The Wicked Little Book of Quotes edited by Helen Exley

The Wicked Little Book of Quotes is a purely good book, in my opinion. The quotes are mostly from women celebrities of yore making pithy, risqué declarations related to sex.

There are five paintings of female nudes in the book. There are fourteen bare breasts. Ten paintings of men and women interlocked in passionate embrace. Beyond the fourteen bare breasts (two of my favorite words in the English language: "bare breasts") there are another three of delectable décolletage. Full Disclosure: I was bottle fed as a baby.

But as good as the tasteful, yet arguably, tumescent-inducing paintings are, they are easily eclipsed in erotic grandeur by the lascivious quotes from the many illustrious and lustful-minded ladies (bless them!) of mostly the early twentieth century, like this tasty truism below:

"Men aren't attracted to me by my mind, they're attracted by what I don't mind. ~ Gypsy Rose Lee

My runner up favorite is world famous, from Ulysses:

He kissed the plump mellow yellor smellor melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation."

The winning quote in the collection, for me, comes from Francois Rabelais and his masterpiece, about half-a-millennium old, Gargantua & Pantagruel. It's rather lengthy, the quote, as well as what the quote depicts, I presume, being rather lengthy (and do pardon my redundancy with the "lengthy,") I'm just trying to make a point:

One of them would call it her little dille, her staff of love, her quillety, her faucetin, her dandilollie: Another her peen, her jolly kyle, her bableret, her membretoon, her quickset imp: Another again, her branch of coral, her female adamant, her placket-racket, her Cyprian sceptre, her jewel for ladies: and some of the women would give it these names, my bunguetee, my stopple too, my busherusher, my gallant wimble, my pretty boarer, my coney-burrow ferret, my little piercer, my augretine, my dangling hangers, down right to it, stiff and stout, in and to, my pusher, dresser, pouting stick, my honey pipe, my pretty pillicock, linkie pinkie, futilletie, my lusty andouille and crimson chitterlin, my little couille bredouille, my pretty rogue.

My main complaint, if I really even have a "main complaint," with The Wicked Little Book of Quotes, is that Mae West is overly represented herein. Of the eighty-two quotes, nine are Mae West's. While only one (and it's a zippy zinger) is Dorothy Parker's: "One more drink and I'll be under the host." LOL! Parker could quip about sex (about everything) with the best of them, and yet she gets only one quote, while Mae gets nine? That's absurd, Helen Exley! Helen Exley is the editor of this Mae West-biased, though nonetheless, delicious (and decadent) collection.

Another minor complaint of mine: Who really cares what Woody Allen has to say about sex? I've heard it all before! He's quoted twice. Twice too many times, I'd say. I can watch his movies (A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, for instance) if I really need to hear (again) his repressed and neurotic one-liners on sex that, I must admit, in Allen's defense, hit a tad too close to home to this somewhat repressed (religious upbringing!) and neurotic "reviewer".

Let's now close and have a moment of silence for Rue McClanahan.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rue, of Golden Girls fame, passed away on June 3rd of this year, 2010. Golden Girls taught the viewing public a lot about sex from a decidedly, what we'd term today, "cougarish" perspective, yes? I'll leave you with her doozy of a quote, by way of fond remembrance and homage to a late and great actress:

"Isn't it interesting how the sounds are the same for an awful nightmare and great sex".

MTVs First Ten Videos Aired: Can You Name Them?

This weekend marks the 29th anniversary of MTV firing up its engines and rocketing and rocking off the launch pad. The music industry and pop music has never been the same (for better or for worse) since.

The Sound FMs (100.3) "Ten at 10:00" this morning, my favorite radio station in Los Angeles at the moment, featured the first ten songs that MTV aired back in August, 1981. Most Pop Culture geekoids between the ages of ten and twenty, circa 1981, can probably name the first song/video MTV played with ease (I could) but recalling the first ten I doubt not even the most genius nostalgic geekoids could list. I thought it'd be cool to list the songs here.

(Note to self, and to my literally single digits of readers -- Hi, Becky! Hi, Piero!; Hi, whomever-you-are-from Fullerton and Mountain View, CA, respectively **waves** -- add links and video clips to these songs and clips of the original VeeJays (Martha Quinn, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Alan Curry, who was the 5th one?) when you get home. And add the commentary too, that you wrote down: only 300 or so videos in existence at the time, dozens by Rod Stewart; Blondie had a ton out at the time, like Hanging on the Telephone or Sunday Girl (why weren't they included in the first 10?); Journey did not release any videos for their megaseller, Escape, released in June of '81. Huh? Who was the genius that advised they not make any videos for Escape? As HUGE as that album was, had there been videos for "Don't Stop Believin'," "Open Arms," and "Who's Crying Now?" good God, that album might have put up Thrilleresque or Rumourish type sales figures; and write down that mock blather skewering Styx & R.E.O. and their feathered-banged fans with their hair parted down the middle, wearing brown corduroys and plaid with humongo collars -- they were sure hip and cutting edge back then weren't they? ...

01. Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles

02. You Better Run by Pat Benatar. Smokin' hot: Pat Benatar: Yeahhhh.

03. She Won't Dance with Me by Rod Stewart (not sure if this is the right clip aired)

04. You Better You Bet by The Who

05. Little Susie's on the Up by Ph.D (Ph.D? I had no idea that this band - or song - existed as an original. I thought Tesla wrote it for their debut album, "Mechanical Resonance" in '86 I also thought it was Tina Turner before the DJ named the track).

06. We Don't Talk Anymore by Cliff Richard

07. Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders (Kid would have been a better choice off their kick ass debut).

08. Time Heals by Todd Rundgren (great song completely forgotten about)

09. Take it on the Run by R.E.O. Speedwagon (gag me, I don't care how many records "Hi Infedility" sold! They sucked then and they still suck now.)

10. Rockin' the Paradise by Styx (with a spoon! Full Disclosure: I owned the 8-track of "Paradise Theater," ... I'm so ashamed. :( )


Penguins Make Great Pets

And they look absolutely fabulous on the book shelves. Whether they're the black-spined classics with the classy artwork on the covers:
All those famous paintings from days of yore; or the deluxe-editions with the fold out heavy-stock covers and leafy, uneven (and heavier stock of) pages; or the older orange-spined editions, or the old black-spined mass markets with bars of yellow, orange, or red, at the top of the spines; or the contemporary non-classics; or the seafoam-spined classics (like all those Steinbecks I have); stand them side by side by side, and whoa, how can you not be in Classic (or non-classic) Book Literature Heaven? They're as enjoyable to stare at, as far I'm concerned, as they are to read.
Maybe I should take a picture of my hundreds of Penguins, standing proudly together like a Penguin Clan of the Antarctic, and insert the photo here! I would, but I'm at work (oomph, foiled again!), and don't have access to a camera (or to my bookshelves where rest my proud Penguins to be photographed). So, instead, what's the next best thing to Penguin books? ...

And as lovely and beautiful stand these real penguins side by side by side by side, real Penguin Books look even lovelier.

Happy 75th Birthday, Penguin Books!


