This is me without fear. And a 62-pound hall pass.

We gave away our last three chickens the other day. The hen house is empty, the coop deserted. It’s like a little ghost town out there, except with feathers blowing around in the deserted streets instead of tumbleweeds. And also except there are no streets in the chicken coop, just a lot of dangerous potholes where the chickens dug themselves into the dirt to cool off on hot days. A chicken in every pothole.

I'm not very sorry to see them go. They ate a lot of our leftovers, which was nice because it made us feel like we weren’t wasting stuff. But chickens are vile creatures (and have you noticed that “vile” is “evil” spelled almost backwards?) whose only redeeming quality is their contribution to culinary efforts. I would be sad to live in a world without omelettes. Most people equate the chicken with cowardice and fear. I, however, think their top personality trait is stupidity, then cruelty, and then fear. (Hmm, sounds like some kids I used to know when I was a substitute teacher.)

Well, so the chickens are gone and don’t need to be replaced any time soon. We have no need of cruelty and stupidity in this house, and maybe I can make Ian eat the leftovers. As for fear, I think I got that covered myself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been rather a chicken when it comes to doing things that I’d really like to do but that involve social interaction with strangers. It’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.

Last Monday, author Jacqueline Winspear was scheduled to speak and sign her latest book at Vroman’s, a bookstore in Pasadena. I learned about the event a few weeks ago and wanted to be there, partly because she’s a very interesting speaker and partly because I wanted to get her signature on some books for Megan and myself. She writes the Maisie Dobbs series, which I particularly enjoy. The Maisie Dobbs books came along just when I was thinking there would never be another author I could trust. So anyway, I was looking forward to hearing Ms Winspear again. That is, until Monday morning. On Monday morning I started telling myself about how long the drive was and how many car accidents there were likely to be and besides how my head kind of hurt and how there was so much to do at home. Then I reminded myself I’d regret it a lot if I didn’t go and that I knew I’d never do the stuff at home anyway. So finally I went.

The drive up was not unpleasant: not much traffic and the weather was nice and someone had sown a bunch of wildflower seeds along portions of the highway. It reminded me of springtime in that mountain pass where the I-5 goes by Gorman, only there the effect is as if God had scribbled the mountainsides with brilliantly colored chalks. But it was nice to see the same thing on a smaller scale.

I put in the cd of As You Like It as I drove, and smiled at and re-listened to my favorite parts (“be it known by these presents” and “me, uncle?” and “is it a man?” and “she phoebes me” and the rest). The view and the Shakespeare kept the tedium away.

Once in Pasadena, I parked just off Colorado and walked about a block to the bookstore. I picked up a copy of An Incomplete Revenge, Winspear’s newest book (the fifth in the series) and, since there were about 15 minutes before the presentation started, spent the time quite contentedly reading the first chapter.

Ms Winspear’s presentation was, as always, interesting, informative, and humorous. She speaks very well and sounds like she’s done a prodigious amount of research on the period in which the books take place. Then she read part of a chapter – happily, not the same chapter I’d been reading (which is what happened the first time I went to hear her speak). After a question/answer period, it was time for us to line up and have her sign our books. This is the part that made me nervous. I mean, aside from the drive and walking to the bookstore and going upstairs and sitting down. I never know what to say in situations like this. “You’re a very good writer.” “Gee, but your books are swell!” “I really enjoy your books.” “Thank you for writing these books.” (Like she’d done it with my happiness in mind.) Anyway, she’s probably heard it all a half a million times before. In the words of Elizabeth Bennet, I’m unsocial and taciturn and unwilling to speak unless I expect to say something that will amaze the whole room. So I didn’t say much of anything, aside from arguing with her over whether she should inscribe my copy of the book. The conversation went pretty much like this:

Ms Winspear (looking at the sticker with Megan’s name on it that the Vroman’s employee had provided in an effort to expedite things): Megan. Are these for you?

Me: No, they’re my daughter’s. She really enjoys your books [cringe]. She wanted to be here, but she couldn’t make it. [I also wanted to say “Because she lives in Utah. Why don’t you ever go there and sign books so that I don’t have to stand here with five books in my hands and all the people behind me wondering why the line is not moving?”]

Ms Winspear (pointing to the title page of Birds of a Feather, her second book): I really like this one. I mean, I like all of them, but there’s something about this one. I don’t know what it is . . . [That’s not exactly what she said, but it’s pretty close.]

