Saturday, July 30, 2011

Distorted Reality

I must be turning into a 14-year-old teenage girl.
I've been watching too many TV reality shows lately, mostly for all the gossip and drama that accompanies them. This became especially evident Thursday night when I was affixed to the season premieres of Project Runway and LA Ink.
Don't know why I watch Project Runway – I'm certainly not a clothes horse. Maybe I'm attracted to the design artistry that's involved. By the way, this season I'm rooting for the straight guy. Oh, wait – there aren't any.
As for LA Ink, again I like the artistry. I'm impressed when clients bring in pictures of people's faces they want tattooed on their arms, and the tattooists make the finished tattoos look exactly like the pictures. Speaking of which, bad move by Kat Von D to get a big likeness of fiancé Jesse James tattooed on her underarm, then the couple broke up in real life a week after the taping of that particular episode.
Okay, I need to stop. Gotta go listen to my Justin Bieber CD.
Burn, Baby, Burn
Lose weight and increase metabolism in a healthy, scientific way?
Nope, this isn't a Billy Mays (deceased) commercial. I wrote an article this week on research advancements at the University of Tennessee, and interviewed Joy Fisher with the UT Research Foundation. She mentioned quite a few upcoming medical breakthroughs at UT, including:
“We're backing a company that has developed a can't-miss, scientific weight loss product called Innutria,” Joy said. “Innutria is a food ingredient with a specific blend of natural nutrients, which when added to food or a beverage helps your body burn fat and increase metabolism.”
Joy doesn't yet know the launch date (it will be soon) or where Innutria will be sold. will have updates.
Speaking of Food
My friend Tony visited Sea World the other day, then relayed this joke:
“Why does Sea World have a seafood restaurant? I'm halfway through my fish burger and I realize, Oh my…I could be eating a slow learner.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Johnson Rod

My last blog pointed out how proud I was of ridding our house of ants, then followed that achievement by painting the entire downstairs of our two-story house. But since pride goeth before a fall, I could almost count on something else popping up at home to quell my enthusiasm.
Sure enough, only hours after last Saturday’s blog was posted, our air conditioning unit went on the fritz. Luckily, our home is cooled by two pumps – one for the upstairs and one for downstairs -- with the pump failing for the upstairs. Everyone in the family stayed downstairs for the remainder of Saturday and all of Sunday, with the temperature upstairs reaching 99 degrees one time when I checked.
The repairman was at our house at 8 a.m. Monday and gave me a detailed explanation of the problem, and I was pleased that the bottom line for fixing the unit was only $120.
“Yeah, it was your start capacitor,” the repairman began to tell me. “Those capacitors used to run on oil but the government ended all that with the environment thing, so now every capacitor wears out after maybe three years of torque-starts to cycle the motor.”
“Do what?” I thought to myself.
I can hold a pretty good conversation about cars and most home improvement projects, but air conditioners and furnaces – not so much. The guy could have told me that the air conditioner needed a new Johnson rod and I would have gone along with it.
Sorry. Only Seinfeld fans would understand that Johnson rod reference.
The Bell Tolls
Back when I attended grades K-12 and then took six years to earn my four-year college degree, I never began a school year prior to Labor Day weekend. The first day of a new school year was always Sept. 5 or 6 or 7.
That’s why it always surprises me when wife Jenny, a teacher at Spring Hill (Tenn.) Elementary School, begins every school year at the end of July. Jenny was back at school this week on July 25 to attend teacher and administration meetings in anticipation of students arriving back to class this coming Monday, Aug. 1.
But there is actually a method to this madness of being in school with basically two months of summer remaining, as current-day temperatures hover around 95 degrees. Spring Hill and the rest of the overseeing Maury County Public Schools district adheres to a year-round school calendar, with everything beginning in late July and ending in late May. The late May graduation is one advantage of year-round schools – I never graduated from any grade prior to June 14 or 15.
Plus the year-round schools get two weeks of vacation in October, a long Christmas vacation, and a two-week vacation in the spring. However, that is being altered a bit this year by having some days cut from both the fall and spring vacations, then those cut-days are being added to dates throughout the year that will allow for a few three-day weekends and a few four-day weekends.
Jenny says she likes the year-round calendar.
“We still get a full two months for summer vacation, and looking forward to that break in October is really nice,” she says.
So good luck, Spring Hill Elementary and all Maury County Public Schools as you already embark upon 2011-2012. It’s still boiling hot outdoors, so I hope all classrooms have good air conditioning units that have no chance of Johnson rods ever breaking.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Humble Home

