LAST CALL

As some of you already know, I’ve signed with Polis Books which will first repackage and reissue STILL AMONG THE LIVING, TWO WAY TOLL, and NO SAVING GRACE, then launch my 4th Matt Jacob novel, TIES THAT BLIND. I’m excited about working with Jason Pinter, founder and driving force behind this new Internet publishing house. TIES will be delivered to Jason by February 1st who, I’m pleased to say, will be its editor. The hope is that together we can cut through the Internet’s noise and bring the entire four book collection to a new generation of readers.

The only regret I had in making this commitment was the loss of Michael Paul Smith‘s current book covers. As part of my agreement, all current Matt Jacob novels (including the PDF version) will be withdrawn from sale within the next few weeks and remain so until Polis reissues them. So, if you love Michael’s covers, now is the time to buy these editions. They are available through my website, http://zacharykleinonline.com/matt-jacob-ebooks/, Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and Smashwords, which provides the ability to download the series to other platforms including Apple devices.

The other goodbye or, at least so long, has to do with my Just sayin’ weekly column. This will be my last post until I get my feet on the ground working with Polis Books and Jason. I’m hopeful to return at some point in January but can’t promise. So, for those of you who’ve taken the time to read it, I want to thank you dearly. It’s been because of your support that Just sayin’ has been running since January 2011.

Of course, when I return I hope you come back with me. I can’t express the pleasure I’ve had speaking to you throughout these years.

I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me. Roland Barthes

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Typically this column consists of about 1000 words on topics I think are important or interesting. This week that’s not going to be the case. I was asked by Zena Denise Crenshaw, if I’d be willing to be interviewed about jury selection on a radio show called Crimes of the Century Radio By Black Talk Media Project which is part of Black Talk Radio Network.

Although I’ve haven’t done jury selections during the past two years, Zena (who is the program’s primary host) believed I’d have something to contribute to their series so I agreed. The show aired Thursday, November 22nd and was called The Tricky Business of Selecting and Winning over Juries.

The interview can be heard this week as a podcast at: http://crimesofthecenturyradio.blogspot.com/ on the right hand side of the page. The media player on that page gives a running time so if you want to stop then return to the program you’ll be able to pick up where you left off—if you feel like continuing to listen.

If you can’t get to it this week the interview will still be able to be heard at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/crimes-of-the-century-radio/id741166176 and dated 11/22/13. This site also gives you the option of using Itunes which also has a running time indicator.

Despite too many “uhhs” and “ahhs,” I managed to stay pretty coherent. So, if you do tune in, thanks for your time.

SEASON 3 EPISODE 10

I never jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon when it first turned up on television. After the first season was released on DVD, however, Sue borrowed it from a friend but said it made her too tense to watch. Since I still hadn’t gotten into it, I was fine about her returning the set.

Then the series began coming to its conclusion and it seemed as if the only interviews on radio and TV were of the cast, director, and creator. Even Charlie Rose did his annoying gushing about the program, but what caught my attention was the focus creator/writer/producer Vince Gilligan received. Sure, there was an avalanche of accolades heaped on Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White the main character, Anna Gunn, Water’s wife Skyler, and Aaron Paul as his youthful sidekick Jessie Pinkman, but the amount of consideration given to Gilligan surprised me. Few people in his position garner the raves he received as the show’s end drew near. He was the creative force and wrote many of the scripts (and oversaw the others) like David Chase of The Sopranos.

About the same time my son Jake gave me Apple TV as a present and I decided to spring for  Netflix Streaming and give Breaking Bad another shot. Well, I’m very glad I did. It is a damn good series with exceptional acting and writing, though I don’t believe it in any way, shape, or form surpasses The Sopranos or even the best years of The Wire. Still, it’s certainly a “contendah.” In an age where you have 180 channels and still find nothing to watch, that’s an impressive do.

