Zen Graffiti & A Book Safari

Someone painted this on a fence where I parked in downtown Ventura today.

It was like getting a message from God as to the meaning of my life.

Especially after I ordered fish tacos for lunch & got a double order without realizing it until they handed me the tray.

Did I acknowledge the mistake and have them take one order back?

Nope.

I ATE THEM BOTH.

Because…. as the fence says….

Anyway, I trekked to Santa Paula & Ventura today for a nature walk of sorts through library sales and thrift stores, mostly looking for books. Call it my reaction to going to a gigantic estate sale I saw advertised, featuring pictures of over 10,000 (yes, that’s right) books for sale… the vast majority art and music books since the sale was for some old jazz musician… and when I got there, a handwritten sign reading “All Books Have Sold, Sorry” greeted me.

“Yup, some guy brought a truck this morning and bought ’em all,” the guy told me.

I HATE EVERYTHING.

So, compensation today. A nice leisurely drive for a bunch of different stores.

Got a couple of nice cookbooks – another Rick Bayless Mexican book (Mexico One Plate At A Time), a cuisine I really ought to cook more often authentically. I’ve cooked from a couple of his other books and the results were decent, so why not. Also an autographed Chinese cookbook from some restaurant in San Francisco – The China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp – that won me after I read through some of the rather elaborate recipes, but found recipes for Chinese dishes I’d certainly order off the menu that I know I don’t have in other books.

Also a pristine illustrated hardback of a book I’ve got in beaten-up paperback form, Neil MacGregor’s Shakespeare’s Restless World along with a tell-all about the art world book – Tales From The Art Crypt by Richard Feigen.

And then, my PSYCHIC MOMENT – for no reason at all while shaving this morning, I thought of Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes, the collection of nonsense writings he published at the peak of his hot-streak-rise back in 1979 – and I found a first edition of it in a thrift store today and figured that the cosmos was telling me to buy it.

How else did the cosmos communicate with me? Well, for absolutely NO reason, two of the thrift stores on my carefully mapped-out and Yelp reviewed list were closed today, and another one was simply GONE, replaced by a ballet studio. BUT – as I drove down those particular streets back in my route, I spotted ANOTHER thrift store that was NOT on my list and stopped in….

…. and it was run by a Cat rescue and adoption charity!

No store cat, unfortunately, but I gave ’em a nice donation and told them to KEEP HELPING KITTIES.

And now I’m home, so it’s back to drinking and sports.

I hope you’re enjoying your weekend. And I hope you’re helping kitties.

My New Favorite Mafia Boss

I’ll read anything that’s all about Rhode Island mafia. Hell, I’ll write one of my novels about Rhode Island mafia.

I just finished getting through My Life In The Mafia, a 1973 confession by Vincent Teresa, who’d been a major player in the Patriarca organization before turning government witness. Spotting it in some thrift store one day reminded me how my parents had a copy of it for years and I’d neglected to pack it up with whatever I wanted to save from the widdle house I grew up in when I moved out west and everything got packed up, sold or trashed.

Teresa, through writer Thomas Renner, recounts his life in the mob and the various scams and crimes he’d committed over the years. Mostly stolen goods, bookmaking, loansharking and some stock and bond scams. A lot of the crimes he committed are truly dated – the various forms of check cashing and bank fraud would be nearly impossible now.

But in a story about his time in prison before turning informant, he relates a tale involving Carmine “Lillo” Galante. Lillo, a Bonnano family capo, basically ran the mafia section of the Lewisberg federal prison they dropped Teresa in for his securities fraud activities. And much like we saw in Goodfellas, mob guys have different prison lives than the rest of the population, to a degree. Lillo’s prison job was to run the greenhouse, where he grew his own vegetables and set up a nice grill for cooking the steaks and such regularly smuggled in for him.

And don’t put too many onions in the sauce, etc.

Teresa tells a story where Lillo kept 3 cats as pets inside the greenhouse and in his general realm. Evidently some strays had gotten into the prison yards somehow, and Lillo decided to adopt them.

