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Friday, May 31, 2013

A Quick View of The Lazaretto (An Excerpt from Book One of The Lazaretto Trilogy)

The Lazaretto is a sci-fi noir novel set on a quarantine moon.  The novel consists of multiple story lines:
Gregor Lepov is a private investigator who arrives in the Lazaretto to search for a woman’s missing son and quickly meets the enigmatic Lilly Stewart, an antiquities dealer, a remarkable woman who may be friend or foe.
Lieutenant Ed MacNally, a homicide detective, along with his partner Arturo Fenelli, begin investigating a string of brutal murders that are similar in their violence but otherwise seem unrelated.
Maria Duvalls, a volunteer nurse in a world where the sick are left untreated, cares for a dying crime boss with a mysterious illness, even as a disturbing young man follows her throughout the city.
The Collector—an unseen yet prominent figure in the city obsessed with contagions and power—wields a dangerous influence through his ruthless Agent.
Helen Segal, a secretary at the Interplanetary Health Service, become embroiled in an internal affairs investigation in which she and her best friend try to decide if the cold, calculating German Doctor Haupt is merely conducting a simple audit or something deeper that will ultimately threaten more than just their jobs.

  In the following excerpt, Helen Segal has been reassigned to work for the newly arrived auditor from Earth.

  Helen Segal hesitated in front of a plain office door.  If she hadn’t been so unsettled at the coming encounter she would have laughed at herself.  Of what was she afraid?  If anything, she told herself, she ought to look forward to this.  It was a chance to break away from the boredom of her daily routine.
  A chill ran through her.  If only the German had not been so cold. 
  She knocked.
  “Come.”  The command carried easily through the door.
  Helen obeyed.  She stepped into the office and closed the door with a precision she rarely used.  She even felt she was standing more erect than usual.  The German’s disciplined demeanor was contagious.
  The small room had only a desk and chair. 
  “You are a few minutes late,” Dr. Haupt stated.  “That is acceptable.  I only ask that it not become a habit.  Follow me.”
  Turning on his heel, he disappeared through a second doorway.  Helen followed.
  “Sit down.”
  She did.  This room was only slightly bigger.  He took a seat behind a desk, looked up at Helen, and spoke without preamble.
  “I have been sent here to conduct a review of IHS in the Lazaretto.  I requested that you be assigned to assist me in this review.  I will not allow this review to become entangled in politics.  Nor will I allow personal feelings to become a factor.  This investigation is about the ability of the IHS to fulfill its purpose here at the Lazaretto.  If it is efficiently doing so, then I will report as much and leave as quickly as possible.  If it is not, then I will report as much, give my recommendations to Earth, and await further instructions.  Do you understand?”
  Helen understood too well.  The German was not there to cut anyone slack.  And she was now caught in the middle.  How had this happened?
  “Yes,” she nodded.  She’d fought the urge to add yes sir.
 “Excellent.  We will begin immediately.  I have already listed the documentation that I require.  You will find the list here.”  He pulled a data tag from his breast pocket and handed it to her.  “Forward this to the appropriate departments.  See that I have the required system passes so that I can view all documentation at their original electronic storage sites, as well as any required passes necessary to print out hard copies.”
  Helen took the data tag and left the room.  Outside his office, she sat at what was now her desk.  Spartan as the room was, the desk contained everything she would need.  At least all the components were installed.  It was even more outdated than normal.
  The deskscreen actually had a keypad for data input.  She spoke a few simple commands and confirmed what she had suspected: the system had no vocal input.  Even the data tag was not picked up by a proximity reader.  She had to set it in a data port before the desk could read it.
  This office was no accident.  Dr. Fisher had assigned this office to the German to obstruct the review.  If they had given Dr. Haupt an obsolete office system to hinder him, what did that say about her role as his assistant?  It clarified her situation.  She had been baffled that she had been asked to help in the review.  She was, after all, only a secretary.  Now she understood.  She was also an outdated secretary that was expected to slow things down.
  “I’m not only going to be caught in the middle of a bureaucratic battle,” she murmured, “but I’m going to be used as a shield as well.  Tough luck, old girl.”
  Of course, she might be reading too much into her situation.  It was possible that Dr. Fisher had merely assigned this particular office because there were no others available.  And hadn’t Dr. Haupt requested her?  Didn’t that negate her theory that she had been assigned for nefarious reasons?
  “Stop fussing,” she ordered herself.
The list from the data tag displayed on her deskscreen and Helen scanned its contents for anything out of the ordinary.
  Archived Annual Reports and Audits were near the top of the list.  She had expected those.  The same went for his request of daily reports, fiscal reviews and many other documents that would present him with an overall view of the IHS facility.  All of those were administrative records that would require little authorization.
  As she had also expected, he requested lab data relating to the numbers of healthy travelers and contaminated travelers.  Such numbers were not as straightforward as they might seem.  Few records were kept on healthy travelers.  Assumptions were made on the number of travelers leaving the planet as opposed to those same travelers arriving.  This was an educated guess that suggested travelers who entered the Lazaretto and left it were predominantly healthy and in no way contaminated.  According to one study from many years ago, it was determined that ten to fifteen per cent of these travelers had in fact arrived with some sort of contaminant that had run its course during the forty-day quarantine.  She would have to explain that if he were not already aware of the fact.
  The list also contained requests for more specific lab data: types of contaminants, treatments, outbreaks and containments.  She also saw documentation requests from areas with which she was unfamiliar.  She would have to get someone to help on determining what authorizations she would need for those.
  Helen was surprised to realize she had personally seen many of these reports over the last year.  Working for Dr. Fisher, she received and annotated all types of reports and reviews she then passed on to Dr. Fisher as the IHS Administrator.  Was that why Dr. Haupt had requested her?  How could that be to his advantage?  Surely he wanted someone who had no personal involvement in the life cycle of these documents.  An opportunity to interfere—to protect herself and those she knew—would be too tempting, at least from Dr. Haupt’s point of view.  It was hard to imagine he would not realize this.  Why take the risk?
  She was fussing again.  She decided she didn’t want to know what the German was thinking.  She knew she had better tread carefully.

