A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin – a Commentary

Dazzling, Powerful, Breathtaking, Giant, Monumental, Magnificent, Extraordinary, Ambitious, Brilliant, Vivid, Gripping, Poignant, Intense, Superb, Rousing…



  • Publisher: Avon Books (May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380715899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380715893


Above are just a few of the superlatives used to describe this book by those obsequious gnomes who live in those small cubicles in newsrooms and magazine publishing houses the world over. They’re paid to make pronouncements such as these in response to their supposed personal experience with the author’s work sitting on the desk in front of them.


I’ll not be so bold as to say that I can sit and read a book of this magnitude and then find words sufficient to actually describe the emotions I felt while reading it and as the back cover closed for the last time. My poor command of the language is such that I could not even approach Mark Helprin’s artistry with words, light, shadows, music, and colors in order to describe his art here in this place. I would feel like I were drawing distorted stick men in an attempt to describe the colors and vibrancy of Leonardo’s Last Supper.


It will ever be beyond my artistry to describe such art.


Using my meager skills, though, I would like to, in some meaningful fashion, try to show you, dear reader, even a small glimpse of the beauty of this story and how it affected me as I read it and possibly forever afterward. Yes, it’s one of those books; one of the rare ones that is ever so much more than just an entertaining distraction from the pressing issues of every day life.


I’ve read a lot of books since becoming literate at a very young age; thanks to my mother, who spent time and effort in teaching me how to read and instilling in me her own love for books. After reading a book such as Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War, I actually feel very sorry and sad for those who don’t read books. They will never know what they’re missing. Never.


In all my years of reading, there have only been a very few books that really, really touch that deep, secret place in my soul; that place where fears, loves, regrets, past joys reside and are occasionally re-experienced in poorly preserved and fading memories. This book took me to that place. I’ll bare my soul here and admit that I actually cried after closing that back cover. The tears had been working their way to the surface during the last 20 pages or so.


I haven’t cried in 15 years; the last time being two or three days after my mother died. I have not cried often since I was a child. It isn’t manly to cry, supposedly. Plays hell with the big burly biker image, too. ;)


About this book, though…


Helprin has used a fine brush on a vast canvas to paint a portrait of life, death, love, hate, fear, joy, and any other emotion you could possibly experience in a lifetime. He managed in just over 700 pages what it took an old man sitting and dying on a hillside in Italy nearly 75 years to accomplish. Using words that border, and often cross over into, the realm of artistry he fashions a tale so deep and vast as to literally suck the reader into the life it’s describing.


The life is that of Alessandro Giuliani, an Italian fellow, a professor of aesthetics from Rome who one day begins a bus ride that will become a journey of personal reminiscences, a mentoring of a young traveling companion, and a profound understanding of life and death which culminates on a sunny hillside in peaceful rapturous splendor.


Alessandro tells the boy Nicolo of his life and loves; of his horrors and losses; and of his understanding and feelings on beauty and art, particularly his appreciation of Giorgione’s La Tempesta. All this takes place as the two companions walk along roads and across fields and hills on the way to their destination. The bus ride didn’t work for Alessandro and Nicolo as they had initially planned. Isn’t that just like life?


I read many reviews of this book to try to get a feeling for how others would describe it. I did not find any review that even came close to what reading the book made me feel; neither do my own poor choice of words, as predicted, even begin to elicit from you the feeling I felt while reading this book. It’s just going to be something you’ll have to experieince for yourself.


Books are subjective things ultimately. You may not get past the first 20 pages before you decide the book is not for you. That’s the way it goes sometimes. No reviewer can ever fully transfer his own feeling on reading a book to his readers. It’s an exercise in futility. It’s like me trying to explain to you how delicious the salad I had for lunch was or how much it hurt when I hit my thumb with the hammer the other day. No. Words are poor substitutes for experience.


Get this book. Experience it for yourself. That’s all I can say.






