Thursday, June 24, 2010

When the best things in life aren't free, keep looking 'til they are...

One of the advantages of working for a major outdoors magazine like Field & Stream is the incredible amount of free swag that is heaped upon you. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I wouldn’t have any personal experience with such matters. Being a non-masthead, near-anonymous contract freelancer occupying the bottom rung of the website, the only free swag I get is whatever I can manage to dig out from under the sofa cushions at my grandmother’s house.

But every now and then even I get a bone thrown to me, and such was the case last season when my covetous, greedy little hands came into possession of one of those hand-turned, ultra-expensive acrylic duck calls, the kind of call every serious waterfowler has hanging around his band-encrusted lanyard.

Now, a quick note about my duck calling: it sucks. And trust me, there’s not a lick of false modesty in that statement. I really do. I never had a mentor, so I’m completely “self-taught” (with all that that implies…). As such, and also because I’m poor, I’ve always blown cheap calls and learned to blow them very, very sparingly. I’ll never win any contests, I’ll never really “work” a flock of ducks with my calling and I’ll never garner any admiring glances from fellow hunters in a duck blind. I merely eke out the best I can with the limited knowledge I have and find my solace and sustenance somewhere within that experience. It’s always worked for me. It also helps that I hunt mostly alone and therefore the only hunt my calling can ruin is my own. That's pretty convenient.

But I admit to having always had an unreasonable and unhealthy lust for one of those high-end calls, and when mine came (a gift from an editor friend of mine) I hurriedly ripped open the package, put it to my lips and blew a long, wailing highball…

Later, after the shattered living-room windows had been replaced, I tried telling myself that maybe this call was a little too high-powered, a little beyond my duck-calling ken. It was a competition call, and while a competition-level caller could no doubt make it sing in a duck blind, I was no competition-level caller. All I could do with it was scare the neighbors. It did that very well.

But I took it hunting, anyway. Once. On one of those calm, clear, crystalline mornings tailor-made for soft, spare and subtle calling, I was armed with a Frenchhorn. No matter how hard I tried to tone it down, I kept blasting out calls that weren’t merely loud, they were sonic death rays. Finally, admitting to myself I couldn’t blow the call worth a damn, I took it off the lanyard and went back to my cheap old Lohman and my cheap old Olt. I couldn’t blow them worth a damn, either, but at least I was blowing them poorly, softly.

So I guess the moral of the story is, I just need to keep getting free, expensive duck calls until I find one that I like…

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Job-seeking then and now

Not long after I turned fifteen, I ironed my least-faded pair of blue jeans, wiped the mud off my Nikes, tucked my button-down Oxford into my pants, ran a comb through my hair and - after I figured out how to tie something that vaguely resembled a Windsor knot - cinched a tie around my young neck and went out into the world looking for my first real job. Or at least as real a job as a 15-year-old could hope to get.

I ended up in the Wright’s IGA grocery store in Norman, Oklahoma. My grandparents shopped here, they knew the manager and I planned to not only drop their names, but also impress the store manager with my earnestness, my positive attitude and professional appearance (again, as professional as a 15-year-old mullethead could look) and my obvious maturity.

When I introduced myself to the manager I shook his hand, looked him square in the eye and did what any 15-year-old looking for a job in 1986 was expected to do: I begged.

“Sir, I am inquiring about the possibility of part-time employment. I would very much like to work here and I believe I would be an asset to your team. I assure you I am of the highest moral character. I am unfailingly honest, punctual to a fault, meticulous in my attention to detail, a hard and cheerful worker and if you hire me I promise you it’ll be a decision you won’t regret.”

Or something equally Eddie Haskell-like along those lines, but with more stammering and feet shuffling. The point is, even though I knew and the manager knew that sacking groceries for minimum wage was - despite my florid sales pitch - just that, a minimum-wage job, I didn’t take it for granted and I didn’t approach the process with any attitude or sense of entitlement. I needed a job and $3.35 an hour would keep me in a lot of spinnerbaits and shotgun shells. And more importantly, it would keep me from working the register at some fast-food joint.

Truth be told, I’d be happy and thankful to have that menial little job, and I was. I worked at that store for the next three years, and despite attending an inordinate number of “family funerals” during fishing season, I was a pretty good employee.

