Book Reviews: Stolen Books, Storms, Living Dolls, and Medusa

As I walked out with the gorgeous blonde, I said, “If you guys don’t hear from me by tomorrow. . . tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter.”

A Murderous Storm
This is a murder mystery in the northern part of Germany—wasn’t sure if it was Deutchland or Dutchland for a while—told in first person, where in the first scene the three fishermen are listening to and talking about Johnny Cash; that was pretty jarring. To make it more strange, the three shrimpers are a retired doctor, a retired lawyer, and one guy who might actually be a fisherman, or just typical muscle. Anyhoo, they pull a body up in the fishing net, and the cops don’t want to do the work, simply calling it an accident, which offends the first person lawyer, especially when the victim’s sister asks for help and she’s too hot to say no to. This leads to a conspiracy involving a huge corporation and a big-time merger, and a dirty corporate guy who can’t handle his war-criminal “bodyguards.”
The story had some entertaining moments, though how some of these characters survived is beyond me. I think the author might have made the cops TOO stupid, unless of course they’re actually that corrupt. The main character’s daughter shows up, which will be good for some plot points later, but basically shows just how stubbornly stupid one person can be, though the acorn was too lazy to roll too far away from the tree, considering just when you think it’s all over the protagonist gets into trouble again. My favorite character was actually the dog; I think it was the smartest living thing in the story.
The best part of this novel was the settings; though I’ve been all over Germany, even relatively close to where this takes place, the starkness of the landscape described here is not something my camera has photographed. It’s different on the resort island, which is one of those places like Mackinac where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed. But most of all, the portrayal of the storm, and finding the victim in the middle of it, was the highlight.

Slush Pile Brigade
An Australian novelist, said to be second most popular author in the world, steals a manuscript from the slush pile in his agent’s office when he has writer’s block. He picks the right book, because he turns it into a best seller, but more importantly he picks the wrong book, because three years later the writer who was plagiarized comes looking for an apology, setting into motion a chain of events that brings death and destruction to everyone’s world, especially the agent’s.
The protagonist loses his job and girlfriend–she actually brings a new guy to same restaurant he always took her to–not cool, girl. He snaps and is forced to run from the police to Noo Yawk, where he plans to confront the agent, and the author who happens to be in town. Before it’s over his deep-CIA father, a Russian mobster, his three best buds, and the girl from his past that got away are sucked into the conflict as well.
Though Noo Yawk is one of my least favorite cities, the author showcases it lovingly, citing some old famous buildings as well as plenty of Central Park; my favorite was the walk through the dinosaur area in the museum, which fit the conversation perfectly. Big twists abound, like when he find out his father’s involved in the whole mess. The first half is more comedic than anything else, and it’s fun to read the shenanigans, in a butt monkey kinda way. But then it gets serious spy in a hurry, with people dying or being maimed, and some maybe dying or maybe not.
There was one part that annoyed the hell out of me. Not wanting to spoiler—is that a real verb?—suffice to say that the protagonist finds himself in trouble that wasn’t foreseen, but ends up surviving it differently than we were led to believe. Perhaps the author merely wrote in the wrong body part that exploded, but how he survived wasn’t explained, and as you can see I’m still irritated about it.
Some of the dialogue by the lesser members of the brigade is somewhat over-the-top, but mostly it’s well-written, with some descriptions shining, like, “But it wasn’t really like laughter at all. . . more like Kodiak bears groaning while shitting.” I do hate the author for that last twist, though. . .

This graphic novel starts with an inept mailman, who gets himself into all kinds of trouble, actually being the scout for a group of home-invasion thieves. The actual first page tells you the story of Los Angeles’s full name—too bad I already knew it—but sets the tone nicely. One of their targets turns out to be the house of a not-stable Hollywood prop master and monster maker, except not everything is a prop. . .
What I thought would blow up into a monster story turned out to be much more psychological, with an evil Frankenstein twist. The three male thieves are pretty dumb; of course it’s the girl with all the brains. I did enjoy how the story delved into everyone’s fucked-up origin stories, which made what they did all the more understandable. No one is more fucked up than the monster maker, though, and the story treats him well enough that you feel some sympathy for him even while he’s tormenting his adversaries and sacrificing women for his true love.
Bruce Campbell makes an appearance!. . . almost. The artwork is good, but nothing special, except for maybe the hot chick with the Kermit tattoo. There’s some well-included extras at the end, giving a cute background on how the story was thought up—originally set in London, which would have necessitated a different opener—and containing plenty of unused drawings, even a recipe from the bad guy’s “girl.” Some genuinely funny moments keep this from sinking into too much despair, but it’s still as dark and horrifying as expected from the genre.

Turned to Stone
An art history mystery—rhyme!—taking place throughout Spain and Italy, this story delves into the provenance and magical powers of a statue of the Greek myth of Medusa, and how some people will do anything to possess it.
Oddly enough I found myself enjoying it early on despite not caring for the protagonist; Jaime’s too much of a jerk to be likeable. Of course that changes later as his character develops, but I never really got to the point where I liked him, and liked Paloma less for the fact she was infatuated by him. His best friend, on the other hand, is a hoot, a former photographer now a security guard who doesn’t find anything weird in dressing up like Batman in order to get the job done. There’s plenty of other characters, most of them just serving a purpose, though some of them coming back at the end to show they’re not at all as expected. I was a bit miffed that the author drew such a fascinating character as the new art expert—gorgeous blonde, of course—and then quickly killed her off.
The bad guys were well-drawn, although Rosa—or whatever her name happened to be that day—seemed to slide back, being a complete badass at the beginning and ending up rather useless by the end. There’s also the henchman who just won’t die no matter how much you best him or beat him up, always showing up at the worst possible time. We also get the evil genius behind the curtain, and how he’s destroyed his family in his quest for money and revenge, which almost makes me sorry for Rosa but not quite.
The reveal of why the piece is so important, about two-thirds of the way through, was fascinating and well done, the best moment art-wise in the book. But it’s the hilarious image of three people struggling not to fall off a motorcycle that will remain with me forever. . .


