Thursday, December 23, 2010


JUNE 17, 2000.  11:10 PM.  DUBLIN.  MESPIL HOTEL.

I'm back at that wretched hotel, but that's okay.  All I've got to do is hold out one more day.

We didn't do much aside from coming back to Dublin.  I saw the Book of Kells, which wasn't nearly as impressive as I was led to believe.  What impressed me was the sheer size of the library at Trinity College.  It's like a cathedral, and all the bookcases reach to the vault-like ceiling.  At the foot of each is a bust of one of the "greats," both writers and philosophers.  I've never seen a bigger library; not even the Harold Washington Library in Chicago can hold a candle to it.

After that, I went to see the Blessed Oscar to get a picture of the statue on the rock.  It's so lifelike, but I noticed something I hadn't seen from a distance:  up close, Oscar Wilde is sneering.

That was when I got lost.  I was looking for St. Patrick's Cathedral to get a picture of Jonathan Swift's grave, but the Irish can't give directions to save their lives.  Yes, that sounds like a condemnation from above, but I asked directions from their FUCKING TOURIST CENTER, and they let me down.  I was lost for hours, going up and down crooked, narrow streets that sometimes ended in dead ends, or became pedestrianized to the point where they hardly led anywhere.

I finally found the cathedral, all for nothing.  The graveyard was locked up for construction.

That left me running to McDonald's, which I finally found!  The food, which I would normally have been let down by, was like manna sent to relieve me.  Despite the fact that the supersized cup was more like a skimpy large (they go by the metric system), I felt finally at home in Ireland.

By the way, the Guinness factory is miles long.  It takes up both sides of the street, and it takes three hours just to go on a tour there.

I went to Doyle's Irish Cabaret, which was actually kind of good.  The comedians weren't that great (they just told plain old jokes--imagine an hour of Murphy and Casey jokes, or priests and rabbis walking into bars), and the singing was mediocre (the highlights were "Whiskey in the Jar" and a Gaelic version of "Drunken Sailor"), but the dancing was phenomenal.  They're just kids, but they can kick the shit out of the Lord of the Dance.  I don't know, maybe it's my strange, dark appreciation of graceful people . . . .


Finally!  I've been on many flights before, but this one is actually enjoyable!  There was a huge wait to get on the plane (as usual), and a bit of a delay to get in the air, but they overbooked!  We were supposed to fly back to NYC in coach, but the powers that be (maybe St. Patrick himself) had us bumped up to FIRST CLASS!  The seat's a bit narrow, but not nearly as much as in coach.  There's enough leg room to actually lay in a fetal position on the floor, if necessary.  The seat goes back, and there's a leg rest, and we each have our own televisions.  Granted, the food still sucks, but they gave us everything we could have ever asked for.  They even gave us a travel pack containing the following:  toothbrush, toothpaste, "Do Not Disturb" sign, moisturizer, mouthwash, earplugs, lip balm, Kleenex, eye shade, socks, and the case it all comes in looks like it can be used to store CD's.  I suffered not one jot during this flight, unless you count the time I spent watching REINDEER GAMES and the end of RAGING BULL.

Take my advice:  when flying overseas (or anywhere, really), fly first class.  Sure, you'll be short a bit of money, but it's worth it.

I hope this time I see the Statue of Liberty.  I'm almost home, to the land of good cheeseburgers and a McDonald's on every corner . . . .

JUNE 18.  9:00 PM.  ELMHURST.

What was the first thing I did when I got back to Elmhurst?  I ate as much as I could at McDonald's, and I loved every second of it (even if it only lasted ten seconds).  I lost 20 pounds during this trip, and it's time to put it back on.

Ireland's the most beautiful land I've ever seen, and there are stunningly cool things to look at over there, but America has Ireland beaten (like a gong) in the food department.  Finally, I'm back in a land built for BIG PEOPLE!


