Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beautiful Ruins: Liz and Dick on the rocks

Beautiful Ruins
Jess Walter
EDMONTON - The wistfully lovely dust jacket for Jess Walter’s latest novel — tiny blocks of houses piled on top of each other on the teetering summit of an oceanside cliff — should have a protective plastic cover, not just to preserve the picture but to keep out beach sand and lake water. But in this case, “beach read” is a compliment.
If summer readers want high entertainment, they’ll find it here, for Beautiful Ruins has a quality of spectacle, the epic journey of people who enthrall us with personalities that are bigger than reality. But because Spokane-based author Jess Walter knows his way around a novel (The Zero and, most notably, The Financial Lives of the Poets), his extravaganza teeters atop a bedrock of hard reality, speaking uncomfortable truths about the frail, often narcissistic nature of identity.

The gorgeous ruin on the cover is Porto Vergogne (“Port of Shame”), a tiny Italian fishing village completely isolated except by boat. This is a misty Brigadoon of a place that does not appear on the map and which some people say does not even exist. Presiding over the one dingy hotel he inherited from his father is Pasquale Tursi, a dreamy young man waiting “for life to come and find him.” The cramped, uncomfortable place seldom draws guests, but on a certain day in 1962, all that changes — and so does Pasquale — startlingly, and forever.
If the dreamlike atmosphere of the Hotel Adequate View is not cinematic enough, it’s about to burst into Technicolor with the arrival of a lovely young woman, Dee Moray, a movie star, they say, working in Rome on the set of the most talked-about picture in decades, Cleopatra.

Yes, that Cleopatra – the overbudget epic, the disaster-in-the-making already guaranteed a huge audience by the raging scandal of Liz and Dick. Moray is only marginally connected to the movie, and has come to Porto Vergogne — or rather, has been sent there ­­— because she has just been diagnosed with “cancer” (i.e. a scandalous pregnancy).
Just as we sink into this complex, delectable story, suddenly there is a jerk away from the romance and bubbling eroticism of 1962 to present-day, and a completely different scene involving the nasty world of Hollywood deals and pitches. Michael Deane, a producer in his seventies from a different sort of Hollywood, looks “prematurely embalmed,” a stooped old man “with the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.” He signs a ludicrous deal for a movie called Donner! about the cannibalistic Donner Party of 1849, just to get himself out of a studio contract.

As we’re batted back and forth in time and place like the balls in Pasquale’s imaginary cliffside tennis court, threads begin to tie the different scenarios together. An elderly Italian man appears to confront Deane, not with a gun but a dog-eared business card that Deane gave him 50 years ago. Pasquale has never forgotten Moray, the lovely blond actress who spent just a few days at his hotel in 1962, and demands to know what happened to her.
The answers are not so simple, because by then several more storylines have leaped to the forefront, most taking place in different times and locations. As if that weren’t enough, there’s Richard Burton drunkenly spouting Shakespeare as he tools off by boat to the Hotel Adequate View.

Performing, posing, spectacle, disguise, the subversion of the true self ... it’s all here, especially in the story of Moray’s son, a mediocre rock musician who seems to be on a rampage of self-destruction. But like everything else in this novel, his existence is intimately linked to that surreal dockside arrival in 1962. Though the switchbacks in time and place can be disorienting, what pulls us back into the book’s core is the characters’ earnest search for real happiness, an intrepid desire to embrace “the sweet lovely mess that is life.”

Margaret Gunning is a writer and reviewer based in Port Coquitlam

Sunday, July 29, 2012

East River Monster Mystery: SOLVED (already!)

Now, I'm as easily petrified as the next person. Maybe more so, because I somehow need to jazz up my super-boring life.

But when I see pictures like THIS one, of bizarre bloated hairless things washing up on shore, things with human-looking fingers and toes, well then. . .

I get a little disconcerted.

Scientists have already done one-o-dem things, you know where you go in that tube? An MRI, or an IBM or something. Or a Cat Scan, only this isn't a cat.

Here is what they found.

