American Graffiti.

Some people call it ugly. Some people call it art. I call it urban enhancement.

There Has Got To Be A Twist.

A Ninja Turtles pinball machine isn’t that surprising. They’ve been around since 1984. A Godzilla pinball machine is even less surprising—Godzilla’s been smashing Tokyo since 1954. But a Mandalorian pinball machine? That’s got to be from 2019 at the earliest. Everything old is, well, still old, but it’s blending with the new, and that’s really cool.

I love pinball. As a teenager in the ‘80’s I remember going to the video arcade with my friends and while video games were cool enough—I was really good at Q*Bert—I was also drawn to the pinball machines that, even then, seemed a bit neglected. Even the new ones had a retro quality. After all The Who’s Tommy had been around since 1969. What really appealed to me, though, was their tangible quality. Even if I couldn’t touch the ball it was still real and really rolling around just under me, not on a screen. And unlike video games a pinball machine has thousands of moving parts that can act in unpredictable ways, raising the element of chance. Pinball is also all about focus: you have to ignore the flashing lights, the sounds, and just concentrate on that one silver ball. Or silver balls if you go into multiball mode.

The coffee shop where I found these pinball machines also has tournaments, game nights that bring people together, which just adds emphasis to the real-world nature of pinball. It’s been a long time since video games left the arcade and went into the home. For a while LAN parties were big events but it seems like they’ve dropped off significantly, and services like Twitch allow people to watch and even comment on a gamer’s progress. Some people even get a certain amount of fame and make a living that way. There’s still something, well, real about pinball, and people coming together to play it just emphasizes that.

It also reminds me of one of my favorite pinball experiences. Near where I work there used to be a place with a couple of pinball machines. I’d go there on my lunch breaks with a few quarters. There were always the same three guys gathered around the same machine. I knew they were college students but they always seemed to be there. We never talked but I felt like I got to know them. Then one day I went in and just one of them was there alone. We nodded at each other and took turns playing the two games. Finally I asked him, “So, where are the other Lone Gunmen?”

 Without batting an eye he shrugged and said, “In class.”

These guys, if you remember them–they’ve been around since 1994. Source: Wikipedia

Who Did This?

Most graffiti is anonymous and I’m okay with that. A lot of graffiti is just scribbled tags and, well, this is just my opinion but it’s not very good, so even if it’s interesting to me I’m okay with not knowing who did it, and I’m okay with it being removed. Sometimes there are some really well-done pieces but they’re still graffiti, and as much as they might brighten up a bland area I get it. You can’t just let anyone throw up anything on a wall anywhere anytime or we’d descend into total chaos.

And then there’s this.

I really, really, really want to know who did this. I have a million and one questions for them—maybe more because every answer just leads to more questions. I’m not sure if it is graffiti. The artist responsible has a pretty prominent signature on there, but it’s not one I can read so I can’t think of a way to contact them. And this puts me in kind of a tough position. It’s in a public park. I could contact the parks department and hope this is an authorized piece and that they can put me in touch with the artist.

On the other hand if it’s not an authorized piece then I’ve just let the authorities know it’s there and they’ll probably send out someone with a can of gray paint, which would be a shame. To avoid that I’ve tried some of the usual social media sites with no luck so far, but someone out there knows something.

And I hope I’m not drawing too much attention to it because, you know, if someone did this on their own I think we can need a little chaos.

What’s In A Name.

Source: Wikipedia

A friend of mine sent me a link to a review of the film Black Knight and then he added, “Why can’t they review films sooner? It came out twenty-two years ago!” And I swear it took me a good ten minutes to realize he was making a joke. Even then he had to send me a picture of the poster for the 2001 film Black Knight and when I went to the review I understood that it was about an entirely different film that was just released, in 2023, in case anyone stumbles on this in the future, also called Black Knight.

Let’s start with the first problem: this is the internet. People review old films all the time. A review of Arsenic And Old Lace just came up in my recommendations. The review was posted May 12, 2023. The film being reviewed–and, let’s face it, “re-view” is the perfect term–is from 1944, with Cary Grant, and directed by Frank Capra, names that, depending on who you are, you may or may not recognize. People are discovering or rediscovering old films, films that may have been really popular in their own time and that may have even continued to be popular for decades beyond it but that have since been largely forgotten, all the time. Also you can look up the oldest, most obscure film you can think of and chances are you’ll find fans of it. The internet is a timeless space where the past is never really past.

Source: Wikipedia

And there was more than one Arsenic And Old Lace. It started as a stage play. The 1944 film was followed by three subsequent remakes. They were all done for television, but still that brings me to the second problem which is that, even if you don’t count remakes, lots of films have the same name, which most people know even if they’ve never been directed to a Disambiguation page in Wikipedia. There’s even a 1954 film called The Black Knight—the definite article is the only thing that distinguishes it from the other two. Well, that and it stars Alan Ladd and Patrick Troughton who a lot of people forget had a successful career even before Doctor Who was an idea.

