Everybody’s Got An Angle

I’ve embarked on a project to read a biography of every president of the United States, including the obscure ones famous more for their facial hair than their accomplishments. So far, I’ve read Edmund Morris’s Theodore Rex and David McCullough’s John Adams. I’ve come away with new respect for Fox News. Their more outrageous assertions (those not spewed by Sean Hannity, anyway) are pretty tepid compared to some of the outright libel printed about Adams and Jefferson in the early days of the nation or perpetrated by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

What I’ve also noticed is that it’s easy to pick out a relatively objective biography of a president up to about Nixon, and even then, some even-handed accounts are coming out about Tricky Dick. In fact, I would have to say Ronald Reagan is the most recent president you could find a biography about without a large amount of political ax grinding. Oh, sure, you have to hunt for one that doesn’t make him out to be either evil incarnate or a Conservative God to whom Rush Limbaugh sacrifices ex-wives.

You can’t read about a sitting president objectively. It’s not possible. While I wouldn’t put money on the current George Bush being the Second Coming of Harry Truman (for starters, too rich. Truman’s net worth in 2008 dollars was less than mine.), there is the cold, hard fact that history is going to need time to make its own judgment.

Similarly, I’ve yet to hear anything about Bill Clinton that doesn’t make him out to be either a treasonous serial rapist or the greatest president since Lincoln. No happy (or in George W. Bush’s case, unhappy) medium.

So why not George HW Bush, aka Bush 41, Bush the Elder, Bush the Wiser, or The Man Who Should Have Pulled Out? Considering the elder Bush’s presidency was largely finishing up Ronald Reagan’s paperwork and bringing in the Cold War for a soft landing, one might think it possible to give a thoughtful, objective overview of his time in office after 15 years.

Thanks to his son, everything Bush, Sr, did is going to be regarded in light of what Bush, Jr, did. Even if George W. Bush had the most successful presidency in history, his taking office a mere eight years after his father colors and shadows any accomplishments or mistakes made between 1989 and 1991. John Quincy Adams had the luxury of taking office 25 years after his father and with a different party. Benjamin Harrison, remembered largely for being Grover Cleveland’s seat warmer, was the grandson of a president, and one who promptly got sick and died after taking the oath. But W? He started out in his daddy’s shadow and ended up eclipsing him.

Granted, no account of a president’s life can be wholly objective. Historians have agendas like anyone else, and everyone – even me, who says he has no party or ideological loyalty – has an agenda. It’s human nature. But the farther a president fades into history, the more we have to rely on their papers, letters (and someday emails and texts), and records and less on the media’s usually questionable account of the day’s events.

So who’s the most recent president you think you can read about without feeling you’re being lectured by some pompous ass like Hannity or Michael Moore?

Places I Want To Be

Yesterday, I talked about the travel budget being shot to hell for the foreseeable future.  Nita and I, though, have talked about places we’d like to go next year.  Jamaica has been discussed, as has been Florida, Savannah, and the Tennessee or West Virginia mountains.  One place I talk about a lot, though, is the Lake Erie Islands.

Last year, I got to go to historic Put in Bay for the first time.  Both as a place to waste time in bars and a tourist trap, I loved Put in Bay.  Out in the middle of a large inland sea, it stays cool from breezes off the water.  You get around South Bass Island – where the village of Put in Bay sits – mainly by golf cart.  They have a winery, the Perry Monument, where you can see clear to Canada or back to the Ohio mainland and Cedar Point Amusement Park.  Most of the island is a state park, and the island is a place to party.  Plus, Put in Bay has one of the largest marinas in the state.  It’s a great place to dock the boat while you go out to eat or just chill on the beach.