Image credits: generic book cover – Avon Books paperback version


This article is being published simultaneously on My Passion Is Books blog – all rights reserved by the original author. Copyright authority is that of Nocturnal Slacker v2.0 – V. T. Eric Layton.

My New Friend

Up until recently, there was a big old oak tree out in my front yard. It was very old.

I literally grew up and old with this tree watching over me for the past 52 years. I have so many wonderful memories tied to that tree. I wrote a little reminiscence about the tree a few years ago. I was attached to the old fellow. Unfortunately, he’s gone now.

 photo old-oak_missing-03_031114_zps14e7cb11.jpgThis is all the city tree crew left of him recently. The tree had been dropping some rather large branches over the last couple years during some of our normal summertime afternoon thundershowers. The tree is on city easement, which means it’s their responsibility and liability should something happen to injure someone or damage something. Back in September, the city forester came by and inspected the tree. He condemned it at that time. I tried my best to appeal, but they weren’t going to budge.

I lost my old friend on my father’s birthday (11 March), just a couple weeks ago.

Sure. “It’s just a tree,” some of you are saying. Well, that’s true. It was a tree, but it was one that was practically a member of my family. I was born and raised in this house. I spent my childhood in the shade of that tree, as did my older brother, and many, many of our neighborhood friends. When I was little, the neighbors and my parents would bring over lawn chairs and sit out under that tree till late in the evenings talking and laughing while the children played around them. It was a different world back then. Sadly, that world is as gone as my old oak is.

When the forester was here on that day back in September, he told me about something the city had going called “The Tree-mendous Community Tree Program.” The city will, at no cost to the homeowner, plant one tree per lot on the city easement at the request of the homeowner. It’s a program with the aim of beautifying and enhancing neighborhoods by planting new shade trees. He gave me a link to their website where I could check out the choice of trees they offer and set up a appointment to have someone come out and talk with me about it. So, that’s what I did.

Initially, I wanted a nice fast-growing red maple, but the fellow who came out to talk to me talked me out of it for two reasons: they weren’t happy with the quality of the red maples they were getting from their current contractor and because they removed a laurel oak, they would prefer that I choose a live oak to replace it. The idea is to keep the neighborhood’s tree personality intact, so to speak. Laurel oaks are pretty, but they’re not as sturdy or as long-lived as live oaks. Unfortunately, live oaks don’t grow that fast.

I figured, if I wasn’t around long enough to enjoy the live oak, maybe some other folks after me will appreciate its shade and beauty after I’m gone from this place. With that in mind, I went ahead and ordered the live oak from the city program. Daniel, the fellow who came out to talk with me placed a little white flag in the yard so the crew would know where to plant the tree. He told me they’d be back in a week or two. photo oak_flag-031414_zps29e910b7.jpg

Well, today was the day. I woke up this morning and the tree crew had come and gone already. They left me a new little guy out there in the front yard. They mulched him and propped him up. They even gave him his first tasty drink of water from my hose after planting him. He’s about 8′ tall with a trunk of 2.5″. Heh! Not quite a “grand oak” yet, but one day… one day. Here are a some pics of my new friend and the little reminder message they left on him:

  photo new_oak-032714-2_zps247e81e6.jpg  photo new_oak-032714-1_zps426e1efc.jpg  photo new_oak-032714-3_zps449ea0ad.jpg

In that center picture, you can see the stump of my old oak in the background. It’s kinda’ sad, but life doesn’t give up easily. When I walked over to look at the stump while out there snapping these shots, I noticed a tiny little baby oak growing out of the old stump. The city is supposed to come back and grind the stump down for me. I might just tell them to leave it alone.

 photo newold_oak-032714-4_zps4888f789.jpg

Maybe one day, that wee little thing growing out of the stump will look like the might oak that once stood there and watched over me as I played under its storied boughs.

 photo old_oak-090713-05_zps600a5846.png



Major League Baseball 2014 Season

I’m a bit overdue, but it’s that time of year, folks. The time that I start writing about baseball! Woo-hoo!

