And So It Begins

The first snowfall of Winter 2020. 

At the time of this picture, the depth was 4 inches of heavy wet stuff. The road crews were talking about how thing were “getting greasy” out, and how somebody had to put on their chains up by Beaver Brook Falls. And just now the Errol Fire Department got called out for a tree on the line over in Upton.

Pandemic Take-Out Road Trip

The cabin fever got strong in us this week, so today Jim Macdonald and I went on a six-hour-plus road trip to eat take-out food that didn’t come from our little town – just him and me and our masks in our comfy blue Subaru.

First we drove to North Conway, admiring the foliage all the way, starting at 9AM in order to reach Luchador Tacos not long after opening time.

We ate all by ourselves at a shady outside table.  Macdonald had a cheese quesadilla with guacamole and pico de gallo on the side, and I had a pork burrito bowl with all the usual burrito stuffings minus the tortilla.   We also had Jarritos Mexican soft drinks to go with, plus extra chips and – you guessed it – guacamole.

After we were finished there, we continued driving southward and admiring the foliage until we reached the WingStop in Manchester, where we ordered the big All-In Special, featuring two flavors of boneless wings and two flavors of chicken tenders, plus fries and lemonade. While it was being prepped, we took turns – masked, of course – looking at the stuff available in the craft beer store next door, and purchased a four-pack of Backwoods Bastard brown ale for later consumption.

Then we drove home, snacking on the wings and tenders en route.  The order was large enough that we’ve got enough left over in the refrigerator to handle breakfast and lunch tomorrow as well, so that’s good.

Now I am having a Lemon Drop that Macdonald made for me, and am feeling considerably less cabin-feverish than I was before we left.

(We weren’t the only people out admiring the fall foliage.  When we were passing through Crawford Notch and later through Franconia Notch, there were so many trail hikers out that they had to set up overflow parking for them.  Lots of Massachusetts plates in evidence.  Most of the hikers we saw were properly masked, which is good, though I can’t say the same about the ATV riders.)

Chew-Toys of the Mind

So Jim Macdonald and I were sitting around the office this afternoon, and – as happens with writers – we fell to discussing Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, and how Hammett had managed to come up with one of the handful of infinitely reusable plots.  Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one; likewise Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  Plots like these, once their first artist discovers them, can be remixed, remade, adapted, or otherwise messed around with almost ad infinitum and still retain their energy.

Red Harvest – originally a fix-up of four short stories from Black Mask magazine – was part of the inspiration (along with other Hammett works) for Yojimbo by Kurosawa.  Then Sergio Leone adapted/translated/stole/was inspired by Yojimbo to make A Fistful of Dollars, and Walter Hill subsequently did the same with Last Man Standing.

“If they were to remake Red Harvest as a Muppet movie,” Macdonald opined, “it would still be a good movie and I’d watch it.”

“If they did,” I wondered, “who would play the Continental Op – Kermit or Fozzie?”

And Macdonald replied, “Miss Piggy would play the Continental Op.”

“You mean, a gender-flipped Muppet Red Harvest?”

“Yep.”

And I had to concede that he was right.  Miss Piggy would absolutely rock a trench coat and fedora.  And she’s probably the only Muppet who could believably do hard-boiled noir.

Albacon Afternoon

What we’re going to be doing Sunday afternoon:

Madhouse Manor

AlbaconAlbacon (one of our favorite cons) has been postponed due to Corona Virus.  But do not despair!   The nice folks who run Albacon are hosting Albacon Afternoon this Sunday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  Doyle and I will do a reading, and maybe a bit of discussion.

Alas, the Ice Cream Social will have to be on an individual at-home basis, so lay in some ice cream and toppings, and come to the Zoom-based mini-con.

Register for Albacon Afternoon.

Sunday, August 30, 1:00-3:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

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Reading

As in, like everybody else in these socially isolated days, I’m doing a lot of it.  Especially a lot of re-reading of old favorites in the mystery genre – probably because with an old favorite, you don’t get any unpleasant surprises.

Also probably because the best mysteries end up with truth revealed and justice done and good order restored – which makes them particularly comforting reads during trying times.

Somebody out there amongst the nattering literati is probably even now gearing up for an op-ed or a literary magazine column or a public blog post about how all this makes mystery novels the ultimate bourgeois reading experience and thus one that should be shunned, or at least regarded as a guilty pleasure, by all good little progressives and radicals.  To which I say, screw them.  They’re the lineal descendants of all those Puritans who thought that fiction in general was morally suspect, and of their Enlightenment grandsons who thought that novels were a female vice and a symptom of social decay.

(What these Pecksniffian pronouncers have to say about sf/fantasy is almost as bad, and what they have to say about romance is even worse.  As far as they’re concerned, art should be like castor oil:  If it doesn’t taste bad, it can’t be good for you.)

Shaking the Old Tambourine

It’s paying-off-the-winter-electric-bill time (somewhat later than usual this year, thanks to the pandemic), and it’s also coming up on pay-the-town-property-tax time, so it behooves me to point discreetly to the Editorial and Critique Services link up at the top of this blog.

Short version: If you’ve got a book you think needs an editorial polish before you either self-publish it or send it out into the wide world to seek its fortune, my rates are reasonable and I’m available.

My New Favorite Movie

Madhouse Manor

A while back I had some computer problems.  As in Black Screen of Death computer problems.  As in Called-MicroSoft and the Level-One-tech-couldn’t-help-me problems.  So that is how I wound up on the phone with a Level Two tech, a nice young man who lives in Mumbai.  The process took quite a while, what with downloading and installing stuff.  And during all this we talked on the phone.

The conversations went hither and yon, with us showing each other pictures of our home towns (he’s from up north, in the mountains where there’s snow, but there are no jobs up there, which is why he’s in the city).  And we talked about films.  His first James Bond film was with Pierce Brosnan in the role, but we agreed that Sean Connery is the iconic Bond.  And … he mentioned his favorite movie.  Since I love movies, I had to go find…

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One Thing They Could Do, Right Now. . .

. . . while they’re working on the complete replacement/restructuring of the entire US police system:

They could get rid of all the SWAT teams and other similar units out there.  Because the kind of incident that really requires a massively armed police response is fairly rare (to the point of being, most of the time, nonexistent) – but if you’ve got a dedicated unit meant for just that purpose, they’re not going to want to sit around waiting for that maybe one day out of a year when they might be needed.  And heaven forbid a so-called elite unit should go back to directing traffic and pulling cats out of trees instead of doing macho stuff with body armor and heavy weaponry.

So instead, they end up getting called out for all sorts of things, and make things worse as often as or oftener than they make things better.

One of the good things about life up here in far northern New Hampshire is that if we want a SWAT team, we have to send down to Concord for one, and it takes them three hours to get here.  So mostly we don’t bother, and it works just fine.  We’ve had a couple of so-called “armed standoffs” over the years – there was the guy who was supposed to come in for a court date, for example, and instead decided to exercise his right to keep and bear arms in the woods beyond his house; what happened was that the local ambulance squad staged down the road a bit, just in case, and a Fish and Game officer sat in a lawn chair just outside the woods with his radio and said words to the effect of, “Don’t worry.  It’s going to start raining in about three hours, and he’ll come in.”  Which it did, and he did.

SWAT would have probably gone into the woods in force, and ended up killing the guy in question, plus a couple of stray hikers and maybe a bear and a raccoon or two, not to mention shredding all the trees and bushes for a mile or so around.