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Beyond Comment

April 30, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hallelujah, I Love (Them) So

Since the To Read Pile is never quite tall enough, I was heartened by this email message, which I'm dutifully passing along to all avid readers:


We are pleased to inform you that your favorite Ivan R. Dee books are now available at www.ivanrdee.com.

All books carry an everyday 30% discount if you order from our website. Featured titles carry a 40% discount.

Come view our entire backlist as well as those of New Amsterdam, J. S. Sanders, and Borderland Books.

We aim to make the online shopping experience as user-friendly as possible. We would be happy to hear from you.

Thank you.

Best wishes,
The staff of Ivan R. Dee

April 28, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Free George Saunders!

That is, free writings by George Saunders. He's not a political prisoner--not yet, anyway. His free promo collection, A Bee Stung Me, So I Killed All the Fish, is the funniest political screed--against the Bush Administration, the Iraq War, imperialism, etc.--that I've read in quite some time. (Read that title again, and you'll get a good idea where he's going with this.) Even a sendup of reality TV shows--in which Saunders professes admiration for the spinoffs "The Bachelor: Actually He Is Dead" and "The Bachelor: So What If I’m a Raccoon?"--concludes with a mention of "How Weird Is That?", "in which a group of bureaucrats who have never themselves fought in a war are locked in the 'Decision House' and allowed to select any country in the world for America to go to war with, for reasons they must invent on the spot."

For me, the funniest piece in the collection is "Flooding the Zone: A New Approach to Global Diplomacy" in which Saunders presents his solution to ending the insurgency in Iraq: shipping the entire population of the United States to Iraq, where the Americans will cater to Iraqis' every whim. Americans will outnumber Iraqis twelve to one, with the sheer force of our personalities bringing an end to sectarian violence:

(E)ven the most energetic insurgent will have a hard time getting much done, saddled, as he will be, with his twelve designated Americans. Imagine how hard it will be to sneak off with your insurgent friends, much less deploy a roadside bomb, when every time you move, your twelve Americans leap up and ask if there’s anything you need.

The collection also comes in a handy alternate format in which the pages can be assembled into a tidy booklet. Give it a read. You won't regret it.

April 27, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do As I Say...

Not as I...um...said:

"(The) Strategic Reserve should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election. It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security."

That was George Bush, in 2000, attacking Al Gore's proposal to tap the Strategic Reserve to force down oil prices. Yesterday, Bush announced that the U.S. will halt deliveries to the Reserve to--you guessed it--"help reduce rising gasoline prices." Thanks for the consistent message, Mr. President.

April 26, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows

I recently finished reading Kevin Guilfoile's debut novel, Cast of Shadows, and enjoyed it quite a bit. As a thriller, it's a bit out of my snooty literary fiction element, but Guilfoile goes far beyond genre in telling his story. It's not even really a whodunnit, with the killer being identified halfway through. Of course it has a crime scene investigation, private detectives and an intrepid newspaper reporter. But it goes beyond those stock elements to incorporate many other angles, including reproductive technology, medical ethics, philosophy, alternate reality, religious fanaticism and, above all, a family--primarily a grieving father and the dubious extremes he will go to find the truth.

But even the truth is a slippery thing, as the protagonist finds out. As is the morality or immorality of a given act: time and again, an immoral act is committed in pursuit of "the greater good" by which, it could be argued, the original smaller act becomes morally justified. The final scene, during which a critical fact is withheld from the protagonist, leaving him with merely the illusion of knowing the truth (which in his case is better than knowing the truth itself), is a quietly striking scene of humanity and compassion.

Cast of Shadows is a very well-written, nimbly-plotted and thoughtful work of fiction. Fine job, Mr. Guilfoile.

