this is what i do when… #3

Papa, Pirates, & Pork Booty

LesChen_Main

lakelandboating.com

In Episode 3 of “this is what i do when i should be…” we explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, not far from Hemingway’s boyhood haunt of Walloon Lake near Petoskey. Other side of Mackinac Bridge in Lake Huron lie Les Chenaux Islands, where we were graciously hosted by Nina Abnee, daughters Louise Keshaviah & Ellen Abnee, & son-in-law Mayank Keshaviah—who also happens to be a cousin and L.A.-based playwright.

We passed a week on the channel between U.P. & La Salle Island in a legendary family cabin called Big Cottage among the good company of LCI regulars (most notably Uncle Duker and his campfire pancakes, & Peter Allen & Susan Heuck who lodged above Captain Bing in the nearby boathouse to make room for our large gathering of cousins, nieces, nephews… & Bocci champs).

best 10 minute playsIn this episode Vikram speaks “Giddish”, recounts a treasure hunt, and narrates a fish tale, while Mohan tells us how pirate booty can be used to make pig booty. The literary discussion at minute 4 turns to a production of “The True Story of the Big Bad Wolf” as written, directed, & performed by the younger cousins, and at minute 10 Mayank K. tackles difficult questions on the life of a playwright. What is the process, how long does it take, and what role do actors play in the final version of a work? Mayank’s success so far includes bringing six of his plays to production, and seeing three published in The Best Ten Minute Plays series (2012, 2013, 2015, Smith and Kraus, Inc).

Hope you enjoy this week’s podcast, “this is what i do when i should be… leaving Cedarville” (complete with breakfast background noise). As always, we welcome your feedback and look forward to responding in the next episode.

This is what i do when i should be… 2

Welcome to the second installment of “This is what i do when i should be…”

the-bfg-roald-dahl-wall-stickerThis week the author’s family gathers in the kitchen to answer fan mail from Mysuru (Mysore) in India and from both coasts here in the U.S. Mohan describes our podcasting layout while Vikram talks about his diorama of The Indian in the Cupboard.

At minute four the literary discussion turns to the film treatment of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Hope you enjoy our late night episode of “This is what i do when i should be… Getting ready for bed!”

And Don’t miss the program’s first installment, in which we discuss MatildaAs always, comments, feedback, and questions for the producers are welcome. We hope to feature your content in the next episode!

The first readers

peacecorpsmn_logo

It’s almost twenty years since I first shared my fiction beyond the confines of family or classroom. I found three trusted readers during the months of pre-service training as a Peace Corps Volunteer. What else to do on the dusty plains of Central Malawi beneath the boiling sun, the cloudless sky? I wrote my first novel.

I wrote by hand on copy-books, small blue rectangles, the sheets bound with staples.  Grit, dust troubled the flow of ink from the cheap pens we had. The novel fit on six books and is nestled now in an old cigar box. Two decades ago, I troubled three companions to take an interest. They were kind to read my amateur rubbish, worse than boredom itself.

One reader became my wife. Another remains a friend we still see now and then–we owe a visit. A third, Rand Wise, recently reviewed my debut novel—a thoughtful and comprehensive look at Two Pumps.

“…layer after layer of wry humor and irony, much of it stemming from pressure from “the fourth branch” (a secretive entity high up in the U.S. government, clearly a nod to Dick Cheney) to produce intelligence to further the case for invading Iraq…”


Two Pumps for the Body Man (2016) by B.A. East… is the Catch-22 of the war on terror. Set in a U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia (post 9/11 but before the invasion of Iraq), the novel features a large cast of characters including an attractive and narcissistic Consul General, intelligence officers, visa-denying clerks, and logistics people.

The closest thing the novel has to a main character is Jeffrey Mutton, the chief of security for the consulate who has to reconcile his security concerns with the demands of the CG to host high profile parties (and she holds a moment of weakness involving the titular shoe fetish over him).