The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert

Ten years before Frank Herbert launched himself into the SF stratosphere with Dune, he published his first novel, The Dragon in the Sea (1955), a debut good enough to garner him an International Fantasy Award. But despite the awards and accolades, future publishers saw fit to rename and desecrate the perfect title of the novel, calling it both Under Pressure and 21st Century Sub. The latter concocted title, much rarer in circulation than the former, has become a minor collectible among hardcore collectors. While I've never been a hardcore collector (or even a hardcore SF aficionado), I have been hardcorely obsessed with Frank Herbert since the early 80s, right around the time when God Emperor of Dune came out, and so spent low double digits (as in $12) one day to obtain a much-less-than-in-mint condition looking paperback copy of a book I already had two other copies of, only the two other copies, of course, were titled Under Pressure and The Dragon in the Sea. I wouldn't make such a big deal over this renaming debacle except the phrase, "the dragon in the sea," ties beautifully into the plot of the novel as Frank Herbert intended it to, while the phrases, "under pressure" and "21st century sub," do not.

Herbert made his career out of inserting individuals into some of the most brutal and inhospitable environments imaginable. In The Dosadi Experiment (1977), he placed billions on an experimental planet about the size of Rhode Island, or maybe a Manhattan high rise thereabouts, in order to comment on the consequences of Earth's overpopulation; while in The Jesus Incident (co-authored with Bill Ransom, 1979), sequel to the hard science of Destination: Void (1968), the latter of which was written concurrently as Clarke's and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, we see the horrifying results of an exploratory spacecraft that's been mutiny'd by a rogue computer intent not necessarily on the flight crew's destruction, but "WorShip". The computer, cousin to the eccentrically iconic HAL, apparently, but not quite as murderous, though a tad more megalomaniacal with its Catholic God complex, decides nevertheless to deposit its helpless crew in another inescapably bizarre and barren environment (the bleak, depressing setting for The Jesus Incident) dominated by brain sucking, slug-like creatures and other nefarious human-imbibing creatures intent on gaining access to mankind's innards through whatever orifice they can find. Things get so bad for the crew on land in The Jesus Incident, that half of the population eventually migrates underwater, evolving into amphibians in The Lazarus Effect (1983), the second installment in Herbert's and Ransom's Pandora Trilogy, that culminates in The Ascension Factor (1988) published posthumously by Herbert.  Has the collective effect of computers and related technology sucked our brains and ability to think critically and creatively so dry to the point that we "WorShip" technology's "genius," perhaps Herbert prophesied?  And it's a virulent prophecy mirroring Ted Mooney's uber-prescient concept of "Information Sickness" in 1981s stunner, Easy Travel to Other Planets.
Herbert got his sensational start being unforgivably cruel to his characters beginning with The Dragon In The Sea, a novel in which he mercilessly plopped his first poor characters into another man-made Hell: The claustrophic confines of a nuclear submarine. (Tom Clancy eat your heart out, Herbert did it first!) Oh how he inserts four men into what amounts to a tubular tomb; into some, uh, "highly pressurized" (see where those brilliant publishers got the idea of renaming the book, Under Pressure?) stressful and deadly scenarios.
The United States' sub's mission: Dive into enemy Russian waters both for precious oil in dwindling supply and to find out what happened to the previous twenty subs that went missing without so much as a single SOS. Sabotage or espionage are suspected, but there's no concrete evidence of either. Enter The Federal Bureau of Psychology (the FBP) for naval consultation. The FBP advises the navy generals that expert psychologist, John Ramsay, go on the next mission for oil, and work as a regular submarine crew member while covertly putting his psychological expertise to work in the hopes he'll be able to fathom with his honed skills of behavioral observation and analysis what (or who) keeps going wrong with these missions. Could there, in fact, be a traitor --a saboteur-- on board; and, if so, who? The captain? It couldn't be Ramsay himself could it? Is the U.S. Government involved in the destruction of its own subs? That would be a curveball! Is it one of the other two crew members? But which one, assuming it is? And how can Ramsay prove it without with revealing his undercover operation?

Complicating matters, the Russians, those Cold War Commies, aren't exactly thrilled seeing another U.S. nuclear submarine appear out of nowhere on their sonar. It's their oil, damnit, not the Americans'! And they've the right to protect it at any cost! Could it be that maybe there are no traitors on board the U.S. sub, though, but that maybe the Russians are simply impeccable at protecting what they believe is rightly theirs, and that they've torpedoed or somehow sunk all previous twenty U.S. subs, thus eliminating every titanium scrap and bolt of sunken, exploded evidence? But if so, wouldn't there be ungodly amounts of radiation in the sea in the areas of disappearance?, since these are nuclear subs we're talking about, and not bathtub submersibles, right? Have the Russians invented a new type of weaponry designed to destroy U.S. nuclear subs that can simultaneously contain or disguise the release of radiation and thereby eradicate any shred of radioactive evidence? Could be.  But I won't tell.

Could be too that Herbert will pull a rabbit out of his plot's hat while making his prescient political statement about the world's over-dependency on oil he fictionally forecasted over half-a-century ago. Herbert's writing per se didn't win him the International Fantasy Award or even the Hugo and Nebula he won later in his career; it was his genius ideas and environmental and political commentaries cleverly allegorized in his novels which triumphed over the pedestrian wheat and chaff pulp of the majority of his SF peers.
That the world today, on several fronts, is engaged in an ongoing, neverending war (of one sort or another) over earth's most precious commodity and resource (not over its people, no) but its oil, testifies to Herbert's prognosticating brilliance; to his seemingly innate, uncanny ability, to act as Prophet and SF Sage in an age when science fiction had virtually no respect as having anything politically, philosophically, or psychologically pertinent (remember, it was 1955, pre-Twilight Zone), to say. And he did so while also entertaining the hell out of us with his superior storytelling contained in his, granted, ho-hum (but not terrible) prose. Herbert's no Proust (ya think!?) when it comes to style -- and Herbert gets abused big time compared to his other fellow largely likewise "styleless" SF authors -- and wrongly, in my opinion -- for being so dense and "hard" to read. But I'll take Herbert over Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Dick and even Neal Stephenson any day.

Only John Brunner, among Herbert's era of science-fictionists, in his most popular works -- Stand On Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up, forecasted the future more accurately. Don't read The Dragon In The Sea, or any of Herbert's books just for the writing (you'll inevitably be disappointed if you do); instead, read Herbert for his visionary constructs and world building, for his complicated architecture of ideas, and see how much of what he wrote about in the 1950s and 1960s -- as he gazed deep into his multifaceted, speculative crystal ball -- had already materialized by the dawning of the 21st Century.

My Thirteen Cents on 1984

The prescient political and philosophical warnings George Orwell imaginatively conceptualized in 1984 practically erupt off the novel's pages because of the flat dispassionate writing style and austere tone. His paranoia eclipsed his prose. Appropriately so. The writing reads to me as if Orwell were a 19th century Russian master but the English translator mediocre at best -- except Orwell did this, I'd wager, by design.  We know he wrote better than the simple declarative anti-style he took in 1984 --much better-- and his massively voluminous journals and elegant essays proved it.

1954 edition
I'd be curious to find out if he did in fact intentionally strip the color and vibrancy from the narration, crafting sentences, syntax, that was bare trees in the dead of winter, in order to slyly insinuate a dry rectilinear totalitarian ethos into this virtual panorama of visionary ideas that was the experience of reading 1984, thereby accentuating his stark futuristic visions with a similarly stark voice. Was he going for the effect in the novel you can produce in printing when you reverse-negative text, and thus make the white of the words, the text --the ideas-- pop out from the page because now the words (and just the words) are white and the page completely black? If he did so purposely, then my three cents aren't even worth a penny; he's a greater genius than ever. But I've yet gathered in my reading and research if that is indeed the case; what Orwell set out to do stylistically.

