We’ll See You Again, Folks

The Family Farce is taking an indefinite hiatus. But family endures, and families are fucked up and funny, so we will be back, providing a new and improved brand of the snarky, irreverent humor you know and love.

Take care, folks.

Seth Kabala


Chirp So Good

I bought Amy Chirp Wheels for her birthday.

These are tires and rims without the spokes. They’re supposed to help with relieving back tension, and they do, but what I saw was a sex toy.

Maybe that’s not their intended use, but whoever made a living marketing by playing it safe? Do you think the guy who suggested that Snickers blast-tackle Betty White in a muddy pick-up football game sat in the corner of the pitch room, quietly taking notes and doodling the aforementioned blast-tackling of a favorite, way-old TV personality, and the creative team manager just happened to glance his way and know he was creating a masterpiece?

Don’t think so. Gotta go bold.

Back to Chirp as sex toy. I’ve got no limit when it comes to turning things dirty. I’m like Joey Tribbiani, Grandma’s chicken salading my way along the salacious switching highway. For the Chirp Wheels, I’ve got 10 reasons why it makes more sense to see them in an adult bookstore than a tire shop or online back tension reliever store.

  1. They have a weight limit that far exceeds the poundage of a typical user. I don’t think this was simply a challenge to create funny YouTube fail videos.
  1. Cirque du Soleil performers like to have sex, too, but in their element. Also, with Covid going on and Cirque performers out of work, they had to make money somehow. The answer: a new porn category.
  1. You’ve heard of nail marks, right? Skid marks (not those skid marks) are the new back skin abrasion fantasy technique. However you screech your wheels to a halt is up to you.
  1. You can poke your arm through them and pull your arm back without tension, which is an indication of a wheel well-loved.
  1. If you tried to put these on a car, you wouldn’t get very far, forcing you to park and find other ways to occupy your time. Yes, it’s high school nostalgia. It’s also romantic, in a you-ruined-your-car’s-axles-but-yay-for-love-life-excitement kind of way.
  1. Chirp Wheels have a channel in their center, supposedly designed to receive the protrusion of your spine, but turn it over, and you’ve got a slot for all seasons while doing the Superman. String enough of these Chirp Wheels together, and you can fly for a long time, until you get to the Fortress of Solitude or the Bat Cave, or whatever you call it—something, I hope, not indicative of melancholy or cold, infrequently used subterranean space.
  1. Even if you don’t have Cirque du Soleil aspirations, standing on a Chirp Wheel is a hell of a way to improve Kegel and groin strength, and more than a few functions of a healthy sex life benefit from having more fuel in those tanks.
  1. When you buy Chirp Wheels, you get the wheels, not some upselling pitch from a plucky salesperson trying to convince you the platinum-coated Chirp Wheels are better than the standard model, which leaves you more time to focus on what you’re doing with the wheels (you don’t have to tell me *wink, wink*) as opposed to how you look doing what you’re doing.
  1. I honestly don’t know how these can be marketed only as a tool for back tension relief when they clearly have so many applications as a sex toy.
  1. In answer to #9: they are first used, in myriad ways, to build tension. Then they are used to relieve that tension in the post-coital afterglow.

A product that provides an unadvertised benefit and then uses its advertised features to help you recover and return you to the beginning of the amorous, virtuous cycle.

That’s marketing genius.

The Curious Case of Brownie the Flying Cat

Anna was tracking a stray, brown cat that we saw through the back door. Then its paw prints suddenly disappeared. I wondered what happened. Rather than investigate, I chose to fictionalize where Brownie ended up. Spoiler alert: he’s okay, but he did have a rough go of it for a while.

* * *

Brownie the cat discovered he could fly at an inopportune time. He was exploring the backyard of new neighbors who’d moved onto his land. Like other squatters, he didn’t mind the newcomers. So long as they put their garbage out on time, and said garbage contained a healthy amount of unhealthy takeout food scraps, he was cool with them laying claim to his land with their flimsy human deeds.

He smiled to himself as he watched the newcomers through the back window into their family room. Before long, he noticed the safe that likely contained their precious documents. He would remember its look in case he ever had to come back to teach them a lesson.

Reconnaissance conducted, he jumped down into the snow, heading for home. He stole one last glance over his shoulder at the newcomers. Suddenly he was aware of the angle of his vision changing, the purchase of his paws on the snow releasing. Instead of looking up at the newcomers, he found himself hovering at the top of the glass.

