Understanding a Book Lover

The new books I bought today, resting atop my awesome book tote I got in New York.

I went to a used bookstore today.  It’s been several months since I, and likely many of us, have been able to do so.  The store requires you to wear a mask while inside, and that was no trouble.  In fact, I think it could be fun to get a Cthulhu mask or a Luchadore mask to wear for my next visit.  Can you imagine how fun it could be, wearing a Cthulhu mask with its long tentacles gently caressing the books as you shop?  And you do this while perusing the dusty shelves filled with volumes on anything from medieval history and science fiction to The Kama Sutra for Clowns.

I love books and going to bookstores.  Because of this I have a small, personal library at home.  Or basically enough books to fill up one of the Donner Party’s cannibal wagons.  Or maybe three of them.  I digress. I am also one of those types of people that has a large stack of books on my “to read” list.  I know I’ll read them someday.  Sooner or later.  I swear.  Why are you rolling your eyes at me like that?  The thing is, is that pile of unread books will never stop me, or any book lover, from buying more.

One reason for this is I’m easily distracted by new releases.  All book lovers are.  That’s part of the book shopping experience.  We know we could be reading something we bought months, or even years ago, and just as we’re about to pick that book up, we happen to find a newly released book by Jim Butcher!  

Honestly, all book lovers can sympathize with this.  Favorite authors always take precedence.  It’s basically like having plenty of food to eat in your kitchen, and then you see a taco truck.  Obviously that taco truck overrides anything in your fridge.  Always.

Because of this, us book lovers rarely don’t have a book to read.  An unintended side effect of this is that the stack of “not-yet-read” books grows taller and more unstable with each passing bookstore trip.  I’m sure that someday, the teetering, wobbly tower of tomes and paperbacks on my nightstand will eventually topple over onto my bed while I’m sleeping, covering me in an avalanche of  fantasy, history, and adventure fiction.  If that ever happens to me, send one of those Saint Bernards with a small barrel of Irish whiskey around its neck to dig me out.

If you’re ever at a bookstore with someone like me, and you’re short on time, you’d better put them on a leash.  Or attach a chain between your belts to keep your book lover close.  If you don’t do this, be prepared to lose them amidst the aisles and aisles of ink-encrusted former trees.  You won’t see them again until they’ve returned with an armload of new books on subjects like seafaring, Hobbit home construction, tiny dragons, their third copy of the Harry Potter series (it’s a new, leather-bound edition…damnit!), and a step-by-step manual on becoming a Sith Lord.

I honestly believe that books are a good thing for everyone for the most part.  They can enlighten you, teach you new things, pass on important information, make you laugh, or transport you to new worlds.  If you’ve never been interested in reading, then perhaps you haven’t found something that interests you.  I didn’t become interested in books until I discovered the epic, sword & sorcery fantasy of The Lord of the Rings, and The Sword of Shannara.  Find a subject that captivates you and draws you in.  

It could be a crime thriller, one of those “stabby stabby” murder mysteries.  

It could be a “boy meets girl, they fall in love, and together open a chinchilla petting zoo” style of romance novel.

Or it could be a space-faring science fiction adventure, full of lasers, gunships, and strange aliens that look like they just emerged from the darkest depths of a hostile jungle planet.  Or Florida.

Perhaps fiction doesn’t interest you at all.  You might be more interested in personal growth, and you’d prefer reading books that help you learn about yourself and be a better person.  That’s perfectly okay too.  I’ve read my share of them as well.  

Reading books can also be a great stress reliever.  Honestly.  Take some time out of your busy, hectic schedule, and devote some time just for you with a good book.  It doesn’t matter what that book is.  Even if that book is The Kama Sutra for Clowns.  

Happy Reading!

At Beers Books in Sacramento.

On UFOs, Close Encounters, and Otters

With the recent reports that the US Navy released footage of UFOs, some feel this confirms the existence of aliens.  I thought I would write a helpful little guide on the subject.  What is a UFO exactly?  What is the UFO conspiracy?  What kinds of close encounters have folks had with aliens that doesn’t involve butt stuff?

Let’s begin.  Back in 1947, a UFO crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico.  The initial reports, which were later retracted, were that the crashed object was a “flying saucer”.  This began the frenzy of UFO sightings.  Ever since, the belief in Men In Black conspiracies and drunk hillbillies recounting tales of late-night, naughty escapades with little green men took American culture by a storm of anal probes.

