Crank the Zappa. For reasons I’d rather not say, my first writing task of the morning: confirm that Dunkin’ Donuts uses an apostrophe at the end of its informal gerund.

It does.


Now, to St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast.

From Blogs to Books


I surprised a colleague yesterday with the news that his book would be published today. Ironically the title of the work is Answer Coming Soon.

The author, Dan Whitman, believes his books should be left behind on commercial airlines for the next passenger to come along and read. That humble disposition toward his work is exactly what makes his prose so engaging.

I know this because I’m in the middle of his previous release, Blaming No One: Blog Postings on Arts, Letters, Policy. Each of his essays—they are more than blog posts, frankly, such a nasty phrase—is perched on a distinct moment in time and accented by light swats at the folly of man. Except where a heavier blow will do.

A sign on a dog park prohibiting excessive barking is ammunition for war between the orthodox and the laissez-faire among us. Except Dan, squarely in the laissez-faire camp, isn’t a fighter. “For me, the orthodox are the enemy, but I would never say so to one of them as I know I’d go straight to the wheel for breaking, or to the stake.” His problem with the orthodox isn’t the breaking and the burning. It’s that they lack perspective: “Don’t they realize that a thousand girls a minute are being impressed into slavery world-wide…?”

I’m not going to shill on about Dan’s credentials. I don’t think he’d like it. They are there for all to see. I’ll just tell you he’s the only writer I know who can write an essay on temporary blindness that is also about Jean Bertrand Aristide, rheumatology, voodoo, and pain as a remedy for despair. “My eyes burned in their sockets, and something called angle collapse resulted. Imagine a romantic evening with chestnuts in the fire, but consider it from the point of view of the chestnut.”

What do you think such a humorist would say about Donald Rumsfeld?

I suppose you could leave books like this on a plane. But I’d be surprised by so callous an act. This isn’t writing to be tossed aside; this is writing to pass directly to a friend.

Author Event Made Easy

You may attend this author reading in your PJs.

That is all.

Between No Ferns

Short clip from my discussion with the American Foreign Service Association about the inspiration behind Two Pumps.

Full discussion here. AFSA writes:

As further proof of the diversity of output from Foreign Service authors, FSO Ben East brings to the table a satirical look at diplomatic service in the Middle East in his diplomatic noir, Two Pumps for the Body Man. The novel follows Jeff Mutton, a diplomatic security agent who must deal with an outlandish boss, hidden government agendas, deadly threats, and a unique personal affliction. East also takes time to explain how parts of the book were heavily informed by his own harrowing experience in Saudi Arabia as his consulate was attacked.

Crook v Crook v Crooked Cop


Hardboiled noir fans: Bob Truluck delivers a lot more than promised in The Big Nothing. That’s no backhanded compliment.

The promise includes a vicious series of showdowns, a coterie of sadists and pervs, and a few well-intentioned rubes caught up in a game bigger than the pile they’re after.

The cast of criminals and dirty cops range from two common thieves of dubious mutual allegiance to a pair of sophisticated professionals with international pedigree and wild libidos. There’s the shifty lawyer and his boy-toy lover who play-act sex games of Russian Kapow, and a mothballed old crook bringing up the rear with his neophyte hacker.

Middle of them all is the sad-sack FBI gumshoe and his mysterious handler, who may or may not be running the game: ‘Milky wasn’t even sure what the guy was, if he was armed services, Special Forces, DEA, Secret Service or a fucking spook. Milky’d been led to believe the latter, but found out if you called the CIA joint in Virginia they’d say they didn’t know anyone by that name.’

A slow-cooked start gets the players onstage, and one or two detours with some heavy detail pad an otherwise tight and intricate yarn. Truluck’s tough-guy patois runs mostly authentic, James Ellroy shooting the shit with Elmore Leonard. “Eddie was the tethered dog at a gator hunt.”

The Jag pulled off the road, crossed the narrow shoulder and parked under a couple of trees.

M. pulled up behind, got out, sucked stomach, filled his chest, and walked to the car. The windows were heavily tinted and it could have just as easily been the Pope in the car as the woman. The window came down. It wasn’t the woman. It wasn’t the Pope, either.

The long narrow gun in a hand the color of caramel jumped, the noise no louder than a textbook slamming shut.

The plot centers on four crates of gold worth plenty of millions, and the question’s not how much but how? How and where and who will get it. Likely we’re all rooting for downluck loser Marty Pell and his partner in crime Shad Dupree: “I look around, we’re the good guys—in a relative sort of way—and the good guys always win.”