And that brings me to the third, and most sobering, problem, which is that most movies are going to be forgotten. It doesn’t matter who starred in them or even how good they are. Most of their stars are going to be forgotten too. That goes for everything, in fact. Writers, painters, sculptors, composers—let’s face it, some will have a moment in the sun, if they’re lucky, and some might get discovered after they’re gone as things go in and out of fashion, but most will disappear. Even the ones who get preserved in some way—in the backrooms of museums or on dusty library shelves—represent only a fraction of all the people who ever created something.

We’ve lost a lot. We’ve preserved a lot. Is the glass half empty or half full? It depends on what you call it.

So This Happened…

I won the DarkWinter Literary Magazine First Anniversary Contest which I’m really grateful for and I’m taking a moment to brag a bit and have a celebratory root beer float. This is not my first publication—I had a poem published in DarkWinter Lit previously and it’s a magazine I really enjoy, with great writing, so I hope to have more there in the future. I’m also still so proud to have been included in the Static Dreams anthology, and I’ve had work published elsewhere. I’m saying this at least partly because I had some old friends congratulate me on winning the contest by saying “It must be great to finally be published!”

Of course there’s more to the story. There’s always more to every story. If you’ve seen The Graduate you know that—mild spoiler alert—at the end Ben and Elaine sit at the back of the bus with looks on their faces that clearly say, “Well, what happens now?”

That’s the funny thing about being a writer, or in any artistic profession. I guess it extends even to most professions. It’s impossible to sit still. Although for artistic professions it’s not so much “What happens now?” as it is “What do I do now?”

Also I got the word that I’d won on Friday afternoon but the announcement wasn’t made until Monday. While I was keeping it a secret a friend of mine shared a story of a mermaid statue that’s causing a stir in an Italian town for being “too provocative.”

I said, “Where are her cranial fins? Or her gills? It’s like the artists have never seen a real mermaid!”

My friend shot back, “What do you know about mermaids?”

All I could do was sit there with a look on my face that clearly said, Just you wait… And immediately after that I was watching TV and a trailer for the new live action The Little Mermaid came on.

That’s not relevant to anything I’ve been talking about but it is a funny story and it’s important to never pass up a chance to share one of those.

What is relevant is that it’s a success like this that pushes me forward, that makes me want to do whatever comes next, and whatever comes after that. Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege,” and it’s times like this that I understand what she meant.

But first I’m going to finish my root beer float.

Source: The Guardian. This is the Italian mermaid that doesn’t look anything like a real mermaid.


Every spring Venus flytraps show up in garden centers and next to checkouts. Sometimes there’ll be a pitcher plant—one of the North American Sarracenia varieties, not the South American Heliamphora or the Asian Nepenthes, or the Australian Cephalotus, although those are pretty cool too.

I always wonder if I should rescue one of those plants but I’ve had experience growing them. At one point I had a collection of more than a hundred different carnivorous plants. It also included sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts, which you’ll almost never find in your garden variety garden center. Some were really easy to grow. As popular as Venus flytraps are, though, they weren’t among the easy ones. Venus flytraps like it sunny, humid, and very wet. Their water also has to be very pure. Because they suck up so much water any chemicals tend to build up. I could provide the water and the humidity, but short of sticking the plants on the roof of our house I couldn’t give them the all-day sun they needed.

A few rows down from the Venus flytraps I found some succulents for sale, including lithops—the living stone plants. I’ve tried growing those too. Also not an easy plant. Lithops like it sunny and extremely dry. Most come from places where the annual rainfall is less than thirteen inches per year. Short of sticking them next to a dehumidifier under a sun lamp there was no way I could give them the conditions they needed.

For some people the challenge of growing these plants at home is part of the fun. I knew a guy who grew Darlingtonia, another kind of pitcher plant I forgot to mention earlier, which is found in the Pacific Northwest. It grows in places where cold water flows over its roots. He built an elaborate system with a cooler and plastic tubing and added a regular supply of ice.

That someone would go to those lengths always makes me think of an idea that every unusual plant grower I’ve ever known has thought: these plants evolved to grow in very special environments. Maybe they also figured out a way to trick humans into recreating those environments so they could thrive far from their place of origin.

Some humans, anyway. After most of my collection was wiped out by a double attack of whiteflies and aphids I lost interest in growing the plants. The challenge was too much for me.

You’ve Got Books!

Rhino Books. Nashville.

Let me just say up front that I hate the movie You’ve Got Mail. I love Nora Ephron, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are a great couple, but, as someone who loves books, and especially bookstores, I despise You’ve Got Mail. It’s not just that it’s a plodding, predictable film that, in spite of all the talent involved, has all the charm of a wet sack of month-old bananas. When it was released Melville House Books–full disclosure: I wrote some articles from a librarian’s perspective for them–had a profile of a real life independent bookstore owner who was driven out of business when a Barnes & Noble moved into her neighborhood. Then, in a twist very much like You’ve Got Mail, she got a job with B&N. And in a twist very much unlike the movie it was an awful experience. The higher-ups had no interest in the community and pushed store policies that left no room for creativity. The people selling books might as well have been slinging frozen burgers–all of which was as predictable as You’ve Got Mail‘s saccharine ending.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, I’m surprised to learn that Barnes & Noble bookstores–specifically the brick & mortar stores–are not only still around but that they’re experiencing a bit of a renaissance thanks to their new chief executive, James Daunt. Daunt has a long history of running independent bookstores and, well, turning them into successful chains, so he seems like an obvious choice to take over one of the last big book retailers. He also knows selling books isn’t like selling anything else. He says, “These big retailer bookstores have failed to hang on to their customers because they weren’t friendly, they didn’t have the right books and they weren’t engaged.” He even welcomes people who just come in to look around, treating the bookstore as a special place: “There’s no expectation that you are buying anything. It’s a happy place – you come in, you browse.” And he adds, “Reading – and coming to bookstores – is a habit, not a fad.”