He found himself flying.

Up over the house he rose. A gust of wind blew him toward the street and onto an idling UPS truck. The driver hopped into the cab as Brownie was settling onto the roof, his newfound hovering ability petering out. The driver gunned the engine, and Brownie was thrown backward. He dug in his claws, leaving long scratch marks in the truck’s paint, but Brownie thought it looked better that way. He wasn’t sure what was happening to him, and he was glad he was leaving his mark on the world, or at least on a UPS truck. The truck sped on toward the highway.

Brownie dug his claws into the roof like circus tent spikes. He had avoided dying, but he realized if he didn’t get off the truck now, he would leave his kingdom. Who knew if he could find his way back? Then Snowball, that pretentious and, he had to say, slightly racist cat would assume leadership of the subdivision and insist that all BBQing had to be hamburgers and hotdogs from Walmart. There would be no room for cultural color.

Brownie was the product of Red Vines Banana Runts and Blue Airheads (his parents’ parents were candy hippies). He understood the value of combining choice desserts from the aisles of the QuikTrip and feeling okay giving a genuine up-chin greeting to the cashier. Snowball would give the ass-down, leave-a-present greeting, which, Brownie had observed, Snowball rudely called brownies, figuratively rubbing his leader’s face in his calling card. Snowball had no imagination. Just rudeness. Brownie was different. He kept the balance of the subdivision healthy.

And he could fly.

He breathed deeply, relaxed his body, and retracted his claws from the roof of the truck.

He flew off like a leaf in a storm released from under a boot. He swirled and tumbled. He saw the sewer grate approaching his head. He knew he would never fit between the bars. He’d be stuck or skewered.

But the shish kebobs, courtesy of the city’s public works department, would have to wait. Brownie stopped inches from the grate, hovering. He opened his eyes. He had told himself to stop, and he did stop. He was getting the hang of this. He told himself to fly, and he flew.

He flew up to twice the height of his previous elevation. He felt the winds strengthen and try to blow him off course like a huge, malfunctioning hairdryer with its cord stuck in the bathtub. He was new to this, but he felt control rising. Skill was accruing to him. From where? He didn’t know. But he knew he could use this power, so he did. He flew back to the house of the new people.

Still several houses away, he saw Snowball perched where he himself had been only minutes earlier. The attempted succession had already begun. Power grabs wait for no one, especially not for cats who find their leader with a barely controlled ability to fly.

Brownie descended but did not decelerate. He lowered his head and beaned Snowball on his flank like a fastball fired from a Major League Baseball pitcher. Snowball flew into a snowbank and disappeared. After a few minutes, Brownie saw the snow moving, but he didn’t see Snowball again. The message had been delivered.

Brownie was king of this subdivision. He had the knowledge. He had the experience. He had the willingness to steal important documents, as needed. But most importantly, he could fly.

He lifted off and never came down.

When the tracks faded in the spring melt, other subdivision cat leaders across town and across the state discussed whether Brownie was alive, whether he had ever been real. But a healthy amount of unhealthy food scraps continued showing up, and many new residents, whether they knew it or not, had signed over their deeds to Brownie. A review of county records proved this.

Brownie’s legend grew.

His tracks, history.

* * *

Ambitious, shady real estate scheming, and flying cat culture could be happening in your backyard. Don’t worry about the paw prints ending.

Someone could have learned to fly.

My Good Friend Gupus Needs Help

Amy and I were trying to drive from the SE 14th and Indianola Ave Mister Car Wash in Des Moines to Burlington Coat Factory. (Poppa needs new shoes.) We turned right onto Indianola Ave. A second later, our Dodge Journey’s GPS (aka Gupus) said to turn left. We crossed SE 14th. A second later, Gupus said to turn left on SE 14th.

Too late, Gupus. You need some help. You need a software update.

Gupus doesn’t retain anything we shout at her. I don’t mean Gupus opens a hole in the side of her head and pours out ones and zeroes like castoff parts from a typewriter factory. I mean Gupus’ knowledge has finite value. Wait too long for an update, and all Gupus’ files are so much digital detritus, existing and stuck in place long after their usefulness has expired, like Family Video.

What is too long? How many changes must happen before data in the database grow rust? When is it advisable to find a shorter route instead of meandering through a cornfield or two?

The answer obviously depends on how hungry you are, how late you are to your own wedding, or how many parishioners you’ve left stranded in your sanctuary, happily watching the Reverend Lovejoy while they await the Word of God from a man who can’t find Target across town, let alone the key to eternal life.

