Saturday, March 28, 2015

SUPPORT INDIE AUTHORS











I went on a brief Twitter rant the other day about self published / indie authors, inspired by the claim of Sarah Taylor that Self-Publishing is no longer a dirty word.  True?  Depends on who is saying it, I believe.














My ODE TO THE LIBRARY



This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines. ~ from Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing

Powerful facts based MUST READ piece by Zetta Elliot on Black Authors and Self-Publishing










Next up from me: MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE

Check out the interview I conducted with indie author, Todd Keisling.  If support of indie authors is hard to come by from various parties in the publishing industry machine, at the very least we need to support each other.  Below are reviews written for a few books I've read that were self published.  One of them took off (no, I'm not talking about 50 Shades of Grey) in a big way.  Perhaps it's just a matter of time for the others.





FerrymanFerryman by Carole Sutton


They say the devil is in the details and you will find a rich supply of them in this mystery novel, transporting you to 1970's Cornwall, England, racing aboard a sleek yacht or attending a fancy costume ball where far more than meets the eye is there to be discovered by those in search of answers. One of the people following trails both hot and cold is Steven Pengelly, a man wrongfully convicted of murder who gains his freedom after two years of imprisonment when the body of the woman he was supposed to have killed surfaces from the depths of the sea, freshly deceased. Although he has no further need to clear his name, the sister of a woman gone missing convinces him to join her desperate rescue mission. A man who does need redemption is Alec Grimstone, the detective who saw to it that Steven was convicted and now must follow the only path that will lead to a clean conscience, and to the true abductor/killer behind an escalating series of crimes. I will delve no further into the plot, with Ferryman being a mystery that I don't wish to spoil for anyone. Better to pick up a copy for yourself and follow the twists and turns that lead to a villian whose perversity is only matched by the clever measures he takes to maintain his depraved secrets. If you are a whodunnit fan, and who isn't to some degree, be sure to add Carol Sutton to your reading list.

View all my reviews

The Time CavernThe Time Cavern by Todd A. Fonseca

This book transported me back in time to when I was an avid 10-year old reader, which is both ironic and apt since it features 10-year old time travelers. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself (yet more time traveling) as I pen this review about a most wonderful young adult novel – The Time Cavern by Todd A. Fonseca. I typically do not read much fiction geared towards pre-teens and those in their early teenage years, having left that period of my life decades behind. Prior to The Time Cavern I suppose the last book I read that fit this bill was the first Harry Potter book. There was a tiny bit of buzz about Ms. Rowling’s wizardry series (perhaps you’ve heard of it too) so I decided to check out Part I and found it to be an enjoyable read, though it did not inspire me to pick up additional titles in the saga. I appreciate the ultimate achievement of the Harry Potter books beyond making Rowling a gazillionaire and launching a number of movie star careers. Millions of young people in their formative years who may not otherwise have been turned on by reading in a day and age where one’s phone provides as much entertainment as an arcade decided to check out a book (and then another and then another) because tremendous buzz made it a trendy thing to do. No doubt a good many of them moved beyond the Potter books and became lifelong readers, just as the Jules Verne books I read as a grade school kid sparked my addiction to books, not only as a vociferous reader but also as a writer. Young people lucky enough to stumble into The Time Cavern will be similarly affected. In it, a bright, curious, mechanically inclined boy named Aaron moves to a new house in a rural area with his family. Initially he feels like a fish out of water but his acclimation to a new home is sped up when he befriends Jake, a classmate who is not crazy about her real name “Jacqueline” or about being passive and stereotypically “girlish”. She has a spirit nearly as adventurous as Aaron’s, which is a good thing because they soon find themselves on an adventure upon discovery of a century old diary page that eventually leads them to a most extraordinary tree. Throughout the course of this briskly told tale Aaron and Jen become detectives on the trail of a case that is simultaneously ancient and futuristic. Their interest in scholastics, particularly science, serves them well as they unearth clues in a number of inventive ways, including a most ingenious use of a tanning bed. The backdrop to their caper (which also put me in mind of the Dan Brown blockbusters but featuring considerably younger protagonists and minus the violent aspect of adult thrillers) is an Amish community, people who Aaron comes to learn have basically suspended time with their lifestyle choices rather than joining the progressive march of technology. Whether it’s a trip to a cornfield or to a planetarium, each experience throughout the narrative is learned from and the knowledge is used to propel Aaron and Jake’s progress into uncharted territory. Fonseca cleverly intertwines the following of time honored traditions with science fiction elements to generate an enthralling plot that is sure to lure any young reader away from his wii game system. As this book shows, kids today may be considerably different than kids of even just one generation prior, but what kids of all generations and all ages have always been drawn to is the opportunity to embark on a thrilling adventure. The Time Cavern showcases masterful storytelling that will immediately be passed forward to one of my nephews. I highly recommend picking up a copy for the young explorers that you love.

