Thursday, August 22, 2019

Re-Listen: "A Walk In The Woods" by Bill Bryson

Re-Listen: A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, 1998, some download my wife got.

I heard this again on the drive out to KS for summer vacation. This may be my third time to listen to it, actually.

Anyhoo, here is the skinny: Bryson is living in Vermont (New Hampshire?) and back behind his rear yard is the trail. He gets a yearning to make the hike. He cannot recruit anyone to go with him - he even tries all his old high school pals in Iowa. One IA guy calls him and comes along. Things happen and Bryson sticks in plenty of information about the history of: the Trail, National Park Service, urban sprawl, bear attacks, crime on the Trail, so on, so forth.

The book is 21 years old but not much has changed I suppose. Maybe some more sprawl. I am four years older than Bryson when he did this walk and really cannot see the big deal his wife seems to have made of it. Sure, the hike is a big undertaking requiring planning and decent gear but as long as you prep for the hike and do some multi-day prehikes to shake out your gear and get in shape is not the huge, dangerous adventure it sometimes comes out as.

Most trail trouble comes from Bryson's hiking companion, Katz. Bryson writes much of the story about Katz because he is quite the character. For instance: Katz shows up for the hike overweight, in poor fitness, and with way too much weight in gear. There are at least two instances where Bryson writes about Katz getting fed up with all the extra crap Katz brought and chucking half the stuff off a cliff.

----Which reminds me: in Yellowstone we only did a one night back country hike. They provide bear bag poles with a cross beam running between two trees. Our campsite's bear pole was next to some boulders. I walked behind the boulders to dig a hole and relieve myself and found a bunch of uneaten food scattered around. There was no evident bear claw marks or slobber so I figured someone didn't want to haul there full jar of peanut butter around. That is an asshole move because I ended up having to pack their garbage out for them.------

Katz comes off much worse in the film version. Being portrayed by a bloated, red-faced Nick Nolte is nothing to be happy about. I only just now discovered that Katz is a pseudonym for Matt Angerer who was still alive in 2015, but less one leg after a medical amputation. That sounds about right as Bryson wrote about Katz.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2015/09/01/bill-brysons-stephen-katz/71494350/

Faust: "The Killing Joke" by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips

Faust: The Killing Joke by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, 2018, 9781785658105.

Faust and Phillips team up again for a novelization based on a Batman comic set in 1988. Plenty of characters and brief storylines and arcs. I read this book in bits and pieces because of vacation travel and therefore was unable to keep track of all the characters.

Pretty damn good though. This is the kind of novel that, to me, seems simple because I just cruise along through it. I don't realize how skillful the authors are in pacing and smooth writing until I actively think on it.

Written in 3rd person and, interestingly, their is not a lot of POV by Batman and none by the Joker. The Batman parts I recall were action and trying to get Joker to talk when Batman visits Joker in Arkham Asylum. There is isn't much internal monologue about what he does and why.

The other characters do get some of that 1st person development. Mainly Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, and a couple other characters I don't recall.

Anyhoo. I enjoyed the book but must admit not much has stuck with me. Maybe that is a part of having read the book in bits and pieces. Maybe it is a part of the fact that I don't much give a damn about Batman. I read the book because Faust and Phillips wrote it.

Wait. I do recall something. This has some origin of Harley Quinn - a character I know next to nothing about except she always wears hot pants and pale makeup. I also learned Batgirl is Commissioner Gordon's daughter.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ebook: "The Legend of Caleb York" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Ebook: The Legend of Caleb York by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, 2015, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

Besides working on adapting a few Mike Hammer films Spillane also did some Hollywood scripting. He was pals with John Wayne and Wayne hired Spillane to develop/write a western for Wayne's production company. The project never got going and Wayne's company went out of business. So, Collins wrote a novelization.

This is a straightforward western with some Hollywood style schmaltz in it. Bad guy Sheriff Gauge is either buying or forcing out the local ranchers. Gauge is a long time crook and gunfighter who forced is way into the Sheriff job when the local Madam recruited the crook to the job. Gauge brought along his gang, made them Deputies, and uses those men to kill locals who get in the way. Gauge himself is a skilled and fast gunfighter. He and the Madam have a thing going and Gauge has made himself a silent partner in most local businesses.

This is not enough for Gauge though. A larger local ranch run by Cullen and his daughter Willa is a hold out. Gauge wants that ranch. Gauge wants that woman. Gauge is patient and plotting but he's also killing his way to success.

