28 September 2021

Amazon Reviewers Take on Great Books

Ms. Monore was not one of the reviewers.

Previously on this blog, I have shared one star reviews of great films by IMDb and Amazon users. Today I turn my attention to literature. I present thumbs way down capsule critiques of beloved books (all beloved by yours truly). In any case, I got a chuckle out of some of these. I especially liked the following: "I didn't care what happened to the boys and scanned ahead for a spot of emotion. Instead I found more and more words." Imagine a book with more and more words in it! I also thrilled at the conservative reviewer who blasted On the Road because it featured "
Amoral grifters traversing the country essentially glorifying the seven deadly sins." I  was further beguiled by the reviewer who said, "Steinbeck has as much command of adjective as a fifth grader." Hilarious. But no more spoilers, read on. 

Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I realize that I am late coming to the ‘Handmaid’ party. It has been my intention to read it for some long time, but for some reason that I don’t fully understand, I was intimidated by the gravity of the book. I really wanted to be impressed, but Atwood’s view of a dark dystopian society left me depressed, confused and ultimately bored.I confess, I couldn’t finish the book. I couldn’t force myself to endure more than 115 pages peppered with complete and unnecessary gibberish. ‘If I have an egg, what more can I want?’ There are tons of this fluff. Atwood’s view of the future, and I assume that’s what I think we must consider that she intends, is poppycock. A nightmare with no beginning, middle or end. If this is what is in store for us, count me out.I was interested in a storyline or two along the way, but the author refused to develop them, instead droning on and on about meaningless details in the heroine’s life, or existence. I couldn’t go any further. My mind kept drifting to all the really entertaining stories out there, waiting to be read and enjoyed. Why was I wasting precious time reading tripe? 

Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckWhat an utterly terrible novel. Racist, sexist, poorly written, and absolute trash moralism. Steinbeck has as much command of adjective as a fifth grader, and his understanding of the subject this book focuses on, labor economics, is about that of a fourth grader. In this book, you can learn that murder is OK so long as "they deserved it" or if the victims are Native American. Learn all about the struggles of birth and the ineptitude of women told by a man who, while writing this book edited by his wife, was having an affair with a younger woman. Steinbeck makes out to be the Whitman of novels with none of the beautiful subtlety or flowing grandeur. In all fairness, I should have heeded the warning in the forward that the movie was better than the book, my first warning sign. A book written for the sadistic voyeurism of the middle class to fulfill thier need of charitable superiority over the struggles of an entirely skilless, uneducated class of people. But no, the issue isn't thier lack of skills, but the rich people who exploit them - at least one point in which the middle class can find empathy without taking any personal responsibility for the governments they create that allow for unregulated farming industries.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Nope. I am an avid reader and I was curious what all the hype was about on this book. It’s a classic and won awards. How is that even possible? Most boring book I’ve read in a long time. I had to stop half way through and never went back.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Thought this would be helpful in understanding the liberal progressive mind...sadly it was.

I really don’t know how many kindle books I have read...scores. This was the only one I couldn’t finish. Given the level of political discourse, I thought reading what has been hailed as the seminal author of the bohemian counterculture generation would provide insight as to why they perceive the world as they do.

Apparently, many progressives identify with the characters in the book. Amoral grifters traversing the country essentially glorifying the seven deadly sins.

Save your money and read some Hemingway.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. Terrifyingly boring :( The amazon description of the book begins with these words, "One of the most terrifying stories of the twentieth century". SAY WHAT???? I have ready many, many "terrifying" books and this was just weird. My son was given the choice of this book or a book on Mythology for high school summer reading. I usually read what my kids are reading so that I can discuss it with them. We both agreed that we should have opted for the mythology book! These short stories don't really even seem to have an end. They just stop.

I have nothing against older literature, but I would find Frankenstein or Dracula to be more "terrifying" that this.

Tender is the Night by F Scott FitzgeraldIt was boring and I just finished two chapter.I couldn't relate to any of the characters because they were all self centered and without any real character traits.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave EggarsNo doubt the Eggers has a gift of words, great and vast and high and wide, but following his wordy descriptions of setting up house for his little brother in CA tired me out. Finally I didn't care what happened to the boys and scanned ahead for a spot of emotion. Instead I found more and more words. That's when I folded the cover for good.

I am left thinking about the poor mother. To die with a son whose most vividly recalled and described detail is her green spit in towels and then containers unnerved me. Eggers seemed to have no heart. Only a surfeit of words about green spit. Pounding and pounding.

