King’s New Novel Is A Good Detective Story

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During his long (40 years), successful, and prolific (more than 50 books) career, Stephen King deservedly became known as The Master of Horror. As one who has read just about everything he has written, I can attest to being spellbound by Carrie White’s revenge, terrified by the events at the Overlook Hotel, and convinced that vampires are real because of what happened in ’Salem’s Lot. I also bought into the idea that pets can return from the dead, and I’ve never looked at any clown the same way after having met Pennywise. I could go on, but you get the idea.

In his new novel titled “Mr. Mercedes,” however, the horrormeister forsakes the genre that made him a household word and delivers a consistently entertaining mystery about a retired police officer taunted by a psychopathic mass murderer. In addition to being a typical King page-turner, this novel also introduces some of the most likeable characters (with one exception) King has ever created.

Set in an unnamed town, the story begins in the early morning hours when a huge throng of people has gathered at the City Center for a Job Fair. As the people are waiting for the doors to open, a Mercedes 12-cylinder sedan suddenly appears and heads directly toward the crowd. Much to the horror of the job seekers the car accelerates right into their midst, killing eight and injuring 15. The car then speeds away, and during the ensuing investigation, the police come up empty.

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One of the officers working the case is a detective named Bill Hodges, a 40-year veteran who recently retired and who was so devastated by not capturing the Mercedes killer that he spends his days watching meaningless daytime TV shows, drinking beer, and contemplating suicide. Bill definitely is on the brink of ending it all until six months after his retirement he receives a thick letter in the mail, and much to his shock it is from the murderer. The epistle is filled with taunting sarcasm, and after reading only a few lines, Hodges knows he’s dealing with a complete nut. Here’s a sample as the writer describes the feeling when the car ran over the bodies.

“I still relive the thuds that resulted from hitting them, and the crunching noises, and the way the car bounced on its springs when it went over the bodies. For power and control, give me A Mercedes 12-cylinder every time! When I saw in the paper that a baby was one of the victims, I was delighted!!! To snuff out a life that young! Think of all she missed, eh? Patricia Gray, RIP! Got the mom, too! Strawberry jam in a sleeping bag! What a thrill, eh? I also enjoy thinking of the man who lost his arm and even more of the two who are paralyzed. The man only from the waist down, but Martine Stover is now your basic “head on a stick!” They didn’t die but probably wish they did. How about that, Detective Hodges?”

The wacko who wrote the letter is Brady Hartfield. He still lives at home with his alcoholic mother, and she, like her son, is about four sandwiches shy of a picnic. To call their relationship perverted is a gross understatement, and Brady is one of the most sadistic killers you have ever encountered. His sarcastic letter to Hodges gives the retired detective a reason to live, and most of the book is a tense game of cat and mouse between the two of them, culminating in a fast-paced and thrilling conclusion that will have you ripping through the final 100 pages.

Despite being retired, Hodges launches his own re-investigation of the case. The Mercedes used as the murder weapon belonged to a wealthy older widow named Olivia Trelawney, and one of the major mysteries is how the killer gained access to her car. Olivia ultimately becomes so distraught over the incident that she kills herself, and her death allows King to introduce Janelle (Janey) Patterson, Olivia’s beautiful sister, who wants to learn the killer’s identity.

As the story proceeds, Janey and two others join Hodges in his investigation. The first is Jerome Robinson, a brilliant African American teenager who does yard work for Hodges and also troubleshoots his computer for him. The ogther is Janey’s niece Holly, a middle-aged woman with severe mental issues who turns out to be one of the best characters in the book.

Hodges and his unlikely team of investigators soon find themselves involved in a very dangerous search for Hartsfield, who on the surface seems incapable of such a heinous act as driving a speeding car into a crowd of people. He holds down a good job at an electronics store, and when he’s not working there, he’s dispensing treats to neighborhood children from an ice cream truck.

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In his typical fashion, King turns up the tension throughout the story, slowly and steadily until your knuckles will turn white as you fly through the final pages. There’s no doubt King is the true master of the horror novel, but with “Mr. Mercedes” he proves he’s also quite adept and writing a damn good detective thriller. The word is that a film based upon the book already is in works, and if Hollywood does it right, it could be a dandy.

Even if horror is not your thing, I highly recommend “Mr. Mercedes” as a good summer read. It would be a great choice to take with you on vacation or just out on your porch or deck. I will add one note of caution, however. Never again will you look at a Mercedes in quite the same way.

Stephen King Reads From His New Fiction Book "11/22/63: A Novel" During The "Kennedy Library Forum Series"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Writers Need A Grammar Lesson

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I am a grammar snob. Let’s be clear about that from the beginning. I spent more than 40 years of my professional career attempting to educate students about the intricacies of the English language. Sometimes I succeeded, and, although I hate to admit it, there were times when I failed. I like to think the successes outnumbered the failures, but of one thing I’m certain: I will continue to fight for proper grammar until I draw my final breath.

That being said, perhaps you can understand my outrage when I hear people who are supposed to be educated butcher the English language. But what really both amuses and enrages me is when people erroneously think their knowledge of grammar is superior, and in attempting to flaunt it, they make fools of themselves by committing an egregious error. Allow me to share with you what triggered this little rant.

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A very good new television show made its debut last week, and while the actors associated with it deserve high marks, the writers should be thoroughly embarrassed. The show is titled “Crisis,” and it deals with the kidnapping of some elite Washington, D.C., high school students (including the president’s son) and the subsequent efforts of the FBI to rescue them. The show has a lot of promise, but it was a little beyond the halfway point when the writers put the wrong word into the mouths of two characters.

After a scene in which an FBI agent named Finley saves a very precocious student, the writers, in an attempt to underscore the young boy’s erudition, show their ignorance of proper grammar. Check out the following conversation between Finley and Anton.

Finley: I took this walkie off that guy downstairs. I’m gonna have a little chat with whoever is on the other end.

Anton: Whomever is on the other end.

Agent: This Secret Service Agent Marcus Findley speaking to whomever’s listening.

