The Comeuppance Factor

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about comeuppance.

First of all, who doesn’t love such a wonderful word? It’s so much fun to say. That’s half of what I want from a word. I have several favorite words. Nefarious, detritus, and capricious—yeah, I know, they all sound like ancient Greek politicians—are among those near and dear to my heart, tongue, and virtual pen. “Ne’er-do-well” is in the running as my favorite word of all.

Sounding good, as important as that is, isn’t enough. To gain my seal of approval, a word must also express major, complex concepts clearly and powerfully all while rolling playfully off the tongue. Comeuppance fills the bill in every way. All you have to say is, “I hope that guy gets his comeuppance,” and people nod their heads in complete understanding.

This is one of the primary ways I judge a film, book, or story in any form. It’s a cardinal rule of mine for action films, especially. The bad guy must get his comeuppance. (Forgive the sexist terminology; it’s just that the best bad guys are in fact guys.) What does a true quality comeuppance entail? Here are a few characteristics:

  1. The bad guy must lose. He can’t ride off into the sunset with the girl, with the booty, or with his head held high. He’s done, finished, end of the line. He’s either dead or demoralized or both. And he can’t come back. Countless terrible sequels have taught us that lesson.
  2. The bad guy must know he lost. At the end of the day, said miscreant has to be saying or thinking, “Curses! Foiled again!” He can’t be allowed to rationalize away his defeat. He blew it and he knew it. While it’s true that he might change his ways in response to his failure—that’s a Good Thing in real life—it’s anticlimactic in a story. Special dispensation is given in the case of Ebenezer Scrooge.
  3. It’s best of all if he knows it’s coming and can’t do a thing about it. This gives the wretched reprobate a chance to beg for mercy or melt down to the lump of evil that he is. (Here the “guy” thing falls apart. It’s the Wicked Witch who literally melts.)

Some examples are in order at this point.

Two of the best comeuppance scenes form the climaxes of two of the best action movies: “RoboCop” and “Die Hard”. In fact, they end the exact same way. The primary antagonists have a long descent from the upper stories of skyscrapers to consider the error of their ways and accept their comeuppance. Do they? We’ll never know because they end up as stains on the sidewalk.

A less violent but just as satisfying comeuppance is that of Prince Humperdinck in “Princess Bride”. Having lost all, he’s left tied to a chair with nothing to do but mull over his ignominious but well-deserved defeat. The comeuppance of Christopher Guest’s six-fingered man, on the other hand, could be the ultimate in cinematic comeuppance. It doesn’t get much more satisfying than watching a sadistic scoundrel beg for his life at the point of his demise.

It could be said that Donald Trump, a stereotypical bad guy of the worst order, got his comeuppance. Sadly, it was far from satisfactory. He lost the popular vote twice, he cost his party the Senate and the House, he never built his cherished wall, he failed to overthrow the government, he lost the White House, and he lost countless business deals because this time he couldn’t sweep his shenanigans under the rug. Failure doesn’t get any more blatant or comprehensive than that. To use his own words against him, the guy is a loser.

The problem, of course, is that his malignant narcissism blinds him to reality. As far as we can tell, he still thinks he won those elections and accomplished all his goals. Mental illness is a sad thing. I wish him healing and recovery.

And comeuppance.


Does anyone else find it frighteningly ironic that, in his attempt to rid the US of foreign terrorists, Trump has bred a crop of domestic terrorists, kind of like Saruman’s senseless Uruk-hai, who will almost certainly wreak more havoc on this country than all those Muslims and Mexicans he likes to rail against?

Or that, in spite of the religious right’s inexcusable devotion to him, he has probably paid for more abortions than he has prevented?

Just sayin’, is all.

The Year Without Smiles

The year 1816 has come to be known as “the year without summer”, all because temperatures around the world were up to 3 degrees cooler than normal due to the largest volcanic eruption in world history.

3 degrees.

Doesn’t sound all that bad to me. It wouldn’t have kept me away from the beach or off my bike. Still, it was enough to wipe out crops, cause near-famine conditions, and provoke atypical outbreaks of disease, so I guess it should be taken seriously. (Do we really want to find out what a permanent rise of a few degrees created by climate change will bring about?)

