Archive for the ‘No Excuses Book Review’ Category

Plain ‘ol Prison Survival

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Prison Bacteria for Dummies with Excrement Assault Guide_Where Excuses Go to DiePrison Survival Literature: where’s the chapter on being hustled?

“Two men enter – one man leaves!”
It’s all you need to know, right?
Okay technically, sometimes, sure.

My cellmate wanted to order a copy of Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out! Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison, but I was able to talk him out of it. Good thing, too, because the publisher’s catalog through which the order would’ve been placed belonged to me, and it was high contraband. Back then I was in possession of several such catalogs, which offered titles on everything from document falsification to improvised explosives; from contingency cannibalism (my favorite) to how to dispose of a dead body. I got the sense I’d exceeded the natural encyclopedia of criminal knowledge around me as a result, and that was nothing short of cross-eyed fabulous.

Each catalog entry was accompanied by a book-jacket photo and lengthy summary. Where Excuses Go to Die’s chapter, “High Weirdness by Mail,” describes how reading snippets of these out loud to certain trusted inmates caused laughter so physically enfeebling that only a death rattle was left in the human body’s big bag of tricks.

It seems crazy to recall being rendered sightless by tears of joy in the company of murderers, shot-callers, and stonehearted life-termers. But these “moments of genuine whimsy,” as I refer to ‘em in Where Excuses Go to Die, were what my own prison survival was made of. Sure, I’d read the titles and descriptions in a funny voice, but I allowed the absurdity of it all to do the heavy lifting. We didn’t actually need to possess the instructions for do-it-yourself blowguns; picturing blowgun wars in the chow hall was priceless enough. We’d really lose it when some badass piped up to correct, clarify, or corroborate. Such sessions turned tall tales into skyscrapers.

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Mindfulness as Technology

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Living in the moment - it doesn't have to be this way_Where Excuses Go to DieCourtesy of a Sunday op-ed, “Mindfulness as Technology” might stick with me for a least a week!

Ok, so I still like to read newspapers. There’s just something cathartic about being able to crumple up the stupidity I come across, and it takes a lot less time than entering a log-in to leave an angry comment. One is arguably empowering, the other simply self-aggrandizing. Besides, the Internet is great ‘n all, but compared to 130 years of industrial age headline-induced anger, the web is still preoccupied with its own genitalia.

For me, reading the paper is an exercise in delayed gratification. I first physically disassemble and reorder its parts from responsible to frivolous, from world affairs to the national scene, and from what’s happening around the state to local news. I save the culture, arts, and entertainment bits for last. It’s fairly meditative, so it fit to come across Teresa Jordan’s op-ed, “Seizing a Stetson does not make foil hats but it should_Where Excuses Go to Diemoment for mindfulness.” (Don’t ask me why titles are changed for online versions, but it might be a good thing you can’t crumple a laptop. Had I seen the online one first I would have skipped the piece).

Teresa Jordan is the author of The Year of Living Virtuously (Weekends Off), which is essentially about surviving distraction and obliviousness. Self-help books are lame – Where Excuses Go to Die once had a chapter called “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Chuy” that mocked the ones you find in prison – but these days so many are being written by people who hate ’em too that at least their titles reflect the removal of an important stick, if you get my drift. That makes it much easier to fight the urge to laugh at the sight of one. Plus I’m getting older, so my decades-long diet of nonfiction treachery, high weirdness, and absurdity is beginning to require balance. (more…)

No Excuses Book Review #1

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

The Skies Belong to UsThe Skies Belong to Us: Love & Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking

In the end, Brendan Koerner’s The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, is about character. Though it was published nine months ago, it’s a fun choice for No Excuses Book Review #1.

I’m not old enough to remember the plague of airline hijackings that took place in and around American airspace during the hippie era, but I do remember laughing with my mom through a television rerun of The Out of Towners, a 1970 Jack Lemmon comedy. In it, everything that can go wrong for two hapless New York tourists does, and despite the appearance of a happy ending, the two find themselves on a hijacked plane just before the credits roll. “This plane is going to Havana, Cuba!” announces the hijacker as he brandishes a gun. (Apparently a lot of these folks were aiming for Cuba; they envisioned a revolutionary paradise when, in reality, Castro jailed ’em instead.)

Initially that’s why I picked up this book: Because I am old enough to remember the aftermath of the ’60s and ’70s skyjacking plague.

In The Skies Belong to Us, Brendan Koerner provides readers with a central romantic antihero narrative on which his exhaustive research hangs. But nothing hangs so long as to slow things down. Koerner’s approach and writing is solid as cement, yet it moves as quickly as a TV news crawler. (more…)