David Copperfield by Charles DickensDickens often went on long tangents, that I wasn't sure if necessary to the plot (wouldn't know since I didn't finish the book). Several other people in my book group also did not finish the book. Maybe it was a classic back in it's day, but there are MUCH better books to read today.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I just couldn't get into it. The sentences, paragraphs, passages... all just SO incredibly long. Theres a fine line between descriptive and excessive. This book is the latter. Everything just went on and on. Sentences so run-on they need track shoes.

So I sat there, my mind designing this foster of a thought while I laid comfortably on the grey, semi-soft couch I bought once on sale on a Tuesday evening at a Rooms-to-Go, realizing that my life had taken a turn for, quite possibly, the worst, and wondering if I would ever reach the long-crying light at the end of the tunnel that is this pretentious book.

See- that was MISERABLE to read. Don't do that. I'm sorry I did that. You've actually got to get to the point sometimes. Plus, I got halfway through and I felt as if nothing happened. I understand that this is a "realistic" book and may even be an eye-opener for some, but I just found the story profoundly boring, or dare I say it, lame. She could have composed a much more compelling story with such an interesting background and plot. After all, it is the plot that attracted us all in the first place, isn't it? I'm sorry to say that this book is overrated and like I said, pretentious.

Go Tell in on the Mountain by James Baldwin. James Baldwin's books are depressing but this is the worst of ALL of them. This book is filled with sexist psychotic religious crap. Religion is the root of all that is evil in the world. Because as described in this morbid book it has been used to brain-wash black people who in turn used it to terrorize their children! Religion is guaranteed job security for psychiatrists and psycologists!

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas WolfeVerbose disjointed ramblings of a troubled mind.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I waited months to review this book hoping time passed would temper my comments. Well time has passed and here is my review. I was really looking forward to reading this book but it ended up being a major disappointment and left me feeling the author only wanted to keep stirring the pot of racism. Basically, the entire content of the book, hard as it was to follow, was based on how awful ALL white people were towards blacks in the 60's. I didn't even want to finish the book but I did because I felt surely there would be one white character in the entire book that would be portrayed as a decent human being. Well there wasn't. Even though it was supposed to be fiction it was also supposed to be based on a real reform school back in the 60's. In my opinion, tying the story of this book to anything real was socially irresponsible. If you were not alive in the 60's, (like the author,) after reading this book you would may actually believe that all whites back then were deplorable, despicable and vile human beings. As a child myself of the 60's in the south, the portrayal of all whites in this book is truly biased and fictional. Was their racism in the 60's? Absolutely Were all whites racist? Absolutely not. If you read this book and believe any of it, you will be ashamed to be white.

22 September 2021

When I Dropped Acid and Then it Dropped Me -- Teen Fun

The terrifying sounds of my own life pounding desperately against my ear drums from inside. The sense that my life force was ebbing away from my body and heading to the stratosphere. The sheer terror of being. Of being a being. Of living. Alive felt like pure horror. Depression would have seemed bliss in comparison. The room felt a quarter of the size and there could be no stopping the walls from growing ever closer until they consumed my being. It felt like nothingness would follow. A void that I’d live through fully aware. Taunted by the spacial reality of my own hell. 

You see, the LSD had turned on me. It was twisting me inside out.

What a good friend it had started out to be.

It was Mooney and Norman who encouraged me. They’d tripped a couple of times already. Surely this must be the next logical step for me in my progression. My raising awareness. Taking consciousness to a new height. Discovery of self and answers to age old questions about the nature of the universe. I was on my way to great times and answers to life's mysteries. Enlightenment.

I was sixteen years old.


It was less than a year since I’d first gotten drunk. I hadn’t yet gotten stoned. I was a virgin. I was a junior in high school. I was about to have my mind blown for the cost of one hit of acid -- $1. One dollar to expand my brain. I would never be the same.

The three of us went up to Tilden Park atop and among the Berkeley Hills. A wooded area would be ideal, I was told confidently. Mooney and Norman so confident.

Dropped the acid. It would take about an hour for it to “come on.”

Where was I first where was I last how do you conquer a brain so fast. Rolling hills, rolling trees, moving flowers and stationary bees. Suddenly I was watching myself from afar. As if. Gone then back. This was trippin’. Whole new concept to perception. Wild weird and wonderful mix with whole grain natural adolescent confusion. A profusion of thought coming from deeper recesses of my mind. Loss of control. It had been given to the drug which told me where to go. Freedom from the conventional thinking, slavery to the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. But I did not care.

The world of my dad’s Oldsmobile, little league, record players, grandma’s peanut butter cookies, cub scouts, Gomer Pyle and even on out of whack mother seemed decent, silly, arcane and so fucking square. I was in the world of understanding I had left common Earth-bound thinking and was in another universe. Floating through the thoughts and ideas and conceptions only accessible to mind expanders.

And it was fun.

