Books I have been reading…

In November, S took me along with her on an after-school outing with some fellow teachers.  The outing was to a pub near where we live and it seems to be a regular Friday hang out for many of the teachers in S’s school.  It was a good time, nice, clean pub, good beers on tap, good company.  I got engaged in conversation with a math teacher who is a big fan of humor writers.  You know, like David Sedaris.  But also comedians who turn their sets into short books, like John Stewart and Ellen Degeneres. 

Now, I enjoy David Sedaris, but I am not a fan of the comedian books.  And the thing is, I don’t so much enjoy reading David Sedaris so much as I love to hear him read his stuff.  Every year on NPR they have Sedaris on reading excerpts from his brilliant Holidays on Ice.  Right before Christmas I found the audio of the book at Half Price Books and S and I listened to it three or four times during our holiday traveling.  I must warn you, in case you don’t already know, the Macy’s Elf chapters are so funny that they caused me to choke several times and almost crash the car.  Be careful out there.

Anyway, back in the day I used to listen to NPR all of the time.  I used to think talk radio was just the three hours that Rush Limbaugh was on, so I had to fill the rest of my day with Morning Edition, Fresh Air and, my favorite, This American Life.  That is how I first discovered Sarah Vowell, even though I didn’t realize I was discovering her.  I just knew that I liked her little stories and I liked her quirky voice.  A few years ago I was watching C-Span’s Book TV and there was a little woman talking about a book she had written about the presidents who had been assassinated.  It sounded interesting because I am fascinated with the presidents and assassinations and then, after a few minutes of listening to her voice, I realized it was the chick from This American Life, Sarah Vowell. 

I took note of the book but not the name of the author at the time.  I figured I would read it someday and I would just recall the information if I found myself in a bookstore where it was on sale.  Well, I sort of forgot about it.  I knew it was out there in the back of my mind, but I had stopped listening to NPR so much and there were just so many other books to read.  Which brings me back to teacher’s pub night.

The math teacher and I were talking Sedaris and then she asked me if I “totally loved” Sarah Vowell.  The name rang a bell but I confessed that I couldn’t quite place her.  That is when math teacher reminded me of the presidential assassination book.  I got excited, like hearing about a long, lost friend.  Turned out that math teacher “totally loved” Sarah Vowell and had most, if not all of her books.  She offered to loan them to me since she was long finished reading them.  I thought it was a nice offer and took her up on it.

I don’t like borrowing books because it makes me a hypocrite when I hate to loan out my books.  I don’t even like it when S takes one of my books off the shelves to read because she leaves them on the floor or on the back of the toilet or spills coffee on them.  I have loaned out books in the past and never gotten them back.  Or loaned them out and gotten them back years later with the cover ripped off.  But I knew I wasn’t going to go out and buy these Sarah Vowell books because I hadn’t in previous years and they were being offered up to my by math teacher, so I accepted.

When math teacher handed me to books I placed them on the passenger seat of the car.  S then got into the passenger seat and put the books on the floor of the car.  See?  That’s what she does.  I forgot to take the books into the house when we got home because the weather was crappy and I was just trying to get us in the door without getting frozen or soaked.  Two days later I grabbed the books off of the floor of the car, out from under one of S’s travel mugs.  Do you know where I am going with this?  One of the books, a paperback, was stained black with coffee and it’s pages were warped.  It was the book on top of the pile and the others had been spared.  I went into panic mode knowing that I would one day have to return the books and one of them was wrecked.  Only partially my fault, at that.

I immediately jumped into Assassination Vacation because it was the one that most interested me.  The gist of the book is Sarah Vowell going all over the country visiting mementos from the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.  Odd mementos, like the bullets and bone fragments in museums, the place where the assassins were found, or hanged, the burial sites, and so on.  It is, as weird as this sounds, quite fun reading.  Quirky to be sure, but good fun.  I also learned something I had not known before reading the book: Robert Lincoln, Abe’s oldest son, was with his father when he died, with Garfield when he was shot and showed up in Buffalo to meet up with McKinley just minutes after McKinley was shot.  I love trivia like that. 

