During October’s visitor onslaught, one of our guests came packing a cold. She passed it on to Donna, then her own daughter, then me, then another guest. The only one to escape was our granddaughter Taylor, whose visit coincided with the weekend Typhoid Mary was away on a side trip. Donna’s better now, as am I. Our other guest, now home in Florida, is busy coughing, blowing her nose, and infecting Tampa Bay. Vectors for plague, we humans.
This morning I put the Sudafed, Flonase, and Afrin back in the medicine cabinet, then put out the amoxicillin so I won’t forget to take it Monday morning before seeing the dentist about my sore tooth (taking antibiotics before medical and dental procedures is a must when you have an artificial joint).
A couple of days ago I employed my toothache as an election season metaphor. A hacking, snot-filled cold would have done just as well. Which brings me to the third and last debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Unlike seemingly everyone else, I wasn’t shocked when Trump refused to say he’d accept the results of the election. Remember the first Republican debate, when the moderator asked all 16 candidates to pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee? In case you forgot, Trump refused.
Nor was I shocked when Trump praised Putin and rejected the conclusion of 17 national intelligence agencies that the Russian government is trying to interfere in our presidential election. He’s been doing that all along, too.
Lately he’s taken to calling Hillary Clinton a criminal. That should shock me, but it doesn’t. What it does is dismay, because it telegraphs what Trump and his faction of the GOP will do when Hillary Clinton takes office.
Here’s part of what he said during the third debate:
So let me just give you one other thing. So I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people—tell you one other thing: she shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked—she’s—she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged, because she should never—Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.
No one challenged or questioned that statement. I understand why Hillary didn’t rise to the bait, but someone should have waved the bullshit flag. Sure, people who hate Clinton call her a criminal, but that doesn’t make her one. There’s been no charge, no trial, no conviction. On the contrary, her actions with regard to Benghazi, the deleted personal emails, and “so many other things” have been exhaustively investigated—by the press, by Congress, by the FBI—and no one has turned up anything criminal. The FBI, for goodness’ sake, actually exonerated her.
If you can get on the national stage and slander your rival as a criminal based only on malign wishes and rumors, then isn’t turnabout fair play? You wanna talk criminal, Trump’s facing a trial for raping a 13-year-old girl, and he’s in the middle of an actual trial for defrauding Trump University students. But his rival is taking the high road, letting Trump hang himself.
Trump may not be conventionally smart, but he’s cunning, and I’m beginning to see the strategy behind calling Clinton a criminal. Trump was a major player in the birther attacks on Obama, an important part of a GOP campaign to thwart a Democrat president. Because of birtherism, a significant number of citizens and elected officials never accepted Obama as a legitimate president. Trump is telegraphing the outlines of the campaign he’s going to lead against Clinton after she’s elected: call her fitness for office into constant question with charges of criminality.
Just as President Obama has, President Clinton will weather the storm. But what about you and me? How will America be affected by another four to eight years of insinuation, questioning, undermining, and obstruction at the highest levels of government? No wonder so many people lose themselves in West Wing reruns, a far more appealing reality than the one we actually live in.
“like many families, everyone wandered around like children in a funhouse—they could hardly see one another around the corners, and what they could see was completely distorted.”
– James Hannaham, “Delicious Foods”
Seems like everyone wants to talk about the most interesting character in the book: Scotty, the personified voice of Darlene’s best friend, crack cocaine. That’s understandable: Scotty’s the devil on Darlene’s shoulder, an engaging incubus (but one who never shuts up).
Scotty sets this novel apart, but what reverberates most strongly with me is the echo of “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel about the horrific conditions and exploitation of immigrant labor in the meat-packing industry.
