History Repeats, Again!

History Repeats, Again!
History Repeats, Again!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Aqueduct to Nowhere

It took four years and many re-writes, but "Aqueduct to Nowhere," the sequel to "No Roads Lead to Rome," is finally here!  Given that "No Roads" took about nine years to get published, one could argue that I'm getting faster. Initial reviews suggest I might be getting better, too.

In blog post here, I wrote about how the "No Roads" story found me and how its colorful characters colonized my mind. Many of the bamboozlers, fools, heroes and sages who navigated the chaos and obstacles of "No Roads" have returned in "Aqueduct." 

The saga takes place during the week of Saturnalia, a solstice festival that was wilder than the wildest Mardi Gras imaginable. Slaves become masters and masters, slaves. Anything goes and often does.

The action kicks off immediately when a low level security guard named Gaius Severus, the hapless conscript from "No Roads," is kidnapped for initiation into the mysterious cult of Mithras, God of Soldiers.

Severus would have liked nothing better than to forget his Jewish origins and assimilate into a comfortable position within the imperial administration. Unfortunately, his rebel brother Marius is hades-bent on overthrowing the empire with outlandish stunts and protests. Worse, his strong and psychic girlfriend Lena joins forces with a ship full of female pirates who came to settle a grudge with the inept bon vivant Governor Festus Rufius.

Gaius Severus wanted a quiet life and he's rewarded with the opposite. He didn't ask to be thrust into a world full of thieving politicians, rogue praetorians, assassins and rioting citizens but he rises to each occasion, survives, thrives and solves a few mysteries along the way.

The indie success of "No Roads"  helped me develop a thick skin. When one critic said that he enjoyed the back of a Cornflakes box better than my novel I studied the cereal box for insights and posted a one-star review here and on Amazon.

That said, I appreciate the thoughtful reviews, good and bad, and tried to learn from them all. With the exception of a couple of excursions I couldn't resist, in "Aqueduct" I tried to avoid  tangents that amused me but dissipated story momentum. I developed  strong female characters and let them kick some ass. My people are more three dimensional, their internal and external conflicts more human.  There's even a bit of romance.

Ancient Tarragona, Spain in  A.D. 123 was an age where many Gods and cults were competing for one's devotion, a time when might made right and those with the gold made the rules.  One superpower, Rome, ruled supreme but there were cracks along the edges of the empire.

As in our world today, corruption, incompetence, and self-interest competed with hope and idealism to drive history forward. Then, as now, people were still people--their pathos, quirks and foibles fertile ground for humor. Have we changed all that much over the millennia or is really our world I'm writing about?

There's no better time than the past to laugh at the present. Historical friction.

I hope you enjoy "Aqueduct to Nowhere." If you agree it was worth the wait, please spread the word by posting a review at Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere.

"No Roads to Rome" and "Aqueduct to Nowhere" can be found at Amazon USA and Amazon UK as well as other sites.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sorry, Ringo

I grew up worshiping the Beatles. I've listened to them on every format from the little radio I immortalized on YouTube to the cloud player that doesn't sound any better than that old nine-volt transistor radio. I've bought Abbey Road in vinyl, cassette, CD, and MP3. As soon as I verified that my kids ears worked, I pumped Yellow Submarine into their heads.  

In addition to some serious philosophy, The Beatles had a whimsical sense of humor. So what took me so long to spoof them in this piece called Ringo Marries Yoko and why do I feel guilty for dumping a bit of satire on those two?

I feel similar angst over the piece where I announced that the Cirque du Soleil would abandon their artsy abstract performances. After denouncing shows that only grad students can understand, the article goes on to describe a new show that only a grad student could understand.

In Disney Buys the Holy Land, I offer a viable solution to the Israel/Palestine dispute: turn the whole region into a theme park. Disney's touch will, by definition, render Jerusalem the happiest place on earth. When it comes to ideas for rides, spectacles, and action figures,  Lord knows the Holy Land has material to spare.