Wait! Wait! Don’t run off. Come back! Ah, shoot. OK, so baseball is a bit of a passion for me. Hey! What the hell? Could be worse. I could be writing about Mahjong tournaments or crossword puzzle addictions, right? Or would you prefer that? ;)

I live in Tampa, Florida, as many of you may know. You probably also know that I’m a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays American League East baseball team, which currently resides in their home at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida; right across the Bay from me.

The Rays weren’t always an impressive team. During their initial seasons here in the Tampa Bay area as the “Devil Rays,” they struggled quite a bit and usually ended at the bottom of the AL East by the season’s end. It was a learning, growing experience, I suppose. Then one day, a fellow named Joe Maddon showed up here to manage a newly renamed “Rays” baseball organization. Some ownership and control changes also had recently occurred.

And POOF! The Magic began. From cellar dwellers to hunter killers in the AL East, the Rays are now, and have been for the past few season, a power to be reckoned with in the American League East; one of the most difficult leagues to play in. The AL East is populated by some of the most terrifyingly talented and ridiculously funded teams in all of the MLB: the legendary Bronx Bombers – the New York Yankees, the Monsters of Fenway – the Boston Red Sox, the Masters of Camden Yards – the Baltimore Orioles, and our Canuck Cousins – the Toronto Blue Jays. Talk about competition!

It’s a feat just to get past these guys to get a chance at the other American League teams vying for that World Series trophy in October. The Rays are going to give ‘em all hell this year, though. They have a lot of new faces in the clubhouse, but fortunately, also a bunch of old familiar faces, too. The Gold Glove caliber infield is intact, I’m happy to say, with the return of Evan Longoria (3b), Yunel Escobar (ss), Ben Zobrist (2b), and James Loney (1b).

The bats are back, too. Wil Myers, David DeJesus, Matt Joyce (hopefully showing some power this year), etc. Oh, and let’s not forget some serious Major League experience behind the plate with our dynamic duo of Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan, who ain’t too shabby with a bat in his hand, by the way.

Oh, and did I mention pitching? Well, David Price is back. I don’t know how the hell that happened, but our Cy Young pitcher will be back on the mound for opening day on Monday the 31st of March. Can David and the Rays pitching staff lead the team to the World Series this year? It sure looks like a possibility in my odds book.

The Rays have it all this season: front office support, management, coaching, experience, youth, speed, skill, talent, power, etc. Do they also have that passionate drive needed to survive 160+ games and give it their all each time the walk out on the field? We’ll see. I think they do.




Book People

Have you ever noticed that book people almost always have something to talk about?

That’s no universal oddity. It’s, to speak plainly, the way it is. It’s the same way artists always have something to talk about or the way auto mechanics have something to talk about. It’s called common ground, and it’s wonderful the way it brings diverse personalities together to interact with one another.

And sure, it’s a broad generalization to say this, but in my experience, most of the book people I’ve met in my life are very decent humans. The young lady I met today is no exception. Well, it’s true I’ve only known Mitzi for about 2 hours, but you’d have to meet her yourself to see what I mean.

Mitzi is Ms. Mitzi Gordon of the Bluebird Books Bus. This young lady is a believer and proponent of books, reading, and increased literacy among her neighbors and friends. She and her dedicated small group of volunteers do what they can to advance the cause of open book exchanges; the more techie-oriented folks reading this can think of it as OpenSource, but for dead tree books.

I recently acquired a vast collection of gently read and many never-read paperback books. And, as many of you may remember from my previous articles here or there, I am in the process of dispersing much of my own personal library of over 10K books. I don’t live in a warehouse, unfortunately, so I just don’t have the room for them anymore. And with today’s seriously diminishing book values on the used book market, it’s just not worth my while to attempt to sell them all. So, the next best thing, or possibly, the actual first best thing is to donate the books to folks who love to read.