For more information on The Lazaretto, got to Rocket Fire Books, where you can order a signed print copy.  You may also purchase a print or eBook copy below:

And watch for book two of the Lazaretto Trilogy: Lady in the Lazaretto.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eye Candy for the Progressive Farmer, November, 1972

The Progressive Farmer, November 1972: Centerfold
  It would appear that the market for pickup trucks was just as competitive a generation ago as it is today.  After picking out a copy of The Progressive Farmer from my stack of old magazines, I figured that it would not have any vintage ads I would be interested in.  After all, the front cover was a dull, desaturated photo of a farmer on his tractor, pulling a plow through a dusty, barren field.  There were no blurbs on the front, no enticing headlines to draw in the casual farmer/reader.  Just those three simple words: The Progressive Farmer.  It looked more like a pamphlet from the Soviet Union, espousing the wonders of the next five-year-plan.  There was nothing progressive about it.
  But what a joy to open it up and find this wonderful centerfold spread inside.  (Okay, it wasn't exactly the center, but it was close enough.)  Ford was obviously proud of its latest model.  As you can see in the following insets, there are so many innovations they had to give each one a little cartoon, some of them with whiz-bang motion arrows.  What farmer wouldn't be impressed?
As you can see, the Ford box cover not only looks right, it fits right.  That's as opposed to all those other truck makers who designed box covers that look wrong and fit wrong.  And that roomiest cab is not only quiet, but it offers unusual quiet, as well as comfort.  Who would have thought?  I am most impressed with the modern blend-air type of heat.  I'm sure one of you older readers out there could tell me some horror stories about those old trucks that had unblended air.  I shudder to think of it.  And speaking of air, notice Ford offers an optional "air", and if you opt for it, it is all built in.  No exposed air ducts running through your truck.  That's gotta be a plus.

Love the 5 inch deep full-foam seat.  I certainly remember those.  They should have cut back a little on the foam and made the cover for the seat a bit thicker.  Most pickup trucks that were more than a few years old had holes worn in the seat, and all that full-foam padding tended to crumble and end up scattered on the floor mats and stuck in the back pockets of your jeans.

  Not to be outdone, GMC let the progressive farmers know that its 1973 GMC pickup was not only full of features, but it was hard to stop looking at.  And as you can see, if you can take your eyes off the truck for a minute, the progressive farmer takes his young, blonde along for the ride.  And she'll love to ride along, when you consider the comforts awaiting her.
  A smoother ride.  Presumably, smoother than the old trucks, or the other guys' trucks.  It doesn't say.
  More shoulder room.  This depends on the shoulders, I would think.
  19% more window area.  Not a selling point for kids who have to wash the windows.
  Bad news for corrosion.  Which must have really upset corrosion.
  Redesigned door hardware: lets you slam-and-lock automatically.  That sounds so cool.  Anybody know what that means?  I don't.
  New quietness inside.  I remember riding in these trucks from the Seventies.  I cannot imagine how loud the older ones were if these were considered a new quietness.
  Flow-thru ventilation.  With all the salt on the road in my home state of Illinois, I remember that many cars and trucks had flow-thru ventilation, generally around the footwells.  It was always sort of cool to be able to see the road zinging by beneath us.
Here you get to see a non-partisan comparison of some of the new models.  There are a few specs on the the International Model 1210.  And to be honest, I had no idea that International made a pickup.  I'd love to hear from readers about them.  Were they any good?  I don't ever remember seeing any old ones on the road when I was a youngster.
  I love to see this GMC 1973 Sprint.  I am quite familiar with the Chevy El Camino, since my grandfather drove one for many years.  These little dudes were the original crossovers.  As you can see, the boast here is that the Sprint combines the utility of a pickup with trim, passenger-car appearance.  Sweet, right?
  It may be my imagination, but that sure looks like Robert Conrad chilling out next to the F-100 Ranger XLT.  And as we know from the the ad above, it has many new improvements.  Below the photo is tells us that this truck is reported to feature the most extensive changes in Ford trucks in six years.  Someone at The Progressive Farmer was hedging their bets, and not willing to say this without adding that "is reported" bit.  A typical, skeptical journalist.

