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What Are Dreams Made Of? June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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A quick note relating to a dream I had last night.

Not a dream with some celebrity in it where the plotline gets surreal and bizarre…. sorry, I save those gems for the Wagstaff novels.

In this dream, I met a woman who complimented me on my hair out of the blue as I walked past an old now-gone drug store in a shopping center from my childhood. You’d think I’d’ve known I was dreaming at that point, but I simply stopped in my tracks and decided to talk to her.  Hell, overcoming my shyness and chatting about my haircut with her should have clued me in that I was in a dream.  But I guess I’m bolder in the dream universe, so I talked with her about getting my haircut and checked her out and see if I could get a date out of it.

Much like what I’d do in real life, I made a point of looking at her eyes while I talked, since I either revert to my “Hey, Jim must be on the spectrum!” behavior of looking away from people as I talk, or reverting to my “Hey, Jim is a friggin’ dirty old sod” behavior by looking, well, elsewhere.

So because of that focus on her eyes, I got to study this young woman’s face while I chatted with her.  The image of that face stuck with me when I woke out of the dream and saw 5:53am on the clock. I thought about the face for a moment and it mystified me.

For  the life of me, I have absolutely NO idea who it was. (more…)

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Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1977 Big League Brothers, Rick & Paul Reuschel June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’ve always liked the multi-player “special theme” cards Topps would do every so often. What I like the most about this one is how neither of these guys look like major league ball players. Without the names and the tell-tale 1977 design font and so forth, doesn’t this look like a polaroid from some company softball game?

“Here’s Rick and Paul, right before the BBQ and sack race…”

Paul Reuschel’s career with the Cubs only lasted a few years, but younger brother Rick had a pretty solid, if uneven, 19 year career in the majors. Rick had his best season the year this card came out, winning 20 games and finishing 3rd for the Cy Young.

The Cubs would trade Rick Reuschel to the Yankees in 1981, where he managed to play in the World Series, although without stellar numbers. He wound up back on the Cubs during their heartbreaking 1984 season, where they FINALLY reached the playoffs. For some reason, Reuschel was left off the playoff roster, and the Curse of the Goat went into action. The Cubs won the first 2 games of a best of five against the Padres, and then dropped 3 straight. They’d have to wait another 32 years for a World Series at Wrigley.

Reuschel got dealt to the Pirates and Giants after that, won a comeback player of the year award, wound up in another World Series in 1989 with the Giants, but they lost to the As and Reuschel finished his career sans World Series ring.

In today’s game, with the scientifically developed conditioning regimens, the constant spectre of PEDs floating around, and the overall athleticism of the majority of the players out there (regardless of height), seeing a pair of guys who look like these make the majors and in Rick’s case, have a long solid career as a reliable stopper fooling batters with speed changes and finesse…. well, it’s just something I’ll always love about baseball.

Football? You better be a big guy, made of iron to take all those hits.

Basketball? You gotta be tall, and also made of iron to take all those hits.

Hockey? You gotta be all those things, PLUS not care about getting all your teeth knocked out, PLUS be ready at any moment to get in a brawl.

But baseball? You can be an average schlub and play the sport….depending on your skills and how you use them.

 

The Slow & Ambling Paths of Plot Percolation June 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Writing.
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“So, where do your ideas come from?”

It’s one of the more common questions writers are asked.

While still promoting the current Wagstaff novel, I’m also into the develop-the-outline stage of Wagstaff 3 at this point, even while I hone the edges on a different series of books that will appear shortly.

Bow down, helots! I’m a multitasker!

I also made a fresh fettucine bolognese completely from scratch today, but you already knew I’m a CULINARY GENIUS.

Anyway, to get back to the “where do my ideas come from?” tack, since the Wagstaff series regularly features motifs, actors and plot points from all sorts of old movies and TV shows all mashed up together, damn near anything I watch might wind up in one, somewhere.

Especially if all that pop culture junk turns up in some off the wall dream I have. Every dream Wagstaff has in both of the books that turn out to be clues are ACTUAL dreams I’ve had in real life, by the way.  But that’s for another post.

Today, I wound up watching a couple of obscure movies I can tell you about.

I’ve already thought of the main-plot-drivin’ films I think I want to mine for the plotline of Wagstaff 3, but if any quasi-related tangential material crosses my radar, I usually feel obliged to watch it, just in case some detail or odd factor inspires me to use it. It’s basically the same mentality I use when browsing yardsales and thrift stores – I never know what might turn up, but after something does, it feels totally natural.

