Monthly Archives: November 2010

A Review of Ben Percy’s debut novel, THE WILDING

Hit the jump and head on over to The Rumpus!

http://therumpus.net/2010/11/joe-owens-the-last-book-i-loved-the-wilding/

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The Author and The Rumpus, together again!

It looks like your author and TheRumpus.net will be in bed together again, er, wait, I mean—

Keep an eye out for my review of Ben Percy’s debut novel, The Wilding in The Rumpus’s Last Book I Loved section, as well as an excerpt from the extended version of my pseudo-interview/ reportage piece, “An Afternoon With Ralph Steadman.” Both should be appearing soon!

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List Thursday returns this week, December 2nd!

List Thursday returns this week with my picks for Top 10 Best Literary Journals with a twist: it doesn’t feature The New Yorker or The Paris Review, despite their obvious merit.  OK, actually it’s because I wanted to select 10 literary rags that weren’t The New Yorker or The Paris Review because, at least in my opinion, both of those magazines are very good, despite the negative juju tossed at them from the ever-infernal hype machine.

Anywhoozle, the list is coming and there are some familiar faces and perhaps some unexpected ones, hopefully some unexpected ones. Stay tuned!

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‘Winsome Mshindi’

The cold and the ice’ve really stoked a fire in those old bones of his.  He runs with the gait of a racer, front legs straight out—each extension producing a crack like Jack London spitting into the cold—rear legs tucked with nails clawing into the earth to propel him forward.  He looks magnificent.  Stride—crack—stride—crack... Who knows how long his old shoulder will hold out.  But for now, it’s holding out long enough.

Winter is nearly here and we both know it, Winsome Mshindi and I.  His name beholden to a double entendre of irony. A greyhound that never raced; his shoulder injured in training when he was a pup which makes Win-some more like Win-none, or Never-did.  Winsome is not really at all what you’d call winsome, by which I mean, handsome—but he is endearing as all get out.  His ears are too big, twin radar dishes atop his head, as are his feet.  His tail, too long and bushy.  But he’s got two eyes that suggest an orneriness not found in older dogs and Mish—a name he’s really grown into—Mish is thirteen.

Stride—crack—stride—crack... slushy grass and mud fly from his feet, his legs still in possession of a fair amount of power that, even with a bum shoulder and old age working against him, makes Mish faster than most other dogs, young or old, in an all out sprint.  But Mish can’t help his instincts. After all, greyhounds are bred to hunt rabbits.  He rounds the corner of the yard, taking a path around a burning bush in the corner, sees something, and tries to make a cut like a halfback spotting a hole to open field.  Mish—bless his 91 dog-year old heart, makes the cut on that bum shoulder and chestplants into the ground at roughly 25 miles per hour.  Tough as hell, even in excruciating situations, he only yelps when he first hits the ground, probably out of surprise.  When he slides to a stop after skittering across the frosty grass, he’s panting, hard.  He looks up at me with a look like, WhoaDidja see that?  I did see it and the thud he made hitting the ground made my stomach lurch.

Mish isn’t getting up.  It’s like he’s telling me he just needs a minute to collect himself—he’s really just tough as hell.  When I get near him, he pops his head up and kind of hoots a little, a sound like an owl makes, refusing in his toughness to whimper or whine.  However, the hooting sound, I know, he only makes when he’s really hurting.

I feel pretty terrible because I know how he gets jazzed up like this when it’s just me and him, especially with a chill in the air.  Like he’s showing me that he can still do it, that he can still pull his weight alongside his four brothers, and that he’s not so worthless as to require going back to the metal box at the humane society where his previous owner’d left him three winters ago, left him when he was 10 years old and 10 pounds underweight. When I took him in, I made him a promise that only one of us could understand the way men understand things, but I’d promised—in a verbal contract I intended to uphold—that he’d never go back to a metal box again.

The hooting is getting more and more intense and I think he’s telling me we might be at an impasse out here in the cold and the sleet.  Because, as I can clearly see, he isn’t getting up on his own.  The sleet starts coming down harder and it makes everything that’s going on feel that much worse. I realize I have to carry him inside.

