October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, readers. Here's and appropriate website to visit for the holiday: Ghostvillage.com.
I don't have a ghost story of my own, nor do I believe in them. But, the idea of spirits visiting us from the "other side" always intrigued me as it assures me of a life after death. If Ghosts, ghouls, and other spectres and spirits pop in to scare the the hell out of me every once in a while, it's worth it because that means there's more to death than a hole in the ground to rot in. Enough of the gloomy talk. It's time to raid my "little Grudge's" Halloween candy. Oh, and before I go, boo!

October 30, 2006

Jets & Giants Fit The (Buffalo) Bills

If you're like me, you're a die hard baseball fan, and a "fair weather" football fan. Once the "Fall Classic" is over, no matter if your team was in the post season or not, you feel a bit depressed, flipping through the channels hoping to see a movie about baseball, or a classic game being broadcast on one of the sports networks. You have a calendar counting down the days until spring training, and you jump to the sports pages of the newspaper every day poring through the columns for the latest "hot stove" report. Still, the sports fan within you seeks some satisfaction. There is a need for excitement in your life. You have to cheer for someone, some team, and feel passionate again. For most, that leaves football.
Yes, the NFL "preseason" games begin in August, too early for most baseball fans to pull their attention away from hotly contested division races to watch football. But after postseason play is over and there is a new World Series championship team, there is a "baseball void" which football can only partially fill.
In New York, it is difficult to be a football fan as the Jets and the Giants both play in New Jersey. The only other actual team from New York is the Buffalo Bills, and there isn't much of a chance you want to root for them, much less travel to Buffalo to see a game. There's little incentive to travel to New Jersey to begin with, and being a part-time football fan you don't have much inspiration to buy tickets, pay tolls, and sit in freezing weather to watch a football team you're only casually interested in.
Of course there are many who are both avid baseball and football fans. They go to both baseball and football games, wear jerseys from both sports, call radio stations and complain about the Mets/Jets, Yankees/Giants; but football doesn't give the avid baseball fan who watches all one hundred and sixty games per season the same joy and fulfillment that a seventeen week football schedule offers.
As the hot stove heats up, and Thanksgiving nears, baseball fans will slump in front their television sets watching football, allowing themselves to get excited about a touchdown, or their team's chances of getting to the playoffs. But, immediately after the Superbowl, they will break out their calendars which they marked off in October, and count the days, hours, and minutes until pitchers and catchers show up to spring training.

Pavano On The Mend, But On The Mound?

"I can't worry about guys who are not here, it's not a letdown if you're not counting on it. It's not hard to believe. That's what's been happening all the time." (Derek Jeter quoted in an August 29, 2006 ESPN.com article)
In spite of Carl Pavano's nagging injuries, and his late reporting of an August 15, 2006 car accident in which he broke two ribs, the Yankees should give Carl Pavano another chance in 2007 and not trade him. No one has stated so far that this is a possibility, but due to the apparent distaste for Pavano in the clubhouse (Jeter's statement above may be indicative of the general attitude toward him), this very well may be a possibility. If there are concerns about his character, considering the late reporting of his accident, let them fall by the wayside because the Yankees sorely need him even if his arm might be sore. So, if in 2007, Carl decides he can't pitch for some reason or another, the Yankees can send him to counseling along with A-Rod.

October 29, 2006

Let Wilson, Phillips Do The Walking

The Yankees have a glut of first basemen, with Jason Giambi, Craig Wilson, and Andy Phillips sharing duties at that position. Giambi, the falling star who, while suffering lingering illnesses, ailments, and injuries, has lately been specializing in getting hit by pitches and drawing walks. Sure, he'll hit an occasional, dramatic home run which keeps opposing pitchers intimidated. Yet, it's galling to see him continue to pull the ball and hit into the defensive over shift which nearly every team employs against him. And if he does, he either flies out or grounds out. If Jason would hit the ball to the opposite field, he'd probably lift his batting average another thirty points, and thus, help the team. But, he stubbornly refuses to adapt. The Yankees are stuck with him, and would like to use him as the full time DH. But who would play first base full time?
Certainly not Craig Wilson, who batted .212 in forty games as a Yankee. He may be a defensive upgrade over Giambi, but if the Yankees are to replace Giambi, they need someone who can duplicate his past productivity as well. Wilson filed for free agency on Saturday, and the Yankees should thank him for his services and not re-sign him.
That leaves Andy Phillips, who has had trouble swinging the bat this 2006 season, hitting just .240 in 246 at-bats. At twenty nine years old, he's not exactly a kid anymore and any argument for keeping him because he's young is slipping away fast. The Yankees should trade him in return for anybody who can pitch. Phillips deserves a chance to be a full time position player on a team where he can find his swing and develop a career.
One intriguing possibility to replace Giambi at first base is Nomar Garciaparra who filed for free agency on Saturday also, assuming the Dodgers don't re-sign him. Garciaparra batted an impressive .303 in 2006, with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs. With Garciaparra in pinstipes, the Yankees would be able to use Giambi as their full time DH, and put Nomar at first. As a fan, I'd love to see the former beloved Red Sox shortstop playing in a Yankee uniform along with Johnny Damon, one of the "idiots" who led the Red Sox to their first World Series Championship since 1918.
Imagine an infield consisting of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Nomar Garciaparra? What would such a move cost, except money which the Yankees have mountains of? No one has, to the best of my knowledge suggested such a move for the Yankees. However, if they did sign him, he'd bring talented defense, a good team attitude, a big bat, and it would be a snub to the Red Sox and their fans. Also, I'd never miss a game.