From page 302:

“Lillo had three cats, and they ate better than most of the prisoners. Every morning they had pure cream for their breakfast with an egg beaten in it. The cats were sort of a symbol of freedom to Lillo. He used to say ‘At least they can get outside – they go outside the wall.’

The hacks almost never came to the hothouse, and when they did, it was just to be sociable. None dared tread on Lillo. I remember one problem came up with a hack because of Lillo’s cats. It was a Friday, and we were having fish in the prison dining room. Lillo sidled up to me and said “You’re not eating your fish, are you Fats?”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t eat that crap.”

“Well, I want to take it for the cats,” he said. He walked up the row to the hacks and announced “I’m taking Vinnie’s fish.” Then he put it in a plastic bag with his own fish. The hack didn’t seem to mind, so Lillo sort of added insult to injury. “Those cats are pretty hungry. I’ll take two pieces.”

The hack was standing behind the row where the prisoners went through the food lines to eat at the tables. “Hey!” he shouted at Lillo. “You can’t take two, only one to a man.”

Lillo turned around. He gave him a look that froze him in his tracks. “Hey, I said I’m taking two or three pieces for my cat.” His voice was low and soft, but he had ice at the end of his tongue.

The hack stared back at him. “I said you can’t take them,” he snapped.

Lillo’s eyes narrowed, and that sneer of his looked worse than ever. His voice was soft, but it was menacing, It made my blood run cold the way the words came out. “You got kids at home?” he asked.

The hack looked startled. “What?”

“I said, you got any kids at home?” Lillo said again. “You want to see them?” He sort of paused for effect, letting the words sink in. The hack seemed to nod. “Good… then shut your mouth.” Then Lillo took five pieces of fish slowly, one by one while the hack looked, and he put them in the plastic bag. What he said he meant. He wouldn’t have hurt the kids, but the hack would have an accident one day in prison. He wouldn’t have lived to see his kids, just because of a couple of lousy cats. But that was Lillo. No one defied him.

Continue reading “My New Favorite Mafia Boss”

Friday Art: The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon by Peter Paul Rubens (1622-25)

Museums teem with stuff like this, don’t they? Puffy semi-idealized bodies floating on clouds, gazing at each other lovingly under the warmth of a rainbow, surrounded by mythological figures and cherubs and naked torch bearing babies riding lions drawing a chariot…. Good God, it sounds like a party at Kevin Spacey’s house.

Rubens was a master at this classical baroque style, with prolific production of mythological and allegorical scenes. Rubens catalog is over FOURTEEN HUNDRED pieces. This dude WORKED.

And not only at painting, either – he spoke six languages and got very chummy with a lot of the royalty he worked for and painted. And you know, when people sit for portraits, they chat about stuff. And when royalty and ministers and the like chat about stuff to people they think are just artists, they reveal all sorts of inside-court knowledge and even state secrets, especially if the artist charms it out of them.

Which is exactly what Rubens did. He worked as a spy and diplomat all over Europe while at the same time enjoyed the successful life and reputation of being one of the top artists around.

Continue reading “Friday Art: The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon by Peter Paul Rubens (1622-25)”

Friday Art: The Pony Express by Frank Tenney Johnson (1924)

So the other day when I had some free time, I dropped into one of my more preferred dumpy thrift stores and came up with a copy of The Searchers: Making of An American Classic, which looks like it’ll be an interesting read for a buck and a half. Granted, most of it is not about the making of the film (one of my favorite old westerns) but about the true history story that inspired the film: the Comanche kidnapping of Cynthia Parker and how she became one of their tribe, becoming a wife and mother, including a son who became a Comanche chieftain before her Uncle found her after years of searching & took her back against her will.

The film takes that set-up, with Natalie Wood kidnapped and Uncle John Wayne searchin’ and searchin’, while giving us John Ford’s version of the settlement of the west and what sorts of bigotries and barbarities cleared the way for what is presumably a more civilized nation.

