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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/21 - Giants, A Country, A Man

Now and then amongst the donations that pour into the floating book shop comes a gem. Living China: Modern Chinese Short Stories, published in the USA in 1936, contains more than 20 pieces on life prior to the communist revolution. They are more portraits than stories, compiled and edited by Edgar Snow, an American journalist known for books and articles on Communism in China. According to his bio at Wiki, he was both praised and condemned for his work, and accused of being a mouthpiece for Mao. It is disappointing that he may have been one of the west's "useful idiots," but his contribution to this collection is first rate. I've almost been tempted to study the language, as I'm astounded by the way it is written and baffled as to how anyone can translate it into English. Maybe in my next lifetime. Many of the characters in the book are impoverished. The treatment of women is deplorable. The Reds are increasing in size. Chang Kai Shek heads the conservative movement. The epic struggle is gaining speed. Those elements are mostly background. Humanity is at the forefront. I was particularly impressed by three pieces. Suicide by Mao Tun, a male, conveys psychological depth in the tale of a young unmarried woman caught having sex, and the unfair derision it brings upon her.  The Conversion by Hsiao Chen (no bio data) is the story of a teenager enthralled by a Salvation Army parade and the organization itself, and the horror of her mother, who knows natives have been killed for converting, and the disgust of her older brother, who despises all things western. Mutation by Chang T'Ien Yi, whom I believe is male, is existential musing told in flashback. Although it loses its objectivity to leftward bias at the end, it remains powerful. Its focus is a beautiful young woman, a former communist who has married a rich, unattractive man, and her reasons for having done so. Having witnessed yet another abject death, she muses: "...Why is life like this to us, bitter, dangerous, full of pain, always with death very near?" And: "...Given a few years of life, one throws them away for an ideal one will never see..." And: "Back there her individuality would cease to be a reality; she would again become but an atom in a movement that had its absolute in the masses of men..." The stories tilt left. I wonder how the authors viewed the revolution after the fact. Someone should do a reprint that includes an afterword on their thoughts. I also wonder if any survived long enough to see the country's turn toward free market principles and emergence as an economic giant. Although there are four listings of Living China at Amazon, it is "currently unavailable," its sales rank 18 million+. Curious about its monetary value, I ran a search. Abe Books has three copies listed: $50, $150 & $279. My copy has no jacket and is in only fair condition. The corners I dog-eared broke off. Someone is going to get a great bargain from me. It looks like my review will be the first at Amazon. I will rate it four stars. I would go as high as four-and-a-half were it possible. Here's a pic of the capitalist bull in Shanghai:


RIP Billy Graham, 99, minister to many presidents, respected worldwide. The day after 9/11, his plane was the only one allowed in the air, as President Bush summoned him to the White House. If he were ever embroiled in a scandal, I never heard of it. He was a humble giant.


My thanks to the young woman who purchased a Webster's Dictionary, to Ira, who bought travel guides on London and Rome; and to the middle aged who, as she always does, overpaid for her selection, this time Ken Follett's 1978 runaway best seller, Eye of the Needle.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/20 - Pranks


Two of the USA's greatest literary classics, Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851) and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter (1850), were written more than 20 years before Mark Twain was first published. They are done in traditional language. Twain was the first uniquely American author. He incorporated the vernacular of various citizens in his work. He used the "N" at least 200 times in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in the mid 1800's. He was the rock star of his time, his readings attracting thousands. He always left his audiences laughing. The following hilarious tidbit was gleaned from an article at mentalfloss.com by Joy Lanzendorfer (kudos): 10 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited slightly by yours truly: "...As the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The  engraving shows him talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while it bulges from his pants.  According to Twain’s business manager, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint..." Here's the offending pic alongside how it should have appeared. For those squeamish about such things, look away:


In line with the theme of today's blog, here are some pranks I gleaned from a list at buzzfeed.com:
Tweet: "My brother's changed his photo on the staircase to Kim Jong-un and my mum still hasn't noticed after 2 weeks."
Tweet: "In 2007 the seniors at my high school spray painted this on the roof of one of the buildings... It was only discovered a year later after a news reporter in a helicopter spotted it and reported it to the school." (Must have been the great-grandson of whoever punked Twain & company.)
Tweet: "I get most of my entertainment by putting different colored gatorade in starbucks cups and telling people it's a frappajappajooza."
Last but not least - a woman frustrated at her kids not doing dishes pulled a classic, which her daughter discovered when she went to the kitchen cabinet:


There were stacks of paper plates as well - and not one dish! Good one, mom.