View all my reviews

From Where the Rivers ComeFrom Where the Rivers Come by Terin Tashi Miller

Set in the not especially distant past, Terin Tashi Miller transports readers to India. You'll feel as if you are walking the streets of Benares or Dehli, tasting the food, experiencing the heat, brushing away the dust, inhaling smoke from the funeral pyres, experiencing the claustrophobia of jam packed train rides, and taking in the vividly detailed sights. The first person narrative comes from the perspective of a journalist who is foreign to India by birth and race, but has been immersed in the culture long enough for it to be ordinary rather than exotic to him. He is not so much stranger in a strange land as an observer who has seen what India offers, recognizes the differences and similarities between his American homeland and the country from where his paychecks are earned, and accepts them with minimal judgement as the ways of the world. Miller's novel is neither plot heavy nor a character study, but rather, a story of place and slow to change times which subtly indicates the fine line between escaping where you are and who you are.

View all my reviews

Elf on the Shelf (The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, Volume 1)Elf on the Shelf by Carol V. Aebersold

An instant charmer. We'll see if it results in more nice than naughty behavior from my spirited 3 year old daughter over the couple weeks leading up to Christmas. She has definitely bought into the idea (after a little skepticism at first - "it's just a toy") that there's a scout elf situated in our home who waits until after she goes to sleep to fly back to the North Pole and file a report on her actions, then heads back to our house to be found the following morning in a different spot.







Whether it's independently published or not, when you discover a great new book (even it's only new To You) please be sure (word of mouth on and off social media is enormously appreciated by authors) to SHARE THE LOVE.       Reviews are awesome!!!



Monday, March 16, 2015

By any other name he would still be PETE ROSE







Ten years ago I asked...


Should Pete Rose be made eligible for induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? 

This is a thorny question to grapple with, and one that won’t go away easily. At least not so long as Charlie Hustle is alive and kicking and reminding us that he just may have been the greatest ever to play the game. Professional baseball is plagued by numerous problems. Compared to the surge in popularity of the NFL and the NBA, baseball is going through troubled times. Had the players’ union gone on strike this past season, it may have been enough to cripple the sport for good. That disaster was narrowly averted. But how far away is the next crisis, and will it be the storm that baseball cannot weather? Major League Baseball needs to do something to demonstrate its strength and assert its position as the great American pastime. The woes of the league are symbolized by the fact that its all-time career leader in hits happens to be shunned by the institution that celebrates the best ever to play. As long as this situation remains, there will seem to be something wrong about baseball, something missing from its grandeur. But should the situation be remedied, a bandage applied to the sport’s wounds, if the situation is a just one? This is the dilemma that has been faced ever since Pete Rose’s banishment for gambling by then commissioner Bart Giamatti, and it is likely to resurface time and time again until resolved for good.


There is little doubt that Pete Rose did gamble on professional baseball games, including those played by the team he happened to be managing. Supposedly he only bet on his own team to win, which many point to as a factor in his favor. After all, if he was throwing games that he played in or managed, the case would be overwhelmingly open and shut. Not even the most diehard supporter of Rose would claim that even though he engineered his teams to lose games in order to make money for himself, he still deserves to be enshrined based solely on his statistics. Betting against himself is what “Shoeless” Joe Jackson allegedly did along with his teammates in the Word Series many moons ago. Despite Jackson’s protestations and numbers indicating he was in fact doing all he could to win, the shoeless one remains outside the pantheon of the immortals. This is an accepted state of affairs by baseball enthusiasts, no matter how many movies are made that cast a flattering light on Jackson. 


