Author: Joe Tackett (Page 3 of 5)

Ever the Fool

Draining another cup of complimentary coffee, I tossed the empty Styrofoam cup into the waste basket and sidled into the chair opposite a neatly dressed gentleman whom I only have occasion to see once a year.  As soon as my bottom touched down, an overwhelming sense of dread engulfed me. The temperature outside was not even 40 degrees, but my nerves did not know the difference and the sweat  poured from my face, stinging eyes and continuing in salty rivulets as it coursed through the stubble of my unshaven cheeks and jaw and into the cotton fabric of my hoodie.

“Do you have everything?” the gentleman asked.

“I think,”  I said, frisking my jeans pockets one last time and emerging with stray lint and an old piece of gum. Not surprisingly, the gentleman refused the offer of gum.  “It should all be there,” I said, sliding the manila folder across the desk and into the practiced hands of  my tax preparer, Rob.

Rob opened the packet and riffled through the assortment of documents, clucking his tongue against the side of his cheek. “Here we go,” he said, his hand emerging with the sweet stuff: w-2’s, student loans and mortgage interest documents, charitable contributions, etc. “Let’s see what the damage is.”

My heart leaped into my throat and the walls seemed to push inward, the room suddenly grown smaller.  “Damage? What do you mean?” I asked, already knowing the answer but loathe to accept it.

“What you’re going to owe to the state and Uncle Sam,” came the reply.

And there it was. The proverbial shot across the bow. The dread words most taxpayers never wish to have muttered in their presence.  My adrenal glands reacted as expected: overly so. Squirming in the chair, images of indentured servitude and debtors prison competed for slots in my mind’s eye with visions of stony-faced tax collectors demanding my eldest born in exchange for clemency.

Rob took in the spectacle, a sympathetic smile turning up the corners of his mouth. “If anything,” Rob added, his fingers already gliding over the keyboard of the computer, feverishly adding and subtracting, exempting this and crediting that.  It was not long before the familiar whir of a high speed printer spat out the sum of last year’s labors.

Rob scanned it over and looked up, his expression flat and unreadable. He cleared his throat.  “Your refund is…”

I never heard the amount.  It didn’t matter. I was too busy reveling in another year of mediocrity to really care.  Thanking Rob, I left his office with dreams of converting the tax refund into  a cross-country flight to Houston and hotel room and a pair of seats for the Final Four.  That’s right. I’m still struggling with madness, or as someone with no medical training diagnosed; I have Final Four Fever.  What? You thought this blog post was about taxes? Not a chance. Not with UK still playing ball.

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Mad Monday

It’s Monday, March 28th. Three days have passed since my last day of employment as a magistrate. This morning passed as any other morning before it. Yawn, shower, dress and go. I was downtown before the first stirrings of dawn, except this time I remained huddled outside in the chill stamping my feet and sipping hot coffee to stay warm. I waited for the line at the temp agency to form, but none ever did. The coffee dried up and my interest with it so I left for home, hoping to put some time in on my manuscript. That never happened. The unfinished book sits alone, a mere arm-length away, loitering and collecting dust on the corner of the desk. And it can stay there, at least for time being. And why is that?

Because I’ve been stricken with madness, that’s why. March Madness. And I’ve picked up a serious case of it and don’t see my condition improving until at least this coming Saturday. You see, I’m a University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan, which means that I’m prone to extremes when the Cats are performing well at this time of the year. (You should see the other extreme when the Cats are playing poorly. Not pretty) And they are performing well. Just ask Ohio State and North Carolina and West Virginia and Princeton before that. But that’s yesterday’s news and now it’s off to Houston, Texas for the Cats, and into the Final Four. I want to be there and I know that every day this week will find me wrestling with the impulse to road trip it to Houston and try to score tickets. Until this Saturday’s match-up of UK v UCONN comes and goes, I will probably think of little else. See. I told you. I have it bad.

