Friday, December 20, 2013

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, You'll Want To Read All These Books.

Because of other stuff (NAMELY, my BRAIN) I sort of ran out of time on my annual Indie Gift Guide, but that doesn't mean that you can't still get all kinds of great Xmas presents delivered ON TIME and for VERY LITTLE MONEY:

namely, BOOKS!  I prefer ebooks because they save the environment by not being written on the skin of dead trees and they don't have to be shipped via large trucks that will nearly knock me into the ditch as I drive up north for hearings today, but you can probably get regular books, too, and if you are looking for last minute gift ideas, or if you simply LOVE READING, then here is a list of great books to buy people.

The House On The Corner, by Andrew Leon: A family moves into the titular house, only to learn that they have a magical annex and that the world is a stranger (and more sinister) place than they believed.  Leon's story is Spielbergian in the best possible way: it brings out the heart of the story in the family and surrounds them with awesome characters and magic.  He's even got a Christmas story about the family:  Christmas On The Corner.  Click here to go to Andrew Leon's Amazon author page.  $3.99 on Kindle; $13.49 paperback.

Girl Power by PT Dilloway: Nobody writes superheroes like Dilloway, author of the smash "Scarlet Knight" series of books.  "Girl Power" demonstrates his genre-busting, as it begins the multi-book saga of what happens when the world's greatest superhero team suddenly finds their sex switched!  Start with "Girl Power" but pick up the sequel, "Girl Power: The Imposters" while you're at it, because you won't want to wait to keep going on this story.  Click here to buy it from Planet 99 Publishing; $0.99 on ebook, $5.99/$6.99 paperback. 

A Dead God's Wrath by Rusty Carl.  Like your westerns with a touch of angry, vengeful gods? Carl's story about a mystical stranger's entry into a small town in 1895 is somehow both short AND epic.  He's got other great stories for sale, but this is the cream of the crop.  Click here to go to his Amazon author page.  $0.99 ebook.

CassaStorm, by Alex Cavanaugh: no doubt you've heard of the awesome trilogy by Alex Cavanaugh, the Internet-ruling writing ninja? It all began with CassaStorm, in which a long-brewing war breaks out both between planets, AND in the family of the main character, Byron.  CassaStorm and its sequels exemplify the best in sci-fi writing.  Click here to go to Alex's Amazon page.  $2.99 ebook, $13.31 paperback.

Lyon's Legacy, by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan: speaking of sci-fi, if you want yours with a dose of ACTUAL SCIENCE, look no further than Sandra's series about dual universes and cloning: the "Catalyst Chronicles" series which begins with this books tells the story of a geneticist who must cross barriers between universes to collect DNA from her own famous grandfather.  The story is inventive, touching, and seems realistic enough to actually happen. Click here to go to Sandra's Amazon page.  $2.99 ebook, $13.08 audible audio edition.

Finding Meara, by Lara Schiffbauer: Lots of kids wonder if they are adopted.  Some of them are -- but very few are adopted from a magical, monster-filled world.  That's Hazel's story, though, and it takes a turn for the worse when her biological father kidnaps her and wants to sacrifice her to maintain his immortality.  Click here to go to Lara's Amazon page.  $0.99 ebook.

String Bridge, by Jessica Bell.  Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage--and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits.  THE BOOK COMES WITH A SOUNDTRACK BY THE AUTHOR, which alone should make you buy it.  Click here to go to Jessica's Amazon page.  $3.99 Kindle, $12.55 paperback.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pictures With Non Sequitur Titles

When you take time to smell the roses, make sure you don't forget to smell the other flowers, too. And other things that smell good, like hot buttered popcorn, or the salt air of the sea, or a baby's head.  Smell everything.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Looking back, a strangely high percentage of my employment decisions were made because of girls. (Jobs v. Life)

Seriously, has it been more than a year since I last wrote an installment in this series? The Magic Foam Dice Of Skee-Ball Prizes* is a fickle master, I suppose.  But it's time once again to revisit all the jobs I've had in my life.  Having worked my way through paperboy, McDonald's, and Dishwasher at a country club, it's time to move on to something far more sophisticated:

Dishwasher at a Denny's!

*This is how I choose what I will write about on a given day: I roll a foam die that Mr Bunches got with his Skee-Ball winnings, and the number that comes up helps determine what I will work on that day.  There's about four more steps after that but I thought I'd at least explain the reference.

The country club where I'd been employed for about 2-3 weeks had closed for the winter, leading to the obvious question:

Why was it open until New Year's Eve in the first place?

