My new Idaho State Song

Idaho’s state song is ‘Here We have Idaho.’ It’s not very stirring, and suffers from a tune best suited to a third grade tonette band, but it’s what we’ve got. Here are the lyrics:

HERE WE HAVE IDAHO

  • You’ve heard of the wonders our land does possess,
  • Its beautiful valleys and hills.
  • The majestic forests where nature abounds,
  • We love every nook and rill

CHORUS

  • And here we have Idaho,
  • Winning her way to fame.
  • Silver and gold in the sunlight blaze,
  • And romance lies in her name.
  • Singing, we’re singing of you,
  • Ah, proudly too. All our lives thru,
  • We’ll go singing, singing of you,
  • Singing of Idaho.

Great. Except that it doesn’t fully capture the practical realities of Idaho life. But happily, Idaho, I’m here for you with my own version. Dear reader, if you would like to sing with me in unison, here is the tune:

STRUGGLING IN IDAHO

  • You’ve heard of call centers our land does possess,
  • Its gigantic pawnshops and bills.
  • The majestic ballfield where football abounds,
  • We used to have sugar mills

CHORUS

  • And here we have Idaho,
  • Hocking her guns to live.
  • Silver and gold shops on every block,
  • But charities nag you to give.
  • Searching, we’re searching for jobs,
  • At minimum wage. Fed minimum wage,
  • I’ll be hungry, but never a jerk,
  • Struggling in Idaho.

Lyrics © 2014 J.K. Kelley

Major Vidkun Quisling

I’m proud to announce a new category for one of my favorite topics: Enigmatic Scumbag Studies.

Vidkun Quisling so betrayed Norway during World War II, from the Norwegian perspective, that a number of things happened:

  • His Nasjonal Samling (NS, meaning ‘National Union’) party had cooties even when it was the only permitted party in the country. Few joined it willingly, and many refused to join no matter the consequences. Put another way, it couldn’t even put the puck into an empty net.
  • Part of that was because it was so clearly identified with the Nazi invaders, though it predated them. In spite of Adolf’s notions of Nordic brotherhood, Norwegians preferred not to be invaded by anybody, much less ordered around by outsiders.
  • Part was just that Quisling was about as popular in Norway as arthritis, even before the war. As you may imagine, his behavior during the war lowered his approval rating to ‘some guy named Sverre from Lokisvik who doesn’t get out a lot.’
  • His very name became nouned and verbed into a synonym for sordid collaboration and treason with a hated enemy invader. It remains so to this day. What a legacy.
  • Not even the Nazis trusted him with any real power, listened much to him, or did anything but string him along and brush him aside when stuff got real.
  • His countrypeople, not known to tend toward brutal judicial punishments, stood him against a wall after the war and shot him.

At which point, given all of the above, his last thoughts may well have been: Ja, ja…det gikk jo til helvete. (Loosely translated: “Well, that definitely sucked.” Thanks to Gjermund Higraff for supplying the suitable Norwegian rendering.)

To understand Quisling, I believe one must understand Norway. It is one of the most rugged countries on Earth, very thin in many places between the Swedish or Finnish border and the North or Norwegian Seas. Its lowest point has a latitude about as far north as Juneau, Alaska, Churchill, Manitoba, or the very northern tip of Scotland. Its mainland’s northernmost point is farther north than about a third of Greenland, well north of Iqaluit (Baffin Island, Nunavut), and nearly as far north as Barrow, Alaska. From a topography standpoint, it bears some resemblance to Chile.

These days they have oil, but in those days, the Norwegians mainly had fishing, some timber. A great percentage of Norwegian travel was by coastal watercraft, still quite common today. Norway is just not that easy to get around. It wasn’t very populous (still isn’t), with a minimal standing army (like now). Building and maintaining roads is challenging enough in good weather, and for part of the year, Norway does not have gentle weather.

Norway became independent of Sweden in 1905, having been owned by Sweden or Denmark for centuries. Consider that: when Adolf invaded it in 1940, Norwegian independent nationalism was a relatively recent phenomenon. Everyone left Norway alone in WWI, but for WWII it was going to be another story. Germany’s main year-round ice-free source of quality iron ore was the mines in northern Sweden near Gällivare, from which it went overland to the Norwegian port of Narvik, then south by sea. Without that iron ore, the German war effort was screwed. Once war broke out, the Allies would be certain to run great risks to interdict this supply, and the Germans would go to great lengths to protect it. Norway was going to find itself caught up in WWII whether it liked the idea or not (and it did not).

This was Quisling’s country, and he was an ardent if badly misguided Norwegian patriot at heart. He was a tall, dour, anti-social sort not given to small talk, one of the world’s worst schmoozers. Probably had Asperger’s–he was great at math. He would have been first one voted off the island in Survivor. His military career might have gone better but for the length of time he spent on missions to the Soviet Union, mostly on humanitarian work. The early Soviet Union found creative ways to starve many of its people despite some of the best farmland in Europe, and this didn’t endear the socialist model to Quisling. One can see why.

He returned to Norway in 1929 with a big art collection he’d bought on the cheap, under somewhat of a cloud. He envisioned a more militarized Norway, hewing toward fundamentalist Lutheran values, very hostile to organized labor and anything that might make Norway lean toward or imitate the USSR. By the standards of his day, he was a rock-ribbed nationalist and socio-political conservative. He authored a rather oddly-founded philosophy called Universism, which as near as I can tell, asserts nothing profound.

Not long after he got home, Quisling left the Royal Norwegian Army to enter politics. It only took him about four years to rise to Minister of Defense, then alienate most of Norway. The population at large rejected not only Quisling, but many of his more extreme ideas. He formed a fringe party, which became the aforementioned NS, with himself as Fører. To mainstream Norway, especially with Hitler’s rise to absolute power in Germany right around that time, the NS looked and sounded a lot like a Norwegian variant of Nazism. It couldn’t get a single candidate elected to the Storting (Parliament), and Quisling remained a fringe character. When he started cozying up to the Nazis, and growing increasingly anti-Jewish in his rhetoric, it looked to Norwegians like they’d been right on the money. By the outbreak of war in 1939, he’d have had trouble getting elected dogcatcher. He was political poison.

One wonders: with so few Jews in Norway, how the hell did Quisling find a reason to become an anti-Semite? Where did he manage to find some Semites to be anti-? Well, turns out that he got ripped off trying to sell some of his art in the US through his brother, and he believed that the people who ripped him off were Jewish (I haven’t verified if they were or not). So it became something of a personal thing, but the issue originated outside Norway–he had to hunt up some Semites elsewhere. Of course, once he got the racist bee in his bonnet, his mind could come up with Jewish/leftist/atheist dangers anywhere it wanted to see them. In my view, the warped aspect of this thinking is that he could somehow conclude that the Nazi outcome had any chance of being better than, say, the rise of a strong left/labor movement.

In 1940, before the British and French could get saddled up to invade Norway, the Germans struck first. The Anglo-Franco-Polish force originally designated to help Finland (but which dawdled all winter until the Finns had to sue for peace), but then was intended for use invading Norway, now showed up to help the Norwegians. They fought bravely, but weren’t much help. Most of Norway’s real help came from its own army, which hadn’t even been mobilized and was taken by surprise in that state, but nonetheless resisted for sixty-two days–something France would not manage, despite more and better tanks than Germany. The Germans paid a price, though, losing the heavy cruiser Blucher to land-based torpedoes in the Oslofjord. They were pissed off, for Germany didn’t have many capital ships.