What will 2020 become known as? The year of Covid, coronavirus, or simply “the pandemic”? To me, it will be the year without smiles. What is there to smile about when confronted with the anguish caused by the constant threat of serious illness and loss of life for ourselves, loved ones, and hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens of the world? There’s little reason to smile for the overworked and overwhelmed healthcare workers watching waves of the sick and dying pass through their care. Even less for the elders spending their waning years isolated behind walls of glass or clear plastic, lacking the comfort of human touch.

(And this was written before a sitting president encouraged a mob of misguided, mentally deficient terrorists to attempt to overthrow the government. Sheesh.)

And if you are among the fortunate who haven’t lost a loved one, a job, or a business venture at the hands of this callous virus, perhaps you’ve been able to manage the occasional grin, whether feigned or from a grateful heart. As St. Paul encourages us, we should give thanks in (not necessarily for) all circumstances. It’s safe to assume that he would include Covid-19 within the definition of “all”. Psychologists have finally come around to Paul’s ancient wisdom, acknowledging the power of gratitude in emotional and physical healing.

So what do we have to be thankful for in the lengthening shadow of a killer pandemic? A number of things come immediately to mind:

  • Businesses overcoming the resistance to allowing employees to work from home. (May they not forget!)
  • Increased outdoor activity and the accommodation thereof. (Even if it caused a shortage of bicycles and their parts.)
  • A tiny-handed and tinier-brained would-be autocrat was taken out of the White House and out to the woodshed. (May he remain there.)
  • I don’t have to take my partially completed jigsaw puzzles off the dining room table; no company’s coming.
  • Increased awareness of the need to address issues of racial justice. (Even if we have yet to actually implement the necessary measures to mitigate the problems.)
  • Forced family time (for better or worse).
  • Creativity demonstrated by individuals and organizations to address the limitations imposed by the pandemic.
  • Zoom! (Saving grace for us extroverts.)

So, contrary to all logic, for the above reasons and more, I’m still able to smile and maybe you are, too.

But it doesn’t matter. All those smiles are hidden behind masks.* This is a not-to-be-underestimated problem for our society as a whole. Look, I’m used to seeing people walk down the street wearing grimaces and scowls, but there are usually enough smiles around to compensate for all those malcontents. Now, however, I have no idea what’s hiding behind those masks. I’m not the best at reading facial expressions as it is, but when all I see is a pair of eyes (and a nose, in the case of the weak-minded who seem to believe Covid is transmitted only through the mouth and/or chin) I’m useless.

This problem is most harmful to children. They are nourished by smiles, not to mention the equally unavailable hug. Outside of their immediate families, some little ones may go days or even weeks without seeing someone smile at them. (TV smiles are not and should never be a substitute.) What impression of the world are they developing? In my mind, every child needs and deserves every smile we can give them. That’s one reason I smile at every child I see. I still do, but they can’t see it.

I can’t stand it anymore. When a vaccine was initially under development, I was ambivalent about getting it, especially early in its distribution. Now, though, I’m ready to get in line first chance. By the grace of God, I’m ready to shine my smile again.


* Please note that I’m not an no-masker. Those folks are a toxic combination of ignorance and selfishness. If nothing else, 2016-2021 has amply demonstrated to us the danger of that personality type.

Something/Anything… Else!

Hello, it’s me.

The two devices that store and play most of my music are my phone and my car’s sound system. I have both set to play random selections from my entire collection. Lately, for some unknown reason, they’ve both played a lot of songs by Todd Rundgren. (Pretty much everything I listen to is over 40 years old.) I have no problem with this. I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that Mr. Rundgren is a musical genius. The (brilliant) LP “Something/Anything” is the one that keeps getting played. Which got me to thinking…

I’d like to talk about something/anything other than Covid-19!*

I can’t be the only one who feels this way, yet it’s still all anyone talks about. Including me! Maybe it’s because we can’t think of anything else to talk about. There aren’t that many subjects we cover in most conversations anyway.

Many of those are off limits.