The country club, which is a thing that amazingly exists in modern America ("modern" meaning 1980s America in this case but I know for a fact they still exist because one of my partners at work belongs to one, and we went to lunch there once for a meeting and I had a grilled cheese that had tomato on it, as well, and it was delicious, which I guess is one reason that country clubs still exist: to teach us new, delicious ways to grill cheese.  "Grilling Cheese For Rich People." Sounds like a winner of a cookbook, doesn't it?)

Where was I? Oh, yeah: The country club, which still exists, is one of the most anachronistic, most annoying things that it turns out people do, and that is in an astonishingly long list of things that people do that I find anachronistic and/or annoying. (That's mostly and and very little or in that last choice).

Whether country clubs are something that needs to be a thing (they don't) is for another essay another time (although I just answered it).  Whether it makes sense for a country club to be open only until New Year's Eve and not after that until spring is another matter entirely.  Another, also stupid, matter, but another matter.  The country club where I got my start in dishwashing was open from spring, sometime, until New Year's Eve, and then closed for several months.  The reason for this, I was told, was that "members don't use it in the winter," which doesn't make sense on like fourteen different levels.

First of all, "don't use it in the winter" means they don't use it for November and December, which I will go to my grave saying are parts of winter.  Well, December, anyway.  The year, to me, breaks down this way:

Spring: March, April, May.
Summer: June, July, August.
Fall: September, October, November up until Thanksgiving.
Winter: post-Thanksgiving November, December, January, and February.

I get really irritated when I hear meteorologists say "BLAH BLAH BLAH winter starts at 5:15 p.m. December 21" because scientific winter is about as relevant to life as the magnetic north pole is to Christmas, which is to say not at all.

Imagine if in regular conversation I said

"Yeah, so these guys went on an expedition to the North Pole,"

and you said "Wow, that would take a lot of training and outfitting and possibly swimming if that half-read headline I remember about maybe the North Pole melting was accurate, and also wasn't there a picture of a polar bear swimming on Huffington Post?"

And I said "What? Oh, no, they went to the MAGNETIC north pole, which is near Ellesmere Island in northern Canada but is actually moving towards Russia at approximately 35 miles per year, which is a huge victory for communism, if you think about it, in that in the future all our compasses will point towards the Kremlin,"

and you said "But Russia isn't communist anymore,"

at which point we'd be off on a tangent, and let's get back to the point here: "Winter" means "when it is cold and dark outside," and to say "Winter" includes 2/3 of March but only 1/3 of December is just stupid.

Also, to say that patrons of a country club don't use it in 'the winter' is stupid, again because you keep it open for November and December, so does their attendance drop off remarkably in January? How did you find that out? Did you used to be open in January? Or do you just assume that? And why don't they use the club in the winter? I get that they don't play tennis or golf in the winter because snow but they don't use the restaurant? At all? Do they only use other restaurants seasonally, as well? The members had to pay to eat at the restaurant (and to use the course; the membership fees only entitled them to be among the limited group of people who could opt to pay for those services, another stupid thing about country clubs, you are paying for the right to pay for stuff, while simultaneously excluding others from paying for those things.)

So for all the dumb reasons they had, the country club closed in the winter and left me to try to find work at a place where people based their spending decisions on something other than whether the food tasted right when there was snow on the ground, and that led me to the Denny's that was about 15 miles from our house.

By this point, I could find jobs that were farther away because by this point, I had my own car.  It was my first car EVER and I bought it for $200 from a guy my Uncle Mark knew, I think? I remember that my Uncle Mark was involved in helping me decide to buy the car but I don't remember if he just went with me to look at it or if he knew the guy, but either way, this car was a beaut.

It was some sort of Datsun, I believe, and it was a shade of brown that only existed in the 1970s and 1980s, a flat brown that appeared to be made of clay rather than paint on metal.  The car had two snow tires instead of regular tires on the back, and that, too, is something that it's hard to believe ever existed or still exists: snow tires, like country clubs, seem like they are a thing that should belong only to the past.

The really cool thing about that car is that it didn't actually require keys to start it; there was some sort of quirk in the wiring or potential explosive hazard or something that allow the car to start if you just turned the ignition, with or without a key.  This made it easy for me to begin my life as a driver by immediately reassigning that part of my brain which otherwise would be responsible for remembering where my keys were to other duty, and for 28 glorious years I have been completely, utterly, unaware of where my keys are at any given moment.  (Even as I write this, I am using the spare set of keys for my current car, the real key having been misplaced some six weeks ago.  You would think I would be more careful about the sole key I have for this car, but you would think that only if you knew nothing about me. I've lost the spare key twice already, and this is I figure entirely because when I was sixteen I owned a car that didn't need a key, so I never evolved to know how to protect my keys.  I'm like a plesiosaur, if plesiosaurs had used keys but not been able to remember where they were, and you can't prove that they didn't, because the fossil record is incomplete.)