Winning, in this case, is a lot more than just guns and gold, guts and glory. It’s wry and promiscuous and unafraid to light up, get high, go down. It’s unafraid of the absurd: “No, Toy, you have got to wear pants. You can’t walk through the Freeport terminal bare-assed.” “I’ll put on boxers.” “Over the chaps?”

When it finally turns toward the home stretch the tome leaves readers begging for more. Flying bullets and bloody counter-measures, a crook v. crook v. crook v. crooked-cop tale. Who gets the gold and who gets the lead?

There may be more to this answer than The Big Nothing shares.

Risks and Bennies

From crawling through trash after nickel deposits to shotgunning beers in the deli cooler, this essay explores the ups and downs of summer employment.


My first job, I got five bucks a pop to wash the gym teacher’s car. My employer, who earned his keep giving kids rope burn, presented the only real risk. There were no fringe benefits.

That same year, I crawled through dumpsters for nickel recyclables, work that offered danger, excitement, and discovery. I once pulled a condom from the sharp mouth of a Budweiser can. It was my first exposure to the link between sex and booze. The risks, for a dumpster diver, were all tied up with the bennies.

The following summer I worked for the Journal Inquirer, delivering news to the condos across the street. Starting with the comics, I read the entire paper as I went. The risks included traffic, uneven sidewalks, and dog poo. The benefits were news from the world and an enduring fascination with comedy.

rbphoto2Then I worked at the Ellington Ridge Country Club. For under minimum wage I scrubbed rich people’s Titleists and dodged 200 mph drives in a 15 mph range cart. In exchange for these risks and deprivations I was introduced to my first real bennies: free golf on Mondays and all the hot dogs I could eat. We also earned tips: exhausted from a morning on the manicured fairways, the corporate members slipped us five-spots for a lift to their Beamers at the top of the hill.


Unlearned Lessons in Bigotry

This papc-group-chevy-chasessage from Two Pumps for the Body Man is the one I consistently turn to when looking for an excerpt to read at book talks. In the wake of recent events, it feels more prescient today than when I first wrote it at the height of the “War on Terror.”

From Chapter 28

Mutton took leave, eventually, because he had to. Nobody would have understood had he chosen to stay behind. But service on the front line in the war on terror had produced in him a craving for misery and pain, an agony not unlike the long, weeping remorse that led to his divorce and his desire to sniff the feet of Vanna Lavinia… Read on

Calling Mr. Robot

pull-a-long-3If the leadership really wants to improve our healthcare insurance, they should start with a phone call to Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 12 seconds or less they’ll learn that legislating insurance can only make America great again if it kills the robots taking our calls.

I’m sorry, I did not understand your response.
‘That’s because you’re a robot.’
I’m sorry, I did not understand your response.

Even the privileged elite in congress should recognize the futility of this conversation.

When it comes to punching numbers from a menu, the only option I want is which muzak I hear while waiting for a non-Robot to rescue me.

Press 1 for Beethoven.
Press 2 for Dwight Yoakam.
I’m pressing 3 for Beck: Loser.

Let me also point out the amazing new job opportunities that await the coal miners who’ve been misled to believe their jobs are coming back. Sadly, like the dinosaurs, those jobs are extinct. That means forever. But with proper legislation, every one of those guys can have cushy employment wearing nothing but their underwear and a fancy headphone/microphone thingy. Forget tunneling underground in a yellow hardhat; they won’t even have to leave the house to answer all our healthcare questions!

Another great advantage to legislating robots out of healthcare: When the customer service rep finally does speak up, I won’t feel vindictive, forced to pretend I’m a robot myself:

‘How may I assist you today?’
Press one if you would like to assist me with my Dental coverage. Press 2 to let me speak to your supervisor. Press-.
-‘I’m sorry sir…’
To hear the menu of options again, please stay on the line.
‘Sir, I don’t understand.’
Press one if you would like to assist me with my Dental coverage. Press 2 to let me speak to your supervisor. 

Finally—let’s legislate away the brief survey about customer satisfaction at the end of the call. Instead, let’s make it a legal requirement to tell the insurers right away how much their customer service robots suck.

Thanks for Nuthin’

After taking the oath of office, swearing to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the new president implied that he and his team were giving power back to the American people. How magnanimous! Did he not realize? The people had already mobilized by the millions to show him: We already have the power!


Millions Already Have the Power

The sickening irony of his remark—“Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People”—is that the following day he began dismantling the very law that gives millions of Americans the power to provide basic health care service to their children.

All within hours of visiting church to pray to his weeping Christian lord. Thanks for Nuthin’!

The Real Millions Taking America Forward

The massive numbers
The innumerable images
The unstoppable forces
Cannot be forgotten.
Because the cause is just.