  We finally get away from pickups, but still find some great eye-candy for the farmers.  Here we see ammunition, which is sure to get any farmer's heart racing.
  All I can really say about this is that if you've used "Hi-Speed" ammunition in the "Power-Pak", you know how convenient these 100 Pak boxes are.  If you haven't, then that's just too bad for you.  Because it is so convenient, if you've used it, you'll know.  If you haven't, it can't really be explained adequately by the ad-man sitting on Fifth Avenue, most likely because he's never used "Hi-Speed" ammunition in the "Power-Pak".  Which is a shame, since if he had, he'd know how convenient those 100 Pak boxes are.
  And let's not forget that once you have used up all those conveniently placed cartridges, the box becomes a great place to keep spare parts, bolts, nails, fishing lures or what-have-you.  Spare parts?  Very small spare parts, to be sure.

  You know I had to find a car ad.  And what a beauty.  This fine, 1973 Plymouth Satellite Sebring-Plus has been restyled to give a look Plymouth thinks people are going to like.  But that's only the beginning!
  They've been able to erase all those irritating little noises your car makes when you drive down the highway.  I kid you not.  Windwhistle?  Gone.  Tire noise?  Gone.  Traffic sounds?  Gone.  This baby has sound silencers--that is no joke!  Real, honest-to-goodness Sound Silencers!--, floor silencers, and yes, even roof pads.  It is so quiet, Plymouth likes to call it "Super Quiet".
  So stop in at your local Chrysler-Plymouth and listen to the quiet.  It is the most quiet car you'll ever hear, I guess.  Which gets me to wondering.  As you can see with the transparent image of the car, there seems to be no motor.  This might explain the incredible silence this car generates.

Today's bonus ad is a fun one.  After all, how often do you get to see an ad that shouts such a great headline to the world.  These Rats and Mice are Going to Die!
  Pure poetry.
  Which reminds me of another old family car that was used on the farm a long time ago.  It had its own little family of mice living in it.  Which would not have happened if d-Con had had their way.  Because d-Con kills rats DEAD.  There were some rat poisons at that time that apparently killed them alive.  Best of all, d-Con is safe around children, pets, poultry and livestock.  (I don't know about chickens, but I can attest to the fact that it is safe for children.  My son once ate a pack of d-Con rat poison when he was about one and a half years old.  After our initial panic, we spoke with Poison Control on the phone and they informed us he'd be just fine.  Just get him to drink water and don't be alarmed by the color of his diapers.  So we did our best not to be alarmed, poured water through him like he was a bucket that needed to be washed out, and were mildly intrigued by his dark, emerald-green dirty diapers.  Aside from his very bizarre sense of humor, we've never be able to see that the poison had any adverse affect on him.  We're still keeping an eye on him.  He turns 22 this year.  I'm almost convinced he'll be fine.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Look at the Saturday Evening Post, May 11, 1963

  As my wife and I continue to look for a new car, I find there are so many great models out there to choose from.  We're going to slip back a few years (50!) to a Mother's Day Edition of the Saturday Evening Post.  Here we'll be able to see what great products were available for all those mother's out there in 1963-land.
  Right off you can see that the sharp dressed shopper will want this sweet little Corvair Monza.  And the lady of the house will love it so much she'll park out on the empty edge of the parking lot so as not to allow a scratch to mar that brilliant pearl-white finish.
  But wait!  Let's look at the fine print, to see how this car was marketed to women.  
  "While the '63 Corvair appeals greatly to men, it gets along famously with the ladies, too.  They can whisk it into tight parking spots with nary a blush, frisk it through the bustling traffic with the best of them...styled Body by Fisher is in a class by itself, too, certain to turn heads wherever you go.  (And what girl, or man for that matter, won't thoroughly enjoy that!)"
  Not to be outdone, Dodge gets in on the action aiming to draw the eye of the budget conscious ladies who have their hands firmly on the family purse strings.
  Of course, you got to love the angle here:
Public Envy...Number One
  Now, now.  Let's not label that as sexist.  We know darned well that men want cars that make their friends envious as well.  
  And honestly, this is a fine looking car.  Sensible, no excessive styling.  A solid, tight design that I think still looks good today.
  Incredibly, there were 24--that's right, 24--low priced models to choose from Dodge in 1963.  With all those choices, how did they ever choose?  I would think it would not be out of the question to bring your neighbors along and get their opinion on which model they would be most envious of.  This would maximize the envy you generated as you pulled your Dodge out of your narrow, 1960's garage.