Book Reviews: Death, Science, Military Bases, and Sophie Tucker

Still a lot of free time, though it turns out I won’t need knee surgery. So I’m reading happier.
On with the show. . .


Lover Man

This is a first person mystery set in Noo Yawk, where a man with far too much time on his hands hears about his ex-lover’s death and wants to solve it before the police. Fair warning if you’re reading this in 2015: it is not set in the present; either this is written about the past, or more likely was written in the past and is being republished now. Don’t know much about baseball, but I’m pretty sure Gooden and Strawberry played quite a while ago.

The writing style is showcased from the very first sentence, which I enjoyed a lot. Not that the rest was bad, but it was such a good start there was no way it could stay at such a level. It’s always a good sign when a dog is a main character, and is quite the character. This book will particularly be enjoyed by jazz fans, which the main character is.

What he isn’t is very smart; over and over I had to keep from shouting at him for making the stupid move, particularly when it came to keeping things from the cops and going it alone, where he was much more likely to get beat up or killed. His motivation for doing so didn’t strike me as all that smart to begin with, and after dangerous people mess with him he doesn’t get the message, his ego taking over. Considering all he does for a living is manage his famous dog, I eventually grew to dislike him, wondering if he would end up in the hospital—can’t kill a first-person narrator, after all, unless you’re Richard Matheson—and I wasn’t bothered by the idea.

The ending in particular was confusing; the plot had taken so many turns, there’d been so many revelations and character twists, that even when I was told who was who and did what, I wasn’t sure what had happened. Ordinarily I would give this a 2, but the writing style warrants bumping it up to 3.



A Taste for Death

What starts as a typical murder mystery set in the Finger Lakes area is really something much deeper psychologically, with just about every character damaged in some way. Even the lead detective, born in France, suffers from amnesia that keeps him from remembering most of his childhood, possibly caused by alcoholism at an incredibly young age; his actions with his superior/psychologist/former lover show he’s self-destructive too, but that’s just the tip of this mentally abnormal iceberg.

The main plot involves the killing of a wine critic, with just about everyone a suspect, including his wife and teenaged son. As one would expect in this genre, there’s plenty of revelations about other characters that turn out to be red herrings, otherwise this would be a much shorter book. Some of the rhapsodic depictions of the vineyards brought memories of that movie A Walk in the Clouds to my mind, but the description of the lakes, particularly the hilarious sailing trip that makes the detective sick, were my favorite.

In the end the killer is not as expected, though there might have been enough bread crumbs if you were really paying attention. To my mind the book was too long, with large chunks taken up by insights into the detective’s past, his dreams/flashbacks; made me think it was setting up for sequels.



I am Sophie Tucker

Billed as “Forrest Gump of the first half of the 1900s,” Sophie Tucker is the huge star of the past you’ve never heard of. I certainly had no idea—even while reading this, till near the end—that Sophie Tucker had been real; since it was labeled a “fictional autobiography,” I had no reason to expect the protagonist wasn’t made up either. Later, looking at their website, I realized exactly what they meant: “This volume is 85% fact. The other 15% …who knows?”

This is one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. Some of the jokes are obvious, but a lot of them come after a little bit of thinking, which makes it all the more fun when you do get it, a sense of accomplishment. Somehow the lady could make a funny about any topic, and was immensely self-deprecating, which of course helps to like her. There’s a chapter where the family had to stay in Great Britain a few weeks, and the famous person she meets there—who gets her mom out of jail by proving she didn’t kill the victim—is Arthur Conan Doyle. As much as I laughed at this reveal, I was mildly annoyed for not guessing it myself.

A look at the website shows there’s a documentary that goes along with this book making the rounds of film festivals right now, and I have to admit I’m intrigued to see it. . .



The Science of TV’s The Big Bang Theory: Explanations Even Penny Would Understand

I’m no scientist, but I did get surprisingly passable grades in those courses in high school and college. . . except biology (PLANT biology—don’t ask). I also know I’m way smarter than Penny, which I mention because of the subtitle, but some of these concepts were still too much, not as easy to grasp as the writer no doubt envisioned.

The great Isaac Asimov used to have a column where he would explain scientific ideas in a way that the general public could understand. Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene (as seen on the show) had books like this too, but they don’t have the writing elegance of Asimov. Neither does this guy, but he comes the closest, especially with his sense of humor. Even then, whereas Asimov comes off as a funny professor teaching a class, Dave Zobel (not to be confused with the tattoo artist if you google the name) is more of a guy chatting at a party, a geek trying to impress a girl perhaps. The style is therefore much more conversational, which probably helps in keeping the reader’s attention. For instance, Isaac Asimov would never have said “As for Raj, he also has a pair [of noise-cancelling headphones]. Despite what some people say.” Literally a low blow.