The story develops slowly, fleshing out the cast of characters while adding layer after layer of wry humor and irony, much of it stemming from pressure from “the fourth branch” (a secretive entity high up in the U.S. government, clearly a nod to Dick Cheney) to produce intelligence to further the case for invading Iraq. (More great fiction about the former Veep in “Dicked“)

East deftly handles the comedies of errors that result from the miscommunications, manipulations and power plays between characters, with perhaps the funniest example being an investigation of one of the consulate officers who is suspected of having undue access to the POTUS, even though his intelligence reports are manufactured and mostly plagiarized from news magazines.

The novel takes a serious turn when the consulate is attacked, and the aftermath features the key insights of the novel and its most impassioned prose. Whether you are looking for a comic sendup of consular life or an insightfully cynical look at the war on terror (or maybe both), this book is for you. 

A Baseball Story at the Break

Among other things Guts has been a political story, a Mother’s Day story, a Father’s Day story, and a Fourth of July story. Today it’s a baseball story again. If you’re not watching the MLB All-Stars fireworks tonight—or looking for something to read during the commercial breaks between innings—have a look at Guts. This was my first story to see the light of day, published by Atticus Review almost four years ago.


MLBGuts

George craves the syringe with an addict’s distress. I have one thumb on the plunger. I put the other in his mouth. The plastic syringe tip curves along my crooked thumb between George’s lips. I press the plunger carefully and let the milk flow.

The ruddy face of Senator Teflon–that’s my name for him–fills the television. He speaks aggressively, his head jerking up and down. The TV is muted. For all I know, Teflon’s gobbling like a turkey. Both hands occupied, I have no way to change the channel.

“What’s that thing called?” I ask George’s mother. “Hangs off a turkey’s chin?”

“Turn that off.” She glances over her shoulder at the TV. She sits upright on the straight-backed chair holding plastic cones over her breasts.

“The gizzard?”

“Why is it even on?”

“The giblet?”

“Where’s the remote?”

“The giblet?”

“Where’s the remote?”

“Gibbet?”

Her antipathy towards the television began a month ago, with George’s new diet. Before that she would have begged me not to turn it off, not to change Teflon’s face as I flipped past News in search of Baseball. A month ago, she would have seen Teflon’s presence as an opportunity to insist on change.

“He represents Nobody but himself and those other barnyard animals up there.”

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This is what i do when i should be…

Books & News launches its maiden podcast “This is what i do when i should be…”, 15 minutes of banter about books, writing, and other stuff.

MatildaCoverThis week Ben, Vikram, and Mohan discuss Roald Dahl’s Matilda in anticipation of a trip to the cinema to see The BFG and a future discussion of that book’s transition to the silver screen.

Vikram, age 8, opines on the MLB All Star break while Mohan, 5, shares a few poses he learned in summer Yoga camp—including the sushi pose (watch out the Fleshlumpeater doesn’t get you!)

The literary discussion begins at minute 4 and our surprise guest, an alluring voice of obvious clarity and reason, joins us just before the end at minute 14.

Comments, feedback, and questions for the producers are welcome.

The Big Zero

The latest from Don DeLillo subjects readers to suffocation in a plotless environment hosting flat zerokcharacters who live out an endless procession of questions about life, death, and the consequences in between. That is Zero-K.

Whether or not the flattened nature of this enterprise is intentional—to emphasize confinement, restriction, joylessness, life as a movement toward death—the result is the same: the reader just can’t be made to care about the fate of these individuals. Rather, we are relieved to find oxygen and light again upon closing the book. Approximate quote:

The room is dark. I shut my eyes. Are there other people who shut their eyes in a dark room? Is this a meaningless quirk? Or am I behaving in a way that has a psychological basis, with a name and a history? Here is my mind, there is my brain. I stand a while and think about this.