Now obviously Finley should have said that he took the walkie  from the guy and not off him, but I will excuse this and chalk it up to dialectical license. The more serious problem, however, occurs when Anton incorrectly corrects Finley by telling him to use whomever. And in accepting Anton’s erroneous advice, Finley misuses whomever in his next statement. The correct usage in both instances is whoever, and in case you just might be the slightest bit curious about this, I offer the following explanation for your elucidation and edification.

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The relative pronoun whoever is in the nominative case, which means it must be used as the subject of a verb. Whomever, on the other hand, is the objective form of the relative pronoun, and it can be used only as the object of something. Now the problem arises when we put a preposition in a sentence like the following: Give the book to whoever wants it. People look at the pronoun following the preposition and immediately assume it should be in the objective case because it’s the object of the preposition. But the true object of the preposition is the entire noun clause whoever wants it next, and because the subject of the clause is whoever, it must be in the nominative case. See how simple that is!

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Now perhaps you’re wondering how a sentence with the correct use of whomever might look. I’m happy to show you. Consider the following statement: Give the book to whomever you choose. In the noun clause whomever you choose, the relative pronoun is the direct object of choose and must therefore be in the objective case.

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Regrettably then, instead of making Anton look like a master of the English language, the “Crisis” writers inadvertently turned him into a grammar buffoon. Lest I be too harsh, however, allow me to say that the proper usage of who and whom is not easy to grasp. As many of my former students will attest, I said as much in my classes when I attempted (sadly not always successfully) to teach them this troubling concept. Now I will leave you with a little story in which who and whom are used correctly.

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School was finally out for the summer, and as the two boys walked home, they wondered who their new football coach would be in the fall. Coach Hardass, whom the school board had fired, was history, and the boys hoped they would get guy who would be fairer than his predecessor. Of course nobody had asked any of the players whom they wanted as their coach, but the players hoped the board would give the job to whoever was the most qualified instead of handing the position to whomever some board members wanted. No matter who got the job, however, he couldn’t be any worse than Hardass, whom everyone despised. 

Feel free to share this with whoever may benefit from it, including the writers of “Crisis,” whom you may or may not know.

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“You Herd Me” A Must For Sports Fans

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As a lifelong fan of sports I obviously have heard and watched myriad sports commentators, and it should come as no surprise that I have had my favorites throughout the years. The late Bill Stern, who hosted “The Colgate Sports Newsreel” from 1937 through 1956, was a master of painting profiles of sports stars on the radio. And although many people disliked him, I loved the late Howard Cosell, whose “let’s-tell-it-like-it-is” approach probably angered as many fans as it pleased, but I found him consistently refreshing and entertaining.

In more modern times, I really admired the late Dick Schaap, and when it comes to calling a game, nobody is better than Mike Tirico. As far as anchoring major sporting events and offering perceptive insights, Bob Costas is in a league by himself. And for sheer entertainment in delivering news from the world of sports, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic are tops.

But when I want sports commentary that combines unmitigated erudition, a wealth of knowledge, an often fresh perspective, and a throwback to Cosell’s fearlessness about “telling it like it is,” I tune into the only guy I know who can offer all that. He’s ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, and if you haven’t yet discovered him, you are missing out on a real treat. His daily radio show, appropriately titled “The Herd,” airs daily on ESPN radio from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and it is simulcast on ESPNU. Cowherd’s delivery is uniquely entertaining, and every day he shares his original, incisive, and thought-provoking viewpoints about sports.

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One day as I was listening to his show, he mentioned he had written a book scheduled for publication in the near future, and I immediately signed on to Amazon.com to reserve my copy. “You Herd Me” is a book every sports fan should enjoy, and the main thing I liked about it is that Cowherd writes exactly the way he talks his show. His conversational style makes the book very easy and enjoyable to read, and it’s packed with Cowherd’s unique take on various sports and athletes.

From its introduction, in which Cowherd relates an incident from his childhood that altered his outlook on sports for the rest of his life, until the final page, “You Herd Me” offers readers a marvelous combination of facts, figures, anecdotes, analyses, character sketches, and humor from the world of sports. The book is a treasure trove of information for every sports fan, and on the front cover just below the title is the following tagline serving as Cowherd’s motto: “I’ll say it if nobody else will.” Cosell would have loved him.

Colin Cowherd ESPN Radio

Here is a sampling of Cowherd’s pearls from the book:

  • “USC and Alabama don’t have a story like ‘Rudy.’ They would never have anybody that slow on their roster.”
  • “Two things make smart men stupid. Beautiful women and sports.”
  • “An NFL team without a good quarterback is like a stripper without a good body.”
  • “ESPN is similar to a big hospital. Journalists are the heart surgeons, and talk-show hosts are just the plastic surgeons.”
  • “Is Hell really a supernatural place of fire and brimstone – or is it actually just another word for living in Tampa?”

Among the many issues Cowherd addresses in his book are whether or not Tiger Woods is a sex addict, alcohol sales at sporting venues, the ugly side of sports, children on airplanes, racism, the truth about sports salaries, and the SEC’s dominance of the college football world. And I defy readers to disagree with anything he says!

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At one point in the book he is addressing fans of various teams, and he poses the following question: “Would you rather be the Packers or the remarkably well-funded and glitzy Dallas Cowboys, who have had as much playoff success over the past fifteen years as the National Enquirer has had on Pulitzer Prize day?” Nobody does sarcastic humor better than Cowherd.

And I hope to hell the insufferably pompous Rush Limbaugh (He’s mentioned in one part of the book.) reads this tome to see how Cowherd brilliantly compares Major League Baseball and the Republican Party.

“The GOP and MLB are both suffering from an arrogance that manifests itself through an inability to reach out to those who fall just outside the comfort zone. For baseball, it’s the African-American community; for the GOP, it’s any minority you can name.

“To put it bluntly, both institutions have become old and white in a world that is becoming less of both.”

The comparison continues with some concrete examples and concludes with valuable advice for both entities.

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Although every page of this book is packed with superbly stated opinion, analysis, observation, and advice, I particularly enjoyed what Cowherd had to say about why attendance at NFL games is declining.

