Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mustang Folly

They were a beautiful herd of horses. Mustangs, nearly a hundred of them. They’d roamed free for more than a century. Officially, they were feral horses, their ancestors once lived a fettered existence.

Wyoming. There was ample grazing, streams, and lakes. A playful lot of equines with colors ranging from white, brown, a dozen or so roan, black with white spots and vice versa. They often ran for an hour or more at a time and engaged unfrequented terrain.

It was on just such a bolt the herd took off. The weather was crisp, with a mild cool breeze, and a cloudy sky overhead. The run made their powerful muscles taut with effort and their commendable stamina carried them for two hours, into unfamiliar land.

There was a narrow pass with a 10-foot drop which they all easily navigated. Once through, the pass expanded out into a large plateau extending for a mile or so. Approaching a cliff, their run had concluded.

They sought out water. Just a sip, really, to refresh their lathered condition before heading home.

There were cliffs on one side, an unnavigable rock wall on another, and the path from whence they came now an insurmountable 10-feet up! There was no other way. Even the best attempts by the mustangs yielded jumps that were several feet too short. All the mustangs had by now become aware that there was no water available. They would soon all realize there was no way out.

There was plenty of shade, but tomorrow would be another story. Vultures had already begun to congregate with an uncanny anticipation. An engorging like this comes but not often enough.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


He was not known for his golf. Yet for one weekend in the spring of 1989 his thirst was unquenchable. We’ll call this fellow Woodward.

Spring 1989

We were college chums, Woodward and I. He was curiously insistent one Saturday that we go to the golf course and whack a bucket of balls. I put up little opposition. Ranging we went.

At our best we were below average. But this deficiency of golf talent bogged us down none at all. Upon contact with the dimpled white orb it would often go straight. The bucket emptied and we departed. Unbeknownst to me, this same Woodward later returned to the outskirts of the golf range and absconded with a number of errant balls.

It was later that afternoon he suggested we knock some balls off the cliff of Isla Vista into the ocean, the Pacific Ocean. Golf is not my thing, to be sure. I can easily go a decade without craving a round of golf. But twice in one day? Off the cliff into the ocean had its intrigue. Enough intrigue to surmount my comfortable inertia.

He on bicycle, me on skateboard, we traveled almost a mile from my apartment to the launching point. We teed off. A few balls landed on the vacant beach below, but most, surprisingly, landed in the shallow surf 150+ feet away from the cliff wall. Less than ten whacks each, the novelty extinguished, we concluded the exercise.

I lived at an apartment complex occupied 100% by college students. The weekend evening was typically loud with music and socializing. It was deep into the evening and beers were being imbibed.

Woodward, not yet done with golf, suggested we whack a few off the roof of the apartment building. One could easily step over the three foot railing of my third floor unit patio and out onto the roof of the second floor. My daily tolerance for lawbreaking had been sufficiently sated what with the litter bugging by launching golf balls off the cliff. Plus, broken window and car dent possibilities were all around this thickly residential neighborhood. This potential for property damage easily overrode any hankering of interest. Yet, he proceeded.

It was perhaps ten minutes later, I observed a very angry citizen and two police officers engage Woodward. The golf balls and club were confiscated. I do not know if a ticket, fine, or payment for damage was also involved.

He’s a unique animal, my Woodward. But not without his redeeming qualities. The Big Lebowski (1998), starring Jeff Bridges, ranks highly amongst his favorite films.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Juicy Burgers

‘We’ve got juicy burgers,’ goes the advertisement.

Juicy burgers? Really? That’s your effort to tantalize the populace?

First things first. It’s not really juice, is it? Isn’t it really cow grease? So is your advertisement telling prospective patrons that you’ve got greasy burgers? And that’s the focus of enticement? Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve no appetite for a burger that is greasier than the next.

Second, if it’s greasy, maybe you’d like to cook it longer until it’s done. Burn off the excess grease, man. Let’s not talk about the grease as if it were a drawing point.

I suggest an amended advertising ploy. Perhaps a slogan that boasts instead, ‘We’ve got tasty burgers.’ Of course, you’ll have to fix the grease problem, first.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


At three years old, Pokemon was one of our boy’s passions. Pokemon is a cartoon series where kids, they look about ten years old, walk from city to city looking for creatures to catch. These creatures are called Pokemon. Ash Kechum is the main character with Brock, his sidekick, and their friend Misty, in addition to a number of other smaller role players.

Each Pokemon has unique powers. As the kids catch Pokemon they are then available for the kids to call on to help remedy the troublesome scenarios they face in each episode. The Pokemon are generally friendly to humans, though they resist being caught, and they evolve and get more powerful depending on their experiences.

Q1 2005

With his baby sister just a few months old the boy was insistent that we call her JigglyPuff. Jigglypuff is a Pokemon resembling a pink ball with feet, hair, and facial features. ‘When the baby is old enough to walk and talk,’ he explained, ‘she would become WigglyTuff,’ the evolved form of JigglyPuff.

