The book I’m reading and a paragraph I’m writing.

Caring for Buddy in his current circumstances has pretty much obliterated any semblance structure in what has been a rather loosely defined existence to begin with. I’ve begun making adjustments to try and compensate. Since I hope to devote much of August to working on my fiction (I’d really like to get five or more solid short stories and maybe a selection of short-short “flash fiction” pieces together for an e-book), one of the things I am now committed to is starting out each day by reading a good short story from among the all too many unread collections I own over my first cup of cappuccino.

Currently I am reading the stories of Mareen F. McHugh in a collection entitled After the Apocalypse. I was unaware of the author or her work before–I must have purchased the book based on some review somewhere–and I have been duly impressed. The stories have a touch of science-fiction/fantasy to them–the previously unpublished opening tale, “The Naturalist,” involves zombies; another has as its background the explosion of a dirty bomb in Baltimore; others refer to but do not dwell on or explain in any detail catastrophes which changed the way we live–but they focus on individual people and their lives in the aftermath of whatever happened rather than on the event itself.

:Kingdom of the Blind,” which I read thins morning, is seen through the eyes of a young woman named Daphne, who is working as an assistant to a computer tech as they try to figure out some oddities in the performance of a vast network which services a group of medical facilities. Daphne is a bit amorphous in the early pages but then comes this, as she considers her co-worker, knowing he is one of those nerdish sorts who gets so involved in his work he forgets to eat sometimes…

Sydney had never forgotten to eat in her life. One of her secret fantasies had been that, as a girl who could code, she would work in the one place where a geeky fat girl could get dates. It had not been entirely untrue. But as someone had pointed out to her in school, although the odds are good, the goods are odd.

…and the reader, at least this reader, immediately knows who she is. I also like the last nine words, which are  both amusing and memorable (I expect to quote then as often as the opportunity arises).

Getting the reader to know your characters, not necessarily like or dislike them, just be familiar enough with them to understand who they are, is one of the keys to making any story work.

This is the first draft of the opening paragraph of the story I am currently working on.

I was sitting out on the back porch with a cup of coffee and trying to convince myself that going back to bed wasn’t a viable option. As was the case on too many mornings, I found both solace and sadness in accepting that a day was coming all too soon when I’d wake up dead and not have to deal with figuring out what to do next. Chances are I’d lay there moldering for at least  a couple of days before the world noticed I was missing.  “I guess you’ll have no recourse but to start eating my sorry ass,” I said to the dog, who was lying on the grass just off the porch, basking in the sun. He raised his head and looked at me with that benign expression that his kind have mastered over the centuries in order to get us to keep ‘em, feed ‘em and pick up their shit, but I knew the big guy would do what he’d have to do. Dogs have no illusions, which is a pretty good way of dealing with the world.

So I’m curious. Does that tell you enough about the guy to make you want to know more? Does he sound/feel real?

A Buddy update.


This is pretty much how Buddy spends most of his time these days and, while that makes him less the companion and laugh-inducing performer who brightened my life for five-plus years since I rescued him, it’s a good thing. The Cushing’s Disease which plagues him can be a terrible burden sometimes when he’s awake, making him restless, incontinent and openly confused.

Late last week as I was preparing for a weekend at the Jersey shore with my daughter and her family, for which he would have to come along, he was so upset and manic that I decide to cancel because a strange location and all sorts of teenagers running around would surely have not been good for him. That decision drove me back to the internet to re-examine the research I did when all this became part of our lives in April. There are medications for this disease but they are tricky and long-term,; one misstep can lead to serious side effects and the medication goes on for the rest of the dog’s life. Regular blood tests become part of the dog’s life. When an adrenal tumor is the cause (which does not appear to be the issue in this case), surgery and chemotherapy are part of the treatment.

I went back to my research because I recalled mention of a “controversial” drug that did not cause any of the dangerous side effects and called the vet to discuss. He agreed it was worth a shot and said he’d look into it, then called back within minutes to say that another vet in the office had overheard his part of our discussion and said that she had just ordered this same drug for one of her patients so he had all the info to do an order for Buddy. Interestingly, that other vet was the one who was on duty when I took Buddy in a year ago when he awakened one morning without any seeming recognition of me or his surroundings. She gave a bottle of a new drug when was given to her as sample to try out and it immediately brought him back to his old self (I still give him one of those pills every morning).

So this is where we are, waiting for the new drug to arrive.

Push Pin Wisdom (“the more things change…” dept.)