Let’s start with the first question: how long is too long? The first Gupus was invented in the 1960s by scientists wanting to track satellite movement. Civilization’s written records go back to the time of Sumerian cuneiform script, around 2,600 B.C. That means the first Gupus-aided trip took over 4,500 years, give or take a decade or generation.

That is too long.

Forget fashion being out of style by the time you arrive. The whole planet might have changed its axis and see you driving into a tree instead of through a hollowed out one.

But things quickly improved. Gupus put in long hours studying, raised her marks, and got the attention of entrepreneurs who wanted to use her for a quickie drive-by. Fast forward 60 years, and you’ve got modern Gupus. Backtrack a bit, and you’ve got my Gupus, and she’s taking too long to perform her duties.

I benefit from not being one of Gupus’ pioneering scientists. I need only navigate to the Garmin website to download the latest update, and I am assured of Gupus taking me home to Carlisle, IA, not Carlisle, TX. (Give me your steaks. Keep your hats.)  

At the website, I see these instructions:    . You may be wondering, Is that a blank space typo? It is a blank space, but it is not a typo. I see nothing on Garmin’s website about updating my Gupus. I see advertisements for colorful watches and other wearables, and products that affix to airplanes, boats, and cars, but it seems my Gupus has missed the cut for inclusion in the modern and profitable business model.

How can this be? I think. My Gupus is only three years old. How can it already be side-of-the-highway trash, condemned to stowaway in my dashboard forever with no hope of removal, like the remains of fast food accidentally kicked underneath the seats?

Answer: it’s not, but its fate rests in my hands. I need to be more specific in my research. What a strange turn of events, I think. I was depending on Gupus, and now Gupus is depending on me. I pause to think, then, Gupus, are you my mother?

The psychological implications of Gupus’ claim on my parentage can wait for another day and a not-yet-scheduled therapy session. For now, I search “updating Garmin GPS in 2018 Dodge Journey.”

Everything I need is at the top of the search results. I need only acquire a USB drive, pay a nominal fee, download the latest digital overlays (which, presumably, will tell me to turn left on East 14th before I get to East 14th), transfer these overlays to Gupus, and hear her breathe a sigh of relief in her sexy British voice.

(Not sure if it’s Elizabeth Hurley, but we just watched Austin Powers with the kids, so I’m satisfied with this fantasy conclusion.)

I can do this for Gupus. I think I will.

I need left turns in my life.

To Burlington Coat Factory.

Elbert Ainstein

We bought Will an Albert Einstein Funko Pop for his birthday. Before opening it, he shook it, turned it around in his hands, listened to the package, and declared he knew what it was. We asked him how he could be so sure.

He remarked that the Albert Einstein edition was the only Funko Pop he had requested. Thus, it followed that upon receiving a box fitting the dimensions of previously gifted Funko Pops, he would conclude that this, too, was not only a Funko Pop but a Funko Pop in the image and likeness of one Albert Einstein.

He opened the box, and the figure was, indeed, that of Albert Einstein. Will basked in his gift guessing skill, but I reminded him: the gift could easily have been the image and likeness of Elbert Ainstein, little known and forgotten first developer of E = MC2, otherwise known as the theory of special relativity.

* * *

What’s that? You haven’t heard of Elbert Ainstein either? Well, pull up a chair and prepare yourself to be shocked, entertained, intrigued, and edified to an understanding of a dark tale of jealousy and greed the scientific community would just as soon remain buried.

Elbert Ainstein grew up in a small house behind the patent office in Bern, Switzerland. He was a curious boy, always conducting experiments, such as determining if riding a bicycle on a powerline would cause enough falling velocity to beat his electric blanket net to the ground. It didn’t.

Elbert’s designs from early childhood were tight, efficient, and error-free. The electric blanket net would emit from particle beam generators mounted on telephone poles above which Elbert would ride his bicycle. He programmed the emitters to activate if they sensed not only his unique chemical signature nearby, but also his velocity, trajectory, and probability of walking away from the incident without needing to visit an emergency room. The emitters produced their particle-woven electric blanket every time, satisfying Elbert, and catching the attention of a young patent clerk with dark eyebrows and wild let’s-use-a-power-line-as-a-jump-rope hair.