October 27, 2006

"Sheff" Cooks Up "Just Dessert"

This baseball fan appreciates a player who can tolerate injury, strike fear into a pitcher, hit home runs consistently, and change positions to help his team. Gary Sheffield has played through pain, got hits off big name pitchers, switched from right field to first base for the Yankees after coming off the disabled list, and has 455 career home runs. With that said, he needs to be traded, and fast. Jim Baumbach of Newsday reports that the Yankees are planning to just that, trade him.
In baseball, there are many "unwritten" rules. You don't make the third out at third base, you don't swing on a "3 and 0" count, you don't steal bases when you're five runs ahead, and you don't criticize Joe Torre when he's your manager. Following the Yankees early ejection from the playoffs after their loss to the Detroit Tigers, Gary Sheffield was quoted in an article by Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY as saying "We were worrying about all of that stuff, and we still had a game to play. If I'm on the other side, and all of a sudden they're putting Rodriguez eighth and putting me or Jason on the bench, you wonder what's going on. Those guys [the Tigers] were asking me about it. I think it boosted their morale. It gave them confidence they didn't have."
One can either agree or disagree with that statement. But what should be universally accepted is that no matter where Joe Torre batted Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, or anyone else for that matter, after game one, the Yankee's bats fell silent. That's what the Tigers sensed. They knew that their pitching was better than the Yankee's pitching; and everyone, including baseball players, know that in the post season, pitching matters more than hitting. You don't blame a Hall of Fame bound manager for the shortcomings of the entire team.
What makes Sheffield's comments distasteful is his timing. Immediately after the Yankees elimination from post season play, it was reported by Bill Madden of the New York Daily News that Torre's job was on the line. Reporter's everywhere smelled blood in the water while George Steinbrenner mulled his longest tenured manager's fate. So what did Sheffield do? He threw Joe Torre to the sharks. His statement reeks of poor sportsmanship.
As reported by Baumbach, the Yankees are going to pick up Sheffield’s $13 million option in order to trade him. Sheffield finds himself in this untenable situation due to his ineptitude while acting as his own manager. Having failed to have a no trade clause included into his contract during his negotiations with "The Boss", Sheffield now has no say in where he winds up. It seems that the "Sheff" cooked up his own "just dessert". Which team he ends up on is up to Brian Cashman. When he gets there, he can waggle his tongue all he wants, much the same way he waggles his bat.