“Why? Why are more and more NFL fans staying home? You can run down the usual list of suspects: traffic hassles, ticket prices in a tough economy, high-definition television, and the Red Zone channel.

“But you have to leave room for one major reason: the behavior inside stadiums is appalling. From the language to the behavior to the sight of grown men peeing in bathroom sinks or garbage cans, NFL stadiums are quickly becoming places that are not in the least bit family-friendly.”

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Not only is Cowherd consistently fearless about speaking his mind, but he also doesn’t hesitate to make a comment that many Penn State fans may consider sacrilegious.

“There’s just too much man worship in sports. Maybe it’s our Western religion where we look up for answers while Eastern religion asks you to look within yourself, not idolize or worship someone else.

“It’s what brought down Penn State football. People allowed a man in his eighties to run a $400 million football program. That’s not being an ageist – it’s being a realist. Joe Paterno was not only injured twice during his last few years, he was so generationally out of touch, he didn’t recognize how dangerous and inappropriate the Jerry Sandusky information was.”

Now that’s telling it like it is!

I simply cannot recommend “You Herd Me” for sports fans and for anyone else who would be interested in a refreshingly different, but always perceptive, informative, and entertaining look into the complex world of sports. In addition to providing me with a wealth of new information and insight into a subject about which I thought I knew a lot, the book reaffirmed my belief that Cowherd is absolutely the best at what he does.

Now here’s a scenario I can imagine. Somewhere in sports commentators’ heaven Howard Cosell has just finished reading “You Herd Me.” He reverently lays the book on the table beside his comfortable chair, takes a big puff of his newly lighted cigar, savors a generous sip of vodka from a tall glass, and says, “Amen, Colin. Amen!”

howard cosell sports illustrated combined cover

Such Cruelty Transcends Realm Of Insanity

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WARNING: The following post is not for the faint of heart, and if you are offended by harsh language, stop right now. I am so horrified and incensed by this that I am almost at a loss for words – but not quite!

Let me say up front that I am a devout animal lover, but I am particularly partial to dogs. I have had dogs in my life as long as I can remember, and I have loved each and every one of them because they all ask so little and give back so much. Thus, when I hear stories about people who abuse their pets, I become so enraged that I really don’t know how to deal with it.

During the recent cold snap when temperatures in the Ohio Valley plunged into minus territory bringing dangerous wind-chill readings, I was stunned, angered, outraged, and all other forms of appalled to read and hear about people who left their dogs outside. Now what kind of a flaming asshole does something that goddamn stupid and cruel? Obviously someone with an IQ far below that of a rock!

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You want to know how cold it was? A recent blurb in The Week Magazine read as follows: “Good week for staying indoors after a ‘polar vortex’ dropped temperatures in all 50 states below freezing, with lows of 7 degrees in Alabama, and -27 in parts of the Midwest. It was so cold that the Chicago zoo moved its polar bear indoors into a heated room.”

Well, just when I had recovered from reading and hearing about the sub-morons who left their dogs out in the cold, I came across the following item posted on the WTRF website. And my shock and horror completely eclipsed my realm of comprehension.

MARSHALL COUNTY, W.Va. –

Authorities in Marshall County are searching for a suspect after they found a dead dog near Washington Lands.

According to Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Cecil, they discovered the animal along Rt. 2 after receiving an anonymous tip. Cecil went on to say the animal had been skinned and its front paws had been removed. Authorities believe the dog had been dropped on the side of the road between midnight and 10 a.m.

At the scene authorities found little physical evidence, but were able to find a set of skid marks. Right now the sheriff’s office is asking for the public’s help. They are looking for any vehicle that pulled off the hillside of the highway traveling north, about a quarter mile south of Washington Lands on Rt. 2.

Anyone with information is asked to call the tip line at (304) 843-5422.

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What kind of a demented, sadistic, opprobrious, and maniacal human monster would do something this unspeakably horrific? It defies all realms of reason and sanity. I can’t comprehend the thought process coursing through such a deranged mind!

The last I heard, law-enforcement officials were still looking for clues about the incident, but I certainly hope they catch the sick perpetrator. And when and if they do, they should forget about the letting the wheels of justice turn. Just drag the piece of human filth deep into the woods, amputate both arms with a very dull knife, then skin the low-life, scum-sucking, inhumane son-of-a-bitch alive, and wait for the wild animals to find the feast! Bon appetite and good riddance.

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Are Kickers and Punters Football Players?

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Among the many memorable things the late Vince Lombardi once said, there was this: “Football is not a contact sport; it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.”

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I can’t help wondering what the great coach would think about the game he loved so much if he were alive today. When he was coaching those great Green Bay teams in the 1960s, players were praised and rewarded for bone-jarring tackles. Today they are penalized and in some cases ejected from the game and fined.

In its ever-increasing attempts to protect “defenseless” players, the NFL has mandated its officials to enforce strictly the rules against helmet-to-helmet hits and tackles that involve hitting an opposing player in the head, neck, and chin area with the helmet. Now before I continue, let me make it clear that I don’t want to see anyone hurt during a football game, nor am I condoning what can be classified as a “dirty” hit. But it seems to me that many times these days, players are penalized for just plain, old-fashioned hard hitting.

Here’s something for your consideration. In November of 1960 the Philadelphia Eagles were playing the New York Giants. Frank Gifford caught a short pass and turned up the field only to be leveled by crushing tackle delivered by Chuck Bednarik. Here’s a clip of the play.

Notice two things in addition to the severity of the hit. First, Gifford did not move because he was knocked out cold. Secondly, there was no flag on the play. The concussion Gifford sustained that day was so serious that he didn’t return to the football field until 1962.

Now the play that precipitated the piece you are reading occurred on the night of December 15, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Cincinnati Bengals. Kevin Huber, the Bengals’ punter, kicked to ball to the Steelers’ 33-yardline, where Antonio Brown fielded it and headed toward the Cincinnati end zone en route to a 67-yard touchdown run. During the action, Huber appeared to be moving into position to attempt a tackle on Brown when he was leveled by the Steelers’ rookie linebacker Terence Garvin. No flag was thrown, but Huber suffered a broken jaw and a fractured vertebra ending his season. Below are three different views of the play.

