Friday, April 28, 2017

The Reader - Week 17

Faded Love

Buried secrets can be exhumed, albeit with difficulty. The unity of the previous generation of my father’s family was fractured by three inter-related events—all of the principals are dead now—but their stories still linger, not in any public awareness but rather in the darkest rooms of private memory, behind seldom-opened doors that, when breached, are quickly shut again. I have and old photo of five of them, it is faded and out-of focus. There were actually six siblings: all born to a mother of German lineage who loved life and a Yankee carpenter who loved liquor. The mother rejoiced in her family; her children came easily and most were born three years apart, her extended nursing of each infant was the only birth control she ever used. Mary, Arthur, Allan, Mae, Aaron and, after a span of seven years, Margret. There would have been more, but post-partum care in the years of the Great Depression was minimal, her undiagnosed high blood pressure killed her a few days after she gave birth to her last child.

The children’s father was not a bad man. “His word was as good as his bond” was a line in his obituary. But he was lost without the great love of his life. His drinking increased to the point of his being unable to work regularly. Baby Margret was “passed from pillar to post” in an effort to sustain her, while the others were left to fend for themselves. There were a few ways a child could earn some money, hunting and trapping, gathering berries and, at least while prohibition was in force, collecting bottles. The bootleggers making ‘Minnesota 13’ corn liquor always needed them, as did those who brewed beer—a hearty home-style ale, recipes handed down from immigrant parents. The kids did what they could. Allen, the middle boy, was trouble. His emotions ran unchecked. Living unsupervised in close proximity to his younger sister Mae, Allen couldn’t control his impulses. Mae was a vibrant girl on the cusp of adulthood, Mae had to go away for a while.

I pieced this together from various sources, no one would say it so many words, but I could do the math.  Allen moved out to Montana, where he died drunk—frozen to death in a cattle feed-lot. But the son he had by Mae, Laurence, also moved to Montana, and was raised in a small town near the Canadian border by Mae’s older brother, Art. I met them once, when I was a child, in the late fifties. Laurence looked like his mother. His mother, who later got married and raised a family, never went to Montana to visit. I wondered why. Mae died from hypertension as well, leaving behind three teen-aged children who needed a mother. Before she died, Mae had me stay with them for a few days one summer. She always took an interest in me, later on I thought that it might be displaced affection for the son she never new. Our families did things together: always Christmas, sometimes summer vacations in a cabin near Detroit Lakes. She would live in a swimsuit those stays; the dark hair that crept out from her ‘Delta of Venus’ behind her suit was fascinating to this then twelve-year-old boy. When she died, I was conflicted, thinking that my impure thoughts had some bearing on her untimely demise. Later, when I got more of the story from an older cousin, I realized that my Aunt Mae, besides being a vivacious and attractive, had a darker side as well. She was considered willful and disobedient child, but it was Allen who was the real transgressor. Their son Laurence spent most of his adult life drunk. He died of exposure as well. 

Andy put the manuscript down. It was a bad story, he thought, one that Jennifer didn’t need to hear on a night like this.

“Jennifer?” he said.

“M-m-mm,” she murmured. Her whisky was gone. “Thas good story. Read more.”

“Your phone chimed when you were outside,” said Andy.

“Let it ring,” she said, with eyes closed, “Jus’ daddy. Daddy.” She began to weep. “Leave me alone,” she said, turning away. Andy gently positioned her on the couch and put a blanket over her.

“A world of troubles,” he thought.

The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Death and Diction

My new fave internet personality is Caitlin Doughty, an actual mortician, YouTube presenter and the prime creative force behind The Order of the Good Death, a site that will answer ANY questions you may have about leaving the mortal coil.  I could listen to her talk about anything, including corpse poo, exploding caskets and, for a really grim vicarious experience, this video:

What sets her apart from most YouTube celebs (besides her subject matter)? What feature makes Caitlin so appalling appealing? Is it her bangs? Her lily white skin? Her entrancing green eyes? Her inviting wide mouth with its perfect teeth framed by those delectable lips? No, no, no and no. It is none of these things.

IT IS HER DICTION! In this world of lazy ‘relaxed’ speakers, Catlin’s perfectly performed pronouncements are a panacea for pessimistic purveyors of public prose.

Much more at The Order of the Good Death site, or just click through to YouTube on the video above for hours of macabre fun. Stick with the vids to the very end, you won’t want to miss her post-credit gags.

I think I’m in love.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, April 24, 2017


The last thing the Weaver expected to see while she was cleaning out a window well was someone looking back at her. Amidst the leaves and pine duff, a handsome and dignified toad was at the bottom, effectively trapped in a prison of his own making:

I took him out for his formal portrait:

Then I placed him in a hopefully more sustainable habitat: a quickly constructed ‘toad house’, situated in a sheltered back corner of the garden:

With a small pool nearby, our new friend should have all he requires for a happy toady existence, excepting, perhaps, for a Mrs. Toad (or vice-versa.) I’ll let nature take its course on that issue.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Reader - Week 16


“You two are free to go now, but be aware that you may get a follow-up call from our investigators in a couple of days.”

