Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Friday, February 3, 2023
This Pulitzer winner turned out to be another remarkably readable book. Two in a row. Amazing. The Garland County Public Library does have the next book on the list sitting on its shelves. I'm wondering if I should tempt fate by having Tammi check it out, too. Although I am going to give myself a short break before tackling it and indulge in some mind candy first, like reading one of the books in the Murderbot Diaries, before going back to more serious prose.
Independence Day is the middle book in a series of three novels that Richard Ford wrote about Frank Bascombe, a former sports writer and current real estate agent in this particular work. It won the Pulitzer for Fiction in 1996.
The book covers three days in the life of its hero. It's the 4th of July weekend in 1988 when Frank tries to juggle his responsibilities as a divorced dad, a realtor with clients he's trying to reel in, issues with his ex-wife, and a changing relationship with a current female friend. To be honest, if I wasn't working my way up a list and had read a plot summary that said the book chronicled a holiday weekend in the life of middle aged real estate sales guy I would not be real interested in pulling it off the library shelf.
Of course, I hadn't read a synopsis before starting the book. I try to go into each Pulitzer winner not knowing much, if anything, about it. I do occasionally end up doing some Googling to learn a little more, like if I'm thinking a book is pretty much a complete waste of paper and ink I'll go looking to see what reviewers had to say about it. Not surprisingly, my reaction to a book tends to be a bit different than the ones who get paid to review books for the New York Times. Professional reviewers have a bad habit of mistaking an incoherent piece of crap for a masterrpiece.
Not that Independence Day is incoherent. It's actually quite well written and fairly easy to read. I got sucked right into it despite it being essentially one middle-aged guy musing on life as he takes care of various chores in the lead up to the Independence Day weekend: shows a house to potential buyers, tries to collect rent money from a difficult tenant, checks on a small business he owns. It helped that Ford gave his protagonist both a wry sense of humor and a dislike of right-wing politicians.
Independence Day reminded me a little bit of the piece of unreadable dreck that won the 1982 Pulitzer, John Updike's Rabbit is Rich, in that it looks at what's going on in the head of a pretty average middle class white male, There is, however, one huge difference: Frank Bascombe is likable, he seems like a decent guy, and you find yourself hoping things work out for him. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, in contrast, came across as a rather sleazy weasel.
So how would I rate this book and do I recommend it? The overall quality merits a high 7, maybe a low 8, and, yes, I recommend it. It's decent reading. Not super exciting but not boring either.
Next up on the list: Martin Dressler, which is yet another book by an author I'd never heard of before starting the Pulitzer Project. The local library does have it on the shelves so now I get to decide if I want Tammi to check it out tomorrow or if I indulge in a little more escapist genre fiction first.
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
AKA the State and Federal Parks edition. obvious national park, the one that's the easiest to get to*, the incredibly photogenic one from the view point of a former architectural historian (see photo above), we've visited a couple other parks in the past couple of weeks.
We did enjoy checking out the exhibits in the courthouse (pictured above; it stopped being the county courthouse when the town of Hope won a local election that moved the county seat) and then ambling around town admiring 19th century architecture. There is a replica blacksmith shop commemorating the invention of the Bowie knife, although to be honest I'm not sure just what would make a Bowie knife much different than any other knife available at the time. I did some googling and it appears the blacksmith (James Black) celebrated in Washington did make a knife for Jim Bowie that incorporated some improvements on previous versions of a common type of hunting and/or fighting knife, which isn't exactly inventing the knife, but close enough for the super short sound bites common on signage at state parks. Whatever Black did or did not do, he developed a reputation for good quality work and built a successful business producing knives better than the usual ones available in the 1830s.
Sunday, January 15, 2023
One effect of the transfer case falling out of the truck has been to make me extremely reluctant to go anywhere or to spend any money. No trips to the local quilt shops, no wandering around flea markets, limited casual browsing at Books-A-Million, no going to see "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" in an actual theater. Just general frugality because we still have no idea just how much the truck repairs are going to cost. A lot, obviously, and even though it probably wouldn't make much of a difference if we indulged in an occasional frivolous expenditure, part of me doesn't want to part with a single dime until after we've got the truck back.
Still, as the Younger Daughter likes to point out, it's not good to just sit in her living room binge watching "Maine Cabin Masters" and brooding about the possible outrageous prices of miscellaneous Ford parts. It will not do anything to improve my mood if I have time to spend wondering just how many payments the mechanic has left on his bass boat. We need to go out occasionally, venture out into fresh air and sunshine, and the venturing out should involve more than just going to the closest Dollar General for toilet paper and milk. So we've been doing things like checking out campgrounds and RV parks as possible sites for Magee and visiting state and national parks.
