Monday, April 30, 2012

Trapped by the Desperation Between How It Is and How It Ought To Be

It started out innocently enough. I just wanted to hit Half Price Books on my way home from the old juke joint to check and see if they had any copies of We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. I should just add it either to my hold queue or to the My List feature at the library, but it’s always possible that I’ll roll into Half Price Books one day and find a whole stack of them in the clearance section, going for a buck a pop. The clearance magazine section is always worth checking too, even if the meager-to-begin-with selection of clearance literary magazines has now dwindled down to practically nothing. (And you never know when you might find a National Geographic with an excellent map still inside it.)

But then I got to leave early (this past Saturday night), so I decided to roll into Barnes & Noble, too. Their selection of literary magazines was, as usual, underwhelming and disappointing; but I also made it a point to finally find their poetry books. For whatever reason, they had relocated poetry, from the high wall near the newsstand and perpendicular to the science fiction section, to somewhere else in the store; but my past efforts to locate that new section had always been unsuccessful. I thought I had checked every bit of the store each of those times, but I must not have done. Last night, I found the poetry tucked away on the outer wall of the children’s section.

And then I turned around and saw the philosophy section. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but sometimes, when I randomly pass by the philosophy section in a bookstore (which is actually possible, odd though it may sound), I’ll check to see which titles from the Pop Culture and Philosophy series they have in stock. Two titles caught my eye at Barnes & Noble on Saturday night—The Big Bang Theory and Philosophy and Green Lantern and Philosophy, though at $17.95, I was not about to actually buy either one. I did, however, make a mental note to check the library’s website when I got home, to see if they had either one. I also made a mental note to check the website for the series, to see what other titles had been added recently and which ones might be coming down the pipeline.

Half Price Books did not have any copies of We Need to Talk About Kevin, of course. Novels at the height of their popularity are not often to be found at Half Price Books if one shows up only randomly. There were all of two literary magazines in the magazine clearance section, and those were tucked into some slot for a different kind of magazine, the one specifically for literary magazines having some time ago been repurposed for something far less interesting. So, as is almost always the case when I go searching for these things in a post-Borders world, I went home empty-handed and underwhelmed—though at least a little bit excited about the possibility of getting The Big Bang Theory and Philosophy, and maybe the Green Lantern one too, from the library.

Except that the library did not have it. They have Green Lantern and Philosophy, a single copy of which is checked in at Central...but not the Big Bang Theory one. I can always fall back on the old standby of suggesting it for purchase, but that takes a really long time. What will probably happen in the meantime is that I will just forget about it. I still have a gigantic stack of library books waiting to be read here in my aboveground lair, so it’s not like I would have jumped right into it if the library had had a copy that I had been able to get my hands on right away.

But I did manage to remember my mental note to check the website of the Pop Culture and Philosophy series when I got home...and would you believe what I found? At #57 on the list, published last year...Rush and Philosophy. The Barnes & Noble website thinks they have found the book in stock up in Carmel, though that’s the only relatively nearby store that has it. Amazon’s price is $13.29 which is, amusingly, $6.66 off of the list price. Shipping would cancel out most of that savings—but would also save me a trip to Hamilton County, and so in the end is probably a push.

However, it also gets me back to the problem of buying things from Amazon and giving in to instant gratification rather than taking the road less traveled by and getting the damn thing from an actual bookstore where people who know things about books and literature toil (probably thanklessly) in an effort to maintain some semblance of an outpost of soul in this fading republic. Or I could just forget about it and suggest it for purchase by the library, too; and that would keep my books purchased total at one for the year, which is also good.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Deep Thoughts #78

As an adjunct to the previous post, could there be any valid reason for a person like me to own six Bibles? No, of course not. And yet I do.

Not Buying Books in 2012

I had been going along so well with not buying books this year that it did not even occur to me until I got home from work on Tuesday night with the new Stephen King book tucked under my arm that I had in fact bought my first real book of 2012. (And by “real book” I mean a book and not a literary magazine, even though literary magazines take up space on bookshelves just like books do, except not quite as much.) I had set myself the goal of reading one book from my shelves (with the idea of then putting it in the pile to go to Half Price Books at the end of the year), one library book (to reduce the stack of them that seems always to be metastasizing insidiously next to my reading chair), and one literary magazine, each month this year—a goal that I seem to have pretty well in hand at this point.