But I’m not writing this column to compare television series, or even to analyze Breaking Bad as a whole. I’m writing about Season 3, Episode 10 called Fly. I don’t know if Fly more closely resembles a short story or a one act play, but I do know it was 47 minutes that could easily stand alone outside the series.

The plot revolved around catching or killing a fly that threatened to contaminate Walter’s meth lab. As a play (which is how I think of the episode) the actual plot had very little importance. It was just a vehicle to shine a light on the mostly contentious relationship between Walter, the older mentor, and Jessie his much younger, often sleazy, partner and mentee.

In an act of desperation, but mostly kindness, Jessie slipped some drugs into Walter’s coffee hoping to make him sleep after Walt’s continuous 24 hour obsessive hunt for that fly. But what the drugs actually did was allow Walter to talk about who he’d been, what he had become, and why. He talked about the importance “family” in his life and how it dictated many of his choices, despite a bushel full of regrets. And within the course of his confessions and conversation, his underlying affection for his mentee became increasingly clear.

Although Jessie didn’t verbalize his emotional reactions to Walter’s intimacy, his behavior (risking his neck to kill the fly, despite believing the entire effort completely idiotic) indicated his real concern for Walt, despite their relentless arguments and on and off again partnership. As the frantic fly hunt continues, layers of top skin are stripped from both participants. Although Walt and Jessie’s relationship has a much more complicated history, in many ways this episode reminded me of Mamet’s Duck Variations. In that play, two strangers sit on a bench and these old men start making assumptions about the ducks swimming nearby. Even though they know nothing about ducks or each other, their comments reveal more and more about who each of them are and an intimate connection develops before they go their separate ways.

And, of course, by the conclusion of Season 3, Episode 10, the fly has been killed, Walter has slept off the pills and, as they get into their cars, their tenderness has receded into the typical antagonisms.

Just a great 47 minutes and well worth trying to find whether you’re interested in the show as a whole or not. It’s not often an ongoing series produces a one act play as in depth as this episode.

Flipping through other channels:

Homeland, which I’ve written about before, has regained its footing this season. The acting has been strong (Claire Danes isn’t always crying or about to) but what has really been fun are the plot twists. Back in the day, I read a lot of spy novels, mostly favoring the intricate betrayals John Le Carrie wove through his early books. (I still believe both the novel and the movie of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are classics.) This season’s plotting of Homeland is very reminiscent of those early works. Folks who have cable television and On Demand might want to consider watching this season from the start.

And, of course, it was baseball’s play-offs, which meant hours upon hours glued to the set. Given the outcome, all those late nights and tired days were more than worth it. The Red Sox won! The Red Sox won!

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. C.G. Jung

NAKED IN HOOSIERLAND

by Kent Ballard

You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but our esteemed blogger Zach is actually a pretty bright fellow. Recently he gave me an idea that’s worth pondering and perhaps implementing. I was complaining about all the tourists who come to my county for two weeks out of the year to see the brilliant fall foliage and to attend the county-wide festivals each little burg has during this time. If you are a local, if you actually live where people visit, you soon learn that all tourists are major pains in the ass and most consist of folks whom even Wal-Mart wouldn’t allow in their doors.

I was complaining about this at some length with Zach and he more or less said, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

I do not have a machine which makes cotton candy. I don’t sell deep fried watermelon on a stick. I don’t have suppliers who sell me eight hundred pounds of cheap, worthless socks made by slave labor in Somolia or genuine Americana “antiques” which were made last summer in China. These are pretty much what all the booths and yard sales in our festival sell and I want no part of it.

Zach said to simply charge the rubes a few bucks to swim in my pond. I have 71 acres of forest in which I live and two ponds, one rather large. I dismissed his idea originally, but thought about it later…

The last time I checked, the state of Indiana had more nudist colonies per capita than any other state in the union. Nobody seems to know why, but we do. Why just charge people to swim? Why not put up a couple of dozen cheap cabins, throw up an eight foot wooden fence around my acreage, hire some security, and start my own nudist camp?