Andy and Jennifer had been sitting in a booth in the back of the pub, as far away from the front door as possible. When the bouncer was shot, he turned and collapsed on top of Jennifer, bleeding profusely from a massive chest wound. He was dead. The shooter had left, but there were plenty of other witnesses who had seen him get angry when the bartender has kicked him out for yelling at the people who were watching the band and interfering with his pool game. It would only be a matter of time before he would be apprehended. Jennifer had been doused by the bouncer’s blood. Several wet towels later she was still a mess but no longer looked as if she was the person who had been shot. Andy was still numb, going through the motions of trying to be helpful.

“Do you have some clothes I could wear at your place? A sweatshirt, pants?” asked Jennifer, “I need a shower and I want to get rid of this dress. I don’t want to go home yet.”

“Sure, they’ll be a little baggy, but they’re clean,” said Andy, “I need to change too.”

“The walk will do us good,” she said, “Just a sec, I’ve got a call.”

Jennifer took out her phone and glanced at it for a second before putting it away.

“It’s nothing,” she said, “Let’s go, I can leave my car in the lot.”

At Andy’s place, Jennifer showered and put on Andy’s sweats, while he changed his clothes in the bedroom. He went back out into the kitchen and waited for Jenifer.

“That feels better,” she said, “Will you do me a favor? Do you have a plastic bag you can put that dress in, and then take it out to the trash?”

“Sure, I’ll do it right away,” answered Andy as he got up from the kitchen chair, “Your phone chimed again.”


Andy went into the bathroom and bagged up the dress, taking it outside and into the trash. As he walked back into the kitchen he saw Jennifer put her phone away. He noticed that she was shaking.

“Are you all right?” he said.

“I’m still pretty jumpy,” Jennifer said, “I need something to calm me down. Do you have any liquor?”

“I have whisky,” Andy said, “It’s a single malt, but its mild, not too peaty.”

“Pour me a glass, please,” she said, picking up a manuscript from his work pile, “Why don’t you read me a story.”

“Those are pretty soporific,” Andy said as he opened the whisky, “Straight or on the rocks?”

“Straight, with a little water. Four fingers. Hold me.”

They went into the living room and settled in on the couch.

“Thanks for doing all this, Andy. You, know, we have the strangest dates.”

“It’s O.K., We’ll just do whatever we can to make it through the night.”

Andy swapped the whisky for the manuscript and, as Jennifer’s moved next  to Andy’s she began to calm down.

He began to read.

The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Smalley’s Pirate Barbeque, Stillwater, MN

Its been four years since I’ve retired. Of late, a few trends in my life have emerged, nothing earth-shaking, but there are definitely some new directions. For one thing, my musical tastes have changed—I’m not nearly as interested in Pop Music (although I think that might be that Pop Music is not interested in me.) It is really evident when I’m out somewhere (restaurant, stores, etc.) where the inanity and vapidness of modern songwriting becomes inescapable (and indigestable.) It isn’t only new music, there’s plenty of dross in all eras, I even went so far as to give away my ENTIRE vinyl collection (to a worthy cause—the legendary scenester David Foley.) My CD collection is always being pruned, if I don’t listen to something in it every couple of years, its gone. Physical storage has undergone massive changes in the last twenty years. I can foresee the day when all my music will be contained on one 32 gig USB stick. TV and Movies are fading in importance, although I must admit that Miss Fisher (Australian murder mysteries) and Portlandia, are guilty pleasures (best taken in small doses.) The Great British Baking Show is an especially delicious form of pornography.

The contents of my bookshelves have become more rarefied as well, with its big Icelandic section (much of it reference for the Laxness in Translation blog), Robert Benchley, Wanda Gág, Frank Lloyd Wright as well as asmaller variety of curiosities. I’ve given several of my books to the “Little Library” that is in front of the Methodist Senior Living complex in town. I like to think that some of the residents there are reading them, although I fear that some of the newer books are being taken by people who will resell them and never even read one. Because I’ve never warmed up to eBooks, I think the bulk of my ‘real’ books are safe for now.