I had finished all three of the things I set myself to read for April by the 15th; and now I am about 150 pages into the book from my shelves for May (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom) and have nearly finished the library book for May, a little pocket guide to the iPad 2 that I had hoped might be useful since Amy now has one of those gadgets. I even allowed myself a bonus book, yet another re-reading of what might be my favorite Bret Easton Ellis novel, The Rules of Attraction. The new Stephen King book, an eighth Dark Tower novel, will be a second bonus book after I finish the Ellis.

I even have a small stack of books from my shelves that are ready to be read and put in the discard pile, enough to get me through August if I stay on pace. The stack of library books is another story, though; at one book per month, it would take me almost two years to get through that stack. I may wind up changing the plan if I can convince myself that there’s no way I’ll wind up bringing in more books than I send out. That has been the goal for the books on my shelves over the last couple of years, but those damned Borders liquidation sales last year (and a hefty new Stephen King book) made the total for 2011 pretty much of a push.

The literary magazines will continue to stack up, but that doesn’t really bother me. Buying literary magazines serves a number of purposes, including supporting the creation of new literature, which is important to me. That’s voting with your dollars in a much larger sense than throwing down for a book. (And yes, I understand that buying an author’s book supports that author; but buying a literary magazine supports lots of authors, and there is almost always something interesting in each one. If you buy a stinker of a novel, you’re stuck with a stinker of a novel. When I read about novels that sound interesting, I check the library; and many times, I find that the library does not have a copy of the novel in its collection. At that point, I head over to the Suggest for Purchase link and fill out the form. So far, the library has added thirteen books to its collections because of purchase suggestions that I have made. That’s at least as good as if I went out and bought those books for myself, with the added bonus that maybe other people will check them out and then buy copies for themselves or as gifts for other people.)

Eventually I am going to thin the ranks of this mini-library I have accumulated in my aboveground lair. I have spent a lot of money over the years on books that I thought might be helpful when I finally became a Writer, books that I would take notes in and then come back to for research purposes when I needed to know something about British royalty, or wine, or the LBJ tapes, or the impeachment trial of President Clinton—or whatever. Becoming a Writer, however, has not come to pass in quite the way that I had hoped; and it also turns out that the magic internets are pretty good for that kind of research—as are public libraries. (Indianapolis has one of the finest public library systems in the country.)

And so the books that I choose to keep on my shelves need to be ones that I love, ones that I go back to over and over again, ones that inspire me to write often and to write well. Those are the keepers. The rest are just taking up space—hopefully not for too much longer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

WTHR Channel 13 and the Problem of Context

Funny that WTHR Channel 13 is running ads for the latest bit of “investigative journalism” by Bob Segall, concerning the possibility that “illegal” immigrants are getting huge tax refunds. I thought the right-wing argument was that undocumented people weren’t paying taxes in the first place—that they were just leaching resources away from the people who are here legally, without giving anything back to the system? Hell, what about the argument that they’re even undocumented to begin with? You have to have at least some documents in order to file a tax return, and you also have to have paid money into the system, in the form of payroll taxes, to get something back in the form of a refund.

Oh, wait. Hang on. You mean there’s some kind of loophole in the tax code? Like the kind of loophole that lets someone like Mitt Romney pay an effective tax rate of 15.4%? That kind of loophole? That’s okay? Loopholes that work in favor of right-wing people (or whatever the fuck kind of spineless yes massa Mitt Romney is) are okay, but the ones that work for other people aren’t?

And who helped the illegal immigrants figure out the loopholes so they could file their returns and get all of this unearned money back? You don’t really expect me to believe that these people are going home at night and poring over the tax code, figuring out ways to cheat us gringos out of our money, do you? Then again, maybe you do expect me to believe that. The whole fucking tribe of you are brain-dead rednecks. You probably think that everyone also believes that the babies women have after they get impregnated by their rapists are “gifts from God.”

But back to this stupid tax loophole shit. Who helped the “illegal” immigrants get their documents together and file the tax returns so they could get back all this money that they don’t have any right to? As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m pretty liberal—but am I really supposed to believe that this whole thing is being pulled off by people who are in this country illegally? That a group composed solely of “illegal” immigrants is defrauding the Internal Revenue Service, to the tune of billions of dollars?

Male bovine fecal matter. And if it’s not true that it’s solely “illegal” immigrants pulling this off, then why put the onus solely on them? (Probably because this is Indiana, and most of the people in this backward state believe anything they’re told, even when it’s patently false. How many of you monkeys still think President Obama isn’t an American?) But I am actually sort of curious to see how much context they will put into the story when it airs, this Thursday, April 26, 2012. I won’t be holding my breath. Just about all the right-wing arguments that demonize undocumented people are rooted in fear and racism and have absolutely no merit whatsoever (which is pretty much the stock in trade of all right-wing policy and thought). The other thing about this that pisses me off is the timing of it. If this is such a massive problem, and is costing taxpayers so much money, why is it just now coming to light? Or, more to the point, why is it coming to light specifically on Thursday, April 26, 2012?