The initial cost of starting up such a colony would be pretty high, but have you ever checked what they charge families for two weeks to a month to relax in the nude at a skin camp? It’s appalling. A king’s ransom. But people line up to cheerfully pay every year. Established nudist resorts rake in more money than Vegas. Money interests me.

Let’s see…I already have the land. My home is so remote there is a plaque along my half-mile long driveway commemorating this as the place where dark was invented. It’s nothing but deep valleys, high ridges, ravines, and I think if you could flatten it all out it would equal Vermont in size. It’s mostly hardwood forest and, I think, rather pretty country. We have deer, many of them. We have huge barred owls that call to each other at night. We have coyotes who form choirs to serenade folks in the wee hours, driving every pet dog into howling fits for miles around. Off and on, we have bigfoot though I might want to leave that off the advertisements.

I’d need a tall wooden fence around the entire property, and probably a very wicked inner fence of razor wire to keep out the curious riff-raff. And I would need a few roving perimeter guards. I would hire the bigfoot, as they would be champs at this, but they’re not trustworthy when it comes to punching a time clock. So, instead, I would hire rural women to be the guards at my colony. I know many country women who could score “expert sniper” on any military gun range and most of them are quite attractive.

They also take no crap from anybody. Yes, rural women would be perfect perimeter guards.

I could buy a score or two of those prefabricated tiny houses or largish yard tool barns and convert them into rustic cabins lit by kerosene lamps. A few porta-potties scattered about would take care of those needs, and I could put small wash basins in the cabins. I’d have to build a shower house, but there would be no need to build a laundry. Those who wished to could bring their own camping gear and enjoy all this beautiful scenery and nakedness outdoors if they chose to.

We’d have nightly cookouts, card games, bingo, swimming contests, all the usual campground activities. I’d buy a few yards of cheap ribbon and hammer out some large medals for the Ms. & Mr. Nudist Camp contestants every month. It’d cost a ton to get everything set up, time before word got around to the nudists themselves (which means advertising), but once that was done and the colony established, I would be filthy, stinking rich.

I’d drive a custom-made Jeep. I’d hire people to cut my winter’s firewood. Hell, I could afford a new tractor! (Don’t scoff. The big ones run close to a quarter-million dollars. Google them if you think I’m kidding.) Best of all, I could make lots of nice, new, naked friends.

In rural Indiana the most savage enemies I would have would be the fine church-going people. They would protest. They would organize. They’d picket my front gate. I’m nowhere near a school or other public facility and I suppose a lengthy court battle might beat them, but I have friends in low places and it would be both cheaper and faster to identify the church ringleaders and grease a few of their palms. Failing that, a little detective work to get photos of everybody who’s screwing everybody else in their congregations would calm them down pronto.

So I’m now doing cost-study analyses and pricing lumber. Also checking on the cost of Viagra by the case. If I went full-tilt boogie and invested everything I have (and what I could borrow), I could pull this off. The critical point would happen when I bring this plan up with my lovely wife. Foolishly, I taught her how to shoot years ago and she’s quite good at it. As a rule she’s kind-hearted and gentle, but I cannot outrun a hail of 9 millimeter bullets so this would take great planning and preparation. She’s interested in money too, and that would help.

So…someday when you are perusing your favorite porn site, should you find an advertisement for Indiana’s newest nudist colony, contact me at the provided web address and I’ll send you brochures, maps, rates, and everything you need to know. Then plan your summer vacation here. And pack very lightly.

I may even treat you to shameful, horrible stories about Zach while grilling hamburgers, some of which would even be true. But for so kindly giving me the idea of how to become a rustic, backwoods Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt, I’ll alter the names and dates which should give him a chance at explaining all this to his beloved Sue. If that doesn’t work I’ll send her a season pass.