  But let's pull that Dodge (or maybe the Corvair, I'm not still not sure which is the best car for my darling wife) back into the garage and step inside our lovely 1963 home.  It is May, and down here in Louisiana, May can be hotter than a Yankee summer.  Sadly, most homes at this time don't have central air.  So is it hot inside?  I mean, if you wanted a cool house, you'd have to have one of those ugly window air conditioners.  And after all the trouble you went to appear stylish in your new car, it wouldn't do to allow the neighbors into your living room if it had a large, square, metal a/c unit hanging in the window.
  But hold on a minute, buddy.  What's that in the window?  A fancy cabinet?  Maybe an enclosed bookcase?  Not a chance!  Have you ever heard of a French Provincial air conditioner?  No, I'm not kidding Gladys!  Behind that fine looking wood-grained set of doors is the most efficient cooling instrument Westinghouse has ever engineered.  From 10 feet...20 feet...even 30 feet away you feel its cooling comfort.  It gently spreads cooled, dried, filtered air to the farthest corner of the largest room.  Yet this powerful instrument is as quiet as a purring kitten.  And it's available in Early American, Contemporary, Traditional, and of course Provincial.  Ain't that swell?
  Now let's see what sort of new-fangled gizmo would excite our air-cooled 1963 mother.  And wouldn't you know it?  General Telephone & Electronics has just the thing: the GT&E "Speakerphone"!  That's right, if you happen to be one of the most beautiful women in all of the ancient world, and your arms have been lost to history, you would still have a chance to jabber away all day long on the telephone with "this marvel of transistor circuitry...powered directly from the telephone line and amplifies your voice as well as that of the caller.  In fact, a number of people can join in.  The "Speakerphone" is another example of how GT&E works to improve communications in all phases of national life."
  Wow.  I can't wait.  I bet soon we'll be able to have the entire family in one room, talking to another entire family in their house miles away, all of us talking at once.  Just think of the party atmosphere your next phone call could have.  The mind boggles...

   This one is for my mother, who was a dedicated Avon saleslady when I was a little tyke.  I can still see that blue-green tapestry bag, with its blue vinyl handle and zippered compartments.  I made many a sales call with my mother in the little town of Herscher, Ill.  I'll bet I knew more about beauty products than most four-year-olds.
  In our Mother's Day magazine, we can see that the advertisers were still thinking of mom.  Obviously, mom wants dad to smell good.  It's to her advantage.  And if you don't think I'm right, consider this.  Avon products weren't sold in stores.  So this is definitely aimed at the women who will be there to open the door when they hear "Avon calling" after the doorbell chimes.
  Here we learn that "Avon Spray for Men makes you feel well-groomed, refreshed all day.  All part of Avon's complete line of good-grooming products for men who are discovering what women (and their four-year-olds!) have known for years:  Avon is quality."
  And just in case someone other than a mother reads this ad--someone of the opposite sex--Avon adds this little encouragement:
Avon for Men is so easy to get!  Just tell your
wife to order one of these Sprays next time
 her Avon Representative calls.
  Hey, that's my mom they're talking about!
Today's bonus ad is this wonderful opportunity for boys who want to pick up some well-earned cash and...prizes!
  In fact, if you join the thousands of boys who have taken this opportunity to earn their own spending money, you can eventually earn any of these prizes, which are "but a few of hundreds of useful and valuable prizes that can be yours selling THE SATURDAY EVENING POST right in your own neighborhood."
  That's right, fellas.  Just fill out the coupon: name, address, and age.  And soon, you could be earning your transistor radio, or a camera--comes with its own bulbs, batteries, and a roll of film, or a stretchy Muscle Builder.  And don't forget the official Table Tennis Set.
  Personally, I'd take the football helmet, which comes in plain white.  This awesome apparatus can be used for any number of wonderful play-time activities that have nothing to do with football.  Your imagination is the only limit to all of the amazing things this helmet can be.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Inside Look at Room With Paris View

Room With Paris View, our travel memoir released this spring by Saint James Infirmary Books, is more than just a memoir.  Like a tour guide's oeuvre, it is full of historical anecdotes, and like a travel guide, it offers up advice on cafés, museums, and the métro.  You can walk the streets of Paris with us, including those we never intended to walk.  As author Richard Bunning points out, "...the curious footfalls of the Reesers are a joy to follow, even when they are regularly lost. There are many confused steps, but none are wasted. You see, this really is a guide book for those who want good ideas, but certainly don't want guiding."
  And while we do wander many side streets of Paris (both intentionally and unintentionally), there are plenty of chances to see the main attractions.  The most iconic of these, of course, is the Eiffel Tower.

