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Showing posts from 2018

Rooney's Lager

If you can walk by a beer called "Rooney's Lager" and not at least consider buying it, then I submit that you a.) are lacking in true Steeler fandom, b.) are not a real Pittsburgher, and c.) may not even have a heart at all. Seriously, this is why it pays to take a chance every once in a while, especially on a local product. 
At $5.99 for a six-pack, I fully expected this beer to be one of those light American lager beers that we know and love and which have formed the backbone of our beer drinking culture, but which are ultimately forgettable flavor-wise. Also, the name doesn't really help. Although it is named after the legendary Rooney family (owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and bears some amount of history with it, in a weird way the name almost turned me off. I thought for sure this was some "white-label" promotion done by the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in which they slap a new label on a six-pack of Iron City. I could not have been more wrong. Rooney&…

Book Review: Runnin' with the Devil, by Noel Monk

"For one thing that goes wrong...one...one single thing that goes wrong, a hundred things go right.  Do you know what I spend my time doing? I sleep two or three hours a night. There's no sex and drugs for Ian, David.  Do you know what I do?  I find lost luggage.  I locate mandolin strings in the middle of Austin! You know? I prise the rent out of the local Hebrews. That's what I do!" -- Ian Faith, manager of Spinal Tap

Though that quote was said by the manager of a fictional rock n' roll band, it could probably apply to any rock band's manager, ever, and certainly could apply to the author of this book, Noel Monk, who managed Van Halen during the first and best era of the band's history: 1978 to 1984.

If you're a child of the 80s or lived through any of the 80s as a fairly young adult, or even if you just love rock n' roll, you have to have at least a little spot in your heart for Van Halen. Their music is such a permanent fixture of radio statio…

Learning to Play Backgammon, Part I

As if my obsession with the game of Chess does not provide me enough cause for frustration and mid-day time wasting, I've picked up Backgammon over the past month or so. I mean, I already knew the rules and how to play (even own a cool "briefcase" Backgammon set my Aunt got me for Christmas one year), it is not a complicated game; however, I'm at a point now where I'm playing online every couple days (at least) and trying to learn and use some strategy.

Fundamentally, Backgammon is a pretty simple, two-player "racing" game. You and your opponent both have a certain number of pieces (called checkers) on the board and you roll the dice to try and get them home as quickly as you can. Really, it's like a much more simplified and stripped down version of Chutes & Ladders or Life, or any other game in which you have to get somewhere before your opponent.

A couple subtle nuances aside, such as "bearing off," and "hitting," and &quo…

New Yorker Fiction Review #195: "A Love Story" by Samantha Hunt

Review of a short story in the May 22, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

For the first time since I started reviewing the short stories in The New Yorker (back in the winter of 2013) I am nearly a full year behind. How has this happened? Sigh... The weeks keep coming and they don't stop coming. Meantime, you get occupied writing about other stuff, reading other stuff, you slip further and further behind, so far behind it doesn't even seem like you should take-up the project again at all. But I don't know...something always draws me back to it.

Anyway...

"A Love Story" is not so much a "story" as it is a stream of consciousness piece from inside the head of a middle-aged mother of three under-going a mid-life personal, marital, emotional, and sexual crisis. The first part of the story reads as a bunch one-off observations and scenarios from her life. But gradually, the scenarios and observations get more complex until we get a much better and clearer sense…

Book Review: "The Ice Harvest" by Scott Phillips (2000)

I like to read and write noir/crime fiction, so years ago a buddy of mine recommended I watch the movie The Ice Harvest (2005) with John Cusak and Billy Bob Thornton. It was so long ago I can't even remember what I thought of the movie (which probably means it sucked). Anyway, I was in the used bookstore the other day and found a copy of the book so I figured what the heck.

This book is such amateurish garbage, I don't even understand how it got published in the first place. Frankly, it reads like some of my first attempts at fiction: the characters go from place to place having meaningless conversations and not really accomplishing anything, and then by the time something starts to "happen" the book is over. This book is divided into Parts I & II (evenly) and the entire Part I is unnecessary.

I'm not going to say it's not at least somewhat fun to read about characters getting drunk and going from bar to bar, acting like idiots on Christmas eve in suburb…

Book Review: "Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King (2014)

I'm not the biggest Stephen King fan (not an SK hater either, mind you), but I heard him talking about this book on NPR one morning last fall, around the time of the TV mini-series debut, and decided to check it out. What I liked was the idea that the book is a crime story and has nothing to do with the supernatural, something I'm not a huge fan of in fiction.

In an age in which there seems to be some kind of mass killing every other week in the actual news, one can't help but be sort of mesmerized into buying a book -- by perhaps the world's greatest living genre fiction writer -- in which a man drives a Mercedes into a crowd of job-seekers at a job-fair and gets away with it, only to be hunted by a detective who comes out of retirement to chase him.

In typical Stephen King style, the book takes a wide-angle view on things. It's 500 pages where it probably could have been 200. There are, say eight characters where there probably could have been five, etc. But I s…

Saying Goodbye to The Wellington (from afar)

My favorite bar in Indianapolis -- and probably my favorite bar ever -- The Wellington, closed it's doors forever yesterday. I found out via a text message from my good friend Chris on Tuesday. I hoped I would have enough time to go back to Indy and have one last pint in The Wellington's cozy, wood-paneled interior, and commune one last time with the bar that was like a second home to my friends and I during grad school, but there was not enough time. As it is with certain people who leave us too soon: I never got to say goodbye.