Early in the invasion, Quisling had an Alexander Haig moment (“I’m in control here…”), got onto the airwaves, and started telling the Norwegian armed forces to go home. He had no authority to do that. He assumed that he would now, as Fører, recondition Norway into the model Nazi ally and regain its domestic independence. He spent the whole war trying to do that, with the Germans promising him more independence and reneging most of the time on the grounds that Quisling couldn’t deliver the goods. He could not inspire Norwegians to accept the end of their multiparty constitutional monarchy and learn to love being good worker bees within the Greater Nazi Area, moving iron ore and catching fish. Several hundred thousand German troops occupied Norway throughout the war, which is extraordinary considering the Norwegian wartime population of about three million. Imagine one German to guard every six Norwegian men, women and children.

While the Germans grudgingly installed Quisling as a puppet leader (setting aside the gradual details leading up to that stage) almost two years after they took charge, the real power remained with Nazi German Reichskommissar Josef Terboven, who preferred to work with more reliable, less scrupulous domestic traitors (notably Jonas Lie). Because, for all his associations and unpopularity, Quisling showed minimal will to brutalize Norwegians, or to extend foreign power over them. His entire concept was to influence Norway to regain its domestic if not foreign policy independence. Treasonous? Uh, hello. You’re saying we should work our way into the status of Axis minor power, and forsake our legitimate government and monarchy for that imposed by our invaders? Your treasoning is flawed.

The Swedish press drove both Quisling and Terboven nuts, because the Swedes were reporting the truth about the occupation/collaboration police state in Norway, and nothing offended Nazis and their sympathizers like accurate portrayal of their deeds. A great many Norwegian refugees fled to Sweden during the war, with stories to tell. Nazis never did like a press they could not control. But there were worse collaborators than Quisling in World War II, notably Pétain, Chautemps, Laval and Darlan of France, Degrelle of Belgium, and Kaminski and Vlasov of the Soviet Union. All those had far bloodier hands than Vidkun Quisling, and in most cases far more sordid motivations.

When the war ended, Norway was one of the last large areas to be liberated. The government returned from exile, and high on the to-do list was the arrest of collaborators. Quisling never seems to have considered flight abroad, which he might have managed with some effort. This is where it starts to get ugly in a different way. Quisling’s confinement was debilitating, and he wasn’t allowed to peruse all the evidence that would be used against him in court. By the time trial came along, he was in questionable condition to defend himself, deprived of the necessary means. Judicial conduct was not to a high standard. All that may or may not have been legal under the Norwegian system–I don’t recall ever being admitted to the Norwegian bar–but it does begin to encroach on the reasonable definition of ‘show trial.’ Not as bad in some ways as the Rosenberg case in my own country, but worse in others. Emotions were high, and when that is the case, jurisprudence bends and breaks.

It’s dumb, though, because Quisling was certain to go down for treason anyway. He’d committed it in front of the entire nation. Might as well make the whole trial squeaky-clean-fair, since it’s not as if he might have been acquitted. His name already the accepted term for ‘traitor’ or ‘collaborationist,’ a Norwegian firing squad shot Quisling to death on 24 October 1945. The Fører claimed to the end that he was innocent, and in his mind, he probably was.

Had Vidkun Quisling reported for duty with the Royal Norwegian Army and become a resistance leader, he might today be a revered Norwegian hero in the mold of Gunnar Sønsteby, Knut Haukelid, Otto Ruge, or King Haakon VII himself.

Then again, in his mind, he’d only wanted the best all along for a country he loved. He just forgot about the part that says: ‘Your country already has a legitimate government, and the electorate has rejected you, and the patriotic act is to accept that.’

He also forgot about the key proviso that says: ‘If a brutal dictatorship invades us, and you side with it, when we catch up with you, good intentions aren’t going to cut it.’

My ant crack dealership

Bugs are so valuable to the ecosystem we live in. Wipe out a vector of that ecosystem, and the damage ripples through the rest of it. If I weren’t married, I would leave yellowjacket nests alone outside my house, and spider webs alone inside it.

Yet even with my wife absent from the home, there’s no way I am going to tolerate ants in the house. No way. None. I generally support environmental protection, but it’s not as if I feel the need to show it off by being as conspicuously crunchy/green/Whole Paycheck/tilth/organic/etc. as possible. And in any case, that’s not going to change my approach to pest control. If you see a few ants, there are more, many more. If I thought it would work best, without harming the interior health environment of the home, I’d have zero compunction about putting down the insect equivalent of heavy nerve gas, strychnine, or whatever.

For millennials, who of late find themselves much maligned by the very generation who raised them and made the rules for them, I have a fun suggestion. Next time a middle-aged person tries to tell you that everything was better back when, that the old ways and old everything are the best, and that everything now officially sucks (including, by implication, your generation), ask them this:

“Okay, sir/ma’am. I’ll play. So, in 1970, when you had ants in your house and wanted to find the best way to kill them, you would not have preferred a five-minute online search? It was better, right, when you had to go to a library, or hunt up some consumer magazine, or ask your neighbor Vern, and do trial and error while the ants multiplied to invade your entire house? Just so I understand you here, sir/ma’am? Or, as an alternative, are you saying you liked ants in your kitchen just fine, and that it was better that way?”

They’ll harrumph. It’s all they can do. Because in reality, they just want a simpler time in the ways they liked, while continuing to use their Keurigs and research their osteoporosis on the Internet. They only want back the old parts everyone liked, such as cheap gasoline and pensions. I’m not even an old person yet and I am already making plans to call my peers out on hypocrisies to my dying day. (It helps to plan ahead.)

As for me, I’d like cheap gas and pensions back too, but I like even more the fact that I can find the answer to a pressing problem in a short time. Is it always correct? No. Is it a higher-percentage shot than spending the afternoon trying to track Vern down, going from store to store, wasting money on stuff that will not work, and ruining my day? Well, you tell me.

In this case, I went on a net.mosey for ant killers. I found lots of granola vegan non-toxic cruelty-free organic hippie home ingredient methods. Some of them may work very well in some situations for some people. I have never had any such method work for me on much of anything, which is why I tune most of those out. In this case, I found a product called Terro, which isn’t quite non-toxic, but isn’t exactly dioxin either.

Of course, it had a number of product reviews.

Of course, any cretin can post on the Internet, thus any given review might be wrong.

Of course, 933 product reviews does represent at least some sort of a sample base.

Of Terro’s 933 reviews, 750 gave it five stars.

Well, again, I’m not much of a fundamental believer in group opinion or the wisdom of the public. In fact, when I find myself in a majority, I’m tempted to ask myself what I might have overlooked. Even so, I started reading the reviews. Most said some variant of: “I put down these traps, and more ants than I had any idea were in my house swarmed all over them. Two days later there was not a single living ant.”

It didn’t take that many of those to get my attention.