Monday, December 13, 2010


Admit it: Stephen King has not been a very interesting writer of late. The best of his releases were written decades ago (BLAZE was written between CARRIE and ‘SALEM’S LOT, and BENEATH THE DOME was written somewhere in the ‘Eighties; both are supremely delicious, but again, they’re OLD King). DUMA KEY had a good start, but it finished up pretty lame. THE COLORADO KID sucked up and down. LISEY’S STORY had some good moments, but it commits the ultimate crime in fiction: for the most part, it was boring. BLOCKADE BILLY was pretty good, but in the end was unsatisfying. His shorter work hasn’t fared very well, either; read some of his recent work in PLAYBOY, and you’ll be vastly disappointed.

And then, he unleashed FULL DARK, NO STARS on the world. It is a collection of four novellas, much like DIFFERENT SEASONS and FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT, and every story of this bunch is mean and rotten and vile . . . in short, it’s the Stephen King the world has missed.

The first is “1922,” and it is told by Wilf James, a farmer who desperately wants to hold on to his farm. When his wife inherits good land, he covets it and wants to join it with his . . . but Mrs. James wants to sell it for a mighty profit to a slaughterhouse. They quarrel ruthlessly until Wilf makes a decision that will lead to the most disastrous results since the Joads headed west in THE GRAPES OF WRATH. There is a scene so gristly that anyone who reads it will remember it forever. It’s as if King has written a Nick Cave song in novella format.

Next up is “Big Driver.” At first, it seems like a foray into Richard Laymon territory, but it transforms into the most trippiest rape/revenge story ever. Tess writes cozy mysteries, and on her way home from a speaking engagement, she has car troubles and is raped by the trucker who comes to her rescue. After some consideration, she chooses not to report it. Instead, she’s going to track down her rapist and make him pay. It sounds like a thousand horror movies, but it goes down a path no one would expect.

The third story, “Fair Extension,” is the most heartless and cruel of the bunch. Dave Streeter is dying of cancer, and he makes a deal with the devil to buy himself an extra 15 years (or maybe 20 or 25). The kicker is, he doesn’t sell his soul. The price is so wicked and nasty that to reveal it here would be a crime. This is a deal-with-the-devil story where THERE IS NO TWIST. What you see is what you get. And maybe that’s the most evil twist in the world. (And by the way, who knew that NEEDFUL THINGS’s Leland Gaunt had relatives?)

Closing off this quartet is “A Good Marriage.” Darcy Anderson, who wouldn’t call her marriage perfect but satisfying, one day discovers that her husband, a supposedly harmless numismatist by the plain name of Bob, who helps out with Cub Scouts and loves his family, is a serial killer on the side. Now she has to figure out what she’s going to do about this. Inspired by the BTK Killer, this is the weakest of the stories, but it still captivates. Nothing stops King’s curiosity as he probes this what-if tale. One has no doubt that if this were to happen in real life (and perhaps it has), this is the way it would work out.

There aren’t enough dark, questionable adjectives to describe this collection of stories, but it is a necessary piece to any King (and horror) collection. Hail to the King, baby!

By Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
368 pages

Friday, December 10, 2010



Just about the only interesting thing we did today was go to the Cliffs of Moher.  At the top of the hill opposite of the cliffs stood O'Brien's Tower, and I swear I felt like I was in a Hammer film as I walked up the hill toward it.  The cliffs are enormous, and they're covered with sea gulls, although you can't tell without the telescope on the tower.  They look like a part of the rocks from a distance.

While the tower has been turned into a type of museum, it's actually pretty old fashioned and hard to climb.  The spiral stairs are too tight and steep for big people, but it's worth it to get to the top.  There's no other feeling in the world quite like walking the battlements of a castle, tower, city, etc., the way the wind whips your hair back as you gaze across the land.  Maybe, just maybe, my Irish ancestors felt and did the same things.

I finally walked where an international myth walked.  Granted, this mythic figure wasn't that great of a human being, but still . . . I saw King John's castle.  King John, as in Prince John, the mortal enemy of Robin Hood.

By the way, we talked more of the wee folk today, and of travelers.  I liked the ghost stories the most.  Everyone's heard of the banshee, but what about the succubus-like demoness who seduces men and leads them astray?