October 26, 2006

If You Write It ,They Will Read

Baseball is so enjoyable that even the off season provides entertainment. Baseball fans across America and the world are already rubbing their hands together, anxiously waiting for the "Hot Stove" to heat up even before the World Series is over.
Such is the passion of a baseball fan, and such is the goldmine that baseball offers the fiction writer.
Baseball offers intense drama within each game. There's the pitcher's duel, the running game, small ball, and the long ball, each aspect of the game is based on the skill of the players involved. The speedy runner is called upon to steal the base, the heavy hitter drives the ball, the "not so great" hitter will be told to bunt, and the pitcher is needed to keep the bats of the opposing team quiet. This drama can be incorporated into your fiction. Your character can watch the game with either excitement or fear, depending on who is winning. Or, your character can be the pitcher who is throwing a perfect game into the ninth...while nursing a potentially career ending injury. Or maybe, the guy meets the girl while seated next to each other in the stands and they fall in love. Yes, there's plenty of drama to be created both on and off the field.
So much of American life revolves around baseball that it remains within easy reach of even those who don't consider themselves fans. Who among us never passed by a park and watched as kids in colorful, little league shirts scrambled for the ball as a young batter ran awkwardly around the base pads with a helmet blocking his vision? Also, who hasn't smelled hot dogs at the stadium and absolutely had to have one? Many summer memories include splashing all day at the beach with someone's A.M. radio broadcasting a game in the background. For the non-fan of baseball, there are many cultural aspects to the game which aren't easily avoided. Any mention of a "ground ball", "home run", or even "grand slam" has meaning for even the completely uninitiated. Because baseball is so ingrained into our memories and our lives, using the game or aspects of it, in your fiction is universally appealing.
When writing fiction involving baseball, there's so much to build on that in spite of the many baseball stories already out there, the writer can still swing away with an original idea and maybe tug a few heart strings in the process. Your characters don't have to be players, but fans of the game. They can be a child on a little league team, a player's wife, a never was, a has-been, or someone who's last wish is to meet a baseball legend. The material this game provides the author is rich enough to extend outside the stadium and into the lives of even those character's vaguely connected to the game.
In my own stories, although I've yet to write about a player, or give an account of a game, I'll often allow my characters to be fans of a particular team, attend a game, or anticipate going to one. This offers the reader familiarity which transcends the plot of the story. Mostly, it's because I love baseball.
In a week or two, I'll begin plotting another novel. Once again, it will have nothing to do with baseball. Yet, in the frigid months of winter, with the hot stove roaring in the background, one of my characters is going to put on a baseball cap before getting shot at.

October 25, 2006

I’ll Ask The Mailman Instead

You know what I’ve learned over the twenty or so years I’ve been writing? I’ve learned that writers make terrible critics. By terrible, I mean…they can be mean. Every time I give a short story, novel length manuscript, column or other piece I’ve written to a writer to read, out come the gratuitously negative criticisms.
It doesn’t matter if the piece is completed, or that I don’t want a review, or that the work may already be published, the writer feels it is his or her duty to note a few complaints.
This is why I never joined a writer’s group. I feel that many writers’ complaints about other writers (unless the author is a newbie who can’t spell, plot a story, etc) are petty, imagined, and center mostly on thematic elements or style. It is also my opinion that many writers feel a tinge of jealousy while reading other writers’ work and then unleash criticism to balance against their own imagined “talent inequity”. I’ve felt the urge to do that myself, but I’ve bitten my tongue.
Criticism, when asked for, can be painful, honest and necessary. When a writer evaluates another’s works without consent, it can be downright rude. To all of the freelance critics out there who are guilty of unsolicited analysis, take the advice of a wise person I know who often applies this phrase: “Take your own inventory.” Critique that.

October 24, 2006

You Don't Need No Stinkin' Agent

I just finished writing yet another "soon to remain unpublished for good" novel. Once again, my manuscript will be submitted simultaneously to both agents and publishers in the hopes of getting the story published and making me a wealthy man. I couldn't care less what any agent or publisher says about simultaneous submissions. Essentially, they want to read your work exclusively, while they take their time getting back to you while wasting your incredibly valuable time. That brings me to the thrust of this article. An agent needs you, and not the other way around. You go ahead and do whatever you have to do to get published. Don't cater to any whiny agent's demands.
In the past, two agents represented works I've completed. One never bothered to honor the entire term of our contract leaving me little or no recourse to get them to fulfill our agreement, and the other agent apparently made a living exclusively by charging authors excessive fees for photocopying and postage. Now, needless to say I am in the hunt for a new agent.
Agents are business people who actually believe that their clients need them and not the other way around. I've read rude comments on the websites of certain author representatives who write complex rules on submissions up to and including how to place the manuscript in the envelope. The vast majority of them will banish your manuscript to the trash bin if you ever dare to call them (for fear that their children will answer the phone and you'll discover that they are working out of their basement) and most will simply write "not interested" on the front of the manuscript which you paid to have photocopied instead of wasting one of their own precious pieces of paper to write a professional letter of rejection.
Because agents can be picky, rude, unscrupulous, unprofessional, and dismissive, I believe that if an agent seems to have bad traits even before I contact them, then I will avoid them all together. If they become annoying at any point during the contact, read, send more, and the "maybe I'll represent you" phase, then I'll look somewhere else.
The decision comes easy to me because I already have a job, a very good one, and I'm willing to bet that I make a whole lot more money that some of these "agents" who need to realize that without writer's they wouldn’t have careers. And if any agent is reading this, I'm only kidding (not).