This isn’t to say the book and its ceaseless parade of questions are without depth and poignancy. Nor is it to suggest that the line-by-line writing isn’t itself exact, meticulous, and technically—technically—sharp. DeLillo portrays the sterile angles of an Orwellian nightmare, an isolated space where a team of scientists and philosophers, linguistic experts and theorists, money-grubbers and new-age pitchmen connive to establish the Convergence. Life ever-lasting. Immortality. These efforts have their corollary in the real world, and the novel is true to the creepiness of such an enterprise. But that’s about the only gift it brings.

The novel’s lopsided structure builds around a sterile world of low ceilings, side-ways elevators, wrist-disc monitors, soundless large-screen videos of water, fire, humanity on edge, sparsely-populated corridors (eye contact disallowed, distrust in abundance); this otherworld leaves off mid-way through with an awkwardly-rendered passing of Artis (no need to explain who she is; you won’t care about her; she isn’t made human), a passing that reads less like art and more like an indecisive transcription of the author’s notebook; into the narrator’s real-world life in New York (you won’t much care about him, either); back to the creepy underground science experiment of life everlasting (its subject, again, a cipher made more awful by the fact that he’s enormously rich and indeed financially responsible the project).

The narrator witnesses all but experiences none. Beyond the suffocation, neither do we.

DeLillo may well have intended to give the world his stark vision of tomorrow’s future today. Every bit of the suffocation may be intentional. But the result—true to artistic desire or completely errant—is ponderous and morbid, devoid of philosophical revelation. It is Socratic but starving for answers. Recognized as a master, DeLillo offers a work here that fails to move beyond the most amateur mistake. Approximate quote:

Do we see ourselves living outside time, outside history? Can we be impervious to terrorism? Can we ward off threats of cyberattack? Will we be able to remain truly self-sufficient here?

 Can we stop with the questions already and have a little plot?

Nats Park Blues

What’s this discomfort I feel? What is it about watching the Nats play at home this year? Why do I squirm in my chair?DELTA

Delta.

It’s those coveted front-row seats behind home plate, the ones reserved for the rich and well-connected, the splurgers and the lucky.

This year, however, gratitude replaces envy. I’d much rather watch from my sofa at home, from the upper decks or the outfield food court just behind Jayson Werth’s long hair. I’d rather watch from anywhere than sit in those Delta-sponsored airline seats. It may look like first class, but air travel means discomfort, whether you’re subjected to TSA scrutiny or not. The food. The smells. The tiny stinking toilets. Airlines equal discomfort.

Even on this glorious $1 hot dog afternoon, I’d rather catch the radio broadcast as the Nats take on the Brewers than sit in those horrible airline Barcaloungers reserved for people of means.

Fireworks in the Kingdom

News sources are reporting three suicide attacks in different cities around Saudi Arabia during the last 24 hours, just as Ramadan comes to an end in the Kingdom:

An explosion in the Eastern Province targeted Shiites at a mosque in Quatif. There appear to be no injuries or deaths other than that of the suicide bomber.

An explosion outside one of the holiest places in Islam, the tomb of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) in Madinah, apparently has killed six, including at least four security forces.

And, in the early morning of the Fourth of July–U.S. Independence Day–a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt across the street from the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, scene of a deadly attack 12 years ago when five terrorists stormed the U.S. mission there in an hours-long siege. The bomber this morning killed only himself, apparently failing to detonate additional explosives in his vehicle parked near the consulate wall. Two Saudi officials responsible for security were lightly injured.

For more on the Kingdom’s struggle against terrorism at home, including against Western interests and Al Qaida-inspired attacks in the months following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, read Two Pumps for the Body Man, a neo-noir satire of diplomatic life on the front line of the War on Terror.

 

GM Shattered Glass

Marine Security Guards at 70

The Marine Security Guard program this week celebrated 70 years protecting U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. Happy Fourth of July to the Ambassadors in Blue.

Two books covering their service, one non-fiction, the other fiction:

Greg Matos’ Shattered Glass—The Story of a Marine Embassy Guard… recounts the December 2004 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. How did it feel to be the Marine standing Post when five heavily armed terrorists stormed the compound, killing and wounding colleagues in the course of an hours-long siege? How did it feel to be responsible for protecting scores of U.S. and foreign diplomatic personnel serving the United States at a time when anti-American sentiment had reached new heights, thanks to the invasion of Iraq and protracted insurgency that followed?

