Mother Land: A Review for Mothers Day

Stephen King reviews Paul Theroux’s new novel, Mother Land at the New York Times this week (PeaceCorpsWorldwide brought it to my attention).

King gives voice to the love-hate relationship so many readers have with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, novelist and travel writer, whose prolific career spans nearly six decades and whose vicious pen reaches the furthest places on the globe—including home.

“All self-educated readers (that would be most of us) have holes in our curriculum vitae, and I’m no different. I’ve read Dickens and Tolstoy but not Austen; most of Faulkner but little of Hemingway (and regretted what I did); all of Philip Roth, but none of Saul Bellow. Paul Theroux was one of my holes, a prolific writer I had always meant to get around to. Now that I have, I’m not exactly sorry, but I’m certainly gobsmacked, and although I knew next to nothing about Theroux’s life, by the time I’d read the first 100 or so pages of “Mother Land,” I began to suspect that what I was reading was not so much a novel as a kind of masked autobiography.”

Why the love-hate relationship? One answer here: Crossing Paths with Paul Theroux.

World Book Day

On Earth Day I pollute. On World Book Day I watch movies.

If I list my favorites, it becomes clear that most actually started out as novels—even Cool Hand Luke (Donn Pearce, ’65) and Midnight Cowboy (James Leo Herlihy, same year).

Easy Rider (’69) is the exception.

Miles of Fun, Miles of Files

Paul Panepinto is bored at work. How could he not be? He’s a painter trapped by lapsed policies, cold chocolate in a Federal Funding mug, and long stints of muzak while on hold with Mortgage Depot. Also there are his smarmy daydreams of ‘better times’ with Suzanne Biedertyme to get him through the monotony.

Panepinto works in insurance.

As with most of the office hacks in Michael J. Sahno’s Miles of Files, Panepinto’s silver lining is that he works for not just any insurance company, but for Flambet Insurance. As the name suggests, the place is about to go up in flames.

Enter Graham Woodcock, the British second-in-command to Flambet’s witless heir, James. Woodcock’s embezzling from the company IRA through the phony accounts of non-existent employees Dolores Buenas and Philip Banks.

When Panepinto stumbles across the accounts with a few errant keystrokes, the novel’s central thread is set. Miles of Files is on its way to being a literary PI story focused more on the innocent and the victimized than on the PI or the crook.

Continue reading Miles of Fun, Miles of Files

Swimming with Sharks

My first shark dive, over a decade ago, our group encountered half a dozen reef sharks in the Red Sea. The big monsters circled the coral an hour offshore. The sight stole my breath, my aqualung pumping furiously—not the best reaction at minus 30 ft.

The white tip is a predator, though not likely to charge across open water for a taste of human. Still, they were massive. We sent bubbles to the surface in thick veils. We watched and photographed for long minutes.

This was a side adventure during a dangerous time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. We’d escaped the very real threat of terrorism on shore in pursuit of terrifying thrills at sea. There was purity in the experience. The vast blue surrounded us. Our dive team numbered the same as the sharks. We had the cameras; they had the advantage.

Months later, we would be hit hard by the terrorists (more). The sharks never bothered.

This comes to mind all these years later after taking up the snorkel once again, this time with my youngest son. Our charter from Big Pine Key brought us 30 minutes out, to Looe Key reef. The wind was big and the waves bigger. They rocked the boat as we climbed down the ladder and pushed away, the six-year-old in my lap. Continue reading Swimming with Sharks

Poisonwood

A nightmare tree grows in the hammock jungle along Route One of Fat Deer Key. Poisonwood. Its touch will boil the skin; its toxin, when burned, will sear the lungs; its berries, if ingested, will sour the gut.

At mile 56 the Poisonwood grows alongside its antidote, the Gumbo Limbo. Folk medicine has it the remedy should be sipped as tea. Gumbo Limbo’s nicknamed here tourist tree: its peeling red bark reminds locals of sunburned visitors.

For a time today we hiked among these opposing forces. I had the Gumbo Limbo for the Poisonwood. Gumbo’s monstrous appearance—deep, iridescent red amid the gentle green of the trail’s dominant thatch palm—seemed the very incarnation of evil. The Gumbo Limbo grew in clusters, trunks twisting and sinister as they climbed among the subtle, grey Poisonwood. Who wouldn’t think the former evil?

Stranger still along the coral-lined trail: tokens and small treasures lay about at odd intervals. Silver tokens here, blue-and-white marbles there, a tin marked ‘Fun Fun Fun’ in the crook of one tree, a twenty and some baubles in the opening of another. At one point we found an Easter egg, this Monday before Good Friday. Continue reading Poisonwood

33 Inches for Kerouac

At CVS today I bought one item. One. Doesn’t matter what. When the purchase was finalized, the cashier handed me the receipt.

Guess how long that sucker was.