Oh I was having fun. Rolling down a grassy hill, tumbling and squealing was the most -- the -- most fun. Fun. Wow. I’d ever. Had. Wonderful this was all of it and

I walked and talked we said so much that was so profound as we watched the colors and experienced this -- man. We walked through a picnic site where a family was picnicking. “I’m back” I said with amazement. For my brain had gone elsewhere for a bit and had returned just as I passed by these people. They stared at me in wonder as I continued: “I was gone but now I’m back.”

Squares! Straight people who didn’t trip who weren’t so cool as we were. We were the coolest people on Earth. Est. Most. Superlatives. Now I teach them now to my foreign students. Comparatives and superlatives. How I lived them -- then. Comparing always myself with the norm and being the superlative most. LSD was making me even more fucking arrogant because I was no smarter and cooler than the rest of the world. So far out.

So really really really really really really really really really far. Far fucking out. Man.

The trip was a pure joy and Mooney and Norman and I were kings of our worlds. And when I came down it was a gentle peaceful landing. Thank you tour guides, thank you for taking me on this trip. My first. Memorable like you wouldn’t understand the word memorable ever again because you had a new way of looking at the world. Zowie. High!

Now it all made sense. We were part of something bigger. This huge collective consciousness that was all intertwined and wrapped up in one huge psychedelic sense of otherness. We were beyond the squares the Nixons the suits the dead end middle class and business people. We were really on to something special. Had access, the key to really understanding things like what that monolith was in 2001. We were riding high. Young and in love with life and for peace and rock music and ending all war. The world didn’t have to be black and white (Leave it to Beaver -- you’re out!) there were colors man. So many and they could dance and swirl and so could we. Dropping acid was the way to get out by getting inside our own brains and seeing how they related to the universe...or some shit like that.

Man we were going to have fun.

And the truth of course was that I had no fucking idea what was going on, just that I wanted to be part of it and be able to keep doing what I wanted to, especially if it meant not really having to work hard at things except maybe playing soccer which I was really so good at and dug doing because of that and I was going to be a superstar and it was cool to play soccer because it wasn’t a sport for the squares or the Nixons or the suits but a European South American kind of thing that the squares didn’t really dig but it was so much cooler than baseball and football and basketball (which by the way I still dug but that was a separate issue although I’m not sure how I couldn’t think of all that shit at once you know plus there was still a bunch of that shit on TV that I liked to watch though I’d admit to few that I did). So I was part of something but my own person who’d do his own thing high. High. Hi.

Bleeding orange and rapid fire raspberry and digging the tools of the decadent likeness of the sapphire wonderings of later people and dances of rebellion and sticking those purple guitar notes into the darkness and creating the light and the bright and the out of the sight and I could and would and should and there was wood and carpet and larger and lime and fuck the slime of the establishment and no war in Vietnam or any place and me me me me me me I was the one. Let’s all have fun and if you don’t follow our grooviness then you’re part of the problem and the enemy unless you’re like my Dad or another Finn or a soccer player or one of my favorite athletes but not if you’re like a conservative. Blasting the rhymes and stopping the crimes against us. Privilege. Wap! Smash and grab the perfection of this wonderful being of beingness and I understand it all or at least how to get there. Another hit of acid. Okay?

But then there was the bad trip. Baaaaaaad indeed. Oh my, brain fly but crash this time. Couldn't cry about it. Too much terror for that. Now the loss of control was a loss of being me. I didn't like, didn't trust this world of ugly trippin'. Oh, I'd been warned. But that would be something that happened to other people. Not me, man. Those first trips were so mellow, so fine, so fun. Run. Jump. Hump. Who'd have thought it could go so wrooooooooooonnnnnnggg. 

But I got out of it. Came down, at last. Normal again. Me again. The straight me. Would I dare try this again? Hmmmmmmmm. Maybe, I mean, why not. I couldn't have TWO bad trips. Certainly not in a row. I persevered. Trippy. Hippie. 

Right on.

20 September 2021

The Blogger Updates Readers On Latest Doings, Depression, Football, Astaire-Rogers All Mentioned

Dear Readers -- I flatter myself -- Dear Reader: I thought it might be instructive to update you on my latest doings and comings and goings and happenings and so forth and what not and etc.

Today I will begin my fourth week of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation ( the photo above shows me in action). What each session (five days a week) amounts to is thirty-three minutes of a kind of tapping against one carefully selected spot in my head. There's a tap a second, very rhythmic and thus not -- as one would assume -- annoying as hell. Actually rather relaxing. The greatest difficulty is in not dozing off, a constant temptation. Sleeping disrupts the process so one has to stay awake. My doctor and the technicians are quite pleasant and make sure to my comfort and are amiable people with whom I can enjoy a chat. In the past ten days I've had far more depression-free days than normal and some of those days have found me quite cheerful indeed. I experienced a bump on the road yesterday, however, and spent the day in severe depression. I meet with the doctor this afternoon over zoom and will update him but I'm sure this is par for the course. Most patients don't start seeing real progress until after the fourth week so I may be ahead of the curve.

I continue to pound away at novel number three and am enjoying the process a great deal. I've made tremendous progress in the nine months I've been working on the book, but am clearly barely at the halfway point in the process. Meanwhile I'm doing publicity for novel number two with a couple of book talks upcoming and an ad running in a Finnish-American publication.

Saturday I saw my favorite college football team in action as the Golden Bears of California took on the Sacramento State Hornets. It's always fun to go to the stadium and cheer the Bears on and it's an especially good day when Cal actually wins (they do so more than half the time!) as happened Saturday. It was not an inspiring performance as our heroes gave up thirty points to a lower division school in a comfortable 42-30 victory. But a win is a win. Many of the traditions and ancillary pomp, pageantry and tradition is gone from the college-football going experience, and some has been curtailed by coronavirus necessitated restrictions. I wrote about this on my short lived Cal football blog which I retired Friday after a dozen posts. I was drawing less readers for that blog than for this one -- I know, hardly seems possible. I don't know how one has minus readers but somehow I did. Oh well, I gave it the old college try.

As I mentioned earlier, I was suffering from severe depression yesterday and as it was a Sunday and I'd scheduled no activities decided my best course of action was to watch movies (it was either stare at a screen or a stare at a spot on the floor). All three films selected were ones I'd recently recorded on TCM. I'd seen all three previously but none in several years.

First up was To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Mulligan. It is the type of film that "everyone" has seen and pretty much everyone likes. It is based on a book that pretty much "everyone" has read and pretty much "everyone" likes. (There is a local film critic on a big city paper who once wrote that he didn't think so highly of the movie or Atticus Finch as a lawyer, because -- get this -- Finch lost the case. Yes, imagine an all-white jury in the Jim Crow south taking the word of two white people over that of one African American accused of rape.) TKAM is a movie worth repeat viewings, if for no other reason than to watch and admire Atticus (a well-deserved Oscar-winning performance by Gregory Peck). He's a wise and moral man and a good father, that's an impressive three-for-three. The characters that surround him, particularly his children, Scout and Jem are fully-realized and compliment him and one another. It is a multi-dimensional movie with many themes including growing up, racism, compassion and ignorance. It is not a feel good everything works out in the end kind of film, but it is ultimately satisfying and there is a kind of justice to it.

My second feature was Hugo (2011) Scorsese which I last saw in the theaters when it debuted ten years ago. It's a mixed bag, both a kids movie and the story of early cinema. It is highly stylized and computer-aided and as far as you can get from other Scorsese films such as Mean Streets. It is an engaging and fun film, in parts predictable and other parts surprising. Simply put it entertains for its two hour running time and then is easily forgotten, which is something of shame given what a powerful love letter to the birth of films that it could have been. It's one of the latter Scorsese films that has more glitz than soul.

Follow the Fleet
I concluded my movie marathon with my favorite of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films, Follow the Fleet (1936 Sandrich. For my money (what little there is of it) Fleet has the best dance numbers of any of their films and less ridiculous and implausible plot lines and holes. It does lack Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, who brought so much to some of the other Astaire-Rogers pairings. But it's fun to watch Randolph Scott in a very non-Western role. There's also a young and gorgeous Lucille Ball on hand delivering a few zingers. Best of all are the "Let Yourself Go" and climactic "Let's Face the Music and Dance" numbers, both of which are brilliant. "We Saw the Sea" is a fun song too. Fleet is better written then most Astaire-Rogers films and the pacing is excellent. The love story between the two stars is less sappy as for once they know each other at the start of the film. A great film for when depression hits.

I think I handled my depression rather well yesterday. If you can't beat it, make it join you watch some movies. For the record I also read the Sunday times and went for a walk. Not a wasted day at all. 

Today there is much writing to be done, some of which you are reading now. I also have a session of tap-tap-tap on my brain. Hopefully we'll get the sucker in fine working order and I won't have to spend many more days mired in misery.

That's my update. Catch ya later.

15 September 2021

The Novelist Revises

“'Flanagan cheated at solitaire.' That’s the beginning of your book?”

“It’s only the first sentence.”

“But already you’re off to a bad start. It seems like such a cliche that your main character should be some poor chump who cheats at solitaire.”

“I see nothing wrong with it. I mean, can you actually point out a lot of novels in which the main character cheats at solitaire?”

“Not off hand, I can’t. But it’s more the idea.”