Kelley’s Island, closer to the mainland, is more “suburban” than Put in Bay.  While Put In Bay shows signs everywhere that hardly anyone lives full time on the island, Kelley’s looks more like a small town out in the middle of the sea.  It, too, has a terrific state park, great for hiking, and a winery that fully admits all Lake Erie wines (and Ohio wines for that matter) are sweet because you can’t age the grapes there more than a year.  (A certain nameless winery on the afforementioned island suggested they’re bullshitting you in California.  Kelley’s Island suggests you try Napa Valley for the dryer wines.)  The odd thing about the Kelley’s Island WInery is that it’s more like a bar.  I sat having wine and cheese at the Kelley’s while watching the Nationwide NASCAR Series.

Kelley’s is a fully functioning town with its own school and a working rock quarry.  While tourists pack the island from April through October, there are 367 people who call this place home.  Like South Bass, golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation for visitors.  However, most of the bars are clustered near the marina on the eastern side of the island.

My one visit to Kelley’s involved bar hopping.  After spending the morning exploring the island, I started out at one bar at the beginning of an Ohio State football game and worked may way over to the island’s sole brew pub and back to The Caddyshack for the end of the game.  It was late fall, and the tourists were fewer in number.  All in all, a cheap weekend away while the ex enjoyed Cedar Point on the mainland.

Ziggins and I talk about having a boys weekend out on the lake, starting in Sandusky and boating over to Kelley’s Island, then Put-in-Bay, before heading back to the mainland.  There’s something these tiny, isolated villages in the middle of the water that’s irresistable.

Proud To Be An… Um… American?

Once upon a time, there was a US territory called “The Panama Canal Zone,” so named because America was running the canal instead of Panama.  And prior to 1953, an American born there was not eligible to run for president.

Once such individual is John McCain.  Oops.

Wanna bet nothing comes of this, but would have if it were Barack Obama?

Actually, nothing will come of this because the GOP fears having to watch Mitt Romney try to sound black again.

But if Barack pulls another boner like the FISA compromise, at least we’ll have a president who will finally get those damn kids off the White House lawn.

Rambling On My Mind

My traveling this year is completely nil.  Gas prices haven’t helped, but haven’t exactly been a deterrent, either.  No, life changes have overwhelmed me to the point where the slush fund is gone.  I now have two house payments for the foreseeable future and a new car to deal with following the death of the Wintermobile.

It’s too bad, because I really wanted to go to Bouchercon this year.  With Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalink in charge, it’s going to feel like it’s our con.  (Well, it always does, but this is the first year I know the organizers on a first-name basis.  And the Jordan clan throws great bashes at all this writerly stuff anyway.)

But most of all, I’m going to miss the mingling.  I spent almost all of the 2006 con in Madison in the bar.  Not drinking, though I did plenty of that.  I sat in there and did more networking and commiserating than I had in Toronto and Chicago.

And let’s be honest.  I love Baltimore.  But this year, my only conference was Love Is Murder in Chicago, and it was on the company dime.  I had to work for BigHugeCo at its Wacker Drive office that weekend, and shot up to O’Hare Saturday evening to hang out.  (Hi, Michelle Gagnon.  Remember me?  Remember that drink Jason Starr thought was a beer?)

But there’s something deeper going on here.  Conferences are where I meet my fellow writers in the flesh.  You can only convey so much in email and on MySpace and Facebook or whatever annoying social networking site is hip this week.  You can look that person in the eye over the rim of your beer glass, kvetch with each other with a mouthful of onion rings, or just chill in the hotel lounge.  Plus, I landed my first agent from an in-person meeting with one of her clients.  Who says nothing gets done at these conferences or at book signings.

Yet real life has intruded.  My book budget is pretty much gone while we sell Nita’s old place, and I have no writing/web design/standup comedy income coming in that will pay for traveling.  Yes, I’ve got to face reality.  I can’t traipse across the country like I did for a few years.  Does that mean I’m finished?