Religion and politics are taboo in the best of times. Now that they’ve merged into an unholy alliance, they’re even less appealing. Besides, the maniacal moron now occupying the White House part time is a one-man pandemic and just as tiresome a topic.

Others are just plain dull.

The weather is a popular, if tedious, conversational crutch. Let’s skip that one, too, for the cliche it is. Your latest purchase or home renovation? Equally banal. And equally unedifying. And maybe just a wee bit vain.

Hey, we can always rely on sports to prompt a lively discussion or argument. How ’bout that? Oh, yeah. There are no sports happening because of the… well, you know.

So what’s left?

One of my favorite fonts of conversational fodder is movies. Most people have a good stockpile of movie experiences and opinions. The same goes for books and TV shows. Those talks can also lead to deeper exchanges. Such as…

One another. Tell me about you. No, not what you own or what you’ve accomplished. You. As the equally brilliant Michael Omartian once sang:

I don’t want to hear about your conquests,
Or your casual affairs.
Each one a great new story…
But who cares.

I want to know about your feelings,
Or the ache in your heart,
The thoughts that make you what you are,
That set you apart.

‘Cause maybe I’ve had them, too.

We avoid those sensitive topics, not wishing to make ourselves vulnerable, but is anything more important? Granted, this is not the stuff of light banter among casual acquaintances. In those cases, the weather will suffice. When sharing with someone closer, though, coronavirus is as sterile a subject as any. Why not go deeper?

For example, let’s talk about God. (That’s different than religion.) The way we conceive of Him might determine what’s inside us better than any other question. As A. W. Tozer once put it:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

What are your dreams, hopes, and plans? What are your fears, failures, and disappointments? Now we’re getting somewhere. Drop that stuff on me and we both might benefit. You get to share your burden and I could find a kindred spirit.

Or we could fall back on R.E.M.’s advice**:

Should we talk about the weather?
Should we talk about the government?

Sure. Something/Anything but Covid-19.


* I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming. To obsess over it is as dangerous to our mental health as the virus is to our physical bodies.

** I’m of the opinion that a post can’t have too many references to quality music.

The Minor Nobel Award

There are awards galore out there, for every accomplishment under the sun. The most prestigious has got to be the Nobel Prize, whether for the sciences, the arts, or, best of all, promoting peace in our world.

But what about an award for the folks who make seemingly minor contributions that make a major difference in our day-to-day quality of life? These are things that fly under the radar. You might not even think of them because they’ve become mundane. If they were taken away one day, however, we’d probably all lose our sanity. I propose the “Minor Nobel Prize” awards to honor such genius.

Here’s my list of innovations that deserve more credit and thus a Minor Nobel Prize:

  • Velcro – Are you kidding me? How has this invention not been recognized by the Nobel committee? I don’t want to even think about where we’d be without Velcro. Kids’ garments, old peoples’ shoes, cheap wallets, high-tech gadget attachments, etc., etc. And, yeah, I love the sound.
  • Auto rear camera – How many parking lot collisions have been averted by the ability to see in back of you??? I want one of these for my body, too. (And how about the one that let’s you see behind a towed trailer? What kind of black magic is that?)
  • Vacuum in the van – Speaking of vehicles, how about the guy–“guy” in the generic sense; it was probably a Mom who came up with this–who thought of putting a vacuum cleaner in a minivan? Absolutely brilliant! Those things probably suck up ten pounds of Cheerios a month, not to mention Legos and goldfish crackers. And the gas savings for the lightened vehicle make this an environmental boon.
  • Sharpies – This might be the greatest invention known to man. For its beneficial purposes, it certainly beats the dickens out of Nobel’s dynamite. Maybe we should be giving out Sharpie prizes.
  • Duct tape – Don’t even get me started.
  • Needle threader – The quickest way I know to induce a nervous breakdown is attempting to thread a needle. The thread inevitably frays, giving you about sixteen microscopic baby threads all vying to get through the eye at the same time. Ain’t happening. The needle threader is an incredibly ingenious yet underappreciated invention.
  • Fingernail clipper – As much as I like to bite my fingernails–or have to in certain tense situations like driving or going to a mall–the clipper is the way to go to avoid injury. The best devices also collect the clippings so they don’t fly all over the room. Instead, you can mix them in with your shredded coconut flakes. No one will ever know the difference.
  • Chapstick – This is an essential quasi-medical advance on par with eyeglasses and nose hair trimmers. Little known Chapstick fact: Many children are alive today because cracked, bleeding lips were made kissable by Chapstick.