Today I started by watching Nick Carter: Master Detective, the first of three Nick Carter movies (more…)

Commemorative Baseball Card of the Day: T206 Willie Keeler portrait, circa 1910 June 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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The way-bac machine is traveling to damn near the beginning of baseball cards for this entry.

Wee Willie Keeler. “Hit ’em where they ain’t!”

Today is the day Keeler’s 44 game hitting streak ended in 1897, the year Quentin Collins became a werewolf.

His record would stand until Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak in 1941. Pete Rose would tie him with a 44 game hitting streak in 1978. No one has come close since.

Granted, 1890s baseball was not modern baseball. A real deadball era, where Keeler’s skills in bunting and spray-hitting were valued over slugging, which really came in with Babe Ruth & using fresh baseballs throughout the game. Keeler’s record of consecutive 200 hit seasons wouldn’t be broken until Ichiro Suzuki passed him in 2009. In some ways, Ichiro’s hitting style was a throwback to Keeler’s days, with the spray hitting, bunting, sacrifice, etc.

The survival length of Keeler’s hitting records is amazing. And he’s also credited with basically inventing the hit and run strategy.

He’d unfortunately develop tuberculosis and die way, way too young at age 50 in 1923.

A relation, Edith Keeler, was allowed to die by Captain Kirk in order to restore the proper historic timeline, despite the heartbreak.

Okay, maybe not ALL of this post is accurate. But the baseball stuff certainly is.

Today’s Heartwarming Creepy Old Man Story June 16, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General.
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No, not me. This is ANOTHER creepy old man.

So today I had to drive down to some medical office and give my mom a ride home when her regular ride could not be reached due to telephone problems (long story, whatever). We made the most of it and swung by the best deli in LA for lunch since it wasn’t too far off, and then I dropped her off.

Then I figured since I wouldn’t be back in the Valley for a while, I’d swing by a big thrift store I liked over in North Hollywood to see their book selection.

Hell, yesterday between a YMCA fundraiser and a big dumpy thrift store in Reseda, I’d scored BIG – 9 total books between the 2 stops, with material on stolen art rings, history of food, old movies, and an autographed first edition of a Martin Yan cookbook, among some other items.

I hoped my luck would continue. So I took the long way back to the freeway which would swing me by a regular book hunting stop.

Unfortunately, pickings were thin. It looked like they’d been gleaned pretty well without replenishment from new donations. The only books worth getting were ones I already had (some Lidia Bastianich cookbooks) and ones I really didn’t need (even more cookbooks). Meh, whatever.

Two guys going through the books discussed how the store had been “going downhill” and how there wasn’t as much to pick from. Then one of ’em told a story I eavesdropped on as I browsed about buying some big box of English lace at an auction. I kept hoping he’d discuss wearing it so the story would really get interesting, but he only mentioned it since he had found a book about British lace at this store shortly after that where he discovered that some of the stuff he had was evidently worth quite a lot. Who knew?

And then there was the creepy old dude. (more…)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Belmont Stakes 2017 June 8, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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The house feels weird without my cat around. It seems bigger. It’s definitely quieter. And making some chicken salad yesterday without her pestering and bullying me for some felt very lonely.

So I’ve been keeping busy. I’m refining the story outlines for two more books and preparing another for publication in the next few months. Watch this blog for updates! This new book will be the start of a second series, a scifi adventure series for older kids, but certainly one that adults could also enjoy. As much as I bitch about living in the age of terminal adolescence, I may as well try to cash in on it.

And speaking of cashing in, I’ve gone through the lineup and past performances of this year’s Belmont Stakes entries, and have the following thoughts. (more…)

I Will Miss Her June 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cat Thoughts, General.
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Sad news: my 8 year old Siamese, the star of “Cat Thoughts” on this blog,  lost her year and a half long battle with cancer.

I had her seven years, adopting her as a rescue momcat who had been abandoned along with her kittens. Someone found her, brought her & her family to Kitten Rescue. They let her wean her kittens & spayed her, adopting all of them out. They assumed from her small size that it had been her first litter, and she was probably a little more than a year old.

She was a shy one with strangers, and took a few days to get used to me. For those first few days, she’d hide during daylight hours and suddenly get brave at night, coming out to explore everywhere while meowing nonstop orders at me to open more doors, lift her up to more shelves, and the like. Next morning? Terrified kitty, back hiding under the bed. I thought about naming her Vampirella.

Eventually she did what all cats do, took over my house and declared herself the boss. Over time I figured out what sorts of toys she liked and what sorts she’d ignore. (more…)

Yay! A Plug In Rhode Island’s Major Alternative Publication! June 1, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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Rhode Island’s legendary Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World column in MotifRI has given yours truly a booster shot in their latest column!

