Saturday, April 01, 2017

Chet Cunningham, R. I. P.

Chet Cunningham’s Advice to Writers: ‘Put Your Butt in the Chair and Do It’: Mr. Cunningham died March 14 at his home near San Diego. He was 88. 

He did his writing at home in a converted bedroom, where he was surrounded by filing cabinets, thousands of books and his cat. “Walk down the hall, turn left and I’m at work,” he once said. His daughter recalled falling asleep as a girl to the click-clack of his key strokes.

Hat tip to George Kelley.

April Is National Poetry Month . . .

. . . so I'm posting a longer version of something I wrote about here eight or ten years ago. 

In 1963 I started my teaching career in Corsicana, Texas, a former oil-boom town like my hometown of Mexia, which was 30 miles away, and like Mexia going through leaner times.  The job paid $50 a year above the state minimum, and Corsicana was the kind of place where there were a lot of young teachers who would move on after a couple of years, and a good many older ones who'd decided to make their lives there.  

During my two years there, I shared an apartment with Spencer Lee Olesen, and we socialized with a few of the other young teachers, including three women named Jeanette (to whom Spencer was later married), Judy, and Kaye.  Sometimes in the evenings we'd talk about our students and our classes, and one night Kaye showed us some poems her elementary students had written.  

She didn't think much of it, but I can still see it now in my mind's eye, the cramped cursive handwriting (in pencil) on lined notebook paper.  And after well over 50 years, I still remember every word of it:

There was an old man
Who lived in a can
And when it rained
He had a pain
And when it poured
He growed a gourd

I told Kaye that the poem was deserving of an A.  She didn't agree with me.  Maybe beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  I don't know what grade the poet got, but now and then I look back and wonder whatever happened to him.  I hope he's out there somewhere, still writing.

Why Northerners Think All Southerners Have One Accent

Why Northerners Think All Southerners Have One Accent

Song of the Day

Pat Benatar - I Need A Lover (Vinyl Single) - YouTube:

Top 10 Misconceptions About The Wild West

Top 10 Misconceptions About The Wild West

Today's Vintage Ad

Uncovering Thieves’ Cant

Uncovering Thieves’ Cant, the Elizabethan Slang of the Underworld


Fred Saberhagen, Berserker, Ace, 1978

14 Word Origins Hiding In Plain Sight

14 Word Origins Hiding In Plain Sight

Ruben Amaro Sr., R. I. P.

NY Daily News: Ruben Amaro Sr., the former Gold Glove Phillies shortstop and teammate of Dallas Green, who later played with Hall of Fame Yankee Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on the Bombers before embarking on a long baseball career as a scout, coach and minor league manager, died Friday in Miami, the Phillies announced. Amaro Sr. was 81.  

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

I'm Sure You'll All Agree

34 Movies That Actually ~Should~ Be Remade

Rosalie Hamlin, R. I. P.

Rosie and the Originals Official Website

Terry Siegel, R. I. P.

Los Angeles Times: Terry Fischer Siegel passed away on March 28 from complications of Parkinson's disease. Terry was born in Sherman Oaks to father Carl Fischer, a well-known composer/pianist, and mother Terry Harwin Fischer, a big band singer. By age 17, Terry had a hit record as lead singer of "Popsicles and Icicles" by the Murmaids (with sister Carol Fischer and friend Sally Gordon). She went on to have a solo career as a jazz singer, singing with many groups, specializing in Brazilian music.

Forgotten Hits: April 1st, 1967

Forgotten Hits: April 1st, 1967: Paul McCartney comes up with the idea of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" Reprise, which is completed in one long eleven hour session.  Having already decided that it would be impossible to follow "A Day In The Life" as the album closer, this reprise was brought in to bridge the final track, much as the lead-off track merged into "With A Little Help From My Friends".  The mono version is noticeably different than the stereo version on the reprise (and has long been my preference … as all kinds of little background, incidental bits and pieces can be heard, including McCartney's rampant screaming, not heard in the stereo mix.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Gilbert Baker, R. I. P.

Gilbert Baker, Creator Of The Iconic Rainbow Flag, Has Died: Gilbert Baker, the man who created the rainbow flag — an iconic symbol of the LGBT rights movement — died Thursday. He was 65.

First It Was the Thin Mints Melee

Brawl breaks out over botched nail job in Ohio salon   

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.