 

Terro is some form of sugar glop–ant crack–mixed with borax. The ants hog it down, tell the other ants that the Ant Pizza Buffet is open, and take some samples back to the colony to share with others. One of those others is the queen, who gets waited on by the proletarian ants. Borax fatally injures the ants’ digestive systems (think of it like Taco Bell taken to its logical conclusion). When the queen dies, that’s disastrous for the colony, but in any case, it’s also disastrous for it when most of the regular ants croak.

Shortly after I put down the traps, long lines of little ants came pouring out of tiny openings in the wall, going crazy for the traps. Some died in the glop, like that kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Some died before they got back to the colony, which I hope were taken back to be cannibalized and poison some more. Many, I presume, took ‘food’ back to the colony to poison it on my behalf. Some managed to drag little chunks of dirt into the glop, gods know how or why.

It wasn’t over yet. In fact, the little bastards just about cleaned out some of the traps. A week in, I had put down a second box of traps. More armadas sallied forth to scarf it up. Just when I’d think it was over, a bunch would discover a new trap that others had walked past for a week, and swarm on it.

Three weeks to the day after I first started slinging ant crack, and whatever the fates of individuals, it very much appears as if the colony has gone the fate of Carthage. My ant crackhouse can shut down. I have seen exactly two ants around the traps all day, and neither looked real lively.

Somewhere in the ground near my house is Ant Jonestown.

Terro delivers, if you’re patient. I would recommend Terroism as a potential solution to ant problems in the home. Just follow the rules for the conscientious Terroist:

  • Keep animals and kids out of it, obviously. Wouldn’t kill them, I’m told, but borax is not in the food aisles of your grocery store for a reason, and is not one of the four food groups. If you have cats, they may actually have to endure some temporary freedom restrictions.
  • Put down all the traps (six in my package). I had good luck with stringing them out along the ants’ path, so that even the hardiest who ranged farthest would be able to find some poison.
  • Resist the temptation to mess around with the traps once they’re down. The ants could be frightened off, and you want them pouring out to eat hearty. Think about your placement beforehand, and leave them alone thereafter.
  • Don’t spill the gunk on the floor, as I’m told it’s tough to scrub up. While you’re cutting off the ends to open the traps, I recommend leaning them against something, colored (cut) ends up. Make sure they don’t fall, or tip the wrong way when you’re emplacing them.
  • If you have to, use a second box of traps. I bought two the first time, in case that happened, and it was a wise move. Job ain’t done until there are no living ants in sight for a while.
  • To use these outside, I think you’d need a small, heavy cover to put over each trap. Otherwise, something else would probably get into it. They sell outdoor ones, though, so that’s covered.

Yeah, it took a while, but it beats having someone come and fill the house with tabun, or whatever the pest control people use. It was also much less expensive. I spent $30 and I destroyed a large, persistent ant colony. I bet the Bug Brigade doesn’t come out for $30. Plus, if I have a way to rely on my own sense and observation rather than a contractor, after many, many examples of shoddy work, apathy and arrogance from contractors, I’ll do that every time.

168 Clif bars

I just purchased fourteen boxes of twelve Iced Gingerbread Clif bars to a box.

Hey, it could have been worse. Yesterday I was watching Filipino comic Rex Navarrette talking about balut, which to me looks like the world’s biggest hard-boiled egg fail. He described it as the ‘Pinoy Clif bar.’ That’s one of many reasons I like Rex’s comedy, that and my affection for Filipino cultures, from relatives to friends and beyond.

But no, I didn’t buy 168 baluts.

Self-revelation: I can be the world’s cheapest bastard. I pick up pennies in parking lots. I’m still attempting to use up a lifetime supply of drinking straws (want any?). I have enough saran wrap for several kinky parties. I built most of my garage storage out of junk, including a doghouse made from rejected forklift pallet pieces. I hate going to Costco (which is not to say that I hate Costco, just the experience), and my standard check to the cashier is about $550. I built my wife a holder for odd-shaped art stuff which I call the Nebelwerfer, after the WWII German rocket launcher. It’s five coffee cans canted slightly upward in a cluster on a stand. If I ever handmade you a gift, I probably made it out of garbage.

Not that I mind spending money to take friends out to a nice dinner, or to leave a decent tip, or something else socially productive. Nothing is finer than the opportunity to do a hospitable kindness people will enjoy. I do not mind spending money. But oh, oh, oh, how I hate to waste it. Or anything.

So I always check the grocery store’s bargain baskets and shelves. You never know what in hell they’ll be trying to get rid of. Case of decent wine, $7 a bottle? I’m on it. Ten jars of alfredo sauce, half price? Guess what we’re going to be eating. And the other day, I was at my local Fred Meyer buying ant poison and groceries. Stopped by the bargain corner, and saw boxes and boxes of Clif bars. Pumpkin Something and Iced Gingerbread.

I don’t care for Clif bars. Not that I hate them, just that if I were buying a chiseled-calf hipster-beard overpriced bicycle-advocate vegan granola-based energy bar, I’d pick almost anything else first. They neither look nor taste that appealing to me. And that’s good, because not only am I supposed to eat some form of breakfast, it has to meet my strict criteria:

It must cleanse my mouth of the residual coffee aftertaste, which I hate, and is the sole pleasure benefit of me eating in the morning.

It must require zero effort, because first thing in the morning, I will not make any, and if I have to speak, my first words will be vile.

It must be bearable without being appetizing, providing no temptation to overdo it, because I need to be less fat.

It must be minimalist, because I’m forcing myself to do this for reasons of good health. I really don’t want any food in the morning.

Pumpkin anything can be a weird taste for me, but I figured I’d buy a box of the Iced Gingerbread: twelve 59¢ breakfasts, and reasonably healthy to boot, would fit all my specifications. Paid, took home, tried them, found them bearable, and went back to the store to clean them out. Some days it’s helpful being absolutely indifferent to the looks you get, and believe me, when you have fourteen boxes of Clif bars in your shopping cart, you get some strange looks.

Cashier: “Wow. You must really like Clif bars.”

Me: “Nah, not much.”

Cashier: “Then how come you’re buying this many?”

(Such inquiries would be unthinkable some places, such as Seattle with its privacy bubbles. This is Idaho. In Idaho, people are rarely standoffish toward friendly conversation, and there is no invisible ‘I am the consumer and you must deify me’ bubble. Thus, by Idaho standards, this was not at all intrusive. He was acting like an Idahoan, presuming approachability and friendliness, anticipating only goodwill. Standoffishness would have shocked him, especially from a heavyset bearded guy, thus presumably an Idahoan Character. I find this aspect of Idaho invigorating. Seattle tolerates but ignores characters, not daring to comment, and any wacko buying fourteen cases of Clif bars is a character. Idaho talks to them and treats them like people. I will miss this.)

Me: “Cheap breakfasts, and nothing I’ll be tempted to eat two of. Yogurts cost over a buck, and are more perishable. I just saved myself about $80 over the next few months.”

(That, he understood completely. Idaho has a low minimum wage, vestigial social services, and a lot of very poor people, and the cashier was probably one of them. And his count was perfect: 168 Iced Gingerbread Clif bars.)

Cashier: “Enjoy! Have a great afternoon.”

Me: “I’ll try. You do the same.”

I’m writing this in March. By the time I have to start thinking about breakfast again, the leaves will be starting to turn autumn color. By my logic, the sicker I get of them, the better: less temptation, and more eating them out of obligation to realize value.