Regardless, I'd rate Yevgeny Zamyatin's We a better read than 1984 because it's better written (and I say that even though I don't read Russian and am forced to read what very well may be a mediocre English translation!) and it's ideas are as satirically innovative as 1984s and, arguably, more original, since We was written two decades prior.

Or maybe I simply can't get on board with books that seem like more over-hyped legends than supposed classic literature to me. 1984, Ulysses, Brave New World, (more lacklusters to join list soon) ...


2112 by Rush

Even though the lyrics of this record rely heavily on the writings and faux philosophies of Ayn Rand — a plagiarized spew stew dipped out of Darwin and The Wealth of Nations — don't think for a minute about throwing the beautiful baby (2112) out with the putrid bathwater (Ayn Rand), because this album shines regardless of any mediocre novelist/fascist "philosopher" who inspired its thematic content.
l.-r., Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart, Geddy Lee, 1976
Geddy Lee can't sing, but he can screech. He can screech better than any banshee. Even better than Stevie Nicks. And while he's not the most attractive thing to look at up there on the stage (not his fault, he was born that way), he can sure play bass and synthesizer simultaneously like no other rocker in history.

Don't confuse Alex Lifeson for Jimmy Page. But don't confuse Steve Jones for Alex Lifeson. When the guitar needs to sound like science fiction itself — as it does on 2112 — or later in their careers when it sounds like an outlawed automobile being chased by an "alloy air car," on their 1981 classic, "Red Barchetta" from arguably their most creative release, Moving Pictures, nobody in rock history has ever made the electric guitar sound so consistently and convincingly dystopian.

Deluxe ed. in 5.1 surround sound, released 2012
Neil Peart? Ever heard of him? If you haven't, he's the most technically skilled (or was, in his prime in the 1970s and 80s), versatile, and virtuosic rock drummer who's ever lived. Set the needle (if you still have one) on side one of 2112, and listen to Overture/Temples of Syrinx, and hear the incomparable blitzing beat of percussive genius. He drums faster than a bullet train, but it's intelligible-fast, each thwack and snap distinguishable from the one preceding it, unlike the fast-thrash-ubiquitous-bashing predominant in today's harder-tinged music.

The Sex Pistols released one album in their "career" — iconic and influential as it was, granted — that garnered them a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While Rush, dozens of great albums out, all (except their first) filled with Neil Peart's poetry —yes, poetry — lyrics that could pass as poetry and not just lyrics (read Closer to the Heart or Freewill for starters), and worldwide critical acclaim (except in almighty U.S. of A.) are not (WTF?)-- in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Get serious. Rush, in fact, hasn't even been nominated for the Hall of Fame. Absurd. No, BEYOND ABSURD.

I'm no rock critic, but I'd posit that if a "career" based solely on Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, is worthy of Hall of Fame status, then so should Rush gain entrance into the Hall of Fame based solely on one its finest releases, 2112 — an album sonically superior and lyrically more astute (even despite Ayn Rand's nefarious influence) than that raucous, one-chordish, veritable boy band, Sex Pistols shit.

The Nihilist

below this line is the story of my life


Self; Centered

[Note that the ME, dependent on however large a monitor you have, may not appear in the exact center of the "people" as it is intended to. It even seems to shift on my screen, toward the left, for whatever reason]



Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Prediction: In fifty years, Never Let Me Go will be looked back upon in a similarly reverent fashion that we, here in 2010, look back upon Huxley's Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, and Orwell's 1984. It's that good -- an instant classic in my book.  I think what's most remarkable about this novel, and what elevates it into its rare Orwellian air, lies in the hidden intrigue outside its pages, in what Kazuo Ishiguro does not explicity state; the unmentioned mystery we don't even know is a mystery until we get a nagging sense that something very strange, something not quite right, is afoot here.
cover of first ed., 2005
Ishiguro describes a boarding school --Hailsham-- and follows the lives over time of several characters who lived and studied there, relaying their experiences from the first person perspective of one of its former students, Kathy, and her take on their experiences together. But that is all Ishiguro reveals to us; we do not know the full backdrop to the story nor the behind-the-scenes sociopolitics which made the existence of a place like Hailsham possible in the first place.

We witness what appears an ordinary boarding school at first glance, slowly, almost imperceptibly (like trying to see clouds move on a windless day), transform before our eyes into a boarding school straight out of The X-Files, as subtle clues, hints and ominous foreshadowings become revealed.

Something's obviously amiss in this parentless world of boarding school students, something (but what?) is slightly askew here, off kilter, Outer Limitish. And once we fully fathom the world Ishiguro has depicted here, using spare prose that remains elegant and poetic and all the more profound in its childlike understatedness, full of deep longing and innocence, a haunting sense of first disquiet, then disbelief, then sadness, and, for me (and maybe you too) moral outrage soon ensues. How dare they!? How dare they do that to them!

Never Let Me Go is loaded with chilling philosophical/ethical dilemnas and spiritual quagmires examining both a deplorable caste system that, to me, isn't much different than what the ancient Mayans did to appease their gods of earth and water, and casts a lot of gray on an already gray ethical dividing line separating humanity from inhumanity, good from evil. What Ishiguro accomplishes in his subtle social commentaries is reminiscent of what Rod Serling evoked in his thought provoking Twilight Zone vignettes. Deep, creative, hits-you-in-the-gut story telling.

Describing the plot in greater detail would ruin the experience of Never Let Me Go. I had the misfortune of seeing a certain tag for this novel before I read it and so knew beforehand what the "big deal" was. I wish I hadn't seen that stupid tag (or maybe it was a blurb), because the slow mind blowing waves of realization when they break upon you in creepy ripples of realization of what you've been reading about and witnessing all this time, would've hurt a lot worse had I entered the novel naive. Therefore, I recommend reading Never Let Me Go ignorant of its designs, aware only that once you do know what Hailsham and its students represent, you might wish you didn't.

Postscript on the title: The title's taken from a song the protagonist, Kathy, discovered on a cassete tape and loved as a child. The song, "Never Let Me Go," touched her deeply. The title, of course, is the core pun of the novel. I want to say more, but don't want to ruin the experience for the uninitiated of Never Let Me Go. Don't read anything about the book, except this blog entry, before reading the book, is my advice.

This began as a review of Lars and the Real Girl but became something else, I'm not sure what

Is it plausible that an emotionally repressed young man so psychologically and emotionally clouded with unresolved guilt and grief (his parents died in the not-so-distant past) could purchase a life-size sex doll that's 100% anatomically accurate down to the minutest hair follicle, and fall in love with her/it, and so delude himself into believing they do indeed have a "real relationship" involving everthing that real relationships involve (including verbal communication) but not ... not sex, the very activity the lifesize doll was designed for? Probably not that plausible.

And what's even more implausible: that a young unmarried man (a quiet and shy young man with no girlfriend, at least not a human girlfriend) could purchase a pricey sex doll and not have sex with her/it, or that he could buy her and believe her to be a real woman? And a woman who would actually speak to him.