Some of this is necessary, perhaps. Now I know I was served by a person named Reina. Hi Reina. Phone number, store address, price paid plus taxes (the total came to $9.32).

If I were a modern day Jack Kerouac I suppose I’d cook my Sudaphedrine into something more exciting, wind the fresh 33 inches of scroll into my portable Underwood Royal Standard and bang out the next great road-novel-as-jazz-symphony, then die an early death wrinkled, fat, and forgotten ’til years hence.

I’m not Jack. Instead I scrutinized this fascinating 3-foot evidence of my purchase. Turns out its a list of admonitions and rules:

Pick up your Easter Essentials!
Returns with receipt before 6/5/17.
Try this gentle mist for powerful allergy relief today.
$12 off your next $60 purchase (pseudo ephedrine and milk excluded).
$1 of $7 coffee & tea (excludes beverages)????!
Extra Care card required.
$1.50 off Greeting Cards—make someone’s day!

Holy shit.

At Giant next door I bought 3 items and the receipt was only 22 inches long.

Pass the typewriter. I’ve got work to do. The world’s gone mad and there’s only one way to escape.

HTML for Fake News

Recent changes to Wordpress eliminated the center justify button. This is more inconvenience than improvement, but it did lead to one decent discovery.

Bloggers can still keep the left and right margins clean with a little change to the HTML code. It’s easy:

1. Select the text you want to justify.
2. Hit the left justify button.
3. Switch to Text view.
4. Change all text-align: left code to read text-align: justify.
5. Voila! Clean edges again.

Another neat problem this trick handles is the creation of fake news. Here’s how.

Take any news item you want—wiretapping allegations, say. Select a quote or story on that topic. Paste it into your WordPress template. Then follow steps 1-4 above replacing justify with falsify.

Andrew Napolitano on Fox News seems to have followed this practice to come up with allegations that the Obama administration asked British intelligence to wiretap Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The technique is also useful for Breitbart writers, who can now copy and paste whole articles from the liberal media and alter facts to their satisfaction simply by hitting Control-V in HTML.

Foreign Service Blogs (II)

Discovering more blogs kept by Foreign Service Officers, old and new, from DC to Bucharest, from cat-lovers to chess masters.

Cross Words

Among the most interesting aspects of this blog is the lack of a lapel pin declaring the author a Foreign Service Officer. Instead we see a chess enthusiast and writer of fantasy and science fiction. Currently set in Nassau, Bahamas. What’s it like to raise talented musicians as part of your Foreign Service family? Ted has answers.

Notes From Post

Posts from one of our most recently sworn-in U.S. diplomats covering the beginning of A-100 training in Fall 2016 through Flag Day and Swearing-In last month. Come October—after Portuguese and Consular training—the posts here will shift focus from D.C. to Praia, Cape Verde.

Rob Joswiak: American, Veteran, Diplomat

Another from the same class, same timeline, and similar prognosis—soon to be proficient in Portuguese and posting from Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Sadie Abroad

Posting from Beirut for now; after the summer on to studying Bahasa Indonesia before taking up an assignment at the U.S. Consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Tabbies in Tow

In their own words: A couple and their tabbies give up the comforts of everyday life to move into the unknown world of life in the Foreign Service, presently in Bucharest, Romania.

Previous posts in this series, by Foreign Service Officers and about the Foreign Service.

Guest Post–Michael J. Sahno

Today I turn over this space to author and book marketing consultant Michael J. Sahno. Congratulations to Michael on today’s re-launch of the novel, Miles of FilesCheck back in later for a review.

Marketing for Indie Authors

Before I started my own publishing and consulting firm, I spent about 15 years working full time as a writer. The job I had was marketing writing. What that meant is that I had to market, or advertise, to readers. I still do this type of work through my own company. Articles I’ve written have appeared in Fortune, Money, Good Housekeeping, Entrepreneur, and Woman’s Day.

If you’re an indie author, you are the Marketing Department for your company. So you have to know how to do more than just write a book and call it a day. You have to do (or hire someone to do) the marketing for your book. Unless it’s a children’s book, i.e., mostly illustrations, you’ll need content for that marketing. Continue reading Guest Post–Michael J. Sahno

Foreign Service Readings

Continuing a short list of blogs and independent websites offering an insider’s view of U.S. diplomacy steeped in experience. Not  officialdom. I previously posted this Foreign Service blog list.

https://diplopundit.net

Opinionated and often edgy, DiploPundit has no official connection to the U.S. Department of State. It wades into leadership issues, Foreign Service realities, international current events, and other developments in the foreign affairs community. Updated daily the blog is the brainchild of Domani Spero, an obsessive compulsive observer, diplomatic watcher, and opinionator who monitors the goings on at ‘Foggy-Bottom’ and the ‘worldwide available’ universe—from Albania to Zimbabwe.  Continue reading Foreign Service Readings