Friday, August 31, 2012

BC2012: Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S. by Alex Boese

The content of this book is great. Boese has a thorough knowledge of hoaxes (he is curator of the online Museum of Hoaxes and author of a book by the same name). He uses hoax to describe all manner of lies ranging from cons to false news stories to bogus products. The book is organized as a life cycle from birth (fake pregnancy hoaxes) to death ("Elvis is alive" hoaxes). Along the way, Boese declares a number of "reality rules" such as "Just because you read it on the Internet doesn't mean it's true" and "There's nothing real about reality TV." His writing style is entertaining and engaging. Maybe if my grandmother read it, she wouldn't keep forwarding ridiculously false e-mail messages.

Unfortunately, book designer April Ward* sucks eggs. Seriously, this is the most difficult book I have ever read, and that has nothing to do with the writing. Apparently the designer has something against black ink because the entire book is printed with green and brown. I didn't consciously struggle with reading those colors against a white page, but I got awfully tired much more quickly than normal. The sections with white text on brown background also fatigued me. The first page of each chapter was the worst, though -- I could only read the brown text on green background in bright light (I had to stand up and read directly under our ceiling light). Even worse, sometimes the printing was offset a bit, though I can't blame that entirely on Ward.** I know my eyes at 42 aren't what they were at 25 (or even 39), but this book is just horrid. I can recall seeing worse book designs in stores, but this may be the worst that I have ever purchased.

It's a shame because, as I said, the author is smart and funny, and this book deserves to be widely read. By classifying hoaxes and offering rules to judge by, Hippo Eats Dwarf educates readers to more easily recognize b.s. And since most of this stuff gets passed on by people who don't know any better, having more people who do know better should limit the spread of future hoaxes.

* I can't believe she revealed her name, as if she has any reason to be proud of this ugly, almost unreadable lump of crap, but since she did, I'm sharing it with the world. When your design negatively impacts the reader's ability to read the book, you have failed miserably.

** She is still somewhat responsible, though, because she chose ink on ink rather than ink on background, and that printing problem only occurs with the former.


BC2012: The Paolantonio Report by Sal Paolantonio

This book about the most overrated and underrated in NFL history is part of a series, something I learned this week as I perused the clearance section of a Half Price Books. There I found similar tomes about baseball and college football. Their authors, like Paolantonio, work(ed) for ESPN. It isn't the greatest genre. The author is deliberately trying to create controversy, the more the better.

Paolantonio is willing to do whatever it takes, including cherry-picking statistics, to make himself right. Unfortunately, he discusses a lot of players from the era when I didn't follow pro football (early 1990s to mid 2000s), so I can't often tell whether his over/underrated claims make any sense. I do know, just as a logically thinking person, that his section about the most overrated Super Bowl teams is pure bullshit. He asserts that the 1985 Bears, as well as the 1996 Packers, are overrated as Super Bowl teams because they were not dynasties. That is obviously an apples-to-oranges argument at best, though I'd rather classify it as just plain stupid.*

The biggest problem with this book is its age. Paolantonio includes a lot of current players, and since the book was published in 2006, the stats he uses to back up his choices are woefully outdated. A player from the 1970s is probably still as overrated or underrated as Paolantonio says, but a player from the 21st century has had more than half a decade to either fade away or accrue Hall of Fame-worthy stats. Of course, none of this is the author's fault, but it's an important warning to anyone buying the book in 2012.

* If he had written that the 1980s Bears were overrated because they weren't a dynasty, that would be reasonable -- many Bears fans would even agree -- but to disparage one year's team based on their performance in other years is ridiculous. If I say the 1971 Riviera is the coolest looking car Buick ever made (especially from behind),  you can't argue by saying, "No, it is not, because the 1986 Riviera is uglier than sin."  You can't change the parameters just to create an argument and expect to be taken seriously.

BC2012: Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale

I have no memory of purchasing this book. The tag says Half Price Books, and since it's a memoir I probably bought it in the second half of 2011 (I didn't get really into memoirs until the Borders bankruptcy, and the memoirs are often hard to find at HPB so I must have been inspired to look for that section). I probably bought it for my wife. She's into the "city to farm" genre because she dreams of having a farm someday, virtually oblivious to how much work it requires. But it was on top of my "unread" bookcase so I decided to read it anyway.