It all seems to match up, even if they had to fill in the missing half of its head.

Though it's obvious that this ain't no pig, another possibility reared its snouty little head. . .


Not too friendly, is it? And as for being the "wrong size", they ought to live around here where they can get to be 50 pounds, easy. Those bastards can leap fences and ruin your newly-sodded lawn in a few minutes by rolling it up like a bloody carpet and eating the grubs underneath.

OK, so it might be a slightly deformed raccoon, but a lot of things do seem to match up here, even the long bony tail. So I don't think there's any human DNA here, unless humans like to eat grubs at midnight.

Shee-yiii-iiiiit. And here I thought I was on to a good one.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

FOUND!: Cujo's rogue DNA

It was getting dark, and getting lonely sitting out on the rickety old back porch. Sam threw his live cigarette-butt on the grass, watching a small plume of smoke rise above it. Shit, he hated his life! Why didn’t he just admit it? He hated to be “one of those”, one of the people who’d given in, who’d let the whole world see that they had given up on the human species and had turned to something very different.

Something that had never quite been seen on this earth before.

Oh, but we’d seen them all right. From the dawn times, when humans were barely human, slouching and grunting and smelling as bad as Bigfoot, we’d recognized Wolf, yellow eyes flashing in the moonlight. We’d coaxed that wolf toward tameness with enticing scraps of food, and gradually Wolf learned to be a companion and guardian, a protector of human safety. So were things really any different now? Didn’t protecting one’s sanity from the horrific effects of social alienation count as guardianship?

And look at all the dog breeds that existed now. Hundreds, probably, and all the result of deliberate genetic tampering. So maybe this was just taking the next logical step.

Really, not so many people minded any more. Not like years ago, when it was an abomination even to think of mixing things up like that. Now that cloning your dead pet had become standard and even affordable, things like the “Up, Boy!” breeding program were slowly grinding their way into respectability.

It had become almost a status symbol to have someone like Flash. Well, almost, like tattoos and piercings and things. Though really, he shouldn’t have given him that silly dog name, what with his innate (or rather, engineered) superiority. This dog was no canine; anyone could see that. He was just a little bit More.

Flash trotted into the room, tail waving. An ordinary German Shepherd, except for the size.  Don’t look for long into those eyes, which were too blue even for a husky’s.

“Flash,” Sam cooed, scratching the ruff around his neck. Without even being asked, Flash lifted a front paw. But instead of “shake-a-paw”, he did something else.

He began to massage that tender place in Sam’s knee, the old football injury he used to call it, before everyone caught on to the fact that he got it falling down the stairs after a big pissup. These were no ordinary dog-paws: the toes were long and fingerlike, supple enough to know just where that tender spot was.

“Funny feet,” people said about Flash. They didn’t look too closely at his back paws, which were most un-doglike and even freaked Sam out sometimes. Their tracks made him think of a barefoot baby.

“Rururwwww,” he said.

“Yes, big buddy.”

“Irur wooo.”

“I know.”

Ur are you?”

“I’m great, old pal.” Flash had cost him plenty: had to sell his bike and take out a second mortgage on this dump, but who cared when every female he had ever cared about had stomped all over him like he was nothing.

He saw one of those reality shows the other day called “But They’re my Babies!”, all about how a large segment of the population now cared more for their dogs than they did for humans, any humans, even their parents, spouses, children.

They’re my babies. Ar-rur-rur-rooo. How are you?

His cat wouldn’t go anywhere near Flash and hissed and arched and spiked alarmingly if he even saw him across the room. Flash would shake his head and say, “tsh-tsh-tsh”. Too bad. So far the scientists had left feline DNA alone, and perhaps that was wise.

This interspecies stuff – why was it considered so controversial? It didn’t cost that much, did it? Of course he’d only gone for the minimum, the ten per cent.

Ten per cent of human genes inserted into the DNA of a dog. A handsome dog. The human, well, not so handsome, it was really just Sam, but now he had a son just like he had always dreamed about. He even saw a bit of a family resemblance. Not just to him, but to his parents and his old Uncle Charley.

