Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reviews Of Books I Have Read

 Lest You Wake The Snoring by Osbert Yunch
The cover to Mr. Yunch's book shows eight images of famous snorers, awakened in mid-snore reverie and thus forever blemished by premature esophageal interruption, leaving large, hideous skin eruptions upon their faces. So hideous in fact, that the publisher found it necessary to cover them with black dots so as not to cause vomiting in the aisles of bookshops. Veracity is a key element to Mr. Yunch's work, scientific theory and fictional flights of fancy united in the sacred dance of words and the world of the laboratory, experimentation taking no back seat to the whims and whinnies of a public preoccupied with popular culture and free sample giveaways with every purchase of Mama Gustino's Frozen Pizza Plops, pushing the envelope of genre writing and then sometimes putting a stamp on it and dropping it into the mailbox and mailing it to some unsuspecting family.
There have been so many great crime novel detectives over the years, but none can hold a candle or Sterno light flame if you haven't a candle in your rooming-house facilities or, failing that, three or four Bic lighters duct-taped together and ignited by someone with extra-large thumbs and pyromaniac tendencies, to author, Osbert Yunch's, wonderful addition to crime genre heroes. His crime-fighting creation, Klonky Zagoosh, is made even that much more complex by the fact he's a conjoined twin, joined at the head, and his twin, Reginald, is an arch criminal and serial killer to boot. I would call them Siamese twins except for the fact they were born in Milwaukee, which is no where near Siam (although Yul Brynner played the King of Siam and he was born in Russia but a great actor can get away with these things), and Yunch milks this locale for everything it's worth but for the fact that the twins, in this first book that I can only hope will become a series, move out of Milwaukee pretty much in the opening paragraph and relocate to Kenora, Ontario, where they run a French fry truck on the border between Ontario and Manitoba. So if you were looking for a little Milwaukee colour and history, don't look here because you won't find it in this book, though Yunch does mention Laverne and Shirley briefly, which the twins like to watch reruns of while cutting eachother's toenails and sipping Miller Lights, but from there on in it's the great white north with its barn owls, caribou, lichen-flavoured doughnuts and tile and grout themed strip clubs. Now Yunch is an intriguing writer in that before he became a novelist, he was a typewriter repairman and built the world's largest, working typewriter that he still uses to this day, with the help of his lovely and strong-thighed wife, Darleen (you'd have strong thighs too if you had to step on giant typewriter keys all day), and all I can say, in this day of the computer age, is that Mr. Yunch, using this seemingly primitive method, knows how to churn out a page-turner that will have you turning pages like you were in a doctor's office ignoring your name as they call you in for a colonoscopy referral.
Here the author instructs his wife, Darleen, on the proper method for striking the keys in high heels. Once he gets going, dictating his novel in an almost stream of consciousness manner, it becomes a dance between the two of them, a dance of words and ideas and Darleen in a bathing suit stomping down on giant typewriter keys, no mean feat when you're wearing high heels, but it's a detail the author insists upon as he finds the sound of high heel against key so conducive to his thought processes.
So, the story opens in Milwaukee for one sentence and like Hemingway, before he became a drunkard and married a swordfish down in Key West, Mr. Yunch, packs so much punch and information, description and innuendo into that one sentence you'll feel like you've been walloped by a bag full of walnuts, but subtly, as if they were not walnuts at all but maybe beechnuts or gentle pine nuts.  On a nut theme, in a recent interview with Auto Coolant Magazine (Mr. Yunch, before he became a bestselling author, was, along with being a typewriter repairman also an auto coolant specialist serving the greater Muskoka and Gravenhurst area in Northern Ontario), the author talked about how his inspiration for the novel came from a true story about conjoined twin squirrels, Plitzy and Haufhauf, who lived in an old Dutch elm diseased tree not far from the author's house. It turns out the Siamese squirrel twins were on opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum with Plitzy being a nut stealer and general troublemaker and Haufhauf doing good for the community, brought into schools as an educator to warn children against the dangers of rabies plus passing on his vast knowledge about poisonous saplings, non-edible toadstools and using elk urine to soothe mosquito and horsefly bites. 
The real life conjoined squirrel twins, Plitzy and Haufhauf, were immortalized by famed Gravenhurst taxidermist, Horst Nibbler, in all their glory. Plitzy, true to his impish personality, is portrayed with a stolen nut in his paws and a devil-may-care expression upon his face while Haufhauf shows the shock and concern of the morally taciturn who want to speak but cannot due to sibling loyalty. They stand in a showcase in the Muskoka Heritage Museum where both children and adults from all over the world come to marvel at this exhibition of both science and the darker arts of squirrel psychology.
Now, it's no great stretch of the imagination for the reader to believe that conjoined squirrel twins can be anthropomorphisized into functioning human beings as both species show the same tendencies in regards to hoarding, scampering, nut-cracking techniques and mating habits, especially in the winter months when snow blankets the ground in a shimmering coat of white, not unlike that of a dead albino Alsatian dog being eaten by maggots out back of a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise near Lake Nipissing in northern Ontario and blends in so well you don't know it's even there until you hit it with your snowmobile. Still, to pull off the transition so fluidly, especially in terms of the genre novel, shows an expertise and agility of wordplay, conceptual thinking and effortless plotting, which Mr. Yunch demonstrates so beautifully that it's enough to make you weep if you weren't on the edge of your seat with the suspense he creates. In fact this novel keeps you so much on the edge of your seat that, if you don't have a seat, I suggest you borrow one because otherwise you're just hanging to the edge of nothing and that can be quite uncomfortable as anyone who has had to remain in a half-squat position for any length of time (e.g. defecating in a wooded area or alleyway after a hefty buffet) can attest to. There's no need to be picky either as any type of seat will do be it kitchen chair, lawn chair, armchair and in extreme cases even an ottoman will suffice.
When Gravehurst residents were finally at the their wit's ends, they called in these two squirrel bounty hunters, Frank and Zeke Johnson, renowned throughout the territory for always getting their man, or rodent really. A gunfight ensued near Clausson & Sons Snowmobile and Lawn Mower Repair and Plitzy and Haufhauf were soon dispatched to meet their maker (who in the squirrel world is not god but the Nut King of the Royal Order of Oak Trees). Many years later when the Johnson brothers met their end, peacefully I might add, especially for lawmen of their stature and the many dangers they faced on a day-to-day basis, taxidermist, Horst Nibbler, stuffed them with their trusty and beloved weapons in hand. They too are at the Muskoka Heritage Museum and people to this day stop and ponder how those cute little paws that can hold a nut so gently could also be the same paws to pull the trigger on a lethal weapon of destruction and paint the wood-paneled walls of a double-wide with a fellow rodent's brains.
Who would imagine such tension could be built around such basic elements as working in a French fry truck, but here Mr. Yunch shows his adeptness at turning the everyday into something so horrific you'll think twice about ever eating French fries again, or at least with ketchup. Klonky and Reginald Zagoosh are doing a booming business with their tasty 'taters enterprise that they've cleverly called Siamese Spuds, and Kenorans have embraced the conjoined twins as if they were born and bred in Kenora itself even though a city bylaw states that any two people joined at the head are forbidden from driving any vehicles with vats of hot cooking oil in them within the city limits. But so beloved are the twins, the mayor steps in and waives the bylaw and the Zagoosh brothers reciprocate with free French fries for everyone in Kenora that day. So amongst this happy scene and the peacefulness that permeates this northern Ontario city, except for the odd moose that meanders through the main street and rampages through the Tim Horton's Donut Shop looking for maple glazed, one would never guess of the darkness that resides in Reginald Zagoosh's heart or the twisted pathways that send evil running through his brain. At night, as Klonky sleeps, Reginald does his dirty deeds, breaking into a bunch of double-wides in the local trailer park and stealing everything in sight, including even the crusted cheese beneath the toaster oven trays and asthma medication from bedside tables. Well, as we know, breaking and entering is only the gateway drug so to speak from stealing cubic zirconia rings commemorating ten years at Ron's Paving & Contracting to serial killing, and soon Reginald is not only swiping the family heirlooms but murdering the family too. The fact that he's able to drag his conjoined twin on these nefarious nighttime exploits without waking Klonky in the process, is a testament to Klonky's knack for deep sleep and his excessively loud snoring, which could wake the dead except it doesn't as Reginald proves time and time again as the dead bodies pile up like so many French fries upon the plate. Ironically, it's Klonky's loud snoring that covers up the noises from Reginald's serial killing exertions, including not just the muffled screams but also the sounds from Reginald feeding the body parts through the French fry hand-cutting machine. Because that's how Reginald is disposing of the bodies, and to make matters worse, he's serving these human flesh French fries to adoring Kenorans with Klonky unwittingly aiding and abetting (being a conjoined twin makes him an instant accomplice), happily salting and packaging these cannibalistic tuber strings for both young and old to eat.   
This device is not unlike the one Reginald Zagoosh used to turn his victims into French fries. Known for its ease of use, though hand-operated it's efficiency has been praised by French fry makers world wide.
So enthralled are the locals with the French fries, that Reginald, with his constantly scheming mind, talks Klonky into investing in a spiral shaping 'tater machine, leading to even more human parts eaten by their friends and neighbours as this new shaped food captivates them. But this is where the plot takes a strange twist as Klonky is also a practicing private detective and is hired by the mayor of Kenora, Sluggo DeBarion, to solve the mystery of all the people disappearing or reported missing without a trace and thus frustrating the local police. He has no clue it's his conjoined twin brother committing these horrible atrocities, as he snores contentedly throughout Reginald's killing escapades, but no sleuth is worth the salt they put on their French fries if they can't solve a brutal murder that is happening literally only inches away. Does Klonky solve the mystery? Does he realize he is turning good, upstanding citizens of Kenora into French fries and then feeding those French fries to other, good, upstanding citizens of the city? And if he does solve these crimes, does he then turn his brother in to the authorities to serve time, probably a life sentence, which means a life sentence for him too since they're joined at the head? Where does his loyalty lie and how strong is the bond of blood as opposed to the bond of the bleeding? Well, I'm not going to reveal any of that because the denouement to this book will have you staggering as it did to me, although that might've been the result of too much Neo Citran and some bad chicken wings. Either way, if you love serial killing and arcane French fry history mixed in with quaint Northern Ontario small town living, you'll love this book, and even if you don't like French fries or serial killing, the riveting personalities of the characters will keep you up late turning pages or sometimes not even turning them but just staring at the words and maybe drooling a bit while psoriasis flakes fall like fine snow on to your now partially open bathrobe.
This French fry machine delivers all the power and torque to turn even the stubbornest potato or body part into a perfect, spiraled ready-for-the-deep-fryer delicacy. It is this exact model that Osbert Yunch studied, even going so far as to purchase one and dismantle it to understand all its moving parts, lending yet another level of authenticity to his magnificent thriller.
As a footnote to this review and to further pique the interest of future readers, not only is the conjoined twin angle based on factual truth (albeit squirrels instead of humans), but the author's father, Leopold Yunch was a leading researcher of snoring and was a heavy snorer himself, not only during sleep but in his waking hours too. He designed the first ever fully-conscious portable snoring chamber (pictured below), so that as he worked on his snoring treatise he did not bother the other people in his household or at his office at the University of Gruenschmeltz.
The fully-conscious portable snoring chamber may look intimidating but the hood has a luxurious nutria fur lining and the breathing canister contains a mix of oxygen and nitrous oxide to both energize and inspire the wearer no matter how tired they are from non-stop snoring. Here, Leopold had himself photographed in the apparatus while diligently working on his thesis, Tracheal Resonance in the Snorers of 18th Century Bavaria and its Effects on the Rise of the Resulting Midget Population of Switzerland.
So it comes as no surprise that Osbert has used father's snoring knowledge to add a credibility to this seat-of-your-pants thriller. In fact, I wore out the seats in two pairs of pants as the novel kept me  on the edge of my seat until I smartly switched to a bathrobe to save any further damage to my outdoor wardrobe.
A portrait of Leopold Yunch and his wife, Nutsy. Here Leopold is wearing a deep-sea diver's helmet so as to muffle the sound of his snoring. Amazingly, Osbert was conceived while his father was wearing one of these helmets so that Nutsy's cries in the throes of passion ("Oh, Leopold, my little schnarcher der Zwerg einen machen.") fell on deaf ears.
But let me say, you could read this book wearing just about anything. Pants, shorts, lederhosen, Speedos, kilts, skirts, loincloths or adult diapers and the effect would still be the same. Be prepared for a gripping journey because Osbert Yunch uses words as if they were suction cups and this book will caress you like an octopus, grip your eyeballs and suck on your senses before the tentacles of drama squeeze you senseless and wash you ashore on the beach of broken dreams and barnacles where not even flying by the seat of your pants, pants, I might add, that have already had the seat worn out of them, can save you from the terrible inevitability of Osbert Yunch's vision and where the innocent image of a squirrel munching on a stray French fry from the garbage can at your local park, a sight that once filled you with joy, will now send paroxysms of terror pulsating through your body and wishing you'd chosen adult diapers rather than a kilt to wear while reading this novel. And the next time you wake yourself with your own snores, never fear, for unless you're joined at the head with your conjoined twin, there will still be pancakes and bacon waiting for you in the morning, and as for the French fries, I'll take hash browns, please.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Reviews Of Books I've Never Read