Like Asimov, who did columns on Shakespeare and Milton, this book includes not just science but also philosophy and psychology. I found the chapter on dimensions the easiest to follow, even before he got to Flatland, as I knew he ultimately would. There’s plenty of asides for interviews and slight tangents of the main topic, with recurring themes like “In what universe?” “,” “Ask an icon,” and “Out to lands beyond,” though it does seem silly to call up an “icon” like Tom Lehrer and only ask him how he feels about Sheldon singing his song “The Elements.” {Yes, I’m sure there was more to the interview, but that’s all we get.}

One of the points he repeatedly brings up concerns the building where Leonard and Sheldon live, not just its location but its architecture. Since I’ve been on Los Robles plenty of times I was certainly curious about this too. And because I live close by, it occurred to me I might take a shot at it, go over to Pasadena and look for the place where you can see City Hall and the mountains from that exact angle, though considering they live on the fourth floor, it would be tough so match from ground level. Then I got to the last chapter and found someone had already done that; I was secretly relieved.

Your mileage will of course vary on how much you learn from this, but I will say the writer makes it easy with his writing style, even if his explanations don’t quite light the bulb in my head. It’s particularly fun when he calls Sheldon on his mistakes, making me wish the fictional character could read this and I could watch his head explode. . .



Base Nation

This upcoming book about the vagrancies and ills of America’s overseas military bases starts in Guantanamo, where much has been heard about the prison, but not many know it’s also a regular base, so much like others that it has McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Subway, etc. I remember a base in Qatar some years ago that reminded me of a Midwest American small town, but you don’t expect it in Cuba!

There are chapters on the environment, families living on base, profiteering, local workers—which as expected includes prostitution and slavery—and rape of fellow soldiers, both male and female, but mostly female. It’s shocking to hear how some women serving in Iraq died from dehydration because they were too scared to drink water and have to go to the latrine, where they knew they’d be raped.

It gets depressing quickly and doesn’t get any easier. (I’m speaking about the information, not the writing.) Toward the end I was lagging, hoping it would be over soon; if I had not been reading this for review I would not have finished it, and I certainly didn’t bother with the last 50 pages of notes. As concerning as it all is, as damning as all the evidence he includes is, there’s really only so much a reader can take. I realize there’s no other way to write/publish this—certainly not expecting him to throw in some jokes—but I do believe it’s a concern from a reader’s point of view.