In the sex doll's defense, I must say her face does demonstrate a more dynamic range of movement, especially her long eyelashes, than, say, Joan Rivers' or Cher's or many of those Real Housewives' faces. And is she stacked, boy oh boy! Good Lord is she sportin' the rack! What did my Dad call them -- "Winnebagos" -- was it? My Dad actually owned a Winnebago or two in his day. The motorhome. And those thick pouty lips on that doll would certainly make Angelina Jolie jealous, I'd bet, were Brad Pitt to bring one home. In doll terms, she's a lot hotter than Barbie. She's almost human hot, she's so hot. I can see why Lars would like her; why he'd mail order her home like a Russian bride; why he'd want to get to know her better. In a desperate situation, in fact, like if a gender-specific plague were let loose on the planet (read Frank Herbert's The White Plague for that), and no real women were left around alive on the earth for the men to fuck (and as Donald Antrim said in The Verificationist: "Everybody needs someone to fuck") I'd wager that most men would probably do her/it, in a heartbeat. Would I?

Would I? My first impulse was to reply to my own hypothetical question with, "A true gentleman never tells". But I've never pretended to be much of a gentleman in my life (read the above paragraph), so why would I lie and hide behind pretense? So, yeah, I'll admit it, I'd do her/it, even if Lars wouldn't. Though, since I'm a married man, does sex with a sex doll constitute adultery? I wouldn't want to do that. Commit adultery. Also, I'm wondering, if I were still religious like I used to be, would I have committed a sin by having sex with the sex doll? And what if I wore a condom while banging the sex doll? Would the Pope applaud, or disapprove? And would my wife, whom, of course, I'd much rather do all night and day than some pricey anatomically accurate femininely fashioned oversized piece of plasstic, then have legal grounds to divorce me in a supreme court of law, assuming I did do said doll every which way? If my wife divorced me because of the doll, would I then have the legal right to marry the doll, like Lars intends to marry his doll, toward the beginning of the movie?

Lars and the Real Girl raises a host of tough questions; ethical and moral conundrums much too complex for me to attempt and unravel here.

Therefore, on second thought, seeing how complicated screwing a piece of plastic could become, I'd just as soon steer clear of the dear doll, and instead, highly recommend queing up Lars and the Real Girl on your Netflix asap.


101 Hikes in Southern California: Exploring Mountains, Seashore and Desert by Jerry Schad

Jerry Schad wrote the best regional hiking guides period.  He died too young.  I miss his weekly columns, his indefatigable energy and overall zest for living.  This particular guide of his, 101 Hikes in Southern California: Exploring Mountains, Seashore and Desert, at the time of its first publication, was the only trail guide published that included detailed information about the hardest and most dangerous trek in the state: The Cactus to Clouds hike. The "Cactus" denotes the trail head at sea level on the outskirts of Palm Springs in the desert. While the "Clouds" denotes what you'll be in once you're at the top: the summit of San Jacinto Peak, a mere two miles-plus above sea level at 10,804 feet.

To put the hike into perspective, consider the Empire State Building. Roughly 1,000 feet high. Think about taking the stairs of Empire State all the way to the top. Not once. Not twice. Ten times. More than 1,000 stories.

Now, imagine you had to do the Empire State's stairs ten times to the top but there weren't any hand railings nor easy-to-follow steps one right after the other.

Imagine having to begin your journey to the top of the Empire State Building x ten at midnight in order to avoid the horrible heat over the first half of the hike. Imagine prickly cholla everywhere on those steps to the top of the Empire State Building that had to be carefully navigated through in the dark with either a headlamp or flashlight, lest you get pricked or impaled!

Imagine the steps to the top of the Empire State Building x ten being loose granite and dirt, ultra steep, difficult of footing even wearing lug-soled boots.

Do scorpions, centipedes, tarantulas and rattlesnakes abundantly inhabit the stairwells of the Empire State Building x ten? Didn't think so. But they're out and about (and on the hunt for warm blooded critters like hikers) on the Cactus-to-Clouds "trail". Sound fun? It is! Especially when you get to the top.

I applaud Jerry Schad (and his publisher) for being the first to have the guts to publish a description of the hike that U.S. rangers with the San Bernardino National Forest Service strongly discourage anybody attempting. More people have been rescued (and been killed) on this trail than any other trail in Southern California. In fact, there are warning signs at the top of the trail (not the summit but the top of the tram) declaring not to attempt hiking down the trail, because it's so steep and loose you might not be able to stop your downward momentum and take a fatal tumble like your body was a runaway boulder!

Forget the Empire State Building x ten, the hike is more difficult than doing Mt. Whitney in a single day, elevation- and incline-wise, and equally as rewarding, in my opinion. The views from the summit of San Jacinto Peak are sublime on a clear day. The views are sublime even if you don't get to the top from the very bottom, but take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and cut out the hard "Cactus" part of the hike, having heeded the U.S. Forest Rangers advice. But beware! The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is no guarantee you'll avoid trouble.

If you do decide on the hike, don't ever do it alone, and let a ranger know you're not heeding their advice (the trail's on public land, they can't stop you from doing the hike) and be sure to have enough water to last you for two days ... just in case.

And watch out for snakes!

More info, maps, and blow-by-blow images of the hike: Cactus to Clouds.

Troubled Hiker Rescued from Cactus to Clouds Trail July 9th, 2010.

Genoa: A Telling of Wonders by Paul Metcalf

Who is Paul Metcalf?

I wondered the same when I first saw his name, about nine years ago, listed in my absolute favorite top 100 novels list: Larry McCaffery's The 20th Century's Greatest Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction, a list focused primarily on the most innovative of modernist works, as well as every novelistic niche under that little read (and perhaps lesser understood) literary umbrella known as "postmodernism".

my copy: 1991 reprint, Univ. of N.M.
McCaffery features on his list modernistic innovative writers (James Joyce, William Gaddis); the avant gardish types (Robert Coover, John Hawkes, Kathy Acker); the poster-boys of postmodernity (Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, David Foster Wallace); the magical realists (Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez); the metafictiony masters (John Barth, Raymond Federman); the poetic linguists (Gertrude Stein, William H. Gass) who replaced plot with language; all of them (and too many more to itemize by name) digressive loopty-loopters who pushed the limits of the novel structurally, narratively, point of view-wise, in ways previously unimagined in literature, assuming we disregard Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy contribution, as well as Rabelais a couple centuries even earlier, or Shakespeare, even, writers and a playwright who were essentially writing postmodernist literature in the 1700s and 1500s, respectively.

But Sterne and Rabelais are the rare exceptions to what exploded in the 1960s: Narrative that shed the modernist trappings of its more orthodox forebears and embraced instead, in (simplistic) sum, loose linguistics, loose allusions, loose plots (if any), loose connections and non-linearity. Trading obvious meaning, in other words, for secret meanings if not meaninglessness altogether. Fiction that was so experimental it was next to impossible to read at times, like Finnegans Wake or The Making of Americans or Gravity's Rainbow or, the ironically titled, The Recognitions; but fiction, nevertheless, in its oft-purple prose you could not possibly read aloud without pausing often to take a breath (or pausing for your oxygen mask), that was, despite its difficulties, typically fun to read for the sheer flamboyance of it's riffing prose, as if the language itself were shot up with steroids and pranced around in the ring flexing its obscenely large muscles (to the boos of most in the old guard and to the delirious cheers of a hyper, younger minority); literature so loathed (and yet so loved), that it left no middle ground among its audience: You were either in to it all out, or you couldn't stand any of it, no doubt!  There was no middle ground.

Jargon 109: The Jargon Society
Paul Metcalf, essayist, poet, under-appreciated postmodern novelist, ranked in the 43rd slot of McCaffery's cult classic list, was definitely in to it. He wrote some weird, and at times, indecipherable shit, to put it bluntly -- try making heads or tails of his Araminta and the Coyotes (1991) sometime -- and found no fame or wealth for his lifelong efforts. Just like his great-grandfather before him  ... Herman Melville.