The final nominee for a Minor Nobel Prize is a classic example of an innovation that has saved money, sanity, and relationships. If it had never come about, the past month would have been a living nightmare for most people celebrating Christmas.

  • Lines on the back of wrapping paper – Before the guide lines on the back of wrapping paper were introduced, I spent half my December trying to divine straight paths through random arrangements of Santas, stars, and candy canes. It was all in vain. I invariably created odd origami-like shapes more often than usable paper.

That’s my list for now. There are doubtless many more, but I won’t know what they are until they’re taken away.

May that never happen.

Priming the pump

You ain’t a writer if you don’t write

Much to my embarrassment, the last time I wrote a real blog post for this blog–not a shameless advertisement for one of my books–was January 23 of this year. (My other blog is not much better. Last post: August 16, 2019. And that one was preceded by an eight-month hiatus.)

Mea culpa.

Once I completed The Endless Cycle (a four-book series for middle-grade readers (all installments now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions (I couldn’t resist (sorry)))) I decided to take some time off to regroup, relax, recover, rethink… and do some jigsaw puzzles.

Time’s up. I have to put something out here to prime the pump for my next large-scale project, one as yet to be decided. So here goes: A brain dump of random strange thoughts that have been piling up.

Lessons I’ve learned from my grandchildren, Part I: Any truly good book has stickers at the end.

I don’t think, therefore… am I?

I love Maine. It’s a beautiful state. My favorite spots are Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, or as we say in Boston: Bah Hahbah and Arcadier National Pahk. (Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t discard our “r”s, we recycle them.) I have one problem with the state, however. They need to put a moratorium on the use of the pathetic pun “Mainely” in their advertising and business names. Driving around the state, you’ll encounter “Mainely Lobster”, “Mainely Antiques”, “Mainely Burgers”, “Mainely Brews”, and Mainey more. Enough already.

Speaking of Maine, on my last trip there, I saw this bumper sticker:

I thought it was a souvenir, but then I noticed it was on Donald Trump’s car. Makes perfect sense.

It’s a shame that the common expression is, “sweat like a pig.” Two fun alliterative alternatives exist: “sweat like a swine” and “perspire like a pig.” Just sayin’.

Here’s some word weirdness that makes me say hmmm…

  • Overlook and oversee are opposites. As are “look over” and overlook. Yet an overlook (noun) is something you should look over rather than overlook.
  • Loosen and unloosen mean the same thing.
  • Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
  • Valuable and invaluable aren’t quite synonyms but they aren’t the opposites one would expect, given the spelling. Invaluable, in fact, means more valuable. Go figure.
  • A one-way mirror is the same thing as a two-way mirror. Good thing streets aren’t like that.

The English language was obviously created by committee.

Shots’n’thots

Working on a new book (actually five of them!) so the blog is lower priority. Hence the sparsity of posts lately. Here’s a quickie that’s been on my mind. A few thoughts spread among a few shots.


If that’s a seedless watermelon, folks, I don’t want to know what those little black specks are.

Try looking up “Funk & Wagnalls” in your Funk & Wagnalls.


This tag was attached to a stuffed, weighted dinosaur. So, this is a perfect accessory to any home’s decor? Yeah, it would look perfect at The Breakers or Fallingwater.

Welcome to a new year. In my younger days, I’d be writing the previous year well into March. Now it’s like a tick of the clock. I started writing 2019 on January 1 without missing a beat.


So, these are the essentials. No wonder my last party crashed and burned.

By my observation, people usually say more than they know yet know more than they’ll say. Some of us err on one side more than the other. But we all do it.


Since when is shopping a gift? I thought it was a chore. Not here in the United States of Walmart. I love the irony of this toxic message being on a kiosk that dispenses hand sanitizer. I don’t suppose it will protect against the affluenza virus.