Slavery never went away, even in the West, even in the USA, but there aren’t many contemporary novels about it. From sweat shops to prison gangs to sex trafficking to the forced agricultural labor described in “Delicious Foods,” slavery is all around us, preying on impoverished immigrants and minorities, rigged so that almost no one can ever lift themselves out of it. Importantly, the slavery described in Hannaham’s novel is based in fact. Indeed, I suspect the author’s main purpose was to write about forced agricultural labor. In an LA Times interview, he said this:
[These farms are] something that I feel like nobody knows about and everybody ought to know about: The fact that this sort of thing has been perpetrated in our modern era, that there are these people who will victimize people who are already being victimized, and spirit them away to these places and make them work for no money, and keep them on drugs the whole time.
Also note he didn’t name his novel “Darlene,” “Scotty,” or “The Boy with No Hands.” He named it “Delicious Foods,” and I’ll never eat another watermelon without thinking of it.
A lot of the novel is written in dialog, through the voices of Darlene, Eddie, and of course Scotty. Hannaham has an Elmore Leonard-like gift for this and it is not off-putting in the slightest. I have a congenital aversion to magical realism and there’s a trace of it here in the handlessness of Eddie, who manages to escape Delicious Foods in a car moments after both his hands are sawn off by a drunken crack addict with a circular saw, somehow managing not to bleed to death ten miles down the road but to make it all the way to Minnesota, somehow figuring out how to pay for and pump gas (and where did the money come from?), and I won’t even speculate how he managed to go to the bathroom or pull up his pants afterward, but never mind, Eddie makes it and even prospers.
If from this review you get the impression this truly awful tale of slavery and addiction and hopelessness is also funny, well, you’re reading me correctly. But it is humor at its blackest.
“Delicious Foods” is an unexpected surprise: important, moving, mordantly funny; in addition to “The Jungle,” I frequently thought of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.”
The Underground Railroad
It wasn’t hard to accept Whitehead’s conceit of the Underground Railroad as an actual subterranean network of tracks, trains, and secret depots, built and maintained by abolitionists to convey escaping slaves northward. Nor was it hard to accept Whitehead’s other ahistorical conceits: an antebellum South Carolina that harbors escaped slaves and attempts to educate them while at the same time sterilizing females and injecting males with syphilis; next door a North Carolina that has outlawed black slavery in favor of indentured servitude by Irish immigrants, in effect outlawing black people altogether; farther north an Indiana where black freemen and escaped slaves are briefly allowed to buy property and run businesses, then slaughtered for being successful.
Some of these things happened, though much later than the pre-Civil War setting of this novel; some were never more than the harebrained ideas of Back-to-Africa movement leaders … but together they paint important aspects of the slave experience in America, and surely that is a good thing for us to understand.*
The net effect of Whitehead’s wide-ranging excursions from actual history, though, is to make Cora, the slave at the center of his story, less a person than an allegorical figure. I never took her for more than a paper cutout, there to illustrate the horrors of slavery and the courage of the few who escaped it. So too the plantation owner; so too the bounty hunter; so too the various figures connected with the underground railroad.
There are many novels about slavery in America. Most of them are pretty damn good. This one is a little made-for-TV-ish, shallower than I expected, and I didn’t fully connect with it. Three that I heartily recommend are Lawrence Hill’s “The Book of Negroes” and M.T. Anderson’s “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party” and “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves.” Have you ever read the grandmother of them all, Harriette Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”? You really should, you know.
*The New Yorker, in its review of “The Underground Railroad,” points out that the actual network of abolitionists and sympathizers we commonly call the Underground Railroad did not exist in the southern slave states, only in the north, and that very few southern slaves actually did escape, with or without assistance from that network. Most of those who achieved freedom bought their way out of slavery and remained in the southern states. In the north, to America’s eternal shame, federal law treated escaped slaves as fugitives, and helping or harboring them was not only illegal but harshly punished.
I’ve been reading up on the air war in Vietnam. I flew USAF fighters for 24 years but never saw combat. It’s a hole in my experience. Ed Rasimus writes about flying they way I try to write about it, in a way that explains things simply to readers who don’t share a military or aviation background, yet is able to hold the attention of those who do.