Paul Metcalf indeed had some big shoes to fill as a writer, didn't he? The pressure was on. He admitted as much to feeling it. He found being the great-grandson of Herman Melville burdensome, and so went mainstream a bit (for him) when he wrote Genoa: A Telling of Wonders in 1965, his most accessible, and mostly unknown masterpiece.

Genoa was the novel he had to write in order to get the Melville monkey off his back. No surprise, then, that Melville infiltrates this short, but dense, novel. Though calling it a novel may be inaccurate in describing what Metcalf accomplishes here, as he skillfully weaves together throughout the complex, shifting narrative of Genoa, chunks of quotations from both the works of Melville and the man who influenced him, Christopher Columbus, the latter through his letters and diaries. What Metcalf does with these two legendary oceanic adventurers' writings is not all that dissimilar in concept to what William S. Burroughs did with his "cut-up" technique: chopping up parallel themes and motifs (rather than sentences a la Burroughs) and inserting them in just the right spots to advance the narrative of his novel. A haunting novel of the story of one soul searching man, Michael Mills, presumably Metcalf’s alter ego, desperate for answers, and Carl Mills, his brother, who suffers, we soon learn, from a progressively debilitating, ultimately incapacitating, unspecified mental illness.

The novel opens with Michael Mills in the attic of his home, rummaging through old copies of Melville texts, reminiscing when he and his brother, Carl, discovered old Melville artifacts in the attic of their childhood home in Pittsfield, MA. His reminiscing takes us back to the beginnings for not only he and his brother, but to the nautical and novelistic beginnings of Melville and Columbus. We learn of Melville’s first visits to Polynesia, the setting for his first novel, Typee, and of Columbus’ first voyage across the Atlantic. We read of ensuing voyages, and how those experiences for both affected their psychological and philosophical worldviews. Weaved between the quotations of the two icons, we witness the lives of the Mill's brothers drifting irreparably apart as Carl flounders out -- unreachable -- upon some raging sea inside him, carried farther and farther out to sea by the constant currents of his unhealable madness. The story of Carl’s demise into madness recalls that of the Pequod’s -- and it's captain -- in Moby Dick (and Metcalf makes the connection clear), while Michael’s repeated attempts to reach across to Carl, over what amounted to a very un-Pacific Ocean of storming insanity, echoed Columbus’ failed attempts to regain the favor, recognition, and support of the Spanish Monarchy for his "blasphemous" expeditions. The Catholic Church was certain the World was flat back then, you might recall, and Columbus proved the proud Church wrong, a dangerous (if not fatal) de-mythologizing endeavor in those days.

1st printing, 1965
Metcalf likewise de-mythologizes, or, rather, humanizes the legend of Melville. Melville had a son commit suicide. Melville's own father died of a mania related madness. Melville suffered, like we all suffer, and he might've been, if we're to believe Metcalf's inside-familial-information gleaned from Genoa, just a tad mad himself. And mad, that is, much like the madness of Carl's -- the veritable, familial white whale -- that Michael Mills must confront, and maybe make some personal peace with.

Metcalf worked his melding storytelling magic to perfection, intermingling Melville's and Columbus' complicated lives, legends, de-mythologizings, and quotations, along with Michael Mills' first person storyline, into one seamless narrative triumphantly: Three voices, in effect, simultaneously speaking, but sounding (and reading) like a single coherent voice, written by one author. A single voice tossed often into its respective troughs of individual despair, yes, but lifted inevitably, despite the melancholy and suffering taking their indefatigable tolls on every person, into individual and collective peace. Acceptance. Again, each individual strand comprising the rope of narrative: Melville's, Columbus', Michael's, Carl's, and toward the conclusion, even a bit of Theodore Dreiser's and the Lewis and Clark expeditions'; no matter their individual outcomes good or bad, collectively attained varying levels of peace with their lives, once the narrator, Michael Mill's, reconciled himself with his own past, and with the present plight of his doomed brother. In so doing, Metcalf, vicariously, reconciled himself to the shadow he'd lived under, that brilliant, but daunting, legacy of his great-grandfather, Herman Melville. Sounds like Metcalf experienced a catharsis of Pequodian proportions, I'd say!

Genoa: A Telling of Wonders is a wonderful, complex and profound read. I fear I've not quite done Metcalf's accomplishment (and his genius in accomplishing it) the justice it deserves. So do yourself a favor and read Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, and discover why Larry McCaffery included it in the upper half of his list, The 20th Century's Greatest Hits. I doubt you'll be disappointed.


Taxi Driver Still Floors Me

original theatrical trailer

Taxi Driver (Collector's Edition)

Few movies I can think of evoke in me the literally jaw-dropping visceral reactions of Taxi Driver. Note I'm not being euphemistic, full of hyperbole, when I say "jaw dropping", for "jaw dropping" is an apropos description of my jaw's musculature's seemingly autonomic movements witnessing cringe-inducing-scene after cringe-inducing-scene throughout this disturbing (though delightfully disturbing, if you're in to being disturbed), dark film.

Wouldn't you cringe watching a handsome twenty-something man (Travis Bickle, played by a boyish, circa 1975 Robert De Niro in one of his most breathtaking performances) take a beautiful twenty-something woman (the gorgeous, Cybil Shepherd) on their first date to a ... to a dirty movie? Porn? On a first date? A triple-X (XXX) feature film? Shouldn't a couple be a couple already before being comfortable enough watching porn together? Maybe it's me. Is this guy, Travis, for real? If he is, his date, by now, has got to be thinking, 'Ewww,' and feeling the creepy-crawlies up and down her limbs.

And wouldn't you cringe even more when he's confronted about his poor choice of venue for a first date by his understandably insulted date: "Bringing me here," she protests, out on the sidewalk, having walked out of the theater in disgust, chased by De Niro, "is about as romantic as saying, 'let's fuck'!," and yet somehow remains mystified (Travis) as to how taking his date to a dirty movie for their first date could be construed as outrageously inappropriate? He doesn't get it. He's clueless, out of touch. And then how hard must it be for Travis, how angry must it make him feel, watching his date, the most beautiful girl he's ever seen before, get a ride home in somebody else's taxi cab?

"But I see lots of couples go to these movies," he'd vainly (and lamely) countered. Wouldn't your jaw drop seeing that? When you realize that this was no sick joke, but that Travis believed the best way into his date's heart, and the best way to impress her on their first date together, was with pornography?

Travis Bickle, porn aficionado, anti-hero and progressively psychologically decompensating narrator of Taxi Driver, perversely personalizes the shattered American Dream of the 1970s broken by, among other things, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Nixon, oil shortages, that all amounted to a dream turned disillusion in desperate need of redemption. We don't know the horrors Travis experienced in Vietnam, but when he interviews for a cab driver position, we know he's unwilling to talk about it. Taxi Driver is as much if not more so concerned, albeit covertly, through the character study of Travis Bickle, with exploring the moral chaos and insanity brought home by Vietnam and Tricky Dick than similarly, though overtly intentioned, Vietnam classics like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.