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy's grandfather, Vern Kuplinksy, on the far right of this photo, took part in hunting the roving packs of mad devil wolves of El Paso, who were rumoured to be able to swallow a baby whole in one gulp as if it were a bite-sized burrito that one might find in your favourite grocer's freezer section, usually next to the 'Tater Tots and perogies. Much of the inspiration and information for The Crossing came from Vern Kuplinsky's journals and the odd notes he'd jot down on flattened strips of beef jerky while on the trail.
You wouldn't think such a serious guy like Cormac McCarthy would use the premise of a joke as the basis of this great novel, but I'm here to set you straight. He does indeed, using the old "why did the chicken cross the road," premise to set up a punchline that goes on for 426 pages, relentless in its pursuit of humour only to come up short every time, toiling in the dust and wind of the Great Plains, lapping at the muddy, roiled waters of the Rio Grande before falling, soiled and weather-beaten, on to the front porch of a Tijuana whorehouse, knife scars raised like braille across its back to be traced by the fingers of blind whores forced into selling their bodies to fund their husbands' iguana farms, the lizard skins turned into purses, wallets and stiletto heeled shoes and the reptile meat used to feed their bastard offspring that wait, eyes squinting into the dusky street, hopes and dreams smashed like a skull upon the rock of a burbling stream where even the dappled sunlight finds no joy of release or purchase upon the shimmering green leaves that shade the water beneath and that carries the blood  away into the vast, unrelenting sway and timeless tidal pull of the Atlantic. That's the kind of punchline Mr. McCarthy confronts us with and I, for one, am glad of it. Of course, in place of the chicken Mr. McCarthy uses a cowboy crossing a road to get to a chicken (the cowboy being quite hungry after crossing the Mesa Verde, one of the many dangerous crossings this cowboy will make throughout the book), but the chicken happens to be in the mouth of El Lobo Diablo of Amarillo, a wolf dog born out of the unholy matrimony of a wolf and a dachshund, its sharp teeth matched by its feral and vicious nature and a sausage-like body for easily evading capture. Long the nemesis of local Amarillo ranchers and its hunting grounds stretching as far as Arkansas on the east and Yosemite on the west with the odd jaunt into Montana to forage for gribblemeyer berries and ocelot brains, this devil's sausage of a wolf-dog could never be caught nor tamed until the cowboy, who was really more of a boy than a man or a cow, saw not just a brutish animal with a chicken in its mouth, but perhaps a friend, a pal, a buddy on the road like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
The author, Cormac McCarthy, stands front and center of the picture, the photo taken at a writer's conference and series of readings in Tijuana, hoping to boost sales of books and call attention to literary arts funding. Not even a sombrero can wipe the sombre expression from his face and it's this kind of solemnity that makes him such a foreboding and intimidating figure in the world of arts and letters, not to mention he can crush punctuation under the heel of his cowboy boot just like he's squishing silverfish into dust.
The young cowboy's name is Emmett Gristle, and he leaves the family ranch after a falling out with his father over his calf-roping technique that his father, Clifton, finds unorthodox, but really he's just jealous because young Emmett can rope twice as many calves as him in half the time and that's including bathroom and beef jerky breaks. His technique includes not only supple lasso dexterity but also hypnotism, remedial cud chewing and sequin-studded chaps. Father and son turn to fisticuffs to settle their differences, Emmett suffering a black eye and Clifton enduring a ruptured spleen, which puts a damper on his participation in the annual El Paso refried bean eating competition, and Emmett sets off across the badlands full of piss, vinegar, rattlesnake spit and refried bean gas. That's when he encounters El Lobo Diablo, the dachshund devil-wolf of Amarillo, chewing on a chicken down on the banks of dry river bed and Emmett's hunger, knowing no bounds and his stomach rumbling like thunderhead clouds looming on the horizon, forces Emmett to befriend this beast and share in its poultry and any friendship a shared meal may bring.
In an earlier image of the author, his sombre expression is just as evident as is the sombrero upon his head, so apparently he liked and still continues to enjoy wearing this type of hat. No stranger to the sombrero, he's also quite at home with fence posts and foliage that can hide all manner of malevolent beings, but Mr. McCarthy stands, or in this case sits, steadfast, calm and unperturbed about any dangers that may lay ahead or behind in the trees. The mustache, of course, is a youthful affectation, when Mr. McCarthy was still frequenting the dance-halls for female company, and it has since been replaced with deep lines upon his face that accentuate his wisdom, grace and fondness for Canadian rye whiskey, pork rinds and hard boiled eggs, a diet that's been known to put hair on your chest that will wave in the wind like wheat on the Prairies and grow thicker than the coat on a winter grizzly.
Well, I don't have to tell you that the two fast become friends, or maybe I do have to tell you because you haven't read the book but I have so heed my words and if you have any doubts, keep them under your hat, or sombrero in this case (by the way, a sombrero holds many more doubts than say, a fedora or bowler and is highly recommended if you're a Doubting Thomas and on that note, Doubting Thomas, or Thomas the Apostle, from the bible and father of Peeping Tom, besides being famous for doubting Jesus' resurrection until the other apostles ganged up on him and thumped him soundly with their sandals until his hair shirt was covered in blood and frankincense soot, was also known as the apostle who crossed vast tracts of land spreading the teachings of his pal and fair weather savior, Jesus, or as his friends called him after a few drinks, Jimbo, delivering the good word from India to Greenland where he got into a fight with a walrus after too many shots of aquavit, and had the tusk scars to prove it and so, one can deduce, that there is a correlation between Doubting Thomas and young Emmett Gristle, utilizing the crossing theme as a metaphor for a spiritual journey although one battles a walrus and the other must wrestle a chicken from the jaws of a dachshund devil wolf, but the results are the same. Emmett and El Lobo Diablo set off across the mesa, scrabbling through the hardscrabble, pining through the scrub pines, dry mesquite and sage scratching at their capillaries and legs and eyes.
In this painting by famed artist, Mitch Clorbisol, Doubting Thomas compares his walrus tusk scars with Jesus's (Jimbo's) crucifixion wounds while the apostles, John and Ed, look on. As you can see by Ed's red nose, he'd been hitting the sauce pretty hard since Jimbo's cross hanging, which is yet another cross in the whole crossing motif that riddles this novel like bullet holes in the body of an assassinated mafioso.
Just let me make one quick aside here and say, because I base my reviews not only on the depth and breadth of the content of a book but also its silverfish killing capabilities (the New York Times along with other reputable book review pages should take a tip from me and adopt this reviewing technique I believe, because where would War and Peace be if it were just a literary endeavour instead of also a lethal killing machine and Proust's A Remembrance of Things Past, well, it would simply be a remembrance of things half-assed and crass if it hadn't proved to be such an effective silverfish crushing tool, and in numerous volumes to boot), that Mr. McCarthy creates some very muscular, very manly prose and in doing so, impels the reader to take matters into their own hands and smote the vermin beneath their feet. Never have I felt so much a man as when, brandishing my copy of The Crossing, I wiped out entire silverfish families with not a pang of conscience or any sense of moral recompense. Hats off to Mr. McCarthy, whether it be ten-gallon or sombrero, for invigorating this reader, for one, into reaffirming his masculine self to the point that I almost stood up to my landlady, Mrs. Grabowsky, when she told me to get my galoshes out of the hallway before, and I quote, she "shoved them so far up my ass my prostate could take a walk in the rain without getting wet." I say almost because she had that crazy glint in her eye (the one without the cataract), and though I believe I could take her in a fight, I also think she might manage one galosh up my behind, which, considering their formidable rubbers soles, is a thought I don't relish, especially during the extraction process.
Here's a photo of the famous, fighting Rubber Boot Ass Extraction Brigade, sometimes referred to as the Vulcanized Rubber Rectal Retrieval Team. Highly trained in secret boot camps scattered throughout the Arctic Circle, this would be the fate I'd be facing if my landlady, Mrs. Grabowsky, had her way with my galoshes, the strength of three gin and tonics behind her flabby-armed efforts and nicotine-clouded aim.
Now, back to the novel. One might ask, if say, you were sitting down with Mr. McCarthy over blood sausage and rice pudding (his good friend and former amateur astronaut and rubber tree tapper, Blythe Crimpton, has said these are two of Mr. McCarthy's favourite foods), which crossing was he expressly alluding to. Because this book is rife with crossings. Railway crossings, pedestrian crossings, crossed wires, crossed connections, star-crossed lovers, hot cross buns, crossed eyes, crossed legs, crossed fingers, crossing over to the other side, crosses to bear, signs of the cross, double crossings, things that cross your mind, crosswords, dotting your i's and crossing your t's, crossing your heart and hoping to die. If I had a nickel for every crossing in this book, I'd have enough to finally purchase that stuffed mongoose I've been pining for. Either way, the crossings are not to be taken lightly as to be witnessed in this exchange between Emmett and a group of Mexican bandits just south of the Sierra Madre, as they cross paths and the bandits take a shine to El Lobo Diablo Dachshund and wish to take him back to their hacienda as a gift for their many ungrateful, one-eyed children.
"Hola. Que es donde minero lobo tejas casita?"
"No," Emmett replied, standing his ground, El Lobo Diablo at his side. "I do not know where your mother's mustache is."
"Es una loba. Es una loba. Que paso con la Americano la perra como veras. No?"
"I'm sorry. I stand corrected. Your father's mustache. No, I do not know where your father's mustache has gone."
"Es minero con conchita dos lindo firmado pollo por favor?"
"The wolf and the chicken shall never mate," Emmett countered, reaching for his buck knife. The clouds scudded before the wan sun, its light a wash of sickly permanence drunk through the pores of the skin until all felt to wither and die inside, alluvial, muck-raked, predefined as if through the strange alchemy between the sun, sky and arid earth that rose to the feet like death's own hand, a shoe horn of cow's bone in its grip and a shoe that just would not fit the blistered sole at the end of your leg. How many more crossings before the rutted road carried too deep the passage and migration of souls until no load carried nor burden borne could be shorn like so many sheep flummoxed in the fields and bear up under the weight of parched mesa and a horizon obliterated against the last heat of the day, shimmering like bacon grease in a pan that has grown as cold as death's touch. The bandits turned, rash of buckles and buckle rash clanging and chafing against flesh and stirrup and then they rode, rode back into a darkness so dark it could be misconstrued as light if they didn't bump into things like cacti, water pails, stray llamas, discarded pianos, wandering Jews and the like.
Could this be the mustache Mr. McCarthy was alluding to in the above quoted passage. In 1832, ranch hand and moonlighting bandit, Sancho Perez, awoke to find his mustache stolen from his bedside table where he kept it in an olive jar while he slept. It had been his father's mustache and his father's father's mustache and before that his father's father's mother's mustache, handed down through the family generations and the tale was told all over Mexico how Sancho wandered the pampas, cavorted with peons and prostitutes and packed pinatas and mixed pina coladas to make ends meet on his journeys, but never found the mustache again. He died a brokenhearted man. Over a century later this mustache turned up on the statue of a Muffler Man statue outside a Muncie, Indiana franchise. Its resemblance to Sancho Perez's lost mustache is uncanny and the Muffler Man has become the centre of the annual Sancho Perez Mustache Pilgrimage where all true believers of the holy powers of the transmogrification of upper lip hair gather to pay honour to their patron saint of mustaches and mufflers.
 Although Emmett and Diablo neatly avoid this scrape with the bandits using trickery, tomfoolery (second cousin to Doubting Thomas and Peeping Tom's deadbeat dad, Lester Borenstein), plus rotten poultry gas, which they smartly emit once they realize the bandits are downwind of their intestinal evacuations, there are many more scrapes they endure including scraped knees, elbows, foreheads and testicles (the Wild West could be hard on a man's groin, let alone his mind) on their epic journey across the Great Divide and not-so-great St. Louis east-side. Ironically, that's where Emmett meets the love of his life, Toots Malone. If you thought this was a boy's-only adventure yarn, think twice, or three times if you're a little slow. Because Mr. McCarthy is no slouch in the love department and he brings the smooching aspect home with the sassy and saucy saloon singer, Toots Malone, whose breasts could suckle an entire nation without withering, drooping or running dry like the country's gold rush economy and whose language could make a sailor blush and miss the spittoon. The true question is, can she conquer not only Emmett's heart, but also of that of the devil dachshund devil-wolf of Amarillo, and she does that in spades. If she were holding a poker hand, the pit bosses would be crying. The three of them set off to conquer the west but as we know, a love triangle is a difficult thing. Maybe more difficult than quantum physics, but you'd have to ask Albert Einstein about that and he's dead. Suffice to say, when everything looks rosy, everything gets messy, about as messy as trying to gut a moose with just a Bowie knife and no garbage bags to drape over your body as a blood-spray poncho.
Could this image provide the hidden inspiration for Mr. McCarthy's character, Toots Malone. The photo shows Florence Villanchez, housewife and dachshund enthusiast, who lived two doors down from Mr. McCarthy during his Amarillo days. She was well-known for her abilities in taming the most feral of sausage dogs and their hybrid and sometimes downright demonic breeds, and many a scholar has argued she could be the missing puzzle piece in "The Crossing" dachshund connection mystery. That her dachshund-training protocol involved nudity was not lost on the good citizens of the community, especially those who shared a backyard fence with her or had a view from their kitchen window because she was adamant this type of training was only possible in an outdoor setting, and for that, many Amarillo residents thanked her.
All I can say is that prose this majestic and equally despairing, prose that pin-balls between hope and a homemade noose and three-legged stool from Gorton's Hardware, waiting to be hooked up to a ceiling fan in a rattan furnished condo in Cabo San Lucas with only the wallpaper print parrots to witness your demise, is prose that will make you forget to shave for a few days and maybe even make you forget you put a meat pie in the oven and so the next day when you open the oven door and see its dessicated remains you will be reminded of how brief life can be and the many thresholds you will cross over in the brevity of your days and you will think, bravo Mr. McCarthy, bravo, and then you will thank him, maybe even get down on your hands and knees if you haven't hung yourself first, and thank Cormac McCarthy for enriching your squalid life and enlightening your feeble mind and then you'll probably get up off your hands and knees because you're thanking him, not begging or grovelling so really, thirty seconds or so is enough time, but Mr. McCarthy may ask you to stay down on all fours because he needs a horsey ride and has so many distances to cross in his pursuit of the truth in the wild, wild west that is his mind and he needs a sturdy steed to carry him across the great plains of creativity and cerebral aneurysm-induced tumbleweeds and so with a gentle neigh and a whinny you're off into the great unknown, just another crossing in the cross-walk of life where you're bound to be hit by a car before you can cross the finish line.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sofa Bed or Loaf of Bread-Part I