Although no penalty was assessed, Garvin was subsequently fined $25,000 for what the league deemed an illegal hit. After viewing the play a number of times, I am still undecided about the hit’s legality, but I am convinced it was neither malicious nor intentionally dirty. It was just one football player trying to block another football player. But wait! According to the rules, a punter or a kicker is not really a football player. Yes, you read that correctly, and that’s what disturbs me.

In discussing the play on the NFL Network, Dean Blandino, vice president of officiating, explained the justification for Garvin’s stiff fine by saying, “Huber, he’s a punter. And the key is he’s defenseless throughout the down. So even though he’s pursuing the play, he still gets defenseless-player protection. You can’t hit him in the head or neck, and you can’t use the crown or forehead parts of the helmet to the body.”

And the NFL rule 12-2-7(a)(6) specifically supports Blandino by stating, “However, a kicker/punter is a defenseless player through the conclusion of the down.”

All right, before we attempt to reach any kind of a conclusion for all of this, let’s see what the two players involved had to say. Garvin, who probably will appeal the fine, said he was just trying to make a play.

“I fell down on the play, and I got up and saw A.B. coming towards me, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to try and help him break on this play.’ I wasn’t out there trying to be vicious. When you’re in the game, you’re really just trying to make a play and help your team out.”

Garvin is a football player, and as such he is trained and coached to act instinctively during the heat of battle, but when you consider the rule about kickers and punters, his thought process should have gone thusly: “OK, here comes A.B., and he has a chance to score. Uh, oh, here’s a guy moving in to make the tackle. I’m going take him out. Aw shit! He’s the kicker. He’s defenseless. I can’t touch him, and so I’ll just jump out of the way. Sorry, A.B. You would have scored if you hadn’t been tackled by a defenseless player.”

So what did Huber have to say about the whole thing?

“There really is not much I can do about it now. Me just getting mad and stressing about it is only going to make it harder to get through. It is what it is. It’s part of the game, I know — big hits. Unfortunately I got one of the big hits, and I’ve got to deal with it. I’ll be fine. I’ll be back next year.”

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Well, apparently whether he’s defenseless or not, he realizes what others don’t. Big hits are part of football.

What does all of this mean? I guess we can draw several conclusions here. One is that punters and kickers enjoy protection on the field unlike that of any other player because from the time they run out of the tunnel onto the field, they are defenseless. Actually, they don’t need to wear a helmet and pads. Shorts and a T-shirt should suffice.

Here’s a suggestion for a rule change to clear up the whole thing. In baseball we have a designated hitter, and so why can’t we have a designated punter/kicker substitute in football? Thus whenever a team lines up to kick off or punt, it will have 12 men on the field because standing next to the punter or kicker, who will be dressed in his shorts, will be a real football player. Once the ball is kicked, the kicker sprints to the sidelines to a little area marked “Defenseless Players Only.” And play continues.

Of course the next dilemma is how to protect the kickers during field goals and extra points. Perhaps they could be surrounded by a metal cage like the ones used by divers who study sharks. Of course the cage would have to be much, much larger so that the kicker take the necessary steps and have room to swing his leg to launch the ball through a small opening in the cage, and a soon as the ball is away, a steel door will fall into place protecting the defenseless kicker from any possible injury.

Finally, I think there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn here. Based upon the stated rules and the way the league views them, kickers and punters aren’t really football players. Instead they are people skilled in kicking a leather-covered rubber bladder long and high distances. And certainly there’s no shame in this because what kickers ad punters do often has a direct impact on the final outcome of a game.

But as the incomparable late Howard Cosell used to say, “Let’s just tell it like it is.” Simply stated then, any argument that a kicker or punter is a football player in the truest sense of the word is totally defenseless.

A Danger In Pro Football Is Exposed

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I have been a professional football fan for as long as I can remember, and although I proudly confess to being a Green Bay Packers backer, I also always have cheered for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because my dad grew up in Pittsburgh, he bled black and gold and stood by this team through many lean seasons. Finally Chuck Noll arrived on the scene, and my dad saw his beloved Steelers transformed from an NFL doormat into a dynasty in the 1970s.

Of course you cannot think of those great teams without mentioning the names of Bradshaw, Swann, Stallworth, Harris, Bleier, Ham, Greene, Holmes, and many others, but for me one image from those years is indelibly imprinted in my memory. On those dark, gray winter days when the swirling winds turned Three Rivers Stadium into one of the most frigid places on earth, a single player on the field always stood out because he eschewed long sleeves, and when he bent over to snap the ball into Bradshaw’s hands, Mike Webster’s massive bare biceps were on display as a reminder that cold weather didn’t exist for him.

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From 1974 to 1988 Webster anchored the offensive line at center for the Steelers, and among his many achievements are four Super Bowl rings, nine pro bowl appearances, nine all-pro selections, and a well-deserved place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sadly Webster, aka Iron Mike, died on Sept. 24, 2002, at the age of only 50, and in what can only be described as cruel irony, Webster’s life after football was destroyed by the sport he loved and to which he devoted his life.

The dear price Webster paid for playing 16 years in the NFL is revealed in the first part of “League of Denial,” a fascinating, shocking, and frightening book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru about the horrific danger to players who suffer repeated concussions playing professional football. Both authors are investigative reporters for ESPN, and their meticulously researched book chronicles the irrefutable research leading to the conclusion that an alarming number of former professional football players are at risk of developing (or already have contracted) chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) later their lives.

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MARK FAINARU-WADA and STEVE FAINARU

“League of Denial” comprises three main sections in making its case that despite claims to the contrary by the NFL the development of CTE in former players during their later years is an escalating problem. The first section focuses on Webster’s tragic history en route to his untimely death in 2002, and the subsequent autopsy Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County in Lodi, Calif., performed on him. Although Webster’s immediate cause of death was listed as a heart attack, Omalu noted on the death certificate that Webster had suffered from depression and ordered his brain preserved for additional testing that ultimately revealed Webster had CTE.