From the lonely shell of his cab's cramped confines, Travis sees his enemies everywhere as if they were indeed camouflaged Viet Cong in the jungle: "Spooks," "gooks," cops, "faggots," hookers, cross-dressers, fuddy-duddy political campaigners (should mention here that Albert Brooks plays one such unfunny fuddy-duddy to perfection) as well as pimps, politicians, hustlers, thugs, and pickpockets strutting down New York streets. He glares out his cab's windows upon sweltering neon-lit streets of a New York City about to boil over and explode (or so his raging paranoia perceives) with race riots, flagrant exploitation, and infestations of crime, and he wishes, in an interior monologue that cuts to a montage of gritty street scenes, for "a fucking rain that will come and wash all this scum and shit off these fucking streets."

Multiple shots of steam and exhaust escaping out of manhole-covers, accentuate the NYC-as-Inferno motif. And consider his name, as the screenwriter, Paul Schrader, has pointed out, Travis (from "Traveler"), and Bickle (from "Bicker") -- a "bickering traveler," that probably describes New York cabbies to a T -- who will momentarily go off the deep end when his volatile contempt and violent-streak get sparked by one too many rejections, and he decides to take it out on somebody, a politician named Palatine, though to Bickle he may as well be Pol Pot, in what's left of his now psychotic, post-traumatic-stress-disordered mind.

Enter Bickle's potential redeemer, a prepubescent prostitute played by Jodie Foster. And what the hell, exactly, was Jodie Foster's mother thinking letting her twelve-year old daughter take such a seedy role, surrounded by so much sleaze? I don't know, though thank God she did! Because Jodie steals every scene she's in, be it slow dancing with her creepy hippie-hairdo'd pimp (Harvey Keitel) in his dimly lit, dreary apartment, or breakfasting with Bickle, pouring mounds of sugar on her toast and jam like a jonesing junky.

During several scenes with Jodie's character and Bickle, the cringe factor goes off the charts (i.e., the scene where Bickle fights off the Lolita-ish nymph intent on unbuttoning his trousers, her mouth uncomfortably close to his crotch), though Bickle, to his credit (and to her confused incredulity) isn't interested in exploiting the girl, he just wants to talk -- is particularly hard to watch. Her fingertips plunge determinedly toward the close-up shots of his pant buttons and belt buckle, but he thwarts them away repeatedly, finally convincing her that the time he's bought with her is indeed time bought only for conversation -- a frank dialogue aimed at motivating her to runaway from her abusive pimp. He asks the obvious question, a simple question imbued with compassion and concern, which strangely, despite his own twisted litany of hypocritical depravities already documented in the film, still manages to endear the viewer to him.

"Shouldn't a girl your age be in school?" Bickle chides her. So maybe there's still hope for Bickle after all. Maybe there's a good heart left inside him, barely surviving like a prisoner-of-war.

I won't reveal whether Travis Bickle successfully rescues the pre-teen prostitute. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprising cinematic experience, in case you'd choose against your better judgment and watch this hard-to-watch film. Do know by the movie's bloody conclusion, Travis Bickle's story -- is he savior? pariah? madman? -- has made the local headlines.

Being John Malkovich by Charlie Kaufmann

Looking for a metacinematic experience to augment your appreciation of metafiction/postmodernism/experimentalism in literature? Not really? Don't give a fuck? Well then screw you, go play with some hand puppets why don't you, and be a famous puppeteer like the one John Malkovich becomes in Being John Malkovich; I wasn't talking to you, was I?

Or maybe you're not interested in what I'd term, vicarious psychological spelunking: entering on your hands and knees a wall portal -- a psychic tunnel or cave type of vortex -- situated behind the office Xerox machines inside your place of employment, whose ceilings (the humdrum office you work at) are high enough only for hobbits or little people to navigate through (why? why?) without walking half bent over like John Cusack's character, Catharine Keener's character, and Cameron Diaz's character are forced to do all day long (like it were normal!), which leads (the psychic vortex) somehow magically, mystically, into a melding of the mind with John Malkovich. So that ...

You are John Malkovich. They are John Malkovich. We are John Malkovich. I am John Malkovich. Ohhhhhmmmmmm.

It's pretty cool being John Malkovich! So what if you can't name one film he's acted in besides Being John Malkovich; because once you've been John Malkovich, and gotten dumped from the mind of John Malkovich onto the shoulder of a New Jersey Turnpike (the psychic vortex's automatic trapdoor exit), why would you want to be anybody else?Being John Malkovich


666 by Jay Anson

(Part II of my investigative series covering fictional works about Satan).

Ever since Satan incited Nero to scapegoat the Christians for Rome's burning, and then ordered them massacred in the most barbaric means possible, Satan, so the premise goes, in Jay Anson's, 666, has been operating out of a Victorian mansion framed with the very blood splattered wood of those long ago martyrs.

Why did Satan have his Victorian mansion framed with such gore? Because, according to one of the self-styled satanists in 666, a young man named Lawrence, who's also a bunny and bird sacrificing bozo pretending to be a wholesome church boy on Sundays, Satan's in terrible pain and angst. Agony. And since Satan is in such terrible pain, angst and agony, he feels more at home in his two-story Victorian knowing that his house was literally built, beam by beam -- every blood stained beam of it - drenched in the ancient gore of innocent victims. Supposedly, such architectural accoutrements help to ameliorate Satan's awful anguish, if we're to believe Lawrence, who obeys the commands of an interior infernal voice named "Damon." Damon sure sounds an awful lot like Daemon or even (gasp!) Damien! from The Omen! Remember Damien? He was the anti-Christ! Satan, obviously, is very shrewd and subtle in masking his real identity in the world of 666, by giving such non-dead-giveaway names to the voices he uses to command his adherents. In fact, take the "a" out of "Damon" and insert an "e" in its place, and what does that spell? Not "angel," that's for sure!

Satan also goes by the name of "Mr. Coste," which is close, phonetically, to Costco. Though I don't think Costco is satanic. Nevertheless, should a Mr. Coste ever call me up out of nowhere, like he did David Carmichael, an antiques dealer, informing Mr. Carmichael that his Victorian mansion was available for rent at a ridiculously reduced rate, I hope to God I wouldn't take the bait and rent it. Because, if I did, after having read 666, I'm convinced I'd never see the light of day (let alone my deposit) ever again!

Satan only lives at the street address of 666, no matter what street or what city he lives in. Satan moves his house around about once every three years or so, and the address is always 666 (insert street name). In 666, it's 666 Sunset Brook Lane, but before that, back in 1973, when the first mysterious murders occurred in his unholy house (only nobody knew at the time that it was an unholy house paid for in cash by Satan), it was 666 Bremerton Road. Note how "Bremerton" starts with a "B," like "Beelzebub".

(Could this be Satan's House at 666 Bremerton?)

Satan's not in his house all the time, however. He's not omnipresent like God. Which means he can't exist everywhere all the time. That's why he's got his spiritual spies out there, demons. I don't know why God has angels, since He's omnipresent. But, whenever Satan is in that house, whether it's Bremerton or Sunset Brook Lane, look out! Look out especially if you live across the street from that house like poor Keith and Jennifer Olsen! And if, God forbid, the six-sided conservatory of the house, the hexagonal sided room facing the west, with its leaded windows etched with human faces, begins casting a red glow for no rational reason around sundown, and then if the glowing not only glows but starts to pulsate like an eerie satanic strobe light (get me out of here!), that means for certain that Satan is presently occupying the house, luring hapless people -- and pigeons -- to their doom.

Why these characters in this surprisingly fun read -- 666 -- don't get that; why they don't get that they should always stay away from any house whenever it begins pulsating in any color, is beyond me! Didn't they read Jay Anson's first bestseller, The Amityville Horror, and know what was going to happen if they went back inside the literally godforsaken house? Hadn't they seen Halloween? Or He Knows You're Alone? Stay out of the goddamned house, People! Because once you step inside ... nice knowing you.