October 22, 2006

I've Got Your Theme Right Here

A buddy of mine read my new blog with considerable disinterest. Hey, I'm not John Steinbeck, Edward R. Murrow, or any other famous journalist or novelist. However, I do like to write about things I see in the news or compose works of fiction. Having a blog makes it easy for me to post my views to the zero number of people interested in reading what I have to say. My buddy, who is well intentioned thinks I need a theme...and he's right.
You must understand that I am struggling here. I'm not that creative. To make myself stand out among the millions of blogs out there would mean I would have to do something so completely original and extraordinary that I would practically be inventing a whole new form. Who has that kind of time and energy?
Well, after considerable time away from this entry, I've decided to conclude like this: my theme is writing. Yes, this will be yet another writer's blog. But, I won't write simply about the craft of writing, I will treat this like a newspaper column. One of my favorite columnists, Ellis Henican (http://henican.com/) has been inspirational for me. He can be funny (I'm working on that), informative (that too), and he's a pretty smart guy (don't ask). His topics range from the political, topical, and personal. I can do that. Don't expect to be spellbound, I'll just try to be pretty good. Later, I'll be amazing. But hey, I've got a theme now, right?

October 18, 2006

When Tragedy Misses

Driving to work at my new job is a lot easier than when I used to commute fifty miles each way to the city. I don't have to pay tolls, cross bridges, and worry about traffic. No, my new drive is a breezy twenty minute jaunt which includes a stop at my local 7-11 for coffee and a newspaper. But it turns out the danger for getting killed remains the same.
Yesterday I turned my car onto the main highway to begin the first leg of my relatively short journey. I had the radio on, my brain was warming up, and I took notice of the clear sky and warm weather. The traffic light up ahead turned yellow and I slowed my car and stopped when the light turned red. Only, the guy in the pickup truck behind me had a different plan. He didn't brake at all until he was dangerously close to me. His pickup skidded, making a frightening skreetching sound, and he had to cut the wheel and continue jamming on the brakes along the shoulder of the road and into the intersection where he almost collided with another car.
In that brief moment when I stopped, looked in my rearview mirror and watched helplessly as a giant pickup truck nearly knocked my baby Honda across town like a golf ball, it dawned on me just how disposable I was. If he did indeed hit me, I'd have been roasted in a fiery conflagration. Pieces of my charred remains would have rained all over the inersection, and all before I had my coffee.
Needless to say, I was shaken up. The pickup driver pulled his truck over and probably checkd his underwear, and I rolled past him like nothing happened.
My morning ride seemed to take longer. Every turn of the wheel was a risky maneuver, the speed limit became a dare, and why the hell did everyone have to drive so damn fast? The rest of the day went fine and I forgot about my near accident with the inattentive pickup driver. That is until I got home and saw my kids. Like any other day I traipsed in through the front door like Robert Young and my wonderful children clamored around me anxious to tell me about school. I paused, took a deep breath, and stiffened at the sound of squealing tires echoing in my ears.