Now everyone out there in the blogosphere can stop the bellyaching and groaning. I assure you that Joe Unleashed is not going to suddenly morph into a sports blog. But until my obsession with writing and literature returns, let the madness continue…

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Lost in the Grip of Madness

Powering up the laptop, I had every intention of scratching out a quick book review on a novel I had just finished the day before.  Setting fingers to keyboard, all my intentions amounted to nothing more than a blank screen and blinking cursor.  Curses!  Writers block? Not exactly. It was a good book and worth mentioning, but all I could think about was this Friday,  the 25th of March.  No, I’m not referring to this Friday as being my last day employed as a magistrate. Though it is, of course.  But joining the great mass of unemployed pales in comparison to the cataclysmic event set to go off at 9:45 p.m. in Newark, New Jersey.

I’m talking March Madness, player! (I wanted to say ‘baby’ and not player, but baby belongs to the bald one, Dicky Vitale) I’m talking about the number one overall seed, the Ohio State University Buckeyes, colliding with college hoops royalty, the fourth-seeded Wildcats of Kentucky. Even the most lukewarm of hoops fans should be excited about this one. It’s a Final Four worthy match-up the world will be treated to come this Friday evening. So gather with friends and family and park yourself in front of the big screen and enjoy what I suspect will become an instant classic.  Until then, this speck of blue lost in a sea of scarlet and gray can only hope that March’s Madness will soon recede and lucidity makes a welcome return. When it does, so will the blogs.  Until then, for all you hoops fans salivating over the match-up, check out my boy at tencentbeerblog See you all Saturday.

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Ten Books Every Gal Should Read

This past Saturday, I risked the ire of the literary gods with the unleashing of  “Ten Books Every Guy Should Read“.  It was a prideful act, edging on pure hubris. Sleep was fitful and came in spurts that night, and the little sleep to be had was haunted by the echoes of thousands of excluded book titles.  I expected to wake up Sunday morning, stroll to the end of the drive for the paper and be struck down, mid-stride, by a bolt of lightning cast straight from the heavens.  In my mind’s eye I could already see Monday’s headline: “Aspiring Novelist and Blogger Receives Just Due.”  But the Sunday morning paper run was lightning-free and visions of assured ruin quickly put to rest.  But peace of mind is not so easily found.

Days later, sipping a coffee with too much cream and sugar, I found myself looming over my computer, wondering what to write.  Then it came to me. Of course.  The ledger remained unbalanced.  I can write a wrong.  (No, I will not apologize for that bad pun.)   It would involve another crack at the proverbial Gordian Knot, but having tempted fate once, what’s twice for that matter?

So here I humbly stand, a literary supplicant seeking atonement for offending one of Abigail Adams’ most often quoted directives: “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Within that vein, I’ve taken the liberty to compile “Ten Books Every Gal Should Read.”  Audacious? Check. Presumptuous? Equally so. Fraught with danger? Undoubtedly.  As the father of two daughters?  A duty-bound necessity.

I could have taken the easy way out and merely referred the ladies to the same list this author compiled a few days ago for the guys.  Indeed, by all means, please check out that list. But it cannot be left at that.  Doing so would be unoriginal and intellectually dishonest and all together boring in the end. No fun to be found in that.  But what are the criterion to be applied? Notoriety, relevance, longevity, educational component, literary excellence and entertainment value? All of those factors were considered, but I took the liberty of excluding transformative nonfiction.   Those how-to types of books are better left to another post.

Finally, after three cups of watered down coffee and a hour and a half of furious writing and rewriting, here it follows, in no particular order:

The Bible. From Genesis to Revelations, no matter its version, no other literary work has benefited more from the invention of the printing press than the Bible. 

George Orwell has a way of making top lists.  “Animal Farm ” is one of those reasons why.  Read it and you’ll never look at pork the same way again.

Threading a timeless theme, the historical romance epic “Gone With the Wind” has more than earned its widespread acclaim. Did I fail to mention it’s one of the all time top sellers in America, second onbly to the Bible?  Take a bow, Margaret Mitchell.