When I scoop him up—one arm under his chest, the other under his belly—my right arm immediately goes hot and I can feel that my sleeve is soaked clear through to the skin.  He finally concedes to the pain and whimpers a little, the look he gives me is almost apologetic.  I tell him don’t even think twice about it; kids and old people pee all the time and he’s like a crazy, old mixture of both.

I’m joking aloud with myself because it’s the only thing that stoppers up my tears.

The sleet comes down harder and harder but I think Mish needs a trip to the vet.  I resolve then and there to carry him everywhere he needs to go for the rest of his life if I have to because he’s owed that at least.  You get owed certain things when you are dropped off in a cold metal box in January, neglected and underweight.  The universe owes you comfort and love and a warm place to sleep in your twilight years.

It’s the first sleet of the year so it isn’t sticking to the pavement very well.  I decide I’m going to wait it out and then drive Mish to the vet, so I carry the old man back to my bedroom and lay him on my own bed, mostly because it’ll be easier than picking him up all the way off the floor later.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Mish hates being put on the bed but tonight he’s completely quiet about it.  He even wags his bushy tail a couple times to confirm his approval.

The news says the sleet should let up within the hour which is literal good news.  Mish and I are going to wait it out on the king size bed like it’s a slumber party for two and watch TV until then.  I realize I don’t care what it’ll cost to fix him up or how much pain meds will cost for him because I feel compelled to honor my promise to him, a promise I intend to keep.

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Something new, right out of my sketchbook

Since I often proselytize about the importance of sharing the process of writing, here is some brand new, dystopian fiction right out of my Moleskine.

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Flying, with a good chance of irritability

(Fiction)

I used to think the world was fucked. I did. I used to think the world was fucked and it was up to me to unfuck it. That’s what I used to think, but I’ve been trying to work on that. It’s not a particularly flattering characteristic I have.

Like this fucken guy, here. I’m in the food court at the airport and there’s this fucken creepy guy, a real mouthbreathing gizmo, right? And he’s just hovering around the iced tea carafe like it’s the last fucken source of iced tea on the planet. Seriously hovering, lurking. I mean, it’s iced-fucken-tea!

I’ve never seen anyone on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink before, but here was someone, right here in front on me on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink. He and I are about to cross paths, too. I paid for a Coke that’s not going to fill itself and the iced tea carafe is contiguous to soda fountain.

In any event, I’ve got a serious stink eye aimed directly at me by the twitchy, iced tea guy. I depress the Coke’s soda trigger and take a foamy sip. It’s just totally irresponsible — regardless of ounceage — to fill up the whole cup if the soda-water-to-syrup-ratio is all snafu’d, but this airport’s Coke’s as refreshing as Coke gets.

I top my cup off and pop an opaque plastic lid on because, even though I’m going to enjoy my Coke and hot dog — got me a polish dog too, in case I didn’t mention — right here in the lounge while I wait for my flight, and the lid preserves maximum fizziness in between free refills which is all just really the bees knees.

My hot dog is OK but sort of dry with wrinkly skin like an old dude, the dog itself does.  A sort-of-dry dog, I can deal with.  A stale bun is snafu.  A dry on the outside dog still has the potential to’ve maintained some of its juiciness at its dog-core, but a dry, crusty bun just really fucks with my universe — no redeeming qualities in a dry bun, whatsoever. Feed ‘em to the pigeons.

Flash forward and we’re boarding now and the voice over the speaker says the flight’s not all that full.  People rush to pack the plane, but I’m like, what’s the point?  I dawdle a little and board dead last.  I knew people were going to snap up the cherriest seats at the bulkheads and the emergency exits over the wings, but no one ever willingly takes the rearmost seats, which I never really understood, especially on a thinly-booked flight.

The back of the plane is like your own private cabin with it’s own personal bathroom.  Less random-asses-to-toilet-seat ratio, plus I won’t have to sweat the three refills I got before boarding. So that’s why I dawdle.  No rush in bringing up the rear of the boarding line.

The scent of Barbasol wafts down the gangway, which really proves that a good, creamy lather is still a great way to kickstart a real man’s man’s morning.

The girl in front of me has been clicking away on her BlackBerry — and snapping her chewing gum, some mango-mint bullshit which, speaking of lather, gets me all in one — since I first noticed her.  I’m pretty sure that, before all the clicking and snapping, she was totally eyefucking me six ways from Sunday, but then, afterwards, she felt dirty about it, which is par for the course for me, really.