Old Man Cullen, blind, proud, and cantankerous, has enough of gauge's foul deeds after one of his ranch hands is shot down by the law for the crime of working for Cullen. Of course Gauge is Sheriff and can use any number of  spurious reasons to justify the killing. Besides, all the locals are too scared to confront or oppose Gauge and the state government says, "He's the Sheriff, what are talking about? Vote him out.".  After the ranch hand's funeral Cullen makes his to the telegraph office and sends a message to an old business partner that the partner should cable famed gunfighter Caleb York and offer $10,000 to get rid of Gauge by any means.

Well, Gauge finds out about the telegram and the ball starts rolling. There is shooting. There is sexy sexy sexing. There is brutal conniving. There is cold blooded killing. There is an oddly chaste romantic longing side-by-side of characters while they perform the sexy sexy sexing with other characters.

In short: a guy comes to town a day or so later and immediately beats up and subsequently shoots down two Deputies. Is he York? Could York get here that fast? If he isn't York then who the hell is he? Will Cullen's plan to drive Cullen under succeed?

Ranching Willa wants more say but she is a woman. The Madam wants more from Gauge than sex and business but Gauge is just using and abusing her. The Stranger keeps getting involved in local business but doesn't really want to.

A quick-ish read. The violence and sex match Spillane's style. Collins doesn't shy from that sex and violence and presents a western that is more '70s than '50s, and more Peckinpah than Ford. There are no cut aways as characters kiss and there is plenty of blood and cruel violence.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Audio True Crime: "Sex Slave Murders" by R. Barri Flowers

Audio True Crime: Sex Slave Murders: the true story of serial killers Charlene and Gerald Gallego by R. Barri Flowers, 2012 (for this audio version), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

This book seems to have had several printings and editions. I will not try and track those editions and dates down but a few references in the text mention updates to the story. I categorize this as Supermarket True Crime. The paperback you find on a spinner,printed on acidic paper, and with a lurid cover and description.

Flowers loves to use the phrase "sex slave" over and over again when writing about the Gallegos's crimes. To me "sex slave" sounds like a sounds more "sex games" or "let's get kinky". As if Flowers is trying to titillate the reader before revealing sex life details. So, don't get to think the title is a nod and wink. This is about kidnapping, rape, and murder.

Gerald Gallego had a difficult upbringing with a father executed for murder and a mother with a revolving door of husbands and boyfriends and lots of booze. He was a charming womanizer, multiple married, violent and rapey ex-con when he met teenage Charlene.

Charlene was a single child of overindulgent parents who was charmed by Gerald. She took up with him and actively and passively participated when Gerald wanted to start kidnapping teen girls for rape.

Gerald was certainly abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. He himself abused a 6-year-old when he was 13. Flowers writes how Charlene had a sharp change in behavior as a teen that, to me, shouted "Sex Abuse!".

Anyhoo. Petite, blond, and pretty Charlene would chat up a couple girls and get them to the Gallegos's van. The girls would be tied up and driven to a remote location (the murders happened IN Ca, NV, and OR). Gallegos would rape the girls, shoot them, and bury them. Charlene would hang out at in the van.

The two of them were getting away with murder when they execute the risky abduction of a college couple outside a fraternity dance. The Gallegos forced the couple into the back of the victim's car when a friend of the couple approached, spoke to the couple, saw the Gallegos, and the Gallegos drove away. The now missing couple are searched for, the murdered bodies are found, and the cops track down Charlene and put things together.

Flowers does a good job telling the entire story. As mentioned above she is very fond of the phrase "sex slave" and repeatedly emphasizes how Gerald murdered a pregnant women. But, Flowers put in the work and fills in details on Gerald's childhood, the crimes, the investigation and the many arguments and maneuvering over which state would get primary jurisdiction for prosecution.

Flowers details the absolutely bizarre parts of the trial in Nevada where megalomaniac Gerald acts as his own attorney. He puts Charlene on the stand and tries to get her to take the blame for some crimes. Their interaction is a fucking bizarre back-and-forth conversation of people acting like 8th graders but discussing rape, murder, and the possibility of a state death sentence.

Giving a vicious control freak like Gerald a free voice in court was nuts. The court had to accede to the situation and Gerald must have been on an emotional moon rocket as he got to stand in court and try to push around witnesses and make demands.  Fucking vile person.

And Charlene mostly gets away with all this. She plays the "poor little me" victim and, like Karla Homolka a few years later in Canada, gets away with just a few years in prison. Gerald was a controlling thug and I understand that leaving that coercive control can be very difficult. But, Charlene actively participated in murder.