I was a terrifying accountant, in a past life.

My quest for SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Helmut Naujocks

Some people are fascinated by serial killers. Some seek out evidence of conspiracies. I’m fascinated by enigmatic scumbags. SS-Sturmbannführer (SS Major) Alfred Naujocks was one such.

In Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer described Naujocks (pronounced ‘NAW-yokes’) as an ‘intellectual SS ruffian.’ I wouldn’t say that the ‘intellectual’ part is well supported by the record. Not that he was an idiot, but Naujocks wasn’t much of an idea guy. He did excel at carrying out dirty deeds when so tasked, and thought very well under pressure. He was daring, clever and ruthless. And of all the old Nazis who needed to answer for crimes, he is one of those who eluded justice. In fact, I still haven’t been able to learn that much about him.

The body of work on Naujocks begins with Shirer’s mentions of some of his deeds. It then proceeds to an affidavit he gave while in U.S. captivity in late 1945, presented at the Nuremberg trials. Naujocks himself escaped custody before he could face the tribunal. His trail went cold until 1960, at which time a journalist named Gunter Peis penned an autobiography called The Man Who Started the War. Here are the tantalizing lines from end of Chapter One, which tells of his surrender to U.S. troops:

He pulled his chair up to the table, sat down and began to think. Soon he was typing slowly, carefully. The story he wrote at length was fascinating, incredible and very detailed. It was also quite untrue.

What follows is the story that in 1945 would have hanged Alfred Naujocks.

Peis knew his storytelling work; that’s a lead that makes one want to believe, and to read on in any case. Here’s the problem: there’s no more reason to take this book at face value than there is to believe his entire Nuremberg affidavit. That’s not to say it’s all lies, just that it’s from a source with plenty of motive to lie. By 1960, as I understand it, Naujocks wasn’t in the best of health (he was born in 1911, so that would make him only 49), hadn’t been much of a success in business, and probably needed money. A lurid tale would sell better, one would think, and not many people were likely to come forward with authoritative knowledge to refute his account. Most of those who could have, one supposes, would have preferred to remain inconspicuous. The book may have been his last special operation, and surely his most self-serving.

In any case, we now know that he died in 1966 in Hamburg, where he had apparently lived unmolested. For years many had assumed he must have escaped to Spain or South America, as did many Nazi fugitives from justice, and there is now reasonable evidence now that he did not. He probably managed to lose himself in the postwar chaos and ocean of damaged or destroyed records that resulted from the bombing, invasion and final collapse of the Third Reich.

There are two other books on Naujocks. One is in German, and a very kind native speaker is reading and digesting it for me. I have an e-copy which I could feed with great effort to an online translator, but I hope that my Austrian friend will be able to point me toward the parts that answer questions. The other is not a book yet, but a manuscript by an English author, for which the agent has evidently not yet found a publisher. I wish he would self-publish it, or at least accept my offer of free and confidential proofreading, but neither seems forthcoming. Not knowing what it says, I have no way to evaluate its research or historiography.

What I have pieced together so far, and feel reasonably certain is true except where I label doubt, is this much:

Born in 1911 in Kiel, perhaps with some Baltic forebears (‘Naujocks’ originates from the Lithuanian surname ‘Naujokitis’), he joined the Nazi party in 1931 after being attacked by a left-wing gang. At that point, Hitler had not yet taken over full power in Germany. It didn’t take Naujocks long to make a name for himself as a thug. In 1934 he joined the SS-SD, the SS and Nazi party intelligence organization. He was involved in special operations in Czechoslovakia prior to its partition and absorption. He claims, unconvincingly, to have propagated the disinformation that triggered Stalin’s purges of his officer corps.

His autobiography’s title refers to the Gleiwitz (Polish: Gliwice) incident, a faked Polish attack on a border radio station just prior to (and meant as a pretext for) Hitler’s declaration of war on Poland in 1939. It is the event most notoriously associated with Naujocks, thus the one you would be most likely to see mishandled on a History Channel special (if they ever get tired of dippy reality shows about pawn shops and storage lockers). Later that year, he carried out the abduction of two British intelligence agents on Dutch soil, spiriting them back to Germany. Peis tells tales of Naujocks counterfeiting British currency and operating an espionage brothel in Berlin, which might be true. Naujocks worked for one of the most powerful and feared Nazis alive, SS-Obergruppenführer (SS General) Reinhard Heydrich, and stories differ as to how he managed to incur Heydrich’s personal wrath. Naujocks’ amusing story is that he made the mistake of listening in when Heydrich himself was using the brothel.

In any case, Heydrich was one of the worst possible people any German could piss off, which meant Naujocks was lucky not to be shot in the neck. Heydrich instead saw Naujocks kicked out of the SS-SD and sent to the Eastern Front with the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), one of the Waffen SS’ elite divisions. Wounded in action, he was sent back to Germany. In the meantime, a couple of daring Czechs had managed–at the cost of their lives and many others–to assassinate Heydrich, thus removing the practical obstacle to Naujocks’ re-employment with the SS-SD. He is implicated in murder/reprisals against the Belgian and Danish resistances in 1943-1944. With the writing on the wall for Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, Naujocks surrendered or deserted to the Americans, gave the aforementioned affidavit, escaped, did whatever he did for twenty years besides sell his story to Peis, and died in 1966.

And I may soon know more. Or have reason to believe more. Because whatever the truth of Peis’ tale, there is little doubt that it would take minimal amendment to make his lead accurate: if the Allies had learned the full truth in 1945, they would have hanged Alfred Naujocks.

Why it costs what it costs

My line of work involves a lot of sticker shock. I’m sometimes the recipient, as in: I look into a situation, discover that it would require me to work for about $1.75 per hour, and realize that there are people desperate enough to accept that and people ready to exploit that desperation. Other times, I’m the shocker rather than the shockee.

I don’t make public my pricing methodology, but it’s based on the amount of time and effort required to do the job right. That, in turn, is affected most by the size of the job and the depth of attention necessary. Length is always the biggest factor: if someone wants a critical read with suggestions, and the ms is 400 pages long, well, that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more involved than a 120-page short novel, and will require much more mental juggling to keep track of everything. (That critical read would also be included in an editing job, if that were wanted, as part and parcel. But one must do as one was engaged to do.)

Proofreading is least expensive, because my brain really is not on the storyline, but on catching errors. The author failed to deliver adequate character development? Not my purview. Author made a grammatical error? Fix it and move on. Story is insipid? Not what I was hired to address. Big ton of loose spaces? Fix them. I go over the entire thing at least twice, but that’s simply because I am better at this than other people.

Editing is more expensive, and more variable, because it depends upon what shape the writing is in. Good writing costs less because it may have sentences that can stand without my intervention. Bad writing costs more because I have to make it into good writing. Editing also depends upon length, of course, and on intricacy and complexity. No two are alike, and different mss require different treatments. A one-method-fits-all approach would not help to transform the ms into the best book it can be.