The patent clerk, whose real name has never been discovered, shadowed Elbert, recorded his actions in notebooks, copied his designs, and concluded: this boy was brilliant but not suited to academic or public life. He would never bring the wonder of his designs to the world, for he was happy, as the patent clerk observed, devising new ways for quantum mechanics to improve his play time.

For example, the patent clerk observed Elbert generating a wormhole to transport product from the ice cream truck directly into Elbert’s hands, all while Elbert continued swinging on his backyard playset; altering the nature of recorded images to give them life and personalities beyond mere recordings—to, essentially, create new life each time light and sound met on the same vectors; and to bend space and time at will—this last one being the well-known theory of special relativity.

Of all Elbert’s impressive inventions and theories, the patent clerk homed in on relativity, which he saw as his ticket to achieving his life’s goal: bending space and time to steal and hoard all the gold in the world and allowing for free-floating exchange rates, as the patent clerk was a disciple of John Maynard Keynes. He also wanted to corner the market on teeth grills before they became popular in rap and hip-hop culture, but that was a secondary ambition.

Elbert, the patent clerk concluded, would only use his genius to continue wormholing to himself the same ice cream over and over, so the patent clerk borrowed Elbert’s wormhole generator, constructed a gateway between him and Elbert, devised a system to catalogue and rate Elbert’s ideas, changed his name to Albert Einstein as an homage to the source of his ideas and success, and became the world-famous theoretical physicist we all know and whose image and likeness some of us own in Funko Pop form.

Elbert continued living long after Albert’s death, never knowing he was famous by extension, and by another name.

But he sure enjoyed his replicated free ice cream.

* * *

Who else’s life might have been fodder for a famous imposter? Tustin Jimberlake? Gel Mibson? Dichael Mouglas? Jteve Sobs? Lim Berners-Tee? Fenry Hord?

Hold onto those Funko Pops, folks.

Reality may value fake history.

Grow Your Own Furniture

Amy was assembling our new dressers. The dressers couldn’t have been more disassembled, “unless they made me cut my own wood,” she said. Yes, they could be, I countered. They could have made us grow our own trees.

* * *

Dissatisfied with your local furniture superstore’s selection? Feeling emotionally disconnected from the furniture pieces in your home? Wanting to establish a relationship with the wood on which you park your butt for hours each day without so much as a howdy doody?

If you answered yes to any of these, then Grow Your Own Furniture (GYOF) has what you need.

There are three steps to a purchase from GYOF:

Select Your Wood

We have over 10,000 types of wood from which to choose. Pick Oak, Cherry, Walnut, Alder, Maple, Mahogany, Teak, Birch, Beech, Hickory, or Ash, and you’ll be part of the collective mindset of the majority of our customers. If you go a more exotic path and select from our smaller batch lots, such as Zebrawood, Ebony, Bolivian Rosewood, or Bloodwood, you’ll need to check out our deluxe package, which includes land ownership, citizenship, and a full-time arborist in the origin growth country of choice.

Decide on Generational Delivery

Typical growth times from seed to sawmill range from a low of 20 years for certain softer woods to a high of hundreds of years for harder, more exotic woods.

Probably we should have led with this in our sales pitch, but raw materials that become finished goods under the GYOF brand typically do not accrue to the generation that signs the contract. Typically, they are passed down as a legacy, with the contract signatories serving as caretakers and purveyors of emotionally intelligent highboy and other fine pieces.

Probably this should be its own section in our sales copy, but to ensure successful fulfillment of the terms of a GYOF contract, you must be strongly resourced, i.e., you must already possess enough financial capital to allow you not to work a day job.

Why can’t you work a day job? Because the central premise of emotionally connected, fully family integrated furniture requires the owner’s commitment to nurturing the wood from seed to sawmill. This means if you’re not eating, sleeping, or shitting, you’re spending time with your wood and attending to its every need.

Hey, it supports you every day and accepts your—or, rather, the next generation’s—after-Superbowl chili cheese farts without complaint, so the least you can do is dedicate your life to its growth.

If you’re religious, think of this like you’re God the Father, and your chosen wood is Jesus, your Son of God. Yes, you know you’ll eventually sacrifice your wood to the sawmill, but it’s for a higher cause, so it’s worth it. If you think that simile is sacrilegious, hey, give us a break, we’re trying to run a business based on the model that you have to give up your life to read calming poetry to wood. We don’t have time to become the next US Poet Laureate.