This book should have been shorter. The last 100 pages or so seemed like a different book. McCorkindale started out writing a memoir, then suddenly it became a disjointed collection of articles, many of which were only barely related to her farm living. It's as if she submitted the manuscript but then her editor said it had to be longer so she pasted a bunch of essays and/or blog entries into the end of the document. Speaking of her editor, she should have cut out the repeated jokes; if you groan the first time you read about the two boobs she gave birth to, you'll gag the second time. And the chapter about men missing the toilet? Geez, how hackneyed is that as a topic? What's next, airplane food?

The memoir part of Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl is sometimes entertaining, even though the author's personality can be annoying. Sometimes she's a Jersey girl. Other times she's Carrie Bradshaw. She talks a little too much about how successful she was as a copywriter and a marketing director (and how she got away with doing no work for a six-figure salary). She isn't much of a farm girl, counterfeit or otherwise. She spends a lot more time making fun of her husband's new job as a farm manager than she does doing any farm work herself. She often whines about how her area is devoid of Starbucks and fancy boutiques... Silly me, I thought that was why city people move to the country anyway, to get away from all that.

For that matter, she acts like she lives out in the middle of nowhere, but she doesn't. Look at Upperville, VA on a map and you'll see that it's only 50 miles from Washington, DC! She probably has neighbors who commute to work in the Virginia suburbs. Sheesh.

Although I wanted to like this book, in the end I guess I didn't. There are certainly some funny stories here, but McCorkindale's personality gets in the way. I am soooo happy to be married to my wife instead of someone like the author.

Weird Observation: This book gets 3.3 stars overall, but the three most helpful reviews and the vast majority of most recent reviews give it one or two stars. My guess is that her blog readers and/or friends pumped up the ratings early, and then the book tanked when the general public tried to read it. She has since published a sequel, and it looks like it may end up rated the same way -- the four lowest ratings are among the six most recent reviews.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

BC2012: Corn Flakes with John Lennon by Robert Hilburn

Hilburn was a music critic for several decades, writing mostly for the Los Angeles Times. Despite the title, this book isn't solely or even mostly about Lennon. It is a career retrospective memoir (not a collection of articles) about the stars who meant the most to Hilburn. As one might expect from a music writer, this "memoir" is more about his interactions with stars than it is about his personal life (the latter is barely mentioned beyond the first quarter of the book).

He devotes special attention to a handful of performers he feels have advanced music to a new level, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono. If the book and Hilburn's career have an overall theme, it is the quest to identify "the next Elvis." There is little about those he considers inconsequential, a list that includes many bestselling but lightweight artists. Punk and metal fans may be disappointed with minimal coverage (I was surprised there was nothing about X or Guns N' Roses (except one quote from Axl Rose) -- Hilburn largely ignores the local L.A. scenes), while rap/hip hop fans will be amazed that a white guy in his fifties "got" their music in the 1990s.

Almost any rock or country fan with broad interests should enjoy Corn Flakes with John Lennon. Others should check the index for their favorites before purchasing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Easy Come, Easy Go

After one short, uneventful shift walking back and forth on Franklin Street, my job doing movie security has temporarily come to an end. Apparently the Teamster who drives the movie trucks told the movie people they had to use his buddy's security instead of us. And if they didn't, he wouldn't drive their trucks.

This doesn't surprise me at all. This is how "The City That Works" really works. See, a guy in the union knows a guy, and that guy is golden. If you're not that guy, then you're fucked.

There was one memorable incident during my inadvertently shortened (long story) shift. The guy in charge (not the guy who hired me) asked me if I had handcuffs. I told him that I did not because I'm not a cop, and if I did, I wouldn't even know how to use them.

"Well, you might want to bring some. Just in case."

Obviously, this guy vastly overestimated what I was willing to do for $16 an hour. I'll walk around and keep my eyes open. If somebody is a little too nosy, I'll talk to them. If some skinny little punk kid tries to steal something, I'll knock him on his ass just for fun. But if it's someone who requires mechanical restraint, I am going to put out a call on the radio and stay out of the way. I am not going to be one of those poor bastards you see on TV --  the security guy at the beginning of C.S.I. or N.C.I.S. who dies before the opening credits.