I thought Assassination Vacation was brilliant even if I found her fetish of Lincoln undeserved.  She loves the Lincoln that is taught to you in fourth grade history, not the real Lincoln and his blatant violations of the Constitution.  She builds Lincoln up and when she switches focus to Garfield and McKinley, she makes them out to be such lame men that one wonders why anyone would bother killing them.  Vowell describes herself as an atheist who hs replaced God with government making Lincoln her Jesus and the Lincoln Memorial her church.  I suppose that is fine for her, but it is a little childish to me. 

Anyway, I am happy to have finally read Assassination Vacation.  It was well worth the paper it is printed on.  I cannot say the same for The Partly Cloudy Patriot, the second Sarah Vowell book I read.  I suppose it is not fair the order in which I read the books.  I read the great one first even though the other two came first.  Someone else reading Vowell start to finish would have gotten to watch her grow as an author.  I watched her regress.  The Partly Cloudy Patriot is 19 essays, most of which focus on government or history or presidents and a couple that are about Tom Cruise , Tom Landry or popular culture.  In one essay she visits a couple of presidential libraries and then writes advice to President Clinton on what he should do with his library.  She hero worships Clinton although not quite like she does Lincoln.  If Lincoln is her Jesus, then Clinton is just her televangelist who has taken her life savings but she’s still willing to give him more.

With Assassination Vacation, I relayed bits of the book to my mother in phone conversations.  I can still see my favorites parts on the pages and I still get a chuckle over a humorous turn of a phrase.  But with The Partly Cloudy Patriot, the impression I have is fogged.  I know I read it, but it didn’t leave much of an impression.  There were some funny parts but a lot of it was grating and I cannot, for the life of me,  tell you why.  The only essay that stands out in memory is the Tom Cruise one because she came right out and called him creepy… and this was before the Oprah couch stuff.  If you find yourself wanting to read some Sarah Vowell, skip this one.  It is disappointing.

Last but not least, the coffee stained copy of Take the Cannoli.  I never took this book up to my bedside table.  It wasn’t overtly about politics, which meant it wasn’t must read and only muct read books are on my bedside table.  You see, even if I am slipped a heavy dose of NyQuil, I am going to read at least four chapters before I turn out the lights at night.  My bed is my must read place to be.  Take the Cannoli is not must read.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is Don’t Read.  In Assassination Vacation and her work on This American Life, Sarah Vowell is quirky and the quirky works for her.  In Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell is trying so very hard to be quirky.  She writes about her “secret” addiction to the first Godfather film and seems to think she is the one who discovered how cool the movie is.  So cool she even titled her book after her favorite line in the movie.

Seriously, The Godfather is a classic for a reason.  Everyone knows how cool it is.  Sarah Vowell is not quirky because she has watched it a tousand times.  She is not quirky because she loves the criminals in it.  She is dorky for thinking that this “secret” love is quirky.  She also has some essays about how embarassing her parents are.  She is cool because she is worldly and lives all cosmopolitan and her dad makes guns and lives in Montanna.  She is obviously so much better and smarter than her dad.  Quirky.  Not so much.  What twenty-something** doesn’t think they are smarter and more worldly than their parents?  The whole book reads like exceptional high school girl writing.  Yes, exceptional for  high school girl, but not an adult in the world of published books.  You know how sometimes you hear some popular singer who is crap and you wonder how in the Hell they ever got a recording contract?  That is how I feel about Take the Canoli.  Who in the Hell read the draft and green-lighted its publishing?    Bad, bad book.  I still feel bad that it is coffee stained, but I feel worse because now I have to go buy a new copy of the crappy book because I cannot return the damaged book back to the math teacher.

Over Christmas I saw that there is a new Sarah Vowell book for sale.  I will, of course, have to read it, just to see if she has progressed or actually regressed.  But I will wait until I find it at Half Price Books or is loaned to me.  I will actually purchase a copy of Assassination Vacation to add to my presidential library though.