Choose Molded or Sawn

Molded furniture grows into a pre-measured steel form. In this way, the wood comprising your piece is contiguous, with not a cut, splice, joint, or other break to be found. (Of course, restricting the growth of your wood in such a drastic way can negatively affect its health, so you risk wasting years of your life cultivating a chair that only has one arm. Just thought you should know in case you didn’t realize it was stupid to turn over your life to growing wood for next-generation use. This comment is courtesy of Randy the Intern, who is quitting this shit-for-brains business and who hopes the insertion of this comment post editorial review will mean it makes it into the final copy that reaches you, gullible potential customer, so you will shop Amazon with the rest of us thought-we-could-be-patient-but-really-would-be-okay-with-drone-delivery customers.)

The sawn furniture option is, as its name implies, crude, ripping, impersonal, and ultimately detrimental to proper emotional furniture connection, but it may allow you the best chance to have your great grandchildren carry in the finished piece to your hospital room as you lay dying.

* * *

If ass-in-seat now means inheritance ravaging later, count me in.

All hail mass-production assembly.

And release the chili cheese farts.

Kinky by Dimensions

Amy bought a rubber belt with studs on it and hung this in the shower. I got all excited about kinky shower sex, until she told me it was an exfoliator, used to prevent acne.

Suddenly white bodily fluids aren’t so sexy.

I’ve developed an alternative explanation for the presence of the non-kinky item. It was non-kinky only because of the small dimensions of our shower. We have a stand-alone shower in our master bathroom. We have a jacuzzi tub, but the shower is about the size of a coffin stood on end. Okay, a coffin stood on end for Al Capone or William Jennings Bryan or John Candy, but a coffin, nonetheless. You believe you can fly? Not in my shower, you can’t.

I believe that if the rubber belt were hung above my jacuzzi tub, it would have acquired the powers of kink. If it were hung outside, it would have acquired the powers of kink, and also the power/right to hire an attorney to defend me against accusations of violating the HOA’s morality clause. (I don’t know if our HOA has a morality clause, but it’s an HOA. Gotta be some dark ritual going on somewhere, the result of which is narrow language and no fun.)

In essence, the ability or inability to move one’s limbs freely is the determining factor in whether a location shows activity on the kink scale. Some choice locations that may or may not lend themselves to a good kink rating:

Outdoor Trampoline

Netting surrounds the modern versions of these. With wear and tear from the elements and the occasional knife fight, this netting often develops rips and tears. Thus, outdoor, non-standard-sourced fishnet stockings. Lots of room to move around. Lots of fishnet material to fashion according to fantasy. But there is the HOA to think about. Also the scarring of children.

Kink rating: 7. Danger rating: 7.

Jail Cell

Following the logical conclusion of a romp on my neighbor’s trampoline, swaddled in kinky trampoline netting, I feel law enforcement would get involved, so my next location is a cell in the county jail.

We live in Warren County, IA. I’ve never seen the inside of the Warren County Jail, but I have Internet. The entrance is flanked on either side by multi-story glass, limestone, and brick walls, windows at the top of which give these walls the appearance of Minecraft characters. The building is an older, squat, rectangular box that could have served as inspiration for the Kitchener Ironworks in Stephen King’s IT.

I didn’t find any good pictures of the cells online, but judging by the exterior, I’m guessing these are of the 6’ x 8’ variety. Not a lot of room, but cell size may be a non-issue.

Because of its failure to develop in utero from an old, creepy building into a modern one, the Warren County Jail probably has spirits caught between generational progress. Even when one is dead, change is tough. I see these spats between the old and the new as tension builders. Plus, we just finished watching the first season of American Horror Story, and now that I know sex with ghosts is possible, the walls of a jail cell seem less limiting.

Kink rating: 10. Danger rating: 5.

Aging Snowbank

A little ice on the nipples can conjure images of a Russian winter fantasy, complete with stranded royalty, heavy furs, and, oddly, the ever-present forgetting to wear anything underneath gambit.

But trying to reenact this in your aging, dirty snowbank at the end of your driveway presents more problems than solutions. Frostbite will temper a turbo-charged heart. Wet, heavy snow will dilute lube and slick one’s footing. Best to leave this one to the dogs.

Kink rating: 5. Danger rating: 10.

Is this short list arbitrary? Of course it is. Should you try any of these locations for your own fantasies to see if ordinary exfoliating objects can transform into titillating toys? Or bounce you to buxom boisterousness? Or excarcerate (I’ve declared this to be a word) your incarcerated id? Or feather your frozen phallus?