Travel Thursday: Noo Yawk, part 4

Once back inside the studio I went to prep for the next model, leaving Lea with no idea what to do for a while. It wasn’t till she was grooving to the music that she remembered where she was, and why, and as she walked to the big room, as she liked to call it, she found herself happy to know classical music could make her feel like dancing too. . .
“Big Beethoven fan,” I explained as I watched her sway to the music.
Today’s model pretended to understand. “Yeah, I love that dog too. Wish he’d make more movies.”
I somehow managed not to strangle on that one, even kept from laughing until the gal’s first wardrobe change. Lea zoomed right up, hands playing with the buttons of her blouse. “Since I’m not being paid today,” she mused aloud, “and we’re not in private, I will only take half of my clothes off. Would you like that?” she winked.
“Half-naked, or half-clothed?”
She hooted. “Which one is the optimistic one?”
“For me? I would like you to remove the clothes on your left side.”
Oh oh. . .
She was saved from ripping up her available clothing by the arrival of the model, who hadn’t dawdled as usual, not with a better looking model in the house. . .
Lea pretended to go away, for the model’s sake, but I knew where she was, which didn’t allow me to answer all the model’s questions honestly, but on the other hand gave me plenty of opportunity for fun.
“I’m not saying I hate the way Lea looks,” the model was protesting. “All I mean is that she doesn’t have the usual look the rest of us do. I’m surprised she gets any jobs at all.”
“Lea appeals to men,” I replied simply. “Most models are chosen to appeal to women, not in a lesbian kinda way, but to make them think, ‘If I wear that, I’ll look as good as her.’ Females are simple creatures.”
By the time Lea was finished sorting through all that material, the moment was gone, so she turned and flounced out. It wasn’t till the model was taking a bathroom break that she came back, where in as airhead a voice as she could handle, asked, “Do you believe in advanced mutual compatibility on the basis of a primary initial ident?”
Since I knew this one, I gruffly replied, “When the ident has curves like yours, baby, one look’s all that’s needed.”
She tried to look surprised. “I didn’t think you’d get that.”
“Saw the same show. Have it on DVD.”
She looked smug. “So our compatibility is based on more than just primary initial ident! Yes!”
“Glad there was something, since I didn’t see anything mutual on your part.”
“I fell in love with you the moment I saw you!” she squealed.
“You were looking at my laptop!”
“Oh, yeah.” Then she winced at having said that out loud, for now she wouldn’t be able to argue it.
Fortunately the model returned, glanced at us curiously, then struck a pose. . . literally.
Grinning in relief, Lea waved at her and retreated again. . .
But unable to stand the thought we were talking about her, she was back very quickly, where she saw me struggling with a flash umbrella, two steps up on a small ladder and teetering like memories of the playground. She quickly rushed over to help steady the ladder, giving the model a baleful look; the model shrugged and went to get some water, apparently believing that her job of calling for help if necessary was now in someone else’s hands.
The model startled and turned around, but by this time Lea was smiling sweetly at her, so she went back to her water bottle.
Wow, a telepathic curse! I don’t know my own brain strength!
She was frightened out of her own inanities when I jumped down to land beside her, then held her steady when she squeaked. “Sorry. I’m so used to moving silently. . .”
“I noticed that last night,” she smirked when she regained her composure, licking and then chewing on my jaw for emphasis. “By the way, I thought you preferred to use less light.”
“I’d shoot you under a tree, if there are any in this damned town. Why?”
She pointed to the object he’d just been adjusting.
“Got no choice, working in a studio. As a photographer, light is my life. . . don’t start singing.”
She smiled her delight, but didn’t say anything, kept on noshing on my face, making it difficult to talk, let alone concentrate.
“Remember, photography means drawing with light.”
“I get it!” she chirped brightly.
Staying there this time, she couldn’t help but notice I didn’t talk to this model nearly as much as I had with her. She remembered what I’d said about most models being bimbos, and believed the massive compliment I’d given her, if she hadn’t believed it before.
Suddenly she heard the model say, “I don’t have an accent, I’m from Brooklyn!”
Wow, the bitch was making an attempt at a sense of humor. Too much.
“Brooklyn is not an accent. It’s a speech impediment. It’s a mouth infection.”
Lea suddenly screamed and ran out, squealing, “Don’t say mouth infection!” Howz that for a screen test, buddy?
“Now you tell me!” came my dopplering voice behind her.
Okay, that was funny. . .
“I shutter at the size of your aperture,” she purred a few minutes later, running her hand over the long lens, which was fortunately not attached to anything at the moment. She threw me a wink, just in case I didn’t know where she was coming from.
“You really AREN’T a dumb model!”
“Thanks.” She had to work to freeze the smile.
“Although you’re the one with the aperture, babe.
She was probably right in thinking flouncing away again was the only response she could give. I didn’t see her again. . . until she got hungry, at which point I took her along to a business meeting I was scheduled for, knowing there was a good chance she could distract the other guy. . .
Worst of all possible worlds, the restaurant didn’t have a convenient subway stop nearby, which meant it was easier to. . . gasp! Walk!
“I want to be an actress!” she suddenly cried.
“There’s a shock. Thankfully you’re not like that around me.” Hadn’t she already said this? I couldn’t remember, and right now I had to concentrate on remembering the best route to the restaurant.
“The reason I bring this up again is because we are passing just a block away from a place where I’d really like to work.”
I made sure of the street we were on; nope, not close to Broadway. A good sign.
“It’s called Don’t Tell Mama.”
“Hmmm, I like where this is going. So you wanted to be a stripper/comedienne before I brought it up?”
“Not like that, sicko. Some might call it a cabaret, but it’s not like that either. It’s just a whole bunch of incredibly talented, struggling actors.”
“Waiting for someone to figure out how incredibly talented they are?”
“Exactly! The place is standing room only with a line out the door, spilling onto the street. Audience mem­bers sing, and even the bartenders perform. If you get there after 10 P.M., you’ll be listening from the outside, so get there early.”
“I wasn’t planning on going.”
“Not even to see me?”
“You’re not there. . . yet,” I quickly added to save my life.
“I want so much to play there!” she whined.
Perhaps she wanted to show her thespian range, or maybe she was just too thrilled to be getting a free meal at such a ritzy place and didn’t want to mess it up, but either way she was far more calm as we were seated. Squire Harry, as I referred to the Brit I would be parlaying with, was already there, but he pretended to be a gentleman by rushing over to kiss her hand and seat her.
“I work in the Empire State Edifice,” Squire Harry told her after a throat clearing, hoping that would impress her.
“That must cost a lot,” she replied between gulps of her soft drink, having ignored the alcohol offered. More than it’s worth, was the implication in her tone.
Well, at least she knew what an edifice was, he mused. But then, he knew my taste did not run toward bimbos.
I couldn’t resist sweetly asking, “Is your office next to the Nappy-Time place?”
Squire was spared from having to ask what the hell I was talking about–he hated having to admit he didn’t know something–as the waitress came to take our order. When that was done, he boomed a non sequitur, “Ah, I love New York.”
“Living in New York is worse than boot camp. Trust me, I know.”
“You can’t tell me it’s worse than El Ay.”
“I can tell you, and I will. Here’s easy proof. There aren’t even ten thousand cops in El Ay. Chicago has over thirteen grand. But NYC has more than forty triple O. What does that tell you?”
Squire’s usual reply would be an automatic “It tells me nothing!” but he knew better than to try that with me, under any circumstances but especially today. So he went with, “And yet you never see one around when you need him.”
“Next time something happens to you, make sure you’re in a donut shop.”
“I have people who get my donuts,” Harry complained, but found that didn’t impress the girl. Okay, something a little more moneyed, he thought. “I was at a fundraiser the other night, I don’t remember what for, but it sure raised a lot of money, I’m told. Had some big politicos speaking, and the police chief was there too. He went on and on in a verbal monologue–sorry, that’s an oxymoron– about how citizens have to help the police, even the rich ones like us. It was quite pathetic. Yeah fine, here’s a check, now shut up and get out.”
Lea glanced over at me, wondering which way I’d go with that; she thought of at least five avenues of attack.
“Verbal monologue is not an oxymoron; it’s a redundancy. Written monologue would be an oxymoron.”
Okay, six.
“And did you write him a check?” she asked sweetly.
“Of course not!” he snorted. “Who knows what he would have done with it!”
By the time we were done eating and she’d gone to the restroom, I’d gotten everything I could have hoped out of the negotiations, and more. Squire Harry didn’t seem put out, so maybe he would have given more, but I was more than happy with the results.
“Everything copasetic?” Lea asked mock-brightly when she returned.
“You’re a student of history too?” I grinned.
“I stude all over the map,” she giggled.
“Ahem, yes. Excuse me. My turn for the little boys’ room.”
“I like our euphemism better,” she told Squire as he stood up. That got a smile out of him as he made his way through the tables, thinking a woman couldn’t be a bimbo if she knew what a euphemism was. . .
Suddenly she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me, murmuring, “How’d I do? Distract him enough?”
Since I hadn’t told her about that, I couldn’t help but be impressed. “I could give you 15% and still come out on top, so yeah.”
“Yay! Amsterdam here we come!”