Judy loved gardenias.  This morning I looked out the back windows and saw one of the bushes blooming.  I'd never see it bloom in March before.  Not just one bloom, either but several.   Soon it will be covered with them.  I got a little verklempt thinking how much Judy would've enjoyed this.  She'd have been out there cutting a few blooms to set around the house, but I'll just leave them where they are.

The Great American Dream House

The Great American Dream House: It wasn’t everybody’s idea of home sweet home, but it was the right house at the right time for thousands of West Coast families after World War II.

Song of the Day

Etta James Pushover - YouTube:

Larry Donovan, 1880s Bridge Jumper

Larry Donovan, 1880s Bridge Jumper, Lived Too Soon 

Today's Vintage Ad

Detective X

Secret Crime-Fighter Revealed to Be 1930s Physicist: Nine recently unearthed notebooks record the true scope of work done by the mysterious forensics pioneer called "Detective X."


William Hughes, Lust for a Vampire, Sphere Books, 1971

What Kind of Art is the Most Popular?

What Kind of Art is the Most Popular? 

Happy 159th Birthday to the Modern Pencil

Happy 159th Birthday to the Modern Pencil

Forgotten Hits: March 31st

Forgotten Hits: March 31st: In a performance at The Finsbury Park Astoria Theatre in London, Jimi Hendrix suffers minor burns after setting his guitar on fire on stage for the first time.  (He ended his set with his popular tune "Fire" … and then set his guitar on fire as part of the grand finale.)  Also on the bill that night:  Cat Stevens, The Walker Brothers and current British Chart-Topper Engelbert Humperdinck!  (Now THAT'S a line-up you don't see every day!!!)

FFB: Quintana Roo -- Gary Brander

It's funny that sometimes I have such clear memories of the exact circumstances under which I bought a book.  Back in 1984 I was visiting my hometown of Mexia, Texas, and my father and I were in the Safeway store (it's just an empty building now, closed for years).  He was probably buying cat food and using his coupons.  He liked coupons.  Anyway, there was a small paperback rack near the checkout stand, and in the rack was a copy of Quintana Roo.  It was a Gold Medal book, so naturally I had to take a look.  And after a look, I bought it.  I read most of it that weekend, and now I've read it again.

It's 1939, and a beautiful American woman comes to Vera Cruz to hire someone to search for a downed plane in Quintana Roo.  Her husband was on board the plane, and so was John Hooker's best friend.   Hooker's an American with a shady past (we never find out exactly why he's left the U.S. or what he's done), and he takes the job.  

It's an adventure in the old pulp tradition: noisy bars with slow-moving ceiling fans, jungle treks, zombies, lost tribes, a killer cayman, and a few surprises -- what's not to like?  I have to subtract points, though, because there's no quicksand.  It's all fast and fun and predictable, but I don't regret re-reading it.  Now and then something like this is just what I need.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Forever and a Death -- Donald E. Westlake

After the success of GoldenEye, one of the producers, Jeff Kleeman, hired Donald E. Westlake to do a James Bond script.  The whole story is told in detail in Kleeman's "Afterword" to Forever and a Death, and there are more interesting details here.  For various reasons, the project never came about, and supposedly that was that.  Except that it wasn't.  It turns out that Westlake wrote a novel based on the treatments he did for the film.  It's not a James Bond novel and doesn't bear much of a resemblance to one, and apparently Westlake didn't make much of an effort to publish it before it went into a trunk.  Luckily for Westlake fans, Charles Ardai tracked it down and it's now scheduled for June publication by Hard Case Crime.

The most Bond-like thing about the book is the villain, Richard Curtis (an inside joke?), who's planning to do something big in Hong Kong (the setting is soon after the handover from Britain) both for his own personal profit and for having been forced out of Hong Kong.  I won't spoil things by saying exactly what he's planning, since that's not revealed until late in the book.  It's clearly tied to the soliton, a device tested at the book's beginning.  The soliton is a controlled oscillating wave that can turn landfill into soup and break up any buildings on top of the fill, causing the fragments to fall into the soup.  Very handy if you own a mostly island with some structures on it if you want to transform into a high-end resort.