BC2012: It's So Easy (and other lies) by Duff McKagan

Recently Barnes & Noble sent me an e-mail about an online clearance sale. After paging through hundreds of titles on dozens of pages (browsing books online totally sucks compared to browsing in a store), It's So Easy was the only book I found that remotely interested me. I slipped over to to check out the reviews, and frankly I was shocked -- over 100 reviews averaging five stars! I don't think many rock & roll memoirs have been so favorably reviewed. Needless to say, I ordered it immediately for $5.98 (as a member I get free shipping).

Considering how many times I listened to Appetite for Destruction in my late teens, I don't know much about the guys in Guns N' Roses other than what they play and that Axl is from Indiana. So my previous knowledge of McKagan was simply "played bass in GNR and Velvet Revolver."

I've read a lot of books about rock & roll, and I've read a lot of recovery memoirs. It's So Easy is among the best of both genres. McKagan tells a great story of humble beginnings, a meteoric rise to fame, the all-too-soon implosion of his band, and his struggle to get himself straight. One observes McKagan's life trajectory from "music is all that matters" to "drinking is all that matters" to a balanced lifestyle of family, music, education, exercise, and more. It's far from a complete story of GNR* and an even less complete story of Velvet Revolver. He does, however, write a lot about GNR's early days, various tours, and his frustration with Axl showing up late (particularly the violence his lateness often incited).**

Did you know that Duff beer on The Simpsons is named for Duff McKagan? Axl used to introduce him onstage as Duff "King of Beers" McKagan, and somebody from the show asked McKagan's permission to use the name. Of course, he had no idea at the time that the show would become an American institution.

McKagan did not go through rehab or A.A. to kick his drinking habit. He took up mountain biking! Racer Dave Cullinan (who was grappling with heart troubles at the time they met) became one of his closest friends. Here's one of my favorite stories in the book:
     One Sunday morning I went out to the house of one of Cully's friends to watch some football with a crew of professional mountain bikers. There were some empty beer bottles around.
     One of the bikers said, "Oh man, I'm so hungover."
     "What did you guys do last night?" I asked.
     "We partied like rock stars!"
     "Huh," I said. "What does that mean to you?"
     "I drank a six-pack by myself," said the hungover guy.
     I chuckled.
     Cully nodded in my direction and said, "Oh, don't fuck with this guy."
     Cully knew. I had talked a lot with him since we became friends. Now I told the rest of them. I told them how much I drank, I told them about the blow, the rocks of coke I'd shove up my nose, about having no septum, about throwing up and drinking the throw-up because there was alcohol in it. The whole thing. And their faces dropped.
     "Yeah," said the guy, "We partied like mountain bikers last night."
McKagan moved on to incorporate martial arts training into his recovery as well. In many ways his story is a classic case of replacing harmful addictions with healthy ones. There is even the obligatory relapse.

It's So Easy is well-written*** and entertaining. I enjoyed it even more than I expected. Anyone remotely interested in one of McKagan's bands, recovery memoirs, or even just rock and roll in general should like this book. It's that good.

* For example, McKagan writes about the band choosing Mike Clink to produce Appetite, and a few unrelated paragraphs later he writes "once the Appetite sessions were over..." so there are no details about the recording of this tremendous album. Granted, there are other books that tell that story, but you should be forewarned that this book isn't one of them.

** He does not settle scores or rake anyone over the coals, though. He acknowledges disagreements without really lashing out at anybody. He also keeps the book focused on himself rather than blabbing about what other guys in the band did (the latter being common in rock memoirs).

*** Unlike this review. But seriously, I should mention that unlike many rock memoirs, It's So Easy probably was not ghostwritten. I didn't see any evidence that it was, and considering McKagan writes weekly columns and attended college within the past decade, it's pretty likely that he deserves the credit (along with his editor(s), of course).

BC2012: Bible Babel by Kristin Swanson

Unlike 99% of books about the Bible, this one does not proselytize. Subtitled "Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time", Bible Babel looks at the history, language, characters, and stories of the Bible as well as how they are rendered in popular culture.