A strangely eventful day.  We started out on the jaunting car, like in THE QUIET MAN.  I've never gone on a ride in a horse-drawn cart, so it was pretty cool.  The driver wasn't the old, charming Irishman that I expected.  His name was Brendan, and he looked no older than 20 and had two earrings in his left ear.  He spoke with a deep accent, and his speech sounded scripted and well-rehearsed.

As soon as we got out of the car, we got on a boat by Ross Castle.  Lough Leane was huge, surrounded by mountains laden with mist.  The ride on the lough was the most relaxing thing I've ever done.  I stretched out on the back of the boat and rocked with the waves, watching the mist creep over the mountains.

Afterward, we went on the Ring of Kerry, which was pretty much the same thing as watching the rest of the Irish landscape with one exception.

Today, we rode up into the clouds.  Literally.  Since the clouds hang so close to the mountains, and we drove through the mountains, we were deep into the clouds.  It's so thick up there that it looked like the world ended just a few feet below us.

In addition, the whole time I've been in Ireland, I had this strange feeling of deja vu, as if I'd seen this land before, because it looked a lot like the land I saw in BRAVEHEART.  It's no surprise, considering how the movie was filmed here, and not in Scotland.  Geraldine met Mel Gibson in a store while he was filming the movie.

Also, the D-Day sequence in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was filmed here, using the Irish army as extras.  Apparently, Ireland is a favorite place for a lot of filmmakers, from John Ford to Steven Spielberg.


I've finally found something the Irish can cook:  steak.  The best meal I've had in all of Ireland was at the Old Mill down the block from here.  The steak was wonderful, but more importantly, their fries were ambrosia--the best in Ireland!


We had a very exhausting beginning at Blarney Castle.  Let me tell you, that castle is high as hell.  We climbed up 200, 300, 400 steps, I don't know.  Those were the three figures I heard, but I was too tired to count.  The steps were very narrow (I had to walk sideways) but steep.  After climbing up the castle, we had to lean out on our backs, upside down and backwards, to kiss the Blarney Stone while some rickety old guy holds on to us.  Scary as hell.  Many people chickened out.  I toughened up and kissed the damned thing.  They put bars up so that if you slipped and fell, you'd break your skull, but you probably wouldn't die.  It's better than falling to certain death . . . .

(And yes, I've heard that the locals go up to the Stone every night and piss all over it because they hate tourists, and judging from how it looks, it might be true.  But so what?  Urine is sterile, more sterile than rock.)

The walk down was even harder.  We had to go down those same steps with nothing but a rope to support us.  When I got to the bottom, I saw that you could buy a certificate that says you kissed the Blarney Stone.  Much to my surprise, I found that anyone, regardless of whether or not they actually did it, could buy the certificate, signed by the undoubtedly revered Sir Richard La Touche.

Blarney Castle tired me out so much I slept through County Cork.  Well, dozed sounds closer to the truth.  I saw Cork through sleep-dulled eyes.

I also saw the Waterford Glassware place, but it was just like Belleek all over again.

The peak of the day was the Waterford walk with local guide, Jack.  It started out with a semi-staged history of Ireland (in which I played the Norman mercenary, Strongbow; I was married off to a middle-aged professor from Melbourne during the course of this play). After that, we looked around the town, seeing places like Reginald's Tower (the only Viking building still standing and in use in Ireland today) and many stunning cathedrals, like Blackfriar's and the French Church.  Concerning the French Church, the king of Ireland gave the church to monks for free so long as once a day, the monks hold a mass for the king's soul forever.  Eventually, Henry VIII closed it and allowed it to be turned into an old folks home . . . so long as once a day, the everyone prayed for his soul forever.  I saw the place where King John lived for a while.  He visited Waterford three times.  When he was prince, he visited Waterford and built a wooden house.  He invited everyone over to his place for a big party, but when they all got drunk, John started insulting the Irish leaders until until they retaliated by burning his house to the ground.  He fled back to England only to return as king to rebuild his house (this time in stone) and to kill everyone who so much as saw his house burn down.  He actually returned again later to live there for three years, but he was eventually run out again.