With this in mind, I remembered an article in the newspaper from a while ago describing Mitzi and her Bluebird Books Bus. I sent her an email the other day and asked if she might like to take a few books (100s, actually) off my hands. She was quite willing to take on the burden and the possible rear suspension damage to her little blue car. Well, not really. I didn’t give her enough to strain the shocks. We decided on a more sane donation schedule. Besides, I still need to go through all the bins of books to see if there are any books in there that I’d like to read before donating.

11 more bins like this still coming!

Anyway, along with her neighborhood open book boxes, Mitzi will soon be opening a small free library pick-up and drop-off gallery of sorts. It’s going to be located in the old Seminole Heights area of Tampa, near the corner of Florida Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. If you’re in the area, stop on by after the first week of April and pick-up or drop off some books. Say hi to the Bluebird Books Bus folks while you’re there.

Reading isn’t just fundamental, as the old public service commercial used to say, it’s FUN, dammit! Put down the phone, iPad, whatever, and pick up a book. It could change your life. At the very least, it’ll provide you with a few hours of happiness. You might even meet some really nice book folks like Mitzi in your travels.



Image credits: Book bins – (c)V. T. Eric Layton

Mitzi w/ blue car – used pending permission from http://art-taco.blogspot.com

The Brokeback Sink Saga

Nah… this one doesn’t have anything to do with gay cowboys or anything like that. It’s more literal; an actual broken sink.

My house is in different stages of deconstruction/reconstruction. It’s a long story, actually, and one not at all related to this story. So, now that we have that out of the way…

Ever have “one of those days” when you are pretty sure from the start that you probably should have just stayed in bed? Yeah… quite a few of you out there nodding, I see. Bodily wastes do occur.

Well, I got up the other morning and went into the bathroom to start my morning ablutions. It was a beautiful spring morning here in Florida. What could go wrong on such a beautiful day, right? Hmmph! Here’s what went wrong:

click for bigger pic

Yup. After brushing my teefies and combing my hair, I reached into the medicine cabinet over the sink to pull out a bottle of that manly-man smelling aftershave stuff. I dropped the bottle. The image above is a direct result of my fumbledy-fingerness. Well, that about shot that beautiful day in the ass, huh? Oh, the aftershave bottle didn’t break.

That sink is a $250+ Kohler pedestal sink that my niece gave to me after my brother and I remodeled her bathroom a couple years ago. I’m more of a Home Depot, made-in-China, $49 sink and vanity guy, you know, so I thought this sink was pretty spiffy. Unfortunately, I do not have the funds to replace it at this time.

I emailed that pic to my brother. His immediate reply was, “We can fix that!” Hmm… he and I have both always been great improvisers and innovators when it comes to fixing things or making them work in situations they weren’t designed to work in. It’s a valuable skill; one honed to razor sharpness by poverty, by the way. OK, let’s give it a try, I told him.

Today he showed up with his bag of magic adhesive goodies. He’s been a model plane hobbyist since childhood. Hobbyist isn’t a good enough word to describe it at this stage of the game. What he does with model airplanes looks more like artwork to me, but whaddo I know? My hobbies are books and eating. ;)

Anyway, he explained the complicated engineering behind the attempt and then commenced to build the “rig” necessary to hold the pieces in place while the glues (two different kinds) set. Here’s what the rig looked like:

click for bigger pic

Alright then…

After some coffee drinking and 15 minutes or so of shooting the bull in my kitchen, we went back into the bathroom to inspect that project. It looks like… could be… it is… SUCCESS!!! Here’s a shot of the now (theoretically, as I have yet to test it) non-leaking bathroom sink:

click for bigger pic (you should know this by now ;) )

And there you have it. Another fine impromptu engineering marvel performed by (mostly) my brother Steve, pictured below with that look of shock on his face as he replies to me, “Of course, it’s gonna’ work!” Like I had any doubts. ;)

I just finished lunch. I guess I’ll go brush my teefies and see if anything splashes on my toes during that operation.



Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball – a Review of Sorts

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307908488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307908483

This is my fourth Jesse Ball book and I remain impressed.

Ball writes a book as though he were an artist making gentle brush strokes with oil on canvas. It’s obvious he has the heart of a poet. I can honestly say that I’ve never read any other written works that are quite like this young man’s.

In this book, Mr. Ball steps into his own “fiction” as a reporter researching a story of a series of disappearances in Japan many years previously and the resulting criminal investigations and the “justice” doled out as a result of them; justice that included the hanging of a man who confessed to the “crime”.

You may note that the words fiction and crime are both in quotes in the above paragraph. I do this because I’m unsure that the first is accurate nor the second morally correct. You’ll have to read Mr. Ball’s story to understand fully what I mean by that.

I must also mention here the physical appearance of the book itself, which is often an important component of my overall enjoyment of what the younger crowd is now referring to as a “dead tree” book. This book that I read was a Pantheon Book (Random House, LLC). The binding boards are pure white, unusual for most hardcover books, I believe. It’s also about 10% smaller in height/width than a normal hardcover.

Then there is the unique dustcover image; a stark set of eyes and hint of a nose shadow on slightly off-white paper with a dusting of threadlike debris. Note also the red wax pencil scribbling over the words “A Novel”. Or is this Jesse Ball’s signature? Interesting, hmm? As to the image of the face; is it that of one of the book’s characters? Could be. However, to me, there is also the hint of the author’s own face in that image. What do you see?

While this author’s first three books (also reviewed here) were unique in their own ways, this current offering is a notch or two above the others, in my opinion. The previous had their points to be made. They were entertaining. They were thought-provoking.

Silence Once Begun is deep; much deeper than it seems at first glance. A reader will wonder where this young man found his inspiration for this story. Was it purely a product of his imagination? Was their really some factual basis as stated by the author on page xii of the introductory pages of the book? Was any small portion of this story something directly reflecting the author’s own personal experiences? We may never know.

Ultimately, a book is judged by that feeling that the reader gets as he folds down the back cover after reading the words on that final page; the last series of words laid down by the author on that last blank sheet of paper in his typewriter or that last page of his MS Word document.

When that feeling is one of satiation, contentment, warmth, and many other complimentary and often contradictory feelings, then the book is a good one. Bad books only generated feelings of disappointment as that back cover is turned over.

That feeling as the cover is turned, though, is a very personal one. What I felt when I closed the cover of Silence Once Begun may or may not be what you feel should you have the opportunity to read this book. Therefore, I cannot judge for you. I can only tell you what I thought.

What I thought as I closed that cover on this book is that it is probably Jesse Ball’s best so far. I don’t often re-read books, but this may be one that I’ll have to stew on for a while and then re-read. Was this a good book? In my opinion, most definitely.

Read it for yourself and let me know what you think.



Further reading: A very interesting interview of the author by Shawn Andrew Mitchell at fictionwritersreview.com

Image credits: book image, stock publisher’s image

This article is being published simultaneously on My Passion Is Books blog – all rights reserved by the original author. Copyright authority is that of Nocturnal Slacker v2.0 – V. T. Eric Layton.

I Have Been Remiss

Yes, I’ve been living real life and not writing here on my blog as much as I should.

However, if I weren’t out riding my bike, reading good books, doing home fixer-upper baloney, looking for work, scrounging for $ to pay my bills each week, etc., I would definitely be here writing more stories about Springtime in Florida, or baseball, or telling you about some of the great books I’ve read lately. Unfortunately, I haven’t been here to do that, so here’s a brief rundown of what you’ve missed…

Winter was cold; not as cold as up north, but I’m getting older and feel these severe Florida winters more than I used to. ;)

I’m still looking for gainful employment.