And this: The 2nd World War had Catch-22. The War on Terror has 2 Pumps

In Two Pumps for the Body Man Jeff Mutton walks the diplomatic beat protecting American officials in Saudi Arabia. An expert with guns and knives, grenades and rockets, he’s survived assaults and sieges, stabbings and chokeholds, car bombs, carjackings, criminal hits, and countless other enemy threats. But instinct tells Mutton the menace he now faces dwarfs all these killers combined. The fool!—his foot fetish has him in hot water again. Part soft-boiled noir, part literary satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man is an unserious look at a serious situation, a grim reminder that no matter how high the barricade, how sharp the razor wire, there is no front line to the War on Terror. And the enemy is everywhere, even within.

credit fox

CNN Hires Trump Mole

(not an actual conversation)

Lewandowski, you’re fired.

Yes, boss.

Now that’s outta the way, I got something else for you.

Anything, boss.

Very important. Really really big job. Super important big job.

Sure boss.

I mean, you’ve done such a tremendous job for me. I mean a really really great bang-up job with the press. Keeping those losers in line. Just absolutely Grade-A work.

It was an honor, boss.

I just love the way you bruised up that little thing from Breitbart, right? Am I right?

You’re right, boss. You’re always right.

And your media blacklist? Oh, my God. Genius. Brilliant. You’re my Karl Rove, Lewandowski. My Karl Fucking Turd Blossom Rove. I couldn’t do it without you. Except—you’re fired. Remember that. Fired.

Fired. Got it boss.

And the media pen! Restraints! The rough-housing and tough talk. The oozing, bruising manhandling you meted out this year! I love it. Love it all! Love. It. All.

It was an honor to serve you, Mr. Trump.

So here it is. You ready for this? Here it is. Ready?

I’m ready.

Lewandowski, now you’re done working for me, I want you to go work for them.

Them, sir?

The media!

Sir?

CNN. You get that shit-eating grin of yours on the air for CNN as a pundit. A paid pundit. Tell them how wonderful I am. What a great guy I am. What a normal human bean I am beneath this crazy cowardly hair of mine.

Sir, I- You think CNN is that stupid? Maybe Fox…

Fox!? Forget about Fox. Forget fucking Fox and that Megan Kelly and her blood coming out of her wherever. Fox is over. Fox is done. Over. Done. I want you on CNN.

You think they’re that stupid?

Think it?! I know it!

And the people?

The people? What people?

The American people. Do you really think they’d be so stupid-

Lewandowski. Lewandowski. Come back to me here. What is this? You’re doubting me now?

No, sir.

What did you say to me when we started this thing a year ago? About the American people? About the Republican American people especially? About my chances.

I told you I didn’t think anyone would ever be dumb enough to believe you were a serious candidate, or to believe your message of hate and bigotry and misogyny and all that.

Exactly! And I hired you on the spot. And you know why? You know why? It was because you had the balls to say that to my face. Big balls. Yuge balls. YUGE! And look at us now! Look at where we are now.

We’re on top, sir.

You bet we are. And you know how I’m going to stay on top, Lewandowski? I’m going to infiltrate you right into the heart of the loser liberal media and make you sing my song to them on their free-advertising air.

Mr. Trump, it’s brilliant.

It’s crazy, is what it is. It’s as crazy as me being the presumptive nominee for the Republican party. It’s that crazy, but it’s true. You with me?

Of course I am, sir. Every step of the way.

No you’re not, Lewandowski. Because you’re fired!


Enjoyed this absurd imaginary banter between Donald Trump and his “former” hitman Corey Lewandowski? Find conversations of a similar nature in Two Pumps for the Body Man, a satire on the frustrating life of diplomats serving in Saudi Arabia during Bush’s “war on terror”. Check it out here.

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