Me: [Absolute Silence, even though she gave me a perfect opening for discussing her work. And it did occur to me that I thought Birds of a Feather was, of all her books, the most like a traditional detective novel, with its progression from scene to scene and its little clues of feathers wafting about at the crime scenes. And if I didn’t know that it was fiction, I’d have suspected my chickens of having committed the murders. But did I say any of that? No. Not one word to throw at a dog.]

The next few minutes passed in utter silence while she signed Megan’s books and I despised the man in line after me for making me think with his presence that I was holding him up. Then she got to my copy, which did not have a little name sticker because I didn’t care if it was personalized.

Ms Winspear: Is this one Megan’s, too?

Me: No, that’s mine.

Ms Winspear: No name?

Me: No, I feel silly with my name in a book. [What I mean is, but what I don’t have time to tell you – and even if I did have time, I'm not sure I’d say it in front of this man who’s standing next to me – it seems kind of narcissistic to have the book personalized to me. I know the book belongs to me. And you don’t know me anyhow, so why should you have to write my name in it?]

Ms Winspear: Silly? What do you mean silly?

Me (after making a very quiet, inarticulate noise halfway between a gurgle and a groan): I don’t know, it just makes me feel silly.

Ms Winspear: You shouldn’t feel silly. It’s your book, your name.

Me (starting to loose my balance and leaning on the table, then wondering if she thought I was trying to menace her with my physical presence): Okay.

Ms Winspear: What’s your name?

I gave her my name, she spelled it out, I said “yes”, she signed the book, I said “Thank you” and went away.

But not very far. I noticed a guy taking about 17 pictures of her with a flashing camera, so I decided to take a photo. I pulled out my camera and, trying to be unobtrusive, took a few pictures. I had to take quite a few before I got a good one. First, my hands were so shaky, the pictures kept turning out blurry. Then, just when I got myself settled down, some joker in line would step right in front of the camera. I got half a dozen shots of people’s bums. Finally, the timing of the gaps between people in line and the shaking in my hands was just right, and I got a picture I could live with.

Afterwards, I went downstairs to buy the new books. As I was paying, I noticed that, behind me in line also waiting to buy books, was Ms Winspear. But did I say anything? I most certainly did not. I went across the street to a Quizno’s and bought a chicken sandwich and ate it. And then I drove home, feeling like all the chickens we’d ever owned had taken up residence in my soul.


It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is "soporific"

The RS book group (one of two book groups I participate in) met last Wednesday evening. There were six of us there to discuss Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

I've decided to come up with a new category for books: lettuce literature. I call it "literature" because I am not unappreciative of the skill demonstrated by the author in sentence construction and in the choice of the apt and delicate word. But when the plot is rambling or plodding or both or non-existent, then it is lettuce literature.

If there is lettuce literature, there must also be literature that is poorly written and boring, like most school textbooks, and literature that is poorly written but has an interesting plot, and literature that is well written and interesting. I think a lot of mystery/suspense novels fit into the "poorly written but has an interesting plot" category. But what to label these categories?

I went downstairs this morning to eat breakfast and saw that my evil cats, or one of them, had set another trap for me, right by my chair.

And in the living room:

And by the back door:

What is it with these cats? Why do they do that? Why, why, why? Well, I know why. They're evil. "Cats" should be spelled with an E, for Evil. Like this: cæts. There. And it's pronounced the same, too.

Now, when I read really bad writing, I tend more often to think of barf than lettuce. Lettuce barf? Hmm . . . no. I think writing that appalls me with its atrociousness is too enraging to be lettuce. I'll have to come up with another term. Perhaps some other bodily waste product.

So my categories at present are as follows:

lettuce literature -- well written yet boring stuff

textbook (a provisional term) -- poorly written and boring, like most textbooks. The problem with this one is that the word is used in terms that mean completely unrelated things, like "textbook case".

cat barf (or cæt barf, also provisional) -- badly written stuff, like Dan Brown's books, or Harlen Coben's. I don't know, I usually just call that stuff crap. But there's got to be a more imaginitive term. Maybe cræp, because I think bad writing is also evil. I'll have to give it some more thought.

So Gilead is lettuce literature. It's very well written, and I suppose Robinson deserves her Pulitzer Prize. There are some good things in that book, but it is very very slow, perhaps deliberately so. I would give a couple of examples of beautiful things found in the book, but I sold my copy to a group member who really loved the book but had to borrow hers from the library. I sold it to her for $3, which is what I paid for it, and that made me happy. I wish I could sell her three cats.