Travel Thursday: Noo Yawk, part 3

As I had suspected, the next day was a long and boring one, both from the standpoint of the photography and because this model’s idea of conversation was. . . well, best not go there.
And the day had started out so well, when I once again got there just as the subway driver was about to pull out.
“Bad habit,” the driver warned. “Get here earlier before you miss one.”
Like there wouldn’t be another one in a few minutes. “I love to live on the edge.”
“Huh. You’re in the right city for it.”
“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”
“Now you’re overdoing it.”
“Not me, Shakespeare.”
And that pretty much ended the conversation before I could tell the rebuttal joke to the famous “Men are like streetcars” speech from some Suthin’ play: “Women are like subways: you pay to get on, and the whole ride you live in fear!”
Luckily I’d managed to snag a seat near the center before the car filled up. Heat blazed in the front while the people in the back shivered; jammed nose to elbow, clinging to metal poles, commuters stared glumly at graffiti-covered walls. And no one was brave–or stupid–enough to start a conversation. So I took out my pocket chess and started a new game, though reminding myself not to get so caught up this time; last time I’d tried it here, I’d gone three stops past my intended before I’d realized it.
All the more reason to checkmate the electronic bastard as soon as possible. . . and if that included pressing buttons to give myself a rook advantage, so be it.
And that had been the highlight of the morning, though it did get better later, when for some reason Lea showed up, even though she wasn’t scheduled to be shot again. Not that I minded, since she was both a lot more fun and finer to look at than the current model. . . or all of them.
She even had me going at one point when she fluttered her lashes all lovey-dovey and asked where I was going to take her on our honeymoon, then quickly changed it to lunch, even adding, “Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to pay for it. We can go Dutch.”
“You want to go to Amsterdam?”
Giggle. “Actually, yes, but not this weekend. We can just drive somewhere.”
I was about to tell her New York usta be called New Amsterdam, but found something better to discuss. “People drive around here?”
“Sure. I have a cousin who lives in a little town about twenty miles from the city. She lets me keep my car there.”
“You driving?”
“I guess I can be persuaded. . .”
“I’m so happy you trust me.”
“You’re barely getting around to that?”
“No, I mean letting me drive. Nice to see you’re not hooked on driving like every other SoCal boy,” she grinned.
“Drivers have gotten worse in the past few years. Ever notice how much tire screeching there is nowadays? People don’t know how to brake, and they press the accelerator too hard when starting. Not big deals on their own, but indicative of low-quality skills. Nowadays you can be a perfect driver and still have less of a chance to survive than ten years ago.”
“And this isn’t a city to drive in anyways.”
“Someone joked about the four-way stops in El Ay. Here they’d be four-way wrecks.”
“Exactly! But it’s not just that. The city doesn’t want drivers here. They’d rather you pay for a taxi.”
“The politicians must get a cut. I haven’t noticed public transportation being a particularly fine experience.”
“Are you kidding?” she laughed. “Notwithstanding dirty buses, unsafe subways, and steadily rising fares, New York City is officially committed to public transportation.” She sounded like she was quoting. “Private autos are allowed, of course, but not encouraged. Doubters may examine the state of the streets or take a spin on an expressway.”
“More sinkholes than Florida.”
“Actually, those are mere potholes. They’ve just been growing for years. And forget about the parking!”
“You did that wrong.”
“It’s actually FUHGEDDABOUTIT!”
“Nice!” She looked quite impressed. Then, pushing the issue, she tried, “I expected you to talk about how great El Ay is.”
“Everyone knows how great El Ay is. We don’t have to toot our own horn.”
“Not when I’ll be tooting it for you!” she crowed, then gulped as I grinned. “Well, not yet, anyway. Or would you prefer me to talk about my hometown?”
“As long as you do it mumbling incoherently, you can recite Moby Dick for all I care.”
“Wow, a literary reference that’s still a sexual joke! You’re hot today!”
My fingers tarantula’ed down. “Only one furnace around here. . .”
She gasped. “Oh, someone’s tossing a whole bunch of coal!”
“How old fashioned. You’re a nuke, baby.”
“Careful when I explode, then,” she just managed to sigh. . .

It was about half an hour later when we managed to continue the conversation.
“I hate New York. It’s one of my least favorite places, and that includes central Africa.”
“Truthfully, I don’t like New York either,” she demurred. “In case I haven’t told you yet, I’m from Chicago. But I think that, if you have the chance, and you weren’t lucky enough to be born in New York, you should spend at least a year of your life in the city.”
“Because living in New York teaches you to be street­wise; you may not always know where to go, but you soon learn where not to go, in New York, and for that matter, everywhere else.”
“That’s hardly a reason,” I scoffed. “Places like that all over. Even in Chicago. Even in San Diego, or Phoenix, or Dallas or anywhere.”
“But people from there aren’t very streetwise.”
“Here’s the dif. In those cities I named, and a lot more, it happens in certain parts of the cities. But it holds for ALL of New York. Which proves my point.”
“Proves mine too,” she smirked. “Here you can’t just stay in the good areas, because there aren’t any. You’re forced to learn.”
Not knowing why we were bothering with such a topic, I gave her my best fake smile and told her, “You’re the best Lea ever!”
“I should be more flattered by that than I actually am,” she mused. “Maybe because the only other one I’ve heard of was in Star Wars.”
“If you ever decide to move to El Ay, you can stay with me for a whole month!”
“Oh boy! Who needs the lottery?”
“That sarcasm means you’re going to have to cook the whole month.”
“But you’ve seen what a good shopper I am!”
“Too expensive. Besides, if you’re out shopping all day, you won’t be able to find a place of your own. I did say only one month.”
“Silly, I wasn’t planning to move. It was just a vacation idea.”
“Ah. Looks like my ego got ahead of me. So now I’ll have to do something to make you reconsider your reason. . .”
“You really want me living with you, then?” Again she did the fluttering eyelashes thing, so I gave up right then and there.