This can mean that I send a ms back to the author with strong suggestions and observations, and suggest some reworking before we get into editing. What I am really saying there is: “This has some flaws I consider lethal. If I fix them for you, in the first place, it will be very expensive. In the second, it will be me supplying the creativity, because a rewrite has no boundaries. I think it’s better if the creativity and flow of ideas are yours; it’s your book. Consult me any time as you go, but I hope you’ll rework this.” If the author can’t or won’t do that, and still wants me to edit it, that’s a problem because I’m not comfortable sending out a fatally flawed book. That means…

…rewriting. I undertake this with great reluctance, but if someone insists and accepts the greatly inflated cost, I may decide to take it. Rewriting happens when either the writing or the story have such severe flaws that plain editing won’t suffice. It’s also rare, because in my experience the worse the writing, the more certain is the author of that writing’s perfection and brilliance. Distilled to the result, the combination of sticker shock and the notion of complete change of even the basic style (which can have no other meaning but “this isn’t good at all”) usually end up sparing me rewriting jobs. And that’s fine, because they are arduous. I would so much rather offer feedback and guidance so that I can simply edit a much-improved ms.

Composition or ghostwriting is the next level up. This happens when I don’t have a ms to work with, just notes or guidelines. Creating that ms is my task. I have done a great deal of it as a contributing author, and I like it well enough, but it’s even more work to do well, and costs even more. It can entail travel, interviewing, purchasing of books, library trips, transcription, and every other manner of research available to me.

Thus, if you’re hoping to keep the price within reason, keep the length within reason. Big book = big project.

New release: _Rock ‘n Roll Heaven_, by Shawn Inmon

Rock ‘n Roll Heaven has been released. This is a medium-length novel focused on the life and times of a fictitious small-time rocker, and in a broader sense the evolution of rock and roll. I was substantive editor.

Its genesis goes back two decades in Shawn’s life, a story he tells in the Author’s Notes. If memory serves, my involvement began about the time he was considering the sequel to his very successful Feels Like The First Time. The opening conversation was inauspicious. Paraphrased:

S: “I want to write a novel about a musician who ends up interacting with all his idols in the afterlife.”

J: “Are you kidding? That’s the loopiest idea I’ve ever heard. It has zero commercial potential. You’re out of your mind.” (I’ve left out the bad words.)

S: “Maybe, but I want to write it anyway. If I do it, will you edit it?”

J: “Of course. If I can’t talk you out of it, I’ll gladly help you make it the best it can be.”

We talked about it for a while, with me not warming to the idea at all. Shawn planned to write about what he loves second only to his wife and children: rock and roll and its history. To me, the whole notion seemed masturbatory, and I told him so. Then what should I do to make it work? Shawn has a gift for asking the right questions. I said that it had better include a story, and a good one.

Shawn is sort of a Veeckian character, a puckish soul with laughing eyes who knows how to let an experience unfold. He’s a great pleasure to work with, because he can take the highest caliber of frankness for which my literary fieldpiece is chambered.

Think about what I did. This is a paying client. I told him the idea was loopy. Then I told him, in cruder terms, that it was self-indulgent, and had no chance to make any money. That’s not what you say when you want the work. At that point, most authors are looking for an editor who believes in the book concept, which means that an editor who doesn’t is Not On Board.

That’s why some authors fail: they focus mainly on people who tell them what they want to hear. They are brilliant, this is the Next Big Thing, etc. They are looking for reassurance and strokes, independent validation of the gushing they got from their spouses and Aunt Sandy. They aren’t looking for someone to tell them they need to improve. Any editor can–and many do–make a living telling novice authors they are brilliant, because it’s what they crave.

Aspiring editors can milk this. Many aspiring writers consider their prose a perfected work of art. Anyone who Fails To Adore simply has no taste, doesn’t get their genius. The less that you say needs to change about their writing, the more credible you are in their eyes. The easy route to good money is to do less work and more sucking up. I’ll even supply the Magic Bullshit (since I’m not using it anyway): “Honestly, I think this is very well written. I can suggest some minor changes, and check for errors, but I love the story.” Just say that. It will mark you as a Believer, and you’ll be hired. Over and over.

Since you won’t do much actual work, you will have quick turnarounds and an airtight explanation: “There wasn’t that much that needed fixing.” Excited would-be authors will preen in delight, seeing that a Real Editor recognizes their genius. The product will be garbage, because the client sought and received sycophancy rather than critique and valuable ideas, but you got paid and your client loved ‘working with’ you. Right?

True confession: I wasn’t completely candid with Shawn. I left out one thing: I was fascinated to see what in hell he would come up with. The man has a Churchillian zigzag lightning streak through his mind, and only a fool would underestimate him. (I no longer do, and am relieved to be less a fool.) Along came the ms, and while I was blunter than usual about some of its issues, it also threw me some invigorating surprises. His research and portrayals of rock legends rang thorough, creative and difficult to predict. Not only did he wrap it around a creditable story, making that story the focal point rather than the rock-and-roll musings, but he redid the opening and hit it off the scoreboard. My work was to keep the strings from showing; let’s hope that readers feel I succeeded at it.

I did one thing differently this time. I normally work in silence broken only by the periodic comments of Alex, my white-eyed conure (a little parrot, bright green). Since the book centered on rock and roll, I felt it irresponsible to edit without background music. It was odd how sometimes the song that played seemed pertinent to my current focus in the narrative.

The creepiest aspect was the author’s notes at the end. I haven’t been asked to edit those before, thank the gods. In this case, for the first time since I’ve worked with Shawn, I found myself perusing his laudatory comments about my work and what it means to his creative process. You tell me: how the hell do you edit someone else’s nice words about yourself? What if you were getting a medal, and were asked to edit the citation that would be read at the ceremony? I prefer ‘as minimally as possible and let’s get the hell out of here,’ and that’s what I did. Or didn’t, one might say. But in spite of my intense embarrassment from the process, Shawn, thanks. Awful kind of you.

R&RH will surprise the reader on several levels. One of Shawn’s last serious questions was the proper Amazon category. Contemporary fantasy? Metaphysical fiction? The truth is a mixture of the two. It contains strong texture and depth on the subject of music and how it is made, but also tells a profound self-discovery story. If you are sick of cloned books, and want something original, I doubt you’ve ever read anything quite like it.

How (and how not) to solicit book reviews

The book industry has changed, in case you weren’t paying attention, and the downfall of the New York model has gone hand in hand with the changes in the game’s admission rules. The bar has dropped from ‘has to make the publisher money’ to ‘author has to be willing to shell out a little money or become a DIY publisher him/herself.’ If you don’t hire any editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover art or printing, there’s no noteworthy cost. It’s guaranteed to be lousy on some level, because just about no one who writes well does all the rest of that well, but congrats: you’re published.

In short, the ticket price has dropped to a sliding scale, but there is no parking or mass transit, and traffic is horrible.

If you self-publish, of course, you’re also the marketing department. (Even under other forms of publishing, you are still the marketing department, though it’s more comforting to pretend that you are not.) That means trying to get some book reviews up on Amazon, which probably has 90% of the market share, or on blogs or other bookselling sites. Most people will read at least a few book reviews before buying a book. A book with no reviews appears to be a book that has generated zero interest, and inspires like in the shopper.

Where this leads: if you’re written any Amazon reviews of any note at all, there are a lot more people seeking reviews than there once were. Naughty secret: for whatever it was worth, under the old Amazon review system where someone named Harriet Klausner ranked as #1 for years by writing about three book reports a day, my highest ranking (out of about 150,000 reviewers) was #73. In 2000, that got me about 1-2 review requests per month.