By now, everyone on earth has lived through at least one financial meltdown caused by someone else's greed. My pieces entitled "Downsize your Children" and "Kick Your Assets" are intended as helpful guidance for navigating the next Wall Street induced crisis.

One way to combat financial Armageddon would be to fix the US healthcare system. In "Buggy Obamacare Website Cost More than Iraq War," I postulate that the cure might kill the patient. No worries! We can always migrate to Canada for free health care.

Speaking of Canada ... because these pieces show up in The Sage, a Canadian humor site, I felt obliged to pick on my northern neighbors in "US Immigration Refused Entry to Migrating Geese."  Humor aside, those geese are lovely to see in flight but kind of disgusting up close.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Buenos Dias, Canada!

I'm celebrating the release of "Aqueduct to Nowhere," the standalone sequel to "No Roads Lead to Rome" by trying to make Canada laugh.

This attempt at cross-border humor may result in the first Nobel Peace Prize for Satire or a warrant for my arrest in Saskatoon.

The good folks at The Sage News have created a kinder, gentler, sillier alternative to The Onion. (They would have called it The Scallion, but an obstinate old farmer from Blubber Bay refuses to sell the URL.)

My recent pieces range from an expose of House Jock vs. Senate Nerd Towel Snapping in the US Capitol to a thoughtful bit called Obamacare Unleashes Armageddon about how uninsured Americans have such superior healthcare that they are willing to die for it.

I'm sure the busy folks in Meat Cove and Loon Lake share my dislike of top ten lists. That's why I wrote the Top 10 Reasons to Avoid Top 10 Lists and followed quickly with a tweet-able Top 10 list on How to Master Twitter in 10 Easy Tweets.

The Epic Shutdown of the US Government will probably be over by the time my tweets reach the Yukon Territories, but I was thoughtful enough to share the benefits in case my northern neighbors ever wonder why so many non-essential US Government workers snuck across the border to find work during the crisis.

Note that none of these bits mention my sequel because self-promotion might be considered impolite in Dingwall, Moose Jaw, and Snafu Creek. I'm sure that my seven or eight  readers in Nippers Harbour will appreciate my kindler, gentler, almost indirect approach to marketing. That's why I wrote this piece about My Big Fat Facebook Divorce.

Finally, I'm well aware that some of Canada is bilingual and I humbly apologize to the wonderful Spanish speaking people of Quebec for the somewhat English nature of my writing. Lo siento, amigos.

The decline and fall of damn near everything continues in Aqueduct to Nowhere, the sequel to No Roads Lead to Rome.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How I Lost the War

The phone rang around midnight.
“Wake up you smart ass Jew-boy!” a drunkard shouted.
It was my belligerent landlord, Mr. Hemison.  He was generally tolerable, but tonight he was on a bender.
“You might as well commit suicide right now!”
As a poor student in Westwood, one of L.A.’s richer zip codes, I was willing to put up with a certain amount of abuse in exchange for low rent.  “What’s wrong, Mr. Hemison?”
“You’re losing the war against the ants.”
It was true. The ants were winning.
For $75 a month, I had a small room in the basement and a job as the building’s caretaker. I pulled weeds, purged hairballs from clogged drains, and vacuumed the Astroturf stairways. To make ends meet, I snuck into the unguarded cafeteria of a nearby housing co-op for my meals.  
The tenants were all UCLA students like I was. In addition to fighting ants, we battled the high rents  and turned a dense and narrow neighborhood west of Fraternity Row into a student ghetto.  Most of the area’s small apartments were stuffed two students to a bedroom. Mr. Hemison had no idea how many illegal sublets and permanent “visitors” lived in his building. He was usually too drunk to care.
The only people living in worse squalor were the Frat Row bros.
When they weren’t having 6AM Tequila Sunrise parties and then taking over busy intersections to misdirect traffic on Gayley Ave, the brothers blasted music with enough sound power to keep the rest of us dazed and confused.
Early one morning, a travelling preacher dragged a large wooden cross up Fraternity Row and planted it on the front lawn of Tappa Tappa Kegga. He had a full head of hurricane-proof hair and looked self-righteous in a three-piece suit. He had a bull horn and was on a mission to save the fraternity brothers from themselves.
“Fornicators!” he shouted.  “Pagans! Pornographers! Pleasure mongers!”
I was walking to an early class but couldn’t resist waiting to see the fireworks.
Unfortunately for Right Reverend Potty Mouth, the brothers slept through his tirade. Tired of preaching to no one, he followed me onto campus screaming “Repent you masturbator!” at the back of my head.
His cross had a wheel at the bottom which enabled him to move pretty fast. He was a real holy roller but I eventually outran him.
In retrospect, I wish I had thought to invite him back to my apartment building to rain holy hellfire down upon the ants.  After riding us of pestilence, perhaps he could have exorcised Mr. Hemison’s demons, too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lost in Translation