Curtis isn't the kind of guy who's willing to what it takes to get what he wants, up to and including kidnapping and murder, so there's plenty of cat-and-mousing, killing, capturing, escaping, and chicanery of a high order.  Curtis seems to be able to get out of anything, although we all know he won't reach his final goal.  And speaking of that goal, one thing reminiscent of the Bond movies is the use of the "ticking clock" theme.  I think this was definitely part of the original movie treatment.

The main thing missing from Forever and a Death is a Bondian protagonist.  It's an ensemble novel with a big cast, many of whom are confronted with life-and-death choices.  Wanting to know they respond and what happens to them are what keeps us reading.  Not everything turns out well for everyone.

Forever and a Death is a long book, well over 400 pages, not my usual thing, but I found myself reading right along by Westlake's craftsmanship and storytelling.  It might not be top-shelf Westlake.  I put the "Richard Stark" novels on that shelf, along with a few others.  It's still highly readable and a bonus for those of us who never knew it existed until now.

Forgotten Music (?) -- Not by Me

50 Years Later, ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ Still Sounds Like the Future

I love this album.  Still have my LP with unpeeled banana.

Song of the Day

Velvet Underground-"There She Goes Again" from "Velvet Underground and Nico" LP - YouTube:

100 (Fiction) Books to Read in a Lifetime

100 (Fiction) Books to Read in a Lifetime - We've seen these lists before - from Amazon to the Telegraph to Time Magazine and beyond. Plenty of folks have lists of the 100 best books of all time, the 100 books you should read, and on. And beautifully, despite overlap, they are all different. The glorious subjectivity of art means that no two of these lists should ever be exactly alike. So this is ours, our special snowflake of a list, born out of our passion for books. We kept it to fiction this time. Some of the expected classics are there, alongside some more contemporary fare. There is some science fiction, some YA, and above all else, some unforgettable stories.

Today's Vintage Ad

The Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races

The Marx Brothers in A Day at the Races 


Bob Feller's Strikeout Story, Bantam, 1948

I'm Sure You'll All Agree

Bob Dylan is a great singer.: The Nobel laureate thinks we should laud his singing as much as his “poetry.” He’s right.

22 Mindblowing True Crime Books

22 Mindblowing Books For Anyone Who’s Slightly Obsessed With True Crime

Forgotten Hits: March 30th

Forgotten Hits: March 30th: The Beatles' new album cover is photographed today by Michael Cooper (from a design by Peter Blake).  "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" will become a landmark release that influences virtually everything recorded after it.  (Manager Brian Epstein did not like the new LP cover and at one point wrote a note to The Fab Four that simply said "Brown Paper Bags for 'Sgt. Pepper'".  Ironically, John Lennon packaged his first solo album, "Two Virgins" that way a year later.)

A Review of Interest (To Me, Anyway)


Gator Update (We're the Bosses Edition)

Massive gators keep showing humans who's boss

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I'm Sure You'll All Agree

10 movie adaptations that totally didn't suck

Song of the Day

Slade - My Oh My - YouTube:

Well, not your childhood

This car from your childhood has increased in value by 58,000%

Today's Vintage Ad

“Can Good People Do Bad?” by Paul Charles

“Can Good People Do Bad?” by Paul Charles | SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN: Northern Irish author Paul Charles writes three series of mystery novels. The ten-book-strong DI Christy Kennedy series saw its latest instalment, A Pleasure to Do Death With You, published in 2012. A second series, set in Donegal, Ireland and starring Inspector Starrett, had its third entry, St. Ernan’s Blues, released in 2016, and the most recently launched series, set in modern-day Belfast, debuted in 2015 with Down on Cyprus Avenue. Paul’s first story for EQMM, from the DI Kennedy series, will appear in our July/August issue—and we’ll have another for readers shortly after that. In this post he reflects on the need for a crime writer to probe what lies behind a crime.—Janet Hutchings


N. R. De Mexico, Strange Pursuit (Suspense Novel #1), 1951

I Miss the Old Days

27 Hilarious Knit Sweaters from the 1960s and '70s

Math isn’t difficult, we’ve just been learning it wrong

Math isn’t difficult, we’ve just been learning it wrong

Forgotten Hits: March 29th

Forgotten Hits: March 29th: The Buckinghams have THREE records on the chart this week, including the back to back hits at #43 and #44, "Don't You Care" (up 22 places from #65) and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" (up twelve places from #56.) Meanwhile, their former chart-topper "Kind Of A Drag" is slowly working its way down the chart, falling this week from #31 to #55.