There have been no movies made as of yet to support Rose’s cause, not even a made-for-TV one, and they makes those about pretty much everyone. Pete Rose by and large has to speak up for himself, something he has been very willing to do over the years. But every so often, an occasion will arise when the fans get to voice their opinion on the matter. Each time, the sentiment has been strongly pro-Rose. There was the moment during the 1999 World Series when he was introduced as a member of baseball’s All-Century team (he was permitted on Turner Field in Atlanta because Pac Bell sponsored the event and insisted he be included) and received the loudest ovation of the players assembled. Jim Gray interviewed Rose before the second game and asked him whether he might now admit and apologize for gambling in order to end his suspension. Rose complained during the interview about Gray’s aggressive line of question, feeling it was an inappropriate place and time. Fans sided with Pete and Jim Gray was soon afterwards made to publicly apologize for the crime of doing his job. Then there was the ceremony to honor baseball’s most memorable moments that took place before Game 4 of the most recent World Series. Rose’s 4,192nd career hit, which surpassed Ty Cobb’s long standing and seemingly indelible mark, earned him the No. 6 spot on the list. The voice of the people has been repeatedly heard on this subject. They feel Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, end of discussion. 


Induction into the Hall of Fame is not a mere popularity contest like some run-of-the-mill All Star game, however. Not that the imposing of morality has a great deal to do with who makes it into the Hall either, for the place is filled with racists, wife beaters, alcoholics, drug users, etc. It appears than when it comes to Hall of Fame induction, baseball has just one cardinal sin that it will not tolerate. Thou shalt not gamble, particularly on baseball itself. It doesn’t matter who you are, there are no exceptions to this rule. Gambling by baseball players is the equivalent of Eve eating that forbidden apple, a serious no-no. When Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays did promotions in Atlantic City long after their retirements, they were told to stay away from baseball until they disassociated themselves from the gambling industry. Now if baseball is willing to banish the Mick and the Say Hey kid, it’s pretty clear that they mean business. Their heroic achievements on the field did not matter. Their championships did not matter. Their status as legends and ambassadors of the sport did not matter. Baseball simply does not want to be connected with gambling, and if you can’t follow this rule, consider yourself an outcast. 


But Major League Baseball under the reign of Bud Selig is not in quite so strong a position as it was under the reigns of Giamatti and his successor Fay Vincent. Baseball needs the approval of its fans now more than ever. The fans support Pete Rose. Something and someone has got to give. For this reason, Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement in 1997 is at last under consideration. Pete is being asked to confess and apologize, or as he no doubt categorizes it, grovel for forgiveness? He certainly won’t be allowed to just waltz in. After all, there’s not doubt that Rose did something wrong, even if it’s unclear to outsiders precisely what. He did plead guilty to tax evasion charges, for which he spent time in a halfway house. And most incriminating, he did agree to a lifetime ban back on August 23rd, 1989. Why would someone who so loves the game agree to forever be banned from it, unless he was guilty as hell? Unless there was a mountain of evidence that he was unable bury. Best to accept the harshest of punishments, lay low for a few years until the public has forgotten that he was a bit of a jerk back in the day, and then come back when their strongest collective memory is that he was one of the greatest to ever step on to a baseball field. Now when Pete stands before thousands of fans for a ceremony, he receives nothing but adulation. In other words, he comes off smelling like a rose. 


Recent word has it that much progress has been made in this matter. Reportedly, Rose has indicated to Selig that he's willing for the first time to admit he bet on baseball and would also be willing to apologize for his 13 years of denials, and even serve a probationary period of "good behavior" in order to gain reinstatement and Hall of Fame eligibility for 2004. Rose is said to be encouraged by progress in talks among his lawyers, Selig, and current Hall of Famers who were teamates of Pete, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. An agreement may indeed be finalized and announced within a couple months. But supposing these reports to true, my initial question still remains unanswered. Does Pete Rose deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? 


My opinion on the matter is that if you did the crime, you should shut up and do the time. But the duration and harshness of the punishment should be appropriate to the seriousness of the ill-advised deed. Let’s not treat a pickpocket the same as we would a mass murderer. If there is hard evidence or documented admission by Pete Rose that he bet on his own team to lose, this is enough to warrant his lifetime banishment from the sport. If he only bet on his own team to win and on other games he was otherwise uninvolved with, a suspension was certainly in order, but not a permanent one. He should make a public statement of wrongdoing, and once this is done, be put on the Hall of Fame ballot. After that, if he’s voted in, he’s in. The famously stubborn Pete Rose has to give a little, and so does Bud Selig. If they both truly love the troubled sport as much as they claim to, they will do right by it. They will give acknowledge that Pete Rose, regardless of his abrasive personality and personal vices, played the hallowed game of baseball the way it was designed to be played.




Now here we are in 2015 and I ask you the same exact question.  Should Pete Rose be made eligible for induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? My own opinion remains unchanged from the words stated above.  He has been hustling just like back in his playing days towards eligibility for a long time.  I think it's time to wave him in and see if he can make it safely home. 