“It’s not even that Flanagan is such a loser he’s more of an —”

“Everyman, am I right?”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Listen, Jerry, no one wants to read a book in which the main character is an everyman.”

“They don’t?”

“I suppose he’s world weary.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Cliche! I bet his wife doesn’t understand him and his kids are indifferent to him and he hates his boss and he’s got some eccentric friends.”

“Say, how do you know all this? Did you sneak a look at my manuscript before today?”

“No, Jerry, of course not. It’s just so predictable.”

“You got all this from 'he cheats at solitaire?'”

“It told the whole story.”

Jerry scratched his head.

“What if I changed the opening line?”

“That’d help, but you’re still dealing with a helluva lot of predictability and cliches.”

“But I want to make him relatable. In fact that’s a particular focus of mine to make my characters seem like the kind of people readers know."

“Sorry but that’s been done to death.”

“It has?”

“Sure. And people don’t want to recognize characters and they sure don’t want to see themselves. They want to escape from their own dreary lives.”

“But what about a book like Grapes of Wrath?”

“My God, Jerry, that was over eighty years ago, people have moved past that. Today you’d have to give Tom Joad a super power.”

“You would?”

“Of course. Plus you’d have to get rid of all the poverty and the labor stuff. Replace it with action sequences.”

“I don’t know. How about something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Could you write that today?”

“Sure but you’d have to make the mental patients even kookier. Play it more for laughs.”

“Tell me something, Lawrence, how do you know so much about books, novels, I mean.”

“Hey, you yourself said I’m well-read. That’s why you asked me to look at your manuscript.”

“In college you always had a nose in a book.”

“Well I was an English major. Today I’m more into graphic novels and comic books. Plus I read a lot of internet message boards on movies and stuff.”

“You ever think of writing anything?”

“Haven’t got the chops for it. But maybe you do. Maybe I was being a little bit harsh. Here, let me read some more.”


Two minutes later. “See, see here you’re running into problems. Your main character feels misunderstood by everyone. You say that.”


“No good. Cliche. That’s what you’ve got to avoid.”

“Why can’t I have a main character who’s misunderstood?”

“Okay, okay, you can, BUT, the way you’ve set him up, it’s just all too predictable. But listen, I like the bit about him talking to his dog and the stuff about his angst is real good. Real good. But maybe if his angst transformed him somehow into some sort of avenging angel.”

“So the book is salvageable?”

“Oh sure, sure, Jerry. Let me read some more and see what we got.”

Five minutes later.

“See now, here, this business about his daily routines feeling like ruts. That’s too easy. You’re going to need to challenge the reader a little more.”

“Challenge the reader?”


“I’m sorry Lawrence but I don’t know what the hell that means.”

“Don’t make everything so easy, all this ‘everyday he does this’ and ‘everyday he does that.’ Plus it’s all so ordinary. Have him do extraordinary things.”

“But a lot of people have daily routines.”

“Yeah and they make for bad characters in novels. You want action. Readers go for that sort of thing these days.”

“Jeez, I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Sure you can. You’re a bright guy and a good writer. There’s some really good writing here.”

“Ya think so?”


“But I need to liven up the main character.”

“At the very least. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure how, I’ve got such a fixed idea about this guy.”

“Look it’s just my opinion, maybe someone else would say he’s fine the way he is. But I think you’d want your book to stick out, be different, make your main character, unique, the kid of guy people haven’t seen in a contemporary novel before. It’s really all about originality.”

“Would it help if I changed Flanagan’s job?”

“Oh hell yes, an accountant? Come on.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Hey, it’s your book, you’ve got to make that call.”

“How about a biochemist?”

“You know anything about biochemistry, Jerry?”

“Not a thing.”

“Well then you’ve either got do a helluva lot of research or pick a profession you’re more knowledgable about.”

“How about a sportswriter?”

“Bingo. That lends itself to all kind of possibilities.”

“Geez I’m going to have re-write large portions.”

“Hey, buddy, it’s just a first draft.”

“I think it’ll be worth it. Thanks, Lawrence.”

“Hey, it’s my pleasure. I tell you what, you write this guy as a sportswriter and make him more interesting and I’d be happy to take another look at it.”

“I’ll do that.”

"And action, give it more action. Not so heavy on the inner turmoil."

Two months later Lawrence was at his friend Jerry’s house reading the revised manuscript. After reading for half an hour Lawrence spoke.

“I’m loving these changes. Making Flanagan an astronaut was a great idea and I like that you have his wife as an alien. Infinitely more interesting and it’ll sell.”

“Thanks, I think I bring a lot more dimension to Flanagan by giving him all these experiences with inter-galactic missions.”