Being a homeowner is tough. There always seems to be something to fix, upgrade or address.
Two weeks ago a colony of ants charged into my living room like a Marine invasion, and the reason for their unwelcome appearance remains a mystery to this day. But a quick trip to Home Depot followed by strategic positioning of ant traps got rid of the pests overnight.
Then last week I decided to paint the entire first floor interior of our two-story home, fully confident that it would be an easy undertaking. Oh, how wrong I was, what with the taping, ladder-climbing, sanding, priming, spackling, caulking, rolling, edging and trim work.
I figured it would take 3-4 days to complete everything, but I wasn’t able to rest until the seventh day. The whole project moved slower than rush hour traffic, but you know what? Now that it’s finished and I look it over, I couldn’t be happier with my accomplishment.
But as I walk around as proud as a peacock today, the next home problem will surely occur tomorrow. Today I’m a peacock. Tomorrow, a feather duster.
Horizontal Author
I’ve always heard that author Truman Capote was strange, which was somewhat proven to me this week when I read about his writing style.
Capote, who penned classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, claimed to be “a completely horizontal author.” He always wrote lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis as the day wore on.
Capote said he wrote his first and second drafts in longhand, in pencil. And even his third draft, on a typewriter, would be done in bed – with the typewriter balanced on his knees.
Where’s Gramma?
A quick joke e-mailed to me yesterday by friend Mike:
“You have to stay in shape,” Mike says. “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 87 today and we don’t know where she is.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mrs. Kracht

What is the capital of Nevada? Carson City!
What’s the capital of Washington? Olympia!
What’s the capital of Maine? Augusta!
I found out last week that my old fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kracht, passed away a couple months ago at her home in Ferndale, Mich. I don’t remember many of my former teachers – I vaguely recall one from second grade, another from sixth grade, one from high school and a couple from college – but Mrs. Kracht stood out. She had innovative and fun ways of getting her students to learn, and to this day I remember competing in row races to learn all of the U.S. state capitals.
Mrs. Kracht would sit at her desk and announce a state (for example, New Mexico) at which time the first students in each of the six rows in her classroom would rush to the front blackboard, grab a piece of chalk, write Santa Fe on the board, then run back to the second student in their respective row and hand off the chalk – all while Mrs. Kracht was announcing the second state.
The pandemonium in the classroom was uproarious, and her students excelled. I still know all of the state capitals to this day.
Mrs. Kracht was a lady who exuded kindness in everything she did. Someone once told me that you should live so well that when you die, even the undertaker will be unhappy. Mrs. Kracht lived life as well as it can be lived.
The capital of West Virginia? It’s Charleston, Mrs. Kracht.
Heaven Is for Real
My mother read a book the other day entitled Heaven Is For Real, then called to chat about it.
“Kevin, I no longer have any anxiety about dying and going to heaven,” she said. “This is such a beautiful book. It brought me to tears every chapter.”
The true-story New York Times bestseller details small-town Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, whose then-four-year-old son, Colton, suffered from an undiagnosed ruptured appendix. After emergency surgery, little Colton began describing people who were impossible for him to have seen or met, such as his miscarried sister who nobody had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born.
“It’s so amazing that I’ve started reading it a second time,” my mom said yesterday.
End With a Joke
My Uncle Rich loves to tell jokes, and told me this one last week:
A man has six children and is very proud of his achievement. He is so proud of himself that he starts calling his wife “Mother of Six” in spite of her objections.
One night they go to a big party. The man decides it’s time to go home and shouts to his wife at the top of his voice across a crowded room, “Shall we go home, Mother of Six?”
His wife, irritated by her husband’s lack of discretion, shouts back:
“Anytime you’re ready, Father of Four!”

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Flowers in Concrete

Stephen King says he writes 10 pages every day without fail, even on holidays.
That tidbit is from his book On Writing, which provides insightful advice on the craft. I was thumbing through it this week and came upon a chapter where King discusses pace. I’ve always thought that fast-paced writing results in enjoyable reading, and was pleased to find out that King feels the same.
“Mostly when I think of pacing, Elmore Leonard explained it perfectly by saying that when he writes, he leaves out the boring parts,” King says. “Take out the fluff so you don’t intrude on the story. Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Rewrite 44 Times
While King writes 10 pages a day, other greats had different routines. Ernest Hemingway wrote only 500 words daily, but was meticulous. Someone once asked him why he rewrote the final chapter to Farewell to Arms – supposedly 44 times.
Hemingway’s answer: “To get the words right.”
Like Hemingway, author James Joyce prided himself on taking his time with each sentence. A famous story has a friend asking Joyce on the street if he’d had a good day writing.
“Yes, I did,” Joyce replied.
“How much did you write today?” the friend asked.
“Three sentences,” Joyce happily answered.
Act Two
I started a second book yesterday. I think writing a book is the hardest thing I do without getting a hernia. It’s as difficult as growing flowers in concrete. But there are some moments in life that have an indescribable loveliness to them, and I experienced one yesterday after penning a satisfying paragraph.
So act two has begun, of a continuing adventure where I never feel quite alright.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What the Faulkner?