I had a harder time than I expected reading this book, although it was much easier than reading the actual Bible (I tried that about 14 years ago; I got bogged down somewhere in Isaiah, which is actually pretty far along in the Catholic Old Testament). Bible Babel has "only" 270 pages of text plus almost 40 pages of footnotes, but it's the kind of book where you always have to pay close attention.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book, but overall it felt like something was missing. It's full of interesting information, though, and I learned a lot. Some of it was relatively trivial but still useful. For example, have you seen "Ezekiel 4:9" breads or cereals? This health food made by Food for Life is inspired by the Bible verse, but what you probably didn't realize is that it was not intended as a good or nourishing recipe:
Ezekiel was a priest as well as a prophet, so he knew and observed the laws that forbade mixing unlike things. To mix all these different things -- different grains and legumes -- into one loaf and to eat it was an abomination to Ezekiel. What's more, the text continues with God commanding Ezekiel to bake the bread on human feces, giving the message of ritual uncleanliness nauseating clarity... I suspect that Food for Life departs from scripture at this point and bakes its products in a conventional oven.
Take that, you sprouted-grain-noshing hippies!

Bible Babel is probably a good introduction for people studying the Bible in an academic sense. For a less scholarly but still insightful and not preachy look at reading the Bible, also check out David Plotz's Good Book.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quote of the Day

The world’s full of jerks, but you can’t go around trying to kill them.
         -- DuPage County Judge John Kinsella

He said this to a woman who set fire to an apartment just a stone's throw -- or perhaps a Molotov cocktail's throw -- from where I lived in the 1970s.

Bastard of the Day

Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley says he wants Chicago to build a new stadium and acquire a second NFL franchise. Here's what makes him a bastard*:
You could build a new stadium, you could have huge international soccer teams come in, you could do the Final Four, you could do anything you wanted with a brand new stadium.
Yes, Mr. (Former) Mayor, we could do things like that someday. But we could be doing those events right now if you had handled the Soldier Field renovation debacle differently (did you know Soldier Field has the smallest seating capacity in the NFL despite serving one of its largest markets?). Or you could have planned a permanent stadium for the 2016 Olympics.

Daley had at least two opportunities to create a large, possibly domed stadium that could host huge events, and he screwed up both of them. So now that he's out of office, he's saying someone should build one.

At least he's calling for private funding. Lord knows he overdrew the account for public funding during his years in office.

* I would not say that calling for a second NFL team makes him a bastard, but frankly I do not know a single Bears fan who would change loyalties to support a new team in town. Not even when the Bears suck.

Monday, August 20, 2012

BC2012: Starting Over by Ken Sharp

I started reading this book about the making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy with great trepidation. Actually, I was leery of even buying it. I knew I wanted to read it, but I also knew it would make me cry. Double Fantasy is a great album (well, at least John's songs), one that sounds even better as the music and the listener get older. But it's also inextricably linked to Lennon's murder.

Starting Over is an oral history drawing from the author's original interviews with about 40 people involved in the project ranging from musicians to recording engineers to photographers. Comments from Lennon come from published interviews from late 1980, including a number from Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times, whose Corn Flakes with John Lennon I began reading as soon as I finished Starting Over. That last sentence shows what I thought of this book. I rarely read consecutive books with overlapping subject matter, but Starting Over left me yearning for more.

Surprisingly, I made it all the way to page 144 without tears. There John describes Double Fantasy's message to his audience:
I'm saying, Here I am now, how are you? How's your relationship going? Did you get through it all? Wasn't the seventies a drag? Let's try to make the eighties good 'cause it's still up to us to make what we can of it. It's not out of our control. I still believe in love, peace.
Of course, he never got the chance to make the eighties good. Just days after he spoke those words, he was gone.

Friday, August 17, 2012

BC2012: Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock 'N' Roll America

Sometimes a book practically jumps off the shelf. When I saw this title at Half Price Books in Highland Park last month, I knew I'd like it before I even cracked it open for a preview. I love rock & roll road trips.

This book by Chris Price and Joe Harland, two Brits around my age, chronicles a quest in honor of country rock legend Gram Parsons' 60th birthday. It's written as a dialogue that covers all aspects of the journey, from what they see and who they meet to the inevitable interpersonal challenges.*

Though there is a fair amount about Parsons in the book, any music fan should enjoy it because the pair visit plenty of other places as well. A series of chance connections even leads them to hallowed musical ground, Johnny Cash's cabin where he made his last recordings with Rick Rubin. And they meet characters like Phil "Road Mangler" Kaufman, a man whose resume is about as "rock and roll" as it gets. Seriously, check it out. He is also the guy who showed up at LAX with a hearse in September 1973 and stole Gram Parsons' body, which he burned in the desert as the deceased had requested.

Live Fast, Die Young is an entertaining, educational, and just plain fun book. It never ceases to amaze me how many Europeans have a greater knowledge of and respect for American music, particularly country and blues, than most Americans do.

* This is why I've taken so many of my own journeys alone.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

BC2012: Cooking Dirty by Jason Sheehan

Uh-oh, the month is half over and I haven't published any reviews yet. I finished my sixth book of August tonight, so I'd better get started...

Cooking Dirty gives insight into the world of the people who cook your meals at restaurants.

Cooks sure are different. At least I can identify with waitstaff although I couldn't imagine doing it myself.* But I could never even hang out with cooks. For some reason, reading Kitchen Confidential didn't drive this home the way Cooking Dirty does. Perhaps it is the pedestrian setting of Cooking Dirty; Sheehan's experience is more ordinary than Anthony Bourdain's, consisting mostly of roadhouses and diners plus a few nicer restaurants in smaller markets (i.e., Buffalo instead of New York City). In short, I can picture Sheehan working at my corner bar & grill, but not Bourdain.**

There are two things that especially annoy me about this book. The title is kind of dumb and not really accurate or appropriate.*** Second, Sheehan ends his memoir with the birth of his daughter, and that is just so cliche.**** Seriously, it seems like half the memoirs I read from people of child-bearing age conclude with a birth or at least a pregnancy. This would get old/irritating even if I didn't have a strong personal aversion to having children. However, I must give Sheehan props for his hilarious and brief description of the blessed event.

Overall I enjoyed Cooking Dirty, though it seemed a little long. Some tales were a bit redundant and perhaps could have been eliminated. I probably didn't need to hear all about Sheehan's cross-country relationship drama either, but hey, it's his memoir so he can share whatever he wants.

What shines through in Cooking Dirty is that despite all the crazy antics and substance abuse, cooks do take pride in their work and strive to do it well. That's reassuring.

Obviously, my general dislike/contempt for other people would make it difficult, plus I don't think I could deal with bad customers in a healthy or even legal way. I would most likely wind up on the receiving end of a pink slip and assault charges.

**  Some Amazon reviewers rip Sheehan for not being famous, but that is precisely his appeal to me. I'll probably never eat a meal cooked by someone famous, but guys like Sheehan feed me several times a week. By the way, none of this should be viewed as a knock on Kitchen Confidential, which I enjoyed reading.

*** The title implies either an unclean kitchen or lots of sex in the kitchen. The text doesn't include much of either. I mean, there may be a few code violations, but this isn't The Jungle of dining by any stretch. The only reason I can see for this title is to pique interest, which makes me wonder if I should have called my book Sex, Drugs and Biking Illinois.

**** Come to think of it, Cooking Dirty is also another damned "how I became a writer" story. Two memoir cliches!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Acting Naturally

I guess today is Beatle Day at DJWriter. Next up, Ringo.
They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star out of me
We'll make a film about a man that's sad and lonely
And all I gotta do is act naturally
Okay, I won't actually be in the movies. Starting Thursday afternoon, I'm going to be working security for a movie. It's mostly just standing around and making sure people don't walk onto the set or try to steal anything. But it's fall in Chicago, a great time to be outdoors. It's a three-month gig, so I might make some real money for the first time in years.

Just Like... What?

Last weekend we were in the car listening to The John Lennon Collection. I love that CD because in addition to his greatest hits, the disc includes almost all of John's songs from Double Fantasy without the interruption of Yoko's songs (I am not a Yoko hater*, but her music just doesn't appeal to me).

As "Watching the Wheels" was ending, I said, "That's my favorite song on Double Fantasy." I didn't expand on that thought aloud, but the song has taken on new meaning for me in recent years since I dropped out of the working world. I always enjoyed it, but now I can really identify with it.

My wife said, "My favorite is 'Imagine'." I explained to her that "Imagine" is not on Double Fantasy and told her which songs are.

She said, "I'd like to say my favorite is "(Just Like) Starting Over"... but then when I think of what the lyrics are about, I know I shouldn't like it."

Huh? I was utterly baffled. I found it very strange that the lyrics about reconnecting as a couple would offend her.** "Um, what exactly do you think the lyrics are about?" I asked.

"It's about leaving his first wife for Yoko, isn't it?"

Wow! I realize that because my wife's parents are divorced, she views a lot of things through that prism. But it takes some selective listening to get that out of "(Just Like) Starting Over"!