I’m close enough and tall enough to see over her shoulder, and I notice that we have a mutual Facebook friend — an observation I kind of want to tell her about — but the fact that the line is moving forward without her, and the gangway is too narrow to get around whoever’s in front of you, makes me think I should tell her to pay the fuck attention.  But then there’s my whole attempt at ignoring the unfucking of the world, so I just clear my throat instead.

Once the plane finally takes off, I get up to use the bathroom because, even though I didn’t have to worry about taking a piss being at the uncrowded back, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to piss.  However and this is something I just couldn’t really believe — the lavatory was already occupied, which meant someone wasn’t paying the fuck attention to the keep-seatbelts-fastened sign, a happenstance that also really pisses me off.  But when the door finally opens, I had to piss so bad that my eyes were probably turning yellow, so I didn’t say anything.  I’m kind of passive-aggressive that way sometimes.

While I was waiting, one of the flight attendants asked if I’d like any peanuts, which, no, I really didn’t since I’m terribly allergic and will puff up like the Michelin Man if I eat just one.  I asked her for pretzels instead, which — similar to iced tea guy in the airport’s lounge — actually almost gave this person conniptions — because now she’d have to notify yet another flight attendant, one who distributes pretzels instead of peanuts, that she herself was unable to satisfy my dietary needs, a fact that I’m betting did generally unproductive things to her sense of internal sense of competency, but all of this was precipitated by circumstances that were completely out of my control.

After evacuating my bladder, I walk back to my seat and pick up the package of pretzels that had been left on my seat.  As I munched on the salty, half-stale victuals, I pondered a scenario that would likely be best pondered with one’s two feet planted firmly on the ground: What if the plane lost all power and began plummeting to earth, but one of the more proactive passengers says to himself, fuck this, and chews up then swallows a whole bottle of Xanax and a whole bottle of sleeping pills, downing them with a couple of those overpriced mini bottles of Jack Daniels they serve on airplanes.  But then instead of crashing, the power comes back online and the pilot rights the whole shebang after a few minutes of freefall with only seconds to spare like in various action movies everyone has seen.  But only now, the previously proactive passenger is full of potent narcotics and is well in excess of the legal intoxication limit, and the kicker is that, on a sparsely-peopled flight such as this one, there isn’t a single medical professional on the flight.  So, like, what does this guy do?  To what degree is this passenger’s complete and utter fuckedness quantifiable?  Fingers down the throat?  I mean, I probably wouldn’t touch him. Personally.  But that’s just me.

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List Thursday: Steve McQueen’s (the dog’s, not Bullitt’s) Top 10 [+7] List

In celebration of my Weimaraner, Steve McQueen’s, third birthday (which basically makes him, what, 21?), I’m dedicating this List Thursday to him– and the books I think he’d read if he could.

1) Where the Red Fern Grows – Steve would think that, if you don’t like this book, you not only lack a heart, but a soul.
2) Timbuktu – Steve has good taste so he’d like Paul Auster too.
3) Sight Hound – Pam Houston nails the dog narrative.
4) The Art of Racing in the Rain – Because Steve will never be as fast as his greyhound brothers, rain or no.
5) Dogs of Babel – For Steve, this would be like a Stephen King novel, like IT.
6) Old Yeller – A tear jerker no matter your tail color.
7) Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know – Biology is cool!
8 ) Marly and Me – Steve can’t lie, he’s a real softy.
9) White Fang – Jack London is awesome and so is this book.
10) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel – Steve might think this is just about one of the best books featuring a dog ever.

And, the best of the rest:
11) A Dog’s Purpose
12) Now & Then
13) Lost & Found
14) Walking in Circles Before Lying Down
15) Nose Down, Eyes Up
16) From Baghdad, With Love
17) I Thought You Were Dead

**I’d also like to thank my beautiful wife, and Steve’s mom, Jennifer, for helping me think of a list topic for today. Thanks babe!!



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The Corrector: Not Quite A Love Story

(999 words)

I gotta say man, I said, you might seriously be the world’s biggest grammar nazi.

Yeah? he said.

Like, ever.