I still don’t have any health insurance. Fortunately, my health is excellent. I just had a visit to the doctor last week; had to pay cash that I borrowed from a friend for the visit, though. :(

I’ve been listening to music, but that’s nothing new. My favorite head-banging Rock&Roll is coming from Black Label Society these days. You can check out my Profile on Grooveshark to see what I listen to most often. Right now I’m listening to Ambient radio. :)

I’ve been riding my bicycle again. I had to lay off for a while since November last because I blew out my bad knee. Don’t even know how I did it, but it was very painful to walk or ride. As a result, I put on some poundage over the winter months like a hibernating bear. I’m trying to lose that weight now. It’s a slow process after 45 to lose weight. Sure goes on fast, though. :(

Read some good books lately. I’ve reviewed a couple here, I think. I’m currently enjoying Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International. Fun stuff!

The kitties are all fine. The outside ones are having to deal with the Spring flea hatching festival, though. I keep the workshop flea free for them, though. I spread Borax soap powder in there twice a month. Nothing that crawls on the ground survives that stuff; harmless to the kitties, though. Pretty cool! Cheap too!

Well, that’s about it. Catch up with you all again soon.

Enjoy your Spring, once it finally gets to you. ;)



Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger – a Review

This is my second Audrey Niffenegger book.

I was at my local branch library a couple years ago when I saw an interesting title down on the bottom shelf at foot level. The book wasn’t down there because it earned that spot. On the contrary, I found it to be a “Top Shelf” book, for sure. It’s just that through a random alphabetical bit of fate, it landed down there that day. I’m glad I reached down for it. But that book is another story.

I’m here today to tell you about her latest book called Her Fearful Symmetry. If you read her first book, you’ll be wanting to peruse this one, also. It’s another Top Shelf effort, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a ghost story of sorts, with a twist. I’ve read a few ghost stories in my time. This one is a bit unique, I think. Read it and judge for yourself.

It’s the story of young twin girls who inherit a flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London from their aunt, who happens to be their mother’s twin. Twins do run in families, after all. There are a few unusual condition in the will that must be met in order for the twins to completely inherit all that their Aunt Elspeth has left them. The young ladies, who happen to live in America with their mom and dad, move to London to fulfill the conditions.

There is a mystery here, folks. There’s is abnormal psychology in the form of extreme OCD. There’s romance to go around. There’s even a cute little kitty. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I believe I was even a bit surprised at having such a wonderful, warm feeling upon closing that back cover. That’s the sign of a good read, after all. Right?

Pop in at your favorite bookseller or your local library and pick up a copy to keep you warm on these waning winter nights.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439165394
  • ISBN-13: 978-143916539

If you get a chance, visit Ms. Niffenegger’s website.



The Catcher In the Rye – Some Thoughts…

That’s the trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. ~Holden Caulfield

For me, this is the defining statement in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In the Rye. This is a book that I’ve often marveled over. Many years ago, when I was in high school, we had to read this book over the summer so that we’d be prepared for a test once school started in September. Like many, I did the CliffsNotes thing back then. I passed the test, but failed at reading or comprehending the object of the exercise; namely, the book itself.

Fifteen years or so ago, I attempted this book for real. I read it. I’ll freely admit that I was one of those clueless morons, a rarity judging by this book’s popularity, who just didn’t seem to get it… whatever “it” was. I was truly amazed at the time that this book was on so many lists as one of the most read books of all time. Currently, it still sells 250,000 copies a year1. It has sold over 65 million copies since it was first published by Little Brown & Co. in 19512.

My impression after my first read of this book was that Holden Caulfield was just a spoiled punk rich kid who needed to have someone kick his ass for him. I mean seriously, the kid was a whack job. If he were around today, his doctor would have him so full of Ritalin, and all those other ADHD candies they prescribe, that the kid would just sit and drool on himself in front of his TV. The kid needed electroshock therapy.