This is Rasimus’ second memoir of the Vietnam air war. He served two 100-mission combat tours there, the first flying single-seat F-105s in the late 1960s, the second flying the two-seat F-4 in the last year of the war. This memoir covers the second tour; I’ll probably read the earlier memoir soon, since my own background is in single-seaters.
I was most impressed by Rasimus’ honest, straightforward approach to discussing about his marriage and sexual activities while away in Thailand. Most aviators turned writers are too prudish to cover this aspect of the fighter pilot life.
I was also impressed by how well Rasimus integrated the larger story of the Vietnam air war, the decision-making and strange restrictions imposed by political and military leadership, by writing about it as it affected the men he flew with. No polemics, no rants, but the kind of knowledge military pilots would have had to understand to do their job, because higher level decision-making had a direct impact on how Rasimus and his peers fought the war: fighter pilots and backseaters were the ones taking the war to the enemy in North Vietnam, and the effect of restrictions was immediate, severe, and often fatal.
Another Goodreads reviewer commented that anyone interested in pursuing a career as a military fighter pilot would get a lot out of this book. I think that’s a good point. Sure, much has changed. Then again, not much has changed at all. The lieutenants and captains who lived through Vietnam were the majors and lieutenant colonels running flight training and fighter squadrons in my day, and everything we did was based on what the USAF had learned in that war. That generation is living in retirement now, but when I myself retired in 1997 the USAF (and the fighter pilot business) was still modeled very much on the way we did things in Vietnam. Add lessons learned in Desert Storm and subsequent campaigns, and I bet it’s still much the same.
A very good read, and I’m looking forward to Rasimus’ earlier memoir.
This one’s sort of a science fiction mystery, centering around the simultaneous existence of many realities, each one branching off another, and a scientist’s attempt to find and return to his own reality and the people he loves, after his abduction by … well, one mustn’t give it all away.
I enjoyed the book, but I’m not absolutely raving about it. Some of the alternate realities were interesting and I wish Blake Crouch had spent more time exploring them. I thought the convergence of Jasons (you’ll have to read the novel to find out what that’s about) in the final section was interesting, but didn’t find it as mind-bending as other reviewers seem to have. In fact I thought the resolution a bit too easy, a bit too contrived.
It’s a very fast read, though you may find it dragging a bit toward the end. I did, but only because I sensed how the author was going to wrap it up and was impatient to find out if I was correct. I resisted flipping ahead, though. Most of the author’s themes have been explored in other works of science fiction, and in the end I didn’t think any new ground had been broken. I was entertained, not blown away.
Lauren Beukes, at least on this, our first encounter, reminds me of Mo Hayder.
Which is to say I’m very favorably impressed by the writing in “Broken Monsters.” As with Mo Hayder, Lauren Beukes’ characters are sympathetic and well-drawn; her villain twisted and grotesque, horrific almost beyond imagining. That leaves the plot, which teeters between believability and fantasy. Without getting into detail, “Broken Monsters” revolves around a Detroit detective, her teenaged daughter, and a cast of supporting characters swept up in a series of ritualized killings. The killer isn’t merely satanic, he’s under the control of a supernatural force, which is where the fantasy comes in.
Normally, when an author slips into fantasyland, I’m done, but Lauren Beukes was good enough to keep me flipping pages. That’s because her non-supernatural characters, everyday people going about their lives and jobs, were so realistic; because the detective and police procedural aspects of this novel were so convincing. That’s because the Detroit she depicts is the Detroit I remember. I was willing to swallow the supernatural bits and finished this thriller in almost record time.
Next for me: Lauren Beukes’ “Moxyland.”
This is the Carl Hiaasen I remember from early novels, having fun with improbable plots and eccentric but likable characters. He’s back in form after recent disappointments, which is to say if you fondly remember “Strip Tease” or “Native Tongue,” you’ll be more than pleased with “Razor Girl.”
As for this latest novel, what can be said? Florida Man and Florida Woman take on reality TV, con artists, and the Mob. It’s a hoot (see what I did there?).
