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Killing-Floor-by-Lee-ChildI never did finish Invisible Man, which was okay because it just kept getting denser and denser. Sometimes I don’t mind books that are dense with the language. Indeed, some of my favorite books are written that way, but for some reason this book didn’t strike me as worthwhile for all its posturing and accolades. I actually read it before in college, but that was some 15 years ago, and it brought all my feelings then back to the surface about it. We had the discussion group about it, though, so I’m done with it. For good.

Now it’s on to some books I actually want to read. My wife told me I should have just given up on Invisible Man ages ago, but they gave me a free book so I felt beholden. No longer. Never look a gift book in the mouth. There’s a reason it’s free. I’m feeling like some series fun, so I picked up the first book in the Jack Reacher series to see what that world is all about. I’ve never read anything from the author before so it will definitely be interesting.

Here are the books I’ve Checked In:

  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I honestly only had it checked out for a second. This is another one of those dense books that I can’t stomach.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
  • The Invisible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. This was a very good book that I enjoyed immensely. Yes, it took me a while to read it, but I blame technology.

And here is what I currently have Checked Out:

  1. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. Sticking to my resolution to re-read this year at least four of the books I’ve liked in the past, this one was an intense introspective ride that is still holding up well since I read it the first time.
  2. U2 By U2 by U2 with Neil McCormick. I’ve motored past the ZooTV era of the band and moved into the Pop album and tour. It’s interesting to see how the band viewed that period since it was so polarizing to the media and to fans.
  3. Killing Floor by Lee Child. This is the aforementioned first book in the Jack Reacher series, and I’ll admit that I’ve already seen the movie starring Tom Cruise, but I hold no preconceptions based on that. Usually I read the books first and I have to remind myself of that when I see the movie, that they’re two different animals.
  4. Frozen by Kate Watterson. This is the book I have in a holding pattern at the moment. There always has to be one, but I’m hoping to get into it sometime in May again. Let’s see if the library will let me renew it that long.

Of course there is also The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling, but I find myself wanting to read her next Cormoran Strike novel instead, even though I have to wait until June to check it out. There’s something about the way she wrote those books as Robert Galbraith that excites me more than Vacancy. Don’t get me wrong. I will finish this book at some point. It just won’t be now. Also in my direct queue is the new book by Lisa Scottoline, Keep Quiet. I have always enjoyed her books and it doesn’t hurt that she has based most of them in Philadelphia, the city of my birth.

Happy reading to you this week too!

Sam

Checked Out Archive

Heather-Marie

Women-ProfileEven her name was an enigma. I always imagined her parents battling it out over a particularly long game of canasta. “I want to name her after my mother, god bless her soul, she died when I was 6 but there was no greater saint!” her mother had probably argued. Not to be outdone, her father contended with, “She has to be named after my sister who took the cloth and is serving as a missionary to Africa.” And because neither one wanted to back down they compromised as couples often do, saddling their lone child with the name of Heather-Marie.

Now don’t get me wrong. It is a lovely name, both parts of it. Heather reminds me of beautiful flowers blowing in the breeze on an autumn day, and Marie is the girl who everybody likes, the quiet, self-assured angel with the killer smile. Together the names should have been magic, but no one explained this to Heather-Marie.

I met her in the midst of my longest summer. My heart had just been crushed by the woman I thought would be my forever and I was in what I felt was eternal pain. Amazingly enough, Heather-Marie became my salvation, but not at all in the manner that I had intended. And it all began with a band. And the internet. And the fact that I couldn’t drive. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This post isn’t about me. It’s about Heather-Marie.

She was an aerobics instructor at a gym, and as a result she was one of the fittest people I had ever met. I was fresh out of adolescence and my metabolism was working overtime, so I thought I could do pretty much any exercise even though I wasn’t quite in shape. It’s what I told her during our first phone conversation, when I was bragging about still living with my mom and never getting my driver’s license. Oh, and it’s also when she told me she went to a nudist camp once.

I liked her at once because she was brutally honest, even from the start. She also had absolutely no problem with picking me up and taking me somewhere, or even that I still lived with my mother. The age difference, though, that gave her pause. You see, I was 20 and she was 28, and she worried that even though we seemed compatible over the phone that her advanced life experience would cause problems for us in the “real world.” Luckily for me that wouldn’t end up being a problem. Nor would our difference of skin color. Yeah, she seemed like a perfect match.