April 25, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #2

The first round of the Jerry Lee Regional at the Tournament of Tunes has been completed. Several indie rock heavyweights--Big Star, Mountain Goats, Dinosaur Jr.--have been bounced out of the tourney, which suggests that my judging is driven more by emotion and nostalgia than critical plaudits. The next round of this regional looks pretty straightforward, other than the Pavement-Morphine slugfest, though beyond that round there's no single shoo-in for the Elite Eight.

Full play-by-play for the tournament can be read here (scroll way down for the Jerry Lee Regional commentary). Full tourney bracket here.

Next up: the Johnny Cash Regional.

(Previous commentary for the Elvis Regional can be perused here.)

April 25, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Intelligence Failure, My Arse!

In October 2002, long before the U.S. invaded Iraq, the CIA gained as an informant Saddam's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, who would reveal Iraq's military secrets. Sabri talked at length to the CIA, after which CIA Director George Tenet reported his findings to the White House. Last night on 60 Minutes, Ed Bradley interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of the CIA's Europe division, who revealed the details behind Tenet's White House meeting:

BRADLEY: According to Drumheller, CIA Director George Tenet delivered the news about the Iraqi foreign minister at a high level meeting at the White House.
DRUMHELLER: The President, the Vice President, Dr. Rice…
BRADLEY: And at that meeting…?
DRUMHELLER: They were enthusiastic because they said they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis.
BRADLEY: And what did this high level source tell you?
DRUMHELLER: He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction program.
BRADLEY: So, in the fall of 2002, before going to war, we had it on good authority from a source within Saddam’s inner circle that he didn’t have an active program for weapons of mass destruction?
BRADLEY: There’s no doubt in your mind about that?
DRUMHELLER: No doubt in my mind at all.
BRADLEY: It directly contradicts, though, what the President and his staff were telling us.
DRUMHELLER: The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.
BRADLEY: Drumheller expected the White House to ask for more information from the Iraqi foreign minister. He was taken aback by what happened.
DRUMHELLER: The group that was dealing with preparations for the Iraq war came back and said they’re no longer interested. And we said, “Well, what about the intel?” And they said, “Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.”
BRADLEY: And if I understand you correctly, when the White House learned that you had this source from the inner circle of Saddam Hussein, they were thrilled with that.
DRUMHELLER: The first we heard, they were. Yes.
BRADLEY: But when they learned what it was that he had to say, that Saddam did not have the capability to wage nuclear war, weapons of mass destruction…?
DRUMHELLER: They stopped being interested in the intelligence.

Okay, let's forget about a Congressional censure of the President, and start impeachment proceedings immediately. How much more more do we need to hear about this Administration's pre-invasion lies? What are you waiting for, Congress?

April 24, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference

The conference schedule for the 2006 edition of Art and Craft: the Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference (July 27-30) is now online, and I'm drooling over the class offerings. Unfortunately, I'm already seeing a dilemma--unlike last year, when all the classes I wanted to take were on a single day, this year there are great course offerings on both Thursday and Friday. I'm leaning towards the former, though the temptation of taking a class from Kevin Guilfoile is very hard to resist.

April 24, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Transitions Bookplace

Gapers Block mainstay Alice Maggio has put out a call to arms for Transitions Bookplace, a longtime Chicago independent bookseller which is in danger of closing.

Transitions has been one of my favorite bookstores in Chicago for a very long time. It is a peaceful oasis in the middle of a hectic, busy shopping area. And the café is the best.

Nice to see Alice continuing to support the local literary community, unlike a high-profile Chicago litblogger (who shall remain nameless) who greeted the Transitions story with nothing more than an unfairly snide remark.

April 24, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good News, Indeed

I received two story acceptances during the past week: "Ralph's Last Call" will be published in Issue Four of The Angler and "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow" will be published in the May issue of Skive Magazine. I'll post followup notices here once the stories are online.