Comments:
1. The female narrator's male voices were awful with this weird gruff voice that only had one emotion: anger.
2. I will associate this book with wearing a 35 lbs. pack and walking the dog at Korth Park in preparation for the Yellowstone high adventure trip.
3. Flowers talks about Charlene getting out of prison and appearing on the Sally Jessy Raphael show. I could not find a online video of the program.

Novella: "The Last Deep Breath" by Tom Piccirilli

Novella: The Last Deep Breath by Tom Piccirilli, 2011 (for ebook version), downloaded ebook from Wisconsin Digital Library.

More greatness from the late Piccirilli. Spare writing, sharp characters, and gaps to for the reader to figure out.

Remember back when Piccirilli announced he had brain cancer? He went through treatments and things were looking rough? Then he was admitted to a experimental treatment program and got better? And then the cancer came back? And then Piccirilli died? That was a kick in the guts. Piccirilli was a good dude and wrote some great stuff.

This is more of a novella and continues with some themes and features Piccirilli regularly wrote about: Lonely men, violent family members, muscle cars, lots of driving, protagonist stuck in a crook's life but kinda happy there.

Grey is a orphan, former foster kid, and Army Vet with a dishonorable discharge. He is on the hunt for a former foster sister who he and a foster brother went on the run with after the foster brother killed the rapist foster father. I typed foster five times. Six.

Grey and the sister and brother did not spend too much time together but Grey has a very strong attachment to them. He followed Foster Brother into the Army and Foster Brother has gotten Grey out of a couple binds. Grey has been living in NYC after getting kicked out of the Army and Foster Sister shows up at his apartment with a bad knife wound. Grey has not seen her in years but that does not matter. Grey calls a former Army Medic pal and gets Sister treated that evening.  When Grey awakens the next morning Sister is gone. The only information for Grey to work with is that Sister mentioned a guy's name and the Medic tells Grey that he recognizes Sister from porn.

Grey wants to find the injured sister. Grey gets on the phone with Foster Brother and the ever-capable Brother tells him, "Wait. I will be back in two months." But, Grey cannot wait. Grey has a brotherly love for Sister that barely hides his sexual love for sister. After some digging in NYC Grey decides to head to Los Angeles and track down Sister's porn past.

Things happen and Grey gets tangled up in his memories and desires. Grey slowly makes his way westward. He meets women. He beds women. Many of those women ask Grey to kill the woman's significant other. Grey wonders, "What kind of weird ass killer vibe do I put out?" In Reno, Grey meets a mostly washed up film actress and the movie loving Grey pairs up with her and heads to Hollywood.

Things happen and Grey uses a little too much force out west but finds out more about Sister and her drug use and her former boyfriend. He works as a manager of sorts for Actress and gets her on track for a decent film job. He's then heading out for the East coast on the track of Sister.

The novel is like a lot of Piccirilli stuff: protagonist with lousy family. A hard worker who feels less-than around violent, hyper-masculine relatives. Split between straight life and crook life. Lots of muscle cars. Lost love from teen years and still pining for the adult version of that teen girl.

Like most Piccirilli stories there resolution is not a feel good. Grey finds his MacGuffin (Foster Sister) but does not come to terms with his own problems.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Saw: "William Wegman: Being Human" by William A. Ewing

Saw: William Wegman: Being Human by William A. Ewing, 2017, 9781452164991.

Smaller photo book of Wegman dogs. A jokey introduction by Ewing that still covers some interesting topics. 1- How much of a collaborator is a dog? 2 - What artistic styles is Wegman mimicking or mocking? 3 - portraiture is an art and how do these photos compare with use of pight, perspective and props?

I just like pictures of dogs and there are some great ones. Those Weimaraners are well trained and relaxed.

There is a printed interview between Wegman and Ewing at the end.
There is a piece by Wegman about the dogs over the years.

Audio True Crime: "Handsome Johnny" by Lee Server

Audio True Crime: Handsome Johnny: the life and death of Johnny Roselli, gentleman gangster, Hollywood producer, CIA assassin by Lee Server, 2018, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Italian crook from Boston ends up under the Chicago mob and working in Los Angeles.

Roselli is born in Italy in 1905 and five years later his family travels to the U.S. in 1911 to join the father. Dad dies in 1918 and the family struggles along. Johnny has school trouble as an immigrant. Quits school and travels town to town with a pal. They work odd jobs and do some crimes. Roselli ends up in Chicago in the '20s and then Los Angeles. Along the way he changes his name and falsifies paperwork in his new name.