My thanks to the middle aged woman with the bewitching eyes who purchased John Grisham's The Whistler and Janet Evanovich's Turbo Twenty-Three, and to the elderly woman who bought four books in Russian, and the young one who selected one in that language. Special thanks to the gentleman who pulled up on his bike and handed me a bag full of books, all in Russian save one by Danielle Steel.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/19 - Sinkholes, Metaphorical & Literal

According to census.gov, here are the population figures by decade since my birth in 1950. Beside them are the number of mass shootings that occurred in each, according to HeraldNet.com:
1950's: 151.3 million, 1 mass shooting.
1960's: 179.3, 6.
1970's: 203.2, 13.
1980's: 226.5, 32.
1990's: 248.7, 42.
2000's: 281.4, 28. (Drop off coincides with assault weapons ban instituted by the Clinton administration, which was reversed under Bush II.)
2010's: (google.com data): 309.3, 276 so far (metro.us data). I did the tally myself on this one, so it may be a bit off but it's certainly in the ballpark. I'd hoped an explanation for the increase would be found in the expansion of population, thinking more people, more potential psychopaths, but that appears to be a minimal effect. Many on Facebook believe the reason for this unprecedented wave of violence is that God has been been shunted aside in our society. A more logical factor may be in something that Adam Lanza, Elliott Rodger, Dylan Roof, Stephen Paddock and Nikolas Cruz all share, cited in today's NY Post Fast Takes column - each is fatherless. Long ago I read that the most common factor among prison inmates was single parent households. Although I would not oppose an assault weapons ban, I doubt it would curb this disturbing trend, as there are already many in circulation, and sales spike dramatically whenever a ban is threatened, and there will always be slimes who would sell them illegally. The root of the problem is complex, mysterious and, unfortunately, not likely to diminish in the foreseeable future. I'd love to be wrong about that last part.

A sinkhole opened up in a residential area in Rome:


With the world desperate for something to laugh about, who would have thought it would come from the sport of curling, where a Russian husband and wife Olympic team have been accused of using performance enhancing drugs. In Curling?


For the first two hours of today's session of the floating book shop it seemed the returns would be paltry, then more buyers showed and made the toil almost worth it. My thanks to the middle age gentleman who bought a thriller in Russian, and to Ira, who purchased his second book on legal advice; and to the bus driver who snatched up two 2017 novels by James Patterson and one by Michael Connelly, and to the young woman who selected The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/18 - Hurrah

My thanks to the young man who bought a vinyl album featuring the Ray Charles Singers sans their maestro, and to the young woman who purchased Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin. At least it was a beautiful day.


With people around the world at each other's throats seemingly infinitely more than ever before, today I'll go with an excerpt from my most disappointing novel. Although it is profitable, I hoped Rising Star, an epic about a five-member rock band, would attract more attention. This is from chapter one, moments after a performance at a small Manhattan club I patterned after Hurrah, which reminded me of a basement. It was the type of place, like CBGB, that was sort of an answer to discotheques. It featured New Wave music, what would be called alternative these days. I saw the Go-Go's there just before they broke big. The following is approximately a five-minute read:



   The applause died as a dance tune came through the sound system. People turned from the stage. Some headed for the exit, others for the bar, a few danced. There was still a buzz in the air.

   A blonde brought the band beer, which she deftly balanced on a small tray. "Great show." She beamed as she looked at John. Her leopard skin dress was filled with the body of a goddess.

   "Sit down," said John, seated at the edge of the stage, motioning to his lap. Mitchell and Richie, flanking him, laughed shyly.

   Her expression became serious. "I can't now. I don't wanna blow this job. It keeps my days free for auditions."

   "An actress/slash waitress. I'd've never guessed. If things don't work out, there's always porn."

   She stared, apparently unsure if he were joking. "Why don't you wait 'til I get off, that is, if you're still available? I should be out of here soon. My name's Tina."

   She smiled and hurried away. Mitchell and Richie, towels in hand, roared. Suddenly another attractive woman approached.

   "Can I have this one?" Richie pleaded.

   "John?" said the woman, offering a business card. "My name's Susan Klein. I'd like to talk to you about representation. I think I can help you."