Today, under the new ranking system (in which my body of work is unremarkable) and having written about ten reviews in the last ten years, I get 1-2 review requests per week. It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the exponential increase in self-marketers. Self-publishers, even those who hire professional assistance and produce quality work, are of necessity self-marketers. The self-publisher who is not also a self-marketer is either disinterested in making money, or disinterested in facing reality.

Some of those seeking reviews are doing it right, and some are doing it wrong. Here is how to do it right.

  • The approach must be personal and by name. ‘Dear Reviewer’ is of minimal worth; that tells me it’s spam, and should be deleted.
  • The approach must indicate why I was selected. A generalist approach (“as you have reviewed many books on Amazon…”) is a failure, because that tells me it’s spam.
  • The why must be credible and sensible. At the least, it should refer to a genre of material I have read, and better that it include specific titles. I’m not saying that someone needs to butter me up, just that it needs not to look like spam.
  • The offer must include a print copy of the book. Of course, this is not true for many reviewers, and is not possible for many books. To me, an author serious enough about wanting a review is serious enough to mail me a copy. Therefore, this one’s optional, as I have specific conditions that don’t apply to everyone else.
  • The offer must not involve a pre-publication version, a.k.a. a galley. Galleys may be rarer today, but I remember a number of approaches where someone wanted me to review a .pdf of the galley. I don’t think too many reviewers are interested in pre-publication galleys–they want to review the book after it’s gone gold.
  • The offer must include contact information beyond an e-mail address. This is business. We are real people. If you are an author, you’re a public figure on some level. Providing your contact information highlights your authenticity and encourages me to take you seriously. If you write under a pen name, you should provide your real name, or if not, explain candidly to me why you can’t (your ex-husband is a complete psycho, you are living under an assumed name in Ecuador, etc.).
  • The offer must not put me on a mailing list of people to spam later. I will generally remember who has written to me before, so if you send out a second round hoping for better results, you won’t get those results from me. I realize that this sounds implausible; who would do such a stupid thing? Please believe me when I say that some people are so desperate for publicity, they will do exactly this. When I see it again, I get very grouchy. I had to report one author to her ISP.
  • The offer must be phrased in your best writing. Because if you can’t write well when you step into my spotlight (and presumably are presenting yourself at your very best), that tells me that your book may be badly written. If I suspect that it is, I won’t proceed further.

Why?

Because my time is finite, and I don’t want to accept a commitment to read a book that will be torture to my brain. Especially when good practice demands that I drop whatever else I am reading and fulfill my commitment to read it.

Because I will then be expected to review it (and professional ethics demand that I do so in a timely manner), and I have zero fundamental desire to impale a book in public. The idea of harming an aspiring author’s prospects is completely counter to my line of work, my thought process and level of enthusiasm–it feels like a police officer ordered to slap around a nice elderly lady. Most would refuse.

Three, because I get nothing from this. I don’t have tremendous motivation to write book reviews, as anyone who looks at my body of work at Amazon (seven serious book reviews in the last four years) can tell. When I write a book review, I am donating my time almost for free, and to make it worse, Amazon is going to whore my review out to anyone it wishes (a major reason not to donate them free content).

Even if you do everything right, I may not end up accepting a review copy, and the reasons may have nothing to do with anything you said or did. I could just be too busy to do it right and on time. But if you do everything right, someone else will.

When you’re buried in work…

…you may not make much time for blogging.

You really can’t. If you have time to write blog posts, which all your clients can see, how will you explain to them why their stuff isn’t getting done sooner? That’s why there’s been less new material recently here at The ‘Lancer. For example:

I recently finished a major rewrite job on a crime thriller. It was extremely difficult going, because when you rewrite, think about it: you’re responsible for everything. This character was not introduced sooner? That’s what you’re paid to correct. Wait, what did we say about how that situation went forty pages ago? Have to go back and look. Rewriting is expensive, and in some cases, needs to be (and is about to become) more expensive.

Shortly thereafter, an editing job reached my desk that I don’t even know how to categorize (except as fiction), but it’s about death and rock and roll. Much easier work, but also more commercial potential and higher expectations as a result. At times like this, it’s handy to have another gear that I am not sure others in my line of work can access. Of course, when I deploy it, I’m wiped the whole next day. Two naps. Zero social function.

That one had to be done that quickly, because I could not keep the next project waiting: an intriguing comic political fiction tale about Latin America. For one thing, it’s four hundred pages, reckoning at 300 w/pp. For another, it was scanned via OCR, leaving a goodly number of small scanning flubs. I like the ms and believe that it’ll do well, but it’s going to take me weeks to do correctly.

I may or may not finish that one by the time it’s time to dig into a Native American historical fiction novel that’s a little longer than the previous ms I mentioned. It all depends how quickly the author is able to devote the time to addressing the matters we discussed beforehand. You see, sometimes a ms needs a significant amount of work before it’s to the stage where I can do what is called editing, not rewriting. If there are major issues to address, I would prefer that the creative remedial actions come from the author; it is his or her book. This need usually reveals itself on the evaluation read, which I don’t undertake unless I’m pretty sure I’d like to be the editor. Anyway, depending on life events, that ms could arrive any time, and I’d at least have to start evaluating where it had gotten to while still working on the previously mentioned project.

And out there beyond those are shades of more, early discussions, early contacts.

Anyway, that’s what’s keeping me off the blog lately, and away from the tough ‘hoods and fleshpots of Boise. We actually have a lot of those, no joke. I’ve seen all sorts of places that look to me like strip joints. Not of interest to me personally, but considering how desperately poor so many Idahoans are–the outcome of a chillingly effective philosophy that believes, at its heart, that the best way to keep Boise from becoming Denver is to give the poor absolutely zero incentive to come or stay here–it surprises me not one bit that there are enough young women desperate for money in Boise that it can support half a dozen strip-o-terias.

As for me, even if I were the type, I have too much on my plate. But I promise I’m not forgetting you fine souls who stay in touch with The ‘Lancer. I just have to pick days when I can set aside some time, ideally days when my brain activity exceeds that of muesli.

The death of Epinions

Word has come of the final demise of Epinions.com, one of my early writing sandboxes. I can’t say that I’m sad, but like an old apartment where one lived for a time, one may look back at it and say: there is a piece of my life’s days.

To explain why it matters, I must tell what it was and why it became popular. Epinions was born as what we might call the people’s product review platform. Anyone could create an account and write reviews of books, diaper pails, cars, wines, cell phones, travel destinations, games, what have you. And therein lay its greatest flaw: you could only review what was in the Epinions database, which meant a significant delay between purchase and waiting for the item to be added. By the time it were added, it might be discontinued, though people tried hard to keep the database as current as possible. That wasn’t a factor at Amazon, where if you could buy it, you already had an account and could review it. It’s not hard to see why Epinions reviews failed to become a go-to product research resource, in spite of significant talent and effort.

Epinions also meant exposing one’s work to public critique, because anyone could comment on and rate a review. Enough negative reviews, and your review wouldn’t show up as readily. If people didn’t like something about your review, they’d say so–although one learned to be careful taking on the site’s evident intellectual heavyweights. It developed its own culture: product detail fanatics, wiseacres who wrote reviews not meant to be taken too seriously (hi, there; my name is jkkelley), lazy two-line reviewers, moms trying to out-mom all other moms, honest hard workers, prats, and idiots.