As for the main character, Ash Kechum, the boy assigned this esteemed identity to himself. I was dubbed Brock, his sidekick, and Wife Klem was Misty, Ash’s ‘girlfriend’. [In the cartoon series both Ash and Misty clearly liked each other, but denied it at every opportunity. They were ten years olds.] Our dog was assigned the wild card status to play any role needed (i.e., any Pokemon creature or the bad guys from Team Rocket). Nice how he incorporated the whole family.

At his peak Pokemon interest, we were at the park one afternoon, the boy and I, and he was pointing to kids and yelling, “I choose YOU!” That is what Ash Kechum said when he called his Pokemon into action.

If I sound well versed in the doings of Pokemon, it is so. In his early years I’ve read many Pokemon books to the guy before bed. Plus, I’ve been on the receiving end of many related conversations.

In the words of the venerable Ash Kechum, “I choose YOU!”

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Milkshake Miracle

Our boy is in second grade. The students regularly take 8-minute math tests which entail 100 addition and subtraction equations. The numbers are one and two digits with none greater than 18.

On Monday the boy brought home a math test scoring a lowly 29 / 100. F! The next couple evenings were riddled with 8-minute practice tests administered at home, threats of having to repeat second grade if his math grades don’t improve, and discussions as to how math is important. Then came the important part.

I told the boy he’d get a milkshake if he scored 90+. As a bonus, the lovely Wife Klem also offered to buy him a book. I thought this would get the guy’s attention and help him to focus on the task at hand.

Yesterday the boy brought home a 97 on his 8-minute math test! What a difference a milkshake makes! A 200% improvement! At the time of the offer, the prospect of a 90 or more seemed outside the realm of possibility. I’m happy to see that I stand corrected.

The boy cashed in the offer after dinner and took down an orange creme shake prepared by a local burger franchise.

I wonder if he intentionally duped us.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

10 Things I Don’t Like

1. malfunctioning alarm clocks

2. rubbernecking on freeways

3. a heartily stubbed toe

4. willful misrepresentation of facts

5. litter bugs

6. Dog poo on my front lawn. Come on, pick up after your dog, people.

7. Anything billed as ‘hand made’, unless it’s intended for immediate consumption (i.e., pancakes, sandwiches). I prefer not handmade. There are few exceptions.

8. Being engaged in conversation while occupying a urinal. No thanks.

9. “no pun intended”

10. Any written correspondence in ALL CAPS.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

10 Things I Like

1. Tossing a football with a chum

2. Checking on the kids before turning in for the night

3. Playoff baseball

4. the Laffer Curve

5. the Doppler Effect

6. exact change

7. Mercury’s [Hg] negative surface tension

8. symmetry

9. the occasional umblaut

10. Eating glazed or frosted donuts upside down so as to assist the taste receptors by getting the frosting directly onto the tongue. But not sprinkled donuts, lest you risk the sprinkles tumbling to the floor.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ah, Yes, I Know That Smell

The nose seems to never forget. Sure, you’ve got the obvious smells like chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, cigar smoke, or a barbecue. My favorite smells are the ones that return me, even if only temporarily, to a prior event or period of my life.

Example 1: Mint

I’m not talking mint as in mint chocolate chip ice cream. Not a York Peppermint Patty, spearmint, nor the mint liquor of a mint julep. I’m talking the actual mint leaves rubbed together. Mint.

The olfactory stimulation brings me back to the late 1970s. I had a friend who lived two doors down. We’ll call him Wickman. We were in our early teens and occasionally played football with my two older brothers in his backyard. They had mint plants adjacent to the grass, the playing field. The ball carrier, when tackled, often landed in the mint and would roll around in it as a result of the collision.

By end of the game we’d smell fresh as a field of mint. The green stains, however, were not as welcome, I’m sure. Sorry about the mint stains, mom.

Example 2: Tomato Plants

I’m not talking about tomatoes, tomato sauce, or a tomato-fennel relish. Actual tomato plant leaves rubbed together.

A nostril or two stuffed with such a welcome waft brings me to my younger years. Grandma and Grandpa Tedesco both hailed from the old country, Italy in the north. Dating as far as my mental archive can go, they had tomatoes growing in the back yard which were implemented in making their own sauce. It seems every year gramps would rip out a few square feet of lawn to squeeze in another few tomato plants. The smell of a tomato plant leaf brings me back to that back yard.

Mint and tomato plants. Good smells. Good memories.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, a book report

Some books you finish reading with a sense of relief, as if you had endured a hardship. There are others you complete with a sense of satisfaction. I finished Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond last week saying to myself, “Wow. Now there’s a lot to think about.” My attention was fully vested from the opening segment.

Ever wonder when and where humanity got underway? When and how it spread from one continent to the next? This book closes those loops. It’s very interesting looking at the map showing humanity’s flow from one continent to another. [A couple quick facts to provide a bit of mental kindling: humanity started in Africa about 7,000,000 BC, moved into Asia in 1,000,000 BC, Europe 500,000 BC, Australia 40,000 BC, North America 12,000 BC, and South America 10,000 BC.]

Ever wonder why or how people on a specific continent seem to enjoy a bountiful existence while people on another continent reside along the opposite extreme? It’s not biology or the capacity of a certain group of people that is on display in the quality of their existence. Rather it’s the environment that is, by far, the predominant factor in fueling the quality of a people’s existence.