It's time for a nap.


How curious that is, and what a bizarre coincidence!

The other morning I was working on a cryptoquote, and I had finished the actual quote part. It said, "Mothers are the affectionate and effective teachers of the human race." Ian happened to be there, eating his breakfast and watching me fill in the letters, and he said, "So who said that?"

I looked at the source name, for which I had a few of the letters.

"Well," said I, "I think I know who it is, but even if I didn’t, I could tell it was a man."

"How can you tell?" said Ian.

"Because it sounds like something a man would say." Then I filled in "Daniel Webster". "See? It’s a man."

"What do you mean it’s something a man would say?" said Ian, pursuing the subject a little further.

"I think a woman would be more realistic," I responded, "whereas lots of men buy into the archetypal woman figures. Daniel Webster’s talking about the archetypal mother." I didn’t know if Daniel Webster was doing anything of the kind, but it sounded pretty good to me.

"The what?" said Ian, buttering some toast to cover his confusion.

"You know, archetypes. The mother archetype, the virgin, the --" and I decided to say it, "--the whore."

He looked at me for further elucidation. So I said, "People, especially in literature and art, tend to represent women as either virgin, mother, or whore. Or sometimes as a combination." I began to feel right about now that I wasn’t too sure I knew what I was talking about, but that's never stopped me.

Ian was still skeptical. "Don’t you mean stereotype?"

"Well, a stereotype is where you judge a whole group by the behavior of one. An archetype is . . . an archetype is . . ." I got the dictionary and read to him the definition of archetype: "The original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies." And then I asked, "You’ve never talked about archetypes in your English classes?"

"No," said Ian.

I'm not surprised, because he’s currently taking bonehead English. He has three AP classes this year, two of them having to do with his future college career, and he didn’t want to burden himself with AP English as well, since that won’t be his future major. I tried at the time to dissuade him from this decision.

"You’ll be bored to death," I said. "You’re too smart for college prep." It really is college prep English and not bonehead English, but at our high school the two terms are pretty much synonymous. Anyway, he said that would be all right, as long as there was a light workload. So, yeah, no mention of archetypes.

I decided to illustrate archetypes by giving some examples. "There’s Greek mythology," I said, "with Artemis as the virgin and Aphrodite as the whore. And I guess Hera would be the mother. I suppose most people nowadays would think of Aphrodite as the most admirable character. And I guess the prime example of the virgin-mother combination would be Mary."

"Uh-huh," said Ian.

I also mentioned the case of Posthumus in Cymbeline and the depiction of women in rap music, but it occurred to me that in those cases I was indeed confusing archetype with stereotype. Anyway, we talked about it a bit more and Ian thought he got the idea of female archetypes. I told him there were male archetypes, too; in fact, there were all kinds of archetypes in literature. But then I had to go so the discussion ended.

Where I had to go was the Bottom Shelf, where I volunteer a couple of times a week. The Bottom Shelf is the bookstore run by the local Friends of the Library. While I was there, some generous fellow brought in six boxes of books to donate. I started unpacking the boxes and going through the books and I was surprised by what I unexpectedly found:

I took the two books home to show Ian that I was not making this all up. "Things like this happen sometimes," I told him, referring to the mysterious appearance of the archetype books. "And that is why I believe in the world of Invisible Scary Skeletons."


Imagine reading 'My Day' by Susan Payne-in-the-neck

Book scouting is one of my favorite activities. Not only does it keep my business going, but it soothes my troubled soul. So, starting about 10:00 am, I set out to do some scouting. And the first thing I saw when I came out the front door was a little baby bunny caught in a cage, waiting to be taken away and released. I thought it was cute and small (and I like how its foot is hanging out the bottom of the cage). I, however, was not about to be the one responsible for taking it away. The last time I released a rabbit into the wild, things did not go well for the rabbit. To be sure, that previous rabbit was stupid, but I still don't want the weight of such consequences hanging over my head.

When I'm out among the books, I always bring gum along to help keep my mouth from drying out, because most bookstores won't let you bring water bottles in. The best gum, in my opinion, is Orbit Wintermint. I keep a pack in the car.

I think my piece of gum (after being chewed for a moment) looks like a little baby cloud caught on my fingertip. I released it back into my mouth.

