Saturday, May 26, 2007

Your Summer Vacation Guide

Latest Newspaper Column:

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again -- the time when we start eyeing the calendar, counting the days until that magic moment when we load up the station wagon, SUV or pickup and hit the road looking for adventure and a clean restroom on the Interstate.

And as always, your Humble Columnist is here with suggestions for places to visit that embody the spirit of this great country: innovative, outrageous, and occasionally, just plain weird. So without further ado, here's your summer vacation guide.

*Remember "The Beverly Hillbillies"? Remember that funky old truck they used to drive, the one Jethro tricked out with all sorts of gear when he was trying to become a double-naught spy? Did you ever wonder what happened to that truck? Of course you do!

Well, wonder no more. The truck, donated by Hillbillies producer Paul Henning, is the centerpiece of the Ralph Foster Museum in Point Lookout, Mo., aka the "Smithsonian of the Ozarks." Located just down the road from Branson, on the campus of the world-famous College of the Ozarks, the Foster Museum is a compendium of educational Ozark memorabilia, such as a restored one-room schoolhouse and the barbed wire collection of noted collector Ellis Pentecost. There's also a gun collection that contains the rifle wielded by Pancho Villa and the gun Western lawman Virgil Earp was wearing when he was killed. Oh, and a painting of an elephant, done on the ear of an actual elephant. Really. The ear's hanging on the wall, not attached to the elephant -- which, we may assume, is dead and does not miss it. What this has to so with the Ozarks is anyone's guess.

*Those who'd like to remember America's victory over the forces of Godless Comminism have their opportunities at a couple of places in Las Vegas, Nev., a town which in itself could be considered a giant kick in the teeth of Karl Marx's memory. The Mandalay Bay casino boasts a restaurant/bar called "Red Square," outside which stands an enormous statue of Lenin -- without its head. Down the road is the Main Street Station Casino, which features a piece of the actual Berlin Wall. In the men's room. Now there's some symbolism that's hard to miss.

* Everyone hates spam, that bothersome unwanted commercial e-mail that fills our inboxes with dodgy get-rich-quick schemes and pills for the enhancement of our manly parts. But before there was spam, there was SPAM, the gelatinous and vaguely meatlike pink food substitute created by Hormel. And what better way to learn about the history of SPAM than by visiting Hormel's SPAM Museum in Austin, Minn.?
Marvel at the Great Wall of SPAM, comprised of 3,390 cans of the stuff stacked in the museum lobby! Learn how SPAM helped win World War II, according to quotes by both Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev! Find out how it feels to work in SPAM with the actual interactive simulation of the SPAM production line! Maybe you'll also learn why Hormel always spells the name of the product in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!

* If you're in the neighborhood of Quartzsite, Ariz., and you find yourself with a hankering for something to read, why not drop by the Reader's Oasis, where you can meet the nation's only naked bookseller? Well, not entirely naked; Paul Winer, the proprietor of the Oasis, does wear a thong. Most of the time. And he does post a warning sign so that customers will be aware ahead of time that "they might have to deal with someone naked." Winer claims to have been the "original pioneer male exotic entertainer on the continent," and he carries on the tradition in his emporium. He also features a wide selection of children's books, although he does admit he doesn't get a lot of children in the store. However, he says cheerfully, he gets "thousands upon thousands of grandparents and great-grandparents," buying books for the grandkids.

*What would this yearly column be without at least one freakishly large object? We regret to report, however, that the world's largest badger (40 feet tall!) ain't what he used to be. When the Badger Country gas station and gift store in Birnamwood, Wisc., was closed and turned into a "gentleman's club," the Mighty Mustelid was cut down so that only his head and claws remain, sticking up from a mound of dirt, as if he's clawing his way out of the earth. Just the thing to put you in the mood for a lap dance.

Ah, America. A golden land where naked bookstore owners roam free, museums devote themselves to luncheon meat, and giant angry badgers guard the outside of strip clubs. Wherever you go in this great land of ours this summer, have fun and drive safe.

Friday, May 25, 2007

This Has Recently Become One of My Absolute Favorite Songs

Terrible video quality, but still a beautiful tune that tells an achingly sad story.

I'm standing on this corner.

Can't get their attention.
Facing rush hour faces turned around.
I clutch my stack of paper, press one to a chest,
then watch it swoop and stutter to the ground.
I'm weary with right-angles, abbreviated daylight,
and waiting for a winter to be done.
Why do I still see you in every mirrored window,
in all that I could never overcome?
How I don't know what I should do with my hands when I talk to you.
How you don't know where you should look, so you look at my hands.
How movements rise and then dissolve, melted by our shallow breath.
How causes dance away from me.
I am your pamphleteer.
I walk this room in time to the beat of the Gestetner,
contemplate my next communique.
The rhetoric and treason of saying that I'll miss you.
Of saying "Hey, well maybe you should stay."
Sing "Oh what force on earth could be weaker than the feeble strength of one"
like me remembering the way it could have been.
Help me with this barricade.
No surrender. No defeat.
A spectre's haunting Albert Street.
I am your pamphleteer.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Alert Secret Service Agents Grabbed the Sparrow and Wrestled It To The Ground

It's just too perfect....

Bush In Line of Fire

May 24, 2007 1:50 PM

ABC's Ann Compton reports: An outdoor news conference in perfect spring weather, with birds chirping loudly in the magnolia trees, is not without its hazards.