You will have the vacation of a lifetime. You’ll broaden your horizons and eventually relax and embrace a tolerance of alterative lifestyles. Besides, it simply feels good to run around naked. Life is too short for Puritan prudishness. Try it and you will be surprised at how quickly you take to this refreshing and wholesome (by Indiana standards) lifestyle. You’ll get a killer tan too.

But we ask you. Please….no peeing in the pond.

You can’t get a suit of armor and a rubber chicken just like that. You have to plan ahead. Michael Palin

 

DEAR HANK

Dear Hank,

You and I don’t believe in heaven or hell but we do both believe in wind. Which makes it sadly ironic that you would pass for the lack. Still, while I don’t give much credence to mysticism or even spiritualism, I truly hear you rustling around. I feel you swirling around me and expect you always will. I might not have all the time sequences accurate, but the following experiences are true to the bone.

During the last year of your life we spent a fair amount of time talking about what we had brought to the world. You always concluded, “At least I was able to give pleasure to people through my music.”  That was money, but just the beginning of a whole lot more.

You were incredibly important to my life—though it didn’t start that way. You were about ten years older when I hung around Roselle Park with your brothers, so I was just the little cousin. Occasionally you’d have one of your friends punch me in the stomach to prove how good I could take it. Of course you and your brothers, Frank and Jeff, never remember that happening. Hell, why should they or you? I was the one getting hit and struggling with every bit of energy not to fall and let you (or myself) down.

Just a couple of years later I was holding you in awe. You were a musician, a saxophone player, the only real artist in the family. You honked with a band AND eloped with a Christian, Barbara, the band’s singer. A definite first for our family, met with slings and arrows. I thought it an act of bravery, a serious sacrifice for love, much the same as I viewed your work as a musician. When the group (I think it was The Escorts at the time) was scheduled to play on the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, and they kept pushing the group back later and later, I remember begging my mother to let me stay up to watch. Finally, when you came on the wavy black and white, Barbara sang the first song and then you sang the next. I think that shocked everyone because no one knew you could sing—but you sounded fine. Even through those tinny TV speakers.

My recollections of your life during my preteen years are sketchy, but I did know you never stopped blowing your horn. Night after night, year after year. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was a significant lesson about what it took to become really good at something.

And I knew you were good. When you played in New York, you’d tell your brothers and me you’d get us into the bar and we’d be okay. The place was rowdy, but even from the bandstand you kept an eye on us to make sure we weren’t hassled. More than that, I remember how you sounded with Barbara’s singing. I didn’t know anything about music then, but I knew I was listening to something special. Your fingers were a blur and the richness of your saxophone was nothing I’d heard on any records. Barbara’s throaty voice was the perfect offset to your style. There was a song called Sorrento I’d never heard before going to The Wagon Wheel, but when you played your long, lightning fast solo I’d jump and cheer. You must have noticed; every time I saw the band you made a point of playing that number.

You had become my role model. Someone willing to go against family conventions, took on a world where a living was dicey at best, but one that you loved and willingly entered head on. There’s no way I would have, could have, made the life choices I did, had you not led the way.

We lost track of each other after I went to college, but I knew you had moved to Florida and were still playing night after night. Eventually I realized I too wanted to get into the arts. I hadn’t yet realized I was a writer, so I did what seemed natural. I wrote you a letter and asked, if I gave you the money, could you choose and send me a decent sax. Instead, you sent me one of your altos with a note saying you weren’t playing it anymore. Looking back, I imagine you chuckled at my request. You knew I hadn’t the slightest idea of what a decent saxophone cost, which is why you gave me your Buescher with its New York Meyer mouthpiece.

Well, life had other plans that took me into counseling for decades. But throughout all those years the sax was left out in plain sight. The next time the arts called loud enough, I was drawn to writing, which took another dozen years of my time. Then, during my next job as a trial and jury consultant, the Buescher kept whispering its siren song, soft and low.

