Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

This novel doesn’t have the same bare-knuckled emotional wallop of The Road, but it still qualifies as a modern masterpiece.

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West is an old West cowboy novel, full of strange-yet-authentic language and characters. Like good concrete poetry, McCarthy’s work reflects the world he creates. A long ride across the hot desert, feels like a long, hot ride across the desert. Unfortunately, sometimes trudging through McCarthy’s dense prose can seem like an equally arduous task.

This book has been criticized for being ultra-violent, but the violence just seems extra harsh because it appears so suddenly out of McCarthy’s calm, lazy, sun-bleached landscape.

Judge Holden is unquestionably one of the most brilliantly rendered villains in all of literature. His observation of the world, his uncanny knowledge, and his seeming mastery of all things on earth, make him terrifyingly god-like. It’s The Judge’s world, we just live in it. And not for very long. The Judge makes Chigurh from McCormick’s later work, No Country For Old Men, seem like a pussy cat by comparison.

Blood Meridian is a fascinating, but challenging read, one that stays with you long after its final haunting pages.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road humbles me with its greatness. It is one of the most amazing novels I’ve ever had the uncomfortable pleasure of experiencing. McCarthy creates a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is as desolate and terrifying as any ever imagined. The hardships and tribulations faced by the nomadic father/son team in the novel (The Man/The Boy) are  harrowing, gut wrenching, and terrifying. This is a horror novel masquerading as a literary work, and vice versa. A survivalist thriller that’s as much of a philosophical journey as a physical one.

The backbone of The Road is the belief that love, hope, and human decency can endure in a ruined world. McCarthy’s prose is as sparse and haunted as the wasted landscape depicted in the novel. Each word is like a fine-edged sculptor’s tool. Each word is the right word. Damn you, Cormac! You’ve crafted a masterpiece, one that will live forever in my mind and heart.

Afraid by Jack Kilborn

Afraid by Jack Kilborn, $4.99 Kindle edition.

Joe Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn, aka J.A. Konrath) is a kind of folk hero to struggling authors everywhere. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing, outlines his success as a self-published novelist, and encourages others to follow a similar path. He makes a compelling argument for DIY book publishing, and the demise of the industry’s traditional New York publishing houses. Your mileage may vary, of course, when it comes to self-publishing (in fact, your mileage will likely be that of a Hummer with low tire pressure and the AC blasting) but Konrath gives self-pubbed authors hope. If he can do it, well, so can you!

Well, you won’t unless you can write with Konrath’s skill and precision. Afraid is a taut, tight thriller, packed with harrowing scenes of genuine suspense and terror. His nefarious Red Ops, a band of killers turned soldiers via brain implants, are a fearsome bunch, indeed. Afraid begins with a sequence of terrifying scenes, and ends as a tale about family bonds and redemption for past sins. It’s a damn fine novel, which is what all writers—self-pubbed or not—need to create in order to succeed.

“Big Sister” Is Selling Your Name

My old newspaper columns, circa ’95-’96.

My son unearthed a bunch of my old newspaper clippings recently, so I used an ImageToText app on my iPhone to scan this one from February 28, 1996. The app worked pretty well, and idea of the government selling your mailing address (not to mention email) to marketers is as frightening and relevant today as it was almost 17 years ago. (Speaking of which, the County Clerk’s Office sucks, too!) Plus, dig my groovy Geddy Lee look!

Viva la Mullet!

 One of the wonderful things about living in the ’90s is the ability to rack up huge credit card bills without leaving the house.

Using the phone or the computer you can buy everything from Richard Simmons’ exercise videos to haircutting attachments for your vacuum, (introducing…THE FLO-BEE!) Of course, you can also buy items you might actually have a use for, like food or clothing.

The problem with buying from a direct sales catalog is the enormous amount of junk mail that floods the mailbox afterward. Once you buy one item through the mail, manufacturers must believe you want to buy everything through the mail, and catalogs featuring bizarre items from across the globe begin piling up on your doorstep.

What is most annoying about this is the fact that companies sell their mailing lists to one another.

Say I order a delicious cheese wheel from “The Cheese Hut” in Missouri. A few weeks after my delivery arrives, I’m sure to get another catalog from “The Cheese Hut,” as well as stuff from “Cracker Hut,” “Baloney Hut,” “Dairy Product of the Month Association,” “Bulk Eating Digest,” and “Lunchmeats of the World.” “Cheese Hut” has sold my name and address to these companies without my permission—an admittedly “cheesy” move, but one that goes hand-in-hand with corporate mail order.

Government Sell Out

Now comes word that the government wants to jump into the lucrative junk mail market. Governor Christine Whitman recently unveiled a plan to sell off the databases of the Division of Motor Vehicles to direct-mail advertising firms. The plan will supposedly generate $11 million for the state, money Whitman has already included in the budget for this year.