Among the symptoms of CTE are depression, suicidal impulses, anxiety, memory loss, and erratic and often aggressive behavior. Although Webster had always been the picture of strength and stability, it was during his final NFL season with the Kansas City Chiefs that he began to develop some worrisome behavior patterns. He had built a beautiful dream retirement house in Kansas City for his wife, Pam, and their children, and in “League of Denial” the authors described the beginning of the end this way.

“At first, that was exactly what it looked like: A beautiful dream. Pam loved Kansas City. So did the kids. But they began to notice changes in Mike, almost imperceptible at first but growing more noticeable during his final years in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and now impossible to ignore. Before, Michael rarely raised his voice; now his temper was short. He became easily distracted and forgetful. He was often lethargic and indecisive. Where Webster once had approached his work with unrelenting focus, now ‘he couldn’t decide what to have for breakfast,’ Pam said.”

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        WEBSTER AT HIS 2007 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME INDUCTION

Instead of living a dream during his retirement years, Webster found himself in the midst of a nightmare. Take a moment to picture that gold-and-black clad 270-pound warrior (capable of bench-pressing 350 pounds 15 times) as he broke from the Steelers’ huddle, sprinted to the line of scrimmage, and, with bare biceps bulging as the wind chill in Three Rivers plummeted, bent over to deliver the ball into the hands of Bradshaw. Now read the following statement from Webster’s son Garrett to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation during a hearing titled “Oversight of the NFL Retirement System” about why his father failed even to call his son on his 10th birthday.

“‘Later that month I found out why,’ Garrett told the rapt committee members, ‘when our family discovered iron Mike Webster, bloated to over 300 pounds, shivering naked in the bed in a rat infested motel, and by his side were not pictures of his kids, nor his Super Bowl rings, nor autographs or any glory that you associate with football, but a bucket of human waste, because he was too weak to make it to the bathroom.’”

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As Webster’s health declined and his family’s requests for monetary compensation from the NFL continued to fall on deaf ears, his situation appeared hopeless because no one seemed willing to challenge the all-powerful NFL. Enter Bob Fitzsimmons, a local personal injury attorney, who agreed to take the case and obtained total disability benefits and ultimately won an award of $1.8 million for the Webster family after Mike’s death. And as you’ll see when you read the book, Fitzsimmons continued to play a vital part in the battle brain-damaged players were waging against the NFL.

Although Webster’s case serves as unifying device throughout the book, the authors also include information about how CTE has touched such players as Troy Aikman, Dave Duerson, Merril Hoge, Terry Long, John Mackey, Tom McHale, Gary Plummer, Junior Seau, Steve Young, and others. But despite the increasing evidence of CTE in former players, the NFL has stubbornly, steadfastly, and perhaps desperately clung to its mantra: Football players don’t get brain damage.

In one study the NFL conducted during a six-year period, the conclusion was that “…no NFL player experienced … cumulative chronic encephalopathy (brain damage) from repeat concussions.” But the authors are quick to point out the obvious flaw in the study,

“The NFL hadn’t actually studied retired players, but that didn’t stop the league’s experts from concluding that none had sustained long-term brain damage. Pellman (NFL doctor Elliott Pellman) and his colleagues would repeat this statement, in some form, over and over and over.”

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“League of Denial” certainly is a timely book because it seems as if every day another former player steps forward to discuss CTE. Most recently interviews with Tony Dorsett and Brett Favre have proved to be very revealing, and one wonders just how long the NFL can continue to deny how big the problem has become.

At one point the authors say when the NFL began keeping track of concussions in 1989, it released information stating that the rate of concussions was one in every three or four games, but Dr. Joseph Maroon conducted is own study and concluded that two to four concussions occur in every NFL game.

Fainaru-Wada and Fainaru obviously did their homework before writing this book because the list of players, doctors, and experts they interviewed is beyond impressive. Although I found some of the technical points and explanations a bit tedious, for the most part the book was quite readable and interesting. It also was the basis for a TV documentary that you can find on the PBS Web site in case you missed it.

Despite various rule changes and equipment updates to offer players increased protection, the CTE problem is not going away, and as the authors point out, the NFL is paying dearly.

“As this book was being written, nearly 6000 retired players and their families were suing the league and Riddell for negligence and fraud. Their argument was that the NFL had ‘propagated its own industry-funded and falsified research’ to conceal the link between football and brain damage. One week before the start of the 2013 season, the NFL settled the case — agreeing to pay the players $765 million, plus an expected $200 million in legal fees. The NFL did not admit wrongdoing, but the settlement hardly resolved the question at the core of the league’s concussion crisis: How dangerous is football to one’s brain?”

Reading “League of Denial” will really make you stop and consider what the future has in store for professional football or football in general for that matter. At one point in the book the authors quote Maroon as saying, “If only 10 percent of the mothers in America begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, then that’s the end of football.

Perhaps in granting such a massive award to those 6000 retired players and their families, the NFL has finally realized that football players do get brain damage. After all, the proof is undeniable.

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Stephen King Delivers A ‘Shining’ Sequel

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I have been a devoted fan of Stephen King’s work ever since the publication of his first novel, “Carrie,” all the way back in 1974. In the ensuing years, King has churned out 58 more novels in addition to a number of collections and other books. While I can’t say that I’ve read everything he’s written, I’ve come damn close.

Throughout the years King has made me believe in vampires, taken me on a terrifying journey through a haunted hotel, given me a ride in a car with a mind of its own, introduced me to seven outcast children who triumph over evil, exposed me to animals that return from the dead, subjected me to life under a mysterious dome, and whisked me back in time for a fresh take on the assassination of President Kennedy. King’s meticulous attention to detail makes his stories believable, and this is why he his writing is so effective.