Mr. Grudge's Self Portrait

Miss Mass For The Right Reasons

Recently, I had a conversation with a man I know and respect who is a former seminarian. He could have been a priest, but the whole celibacy thing was too much of a commitment. Anyway, the subject of religion came up and I began to talk about taking my dad to church the day before. It was during that conversation I informed him that I never wanted to attend mass again.
What sparked that declaration was that during the portion of the mass where the priest directs everyone to "offer each other the sign of peace" I meekly shook the hand of the woman in front of me, gave my father a hug, and continued to mind my own business. You see, my mother died only two weeks before and both me and my dad were having a hard time getting through the mass. My father is deeply religious and he honestly believed he was in the right place at the right time to send some sort of spiritual radio signal to his wife, and I was simply having a hard time dealing with the image I had in my mind of her coffin in front of the alter.
That's when the woman directly behind me stated in a loud voice to the other lady next to her and everyone within ear shot "That man didn't give me peace!" The headline in the paper the next morning should have read "Local Woman Drowned In Holy Water", but I restrained myself.
There were other things about this mass that had me alarmed. I noticed that people like to raise their hands in the air when the pray now, that they actually sing the words to the songs, they pray a little too loudly, and every single person who is able to, receives communion. When I refused to get on line for a wafer (bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been 22 years since my last confession) a woman enthusiastically waved me ahead of her, and she looked disappointed when I told her I wasn't going to receive. I was the only one to put just a dollar into the collection basket while everyone else placed numbered envelopes inside. But, the huge finale was when everyone clapped at the end of the service. Yes, I am not kidding, exaggerating, or making any portion of this up. They clapped. I was dumbfounded.
Since when did Catholics become such holy rollers?
I told the former almost priest that I didn't like going to church because I can't stand dealing with zealots, I didn't like the "charismatic" aspect of modern day Catholicism, don't even mention the pedophile scandals, and I can't stand the fact that the church always has it's hand out for more money because whatever you give is never enough. There are plenty of good reasons why I should go to hell and I don't want it to be because I short changed the collection plate.
After listening patiently, he emphatically stated "That's not the reason to stop going to mass". I had no comeback. For a few long minutes I sat and pondered what he said, not because it was profound, but because it wasn't what I expected him to say, and I didn't think he'd be so passionate about my remarks. He actually cared about my spiritual well being. Because I'm a smart aleck, I asked him what would be a good reason to go to church, and without missing a beat he said "to pray to God." Or, something like that. A plane flew overhead and I really didn't hear him. Still, no matter what he actually said, he made his point.
You don't go to church because you're a fan of priests, you don't get angry at God because people can be rude, greedy, or lose their way morally, spiritually, or criminally. You go to church to be with God. It's that simple.
Since that conversation a few weeks ago, I've had no religious conversion which made me bounce out of bed on Sunday mornings to be the first in line at the church door. I haven't been a particularly nice person, and my problems with the church remain. Yet, I feel something within me which asks why I can't rediscover the unbridled religious fervor I had as a kid before I entered my rebellious, arrogant "I'm an atheist" teenaged years. I'm middle aged, afraid of death, and want to hang onto the notion of an afterlife. Even baking in hell is better than losing everything to nothingness in death.
There has to be a God, there must be a heaven. One day soon I may find my way back to mass. When I'm there, maybe, just maybe, I'll turn around and shake someone's hand.

October 17, 2006

Something Old, Something New & Expensive

Yahoo! News reports that an ancient meteorite was found in Kansas using new, ground penetrating radar. Yes, you read that right. Scientists went ahead and designed radar to penetrate the ground.
Now, if I didn't read any further, I would have walked away thinking that they needed this “Land-ar” (kind of like sonar, but for dirt) to be on the alert for giant, carnivorous moles that routinely terrorize the citizens of Kansas, and that would be a good thing. But no, this ground radar will be used on Mars. I have no idea what they are looking for up there, and I'm sure that scientists don't either. All I know is that my tax dollars were used to create this contraption and other useless machines like it to send to Mars because three quarters of the American population actually believes that there's a giant face carved in stone up there.
I'd be less annoyed if they continued to use that thing here on Earth to find more meteors, gold deposits, and loose change after the carnival leaves town. But hey, why am I complaining? Come to think of it, I want to see some up-close pictures of the giant face on Mars.

Modern Art & Microsoft Paint

Well you know, I think I have a new career. The colorful mess just beneath this post was a little something I cooked up using MS Paint. The other one is an image my young daughter made. I'll bet if I told someone they were real works of art from "artists", I'd get away with it. No one would think they were any good; but anyone told they were real pieces of modern art created by a new and upcoming artists would have no problem believing it.
For too long the art loving public has been duped into accepting "art" that is nothing more than crap, and some of it is actually made with...well...you know. Everything from graffiti to a crucifix in a jar of urine is given the stamp of legitimacy because they are labeled as art. Don’t you dare say otherwise or you’ll be labeled yourself. So, look at my "art" and learn to accept it because there's a whole lot more where that came from. Keep your eye on this site to see what I can do with the leftover mashed potatoes from tonight's dinner.

"Modern Art"

"Modern Art" By A Little Grudge

Ancient Technology

It has been reported that the ancient Sumerians created a working computer (not electronic, duh) which was highly complex and was able to perform mathematical computations. If this is true, they had better technology than what I currently possess.
I have two old, beat up Pentium III desktop computers at home. One of them I built myself, and the other I bought from a major electronics retailer. I'm one of those geeks who likes to squeeze every last drop out of everything I own. I have an old Honda which I intend to drive until it falls apart. My clothes are so old they are coming back in style. That leaves me with my computers, which unlike my car and my clothes, will die an unseemly death due to uselessness.
Even an old car can be carved up into parts because people like old cars and need things like radiators for them. The next time you're at a garage sale, take a peek at the crummy Pentium II 466 MHZ computer the sellers are practically giving away. Who the hell needs it? As for the parts, there's not a whole lot you want to do these days with a 16x CD-ROM drive. My point? My computers are outmoded and I'm too cheap to buy new ones.
That's where my old buddy comes in. I spoke to him recently and he stated that he has an old Pentium IV computer he wants to get rid of. Imagine that, my computers are so old that a Pentium IV 1.2GHZ computer with 512 MB of RAM looks enticing. Still, I'm going to snatch it up. I'll be using this thing Until Pentium XXVIIIs are out. But, that's okay. By that time one of my friends might be getting rid of a Pentium XXVII.