I Found a Penny in the Walmart Parking Lot Last Week

World's largest dinosaur footprint discovered in Australia - and it's as big as a man

Bonus FFB on Wednesday: Pieces of Modesty -- Peter O'Donnell

I'm happy to report that this collection of Modesty Blaise short stories is just as outrageously entertaining as the novels and comic strips.  Whether Modesty and Willie Garvin are smuggling a defecting scientist out of East Germany ("The Giggle-Wrecker") or whether Willie is rescuing Modesty (with plenty of help from her, of course, once he arrives on the scene) and destroying half of Glencroft Castle in the process ("I Had a Date with Lady Janet"), you're in for swell storytelling, humor, and nearly always a neat twist or to or three at the end.  Highly recommended.  

Reading these stories reminded me once again of how much fun the novels are, and I think I might go back and reread one of the early ones.  Not having read it in 40 years or more, I should find it pretty much just like a new one.

Table of Contents:
A better day to die
The giggle-wrecker
I had a date with Lady Janet
A perfect night to break your neck
Salamander four
The soo girl charity

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Who Killed the Iceman?

Who Killed the Iceman? Clues Emerge in a Very Cold Case   

Hat tip to Barry Ergang.

The northernmost city in the world

Longyearbyen, Norway: In the northernmost city in the world, it's illegal to be buried because it’s too cold for bodies to decompose.

Song of the Day

Billie Holiday - Summertime - YouTube:

The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys

The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys

Today's Vintage Ad

Geena Davis: 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me

Geena Davis: 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me  (‘I Can Wiggle My Ears One at a Time!’)


Joe Barry, Dangerous Bargain, Phantom Books (Australia), 1954

A Hobby That's Not for Me

Shanghai's Daring 'Rooftoppers' Are Taking Urban Exploration to New Heights  

Amazing photos, but I could never take them.

I Miss the Old Days

The Fabulous Bars and Restaurants of the Boeing 747: Amazing Vintage Photos That Show the Glamorous Airline Lounges in the Sky from the 1970s

Overlooked Movies -- 20 Million Miles to Earth

Back in 1957 I saw 20 Million Miles to Earth in the theater.  And soon afterward (or maybe it was before) I bought the one-shot digest novelization by Henry Slesar, which I suspect was the only novelization published by Amazing Stories.  It has a great cover.

The movie turned up on TCM the other night, and I couldn't resist taking a look.  The plot is typically goofy.  A U.S. spaceship returns from Venus and crashes off the coast of Sicily.  Nobody notices but a few humble fisherfolk, who manage to rescue three of the crew, including Our Hero, played by stalwart William Hopper.  The spaceship sinks, but wouldn't you know that a cylinder containing a tiny specimen of Venusian life washes up on the beach, where a boy finds it.  He takes the specimen to a zoologist, who's intrigued by it, and who's surprised when it has a rapid growth spurt.

The Venusian life form, the Ymir, gets really big, really fast.   The earth's atmosphere seems to be good for it, whereas the Venusian atmosphere is poisonous to humans.  So we need to study the Ymir and find out what's different about it if we want the riches of Venus, which we do.  

The Ymir is destructive because it's lost and puzzled and provoked (naturally the first reaction of everyone is to kill it).  They don't kill it, however, and it's captured and taken to Rome, where it escapes, fights an elephant, and gets to mess up some landmarks.  Its last stand is at the Coliseum.  What do we learn from all of this?  Here are the movie's final lines:  "Why is it always, always so costly for Man to move from the present to the future?"

The Ymir was a Ray Harryhausen creation, and it's great, certainly worth seeing the movie for.  And the movie itself is quite an interesting time capsule.  1957 really was a different world from 2017.  Only two people, a general and a doctor, are sent from the U.S. to the site of the spaceship crash.  Nobody outside the little Sicilian fishing village even knows about the crash, apparently.  There are no reporters, no other officials, nobody.  In fact the mission was a big secret, and when an Italian diplomat is informed of it, he thinks the mission was to Venice (hilarity was rampant in the '50s).  I have a feeling an audience of people under 40 would find the movie an artifact as puzzling as something from the time of Homer.  I loved it in 1957, though, and I retain some of that affection even now.