   "You're talkin' to the wrong guy, beautiful." He scanned the card and put it into the pocket of his sleeveless T-shirt. "Talk to Paul. He's the boss." He nodded to a point nearby, where Paul was conversing with an attractive young woman in shorts, halter top and sneakers.

   Susan was surprised. "Excuse me, Paul." She spoke loudly to make herself heard over the music. "John told me to see you." She gave him a card, which he scanned.

   "Nice to meet you." His hand dwarfed hers.

   "I enjoyed your set," she said, speaking into his ear, hoping he hadn't noticed how she'd cringed at his touch. He was sopping, his medium length hair wringing. "Too bad the crowd was so small. The place is dying and word is out."

   "I know. They called us at the last minute. I don't even know how he heard about us. I didn't let on 'cause I was afraid he'd renege. Both bands they booked backed out. We got to do two sets. D'you see the first one?"

   "No. Was that all original material?"

   "Yeah. The keyboard player and me write it."

   "It's good, clean, honest stuff. I think the trend's headed back that way."

   "We're not tryin' to be trendy. We just try to play the best we can."

   The young woman, who'd been leaning against one of the large pillars that supported the ceiling, walked away. Susan was glad.

   "I'll see you at the van, Gee," Paul called after her, a pained expression on his face. He regretted not having introduced her.

   Again Susan was surprised. She'd thought him a fool for approaching someone obviously out of his class. She did not understand what such a beauty saw in so common a man. She thought the woman had been ignoring him, as she should have. She sensed there'd been an argument. She was glad. Girlfriends had interfered in more than one of the bands she'd managed. Many men were so terrified of losing that steady piece of tail that they eschewed their dreams for the more immediate quantity. She suspected Paul would go to any lengths to keep such a woman. She was unfazed, however, certain the woman would eventually see she was far too good for him.

   "Can we go out in the hall?" she said. "It's a lot quieter."

   He followed her. In a dark corner beyond a spiral staircase, two women were snorting cocaine. Paul frowned.

   "This's much better," said Susan, lighting a cigarette, offering him one, which he declined. "I can hear myself think. I've made a lot of contacts in this hall. I don't think your girlfriend liked the way we were talking into each other's ear. Sorry about that. Why don't you call me sometime this week?"

   His eyes spread. "Sure. We've been lookin' for a manager for a long time. I'm afraid I don't cut it in that department."

   "Where've you worked before?"

   "Neighborhood bars. This's the highest we ever got. I guess it's not much, considerin' the crowd."

   Someone tugged at his elbow. It was Mike, who spoke into his ear.

   "Let's get goin'. I gotta be at work in a coupla hours. Rosemarie's gonna have a fit."

   "Go 'head. I'll cover for you."

   "Sure?"

   "Don't worry. Get goin'. I'll call you tomorrow."

   Mike hurried away.

   "He's married?" said Susan, frowning at the obstacle. Inexperience, wives, girlfriends -- what else would there be?

   "With two kids."

   "You're not married, are you?"

   "No. That was my girlfriend."

   "What's that mean nowadays?"

   Paul raised an eyebrow in surprise. "I could never concentrate on more than one girl at a time. It's not me, I don't care what age this is. Besides, Gina's the best. I'm not even sure she's mine any more, and I don't have a clue why. I have a good feelin' about you, though. You didn't come on with a bunch of phony compliments. You're not playin' us, are you? All the offers we've had so far've been bogus."

   "I can help you," she said firmly, looking him in the eye. "I know people. It's up to you. You know how to find me."

   She turned away and reentered the club, seeking John. "Look," she told him, "I'd like to talk to you alone. Can we have a drink somewhere?"

   "Just a minute." He approached Paul, who was unplugging his amplifier. "What's with this chick -- she for real or what?"

   Paul shrugged.

   "Is it worth a shot? I can crack this waitress with ease. I'd hate to pass that up. You never know, I might be dead tomorrow."

   "Bite your tongue.“ He looked at Susan. “This one's nothin' to sneeze at, either. Take one for the team. She might really know people."

   "She's full of it. I can feel it. What the hell, though."

   "Get goin', then. Don't make her wait. You have a phone yet?"

   "No. I'll call you at six-thirty."

   She was seated nearby. Beside her, there was a couple pawing at each other. She ignored them.

   "Did he give you permission?" she said.

   "I'll meet you downstairs."

   "What're you gonna tell her?"

   He didn't want the waitress to see him leaving with Susan. Usually, he wouldn't care, but he wanted to play it safe until he'd had her. He waited until her back was turned, then hurried out.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/17 - Oh Baby

When Baby Driver (2017) roared into theaters there was good buzz about it on the web. Then a guy who knows a lot about film told me it was dreck, so I didn't know what to expect when I watched it last night courtesy of Netflix. It's a familiar story, exciting and entertaining with a dash of elements that don't make sense. I will refrain citing what I think is its major flaw so as not to be a spoiler. The plot is simple: an intelligent young man is in hock to a crime boss who caught him stealing his Mercedes. He repays by serving as a getaway driver. I was reminded of The Driver (1978) starring Ryan O'Neal, and Drive (2011) starring Ryan Gosling. The big difference is more violence and thrills, and a great soundtrack. I recognized only a few songs. Focus' Hocus Pocus fit perfectly during the climactic heist. In such a movie, acting is secondary to action. Ansel Elgort, with whom I was completely unfamiliar, was adequate in the lead. I wonder how long it will be before Kevin Spacey, who plays the boss, returns to the screen following his harassment banishment. Lily James fits the bill as the love interest. Jamie Foxx dominates every scene he's in, his character menacing and despicable. Eiza Gonzalez, also unfamiliar to me, is wonderfully sultry as a deadly thief. Jon Hamm and John Bernthal (The Walking Dead) are perfect as hardcore criminals. Songwriter Paul Williams does an amusing turn as a gun dealer. Baby Driver was written and directed by Edgar Wright, who has quite a career going, 21 credits at the helm, 23 as a screenwriter. Made on a budget of $34 million, it returned $107+ million worldwide. It runs less than two hours. 266,000+ users at IMDb have rated it, forging to a consensus of 7.7 on a scale of ten, too high in my view. Anyone squeamish about bloodletting should pass. Here are the principal players, absent Bernthal. CJ jones is furthest left, next to the director. He plays the mute guardian of the protagonist:


I've mentioned this before and I know it may sound like bunk, writer's embellishment if you will, but it shows how fascinating the mind is. When I was writing Close to the Edge in the late '70's, I would now and then dream I was a murderer and wake up spooked. That lasted about 15 years - not every night but often enough. Last night it happened again. Perhaps the movie triggered it. I was wide awake at four AM. For some reason, the word "chelated" was part of it. It appears on vitamin bottles. Its meaning is too technical to include here. I don't think the nightmare was induced by anything in my just published novel, Present and Past, although it does contain violence. The source is a mystery, as is so much of life.

My thanks to Jack of Chase, who bought a thriller by Mark Greaney, and to the elderly woman who purchased one by Sandra Brown, and to the one who selected a book in Russian, and to Ralph, who despite being on crutches grabbed Even Warren Buffett Isn't Perfect by Vahan Janjigian. He's a few weeks removed from spinal surgery and already back at work directing his exterminating crew. He spotted Fifty Shades Darker and said his wife had seen the screen adaptation only yesterday and came away with the idea that she needed to be more aggressive in the bedroom. If that doesn't straighten his back out, nothing will. Special thanks to the Ukrainian gentleman and lover of rock n roll, who took a chance on Rising Star, my first street sale of it in ages. His face was red and he smelled of alcohol. He was so impressed by my literary output he asked to take my picture, which he did with a fancy camera. His eldest daughter is doing doctoral work at Princeton - now that's impressive. He is going to a Foghat concert next week. Although his accent is thick, his English is solid. I suggested he take some books to appease his wife, who's been giving him a hard time about his drinking. He took one in Russian and two in English.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/16 Remedies, A Song, Books, Infidelity

Here are controversial disease fighting remedies, gleaned from an article at listverse.com, edited by yours truly: Proponents claim vitamin B17, which contains low amounts of cyanide and is found in apricot kernels, bitter almonds and bean sprouts, has anti-carcinogenic properties and is harmless when ingested sparingly...  A by-product of paper manufacturing, dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is an unlikely miracle drug. Thousands worldwide attest to the smelly gel’s capacity to reduce pain, accelerate healing and even cure cancer... Raymond Rife was ridiculed in the early 20th century for suggesting targeted electromagnetic fields of certain frequencies were capable of combating cancer. These days they are used for healing fractures, reducing pain and jump-starting the heart during cardiac arrest... Recent studies confirm that simple dietary changes such as ingesting certain vitamins and minerals commonly found in herbs will not only prevent cancer but fight existing tumors... The ingestion of large amounts of fresh fruit juices have an anti carcinogenic effect... Kratom, a dried and powdered leaf of a tree, has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia to reduce pain, fight fatigue, and alleviate anxiety. The FDA considers it an opioid...  Kava has been used in the South Pacific for centuries with no reports of adverse effects. To this day natives ingest the plant to improve mood and relieve stress. It has been used in the West for at least 100 years as a treatment for social anxiety. In 2002 the FDA warned of the potential danger it poses to the liver. 