This is a neat story and Roselli was an active crook until the 1960s. His crooked and straight jobs touched a lot of famous names and events over five decades and he was around during the same corruption and mob troubles in LA that Hammett and Ellroy fictionalized. There is Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Jack Dragna, Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedy assassination, Los Vegas casino skimming, Frank Sinatra, and more.

Roselli was a charmer and when he grew older he stayed away from violence and therefore avoided some legal scrutiny. During Prohibition he ran booze. In Los Angeles he ran rackets and gambling operations. Gangsters were kinda hip so he schmoozed with the wealthy and famous. He then went a little straight and worked some film projects.

The book has plenty of stories but the most interesting parts to me were: The 1920s gambling boats off the CA shoreline. The 1950s gang battles with Dragna and Mickey Cohen and others. The CIA and Mob assassination plots on Castro.

The unions became a big moneymaker because anywhere there is a buck the mob will try to grab it.  Server clearly explains the history of how the Chicago mob became involved and took over a union by forcing their picked candidate into the presidency. The union's 1934 convention and election in Lousiville was attended by Lucky Luciano and Louis Buchalter (head of Murder Inc.) The convention hall was filled with gunman and everyone was told who to vote for.

That union then started to swallow other unions. Extortion income rolled in to the mob by threatening strikes. Raising member dues gave a bigger skim to the mob.  They "loaned" themselves money from the retirement fund and used union dues to start Las Vegas casinos.

The Cuba plots and Kennedy tie-ins are always interesting to me. The mob ran free in Cuba under Batista and were unhappy about losing all the casinos, bordellos, and drug trade when Castro took over. Server writes about plenty of the skeezy work the CIA and the mob undertook and how the mob tied into the 1960 US Presidential election through a Joe Kennedy connection. How Robert Kennedy had a hard on for prosecuting the mob and the mob figured to shut RFK down by teaming with Joe. How RFK, JFK, and Joe would be shtupping the same women. Everyone's fondness for mistresses and prostitutes.

There is plenty of history about Sinatra, Giancana, and Kennedy and their mistresses. James Ellroy's favorite PI Fred Otash shows up. (Otash secretly recorded a conversation between Rock Hudson and his wife where she accused him of picking up men on the street. Hudson emphatically denied this.)

Roselli was intricately involved with helping the CIA to organize Cuban exiles trying to overthrow Castro in Operation Mongoose and the ZR/RIFLE assassination program. He was helping plan or participate with covert missions into Cuba, midnight boat trips and speedboat insertions, and working with the CIA to hire assassins and plan plots.

The 1950s gang wars had Mickey Cohen surviving murder attempts. One of Cohen's methods of getting cash was to borrow money - or "borrow" money - and never pay it back. Cohen learned that as the right hand man of Bugsy Siegel.

Roselli did a couple prison terms and when released in the 1970s he lived with a sister in Florida before he was murdered, his legs chopped off, and his body parts stuffed into a metal drum and dumped in a bay.

Comments:
1. Low-key mobsters last longer. Schmoozers make smarter deals than the strong arms and killers.
2. Actors versus film versions. Dramatizations often have older actors portraying mobsters who were in their twenties. Capone was born in 1899 and running the Chicago outfit in his twenties.
3. Capone's entire family were crooks. The library has a book by his great niece that mentions the bordellos the family ran in Northern Wisconsin.
4. A Fred Otash interview with Mike Wallace from 1957 regarding Hollywood gossip magazines. https://hrc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15878coll90/id/25/rec/29
5.  A Mickey Cohen interview was referenced at the above website in an introduction before another interview. I recall a Mickey Cohen biography detailing how Cohen spoke to Mike Wallace when Cohen was under investigation and prosecution. Cohen couldn't keep his mouth shut and insulted and defamed the cops who went after him. That interview does not seem to be in the online archive. And, interestingly, the keyword search does not come up for him in the transcript. I only found that when messing around and searching "Wisconsin".
6. Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw ran the City. The Grand Jury members were all appointed to block prosecutions. A local bible thumper and restaurateur campaigned against crime when getting on the Jury and seeing what happened. His house was bombed.
7. Server mentions the many Florida training camps for exile Cubans. Those camps were still running in teh 1980s and I suppose they are going now in one place or another.
8. All the Cuba talk reminded by of John Sayles's novel Los Gusanos from 1991. I've not watched any Sayles films in a long time.