 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mastering Triangular Zen



Back when Phil Jackson had recently won his 8th NBA championship ring as a head coach (6 with the Bulls followed by 2 with the Lakers) I wrote an article declaring that he was overrated.  I don't remember if calling people a "hater" was a thing back then, but if it was, folks from Los Angeles and Chicago and beyond surely would have called me one.  As a Knicks fan, Phil's championships with the Bulls had rubbed me the wrong way.  I took those he won with the Lakers less personally, but I didn't see his championships with a second team and different cast of players as proof that he had the Midas Touch when it came to hoops.  As I saw it, he had simply gone from one stacked situation to another and done what he was supposed to do in both.  Below I have reprinted my analysis of the legend of Phil Jackson.  These days, as a GM rather than head coach but still, my words seem rather prophetic.  Typically I love to be proven right.  But since the team he's now back with is the New York Knicks, I would have preferred to have been proven wrong.  Hope and logic say that next season will look A LOT better than this one for my Knickerbockers.  Until then, I suffer along with fellow fans.  Phil has been the butt of some jokes lately, but his impeccable legacy can easily handle the hits until he is able to follow up on Jordan+Pippen and Shaq+Kobe with Melo+player to be named later.  Prove me wrong, Phil.  I'm looking forward to it.   




Some people are blessed with a Midas touch. Others are born under a lucky star. Good fortune is the result in either case, but that which we credit for their accomplishments differs. After all, there is a crucial distinction between a man who does great things and one whom great things happen to. It is usually easy enough to tell such men apart, to see who belongs in one category and who resides in the other. But on occasion there are exceptions, enigmas about whom we cannot be certain no matter how closely we examine their lives.
Take Los Angeles Lakers coach, Phil Jackson. There is no disputing the success he has had in the NBA. Six championships with the Chicago Bulls, followed by a year off in which time that dynasty promptly crumbled, succeeded by a return to coaching that has netted him two more championships in as many years. It makes one wonder why pro basketball teams even bother to play out their seasons. Shouldn't David Stern simply head over to the headquarters of whichever team Phil Jackson happens to be running at the time and hand the man his trophy? 


I will admit right now that it's difficult for me to be unbiased in my opinion about Jackson. I happen to be a Knicks fan who vividly recalls the numerous times that they fell to Phil and his Bulls, but I'm not old enough to have recollections of when he played for the Knicks. So, since I only know him as the enemy, the temptation is great for me to side with those who feel that Phil is not a genius, but merely a good coach who has been the beneficiary of having some of the most talented individuals ever to lace up a pair of sneakers play for him. At this point in time (his legend possibly to be either validated or tarnished if he makes yet another comeback), Michael Jordan is a near unanimous choice for greatest basketball player of all time. His teammate Scottie Pippen was no slouch either. When two of the five guys that a coach has the luxury of sending out are at or near the top of the NBA's list of elite performers, how can you lose? In Phil Jackson's case, the answer is that you can't lose, because with that particular hand of cards he never did fall short. 





Of course, Jackson is not the only man in recent memory to have coached a dynamic duo. To name just one, although there are certainly several more examples I can give, Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz has had Karl Malone and John Stockton at his disposal for years. They have been remarkably consistent in winning a great many games while together, but they have not managed to win a single title. Were Malone and Stockton simply not as good as Jordan and Pippen? Perhaps not. Is Phil Jackson a greater strategist and motivator than Sloan. Perhaps. Even so, does coaching "the greatest" entitle one to the same accolades as the men actually performing the feats of skill and bravado? I've yet to hear anyone claim that Muhammad Ali achieved what he did in the ring because Angelo Dundee was the ultimate boxing trainer. Dundee received due credit for his work, but the man who threw and received the punches received the bulk of the praise. In Jackson's case, he gets a considerable degree of glory without having to put up a single shot. 


There is ample evidence that points to Phil Jackson being the greatest coach in NBA history, and perhaps even the most accomplished coach in the history of sports. The man already has eight championships under his belt, and all signs indicate that his current team is capable of earning several more under his helm. When the Bulls disbanded, it appeared as if Jackson's streak of success was over with. No matter what team he went to next, he would not have the safety net of Superman in a number 23 jersey to bail him out. Those who had reason to begrudge Jackson his triumphs reasoned with glee that he would be brought crashing down to earth wherever he ended up. Where he ended up was with the Los Angeles Lakers. Was the drop off in talent he had to work with at all significant when he went from Jordan and Pippen to Shaq and Kobe? The results say - apparently not. Or perhaps they proclaim - give Phil a couple of excellent players to build a triangle around and he'll beat your guys with his every time, no matter who the respective guys happen to be. Which of these conclusions is the correct one? Depends on your perspective. 