“The time travel helps too.”

“Do you think I’ve gone to heavy on the sex?”

“Not at all. Sex between life forms from other planets isn’t explored enough in literature. You pretty much have to be graphic when writing about it.”

“Anything you’d change?”

“One thing here, you’ve to Flanagan’s commander being world weary. Maybe change that. Maybe instead he can have tentacles.”

“Oooh, I like that.”

“Maybe not so much emphasis on co-workers and neighbors and more stuff about the creatures with the lion’s heads. Those cats are interesting.”

“You’ve got a point. I did want to explore those characters a bit more and how they interact with humans.”

“Maybe have them eat some.”

“Good idea.”

10 September 2021

My Childhood Friend Normal Norbert, Humor, A Train Ride, A Rabbit

I sometimes called him Normal Norbert because he was anything but. He was Mark Norbert and he was my best friend from about age five through high school. Calling him Normal was always meant to be ironic which is to say that I understood irony from an early age much as I did satire, puns and sarcasm. When it came to comedy, I was especially precocious. All my life people have told me that I should be or should have been a comedian. I never really thought to pursue a career in comedy and I can’t tell you why. I can’t tell you why I left journalism a career in which I’d gotten off to a promising start. I can’t tell you why I wasted so many years not working at my writing. I can’t tell you why I did or did not do many many things. I can’t tell. You. Or me. Why. Dunno. Mystery. But most of those topics are for another time. I can tell you that Normal Norbert was as funny as I was and we laughed and giggled and chortled and guffawed our way through childhood.

I’m on a train. Only passenger. Dead of night. Scenery is shrouded in a low dark fog that neither moon nor stars can penetrate. The train seems to be going way too fast and way too slow at the same time. Clearly, my senses are all out of alignment. I’ve got a book in my lap that I can’t seem to make any progress on despite the fact that I’m enjoying it. It may be Moby Dick but it may also be A Farewell to Arms or Sentimental Education by Flaubert. I’ve had too much coffee and I’m a little bit hungry and a little bit thirsty and I need to pee but not so much that I’m ready to get up and look for the toilet. The train at times seems to be going up a very steep hill and at other times down a sharp incline. I want to cry out of fear but I’m oddly content with my circumstances too. I have a strong feeling of invulnerability and believe I’ll live forever but also worry that the train will plummet into an abyss, or worse, just go on into eternity with me just sitting here. I am glad to be alone but wish for company, someone to talk to. I have a notion that this odd journey would make a great novel but have no desire to be its author. I guess this sums up the vague vulnerability of my life and the state of confusion I often find myself in and why. Why. Why so often do I find solace in humor? It takes me out of that desperate sense of unease and lightens my load. I get a rush from the laughter or the attention my humor gets. I get to feel unabashedly good.

There is more sense to the nonsense and more truth forsooth from a good giggle than all the philosophy you’ll ever read. 

A shambling  man and not content to stifle myself or the truth behind what others say. I push on always, looking for another way of expressing an intense desire to understand the better self that lied within. Perplexed I laugh and joke and poke and people often flinch. Reflexively I point to the madness of daily life. Strife. And.

Norbert was quirky before it was hip. A natural. We often separated ourselves from boringly conventional friends and shared wry observations on the human condition. Even when we were still just eight years old.

Norbert and I trooping home from school: 

“What if you pooped cookies? Would you eat them?” he asked as if it were an important point.

“Eeew, eating poop! That’s disgusting...”

“But,” he insisted, “they would taste like cookies, not like poop. Then you could poop ‘em again and eat again.”

“But eating something that came out of your butt!” I had logic on my side.

“If it tastes good what difference does it make where it came from?”

This conversation seemed as deeply philosophical as any I’d ever had. But it was interrupted when we saw a couple of girls from our class at school on the other side of the street and stuck our tongues out at them.

They responded by shouting something about icky boys. (If they’d only known the nature of the conversation we’d just been engaging in.)

“You’re so smelly we can smell you over here!” Norbert shouted. Not his best line.

A passing car obscured their response and then they disappeared down a side street and we were rid of the sight of “dames” as we called them. Girls were another species to us, a strange one, all the more so because their bodies resembled ours and they spoke the same language. Yet the differences were unmistakeable. I still did not believe they ever had use for bathrooms. Such frilly creatures surely could not engage in the disgusting activities males used toilets for. I could’t imagine what became of their waste, so avoided thinking of it. Girls did not share the same passion we did for sports, instead playing with, of all things, dolls. They also wore dresses and skirts in soft colors like pink and spoke with high voices.

