Library Journal

More self-googling. I know—I'll go blind.

Loomis, Jon. High Season. Minotaur: St. Martin's. Sept. 2007. c.286p. ISBN 978-0-312-36769-5. $23.95. M
Eight years ago, Frank Coffin, a burned-out Baltimore homicide cop, returned home to the Cape Cod resort of Provincetown, MA. The headaches start with the murder of a vacationing, dress-wearing TV evangelist. The state police claim the case as theirs, but the mayor orders Coffin to conduct a quiet investigation that could get him in serious trouble. Either way, the elusive murderer is still in town. Written with humor and pathos and incorporating small-town philosophy, this is a terrific mystery debut. Fans of Chris Grabenstein's Jersey Shore mysteries (Tilt-a-Whirl; Whack a Mole) may enjoy. Loomis lives in Wisconsin.

Something my editor said

“I love finding a new crime series for all the reasons that HIGH SEASON personifies: sharp dry wit, fully realized setting, oddball cast, a puzzling whodunit, and a truly original literary-quality narrative voice. Oh, and the nail gun doesn’t hurt the story either.”

This is the kind of thing you stumble across when you google yourself.

Grace Paley died

Two days ago. She was a lovely person--a lively and gentle soul--and one of my favorite contemporary fiction/prose writers. Very sad that she's gone.


Blues Breakthrough

Most of my early musical background is in bluegrass/country/"folk" (of the singer-songwriter variety), and I'm actually an okay bluegrass guitar picker, if not exactly one of the several thousand red-hot next Tony Rices. As a natural lefty playing right-handed, one of the limiting factors for me has been right hand speed/strength—the hardest thing about bluegrass guitar is keeping up the relentless flow of eighth notes from one end of a solo to the other, and I've never been able to put in enough practice time to fully overcome the off-hand handicap. My left hand makes up for some of the deficit, but there's only so much you can do with pull-offs, etc., on acoustic guitar without sounding frilly. I also don't have Rice's harmonic sense, or Norman Blake's connection to tradition, or Doc Watson's astounding timing.

I started listening to the blues (again) a few years ago; I'd forgotten, somehow, how expressive blues guitar was, what a compelling mix of raucous grind and soulful wail good players could produce. I could do that, I thought. How hard can it be? Pretty damn hard, if you're coming from a bluegrass background. Until about a month ago, I had no idea how to play a solo over a standard blues shuffle; the timing was just too weird. I could do the boogie stuff okay, and fake my way through a slow blues (who can't?), but a medium or fast shuffle just threw me into a panic. Blues is a much more vocal way of playing than anything I was used to. This summer I went back and started listening carefully to Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, and a few of the other early electric blues greats, and I realized that they were playing these bizarre (to my hillbilly way of thinking) three, five and six note patterns over the four-beat rhythm of a standard shuffle; playing on the off-beats, and playing phrases over the edges of each measure instead of within the measure. Totally counter-intuitive, coming from my Anglo-Celtic-Appalachian way of doing things. But of course it works—while playing on the beat and strictly within the measure doesn't work. At all.

But now, after a summer of listening and frustrated noodling, I can finally do it. In a very basic (but reasonably effective) way, nothing fancy, but by God it's blues, and I can play it, finally. I'm very excited. Now where in the hell's my new guitar? The Custom Shop is freakin' killing me.



It's been raining for four days straight; the backyard is a giant lake of mud. Jim's getting bummed out. Still, amazingly, he's working away on the screen porch, him and Mike. In the rain. Soaking wet.

Dan's still cleaning nicotine off the 3rd floor woodwork. Those crazy ladies loved 'em some smokes. Yeesh.

Tim the chimney-sweep delivered a passel o' bad news today re the LR fireplace; basically, he said, the whole chimney's about to topple over. If you've seen the chimney (it's massive), you'll understand my alarm. Tim further allowed that because the flu's unlined, it's basically unsafe at any speed, although a $4,000 liner system would pretty much fix me up. I called a brick mason who does chimney work to come and take a look. He hasn't seen it yet, but said he could pretty much rebuild the chimney from the roof-line up for four grand. So I'm a bit skeptical regarding Tim. Most of the folks we've dealt with have been exceedingly honest and have done excellent work at fair prices (seriously—it's almost shocking, the honesty of these Wisconsinites), but we've also had a couple of disappointing encounters, mostly to do with fireplaces. We'll see. I don't think we're going to spend $8-$10k to make the fireplace safe for wood-burning.

Still, Tim threw enough of a scare into me that I'm thinking gas insert at this point, though the lovely A_________ is determined to burn logs. "I want to burn a log," she said. "Okay," I said. "We can burn a log. Then we'll get a gas insert." The trick, I'm pretty sure, is not to burn the house down. If you can do that and still have a working fireplace—gas, wood, whatever—then you're swimming in gravy. A wood-burning insert isn't possible, I don't think, with an unlined flu. They're all butt-ugly, anyway. Three thou for the gas insert, roughly. Oy.