Last Saturday I rode the motorcycle over to the Gregory School for the annual Tucson Classics Car Show. I go every year, making sure to get there before the day heats up and the crowds descend.
The Gregory School is one of Tucson’s prettiest campuses, a pleasant venue for an outdoor car show. It used to be the Saint Gregory School, a private Catholic college prep. I think that’s what it still is, which makes me wonder why the school dropped the “Saint” from its name. Maybe some day I’ll find out.
Most car shows these days feature muscle cars from the 60s and 70s. The St Gregory show (which is what I can’t help still calling it) has plenty of those, but it also attracts classics from the 1910s through the 1950s, the cars I’m most drawn to.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from Saturday’s show (click the thumbnails to see the originals on Flickr). I uploaded a total of 115 car show photos to Flickr, and you can see them all in my St Gregory Car Show 2016 album.
|BMW Isetta breech birth |
|Caddy w/wide stance |
|Jaguar XKE |
|Jaguar XK 140 |
|Cord, still a beauty
|1927 Pierce Arrow |
|Auburn 882 |
|Honda Scrambler |
|The sporting life
It’s been a couple of weeks. Our goddaughter Natasha and her five-year-old daughter Giorgianna have been here for several days, not counting side trips to northern Arizona and New Mexico. Donna took them to the airport this morning for their flight home to San Jose. Our granddaughter Taylor came down from Las Vegas last Friday and stayed for the weekend. Our friend Angela flew in the same day and is still here, but not for long: she flies back to Tampa tomorrow.
Donna drove Natasha and Giorgianna to Flagstaff and Sedona for a couple of days; later Natasha rented a car and took her daughter to the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. While they were away, Donna sewed with Taylor and Angie and I scouted trail for Sunday’s bicycle hash, which you can read about here. Sunday we rode: Angela and I as hares; Donna and Taylor part of pack chasing us.
Natasha and Giorgianna came back from New Mexico and extended their stay until this morning, going to the local zoo and the Sonora Desert Museum with Donna. Angie and I hooked up with a motorcycle buddy and rode down to Tombstone for some tourist action. This morning our daughter Polly appeared, to our happy surprise, catching up with Natasha and Angie (and us, of course). She may come by tonight with her architect boyfriend, whom we have yet to meet.
Well, I said it was going to be a photoblog, so I’d better get to it. Click on the images to see the original photos on Flickr:
|Natasha & Giorgianna in Sedona
|Giorgi’s couture by Donna
|Donna & Giorgi
|Taylor in hashing attire
|The pups love Taylor
|Giorgianna’s first frog kiss
|Here’s to the hares, they’re true blue
|Loaded up for the bike hash
|Big Nose Kate’s in Tombstone
|Angie’s first horse
Whew. The house is going to echo after Angie leaves, but at least our slutty dogs will start sleeping in our bed again.
I had an unusually vivid dream last night. I was part of an exiled group of people living under water in an ocean or maybe a lake. The tribe from which we’d been banished lived on land near the shore. We figured out a way to breathe air again and came up out of the water at suppertime to invade the homes of the land-dwellers, who ran away in the dark. I was the leader of the raiding party. As we pillaged the village a continuous buzzing sound began, slowly getting louder. We succumbed to confusion and began to forget what we were there for. I realized the land-dwellers were using some sort of weapon and tried to warn my fellows, but the buzzing interfered with my ability to speak. I was just able to grunt out “They av a way-pon wee mus figh.” I woke myself up, saying “Mus figh.” God knows what Donna must have thought.
I owe that one to Spongebob Squarepants. Our goddaughter Natasha is staying with us this week, along with Georgianna, her five-year-old. We added Spongebob and some other children’s programming to our streaming TV watchlist, and two nights ago watched an episode with her. In that episode, Spongebob tried living on land with a squirrel he’d befriended, quickly realizing air was not his medium.
A children’s cartoon gave me a bad dream. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I don’t think it’s anything good. With luck, Spongebob won’t be back to disturb my sleep. But once every year or two, I’ll wake up from one of three recurring nightmares.
The first one, or a variation of it, I think most of us have had: we wake up during finals week and with a sudden chill remember the three-credit class we signed up for but never attended.
The others are probably my own. For your sake I hope so.
In one I’m crawling through a cave in the dark, squeezing through vertical and horizontal passages, something I’d be terrified to do in real life. I can’t back out but can only go forward, deeper and deeper. I finally get to a horizontal layer which gradually opens up enough to allow me to stand, and find myself in a busy but sinister subterranean office, with, people, desks, and telephones.
In another the Air Force has asked me to fly the F-15 as some kind of senior adviser to an active squadron, but it’s been years since I’ve been in a cockpit and I have to check off a long list of squares before I can actually fly: get outfitted with a new flight suit, G-suit, harness, and helmet; go through ejection seat and parachute training; visit the altitude chamber and take a ride in the centrifuge; sit through hours of academics and pass tests; go through the instrument refresher course again. By the time I get all the squares filled some of the earlier training has already expired, so it’s back to the altitude chamber and centrifuge; then the jets get new radars and I have to take new courses … well, you get the idea: I never get to the damn airplane. It’s not really a nightmare, more of a frustration dream.
In the last, which is a little embarrassing to share, I’m in a huge house and need to go to the bathroom, but the only bathroom has multiple doors open to other rooms, all of which are full of people, many of whom are also looking for the bathroom. I try to close and lock all the doors, but every time I sit down on the toilet I realize there’s another open door and someone staring in at me. I wake up from that one terrified I’ve soiled the sheets, but (so far) that hasn’t happened. Now there’s an anxiety nightmare for you!
Click “like” if you think the presidential candidates should have to file forms listing their recurring nightmares. Clearly, the people have a need to know!
I enjoy alone time, but only in small doses. Natasha and her daughter Giorgianna, our houseguests, are away with Donna, seeing the sights in Flagstaff and Sedona. They left Sunday afternoon and will be home tonight. What do I get out of the deal? Three days and two nights of raising hell, which in my case translates to watching TV shows I like but Donna doesn’t, reheating leftovers, finishing a Carl Hiaasen novel. Oh, and not watching the news.
I’ve sworn off news for the duration, except for a quick review of Google News headlines in the morning. If what I see there is any indication of what they’re covering on network and cable TV, I chose wisely: I’ll still be relatively sane by election day. You I’m not so sure about.
Our refrigerator conked out. It’s 20 years old and probably fixable but Donna decided it’s time for a new one. She and Natasha went to Lowe’s, the only place still open at eight on a Saturday night, while I babysat Giorgianna. They came home with a small bar fridge. Donna wasn’t happy with the choices at Lowe’s, so she bought the bar fridge to tide us over for a few days. Only a fourth of our food fit inside, so I went to Safeway for ice, then brought in a big igloo cooler from the garage. That took care of the refrigerator contents, but not the frozen food. Donna bagged that up and took it to our friend Mary Anne, who had room in her freezer.
The next morning, when the girls had originally planned to drive to Flagstaff, they were instead visiting the few appliance stores open on Sunday. Donna called in the early afternoon to say she’d found a refrigerator she liked and that it will be delivered Thursday. They finally got on the road to Flagstaff at three and didn’t get there until after dark, but all is well now and they’re having a good time. Meanwhile, I’m eating takeout.
By the time our next round of visitors come on Friday—our granddaughter Taylor and our friend Angie from Tampa—our kitchen’ll be back in business with a new refrigerator. The little bar unit will find a home on the patio: I doubt it’ll get much use after this domestic emergency has passed.
Sunday morning, while the girls were hitting the appliance stores, I rode around Tucson on my bicycle, scouting trail for next Sunday’s hare & hounds event. I did it as a favor for two out-of-town friends, Angie and Theresa, who are flying in later this week to be the hares on Sunday. Knowing they wouldn’t have much time to figure out a trail, I mapped and scouted one for them, and it’s a good thing I did because Theresa had a family emergency and had to cancel her flight, and now I’m Angie’s co-hare. Here’s me after my Sunday morning ride. If my face looks chalky, that’s because it’s slathered with sunblock.
Schatzi’s just fine when she’s home alone with me. She’s never far away, as I write under the desk at my feet. Maxie, though, is the canine personification of loneliness when Donna’s away. She’s definitely my wife’s dog, just as Schatzi is mine. I think of Schatzi and Maxie as more than pets: they’re our familiars. The dictionary says a familiar is a supernatural spirit in animal form, attending and aiding a witch or wizard. Well, sure—another name for familiar is demon—but there must be benign familiars as well, attending and aiding regular people. Am I reading too much into the bond between people and pets? Probably, but it makes me happy to do so.
Well, I enjoyed my bachelor interlude, but like Maxie I’m ready for Donna to be home again.
Our bicycle Hash House Harriers club had a big ride Sunday. The next one is the 9th of October, two Sundays from now. Two friends, Theresa and Angie, founded the bike hash in October 2006, so the next ride (we call it a bash, which is also shorthand for the club itself) is our 10th anniversary bash. Neither founder lives in Tucson now, but they’re flying back for this event and will lay trail for the rest of us.
The pack at last Sunday’s bash in Tucson
Since I live here and have helped to keep the bash going over the years, I’m assisting with the setup, going out later this morning to scout possible trails and borrowing a bike for Angie to use. We have an extra bike, but it’s been claimed by our granddaughter Taylor, who’ll be here that weekend and wants to bash too.
Did I mention Angie and Taylor are both staying with us the weekend of the October bash? Oh, and also our goddaughter Natasha and her little girl Georgianna, although they’ll mostly be out of town on side trips to Sedona, Flagstaff, and Albuquerque. That’s October in southern Arizona for you: visitors arrive and license plates change colors.
Back to the bikes. On our last trip to Las Vegas we put our old hybrid bikes in the back of the truck and turned them over to Gregory and Beth. We’re down to three bicycles now: my mountain and my roadie, Donna’s roadie, and Polly’s roadie (which for now still hangs on a hook in our garage).
Last time Angie was here for a visit and a bash she rode Polly’s bike, which wasn’t shifting right. I took it to the bike shop earlier this week and had it adjusted, so it’s ready now for Taylor to use on the 9th. I thought about putting the seat down on my mountain bike for Angie to use, but my bikes have super-tall frames and even with the seats down wouldn’t be a good fit. Another friend came through with a bike for Angie to use and I’m going to pick it up this weekend. I just hope I don’t have to replace any tubes or tires.
I mentioned in an earlier post that Polly had checked in. She said she was coming by to fetch the rest of her things, including her bike. We asked her if we could keep it until the bash was over and our visitors gone. I think she said okay, and in any case she hasn’t shown up. If she does come between now and then, maybe Taylor will fit on my mountain bike with the seat down … she’s taller than Angie.
You must be pretty bored with bicycle news by now, but there’s one more story to tell, this time about the stationary bicycle at Anytime Fitness. The franchise I go to is owned by friends, and it has three stationary bikes: two recumbents and one upright. I like to spend 20-30 minutes on the upright, first thing when I go in the morning. For the longest time there was never any competition for it, but lately two or three other members, all guys, have started using it and sometimes they’re on it when I show up. Yeah, I can work out on the treadmill or other machines while I wait, but it upsets my routine, and one of those guys puts in an hour on the bike … it can be a very long wait. The other day he was on it when I got there, showing no signs of quitting anytime soon, so I got on one of the recumbent bikes. My knees hated it and my feet kept slipping out of the pedals, even with the straps tightened. There was no place to prop my Kindle. I hated it. So before I left that day I found a scrap of paper and left a note for Dave and Nancy, the owners: “Please get another upright exercise bike! Recumbents suck big time! Signed, your friend Paul.”