Why do you say that?

Because you spend hours—I’m betting it’s literally hours—every day, correcting people. That’s why I say that.

But good grammar is an important part of life. It should be. I mean, what would it sound like, in the professional arena, if people couldn’t—and thus didn’t—ever speak properly?

A hell of a lot less irritating than if they always did, I tell you that.

The world needs, I don’t know, grammatical justice.

No, the world needs food, and supplies for starving people.  The world needs an answer to global warming and unchecked CO2 emissions. The world needs to invest resources into renewable energy.  The world does not need grammatical justice, at least not as bad as it needs those other things.

I could do it.

Do what?

I could bring the world some grammatical justice. I could totally do it.

I’m sorry, did we just have a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing just happen?

Yeah, I mean no—listen, check it out.  I could be like a superhero grammarian; I could even be called The Grammar Nazi, only I’d be a good Nazi who, like, strives for equality and justice in English sentences.

I think you just said you wanted people to start calling you the Grammar Nazi in a totally and completely serious sort of way, which, even though I just actually heard you say that, I’m still having trouble believing it, even though I know you did say it and very little time has lapsed in the interim.

So are you being facetious or what?  I think it’s a good idea!

OK, so what then, superhero—what would you do?  What would your super power be? Send grammar offenders off to concentration camps to work on their spelling?

No—

—And so let’s also just put aside the complete insensitivity you’re showing to a historically tyrannized people for right now, and despite the fact that the Grammar Nazi would very clearly be a super villain, not a superhero—the Grammar Nazi is just a plain-ass fucken retarded name, in general.

Now who’s being insensitive?

That’s not even the point.  The point here is the thing that you’re missing.  I’m not suggesting to you that I’d like to become Captain Retardo or something—which would be the insensitivity equivalent of you going by the name, the Grammar Nazi—I’m saying that you can’t just go out and act like an insensitive dickner to a whole group of people like that just because you are on a personal crusade against typos.

What about the First Amendment though?

First Amendment won’t help you much to prevent receiving a good-old-fashioned-passionate-ass whoopin’, now will it?

Hmm—I see your point.

So if you’re serious—and I don’t know how you really could be—but if you’re seriously serious, then the Grammar Nazi is just fucken out. Bye bye! Gone.

…..

…..

OK then, I got it!  How about, “The Corrector!”?

Now we’re dealing with a whole new set of superhero issues.

Such as?

Such as, do you wanna be a fucken B-list fucken superhero?  The Corrector sounds like he’d fucken hang out with Judge Dread or some shitty superhero like that.  Some wack-ass second-rate superhero, like Luke Cage, or fucken Aquaman. I mean, name three people who could really tell you who Judge Dread is.  Name one time Aquaman fought bad guys on fucken Mars. Name one time Luke Cage ever did anything fucken interesting.

Geez—this is turning out to sound like more work than it’s worth.

Hey, look; you can’t back out now that you got me thinking seriously about this.  So what else you got?

White Out.

Gay.

You’re being insensitive.

You’re being a dickner.

Then how ’bout The Deleter.

No. Sounds like a hitman.  A shitty hitman.  Sounds like if Luke Cage became a hitman, and how shitty that would be—that’s what I think of when I hear The Deleter.

Wow, critical much?

C’mon, what else you got?

The Correct-o-nator.

Better, but it sounds like either a badass cybernetic organism, OR an overpriced blender.  On second thought, I’m not feeling that at one all.

I dunno—I’m outta ideas.

That sucks.  That’s a shitty attitude.  That’s like the Luke Cage of attitudes, right there.

C’mon man, I’m trying!

Try harder.

This is me sighing exasperatedly.

This is me not really giving a speck of shit.  C’mon man, you’re the one who wanted to be a super hero grammar-…guy—or whatever. This was your idea in the first place. You can’t just start stuff and then decide you don’t wanna finish it.

Grammarian.

Again, whatever.

OK, I think I got it.

And what you got is—?

Perfecto Correcto!

Hmmm… I don’t hate it.  I mean, I definitely don’t hate it.  It sounds a little fruity, but I definitely don’t hate it.

That’s it then.  Perfecto Correcto, that’s me.

All righty. That’s you. So what are you gonna do now, Perfecto?