By that time you had moved back to New Jersey, diagnosed with COPD, and was slowly on your way to emphysema. I called and asked if I was crazy to even think about starting to learn music at 50 years old. “Keep your day job but go for it,” you answered. “It’s never too late to learn something that interests you.”

We kept in touch and after about a year of lessons, my terrific teacher suggested I join his teaching ensemble, though he warned me I’d be its worst player. Still, he felt it would add to my music education. So I called you again and asked if you thought it a good idea. You laughed and said, “Playing with other people is different than playing in your room or with your teacher. And playing with better musicians is the best way to get better yourself. Just be prepared to be humiliated. You’re strong enough to take a punch.”

Years later, at a family occasion, I mentioned I’d bought a tenor. You told me sit tight, drove to your nearby home, and returned with the mouthpiece you’d gotten from your friend King Curtis. You told me it was the last of your musical instruments and you had confidence I’d do it justice. I’m not sure you’re right about the justice thing though I treasured that mouthpiece, but sadly realized you were saying an official farewell to music.

Then the emphysema started to really hit and you moved in with your daughter Cheryl, her husband Eddie, and Emily, your granddaughter. Our irregular contact stepped up into regular. We spoke on the phone, sometimes about music, but mostly about baseball. You were a rabid Yankee fan and my team was the Sox. We bought MLB.com so we could watch each other’s game. When they played each other we’d talk between innings, and when talking took too much out of you we’d text. We both got pretty good pushing those tiny damn buttons.

At some point I realized that I hadn’t actually seen you in forever. At first you objected to my driving to Forked River. I think you were concerned about how much weight you’d already lost, though you’d always been a skinny son-of-a- bitch with a metabolism I’da killed for. We worked it out and this visit started another part of our relationship. I still remember Cher and Emily peeking into your room while we laid on your bed watching one baseball game on the TV and another on the laptop. I supposed we did look a little strange.

Then a week happened that, for the rest of my life, will always bring a smile. Cheryl wanted a family vacation and needed people to cover. Brother Jeff and his wife Michelle did the first weekend, then I came down to hang. As usual you bitched and moaned but we had a terrific time. You turned me onto Jimmy Dean breakfasts, though like idiots we microwaved ‘em in their plastic package. (This after I’d fought the vinyl chloride industry for ten years).

In fact, that week we caught a lucky break. Your emphysema really backed off so we were able to go to your breakfast joint a couple of times instead of the microwave. You told me that sometimes you’d start to feel well enough to go there late in the morning, but knew they were closing in about 30 minutes so you didn’t. “Why make ‘em stay past their working hours?” Well, however limited your visits had become, when we walked in the door those two mornings, everyone would call out their greetings and never asked for your order. They knew.

We were also able to go out to lunch at another favorite place where brother Frank from New York joined us for hours of talk. You were even strong enough to drive and hang at the car dealership where you’d been the customer rep since the COPD stole your music. And goddamn, if everyone from the owner on down didn’t stop by the room where we were hanging. Dave, the repair manager, regaled me with stories of the hijinks you and he played. I laughed my eyes out and you your breath, until we finally went home.

During my last visit you weren’t as strong, but even then but even then the wind whistled and baseball was on the tube every day. Brother Jeff visited and the two of you schooled me on auto racing. I’ll never be a rabid fan, but I no longer think it’s just a fast left hand turn.

What I really want you to know is it’s true that you gave people enormous pleasure with your music—but you gave even more than that. You gave those connected to you a loving, warm embrace. And there were a lot of people connected to you. You really cared.

And you gave me permission to have an artistic life.

I know how much you loved your family and I’m proud to have been a member as well as a friend. I know how much you loved Cheryl, Eddie and Emily and how much they loved you back. And I know how much the rest of the family and your friends loved you, respected you.

If we were both wrong and there is a heaven and hell, I know you’re making great music with the best of the best. And when I get there I’ll be in the audience shouting, “Sorrento, Sorrento!”

Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything. Sherwood Anderson