Government officials claim they’re being “extra sensitive to privacy concerns” with the database sale. The truth is, any disclosure of DMV records is a violation of privacy rights. What Whitman is doing is subjecting everyone who drives a motor vehicle to piles of junk mail. Doesn’t the government take enough tax dollars already? Do they really have to tell direct mail producers where we live, as well?

Imagine the precedent this will set if Whitman’s plan comes to fruition. Will the IRS sell off its
database too, permitting the “Cheese Huts” of the world to mail a catalog to everyone with a Social Security number? This might be good for “Cheese Hut,” but it’s bad for the rest of us who have to sort through this junk. It’s also bad for mail carriers, who will have three times as much mail to deliver, 90 percent of which will be thrown away. And what will this do to the environment? Check it out in a few years when there are miles and miles of landfill containing nothing but glossy junk mail.

A few Democratic leaders are suggesting “revisions” to Whitman’s plan, but it probably won’t make any difference. The fact remains that Governor Whitman will be selling your name and your address to a bunch of direct-
mail advertisers. And that stinks worse than an unclaimed package from “The Cheese Hut.”

Make sure you remember to thank her at the voting booth in November.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, February 1996. 

 

True History of Thanksgiving Will Turn Your Stomach

The First Thanksgiving. The Native Americans brought food. The Pilgrims brought passive aggression.

Just in time for Turkey Day comes this cheerful little ditty from November 2005.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Feeling bloated with turkey and burnt-out on football? Well, sit back, relax, and allow me to acquaint you with the real story of Thanksgiving, the one you probably weren’t taught in grade school.

The traditional history of Thanksgiving goes something like this: In 1620, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, MA with a boatload of settlers. The group faced a harsh winter, but fortunately for them, the “friendly savages,” AKA the Wampanoag Indians, taught the settlers techniques to cultivate corn, grow native vegetables, and how to store them. By the end of summer 1621, the Pilgrims and the Indians threw a massive three-day party to celebrate the successful growing season and to generally “give thanks” for their friendship and for having survived in this harsh, untamed “New World.”

History Isn’t Pretty

While this version of events makes for a nice, “feel good” type of tale, it skirts the truth in a number of ways. In other ways it’s an outright lie.  True, there was friendship and peace among the Pilgrims and Indians during that three-day 1621 feast, but the friendship was uneasy and the peace was short-lived. The Wampanoag Indians were invited to the feast not just to celebrate the successful growing season, but also to negotiate a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims. The Indians, perhaps trying to please their Pilgrim hosts, actually brought most of the food served at that 1621 feast.

But the Pilgrims, Puritans who fled England because of religious persecution, had a strained relationship with the Native Americans. They accepted their help, but they didn’t really trust them. The Puritans were America’s original “religious right” – they saw themselves as the “Chosen Elect” mentioned in the book of Revelation, and anyone who did not agree with their strict religious beliefs was considered an enemy. This, of course, included the “heathen” Native Americans.

Indeed, as more and more Puritans arrived in the New World, the balance of power began to shift. The ungratefulness of the original Thanksgiving Day Pilgrims is exemplified by a Thanksgiving day sermon given by “Mather the Elder” in Plymouth in 1623, just two years after that first Thanksgiving. In that sermon, Mather gives thanks to God for spreading the smallpox virus among the Wampanoag Indians, especially since it killed “young men and children.” Mather the Harsh!

The Puritans began invading Indian villages, killing the young, old and sick, and selling the rest off for slavery. In the span of less than a generation, the peace between the Indians and the Pilgrims had completely dissolved. The children of that first Thanksgiving, Puritan and Wampanoag alike, grew up warring with one another. The Wampanoag chief was beheaded and his head was displayed on a pike in the middle of Plymouth for the next 24 years.

History Repeats Like A Gassy Grandma

It makes you wonder how much we’ve learned as a nation in the last 375 years. The Taliban regime was our “friend” 20 years ago; we helped it oust Russian invaders from Afghanistan. Less than two decades after America helped put it in power, the Taliban government was supporting the terrorist groups that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Will our new “friends” in Iraq behave the same way? More importantly, who are the Pilgrims and who are the Indians in this scenario?  History repeats itself, but America doesn’t always learn from its mistakes.

Finally, there is another little-known history to Thanksgiving, a history that better reflects what the holiday has come to represent today. The original Plymouth colony was founded on the concept of communism; the land was owned and farmed by the community as a whole. But the results were disastrous – by 1623 starvation was imminent. In desperation, Plymouth Governor William Bradford abolished the communal concept and began distributing private plots of land among the Pilgrims. He encouraged them to plant early and farm the land as individuals, not collectively. As a result, the harvest was bountiful and the concept of private property, individual initiative, and a free marketplace all planted roots deeply in the soil of America’s capitalist system.

Now, be a good American and go out and do some Christmas shopping.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, November 2005