Fast forward to the present. I’m standing in line at a local book and video store, waiting to purchase the latest issue of The Drake and Wildfowl magazine. There’s a kid in line in front of me. He looks to be around 17 and I’m pretty sure he’s wearing the same t-shirt and wrinkled plaid shorts he woke up in that morning. Flip-flops - those fucking ghastly, ubiquitous flip-flops - adorn his hairy feet. He shuffles up to the counter, exuding boredom and disdain. He looks at the clerk (who happens to be the store’s assistant manager) and says (verbatim, not making this up) “Hey man, you hiring?”

The manager, looking equally bored and disinterested in pretty much everything - including his customers - looks at the kid and replies “We only accept applications on-line now. We don’t do anything face-to-face. Go online and fill it out and we’ll get back to you.”

“Cool. Thanks, dude.”

“No problem.”

Thus is captured the entire arc of the modern service-industry economy in a single one-act play. It was hilarious, brilliant and a bit scary.

I will refrain from making any sweeping allegorical statements about how this is a perfect microcosm of the impersonal and disinterested nature of modern life. I won’t try to make any profound observations about how the hiring practices of the typical modern retail establishment insure it gets only the quality of employee it deserves*.

Nope, I’m not feeling particularly philosophical today, so I will merely sound like the burgeoning coot I someday hope to be by observing that, damn, things sure are different from when I was a kid…

* That is a poor bastardization of one of my favorite George Bernard Shaw quotes, which goes something like “Democracy is an institution that insures we are governed no better than we deserve."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Slushpile Hell: worth a look...

What do you do when you're a literary agent and you get frustrated with all the so-bad-they're-good queries you receive from the throngs of hopeful - if sublimely delusional - authors out there?

Well, if you're this literary agent you start a blog highlighting a few of the more memorable gems. Slushpile Hell, indeed.

Ironically, right now I'm working on a non-fiction book proposal (any high-to-medium-powered literary agents out there who might care to give me some tips, please, feel free...) so I'm actually gleaning some valuable tips from this site.

Some of my favorites... (italics are the agent's response)

"I’d like you to consider representing my fictional novel."

Oh, whew. For a second there I thought you were going to ask me to represent your nonfictional novel. For some reason those are performing really poorly in the market today

"I want an agent who’s confident to get me a 7 figure book deal or high 6 figure deal, not some bull crap deal."

Funny, that’s exactly what I say to editors when I send them a proposal. Works every time.

"Hi. Are you a visionary agent who wants to take the stagnant fiction literary marketplace to new heights?"

No. Not really.

"Hello. I’ve queried more than 50 other agents with this and have gotten nowhere. Now I’m querying you."

You had me at hello.

"Do you ever get the feeling that we are all machines being controlled by someone or something beyond our control?"

Katie Holmes, I’m just a literary agent. I can’t help you with your husband issues.

And my personal favorite (so far)...

"Greetings agent. I have written the most important book on earth."

Will someone, for the love of God, please kill me.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Resistentialism is a jocular theory in which inanimate objects display hostile desires towards human beings. For example, objects that cause problems (like lost keys or a fleeing bouncy ball) exhibit a high degree of resistentialism. In other words, a war is being fought between humans and inanimate objects, and all the little annoyances objects give people throughout the day are battles between the two. The term was coined by humorist Paul Jennings in a piece titled "Report on Resistentialism", published in The Spectator in 1948[1] and reprinted in The New York Times[2]. The movement is a spoof of existentialism in general, and Jean-Paul Sartre in particular (Jennings gives the inventor of Resistentialism as Pierre-Marie Ventre). The slogan of Resistentialism is "Les choses sont contre nous" -- "Things are against us".

The concept also appears in the Discworld novels of English author Terry Pratchett, where it is referred to as malignity or malignance; one practical example the author gives is the tendency of garden hoses, no matter how carefully one coils and stores them, to unloop themselves overnight and tie the bicycle to the lawnmower. It is associated with the Auditors of Reality, and possibly also with Anoia, goddess of Things that Stick in Drawers. (From Wikipedia)

NOTE TO SELF: when spooling new line on a reel, always, always check the spool tension knob before making a cast, as said spool tension knobs on non-magnetic centrifugal-brake baitcasters are known to display a high and particularly malevolent degree of resistentialism.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What did I do to deserve this?

Seriously. Haven't I been a good dog? Don't I generally do what you tell me to do? I pick up your ducks. I play with your kids. I chase away the neighbor's ankle-biters. And you repay me with this?

Here's an idea: why don't you sit here and let me give you the "hold" command with this thing hanging off the end of the bumper and see how you like it?

And making me sit and watch while you throw bumpers for that little rat? Honor, my ass. That's just mean. If you don't love me any more, just tell me...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Say it 'aint so, Dr. Demento...