Check in with the expanse of your mind.

How much room have you got?

The University of Iowa Bumblebees

Amy and I were playing Ticket to Ride. Amy was black. I was yellow. Amy commented that we had bumblebee colors. I said it was Iowa Hawkeye colors. Amy asked why the Hawkeyes weren’t the bumblebees. “Bumblebees are scary,” she said.

Maybe. But not on the football field. Some names must remain static.

I imagine the crowd at Kinnick Stadium on game day. The stands shake like a fault line has opened up underneath, people jumping up and down like they’re blood-thirsty attendees at a Colosseum event in ancient Rome (and in a way, they are), beer flowing like geologists have found the mother lode of all hidden resources, and it’s beer. All this raucous activity is in anticipation of the home team bursting through the tunnel, breaking through the barrier, and barreling out onto the field.

They do all that, but instead of Herky the Hawk leading the charge, it’s Barney the Bumblebee.

Instead of screeching bird sounds blasting from the stadium speakers like shouts from an angry god, an annoying buzzing flies on sound waves through open space. (Full disclosure: I haven’t been to a Hawkeye game in a while, so I’m taking license with the audio effects and stage blocking.) Everyone pokes their fingers in theirs ears, working out the tickling sensation assaulting their eardrums. Also, Barney isn’t running; he’s hopping like he’s trying to play the world’s biggest game of hopscotch. It is, in a word, sad.

It’s not football. It’s not the Hawkeyes. It’s not what you love or expect, so it is sad.

Names matter. History matters. I realize certain groups take umbrage with the historical connections some sports teams’ names have with blighted human activity. But I think it’s better to remember the bad and learn from it—continuously learn from it, for we humans are dreadfully fickle creatures—than to paint over it with fresh lacquer and bestow upon it a new arrangement of letters. The paint will never cover. The letters will always retain the impression of typeset and the ink from a million headlines.  

This opinion is predicated on a team’s name having real meaning, real verve. If, however, your name is a few spectrum wavelengths off from a primary color, as in the Moline Maroons, perhaps a renaming committee is in order.

I don’t hate Moline, IL. I lived there for eight years and in two houses, but I dislike a team name that inspires me to think of fall landscaping and apples growing their Death Star concavities.

I like both of those things. Fall landscaping is delicious, almost as good as the hot apple cider one sips while looking out one’s window and ogling the neighbor’s verge with envy. Rotting apples explode with pernicious pugnacity. Much better than fresh Granny Smiths, which are barely less structurally sound than new Rawlings baseballs. The miniature collapsing George Lucas wannabee orbital ordinance do a wonderful job of chasing off youths who like to loiter, or suitors who like to lavish themselves with a dream lover’s cape. (Just to be clear: all suitors of my daughters look like fire-breathing dragons to me. Their capes? Just a bunch of dirty scales.)

Do you see what I mean about a bad sports team name? It takes you down paths you don’t want to go. It cancels enjoyment in sport and opens wide the throttle of out-of-context neighborhood arborous jealousy and assumed future generational philandering of those who have barely begun to shave.

We can’t have the Iowa Bumblebees. We can only have the Hawkeyes. We must stay with what we know, with what keeps our minds straight, with what feels right.

We must assign black and yellow the course of running parallel lines.

While a bird of prey circles.

And circles.

2020 Bibliopathy Report

I have a problem. It’s books.

I acquire them armloads at a time. Many go unread for years. They are insulating the house, I think. To this and other rationalizations, my wife, Amy, rolls her eyes, but she’s got a bad case of bibliopathy herself. She just hides it with e-books and library checkouts.

We moved from Oregon to Iowa a couple months ago. Prior to the move, I had books stacked up on every conceivable flat surface in our home, and this was only after filling our numerous bookshelves. It was like a scene from UP, only the skyscrapers rising around Carl were towers of books, and I was damn sure glad for their presence.

Our old bookshelves were afflicted with bibliophilic scurvy, so we junked them before hitting the road. The result: we have dozens of boxes of books in our storage area, awaiting next month’s shelf-making project. For now, I’m digging out a few titles at a time and increasing my quota of audio books.