20 Million Miles To Earth

Movie Trailer - 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957) - YouTube:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Interview with James and Livia Reasoner


Winners of the 2017 PEN Literary Awards

Here are the winners of the 2017 PEN Literary Awards

Antiques Frame -- Barbara Allan

Barbara Allan, as we all know, is the husband-and-wife writing team of Barbara and Max Allan Collins, and Antiques Frame is the latest entry about their antiques-dealing sleuths, the mother-and-daughter (sort of; it's complicated) team of Vivian and Brandy Borne.

Readers of earlier books in the series will recall that Vivian and Brandy have, in addition to their antiques business, a reality TV series.  The first season's a success, though the ratings are tailing off.  That's not good news, and the even worse news is that Camilla Cassuto, the wife of police chief Tony Cassuto, Brandy's main squeeze (it's complicated), has come to town, opened her own antiques store, and started appearing at every auction being filmed for the reality series, where she consistently outbids Vivian and Brandy for the items they want.

And then Camilla is murdered.  Brandy's prints are on the murder weapon.  There's a perfectly logical reason why, but soon Brandy finds herself in jail with a Top Dog she helped put there earlier.  

The books in this series are told mostly from Brandy's first-person point of view, with Vivian being allowed limited participation (one chapter), but this time, because of the circumstances, Vivian gets more space, which suits her just fine.  Me, too.

Once again the Collins team puts together a fast-moving and frequently hilarious mystery concoction that's not as cozy as you might think it's going to be.  The solution is particularly satisfying and twisty, and I really enjoyed the two surprises that Vivian announces at the very of the novel.  They have nothing to do with the mystery, but they do indicate an intriguing direction for the next book in the series, one that I look forward to with eager anticipation.

How Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and His Guitar Came to the Smithsonian

How Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and His Guitar, Maybellene, Came to the Smithsonian

Song of the Day

Sing Sing Sing - Benny Goodman - YouTube:

Sticking Around: The La Brea Tar Pits

Sticking Around: The La Brea Tar Pits

Today's Vintage Ad

I'm Sure You'll All Agree

Mathematician Emmy Noether Should Be Your Hero


Bruno Fischer, Fools  Walk In, Phantom Books (Australia), 1958

I Miss the Old Days

Forgotten Glamour at Mermaid City: Girls would come from as far as Tokyo to audition for the chance to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid in the 1960s. They performed to sold-out crowds; half a million people a year came to watch their dazzling underwater shows, including the King himself, Elvis Presley. They took etiquette and ballet lessons and they were treated like royalty wherever they went in Florida.

The Fixers

Atlas Obscura: When stars needed something to be swept under the rug, they summoned these guys.

New Poem at The Five-Two


Forgotten Hits: March 27th

Forgotten Hits: March 27th: "Happy Together" by The Turtles finally hits the #1 spot as The Beatles' "Penny Lane" falls to #4.  (After a huge leap from #11 to #3, "Happy Together" inched its way to the top, stopping at #3 and #2 before finally hitting #1).  The Mamas and the Papas are right behind it as "Dedicated To The One I Love" climbs a notch to #2.  "There's a Kind Of Hush" by Herman's Hermits does the same thing , crawling from #4 to #3.

Mythconceptions About Animals

Mythconceptions About Animals

Sunday, March 26, 2017

11 Collectible Facts About Hot Wheels

11 Collectible Facts About Hot Wheels

Song of the Day

Ray Stevens- "Everything is Beautiful" - YouTube:

14 Notorious Female Gangsters in History You Wouldn't Want To Mess With

14 Notorious Female Gangsters in History You Wouldn't Want To Mess With

Today's Vintage Ad

10 Mysterious Ancient Buildings

Listverse: When people in the ancient world found gigantic ruins, they often described them as Cyclopean—as if only mythical Cyclops could have built such things. We tend not to go in for such legendary explanations today, but plenty of mysterious buildings from the past are still provoking debate. We may not know who built them, or even why.


Lee Roberts (Robert Martin), Little Sister, Phantom Books (Australia), 1954

I'm Sure You'll All Agree

Who Was the Best Huckleberry?: One Doc Holliday actor stands above the rest.

Tabloid roundup

Tabloid roundup: Obama's real birth certificate, a spy in the White House, murder charges for an aging star, and more!

An interview with Paul Bishop

Men's Adventure Magazines: An interview with Paul Bishop: veteran detective, writer, editor and action/adventure maven…