Waterford, like Derry, is a walled city, but unlike Derry, it was actually taken by the Normans.  The walk ended just inside this wall at the oldest pub in Ireland (for over 300 years, T&H Doolans has served Waterford proudly).  It looked like all the other pubs I've seen in Ireland--small.  Of course, the first drink was free, so I had some Jameson, which was pretty strong.  While Guinness will put you to sleep if you're not careful, Jameson will make you stumble about like a fool.

I found a McDonald's on the walk, but when I set out to find it again (the hotel wouldn't make me a cheeseburger tonight), I couldn't find it.  I walked all over Waterford, but I couldn't find the damned place.  I got lost three times, and I would have stayed lost if not for a spray-painted swastika on a wall near the hotel that I had originally noticed on the walk.

I'll miss Irish television.  THE VILLA was strangely entertaining, and NAKED IN WESTMINSTER was kind of funny.  That show was kind of an AMERICAN UNDERCOVER-ish thing (without the sense of doom) that looks behind the scenes of a strip club, Sophisticats, owned by the Catman (although I call him the Ratman because he looks like a rodent, and he has a ponytail you could flick off the back of his bald head).

Tomorrow is the last full day in Ireland, so I'd better get some rest.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

COOL SHIT 12-9-10

HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS #5: At first, this miniseries didn’t impress me all that much. John Constantine gets hit by a car and leaves his body. His ghost rides along with his body to the hospital, where he communes with the other ghosts around him. So what, right? There’s nothing special going on here. Just another paint-by-numbers horror story. Here’s the thing: that’s just the basis. Things spin out of control over the course of these five issues. Writer Si Spencer has a lot in store for us as seemingly ordinary people lose their shit and start murdering each other in the worst ways imaginable. Why?

We learned a few issues ago that it was no accident that Constantine wound up in that hospital. While the doctors worked at saving his life, they took some of his blood, and longtime readers of HELLBLAZER know that the blue collar mage’s red, red kroovy is unlike anyone else’s. You see, the demon Nergal once gave him a transfusion to save his life, and ever since, John’s blood has had strange properties. The hospital used his blood to give transfusions to other people in need, and they all went nuts and became more bloodthirsty than a lifetime’s worth of splatterpunk writers.

Here’s the thing, though: this whole thing was orchestrated by two scumbags who want to turn London into a city of demons by setting these lunatics loose. But they didn’t count on Constantine’s resourcefulness and his cunning. In this most recent issue, he deals with this despicable duo rather quickly, which leaves him with the problem of clean-up. He comes to a most unorthodox solution, one that could not be seen by even the most avid HELLBLAZER readers.

By the way, I posted the picture above for a reason. Read what he’s saying to the woman whose throat he’s slitting, and then go back to the monthly book. Vertigo is making a huge fucking deal about marrying Constantine off in the upcoming issue. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


When I first saw the subject of the email, I wanted to delete it with the rest of the spam, but there was just something about it that intrigued me.  "Tired of being a fat, ugly nothing?"  Maybe I was crazy, but the line had a flash of refreshing honesty to it.  So I opened it up and began to read.

"Going bald?"

I ran my hand over the top of my head, and I grimaced when I felt more smooth pate than silky hair.

"Too fat?"

My prodigious belly rested gurgling across my lap.

"Bad teeth?"

My teeth had never been straight, but in my old age, a lot of them had fallen out.  I ran my tongue over the ones that remained and wished some of the gaps weren't there.

"Unsightly scars?"

My body was a road map of 'em.  I couldn't stand to even see myself in the mirror.

"Penis too small?"

My guts stirred when I read this part.  For such a large man, I was hung like the joint of a pinkie finger.  I looked at the statue of David with envy.

"Just plain ugly?"

Oh yeah.  No commentary needed here.

I continued to read:  "If so, we can help, and it's so inexpensive you'd be surprised.  We specialize in what we like to call a Corpusplasty (TM), a complete surgical overhaul that will make you the envy of everyone in Hollywood and the world."

I licked my lips.  Anyone who says he doesn't want to be beautiful is a liar.  The idea of a Corpusplasty sounded so appetizing I started thinking about how I was going to finance this thing.  Any plastic surgeon who had to fix me would have his work cut out for him, so I knew it wouldn't be cheap.  Or maybe he'd take one look at me and decide I was a chance for publicity.  Maybe he'd do it for free, in that case.

I needed more information; I scrolled down looking for someone to contact.

"Here at the Victor Frankenstein Institute, we pride ourselves on--"

I paused, and my heart tore at the insides of my chest like a hyena.  After all these years, my creator had finally resurfaced.  I'd given up on him.  I'd stopped hating him for what he'd done to me--I'd even thought he was dead--and here he was, working as a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles.

It all came back.  My insides raged, and my teeth ground so hard some of them cracked, and I could taste their dust on my tongue.  I forced my fists open, distantly noting the bloody crescents in my palms, and I grabbed a pen and paper and took down his number.  Before long, I was on the phone, and a chipper voice said, "Frankenstein Institute.  This is Sharon.  How may we help you?"

I cleared my throat to get the growl out of my voice.  "I'd like to make an appointment . . . ."

Monday, December 6, 2010


The title of Andrew Vachss’ new novel, THE WEIGHT, is multi-purpose. A criminal sometimes has to take the weight for a crime in prison, where he might lift weights while he is waiting for freedom.

Sugar Caine is a professional thief who comes back from a job to be arrested by half of the NYPD force. He is then picked out of a line-up as the guy who raped a well-to-do woman. He didn’t do it, but his alibi is, well, he was too busy pulling a heist at the time. It’s an obvious frame-up, but he can’t get out from under it. He either has to give up his partners in the robbery, or he has to do time for a sex crime, for which he will be listed on the registry. Snitches get stitches, everyone knows this, and Sugar refuses to sell out his partners. He keeps his mouth shut and takes the weight.

He goes inside and kills five years worth of time lifting weights. He’s not a weightlifter or bodybuilder, as he explains to another character in the book. “A weightlifter, he’s trying for the most he can lift. He don’t care how he looks . . . . But bodybuilders, all they care about is how they look. Weightlifters, they talk about leverage, position, driving the bar. Bodybuilders, it’s all about definition. The look. How you’re cut. Vascularity.” Sugar’s a big motherfucker, and he shoulders the weight for his partners without trouble, and they make sure he lives in relative comfort while he’s behind bars.

When his time is up, he goes to collect his cut of the heist, and the planner, a paranoid-but-aware man by the name of Solly, has a job for him. A former partner, Albie, has recently died, and Solly wants a particular book from his wife. He wants Sugar to go to Florida to get it, and while he’s down there, to kill Jessop, a less-than-trustworthy partner on the heist that got Sugar in trouble in the first place.

Since Solly has always played right by him, Sugar agrees to this and sets off on a journey he would never have expected, fraught with murder, dishonesty, and betrayal, and it all begins when he meets the lovely, strong, and self-sufficient Rena.

Vachss possesses an ability as a writer that very few others of his genre has: he tells it like it is. He has spent a lot of time with people like Sugar and his compatriots and enemies. Among his credentials is his time as a director of “a maximum-security prison for ‘aggressive-violent youth.’” Now, he’s a lawyer who does pro bono work for abused children. He’s on the front line for this kind of thing. He knows what he’s talking about.

And now, so do you, if you can see the cold, hard truth without flinching. He has called his books Trojan horses, and there couldn’t be a better description. It’s hard, heavy material, and it will hold you down. It commands your attention. Let it and learn.

By Andrew Vachss
Publisher: Pantheon
263 pages

Friday, December 3, 2010



I saw the Ulster American Folk Park today, which was really kind of strange.  It was like Ireland's version of the Wild West town in Union, IL, but it not only showed what life was like for the Irish earlier in time, but also how it was for Americans on the other side of the immigration boat.  There are a some thatched huts and stone buildings, and yes, all the doorways went up to my chest.  Even back then, everything was built for small people.  I had to duck my head to move around inside these buildings.  Oddly enough, no matter how small the people must have been, they built very steep steps, as was evidenced in the boat replica.  The sleeping arrangements must have been hell, even for small people.  The beds were wood with a very thin, very hard mattress on top, and that was more than the Irish got on the immigration boat.  The American side of the park was a bit bigger, although I still had to duck to get inside buildings.