It was very cold here earlier this week. The snow got down to 1100 feet. I meant to take a photo of Mt Palomar to the east (or rather that whole range of mountains) a few days ago, but I forgot. By the time I took the picture, much of the snow had melted. But it still made a nice view
as I headed out of town toward the freeway.

My first stop was the Friends of the Temecula Library bookstore, located behind the Temecula Library. They don't usually have much I want--kind of the same thing over and over again, but you find that at just about any bookstore. Still, I check it out every month just on the chance something new may have come in. This time, I did find some pretty nice things. I also spent way too much ($3) on a copy of Gilead, which is the selection for this month's Book Group. We're meeting this Wednesday and I haven't read the book yet, so I figured I ought to get started. More about the Book Group later, like after it happens. They also had some stuff I would have bought (a few Terry Goodkind novels among them) if it had been in better condition. But I learned (from reading a book!) that you shouldn't spend money on bad copies of good books. So I gave them a pass, even though they were only a dollar or two. (You can tell that the people who price the books don't appreciate scifi/fantasy because they price most books in that category at a dollar, even when they're fairly new. But the NY Times bestseller tripe is priced at $3 and $4.) There were also a number of paperbacks I would have got, but they're too expensive. I can't see paying more than 50¢ for a paperback. Naturally I mean that from the point of view of buying them to resell. Anyway, I spent about an hour and a half in this bookstore and thoroughly enjoyed every minute (except for the minutes when I was distressed over the high prices, but they were minimal minutes).

The next stop was the Corner Bookstore in Murrieta, which is one of two bookst
ores operated by the Friends of the Murrieta Library. The library, by the way, is just across the parking lot diagonally from the bookstore. This bookstore has a bigger stock and more selections than Temecula, but a lot of it does seem to stay on the shelf month after month. Every once in a while new stuff does come in, though, and they put stuff on special (the Blue Dot special, which is books for 50¢ each) now and then. This time, I got two Blue Dot books. They also had a few new science fiction books, but it seems that prices are going up at the store. I'd never seen them charging $4.50 for books before, at least not ones not on the New Releases shelf. I was rather disappointed because a couple of the sci-fi books I really wanted. Oh, well. I did get another book for $1.50: This House of Sky by Ivan Doig. I thought it was a second printing because the copyright page said "First Edition" with the letters B C D E below it, but when I got home and checked it out, it turns out that, at that point in time, the publisher was starting the series of letters with B instead of A. Don't ask me why. So anyway, it is a first printing. That made me pretty happy.

Third stop: the other Friends' bookstore in Murrieta. This one is adjoined to the new library that opened a while back. This is the third time I've gone from the Corner Bookstore to the new bookstore and I finally managed to do it without getting lost. This bookstore is much smaller than the Corner Bookstore; it's about the same size as the Temecula one. Not a lot of stock, and it sits there week after week. I did find one new fantasy book, though, a small Terry Goodkind book called Debt of Bones in near fine condition. And I bought one of their $1 paperbacks because I'm trying to complete a set that I have.

I went into the main part of the library to use the restroom before leaving and saw something rather disturbing:

There is so much that is wrong with this baby. First, it is too fat, unhealthily so. Second, it looks like its torso is on backward, which is just creepy. And third, it has no mouth, which is also creepy and yet, under certain limited circumstances, I could see advantages to a mouthless baby. Anyway, the overall effect is one of mild horror. It makes me wonder if the kind of changing that occurs to the baby at this station is altogether safe. I think disturbing images like this should be banned from public places, or at least be accompanied by a warning.

Well, now that I had exhausted the bookstore possibilities in the area, I decided it was time for lunch. When I looked at my watch I saw that it was after 2:00 pm. So I drove back toward the freeway, looking for a likely place to eat, and I found one: the Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant. I checked to make sure there was an "A" in the window. As with the case of the unfortunate rabbit, I had learned from past mistakes. Yes, there was an "A", so I went in. It was a real, actual restaurant, too, not one of those buffet, Panda Express kind of places. I ordered orange chicken, fried rice and chow mein (but the noodles were soft), and I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture of the food, which was very prettily arranged on the plate and the sauce gleamed quite attractively under the ceiling lights. Instead, I substitute a photo of the take-out menu. By the way, even though it was pretty, the orange chicken didn't taste all that great. It was merely adequate. I would try something else if I ever go back there again.

On the way home, I appreciated the greenth of the world after our recent rains, and then I saw a patch of flowers of a vibrant purple hue, which is one of my favorite colors in nature. It made a very nice end to the trip.