The flexibility of the sofa bed, and I don't just mean its folding ability but also its home usage as desk, bed, sofa and cutting surface for vegetables, is wonderfully depicted in this illustration of these two men conducting a business meeting. Notice the man standing keeps his trench coat firmly closed and belted to assure the other man that no homosexual advances will be made, at least over the course of the meeting, a standard practice in the home business office where sofa beds are involved. Even with a drink in hand and shoe removal during document perusal. After the meeting it's anyone's ballgame, social barriers may break down and anything can happen, including even the arrival of one of the mens' wives, in which case a threesome might be involved or a cuckolding situation that may or may not include the use of an anteater, stopwatch, socket wrench, lip gloss and a little Shostakovitch on the boom box while one man weeps and the other whoops for joy as heavenly bliss is achieved. Either way, the sofa bed has provided a sanctuary, not only for doing business but as a convenient place for a busy businessman to kick off his shoes, kick back and enjoy a good book on the mating habits of marmots of the Pacific Northwest while throwing down a Mai Tai on the rocks.
It is my aim in this posting to right a wrong that has been perpetuated in sofa bed history and left a man's dreams shattered, his reputation tarnished and his life in ruins even though he's dead, but he was pretty broken up and depressed by the time he hit the grave. Which is no way to meet your maker if you ask me. Am I talking about the true discoverer of penicillin, an unsung hero of World War I, a gentle nun who devoted her life to lepers in the Lesser Antilles or the inventor of Brylcreem? No, I am not. The focus of this wrongdoing is the sofa bed, or hide-away as some call it, that ubiquitous piece of furniture that many take for granted and yet has afforded such peace and restfulness for weary travelers and uninvited guests over the years who beg, plead and often times offer to shave any part of your body you feel needs shaving, including difficult toe or knuckle hair, in exchange for a sofa bed to lay their heavy heads on for the evening. And it is the inventor of this miraculous device that is part furniture, part boudoir accessory, that has gone unnoticed to this day, the credit given to another man who rode the coattails of this true genius and garnered the fame and accolades while the real originator withered away, his socks unwashed and his cardigan stained with the tears of ingratitude and gorgonzola cheese. So, behold the man and the mind that thought up such an invention, which in the annals of 20th century history is second to none except, perhaps, for the Invisible Liftee Shoe Height Pad.
The Invisible Liftee Height Pad gets no complaints from me when it comes to a deserving place in invention history, but being taller means nothing in the end if you don't have a place to rest your head after all the dancing you've done earlier in the evening. And ten-to-one that girl you were cutting the rug with will be bringing you back to her place for a little tete-a-tete or making-the-beast-with-two-backs, a wristwatch and lint-covered breath mint, on her sofa bed, no less.
Yossi Blitzen may seem an unprepossessing man but his ingenuity and dogged determination to invent, in his own words, "the greatest thing since sliced white bread," was not some unfounded and whimsical dream of a crazy man but rather a cold-blooded and calculated endeavour designed to revolutionize the furniture industry and the way we look at sofas until the earth itself ends.
Yossi Blitzen, the real inventor of the sofa bed, here pictured with another of his marvelous inventions, The Regurgitating Mailbox, meant to dissuade the postman from leaving junk mail. A small sensor inside alerted the homeowner that the mailman was at the box and the homeowner, using either a keen eye or binoculars or both, would scan the mail for leaflets, pamphlets or flyers and if any of the offending items were spotted, the homeowner, with a simple press of a button, could trigger the mailbox to disgorge a series of smaller boxes, many disassembling midair, creating a kind of shrapnel effect striking the mailman in the head, face and around the shoulders and chest area. Unfortunately, various pending lawsuits put this invention on the back-burner.
It's not just coincidence that Yossi Blitzen would mention creating something to surpass the invention of sliced white bread, because it was exactly this substance that was used for building the prototype of his first sofa bed. Crippled by debt from the lawsuits over his Regurgitating Mailbox, Yossi turned to this most humble of substances, and yet a substance that personified the backbone of America itself, because it was all he could afford to pursue his dreams of fabricating a piece of furniture that would take the country by storm. Sadly, once the finished product rolled off the assembly line, it was not Yossi Blitzen but instead, Muncie Hifflesteen, that would get all the credit for this fabulous invention.
Muncie Hifflesteen, entrepreneur extraordinaire and human vermin to all the true sofa bed historians of the 20th century. Here he is, photographed on the day of his induction into the Sofa Bed Hall of Fame, wearing his specially designed anti-germ suit and holding a Frisbee, two other inventions he stole and claimed credit for himself. A true pioneer of sleazy business practices, and yet he was adored by women, loved by children and even the most vicious of dogs was known to lick his hand although the Frisbee smeared in beef tallow might've helped.
How could such a calamitous situation and unfortunate set of circumstances occur in the first place, you might ask? If you haven't asked then you are a bigger fool than my neighbour, Voltar, who spent $75 on a guinea pig cloning machine only to find out it was a food dehydrator and his beloved beast, Nunzio, was turned into some dessicated, hardened thing before his very eyes. I can still hear its squealing to this very day as it was subjected to the dehydrating rays. Anyway, back to this tale of woe. Due to the mounting debts from the various lawsuits against him because of damages inflicted upon persons suffering from the Regurgitating Mailbox, Yossi Blitzen, after having built his first sliced bread sofa bed prototype, was forced to look for outside funding to complete his sofa bed project. Enter the nefarious but always charming Muncie Hifflesteen. The two men struck a deal in which Muncie offered both money and his factory to build Yossi Blitzen's dream sofa machine in a mass production setting, and all Muncie Hifflesteen asked in return was a 35% cut of the profits. But when Yossi turned his back, which he often did when the sun was too bright or some wood chips flew off the lathe or one of the spring assemblies flew apart, Muncie Hifflesteen, with the aid of his team of devious double-dealing lawyers running a legal subterfuge, patented the sofa bed invention for himself, claimed complete control over its manufacturing and took all the profits, not to mention basking in the glory and enjoying the parades thrown in his honour when the sofa bed was released to the public. 
Muncie Hifflesteen, enjoying the affections of some of his admiring lady friends at a Sofa Bed Parade. The serviceman's outfit he's wearing was stolen, just like all his ideas, from some poor veteran in the old folk's home. Muncie wore the uniform on many occasions to impress the men and lady folk alike and liked to claim he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but the only bulge he battled was the one in his pants, which resulted in him fathering fifty-seven children with thirty different women, all the kids ending up in the orphanage while Muncie continued to enjoy sofa bed fame and fortune.
Needless to say, Yossi Blitzen was crushed and with no money, had no choice of recourse, no lawyers to hire, nothing to right the wrong of Hifflesteen's diabolical deed. To add insult to injury, Blitzen's wife, disgusted by his business failings, left him for the mailman, the very one injured by the Regurgitating Mailbox (which really adds a whole new dimension to the "insult to injury" phrase), even though the mailman had been horribly disfigured by the incident and had to have his two big toes grafted onto the sides of his face to replace his missing cheeks. It so happened that Yossi Blitzen's wife, Millicent Blitzen, was a foot fetishist and with the mailman's new facial reconstruction, she could now suck on some toes without having to get down on her hands and knees, which turned out to be fortuitous for her and the mailman but didn't help Yossi Blitzen's situation in the least. He moved into a wigwam at the Wigwam Motel, humiliated, cuckolded, devastated, emasculated and forced to live in a fiberglass teepee after pawning his wedding ring and commemorative Bikini Atoll Atomic Bomb Testing cufflinks.
Yossi Blitzen's last place of residence before his unfortunate and untimely death. His wigwam was the second from the left, right behind the chain-link fence. In fact, he was using pieces from the chain-link fence to redevelop a whole new approach to the sofa bed but was found out by the management one night with a wire-cutter in his hand and was facing eviction from his wigwam at the time of his passing.
He eventually found a job shampooing dogs at a local kennel but was bitten by a crazed Shih Tzu, contracted rabies and both he and the dog had to be put down. Yossi Blitzen is buried in a pauper's grave out by a shellac factory with no one to remember his name or decorate his tombstone with old bed springs. His wife, Millicent, after his death, married the mailman and became a podiatrist but her license was revoked when she was caught sucking on her pastor's toes. The pastor was excommunicated and he, Millicent, and the mailman formed a polygamous marriage near an old bomb testing site in Nevada and the last anyone heard of them they had set up a mail-order bride business specializing in Russian women with enormous feet, ready and willing to leave their footprint on the American dream, and soil, so to speak.
Leaving a footprint on American soil Soviet style, as this image from Millicent's big-footed Russian mail order bride catalog expounded to slobbering young American men from Omaha to Oahu.
They also started up a radioactive jams and jellies cottage industry using fruit from a nearby stunted orchard that had sprouted in the waste. As for Muncie Hifflesteen, he was shot to death by an enraged husband after he was caught in flagrante delicto with the man's wife who tracked them, ironically, to the very same wigwam motel where Yossi Blitzen met his end. Muncie was wearing a feathered headdress, loincloth and was whooping with ecstasy over the naked Mrs. Florbis, whose body he had rubbed down with beef tallow beforehand in preparation for the orgiastic festivities, when the husband barged in and shot Muncie in the chest. Apparently Muncie's last words were, "Make sure this headdress gets back to the costume rental company before they ding me for the full price," or something to that effect before he fluttered away into the great beyond. Was justice served? Did Muncie Hifflesteen receive his just desserts after bilking Yossi Blitzen out of what he truly deserved, along with all the fame and fortune that accompanied such an incredible invention? No. Of course not, I state most emphatically, and I'd state it again except my mouth is a little dry from the day-old pastry my landlady, Mrs. Grabowsky, gave me in exchange for cleaning Mr. Feeley, her cat's, litter box. It's a little deal we worked out and if it wasn't for Mr. Feeley's excessive defecation (he's old and I believe has irritable bowel syndrome along with some bladder control problems), I wouldn't have any pastry at all to brighten my day. 
All over America scenes like this were played out again and again with people enjoying sofa bed comfort, oblivious to the fact that it was all made possible by a man wasting away in a fiberglass wigwam.
But that day-old pastry gave me a brainstorm and I'm pleased to announce that I have arrived at a plan to avenge Yossi Blitzen's senseless death and bring him back from obscurity to his rightful place in sofa bed history. Words alone cannot accomplish this and so I plan to replicate Yossi Blitzen's first sofa bed prototype made from sliced white bread and for which I have found the blueprints. I'm currently gathering the bread from various sources that I don't wish to make public, due to the fact the early morning grocery delivery drivers might beat me up. Then I merely have to wait for the white bread to get stale and moldy, the better to support a human body, both sitting and reclining and then I will send that miscreant, Muncie Hifflesteen, back to the bowels of sofa bed purgatory and bring honour once again to the Blitzen name, if not for Yossi, then at least for his children, of which he didn't have any but if he did they would be proud of their father if they existed in the first place. So stay tuned for Part II of Sofa Bed or Loaf of Bread because, as they say, the proof is in the pudding, except this pudding is like a bread pudding and comes complete with cushions and springs and offers a restful night's sleep without getting any pudding in your ears or sinus cavities.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Reviews of Books I Have Read

