Monuments, Torches, & Ketchup

Regardless of where you stand on the removal of monuments to Confederate slavery and racism, one thing is clear: the decades-long struggle of non-smokers everywhere goes entirely forgotten, with nary a statue.*

In the 1970s the restaurants my family frequented offered non-smokers three tables at best. We might wait half an hour just to get seated. The hostess at Abdow’s Big Boy would look at us with disdain as we tarried in her crowded lobby awaiting our turn. Guests who arrived after us stuck their noses in the air and marched on ahead of us to fill their bellies with dinner and their lungs with smoke.

And when finally we were called to a booth, we’d be led with contempt to the furthest corner of the restaurant, hard up beside the restrooms. The waiter, annoyed at having to bring our food so far from the kitchen, was seldom to be seen again and you can forget about her bringing the bottle of ketchup, please.

Had she spit in our hamburgers loaded high on the tray? Sneeze in the unsalted fries?

Added to the insult of feeling like outcasts marked by no-smoking signs, we endured second hand smoke all around us. It ruined the taste of our food and followed us home in a thick stench on our clothes.

But as the decades progressed, common sense and science conspired to defeat Big Tobacco. No-smoking sections expanded to the point where they were no longer necessary. Restaurants dedicated themselves entirely to clean air.

And the no-smoking signs disappeared.

Now, inspired by the horrific events in Charlottesville, I propose we bring them back. I propose we hang them re-positioned to distinguish those who favor torch-bearing racism from those who do not. Let the diners who welcome American values like diversity and free speech eat in peace far from those who abuse their First Amendment right by fouling the air with hate speech and racism.

Let the racists tell the world who they are. Let them eat in shamefaced chagrin near the men’s room and the stinking toilet cakes. Let them hope the servers and cooks don’t spit in their food.

Let racism come to an end. Turn it on its side.

*forgive me. i do not make light of the real struggle. parody often requires the absurd


The ghost of Hillary Clinton had something to say in California this week:

“I get the nomination. So I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party. I mean, it was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it.”

Add to her long, sad laundry list of people and organizations to blame for her loss is the Democratic National Committee itself? Despite the fact that leaked emails prove top DNC officials mocked Hillary’s lone rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, during the primary campaign? That the purportedly neutral organization openly conspired to stack the deck against him in her favor?

Her deplorable utterances this week demonstrate why the country has the leadership it currently has. And now the DNC has a class action lawsuit to fight off (charging fraud, deception, and negligence during the 2016 primaries*),  when its real work should be supporting candidates that might re-balance the single-party juggernaut running Washington right now.

I don’t care that FDR and JFK were Democrats, that Abe and Teddy were Republicans. The party means nothing. The character of the individuals leading the party is what matters. And right now it’s clear that the character of our party leaders is nothing less than deplorable.

*An attorney backing the suit has demanded the DNC repay its donors and Sanders supporters for contributions made throughout the election, citing a misappropriation of public funds.

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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