“Flash. Get me that – “

Flash ran over, his paws making that odd barefooted scurrying sound, and retrieved the remote, then, carefully setting it down, depressed the Guide button.

“You always know what I want, Flash.”


He knew people knew, knew something was Different, that this dog carried himself differently, like it was striding along beside him, with a certain human kind of companionable gait. He knew its predatory side had been somewhat watered down – or not? Maybe just substituted with a different sort of predator.

People really were narrow-minded about “Up, Boy!” and the huge strides it had made in genetic research. The company advertised their services as a “step up” in pet ownership, an upgrading of a simple canine into something “so much more”. And if you had turned your back on your fellow humans, as so many people had done, the possibility was even more attractive, even essential to your emotional survival.  In fact, though it was strictly illegal, they were willing to go as high as 30 per cent if you were willing to fork over the quarter-million in cash.

Oh, all this had been illegal, illegal as hell for quite a long time. But just as the two-headed baby that would have been strangled fifty years ago eventually had its own reality show, the culture had learned to embrace the unusual. “Why do we do this?” the “Up, Boy!” brochure asked. “Would it surprise you so much if we said – because we can? Would it surprise you even more to learn that – you can, too?”

It was now possible to insert human genes into practically any species, any strand of DNA. One of the scientists joked that he wanted his son to look like a birch tree. Some of the early experiments were a bit creepy, of course, chimps being born with only ten per cent concert pianist DNA who could play Rachmaninoff with no lessons, or cows with hands, well, sort of hands, fingers anyway, but who the hell cares if a cow has hands or not? It just made for some great jokes about a self-milking cow. What difference does it make to the larger scheme of things, so long as human curiosity is satisfied?

But then there was the other side of it. Out of all this wonderful, groundbreaking research, a highly stigmatized group of “citizens” had arisen, so shady and secretive that many people said they didn’t exist at all, that they were merely an urban legend. These were the “down, boy” dogs: half human and half dog, or even mostly human, walking around with hocks facing backwards instead of knees, pads on their hands, forward-thrusting faces and gruff voices that elongated their speech into a series of groans.

Humans were mixing it up, all right. And why not? Hadn’t the color palette been predictably drab for long enough? The next experiment was inserting resurrected dinosaur DNA into frogs. Or was it humans? Imagine having that sort of Godzilla-like power! Talk about a roar! Or maybe you’d just end up with a certain reptilian ruthlessness, an absolute, utter, stone-hearted, glacial disregard for anything approaching decency or – Oh, it was Flash again!  It was amazing how he had learned to carry a plate without dropping anything or even salivating on the pastrami sandwich.

And how had he known he was hungry? And for what?

“Hello, boy.”

“Roarw are you?”

“Not so great, old pal.”

“Roarw you roanly?’

“Yeah. That’s the word, Flash.” He threw another live cigarette butt into the garbage can.


Fifty Shades of Grey Elephants: Janet goes berserk!

Janet has had ENOUGH! Don't stay in your seats, folks. . . RUN!!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm sorry to have to show you this: the East River Monster

But I'm doing it. I'm doing it in the interests of SCIENCE.

Things keep washing ashore - oh, not here, mind you, and I'm bloody glad, cuzzadafact that just thinking about all this makes me want to shed my skin and jump right out of it.

Y'see, well. Things wash up. . . not here, but under the Brooklyn Bridge (this time - then there were all the other times too, but we don't talk about them.)

People are saying it's just a pig, a dead pig that someone threw overboard (overboard - over what? A pig boat?). But pictured above is a closeup of its "hand", which looks distressingly. . . human.

Anyone who has seen dead cattle (and I haven't seen any lately) will be aware that after they die, they bloat up and their limbs kind of stick out every-which-way. So we can eliminate that particularly creepy effect as a normal aftereffect of being dead and decaying.

But OH, this isn't a pig. Isn't a pig. Most definitely isn'tapig.

Isn't. A. Pig.