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Naturally all of King’s fans have their favorites among his novels, and some of mine are “’Salem’s Lot,” “The Shining,” “The Stand,” “It,” “The Green Mile,” and “11/22/63.” If you know his work, you’ll recall that “The Shining” is set in the massive Overlook Hotel perched high in the Colorado Rockies, and tells the story of Jack Torrance, an alcoholic who moves his wife, Wendy, and their 5-year-old son, Danny, to the hotel when he takes the job as the winter caretaker of the deserted place. The novel derives its name from Danny’s telepathic abilities, which play a major part in the story.

Critics generally agree “The Shining” is one of King’s best novels, and now 36 years after it publication, the Master Horror has come out with a sequel to that haunting story of the nightmare Jack Torrance and his family experienced in the Overlook. Although I think the original is a slightly better novel, “Doctor Sleep” definitely pays sufficient homage to its predecessor.

Although most of the action in “Doctor Sleep” occurs in the present, the novel opens with a section titled “Prefatory Matters,” in which King provides readers who may not have read “The Shining” with a bit of background about that story.

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“On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground. The Overlook was declared a total loss. After an investigation, the fire marshal of Jicarilla County ruled the cause had been a defective boiler. The hotel was closed for the winter when the accident occurred, and only four people were present. Three survived. The hotel’s off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler’s steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.

“Two of the survivors were the caretaker’s wife and young son. The third was the Overlook’s chef, Richard Hallorann, who had left his seasonal job in Florida and come to check on the Torrances is because of what he called “a powerful hunch” that the family was in trouble. Both surviving adults were quite badly injured in the explosion. Only the child was unhurt.

“Physically, at least.”

Also in the opening section, King introduces some key characters who will appear throughout the novel, and he shows us how Danny unfortunately has inherited a tendency toward alcoholism from his father. He’s still haunted by memories of the time he spent at the Overlook, and drinking is the only way he can cope.

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After bouncing around from place to place, Danny finally finds a home in the small New Hampshire town of Frazier, where he meets a guy who convinces him to join AA and where he takes a job in the local hospice and uses his unique abilities to help people through their last moments before death. Things finally are going well for Danny. He has his drinking under control, he’s found some good friends, and he’s good at his job. Then he meets Abra Stone.

Abra is a young teenager who possesses the shining, and her gift has put her in grave danger from a group of monstrous beings who travel around the country in their campers searching for young people like Abra. When they find them, they torture them and kill them to suck their power or “steam” from them. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Danny befriends Abra and agrees to help defend her against these malicious monsters and their horrifying leader Rose O’Hara aka Rose the Hat.

As is typical in King’s novels, “Doctor Sleep” begins calmly enough, but soon the tension begins to build and escalate with every page. The mental conversations between Danny and Abra are masterfully done, and the close bond that develops between the two of them as at once moving and touching. And Abra ranks right up there with Charlene “Charlie” McGee (“Firestarter”) and Beverly “Bev” Marsh (“It”) as a memorable young female character.

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Throughout the novel, King constantly weaves the past with present so that we never forget Danny’s link to the Overlook Hotel, and the site where that magnificent structure stood figures prominently in the nail-biting conclusion of “Doctor Sleep.” Abra and Danny’s final confrontation with the nefarious Rose the Hat, a superhuman monster reminiscent of the chilling Barlow from “’Salem’s Lot,” is vintage King.

Of course the main element that makes every King novel so exceptional is his incredible ability to paint pictures on the pages instead of just filling them with words. The best writers don’t tell readers things; instead they show them. And nobody is better at that than King. Early in the novel, Danny is still a young boy, and the vision of a dead woman lying in a bathtub at the Overlook still palgues him, and here’s what happens to him one day when he walks into his bathroom.

“The woman from Room 217 was there, as he had known she would be. She was sitting naked on the toilet with her legs spread and her pallid thighs bulging. Her greenish breasts hung down like deflated balloons. The patch of hair below her stomach was gray. Her eyes were also gray, like steel mirrors. She saw him, and her lips stretched back in a grin.

“The woman – he knew her name, it was Mrs. Massey – lumbered to her purple feet, holding out her hands to him. The flesh on her arms hung down, almost dripping. She was smiling the way you do when you see an old friend. Or, perhaps, something to eat.”

Although it remains to be seen whether or not “Doctor Sleep” will become an all-time favorite among King’s devotees, it is undoubtedly a worthy sequel to one of his best books. And it also reaffirms the fact that among writers of horror fiction, he still is the king.

Apple Store Soho Presents Meet The Creators: Stephen King, John Mellencamp And T Bone Burnett

New Book About Manson Quite Intriguing

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“It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.”

Just as many regard “Call me Ishmael” from Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick” as the most famous first sentence in all of American Literature, so the quotation above may be recognized as the most widely known opening statement in the true crime literary genre. For the uninitiated, it is from “Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders,” written by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry and published in 1974, five years after the horrifyingly bizarre Tate-LaBianca murders orchestrated by Charles Manson in Los Angeles on the nights of Aug. 9-10, 1969.

Even though these particularly heinous and gruesome slaughters of seven people occurred 44 years ago, the story of Manson and his so-called “Family” remains morbidly fascinating even to this day. With more than 7 million copies sold, “Helter Skelter” is the best-selling true crime book of all time, and Manson and is followers have been the subject of numerous books and even some dramatic productions.

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          SUSAN ATKINS

The newest contribution to the Manson canon, however, is “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson” by Jeff Guinn, a former journalist whose investigating reporting, features stories, and literary criticism have earned him myriad awards at the regional, state, and national levels. Guinn also is the author of 16 books, including “Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” and he’s listed among the members of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Whereas “Helter Skelter” is Bugliosi’s firsthand account of the murders and the ensuing trial, “Manson” offers readers a meticulously researched, extremely comprehensive, and very readable biography of one of the most notorious killers in the annals of American crime. Guinn’s research includes myriad interviews with people who knew or were associated with Manson from the time he was a toddler until his ultimate trial and incarceration.

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       PATRICIA KRENWINKEL

In a prologue that ties Manson to recording producer Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son), talent scout Gregg Jakobson, and Dennis Wilson (the drummer for the Beach Boys), all of whom played significant roles in Manson’s adult life, we learn that Manson spent most of the summer in 1968 living off the generosity of Wilson, “…who was notorious for giving strays temporary run of his luxurious log cabin house… .” And how did Manson repay his gracious host?