“[H]ere, more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly, the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.” — H.L. Mencken on living in America

Would it be foolish to think that there are big smiles on everybody’s faces at NRA headquarters today? It would be foolish not to.

This morning I posted a link on the Book of Face to this story about a psychiatrist shooting an armed gunman who invaded a Philadelphia hospital, mostly to make the point that this was going to be something we would be hearing about from the NRA in days to come, the “good guy with a gun stops bad guy with a gun” meme that is that the heart of their arguments for everybody being locked and loaded all the time (the “loaded” part of that is way too often true). The doctor is understandably being hailed as a hero but, as of this afternoon, one of the still unanswered questions is whether he and the patient knew one another and that was the reason the latter brought a gun into a place where they were deemed illegal. If he did and did (know and thus carry), I guess it will become a more contentious issue than it seems to be right now.

I don’t like guns. Guns are freakin’ scary.

Way back when, I was a graduate student teaching a night class in English at Temple University. There was a guy in the back of the room who would periodically point an imaginary gun at me and pretend to shoot me. Even in those less crazy times, I got nervous and checked into him. turned out he was 30-year old veteran who still lived with his parents and was on some serious meds…AND he hadn’t been coming in to get them for the last month. I told my chairman either he was gone or I was gone come the next class. And a decade or two after that, in a Philly cop bar at 2am or so, a retired and drunken police captain pulled out a pistol and waved it around saying he was going to shoot me. The only other person the place, another cop who had earlier told me how easy it would be to stick a knife in my ribs and drop me in the Delaware River because he was unhappy with a story I was working on, jumped in to intervene and while they wrestled over the weapon, I got the hell outta Dodge.

I don’t like guns. Guns are freakin’ scary.

The next President.

This mysterious blogger, who apparently lives not very far down the road from where I do, does a fine job of presenting the dilemma likely to be facing the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in 2016:

The coalition that put Barack Obama in office is stronger than ever and appears to be more favorably disposed to Clinton than I expected. Does she want to pick up their banner or does she want to shove Lanny Davis and Mark Penn in our faces and ask us to like it?

If she wants to pick a fight with progressives, there’s a good chance that she’ll see her support diminish substantially, at least in Democratic circles. Yet, she probably has that luxury and it might be too tempting to resist. There is so much room to run in the middle that it probably seems like the logical way to go. It might even maximize the size of her victory and lead, paradoxically, to more progressive outcomes.

This presents a quandary for progressives. Should we resist her coronation with every fiber of our bodies even though only about ten Democrats in a hundred agree with us? Or should we be solicitous of her campaign in the hope that we can have some influence over it? Should we give her a chance to run less as a New Democrat and more as a leader of the actual left-wing governing coalition?

Based on the polls I am seeing, Hillary Clinton doesn’t need us and may even benefit most by marginalizing us. Yet, this could benefit us in the end if she has the coattails to bring in a much more progressive Congress.

I’ve made no secret of my affection for Joe Biden in recent days and would be delighted to see him in the Oval Office. On the other hand, I would very much like to see a woman elected President in my lifetime and there is little doubt that Hillary Clinton has the experience and qualifications for the job. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty, I am, quite simply, for the Democratic candidate who has the best chance of winning and I will vote that way unless said candidate is somehow, some freakin’ near impossible how, worse that whomever or whatever the GOP has to offer. And if she (surely the appropriate pronoun at this point in time) can provide the coattails to bring along with her new members of Congress who can begin the long, hard struggle to recapture the House from the Crazies, that would be a grand thing indeed.

I hope the people who call themselves Progressives will vote for actual progress and not ideological purity.

Run, Joe, run.

Great long piece about our loveable Veep in the current issue of The New Yorker. Here’s a “money quote” which shows his, shall we say, unconventional style and, more important, ability to see through all the BS to the truth:

Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: “I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him.” Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’ ”

“You said that?” I asked. It sounded like a movie line.

“Absolutely, positively,” Biden said, and continued, “And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ” Biden sat back, and said, “This is who this guy is!”

If only dogs could talk to us.

My post on Saturday about Sleep was inspired in large part by my thinking about dogs a lot these days. My dog is approaching the end of his time with me, whether in weeks, months or another year or two is not clear, but that which will kill him is already part of his being, He is an old dog and sleeps a lot; all old dogs sleep a lot. I have long held the opinion (excuse the language) know shit we humans cannot imagine. They chose to be domesticated because we are such perfect servants, giving them food, water and shelter; amusing them, picking up their excrement; making them feel safe. They approach the end more calmly that most of us, perhaps because they have no illusions about a paradise in the afterlife. Or, yes, because they actually know there is one.