**Sadly, I just realized she was probably in her early thirties when she wrote this book, which makes it even worse.



Well, that totally sucked.

It hurts much more than I even thought it would.

Nothing to be done about it now.  Time to move on.

I’ve got to cut the grass today, on what may be the last nice weather day until April.

Sarah Palin rally…

I didn’t think I was going to make it to a McCain/Palin campaign rally.  Two weeks ago we almost went to a McCain rally in Toldeo, Ohio, but it was a two hour drive and Sarah wasn’t going to be there, so we skipped it.  There have been other opportunities, but they have been on week days and at iunfortunate times. 

Yesterday, Sarah had a rally in Canton, Ohio and since it was a Sunday, I really thought we would go.  But S had boat loads of homework and there just wasn’t enough time in the day.  But then I got one last opportunity.  The Ohio GOP sent notice that they had added one more local Palin rally for Monday morning.  While I felt bad that S wouldn’t be able to go with me, I jumped at the opportunity.

I picked up my rally ticket at the Mayfield McCain/Palin office late last night.  The ticket said that the “doors” opened at 6:30 am.  I live about 45 minutes from Lakewood, where the rally was held, so I had to get up pretty early and skip driving S to work.

I didn’t get over to Lakewood until about 6:45, but I got a great parking spot and the lines moved briskly.  It was total kismet.  I was meant to attend the Palin rally.  Since I got there so early, I was able to get a standing spot right near the stage.

This is a shot taken right as I got into the rally area.  It was held outdoors in Lakewood Park.  It was kind of warm this morning, but cloudy and there were sprinkles.  It did not bode well for the two hour wait until Gov. Palin arrived.

Once I got into my really great rally viewing spot, I started to make the aquaintence of the people around me.  There were a lot of people.  A lot of families.  A lot of school children.  I thought a Monday morning rally might be sparse, but no.  There were probably about 4,000 people there.  I haven’t heard “official” numbers though. 

Anyway, everyone was so nice and so excited.  The cool thing about the bleacher seats behind the stage is that anyone could go sit up there.  People weren’t being chosen by demographics.  That was cool.

The campaign people handed out free baseball caps that read “CLEAN COAL”, little American flags, “Country First” signs, red pom-poms and Joe stickers.  I got one of each to bring home to S.  I also bought her a Sarah Palin button and a John and Sarah campaign sticker. 

Various local politicians took the stage, which was nice.  And then there was an Ohio country music singer who did a couple of songs and the National Anthem.  At about 9:15 Sarah Palin finally arrived.

Now, I think Sarah Palin is a great politician.  A true natural.  I think she is smart.  I think she keeps her promises.  I think she is a reformer.  I admire her for lots of reasons.  But I have to tell you, she is about 1,000 times hotter in person than you can possibly believe. 

Sure, I thought she was attractive before.  But I’ve never understood the people who claimed she was “smokin”.  Until today.  Gov. Palin is wicked hot.  Before today, I was rooting for her.  After today, I am totally smitten.

Oh, yeah, and Todd was there too.  Just as cute as he is on television.  G_d, he seems like such a wonderful husband and father.  Everyone should have a Todd in their lives.

I should also add that Sarah made the skies clear up and the rain go away.  She is amazing.  She controls the weather. 

Good speech.  Lots of energy.  I am hoarse from cheering and my hands ache from clapping.

At one point, when she was talking about taking reform to Washington, I yelled out “Veto Pen” and I swear that both she and Todd turned and winked at me.

I’ve never really been one to attend political rallies before.  Well, not since college anyway.  I really didn’t see much point in them because I always make up my mind well before the last weeks of an election.  But now I see the whole point of adding “just one more” rally.  Before today, I would have been upset and disappointed if McCain/Palin lose the election.  After having attended the rally, I can now say that I will be broken hearted if they lose.

So much so that tonight I am going to go make some phone calls at the campaign office and tomorrow I am going to be an official poll observer.