Much has been said about Phil Jackson's coaching technique. His vaunted triangle offense has consistently managed to get the ball into the hands of the team's best player, or else their second best player, while a collection of carefully selected role players take care of less glamorous but still invaluable duties. Imitation being the sincerest and most common form of flattery, other teams have employed the triangle with nowhere near the same degree of success. These teams have not had Jordan-Pippen or Shaq-Kobe, but they did feature players who made the star oriented three point offense seem like a fine idea at the time. Does the fact that they failed where Phil succeeded prove that Jackson is a coach without peer? Or does this mask the fact that if Jackson had found himself in less fortunate circumstances throughout his career, he would have had far less impressive results? 





It is easy to be irked by Phil's smug demeanor; the zen aura he exudes and fortune cookie wisdom dispensed; and his largely hands-off approach to dealing with turmoil, such as his habit of refusing to call time outs as other coaches do to stall an adversary's momentum. All of these things add up to a single infuriating perception. Phil Jackson acts as if he somehow knows in advance that he will be victorious. Far more frequently than not, he turns out to be right. It's enough to make one suspect that the man has made a pact with the devil. Has Phil Jackson created his incredible string of luck, or is the streak of good fortune responsible for inventing the sterling reputation of Phil Jackson? 


When Shaq and Kobe were feuding earlier this past season, both even separately demanding to be traded, it looked as if Phil Jackson might finally be exposed for the plain old ordinary man that he just had to be. But behind closed doors the situation mysteriously righted itself, bad attitudes were checked at the door, and the Lakers peaked with perfect timing in order to enjoy the most successful NBA playoff run ever. While with the Bulls, Jackson coached a certain miscreant by the name of Dennis Rodman. Dennis proved to be a distracting divisive force who negated his rebounding prowess with bad boy behavior on other teams.  But he didn’t hurt his Bulls teammates one bit, judging by all of those rings on their fingers. Apparently being a master psychiatrist is also part of Phil Jackson's resume. 


The only thing that those of us not in the Phil Jackson fan club can point to with satisfaction are the two seasons with the Bulls when his best player was MIA chasing after curve balls. During Michael Jordan's foray into baseball the Bulls remained a solid playoff caliber team, but they did not stay unbeatable. The Knicks and the Magic outlasted Phil Jackson in those seasons, both of them ultimately going down at the hands of the Houston Rockets. Scottie Pippen arguably became the game's best player without the shadow of Jordan cast over him, so why were championship trophies awarded to Hakeem Olajuwan and Rudy Tomjanovich? Why wasn't the coaching guru extraordinaire able to continue his win streak without missing a beat? Was his mortality finally exposed? Had holes of reality finally been poked in the myth of invincibility? The point became largely moot when Jordan and Chicago championships returned, and it has been just about forgotten thanks to Jackson's continued success with a different cast of characters in LA. At this rate, the only matter that will be left for basketball scholars to debate is whether the best of Phil's Lakers teams could beat his Bulls in their prime. You aren't doing too shabby when your only worthy competition is yourself. 


After much consideration, much to my distaste, I am forced to admit that Phil Jackson is enormously talented at what he does. What does he do? He gets himself into the best possible circumstances, leaves the real leading to his best players on the floor, and keeps the ship moving forward with a steady hand. The extreme confidence and composure that he possesses transfer to the men under his watch. His players sense no fear in him, whether they are up against a quality opponent or fighting their own inner demons, so they usually gather themselves in troubled times and take care of the business at hand. If Phil Jackson suddenly found himself as coach of the Clippers or the Nuggets or the Bulls as currently constructed, would he end up with yet another championship team by season's end? Most certainly not. I'd take a man like Doc Rivers over Phil Jackson to get a group of marginally talented players to overachieve any day of the week. But on the flip side of the equation, I didn't see former Lakers coaches Del Harris or Kurt Rambis leading the Lakers to the promised land, and they had the same main weapons that Jackson utilized with much greater efficiency. I'm not sure if Phil is suited to make a bad team good, and he has failed in the past to make a good team great. But there is no disputing his mastery as taking a great team and making them a dynasty. We can only question how dubious such a feat is. 