I visited New Orleans and the Bayou country a long time ago. 

A few memories stand out like being refused entrance to a Zydeco bar in Lafayette because it wasn’t “Honkey Night.” 

Somewhere along the way, I saw two bumper stickers whose wisdom has stuck with me ever since. 

The first said “Don’t Drink and Drive. You Might Spill Your Drink.” In a region that boasted drive-through Daiquiri stands, the logic was self-evident.

The other said, “We Don’t Care How You Do It Up North.”  
This was back in the pre-Katrina days. Since the civil war had long since given way to civil rights, this sentiment just passed right through me.   

It wasn’t until I had changed jobs, cultures, towns and countries a couple times that I grasped what that Southerner had been trying to tell me.  

It may be vanity, but we’d all like to think that we’ve accumulated some useful experience over the years. Wisdom, maybe. Perhaps our accomplishments are worthy of respect and our contributions are appreciated.

Fine, but don’t expect any of it to translate.
It turns out that much of your importance is context dependent. It’s local. Unlike changing hairstyles, when you change jobs, towns, schools, or cultures you’ll probably have to re-build the part of your self-image that derives from how others perceive you.  

You may have done it better out west, but nobody wants to hear about it back east. 

The exception to this is if you are some combination of rich, famous, powerful, or beautiful, but stature in one place doesn’t always translate to the next. Appearance is the most immediate example of this. 

One warm Sunday, long ago, my family was sitting in a public square of a small village north of Barcelona. A proud, well-dressed fellow was strutting his well-dressed family across the plaza.  He looked like the sort of rotund, stuff-shirted silent film character who might have played “The Mayor” or “The Rich Industrialist” in a Charlie Chaplin movie. He was prim, proud, and polished. All he lacked was a top hat. It seemed like too hot a day for a coat and tie, but this was a fellow for whom appearance trumped comfort.  

Approaching from the other direction was an American family that we knew from our kids’ school. They hailed from one of the richest postal codes on earth and  were living in Spain while their kitchen was being remodeled back home. He was a descendent of a famous film star. She was many years his younger. Their kids probably pooped gold nuggets. I don’t know if they were good people or not—the truth is, they were kind of snooty but you couldn’t tell by looking at them. They dressed in what could mercifully be called “Shabby Chic.”  

One great thing about the West Coast of the USA is that you can’t tell anything about anyone by the way they are dressed. Millionaires look like bums. Bums drive Cadillacs.  Beautiful people turn ugly and the famous, infamous.   

But to the Spanish patriarch, the Yankee millionaires must have looked like a walking disease. In his eyes, their appearance masked any possibility that they might be charitable, upstanding, or worthy of common courtesy.  Not that it should matter, but they offered him no visual clue that they happened to have money coming out of their ears. All he could see is that their ears were dirty and on an intercept course with his sparkling offspring.