There have been good days and bad days on this house renovation project; today's kind of a bad day. The good news, to the extent that there is any, is that after all this rain the roof ain't leaking and the basement's dry. Hey, I'll take what I can get.



Jim's made what seems like fantastic progress on the screen porch; unfortunately the weather this coming week looks bad (rain 'til Thursday, apparently). The second floor floor is done and looks great, though I may ask Gordy about buffing it once, just to see what he says. Dan's back and still prepping the 3rd floor; we may be ready for actual paint up there. Woo hoo. Back yard on hold 'til screen porch is done; fine with me.

Meanwhile, all of our appliances are ordered--a fine thing. Kitchen cabinets should come around 9/15; won't take long to install them, allegedly. Before then Jim will build the corner-wall and trim out the new windows, the electrician and plumber will do their thing, and Jim et al will repair walls and ceiling as needed.

Accidentally left the upstairs fireplace blasting (on high, pretty much) for six hours yesterday; did not explode or burn the house down. That's one way to test the installation, I guess. The underside of the mantle shelf was warm to the touch; the dura-rock surround was cool. All good.

May paint the LR myself. Sage-y green, maybe?

The lovely A________'s aged grand 'rents are sending us some moolah. Nice of them—we need furniture, it turns out. Buying a bed for us, a bed for el frijolito, maybe a couple of rugs, maybe a dresser or two, maybe a chair or two.

Can't wait to get the screenporch/backyard done (looks like we'll do the fence after all), and move on to the front entryway. Then finito, as I've said, until we can make more money.



Jim installed the mantle today (looks great!). He also did the pantry and north kitchen windows and the out-opening kitchen door; all pretty cool. The kitchen already looks a lot lighter with the new windows in. Dave the cabinet guy had some success leveling the kitchen floor; also a fine thing. Yard guys returned, briefly, to clear out the remains of the huge grapevine along the west property line; more work to do along that side, including potentially leveling up to the fence line. I'd love to put in a 6' privacy fence there; the lovely A__________ is feeling the financial pinch a bit, and doesn't think a fence is a big priority. She's smarter and has better taste than me, so I don't argue.

We also met with Barb again this a.m.; turns out the tab for the Cambria countertop is about half what I'd expected. Good news, after a round of electrician sticker-shock. We may come in under $100k on round one, yet. Certainly we'll be under that in terms of our own money spent.

Tomorrow the floor guys will come to work on the kitchen/pantry. Jim and Mike will start the vertical work on the screen porch, weather permitting. It should go fast. When the screen porch is done (next week?), we're down to the front entry as the last major job of this phase: good news, as I think we're all running out of gas a little bit.



The two kids' rooms should be completely finished in the next day or two; fixtures, floors and all. That's a good thing. Dan will start on the 3rd floor today, I think; the lovely A_________ is re-reconsidering her wall color choices for the master bedroom (mb) and fireplace room (fpr), so they're on hold for the moment.

Much in the works today: the electrician should be moving the electric service (meter boxy thing) out of the way of the screen porch; floor guys should be sanding/finishing porch floor; yard guys should be finishing perimeter clean-up and hydro-seeding; Jim will be doing lots of little stuff—installing windows, maybe installing the mantel, etc. Sam may be finishing up some electrical stuff inside. The cabinet guy (Dave) comes tomorrow to level the kitchen floor—even a small improvement would be a great thing. Also, Joe appears to be finished with the dining room, so all we need there is crown molding (on order) and paint (still to be selected).

I've got a number of calls to make this a.m.; chimney sweeps, fence installers, Barb the kitchen designer, tile guy 2, etc.

The bad news, to the extent that there is any, is that several big bills have arrived or are about to arrive: the first porch installment, furnace/ac/boiler, back yard, etc. The estimate for electrical stuff (porch, kitchen, service move) is astounding, and Dan's estimate for the rest of the 2nd floor is also a bit of a shocker. Still, we're only about $20k into our own money for everything we've done so far, thanks to the generosity of the 'rents. That'll change—big time—once we write this next round of checks. Still, total bill for this first, big round of rehab will likely be under $100k, and that ain't bad. Everything we're doing will add value to the house, so assuming we manage to avoid a total collapse of the housing market we should be okay.

Update: Dan's putting primer on the 3rd floor; very exciting. The floor guys are there, working on the screen porch; also very exciting. Mike's putting up ceiling fans in the kids' rooms; thrilling (though the one in the yellow room misses my head by about two inches. The light, not the blades.) Joe's finishing up the dining room; woo hoo! Jim's working on the fp/mantle; yee ha!! Landscapers didn't show up; boooooo! They suck. But they'll be back tomorrow, and with any luck will finish everything then. I'll be glad to be done with those guys, frankly; the work's been okay, but the communication has been crappy.


