Black Fried Egg



Sin Tax, by Preston Lang, coming July 1 from All Due Respect Books

Just like Preston Lang to put out his next neo-noir surprise without telling anyone.

Two months later: Surprise! Dark, humorous matter available.

Review coming soon.

Everyone knows that cigarettes will kill you. Mark works the overnight in a grimy deli in the Bronx, selling gray market smokes and bad meat. His hotheaded manager Janet pushes him to…

Source: Sin Tax, by Preston Lang, coming July 1 from All Due Respect Books

Trivial Armchair Protest #2

Is this really necessary?!

tieI believe in pants. Pants are good, modest clothing. Call them trousers if you like: trousers are just as good as pants.

Socks, to prevent blisters. Shoes, black or brown. Keep it simple.

A belt to hold up your pants or trousers is a common-sense approach. Black or brown, as with your shoes. If you must wear them, suspenders also serve to hold up your trousers or pants. Just please follow the guidelines on underwear (not covered here, this is a modest blog) and keep them out of sight.

An undershirt is a smart idea to prevent sweat stains, particularly in the armpits. Add a nice, blue button down shirt and there’s all the glossy exterior you’ll ever need.

Put on a jacket of some kind if mustard drops off your hot dog onto your shirt, or if your sweat glands are too powerful for your undershirt.

Pants or trousers, check.
Belt, socks, shoes, check.
Shirts, check.
Jacket, check.

Am I missing anything? No.

Ever since I was a kid, a schoolboy with a clip-on tie, I have wanted to know: why do so many otherwise sensible people cinch a strip of cloth—silk, cotton, polyester, whatever—around their neck? What purpose does this serve? Are we such peacocks, we men, that we need a colorful calling card to brighten our day, a dash of design to bring attention to our presence? Are we such slobs, in need of a napkin on hand—so gauche! What evolutionary reality has brought us to such a low state of self-awareness that we must wear ties?

There is no good answer.

Next week on Trivial Armchair Protest we examine high heels and general shoe clutter beneath the desk at work. Our previous protest is available here: Trivial Armchair Protest #1

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.


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?”


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.”


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.


Mission Accomplished

War Novels for the War on Terror

Thirteen years ago Sunday former President George Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Over his head a massive banner proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished.” What followed this publicity stunt—he arrived on an aircraft carrier off the coast of California riding in a Navy jet—were years of insurgency and bloodshed in pursuit of a figment: Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.

** FILE ** President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo. Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 sent Iraq legislation setting timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals to President George W. Bush and a certain veto. On the fourth anniversary of the president's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Senate Majority Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that Bush "has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. A change of course is needed." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The anniversary of this symbolic gaffe in a gaffe-prone presidency reminds us that war’s insanity starts at the top, in civilian attire. It also reminds us of why great war novels like Catch-22 are so vital. They expose absurdity in wartime leadership. Absurdity like, say, W’s response to 9/11, which was to declare war against an intangible thing.

The War on Terror, launched in Afghanistan to pursue the mastermind of 9/11, soon lost its way in the sands of Iraq. W’s pursuit of figments there is emblematic of the war itself. Isn’t that the reality of going to “war” against “terror”? To this day in D.C. and elsewhere public transport riders are told, “If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activities and unattended baggage.” Announcements urge passengers to ask fellow riders, “Is that your bag?” How better to stoke fear—and hand victory to terror—than to remind civilians that the authorities are powerless to defeat the intangible?

Unlike our traditional sense of what constitutes war, the War on Terror is a civilian conflict as well as a military one. Novels about the WOT might take this into account. Not to diminish the admiration and gratitude our veterans deserve for shouldering the challenges unique to combat. Because….


Rather, it broadens the scope of what the WOT really is, and how victory might be attained. We’ll still have those books centered in what Iraq War Veteran Matt Gallagher, writing for The Atlantic, calls “the American war writing tradition.” We know what that looks like. Military books. Tales of strategy and tactic, grit and fear, stubble and blood. Great war novels like The Naked and the Dead and The Things They Carried. For the WOT, that might be Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds or Gallagher’s own Youngblood.