When humanity arrived on a continent it was the large animals (those that average 100 pounds or more) present on the continent that played a large role in shaping this environment. Some large animals can be domesticated while others cannot. Eurasia, for example, had 72 varieties of large animals indigenous to the continent of which 13 were eventually domesticated. South America, on the other hand, had 24 large animals of which only 1 became domesticated, the alpaca. There’s a big difference on human society if you’ve only got the alpaca to work with as opposed to cattle, horses, pigs, and goats. Then there’s Australia who had only one such indigenous animal, the kangaroo. Even if the guy could have been domesticated, what’re you gonna do with a kangaroo? Implement it to sow crops? One can see how the animals available played a significant role in shaping the local human existence.

The plants indigenous to a continent also played a significant role. The plants that were present to be domesticated and farmed greatly affected a people’s ability to improve their food possibilities. They could largely determine whether a group of people would be hunters-gatherers or farmers. An abundance of human-friendly plants made population booms possible as societies evolved from hunting-gathering to farming because farming was able to support a larger number of people per acre.

Have you ever pondered the significant results of human improvement? Pottery, for example, was first used about 12,000 BC. This spurned a population boom as people were now able to cook plants and make food more easily consumable. Plants that were too tough to chew became easier to eat. Older generations were able to live longer now that proper nourishment was available, whether or not they had teeth. This elongated life span allowed them to pass on a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to the younger generation. Plants which may have previously been inedible, due to toxins or poisons, could now be soaked and leeched of the toxins or poisons such as in the case of nuts.

If those discussion points are of interest to you, this book may spark up an entertaining sequence of brain synapses. Fascinating, the trail of events that shaped humanity and accompanying explanations.

Thanks for the recommendation, JMac.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Babies by Suit Size

“Congratulations on your baby boy,” says the doctor. “He’s 6 pounds, 12 ounces, and 19 inches long.”

Why is this acceptable? Why are babies measured in terms of length like some kind of reptilian birth? Enough, I say. Let’s bring some dignity to the announcement of a baby’s dimensions. I propose that from hence forth babies be announced by suit size.

Example 1: “Congratulations on your baby! He’s 6 pounds, 12 ounces, and he’s a 3-Regular.”

Example 2: If the baby has long arms, “Look at the reach on that baby! He’s a 4-Long!”

Or is it just me?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Adventures of Tedesco - Robot Invasion

The following tale is based on a nightmare my boy had recently. A robot invasion at school.

“That sounds cool,” I told him after he shared the details of his dream.

“Wasn’t cool for me,” he responded in a dejected tone. True enough, my friend. But thanks for sharing it anyway.

The Adventures of Tedesco - Robot Invasion

Tedesco lay awake in his bed. Another school day. Seeing through his window blinds the sun was up, the sky bright blue and it looked like another warm one. ‘Good day out there,’ he thought to himself. Tedesco was almost eight years old. Second grade was winding down and it was almost summertime.

With his parents and sister still asleep he rolled out of bed and went downstairs. His good dog, Kira, was sitting at the bottom of the stairs waiting for him. Her tail was wagging briskly brushing the carpet.

“Good dog, Kira. Let’s get you a snack, but don’t tell anyone,” he said. Reaching into the refrigerator he grabbed a slice of his dad’s sandwich meat and gave it to his dog. It was gobbled and consumed seemingly too quick to enjoy.

He sat down at the kitchen table and poured himself a bowl of cereal and milk. He ate while leafing through his Visual Dictionary, a recent book acquisition. He took down a second bowl and forwarded it to the sink and got dressed for school. He had been in the habit of getting up before everyone else, so his mom had been laying his clothes out the night before on the couch.

He could hear his parents upstairs. He figured he’d give them a break and make his own lunch today. He retrieved his lunch bag, a blue ice from the freezer, and proceeded to pack. Two pop tarts, cookies, juice bag, two granola bars, a cheese stick and a banana. Nobody was there, yet, so he also tossed in a soda, the rascal.

“Morning, Bongo. What can I get you for breakfast,” asked dad walking into the kitchen just as Tedesco zipped his lunch closed.

“Thanks, dad. I already ate and packed my lunch,” he said stuffing his lunch sack into his backpack. “It’s a great day out. Is it OK if I ride my scooter to school,” he asked.

“If you’re willing to wait fifteen minutes I’ll drop you off,” dad offered.

“I’d like to ride today, if you and mom don’t mind,” requested Tedesco. They lived close to school and he sometimes rode his bike or scooter. But his parents didn’t know that he sometimes also brought Kira to school.

“OK, but say good bye to your momma and sister before you go,” said dad.

“Hi, Tedesco,” said his little sister coming downstairs just now. She was in preschool and her class started an hour after Tedesco’s.

“Morning, Jackie. Hi, mom,” with his momma coming downstairs right behind his sister. “I’m leaving for school now. Dad gave me the thumbs up to ride the scooter this morning.”

“Good bye, Tedesco. Have a super day,” said mom reaching down to pick up his pajamas off the floor.

With that he slipped into the garage with his dog, got the scooter, and exited the rear gate. It’s probable that nobody would even know that Kira was gone. She usually flopped herself out in the yard or behind the couch all day.