Lest the cardboard barriers promote memory loss of the worlds held within, here’s a list of every book I read in 2020:

  1. The Guardians, John Grisham, 12/25/19 – 1/3/20
  2. Agincourt, Bernard Cornwell, 12/10/19 – 1/18/20
  3. Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman, 1/18/20 – 1/31/20
  4. Bloody Genius, John Sandford, 2/2/20 – 2/21/20
  5. Under the Dome, Stephen King, 1/3/20 – 2/21/20
  6. Coronado, Dennis LeHane, 1/26/20 – 2/22/20
  7. Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson, 2/22/20 – 2/28/20
  8. Lean Turnaround, Art Byrne, 2/4/20 – 3/2/20
  9. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles, 3/2/20 – 3/28/20
  10. The 100, Kass Morgan, 3/7/20 – 3/29/20
  11. Successful Aging, Daniel Levitin, 2/16/20 – 3/31/20
  12. New Iberia Blues, James Lee Burke, 4/1/20 – 4/11/20
  13. A Long Walk Up the Waterslide, Don Winslow, 4/13/20 – 4/23/20
  14. Narrative Economics, Robert Shiller, 3/15/20 – 4/24/20
  15. While Drowning in the Desert, Don Winslow, 4/23/20 – 4/26/20
  16. Miracle on the 17th Green, James Patterson-Peter De Jonge, 4/24/20 – 4/28/20
  17. American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins, 4/24/20 – 5/1/20
  18. Time and Again, Jack Finney, 5/5/20 – 5/19/20
  19. Run for Your Life, James Patterson-Michael Ledwidge, 5/21/20 – 5/25/20
  20.  Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson, 2/16/20 – 5/25/20 
  21. Worst Case, James Patterson-Michael Ledwidge, 5/25/20 – 5/29/20
  22. Miracle at Augusta, James Patterson-Peter De Jonge, 5/30/20 – 6/1/20
  23. Zoo, James Patterson, 6/2/20 – 6/10/20
  24. Camino Winds, John Grisham, 5/18/20 – 6/13/20
  25. The Son, Phillip Meyer, 6/12/20 – 6/30/20
  26. Masked Prey, John Sandford, 5/18/20 – 7/6/20
  27. The Jesus Cow, Michael Perry, 6/30/20 – 7/10/20 
  28. Warriors of the Storm, Bernard Cornwell, 7/10/20 – 7/23/20
  29. Countdown 1945, Chris Wallace, 7/6/20 – 7/29/20
  30. Fair Warning, Michael Connelly, 7/24/20 – 7/30/20
  31. The Late Show, Michael Connelly, 7/31/20 – 8/6/20
  32. Dark Sacred Night, Michael Connelly, 8/7/20 – 8/21/20
  33. Misery, Stephen King, 7/6/20 – 8/23/20
  34. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, 8/22/20 – 9/7/20
  35. The Night Fire, Michel Connelly, 9/8/20 – 9/16/20
  36. Mexican White Boy, Matt de la Pena, 8/25/20 – 9/21/20
  37. The Good Detective, John McMahon, 9/21/20 – 9/27/20
  38. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, 9/16/20 – 10/28/20
  39. David & Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell, 10/29/20 – 10/31/20
  40. The Coward’s Guide to Conflict, Timothy Ursiny, 10/31/20 – 10/31/20
  41. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson, 10/31/20 – 11/3/20
  42. My Lovely Wife, Samantha Downing, 9/27/20 – 11/5/20
  43. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey, 11/3/20 – 11/15/20
  44. Unfuck Your Brain, Faith G Harper, 11/15/20 – 11/18/20
  45. Population: 485, Michael Perry, 11/18/20 – 11/29/20
  46. The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides, 11/5/20 – 12/1/20
  47. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hr Bookstore, Robin Sloan, 11/25/20 – 12/6/20
  48. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 12/6/20 – 12/18/20
  49. Teamwork 101, John C Maxwell, 12/18/20 – 12/21/20
  50. Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith, 12/21/20 – 12/27/20
  51. Perfect Little World, Kevin Wilson, 12/24/20 – 12/31/20
  52. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner, 12/27/20 – 12/31/20

I’m approaching 40-years-old. If I’m as lucky as the protagonist in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, and I keep up a book-a-week pace, I’ve got a little over 3,000 titles left to read.

My bibliopathy is chronic, it appears.

I can live with that.

Editor’s Note–TFF Issue 28

Root cause analysis is important.

Years ago, I owned a Chevy S-10 pickup truck. It had a rotted tailgate; it shifted like I was trying to push a toothpick through modeling clay; and it would occasionally send perfume bursts of gasoline fumes into the cab when the fuel injectors malfunctioned. But I thought it was great.