So I thought I’d offer one of the kind of American western paintings that inspired a lot of Ford’s imagery – in terms of landscape, character and even lighting. Frank Tenney Johnson’s Pony Express gives us a wonderful night time view of the western wilderness, with a set of mail riders departing from a very lonely looking stone outpost, the kind that’d turn up as a safe stopover for Ford’s Stagecoach passengers, or contain some creepy would-be bushwhackers like Futterman’s general store in The Searchers.

Johnson was mostly known for works like this, where he painted cowboys by moonlight. He gives us a wonderful cloudy moonlit sky against the weak competition of the glowing lamps from inside the outpost. I love the reflection of moonlight off the body of the big brown and white horse in the lead, too.

WHADDYA WANT ME TO DO, SPELL IT OUT FOR YA? DRAW YA A PICTURE? DON’T EVER ASK ME ABOUT IT AGAIN!

That’ll be the day.

Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019

Some books and movies to discuss this Memorial Day weekend, thanks to several days of clouds ‘n’ drizzle that kept me inside most of the time. So while I’m letting a seasoned porterhouse come to room temperature before I sizzle it up for dinner (I posted a wonderful steak recipe & method here), I’ll tell ya about them.

I knocked off a couple of Hollywood gossipy quasi-bios this weekend, starting out with the one I grabbed a week back aong with a nice haul of other volumes at a big annual library sale – George Jacobs’ Mr. S – My Life With Frank Sinatra. Jacobs was Sinatra’s personal valet from the early 1950s to 1968, the PERFECT time to get all the dish ‘n’ dirt about bad marriages, Rat Pack Tales, the prime years of his music (if you ask me), dalliances with the Kennedys, and so forth. Jacobs mostly focuses on the sex lives of everyone he discusses, so this one was a very entertaining page turner. Sinatra would be incredibly loyal, sentimental and generous to people he liked, and could turn on a dime if he felt betrayed, cutting people completely out of his life & taking the grudge to his grave. Jacobs incurred Frank’s wrath by dancing with Mia Farrow at a Hollywood club, setting off gossip and rumors about affairs and such…. all perfectly innocent in Jacobs’ version, but Frank could never ever forgive the other men who he thought had eyes on “his” women – most often Ava Gardner, who he never could get over – but also the mismatched Farrow. Jacobs spins wonderful anecdotes – little wisps of his observations of Sinatra, and none of ’em disappoint. When I picked it up at the library sale and flipped through it to see if it’d be worth reading, every page I landed on contained another story about Frank getting pissed off at something or someone, smashing a phone, kicking a car radio, or threatening to kill himself – and I said “SOLD!” It was certainly a must-read item, an entertaining behind-the-scenes description of truly monstrous behavior towards people and especially lovers by the overly entitled – just perfect to make me feel both morally superior AND entertained.

Continue reading “Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019”

A Good Review, Just In Time For Christmas

Kirkus Reviews has given my new book Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast the thumbs up!

Here’s an excerpt:

In this fantasy, Berkin (Cut to Wagstaff, 2012) forges humor and intellect into quite a sharp narrative. His employment of time-travel motifs is sometimes goofy, like the dwarfish Timegoblins, who eat vital artifacts and bring chaos to history. Other devices, like quantum linkage, help the siblings borrow their appearances “from alternate versions” of themselves, and introduce young readers to a complicated scientific field. Gastronomic themes also prevail, as time disturbances focus on the invention of the microwave in 1946; the creation of hot sauce in Louisiana in 1868; and the first baking of bread in ancient Egypt. The author offers young and older readers excellent wisdom: “Our world” is “an ongoing experiment of the dreams, ideas, successes and failures of billions of minds.” Timegoblin antics ensure an irresistible sequel.

This fantasy delivers an energetic ode to quantum mechanics and the culinary arts.  – Kirkus Reviews

The entire review can be found here.

Don’t I ALWAYS offer everyone excellent wisdom? I’m sure all of you longtime readers of my widdle blog think so.

Seriously, I find it interesting how that one line of dialogue stuck in the mind of the reviewer. I guess people… well, some people… are actually paying attention.

And DAMN STRAIGHT the sequel will be irresistible. Feel free to start sending me money for it now.

Set up a GoFundMe while yer at it.

Happy Holidays, all. I’ll be back with some movie reviews later this week.

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast Is On Amazon, In Both Paperback & Kindle!

Amazon finally linked up all the web pages into one. Just updated the “Buy My Books” tab up top with this…

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast

 

The first entry in the new YA scifi adventure series!

And since it’s written by yours truly, expect that special brand of Wagstaffian humor throughout! That way, kids and grownups can all enjoy it.

Phigg & Clyde are sister and brother. Phigg solves every puzzle. Clyde can build and fix anything.But all of history has changed! Breakfast has turned into garbage! Can they solve the puzzle of time and fix it?It’s usually Uncle Phineas’ job to travel through history and fix the timelines – but he’s been kidnapped! Without him, Phigg & Clyde must use The Watcher to put history right again. And evil forces within the timesphere have plans of their own – for all of history and especially for Phigg & Clyde…Join them as they journey across thousands of years, all around the world, saving what you love to eat! Recipes Included! Taste along!

That’s right – two smart little kids must learn to be Timekeepers like their Uncle Phineas – guardians of the proper timelines of history! Evil forces have changed the course of history by destroying what we’re supposed to be having for breakfast. Only Phigg & Clyde can put things right again by saving the invention of everything from cereal to the microwave oven to dim sum as they travel all over the world all across time!

Tag along with ’em to find out where everything in your kitchen came from, and pick up some recipes from foods across the world & time.

Just don’t let the Timegoblins or their evil master trick you or trap you somewhere in the past. After all, they have very special plans for Phigg and Clyde…

With wonderful illustrations by Elinor Shapiro, who also did the cover.

 

Get Your Copy On Amazon By Clicking Here!

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast, my new book, NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!!!

Click on this text to get the paperback!

Click on this text to get the Kindle Version with a “Look Inside!” preview!

Now available in both paperback & electronic form – Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast is the first entry in the Phigg & Clyde series!

Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast is the story of a too-smart little girl and her too-clever little brother who have to become time travelers in order to SAVE THE WORLD!

In the first book of the series, the entire timeline of culinary history has gone wrong, and everyone is eating garbage for breakfast. History must be put right, and Phigg & Clyde are the only ones who can do it, since their Timekeeper Uncle has been kidnapped.

Well, they can do it once they learn how to be Timekeepers. And certainly, the forces of EVIL behind these diabolical changes in the breakfast timeline will surely try to stop them…. or worse.

Join Phigg & Clyde as they journey through history –  making sure the right things get invented from Napoleonic France to Imperial Rome to Battle Creek Michigan to Constantinople to Dynastic China to Ancient Egypt and beyond!

Worldwide recipes from modern times & history included so you can cook & taste along!

I wrote this one some years ago and put myself into the frame of mind I put myself in to teach bright middle school aged kids history. All the seemingly strange and random things that Phigg & Clyde need to restore in the timeline are all true, quirky as they are!

So I guess this qualifies as “edutainment,” as it were.

After I endured what can only be described as “Hollywood Hell” as my draft bounced around various entities and unfulfilled promises, I decided to go through my original version of the story, tighten things up a bit, get some wonderful new illustrations by Elinor Shapiro to make the whole thing a better reading experience, and put it up on Amazon beside my Professor Wagstaff detective series.

Who says I can’t write two series at once?

Quinn Martin, Stephen J. Cannell, Steven Bochco and Aaron Spelling just nodded in agreement, at least on my Ouija board.

SO THERE!

Anyway, click on the link, get yourself a copy, and write a review on Amazon! The paperback & kindle links will match up within 48 hours, they tell me… that’s when I’ll add it to the “Buy My Books” tab. In the meantime, you can switch around.

Thanks and hope ya enjoy it!

 

 

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