On the other hand, there are a couple campgrounds in the Ouachita National Forest that aren't bad -- well maintained, lots of space between the sites, and best of all, Free -- that are tempting. They're basic -- no amenities other than the availability of a privy -- but Free when I'm busy stressing about money sounds pretty good. One campground looked okay to me, although I had qualms about the road in there. It's barely one lane wide with no where to go if you meet a vehicle. Someone would have to back up, and that could be a headache when towing Magee. The Forest Service does put a 14-day limit on how long you can stay on one spot, but even limited Free is better than paying every day.
We also checked out a Corps of Engineers campground near Lake Ouachita. It's small -- only 9 sites -- but has full hook-ups. Our geezer pass would get us half-price rates, which would make it cheaper than any of the private parks, and it's got a nice lay out. Lots of space, no feeling like you have to worry about hearing every belch a neighbor emits. Photo above is from the COE campground. There were only three RVs there when we did our inspection tour. I checked on recreation.gov. Lots of open dates, including some really long blocks. The Corps sets a 14-day limit, too, but there's a loophole. It might be possible to do almost two full months without having to move Magee, or at least not move out of the campground, just shuffle over to a different site, because it's the off season.
At the moment I'm definitely leaning toward the COE campground. Now all we need is the truck. As soon as we hear from the garage I can go online to make reservations so when we're able to pick up Magee we'll know where we're dragging him.
Friday, January 13, 2023
It's been awhile since I bothered reading any Pulitzer Prize fiction winners. Back in 2021 I hit a couple that were such duds that I lost interest in bothering with Interlibrary Loan to work my way up the list. But after we got to Hot Springs, a city large enough to have a public library that hasn't overdosed on Danielle Steele, I checked the online catalog and then asked the Younger Daughter to check the 1995 winner, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, out for me.
Thursday, December 22, 2022
"A drive shaft makes a really interesting noise when it falls out of a moving vehicle."
Okay, so this time it wasn't actually the drive shaft hitting the pavement that made the really interesting (and definitely scary) noise. It was the transfer case eating itself followed by the sound of metal hitting the asphalt.
My friend Kaylyn is probably going to tell me that losing a second drive shaft is a strong hint that we shouldn't drive Fords. The Guppy was built on an E350 chassis; our current (sitting wistfully waiting for parts) tow vehicle is a 4-wheel drive diesel F350. I don't think the brand is an issue. The S.O. and I have been driving Fords for decades and have only lost two drive shafts in the past forty or fifty years. . . and given just how marginal some of those Fords have been but still managed to keep moving, I'm not inclined to assume the Ford name is a problem.
On the other hand, when a person is sitting on the shoulder of a highway in rural Missouri waiting for a tow truck, the jokes about FORD standing for Found On Road Dead hit a little close to home.
The transfer case decided to cannibalize itself when we were about two thirds of the way to Hot Springs. As planned in the revised itinerary, we'd spent a night in Portage, Wisconsin, a second incredibly cold night at a KOA in Newton, Iowa (cornfields do not provide much of a wind break once the corn's been harvested), and were looking forward to checking out Pomme de Terre State Park in Missouri. The truck died about 3 hours short of that goal.
What made our situation slightly tricky, of course, was the fact we were towing a 5th wheel trailer. Fortunately, Magee is small for a travel trailer. As it turned out, the towing company that rescued us had space behind its garage for storing Magee while the truck is being repaired another shop in Trenton.
How long and how expensive will that repair be? It's the holiday season. That alone is going to slow the process down. Before we'd even talked with a mechanic I was guesstimating a minimum of 3 weeks, and that was assuming no glitches in the supply chain. Even if the transmission wasn't damaged (unknown at this point; it's possible the housing got cracked but the repair shop didn't know that yet when the S.O. talked with them yesterday) and the transfer case is repairable (probably not) for sure they have to order one new drive shaft. One of the drive shafts stayed attached and dragged; the other one escaped and rolled off into the wilderness.
One good thing that came out of this mini-disaster was being reminded (again) that most people are basically nice. We coasted to a stop not far from the end of someone's driveway. It was rural Missouri, houses along the highway were relatively far apart, but we wound up close to one. Cell phone technology meant we didn't have to go ask for help, but after we'd sat there for awhile the homeowner came out to ask if we needed any assistance. We told him not to worry; we'd called AAA and a tow truck would be there soon.