I'm rather excited by each acceptance, for varying reasons. I'm going to be taking on some editorial duties shortly at The Angler, supplementing the yeoman work of publisher/editor Donavan Hall; I'll explain further later this week. Second, my Skive story will be my first paid work, as that journal pays its writers royalties generated from online advertising, which will officially make me a professional writer. So when you visit the site please be kind enough click through repeatedly and wantonly from the advertisers' links--everybody wins, other than perhaps Google's shareholders.

April 24, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Taking Rejection(s) Gracefully

The underpublished writer in me makes me wish this wasn't satire.

Stop reading those depressing missives! Throw out your rejection-slip folder! With BetweenTheLines.com, you never have to be depressed by a rejection letter again. Email it to us, and in two to three business days we’ll send you our annotated version.

Aha! Now I realize that "Your story does not meet our current editorial needs" actually means "We'll be thrilled to publish your under-plotted, over-detailed, thinly-characterized, unfunny, misogynistic and completely unrealistic coming-of-age story next year!" Thanks, BetweenTheLines.com!

April 20, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Al Burian, "Zangara"

Al Burian's terrific story "Zangara" (an imaginative retelling of the assassination of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, by a gunman aiming for FDR) appears in the most recent broadsheet edition of THE2NDHAND. Burian--also the writer of my favorite zine, Burn Collector--has some compelling musings on immortality, making sense of the unexplainable and that brief dying moment when one's life flashes before the eyes:

This will be your first disappointment: a dispassionate understanding of how you actually filled your time. For the most part, your activities were boring and unpleasant. And you’ll find you have no control over the places and objects that have made their indelible, final impression on you. They just come, unadorned and perhaps in many cases unwanted.

Though the .pdf file is free, I just now gave THE2NDHAND a $30 donation for a lifetime subscription. I encourage you to donate as well, if you can. It's a great publication, and I'm sure they're not getting rich off of any of this, and could really use your support.


April 20, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update!

The Tournament of Tunes (explained here) is rolling right along, with the first quarter of tunes--which I'm calling the Elvis Regional--now completed. But based on the fact that only Julie has left comments thus far, I'm not sure if anyone other than her is following the festivities, so I thought I'd do this update to raise the tourney's profile a bit.

The tournament bracket is here, with play-by-play here.

There were no major upsets in the Elvis Regional--the Pogues, Built to Spill, Archers of Loaf and Ted Leo all posted decisive wins, with a rather titanic Pogues-BTS battle now looming in the second round. Tommy Stinson retained just enough of his Replacements goodwill to overcome his Guns N Roses stigma, edging out the wonderful Chris Knox to set up what will likely be an eye-gouging scrape with Ted Leo. Sebadoh also stands a fair chance of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen due to the weakness of its corner of the bracket, unless I suddenly develop a fondness for underwhelming Kiwi vocals.

Stay tuned for the first two matches of the next installment--the Jerry Lee Regional. They're both good ones, and will appear later today.

(Note: I've turned off the comments for this post. If you'd like to comment on the proceedings, please do so at the original post--I'd like to keep all the comments in one place.)

April 19, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink

Alvin Lustig, Designer

PK at Bibliodyssey has reproduced a gallery of fantastic book cover designs by Alvin Lustig (1915-1955), and points to the Lustig website, a thing of sheer beauty. More Lustig book designs are here; I'm particularly fond of his design for Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil (Knopf page, middle row, second from right).

April 17, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Time Out Chicago

I recently received several complimentary issues of Time Out Chicago, and I'm rather impressed by their literary section. The reviews are concise and very to-the-point, the lit event listings are comprehensive without being overwhelmingly exhaustive, and the sidebars are enjoyably informative. A recent issue covered Colson Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt, Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout and Louis Uchitelle's The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, all reviewed by the indie-minded likes of fiction writers Pete Coco, Brian Costello and TOC books editor Jonathan Messinger. Even more interestingly, the feature review was on Stories Care Forgot: An Anthology of New Orleans Zines, a compilation which is about as indie as you can get. From what I've seen, TOC's books section is refreshingly free of the big publisher domination which seems to mar so many other book review sections, and the credit for that clearly goes to Messinger himself.