Fortunately, we have…
Wow! That’s precision for you. Isn’t science wonderful? I only hope the 0.01% it doesn’t kill isn’t the aforementioned virus.
If sitting is the new smoking, as I believe it is, what’s lying-on-your-back-like-a-slug-for-hours-on-end-ingesting-mindless-drivel-at-close-range? Can’t be good.

I was in California not too long ago. I saw a truck for a local business called “Leadership Fumigation“. Do you think they’d do a job at the White House?


I can’t say for sure they named this place after me, but…
I can’t prove they didn’t.

Coming in March!!

Watch this space for the announcement of my new book series for middle-grade readers:

The Endless Cycle

Lies, damned lies, and Statcast

Baseball is my sport.

I enjoy watching or listening to it every chance I get. I also write about it a lot. Like here and here and here. Oh, yeah, and here and here. You get the point.

This year was particularly gratifying for me because I’m a diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan. Having grown up with Sox teams that couldn’t get out of their own way much of the time, I’ve reveled in the past 15 years of teams that often can’t lose. Especially this year. I’ve never seen a team like the 2018 Red Sox and I may never again.

The fact that I saw most of these guys when they were just kids playing pro ball for the first time with the Lowell Spinners in short season single-A ball (including all the killer B’s: Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Bogaerts) makes it that much sweeter.

Having said all that, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post if it weren’t full of griping. 🙂

My latest beef is with this goofy marketing tool disguised as meaningful data known as Statcast. It used to be we had to somehow manage baseball discussions with trivial stats: wins and losses, RBIs, average, ERA, triples, and the like. Thanks to Amazon Web Services, we can discuss crucial data such as exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit, and barrel, the last of which is a stat that takes an entire page of text to describe and is still as confusing as a knuckleball.

You’ll note one common thread connecting all these new statistics: None of them has anything to do with winning baseball games. Last time I checked, a home run is worth one run, regardless of its distance, launch angle, or exit velocity.

There are plenty of other more recently developed crazy stats like WAR and WHIP and OPS. I can live with these because, as convoluted as some of these numbers can be, at least they have something to do with scoring runs and winning and losing, which is what the game is all about, after all. Exit velocity is a stat for losers who need something tangible to back up their obscene contract demands. Sadly, this crap works.

Another one: Catch probability is just so much hooey. If a ball is caught, the probability is 100%, if not, it drops down to about, oh, zilch. I expect the probability of catching a ball depends mostly on the fielder. If it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. the catch probability is pretty darn high no matter where the ball goes. If Aaron Judge is plodding after it, not so much.

One final example: I read an article talking about how desirable a commodity Manny Machado will be as a free agent during this offseason’s hot stove league. Most of the argument was based on Manny’s Statcast “hard hit” data. Not surprisingly, there was no mention that this guy is likely to be poison to any baseball team. When a player doesn’t run out ground balls and stands to admire his “home run” that was actually a double but which he turned into a single through his arrogance, it doesn’t matter a rat’s turd how hard he hits the ball! That kind of player is an albatross on any team he plays for. Anyone who pays this prima donna big bucks deserves to be dragged down into the loser-gutter with him.

Which brings me to what might be the most tantalizing aspect of baseball. In spite of all the stats and data and computer models, it’s largely a game of hunches and gut feelings. That’s what makes it great. That’s how a journeyman like Steve Pearce ends up being World Series MVP. It’s how the ’67 Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant and almost the Series. It explains how a bunch of idiots won it all in 2004 and a band of bearded overachievers did the same in ’13.

I love this game. Let’s not ruin it in the name of Amazon corporate profits.

 


Note: For those in Eastern MA, I’ll be doing two “author appearances” at local venues. The first is at Chelmsford Public Library. The event is Saturday 11/3 from 1-3 PM, although I will only be there until about 2 PM. All the details can be found here.

The other is at a great little shop in Chelmsford center called Artisans Exchange. I’ll be hanging out there on Friday night, 11/16 from 7-8.

I hope some of you can come out to say hello and do some early local (author) holiday shopping.