But it's a "something", that much is certain, and theories abound: a very large dead rat; a very large dead racoon. . . some kind of  dead "canine". . . but none of those theories fit this creature's fearsome physiology.

Please hang on to something now, for I am about to show you something even worse, something that washed up on shore in 2008.

I don't know why I do this. Why do I do this? I can't help myself. I look through my fingers, but I look, my scalp prickling with horror.

This is called the Montauk Monster, and nobody knows what-the-fuck-it-is or even wants to.

What I think is happening is this: somewhere, someone is doing experiments. Before you write this off,  just think what is already possible with hybridizing, genetic engineering, gene splicing and dicing, and all that stuff.

This isn't a question of "an animal crossed with a human". "Crossed" is no word for what is happening here. Minute amounts of human genetic material are being insinuated into the genetic structure of certain animals, perhaps pigs, perhaps gigantic rodents like capybaras (except their teeth are different).

No, I don't jest because I think it's happening now and that there exist in labs or hideous farms somewhere, hybrids that contain maybe ten per cent human genes. Just to see what will happen.

So the pig has a little twist of intelligence along with his tail. Might be useful for certain research. How intelligent can a pig become? How human? Will it suddenly begin to talk in a squealy, irritating voice?

What if one gets away from the evil lab some time, such as now? What if one jumps onboard a cruise ship and someone sees it and freaks out so much he chucks it overboard?


Something scares me, scares me so much I won't bother to turn off the italics: someone is going to insist that this "thing" be genetically tested to see what it's really made of, and what percentage of it has been tampered with. What percentage of it might in fact be human.


This thing? There is no such animal. Yet here it is, right under the Brooklyn Bridge. Woody, don't leave the house.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

The Sacred Sweater, Vol. II

Shit on a stick, did I ever have a hard time with that last post. Trying to convert the text into something my blog would accept took forever.

But I persevered, mainly because I thought this piece was so astonishing. The actual text goes on for ten pages or so, and covers most of the Bible, even the Old Testament, in which the "teacher" says all the little Hebrew boys were being slain because "those Hebrews were just breeding like rabbits".

This thing reeks of fundamentalism, not to mention racism, with even the most innocent act (knitting!) dragged in to illustrate scriptural precepts. The thing that astonishes me is how long I fell for this. I was "in" this milieu for something like fifteen years before I came to realize that somewhere along the way, it had come to mean almost nothing to me.

It wasn't so much scripture, which can be interesting if contradictory (as is Jesus). It was the people trying to convey the messages. Hardly anyone I encountered in all that time seemed to have anything more than a superficial knowledge of what this was all about.

You see, the old-time message behind the Bible is that we're basically no goddamn good, if you'll pardon the language. We're selfish and hard-hearted and besides that, we have sex! We have sex. Do you know what people actually do when they have sex? And they enjoy it. Could it be worse?

So it's very important either to not have sex, or, if we do have it, not to enjoy it due to guilt, shame and a smothering feeling of sin that will never go away.

We were always controlled by guilt, not to mention shame and a sense of fundamental unworthiness and irredeemable filth that could "only" be cleansed by Jesus. Trouble was, we had to keep doing this over and over and over again, pretty much every Sunday.

We never quite "got there," as if the goal was to become some saintly figure that no one else would be able to stand.  We always had to go against, against, against our true nature, or God wouldn't love us any more. Certainly, the pecksniffs at church wouldn't - that is, if they ever loved us in the first place.

So. We have the Biblical teddy bear sweater, and later on in the 10 or 12 pages of this drivel she uses the term "bear" in the most groaningly punning way. We "bear with" our sorrows, etc. I have to say, though, that though I may just try that little knitting pattern, I found her theology not so much unbearable as a complete sack of shit.

Holy cow (or bear): it's the Sacred Sweater!