I’m gonna go grammarnate the masses, that’s what I’m gonna do now.

Grammarnate?

Yeah, grammarnate the masses. That’s what I’m gonna go do.  Right now.  Starting with the Internet.

Oh boy, here we go again.

What?  Where are we going again.

First thing, the Internet is, like, infinite, not to mention impossible.  And second thing, Grammarnate is a stupid word. Who’s gonna take you seriously if go around talking about grammarnating motherfuckers… OK, you know what, because of that fucken work I hate, we’re nixing Perfecto, too.

Wait, what? But why?

Because now I’ll always associate it with that stupid madeup word that shall not be uttered ever again.

But—

But, nevermind, from now on, you can call yourself The Corrector.

Why The Corrector?

Because it’s situationally accurate, not offensive or insensitive and it doesn’t piss me off.

That’s your only criteria?

That’s about it.

Wow.

Wow, indeed.

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Sometimes the Clock Ticks: An insomniac’s Tale

(Yes, it’s a completely rough and likely terrible first draft of probably nothing at all, BUT, this site is about the process. And I wrote this before falling asleep.)

Sometimes the Clock Ticks: An insomniac’s Tale (PDF)

Sometimes the clock ticks — it’s midnight and I blink, tock, once again, with the ticking and the tocking, and it’s the wee hours of the Ay-Em and, lookiehere, I’m still awake. Running from sleep that won’t have me anyway. A penance of sorts. Things seem irreconcilable during the lighted hours, but when the sun has retreated for what seems like possibly forever, does the mind’s machinations begin to make sense. They say it’s the witching hour but which witch would have me this hour?

Brain’s gone numb from too many pharmaceuticals so I can be just how they want me to be, just how they like me, complacent. Compliant. I’m more agreeable on the pills so I take more and I love them because they make me feel warm and fuzzy like I’m the Teddy bear. Who’s going to snuggle me?

Rebuff, rebuke the skeptics who claim conspiracy theories are strictly for conspirers, especially conspirers of the purely theoretical — the worst kind. Fall in line, everyone, fall in line. Just fall.  We’re selling a slow and painful death for the low price of everything you’ve got, including your Soul. Buy and sell; this is a free market, son! This is America. Wake up and smell the fucking free trade coffee, man! Your liberties are taxed here, but you don’t know it.  Plus it’s easier to believe they aren’t.

Big Brother isn’t even Big Brother because then, whose fucking watching him? You think they’d let some guy in a top hat pointing his finger all willy-nilly at people to fight a war they—whoever the fuck they are—don’t even believe in?  They, who don’t believe in a human purpose other than unchecked economic growth? Sounds almost like “they” are “we.” Unchecked growth, like it’s a good fucking idea but going out of style, falling into disfavor, and the clock is still ticking. Tick. Tock.

The thing about stuff is that it runs out. Some things you can make more of. Fantastic. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, a point that is only slightly left of the real point. The real point is actual real points, plural, because there are a lot of them and another word I’d use here is problem, preceded by a duo of colorful words, big and fucking. Like greenhouse gasses and the rapage — yes, rape-age, let me break it down — the rapage of fossil fuel supplies because it’s just so fucking cheap to do it. Cheap is good, but Free is better.  Though it’s important to remember that cheap is at its best when it’s almost free.

Don’t scribble your name out on the paper, you drew your Capital U, or S, or A, or your G, your O, or your D crooked, but you say, who really fucking cares? The giant fucking tree that was cut down to make paper for dipshits to doodle on probably fucking cares, a lot. And I know I’m typing fuck a lot by this this point, but this point is fucking serious — people listen to cuss words. Science has proven this.

And all of this doesn’t even TOUCH on the “War on Drugs,” aka the “War on People.” Where should I begin?

Holy crap– two days, two accepted pieces for publication!! The author is both excited and humbled.

As if getting a book review I wrote published on TheRumpus.net wasn’t enough…

Today I was notified that The Houston Literary Review is going to publish one of my favorite stories I’ve written, of which I’ve given three different titles:
Nunchucks! …and Voyeurism” OR Ninjas! …in the Suburbs?” OR, the latest idea, “Damage Control”.

This is of course very cool news. Stay tuned for more!

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