Unfortunately, the book section is hidden online behind a subscription wall. Messinger and I recently exchanged emails, during which he told me he's been prodding his bosses for a while now to make the books section free online. With no success thus far. Which will sadly prevent me from enjoying the section any further--I don't get out in the city very much, thus rendering much of the magazine's events content of little use to me. And buying a TOC subscription just for the three pages of books coverage is a luxury I really can't justify at the moment.

April 14, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Richard Grayson, "...Lorimer Street"

Loyal FoPL [1] Richard Grayson's latest book, And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street, gets a nice review from Kirkus, which calls it a "funny, odd, somehow familiar and fully convincing fictional world." Richard was kind enough to send me a copy of the book, which is right near the top of my To Read List.

[1] "Friend of Pete Lit." I've been wanting to use this nomenclature for a while now, having long admired the numerous variants employed by Mark Sarvas. No, I'm not an innovator, just a shameless second adopter.

April 14, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes

Spring is the time for tournaments. But with NCAA hoops long since ended, the Tournament of Books ending today and Faux March Madness in puzzling hiatus (will the Duke kick Condi's ass, or what?), I'm here to fill the void.

Today I'm launching the Tournament of Tunes. Every morning I will have my iPod randomly select two songs as that day's contestants. While I'm tempted to add "May the best tune win", it probably won't be that simple. Sure, superior quality may prevail, but outside influences may just as likely taint my judgment. For example, I might fight myself sickened by the sudden appearance of a Guided by Voices tune in a McDonald's commercial, causing me to vote down the otherwise exemplary "Motor Away." Or I might be angered by some political outrage in New Zealand, causing me to momentarily shun the Verlaines. But I'm hoping that quality will ultimately win out over the course of a six-round tournament.

I should also add that no artist will have more than one song in the tournament--if the iPod selects an artist for the second time, I'll simply skip ahead to the next random song of a previously unselected artist. This will prevent the otherwise probable likelihood of an all-Elliott Smith Final Four, as my iPod is heavily populated by Smith's stellar songs.

The tournament bracket is here, with the play-by-play commentary here. I'll update the sidebar to the right daily with the current matchup. The debut match pits The Clean's "Crazy" against the live version of Dumptruck's "Watch Her Fall."

I hope you enjoy the tournament. If not, please just indulge me for a few weeks.

Update: It just occurred to me that the first round would take inordinately long to complete at the rate of one match per day. So for the first round I'll do two matches per day. I've just added Sebadoh vs. Monks of Doom.

April 13, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Dr. Frank Writes Book, Makes Video

Okay, this is a first for me: a video trailer, for a book. It's somewhat less surprising when you learn that King Dork's author, Frank Portman, is Dr. Frank of Bay Area punk stalwarts the Mr. T Experience. Still, it's a unique and rather enjoyable means of promoting books. Many of the images contained therein are painfully familiar to yours truly.

(Via Bookslut, whose Michael Schaub--"I love this book as much as I hated high school"--appears to like the book a smidgen or two.)

April 13, 2006 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet History - Dairy Queen

The world's very first Dairy Queen opened in my adopted hometown of Joliet, Illinois, on June 22, 1940. The newspaper ad above appeared in the Joliet Herald-News two weeks after the store first opened. The building at 501 N. Chicago St. still stands, though the DQ has long since departed from downtown.

Mmmmm...large cuplet...

April 12, 2006 in History, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (3)

Public Service Announcement

From Small Spiral Notebook:

seeking poet!
If you are the author of the poem "Convalescence," submitted to SSN on 11/27/05, please email editor at smallspiralnotebook dot com ASAP! Regrettably, with our server switchover, we lost your email address!