Knitting 103 - Teddy Bear


Contributed by:

Trinity Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, WI

Knitting 103 "Teddy Bear


The purpose of Knitting 103
“Teddy Bear Sweater”
is to educate the class about
all the steps
required in knitting a sweater.
The pattern was designed to
include all the parts of a regular s
ized cardigan, including a small
increase pattern on the sleeves,
a ribbed crew collar and button
plackets. They will learn the
importance of determining gauge
and blocking.
The goal is to encourage the
class: if you can knit this teddy
bear sweater, then you can knit a
person sized sweater, too!
It is a four week class.
The sweater is small enough
that they should easily be able to
finish the work from week to week

Teddy Bear Sweater,
Week One
Before people have arrived
to this
class, they should have
what size needles they need to
the correct gauge.
Talk to them about gauge.
Gauge doesn’t matter so
if you’re knitting a dishrag or a
scarf or even an
afghan. But if you’re making
something which needs to
be a certain size, like a
garment or a pillow cover,
then you need
to make sure that your
gauge in knitting
will achieve the proper

After you’ve explained all that,
then it’s time to get started!
Hand out the pattern
for week one, and get them
The Bible Study is centered
on the topic of measuring
Romans 3:19–26.
I. Introduction

•What’s the purpose of a ruler?
•Is an inch the same on one
ruler as it is
on another ruler, or are there
standards for the length of
an inch?

In religion, what would be
our “ruler”?
What do we measure
ourselves against?
(The Law, or the 10
We measure our lives against
the standard
of God’s Law. But a funny thing
once we start to measure our
Have someone read
Romans 3:19–20

II. The Law’s Gauge
Question: What is Paul saying
about when we try to
make the gauge”
against the Law’s standard?
(Nobody will
measure up.)
Paul is saying that we can
never make
the gauge of God’s law.
There are things you can
do in knitting
to manipulate the outcome of
your product.

Question: What are some
you can do? (Use a different
of needles; knit more tightly or
use another yarn)
But Paul is saying that there’s
we can do in our lives to
manipulate our
 gauge to fit God’s standard!
We will not
measure up!
Let’s suppose:
You knit a sweater, but you never
your gauge. And you have a
great time
knitting it up. But when you
get finished,
your sweater will be too large
or to small.

The same think applies with
our lives. You
may go through life never
comparing yourself
against God’s “gauge.” And you
might be as
happy as a lark. But your
gauge will still be
off! Being ignorant of the
truth doesn’t make
our true reality go away.
In fact....look at verse 20.....
it’s precisely in
measuring our gauge that we
conscious of our shortcoming.
The gauge
standard is what points
out to us the truth
about ourselves, that we
can never meet the

III. Another Gauge
Sounds like bad news, huh?
But it isn’t!
Let’s read on. Have someone
read Rom. 3:21–26.
Verse 21—A righteousness from
God apart
from the Law. Aha! There is a
new standard!
Question: And what is this
new standard of
righteousness? (Jesus)
Jesus has measured up to
the gauge of
righteousness. And the
good news is
that we’re not measured
against our gauge.
We’re measured
against his.

Vss. 23–24—Question:
Does anyone
make the gauge on their own?
No! The product of our own doings
will always
fall short. All fall short, and all
“make the gauge”
in the same way: through the
product of Jesus’
This is the good news: We don’t
make the grade. Jesus makes it.
He has “made the gauge”
and in him we meet the standard.

Teddy Bear Sweater, Week One

Romans 3:19-26
Now we know that whatever
the law says,
it speaks to those who are
under the law,
 so that every mouth may be s
ilenced, and
the whole world may be held
accountable to
God. 20 For “no human being
will be justified
in his sight” by deeds prescribed
by the law,
for through the law comes the
knowledge of
21 But now, apart from law, the
righteousness of God has been
and is attested by the law and t
he prophets,
22 the righteousness of God
faith in
Jesus Christ for all who believe.
For there is
no distinction,
23 since all have sinned and
short of the
glory of God;

24 they are now justified by his
grace as a
through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus,
25 whom God put forward as a
sacrifice of
atonement by his blood,
effective through
He did this to show his
because in his divine
forbearance he had
passed over the sins previously
26 it was to prove at the
present time that he
himself is righteous and that he
justifies the
one who has faith in Jesus.