Phillipe and Jorge have been writing from Casa Diablo for many years now, offering their darkly humorous take on the cesspit of Rhode Island politics among other topics. Back in the pre-internet days of voluminous dead-tree alternative city papers, they appeared in The Providence Eagle before moving on its competitor, The New Paper, which eventually got swallowed up by it’s Boston counterpart and rose from the takeover ashes as The Providence Phoenix.

The Phoenix folded some years ago, Phillipe & Jorge (otherwise known as Rhode Island’s legendary Rudy Cheeks and Eagle sportswriter Chip Young – OMIGOD, I UNMASKED THEM, SUBPOENA ME IMMEDIATELY!) migrated to MotifRI.

Here’s what they had to say if you didn’t click on the link above:

New Book Reeks of Rhody (and a Lot More)

Kudos and congrats to Casa Diablo regular and Vo Dilun native Jim Berkin  (nee, Berkowitz) whose recently published second book in his Professor Wagstaff mystery series is now available via Amazon. Its title is Wagstaff & Meatballs and is loaded with pop culture and Vo Dilun references (from Brown and RISD to OC — that’s organized crime, aka, LCN, for the uninitiated). The book is a detective/mystery/comedy that would make two of its inspirations (Groucho and Providence’s own SJ Perelman) proud.
Jim has been teaching college courses in history, film and television in the southern California area for many years now. We highly recommend this book as a light and fun summer read.
Your superior correspondents do not wish to provide any spoilers so we hope this brief description will suffice. The first Wagstaff mystery, Cut to Wagstaff, is also available on Amazon and, to find out more about the author (one of the few people P&J know who was a contestant on “Jeopardy”), go to jimberkin.com.

I teach college? Who knew? I don’t know about you, but I’m not insisting on a correction!

Now, to be fair – I’ve known Rudy since my college days. I met him when he regularly ran “Comediac,” a weekly screening of so-bad-they’re-great movies at a local bar called One Up that I really miss. He’d screen stuff like Ed Wood films and The Creeping Terror and Humanoids From The Deep and, of course, The Brainiac, while adding one-liners and commentary via a portable mic and speaker.

And yes, this was YEARS before Mystery Science Theater 3000. I always thought Rudy had pioneered the idea.

Those regular Monday night Comediacs, drinks and all, helped me immensely in compiling material for my honors thesis in college. There was no other way I could have been able to see all those films in such a short amount of time in that pre-internet streaming world. I give those Comediac nighta a brief homage in Wagtaff & Meatballs when I refer to an alcohol-improved nerd argument I had with Eagle film critic Les Daniels about Rock & Roll High School during a game of pool.

Rudy wrote two regular columns for those alternative papers, his own “That Proves It” column, titled as a nod to Plan Nine From Outer Space, and co-wrote the Phillipe & Jorge bit as well. His long history with Rhode Island’s rock and blues scene is well known, starting out as the sax player for The Fabulous Motels and then as sax player/comic/songwriter with The Young Adults, who I guess could be Rhode Island’s early 1970s pre-answer to The Tubes meet The Dead Milkmen by way of Bo Diddley, I guess. Members of the Young Adults would go on to play alongside fellow Rhode Island blues legends like Duke Robillard (who I saw live one New Year’s Eve at One Up) and Roomful of Blues.

Rudy would go on to a morning radio gig on the top FM rock station in Providence after I moved away from Providence, as well as an AM afternoon talk radio program.

Rudy would appear with the Young Adults in the Rhode Island based rock comedy It’s A Complex World, the title coming from one of the Adults’ best loved songs.  Much more information on the film at the link!

Rudy suffered a stroke in the past year, but he’s been recovering nicely through the struggle. Slowly but surely, he’s lost weight and gotten his energy back, and is gradually recovering dexterity and mobility. His eye surgery was also a complete success and he can once again see out of both eyes. Well, how the hell do you think he read my book, anyway?

Best of luck to Rudy in his recovery, and thanks for the mention in the column. It’s not easy way out here in California to spread word about Wagstaff & Meatballs in Rhode Island, where everyone LOVES anything about Rhode Island, so thanks for the help!

 

 

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Kellogg’s 1972 All-Time 3D Greats – Babe Ruth May 30, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’m not sure how many boxes of Kellogg’s Danish Go-Rounds I snarfed down to get the all-time great 3D card in every box. But it must have been a lot.

Thanks, mom, for buying them! Never mind my teeth and the sugar high, I guess as long as it kept this then-little bastard full and happy, it meant keeping it on the weekly grocery list for Almacs!

And with my mouth stuffed with pastry, I couldn’t talk. Certainly a win for mom.