Released in 1813 by British author Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice” tackles class distinctions, the inherent prejudices within the prevailing social strata, and how the power of love can overcome the cheapening of the human condition based on status.

Speaking of the human condition, few authors can hold a candle to the likes of Toni Morrison.  Her passionate and insightful approach to the South’s peculiar institution and its correlative effects on those that suffered under its yoke are explored full bore in her Nobel winning novel, “Beloved“.  Controversial and impactful, “Beloved” masterfully gives voice to a people that had been historically denied theirs.

The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the hollowness of the American dream. Poetic, riveting and an all-time classic, this beautifully written novel explores the human condition as only a committed scholar of humanity can. Enjoy.

Written in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is a work of historical fiction set in 17th century New England, a bastion of Puritan religiosity.  Scorned and ostracized because of her sin, a young woman is forced to wear a badge of dishonor, the notorious scarlett letter “A”.  Despite society’s condemnation and her shunning within the community, the young woman courageously maintains her dignity, refusing to reveal the identity of the man (a minister) who brought this dishonor upon her.  Parallelling the Judeo-Christian tradition of Adam and Eve, the book heroically investigates sin and knowledge and the stern legalisms of Puritanical philosophy.

If you find the mysteries of China enticing and have an appetite for political and social upheaval, then “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, is the book for you.  A Pulitzer prize winning novel reknowned for its top billing in Oprah’s Book Club, this book shines with its compelling take on humanity’s struggle.  Read it and find out for yourself.

In these times of rampant cynicism it is easy to lose faith in humanity’s propensity for goodness.  That’s not a new phenomena.  In “To Kill a Mockingbird“, the main theme is the moral nature of  humanity and whether or not we are inherently good or evil, or maybe a dose of both.  At least that’s what I gleaned from it.

Little Women” by Louisa M. Alcott is deserving of its huge popularity and long run atop many book club reading lists. If you haven’t read it already, do so. You will not be disappointed.

And there you have it with a post-compilation admission: the task of selecting the works for the gals was a far more gut wrenching experience than putting the list together for the guys. The irony being that one could switch the guys/gals designation on either list.

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Ten Books Every Guy Should Read

A friend of mine emailed me the other day, musing as to whether there were ten books every guy should read. Sure, I typed back.  At the speed of G3 technology he called my bluff, informing yours truly that he looked forward to reading about it on the next blog. No sweat. Challenge accepted.  This can’t be too difficult. End of the week at the latest, I lied to myself. 

The enormity of the task sinking in, I leaned back in the chair and sighed, helpless to resist the creeping doubts and nag of second-guessing.  Should a mere mortal dare to undertake such a Herculean task?  Is it even possible to fish ten books from the tempestuous sea of worthy literature?  What are the parameters? I soothed my misgivings with the knowledge that no two literati would produce identical lists if faced with similar burdens. Questions persisted.

Should the list be exclusively for guys, or should it be all inclusive, targeting everyone’s tastes?  My friend’s email specified books for “guys”. Everyone’s tastes in books and literature will have to be the subject of another post, though I suspect the two lists will have a significant overlap.  And should the list consider tastes, subjective as they are, or concentrate on what books guys “should” read, so as to leave the reader with a base of knowledge that begats further research and application?  Should the search be confined by genre, period in which it was written, its century of publication? The boxes are countless. Can you dig the conundrum? Again, just ten books? It’s the equivalent of the ancient Gordian Knot, except that I dare not emulate Alexander and take a sword to it. 

Thinning the herd is harder than it looks and shunning one title for another became a guilt-ridden ritual.  Many books that enjoyed top billing upon bestseller lists didn’t make the cut. I’m sure that somewhere, peering over thin, wire-rimmed glasses, a cadre of literary afficianados will be crinkling their noses and sniffing indignantly at what did sneak in.  Believe me. I know. The entire process had an aura of sacrilege to it, as well as a touch of hubris.   