He judged their dog-eared "West Coast Casual" by its cover. They weren’t even looking at his first edition copy of "Old World Formal." These two fellows and their fine families may have had everything in common, but there was no chance the twain would meet. 

In the Chaplin version of this scene, the Spaniard’s bushy eyebrows would have knocked the top hat off his head. In my memory, his stiff body language signaled his offense at having to share the public square with such apparent riff-raff. He spun his family about and herded them back to a corner of the plaza where appearances mattered.  

The oblivious Southern Californians continued on their loud, merry way, indifferent to how anyone did it up north.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lunchtime in the Garden of Good and Evil

I saw the true heart of darkness at age eight.
The experience, like much that is evil, started  banal.

There we were: a rabble of elementary school kids waiting in line to buy our milk at lunchtime.

I remember the smell of dry heat rising off the asphalt. I can still see the sunlight filtering through the eucalyptus trees.

Regular milk cost seven cents, chocolate cost a dime.  An older student, the milk monitor, wheeled the cart into the lunch area and solemnly collected money, dispensed milk and made change.

I bought my milk as always and found a shady place to eat my lunch. Most likely, my metal action figure lunchbox contained a cream cheese and jam sandwich on white bread. It’s a good thing I liked this concoction because it had zero trading value with the other kids.

I was eating my Granny Smith when one of the “bad kids” whizzed past me at top speed. He shouted a battle cry and dove onto the milk cart like a cartoon squirrel. The milk monitor jumped aside and the cart took off, rolling and tumbling, sending milk and money in all directions.

Without a second’s thought, every kid within shouting distance shrieked for joy. We jostled each other for the nickels and dimes, chasing them as they rolled and fell on the pavement.

United we stole. No moral quandary. No fear of consequences. In a burst of collective larceny, we stuffed  undeserved windfalls into our pockets.

The distraught milk monitor, a boy who must have been all of twelve years old, tried to restore order, but he could not contain our lawlessness. The coins disappeared as if vacuumed and then, fast as it all started, we returned to our lunches like a cloud of birds.

The poor, defeated boy picked a few remaining pennies from a puddle of spilt milk. He fought back tears and trundled away to face the certain wrath of the cafeteria matron whose dislike for children was as legendary as her soggy fish sticks.

A few good kids came forward to return their ill-gotten gains and suffer a tongue lashing from the principal.

The instigator was caught but showed no remorse. I’m sure he grew up to be a bank robber.

I remained silent and pocketed my winnings. Amazingly, nobody snitched. I don’t know what else I learned in school that day but the infectious power of a mob is something I’ll never forget.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Will be the Dumbest Year Ever

With the forgivable exception of the world ending (see below), all my other predictions for 2012 came true (here).

Given that I seem to have been blessed with the gift of augury, I feel obliged to offer these prognostications for 2013. (Feel free to add your own in the comment section!)

  • Nintendo will release a miniature game console called the Wiini
  • Apple will spend its cash hoard to buy a small country for its competitors to live in.
  • Momentum to legalize marijuana will fizzle as activists forget what they were fighting for.
  • In the USA, gay marriage initiatives will pass in 10% of the states.
  • The US Constitution will be modified to allow citizens the right to carry concealed nuclear weapons.
  • Texas will finally outlaw forced conversion of vegetarians.
  • Admitting that “fluorescent lights really suck,” California will decriminalize incandescent bulbs.
  • The British Royal Family will make it official by starting a reality TV franchise.
  • Popular baby names will include #Hashtag, Snapchat, and Poke.
  • New apocalypse fears will arise when scientists discover an "off by one" math error in the Mayan Calendar.
  • The arrival of a very bright comet will renew the global debate over very bright comets.
  • Controversial scenes in the new Star Trek movie will trigger outrage from Vulcans.

 If  your New Year's Resolution includes adding brain cells to compensate for those you killed in 2012, you probably shouldn't read my novel, "No Roads Lead to Rome."