“Besides writing some interesting songs and spouting an addictive form of philosophy, Manson had with him a retinue of girls who adored Charlie and were happy to engage in any form of sex his rock star benefactor desired. Accordingly, Wilson’s summer was a carnal extravaganza, though he had to make frequent trips to his doctor since the Manson girls kept infecting him with gonorrhea.”

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               LINDA KASABIAN

After the prologue Guinn begins the story of Manson’s life with the birth of his mother, Ada Kathleen, in 1918, and in August of 1934, when Kathleen was only 15, she married William Manson.

“On November 12, 1934, Kathleen delivered a healthy baby boy at Cincinnati General Hospital. The child’s birth certificate, filed on December 3, contained no taint of illegitimacy. His father was listed as William Manson, now of Cincinnati, a ‘laborer’ employed at a dry cleaner’s. The infant was named Charles Milles Manson in honor of his maternal grandfather.”

When Manson was only four-and-a-half years old, his mother was convicted of unarmed robbery and sentenced to five years in the Moundsville, W.Va., penitentiary, and Manson was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in McMechen, W.Va. From the time he was a child, Manson showed signs of what he would turn into as an adult.

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              LESLIE VAN HOUTEN

“But even at such a young age (5) he lied about everything, and when he got in trouble for telling fibs or breaking things or any of the other innumerable misdeeds he committed on a daily basis, Charlie always blamed somebody else for his actions. The child was also obsessed with being the center of attention. If he couldn’t get noticed for doing something right, he was just as willing to attract attention by misbehaving. You couldn’t ever relax when Charlie was around. It was only a matter of time before he got up something bad.”

As Manson grew up, he was always in some kind of trouble, and by the time he was 26, “…counting reform schools, he had already been in some form of custody or on probation for almost fourteen years.”

Guinn leaves no stone unturned in his account of Manson’s bizarre life, and he paints a vivid picture of the time Manson and his followers aka “The Family” spent at the Spahn ranch and the events leading up to the murders of actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Steve Parent on Aug. 9, 1969, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca on Aug. 10, 1969. Guinn’s description of the murders and the crime scenes is not for the faint of heart because it is graphically thorough.

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  CHARLES “TEX” WATSON

Anyone familiar with the Manson story already knows how he used a combination of drugs (mostly LSD) and preaching to program his family members to do his bidding.  Not only were they willing to kill for him, but the girls also had sex with anyone Manson designated. Of course anyone engaging in sexual intercourse with Manson girls risked being infected by numerous forms of venereal disease.

Among the most famous Manson family members are Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles “Tex” Watson, Linda Kasabian,  Leslie Van Houten, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and Guinn devotes ample space to delineating their respective roles in the Family. In fact Krenwinkel and Van Houten are among those Guinn interviewed for his book.

I found “Manson” a fascinating read from beginning to end, but of course I have been intrigued by the case since its inception.  Manson seized on the song “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles’ White Album and made that the title of his master plan.  He told his followers that the black people were going to start a revolution and take over the world. In the meantime, Manson and his family members would go to a hole in the desert where they would hide until they had multiplied to 144,000. Then they would emerge, kill all the black people, and rule the world. And his followers believed him!

Because I read “Helter Skelter,” some of the material in “Manson” was familiar to me, but something that really intrigued me was the information about Wheeling, McMechen, and Moundsville. For example I didn’t realize that prisoners in the Moundsville Penitentiary were often tortured when Manson’s mother and uncle were incarcerated there in 1939. The place also was horribly overcrowded, as its capacity was 870, but the inmates numbered 2,700. And rats and cockroaches ran rampant in the dining hall. The book includes more about the prison, and the part about the executions that occurred back then is a real revelation.

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         LYNETTE “SQUEAKY” FROMME

Those who call Wheeling home will be pleased to learn that “The Friendly City” is a much nicer place now than it was when Manson lived nearby and worked at Wheeling Downs. In 1954 Manson lived for a time with his grandmother in McMechen, and Guinn points out that the residents there wanted nothing to do with Wheeling.

“The city of Wheeling a few miles to the north was widely recognized as a regional hotbed of crime, with prostitution and gambling controlled by mobster ‘Big Bill’ Lias, and Moundsville to the south was a brooding place dominated by the penitentiary. McMechen took pride in its working-class decency.”

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                                                     “THE FAMILY”

Anyone interested in the Manson case should find Guinn’s book riveting reading, and those who know nothing about the guy may also enjoy learning about the life of a diminutive juvenile delinquent who ended up as one of America’s most famous killers and who was able literally to program people to do his bidding. Some of them actually believed he was Jesus Christ. Guinn’s summation of Manson is one of the best I’ve ever read.

“By the time the 1960s arrived, Charles Manson was already a lifelong social predator. Almost everyone who had anything to do with him was damaged in some way, and Charlie could not have cared less. Gregg Jakobson compares Charlie to a cancer cell because he thrived by eradicating everything around him that was healthy. There was nothing mystical or heroic about Charlie–he was opportunistic sociopath. The 1960s didn’t create Charlie, but they made it possible for him to bloom in full, malignant flower.”

Fortunately that flower will wilt and die in a cage where it belongs.

                               THE MANY FACES OF CHARLES MANSON

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Take King’s New Novel To The Beach

courtesy Loose Gravel Press

The vacation season is in full swing now, and for many that means a trip to the beach. If you are an avid reader like me, you could not imagine leaving on such an excursion without packing some good books. Because many beach resorts are located adjacent to or near theme parks or close to other places featuring rides, what could be a more appropriate beach read than a story about a haunted amusement park? And who better to write such a story than the master of literary thrillers, Stephen King?

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“Joyland,” King’s fascinating new paperback novel set at a North Carolina amusement park in 1973, is a virtually perfect book to take with you on vacation because it’s a page-turner that sucks you in from the first sentence and doesn’t let you go until you have read the final word. It’s a great coming-of-age ghost story complete with murder, ESP, and unrequited love, and it’s filled with memorable characters that only King can create. The firs-person narrator is 61-year-old Devin Jones, who relates his experience as a worker at Joyland in Heaven’s Bay, N.C., during the summer of 1973, and here’s the way he sets the scene for us.