Since my mother died two months ago, I've experienced every symptom for every disease discovered by medical science. I need a vacation. Mom died horribly, gasping for air, and drowning in the fluid in her lungs. My eyes replay her final moments whenever I close them each night. Hers was not the first death I ever witnessed, many were violent and sudden. Gunshot wounds were typically the cause of these deaths. One person reached up to me from the ground, our eyes locked, and he passed away wondering why I was unable to help him. But, none of those people's untimely and awful endings had the same effect on me as watching my mother die. I miss her. Time will help ease the pain, but it will never erase her final moments from my memory. Also, it may never stop me from discovering yet another funny looking mole, feeling another lump, or having some pain. Doctors beware.

This Just In...

Nothing terrific going on here. Being new to blogging, I've run into the same difficulty that perhaps millions of others have: I want a blog but I need something to talk about. Since no one will be reading this, and I simply want to rant, who cares?

October 16, 2006


During a recent cruise, my family and I toured St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our destination was Magen’s Bay whose beaches are as enticing as any postcard. As alluring as the landscape is, I was taken back by the poverty there.

Our bus driver, a gentleman named Steven, drove us to a scenic overlook. Two men approached us carrying turtles and asked for tips while our children posed with them so we can take snapshots. It’s tough to earn a living that way and I felt a tinge of guilt as a sightseer in paradise. Without tourists, these men and their families might starve, I thought. Yet, technically, I was not a foreigner, and we had much in common.

Born and raised on Long Island, my family was not rich. My dad worked two jobs and my mother had a part time position at the library. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on luxuries, much less a vacation to the Virgin Islands. Yet, like my fellow Americans in St. Thomas, I grew up near the water. The best my parents could do for us during summer was to take us to the beaches at Jones Beach or Robert Moses State Park.

There, I learned to swim, dig for clams with my feet, and to body surf. It was a local paradise where everyone could afford the sunlight and the surf. Rich families could sun themselves inches from our blanket and we would never know. The beach was an equalizer for me.

St. Thomas brought back memories, yet things had changed since my youth. My education took me to a level of affluence my father didn’t have. My children don’t wear hand me down clothes and the holidays are bountiful. Still, my wife and I work hard to maintain our standard of living. Then why did I feel guilty?

Perhaps I misjudged these folks whom I never met before and assumed that they thought like me when I was a boy, gaping at wealthy visitors to the South Shore. I wanted to explain to the driver and the men with the turtles that I was born and raised on an island too, and I lived in a small home with five siblings. My father worked eighty hours a week to support us, and our mom broke her back cooking and cleaning. I may have been a visitor, but I can relate to them.

Steven most likely does not remember me or my family. The men with the turtles may have been the happiest folks in the world. In much the same way I do not want others to look down at me with sympathy for my humble childhood; I should spare the inhabitants of St. Thomas my gratuitous empathy. The world is full of people with similarities and differences which should be celebrated and embraced. I prefer to remember my vacation with a fond fraternity with my fellow islanders.

-Michael J. Kannengieser

October 15, 2006

For The Love Of Books, And My Father

“You want to give me a dollar for this?” It was an insult; and I didn’t hide my scorn for this buyer. I stretched the corner of my mouth, rolled my eyes, and held the book in front of me as if I were holding a valuable artifact.

The guy, a middle aged man wearing cut off jeans, a scruffy beard, and a khaki, bush hat, waved me off and walked away. I felt justified. Not because I didn’t make the sale; but, because I validated the importance of my late father’s book collection.

If I wished to open a book store, this would be a great start. Dad’s compilation included works of World War II and American Civil War history, and an assortment of volumes about sailing vessels, old time railroads and their steam engines, and novels. Yes, there were hundreds of fine coffee table books, and official, U.S. Government historical records of famous battles. Yet, the value of each hardcover and soft back was set not by a bargain hunter’s “fifty cents” mindset; it was my sentimental attachment to the man who taught me to appreciate literature and history. I’m an avid reader today because of my parents; yet, my father set the high water mark with his astounding talent for comprehending and synthesizing every subject he studied.