Random thoughts…

We went to the ‘Burgh last weekend to meet Lil Bud.  She is pretty damned cute.  We took tons of pictures.  I don’t mind saying, thank G_d she looks more like her mother than her father.

Again, driving into Pittsburgh was complete Hell.  I-79 South is being closed for 10 minutes at a time off and on during the day which causes major traffic congestion.  When we finally got to S’s parent’s house, I vowed that we were never again driving to Pittsburgh, but I am sure that vow will be broken.

Trying to leave Pittsburgh is also Hell, no matter what the time of day.

Why doesn’t John McCain have rallies at times when it would be easy for me to attend?

S and I filled out our mail-in ballots last week.  I am going to take them to the Board of Elections office instead of putting them in the mail.  I do not trust the mail.

We both voted NO on all of the ballot issues.  There were five.  Two biggies… one to shut down the Pay-Day lending institutions and one to allow a casino down in Columbus.  I’m against gambling but not against allowing people to get short term loans at outrageous interest rates.

I just remembered that I was supposed to call our vet today.  Totally forgot.  Emma has a huge lump growing on her chest (the size of a turkey breast).  It is probably a fatty tumor, which is common in Labs.  She had one two years ago on her side and had to have surgery.  She seems healthy and it doesn’t seem to be impeding her movement at all, so I haven’t been too worried about it.  But S started freaking out about it this weekend.

A night with Ike…

That was one wicked wind storm last night.  It sounded like Marine One was landing on our front yard, repeatedly, for several hours.  The power kept flickering.  Branches fell out of trees and blocked the roads.  I found a rather large tree branch on the hood of our car this morning.  No damage, thank G_d, but a whole lot of people in northeast Ohio woke up to damaged cars and houses this morning.  My poor tomato plants did not survive the wind storm.  They were ripped into bits.

Just sitting in my living room, hoping and praying that the power wouldn’t go out during the Steelers/Browns game, I wondered how in the hell anyone in Texas, especially Galveston, rode out Ike in their homes.  Frightening.  I often wonder why anyone would choose to live in a hurricane plagued are or a tornado prone area or along a fault line.  I don’t think I am as tough as those people.  Perhaps I don’t have the fortitude to deal with those things.  Then again, I deal with Lake Erie winters, so I am somewhat tough.  Right?

At this very moment I am listening to a local talk radio program where the host is taking calls from people perplexed by the sudden increase in gas prices.  Of course they are blaming the oil companies, not the huge range of factors caused by the hurricane.  I find that frustrating.

S’s mom and dad are planning to visit this coming weekend.  We are going to take them to the Yankee Peddler festival on Saturday.  Mrs. S has been nagging us to take her for about four years now.  I don’t think that Mr. S is looking forward to it at all.  When we took them to a county fair last summer, they practically jogged us through the whole thing, all the while complaining about the smell of the animals.  Seriously, we were in and out of the Cuyahoga County Fair in a little over an hour.  Now, there won’t be animals at the Yankee Peddler, but it is still pretty much just a huge craft fair.  When we have gone in the past, we usually stay about four hours.  I am willing to bet that this year we do the whole festival in two hours.

Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live as Sarah Palin was priceless.  However, the rest of the show was horrible.  Maybe they used all the funny on the opening skit and that is why all the rest of the skits lacked the funny.  But I am pleased t report that S and I watched Baby Mama (Tina Fey and Amy Pohler)on Friday and it was funny.  I feared that it was going to be one of those movies where all of the funny parts were in the advertisements, but no.

I checked out my stocks this morning and got a little ill.  But then I made the decision not to look again today while there is the Lehman uproar.  I already feel better.  Things ebb and flow and I usually resist getting too caught up in the whirlwind of financial prognostication.  Today should be no exception.

Finished reading Fleeced  by Dick Morris this weekend.  Not a very good book.  Too shallow.  And I got the impression that some of his “down with the tyrants” rants were hollow.  I don’t think he really believes half of what he wrote in that book.  Total waste of my money and time and for that I should slap myself in the face, because I have alwasy avoided his books in the past.