Oh, and one got paid. At first, quite a lot, enough that unscrupulous people created click circles to scam the site out of wads of venture capital. As I arrived, pay became a trickle. I probably made $500 for over a hundred reviews spread over the course of ten years, heavily concentrated in the first three. I’d guess that I made less than $1/hour. When I started to get paid real money to write, I became less interested in donating my creativity to a site that avowedly shopped my writing to other sites with no extra compensation for me. While that wasn’t the only reason I stopped writing, I’d be false if I presented it in idealistic terms. When I learned that my work was worth more than Epinions would ever pay me, the incentive was gone–unless I had an ax to grind, as I sometimes did.

I came to know a good number of great people at Epinions. A couple are now acclaimed authors. I met perhaps a dozen or more in person. I stay in touch with quite a few. It had a few freaks, most easily avoided. Some I became close to in real-world terms that I knew would long survive the site. Some I have seen through major life changes, been drunk with, mourned. Some I’m pretty sure would take me in if I were homeless, and a few would more likely give me the coup de grace.

Epinions was a good place to learn how to write, thanks to the open-ended platform and potential for critique. Not all of it was constructive, but even the mean-spirited and bitchy critiques taught me things. I wouldn’t call it a finishing school for writing, but it was a useful boot camp. If people were heckling one’s reviews, well, there might have been a reason for that. One learned to organize one’s work (or not). One learned to be sure of one’s facts (or not). One learned how to handle critique with grace (or not). For many, Epinions was the first place where they turned to face the blast furnace of public reaction to writing.

My own specialty at Epinions was the art of the parody review. It was designed so that it could not deserve bad ratings, because it still contained helpful consumer information. It was experiential without taking the concept seriously. I reviewed Hustler as a women’s magazine. I reviewed a sippy cup for utility in drinking alcohol while operating power tools or behind the wheel. I reviewed Grand Theft Auto III as a homeschooling tool. I reviewed a CD called The Power of Pussy by Bongwater. I reviewed a game called Team Barbie Detective, playing it with my own inclinations and seeing how it went. Amused yet annoyed by a freakout review by a religious fanatic of a children’s animated DVD, which alleged that it was demonic, I bought the same DVD and evaluated it as a practical guide to demon summoning. (Hey, kids need to know this stuff.) Epinions had some review topics that just pleaded for mockery, such as ‘How To Use Action Figures And Sets.’

At times, I got serious. I reviewed Everclear, telling the story of the time it came near to ending my life in its second decade. When I decided to hammer a stake through the heart of the University of Phoenix, I was all malice and business. It wasn’t all comedy.

The defining moment, I suppose, was the breast pump review. They told me it was the funniest, craziest thing I’d ever done at Epinions. I’m not sure I’d agree, but I enjoyed the reception it got, especially from quite a few women who had actually deployed a breast pump in anger at some point. There’s a story behind it. Mark Arnold, of St. Louis, was one of the funnier writers at the site. Those of us who felt there was room for mirth commingled with the consumer helpfulness were something of a fraternity at Epinions, and Mark was in good standing. He was also dying, rather swiftly, of kidney cancer. We could do precious little for him, but we could bring our A-games to make him laugh while he was suffering, and thus convey to him our affection. I am reliably informed that we made a real difference for Mark, and I’m proud of my own small donation to the cause.

And that it may be preserved for those who enjoyed it, and survive the fall of Epinions’ flaming timbers, I present it here in modestly edited form. We remember you, Mark. You were a good guy and a funny writer.
========

Venturing among the forlorn, giving a whole new meaning to “self-expression”

Evenflo Breast Pump Kit Press and Pump Battery/Electric, reviewed by jkkelley on 2001-09-05

Pros: can be returned to Wal-Mart, sex toy potential

Cons: didn’t make me lactate, painful, noisy, sold at Wal-Mart

Summary: not recommended for milking your breast, though you might get someone aroused with it

After posting my fiftieth review at Epinions, I hit upon an idea for #100 that I nursed, so to speak, for four months. At Epinions we hear a lot about stay-at-home moms this, the Mommy Brigade that, and so on. It’s mostly silliness, but there’s an element of truth in it.  My own mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she worked hard.

So, in regard for moms everywhere, I want to write for Kids & Family. Who says you have to have kids to write in this area, anyway? Bah. A fresh perspective is needed: one from someone who has no children, has not even been to Chuck E Cheese’s, and therefore has no biases. For, as we all know, it is true that just once in a great while, the occasional Kids & Family junkie gets just a little militant.

Did you realize that men too can lactate? It’s not a simple matter; our normal acquaintance, at least in the case of straight men, involves a radically different approach to the breast. Milking our own is usually not on the agenda. But we can; just ask any doctor. And we should. Who says that only women can nurse babies? I call upon males of all persuasions to break these chains of oppression and show that we, too, can be nurturing and life-giving.

With that, I resolved to milk myself, if I could, and in so doing, review a breast pump. I figured that a new viewpoint would add a lot of consumer value, result in Informed Buying Decisions, and help me gain valuable Kids & Family-related insight so that I could better relate to the plight of nursing women.

Now, granted, unless I attempted to do the dairy routine in the shopping mall food court–and since I wasn’t going to have to clean up any baby barf–I admit that I knew in advance I wasn’t getting the Total Lactatory Experience. That part I couldn’t help. But I tried valiantly anyway, good reader, and if you’d like to hear the story, read on.

It was a typical Tri-Cities August afternoon (about 95° F) one fine Tuesday when I did something which normally for me would be anathema. Something so bizarre I had to really psych myself up to get through it. I would venture to a circle of Hell to walk unto the tormented and the damned, with faith in nonconformity as my fortress.

I went to Wal-Mart.

First priority:  avoid being ‘greeted’.  I chose my entry timing with care.  Evading the underemployed senior in blue, I moved with a purpose toward the pharmaceutical section. I was in the Wal-world, as they say, but not of it. I stepped over dropped pork rinds (that is not a joke). I disdained a cart. I dodged corpulent, aimless cartpushers lacking in depth perception. I met the vacant stares of staff and patrons alike without flinching; just as in a burn ward, it is important to people not to deny their humanity even when in a state of degradation.  Exile from humanity is far worse torture.

How unfortunate for me, then, that I couldn’t find the damned breast pump section with both hands and an annotated map. I wandered around for a good twenty minutes (the place was about the size of a big league ballpark) before at last bungling across the breast pumps. Naturally, some Queen Bee had her cart parked right in front of them. Naturally, it took several minutes for it to occur to Her Majesty that I might want one, and that I might greatly appreciate it if she would kindly back her rig up. This is normal in the Tri-Cities. They mean no harm; it just doesn’t occur to anyone that they could ever possibly be obstructing anyone, so they just stand there doing nothing, letting the mental solenoids work.

My main decision was whether to get the manual or the electric one. Since I knew I would be returning it anyway (no other reason to set foot in Walton Memorial Arena), I splurged on the electric one.  Perhaps I could milk myself while reading, or preparing possum stew, or playing solitaire Pictionary.