But because the enemy also targets civilians, civilians too walk a kind of front line. And the civilian experience demands its own type of WOT novel. A book like Jess Walters’ The Zero, which plumbs the civilian psyche in the aftermath of 9/11, comes to mind.

The WOT began in a civilian setting, a non-military attack against ordinary people doing ordinary things in a maze of cubicles one fine September morning. But the WOT is no ordinary war. And the novels that come out of it—whether set deep in the heat of battle or on some other front here at home—will serve us best if they remind us that victory over terror can only come from within.

Only then do we declare, Mission Accomplished.

views expressed here do necessarily reflect the views of the author’s employer

Nice Bump for Two Pumps

Robert Bruce Cormack penned a few kind thoughts on Two Pumps for the Body Man. Read more about his hilarious satire You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive).

Ben East has created a wonderfully wacky consular bash in a place called The Kingdom, a nightmarish place straight out of Catch-22 where bureaucrats use every acronym under the sun (including OOPS, which stands for Office of Overseas Predator Strikes). While bureaucracy rules, one man, Jeff Mutton, Head of Security, tries to keep everyone safe despite the machinations of beauty Vanna Lavinia, Consul General, attempting to improve diplomatic relations with disco parties.

This is haywire bureaucracy at its finest and East does a great job bringing his characters out into the Middle Eastern sunshine. A good read from a writer who’s obviously seen some of the nuttiness himself. Truly enjoyed this.


Review: The Brothers Connolly

Ted Prokash employs a rich, poetic voice to tell his story of middle America, giving The Brothers Connolly the quality of an epic. His narrator breaks this novel free of its small-town confines. The writing, here, is the main event.

Brothers Connolly

Prokash is skillful and convincing in his portrayal of life in Napawaupee, Wisconsin. He renders with equal affection the artist’s struggle (Jack Connolly); athletic pursuit, conquest, and glory (Bobby and Jim); and youth’s pitiable romantic angst (Teddy). And his townspeople—the chronic drunk, the cruel and withering mother, the single father, the closeted homosexual, the teachers and students and coaches of the high school so central in football season to the lives of these middle class role models—cut as dynamic and full a presence as the narrator’s textured storytelling.

Jack, the oldest, slinks back home—without making it feel like slinking—after two decades in New York fruitlessly pursuing success as a playwright. He takes up residence above Belgy’s bar, one floor up from where his father installs himself daily on a stool to drain mugs of Pabst. Before an audience of dead venison Jack develops his next great artistic vision: “Jack floated around the apartment on a crazy cloud. He paced along the close walls of his little living space as his mind raced along the interminable rim of an exploding universe. His body bounced about his rooms, trying to keep up with the mad rush of his thoughts.”

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baseball and birthdays

Back in January my son asked me to write him a story for his birthday. Three months later I’ve put the finishing touches on a 32k-word novel, my first in the lit-for-kids line. Vikram turns 8 next week.


Among the themes (friendship, family, dreams) is baseball. With MLB opening day upon us, I thought I’d share a chapter. The excerpt treats Albert Newcastle’s baseball adventures with his newfound friend, the strange girl who wears boys clothes to school, Sylvie Perch.

Prior to the events of this excerpt, Albert (who has a hard time hearing) works with Sylvie (who has a hard time seeing) on a hitting strategy to overcome her vision problem: timing the pitch.


The players lined up on the infield, hats off for the National Anthem. Albert stood beside Sylvie at the plate, the rest of the Cubs in blue jerseys along the baseline toward first. In yellow and black on the third baseline were the Pirates, Hartness twins included.

Sylvie had heard those two sing the Anthem in school: farts bursting in air, poop through the night, the stink still there. Disgusting.

The ballpark felt electric with excitement, crowds jostling at the concession stand. Players warmed up in the batting cages and bullpens by the gravel parking lot. Now and then a ping of the bat, the pop of leather, a mighty cheer from the fans watching other games on the four fields, the public address system announcing players’ names.

Read full

Coming Very Soon

The Second World War II had Catch 22. The Global War on Terror will have: