February 9, 2001



Wrong and Wrong


I got a hair up my ass awhile ago to start reading again; you know, actual books rather than cereal boxes and magazines, like I used to do when I was a kid. I used to read voraciously, but I've gotten out of the habit as I've gotten older. So I decided to change that. I decided to buy me a book.

I pondered for awhile what kind of book I'd buy. I was very big on Ludlum in my college days, I've read everything Stephen King has published, I'm a huge Harlan Ellison fan, and me and science fiction used to be the best of friends. These are the fields I usually haunt when I'm looking for some printed entertainment, but this time I wanted to try something different, something new. Out of nowhere came an urge to meet a gumshoe classic: Philip Marlowe.

I took Zoe to the bookstore with me and browsed the shelves with half an eye on them and half an eye on her as she browsed in the kids section. It's hard to to browse for books while you're keeping an eye on someone, especially a little someone who keeps wanting you to come help her browse. You tend to get a little distracted.

I ended up doing my browsing by sections: I'd scan one shelf width from top to bottom, then I'd go over to the kid's section and read a book to Zoe, and when I was finished with her book I'd return to looking for one for me.

[As an aside, I came to realize that kid's books is where the $$$ is at. The book I ended up taking home was 526 densely written pages long and cost $14.00. The books I was reading Zoe were maybe 20 pages long, had about 10 words per page, and cost about $14.00. I think all you aspiring novelists out there might want to reconsider.]

What with Zoe's calls for attention and my lousy memory, the name of the writer I was looking for just dropped right out of my head. I knew he wrote mysteries set in 40's-era Los Angeles featuring a private dick named Philip Marlowe, I knew he was famous, I knew his name was Raymond... Something. Couldn't for the life of me come up with his last name.

So I'm browsing the shelves and dealing with Zoe and looking for books written by Raymond Something-or-Other and I finally came across the guy: Raymond... Carver! Yeah, that's it! -- I think. There were three or four of his books there on the shelf, all of them short story collections. The blurb said that he "...had established himself as one of the great practitioners of the American short story..." and that his stories could " counted among the masterpieces of American fiction."

Well, hmm... I thought he wrote novels, not short stories. But he is well-regarded, so that whole "great practitioner" thing seems right. And he's dead, so the quote about his "early death in 1988" sounds right -- only I thought he'd been gone longer than that. And the blurb says he'd been published in places like The New Yorker and a gang of other "literary" magazines that I didn't think printed detective-type stories, but I don't read them so what do I know. Well, okay. This must be the guy.

So I bought Where I'm Calling From and took it home and started reading it. Hated it. Got through seven stories, up to about page 75, with not a moll or a murder or a gin joint or a Los Angeles landmark in sight. Instead, what I had here was page after page of go-nowhere/do-nothing stories that were just putting me to sleep. Fat guys in coffee shops and the waitresses who served them. Kids arguing over fish they'd caught. Wives who keep their husbands up nights talking in bed. Languid, slice-of-life, New Yorker-type stories. The kind of stories that make me wonder what inspired someone to go to the time and trouble to write them and just why other people like to read them. Nothing against that stuff, it just ain't for me. I need something more in my stories, things like, oh... Action. Plot. A beginning, an end. You know, the little things.

So after slogging through as much of the book as I could take, I couldn't understand why people made so much of Raymond Chandler for writing stuff like thi-- Wait a minute. Raymond Chandler. Chandler, not Carver! I bought the wrong book, written by the wrong guy! I'm an idiot.

Back to the bookstore I went, home I came with a collection by Raymond Chandler: Trouble Is My Business. Page after page of Old School LA, dames and rods and dead guys. Ahhh, that's more like it. Action. Plot. A beginning, an end. Everything a good story needs.

A couple days later I made a similar, but even more painful mistake. I found myself with an afternoon free and decided to catch a movie. I checked the paper and found that Shadow of the Vampire was playing nearby at the right time, and since I'd heard good things about it I decided I'd see it. So I motored up to the theater and then totally forgot what movie I was there to see. I looked at the showtimes and there it was, 12:45: Sugar & Spice.

Oh. My. God.

Two minutes into it I knew that something was horribly wrong. I couldn't understand why I'd wanted to see this, but I figured I must have had a good reason so I stayed. And oh my God, it just got worse and worse and worse. I'd seen the trailers and they really had taken every single bit of anything even remotely approaching being entertaining and used those bits in it. Everything else, all 99% of what was left, was utter crap. The 1% that wasn't utter crap was still crap, it just wasn't steaming. This was one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and that's saying something since I've only walked out of two in my entire movie-going career. Sugar & Spice was so bad that it made the (moot, but I'll say it anyway) excreble Eric Roberts flick I caught on satellite later that night look good by comparison.

I'm getting to where I don't trust myself. Next thing I know, I'll be singing along to Britney Spears.

I think I did it again
I made you believe we're more than just friends
Oh baby
It might seem like a crush
But it doesn't mean that I'm serious
'Cause to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Oh baby, baby

Oops!...I did it again
I played with your heart, got lost in the game
Oh baby, baby
Oops!...You think I'm in love
That I'm sent from above
I'm not that innocent


Oh God. I did that from memory. Help me.