When that "soon" turned into multiple hours, he came out again to ask if we'd like to come into the house and get warmed up. We went in, were served hot chocolate, and thawed out. It was incredibly cold outside so the chocolate was much appreciated. As time went by, it became clear there was a problem with the towing company. When I called AAA a second time to find out what the delay was, they gave me the name and number of the local business. The homeowner then called them to ask what the problem was and found out the idiot owner of that business (Precision Auto in Brookfield, Missouri, if anyone wants to make a note about who NOT to call in that part of the state) hadn't believed it was an actual AAA dispatcher talking to him, wrote the call off as a hoax, and never sent a truck out. He then hung up on the guy who was helping us. [My suspicion is that the AAA dispatcher had an urban accent -- the two I talked with while asking for roadside assistance definitely sounded black -- and Precision Auto's rural racism kicked in.]
So the homeowner contacted the owner of a towing company in Trenton and got the promise of a truck being out there fast. His wife then called a hotel in Trenton to find out if they had any vacancies, explained our situation, and asked them to hold a room for us. While we waited for the tow truck (that we now knew for sure was on its way) they fed us dinner. It hit me that the hotel might not allow pets, so we called to find out for sure. And they were a No Pets facility. So then these incredibly nice people offered to cat sit Bubba -- they had a mud room so could confine him to a small space. They were a multiple pet household (dog, cats, college age sons) and assured me Bubba would be no trouble at all. He wound up being there for two nights and apparently behaved himself.
After the tow truck arrived, one of the college age sons played chauffeur for us: drove us to the tow shop so we could deal with the paperwork there and then got us checked into the hotel. His father insisted we take their phone number and emphasized that if we needed more help, like a ride to whatever garage would do the actual repair work, to call them. As it turned out, we didn't need to bother them again, but it was reassuring to know there was someone with local knowledge and contacts we could contact if we needed to.
We're now in Hot Springs. The Younger Daughter took two weeks of vacation so she'd be off work when we first got here. She didn't think that vacation would include an 8-hour drive north to pick us up, but stuff happens. The truck broke down on Sunday, Tammi got to Trenton late Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning we went over to where Magee is stored and removed everything that was perishable or would be damaged by freezing along with enough clothes to last me and the S.O. for a couple weeks, got checked out of the hotel, picked up Bubba, and here we are.
I do have to say everyone we met or dealt with in Trenton was super nice: the homeowners who helped us, the tow truck guy, the people at the hotel, the mechanic who's going to work on our truck, the Missouri state trooper who spent an hour standing in the cold directing traffic and making sure no one ran into the back end of Magee. . . Which isn't actually that surprising. Given the opportunity, most people want to do the decent thing. It can be hard to remember at times because the jerks can make so much noise, but the cold, selfish assholes really are a minority of the population.
Thursday, December 15, 2022
As my two faithful readers know, I volunteer at the local county historical society museum. Things I've assumed responsibility for are the gift shop (such as it is) and online sales. I'm the person who orders books that might sell reasonably well in the gift shop, and I manage sales through Amazon and EBay. One of the books the museum has had consistently steady sales with is a local history, which describes the development and growth of a lumber company town, Pequaming.
The book had actually been out of stock in the gift shop for awhile. When the last one sold I'll confess I procrastinated about tracking down more. Still, once I did re-stock I figured we get enough questions about the book that it would be good to let people know. So I did a post on the museum's Facebook page advising folks that if they wanted a copy the book could be picked up at the museum in Baraga. $12 a copy, which is a bargain for a book that is really nicely done (hard cover, printed on glossy paper, lots of good quality photos, decent writing). All people had to do was email the historical society and we'd meet the buyers at the museum at a mutually agreed upon time. Alternatively, they could order the book directly from the museum for $16 -- $12 for the book, $4 for shipping and handling.
A couple people did ask about the mail order option. Gave them the mailing address for the museum and said we'd ship as soon as we got their check. Guess how many people have actually done that? To date, zip. Zero. Zilch.
Nope. Double nope. I figure the hours I wasted going down the luge run to town and back to sit in a cold museum waiting for book buyers that never showed added up to the equivalent of a full day. I live 14 miles from the museum so just the drive down and back can eat up close to an hour. I might go down the luge run like I'm practicing for Le Mans in the summer but once it's snow-covered? I creep. Not a fast trip either way.
Granted, I did get stuff done while I was waiting at the museum. There is always stuff to do so it's not like I just killed time reading a first edition Tarzan of the Apes (which I actually am doing when I take a break to eat lunch down there; the mix of racism and sexism is kind of mind-blowing)(there were half a dozen Edgar Rice Burroughs 1920s' novels in a donation box; they're in the gift shop now except for the one I'm reading a couple jaw-dropping pages at a time). Nonetheless, despite the fact I did use the time productively, I have noped right out of meeting anyone at the museum during the off season. I may be retired, I may be a volunteer, but my time still has value.
