The End Is Near

Where have I been?

Completing the multitude of tasks, large and small, that attend the approach of a new book’s release date. The jacket needs work; the website needs work; proofs must be read and re-read; reviews must be sought.

Sample chapters are usually a buzzkill on a blog, but here’s Chapter One anyway. Eventually this and a few more chapters will be up at EbbPress.com.

Everything’s finalized; “The End Is Near” will be out the last week of September.

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The End Is Near

Chapter One


The first Angel of Death came to me on my seventh day here.

My seventh conscious day, I should say.

I woke from a sweaty, haunted nap and there she was, sitting in the wooden chair by the door.

Napping is most of what I do here at the Hudson Maxim Long-Term Care and Rehabilitation Unit, since I emerged from five weeks of coma, minus my jaw and a lot of my face, my head a beanbag of buckshot. Napping and filling one notepad after another with hastily scribbled replies and requests.

“Well! Hi there!” the Angel of Death said.
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Detours To Nowhere

The militia news stories come more and more frequently now. The latest one, out of Michigan, introduces a new extremist revolutionary buzzword to the lexicon, Hutaree, but otherwise serves up the usual sad characters and settings.

Underemployed men wearing US Army surplus camouflage, target-shooting and practicing “military maneuvers” in the woods. Single-wide trailers jury-rigged together with plywood and sheet metal. Yards full of cast-off furniture, car parts, and underfed pets. Kids pulled out of school for the purposes of “home schooling.” Men and women with too much time on their hands, too much misdirected rage.

I often wonder how these people can afford to stock up so liberally (if I might use the term) on munitions. I mean, I don’t know about you, but after I pay the month’s bills—the cable, the phone, the mortgage, the credit cards, the electricity—there’s hardly any money left for grenades or extra clips of ammunition for the M16 assault rifle. Some people can stretch a paycheck, I guess.
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Reflections In Compressed Time

Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam ponders the future in 1997

The other day, I got a poke. A Facebook poke.

And I thought, god, that really takes me back. All the way back to, well, August. Jeez, those were the days.

I can’t really blame the author of the poke for being behind the times. He’s a guy I knew in college twenty-some years ago and he lives in Japan. They do things differently out there. Friendster, it’s said, is still very popular in Pacific Rim countries like the Philippines.

At any rate, I was struck by just how distant the era of the Facebook poke seemed to me. I had a similar reaction to Ondi Timoner’s We Live In Public, a documentary account of the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Josh Harris, one of the first e-commerce instant millionaires of the mid-90s. It was Harris who first postulated that web culture would lay waste to mainstream media and that we would be streaming our lives in real time over the Internet, with little regard for privacy. Unfortunately, he conceived these ideas in a world of beep-blooping dial-up modems and single-frame-per-second image streaming, so his innovations (and his creepy webcam surveillance experiments) earned him more notoriety than respect.

This was during an era when it was still possible to become an instant celebrity by merely turning a webcam on yourself. I can still remember plugging my first Gateway PC into the wall in 1997 and enduring the interminable wait for my modem to connect to the Internet so I could watch Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam sit at her desk and file her nails. Millions were enthralled. The future arrived and then became the distant, hazy past in a matter of months.
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Bloomberg’s Boondoggle

Of all the things we don’t need, a new World Trade Center—or a $3.1 billion “Freedom Tower”—is one of the things we don’t need the most.

I know this for a fact because when those American Airlines planes hit the Twin Towers at 9am and 10am on a Tuesday morning in September of 2001, the buildings were virtually empty. Indeed, more than half the floors of both towers were vacant and unleased. Nutjob religious extremists, in their single-minded obsession with a recognizable American landmark, had managed to strike one of the least populated areas in Manhattan. The death count would have been higher if the terrorists had targeted Kim’s Video on St. Mark’s Place.
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Owe is for Olympics

Some day, maybe we’ll all be as smart as the Swiss.

In 2003, four cities made the shortlist with their bids to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Salzburg, Austria; Bern, Switzerland; Vancouver, British Columbia, and PyeongChang, South Korea. At the last minute, however, Bern pulled out of the bidding when the results of a public referendum revealed that the citizens of Bern were adamantly opposed to hosting the Winter Olympics.
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The New Art of Conspicuous Plagiarism

Here at the EZED, we’re probably not as familiar with emerging literary trends as we should be. As much as we try to stay current with this year’s faked memoirs, collaborative “open source” novels, and posthumous novels assembled from dead Nobel Prize-winning authors’ index cards, we still often find ourselves behind the curve. So imagine our surprise and delight as we discovered this week that plagiarism, once widely denigrated, has now been rehabilitated and repositioned as a genuine literary art form.