I’ve got a lot of the cards, but some of ’em might have come in trades for other 3D cards, or more likely, assorted traditional Topps cards.

I prized this one the most. I also agree with it.

They had greatest cards for every position – Greatest First Baseman (Gehrig, if you’re curious), Greatest Shortstop (Wagner), Greatest Right Hand Pitcher (Walter Johnson) along with some runners-up like George Sisler and Eddie Collins. The backs were manna for this baseball history geek – lifetime stats & a bio, along with some basic analysis justifying the ranking.

Before the internet, that kind of writing was hard to find!

You kids and your damn fancy interwebs, by cracky, get off my lawn….

Every now and then I look on ebay for cards to complete my set of these. They’re not too expensive, although I don’t get 1970s pre-high fructose corn syrup sugary breakfast pablum with ’em.

And which ones are out of date? Has anyone come along since 1972 to assume the BEST at any position? I’d certainly argue for Derek Jeter at shortstop. And I’d add a “Best Relief Pitcher Ever” card for Mariano Rivera. It’s the Yankee fan in me, I guess.

I vividly remember the endless arguments I’d have with my baseball card collecting friends back then over this card. Ruth? Greatest ever? C’MON! You gotta be kidding! EVERYONE knows Ted Williams was a better hitter and woulda put up numbers like Ruth if he hadn’t missed those years in military service! NO, WRONG! EVERYONE knows Mantle was better, since if he hadn’t blown out his knee stepping on that sprinkler in 1951 he’d’ve outdone the numbers AND WHAT ABOUT HANK AARON and….

No.

Just…. NO!

Ruth is the best ever.

His hitting stats are on par with the best hitters of the game. Is he the best hitter ever? Well, I’ll conceded that’s arguable… but NONE of those other hitters – Aaron, Mays, Williams, Griffey Jr., Bernie Carbo…

Okay, maybe not Bernie Carbo. But I always liked the guy.

Anyway, NONE of them could PITCH.

Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the American League for the Red Sox. He set records that held for 80 years or more. If he had continued pitching, he’d’ve been mentioned in the same comparison pieces as Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, instead of being compared to Gehrig, Williams, Foxx, and every other slugger IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING HISTORY OF THE GOD DAMN GAME.

AND he got more hookers than ALL OF THEM COMBINED!

GREATEST EVER!

CASE CLOSED!

I don’t think Kellogg’s listed the hookers on the back of the card (or their stats), however. Despite the 3D, there just wasn’t enough room.

I’d like to think the immortal babe ate Danish Go-Rounds off naked hookers bodies. It’s the Yankee fan in me.

 

 

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1962 Wally Moon (No Cap) May 28, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I started this baseball card of the day exercise to keep me freshly writing on this blog. Hopefully it’ll rev me up enough to post some longer pieces on television, movies, and the like. And ultimately, it’ll get me into the ZONE to start working on a new book.

Although – BREAKING NEWS! – I plan on putting an older novel on Amazon fairly soon, once some additional work in completed on it. Watch this space for details!

Another benefit of the baseball card exercise is how it’s made me dig through my boxes and albums of all my cards. I’ve forgotten so much of what I actually have that opening the boxes and discovering some of the cards in my collection is like finding them for the first time at some yard sale or thrift store! I got that same little adrenaline rush, I guess.

I haven’t bought new cards for years. As much as I’m still a sports fan, it wouldn’t have the same vibe to it, I’d never sit around looking at all of them, and much like the complete sets I bought in the 1980s, they’d mostly just sit in their boxes. The older cards connect more to childhood memories, or much more often, my fascination with legendary players, stars and motifs of the past.

The motif I loved about this Wally Moon card from 1962 ought to be obvious – LOOK AT THAT DAMN UNIBROW!!!! IT’S AWESOME!!!

Moon was an all-star outfielder who won Rookie of the Year in ’54 with the Cardinals. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He’d get dealt to the Dodgers in 1959 after a weak season, but bounce back to some decent hitting in support of the bigger sluggers on the team. Mostly a defensive star, Moon earned a Gold Glove and would be an integral part of 3 Dodger championships in 1959, 1963 and 1965.

BUT THAT UNIBROW!!!!!

And as an added bonus, my exploration of my card collection opened my eyes to various quirks in the history of Topps. There were TWO versions of Moon’s card in 1962: mine, where he has no cap, and this other one where he’s wearing it. And it figures the cap version is the more valuable one. Ah well. At least you can still see the unibrow.

Moon played sports in a different era, all right. If you’re a major sports star in 2017 recognized for your unibrow, you trademark it like Anthony Davis of the Pelicans did.

Now THAT’S a yiddishe kopf!