After lunch we heard the subway driver announce “Happy holidays!” over the P.A.
“Does that seem as weird to you?” I asked Lea.
Shrug. “First time for everything, I guess. You haven’t told me if you like my outfit.”
I’d snagged a seat, but for some reason she stayed up and was now swaying around a pole, seemingly unconsciously. “Having seen you nude, I don’t see how any clothes can improve on Nature.”
“You’re just saying that,” she replied placidly.
“I mean it. With your body, you could be a stripper/comedienne.”
She frowned doubtfully, but still managed to look cute. “Sounds like two different crowds.”
“Not around here.”
“Don’t start that again.” She tossed me her purse and did a swing around the pole. Luckily there weren’t many people around to complain, though the male half wouldn’t have argued as their eyes bugged out.
“This reminds me of a train I was on, I think in Vancouver. There was a sign that said, ‘Ladies, the poles are here for your protection. No dancing!’”
“Ha! Love it. I’ve heard great things about Vancouver, but that might be the best.” Lacking any more inspiration, she came back to where I was sitting, but I directed her further on. “Bad throw. Your purse is somewhere over there. Did you know that it’s against the law in this state to throw a ball at someone’s head for fun?”
She frantically searched for her purse, then was relieved enough, on finding it intact, to say, “Even a snowball? Damn!”
“Don’t worry, you can still throw it out of maliciousness.”
“Oh, good!”
I watched from the safety of the escalator as she took the stairs like she was running through tires on a football practice field. It was both a funny sight as well as an erotic one, for one moment she seemed all elbows and the next you saw all her curvy glory. . .
Since she’d been self-powering, she got to the top first, and was puffing and reading a flier when I finally arrived. “Check this out. I thought this was the city that never sleeps.”
I checked. The piece of paper told me of a new venture opening up on some floor of the Empire State Building, specifically for naps.
“Naps? What is this, pre-school?”
Resisting saying I sounded like a Noo Yawkah, she giggled, “Perhaps they’re trying to market the siesta.”
She held my hand to lead me while enabling me to read: High above the bustling streets, honking taxicabs and crowded sidewalks, we offer just what you need: a 20-minute nap. Stressed-out customers arrive in a quiet, darkened room filled with futuristic chairs, or “napping pods,” where they can pay $14 for their snooze.
“’Power’ nap?” I snorted. “That is the most overused word in marketing today. And pods? Fifties sci-fi movie!”
White noise machines block out whispered conversation at the front desk. Sleepers stretch out in the reclining seats, which resemble plush dentists’ chairs, with blankets covering their legs and music piped into headphones.
“No way you can sleep in a dentist’s chair, unless they give you knockout gas.”
After 20 minutes, the sleeping pod wakes up the customer with a combination of vibrations and light. Nappers are encouraged to sleep just 20 minutes because a longer session tends to leave them more groggy than refreshed. “It’s the closest thing to your bed,” one satisfied customer said. “It’s either this, or the top of a table in a coffee shop with your head down.”
“You buy that?” she grinned.
Shrug. “Sell it as a trend and everyone will flock to it. When I feel sleepy today, and I know I will because you kept me up all night, let’s go into my office and have sex. Won’t cost you anything.”
She sighed. “I’ve always dreamed of having a boss like you!”