It bothers me that I'll never know exactly when I had my last drink at The Wellington, but it was probably during the summer of 2016, my last summer in Indy. By then The Welly had become like an old reliable friend that you've stopped hanging out with regularly but whom you still go out of your way to visit. The days when I could show up at the bar and reliably find one or two of my friends there, or a familiar regular, or someone I knew behi…

Block House Brewing Oktoberfest ale

Okay, I know what you're saying: "Why is he writing about an Oktoberfest ale when we are as far from the month of October as we can possibly be?"

Well, I answer you in the words of one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut: "Why anything?"

I picked up a six-pack of this stuff on Super Bowl night, looking for something inexpensive but flavorful. Lo and behold I found this stuff on sale warm for $5.99 down at "It's Doggin It," down the street from where I live. A great place to shop for beer, incidentally, because they have deals like this. Even if it is six months old at this point, $5.99 for this tasty beverage was a steal.

A very "malt-forward" beer, I feel as though Block House Brewing could have done slightly better on this offering, but overall I enjoyed it greatly. Sometimes you want a rich, malty and uncomplicated beer. This beer suffers only from what I would call (as pretentiously as possible) a lack of "complexity," b…

Parties Without Music

Begin Rant: There is an epidemic in our society and it's not the flu or the Ebola virus. No. This, my friends, is far worse. What is the problem?

People these days have parties without music.

Yes, it is true. I've been to several over the past six months and it's starting to really, genuinely freak me out. And let me answer the question that's probably already popping up in your head: No, this is not some kind of new aged "fad" or trend. If that were the case then maybe it would be excusable, but still probably not.

The fact is, when you have a group of people gathered together in a room to socialize over drinks and food you must have music playing. This should be codified into federal law. It doesn't even have to be good music. But you must have something playing in order to provide atmosphere, fill in the awkward gaps in conversation, liven things up, and -- at the least -- provide a "background noise" to prevent everyone else in the room from …

New Yorker Fiction Review #194: "Fly Already" by Etgar Keret

Review of a short story from the May 15, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

I'm so far behind on my New Yorker short story reviewing, I'm close to being a full year behind, which is absolutely preposterous. I think if I get a full year behind, I'll have to think about whether or not this project is still worth doing. I'm going on year six after all, and nearing 200 reviews. But...to the story at hand...

I love, love, LOVE an Etgar Keret story. This guy is my kind of writer. He writes lean, direct, strong prose under-girded by a dark sense of humor but also by the persistent notion that, like Hemingway once said, "the world is a fine place and worth fighting for..."

Nothing could exemplify Etgar Keret's sort of cynically hopeful attitude more than "Fly Already," a short story (very short story) in which a young man and his son encounter a man standing on the ledge of a nearby building, ready to jump. As the main character tries to persuade the man n…

Book Review: Above the Waterfall, by Ron Rash

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I love books set in small cities and rural surroundings and about the people who live there. There are enough books written about New York City. I also love it when a book can cross-over between genres. Like a crime novel that has literary elements to it, or a literary book that has noir elements to it, etc. I think Ron Rash kind of tries to do that here, but I wish he'd gone a little further in the "pulp" direction.

Above the Waterfall is set in the mountains of North Carolina, in a small rural community that has seen its cultural -- if not physical -- landscape changed over the past 10 to 15 years by the coming of an upscale resort and also by the coming of methamphetamine into the community. A sheriff in his final days in office must contend with the clash of a few different characters in the community who find themselves at odds. In the process, he saves an old friend's property and restores peace to the communi…

Movie Review: Get Out (2017)

Can't believe it took me almost an entire year to see this film but it was worth every second. There was not a single "look at your watch" moment; from the very beginning of the film I was riveted. This, my friends, is entertainment. Here's what I loved about it:
Setup: Going into the film you already know the "basic" plot, and it's already squirm-inducing. A black guy gets trapped amidst a group of suburban white folks who want to do him harm. You know the basic outline, but you have no idea how it's going to play out. This is a far more effective method than you might think, and is especially common in the horror/thriller genre. But, even as far as these thriller movie type setups are concerned, you have to admit this is a pretty bold and extremely uncomfortable one. Who wants to talk openly and frankly about Race in this country? Not many people and even fewer white people. So why not do what we've been doing for centuries (maybe millenia) ai…

Podcast Guest Appearance: The Old Fashioned

This past year I guest-starred on my friend Eric Konon's podcast, called The Quaff. It's a really awesome podcast in which he discusses a different drink every week. You should totally listen to the other episodes -- not just the one about The Old Fashioned -- in which I appear. But you should definitely listen to my episode.

Listen to:The Quaff, Season II Episode One, The Old Fashioned, hosted by Eric Konon and guest starring me...

Eric and I go way back to the mid-2000s when we shared an apartment in Park Slope Brooklyn with what seemed, at times, like at least eight other people but was actually only two. We stayed in touch over the years, he even did some awesome graphic design work for an upcoming book series I have yet to finish, called The Motorcycle Zombie. Actually there is one version available online now (I think).

Anyway...last year I listened to this awesome podcast series (Season 1) and asked if there was a way I could be a part of it. If you listen to the other …

New Yorker Fiction Review #193: "A Small Flame" by Yiyun Lee

Review of a short story from the May 8th issue of The New Yorker...

There was a chick named "Bella" and she did some stuff. I really did not care for this story.