Hardly.  We live in the Internet age.  There are some who decry the intrusion of technology, complaining that email is impersonal and no one wants to meet in person anymore.  Ever notice those are usually the same people you probably would have ignored in back in the covered wagon days of the 1980’s and earlier?  The fact is the Internet has let me get more done and talk with more people than I could have when we were dependent on The Phone Company (TM) and the US Postal Service.  Some people complain that you can be deceived by someone on the Internet, and it’s true.  I’ll go as far as to say I was defrauded mostly on the Internet a couple of years back.  But you know what?  That’s always been around.  It just happens faster and electronically now.  Same with bad men stalking your kids and con men trying to trick you out of your money.  What’s changed besides the speed and gimmicks they use?  If anything, they’re just as prevalent as when we had only Ma Bell and the mail man.  Or were you not paying attention when your mommy told you not to talk to strangers?

I digress.  I communicate with my current agent via the Internet.  My gig at January came about because of the Internet.  I pay my bills on the Internet.  It’s here.  I use it.  And to stay connected as a writer, I have to keep using it.

Do I feel disconnected?

A lady I’ll refer to as my Big Sister got me through the early stages of my first marriage ending with frequent emails.  A pal in Seattle reminded me by instant message that I had proposed a debt management book (Who better to tell you how to get you out of horrendous debt than someone who narrowly avoid bankruptcy?).  Li’l Sis and I communicate almost exclusively by Internet, an extension of a relationship that started as a letter exchange and frequent long-distance calls.

John Scalzi uses the Internet extensively to promote and interact with his fans.  Lynn Viehl uses it pretty much exclusively.  And the Net fits prominently in MJ Rose’s bag of tricks, as well as JA Konrath’s.

The point is I don’t have to spend vast sums traveling when they’re not to be had for the time being.  I can stay put and interact.

But I do miss the road.

Heart Shaped Box

A Novel Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel by Joe Hill


My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Joe Hill definitely is a chip off the old block in Bangor, Maine, but one thing he has over father Stephen King: He gets to the point much faster.

In Heart Shaped Box, Hill tells the story of an Alice Cooperish rock star gone to seed who’s duped into buying a ghost. In the worst way, Jude Coyne’s love-’em-and-leave-’em ways have literally come back to haunt him and anyone who helps him. Frightened, but undeterred, his Goth girlfriend Georgia sticks out the ordeal, nearly meeting her end several times. Over the course of the book, Georgia comes to identify, and eventually bond with, Coyne’s dead ex-girlfriend Anna. The ghost is angry for what Jude Coyne did to Anna. It may surprise you, though, that the late Anna is not.

Hill has clearly grown up on movies. His prose describes supernatural events in ways that suggest well-known movie and music video special effects. It’s a cinematic book, but not all that distracting.

Overall, great job and hard to believe this is a first novel.

View all my reviews.

Cable Guy!

Yesterday, the drones from TimeWarner arrived en masse” to hook us up with four DVR’s.  This makes AJ very happy as he now gets to watch soft porn** on Cinemax Friday nights while Nita’s watching Family Guy on Fox and I’m listening to The Awful Show live.

As I mentioned yesterday, I did the preliminary work.  I strung cable into AJ’s room after learning my former office did not have a cable hookup.  I also learned that my house had 3 cable outlets but only one hookup.  The techs spent a lot of time in the basement.

And now?  I can Tivo the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica on four different televisions whenever they finally air.  I can watch HBO On-Demand again.  I can fall asleep to either Family Guy and reruns of Seinfeld or Real Sex or even, if Nita and I are feeling masochistic, Flavor of Love.  (Ugh!)  Life is now sweet.

Now comes the tricky part.  I went to cancel DirecTV.  DirecTV said fine.  That’ll be $350.*****

I don’t have $350.  In fact, I don’t remember them mentioning that when I signed up.  So here’s our little secret.

You know and I know and Diane knows I’m still friends with my ex.  DIrecTV doesn’t know that.  For all they know, Diane up and left me for some dude in Australia*** and left me with the house and all these bills and a huge ass settlement I’ll never be able to pay her back.  Right?  Right?