The Bratsworthian Elegies by Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander
The eminent Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander, poet laureate of Bratsworth, reciting one of his elegies into a recording  machine. Bratworthians so admired him that after his passing, they scraped the speaking tube of this machine for his saliva dribblings, placed the precious drops in a glass vial and put them on display in the Bratsworth Museum of Arts, Culture, Science and Goat Herding History.
In my role as a translator of some of the greatest European authors you've never heard of, none are more lyrical nor deeper in meaning, thought and metaphor than the amazing and unsung Bratsworthian poet, Mr. Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander. Where is this Bratsworth you might ask and if you don't, you should because, obscure as it is, Bratsworth is the true cultural capital of Europe, its influences felt from the lowly ghettos of Antwerp to the lush tundra and icy environs of the Arctic Circle. And Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander is the leader of the Bratsworthian cultural pack. Even the ospreys can be heard calling his name as they circle the choppy waters of the Black Sea, looking for sardines and dried kelp on which to sharpen their beaks.
Oomaplintz-norf norf-oomaplintz-norf norf, sounds the call of the majestic wild osprey. The non-wild ones, like at Bruno's Osprey Rehabilitation Sanctuary and Cheese Curd Manufacturing, barely make a sound except for a low gurgling that sounds more like a mating guinea hen in the low brush and scrub land of West Virginia and certain, deserted parking lots in Medicine Hat, especially around Sven's Bingo Emporium.
The tiny country of Bratworth sits between Bulgaria and Romania and since the Roman times has been mistaken for a garbage dump. It was only in 1983 that British outdoor enthusiast and grasshopper collector, Samuel Ungeworth, on one of his collecting field trips, discovered an entire country flourishing in the flora, fauna and fumes of hundreds of miles of septic waste and a hearty people who lived there and who spoke a language that seemed a mix of ancient Norse and 19th century Yiddish. He also discovered a cultural revolution in the literary, visual and theatrical arts that was soon embraced by all of Europe and was agreed to be so groundbreaking and trendsetting that soon all followed in the wake of its waste-encrusted gumboots. Bratsworth was also the catalyst for a whole new movement in modern dance, based on the meandering routes taken by their famed goat herders as they led their mangy beasts from one garbage dump to the next looking for tin cans, ear wax, ham hock scrapings and other delicacies that the goats were fond of. In fact, it was this ritual that led Mr. Norfenlander to write his one and only play/ballet, Goat On A Hot-Tin Bedpan, which, of course, Tennessee Williams was to steal from later on.
A scene from Norfenlander's Goat On A Hot-Tin Bedpan, as performed by the Royal Bratsworthian Ballet and Theater Company.
But it's his poetry that Norfenlander is best remembered for and especially his Bratsworthian Elegies, which Wallace Stevens called the finest series of poems ever written by a man with a head that resembled a dust pan. Perhaps this analogy is most apt because of Norfenlander's aptitude for collecting the dust of Bratsworthian history, filtering it through his brain and turning so much stray hair and lint and general grime into something beautiful, lyrical and clean considering its filthy origins.
This dust pan and broom are part of the annual Norfenlander Poetry Prize, given out each year to new, budding poets of Bratsworth who show unusual promise. The other half of the prize is a goat, usually older and bound for the slaughterhouse. It is considered a great honor in Bratsworth to save a goat from slaughter, invite it over for dinner and dress it in your dead grandfather's underpants.
But don't take my word for it. Take Norfenlander's words for it instead with this example from Elegy 2, Stanza 6.