We had lunch in Enniskillen in a pub (naturally).  I ate the usual shitty cheeseburger.

We saw how pottery was made in Belleek.  It's very intricate and delicate work, and I felt nervous, considering how big and clumsy I am.  I'm proud to say, though, that I made it out without knocking one thing over, which was a real feat.  They had stuff lying all over the place.

We went to the grave of W.B. Yeats.  Surprisingly, it's not a weathered old grave like the rest of the tombstones.  It looked brand new.  His epitaph:

"Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by."

So here I am at the hotel named after Yeats looking out at the vast Atlantic Ocean, getting ready for what will probably be a terrible dinner.  The shower is huge.  Finally, I have found something made for big people.  I can barely touch the showerhead!


I'm pleased to say that I got a cheeseburger instead of the usual crap they try to pawn off on us.  Granted, it still wasn't that great, but I could stomach it better than the fish.

Here's something I've noticed about Irish television getting American shows.  POPULAR is a "new series" starting July 6.  Back in America, we've been suffering its existence for a while, which means that the American shows that Ireland gets, while reruns to us, are brand new to them.

Another thing:  the hour shows we're used to are compressed into half-hour shows with maybe one or two commercials every ten minutes.  They also cut the shows a bit.


Another television shocker:  they allow nudity and swearing on regular TV here in Ireland!  I'm watching this show where they computer match eight people and set them loose on a villa for a weekend of wild drinking and sex.  One guy even pissed in this drunk guy's mouth.  It's called THE VILLA.  It's like turning on ABC and seeing the type of stuff you see on late night Skinemax (without the lame attempt at plot).


I saw the bogs today, which was kind of scary.  The bogs are barely different from the rest of the land, so you could just go wandering in, and you'll drown before you even realize what happened.  The ground looks utterly solid, yet you can sink up to fourteen feet.  Geraldine, our tour guide, took us out onto the bog, and the safe ground is amazingly spongy.  You can only see the water if you're looking for it, and if you have good vision.  I'm surprised so many drunkards survive out here.

We didn't do much today, so I'll talk about the two people showing us Ireland:  Geraldine and Michael.

Geraldine is the perfect stereotype of the Irish woman.  She knows the language, tells the stories, and speaks in the expected accent.  She was probably given this job because of all these qualities.  She's very nice and knows exactly what she's talking about.  She even knows stories about the wee folk.  She is also the sister-in-law of Colm Meaney.

Michael is the driver with balls of steel.  He can drive the coach up and down narrow mountain roads, so he can effectively drive ANYWHERE.  He looks like the guy who played Grady in Stanley Kubrick's version of THE SHINING, and he is a proper, Guinness-drinking Irishman.

We did go to Kylemore Abbey today, which was built for big, rich people.  It's just the kind of thing I wanted to see in Ireland.  Their idea of a castle is nothing like ours; when they think of the word, they think of a small tower standing on its own in most cases (there are exceptions, but not many).  They are nothing like the enormos palaces we think of.  Kylemore Abbey, however, sprawls like a Hammer movie castle.

Aside from places like this, most historical Irish places are so small that I'm starting to wonder if the people who originally lived here were hobbits.  The homes are small for me, but for a hobbit, they'd be gigantic.

I saw the land where THE QUIET MAN was filmed.  While the Duke can't stride here anymore, Maureen O'Hara's still alive, and she lives in County Cork.

Speaking of famous people, guess who showed up in Derry not more than a half-hour before we left?  Prince Charles and his entourage.  There was also a Russian ambassador at the Abbey (I passed him on the way to the Gothic Church), and the big-busted woman from the POLICE ACADEMY movies was there, as well.