As an underpublished writer, I know it's hard enough getting published anywhere--and even harder at a high-end journal like SSN--without computer malfunctions fouling up one's chances even further. I hope they find the missing poet. (Hmmm..."The Case of the Missing Poet." Sounds like a job for Perry Mason and Paul Drake.)

April 11, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tempest in the Ivory Tower

University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, co-author of the improbable bestseller Freakonomics, is in a bit of hot water with one of his former academic colleagues.

According to Levitt's book: "When other scholars have tried to replicate [Lott's] results, they found that right-to-carry laws simply don't bring down crime."

But according to Lott's lawsuit: "In fact, every time that an economist or other researcher has replicated Lott's research, he or she has confirmed Lott's conclusion."

By suggesting that Lott's results could not be replicated, Levitt is "alleging that Lott falsified his results," the lawsuit says.

Nit, nit, nit. Why not just settle this by arm-wrestling at the next faculty happy hour, guys? Best two out of three, winner retains some semblance of over-sensitive professional pride.

(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "double@mailinator.com" to log on, with "123456" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)

April 11, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ha Jin, Waiting

The missus recently read Waiting by Ha Jin, and really liked it.

...I would venture to guess that it may even change the lives of some of you.

Wow. How many works of fiction can one honestly say that about?

April 10, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Royko on Film

What a lovely piece of Chicago history...Sun-Times era Mike Royko, holding court at the Billy Goat on the glories of 16-inch softball, in a film ("Royko at the Goat") by Scott Jacobs and Lilly Ollinger. There's a particulary tantalizing bit at the end in which he says that "(winning) the Pulitzer Prize didn't compare with the kick" he got from hitting a homer in some long-ago game. Priceless. Makes me want to lace up the old spikes and head for the park in search of a pickup game.

(Via Coudal.)

April 10, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bob Mould, Live and Alone

My oh my, it's a solo Bob Mould show at The Triple Door in Seattle from August 2005, courtesy of KEXP:

Entire Show (RealAudio, 51 minutes)

"Hoover Dam"
"See a Little Light"
"Your Favorite Thing"
"I Apologize"
"Celebrated Summer"
"If I Can't Change Your Mind"
"Makes No Sense At All"
(On-stage interview with Kevin Cole, 17 minutes)

I saw Mould play a solo show at the Vic in Chicago back in 1997, and it was one of the most riveting and powerful performances I've ever seen. Do yourself a favor and give this a listen.

Two interesting items from the interview: first, Mould found that starting up blogging helped stimulate his songwriting efforts (which runs counter to critics who claim that writers' blogging impairs their ability to fashion intelligent prose); and second, his wonderfully appropriate album title "Loud Bomb" is an anagram of his name.

April 6, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Studs Terkel & Jon Stewart

A match made in heaven. What could possibly be better, other than successful impeachment hearings?

April 6, 2006 in Books, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Zisk Magazine Giveaway!

As I mentioned earlier, my short story "Casey's Real Turn at Bat" has been published in the latest issue of the baseball zine Zisk Magazine. I will give away a free copy of this issue of Zisk to the first person to send me an email (pete_anderson [at] comcast [dot] net) with the subject line "Pitch At Risk to Richie Zisk!" Please include your snail mail address. Good luck!

UPDATE: Ibrahim is the winner. Congrats!

April 6, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Miette Reads Algren

The impeccably tasteful Miette reads one of Nelson Algren's greatest stories, "He Swung and He Missed" (21MB MP3, 22:14) and, in doing so, finds herself all stoked for a new life experience.

I was so charged during this reading, and especially during the play-by-play of the boxing match, that I discovered a latent desire from deep within my psyche. I want to be a sportscaster.

Don't laugh; I don't want to do it forever, not as metier, not as my life's ambition. But once, for one match or game, of any sort.

April 5, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Steve Almond interview

Gina Frangello has a quick interview with Steve Almond at the Other Voices blog.

I was happy as hell to do an MFA, because I had no idea otherwise how to escape from my office gig. I love that welfare states for artists exist.