There's an annual controversy in Maryland regarding its state song. Here's a summary of an article from Yahoo's Odd News, edited by yours truly: Maryland, My Maryland, set to the tune of O,Tannenbaum, was written in 1861 by James Ryder Randall and adopted in 1939. It calls for Maryland to secede from the Union at a time before the Civil War when many residents sympathized with the Confederacy. He wrote it while distraught about a friend shot during a melee when Union troops marched through Baltimore on their way to Washington. It begins with a hostile reference to President Lincoln: "The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland! His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!" It ends with a call for the state to stand up to the Union: "She is not dead, nor deaf, or dumb — Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!" Given the lyrics, one would expect the song to have been adopted in 1869, not 1939. The politicians are trying to decide whether to tweak or replace it. In case you've never heard the entire Empire State anthem, here it is:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptdQUJEEpyM

My thanks to Ira, who bought Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won't Do) by Michael Wex, and to the woman who purchased The Secret to Teen Power by Paul Harrington and a book in Russian; and to the gentleman who selected a thriller in that language; and to the woman who did a one for one swap of books in Russian. Special thanks to the gentleman who pulled his SUV to the curb and dropped off a cache of popular novels, many of recent vintage. Even that wasn't the highlight of the session. I finally sold one of the many vinyl albums I have by Mordechai Ben David, a modern classical composer known worldwide. A gentleman who moved from secular to Orthodox Jew purchased it and said he once studied to be a cantor under the tutelage of the artist's father. He laments that he wasn't able to master it and blamed his ADD. He also did some private detective work for a friend who suspected his wife of infidelity. He charged $100 an hour. Fortunately for the man who hired him, the evidence was secured within two hours. The woman was followed from her home in Seagate to - where else in Brooklyn? - the notorious Golden Gate Motor Inn, which, according to yelp.com, is now an Islamic day school. Divorce ensued.

My Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Vic-Fortezza/e/B002M4NLJE

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Writer's Life 2/15 - Cashing In

There will be so much said about the latest mass shooting that I will refrain from comment.

I have no interest in the winter or summer Olympics. The mainstream media's fawning over Dear Leader's sister is predictable. I wonder how much coverage the following, which appears in today's NY Post, edited by yours truly, will get: South Korea has approved spending $2.64 million to foot the bill for the 464 non-competing members of North Korea's delegation, and the International Olympics Committee will cover the costs for the 22 NoKo athletes. The Hermit Kingdom has plenty of dough for nuclear arms that threaten its neighbors but refuses to pay its way at the Olympics. Sadly, its leadership is so incompetent economically that there aren't enough funds left after defense spending. I'm sure the grand gestures will now have Kim Jong-un see the error of his ways.

The second round of the Stormy Daniels-Donald Trump fireworks will soon begin, and it looks like its going to be really, really ugly. She will be cashing in big time now that she believes she has an out from her non-disclosure agreement.

A Chinese firm has flipped a Manhattan property it bought less than a year ago, earning a profit of $10.5 million. It went for $90 million, a new record. It's on E. 64th St.. Here it is:


My thanks to the guy who calls me Irv, who bought his fourth Ann Rice novel of the month, Blood and Gold, and to the guy who pounced on 10 True Tales: World War II Heroes by Allan Zullo, published by Scholastic; and to the couple who purchased Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; and to the gentleman who selected The Kennedy Wit (JFK) by Bill Adler and Robert Ludlum's The Ambler Warning. Special thanks to one of my biggest supporters, Marie, who donated about 15 marketable books. She owns all my books except my high school football epic, Adjustments. She has just begun reading Five Cents and said she was immediately enthralled. I gave her a copy of my latest, Present and Past, one of the five that contains an error corrected by hand. I also had a visit from Mike, a retiree. While we were conversing, an acquaintance of his approached and asked what he was doing. "I'm talking to my rabbi," he said without missing a beat. I laughed out loud.