In an attempt to further refine the list’s focus, potential works were evaluated by my own established criterion, in no particular order; notoriety (how well known is the work), societal impact (did paradigms tremble upon its release?) longevity, relevance, literary excellence, educational import (did I learn anything), and entertainment value.  Some books weighed more heavily on one factor than another, but in the balance, a guy that takes the time to read the following list of books should be well prepared to deal with any criticisms stemming from their selection. Enjoy.  

#1 I struggled with placing the Bible on the list. Leaving it off the list completely would be disingenuous based on the above listed factors. Including it, particularly in the top slot, risks the very real complaint that it does not qualify based on its religiosity. (It’s a catch-22, subject of number 9 on the list)  Believe it, or not, revere or reject, there’s no denying the books of the Bible have shaped the world in ways no other collection of written works has to date.  Enough said.

#2 No other writer has been more influential in shaping American literature than, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though Emerson did not present his works as books, rather he published a widely scattered collection of essays, his place on the list is worthy of inclusion because of his work’s impact on generations of writers and thinkers. Emerson’s “Nature“, “Self-Reliance”, and “Friendship” are perfect demonstrations of thought itself. A guy learns that the conscious and subconscious act of thinking comprises a large majority of our lives.  So what are you waiting for? Get on with it.

#3 Penned over 700 years ago, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” is one of the world’s great works of literature. In this allegorical poem, Dante explores the afterlife and the soul’s final accounting, sharing his visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, and finding a glimpse of God in the process. May everyone be so fortunate. Read it or risk the scorn of your peers.

#4 Born Samuel Clemens, but better known as Mark Twain, this American humorist authored the masterpiece, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” among other, equally notorious examples of literary excellence. Read his works, gentlemen. His status as literary icon is well-deserved.

#5 There is a reason “The Grapes of Wrath” remains comfortably perched atop the reading list of most high school and college literature classes: It’s good stuff. John Steinback’s epic tale of the Joads and their adversity filled journey in pursuit of the elusive American dream is as poignant today as it was 72 years ago.

#6 Every guy should read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby“, another early 20th century classic whose timeless theme finds relevance in every guy’s life. 

#7 “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli is a cynically pragmatic approach to statemanship, power, and the trappings inherent in both.  It’s that kind of book for guys that like to be in the mix and play for keeps.  For all those guys who don’t play like that, get a copy anyway.  At least then you’ll be able to make sense of things when the guy you thought was your buddy stepped all over you on the way to getting the promotion you both desperately wanted.

#8  Most guys I know would take a dog over a cat, hands down. I don’t know what it is about our furry, four-legged canine friends, but an undeniable bond exists. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of “The Call of the Wild.”  Or maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that the main character in Jack London’s masterpiece is a dog named Buck, and has everything to with the scraps, setbacks and triumphs of life’s journey. Suck it up and toughen up. Work harder. Don’t ever give up and the scales of justice will balance out.

#9  How many of you guys have heard someone say, “Now,that’s a catch-22.”? Now, how many of you know where the term “catch-22” originates? Joseph Heller’s novel is more than a metaphorical tale of danged if you do, and danged if you don’t.  It’s theme touches on the devaluation of the individual in the face of pressing bureacratic priorities while revealing the madness war invokes in the combatants. At least that’s what I came away with. Anyhow, check this one out. At least next time you throw out the term, you’ll have an inkling as to its genesis and some understanding of its context.

#10 War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.  Sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?  But every guy should know his place in the social construct and to that end, I present “1984“.  Reading Orwell’s masterpiece, even the most loyal of party men should end up heeding the corrosive effects of thoughtless group think and sloganism. As a cautionary tale of what happens when individuals cede or have control of their lives wrested from them by a paternalistic, totalitarian regime, “1984”,  is a book every guy should read.

There you have it, guys. Read away, but with this last bit of irony. Only a few of the titles I have included in the list are actually titles of what I would consider to be personal favorites. My top ten books of all time will have to wait. Until that time, get started. The above list should keep you busy til then.

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