As President Bush took a question Thursday in the White House Rose Garden about scandals involving his Attorney General, he remarked, "I've got confidence in Al Gonzales doin' the job."

Simultaneously, a sparrow flew overhead and left a splash on the President's sleeve, which Bush tried several times to wipe off.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino promptly put the incident through the proper spin cycle, telling ABC News, "It was his lucky day...everyone knows that's a sign of good luck."

Heh. Indeed.

I know quite a few folks for whom Garrison Keillor's Latest Column at is going to have a lot of meaning. An excerpt:

And when the book is done, which it will be, and it's in the bookstore, people ask, "How does it feel?" You say, "Great!" but that's not true. You feel relief, and disbelief, and a sort of sorrow that it's gone and what will you do with your life now? Also there is that long passage in the sixth chapter that you meant to rewrite and did not and now you know you should have. And there is that typo. The publisher sent you a copy of the book hot off the press and you opened it at random and there it is, the word "releif" -- God showing you that no matter how hard you try, you still fall short. Humility comes with the territory.


My advice is to get out of the house and take a walk, a good first cure for the depression that hits after you've been working for a year and it dawns on you that your book is not "Huckleberry Finn" but you must finish it anyway because the publisher's generous advance has been spent on a new pair of shoes for the baby and she has worn a hole in them already, so you press on -- on -- on -- though it strikes you that the world has a great many books already and does it need yours? And the readers you most want (youth) are fixated on screens, not on paper. This is so depressing you want to tie a rock to your ankle and jump in the Mississippi, and if you remembered how to tie the knots that could hold a rock you might, but a long walk can bring you around.

Tell it, Brother Keillor! Check out the whole article. You may have to endure a brief ad if you're not aa Salon subscriber, but it's definitely worth it.

They're (Not) Gonna Put Me In the Movies

My Most Recent Post Over at Muderati discusses the books you DON"T want to see made into movies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

One Week! (Warning: BSP)

Until the paperback release of Good Day In Hell, the second Jack Keller novel.

Fast-paced and rich in regional color, this satisfying thriller is notable for its empathetic portrayal of the two emotionally damaged protagonists, each struggling with past trauma—his sustained in the first Gulf War, hers resulting from the killing of her partner—in order to form a trusting relationship. (Publisher's Weekly)

Unlike Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, who humanize their bad guys by giving them senses of humor, Rhoades portrays unrepentant, psychotic killers but manages to make us feel, almost against our will, the human hearts that beat within their violent souls. (Booklist)

Available wherever fine books are sold.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Eulogy for Jerry Falwell

Latest Newspaper Column:

My good friends, today I want us all to remember the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died Tuesday at the age of 73.

But let us not spend our time dwelling upon the tragedy of his death. Rather, friends, let us remember the way he lived, and the things he stood for. Let us speak, good people, of the legacy left by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

You can tell a lot about a man and his life by the way he deals with those with whom he disagrees. This was the Rev. Mr. Falwell on those who believed differently from him: "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being." And as to those of different political beliefs: "We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism. We are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today. Our battle is with Satan himself."

The Rev. Mr. Falwell spent much of his life equating those with whom he differed on political philosophy with the Prince of Darkness himself. He taught his followers to regard political opponents as not just mistaken, but eeeeeevil. And that legacy lives on today.

He didn't spare Christians with whom he disagreed: "Look at the Metropolitan Community Church today, the gay church, almost accepted into the World Council of Churches. Thank God this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated, and there'll be a celebration in heaven!" When we remember the Rev. Mr. Falwell, let's never forget him calling for the "annihilation" of another church.

Here's the Rev. Mr. Falwell on the subject of women: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals -- most of them are failures. These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it, and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men -- that's their problem."

Who can forget his madcap sense of humor? This is a man, after all, who said, apparently with a straight face, that one of the Teletubbies was gay because he was purple and had a triangle on his head. I don't think I'll ever forget that.

One of the true measures of a man, of course, is how he deals with crisis. I, for one, can never forget the comfort and unifying calm that the Rev. Mr. Falwell and his friend Pat Robertson gave to us in the dark days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he said that he really believed that "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

When the country was whining like a bunch of babies about needing unity and healing, the Rev. Mr. Falwell took his own path. Just when it seemed that unity was about to break out, he made it OK for us to hate and fear each other again. That, too, is part of his legacy.

Falwell and others like him constantly exhorted his followers to wage "culture war," during which he assured his terrified flock that it was they who were on the verge of annihilation and that they must go to the grimmest extremes to survive.

"The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews," he once asserted, thus equating things like the removal of forced prayer from classrooms with gassing people to death and burning them in ovens. That paranoia and eternal sense of victimhood is one of the legacies he left his followers.

In the final analysis, the legacy for which Jerry Falwell will be most remembered is the political movement that he helped found. It was a movement that took differences of opinion, of philosophy, and of religion, and turned them into reasons to hate and fear other Americans. It was a movement that pits us against each other for others' political gain.

With his so-called "Moral Majority," Jerry Falwell created the concept that later evolved into the idea of the so-called "Republican Base," that hard core of True Believers who, if properly motivated, can put you just over the 51 percent you need to win an election. And once you're in, you're in. You can tell that other 49 percent -- millions of Americans -- to go, quite literally, to hell. Jerry Falwell helped create modern American political discourse.

So let's not dwell on the tragedy of Jerry Falwell's death. Let us remember the legacy that he left behind. And let us pray that somehow, someday, we can recover from it.