I was a truck-owner, a real American—and not just an American, an American man. People thought of me when they needed to move something. I thought of myself when I needed to move something, so I ignored some of the more concerning symptoms my S-10 was displaying (yes, more concerning than edge fear of immolation).

At the time, I was living in the Quad Cities but working in Muscatine, IA, so I drove 45 minutes each day on Highway 61. Previously, I had either commuted 10 minutes or worked from home, so my planning ahead skills re: fuel levels were lax, and I found myself whispering sweet nothings to my S-10, praying it would coast long enough down the hill to reach the Casey’s General Store just outside the Muscatine city limits. I never ran out of gas, but I also learned that my idea of root cause analysis was misinformed.

I thought my S-10, despite the admirable quality of, on a semi-regular basis, starting and rolling from point A to point B, was just a gas guzzler. Turns out, it had the automobile equivalent of Crohn’s disease. Once, while pumping gas at Casey’s, my heart rate on the decline after the latest bout of anxiety over whether this was the day I would finally stick my thumb out on the side of the road, I heard rain.

Problem: it was a sunny day. Yet, the rain continued, seeming only to be occurring in and around truck. My observation was in the right region, but I had chosen the wrong preposition. “Got some gas leaking out under your truck there,” the motorist at the pump opposite said to me, nonchalantly, as if he saw this every day. This year’s crop of leaking gas tanks is acutely concentrated around youths at Casey’s, I imagined him writing in his journal that night.

His tone seemed unconcerned, but I was freaking out. It’s not every day one finds oneself surrounded by a pool of gas. I’ve heard the vapor concentration has to be just right for gas to ignite, but that’s like saying if you find yourself surrounded by a pack of ravenous wolves, their aggression quotient has to be just right for them to attack. Maybe so, but the situation is still Shitsville, most roads leading to Deadwood and the Pinewood Box Factory.

What did I do? I got in my truck and drove to work.

After work, I drove my truck, my tinder box on wheels, to a mechanic, who informed me my gas tank had rotted out and would need to be replaced. Each time I started it up in its current condition, I learned, it was like igniting a kerosene-soaked rope wrapped around a crate filled with dynamite, hoping that when the rope failed, the shock from the impact of the dynamite on the floor wouldn’t cause an explosion. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but come on, man.

I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly. Probably I should have called the fire department. Probably I should have junked my S-10 then and there, but I was late in learning the root cause analysis of my fast-disappearing gas levels. This lateness allowed unearned confidence to seep in and denial to grow.

At TFF, we care about any tendency you might have to believe it’s acceptable to replace a section of the Hoover Dam with a tarp, so long as you pull the edges good and tight. We want you to get to that root cause analysis before you become a rolling lantern. We think the pieces from this edition will help you in that regard (and by you, I, of course, mean me, too).

* * *

Punch Club

Root cause of not seeking dental work: no money. There are alternatives.

The Etymology of Suck

Root cause of things sucking: parts of speech are nasty little magic spells.

The Soothing Sounds of My 38-Inch Cutting Deck

Root cause of miscategorizing items for sale: musical dreams don’t follow business strategy.

Dr. Rocks Off

Root cause of elective sterilization: corporate greed.

Cut the Fruit and Pack All the Knives

Root cause of contract killing business failure: vitamin deficiency.

The Great Banana Sacrifice

Root cause of terrorists running amok: unbalanced reincarnation preferences.


Root cause of political/religious disagreements: lack of funky chill.

Dufus Guru

Root cause of feigned expertise: an optimistic view of one’s potential.

Don’t Pick Up Abandoned Pancakes at the Park

Root cause of a superhero’s identity leaking: litter cleanup hypervigilance.

We’re Starting to Paint Tomorrow and Moving Our Stiff in on Saturday

Root cause of bountiful blessings in one’s life: carting around a dead body.

Approaching Asylum

Root cause of happiness during the holidays: misunderstanding Christmas songs.

Apples Around the Dollar Tree

Root cause of retail offense: failure to realize the gulf between the value of a dollar and the value of life.

Weather News Happens or Not

Root cause of an escaping, super intelligent shitstorm: typos.

* * *

As we close out 2020, may you conduct your actions with clear sight into what was and what will be. Should you choose to add becoming a lantern to your 2021 goals list.

Get yourself a flame-retardant suit.