by RIP RENSE
(Aug. 1, 2007)
"Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn
good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes
this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels
against the day." - John Steinbeck, in "Sweet Thursday"
It was Lousy
Wednesday, but it was only Tuesday. Steinbeck came up with the term in
his book, “Sweet Thursday.” Lousy Wednesday is a day when nothing goes
right, and comes just before Sweet Thursday, a day when everything does.
Just consider the damn
car. I went to wash it at a self-serve place, and got in the shortest
line---behind a guy in an beat-up old white Econoline van. (Tip: never get
in any line that you see me waiting in.) Econoline owner must have spent $20
in quarters on that thing. He Simple Greened all 1,000 grease spots, and
wiped them by hand. Twice. He soaped and brushed and rinsed and soaped and
brushed and rinsed and. . .
Never looked around to
say, "Oh, I might be taking a while."
When I finally moved up
and paid my four bucks, the machine kept demanding more
coins. Four quarters did not add up to a minute in Car Wash Land---they added up to 45
seconds. I soaped and brushed and rinsed and. . .finally chamoised the thing. A chamois,
of course, is a piece of dead cow that is marketed for wiping down cars without leaving streaks.
I wonder what cows would think about this. Anyhow, I bought the chamois that leaves streaks. Big, random swirl streaks.
The car looks like it was finger-painted by twenty kindergarteners. On acid.
Oh yeah, and the cat threw up this
morning. I should have known that was an omen. Of course, he also threw up
the night before. I went to sleep to
cat-retching, and woke up to cat-retching. The sorry creature has a tiny
stomach, or something, and if he eats too much, blooooooop. So I have
to carefully budget his food, which means he is always---always, always---hungry.
Then I feel sorry for him, and give him one half spoonful too much, and. . .blooooooooop.
Actually, it’s that whoop-chug, whoop-chug, whoop-chug noise that culminates
with a kind of “ACK.”
Give cats this much: they
throw up with style.
So there I was,
lunging down the
hall and scooping up the morning barf while the cat took off, puking more
as he ran away. Next step in cat-puke ritual: get the stuff that is supposed to get stains out
of white carpet but actually just replaces them with gray blotches. I cursed
and huffed and the carpet looks like it would go well inside my
Then came the following
event, which I think has much in common with cat-puke. The so-called
publish-on-demand company that is producing my book, “The Oaks,” botched
yet another book order. I demand, and they don’t publish.
It’s a lonnnnnng
story, but the short version is that I have never sued anyone, abhor the
idea of suing anyone. . .and am very likely about to sue this outfit. Get
this, for starters: you call the Xlibris “headquarters” in Philadelphia, and
you get. . .The Phillipines. Really. There are about 400 Filipinos “running”
this enterprise, and some of them even speak English. There is at least one
person that I know of in Philadelphia, and although she speaks English, it
Funny thing, Xlibris
doesn’t mention about having sold out the American worker and offshored to
the Philipines in its publishing packages.
As I said, some of the
Xlibris Filipinos speak real good English, for ESL students. You should
see the press releases they write for your book. For my novel, “The Oaks,”
which is about a boy growing up in a small town full of oak trees, the
Xlibris press release began, “Trees are an important part of life. They are
the habitat of animals and provides (sic) us shelter and food.”
Yes, yes, I hear
you---why did you self-publish, Rense? I’ll tell you why: I don’t like
sending my manuscript to bitchy agents who reject it---make that throw it
into the recycling---because they don’t like seeing an ambitious woman
portrayed in unflattering fashion. (This happened.) I don’t like getting
imperious, scribbled unsigned notes on scratch paper saying “not for me.” I
don’t like the fact that agents are thinking only in terms of demographics
(read: pandering to Pavlovian market response)and admittedly do not place
any importance on how well-written or affecting a book is. Never mind that
"The Oaks" is guaranteed to make any creature more evolved than a sea slug
laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, as reader
Sherm Plepler put it.
So Xlibris cannot deliver
my books, and therefore I’ve lost customers, orders, and money as a result.