Because that’s the start of the May television ratings sweeps. I strongly doubt whether the story has any real merit to it, but I have absolutely no doubt that it’s being shit out of WTHR’s asshole at the exact time it is so that they can boost their ratings, and thereby squeeze more money out of their advertisers. In fact, that’s the only time I ever hear Bob Segall’s name—his “investigative” reports always hit the air around ratings time. Every. Single. Time. That should raise some concern about his credibility, but I’m sure nobody else cares. This is Indiana.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why Conservatives Suck (#3)

I was assigned to the woods. The director pulled me aside and explained the critical nature of my job. Once inside the perimeter of the woods, I was to establish a zone of fifteen to thirty feet from the edge of the tree line. That was where the operation would begin; this was all about security...the security of our sacred land. Once the zone was established, other members of our elite protection squad would deliver and deploy the raw material to cover the trail that the illegals had been using to gain entry. We worked for a good part of the morning, and once we had the trail pretty well covered, the director came back to me and asked me how I would get in now that we had covered up the trail. If I was the one trying to gain entry illegally, he asked, how would I do it? I looked left and right, as far as I could see, and I told him truthfully that any determined person was going to be able to get in no matter what we did. We would run out of raw material for covering the trails before the illegals ran out of ways to get in. He nodded and allowed that that was true...but then he raised his head, looked me right in the eye, and told me that we should at least do our best to make it a little harder for them to get in. That lifted my spirits. I felt a sudden surge of pride for what we were protecting. I rallied my team and we worked even harder, spreading out to the left and right, laying down all the raw material we could find, so that no one would get in through this area. Not on our watch.

I swear to Darwin that’s a true story, yo. I embellished it a little bit, ‘cause that’s what I do; but I swear to you that’s what I spent about two hours doing Saturday morning at Eagle Creek Park. It was part of some kind of community service thing that Amy and some of her students were doing for school. She managed to rope me into asking off for the whole day for it (knowing subconsciously, I’m sure, that she would ensure that by doing so I would miss Record Store Day for the second year in a row), and so I was up at the unholy hour of seven o’clock this morning, debating about whether or not I should take a shower or crawl back under the covers for ten more minutes. I literally cannot recall the last time I was doing anything other than sleeping soundly at seven o’clock in the morning.

Because it was a thing for her school, it wasn’t something we could just go do; we had to go down to the school, collect the kids, get the little mini-buses ready, then drive up to Eagle Creek, unload the buses, count all the kids (again), and get our instructions from the park volunteers. Once we got to work, though, our task was, in fact, to block off an illegal trail that people had been using to get into the park for free. The raw material came from leaves that were raked up along the fence around the beach. Some people raked, some people bagged, and some people trucked the bagged leaves in wheelbarrows into the woods, where I gave them instructions on where to dump the bags, so that the trail could be covered up as effectively as possible. By the time they had all the leaves raked up from around the fence, we had managed to create a barrier that was 3-4 feet high and about 30 feet long.

But anyone determined enough to avoid paying the $5 that it costs to get into Eagle Creek could still easily find their way into the park for free if they had been using an unauthorized trail that suddenly brought them up to our barrier of leaves and sticks. It wouldn’t even take much in the way of creative thinking to get around the barrier. All you have to do is follow the barrier laterally until it comes to an end, and then there you are. I wasn’t really sure what the point was, since what we were doing would not keep anyone from getting into the park illegally, if that was what they really wanted to do. At some point while we were working, one of the students asked me what we were supposed to be doing with all of the leaves and sticks. I told her what the park’s maintenance director had told me when we started working—that we were trying to cover up a trail that people were using to get into the park illegally.

But then the word “illegally” stuck in my throat, even though the vast majority of the students that my wife teaches are refugees from Burma, not illegal immigrants from somewhere south of the border between the United States and Mexico. I imagine that they get looks from people, especially because most of them live on the south side, a part of Indianapolis that will never ever be mistaken for cosmopolitan. (“Allow me to introduce a pair of fellow sophisticates—Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion.”) They are not in the United States illegally, and they might not understand the concept of being in the country illegally in the same way that Latinos understand it; but I would think that they have some notion of what it feels like to be looked at differently, and perhaps to be treated differently, because of their skin color and their unusual accents.