That was then. This is now; decades after the CliffNotes perusal and many years after that first actual read. Someone once said that you have to be ready for a book when you read it. If you’re not ready for it, it’s wasted on you. I think Catcher was definitely wasted on me that first couple times. I surely wasn’t ready for it at 15 years of age nor, evidently, was I ready at 35 or so. I’m not going to say I’m ready now at 52, either. However, I may be a bit more receptive.

The other night on PBS’s American Masters, they ran a film called Salinger. It was a biographical piece about the man who wrote the book I’m talking about here. He was an odd man; most likely a genius, most definitely eccentric, possibly other darker things. I’m not here to speculate on the latter, though. Watch the program if you get a change and decide for yourself. I’m here to discuss The Catcher In the Rye.

After watching the film, I decided to re-read the book. I thought maybe I’m a bit more attuned, a bit more experienced in life, a bit more open-minded than I was at 15 or 35. Turns out that may be the case because I’ll have to admit that the book did make a bit more of an impression on me this time around. I may have caught a glimpse of what “it” is that everyone gets when they read this story. Maybe I see it more clearly because I’m reading through the eyes of a much older man this time. Maybe I can relate a bit better to Holden nowadays.

Regardless, I’ll still stick by my original assessment of Holden. I think he’s a rich little spoiled kid who is very disturbed. I can understand his confusion and angst a bit better this time, though, I think. I can surely relate to his obsessive dislike for all things “phony”. I also, having experienced the loss of loved ones, think I can more readily understand Holden’s near PTSD issues because of the death of his brother Allie.

Another odd thing is that I should have related to his feelings about school all along. I hated school when I was his age. I hated it so badly in elementary and high school that I would sit on the south side of a classroom whenever possible; not because it was closest to a door, but because it was closest to my home. Conversely, I loved to learn. I loved gaining knowledge. I still do, actually. I never got the bad grades Holden did, but I can surely relate to the difficulties he was having in school.

So, here’s what I got from the book this time around…

The world, while being beautiful in many ways, can be diminished by how we perceive it, how we behave, how we view how others behave. There is a phoniness to our current world that Holden would surely detest. It’s much worse now than it was when Salinger wrote this book. Neighbors don’t know one another. The initial impression when strangers come across one another is often fear. Countries and entire cultures are insensitive and uncaring about each other. It seems that the world revolves around the pursuit of whatever material things the almighty buck can bring.

Was Holden really confused? Or maybe he somehow understood what a tragedy it was that everything beautiful in this life was often corrupted by someone writing “Fuck you” on the walls. Catcher is a very deep book; one of those books that people will be analyzing for many, many years. I definitely don’t claim any expertise in this endeavor. I do believe I got a small piece of what “it” is that everyone else gets about this book this time around.

I’m looking forward to reading it again in about 10 years.




1 Statistic quoted in the American Masters film Salinger on PBS

Jobs In the U.S.A.

What jobs? There aren’t any jobs in the U.S.A. these days. I’m peeved.

There is the fact that I’ve been struggling to find permanent and pertinent employment for quite a few years now, so I may be a bit biased about this topic. Sadly, it seems that as time goes by the job situation in this country is just deteriorating. I don’t see any improvements at all. In my state, Florida, there’s talk by the leaders and politicians of all the wonderful jobs being created currently. Unfortunately, a bit of research will show you almost immediately that the vast majority of those jobs are in three industries that are historically low paying, low skilled, and often uncaring toward their employees: restaurant/hospitality, customer service (call centers), and retail.

Oh, sure. There are quite a few skilled jobs for medical professionals in Florida, the land of the newly wed and nearly dead; that’s fine for those who are interested in careers in that field. However, truth be known, the medical industry is something many of us prefer to avoid, as employees or customers. So, what does that leave? Manufacturing? Information Technology? There’s some of those around here, sure; not an abundance, though. There’s no abundance of any jobs around here, or anywhere else in this country, I don’t think. I saw a recent stat the other day in the paper that for every available position, there are 3 applicants.