Shaq and Kobe are still young men. As Phil Jackson has done before with his superstars, he has gotten them to submerge their egos for the good of the team and the multitude of endorsements that will surely keep coming their winning way. It may be a long time indeed before another NBA coach gets his hands on the championship trophy, so for those who haven't already done so, get used to seeing Jackson's smug grin of satisfaction. Then again, it would really be something if Michael Jordan does come back and managed to lead the Washington Wizards to the Finals against the Lakers. Could it be that the man most responsible for having created the legend of Phil Jackson is the only one capable of smashing it? 

Midas touch or lucky star? My money is on the latter. After all, if truly everything that Phil Jackson touched turned to gold, the President of this great nation would be his buddy and former teammate, Bill Bradley. Instead, we ended up with George Bush, the equivalent of a first round playoff exit at best. I suggest that Phil restrict the sphere of his influence to men in shorts from here on out.




Fingers crossed for much brighter days ahead at Madison Square Garden.








Friday, January 9, 2015

LITERARY IMAGERY




What are some of your favorite landing spots on Pinterest, Instagram or wherever it is you go in search for book related visuals?  Clicking on the images/words below will bring you to collections that I have compiled at Pinterest with literary inspiration as my guide.  When it comes to words, I spill as many as I can (which is never enough) on a routine basis.  As for pictures, I'm not the guy to come to unless you're in need of some stick figure art.  But I am thrilled to have recently completed my first children's chapter book, with text to be accompanied by illustrations by the one and only Erin Rogers Pickering.  I can't wait to see the finished product (not that I'm nudging Erin to draw/paint any faster than necessary to create artistic masterpieces) and for copies to be in the possession of young readers and parents reading to their children.










BIBLIOPHILE IMAGERY





































“My talent is looking into a woman's eyes and instinctively knowing what I need to. If she's lonely or bored; neglected or abused; timid or adventurous; satisfied or confused; looking to recapture the past or re-invent the present; making plans for tomorrow or merely concerned about tonight. I discover what a woman is looking for and promise it to her. If all she wants is a good time, she gets everything." - from FEEDING THE SQUIRRELS



“Life, like love, holds many secrets for us to discover. Some we unearth early on. Others take us most of our days to stumble upon, even though they are hidden in plain sight.” - from FEEDING THE SQUIRRELS



“My travels have been numerous, though no topographer could chart the shores I have landed upon. For it is not places that have been my destination, but women. I am drawn to them by a force I have never questioned. To their infinite variety of charms I am helpless. But the hold of none has been strong enough to keep me from wandering aimlessly to others.” - from FEEDING THE SQUIRRELS



Sunday, December 14, 2014

#ShortStory #BookReviews and More






     WHY DO I LOVE THEE?
By Roy L. Pickering Jr.



     I saw them today, my ex-best friend and ex-girlfriend.  Over a year has passed since it happened, since he so skillfully, callously, and most important, successfully plotted to steal her away.  I ducked into a store to avoid them flaunting their happiness in my face.  That would be just like them.  Or rather, I should say like Julian.  For it was his duplicity that started the chain of events, and the chain was moved along by my actions, and mine alone.  Caroline didn't play much of a part in the process.  She merely went along for the ride.
     Caroline is the proverbial one who got away.  Not that she left me, for the truth is, I dumped her, just as I have ended all of my relationships for one reason or another.  But Julian was the one pulling the strings, guiding me without my knowledge towards the destination he desired.
     You see, I was in my younger days quite the ladies man.  Women were simply playthings.  I know what you're thinking.  What a pompous braggart I am.  But how could I possibly benefit by lying, or even distorting the truth?  You must believe me, I was, and to a lesser degree still am, exactly what I claim to be.  Some collect stamps, some bottles of wine, others cars.  I have spent the greater part of the four decades of my life collecting women. 
     Tall ones, short ones, slender and full bodied have taken turns filling my arms.  Blondes, brunettes and redheads all have had more fun with me.  I've known women (and when I say know, I mean know in the best sense of the word) of every race, nationality, and flavor invented.  None of the others were quite like Caroline.
     Upon first sight, I knew I was in the presence of one of God's most perfect creations.  Her visage exotically composed, angelically pure, as intoxicating and addictive to the eyes as heroin to one's bloodstream.  Her figure would have converted Liberace and made Ray Charles drool.  In bed, I bet you'd love to know the most intimate details, but I'm too much of a gentleman to divulge them.  Let's just say heaven will have to be damn good to surpass the moments of ecstasy Caroline and I experienced.
     Why then, you must be asking yourself by now, did I let such a magnificent woman out of my grasp?  And believe you me, she was as captive as a woman can be.  So why did I push away this woman whose adoration of me was only matched by mine for her?  I will commence to tell you, though the recollection of events pains me almost physically. 
     It was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Julian's intricate plot began to unveil itself.  We were admiring a painting by Botticelli.  I favorably compared Caroline to the woman encased by a frame.  Caroline was blessed less amply by the most hypnotic of curves.
     "Will you cut it out?"
     "Cut what out?" I asked innocently.
     "Your constant mentioning of Caroline.  You can't go five minutes without bringing her up.  It's growing tiresome."
     "I wasn't aware of this," I replied, and indeed I hadn't been. It was quite subconscious, the way my thoughts of her would leap from my tongue. 
     "What's so special about her anyway?"
     I was astounded by Julian's question, for the answer was blatantly obvious.  It was like asking if the sun was actually hot.
     "I would think anyone who has seen her would have no need to ask," I said.
     "Okay, she's attractive.  She's very attractive.  But you've been with plenty of beautiful women.  What else is there?  What makes her different from the rest?"
     Julian's inquisition was beginning to annoy me.  The audacity of him to categorize her as just one of many beautiful women. There was much more to Caroline than her physical attributes.  I began to list traits for him.
     "Well, for one thing she's ..."
     "And don't say she's great in bed, because we both know plenty of women are great in bed."
     He had knocked my first two reasons off the list.  No matter, there were plenty of others.  I prepared to recite them.  Problem was, none were springing to mind right at that moment.  I told myself there must be so many, I couldn't decide which to say first. But Julian was waiting smugly.  Compatibility came to mind. That seemed like a good choice.
     "Don't say you get along really well because you know that's bull," said Julian before I could open my mouth.  "How many times have you complained that the two of you have nothing in common?"
     In truth, he was right.  Caroline and I were not alike at all. Me with an Ivy league education, she with a high school diploma.  My passion for classical music and Motown, her’s for pop rock and rap.  How could I, a lover of champagne, caviar, and Baroque art, take seriously an aficionado of Burger King, wine coolers, and MTV? Much less profess to love her.  I had to admit to myself that I didn't really know.  But I couldn't confess this to Julian.
     The concept of opposites attracting occurred to me, but this time it was I who discarded the idea.  I couldn't think of a more ludicrous notion to base a relationship on, and had scoffed at many a couple who did.  Hadn't I broken things off with women in the past because their attitudes and interests did not adequately coincide with mine?  And wasn't it true that this was never more the case than it was with Caroline?  So why were we together?  Did I truly love her, or had I grown impatient waiting for the perfect woman and convinced myself to be content with the one I was currently with?  She was beautiful and sensuous and a great booster of my already inflated ego, but could I honestly say that she attained the highest of my standards?  Wasn't it possible for even a connoisseur to occasionally be misled by a well disguised, but nonetheless inferior brand?  So many questions that when honestly responded to, yielded unpleasant answers.
     I wondered if Caroline had pulled the proverbial wool over my bedazzled eyes.  Of course she had not.  Such deceitful behavior was not in her nature - yet another thing we didn't have in common.
     And so, it was in such a manner that the "truth" finally dawned on me.  It was I who had conned me.  Caroline was never any more or any less than herself.  The pedestal she stood upon in my mind, the light that seemed always to illuminate her, had been created wholly by me.  The past three months had not been spent with Ms. Right, my future bride, my one true love.  Caroline was just one in a long line of lovers.  Our time together was meant to be a fond memory, but nothing more.
     Despite these revelations, it was with deep sobriety bordering on sadness that I broke up with Caroline that evening.  Not that I had difficulty coming up with the words.  I issued my standard speech, told Caroline how much I cared for her, how it would hurt me more than it would hurt her, but that the relationship had run its course and it would be for the best that we ended it.  The moments we had shared would be eternally cherished by me, and I would always be there if she needed a friend.  Beautiful, don't you think?  Of course, she was devastated.
     "I don't understand.  I thought everything was going great."
     Of course you did, sweet, simple Caroline.  But how could I explain my sudden realization that she wasn't enough for me?  How could I say after the many times I had professed love (and love is not a word I toss around lightly), that I had not been lying?  I had sincerely believed what I now knew to be false.  I had no recourse but to fall back on familiar lines, not because she didn't deserve better, but because the truth was too complex to divulge.
     I never again spoke to Caroline after that day, and only conversed with Julian once more.  It was a week later, and I had just discovered that he and Caroline were now seeing each other.
     "Believe me, I didn't plan this in any way," said Julian ludicrously.  "It just sort of happened."
     "You tricked me into breaking up with her, you conniving bastard."
     "That couldn't be farther from the truth, you must believe me. I was earnest when I asked why you loved Caroline.  I had no designs upon her at the time.  I know it seems a bit too coincidental, but coincidence is all it is.  I had no idea things would turn out this way, and to prove it I would break it off in a second.  Except, I think I'm starting to fall for her.  There's just something about her, something indescribable that I simply cannot resist."
     The master had been bested by his pupil.  If I was a man who settled disputes with his fists, that's what I would have done.  But I've always considered myself above that sort of thing. Instead I walked away, dignity intact, but Caroline lost.
     I tried my best to get over her with the help of a host of beautiful women.  And eventually she ceased to regularly enter my thoughts.  The memory of how my supposed friend Julian duped me faded in time as well.  Until I saw them walking hand in hand today.
Instantly I was transported back to when Caroline and I were together.  I remembered running my hands through her blondish-brown hair.  Or was it brownish-blond?  Gazing for hours into her sparkling blue eyes.  Or were they green?  Kissing the birthmark on her inner right thigh.  Or the left.  No, it was on her shoulder blade.  Wait a minute, was that someone else altogether?  Oh, what does it matter?  Frivolous details which can be altered cosmetically on a whim, so why quibble?  I'm certain now that it was love.