So what happens now if someone wants to buy that particular book or any of the others we have listed on Amazon or EBay? I refer them to the appropriate link. The amount of stuff we have listed is fairly small. One Sterlite tote and it all came home with me. I'll even haul it along when we head for Arkansas tomorrow (assuming the storm has blown itself out and there's no freezing rain happening between here and Portage). But will people be getting that book at the bargain price of $12? Pshaw. Amazon charges fees. I've done the math. When you add in our costs (the price of the books, cost of mailers, postage, the fees Amazon sucks out) there's no way we can sell the book that cheaply. Anyone ordering it online is going to fork over $30.50. And, yes, that is more than double the in-store price, but, hey, not my idea. If anyone complains, I'll just tell them to talk to the folks who couldn't be bothered to keep their appointments.
Sunday, December 11, 2022
The S.O. had some trouble getting the 5th wheel hitch lined up right. When he parked Magee in early October neither of us was thinking at all about what a pain in the ass snow on the ground might turn out to be when the time came to leave. We should have been. Turned out the ever-so-slight slope and the not totally straight back in meant more maneuvering was required than anticipated two months ago. It did not help that the high 20s-low 30s temperatures made the snow especially slick. Things did not go smoothly. Language got colorful. The S.O. wound up having to put the truck in 4-wheel drive to get the traction needed. And at some point the brake pedal got stomped on particularly hard.
In short, a brake line blew. So today instead of enjoying being far enough south that it's raining instead of snowing, the S.O. will be slithering under the truck figuring out exactly where the break occurred and just what has to be replaced. He is not a happy camper. Neither am I.
On the positive side, the maybe it really is apple juice in the glass and not piss interpretation, if a brake line was going to blow, parked up by the barn and close to all the S.O.'s tools was a much better location for it to happen than careening down a hill on U.S. 65 in Arkansas.
Thursday, December 8, 2022
I have been seeing various references to Hunter Biden's laptop in recent days. Apparently the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is looking forward to holding hearings regarding the laptop, a device that may have content on it that isn't exactly the national security issue the obsessives on the Right would like the rest of us to believe. Kevin McCarthy et al. will try to focus on various emails in which Hunter benefited from his family connections landing him salaried positions that didn't involve much work. You know, typical rich kid/child of an influential politician who gets hired to serve on boards or fill figurehead positions, which isn't a whole lot different than one of aWol's daughters ending up as a co-host on Today pretty early on in her journalism career. Granted Jenna isn't a recovering coke addict, but even so her career trajectory went a lot smoother and faster than is typical in broadcast television. But I'm doing my usual heading down a rabbit hole that doesn't have much to do with what I started to say.
Dick pics. The Republicans want to hold expensive, massive hearings discussing the content that was allegedly Hunter Biden's. If any one who remembers Bill Clinton's misdeeds thought the content of the discussions of Clinton's sex life made for television news not suitable for children, they're in for a treat with hearings going after Hunter Biden. The laptop is loaded with dick pics. Everyone viewing will be wishing for brain bleach.
Whether or not they're actually Hunter's dick is debatable. The device has been handled by enough people that the chain of evidence, if one wants to call it that, has been shattered multiple times. For all any of us know there's been plenty of opportunity to do some photoshopping to provide Hunter with either a massiave wang or a microdick. And wouldn't that make for entertaining television: Hunter looking at a photo, declaring it's not his appendage, and offering to whip his actual dick out to show Jim Jordan what it really looks like. There are also photos of Hunter enjoying intimately good times with women. And, just to show that he wasn't totally obsessed with his love sausage, there are a few standard family photos. Nonetheless, I am hoping the Democrats on any committees push hard for the committee to show slides, lots of slides. Let the American public know in graphic, definitely TMI illustrations just what the Republicans are choosing to waste time and money on.
As far as I can tell, the sole purpose of any proposed hearings would be to embarrass the Biden family. Hunter Biden was not a government employee nor did he represent the United States in any way. If representatives of other governments or foreign companies thought they could curry favors with the Obama administration by hiring Hunter at outlandish salaries to do not much of anything, that's their problem, not the American taxpayers'. I mean, just how dumb were those foreign nationals to believe that being nice to the son of the vice president would gain them anything? As John Nance Garner, a former vice president, once said, the vice presidency isn't worth a boot full of warm piss. The only power a vice president has is to break an occasional tie in the Senate. Oh, and maybe make their own menu choices when flying somewhere for a funeral when someone important dies.