Multiverse theory proved!

There’s tremendous controversy in scientific circles about “multiverse theory”, the contention that our universe is just one of many, possibly an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes. At first I was skeptical about this theory. While it makes for countless compelling science fiction plots, it seemed too far-fetched to be acceptable as scientific truth.

As a result of extensive and meticulous observation, my views have changed. It’s now obvious to me that there are indeed many, perhaps billions of parallel universes. Let me encourage you to use standard empirical methods to discover for yourself the undeniable truth that surrounds you every day.

Next time you are in heavy highway traffic, look around. The guy weaving in and out of lanes, endangering everyone around him? He’s clearly in his own universe. What other explanation could there be? His actions make no sense in this universe: He’s getting virtually nowhere and he’s merely aggravating an already miserable traffic situation. There is no other reason to drive so idiotically. There’s no connection with anyone else’s reality. He lives in a parallel, or maybe slightly skewed, universe.

More evidence? Take note of the following people:

  • The person with 15 items in the supermarket 6-or-less express lane.
  • The woman trying to stow a piece of luggage the size of North Dakota into a plane’s already cramped overhead luggage rack while the aisle fills with people waiting to get to their seats.
  • The fully able moron parked in a handicapped space right up against a van’s wheelchair entrance.
  • Donald Trump.
  • The kid yapping on his cell phone in the movie theater.
  • The motorcyclist revving his illegal exhaust system on a quiet street in the middle of the night.
  • The person at the front of a long line of customers, taking 15 minutes to decide what kind of cruller to have with a double latte.
  • The driver who considers the use of blinkers to be leaking information to the enemy.

All these people live in their own universes where they are the only inhabitants. They have no connection to or awareness of the reality other people occupy. It’s their universe, their laws, their morality, their “truth”, and no one is going to come from any other universe to interfere with their actions or disturb their complacency with meaningless concepts such as facts, civility, or selflessness.

Now that’s science.

Feeling bad ain’t good enough

I have an inordinate affinity for little-known, minor musical artists from the late 60’s to early 70’s. Working for two record companies (you remember “record companies”, don’t you?) during that period only served to feed my obsession. I got to know bands who barely made it out of the warehouse. Most belonged there but some deserved a better fate.

Among my favorite obscurities are Stackridge (produced by the incomparable George Martin), Lindisfarne (pride of Newcastle), Emit Rhodes (the one-man Beatles), Roy Buchanan (the most soulful guitarist ever), and Ralph McTell (troubadour extraordinaire). Others, such as John Kongos, Seatrain, and Andrew Gold, are slightly better known but still vastly underappreciated. I exult in these musical phantoms.

The unfamiliar band that’s been in my brain of late is one McKendree Spring. (I’m not alone in my admiration. Legendary rock promoter/manager/impresario Bill Graham justifiably called them “one of the best unknown bands in the world.”) IMHO their third album, the aptly titled “McKendree Spring 3” is a masterpiece. What all this rambling is leading to is a song on that LP that has captured my attention and won’t let it go. Although included on the 1971 release, the song “Feeling Bad Ain’t Good Enough” couldn’t be more timely. It could have been triggered by yesterday’s news. Or today’s. Or tomorrow’s. Check out the chorus:

Feeling bad ain’t good enough now
For something you ain’t done.
Especially when the crazy man,
He’s reachin’ for his gun.

It has everything but the #enough. Feeling bad isn’t good enough. Nor are your thoughts and prayers, although I believe in the power of prayer.

The early date of the recording and certain lyrical references (“What was that voice from the tower; what was it trying to prove?”) indicate that the song could have been inspired by one of the early mass shootings in this country, that of the University of Texas Austin tower sniper. It’s sad to think that, in the 52 years since that tragedy, we’ve become inured to these events. In fact, we expect them now. A handful of people killed by a lone shooter barely makes a ripple in the mud puddle known as the evening news. In spite of the fact that mass shootings have escalated along with gun ownership, the powers-that-be continue to rant that more guns is the answer. Rather than fight back, our spineless lawmakers grovel before the nation’s largest terrorist organization, the NRA.

#enough