Stinkmitzplinfooven noodarden snutz,
Aigen snutz,
Yag borglungen kadasploufungen
Klunga blotspoohaufen,
Kunga punga
Gits zietsmanplimple arf mit lungafil loofpitz,
schnitz, schnitz vingovelstrumpf.

Translation:
Odiferous goats of dusk,
Clinging dusk,
You penetrate my flinching buttocks
Whooping on beaten hooves riddled with corn husks,
Is this not a trampoline of despair where you can't find your shoes,
Must I jump for hours until someone  finds my shoes and dispenses some aspirin for my bouncing, soulless mood,
Sneeze, sneeze, then spray saliva no more on the strudel cake of doom.

Here metaphor rides roughshod so as not to slip in the mud and goat dung and the repetition of the word "sneeze" followed by a spray of saliva calls to mind Ezra Pound's dictum of oral hygiene and the spread of germs as the facilitator of words that could make a dictator out of a heating duct cleaner and sully a soul until it's reduced to washing linen in the blood of she-goats at a Bavarian clambake. "Bavarian clambake," you exclaim, "I've never heard of such a thing." Believe you me, there certainly is and those Bavarians knew how to throw a clambake at the edge of the Black Forest like it was going out of style, so let's put that to rest right now, okay? And let us not forget the buttocks standing in as a symbol of a quivering and declining European economy and gastronomy, prodded and slapped and prodded again until not even the promise of a force-fed duck will mean fresh liver for the children of tomorrow or at least the next day. Balance that image with defiled corn husks and you can smell the doom in the air like the wash of ozone off a heavily chlorinated swimming pool. Then in Elegy 4, Stanza 3, Norfenlander takes a whole new approach to the age old dilemma of a long and barren goat herder winter and the philosophical pondering that comes from excessive mustache waxing and the surprise visit of a long lost cousin believed to have been killed in an accident at a doorknob factory on the outskirts of Budapest.

Horflingmunsten fluntz
Mit chorckal versht gunt flitzen broot
Stumzlashmuftz zsakasakapaka ja ja twonk plitz
Vlish piptominkyak clotfinstenbrau
Hauf klonken task tsak mit hoofen splotz.

Translation:
The ventriloquist's underpants
Cast a heavy shadow across the porcupine's brow,
What's that? The plinking of a dissolute piano string
Choking the horse penis of the evening, yes, yes,
Cries the matzoh meal man,
Do not try to stump the house of remorseful goat people
Or the clomp clomp of their childless wombs.
Here, famed Bratsworthian actor and Norfenlander's cousin, Heinzfeld Leif Mictonschmeltz, admonishes his sidekick, Ebner Vishka, for hiding the ventriloquist's underpants. Notice the excessive mustache wax which places Heinzfeld squarely in the goat herding caste even though his suit tells a different story and so does his dummy, even if he does have the words put in his mouth or taken out or something like that. This photo was taken during the run of Mictonschmeltz's one-act play, Soul Stenches and Coattails, loosely based on Norfenlander's elegies.
In this elegy, Norfenlander puts a new twist on the poetic voice by having a ventriloquist stand in as his alter-ego, allowing for him to say things like horse penis and porcupine's brow, bringing the natural world into interplay with the destitution of the Bratsworthian industrial landscape, especially around the animal fat rendering plant and Kolaslov's End-Of-The-Roll Carpet and Broadloom Warehouse. The recurring themes of goats, underpants and clomping uteruses might seem overkill at this point but Norfenlander skillfully tempers their recurrence by introducing the parable of the matzoh meal man, subtly weaving allegory and reality into a seamless fabric, much like Kosalav is able to do with only a smattering of carpet roll remnants, creating an elusiveness of meaning that has no meaning, which in turn gives it plenty of meaning by not meaning anything in the first place, which is no mean feat when your words are brimming with so much meaning it actually hurts your feet. As we can see in Elegy 9, Stanza 15, Norfenlander takes a different tact in which he opens up the dialogue between man and beast, doctor and patient and roofer and shingle supplier all at once, making for some confusion, but after all this is poetry where confusion is at its best, especially at Lancelot's two-for-one shish-kebab night, where the poets of Bratsworth still continue to gather for a little playful philosophical bantering and charred goat meat.

Plitzhagen mein migzoftin hauf hauf,
Vishtuncle naarsnaarsgaard oguntz neef broten
Snussle vit kuchentitsvaarn moidel,
Guntzhaulfinbinen putz und a vatz schmutz und lokshen gossle,
Blauplotz fingendoorzvogen shmuntz eiger soorsmunchkin,
Heif, heif gonosht gizzlungoormaard pipple zugflishten.


Translation:
My hovering globules of life, oh globules of life,
Do not forgo the broth of your fecund mind or the ant tunnels beneath,
Even webbed feet must be kissed from time to time
And maybe greased with midget fat and fluids of ethereal delights.
Still the shoe inserts may evade your fingers when night drops its mallet of despair,
But the ants in your toreador pants shall always be welcome in our house of goat hides.


I don't know how you feel, but each time I read this elegy the tears drop from my eyes like the poop from the mythical chimera's behind, so rich in nutrients and life-giving aromas and forces that it emits, it actually nourishes all the unborn in a 50 km radius from its source, as well as the ability to impregnate goats from 20 feet away and cook mutton from an additional 10 feet. Of course this all hinges on the amount of ant tunnels in the vicinity and it's precisely this element that Norfenlander, although so briefly touching upon in the elegy, obviously accentuates through the  underestimation of its power and integral role in the Bratsworthian cultural psyche. For beneath the garbage piles and waste and interesting fungi and mosses that grow in the stench, the ants are continually tunneling, creating their magnificent ant cities, but all with the threat of having the earth above collapse on their heads and beneath the Bratsworthian's feet simultaneously, and so both species live in dread of this day and walk softly, even when carrying heavy loads of laundry or root vegetables or escalator parts or burlap sacks of goat droppings. That is why they say, all over Europe, that the people of Bratsworth are the greatest tiptoers west of Tripoli and east of Labrador, a province equally famed for their tiptoers due to the nature of the shifting ice and polar bears that they must sneak by daily on their way to work.
Here, Professor K., a good friend of Norfenlander and renowned Bratsworthian ant historian, explains the effect of ant tunneling on the Brastworthian psyche.
It's also interesting to note the recurrence of shoe imagery, first used in the Second Elegy, although previously it takes the mercurial form of shoes lost on a trampoline, a nifty bit of transposition that puts anthropomorphism firmly back in the hands of the amphibians, while in Elegy 9, it is not the shoe but its inserts that take centre stage. What is the importance of this, you might ask, and I would answer, how come it's so hard to turn the radiator caps in my apartment and then you might ask, is that really what you meant or are you re-contextualizing the shoes through the use of steam heat and I would answer, I haven't pressed a shirt or ironed my pants since before man landed on the moon.
Norfenlander's favourite goat, awarded to him by the Bratsworthian High Council for the Arts on his 70th birthday. As tradition dictates, the goat was dressed in Norfenlander's dead grandfather's underpants, a man who was just as beloved as his grandson because of the bright hue of his underwear. Everywhere he went people used to say, with the utmost respect and sense they were standing close to goat herding greatness, "Hey, there goes that nut case with the brightly colored underpants," and Norfenlander's grandfather, Yonkers Splashgaard, would laugh and reply, "If your goats wore underpants as bright as mine, maybe you wouldn't lose so many to the wolves in the forest outside of Galipsoboline. Not to mention my wife has more teats than your average Romanian gypsy caravan and it's only because of the underpants that this is possible and that I am such a happy man while you all wallow in the septic waste hoping your goats will pump out enough milk to make even the smallest cube of feta cheese that wouldn't even feed a colony of ants during the winter time."
Suffice to say, Bratsworth is back on the map, both physically and culturally and is taking its due place in the course of history and septic waste and the ability of its people to eke and carve out fulfilling lives amongst the debris and goat droppings and it's all owed to one man, one great man who had the foresight to see the future even though he was nearsighted and once even mistook a goat for his wife and a son was born although that's a different story and one most Bratsworthians are loathe to mention. Anyway, it's because of Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander and his wondrous  elegies that the world can at last witness what it must be like to hear the singing of angels and the thrumming and humming of heaven, much like a well-oiled air conditioning unit and believe you me, those Bratsworthians know and understand a fine piece of machinery and would never take one for granted, especially when the goats begin to smell during the spring and the garbage heaps vibrate with the ants beneath and you can smell change in the air like your Aunt Gerta after she'd been dead for seven days and the goats were licking her body and urinating in mourning. That's the kind of poetry I'm talking about and if you don't like it then you can take it up with Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander when you get to heaven, but if he's not in you can talk to his cousin, because he's a pretty reasonable guy as long as you compliment his mustache wax and mention his grandfather's underpants.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Saliva Producing Recipes

Fish Brain, Guts and Gill Fritters in Alphagetti Aspic
If fish is brain food it only makes sense to eat the brains of a fish and thus double its potency and effects on the neural pathways. I speak not only as a scientist but also as a garcon de gastronomique. I've put this premise to every cook, chef, dishwasher, waiter and busboy that has found me rummaging around in their restaurant's dumpster bin but they don't listen.
"Look," I say, brandishing my bags of fresh fish guts and heads. "You're throwing out the best parts and it will be your brain capacity that will suffer for your folly. Or your customers' brains, in which case they won't even be able to figure out your 15% tip."
Sometimes they flick their cigarettes at me but my heightened brain power allows me to anticipate the curve and arc of their burning butts and easily evade the trajectory.
The effects of super brain fish power demonstrated in a controlled laboratory environment. This man, Hubert Blork, was once a patient of mine and after I put him on a pure fish entrails diet, he blew the spectronograph reading right out of the water, much like a trout caught on a 5-pound line.
Now, it's obvious that a man of my considerable talents in psychology, phrenology, theology, ornithology, archeology and urology, not to mention my forays into psychoanalysis, hamster habitats  and raising giant frogs, squabs and snails for fun and profit, needs all the extra brain power he can squeeze out of the old clump of gray stuff. So that is why I've come up with this delicious and economical recipe for a fish dish that'll send your synapses spinning while your wallet remains slumbering deep in the comforting nest of your sock drawer. If you don't have a sock drawer may I recommend the lint trap of a dryer or a jar cloudy with pickle brine and oxidized pennies that you can keep behind your dresser. Anyway, I promise this dish will make not one dent in your pocketbook as long as you stick to my specialized hunting and gathering techniques and my unique gelatin made from boiled fish heads recipe. The Alphagetti may cost you a little something but if you look for the dented-can specials they have in some of those Korean mom and pop corner grocery stores, you can snag one of these delicacies with only the change you have hunted for so diligently, and may I say with dignity, on the sidewalk during the week. So, first things first. Pay a visit to your local fish monger but don't let that front door stuff fool you. Go around the back in the alleyway, find the dumpster and start fishing for fish heads and innards using a simple straightened wire coat hangar. A dumpster filled with rotting fish guts is sure to deter even the most resolute of winos, bums and junkies who're looking for cans, bottles, old prescription bottles and cheesecake remains, leaving you to reap the rewards and get the cream of the crop of fish pickings. So, once you have your bag of fish parts, again we're looking for heads, fins, gills and innards, hightail it out of there because it is of the utmost importance to work with these ingredients while still fresh and don't yet smell like my neighbour, Lumpy Balford's overcoat.
Lumpy Balford in his overcoat. Lumpy's face is not blacked out. He just has a very large mole that covers the entire surface of his face.
 Place your ingredients in the refrigerator and if you don't have access to one, again, just like with your wallet, your sock drawer will do. Next, it's time to round up some bread crumbs for the fritter batter. I've never understood people who buy breadcrumbs at the store when there are plenty available if you can beat the pigeons to them in the park. Really, it's no great effort as most pigeons are absolute pigs and not quick enough to beat me to the bread chunks. Nevertheless, I still utilize my specialized arm-waving technique, guaranteed to send pigeons skittering and scattering, leaving the spoils to the victor, which, in this case would be you. I've had a few run-ins with the old men and women who feed the pigeons in the park and try to deter me from swiping bread from the gluttonous birds but as I say, "Hey, look how fat these pigeons are? You really think they're gonna miss a coupl'a pieces of bread?" The only real danger to this foraging procedure are the crows that descend like hell's carrion, so you must work quickly and I've taken to wearing oven mitts after having my hands pecked by these nefarious bottom feeders of the sky time and time again.      
Here is my well-tested and time-proven arm-flapping technique for chasing both fattened and emaciated pigeons away from the bread scraps. Three easy steps guarantee you success and an unlimited supply of bread. The pajama-like apparel is optional.
So, now that you have gathered all your ingredients, it's time to start constructing the dish. Your guests will be amazed that it didn't take you more time or money to create this dazzling display because visually, it looks like a million bucks, even if some of that money came from racketeering, prostitution, drug-smuggling, gambling and chinchilla farming. There are some who may ask, "Dr. Haltiwanger, don't you feel the aspic is overkill in this dish?" To them I reply, "Why cook the pheasant if you're not going to put it under glass. Catch my drift, kemosabe." And on that note, aspic is the first order of business. Take your fish heads, removing the brains first, and place them in a good sized pot for boiling. If you're not sure of what a fish brain looks like once you've cut an opening in the head, I've provided this illustration below, complete with nostril location to give a sense of brain placement in the fish head.
 
If you still can't find the brain, just pull every slimy thing you can get a grip on out of the head cavity and set aside. Put the fish heads on a rolling boil for an hour or more or until you can't stand the smell any longer and then set aside, preferably on an open windowsill where a cool breeze will assist with the gelatinizing process. If you have a fridge handy, then by all means pop the concoction in there for a couple of hours until the fish head jelly water begins to set (my landlady, Mrs. Grabowsky, has forbidden me from using her fridge for any more of my culinary experiments after my Tower of Meat extravaganza but I'm sure you're not as unfortunate as me and have a proper refrigerator at your disposal). The chemical compound for your gelatin should look like the configuration below, but if you don't have access to an electron microscope for this purpose, just poke the surface with anything pointy and see if it bounces back a bit.
Now, most importantly, before the fish head jelly has completely set, pour in a can of Alphagetti, spreading out the letters evenly for a more attractive visual presentation. The tomato sauce base should also go into the gelling liquid to add some colour to the aspic. Place the bowl or pail of this delightful mixture back in the fridge or on the windowsill or in the broom closet next to one of your closet-aged salamis and begin the fritter and fish innards step. Take the breadcrumbs you've stolen from the pigeons, spread them out in a bowl, or if you don't have a bowl even a clean ashtray will do, and the dip the innards in the mixture, making sure to coat the entrails thoroughly. Some people may wish to first dip the guts in an egg and milk mixture but I find this masks the taste of both the guts and the breadcrumbs and I prefer to let these flavours sing, especially once they've been submerged in the Alphagetti infused aspic. 
These tantalizing fish innards are just begging for some fritter batter to complete their journey from ocean to plate.
Now, it's time for the fritter frying. If you have a stove or hotplate, well, kudos to you. If you're like me and have a minimum of tools and appliances at hand (as most of the great chefs of history are used to), then five or six Sterno cans are just the ticket to get these fritters sizzling and sumptuous to the palate. Of course one Sterno can will also do but you must be patient to achieve the perfect golden fish guts crust. Once the fritters have attained that golden brown colour, drain them on a paper towel, toilet paper or wad of napkins you've pilfered from McDonald's, and then push them into the aspic, which should have solidified nicely by now. Don't be shy. Push those fritters in like a prostate examination. Gentle but assertive is the key to this technique and the recipe's success.
This prostate examination training device is equally good for fritter insertion exercises.
Well, now you're about done. The guests await with baited breath and tongues hanging out. Or at least my dinner guest, Mrs. Grabowsky's cat, who pants with anticipation at my fancy victuals and he knows a thing or two about fish guts and heads and so you may scoff, but a more temperamental and discerning critic would be hard to come by.
Portrait of the food critic as a fat, not so young cat. Mr. Smeely may look like a meat-eater due to his substantial girth but believe you me, this cat knows his fish and can tell a pike from a pickerel with just one sniff.
Well, you may ask, was the dinner a raving success? I for one could not stuff the fish brain and innards fritter and the jellied gills and Alphagetti mixture into my mouth fast enough and as for Mr. Smeely, I believe the hairball he left by the side of his plate is proof enough that this dish will please even the most discriminating of palates. It's true I did not anticipate his sudden trip to the vet not long after the meal nor my bout of prolonged vomiting that almost cost me my gullet but that's the price of fine dining on a pauper's budget.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Reviews Of Books I've Never Read