His ride to school was brief and his dog ran alongside. There was a hill right by school adjacent to a park. There were a few very large overgrown bushes and trees and this is where his faithful noble beast would await his return.

“Stay, Kira. I’ll come back after school. You watch my scooter, good dog.” He tossed his scooter down in the bushes, patted Kira’s head and ran the half block to school.

After the morning spelling test there was an announcement over the loudspeaker, “Robots have invaded the city and we need someone to check it out. Volunteers will please come to the office.” It was the principal.

Tedesco and two friends volunteered. First things first, suggested Tedesco, he had to check on his dog. They got to their hideout but Kira was gone! Trouble was at hand. The scooter was there, so he picked it up and they continued on their way. They heard noise and commotion at the park. Staying hidden in the overgrown vegetation along the park’s perimeter they moved toward the noise.

At the park they saw the robots and a spaceship! There were six robots. They were tall as a grown man, made of a shiny black metal and had skinny arms and legs like baseball bats. Their torso, however, was thick and round like a barrel of root beer.

There was a playground fort at the far end of the park. Running along in the overgrown hillside the boys dashed to it unseen. Tedesco left his scooter on the ground by the swings while the three boys hid out in the fort and decided what to do next.

The boys could see most of the park from the vantage point provided by the fort. The spaceship was large and silver with lights all throughout its underside. It was round like a soccer ball and as tall as a two story house. It had no windows and it rested on one large rectangular protrusion extending from the belly of the craft. There was a door at the bottom where they could see robots coming and going. The robots had also captured some adults and held them in the jungle gym with a metallic netting. The boys saw that one of their teachers was amongst the captured.

Suddenly, a robot appeared as if out of nowhere and picked up Tedesco’s scooter. It hadn’t seen the boys as it turned to go back to the spaceship. But Kira, who must’ve been in the bushes, saw the robot grab her boy’s mode of transport and charged the robot!

Kira lunged and collided with the robot between steps. It was caught off balance and the thing toppled over.

“Let’s help Kira,” yelled Tedesco. The boys hopped into action. He jumped down and grabbed the scooter. He saw the robot was having difficulty getting back to its feet. With the arms flailing back and forth Tedesco saw the there were wires in the arms. He got an idea. He remembered how his own battery operated toys stopped working when they got wet or fell into the bath tub.

“Come on guys, we need to get them wet! The robots won’t work. Turn the sprinklers on and get that hose on them,” he yelled pointing to the park’s utility shed.

At this point the robots’ alarm siren started to ring and robots rushed out of the spaceship like ants charging out of an anthill. There were now more than 20 robots! The boys were scared, but they were committed to action. These crummy robots weren’t going to take his scooter and wrestle with his dog without suffering the consequences.

Two boys ran to the shed. They turned the sprinklers on and then the hose. The spacecraft and robots were getting blasted with water.

Tedesco was riding around on his scooter and the robots couldn’t move fast enough to catch him. Kira was running next to her boy making sure he was safe.

The robots were all caught in the spray and began to act erratically. It was then the captured adults managed to climb out of the jungle gym entrapment and scampered off to safety.

The robots, now thoroughly doused from the sprinklers and hose, had stopped moving or making noise. Their circuitry was totally destroyed by the water. They were out of commission as completely as Tedesco’s dad while watching football on Sunday afternoons during football season.

Tedesco and his friends were rewarded by the school with a homework pass! “Awesome,” the boys exclaimed. If they got a homework assignment they didn’t like they could simply turn in the homework pass. Kira was rewarded with a hamburger patty. It was gobbled and consumed seemingly too quick to enjoy.

The school bell rang and class was dismissed. Tedesco and Kira raced home.

“Hey, did you hear about the robot invasion today,” asked his mom when he got home. “I heard it was right near the school.”

“Yeah, but they didn’t seem too tough,” replied Tedesco. “Can Jackie and I go to the park and run through the sprinklers,” he asked as if it were just another day.


[Other Adventures of Tedesco have been posted on 2/15/2009 and 3/12/2009.]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sandwiches for Lunch

October 1990

I was very recently out of college and two months into a professional job. I was earning less than $2,000 per month prior to taxes and my expenses were winning an unfortunate tug of war.

The $5-6 per day I was spending at lunch would no longer do. Plus, wasting half my lunch time getting to the food outlet (driving or walking), waiting in line, followed by a quick wolfing down of the meal due to lunch break time constraints made the whole experience increasingly less tolerable. I resolved myself to making my lunch everyday and hauling it in to work. Two sandwiches, a soda pop, an apple, and sometimes a yogurt just to mix things up.

Nineteen years have passed since the inception of lunchtime sandwiches. Lunch remains largely the same these days. The soda pop has been switched out for water. Two sandwich allotment has been reduced to one, turns out my motor no longer takes as much fuel to keep afloat. The apple and occasional supplement remain in force.

The lunching experience has evolved over the years. At inception, I ate lunch in the car parked in the shade listening to the radio and reading Sports Illustrated. This pleasure of solitude was occasionally traded in for lunch with company cohorts, but not often. After a job change, this packed lunch was eaten at my desk enjoying the silence (silence because everyone else was out to lunch) and reading a magazine or book. Present day, I often eat while driving on the freeway listening to talk radio as much of my job has me in the field for the bulk of my work week.

I have difficulty imagining my two decades of lunch breaks had the homemade sandwiches not been implemented. The difficulty imagining pertains to health, weight gain, financial outlay, and time wasted getting to lunch, waiting in line, and getting back to work. I’ve no patience for line standing. I’m pleased with myself, but then, I like routine.

Lunch today was 1.5 toasted bagels bookending ham, turkey and mozzarella. [Thanks Mom Klem for the leftover Easter pig and bird.] Also ate a pear. Consumption increase for today was due to the approaching ‘throw out’ date of the bagels. More bagels remain, but I think I can beat the date.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Fall 1991

My kid brother had purchased a booklet of extreme activities coupons. You know, 25% off scuba diving lessons and $50 off parachuting! I thought it interesting that he would buy such a thing. I asked him ‘What gives?’

Some guy had been selling the coupon books, my brother bought, and he was redeeming a bunch of them. Paragliding was next on the slate, he advised, and he offered to split the discount. With that, I was on board. Our older brother also joined in.

Saturday morning. We set off for our discount rate paragliding lessons. Paragliding has you attached to the sail by means of a harness. You stand upright and relax into a sitting position once you are aloft.

A one hour drive delivered us to the meeting spot. The trainer was a world class paraglider, we came to understand. How degrading this must have been for him to have to spend half a day horsing around with the likes of us shlubs. Yet, here we were.

The first stop was a practice location. We took numerous runs off a 50-foot hill to familiarize ourselves with the controls and getting used to the feel of the lift of the wind in our sails.

After an elegant lunch at a fast food taco franchise we went to the next location. A 1,100 foot plateau! The 50-foot hill was a sloping terrain. If you wipe out you’re not actually gonna fall 50 feet straight down. An accident on the practice hill might drop you 15-20 feet to the gently sloping ground and then you’d simply roll down the hill like a buffoon. Embarrassing, to be sure, but there was minimal risk of absorbing major bodily damage. But the plateau meant business.

Timing is important when jumping off a plateau and you are trusting wind in a sail to prevent you plummeting to the ground. You want to feel some resistance in the sails before you jump. Funny thing, you’d think apprehension would prevail at the thought of leaping off a mountaintop and looking down at the possibility of death. Not so, or at least I didn’t experience any. There was actually an eager anticipation.

I made three jumps that afternoon off the plateau. While sitting up high in the sky pulling at my control handles, one in each hand, the thought of falling to the ground brought no fear due to the sense of control I felt that I had. The flying contraption was easy to maneuver.

Upon returning to our parents’ house there was an abundance of diminutive sandwiches at our disposal. Mom Klem had guests to the house earlier in the day and had it catered with sandwiches. Tiny delicate sandwiches, they were, and could be best described as delicious and numerous. Tired, dirty, and hungry we decimated these leftovers.

A fine day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Top 150 Novels of the 20th Century

I like to read, it’s true. My peak year was 30 books read in 2000. That was a year before we had our first child. I toppled a meager six books that next year. The goal for 2009 is 14 books; I’ve scored four to date.

A friend of mine, another bibliophile, almost a decade ago came across a list of the Top 150 novels of the 20th century. McGettigan the Elder is this one. We’ve both engaged the list and seek completion. I’ve lopped off 87 of the 150 so far and am aiming to topple three more before year end. After becoming disenchanted three years ago with the readability of some books on this list I’ve settled on a steady pace of four books per year off the 150.

Here’s the thing about the list, many of those books are pretty crummy. Whoever compiled the list, I suspect, confused the meaning of ‘Top’ to mean evocative or cutting edge, rather than good or entertaining. But the joke, apparently, is on me, this McGettigan, and a few other suckers making progress toward completing the list.

My sister, JQ, has fallen prey to the 150. Determination and a good attitude keep her buoyant. My friend, and insurance agent, McBride is on it and nearly done! [If you seek a well read insurance agent licensed in California, I will gladly forward his contact coordinates upon request.]

Examples of bad literature that rank amongst the list:
Ulysses - James Joyce
Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

I will say this for the list, there have been a number of novels I really enjoyed that I might otherwise have never consumed.

Examples of good literature amongst the list:
Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry

The list of the Top 150 novels of the 20th century follows. But first, two notes:

Note 1: If you consider engaging the list, be careful. Think it over before you commit yourself. A long arduous journey stands before you like a thorn riddled hurdle.

Note 2: My dear friend McGettigan the Elder, if you scour the internets some lazy afternoon and rustle up a list of the Top 150 of the 21st century, I kindly request that you forget to forward it.


Top 150 Books of 20th Century

1.The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2.1984, George Orwell
3.Catch-22, Joseph Heller
4.The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
5.Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
6.Animal Farm, George Orwell
7.Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
8.Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
9.Ulysses, James Joyce
10.The Lord of the Flies, William Golding

11.Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
12.Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
13.The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
14.Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, J. Joyce
15.To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
16.The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
17.Native Son, Richard Wright
18.Beloved, Toni Morrison
19.Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
20.To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

21.The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
22.The Color Purple, Alice Walker
23.On the Road, Jack Kerouac
24.The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
25.The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
26.Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
27.The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
28.Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
29.Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

30.The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
31.A Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
32.My Antonia, Willa Cather
33.A Farewell to Arms, E. Hemingway
34.A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
35.I, Claudius, Robert Graves
36.Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
37.The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemmingway
38.A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
39.Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
40.Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Hurston

41.The Call of the Wild, Jack London
42.The World According to Garp, John Irving
43.A Passage to India, E. M. Forster
44.The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
45.The Good Soldier, Ford Madox
46.The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
47.Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
48.One Flew Over Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
49.Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
50.U. S. A.(trilogy), John Dos Passos

51.Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
52.Sophie's Choice, William Styron
53.Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence
54.Exodus, Leon Uris
55.All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
56.Rabbit Run, John Updike
57.The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
58.The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
59.Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
60.The Ambassadors, Henry James

61.From Here to Eternity, James Jones
62.Little House on the Prarie, Laura Ingall Wilder
63.The Golden Bowl, Henry James
64.Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne
65.The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
66.2001 : A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
67.Possession, A. S. Byatt
68.Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
69.All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich ReMarque
70.Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

71.Women in Love, D. H. Lawrence
72.The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
73.Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
74.Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
75.Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
76.Roots, Alex Haley
77.Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe
78.Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter
79.Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
80.The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

81.Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham
82.Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
83.Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler
84.Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence
85.The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
86.Dune, Frank Herbert
87.A Room with a View, E. M. Forster
88.The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
89.The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum
90.Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, C S Lewis

91.Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
92.The Burger's Daughter, Nadine Gordimer
93.A Confederacy of Dunces, John K. Toole
94.An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
95.The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
96.East of Eden, John Steinbeck
97.Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow
98.Howards End, E. M. Forster
99.Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara
100.Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

101.Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
102.Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow
103.The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
104.The Wings of a Dove, Henry James
105.Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
106.The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, James T. Farrell
107.Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
108.Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
109.The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
110.As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

111.The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder
112.A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh
113.A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor
114.The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara
115.Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
116.The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
117.White Noise, Don DeLillo
118.Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
119.The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
120.Deliverance, James Dickey

121.The Wapshot Chronicles, John Cheever
122.A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell
123.Snow Falling Cedars, David Guterson
124.Point Counter Point, Aldous Huxley
125.Watership Down, Richard Adams
126.The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
127.The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
128.The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
129.A Death in the Family, James Agee
130.Nostromo, Joseph Conrad

131.Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
132.The Rainbow, Pearl S. Buck
133.A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
134.Pale Fire, Vladimir Nobokov
135.Ironweed, William P. Kennedy
136.Light in August, William Faulkner
137.Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
138.Parade's End, Ford Madox Ford
139.Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer
140.Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm

141.Main Street, Sinclair Lewis
142.Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
143.Call it Sleep, Henry Roth
144.For Whom the Bell Tolls, E. Hemingway
145.Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons
146.The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell
147.Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns
148.A High Wind in Jamaica, Richard Hughes
149.The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
150.The Godfather, Mario Puzo


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rainy Carpool

Q1 1991

My first job out of college was in Southern California. I was one of thousands of employees at this office and there was a charge to park your car on premises. The deal was that you either (1) park on premises and pay a monthly fee, (2) park off premises and walk in from a few city blocks away, (3) or you carpool. The employer’s carpool numbers were tracked by a local government agency. [This may be required of employers in Los Angeles County with more than a specific number of employees.] I was subsequently encouraged to do this and I did.

I was 23 years old and my carpool ‘buddy’ was a nice married woman of about 40 with two kids. Conversation was typically light and pleasant, but generally little more than polite chit chat implemented to avoid awkward silence.

One afternoon, as work let out, there was quite a healthy rain falling. I suggested to her that I dash the 200 feet to my vehicle, I drove that fateful day, and drive back to the building to pick her up. I thought it was gentlemanly to spare her exposure to the heavy rain.

Without waiting for her response, I ran, retrieved the vehicle, drove back to the building where we had been standing, and found no carpooler. I was confused?

As it turned out, she had run after me and trailed quite significantly. Age difference, physical fitness, shoe styles (my flat loafers versus her heels), every disadvantage was on display for my carpooler during this unintended foot race on this crummy wet day. She could not reach me before I got to the vehicle, unlocked, buckled in, started and drove away.

She was quite wet from the downpour and in poor spirits by the time she finally ran all the way back to the building where I was now parked looking around.

She was unhappy, understandably so, and expressed surprise that I did not hear her calling to me as I got to the car and drove away. I innocently pled ignorance. It was loud with the rain and the sound of my own wet running footsteps.

Sorry for your dampened state, carpooler. But it was no intentional sabotage.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Friday Ocean Swim

It was years ago that a friend posed the idea of taking an ocean swim before work one day. We’ll call this catalyst McBride. Three others, including myself, thinking he was certainly bluffing, smilingly agreed. The other two we’ll call Cory and Wortendyke. But to our surprise, this was no bluff.

The date and time were set for Good Friday. Meet at the rendezvous point at 5:00 am. Silly enough were we to engage a workday morning ocean jump, but not so silly as to neglect wet suits. Wet suits were rented the day before on our lunch break.

April (Good Friday) 1995

It was the predawn pitch black of too early 5:00 am. Four guys coming from four different abodes all managed to meet up without a hitch. We transferred into one vehicle and carpooled to Zuma Beach, immediately adjacent to Malibu. In the still complete darkness we donned our wet suits in the parking lot and walked toward the Pacific Ocean. It was too dark yet to see the ocean, even though we were no more than 40 feet away.

It was a poor choice of mornings. The wind was blowing strongly which quickly numbed the exposed face and hands. The beach was pitch black, we simply walked towards the sounds of crashing waves.

Enjoying the feel of the cold sand between the toes we trekked toward the now loud crashing of the waves that remained yet unseen. The white water was finally visible at our ankles. The ocean’s surface beyond the froth of the tumbling waves looking like an endless supply of oil in all its impeccable blackness.

Into the water for 30 minutes of body surfing, frolic, and occasionally tackling each other. The cold wind over the ocean blowing into our hooded faces brought the onset of a sensation of headache, much like that of drinking one’s milkshake or Slurpee too fast and being encumbered with brain freeze.

The sun now rising, this silliness slowly drew to a close. The office goof balls walked out of the ocean and made our way back to the car slapping each other’s shoulders exorcising the balance of our giddy energy.

Exhilarated, we laughed at ourselves. The office loomed what with its neat piles of work on our desks. On the way out of the parking lot we blared Irish folk tunes. It was McBride’s doing.

A Good Friday to you. Whether or not you be taking an early pre-work ocean swim.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passenger Plane. No Luggage.

A friend was telling me of a prior job he had. We’ll call him Garrod. He once had employment as a luggage slinger. He worked at an airport slinging it into departing aircraft and out of arriving. He shared with me an amusing anecdote.

Early 1990s

He was a luggage handler at the local airport. He wore blue jeans, an orange t-shirt, bright yellow vest, clear goggles, and ear plugs to protect his fragile ear innards from the jet engine noise. He drove one of those cool looking open-air carts across the tarmac.

On his last day of work, it was not scheduled to be his last, he was driving his cart fully loaded with luggage for two separate flights. The two planes had a scheduled takeoff 20 minutes apart, but the first wasn’t yet ready for luggage boarding as it was still unloading from the prior leg of its tour. No problem, this is fairly common. Proceeding to plane number two he commenced tossing the bags into the plane. Having completed the loading of the one airplane, he turned back to hit the other.

Returning to where the first plane had been he encountered empty tarmac. Reviewing the work order he saw that he was in the correct space. Something was amiss.

He asked a colleague of the plane’s whereabouts and was answered with an audible-free upraised pointed blue-gloved hand at an airplane quickly moving down the runway. The plane took off, the gloved hand returned to its resting position, colleague went back to his own task. The plane was now in its rapid ascent.

Feeling an inward crumpling sensation he hit the accelerator and drove the cart back to the loading station.

“Hey,” said his supervisor, “you’ve still got bags in that cart, toss those things into the appropriate bird.”

“That’s why I came back,” he responded. “The plane took off. That one wasn’t ready so I loaded the second plane first. I had enough time, I thought. I’m really sorry about this.”

“Sorry? There’s really a plane up there with no luggage? Oh boy, I bet they’ll be surprised at their fuel efficiency without luggage weight,” sounding pleased.

“Look, I’ll just go home,” my friend not wanting to be chewed out.

“What do you mean you’re going home,” supervisor confused.

“I screwed up . . . badly. I don’t want to cause any trouble for you. You don’t have to fire me, I’ll just quit,” he said modestly.

“Fire you? Don’t be a dolt. We’re union,” encouraged the supervisor.

“Thanks for the support, but I really think I’m done,” now walking away thinking of what line of work to engage next.

Luckily for me we ended up at the same place of work. You’re a treasure, Garrod.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Compiled Quotes

“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” Samuel Johnson, writer [1709 - 1784]

“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” Anna Freud, psychologist [1895 - 1982]

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” John Wooden, basketball coach [1910]

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paper Airplanes

[Note to Mom Klem: I’m sorry you have to hear about this.]

[Note to the gentle reader: The following activity is not encouraged, endorsed, or suggested.]

Q4 1987

Starting my third year in college I had been accepted as a Mechanical Engineering (ME) major. The math, physics, and chemistry classes I took while my major was undeclared were manageable, but this, my first quarter as an ME major, was grueling. Seven weeks as an ME and I realized that this was not for me. My mind was made up to change majors again.

A good friend of mine and study partner, seeing that I had lately been lacking some zip, suggested a study break one evening. We’ll call him Jones. We went to the Physics building, a building that we were quite familiar from our prior two years. Most buildings on campus were either unlocked until very late into the night or not locked at all. The thinking perhaps was to leave the buildings unlocked so that students could commandeer a classroom and study. This access, however, also allowed for the possibility of less than studious behavior to be carried out.

On this night the two of us entered the building, obtained a stack of handouts, and proceeded to the seventh floor. There was a hallway window that opened onto a four foot wide ledge. With our stack of papers we stepped through the unscreened window and sat on the ledge with our legs dangling over. Dangling seven floors up.