Blog reading regrets…

It started last week, probably Monday or Tuesday.  I have this list of blogs in my favorites file, separated into sections like “mommy blogs“, “dad blogs” and “people blogs“.  There are about ten to twelve blogs in each section.  I love those blogs and they really are my favorites even though there are also a lot of other blogs that I enjoy.  But blogs that are not in my favorites are ones that I visit maybe once a month.  The blogs that are favorites, I visit at least once a day, sometimes five times a day depending on their output or if there is something that begs to be read and re-read and then read aloud to S.

There are all sorts of blogs in those favorites.  I’ve come to enjoy “meeting” people through their writing that I would probably never bother to meet in my day to day life.  The people that I enjoy the most are so very different than me and my life, beliefs and ideology.  One person is even a New England Patriots fan, but I still love his blog.  I love reading about people with children because I truly find their lives fascinating.  I love their stories.  And, of course, I have come across plenty of blogs written by people who support Barack Obama and truly believe that his policies are the best policies for the future of the United States.  I’ve enjoyed reading their posts about why they believe those things and support that candidate.  They haven’t swayed me, but I appreciate reading their posts.  They are expressing political opinions in a non-offensive, non-Kool-Aid drinking way.  They aren’t ranting and raving, which is a turn off for me.

The thing is, I was enjoying all of that until last week.  It seems that John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for a running mate really was quite the “game changer”.  That choice started to seep into some of my favorite blogs.  And not so much in a good way.  Suddenly these reasonable people have started lacing their posts with an acidity that I just can’t understand.  Suddenly the “mommy” bloggers and the “dad” bloggers have gone from entertainment to something I just don’t enjoy reading anymore.  Same with the “people” bloggers, but I kind of expected that because they were always a little more political than the others. 

By last Thursday I had started to avoid my favorites.  But I was lured back to one that I considered safe because he had never really talked about politics at all before.  Sadly I found a post that said he knew a guy who had drunken photos of Sarah Palin from college that the friend was afraid to release to the media because he has a job in Alaska politics and feared for that job.  I’ve now stopped going to that blog, which sucks because he always had great photos.  Maybe I’ll return after the election.

I love talking politics.  It is my favorite subject, with football coming in a close second.  And I don’t mind reading about why Sarah Palin’s policies are unappealing to some.  So long as it is factual.  And so long as it is not a rant about her family.  I have a section in my favorites file for “political blogs” both left leaning and right leaning.  I expect hyperbole there.  I expect teeth gnashing there.  I expect lies, de-bunking, smears and cheerleading there.  I just don’t expect it from my entertainment, from my gentle favorites.

It has become so bad that when I came across a blog that had a reasonable political post, I actually left a comment.  And I never comment on blogs.  But it was a refreshing read and I felt the need to thank that person.  I don’t know if that blog will ever make it onto my favorites list because the other posts weren’t all that interesting to me, but I really did appreciate that one post.

So, there has been much less blog reading for me lately.  I suppose that will continue for awhile.  It is regretful because something that I once enjoyed has become disappointing.  I hope that things can go back to normal after the election.  Perhaps in December once the dust has settled.  I sure hope so.  And if Obama beats McCain, I will read the victory dance posts in hopes that the posts that follow get back to the cute school stories and complaints about work.

Update to the VP guessing game post…

Way back in June, after Senator Obama finally clinched the democratic nomination, I wrote a post about vice presidential nominee speculation.  It contained lists for both the democrats and the republicans and I am pleased as punch that both Obama and McCain chose people that I had written about.  Not that I think I had sway, more like, wow, I’m pretty good at the guessing game…

Here is that post.

I got some comments after publishing the post and I would like to point out that some guy named Ted said that, “With Palin, McCain wins.”  Sure, we still have 58 or so days to go but the polling data from this morning is making Ted look pretty darned smart.