The train is slowing down and is finally pulling into a station. I don’t recognize the name of the stop and wonder if I’ve boarded the wrong train. There’s a map on the wall of the train. It’s all gibberish to me, especially as I don’t recognize any of the names. I reason that if I stay on the train I’ll eventually get somewhere. Somewhere seems a good destination. The train pulls out of the station and I already can’t remember if I had noted any people boarding or getting off. My car is still empty.

Humor is the best medicine and I’ve taken it regularly in large doses. It doesn’t always keep the depression at bay but it can surely mute it, allowing me to survive, at least.

Normal Norbert and I discovered The Beatles the night they appeared on Ed Sullivan. We instantly became devotees. And we’d never even been music fans before. Now we had to grow our hair, buy their albums, employ their lingo and pay attention to how we dressed. It wasn’t long before there was a sudden transformation in the way we viewed girls. Suddenly some of them….attracted us. We noted that there was something alluring about how soft their faces were. How long and silky their hair was. The skin of their legs was enticing. We imagined kissing them. This filled us with equal measures of joy and trepidation. A whole new world had opened up for us but to fully take advantage of it would require going into territory we were wholly unfamiliar with. We were going to have to talk to them. Even before that it was necessary to approach them. How all this could be accomplished seemed a total mystery. We put this aside for awhile and focused on music.

Soon there were others in addition to the Beatles who we listened to, though none could ever supplant them. The radio became a constant companion. We were buying .45s every week — records with two songs on them. There was music aplenty and we reveled in it. Much of it was about love, which got us thinking again about girls. There was no escaping females now. And the time would  come to make that first approach. To talk. To maybe become friends. From there kisses would be possible. What would that be like?

The train careens around some corners. Too fast for my liking but I’m getting used to it. I’m still alone although I sense there are people in other cars. The lights flicker making it hard to read, not that I’m trying. I’m suddenly fatigued and realize that this train ride is enervating. I wonder what time it is but can’t be bothered to look at my watch. Another corner taken too fast. I can’t understand why but it seems that we’re always in a tunnel.

Norbert and I took up soccer. I was a natural. He was too — as a goalkeeper. I started to feel cool. I approached girls. Went to a movie with one. Was complimented on my looks. My hair was longer. I was an athlete. Norbert started taking drugs. I wasn’t ready for that. I was more serious about soccer than Norbert. He started listening to different kinds of music that I wasn’t into. We weren’t together constantly anymore. In fact, besides soccer practices and matches, hardly at all. When together we still mase jokes, wry observations, sarcastic comments. Humor kept us connected. Norbert eventually convinced me to try drugs. That brought us together again. Getting high. Then I got a girlfriend and the Normal One, as I call him, and I drifted apart again. He quit soccer. Preferred drugs. I almost never saw him. I heard about him. Hooked on drugs. Kicked out of his parent’s home. Dropped out of school. Arrested. It was hard to tell which stories were true and which weren’t.

The train stops again. As if by magic it’s my stop. I get off, run out of the station into the pouring rain. I feel good and am suddenly full of energy. I only worry about my book getting wet. There’s a rabbit looking at me. Should have been a clue.

I went to college and never saw Normal Norbert again. He moved out of town. The rumors about him stopped. The last one was that he was a heroin addict. I don’t even think of him anymore. In college I make new friends. I also fall in love, several times. Normal Norbert is a memory.

Today I think of him again — I sure miss that guy. I wonder if he’s the rabbit.

07 September 2021

The Strange Visitor

I had just stepped out of my house to begin my morning walk when I noted an old man standing on the corner. He appeared confused and I wondered if he was lost. 

He was in the opposite direction of where I’d intended to walk but I thought I should make sure he was okay. I walked towards him and was susprised to note that he looked very much like a friend of my father’s named Esko Koski, who hailed from the same small town in Finland as my dad.

I remembered him as one of the many Finns who worked construction. He seemed like an old fella when I was a kid, but then anyone over forty did. Now that I was in my forties, Esko was probably over eighty.

“Esko, mitas kulu?” I asked (what’s new?)

“Keta sei on?” he asked (who is that?).

“Riku Jarvinen, Eero’s son.”

“Oh yes, I remember when you was just a little guy. How’s your dad?” He’d switched to English.

“He’s doing well, but haven't you two been fishing recently?”

“Yeah, yeah that's right,” Esko responded but he was clearly distracted, looking around again appearing quite confused.

“Is everything okay, Esko?”

“No. I was just at a funeral and now I’m here many blocks away. I don’t understand.”

Esko sounded scared. It was unusual for a Finn to betray any kind of emotion to anyone, let alone a much younger person of casual acquaintance. He must really be freaked out, I thought.

At a loss for anything to say I asked, “who was the funeral for?”

“Me.” Esko said bluntly.

I reckoned that he’d misunderstand the question so I asked again, “whose funeral was it, who had passed away?”