Armed with a car, I was no longer dependent on my dad to drive me to and from jobs, which was good because he wouldn't have been pleased about having to drive me 15 miles to Denny's instead of just 5 to McDonald's or the country club, and I would've been in for a lot of lectures about how it is irresponsible to get fired from a job just to go to a party, and my counterargument ("but there were girls there") would likely not have won me points.

I can't, looking back, remember anything about the actual process of getting hired at Denny's. I don't remember the manager or the interviewer or even specifically whether I was hired solely as a dishwasher or as a busboy/dishwasher.  What I remember most is that I was trained by a guy whose name I think was Dave, and Dave had the sort of sandy, greasy-ish already-thinning blond hair and moustache that would mark him as a bad influence of an extremely minor sort in any teen comedy.  Dave would have been the guy who was (like me) not popular, but who did stuff that could be popular: Dave's character would have had a room that he kept a padlock on, and a mom who was not around much, and Dave's character probably would have smoked pot, which my character would have resisted in the movie.

THAT is all I remember about Dave.  And more or less all I remember about working at Denny's, a job that almost completely failed to make an impact on me.  I recall that I had to wear a white shirt, and I had to wear an apron.  And there were these brown tubs of dishes at various 'stations' around the restaurant that I had to go to pick up and wash.  I don't remember actually setting or clearing tables, but it's almost certain that was part of my job.

What I remember, and why I say I was a dishwasher there, was the dishwasher room.  I remember that like I was just in it this morning.  It had yellow walls of the institutional yellow color that fills hospitals and high schools and municipal buildings: a yellow that's so pale it barely registers as yellow, but it's definitely not white, either.

In the yellow room there was a big metal table where you set the brown tubs, and a roller-slide where you would take large, 3x3 plastic trays and stack all the dishes into them before sliding them into the industrial-strength dishwasher that had a slide-down door.  You'd fill a rack, slide it to the right and slam the door down and hear the spray nozzles kick in while you filled the next rack, and then lift the door and slide them down again, pushing the rack out.

I loved that whole thing.  This was way better than scrubbing pots and pans in the back room at the country club and using their miniscule dishwasher (let alone way way WAY better than depooping shrimp on New Year's Eve).  I loved seeing how little food people actually finished (even if the idea of touching food people had touched was gross) and I loved scraping it off and I loved hearing the dishes slide in and clank under the sprays, but most of all what I loved was the way the dishes came out the other end in 2 minutes, clean and hot. Those dishes gleamed, and it took literally no effort on my part to get them that clean.

I was raised hand-washing dishes.  I want to say that when I was a kid we had a dishwasher for a while but I bet that's a memory I invented.  What I remember is that we had to handwash dishes for all the relevant portions of my life, and with a family of five (and then six) and this being the 1970s and 1980s, there were a LOT of dishes.  Nothing back then was pre-made and there weren't delivery restaurants and the frozen foods you could get weren't these "one-dish" pasta 'creations' and things that make up all our meals today.  Back then a simple dinner would require seemingly hundreds of dishes, plates, pots, pans, etc.  And we had to handwash them all, and my mom's rule was not just that those dishes had to gleam, but that dishes had to be washed in hot water.

Hot is probably not a strong enough word.  If the water didn't more or less scorch your hands, it was not hot enough.  If you could stick your hands in it for long without grimacing in pain, it was not hot enough.  Those dishes needed to be sterile.  And I was the one who washed the dishes most nights (by choice: I liked washing better than drying because drying you had to put them away, too.)

So I had a lifetime of hands with red, raw knuckles from using a dobie pad -- that was what my mom called that little sponge with the netting to help scrub, a dobie pad, which apparently is an actual brand name for it, having just googled it -- to get everything clean in water so hot it would sterilize surgical instruments, and it was work.

Compared to that, dishwashing at Denny's was a breeze.  It was my first brush with the future, as I like to think of it, my first brush with how machines and technology could make life superamazing. In getting a job at Denny's, I went from a life where dishes only got clean if you actually felt physical pain in the process, to a life where dishes got clean by sitting in a box for two minutes, clean the way my mom would have liked them, sparkling and hot.

Then I would have to quit Denny's three months later -- because girls.  Or at least girl.  (That is called foreshadowing.  See you in 15 months.)