My siblings were the ones who arranged this rummage sale, held on my father’s driveway in the sweltering June heat. It was a month after he passed away, and we were still cleaning out his home. Watching strangers casually toss aside my mother’s fine, blue plates, her sacred quilting paraphernalia, and various knick knacks she collected over the fifty years they resided in their home, I became territorial. That may be junk to them, I thought. But to me, these things were part of my life, items which were the backdrop to my youth.

It was when folks were chipping down the asking prices for my dad’s books that I became protective. He read every single one of them and remembered most of the subject matter. Often, he bought a book just to clarify something he read in another. So much of his identity was built around his understanding of the past that one of my sister’s friends, a full professor at a nearby college, once observed “Your father knows more about American History than most history professors I know.”

That statement was priceless, as my father was a humble mechanic who repaired oil burners, air conditioners, and refrigerators for a living. His service in the army during World War II left him with severe wounds which caused him pain for the rest of his life. He never had a chance at formal education, but that did not stop him from teaching himself.

While in the nursing home shortly before his death, my brother bought him a hefty, coffee table book on the Civil War. No doubt my dad was familiar with everything inside this volume; but he got it for him because dad stopped reading. He wouldn’t even look at a newspaper. We knew that if lost interest in his love of the written word, he was done. So, in an effort to revive his spirit, we tried to get him to crack a book.

I visited him in the day room with him seated next to me in a wheel chair. His breathing was distressed and he was hooked up to an oxygen tank. With the pages of the new book open before me, I showed him the pictures. He was disinterested, unwilling to glance at the sepia toned images and Daguerreotype photographs printed inside. At one point, I was so engrossed in the subject matter, that I almost forgot my father was seated next to me. In fact, he dozed off.

One photo grabbed my attention. “Hey look Dad, it’s the U.S. Sanitary Commission, they look so important, don’t they?” I chuckled as I could not believe that the grim faced men in the photo could be anything more than glorified government employees.

My dad stirred, examined the page, and with heavy breaths, said “They became one of the most important agencies after the Civil War, giving medical supplies to hospitals, taking care of war casualties, and staffing hospitals with doctors and nurses.” Then, he proceeded to name the men in the shot. That memory saddens me because, while he struggled with his own mortality, depressed and unhealthy; he still made it a point to educate his son.

More and more customers were turned away that day as I dutifully demanded fair compensation for this legacy of learning; mostly because I did not want to see them go. I fought for reasonable prices, parrying with the “I’ll give you a quarter for this” crowd; because, I imagined bits of my dad’s soul being carried away with each sale. At this time, my home is filled with this inheritance of printed text. My basement has a table stacked with an assortment of very old and fascinating hardbacks dated as early as 1840. Some are first editions in fine condition, others did not fare so well over time; but they were read, cherished, and saved for future generations.

One of my father’s neighbors came by the yard sale and browsed the covers displayed on the tables. She picked up one or two to examine them more closely. Then, she turned to my brother and said “Your dad was a very interesting man. I always knew he was a lot more than just a mechanic.” He was indeed, and I have a library full of facts to prove it.

-Michael J. Kannengieser

October 14, 2006

Public Relations & You

I’ve been asked by a professor at the college where I am employed to deliver a lecture on public relations. My speech is tailored to the young, inexperienced, undergraduates in her class. The main theme will focus on how the demeanor and appearance of job seekers influences potential employers.

In my other professional life, I am managing editor for fiction for an international literary magazine. In that role I get to read some well written stories. In many cases, however, I must turn writers down in short order. My duty is to accept only the best a writer has to offer which complements the style accepted by the periodical I work for. I am intolerant towards authors who submit poorly written query letters which do not provide a plot summary or begin with a salutation. Many of the e-mails I receive are composed like text messages and expose the authors as incompetent writers. This brings me to my earlier ideas on public relations.

Writers are entrepreneurs who are the product they are marketing. They must present their stories to agents and editors who have their own individual biases and preferences. In order to be perceived as a skilled writer, one must begin with the opening sentences of their initial contact letter with respect for editor or agent’s position.

You may view your stories as art and be casual about your craft; but, make no mistake, the editor views your work as merchandise which may or may not help sell magazines. The writer/editor relationship is a business affiliation and is best treated as such. There is no room for informality and flattery. The writer needs to make a pitch and wait for a response. In turn, the editor will treat you with the same courtesy which you extended with your initial letter.

