some closing remarks and helpful resources. Other teachers out there might doubt this, but my hand to Strunk & White, I swear it’s true.
And these weren’t just students interested in writing, mind you. There were all the kids from the Humanities classes, so a lot of them were probably expecting a blow-off class. It was very gratifying to deprive them of that.
I met students from all over the country and around the world, and they were attentive, articulate and just downright cool. They were all a pleasure to be around. A couple even gave me some of their personal writing to look over when I got back. I hope they enjoyed their time with me as much as I did with them.
Below are some pictures of their beautiful campus. Also, here’s a write-up of the workshop from the Culver Newsletter.
April 10th, 2014
Born on Tuesday
Homered off Seaver Wednesday
Traded on Thursday
Saved the flag Friday
Broke Canada’s heart Saturday
Retired on Sunday
And that’s why people still talk about Rick Monday.