Sadly, the Olsen's stepped back inside Satan's house at 666 Sunset Brook Lane one too many times, and met their fates. But at least they got to meet Satan face to face too, before they died, which must have been a real treat for them. Satan stands about nine feet tall, according to Jay Anson. He's got the head of an overgrown goat (like maybe the goat got too close to a nuclear reactor perhaps?), and in place of horns, Satan's got a nice head of antlers, like an elk. His legs are furry, but his arms have scales. He's one ugly, evil looking, evil entity, for sure.

Did I mention that in Satan's house, there's a thirty foot long lightning rod made out of iron running up alongside the chimney (presumably dating back to the Iron Age, lettered in ornate lines of Latin?) That way, lightning, even though it serves no purpose to further the plot of 666, will nevertheless routinely strike Satan's house, and thereby create an even more spooky ambiance of menace. As if a house with a creepy conservatory that throbs redredred every goddamn night weren't spooky or menacing enough!

Jay Anson died in 1980, just before 666 was published. A coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe Satan didn't like the idea of his house being an open house for the whole world to traipse through (it was like Jay Anson publicly outed Satan by writing 666), and so Satan iced Jay Anson in retaliation just like he iced everybody who ever had anything to do with his house. Could be. But we'll probably never know for sure.

For novels about the devil, 666 is probably not as good as, say, Mikhail Bulgakov's classic, The Master and Margarita, but then Mikhail Bulgakov's Satan probably didn't know how to exquisitely design the interior of a Victorian mansion either.


The Descent by Jeff Long

The Descent has far more in common with Jaws than epic medieval poetry. The Descent indeed, is a marriage of Jaws and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Heaven, in effect, stands up Hell at the altar in this wickedly divine Descent not to the center of the earth, but to the very core of humankinds most archetypal, universal fear: the dark, and the demons who swim in it.

There's no great white sharks striking terror from the murky depths in The Descent; no, there's worse, much worse: there's great albino "hadals" disembowelling you alive from the cavernous depths. Once they've disembowelled you alive, they just might make a rope out of your intestines, using your innards to tie you to a stake, so that you, a) won't escape; and, b) can sample your flesh while it's still fresh, like you were human-sushi!

Are you scared? You should be. Because The Descent is so scary it will scare the Hell in to you, not out. Read The Descent and Jaws will seem a guppy by comparison. After all, a great white shark can only bite and eat you, but a great albino hadal can not only bite and eat you, but since they're amphibious and bipedal, they can slyly hide beneath the surface of what appears at first blush a tranquil, phosphorecently lit underworld ocean; but as you wade into that primeval, peaceful ocean ... up thrusts a wooden spear so fast and so fiercely and aimed so precisely it enters your anus unscathed before it impales the back end of your butt hole and punctures your abdominal cavity's wall ramming up past your kidneys and straight for your heart, so that you die instantly, standing up, having become a veritable homo sapien shishkebob, held in the hateful hands of one hungry hadal.

"Hadal" comes from the Latin, "homo hadalis," a team of scientists postulate, an evolutionary offshoot or hybrid of homo erectus and homo sapien. But all you need to know is that hadals come from Hell, the Hell waiting for you inside that cave, that mineshaft, or that archaeological dig. So obey those signs please ... and KEEP OUT!

That Legion of demons that tormented Regan and those two Jesuit priests in The Exorcist, would get their collective, possessive asses kicked by a single hadal.

Just ask the 150 members of the Helios scientific expedition sent to explore the theorized passage underneath the Pacific Ocean's floor that's hoped will connect the Galapagos Islands with New Guinea. Think of the logistic and power-opportunities available for the first-taking should such a passage be found. But what if the tyrannical head of Helios has ulterior motives for the expedition? Well, then maybe the mercenaries and the military and the scientists and the nun (yes! a nun) hired on board, and kept in line by a tyrant's son, Shoat, have a secret, underestimated defense weapon hidden up their sleeves themselves: A half-human/half-hadal evolutionary cross breed as their guide? Could it be? And what about Satan? What role does the Devil play in all of this? Don't tell me Satan is a sshhhh you be quiet, 'Frique! Don't spoil the surprise! But do insert the mad laughter here.

Will all, uh, Hell inevitably break loose in The Descent? Maybe not all of Hell, but maybe all of Hell-in-the-flesh: Homo hadalis!

Bats belong in caves, Intrepid Reader, not you. So stay out of them! You've been warned. And remember what Dante Alighieri said about Jeff Long's novel (and tremble): "Abandon all hope, ye who read The Descent."

The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon by Hal Lindsey

I remember reading this in the early 1980s as a recent teenager hot on the heels after finishing The Late Great Planet Earth -- a prophetic prequel to Countdown to Armageddon written in the '70s -- and being hooked by the conspiratorial tone and dire predictions of gloom and doom and apocalypse that were unequivocably certain to occur no later than December 31, 1989, just as the 1970s were certain to be the decade of the Rapture and Armageddon Lindsey had initially predicted would transpire in his first book of contrived "prophecy."

When it comes to prophecy, Hal Lindsey's got nothing on Vegas. He's no different than the Jehovah's Witnesses and their infamous Second Coming shlock, with his false end-of-the-world edicts.

Nevertheless, The 1980s, Countdown to Armageddon, was a good, even fascinating read ... for a fourteen year old dweeb hooked on fantasy at the time (the Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson) but in hindsight, looking back with adult eyes, I'm a bit more than dismayed by Lindsey's -- a reported "reputable" Christian evangelist with his own television audience -- repeated untrue predictions.

It's one thing to be a megolomaniacal nut job and form some U.F.O. cult and herd a horde of gullbile human-bovines out to the desert ranch (sans all their possesions) for the almighty alien's arrival and the glorious impending transformation to a higher plane of spiritual consciousness; but even as bad and sad as that conscienceless con job is, it's far worse, I think, when you're a supposed man of God with flocks of old folks under your "care," tuned into their TV sets, to completely misinterpret the Book of Daniel or Ezekiel or Revelation and imbue prophetic meanings into contemporary happenings in Israel or Russia or wherever, as if those books of antiquity were speaking directly to the latest world crisis, when in fact they were speaking symbolically to events in their own ancient times, Mow-ron! Inexcusable, the fear, and misguided decisions such books elicit in people who placed their trust in the prophetic preacher man on the tube. How many duped people need to get taken to the cleaners before these charlatans get their comeuppance?

I could get all snarky and claim that Hal Lindsey's fatuous books on "end times" and The National Enquirer bear a striking resemblance, but I'd hate to insult the integrity of The National Enquirer like that.

Hal Lindsey YouTubes on End Times



Exploring Desert Summits with Andy Zdon as Your Guide

Desert mountains and their isolated summits are a lot like hard-to-find, even (dare I make the odd comparison) rare books? Follow me on this. I'm pretty sure I can make a hiking/climbing guide that covers some of the remotest corners of the California and Southern Nevada desert that 99.99% of the general (non-desert-hiking/climbing-enthusiasts) population doesn't give a rip about, at least mildly interesting. Give me one more paragraph with Desert Summits: A Climbing & Hiking Guide to California & Southern Nevada before you click away. Deal?

For starters, below is a great picture taken by Wynne Benti of the author in the field (the book's back cover), taken from the summit (4298') of Turtle Mountain out there in the middle of the Mojave.