Travel Thursday: Noo Yawk, part 2

I turned around just in time to see Lea arrive and take off her robe. The model was wearing sandals, a kind of loin-cloth, and a light bodice which covered her breasts, but left her midriff bare. Her head was also bare, the hair drawn tightly back so that it looked like a golden helmet in the strong lighting.
“Wow, I’m afraid to ask who you’re supposed to be.”
“Coward,” she replied placidly, making sure the clothing was on her bod like it was supposed to be. “All our talking isn’t distracting you, is it?”
“On the contrary. I’d usually be bored to oblivion by now.”
“Then I’m glad I can keep you awake.” She let that one hang there, just long enough for me to grin, then continued. “Putting aside what that does to my ego, how come you don’t talk like this with other models?”
“At the risk of inflating your ego even more–” I stared at her breasts just long enough for her to get the joke–“it’s simply because most models are bimbos. When I see one like you, with intelligence and a sense of humor, I’d rather talk and get to know you than shoot you.” I thought about it. “Well, I’d rather do both, really. . . and speaking of that, change the earrings.”
“Because I don’t want anyone to see this photo and say ‘Check out the earrings.’ They’re supposed to be looking at you.”
“Good answer!” she beamed as she grabbed the dangles and literally yanked them out the earlobes before tossing them away. “That’s why you make the big bucks!”
“Don’t move! If you feel uncomfortable or something starts to cramp up, let me know. Don’t be a hero, but otherwise for now make like a statue.”
The model chuckled. . . but didn’t move.
A few minutes later I told her to take her time getting into the next costume. Instead she dressed quickly, though making sure to wear her robe over her modeling clothes, lest that freaky assistant wander by and get jump-started into puberty. . . except this time I was ready for her, and the shoot went by quickly.
I was sitting in a small office, chugging a seven-up, when she came back out for the last time, once again attired in jeans and so on like when she’d arrived. She saw me through the open door and sat down across the desk with a smile, not bothering to ask permission. Apparently she never did, for she reached across the desk for the soda can and downed the contents, only to find to her chagrin I was almost finished with it.
“Glad you don’t think I have cooties,” I drawled as I reached behind me for another can.
She tried to pout, but it really wasn’t in her nature. “Sometimes you take things too calmly.”
“Why are you trying to disturb me?”
She laughed. “Because men who are TOO secure are not a turn-on.”
“Take me as I am.”
“Very Popeye-ish.”
“He was an existentialist.”
“I don’t think so!” Then she realized I was joking. “Well, he wasn’t like Voltaire either.” We’d discussed Candide during the shoot. “Anyway, I hope I didn’t turn you on too much. I’d hate to see you spend the hard-earned money you earned today getting your rocks off with some hooker who looks like me from behind.”
That caused a big smile. “No one looks like you, least of all from behind.”
Yeah, she’d known she’d left that one wide open, but hadn’t been able to stop herself. “Anyway, you know what I mean.”
“I think of models the same way I think of sex,” I grinned. “I never pay for it.”
“I ain’t doin’ this for free,” she warned, then winced. “The modeling, I mean, not the sex.”
“What I mean is, someone’s paying you, and that same person or corporation is paying me.”
“Ah, I get ya.”
“By the way, are you flirting now?”
“Yes. Now let’s get back to the sex part you mentioned. . .”
She grimaced, having realized as soon as she’d blurted it out that it was the wrong thing to say, then had hoped it’d gone past me. Not hardly. . .
She made a quick decision and kissed me lightly, not much for the very first kiss ever between us. “I hear you’ll be here a couple of more weeks. No rush. . . and no cooties. Just a lemony soft drink taste.”
“You may want to think about this logically.”
“Oh?” This was going to be good, she hoped.
“If we wait till my last days here to have sex, and it’s not very good, then it makes no difference than if we did it tonight and it wasn’t very good.”
“True so far. So?”
“On the other hand, if we have sex tonight and it’s so good you want to do it again. . .”
“I see. Very logical. Damn.”
I grinned, but I knew that, just on principle, she couldn’t let me have the win so easily.
She plucked a card out of the back pocket of her jeans. “Got your address and phone number. I’ll think about it tonight. Who knows? You’re only a phone call away. . .”
Can we assume my place is better than yours?”
“Safe bet, all things considered. Plus I know where you live now. You want me to surprise you?”
“No, you should call ahead. I’d just rather not step outside the door into this horrid city any more than I have to.”
“Will you reimburse me if I bring dinner?”
“Absolutely. But when you call ahead, ask what I’d like. I have a discriminating palate.”
She patted my stomach. “So I see. Make sure you’ve got something for the microwave in case I decide to wait.”
“Obviously. I’m assuming you won’t come tonight.”
She had started to walk away, now halted and turned, but only her head. “Why?”
“Because I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than unpleasantly surprised.”
Now she turned around fully, putting her hand on her hip as she thrust it out, like she’d been doing the past few hours. I wondered why she did that, what her point was, or whether it was just a natural modeling instinct for her now. “You use psychology throughout your life, or just when it comes to sex?”
“Show up and find out.”
And now I spun the chair away, leaving her standing there and gawking, then laughing as she went back to her original plan of leaving the room, but without the satisfaction of having the last word.


Travel Thursday: NOO YAWK

For all of those who love Noo Yawk, as well as all people who live in Noo Yawk, this may come as a shock.
I hate Noo Yawk.
So what? most people are saying right now. You’ve always been a bit weird about things like that. Check out your disdain for women who aren’t “Natural.” What is up with that?
As for Noo Yawkers, it’s awhl raght for us ta badmouth awr city, but strangers ain’t allowed, so take a flyin’ leap off the friggin’ Brooklyn Bridge, ya bastard. What, you maybe wants a little sympathy cuz yer not in yer sunny, laid-back, lotus-eatin’ land? FUHGEDDABOUTIT!
Don’t have the time to explain what a lotus is, or why you would eat it. Read a book, people.
Especially those of you in Noo Yawk. . .