From where we sat there was the Geology building 100 feet away and, otherwise, just a wide open courtyard. During the day this would be very busy with student pedestrians, skateboards, and a few folks walking their bicycles; a strict enforcing of bicycling only in the bike paths prevailed at UC Santa Barbara. Late at night this courtyard was largely blank of people.

We made paper airplanes with the absconded stack of handouts and launched one after the other. My airplanes sailed poorly compared to those of Jones Aviation. Fun at the time, being so high up, and behaving recklessly. For 30 minutes we launched, then returned to the safety of terra firma.

We did this twice without incident. Twenty years later I reflect back in horror at what could have been. One wrong step, horseplay, or anything unanticipated could easily have yielded death. Yet, I exist.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Brain Freeze

April 2004

Vacation. A driving trip to visit my brother and his family in Globe, Arizona.

Team Klem, with our boy of almost three years at the time, went for a walk. We wanted to supplement the walk with an ice cream or milk shake, if such wares could be located. Our confidence was high.

A bustling metropolis Globe is not, but we did locate a frozen yogurt merchant and bought two smoothies, chocolate for Wife Klem and dark cherry for me.

Receiving the first smoothie I passed it down to the boy for the first pulls off the straw. Passing the second to Wife Klem then paying for the purchase, I noticed the boy was flopped on the ground. He was on his knees with his forehead to the floor.

“Brain freeze,” we explained to him. “Too much cold stuff consumed too quickly.”

“Brain freeze,” he repeated.

I retrieved the guy’s smoothie, he regained his motor skills, and we exited the shop. Shortly after, he flopped down again, this time on the sidewalk. Same ailment. Once his brain caught up with the cold stuff, he got back up and we continued to walk. With some urging he engaged the smoothies again, albeit with some reservation and restraint.

The boy preferred Wife Klem’s chocolate smoothie.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

He Quits!

April 1989

It was approaching summertime and classes would be letting out soon. I was in college and wanted a summer job to supplement the two classes I was going to take. A job that wouldn’t be too trying.

A friend was currently employed in the Periodicals Department of the UC Santa Barbara library. We’ll call him McGettigan the Elder. He introduced me to his supervisor and we hit it off.

“You’re hired, but you’ll still need to fill out an application,” she told me.

“Great. I look forward to starting this summer,” I said.

The thing is, she explained, was that they needed someone to start now, not this summer. So I buckled and started the next week.

How about that. I got strong-armed into a job by a nice 70 year old woman. I was a librarian for a year. Score an assist for McGettigan the Elder.

July 1990

It was now my turn for retribution, of sorts, as it pertains to employment, but in an awkwardly amusing scenario for the Elder’s kid brother. We’ll call him McGettigan the Younger.

The Younger had an internship which fell far shy of what had been advertised. He wanted out and requested that I quit his job for him. He handed me the phone number and outlined the reasons for his discontent.

Thinking he was bluffing, I picked up the phone and dialed the number. I was expecting the guy to grab it away and hang up once he saw I was going forward. Curiously, he allowed me to proceed.

So expectant was I, that I was surprised when his boss answered the phone. Trying to suppress laughter, and the significant smile that was on my face, I advised that I, as McGettigan the Younger, would not be returning to work. Resignation was unhappily accepted.

The Younger has since gone on to more fitting and fruitful employment.

The McGettigan boys and I remain in current correspondence. In the nearly 20 years since, we have not requested another’s help in terminating employment.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Buffalo Nickels

I was a budding numismatist in my early teens. The concept of coin collecting was introduced to my brothers and I by our dad, Pop Klem. He had been a collector in his younger years and broke out all his coins one afternoon after decades lying fallow. With his coins spread out on the floor we compared them to the valuation lists to see what coins were good, rare, and valuable.

Dad’s enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject was contagious. He handed a few segments of his collection to each of us and said they were ours if we wanted them. My two older brothers and I were smitten.

I was just a kid then, so big ticket coins were not going to be my focus. I decided on nickels and pennies, specifically the Jefferson nickel, in circulation since 1938, and the Lincoln penny, since 1909.

At this point in my adolescence the only income I knew was my allowance for cleaning the family pool. With these meager financial means coin collecting was going to have to be creative and be carried out at rock bottom expenses.

Pop had a smart idea. Get rolls of coins at the bank at face value. A roll of 50 pennies was 50 cents and a roll of 40 nickels was $2. Buy a roll of coins, open roll, take the coins you need or want, re-roll what you don’t need, return to bank, repeat process.


Dad was going to the bank and asked if I wanted a few rolls of nickels. I confirmed with a please.

He returned, handed over the eagerly awaited booty and I commenced with the unrolling. I was immediately confused at the contents . . . and very pleased! “Hey, dad, look at this!”

Two rolls of nickels. 80 coins. I was expecting Jefferson nickels, but they were not. None of them. They were all Buffalo nickels! Buffalo nickels were minted from 1913 to 1938. They were not necessarily rare coins, although they’d been out of circulation for many years, but each was certainly worth more than a nickel. I filled out what I needed in my collection book and put the rest of the buffalo nickels in a jar. The Buffalos, I still have them.

A lingering afterthought, ‘I should have requested more rolls.’