These acts of giving helps to keep me from becoming embittered. The world doesn’t need any more cranky old white men, the ones we now have in positions of power are perfect demonstrations of rising above one’s level of competence. Spring is here, the gardens await, my serial fiction is challenging, and some summer trips have been planned. I’m not quite a grizzled curmudgeon yet. Although my mien can be scary at times, I’m not yet at the point of the chalky dude pictured above.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Movies - Double Feature

A couple of vids from the legendary Páll Óskar to help you start the week on a high note. First up, a Taylor Swift cover:

Next, Páll does Neil:

More on this legendary singer HERE.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Reader - Week 15

Trouble in River City

Andy looked at Jennifer. She was stunning, sporting a shiny red dress.
"And she, she was the great bath of life, he worshiped her. Mother and substance of all life she was. And he, child and man, received of her and was made whole. His pure body was almost killed. But the miraculous, soft effluence of her breast suffused over him, over his seared, damaged brain, like a healing lymph, like a soft, soothing flow of life itself, perfect as if he were bathed in the womb again."
His internal conflict between emotions and desire needed a referee, and preferably not D. H. Lawrence. He knew that he had to let go of the fictions of the past if he was ever to live in the present. He liked the fact the Jennifer wasn’t needy, that she hadn’t exchanged phone numbers with him yet. And she came back!

The noise in the back of the pub had something to do with one of the pool players. The bouncer had collared the miscreant and hauled him out through the pub’s back door.  Jennifer looked at the ruckus for a moment, then shifted her gaze back to Andy. The server came and took their orders.

“Now, where were we?” said Jennifer, “Or perhaps you’d like to start again, on a fresh page?"

“Don’t look back, look to the future!” Andy said, “Life begins now!”

“Fair enough,” said Jennifer. Her smile had a hard edge to it, as if she’d had this conversation before. “So tell me about yourself. I gather that you make your living doing some kind of proof-reading? That must be interesting.”

“Sometimes,” said Andy, thinking about the tedium of his technical work as well as the mawkish memoirs he’d been working on lately. He was determined to keep a positive spin on this conversation. “It’s a discipline. How about you?”

“I work in real estate, not sales, dealing with the paperwork side of things. I guess you could say I’m a reader as well, although the stories aren’t very interesting. Nine to five, five days a week, three weeks PTO per year. Health insurance. It pays the bills.”

The server brought them their beers, while the bouncer returned to his perch next to the door. The band began a Junior Walker medley with the song Roadrunner:
Money, who needs it
Let me live a life free and easy
Put a toothbrush in my hand
Let me be a traveling man
I'm a roadrunner, baby
Andy chuckled at the lyric. His life was as far from free and easy as one could get. He wondered if Jennifer liked to travel.

“Three weeks of PTO! I guess that is one disadvantage I have in being self-employed,” said Andy, “Where do you like to travel?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I guess that California is my favorite: San Francisco, Sausalito, San Rafael. The wine tours. How about you?”
Don't want no woman to tie me down
Gotta be free baby to roam around
All my life I've been like this
You can love me at your own risk
When the dust hits my shoes
I got the urge to move
Andy thought that it might be all right if he were tied down by Jennifer. He hadn’t done any traveling since college—a spring break trip to London on a cheap charter flight. God, that was thirty years ago, everything has changed by now, he thought. He had better tell her something: “I like London, The British Museum. Going to old book stores, just bumming around.”
'Cause I'm a road runner baby,
Gotta keep on, keepin' on
And I live the life I love
And I'm gonna love the life I live
I'm a roadrunner, baby
Andy took a sip of his stout as the band segued into What Does It Take (To Win Your Love):
What does it take
To win your love for me
How can I make
This dream come true for me
Ooh I just got to know
Oh baby cause I love you so…
The lyrics made Andy feel as if his heart would burst. He never had such an emotional response to a song before. Was he finally becoming a human being?

“London… that makes sense,” said Jennifer, “The Reader in his natural habitat. I’m more of a murder mystery fan myself, the gruesome Scandinavian ones, like Stieg Larsson, where the veneer of normalcy is shattered in a moment of violence, and everything is ugly underneath. I hope you don’t hold it against me… ” Her eyes flashed when she said the word ‘violence.’

A series of rim-shots in rapid succession from the band’s drummer announced the beginning of the Junior Walker song Shotgun:
I said, Shotgun shoot em ‘fore he runs now
Do the jerk baby
Do the jerk now
“Ooh! This a great song!” said Jennifer, rising, “Let’s dance!”

At that instant, Andy saw the pub’s door open.
Put on your red dress
And then you go downtown now
I said buy yourself a shotgun now
The bouncer rose from his stool, directly behind Jennifer, blocking Andy’s view.
We’re gonna break it down baby now
We’re gonna load it up baby now
And then you shoot him ‘fore he runs now
A deafening blast came from the doorway, and the bouncer reeled back, falling against Jennifer, she fell to the table with the burly bouncer lying awkwardly on top of her.
I said it's Twine Time
I said it’s Twine Time
I said it’s Twine Time
Andy caught a glimpse of a man in the doorway, holding a shotgun.  His face was twisted in rage. The man turned and ran out into the night. The band had stopped playing.

There was blood.

The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2