A Lesson Before DyingA Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may be the most heart breaking book it has ever been my sad pleasure to read. A young man is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and due to his poor decision making on this one ill fated occasion, ends up wrongfully accused of murder and condemned to death row. Set during a time when race relations were strained and tilted heavily in favor of privileged whites at the expense of struggling blacks who were looked down upon (in other words, a time much worse and yet insufficiently different from today), the best that his lawyer can think up as a defense is to compare the defendant to a dumb hog. When this fails to prevent Jefferson from being convicted and sentenced to the electric chair, his godmother calls upon local grade school teacher Grant Wiggins. What she asks of Grant is both simple and seemingly impossible. Jefferson cannot escape an unfair verdict in an unjust world. But instead of pitifully accepting designation as a brute animal, maybe he can find a measure of dignity in his final days, allowing him to take his final steps with head held high like a man. Grant is a cynic and less than a true believer in what we're taught about God and an awaiting Heaven. It takes the bullying of his aunt to make him accept the ultimate teaching assignment. He does his best. Jefferson does his best. Readers may do their best in the end not to cry. Many will surely fail.

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NWNW by Zadie Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carrying this book around I learned that just about everyone has read and really loved White Teeth, Zadie Smith's debut novel. Some of her faithful devotees may be less enamored with NW. Not that it isn't skillfully written. But the very fragmented style Smith chose to present it in probably will not be everybody's cup of tea. The choppy format did not take away from my ability to again perceive that Smith is an exceptional talent, but this book's flow took some getting accustomed to for me personally. NW chronicles the lives of two women who grew up in the same neighborhood and are friends from childhood. They both go on to get married and keep secrets from their husbands. To say much more about the plot would bring me into spoiler territory, so I'll leave summarizing to others who are better at it. Instead I'll say that I liked if didn't quite love this book, and that I do recommend it, even if you read it only to end up saying that you preferred White Teeth. There is only room for one as your favorite, but plenty of room to fill on the bookshelf of your life.

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Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-WiggleHappy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book I've read to my daughter. My wife was a fan from childhood but I had never heard of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle before. Apparently the first one I read was written back in the 50's by Betty MacDonald whereas this one is comprised of a previously unpublished story and ideas for others that were found by her daughter. The story outlines were fleshed out into new installments in the franchise. My 8 year old, being way smarter than me, immediately picked up the more contemporary feel of this book. And as it turns out, we both liked this one better (perhaps because of the modernity, perhaps for some other reason that is a credit to Anne MacDonald Canham) than the truly authentic Mrs. Piggle book previously read. There was only one story (the one about a kid too cautious to attempt anything - from something legitimately intimidating like a climbing a tree to merely playing basketball with friends) that we found to be a total dud. Other than that we were charmed throughout. The concept of a woman with magical cures for annoying childhood behavior and vices is a timeless winner, so I can see why these books (originals and new entries) charm multiple generations of readers.

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