Once I had thought about that, I have to say that I was a little bit uncomfortable trying to explain to these kids that what we were doing was basically trying to keep a certain group of people out of the park—even if there is a fairly huge difference between trying to exclude people who are too cheap to pay five bucks to get into the park and trying to keep people from one country from entering a different country without the proper documentation. I wonder if a conservative would understand that difference, though. Conservatives see things in mostly black and white, and when you boil it down, the principle of the two things is very similar. I bet a conservative might even argue, using whatever passes for logic in their muddled heads, that keeping freeloaders out of the park is the micro version of the macro issue of keeping undocumented people out of the United States.

Except that you don’t need a passport to get into Eagle Creek—or to get into any other city park! There is no barrier to entry other than the $5 gate fee. You need a passport, or a work visa, or some other kind of documentation to get into the United States, and those things take time and money to procure—time and money that someone who’s starving to death just might not be able to afford when the only thing on his mind is where he’s going to get his next meal and if he’s ever going to see his family again. I wonder how easy it would be to explain that concept to someone who thinks that Earth is only a few thousand years old. It might not be much different than trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t understand English very well.

I’m willing to concede that, for people whose homes are in close proximity to the border, a seemingly never-ending flood of immigrants might not be a welcome scenario. I’m about as liberal as it gets, but I wouldn’t want people tromping through my backyard in the middle of the night—I don’t give a damn what their reason is. The problem is, those aren’t the only people making a stink about this. (There are also better ways to deal with it than how it's being dealt with now, with mercenary "Border Patrol" poseurs walking the beat with loaded guns. But whatever. The fake Christians in this country love them some loaded guns—probably white sheets and hoods, too; and the way that you know they're fake Christians is by the selective application of their so-called Christian charity, which is usually reserved for people whose skin color matches their own.) When you have bumper stickers that say “Hoosiers Support Arizona,” things have gotten out of hand—because that’s just fucking racist. What we need to do is round up these Arizona-supporting donkeys and beat the shit out of them with copies of Robert Frost books.

But then we’d just have to explain that part to them, too...after we explain what a poem is.

“To put up a fence to keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in.
If God was here he’d tell it to your face—Man, you’re some kind of sinner.”
—Five Man Electrical Band, “Signs”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Deep Thoughts Explained

When I first had the idea for the Deep Thoughts posts, I thought it would be cool to mine movie lines and poems and song lyrics, things of that nature, for sections that both made sense and fit the constraints of the Deep Thoughts scheme. That wasn’t what wound up happening, of course; but it occurred to me, while I was working on this one, that I never precisely explained the scheme behind the Deep Thoughts posts. I made a passing reference to the idea in the first Deep Thoughts post, but I never went back and laid it all out at any point after that. I just kept posting them, and that was around the time that people stopped commenting, so I never made it much of a priority to go back and explain it once I had gotten started.

With this last post, however, I have sallied forth into the gloomy fens of copyright, and ought probably to disclaim the words set forth therein as mine own. (Oy. I started reading a book about Shakespeare, by Harold Bloom, the other night. It’s eight or nine hundred pages long. I hope that’s not a glimpse of things to come.) The Deep Thoughts posts are, for the most part, exercises; and they adhere to a few simple rules.

The first rule is that they are comprised of complete sentences. The second is that they do not use numerals or single letters to truncate actual words in order to save space. There can be a species of cleverness to that, but I am not about to mine the daily output of tweets for the handful of needles there might be in that Everest of a haystack. The third rule, which is the most critical—the only one I won’t bend—is that they all contain exactly 140 characters. I don’t know if there’s any official way to verify that or not, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. You should be able to cut and paste the text of the Deep Thought from your browser into the word processing program of your choice and then use the word count feature to verify the number of characters.

I am given to understand that Twitter has a limit of 140 characters per tweet. I don’t know how they arrived at that number, and I don’t know whether or not it’s challenging to compose actual tweets that stay within that limit. It is, however, fairly challenging to compose a fake tweet that is exactly 140 characters—and adheres to the complete sentence and complete word rules. I have abandoned many a fake tweet because I simply could not get the whole thought down without going beyond 140 characters.

I also don’t know how many of my fake tweets would fail to make the cut as real tweets because of the links I have included. I know they have those micro-URLs, or whatever, but even those take up more space than a link that you include by way of editing the HTML code from within Blogger. I don’t know if you can edit code from within Twitter or not, although I sort of suspect that the existence of micro-URLs means that you cannot.