* It's hard to hate her knowing how much they loved each other. Besides, the Beatles broke up for a bunch of reasons, so the people who still blame her are just wrong.

** I can't pick "(Just Like) Starting Over" as my favorite from Double Fantasy because I see it as not just a relationship song, but also as a statement about John's return to the music world. And that just reminds me how it was cut short so soon after. Consequently, though it's a great song, I can't listen to it without crying.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Stuff You Don't Learn in College Orientation

When I attended Aurora University in the early 1990s, no one ever told me about the Aurora College killer. Granted, many years had passed since 1976, but on a small, quiet, tight-knit college campus one would expect the tale of such a brutal crime to take on legendary proportions. Then again, I was a commuter student; maybe the story was passed down late at night in the residence halls.

Upon reading the Sun-Times article, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I am surprised that a woman was working as a security guard there in 1976. Aurora College/University was fairly conservative. It originated as an Advent Christian seminary and didn't cut its religious ties until 1971. Perhaps women were allowed to work security just because the chances of any incident more exciting than a couple of drunk students trying to sneak in after curfew seemed remote. I wouldn't be surprised if this incident raised issues about whether women should be doing that job, especially on the overnight shift.

Second, the article says, "As a freshman at Aurora College, Briner had shaved his head and gotten an earring, but he didn’t fit in any better." This article must have been written by someone younger because I can assure you that any man who shaved his head and acquired an earring in 1976 was not trying to fit in. Even in the 1980s, earrings on men were still pretty rare and often associated with homosexuality. In 1990 one of my co-workers showed up with an earring one day, and the boss told him to take it out or go home. And as I mentioned above, Aurora College was pretty conservative so a shaved head and an earring would be decidedly non-conformist.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have had three shots of pink lemonade-flavored vodka before I went out to trim the bushes.

I probably would have cut myself in the same stupid way regardless, though, and at least this way I didn't feel much pain.*

* I'm okay, I just slipped with the pruning saw and cut my left thumb next to the nail. But as a former Boy Scout, I should have been more careful. I guess that's why they don't have vodka at Camporees.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

July - BC2012 and Other Goals

July was generally a good month. My reading totals are back up, and I've really been obsessed with decluttering.

1. Book Challenge 2012: June was a down month for reading, so I'm glad I got back on track in July. I bought more books than I should have, but it could have been worse: Half Price Books had coupons last week and I had a lot of time to kill. July totals: 12 books finished, 9 books acquired. Overall totals: 74 books finished, 47 books acquired.

2. Cut down on e-mail: I have managed to keep e-mail under control this month.

3. Drive less: I drove a little more than usual, including a concert trip to Joliet and a shopping expedition in search of shelving units.

4. Physical activity: Not much. I went for a couple of bike rides. On the last one I got a flat tire, which in my current mindset means the season may as well be over. My heart just isn't in it anymore. (Actually, with my near-legendary aversion to bike repair and maintenance, I'll probably just ride a different bike until they all have flat tires or some other mechanical problem.)

5. Drink more: This was a success on both counts: I drank more water and more booze. I finished off a bottle of Glenlivet French Oak Reserve, freeing precious space in the whisky side of the liquor cabinet (whisky on the left, vodka and other spirits on the right, wine and champagne -- stuff I never drink -- on the shelf underneath).

6. Dine and shop locally: Basking in the afterglow of  Bright Lights, Big Ass, I took a chance on Jen Lancaster's If You Were Here for my locally purchased book this month even though it's <gasp> fiction. I also shopped at the local hardware store and ate plenty of locally prepared meals.

7. Clean and declutter: I'm still kicking ass on this one. I have more than a dozen boxes (300+ books) to donate to Open Books, and our library now has a broad swath of visible flooring! I got rid of dozens of boxes I had been saving in the basement (killing off another hoarder self-delusion -- the "I'm going to sell my stuff on eBay and make a lot of money" myth (I was saving the boxes to ship out my treasures)). I set up shelves in the mud room and continued thinning out the clutter elsewhere. My wife says she's proud to live here again.

8. Enhance and expand my web presence: I didn't make any progress, but I sold another $230 worth of advertising. I also purchased a special offer to convert 400 prints into digital photos, which will save me lots of scanning when I do my Route 66 project -- plus the offer's expiration date sets a deadline for getting started.

9. Figure out my professional future: Nada.

10. Floss regularly: After four months of daily flossing, I think I've established this as a habit.