Blindness by Jose Saramago
To research his book, Jose Saramago, feigned blindness by using welder's goggles and then had his landlady, Mrs. Smutz, who really was blind, lead him around the quaint town of Chorizocojones on the Catalan coastline, dropping into shop after shop and through touch alone, having him try to identify different types of sausages and salamis. It's this type of dedication to his work and definitive research that earned him the Nobel Prize.
They say love is blind. And so are bats. And many moles in strong sunlight. So, what is it to be blind? Is there a correlation between love, bats and moles? Does this tell us something about not having sight? Does this help us identify different types of salamis? And if a bat falls in love with a mole and they should mate, will the two blindesses cancel each other out and the offspring (boles? mats?) have super-vision? It's unfortunate that Mr. Saramago doesn't touch on subjects and ponderous thoughts such as these and frankly, for me, calls into question the whole Nobel Prize committee (were they blind to these neglected theories and philosophical leanings), but nevertheless, his book isn't half-bad. If you're one of those that sees the glass as half full instead of half empty. That is, if you can see at all.
It's amazing that Saramago's novel was awarded the Nobel Prize while that of author Samson Ordenbrauer's great work, The Twilight of the Balloon Spleen, was so sadly overlooked. Pictured above is Mr. Ordenbrauer holding a replica of the main character of his novel that his wife, Gretchen, so lovingly created for him and which he kept on his desk next to his typewriter for inspiration, a balloon spleen with a human brain that intercepts and decodes a series of secret messages from Hitler's SS to his troops positioned around Stalingrad, passing them on to the Russians and thus helps to save the city and end the war, vanquishing Germany.
And kudos to him for writing about a touchy subject that's been around since Oedipus plucked out his own eyes over that whole thing with his father and mother and not wearing any underwear and stealing the family's vacation money and playing Charades with the Sphinx. Actually, when you think about it, this has been cannon fodder for novelists, playwrights and psychoanalysts alike, so I guess there's an upside to plucking out one's eyes from a historical and posterity perspective.
Now, I'm not one for leaning heavily on the cane of irony as it were and then using it to tap, tap, tap my way down the street blindly with only the echoing laughs and harrumphs of recognition at the sheer coincidence of seemingly non-connected events coming together to guide me down a sidewalk littered with more debris than you can shake a cane at with hands stiff and arthritic from masturbatory revelry, but I'd be a cat trying to cover its scat on a marble floor if this book didn't whack me upside the head with its literal transference from concept to killing machine. For, it appears to me, when I flick on the bathroom light in the middle of the night, those devious devils, the silverfish, that have haunted me for many years, freeze, blind it seems, because when I approach them with this book, angled at a degree for maximum striking velocity, they don't move an inch. No flex of antennae or movement of one of their many, hideous legs and I can only believe, as I am about to hit them with a copy of Blindness, that they themselves are temporarily blind and some kind of ironic justice is being served. Chalk one up for the iron fist of irony helping the blind to smite the blind and sending those silverfish back to Satan's laboratory where they were born, bred and fitted for spats.
Well, enough about my own philosophical ramblings. After all, we're here to discuss the book, not my silverfish problems and the chasms and schisms they create in the mind of a deep-thinker such as myself, especially after a bottle of cough syrup and some ham steak. Blindness has a real whizz-bang opening that's hard to ignore, even if you're drowsy with dextromethorphan and stray embers from your Meerschaum pipe are burning holes in your underwear. I mentioned moles and bats earlier and this is no coincidence because Blindness begins with a surprise attack by a group of Spanish anarchists known as the El Marmotas, whose resemblance to half-mole, half-bat entities is striking. Saramago based them on a real-life anarchist group in Spain, El Hombres Ardilla de Tierras, or the Ground-Mole Men. In two rare photographs pictured below, you can see how they used to get liquored up and then shoot their unsuspecting victims with their "Anarchy Blindness Gun." Firing liquified calamari indiscriminately into large crowds, these Ground-Mole Men were the scourge of many large cities in Spain for a good decade, blinding people temporarily with their liquid squid concoction and then raiding local stores for TVs, stereos and rubber gaskets and bathtub plugs.
A rare photo of El Hombres Ardilla de Tierras firing their Anarchy Blindness Gun into a unsuspecting crowd in Barcelona, circa 1965.
You can see the power of their weapon worn on the expression of the head honcho of El Hombres Ardilla de Tierras, Ibrahim Legumanzos, as he suffers the kickback from the burst of liquid squid.
So, with this dynamic opening, Saramago introduces two key elements into the flow of his barely begun novel; that of political anarchy in the hands of liquored-up little men who wouldn't look out of place French-kissing a groundhog or think twice about spraying you in the eyes with liquid squid, and an overwhelming blindness that settles on the citizenry of Madrid, spreading eventually to Barcelona and parts of Bulgaria and the Netherlands. Actually, it's there where the plague of blindness wreaks the most havoc as the Dutch, such avid bicyclists, suddenly struck blind, ride off the dikes in alarming numbers and are washed away into the Northern Sea. But Saramago centres his story primarily in Spain's two great cities and his initial descriptions of a group of friends in a tapas bar in Madrid, suddenly without sight and having to find their finger food with their fingers while squid juice drips from the ruins of their eyes, is as gut-wrenching as a plate of Patates Bravas with a chorizo chaser coming up in a bout of acid-reflux on a Magic Fingers bed.
The power of Patates Bravas on the esophagus with a Magic Fingers Vibrating unit as the catalyst is well demonstrated in this image featuring the author, Jose Saramago's wife, Valente, on a trip to Niagara Falls where Saramago was researching his uncompleted book, The Honeymoon of Drowned Souls. The drowning refers not to the Falls, but to a water-bed mishap that makes a widower of Alphonso Quintara, a zipper manufacturer from Seville, who, through his torment and sorrow, writes an opera about Niagra Falls and the tragic death of his new bride before they could even enjoy the Honeymoon Suite in the Maid of the Mist Motel.
Soon we learn it's not the work of the El Marmotas and their evil anarchy gun, but something far more sinister and much harder to control. For a massive asteroid has hit the earth, just outside of Barcelona in a deserted soccer stadium, perhaps part of a diabolical cosmic plan that's only hinted at in the initial pages, because on this asteroid exists millions of microscopic alien plant spores that, upon impact, are sent "flying like so many dandelion seeds, spinning and whirling like tiny helicopters of death, all innocence until their pollen clouds the corneas of the good citizens of Spain, eventually eating the jellied spheres of their eyeballs like PacMan on a murderous rampage." It's exactly these turns of phrase and this ability to drive metaphor and simile like a Fiat 500 through a crowded Barcelona street, that makes Saramago such a spectacular writer. Sure, he might hit a few pedestrians along the way, but they're blind and he's wearing welding goggles so who is to blame. In a court of law, this would have the jury out for days.
Anyway, the novel focuses on five people bonded in their blindness and love of gypsy curses and hypnotizing water fowl. Dr. Sergio Hamantashen, struck blind mid-operation, perforates his patient's bowel and during his surgical team's protestations, they too are suddenly blinded and then the patient dies and the surgical team is left to fend for themselves, feinting and slicing at the air with scalpels like Don Quixote jousting with windmills but this is my allusion, not Saramago's, but it's one I think he should've made and added a little depth to this scene rather than just severed arteries and screaming, naked nurses running blindly into walls to escape rutting and blind orderlies with tumescent protuberances sprouting from their foreheads and groins (part of the asteroid's spores side-effect of the takeover) and trays of cafeteria food growing cold under the unwatchful eyes of hair-netted custodians in orthopedic footwear. I don't like to say that a Nobel prize-winner should follow my advice, but in this case, he should have.
The alien spores adapt quickly, taking the shape of huggable bunnies (as pictured in blueprint above, patent pending) with sippy cups and drinking straws hidden inside, making them all the more alluring and effective to both adults and children alike and hastening an already extremely efficient alien spore takeover. Well, before you can say glockenspiel or lug nuts, the blindness is so widespread you can't see the trees for the forest, so to speak. Meanwhile, the El Marmotas, immune to the effect of the spores due to some genetic permutation in their mole/bat-infused body chemistry, are having a field day, getting liquored up and aiding in the panic by feeling up blind, unsuspecting women and shoving entire squids up the rectums of the women's accompanying paramours. Not to be forgotten are the group of friends in the tapas bar, feeling their way amongst the deep-fried food debris. Led by Pablo Mercantes, the group consisting of Penelope Pervazas, Renaldo Horchata, Leif Gonzalez and Pasquale Velasquez grope their way out of the tapas bar and through a series of hilarious and slapstick adventures, find themselves in the hospital where they meet up with Dr. Hamantashen's group. Some cannibalism ensues, which is a natural offshoot of human behavior when faced with dire circumstances along with unsightly and frenzied fornication that has more to do with chicken coops than romantic ideals.
He may look like the cock-of-the-walk in his penthouse chicken coop but I don't see any lady chickens around. Do you?All the style in the world won't bring the chickens home to roost if you don't have the personality to match.
A word to the wise here. If you don't enjoy explicit descriptions of cannabalistic gorging you might want to skip pages 137-139. You wouldn't imagine an author of Sarmago's stature could write such depravity and if the Nobel Prize Committee were handing out awards based, say, on a writer's ability to graphically and realistically describe the eating of human intestines, then for this alone Saramago would've won the prize hands down, but of course there are other elements at work, rest and play in this novel. For during a respite from the blind and cannibal orgy, Dr. Hamantashen and Pablo Mercantes strike up an intriguing conversation about the fate of democracy in contemporary Spain, especially after General Franco's reign. Seething anarchists, left-wing tapas-eating amorists and  underground right-wing canoeists all serve as the gunpowder igniting the musket-mouths of these two leaders' verbal firepower and they fire volley after volley at each other while their supporters, sated on human innards, sangria and penicillin, join in the cerebral festivities with raucous shouting and severed appendage waving until one is led to believe blindness is but a small hindrance in their pursuit of merrymaking, rabble rousing and philosophical inquiries. It's true that the political ramblings, considering the circumstances, can feel forced at times, but Saramago is a master at concealing these more dogmatic diversions in his characters' personalities so that, when Penelope Pervazas says to Juan Manchachas, "Hey, bikini waxing is for pleasure-seeking Brazilians and Spanish socialists only," leading Juan to blindly grope Penelope to see, or rather feel which side of the fence she sits on, so as not to split hairs in further conversations and maybe help him get lucky (he being so ugly that finally fate intervenes and ensuing blindness works in his favour), the political and the personal are properly couched in the narrative, seamlessly really, as if the couch were not a couch but a sofa-bed, hidden away but then folding out to reveal so much more than meets the eye in the first place although with all the characters blind, it's not so much what meets the eye as what meets whatever they bump into and they are able to take turns on the sofa-bed, resting a bit before the narrative picks them up and prods them forward again, sometimes like puppets on a string, sometimes like plumbers on call in a land where all the faucets leak.
A small respite for the tortured characters in Saramago's novel as they rest on a sofa-bed before continuing to stumble blindly across the countryside, their philosophical investigations comfortably couched on the double-spring frame, their heavily-stubbed toes wiggling beneath a water-fowl down duvet.
Meanwhile the alien spores shed their bunny sippy cup bodies and take on the glutinous and pulsating contours of their true forms, and then, through a strange and wonderful process, the creatures portrude long suction tubes that they plunge into the humans' eye sockets, sucking out their eyeballs and then replacing them with their own alien eyes. Then everyone is bar-mitzvahed and circumcised to pay them back for the Spanish Inquisition.
Rabbi Mendel Megatron-X-9 performing the simultaneous bar mitzvah/circumcision in accordance with the laws of the 13th tribe of Israel who had been exiled to Gorvotron-6 in the Kishkadian Galaxy back in the 13th century.
And just when you think Saramago couldn't pull any more tricks out of his bag of blindness, Dr. Hamantashen reveals that he is the ringleader of the anarchist group, the El Marmotas, and it was only through the use of invisible liftee-height pads in his shoes that he was able to fool so many of the people for so long and that as a doctor, he had been introducing an El Marmota bat/mole virus via IV-drips into thousands of his patients who are already beginning to show the effects with balding heads, shrinking bodies and an insatiable thirst for liquors of all kinds. Well, what with the alien eye replacements and the bat/mole body reconfigurations, Spain is plunged into sheer anarchy although they still enjoy their siestas and a burgeoning economy due to a heavy export business in chicken drummettes and black velvet toreador pants. The international community enjoys these items so much they turn a blind eye to the alien takeover and the bat/mole people and even the Spanish Inquisition is forgotten in the greasy drippings and sizzlings of miniature chicken legs and thighs. Nobel Prize? Hell yes. Saramago deserves it, if only for the fact Saramago sheds light on a place where no light is normally shed and by that I don't mean your rear end.