Why I suck at poker

I'm the first to admit that I'm one of the three or four weakest players at our weekly (for funzies only, of course) poker game. I figure I'm doing pretty well if I can keep the (theoretical) losses down to single digits, eat a few Cheetos, drink a little bourbon, and not go face down in my few remaining chips while I wait for Presto Shang (aka Pokey) to bet. There's genuine camaraderie, of course, in addition to booze and snacks—actual laughs among like-mindeds, and the occasional interesting flare-up of difference, too.

That's why I play (plus, it's about the only regular social outing I get now that I'm a dad); but why do I play so poorly? I think the real answer is that I just don't care enough about the game itself—which is ultimately pretty boring most of the time—to take the time to study things like betting strategy, pot odds (not to mention implied pot odds), and all the other nuances that make the difference between the poor-to-average player and the competitive player. Anyone that's ever tried to read one of those "How to Win at Hold 'Em" books knows what I'm talking about. My eyes start to glaze over just thinking about it.



So the tree guys came and took out the dead walnut at the back of the property today; a fine thing. If I'm not still feeling like crap tomorrow (summer cold), I'll stack the wood up along the east property line, most likely. Jim and Mike made great progress on the screen porch; meanwhile, I'm still dithering a bit on the fp tile situation. My impulse is just to have Larry do it, even though he's overcharging us, just for the sake of getting it done.

Meanwhile, we have to call Barb, order the rest of our appliances, and a million other things. Gack.

Dan the painter gets back on Thursday. Time for a little come to Jesus moment, I think.

Why I like Zen (Koan #82 from the Shaseki-shu)

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"


Backyard blues

Oy. The backyard grade looks like it's done, though it interfered with the first day of screen-porch framing. More backyard next week, including clearing out the fence along the east side, taking out the big grapevine nightmare on the west, and hydro-seeding before the weeds kick in. The screen porch should be well along by then, weather permitting. The big issue that we'll have to iron out with the landscapers is that the guy driving the bobcat broke the sewer line clean-out in the middle of the driveway; potentially an expensive fix, and not something I'm inclined to pay for. It's unfortunate, because except for that our experience with these guys has been pretty good.

Called a tree service today for an estimate on removing the dead walnut in the NE corner of the yard. Can they do it without tearing up big chunks of the new grass? Oy.

Upstairs fireplace is temporarily stalled; Larry's estimate for installing the tile came in at $700, which the lovely A_________ says is too high. We'll order the tile and have one of Jim's guys do it. The 2nd fl flu still smells like smoke/ash/cigarettes when the wind direction is right (or wrong); should've had it swept/cleaned before the gas insert was installed. Balls. You can't get to everything.

Dan's on freaking vacation 'til Thursday or so. Will talk to him about hiring an additional painter when he gets back. He'll just have to be okay with it, I think.

Update: Things are looking a bit better today: Jim and Mike have started framing the screen porch, and you can already get a sense of its wonderful hugeness. The tree service may get in late today, which would be great. The cabinet guy should come on Friday to take a stab at leveling the kitchen floor, then the floor guys will do their thing. Really we've been very lucky (touch wood)—very few setbacks, and so far they've all been minor.


Charlie Simic Named Poet Laureate

There was a time when the whole battle of the lyric/elegaics vs the experimental/academics vs the neoformal/anachronistics seemed important to me, partly because as a lyric surrealist free-verser I felt that the wrong people (everyone who was writing stuff I didn't like) were getting all the attention, and partly because I was too close to the poetry melee to see how ultimately absurd and undignified it is—the cattiness, the hair-pulling, the whole eye-gouging scramble after the pitiful crumbs that are the reward of a big-time poet's "career." I'm glad I no longer feel invested enough in the whole business to worry much qabout the outcome, or to believe that any kind of meaningful outcome is even possible.

Still, every now and then, if the wind is blowing right, I can still make out the occasional rumble of the poetry wars in the far distance; a whiff of cordite, the faint boom of cannon-fire rumbling up from Madison. Another neoformalist jackass writes yet another rant against modernism or the MFA programs; someone wins a big prize based more on his/her life story than on his/her life's work. Sometimes, though, the news is good. I'm very happy to hear that Charlie Simic's been made Poet Laureate, and in the same week won a big-deal $100,000 prize. Simic is one of the best of his generation (and better than anyone in mine). I'm very pleased that his work is getting this kind of late-career recognition.

Here's one of my favorite Simic poems:

Crazy About Her Shrimp

We don't even take time
To come up for air.
We keep our mouths full and busy
Eating bread and cheese
And smooching in between.

No sooner have we made love
Than we are back in the kitchen.
While I chop the hot peppers,
She grins at me
And stirs the shrimp on the stove.

How good the wine tastes
That has run red
Out of a laughing mouth!
Down her chin
And on to her naked tits.

"I'm getting fat," she says,
Turning this way and that way
Before the mirror.
"I'm crazy about her shrimp!"
I shout to the gods above.