But then life went into fast-forward, we had about 10 more phone conversation, and our first date was finally staring us in the face. Go figure, Heather-Marie hit it off with my mother, who was entranced by her tales of teaching spinning class. I think she would have signed my mother up on the spot if I hadn’t hurried her out of there. We had an amazing time, too. The meal was great, the conversation sparkling, and I believe I even made her forget all about the age difference. We went on a long walk and the words kept flowing. I felt that spark that I hadn’t since my relationship had fizzled earlier that year. It went by way too quickly, though. Continue Reading »

The Early Bird

night_owl_by_delun-d4hxz5tI’m a night person. Okay, I used to be a night person. I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.

When I was a kid I wanted to stay up as late as humanly possible, sometimes inventing fake “illnesses” in order to stay up just a little bit longer. Then I became a pre-teen and discovered 90210. But it came on at 9 o’clock, which also happened to be my bedtime, and my mother was super-strict. Luckily I got a VCR as a teenager and was able to record it, but it just wasn’t the same. You know?

Finally I became a young adult and I could pretty much stay up as late as I wanted. So I did. Often back then I wouldn’t go to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning. The problem was of course dragging myself up out of bed when the alarm clock sounded the next morning, always way too soon for my tastes. Oh yeah, and I was in college, so I can’t tell you how many morning classes I missed due to my night owl habits. In fact, I showed up for one of my morning classes 3 whole times one semester.

It was pretty obvious I would have to find some balance or I would fail all my classes just for lack of attendance. But I just was not tired when a “normal” bedtime would come around. 8 o’clock, nope. 9 o’clock, still wide awake. 10 o’clock, just getting started. 11, 12, 1, and the time would keep moving while I watched TV, played video games, read books, listened to music, or all of the above at the same time.

Sometimes my mother would stop by my room on her way to bed and wish me a good night, giving me the look that said, “You know you should be going to bed too,” without actually saying the words. Her point was a valid one, one that I finally had to confront head on when at the end of my third college semester the school placed me on probation. You see, I hadn’t shown up to any of my classes for four weeks, and some of my professors thought I had dropped. When I arrived two classes before the final exams they told me in stereo that I wouldn’t be able to take the test. I hadn’t logged enough hours of seat time in each course.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. All the time I spent staying up late, getting up whenever I felt like it, it was all coming back to poison me like some erstwhile apple in fairy tales. There was no longer any time to “take care of it later.” The time was upon me, and I began making some drastic changes. Continue Reading »

Before I Die

before-i-die15_178343183Before I die I want to live. I don’t remember where that quote comes from, but it’s one I’ve lived by since I turned 21. Before then I never even thought about death, even though all around me people were dying every day. None of it really seemed that personal to me until I turned 21 and began having little aches and pains, signs that informed me of my own mortality.

In recent years a lot of focus has been given to the proverbial “bucket list,” a list of things people want to do before they die. It started off with a lot of older folk and their list of regrets. What didn’t they do that they wish they had done in their lifetime? They were regrets, though, because almost everything on their lists were impossibilities for people of advanced age. That’s when people younger and younger began writing out their own bucket lists of things they could conceivably do if they lived a nice long life.

Of course living a nice long life is not a given for anyone who’s young, and we can see more and more the stories of people who’ve died young, before they had a chance to truly live, before the things on their bucket lists could be successfully completed. I recall reading a book once about this woman who was involved in the death of a young girl who had a list of 40 things she wanted to do before 40. I could be massively reinterpreting the plot structure of the book, but it was intriguing, completing someone else’s list out of a sense of guilt or obligation. In a way it was even better because the woman felt compelled to go out of her comfort zone to try and get some closure on what she had done, accidentally or not. The idea intrigues me. Continue Reading »

f2d27“‘Do you have any of those 99 cent eggs?” the woman asked me at 8:15 this morning. I knew her. I had seen many like her yesterday in the afternoon when we first ran out of “those 99 cent eggs.” Honestly, I’m embarrassed to tell people that I don’t have what they’re looking for, especially when what they’re looking for is one of the biggest tenets of the holiday that is coming up soon. But it sometimes happens, and I have to do what I can to make their shopping experience as good as it can be regardless of the absence of eggs, or whatever else happens to be missing.