Since they’ll never match this blog with my account, it’s all good.  Right?

Anyone else have any creative ways of getting out of early termination fees? 

*Assumes “two” constitutes “en masse“.
**Don’t get your knickers in a twist.  It’s a joke.  AJ plays too much World of Warcraft to be interested in Skinemax.  Now, when he starts college…
***Kinda true.  Her first post-me boyfriend lives in Australia.  She brought me back some good beer.****
****Not Foster’s.  Foster’s is Australian for “watery, cheap beer.”
*****Despite this, I still recommend DirecTV.  Just make sure to ask about the early termination fees.

Scaling Mt. TBR

Amazon sent me some happy news yesterday.  The mad Dr. Gischler’s Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, Neil Smith’s Yellow Medicine, and Reed Farrell Coleman’s Empty Ever After are all on their way.

And sitting on deck after I read those is Tom Nolan’s biography of Ross MacDonald.

Whoo hoo!  July will be Tom Waits, cold beer, and hot noir!

My wife and kid are going to go sooooooo sick of hearing Waits blaring from my office as I tear into these.  Maybe I’ll toss in Johnny Cash for Nita.

If You See Something, Say Something. Even If You Have The Right To Remain Silent.

Sometimes crime pays, though not in financial windfall.  Over the Fourth of July weekend, a would-be car thief attempted to steal a van and discovered a bomb inside.  The thief moved the van to a less crowded area, then called a cop he knew from previous run-ins.  Police opted not to file charges as the thief likely saved lives.

I’m Tired. My Feet Stink. And I Don’t Love L. Ron Hubbard.

So how was your Fourth? (Or First for those of you a few hours north of me?) My weekend was…

Strenuous.

Nita, AJ, and I took over my condo this past weekend. I know I said it last time I moved in here, but I’m not moving again for five years, and next time I use movers.

Not only did we move furniture and boxes fifteen miles from Deer Park to Eastgate, but yours truly learned a few things about himself, mainly that I’m a lot handier than I thought. For example…

  • The previous owners never showed the former Mrs. Winter or I where the furnance filter was.  Did you know if you leave a 30-day filter on your furnance for about 14 months, your air conditioner will quit unexpectedly on the hottest day of the year?  Nita figured it out.  We now use 90-day filters with a schedule to change them every 2 months.  (Just because they’re 90-day filters doesn’t mean you need to keep them 90 days.)
  • It is possible to rip up the carpet to lay the coax cable you thought already ran through the walls and put it back with little or no evidence you did anything.  I’d have made the cable guy do it this afternoon, but after DirecTV strung a fat cable through my kitchen because “drilling through the foundation is hard!“, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
  • And speaking of carpet, I finally found that cat smell the steamer wouldn’t get rid of.  All it took was a lot of sniffing, a strong stomach, and a utility knife.  Unfortunately, I now need a couple of throw rugs to replace that section.  At least now, though, the family can use the family room.

So now we’re moved in and cleaned up.  However, we also now have two house payments.  Guess what we’ll be doing the rest of the summer?

Thank God Nita works for a real estate company.

And All Around, The Sound Of… Crickets

This week marks Happy UK Spin-Off Week, with Canada Day and Independence Day on Tuesday and Friday respectively.  The former celebrates the day when Britain realized it was easier to let North America run itself than to do it from London; the latter recalls a time not too dissimilar from today, when an overtaxed people, deprived of their rights, told an idiot named George to go screw himself.  (Britain itself followed suit during the Madison Administration, replacing George III with Hugh Laurie.)  Also, this is the week I have to clean out the condo so my cat-allergic wife can move in.

Bottom line.  No one’s reading right now, and I’m too busy to write.  So the blog is shuttered until Monday, when I have more time, energy, and…  hopefully, readers.

See you next week.

Until then, here’s a gratuitous photo of my wife in her wedding dress…