Granted, hardly anybody knows -- or cares -- that desert summits or rare and hard-to-find books even exist, right? Bare breasts. People on their way from L.A. to Vegas, I'd hypothesize, aren't that interested in knowing, for instance, that Clark Mountain, at the northern tip of Mojave National Park, is home to the only stands of fir within the national park's boundaries! Really large, bare breasts. Regardless, I've found Desert Summits to be an excellent source of destinations for planning your next desert adventure. It's not as detailed with the maps as I'd like, but combine it with a USGS topographical map-quadrant that you can print out online, and the book works just fine.

I like Andy Zdon's homage to Walt Wheelock and Wheelock's previous desert guides published by the tiny (but mighty) La Siesta Press. You may never have the time to journey to all the desert summits, like Telescope Peak (11,049', on the boundary of Death Valley, a mountain I've always wanted to ascend) but it's really cool opening up the book on any page and learning something new about some little known, obscure desert peak rarely visited. Almost as fun as finding a first edition tucked away between book club editions of Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz at the local thrift store.


The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder successfully fictionalizes some universal core questions in his brief, but densely packed philosophic/religiously themed novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Why do bad things happen in general?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Is there a plan or purpose behind the bad happenings?

Are bad happenings such as the one depicted in the novel -- the collapse of a bridge, a "ladder of thin slats swung out over a gorge, with handrails of dried vine" -- or other bad happenings such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or BP oil catastrophes; are these events "acts of God" or acts of fate or neither or something else entirely?

If the events are not "acts of God," does that then mean that the deaths served no purpose and the victim's lives had no meaning, or could the disaster, in it's aftermath, somehow, be it by God or by fate or whatever, be used for good in the lives left grieving behind? Complicated, labyrinthine questions.

Wilder, of course, doesn't explicitly answer these questions, though by the end, his narrator, Brother Juniper, eyewitness to the bridge collapse: "He saw the bridge divide and fling five gesticulating ants into the valley below..." certainly has.

Brother Juniper, devout Catholic, was curious about those lives he saw fall. So he does some investigating, searching for clues in the character of the victims in order to determine, in essence, were these victims good or bad, had they deserved to die that day on the San Luis Rey River.

But after Brother Juniper has investigated the lives of the fallen, in a brilliant twist of breath taking irony (kudos to the intricate, narrative skills of Thornton Wilder -- perhaps a trick he incorporated from his more famous stage dramas) he ultimately becomes the sixth and final victim of the bridge's collapse. How so? Why? Because Brother Juniper dared, as a monk, to "scientifically investigate" (how his inquiries into the victim's lives were defined by his religious superiors) the religious, faith based questions delineated above. By investigating the lives and character of the five fallen, he dared assert (albeit unintentionally) that a different kind of bridge, a bridge built between faith and reason, between God and science, could in fact, be built, and exist in theory just as surely as the Bridge of San Luis Rey once did before its horrific (and if we're to believe the Jesuits, "God ordained") collapse. And for this "blasphemous," early 18th century faux pas of Brother Junipers -- an "heretical" inquiry -- he paid the ultimate price.

So ... The Bridge of San Luis Rey, on the surface, is a simple story about the collapse of a simply constructed, makeshift bridge -- and can be read and enjoyed simply as such, as an entertainment imbued with philosophy and religion.

A little excavating beneath the surface, following doomed Brother Juniper's daring lead, however, reveals a depth of drama as religiously, psychologically and philosophically ornate (and astute) as Shakespearean Tragedy. And when I consider the collapse of that highway bridge in Minnesota a few years back, or those poor people who found themselves trapped in the Twin Towers; or when I hear the stories of people who missed their airplane flight, only to find out later that the flight they barely missed crashed and everybody aboard died, I can't help but find myself asking the same questions that Brother Juniper asked:

Who were these people?

Why were they on that bridge, or in that tower, or on that plane, that moment it fell to pieces?

Why them and not me?


Watching Mamma Mia! Won't Get You Laid

Is it unmasculine to admit as a man that you like the pop music of Abba? Why is it that a woman can unapologetically, without the scantest blossoming of a blush, announce her fondness for Abba, or for the pop-light likes of The Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Coldplay, and not be demeaned as a "wuss" for her soft rock fandom? What kind of rank reverse sexism is that? If a man is a "wuss" for admitting his enjoyment of Abba or the Bee Gees or whomever, then should not an Abba-loving woman likewise be labelled a "wuss"? Why the double standard? And what is a "wuss" anyway? What delineates a "wusses" pejorative definitional parameters? And does one become a "wuss" when they first admit their appreciation of Abba, or when they first come to the self-realization that they enjoy the music of Abba? Is a man anymore manly and less "wussy" if he instinctively prefers AC/DC to Abba? Black Sabbath to, say, Bread? Judas Priest to the Jonas Brothers?

Mamma Mia! The Movie (Widescreen) Mamma Mia! Greatest Hits: 30th Anniversary

I'm not sure.

Highway to Hell (Dlx) Heaven & Hell The Best of Bread

These are simply some serious philosophical inquiries that can flash without warning, like existential neon signs, through a man's mind instantly, when his otherwise wonderful wife basically (ab)uses her persuasive charms and coerces him one Saturday evening after the kids have fallen asleep into watching "Mamma Mia!" under the alluring pretext that if said husband obliges his wife's 'Please, pretty please!' request, that he will be "richly rewarded later". Note that the "richly rewarded later" will be spoken by the wife with a sultry wink and subtle pout of robust red lips. Therefore, said husband would be a fool, right, not to watch "Mammia Mia!" with his arm wrapped snug around his sweet, adorable, snuggly-wuggly wife's shoulders, viewing the two-hour long chick-flick-experience as, if nothing else, a good healthy psychological exercise in "delayed gratification," and/or "impulse control". Restraint.

Jonas Brothers Boys Men Rolling Stone Poster 22x34 British Steel (Exp) The Ultimate Bee Gees (2 CD)

Don't fall for it, Guys! The only problem with this sexy fantastical scenario probably ripped straight out of some half-baked porn reel is that because the kids didn't get to sleep until 11:30pm, the wife knows damn well that the husband will be snoring within half-an-hour of "Mamma Mia's!" Dancing Queen commencement (that's a comfy couch they've got, after all) and that the wily wife, upon seeing the all-too-soon (for her) ending credits, will ever so delicately (sneakily) extract herself from beneath the slumbering (possibly slobbering) solid mass of duped manhood snoring on the couch and, with an "aw shucks, he's asleep, and yet I was so in the mood, darn" nod of the head, saunter off to the bedroom with her book. How convenient. And how, tell me how, could that husband have fallen for such a ruse!?

Remember, Fellas, wives (and girlfriends and other significant-others too) are often very crafty when it comes to getting their man to watch with them a chick-flick-musical featuring the '70s pop music sensation, Abba, so don't ever fall for their you'll-be-"richly-rewarded-after-we-watch-the-movie"-routine; no! I say, NO!, may it never be; instead, always insist that the "rich rewards" come first, never later, and then, and only then, comes the "Mamma Mia!" That's some Marriage 101 pro bono counseling for you younger dudes out there.

What's that? Am I going to review Mamma Mia? Well, excuse me, I thought I just did! And how the hell, anyway, am I supposed to review "Mamma Mia!" when it made me fall asleep, didn't get me laid, did Nothing (capital "N") for me, in fact, except cause me untold bitterness, heartache, and pain!? Oh Mamma Mia! indeed!