So what did I do today to help those guests who were disappointed over the lack of eggs? I gave them discounts on other products they wanted to purchase. I labeled and brought clearance products out of the back room and re-merchandised them in the egg section. But the first thing I did was to sincerely apologize, and an honest apology can go a long way toward repairing hurt feelings, in retail and in life.

Funny how working in retail gives me more of a perspective on real life. We spend so much time before the store opens making sure everything is ready for a full day of sales. The floors are cleaned, the windows and bathrooms too. The food is put out and faced off so it looks fresh and full to even the casual eye. The endcaps are also faced off and filled with product to influence even more sales. Money is placed into the registers in preparation for making change, smiles plastered on the faces of the employees to make it all seem more hospitable.

Today was one of those days where everything worked like a machine. Continue Reading »

rubies-easter-bunny-costumeI should have known better after the Santa Claus debacle, but apparently I hadn’t learned a thing because less than four months later there I was in an Easter Bunny costume. I have absolutely no idea how they talked me into it, honestly. All I know is that one day my boss was hinting around about having something special planned for Easter, and the next he was showing me this giant head. And boy was it heavy!

Just to get you back up to speed, I was working for the Philadelphia Vision Center during my senior year of high school handing out flyers in the outlying neighborhoods in the general vicinity of the Vision Center in Southwest Philadelphia. In addition to handing out those flyers, they had co-opted me into being Santa Claus for the previous holiday season, a thankless job with a beard that itched more often than not. So, there I was looking at a giant head that probably weighed more than a bowling ball, and I was honestly considering it.

For starters, they were going to pay me more for it, to the tune of a couple more bucks per hour, and I wouldn’t have to deliver flyers for two whole days. You see, there was some type of bazaar in a local school gym where all manner of businesses were invited and given tables to advertize. It was engineered as this amazing revitalization of the community and local business, although the local aspect of each business was debatable. It was for two days, the Thursday and the Friday before Easter, and the Vision Center had been invited.

Thinking back on it, I think the only reason we were invited was because of that Santa thing I mentioned earlier. My best bet was that the community action folk decided we would be the most probable to have an Easter Bunny costume. Go figure. And of course the getup required someone relatively tall to fit into it. Enter me. The dunce. Continue Reading »

In Moderation

moderation1Remember the story of Goldilocks, the little girl who, somehow lost in a forest, happens upon the home of three fastidious bears and makes herself at home? However, she can’t seem to get comfortable at first, finding that, after trial and error, only one of these bears has her best interests at heart, or at least makes for the most comfort. The soup is too hot, too cold, and then finally just right. The chairs are too hard, too soft, and then just right. Even the beds fit the pattern, a moral to us that we can go through many challenges in life before realizes what it’s all about, what’s going to fit us best.

Goldilocks tried to fit the bears into a paradigm she had set for herself, but only one of them fit into that ideal, the one that fit right into the average,the one that strove for moderation. I read somewhere once that there was nothing wrong with most things, except that as human beings we tend to over-indulge whenever possible. I thought about that one for a long time and tried to come up with a challenge to it so as to prove the statement false. There’s a list somewhere around here.

  1. Spending time with friends
  2. Reading
  3. Listening to music
  4. Being with family
  5. Meditating

This list was incredibly difficult to make, and almost as soon as it was done I realized that even these pursuits were best done in moderation for a host of different reasons, not the least of which was that life requires much more from us as individuals, that responsibilities preclude us from doing these five things to excess. Oh, if that weren’t so!

I think back to the most free time I ever had, as a kid on school vacations, what I guess people would call staycations now, because most times we didn’t go anywhere. My mother usually still had to work, so sometimes she would bring us in with her, and we would go entire days coming up with things to do in her office. Now, my mom worked in this huge old building at Temple University, and there was a hallway that absolutely no one used anymore. It was a veritable smorgasbord of places to play hide-and-seek, of old machines to dust off and use, and of imaginations running wild.

We would go there and enjoy ourselves for the first hour or two, and it helped when some other workers’ children were there as well to slot into those inventive moments, but after that it started to get boring. It’s interesting, but we think if we have an endless amount of time and space that we will enjoy it, that we will never get bored. That’s not true, and one of the reasons why moderation is best in all things, even when it comes to free time. Continue Reading »

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