“I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay. It seemed like the right thing to do. The only thing, actually. By early September, Heaven Beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood. That fall was the most beautiful of my life. Even forty years later I can say that. And I was never so unhappy, I can say that, too. People think first love is sweet, and never sweeter than when that first bond snaps. You’ve heard a thousand pop and country songs that prove the point; some fool got his heart broke. Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar. What’s so sweet about that?”

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Before accepting the job at Joyland, Devin was dumped by the love of his life, and early on he sets the tone for his general malaise as he summarizes the year of the narrative.

“1973 was the year of the OPEC oil embargo, the year Richard Nixon announced he was not a crook, the year Edward G. Robinson and Noel Coward died. It was Devin Jones’s lost year. I was a twenty-one year-old virgin with literary aspirations. I possessed three pairs of blue jeans, four pairs of Jockey shorts, a clunker Ford (with a good radio), occasional suicidal ideations, and a broken heart.

“Sweet, huh?”

Shortly after he takes the job at Joyland, Devin learns about the incident that forms the nucleus of the story. According to Lane Hardy, a veteran at Joyland, a woman named Linda Gray came to the amusement park four years ago with her boyfriend, who took her into Horror House, a ride through what many used to refer to as the “funhouse.” At the halfway point, he slit her throat and threw her body out of the car. And her spirit has haunted the place ever since.

Naturally the case arouses Devin’s curiosity, and he wants to find out as much as he can about it from the seasoned employees at the park. But while the murder and Linda’s ghost are at the center of the story, this novel also is a fascinating character study of Devin and his attempt to mend his broken heart while at the same time finding some direction in his life. Additionally Devin learns a great deal about the world of amusement parks, and early on his boss explains to him what he is supposed to do in his job and why there is a need for it.

“This is a badly broken world, full of wars and cruelty and senseless tragedy. Every human being who inhabits it is served his or her portion of unhappiness and wakeful nights. Given such sad but undeniable facts of the human condition, you have been given a priceless gift this summer: you are here to sell fun.”

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An intriguing subplot in the novel is the bond Devin forms with a beautiful and mysterious woman named Annie Ross and her terminally ill son, Mike.

“Although I can’t be completely sure, I think the boy and the woman and their dog were there from the first time I took that walk. The shore between the town and the cheerful, blinking gimcrackery of Joyland was lined with summer homes, many of them expensive, most of them clapped shut after Labor Day. But not the biggest of them, the one that looked like a green wooden castle. A boardwalk led from its wide back patio down to where the seagrass gave way to fine white sand. At the end of the boardwalk was a picnic table shaded by a bright green beach umbrella. In its shade, the boy sat in his wheelchair, wearing a baseball cap and covered from the waist down by a blanket even in the late afternoons, when the temperature lingered in the seventies. I thought he was five or so, surely no older than seven. The dog, a Jack Russell terrier, either lay beside him or sat at his feet. The woman sat on one of the picnic table benches, sometimes reading a book, mostly just staring out at the water. She was very beautiful.”

As the story progresses, Annie and Mike become an integral part of Devin’s life and the story as King skillfully interweaves their involvement into the novel’s beautifully satisfying denouement. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that if the ending to this wonderful short novel doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you simply don’t have a heart.

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I’ve been a Stephen King fan from 1974, when he published his first novel, “Carrie,” and since that time I’ve read just about everything he’s written. “Joyland” is King at his finest as he slowly lets the mystery surrounding the park build by revealing just bits and pieces of it from what Devin’s colleagues tell him. Of course the final scenes offer some nail-biting suspense as only King can pen them, but the book actually offers two endings, and one of them is surprisingly and touchingly beautiful.

Treat yourself and get a copy of “Joyland.” If you don’t, you will be missing one of this summer’s true reading joys.

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Let’s All Use Me Correctly, Shall We?

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In my indefatigable, albeit realistically and sadly hopeless, war against improper grammar, I wish to address the constantly troublesome and consistently irritating copious misuse of the little word “me.” I can accept the fact that very young children use me instead of I as the subject of a sentence, but I cannot excuse the practice in any adult.

Just the other day I received an E-mail from a former student asking for clarification about whether or not it is permissible to write or say, “Me and Tom went to the game.” After sublimating my initial outrage that anyone I had taught would dare to ask such an offensively ignorant question, I dutifully and calmly addressed the issue.

HOLY HELL! OF COURSE IT IS NOT PERMISSIBLE TO USE ME AS THE SUBJECT OF A SENTENCE!!!!!!

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Just stop and think about this a moment. If we remove the conjunction and Tom from the sentence under consideration, we are left with the following illiterate statement: “Me went to the game.” Now this may shock the hell out of you, but I actually can offer an example of when such use of me was permissible.

Back in the 1940s and ’50s before political correctness was even a thought, “…the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West.” Yes, astride his magnificent white horse Silver, the Lone Ranger thundered from one town to the next in the pursuit of justice. And always at his side was his faithful Indian (Native American today) companion Tonto, who often uttered sentences like the following: “You wait here, Kemosabe. Me go to town.” “Me hear horses coming, Kemosabe.”

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Because that was some radio scriptwriter’s idea of the way Indians (Native Americans today) spoke back then, I have no problem with Tonto’s diction. In fact, it would have been ludicrous to hear Tonto say, “Please deign to remain where you are, Kemosabe, whilst I venture forth into town.”

Today, however, the rules of modern grammar dictate that me is solely the objective case and may not therefore be used as the subject of a sentence. Thus, the next time you hear someone say, “Me and Tom are going to the dance,” or anything resembling such a construction, do not hesitate to enlighten the poor, uneducated soul, unless, of course, the speaker happens to be Tonto.

Now I fully realize that there are those out there who believe grammar doesn’t matter today and that as long as the listener understands what the speaker means, effective communication occurs. And to that I say simply, “Give I a break!”

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