Seventeen-year-old German author Helene Hegemann has been earning a lot of praise lately for her novel “Axolotl Roadkill,” a tale of a pretty young German girl’s scandalous adventures on the Berlin nightclub scene. What’s that you say? Standard sex-and-drugs nihilist confessional fare, thinly veiled as fiction and sold on the basis of the comely author’s jacket photo?

Hardly!
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Return to Key West: Part Two, R.I.P. Captain Tony

Outside the Green Parrot. In 1992, I think.

I was in a convenience store on Caroline Street, Sunday after the post-race party, a six pack of Fiji water and a laughably overpriced mini-bottle of Aleve in my hands, watching as the proprietor punched out tickets on the lottery machine and talked to the guy in front of me, a fortyish guy in cargo shorts, cap, and boat logo T-shirt.

“How’d it go, last night?” the proprietor asked.

“Bad,” he said. “Bad again. It was hardly worth going out.”

“It’ll turn around,” the proprietor said, with little enthusiasm. “I keep hearing on the news. The economy has already bottomed out.”

“Screw the economy,” the guy in front of me said. His shirt advertised Key West sunset cruises. “We’re all waiting on Cuba. Once Cuba opens up, we’ll all be sitting pretty.”

“Ah, Cuba.” The proprietor handed a couple of tickets to the boat guy. “There’s always Cuba.”
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Return to Key West: Part One, Requiem for Red’s

At Captain Tony’s. September, 1990.

So here I am, an old man sitting under an umbrella at a streetside table, a frosty glass of MGD Extra Light before me, a plate of fish tacos on the way, my laptop open on a tiny table. It’s late afternoon, I’ve just arrived in town, and later on I’ll walk up to the marina to pick up my Half Marathon bib number and entry packet. There’s some kind of pasta dinner later, which I may or may not attend, depending on how I feel. The 6am flight to Miami and 180-mile drive from there through the Keys have left me feeling pretty fatigued.

Twenty years ago, when I first started coming down to Key West, I used to arrive at wherever I was staying, throw my suitcase on the bed and go out looking for a bar or four and a good time. Even in later years, when I started coming down for the yearly Key West Literary Seminar, there was always at least one day when I would drift away from the polite book signings and moderated discussions on “Opening Prose to the Light of Being” to start the morning (well, okay, 1pm) on a barstool at the Green Parrot. One of those days might take me to the Schooner Wharf Bar for lunch and an earful of Michael McCloud, a return trip through Captain Tony’s, The Bull, Sloppy Joe’s, and the Red Garter Saloon, a nighttime stumble southward into the waters off Smathers Beach, and another stop or three besides on the way back to the Green Parrot for closing at 4am.
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The Store With The Friendly Spirit

Photo © Frank H. Jump

When it opened in 1911 on a 23-acre city block between Broad Street and Halsey Street in downtown Newark, the Hahne & Company department store was home to over 400,000 square feet of selling space on five floors. It contained more than two acres of plate glass windows, had a formal dining room (The Pine Room), and was arranged around a massive atrium that occupied the center of the building from the first floor through the fourth. It was dubbed “The Store With The Friendly Spirit.” Two thousand people worked there.

By the time I arrived at its employees’ entrance on a gray, snow-spitting day in February of 1988, hardly anybody worked there. Hahne’s was a vast gloomy cave that smelled powerfully of rotting carpet and draperies. To get to the advertising department, I had to walk up three deactivated wooden escalators to the fourth floor and across a vast open space littered with fallen ceiling tiles and lighting fixtures. The advertising department was located in the rear area of the fourth floor and occupied itself primarily with creating ads that ran in the Newark Star-Ledger and Bergen Record. The tagline at the foot of those ads read “Hahne’s, A New Jersey Tradition.” But it was a tradition on its last legs.
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The End of the Literary Marketplace

When I was in my late teens and twenties, the record stores I shopped in were packed with people just like me. We’d all be shoulder to shoulder at the record bins, flipping through vinyl, occasionally plucking out a potential purchase while smirking at the hopelessly uncool selections of those around us. Later, in the ’90s, as I entered my thirties, I never really stopped buying records (though they were CDs by then) and I would often notice that I was the oldest shopper in whatever store I was in. I was a man among kids.

Skip forward again, as I closed in on my forties, and a funny thing happened. The kids disappeared. It didn’t happen gradually. One day they were clogging the music store aisles, clutching their Smashmouth and Offspring CDs, and the next day they were gone. Today, there are three record stores within a day’s drive of my house (Princeton, Red Bank, and Fords, NJ) and when I go to any of them, I know who I’ll find there before I enter the door. People just like me. Fortyish guys, fiftyish guys. Record collectors. Old music geeks who never gave up the habit. Once again, some thirty years later, I have only my own contemporaries for company.
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