 Excerpt from Room With Paris View

A short walk along Avenue de Tourville brought us to the Place de l’École Militaire, which connected us to the Champ de Mars.  And that, readers, is possibly the best family park in the city.
The site of the amazing 1889 Exposition Universelle which featured the brand new Eiffel Tower, this field has been the central point of many French festivals and historic celebrations.  It is also the point from which the world’s first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched in 1783.
After a flurry of picture taking, we walked out onto the mall.  The park, with the Tower at the far end, was full of families who had come out to enjoy the warm, spring day.  Forget the fact that the Eiffel Tower is an overused iconic image for this tourist destination.  All I could see were Parisians out enjoying their local city park.  Couples were sitting in the grass, reading or just snuggling with each other.  Kids ran after soccer balls.  Little girls were climbing all over a playground set—a cheesy plastic and aluminum castle—off to one side.  Behind them boys played a pick-up game of basketball.  A white-haired grandfather let his grandson win on the outdoor ping-pong tables while a young girl in a sandbox, wearing a long black coat, fed the pigeons flocking around her.
I suddenly wished I were not a tourist.  I wanted to be a Parisian.  I wanted this to be my park too.  I didn’t want to be an outsider, disturbing their family time.  And yet it was an inescapable reality.  I still did not know the language enough to feel like I fit in.  Surrounded by these families, I could hear them chatting away, could hear the kids squeal with laughter, could hear the parents warn them not to run too far, all of it in a language I did not understand.  This single barrier kept me apart.  It kept me in an observation mode much like a time-traveler who can visit a point in the past but cannot interact with what he sees.
Jennifer fell right into her poet’s mode, dropping onto a bench under the box-topped London plane trees.  (Of course, in France, they do not call them London plane trees.  They call them platane a feuille d’erable: plane tree with maple leaf.)  As per our unspoken agreement, I wandered off with the camera, leaving her to her thoughts, ink, and paper.
And as I walked the Field of Mars, snapping shot after shot of children, old men, couples, and the massive tower, I eventually began to get it.  The Tower.  Eiffel’s Folly.  That great big monstrosity of steel that drove Maupassant crazy.  That simple pointy shape that is slapped on, printed on, engraved on and painted on every chintzy trinket sold in Paris clicked in my head.  I can’t really say why.  It just did.  And as I walked ever closer to it, and bent my head back to look up at it, it won me over again each step of the way.
I’ve stood at the base of the Sears Tower.  I’ve lain in the grass beneath the St. Louis Arch and gaped at that delicate miracle.  I’ve been knocked out by the art deco design of Rockefeller Center.  But nothing like the Eiffel Tower has ever hit me in this manner.  This massive, dark, raw and powerful colossus stands planted in the earth like some alien creature from a Jules Verne science fiction novel.  Yet at the same time, its intricate and graceful design adds intelligence and beauty to offset that initial brash impression.
Does everyone get that?  I don’t know.  Most tourists just posed for silly pictures from afar, with the man or woman in the frame holding up the tower in the palm of their hand or maybe pretending to push it over.  And that’s fine.  That’s part of its magic.  In addition to being powerful and beautiful it is also whimsical.  It seems to be everything to everyone: a universal appeal.
Towards the middle of the park, on the west side under the trees, I found a little carousel, a chevaux de Bois, which looks like it had been there since before the Eiffel Tower.  That’s not to say it was old and run-down.  This wooden gem is in great working order.  When I found it, it was full of children, ready to begin its spinning adventure.  The operator, an older gentleman with dark bushy eyebrows and matching mustache, was just making sure the kids were settled properly in their seats.  Once the kids were ready, he grabbed one of the horse's poles and began to push.  After achieving the desired speed, he slipped inside the circle of horses, and I saw that the machine was operated by hand-crank.  He began to crank away, his initial push making it much easier for the horses to reach a comfortable trot which then required little effort for the hand crank to maintain.
Jennifer finally put down her pen and we strolled up to the Tower, our heads tilted in order to view the top of that one-thousand-foot structure, which was the tallest man-made structure in the world from 1889 to 1930.  It’s pretty cool to realize this, since as a native Illinois kid, I was always entranced by the Sears Tower, which held its own world height record from 1973 to 1998.
And as we stood there near the base of this modern Wonder of the World, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the thought that this was really happening.  Here I was, just a kid from the fields of Illinois, standing in one of the grandest locations the world has ever known, where people come from every corner of the globe to stand and stare and become a part of something greater than the little worlds we inhabit during our daily isolation from the planet at large.
I don’t care if you aren’t interested in Paris, or France, or even Europe.  Sacrifice enough in life to save up some money and travel to a place that will mean as much to you.  Go stand on Golgotha, or look out over the Great Wall of China, or plant your feet in the middle of Red Square and marvel at St. Basil’s Cathedral.