“Me,” he said again matter of factly, this time adding, “I died last week.”

I felt a fear bordering on panic coursing through my veins it was like I was having an out-of-body experience. Rationally, I should have thought that old Esko had gone off his nut; but I believed him. I've always been a rational person, a man of science who had no interest in the supernatural. 

There was a coffee shop just up the street so I led Esko there. We found a booth and ordered coffee. 

“Do you remember the funeral?”

“Yes, I was laying in the coffin and Pastor Mekki was talking about me and there was people there sitting on folding chairs and in the corner there was a table with cheese and crackers and coffee and other stuff.”

“But how could you have seen this if you were dead?”

“Mina en tieda,” (I don’t know) and Esko looked ready to cry.

I decided to do a little investigating. I got out my cellphone and called my dad and asked him if he’d seen Esko Koski recently.

“Last time was at his funeral. You didn't know he died? I thought I told you."  I dropped my cellphone. Esko sipped his coffee. Now I was really scared.

“Are you sure?” I asked my father.

“Of course, I was a pallbearer. Miksi kysyt? (Why do you ask?)”

“I’m sitting right across from him in a coffee shop.”

“You been drinking, Riku?”

“No serious business. Here, you can talk to him.”

I handed Esko my phone. “Hello Eero. Miten sinulla on mennyt?” (How have you been doing?)

After a few seconds Esko said, “why you say nothing? Hello?”

Then, “yes, this is Esko. Miksi valehtelisin sinulle?” (Why would I lie to you?)

Finally Esko handed me the phone. “Your father doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m someone joking.”

I took the phone from him and said to my father, “I’m absolutely certain that I’m sitting across from Esko Koski. I’ll take his picture and send it to you. Hold on.”

Esko sat up erect and gave a wan smile. I snapped a couple of shots with my camera phone. I looked at the pictures I’d just taken and was stunned to see that Esko was in none of them.

“He doesn't appear in any of  the pictures, Dad, it’s like he’s invisible.”

My father asked, “where you are?”

“The coffee shop near my house, we went there once.”

“I be there in less than fifteen minutes. “Alä mene minnekään. (Don’t go anywhere.)

I kept Esko there by chatting about the old days in Finland. He told me about working at the saw mill near his town starting when he was fourteen. He also told me about what it was like during the Winter War against the Soviet Union.

Twelve minutes after we hung up my father walked into the coffee shop.

He stood by the booth that Esko and I occupied and hands on hips and asked me, “where is Esko?”

I was stunned — yet again. “He’s right there — ”

But he was gone. Vanished into thin air.

“Is this some kind of crazy joke, Riku?”

“No joke, Dad, he was sitting right there a second ago, he’s disappeared. Look there’s the cup he was drinking out of.”

“Se ei todista mitään,” (that doesn’t prove anything) my father replied, clearly getting angry.

“Does this prove anything?” It was Esko, reappeared and standing directly behind my father.

I thought Dad was going to jump out of his skin.

“Mitä helvettiä?” (What the hell?) my father cried.

“Istu alas, Eero, ja jutellaan,” (sit down, Eero and we’ll talk).

Shaking, my father sat down across from me and Eero slid next to him.

It took awhile but my father eventually settled into the idea that his late friend Esko Koski was sitting next to him seemingly in the flesh and chatting about fishing trips the two had taken. 

They’d been gabbing for nearly half an hour when my father suggested that three of us go for a walk.

As we left the cafe my father finally posed the question. “How are you here now, Esko? Shouldn’t you be in heaven?”

“That’s what I thought too. I don’t remember nutting after I die, until I watching the funeral. Next thing I standing on the corner and you’re boy find me. I don’t know what the hell going on. “Olen hieman peloissani ja hämmentynyt,” (I’m a little bit scared and confused.)

"You should be in heaven now. "ei tämä on oikein." (This isn't right.)

“Yeah I wanna see, Kirsti, she must be waiting for me in heaven.” Kirsti was his wife who had died two years previously.

I had an idea. “Why don’t we go back to the corner where I found Esko and see what happens if we stand there for awhile.”

“Okay, we try it,” my dad agreed.

We stood on the corner for five minutes and nothing happened. “Maybe we too close to Esko,” my father suggested. So we moved a few feet away. We stood in silence for another minute when a beam of light appeared above Esko then engulfed him. 

“Hyvästi pojat,” Esko said (goodbye boys). And in the blink of an eye the beam of light and Esko were gone.

“Well, that was weird,” I said.

“Goddamn it!” My father exclaimed suddenly.

“What is it?”

“That son of a bitch owes me ten dollars. I had another chance to get it from him and forget all about.”

That was weird too.