I'm sure this piece will please my friend and mentor Christine Sneed, who's been politely insisting that I read My Life in Heavy Metal for some time now. Christine, you may consider the book officially added to The Pile.

April 5, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Check out this incredible digital painting by Bert Monroy of the Damen Avenue El stop, created entirely in Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Lovely!

(Via Gapers Block.)

April 5, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness

Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness is a fine novel which tells the story of Nomi, a teenaged girl growing up in a repressive religious community in rural Manitoba. This wonderful paragraph nicely encapsulates what the increasingly free-thinking Nomi is up against.

When we were little, Tash and I would sit in the darkened dining room of my grandmother's farmhouse, listening to the funeral announcements. They came on after supper, on the local radio station we were allowed to listen to because the elders knew that it was better for little children to listen to the names of dead people being read out in a terrifying monotone than the Beatles singing all we need is love. Afterwards my grandma would tell us: They have gone home at last. Praise the Lord. Then we would play this game called Knipsbrat with each other until our middle fingers were sore. It was one of the few games we were allowed to play. Golf was another one because it consisted of using a rod to hit something much, much smaller than yourself and a lot of men in this town enjoyed that sort of thing.

My thanks to Counterpoint Books for the review copy.

April 4, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Casey's Real Turn at Bat"

I'm pleased to announce that my short story "Casey's Real Turn at Bat" has been published by Zisk Magazine, a highly enjoyable baseball zine. You can buy a copy (Issue #12) directly from the Zisk site ($2 postage paid) or through Quimby's or Razorcake; the latter two outlets should have copies available later this week. I'll also be having a free giveaway contest sometime this week, so stay tuned. Zisk will eventually put the story up on its website, but that won't be for another few months.

A bit of backstory is in order. It's rather ironic that, despite this first print publication of mine being a baseball story, I have little to no interest in the game any more. I used to be a huge fan, endlessly watching games on TV and in person (I had Cubs season tickets for three years during the late 1980s), memorizing stats, devouring the box scores in the newspaper every day. The fact that the Cubs had chronically underachieved for virtually the entire 20th Century didn't even turn me away; in fact, it endeared them to me even more. But the turning point for me was the 1994 strike, during which I suddenly discovered that I could live without baseball, that there was more to life than raptly watching a bunch of pampered millionaires playing a kid's game. And once the strike was over, the game that emerged--that of steroid-inflated leviathans swinging from the heels on every pitch, of utility infielders hitting opposite-field broken-bat homers, of the complete abandonment of fundamentals, of Sammy Sosa becoming a national hero despite being the embodiment of the selfish, egomanical, me-first and me-last player, of Fox's flash-and-glitz television coverage with its relentless camera cuts, obnoxious screen graphics and overamped crowd noise--completely turned me off. The game was lost to me during those post-strike years, and I doubt I'll ever have much interest in it again.

With one fleeting exception. The Cubs' pennant run in 2003 briefly held my interest, not as a passionate fan but as a curiousity-seeking gawker. Contrary to popular opinion, the NLCS was not lost because of doofus fan Steve Bartman and his interference with a live ball in play, despite the finger pointing of Moises Alou and several million simpleton fans. No, the wheels were already coming off the Cub jalopy long before Bartman's foolish act, and the team still had a chance to recover and pull out the win. Which they failed to do, as most championship pretenders fail to do. Winners recover from such incidents as the Bartman affair and overcome them; losers get demoralized, lose and point fingers at everyone but themselves.