For more information on the book, please visit the Saint James Infirmary Books website.

You can also order the book from Amazon (both print and Kindle editions are available).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Look back at Life, August 21, 1950

The best way to get a feel for what people were like in times gone by is to look at the advertisers of that given period.  We love to protest that ad-men are slimy, unethical leeches who write copy for a public they know nothing about.  But the fact is, they know a lot about the public--their target audience.  They study people, study their habits, study their desires, and study their insecurities.  In truth, they know us better than we know ourselves.  So when I look through old magazines, I don't really read the articles much.  Not if I want to get an idea of what sort of people were around at the time it was printed.  I go right for the ads.
  And so as I perused a copy of Life from 1950, I made note of a few ads that caught my attention.  Let's have a look:
Okay, you know I'm a vintage car ad guy.  So I had to start with this great shot.  We know that the space frenzy would hit the United States in the late Fifties.  NASA, after all, was formed in 1958.  However, back in 1950, these Oldsmobile 88s had rocket engines, and the amazing Hydra-Matic!  You might think that at this point the public still thought of Wernher Von Braun's rockets, as well as those seen in the old Flash Gordon serials.  But in 1950, movie screens were already filled with rocket ships zipping across theaters in such exciting movies as Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M, both of which were released before August of that year.  
  I'm presently in the market for a new car.  And if someone out there made a car this beautiful, I would grab it.  Go ahead, take a moment to just gaze at it.  I'll wait.

Okay, this one has me scratching my head.  Let's think about this fine looking ad.  At first blush, it seems to be an ad for a kid's drink.  Certainly it is at least a kid's cough medicine.  However, it clearly says--
   Million of bottles are bought by men who like that clear clean taste.
  Okay, that leaves the kids out of it.  And judging by the jaunty looking waiters in the bottom corner, it would appear to be a liquor ad.  But surely now, since the main image here is a child-like giraffe.  Let's take a look at the fine print.  It reads:   
   Even if Joe Giraffe can't talk, his actions speak louder than words.  And if you'll notice that delighted sparkle in his eyes at the clear, clean taste of his jungle lunch, you'll understand what we mean by PM's clear, clean taste.  Drink PM this p.m. and see why so many millions of men keep on ordering it.
  So Joe Giraffe is ordering an evening drink for his jungle lunch.  And if you look at the really small print, you'll see this blended whiskey is 86 proof, and a whopping 67 and 1/2% Grain Neutral Spirits. Yeah, I guess that does explain that sparkle in the little nipper's eye.
I love New Orleans more than most people, and our family enjoys a good gumbo now and then.  And as you can see, Campbell's soup made Gumbo famous, not New Orleans.  Fair enough.  I'll buy that, since it takes a national ad campaign to really get an unusual regional food nationally recognized.  We'll give them good marks for this bold assertion.
  They even get the main ingredients right: green okra, tomatoes, rice, and not least, those tender pieces of chicken.  (Okay, the tomato thing doesn't make sense.  I've eaten a lot of gumbo, and never really seen chunks of tomatoes or anything, but we'll let this go.  They're confused about the roux base, I guess.)  I even think they get points for adding a bit of poetry:
    I dance the night/In gay cotillions,/Then serve this soup/That pleases million!
  Not too bad.
  But let us look at the always troublesome fine print.  See it there, next to the picture of the lady in the kitchen?  No need to squint.  I'll type it out for you:
   Typical New Orleans courtyard kitchen
  Now, I'm willing to concede that in 1950, some older kitchens were still around, but I doubt the typical New Orleans kitchen looked like a scene from Mount Vernon circa 1788.  But I've always been a bit on the cynical side, so perhaps I'm not to be trusted.
  Okay, let's finish with a curiosity.  This one requires audience participation.  So get your fingers ready to offer suggestions.  Let's see what we have:
  First of all, let's momentarily ignore the lady in the bath water.  (Come on, guys, play along.)  At the top we see this is a Listerine ad.  In fact, it is a Listerine tooth paste ad.  Okay, that's cool.  I would never have thought of brushing my teeth with Listerine, since I associate it with the worst form of childhood torture my parents ever inflicted on me.  (And yes, it beat out holding a bar of soap in my mouth as the worst torture, even though it was supposed to actually help us and it wasn't a form of punishment like the soap in our mouths.)  Now, here's hoping the tooth paste here does not taste like the original Listerine flavor, which, I think is essentially the flavor it had when they first mixed the gasoline, turpentine, and peroxide to create their wonderful product.  (I don't really know what is in that awful stuff, but my guess seems highly likely, wouldn't you agree?)
  Now at the bottom we also see that this tooth paste cuts tooth decay way down!  (This is obviously the conclusion after a great deal of scientific study.  I mean, just consider how authoritative that sounds: tooth decay cut way down!  Swell!)
  And since we all know how important saving money is, I can get excited about their assertion that...Every time you buy a "Thrift-Pak" (two regular 45¢ tubes for 59¢!) you save yourself 30¢.  Within a year the average family's bound to save as much as $3.00 or more.
  And they even put the word "bound" in italics, as if they realize it's a little silly to be so wishy-washy with their ad-copy.  But still, I like that they're pointing out how a family will save money.
  But now let's go back to the girl in the bathtub.  Can anyone tell me what this lovely creature is doing with a bar of soap in her hand as the caption boldly states "Treat yourself to your Favorite Bath Salts!"?  Please don't tell me she's putting Listerine in her bath water.  Though that might explain why she's trying to wipe the suds and water from the corner of her eye.  Or maybe they're just tears.  I know I cried many tears when mom forced me to gargle with Listerine.  
Bonus Question
Anyone ever heard of Veedol?  I could just look it up on the web, but I'd rather see if any of you...more experienced guys (or even gals!) remember this fine looking motor oil.  I have to say, I love the elegant yet simple design of the ad.  So if you remember your dad buying Veedol, or you bought it once and it totally ruined your engine, or you fell in love with the girl you first saw standing by a stack of Veedol cans at the gas station, jump in and let me know.  I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My view of "The Guilty"

I haven't read a good courtroom drama in many, many years.  I'd read Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent back in the early Nineties, and gave up before I made it half-way through his next novel.  When John Grisham came along, I made it through three or four of his hollywood-esque legal thrillers, losing interest with each consecutive book.  It is not that they were bad.  They were exciting books that had little to do with the practice of  law.  I never really tried another legal thriller until I saw Gabriel Boutros' first novel The Guilty.  Its promise of a defense attorney who can't look at himself in the mirror as he struggles to defend the guilty caught my attention.  When I saw that Gabriel Boutros had spent twenty-four years as a lawyer in criminal law, I decided I would take a step back into the courtroom and see if it would be worth finding a seat in the juror's box.
  Right away, I liked the opening scene.  The novel is set in Montreal, Quebec, a city that is constantly dealing with its French/English duality.  This added a nice flavor to the novel, though Boutros does a great job of not exploiting it for his plot.  Instead, it is a background layer that provides just the right amount of character.  We hear characters use French phrases now and then, but that's all.  It adds just enough to give the novel a peculiar feel.  As does the winter backdrop.  Snow covers everything, characters must bundle up to brave the outside temperatures.  Add it all together and Boutros has created a cold, slightly alien world.  A perfect setting for the law.
  As the story unfolded, I was quite pleased to see that the plot was going to stick with the courtroom.  Too often a good crime drama ends up with car chases and intricate fist fights.  This is often a sleight-of-hand trick to keep us from seeing the holes in the plot, or even to keep us from realizing there is very little plot at all.  But Boutros pulls no punches as he crafts his story of a defense lawyer who is slowly coming to realize his job is nothing to be proud of.  I wondered if he could keep it up, or if he would succumb to the temptation to splash his pages with blood and gunpowder.
  But there is no need to use cheap theatrics with the reader when you can create characters that carry their weight from one scene to the next without the slightest misstep.  And that is one of the strongest points of The Guilty.  This is no quickly written Law and Order episode that wants to take advantage of some recent headline.  Such fare is full of flat, boring stereotypes whose only role is to fill a spot in a scene or two to keep the story rolling.  Not here.  From the conflicted lawyer Robert Bratt, to smaller roles such as witnesses and court officials, The Guilty is full of interesting characters who infuse this novel with life.
  And let me take a moment to point out two of them.  Bratt's law firm partner, J.P. Leblanc, along with the judge presiding over the main trial, a Judge Green, are the sort of characters that not only stand out in this book, but would stand out in a movie version of this book.  I couldn't help but think that they were the kind of roles that a veteran actor would love to ride to an Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor.  In fact, the whole book reminded me of a Sydney Pollack movie-- the sort that is full of fascinating discussions on law, ethics, and our confusions over our own little roles in this mixed-up world.
  There are no legal stunts that leave the reader shaking his head, disappointed that it all came down to a silly technicality or something equivalent to a legal prank.  At no time did I want to jump up from my chair and shout "Objection, Your Honor!  The author is misleading the reader!"  From page one to the last page, the story unfolds with just the right amount of ever increasing tension.  If I had been in the juror's box during the trial, not only would I have had no problem staying awake, I would have been in trouble for laughing out loud a few times, especially at the verbal repartee between Bratt and Judge Green.  And throughout it all, I would have been on the edge of my seat, leaning ever closer to the witness stand, waiting for the next witness to thread his way through the mine field laid down by Robert Bratt.
   I read the Kindle edition of the book, which I was able to borrow for free with Amazon Prime.  I encourage anyone who is interested in reading a courtroom drama to pick up The Guilty.  Gabriel Boutros is one of those rare lawyers you can trust.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My View of our World of Communication