It's always hard when the magic dust of cherished childhood icons finally bite the cold, hard dust of reality, even when you haven't thought about them in years.

So when I saw this story on Salon yesterday, I mourned even as I realized that I hadn't heard nor even really thought of that distinctive voice in a long time. This despite the fact that from about 1988 when I was a junior in high school until well into my college years, many of my Sunday evenings involved sitting around a radio tuned to KRXO in Oklahoma City, drinking beer, shooting the shit and listening to Dr. Demento with friends.

Yes, I really was that much of a raging geek...

From the story:

This week, the novelty radio host Dr. Demento announced that, after nearly 40 years on the air, his final broadcast would be this weekend. Even to those with fond memories of listening to Demento's show, the bigger surprise may have been that he was still on the air. In this day and age, the natural place for a two-hour program focusing on "mad music and crazy comedy" would seem to be the Internet, where new shows will be streamed weekly, and the difference between five stations (including one in Alabama and one in Alaska) and none might seem to be a small one. But Demento's partial demise does prompt the question: Whither novelty? Is there a place for novelty songs in the age of YouTube and Radio Disney, or have we seen the last of the once-vibrant genre?

Count me among those who were surprised to learn Dr. Demento was even still around. His show went off the air in the OKC market sometime around the mid-90s, and by that time I had pretty much stopped listening on a regular basis anyway. But even though my musical tastes (always weird and eclectic in the extreme) gradually changed, I credit that adolescent exposure to things like Dr. Demento for shaping my skewed sense of humor and my uhhh...unique worldview.

Where else - in that innocent time before the Internet and satellite radio and ipods and the perpetually plugged-in culture we now take for granted - could a kid from Oklahoma be exposed to the work of guys like Spike Jones, Frank Zappa and Tom Lehrer?

Again, from the Salon story (which is worth a read if you're a former Dementite...)

Beginning in 1970, Dr. Demento (né Barret Hansen) played a similar role. Mixing vintage novelties with discoveries like Barnes & Barnes' sublimely odd "Fish Heads," he mixed musical anthropology and avant-garde experimentation, providing a home on the dial for social outcasts and musical misfits of all kinds. "As a budding nerd, I was always really glad to know that show was out there, even if it wasn't broadcast in an area where I could listen to it," says Stephen Thompson, a music editor at NPR and the founder of the Onion's pop-culture twin, the A.V. Club. Demento encouraged listeners to send in their own songs, with unsurprisingly mixed results. But among them were the nascent stylings of one Alfred "Weird Al" Yankovic, who went on to become the biggest-selling artist in novelty history.

In addition to providing a sense of community to lonely misfits everywhere, the music Demento played was a gateway drug to the avant-garde. It's only as an adult that you realize how genuinely odd Spike Jones' "Cocktails for Two" is, far stranger than anything that would be played on the radio in any other context. "Weird Al made the first record I ever played, and he parodied so many different genres that he made me think about music in a different way," Thompson says.

Much like print, Demento's influence waned with the rise of the Internet, and even though there's still a vibrant comedy song culture out there (Flight of the Conchords are particularly hilarious) I can't help but feel as if today's kids are somehow being cheated a bit by so much choice and so much convenience.

For better and worse, tasting the different in life is an important part of growing up, and having to work for and seek out subversiveness (even mild subversiveness like Demento) I believe fosters a sense of shared identity that kids who literally have the world at their keyboards, kids who are used to and indeed demand instant gratification can't begin to understand, much less appreciate.

Of course, (to twist and butcher a little of the Bard) I come to mourn Dr. Demento, not bury him. The irony is Demento won't be going away. Indeed, he'll be producing a show for the very medium that killed his radio show. Not to mention the fact that there are legion websites and Youtube videos dedicated to the show.

And that's all well and good, of course, but I maintain the notion that there should be a magic to the process of seeking out and discovering something new and exciting that - in the end - is just as important as the information itself.

Or maybe I'm just showing my quaintness. Whatever the case, rock on Dr. Demento. I for one will keep on Star Trekkin' and looking out for those Klingons on the starboard bow...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Search engine weirdness and a request...

It's always fun to see what search terms bring people to your website. I don't profess to have a clue how search engines work or what mysterious algorithms they use, but the results can be funny and sometimes, a little poignant and sad.