I’ve been a journalist most of my life, so I’m used to losing money---but
still, you’d think Xlibris would grasp this principle: in order to profit,
you must first make product! At least I’ve gotten to talk to lots and lots
of Filipino people with names almost as funny as mine: Sweetie, Mark
Anthony, Sam (a woman), Ivy. . .
Lousy Wednesday, but
On top of all this, I
finished the final “Harry Potter” book today. This should have
been a happy event. I celebrate J.K. Rowling, I even forgive the fake “K.”
in her name. I think she has done something utterly miraculous, which is to
write a story so compelling that the world, or much of it, cannot put her
books down. The woman is not, in my humble view, a distinctive writer so
much as an irresistible, strikingly imaginative storyteller. I had taken to
referring to her as the first joyous, constructive phenomenon to come along since
I mean, she has even riled up
all the so-called “Christians,” who condemned her books for referring to
magic the same way idiots condemn Mark Twain for using the historically
correct patois, “nigger,” in “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn.” Windfall profit!
The Potter stories, you
see, are not mere “fantasy” tales; they extol and promote ethical behavior,
love, loyalty, friendship, goodness for its own sake, bravery, perseverance
through relentless absurdity (The Rip Post motto!), kindness, charity,
compassion, decency. . .while at the same time acknowledging that the world
is unfair, ugly, fraught with evil, death, disease, murder, biliousness,
belligerence, and stupid literary agents.
But J.K. has let me
down---and, I think, Harry, too. (Warning: if you haven’t finished “Harry
Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” skip the next few paragraphs.)
The poor woman! She must
have had a devil of a time completing this epic, trying to decide what
to do with The Boy Who Lived. It should have been simple. If ever a
character in all of literature was destined to die, and needed to die in
order for the whole story to make sense, this was the guy. Harry needed to
be potted. Every clue,
omen, curse, twist of fate, quirk of circumstance all pointed to him
catching the Bone Coach after he turned 17.
And for 90 percent of
this final tale, that’s still where everything points---right to the point
where. . . Harry dies! Yes, he does actually check out. It’s a staggering
scene, and left me having to take several breaks from the book to scare the
cats with my nose. It is a moment of Shakespearean nobility and Twilight
Zone-ish poetry, a grand culmination of myth and theme, and all the
preceding six books suddenly fall into place as one vast tale to rival
Wagner’s “Der Ring Des Nibelungen” for scope and story impact.
All Harry’s bravery,
instinct, principle---all the times he abandoned the safety of a careful
plan to stand up for what was right, to end someone’s suffering, to flatten
some fathead with a spell---well, it all just pulsed and glowed with sense
and poetic rightness at the moment of his demise.
Then Rowling put an
Expelliarmus curse on the whole deal.
She. . .brought Harry back
to life. You know---whoops,
just kiddin’, folks! And she tacked on another couple chapters that amount to
the cheesiest, corniest, and emptiest clichéd Hollywood switcheroo finale since “it was
only a dream.” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollow.
I don’t know, maybe J.K.
didn’t want to hurt the kiddies by letting Harry croak, or maybe she feared
croaking herself, at the hands of crazed fan assassins, if she offed
the most popular literary hero of our time. But she betrayed all the books,
and every principle that Harry seemed to stand for, rendering them all so
much convenient device, so much incident, when she did it.
So I finally said to hell
with everything---the cat puke, car streaks, trying to pry books loose from
The Phillipines, and Harry Potter---and packed up my laptop and walked into Westwood
to drink some tea and try to write. If you haven't noticed, I’ve been as interested in writing
lately as the country is in Paris Hilton, as George W. Bush is in universal
health coverage, as Dick Cheney is in Zen Buddhism.
So I strolled into
the Green Tea Terrace, which is in its final days of existence, but the
lone employee was closing up early due to lack of business. I went around
the corner to a Coffee Bean, but every table was full of greasy young people, cell phones,
and prosthetic brains. I turned around and walked home.
Lousy Wednesday, but it
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