There is something seriously wrong with this. In today’s paper, there was an editorial by Jeff Danziger called Where the Jobs Aren’t. The jobs aren’t in the U.S. of A. anymore these days. Is anything being done about this by our leaders? Nope. Are U.S. companies trying to remedy this situation? Nope. As a matter of fact, the move to offshore labor is continuing its decades long rat-jumping-sinking-ship routine. The greed of the companies outsourcing to pad their bottom line and pay those multi-bazillion dollar CEO salaries is the reason the damned ship is sinking in the first place.

Case in point, and my inspiration for today’s rant: I have for many years been a pencil connoisseur. I collect and use high quality pencils for my everyday writing needs. I just love pencils. It’s been a passion since I was a child. Hey! We all have our little quirks, right? Anyway, One of my favorite pencils, probably the best pencil made in the world, is the Mirado Black Warrior. This pencil has the finest quality wood, the richest graphite filler, the best quality eraser, etc. It’s also a sleek, good-looking pencil.

Over the years, manufacturers of this pencil have changed. Originally, they carried the Berol brand name. Currently, they are labeled as Papermate. You’ll notice the prominent gold-embossed “USA” on the pencil above. The one I have in front of me on this desk also has that brand. It’s from an older batch that I had bought a year or so ago. I usually buy four or five boxes at a time when I buy them.

The other day, I noticed I was running low. Also, I’ve gotten my brother’s interest up in using good old pencils. He’s developed a daily crossword habit over the last year or so. I went to my local office supply store where I usually buy the pencils and found, to my sadness, that they no longer carry them. Pencils aren’t top sellers, so the stores don’t want to waste shelf space. I can understand that. It’s efficient retailing, after all. OK, I’ll resort to online shopping. I can live with that.

I found them easily enough and at a reasonable price, too. I ordered four boxes (48 pencils total) for $12.78 w/ free shipping. Can’t complain about that deal. All was well. I received them in just a couple days. Ain’t online shopping wonderful?! Oh, by the way, that’s another reason there are fewer jobs in the U.S. of A. these days, but that’s a whole ‘nother can-of-worms. I opened my padded UPS-delivered envelope to find… *GASP* my favorite beautiful Mirado Black Warrior pencils are now hecho en Mexico. That’s right, folks. Papermate has decided to help out the poor Mexican economy. Ain’t that great?

That means that somewhere in the U.S. of A. there’s a pencil manufacturing plant that is now struggling for contracts from other stationery companies for new pencil orders. They’re having to lay off 45% of their workforce in the meantime, though. All those folks in Small Factory-town, U.S.A. are now filing for their unemployment compensation; a much reduced income on which to feed themselves and their families. That’s OK, though because some Mexican workers are now earning a near slave wage to add to their family’s budget.

I have nothing against the wonderful citizens of our southern neighbor country. I don’t even have any major complaints with the somewhat diminished quality of the pencils I received yesterday. I do have a problem with that fact that no one seems to be doing a thing to resolve the jobs situation in my country. That’s really what this rant is about, not pencils.

Speaking of the pencils, though, I called Papermate customer support to find out if these were real Black Warriors or some cheap counterfeit knockoffs. The nice young customer support girl informed me that they were indeed genuine Papermate Mirado Black Warrior pencils; now being hecho’d en Mexico. Well, muchas gracias, then. At least Dixon Ticonderogas are still made in the good ol’ U.S. of A… for now, anyway. :( Oh, Papermate is sending me two complimentary boxes of the Black Warriors just for calling and commenting. Cool, huh? I get 24 free pencils and 90 employees of some factory get 26 weeks of minimal unemployment checks.

Doesn’t anyone care?

Hasta luego, mis compadres…


Image credits: Mirado Black Warrior image found on this very interesting pencil site –> Ordinary Pencil

Un-modified factory clipart image courtesy of WPClipart.com

Further reading: An old, but still pertinent article –> U.S. manufacturing jobs fading away fast – USA Today

How a Pencil Is Made – Interesting video from YouTube