Just exactly like father if father had known as much about it the night before I went out there as he did the day after I came back thinking mad impotent old man who realized at last that there must be some limit even to the capabilities of a demon for doing harm, who must have seen his situation as that of the show girl, the pony, who realizes that the principle tune she prances comes not from horn and fiddle and drum but from a clock and calendar, must have seen himself as the old worn-out cannon which realizes that it can deliver just one more fierce shot and crumble to dust in his own furious dust and recoil,
Oh, my gosh. That 120-word, long-winded beginning of a sentence is from William Faulkner’s 1936 novel Absalom, Absalom!, which I purchased and then began reading this week. Faulkner holds the record for the longest sentence ever published in a book – 1,257 words in Absalom, Absalom! – and it runs from page 181 to page 184.  I bought the book specifically to read that passage, and did yesterday. In the pantheon of sentence writing, it is a freak.
As for the novel itself, I’ve battled my way through the first fatiguing chapter and encountered quite a few sentences that are 400-500 words in length. Good grief, William. Were periods frowned upon in 1936?
No Blog Fog
Friends Roy and Diane asked me last week if I still enjoy blogging, and I do. It’s challenging. Who knows? If one of my eventual 7 books sells someday, I can put together a little compilation of these 104 blogs that I’ll end up with from this first book endeavor.
Andrea my niece just told me about a woman in Omaha who has been approached to do a book based on that woman’s blogs. Write on, all writers.
Watts New
I took an enjoyable ride in an all-electric car last week, a 2011 Nissan Leaf, that friend Mark purchased for himself and wife Karen. Very nice car and plenty of hop as Mark and I punched it along the freeway, hitting 85 mph in mere seconds.
Gasoline barons obviously dislike the Leaf, but an eventual major conversion to electric vehicles seems inevitable for America’s driving future. Congratulations, Mark and Karen, for being way ahead of the game.
Calm Frozen Face
And now, as I inwardly emit a blood-curdling scream of anguish, let me share with you the final 98 words from Faulkner’s 1,257-word sentence:
…carry him up the front steps and through the paintless formal door beneath its fanlight imported pane by pane from Europe which Judith held open for him to enter with no change, no alteration in that calm frozen face she had worn for four years now, and on up the stairs and into the bedroom and put him to bed like a baby and then lie down himself on the floor beside the bed though not to sleep since before dawn the man on the bed would stir and groan and Jones would say, ‘Hyer I am, Kernel.
Hurray. A period.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Write Stuff

I am a charter member of the fraternity of dreamers, so I will begin writing my second book this coming week as I embark upon an 11-day vacation. I don’t want to divulge the subject just yet because I’m superstitious. All I can say is that I’m filled with verve and vigor as I look forward to book-writing again.
My goal is have the first draft written by the end of August and then clean it up throughout September, which is my favorite month of the year. I want to keep this schedule because I’m actually itching to get a third book started.
The third will be especially sinister. Won’t it, Natasha Stone?
Crazy Lucky Isn’t Dead
The start of a second book doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on Crazy Lucky Dead. No, that’s not the case at all.
I still haven’t heard anything from the three agents who contacted me a couple months ago and showed a modicum of interest, so I’m assuming that they have long rejected my project. Therefore, yesterday I e-mailed five more query packages as I begin actively trolling again for agents, as if they were largemouth bass.
Absalom, Absalom!
Reading a book? I haven’t done that in ages but decided to tackle a classic by a writer who many regard as the most difficult author of all time. I accessed this past week and ordered a copy of Absalom, Absalom!, written in 1936 by William Faulkner.
I bought the book for one main reason, and I’ll share that with you in Wednesday’s blog – after I’ve slogged through the first couple of excruciatingly difficult chapters.
News of the World
Admission of guilt: My favorite newspaper in the world is the sensationalistic New York Post, and my favorite weekly tabloid is the National Enquirer. The irreverence of both publications intrigue me, and many stories they run simply serve as poignant eyewitnesses to man’s imperfection.
So I was stunned this week – along with millions of other people around the globe – when officials with News of the World newspaper in London announced they are discontinuing operations of the long-standing lurid publication. The final issue prints tomorrow after 168 years of being England’s top-selling paper.
Yes, it has been in business non-stop since 1843. The newspaper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, is stopping the presses following scandalous accusations that the paper’s top editorial officials illegally eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terror victims as well as politicians and celebrities.
News of the World, which sold more than 2.5 million copies every Sunday for decades, now sees 200 employees out of jobs. In these days of newspapers dying for a variety of economic reasons, here is a wildly successful one that meets its demise for an entirely different reason.
Cause of death? Unscrupulous suicide.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Open Vent