Ah, the old rotary phone.  When phones were a good thing.
  Somebody has an overdeveloped sense of privacy.  It is funny.  In today's world of hyper-communication options, most people are difficult to contact.  All of my kids have cell phones, but I can almost never reach one by calling them.   I have friends who never check their e-mail.  Phone calls?  Puh-leese!  Don't you dare call them at home.  A ringing phone is now considered an invasion of privacy.  I mean, really?  Soldiers appropriating your house as a barracks was an invasion of privacy.  Your local library printing your list of previously checked out books in the newspaper is an invasion of privacy.  But calling your phone?  Sending an e-mail?
  Honestly, sometimes, I think the is world is going to hell in a whine-bottle.
  I am now old enough to tell stories with the first line "I remember when..." and I'll do it right now.
  I remember when a ringing phone set everyone to running toward the phone.  You tried to snatch the receiver off the cradle before the third ring.  Second, if you were close.  I can still hear my siblings saying "I'll get it!" with that subtle implication that I'd better not get it first.  Or I'd get it, you know what I mean?  And let's not forget that we had no idea who would be on the other end of the line.  That's right, kiddos, no caller-ID.
  I won't even start a discussion about party-lines.  (And no, that's not an allusion to 1-900 numbers.)
  So what happened?  Why won't we answer the phone?  Why do we think an email is an intrusion?  Why this hyper-sensitivity against communication?
  Don't blame this on telemarketers.  Don't even try.  Sure, people began to hate the bombardment of salesmen on the phones.  But that was solved with caller-ID, which has been around since the Nineties.  (It was, interestingly enough, first developed in Greece in 1969, though it wasn't until the Nineties that it was commercially available in many countries.)  Caller-ID killed the telemarketer.  They fought on, using different means of combating the caller-ID, such as unknown caller, but really, most people just learned to answer local numbers, or ones they recognized.  So yes, this did sort of dampen our interest in answering the phone. But with the advent of the Do Not Call laws, the random sales calls pretty much came to an end.
  I believe that the real communication killer nowadays is an age-old problem: selfishness.  We've been taught several damaging philosophies, which we have eagerly adopted, since they feed the baser sides of our natures.  We're told that we are special, there is no one like us.  Each one of us is so unique, our value as a person is far higher than our neighbors'.  We're also told that time is golden, and we should make the best of it.  We need to seize the day, do whatever it is that makes us feel great, important, and world-changing.  This sort of talk excites us.  It confirms what we all thought when we were four years old and our Aunts and Uncles said things like "he's the cutest, brightest child in the world".  That's heady stuff for a little kid, and when a kid thinks about that, he begins to believe it.  As an adult, when he hears how precious time is, and how it is always running out, he eventually decides he will make the best of it, and he won't let others steal away his time.
"How could you call me right now!  I'm
watching Barbara Stanwyck in
Sorry, Wrong Number!  Go away!"
  You know, time to watch TV.  Or time to fish.  Time to eat.  (That's a biggie.  Don't you dare call around supper time.  "I'm eating right now!  Go away!")  And you know, most people don't mind this, since they too, want to have time to themselves.  So there we all are, in our little worlds, not being bothered by phone calls, as we take advantage of our time to sit alone, undisturbed.
  I don't mean to call everyone selfish.  If it helps, I'm right there with you.  I've only recently begun to change my attitude, and enjoy the ringing of a phone.  I haven't started shouting "I'll get it!" yet, but I may get back to that.  I will admit that I've always enjoyed getting email, whatever it is.  If it is something I didn't ask for, I'll just delete it.  No big deal.  But I like to see mail pop up.  I generally read it, unless it looks like it might have something harmful in it.  But you know, I've been known to chat back and forth with business reps who email me.  It is hard for me not to respond to an email.
  Of course, as I was writing this, the phone rang and it was a political party wanting my money.  I just firmly told them I'd look into the issue they were calling about and then said goodbye.  It didn't hurt me.  It didn't ruin my day.  My life has not been compromised by their intrusive act.
  But I'll stop whining now.  And I won't even address the fact that all these people who hate to talk on the phone love to text each other.  Why would I?  It makes so little sense to me I think most of them need clinical help.  But that's for doctors to decide, not me.  Besides, I gotta go and delete all of my new emails today.