Anyway, I wasn’t very happy about being in Noo Yawk. . . er, excuse me, NEW YORK, either, especially now with the elevator not working properly in one of the seemingly millions of nondescript high-rises in Manhattan. Somehow, probably as a prank, the elevator would not come down to the bottom, or indeed anywhere below the fifth floor. I hate stairs as much as I hate New York, and my backpack was feeling heavier by the step. And my laptop kept banging against my knee every other step, which was sure not to be good. . . for my knee.
Luckily I had an assistant to puff his way up with the heavy stuff, yet the guy was still walking faster up the damn stairs. Whatever, I groused, wondering if today’s model was going to be as hot as her pictures led me to believe.
I thought back to just a few minutes ago, getting on the dreaded subway. “Just in time!” the driver cackled as I reached the door.
“Timing is everything.”
“Sure is.”
Who said New Yorkers weren’t friendly?
Well, I did, but that’s beside the point. I remember a tourist in El Lay I’d been actively pursuing, who’d told me “Wow, the people here awr actually quite nice!” The Suthin’ gal had said it with so much surprise I’d given up on her right then and there, before I could make any Alabamy jokes, so it was probably for the best.
That reminiscence got me through the rest of the walk up without having to think about the damn stairs.
When I got to the fifth, the assistant was hacking while holding the door to the elevator, like any good toady should. . . hacking as in coughing, by the way, just to set things straight. I didn’t thank him as I got in, not wanting to spoil the toadyness the guy had worked so long to develop, but I still couldn’t help my own nice nature as a feminine voice asked me to wait for her. . . wait the elevator, that is.
It looked like the woman had run up the stairs, though I couldn’t tell how I knew; she didn’t seem to be panting. She had one of those rare bodies that looked in-shape and curvy at the same time, I noticed almost automatically; some reflexes are more fun than others.
“Thanks!” she beamed at both of us, obviously used to guys not looking at her face. . . well, not at first, anyway. She was beautiful enough that we’d get around to it. Eventually.
She suddenly looked down at my waist. “Your flap’s open.”
I grinned at her, to cover up my embarrassment. “Thanks for noticing.” I reached for my zipper, only to realize it was shut tight.
“Not that!” the big girl laughed. “On your laptop! Good way to break the keys.”
“Oh, that!” Luckily the light bulb went on as I peered at her face, seeing it for the first time devoid of makeup, as well as in person. “I sure hope you’re the new model.”
She looked surprised, but pleased too. “That’d be me,” she agreed, then seemed to startle at the way the assistant started to drool on cue.
The silence was comfortable as the elevator did the job it was supposed to do higher than the fifth floor. Everyone seemed to be grinning, but in different degrees and for different reasons.
Once inside the better lighting of the studio, I checked her out more carefully; as the photographer, I felt I was within his rights to do this. She simply stood there and smiled, apparently agreeing. “Glad you’re a model who can follow instructions. I want to shoot you just like that to begin.”
She looked down at herself, having wondered why I wanted her in jeans, white t-shirt, and sneakers, no makeup; if it wasn’t for her curves, she’d look about fourteen. When she was done inspecting herself, she dumped her stuff to the side, next to the unlit and unused makeup table, and moved to stand between the main lights, looking at me.
“Take your time,” I soothed. “You are literally the only lady in the place till after lunch. No rush.”
“Are you always this patient?” She gave me a wink for emphasis.
Hmmm, she worked faster than I did. Maybe it was time to play it cool with a new chick, for once. “Always make sure the model is comfortable. That’s rule #1.”
She tried not to grin too broadly. “I thought rule #1 was make sure the lens cap is off.”
“I’m talking about the advanced course rule #1.”
“You’re thinking of the beginner’s course. It’s like not having to remind yourself to breathe. . . or stare at a beautiful woman.”
“Well said. Don’t stop flirting.”
I tried to frown. “Haven’t started yet. You’ll know it when I do.”
“Mmmm, can’t wait.”
“Want classes in patience?”
“Well, that came around to bite me a lot sooner than expected! But some other time. Right now I like the rising tension.”
“As long as you don’t show it to the camera.”
“Then let’s get started while you’re still smiling. We’ll do five to ten of you doing whatever poses you want. Go ahead.”
She seemed surprised, but happily so.
And we were off. . .

It didn’t take long for me to realize she wasn’t shy about showing off her curves. It was one thing to thrust them out in a tight t-shirt, even if it wasn’t wet, and to wear painted-on jeans, but to pull them off so easily–especially those tight jeans–and yet make it into a sensual striptease that I hoped the camera was capable of catching. . .
Usually I looked at a model as more of a mannequin through the camera, if only to keep me from committing professional suicide by coming on to her, but not this one. She was too spectacular, overwhelming my usual sense of competence. Not that I would do anything about it during the shoot, but this was a rare one I’d like to know better later. She seemed like a smart cookie, personable, but right now I concentrated on the fact she was naked. {In the original version I wrote quite a few paragraphs about what an amazing body she had, but obviously there’s no need for that here; you’re welcome.} Suffice to say this was a most mouthwatering ensemble of young femininity.
“Like my bod?” she winked.
“Stupidest question ever.”
“More curves than a. . .?” she prompted, just to see what would happen.
“Give me a day, I’ll come up with hundreds,” I grinned, not playing her game. “For now, show them to the camera.”
“Yes sir,” she replied meekly, though seemingly not discouraged that her plan hadn’t worked. I was right about patience after all. “You’re not worried about me being so different than the typical model?”
“One of my mottos is ‘I enjoy being different.’ I’ll save the other one for a better occasion.”
“Okaaay. Still, I’m a curvy girl among sticks. There’s a body fascism practiced by photog–”
“Not true! It’s the people who pay the photogs who demand what type of model to use.”
“Nice try,” she smirked.
“Considering I chose to shoot you–”
“Sorry! Sorry sorry sorry!”
“I don’t accept apologies,” I replied as primly as I could. “One of my other mottos is ‘get it right the first time.’ So think before you leap, model.”
“You remind me of a guy I met on the subway. He offered me a lot of money to make a big spread for him.”
“And did he want to photograph you too?”
She gave me a slight grin for that one, then went on with her story. She seemed pleasantly surprised to find me actually listening, making appropriate comments at the right time, all while shooting her. She’d said she’d never had an intelligent conversation during a shoot before.
Well, as long as the surprises were pleasant, she’d enjoy being different every once in a while too. . .

{to be continued}