The Cubs' October collapse in 2003 by no means upset me; in fact, in made perfect sense. Our world is in such a constant state of flux and change that there are very few things that one can rely on, year after year. One of those few things is that, no matter how well things might go over the course of a season--Sosa hits a zillion homers, young Mark Prior emerges as the staff ace, the team pulls off a series of improbable comebacks--the Cubs will ultimately come up short, will disappoint and underachieve, will have their relentlessly optimistic fans once again looking ahead to next year. As the team rambled along that season, making the playoffs, winning their first series and pulling ahead of the Marlins in the NLCS, it was all very disorienting. Could it be possible that the Cubs would not only win the pennant, but--dare I say it?--win the World Series? Would the Cubs' futility become one less thing to believe in, year after year after year? In a way, the inglorious end to the 2003 season was personally satisfying. Cubs lose. That's just the way things are. We all take quiet comfort in the familiar.

The team's pennant run revived my interest in the game just long enough to inspire me to write my Casey story. I had long been acquainted with Ernest Lawrence Thayer's "Casey at the Bat", having been able to recite the poem from memory at the tender age of eight. Years later, I recited it to Maddie at bedtime, the familiar rhymes and rythyms never failing to lull her to sleep. Watching the Cubs that year made me think of another group of legendary losers, the Mudville Nine, and its star, mighty Casey. (Who, I've since come to realize, is the 19th Century version of Sammy Sosa.) It made me wonder what else happened in that long-ago Mudville game, beyond the spare words of the poem. I reflected on what might have been going through the minds of the players, before finally inventing the team's owner as my protagonist. What would he be thinking, watching this underachieving club day in and day out? Once that line of inquiry began, the story all but wrote itself. In many ways, the Mudville owner's frustration and disillusionment with his team reflects my own feelings for what baseball has become.

Even if I never care about baseball again, I'll always have "Casey's Real Turn at Bat" as a bittersweet elegy for the game. It was a pleasure to write, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

April 4, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

What Does My iPod Think of Me?

Because I'm always starved for approval, even from stylish electronic devices. Select Shuffle, press Play, and...

How does the world see you?
“You Look Like Rain”, Morphine

(Indeed, I'm somewhat damp from this morning's downpour.)

Will I have a happy life?
“Lovelines”, the Replacements

(I tried a Reader personals ad two decades back, obviously with no success.)

What do my friends really think of me?
“Noisy Night”, Portastatic

(Yes, that's me, the raucous nightowl.)

Do people secretly lust after me?
“How Come?”, Dumptruck

(I'll take that as "no.")

How can I make myself happy?
“Counsel”, Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio

(Peter Francis Geraci, I'm dialing right now.)

What should I do with my life?
“Academy Fight Song”, Mission of Burma

(Jerky questions, play by all the rules. Way ahead of you.)

Will I ever have children?
“The Biggest Lie”, Elliott Smith

(Hmmm...Maddie just seemed so real to me.)

What is some good advice for me?
“Insomnia”, Silkworm

(Less sleep, that's the ticket. Maybe the novel will finally get finished.)

How will I be remembered?
“For Tension”, Superchunk

(I had assumed "charm and good looks." Delusional, I guess.)

What is my signature dancing song?
“Come Baby Come”, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

(Stuttering rythyms. Perfect!)

What do I think my current theme song is?
“Pot of Gold”, the Bottle Rockets

(Well, corporate life ain't getting me rich. Might as well chase some rainbows.)

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
“Life is an Imbecile”, Bettie Serveert

(Bush, not Life.)

What song will play at my funeral?
“From a Motel 6”, Yo La Tengo

(Dammit, iPod! Not where my funeral will be!)

What type of women do you like?
“Slipping (Into Something)”, the Feelies

(Not the naked ones. Riiiiight.)

What is my day going to be like?
“The Harbor Incident” the Monks of Doom

(Gotcha. I'll be avoiding the waterfront and all stevedores.)

(Via TMFTML, among many many other venues.)

April 3, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kirby, You Wuz Robbed!

Short-list for storySouth's Million Writers Award announced. "Tether" doesn't make cut. Loyal reader in Chicago irate.

April 3, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program...It's not enough to identify the challenge. We have to meet it."
--Senator Barack Obama

(Full story)

April 3, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)