The waiting is the hardest part, and never more so than when being in line to check out takes you out of the Brownian motion of shopping and forces you to register what you see.  Two of the three customers ahead of me had some problem or issue (probably a twenty-cent discount that they failed to receive).  It took about fifteen minutes before I finally got to plunk down the card. During that time, the Mother of the Year behind me threatened to cut her son’s finger off if he touched a pack of gum. (I shot the boy a look of solidarity. If I’d had a sow like that for a mom, I would have wanted a few looks of solidarity.)

The checker, a thirtyfiveish woman with a sad expression and a fading shiner that spoke volumes, couldn’t determine whether the credit card slip she printed was for a credit or debit card.  This is normally a fairly elementary question, I believe, but the elementary is complicated at Wal-Mart. After seeing the black eye, I gave her incompetence a pass.  My façade fading, I just signed the slip and bugged out of there.

To my great joy, I also evaded being ‘greeted’ on the way out. Exultation of the kind I felt when I was leaving Hell High School for college. Ha, you gravy-suckers. You got to borrow my money for a week, but you didn’t get my soul. You didn’t even provoke in me any reaction but pity. I get to leave, and you will remain here, slaving away for the world’s worst employer outside of a few shoe factories in Shenzhen. I had a sense of triumph and achievement as I headed for the White Lightning, my truck, which I’d deliberately parked in the lot’s farthest corner. At the 27th and US 395 Wal-Mart in Kennewick, Washington, that effectively meant parking it in Idaho.

After my appointment that afternoon (I wonder how the nice elderly lady having trouble getting her Verizon dial-up going would have reacted if she knew; I felt slutty), I headed for the barn, pump safely stowed atop my briefcase full of computer and business paraphernalia.

I showed my beautiful bride my purchase.

“NO! You aren’t really going to milk yourself, are you?”
“Why, certainly, dear. Why should women get all the glory?”
“You are such a freak.”
“By the way, dear, I need you to help me.”
(groaning) “Oh, god. With what?”
“The before and after pictures, obviously!”

She looked at me in shocked disdain. She is so culturally conservative sometimes.

That evening I tried to assemble it. Deb’s efforts to help made the task more challenging; I had to shoo her off, on the grounds that I couldn’t evaluate the assembly directions fairly if she did it for me.

Instructions: lousy. In English, Spanish and French, interspersed together, but in a way that’s difficult to follow. The drawings are not to scale, so the parts they’re showing as being big are actually small and vice versa. I’m reasonably mechanically inclined, but I found them badly formatted and confusing–the fact that I understand Spanish and French notwithstanding. I can only imagine how much fun this might be during postpartum depression.  Hell, even during partum depression.

In the back, also in three languages, are some questions and answers about breastfeeding. Engorgement (full hooter syndrome, basically), storage, refrigeration, scheduling, milking oneself and massage techniques are all covered. None of them helped me personally, though some of them look promising as foreplay.

Assembly: poorly thought out. For example: to get the bottle in place like the manual says, you have to shove with all your might, bending the plastic. I was sincerely scared that I would break it, which would give me postpartum depression (because then I couldn’t take it back to Wallyworld). I tried every direction and method. If you follow the instructions, you will ultimately damage the pumper. My recommendation is to lightly grease these parts with Vaseline or something so you don’t have to honk on it so hard.

What it looks like: imagine a white one-demitasse coffee maker, if such a thing exists. Then imagine a milk bottle about the size of a champagne split, topped by a clear plastic trumpet bell coming out at an angle. You position the little valve on top of the bottle on the drip part of the coffee maker, at an angle, then cram and force the bottle vertical.

Attachments: it also comes with a little blue bag, so that you can cart it around in public without horny guys forming a pack behind you waiting for you to uncover an inch of breast flesh.  There are also some nursing pads (probably to mop up in case you’re doing the Old Faithful thing), a little ‘silicone nipple adapter’ (a euphemistic term for ‘miniature mammary adapter’), and a rubber hose called the ‘flushing tube’ (for if you get truly infuriated with the thing and find yourself about to flush it down the can). In some ways it was sort of like a little Kirby vacuum cleaner.

Getting going: one problem most women don’t have to face is chest hair. Like Esau, I am ‘an hairy man,’ so I shaved off a circle of chest hair centered on my nipple. The trumpet bell thing, which we should just call the sucker, is about the diameter of a baseball; I shaved an area about like a saucer. Having not shaven anything in four years, I actually had to go digging for a shaving razor. Finally found one in an old travel kit. It was that or steal from the wife.

Firing that sucker up: the instructions said to stimulate my “let-down reflex” by relaxing, thinking about my baby, and massaging my breasts. Since I don’t have a baby, or much in the way of breasts, I substituted thinking about experiences I’ve had in the past that sucked, such as Micron’s warranty service, talking to Dell Computer on the phone, and dining at Casa Chapala. Day by day I recorded my experiences:

Day 1: had some difficulty getting a firm seal (some of these aquatic mammals really need to take up Tae Bo), and when I did, yeouch! I immediately turned down the suction.  It felt like I was nursing a remora. No middle ground; either there wasn’t enough suction and it fell off, or there was enough to hurt like all hell. Five minutes of this left my whole nipple area swollen, and if I’d kept it on full, I’m sure I’d have blown a blood vessel.

Day 2: the problem with this thing is that the suction level doesn’t stay put, meaning it keeps sliding up until it could suck-start a Harley. Nipple very swollen and tender. This isn’t for wimps, let me tell you. Feels like a baby, all right:  a baby badger.

Day 3: hurts even worse, though I’m getting the hang of keeping my thumb in the right place so it can’t do the Electrolux thing to me. Feels like a needle in my nipple. It is absolutely impossible to do anything else during this–can’t chat online, can’t write, can’t even read a magazine.

Day 4: I’m building up my endurance a little here, though the thing is still painful. I’m beginning to despair that I’ll actually get any milk this week. (It was at this point that I actually, for the first time, asked myself what in the world I would do with it if I did in fact begin to do the dairy thing. Sell it on eBay, I think.)

Day 5: left the suction up higher this time and sucked it up, so to speak, when it came to the pain. I paid the price–I think a blood vessel is about to go. Tomorrow I’m going to have to shave again. In the mirror, with my shirt off, I look pretty odd.  I would have a lot of explaining to do at the beach.

Day 6: weird effect; my areola (the skin around the nipple) is getting all wrinkly, like women’s do when their nipples get erect. We may be getting somewhere here, even though with the pump attached it still feels like my nipple is in a pair of vise-grips. This has real potential as a S&M sex toy. It would give a manageable amount of mildly erotic pain.

Day 7: oh, great, I’ve finally developed a tolerance for the ‘high’ setting now that the experiment is over. It hurt acutely at first (and my nipple is always tender) but after about five minutes it didn’t bother me. The hell with it; I’m taking this back. I’m also saying the hell with the before and after pictures, on the grounds that I have to admit that it didn’t do me any visible damage.

Results: very poor. This device failed to express even a drop of colostrum from my nipple. I therefore cannot recommend this pump; I must join the ranks of the many dissatisfied customers. I see now why it has the unflattering nickname: “The Nipple Ripper.”

I don’t know of any women I’d wish it on. Couple guys, maybe.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 100 other followers