For example, as a result of this joke post my blog is now a first-page Google result for the term "how to trap mountain lion." And the results of said Google term have arrived from all over the place: Canada, Mexico, numerous states. Including states in which mountain lions occupy only the realm of cryptozoology and folklore. Who knew mountain lions were so common, and so threatening? I can only hope my own mountain lion trapping experience can be of  use to someone else...

Another one that recently caught my eye was the person who visited my site as a result of typing "why is there so much discontent in the modern world." Type that into Google and I'm the number four result. Seriously.

Those who know me best would say that it's an hilariously apropos result. After all, it isn't called the Mallard of Infinite Cheerfulness. But something about the image of some poor anonymous soul out there typing such a pleading, heartfelt and profoundly human question into what has become - in essence -  a de facto modern-day oracle, our All-Knowing Answer Machine, struck me as particularly sad.

That, or it's simply one of those "type a weird phrase into Google and see what results you get" type games. Which, when you think deeply enough about it, might say even more about the current state of the human condition than someone soliciting philosophical advice from a search engine. I'm sure Douglas Adams or Kurt Vonnegut could probably make sense and comedy of it were they still with us...

At any rate, I'll take a quick stab at it. Quick, because I've got a puppy chewing at my toes and a four-year-old tugging at my arm (which again, when you think about it deeply enough, might serve as some sort of answer in and of itself. Or at least a rebuttal).

So here goes:  Who the hell knows? You think I do? This isn't The Mallard of Self-Actualization, you know. All you can do is find something you believe to be true and worthy, and have the faith to stick with it. And if it brings you comfort, if it brings you a center, then there you go.

So maybe that's the answer: because too many people have lost the ability to identify what - if anything - is true and worthy in their lives. And whatever that may be, I doubt you're going to find it on Google. Sorry I couldn't offer anything better. Maybe there's an app for that. I don't know.

And now a request...

I'm planning on tinkering with the blog in the near future. I haven't done much (OK, anything) with the format in quite a while and one thing I desperately need to do is update the blogroll. If there is anyone out there among my legion readers with a blog they'd like me to include on the blogroll (if I haven't done so already), please let me know so I can include you. I know there have been several requests along those lines and I promise it's forthcoming, but just in case, those of you who have asked, could you remind me?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Meet Jenny...

Apologies for the two-week lapse in activity. Summer's here, school's out, the kids and wife are home and when you work out of the house it takes a while to settle into some semblance of a summer routine.

Plus, I've been chasing this thing around for the past few days...

"This thing's" name is Jenny, an almost-eight-week-old English setter. Last weekend my oldest son and I drove to Kansas to pick her up. I didn't tell him we were actually going to get a pup, just look at them. That was, of course, a despicable lie. Not only were we going to get a pup, but my son would be charged with picking her out. I would have absolutely no influence over his decision, which is about as scientific a method of picking a pup as I know.

Still, when both female pups (There were four females in the litter and I had first pick after the breeder and stud dog owner) were placed on the lawn, the friendly one with the orange eye patch immediately caught my eye.

But I kept my mouth shut. This was his decision. My male chessie Lewey was every bit as much my son's dog as he was mine, and since Lewey's death it's been obvious there is a hole in my son's life that my female, Tess, just can't quite fill. She's a sweet dog, an adored family pet and a great hunting companion, but it's obvious to everyone that Tess considers herself mine and mine alone. Whereas Lewey, from the day he came home made it clear that all of us - myself, my wife, my children - belonged to him. We only half-jokingly called him our half-human dog.

I had originally planned on getting a setter pup before Lewey died, then afterward decided I wasn't ready for another dog, that I'd just wait, see how I felt in a few months and get a chessie pup sometime next year. And I am still going to get a new chessie pup next year. Tess is getting older and besides, I can't imagine not having a couple chessies around.

I will always be a retriever guy at heart. But I kept thinking about how much fun it was bird hunting with my old pointer, DP, and I knew that at some point I was going to get back into pointing dogs, anyway, so why not now?

And when the breeder e-mailed me to say one of his females - a pretty little orange-and-white girl straight from Grouse Ridge Kennels - had just had her litter, I told him to put me down for a female.

So seven weeks later, there I was, exhaling a sigh of relief when my son picked up the little orange-ticked fuzzball  and said "I think I like this one."

I think she's pretty cool, too. We named her Jenny, not after the Mike Gaddis novel Jenny Willow (about an English setter) but after a much-beloved bird dog that belonged to my wife's late grandfather.

She's not a replacement for Lewey, and of course she never will be. Which, I guess, is the point of moving on. She's got her own path to make. But if the past week is any indication of the future, we're going to have a lot of fun walking it.