The titles, of course, come from the Saturday Night Live bit from way back in the day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Deep Thoughts #77

The magic internets are so magical, that if you look hard enough when you’re least expecting it, you can find yourself. Friday, I’m in love.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Groove Coffee House

When I started planning a small trip to the Newport Aquarium for the three of us, I made sure to look for indie coffee shops in the Covington/Newport area of northern Kentucky. The area has had a nouveau-hip thing going on for a long time (especially in Covington), but we haven’t been down there in years, so I wasn’t entirely sure of the lay of the land. I was prepared to pay for coffee from Starbucks for only the fifth time since I swore off Starbucks on Labor Day, 2008. (Yes, I swore off paying for coffee from Starbucks for good, which is distinct from drinking the stuff gratis at the old juke joint; and yes, I am counting the relapses.*) As luck would have it, though, a simple Google search turned up a place called Groove Coffee House in Covington; and the map showed it to be pretty close to the hotel we would be staying at.

As helpful as Google Maps can be, though, it ain’t the same as being on the ground in a new place. However, it turns out that Covington and Newport are eminently walkable, especially the stretch of Main Street in Covington that contains Groove Coffee House. We also walked a good part of the actual Newport on the Levee shopping center area, and several blocks worth of Monmouth Street, which is perpendicular that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure which street Newport on the Levee fronts on; but whichever one it is, Monmouth Street is perpendicular to it, at pretty much the dead center of the shopping center (or whatever pretentious twaddle serves as a naming convention for these non-mall malls this week).

Main Street in Covington, from where we picked it up at 5th Street, south to at least the coffee shop, reminded me of Mass Ave, except older, and even better organized. (And when I say better organized, what I mean is elements like sidewalks and street signs—those little things that bring cohesion to potentially disparate objects.) There were lots of English pubs, the aforementioned coffee shop, a tattoo parlor, at least one pizza place, and an old movie theatre that had been converted into a music venue; and those are just the things I can come up with off the top of my head, after two trips down to the coffee shop and back. There’s a website, which probably lists all the different shops; but that would sort of be cheating, wouldn’t it?

The coffee shop is inside what used to be an old house, with chalkboard menus hung on the wall behind the counter, a few shelves with reusable coffee mugs and bags of whole bean coffee for sale, and local art adorning the walls. The tip jar is labeled “Karma,” and there’s a little basket where you can recycle used cardboard coffee sleeves. We struck up an easy conversation with Pete, the fellow behind the counter (who I suspect also owns the place, though I did not ask to be sure), who quickly recommended several good places to eat in the area when we told him we were from out of town. It was good coffee and good conversation, an excellent way to start our day out and about in northern Kentucky. I decided almost immediately that I would be back later that day or definitely the following day, on our way out of town, for another latté and a bag of ground coffee for my mom.

We did not end up getting back there later the first day, but we stopped in after checking out of the hotel on Wednesday morning, and while he was making our drinks, Pete talked to a young lady who came in to inquire about using the coffee shop for a reception for her photography students. Without missing a beat, Pete told her she could have the whole upstairs, both for her reception, and as a place where the students could hang their photographs. I got the impression from their conversation that they had met before, but did not know each other well—and yet he treated her like he would have done an old friend. I can’t imagine that the young lady would have gotten what she had come in asking about if she had tried a Starbucks, or any other corporate coffee shop; and that’s one of the things that make indie places of business so much better than the corporate clones.

The lattés were awfully good, too. For me, the Groove Coffee House, and the surprisingly lovely stretch of Main Street that it lives on, were the highlight of our little trip—which is not to say that any of the rest of it was bad, just that the coffee shop was really, really good. I don’t know if the aquarium was worth $23 a pop (and another $14 for Jackson), but there are plenty of other things to do in the area (although the Cubs only come to town for two three-game series this season)—and a trip down there could theoretically be done in a day. I don’t know when we’ll get back to the area—maybe a trip to Kings Island this summer—but Groove Coffee House will definitely be on the itinerary when we do.

Groove Coffee House
640 Main Street
Covington, KY

*—Even this is misleading. What the hell does relapse mean? Any opportunity to purchase a cup of coffee while out and about in the world is an opportunity to support the local place over the corporate chain. This is the most important thing. If an occasion for getting coffee out and about in the world presents itself, and I wind up with Starbucks rather than Lazy Daze or Mo’Joe or the Monon, then I have, to some extent, failed. Of course, there can be extenuating circumstances, including having been given a gift card or being out with co-workers when the company is paying. Such circumstances account for three of the four times I have gotten coffee at Starbucks since Labor Day, 2008. The fourth was just a lapse in judgment on my part.