I’ve given speeches on public relations before, at the college. Typically, I package my sermons as informal advice while I am conducting seminars on technology. As I stand before a classroom of slouching, apathetic freshman, I point out that their manners convey a lot about them, either fairly or unfairly. While attending a university, you are actually on an extended job interview. The classmates surrounding you will enter the job market at roughly the same time you will soon after graduation. Some may already be working in your desired occupation and could potentially be the one interviewing you for the job you aspire to obtain.

Do you want to be remembered as someone who slept through most of their classes, drank a lot, and couldn’t memorize their class schedule? Or, do you wish to be admired as a dedicated learner who studied and made meaningful contacts through internships? The answer to that question is not always obvious to today’s youth, as they do not see marketing themselves as a vital effort.

Few recognize that companies must promote themselves to a fickle public, and therefore, selecting only the best from the talent pool will help them advance ahead of their competition. One fact which can never be overstated is that talent is sometimes available in abundance; and, other subtle factors are considered when interviewing candidates for any career opening. The key to accomplishment lies in the first impression one makes with a job interviewer.

Authors are free agents who vend their wares to a saturated market. A strong query with a proper greeting, story outline and word count, writing credits, and a conclusion, will rise above queries like these: “I have been published in far more prestigious magazines than this, so I know you’re going to accept my work,” or, a defensive tone “I don’t care if you publish me or not because I know I am good,” or the rude and poorly written e-mail “hi I want u to read my story ‘The riding cowboy’ which is something I wrote for my blog but did not post there becuz I am sending to u now so please publish it as I know you are accepting writing like this.

In the end, I remain employed in my full time position because I consistently prove my worth to the College’s administration. My appearance is professional, and I deal with faculty, staff, vendors, and students alike with the same respect I wish they show me.

In the literary world, I am an editor who expects only the best creation a writer has to submit. It is assumed that an author wishes to peddle only their strongest pieces. When I open stories with poor grammar and with spelling errors, I am inclined to reject them. It’s obvious that the writer did not know, or did not care enough to find out what to do correctly; and, in those cases, it is not my function to teach the author grammar and punctuation, but to dismiss their submission.

I've been asked to be an editor because I impressed the magazine's founder with my experience and with my writing. When I read an e-mail from a writer, I want to be shown the same respect I offered to agents and editors whom I have queried over the years. It is not only professional, it is a courtesy, and it makes one’s work more acceptable before others.

In a few days, I am going to deliver my lesson on public relations. The main theme in my presentation will be personal appearance and professionalism. Right now the students are learning to market themselves, just as writers need to do.

Photo From Stock.Xchng

October 13, 2006

Seasons Of Living

This is the first Christmas season without my mother and father and it has hit me hard. Granted, I am a middle-aged man with a family, and there are those who have suffered greater losses while much younger. Still, my children miss them very much, and their passing left a big hole in our lives. Also, not having parents leaves me at the top of the family tree along with my brothers and sisters. I’m too young for that, I think.

My nieces and nephews are either in college or getting ready to go. My daughter is in high school and we are already picking out universities from websites and catalogs. My son will be entering middle school next September, and I feel like life is sailing past me rapidly. I’m in my forties, sliding down the back end of the hill. There’s nothing but gray hair and an A.A.R.P. membership in my future. I’m not unhappy, but I have a vague sense that I lack accomplishment.

I keep telling myself that I exist solely to prepare my children for the future and create a better life for them. Everything I do, I do with them in mind. There’s a blissful movie which runs through my head each night before falling asleep, of my wife and I watching our kids graduating college, starting meaningful careers, getting married, and bringing their babies back home for visits. However, inside, I hear a voice, harkening back to my childhood, and it is agitated. The voice is me as a boy, and he does not realize that he is mature, older, and almost a half-century in age.

Perhaps we all have a similar, internal monologue which asks us if we’re emotionally equipped to move forward. Time does not stop because we need a breather. Yet, I can hush the voice with my keen grasp on reality. The compass I use to guide me through periods of such anxiety is my family. Each season reawakens dormant, and apprehensive sentiments which need to be dusted off and afforded attention. Much like the Christmas tree I pulled out of storage a few days ago along with boxes of accompanying lights and ornaments, my feelings will be dealt with anew, and they will settle down as I move forward and adhere to the happiness my family brings me during each holiday.

This year is the one which will be marked with me being at the helm of an older generation. I’ll miss my parents and others who have departed before them. Still, I cannot succumb to my inner child’s fear and allow myself even an instant of self pity or to wallow in remorse. After all, I have children who see me as a role model. One day they will lose me, and they need to know how to move on.