It sounds like he’s read the criticism of Barnes & Noble and actually thought about it. His strategy is to let each store be independent–encouraging them to be part of the local community.

In some places that might work. Will it work in Nashville, though? This city already has several independent bookstores. For new releases you can go to Parnassus, The Bookshop, or Fairytales Bookstore. If you want used books you can go to McKay’s, which is a megastore that devotes most of its space to books but also has movies, musical instruments, videogames, toys…

Or for just books there’s Rhino Books which, like any good bookstore, has its own cat, and whoever’s behind the counter can guide you through the sections. I went in there once and asked if they had anything by S.J. Perelman. The guy frowned and said, “I think so,” then went off on a rant about how it was a shame no one reads him or Thurber or Dorothy Parker anymore. Imagine getting that at a big chain store.  It’s also a few doors down from an amazing independent coffee shop.

What I’m getting at is that the new Barnes & Noble’s sales strategy sounds great for places that don’t have any other options but, given the choice, I’ll stick with bookstores that really are independent. And also You’ve Got Mail is one of the worst movies ever.




Source: Woodland Pattern Book Center

When I heard that New York City had appointed a Rat Czar I thought, well, I guess it was inevitable since they already have rat kings. And a friend of mine said, “Hey, it’s about time they got some representation. Wait, what do you mean the Rat Czar is a human?”

And he had a point. The history of rats is deeply tied up with our own history. For most of it they’ve been seen as enemies—including some really vile propaganda that compared people to rats. I don’t want to highlight that but at the same time I don’t think comparing humans to rats—all humans, not just certain groups—isn’t so far off the mark. Rats are territorial but also social, rats form communities and work collectively. They’re smart and make really good pets. I might feel differently if I lived in an apartment building with a rat problem but there’s a reason our relationship with rats is complicated. They carry diseases but then so do cats, dogs, birds, insects, and humans too.

Rats are also mammals like us, and they’re survivors. Sometimes I think we have such a primal response to them because we recognize them as our ancestors. It was rodents, after all, who survived the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Maybe that’s why there’s a long lineage of our not so simple relationship with rats that even predates the medieval Pied Piper of Hamlin, which got a brilliant satirical update in the 1920s by the terribly underrated Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, all the way up through The Secret of NIMH and Ratatouille. You can throw Willard in there, either the 1971 original or its 2003 remake with Crispin Glover for something a little darker.

Since April is National Poetry Month here’s a poem I wrote back in 1998, inspired from a line from a National Geographic special about rats, “There’s a war going on in our cities…and the rats are winning.”


Rats are winning the war for the city,

Displacing us as they come from below.

While our tactics are softened with pity

Rats are winning the war for the city.

Gassing and poisons aren’t pretty,

And not all is fair in war though we know

Rats are winning the war for the city,

Displacing us as they come from below.


Displacing us as they come from below

The rats teach us something we always knew.

By steady process, since our brains are slow,

Displacing us as they come from below,

The rats whisper to us we are rats too.

Our lives are mingled; that’s the status quo.

Displacing us as they come from below

The rats teach us something we always knew.  

Be Their Guest.

There are a few Indian restaurants around that we go to regularly. Most of the time I don’t even think about it but once in a while it occurs to me how, more than thirty years ago, I went to an Indian restaurant for the first time, not having a clue what to expect and being amazed by all the dishes I’d never heard of before. And now if we drive down the road and see an Indian restaurant we’ve never been to before we have a pretty good idea that there’ll be pakoras and chicken tikka masala and malai kofta and naan.

Those terms have become so assimilated into English my spellchecker doesn’t even blink at them.

There’s one, though, that’s a little different. It has some of the old standards but also dishes it specifies are from some of India’s southern states—Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. The spices are different, the flavors more intense. It’s not just what we’ve come to think of as “Indian”.

What also stands out for me is they have a couple of guest books at the front and the guest books are hilariously disorganized. People have written notes diagonally across the page, they’ve drawn pictures. Flipping through one night while waiting for a to-go order I found a couple of notes written in Sinhala script, which was cool.

It’s a big place, always crowded, and while I’d gotten a couple of to-go orders there before I didn’t think I’d really been noticed, but while I was waiting the manager came over to me and said, “Next time you need to come in and sit down. I’ll make you something special and it will be very good!”

We didn’t really plan it and the next time we went in I don’t think the manager was there, or he didn’t see me, so we just ordered from the menu, but it was very good.

%d bloggers like this: