Short Books And Lots of TV: That’s Entertainment!

Well, good ol’ 2021, part of the ongoing COVID era, found me doing this, that and the other thing to fill up the 17.5 hours during which I’m more or less conscious each day. None of those hours were spent at a workplace outside my home, because COVID deep-sixed the volunteer jobs that I had engaged in happily for years. I’m still working, however, because I spend a fair amount of time writing pieces for the shaky, suspect publication titled Yeah, Another Blogger. Yo, you take your part-time jobs where you can find them!

Writing aside, I’m left with shitloads of hours on my hands each week. Many of them are spent on my living room sofa, where I’ve mastered the art of staring into space as I twist the six strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head into fascinating shapes. Then I untwist them and start all over again.

Fortunately, I engage in a variety of more fruitful activities too. If I didn’t, my wife Sandy would have had me committed long ago.

For instance, I read books. Not an extraordinary number — hell, I know of some fellow WordPress denizens who tear through three or more books per week — but enough to keep my mind percolating a bit.

I’m picky, though. Any book that I contemplate tackling must be short, as in no more than 260 pages. And fewer than 200 as often as possible. I began taking this approach because my attention span and stamina, when it came to book-reading, began to fall off the table in 2015. I found my way to the ends of a mere two books that year. 2016 proved to be even worse, as I recorded a big fat goose egg.

Ergo, to kickstart my dormant love of books I devised the short-book strategy in 2017. And it has worked. Last year, for instance, I polished off 17 books, fewer than in my glory days of book-reading, but a number I feel good about.

All are members of the fiction category, including two mysteries (Sleeping Murder; And Then There Were None) by Agatha Christie that are as breezy and enjoyable as they can be. My list of conquests also includes Cathedral, a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. Carver’s world is populated by people who have never figured out, or been encouraged to figure out, how to lead productive, happy lives. Matter-of-factly, but not depressingly, he lays out their plights in language that grabs hold of you from the opening paragraphs.

As it turns out, though, the first book I read in 2021 was the one I thought was the best: Flight, by Sherman Alexie (I expounded upon it here). It’s the tale, as vivid as daylight on a cloudless afternoon, of a 21st century Native American teen trying to come to terms with himself and with the country — the USA — that conquered and subjugated his peoples.

Yes, books entertained me mightily in the year that just entered our rearview mirrors.  The jollies that I got from them, though, paled in comparison to those provided by the magical medium known as television. Yeah, I spent quite a few hours in front of the home screen last year, continuing the practice I’d adopted at the start of the pandemic. Sandy used to watch the tube alone in the evening. But lack of outside-the-house entertainment options caused me to join her when coronavirus reared its f*cking head. We quickly developed into an adorable TV-viewing couple, settling in for an hour or two of laughs, gasps and whatever, five or six nights each week.

During 2021, Sandy and I watched around 20 movies on the tube and many more series than that. Almost every one was on commercial-free platforms and networks, mainly Netflix and HBO, both of which have become two of my closest friends. I’ve turned into a series addict, limited series particularly. Some of the limited ones that I especially liked last year are The Chestnut Man and Giri/Haji (tense crime dramas), Chernobyl (a dramatization of the nuclear disaster), and Maid (where relationships go very bad and where pure love is on display).

In closing, I give a hearty tip of the hat to Godless, a Western that, as is common to its genre, portrays a battle between decency and wickedness. This limited series is set in late-1800s Colorado. Jeff Daniels (Is there a better actor anywhere?) stars as Frank Griffin, an eerie bad guy who bosses around his band of associate baddies and takes his amputated left arm with him, like a good luck charm, everywhere he goes. (A bad wound necessitated the amputation.) In the end, does good triumph over evil? You’ll have to tune in to find out, because I ain’t one for dropping spoilers.

Thanks for reading, boys and girls. What activities/books/TV/music/etc. rang your bell in 2021? Feel free to comment.

Happy New Year!

Jeff Bezos Spoke With Me! (An Amazonian Story)

I was mad as hell. You would have been too if the monogrammed boxer shorts that you ordered from Amazon came with incorrect initials. My initials are NSS, not ASS, for crying out loud! And the manufacturer got it wrong not once, not twice, but thrice. And so I decided to give Amazon a piece of my mind before returning defective goods to them once again. They needed to know that Underpants R Us, based in Crotchonia, Bulgaria, is a firm that does not deserve to have its products handled by the world’s largest online retailer!

That’s why I dialed 888-280-4331 last week, Amazon’s customer service number in the USA. I wasn’t sure where my dissatisfaction would take me. Turns out that the call resulted in an experience that in a million years I wouldn’t have expected.

“This is Anna, in Amazon’s customer service department in beautiful Kennewick, Washington. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with, and how are you this fine day?” were the words that greeted me. Ah, such a lovely tone. Anna seemed so agreeable, so gentle over the phone, I almost decided not to burden her with my complaint. But complain I did, succinctly explaining the situation without ever raising my voice.

Anna listened attentively, confirming all pertinent information and asking appropriate questions. Then she took me aback.

“Mr. Scheinin,” she said, “I am pleased to let you know that there is a special visitor in our facility today. He stops by several times each year, being a very hands-on individual. He has been listening to our conversation and has indicated to me that he would like to talk with you. He will provide you with the highest level of customer satisfaction. If it’s all right, then, I’m going to place Mr. Bezos — Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO — on the line.”

“Why, yes, that is absolutely all right, Anna,” I said. “Thank you.”

A few seconds passed. And then I heard the voice of the world’s richest person. (He’s worth well over 100 billion American dollars.)

Photo of Jeff Bezos by Tom Stockill/Redux

“Neil! This is Jeff Bezos. I’m so sorry that you’ve been having problems with some of our merchandise. I don’t quite understand what the situation is, though. Something’s wrong with your ass, is that it?”

“Well, not exactly, Jeff. You see . . .”

He cut me off. “Neil, if your derriere isn’t feeling right, I have just the product for you. I totally swear by it. I tell you, it’s provided me with wonderful relief many times in recent years. Preparation H, Neil. Preparation H. It’s been around forever, and that’s because it works. Hemorrhoids begone! Neil, Amazon will be glad to sell you a case of this magical concoction, enough for many years, for a mere $109.99. And shipping, it goes without saying, is free. What do you say, Neil? May I process your order?”

“Mr. Bezos,” I said, “you’ve got it all wrong. Let me start from the beginning. You see, I’ve been having enormous difficulty obtaining properly-monogrammed boxer shorts . . . oh, it’s a long, boring story. Who really cares? I’ll just keep the ones with ASS stitched onto them. My wife thinks those initials are appropriate, anyway. Listen, do you have a couple of minutes?”

“Indeed I do. Wassup?”

“Jeff, you’ve climbed to the top of the mountain. You have achieved success and wealth to a degree that boggles the mind. Obviously you are a man with a plan. On the other hand, I’m a chap with no map. Jeff, all my life I’ve been bouncing through life like a pinball, rarely finding satisfaction, unable to smell the roses because of my intense sinus condition. Hire me, Mr. B! I want a job that I can throw myself into.”

“Neil, I liked you the moment we started talking. But I have to probe a little deeper to make sure that you’re the right individual for the position I have in mind. Spot quiz: Spell hemorrhoid quickly!”

Wham! The convoluted letters flew off my tongue like bullets.

“Excellent! Another spot quiz: How many writers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

“Jeff, that depends on how deeply they want to analyze the situation. Writers, you know, can be complicated.”

“Right on, Neil! You’re the first person to get that one correct. My man, I can’t believe my good fortune in meeting you today. I want you to join Amazon as my sounding board. I have so many ideas to bounce off you. For instance, I’d like to create a chain of restaurants that serve nothing but LOL sandwiches — liverwurst, onion and Limburger. Man, I love me a good LOL! And I have the perfect slogan for the sandwich: It surely does smell, but what the hell.”

“That’s brilliant, Jeff. Brilliant.”

“Thanks, Neil. And how about this one? Amazon gas stations manned by robots who give you the best hugs of your life before and after they fill up your car’s tank. Customers will drive away bursting with happiness!”

“Bravo, Jeff! You have your finger on humanity’s pulse. It will be an honor to work for you. What’s my salary going to be, by the way? Eighty grand a year sounds about right, don’t you think?”

“Salary? Who said anything about a salary? This is an unpaid internship, Neil. Despite the lack of remuneration, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. When, my boy, can you start?”

That was a good question. I don’t encounter good questions all that often. And when I do, I usually don’t have good responses to them. This time I did.

“Later, Jeff,” I said.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. I thank you.)