Quick change of plans: Today I'm flying to Orlando for a big party at Hooter's. I hear Casey Anthony is already there.
Interesting that you can kill your child or have knowledge of how they died, then hire a snake-tongued lawyer and ultimately go free to continue your gallivanting lifestyle. Casey Anthony is lucky she didn’t go to prison, because hardened inmates think child killers are the lowest form of human life.
But from what I’m hearing, many people think she’ll now be killed in the free world. Party hard while you can, murderer.
Baby Gaga
MTV – is that an acronym for Maternity Television?
Much of its programming these days focuses on reality shows about 16-year-old girls who are pregnant. And once they give birth, viewers can enjoy their fascinating journeys into ridicule, despair and welfare.
That's good entertainment, MTV. But who am I to talk? I’m looking forward to Jersey Shore returning.
Great Gurgitators
On a somewhat comical note, did any of you watch the Nathan’s Famous Hotdog Eating Contest on ESPN July 4? The winner was Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who in 10 minutes ate 62 hotdogs, including the buns.
Chestnut defeated competitors such as Erik “The Red” Denmark, the current world champion of smelt eating; Tim “Gravy” Brown, the reigning potato wedge-eating world champion; and Bob “Notorious B.O.B.” Shoudy, the world's current chili spaghetti champion.
To the scoffers among you, including any of you who live in Missouri, I'm not making this up.
The ESPN announcers said that for normal people, it takes about two minutes to devour maybe 3-4 hotdogs if we hurry. Chestnut had 12 hotdogs and buns eaten in the first minute, and a total of 20 after two minutes on his way to 62. No wonder he is holder of the coveted Yellow Mustard Belt.
Oh, and the reason why champion eaters drink water basically after every bite, or soak every bun in water? The water takes all the air out of the hotdog buns, making them easier to slide down the esophagus.
Geez, I know entirely too much about this.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Left Eye Lopes

Warning: I’m all over the place today.
Gimme a Brake
The recent car crash and death of Jackass star Ryan Dunn prompted the website to post a list of Top 10 Celebrities Who Have Died in Car Crashes. Thanks, Natasha and Lisa, for giving me a heads up about this, and yes, I correctly guessed the No. 1 death – James Dean.
But me, being a trivia nut – how did I not come up with No. 2, which seemed so obvious? The answer never even crossed my mind. Of course, Princess Diana would rank high on that list.
The rest of the top 10 dead car-crashers in order were Grace Kelly, Jayne Mansfield, Gen. George S. Patton, Jackson Pollack, Porfirio Rubirosa, Billy Martin, Steve Prefontaine and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Book It
My big boss, Bob, and friend, Maurice, both suggested at lunch the other day that perhaps I should publish 25 of my books myself locally, then I can keep about 15 and maybe hand out 10 as mementoes of my initial push-to-publish experience.
Then, if an agent eventually shows interest in Crazy Lucky Dead, that would be fine, but if nothing happens, at least I’d have a handful of copies as keepsakes. Maybe I’ll do that – I don’t know yet.
Barry True
A longtime friend, Barry, lives in Cleveland and is a diehard Browns football fan, and he called last week to talk sports. First, we both hope the NFL has a 2011 season, given that the lockout is now in its third month.
“How’s things look in Nashville? Your Tennessee Titans any good?” Barry asked.
“Nah, I’m thinkin’ 6 or 7 wins this year – they’re rebuilding,” I said. “But hey, we’ll never be as bad as your Browns. You guys are horrible every year.”
“I blame management,” Barry instantly answered. “They can never find any good players. Those idiots couldn’t find their ass with both hands and an ass map.”
He sighed, then continued.
“And I blame the coaches and players,” he said. “If they’d give 100 percent every Sunday, maybe we’d win more than 4 or 5 blasted games a year."
He sighed again.
"But I really blame my parents," Barry said. “If I was born in Pittsburgh instead of Cleveland, I could root for a decent team."