With the thousands of reports, stories, sightings, and totally reliable (winky face) internet rumors, it can be difficult to make sense of what UFOs, aliens, and these conspiracies are.  And so, I will attempt to explain it in a way that anyone can understand, even if you’ve been drinking what you thought was moonshine, but it instead turned out to be antifreeze mixed with melted crayons.

What is a UFO?  Well, the official definition is Unidentified Flying Object.  But with any good bit of conspiracy and spycraft, misdirection is key.  What if “they” want us to think that UFO means what we think it does, and it means something else entirely?  This could be the entire point of the belief that UFOs are actually interstellar aliens. So, strap on your tinfoil hat as you pilot your black helicopter and plow that thing right into a cloud of shape-shifting lizard people.

An Alternate, and probably true, meaning of UFO:

Ultimate Fighting Otters–During World War II, the US Navy needed a new weapon against the Nazis.  They needed an ultimate aquatic commando to combat German U-Boats, and so they cybernetically enhanced and trained the humble sea otter into a weapon of war.  These UFOs, these Ultimate Fighting Otters, helped turn the tide against Nazi aggression by destroying the Nazi submarine wolfpacks that had wrought such destruction on our Atlantic supply chains. Those otters are unsung heroes.  Today, whenever someone sees a light in the sky, or claims to have been abducted, it was really just the Ultimate Fighting Otters conducting their clandestine missions to keep America safe.

Do I know for sure that UFO means Ultimate Fighting Otters?  Nope.  But we don’t really know that it doesn’t!  Checkmate, People With Logic!

But what about those close encounters with UFOs?  I’m glad I asked.  There are four categories of close encounters.  They are thus:

Close Encounters of the First Kind–This is the proverbial light in the sky.  This is when you’re sitting on your porch at night, having just consumed three cases of Natural Ice, and while gazing upward, you see a light or object moving in the sky.  Your inebriated mind automatically knows this is an alien craft, and totally not a Life Flight helicopter on its way to the local hospital.

Close Encounters of the Second Kind–This is where the UFO leaves behind something physical, like a crop circle in the shape of cosmic nipples. In reality the crop circles are just an alien’s graffiti, marking the occasion that they landed on this backwater planet.  If they could be translated, the alien graffiti that dots our nation’s farmland would say something like, “Zorgax the galaxy’s greatest anus destroyer was here!”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind–This is the encounter where people report seeing the aliens in person.  This encounter can leave an intense mental impression on those who have them.  It can cause some to unconsciously obsess over it, which makes them heap large spoonfuls of mashed potatoes onto their plate, and then carve it into the shape of a penis.  Colloquially, this is known as the Close Encounters of the Tater Dong.

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind–This is where a human reports being abducted by an alien.  Sometimes the reports of the abductions involve being tested and experimented on.  And others report being taken out to dinner and a movie, or invited to play backgammon over a glass of wine.  Reportedly, a lucky few were taken to Disneyland.

Do UFO sightings and videos mean that we’re not alone in the galaxy?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Until an alien ship lands in front of a large crowd in broad daylight, and Vulcans with tentacle arms come out to shake hands, we don’t know for sure.  But that’s not the point.  What the UFO sightings and the possibility of alien life should be teaching the human race, is that we are the human race.  The. Human. Race.  We may be a planet of around 200 nation states, but we are one race.  We are Earthlings.  We are Terrans.  And with a few douchebags thrown in to mix things up.

If more people thought of us, of humankind this way, then perhaps we could better get past petty squabbles and work together more cohesively.  If this happens, then we could literally aim for the stars.

Also, I think The Ultimate Fighting Otters would make a great name for a 1980s cartoon narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Apocalypse Jenga

It seems that this year, 2020, has become like a long game of Apocalypse Jenga.  From the beginning of the year, all the way to the present and with each passing month, a new block representing a catastrophic event is pulled from the increasingly teetering tower of the world.  In January we may have narrowly avoided World War III.  In February, all of Australia was on fire. In March, a serious pandemic enveloped the globe.  In April, and this may seem like the absolute worst to some people, it became obvious that we began suffering from a worldwide toilet paper shortage.  

And just to make things even more interesting, this month Mother Earth stated, “Unleash the Murder Hornets!”  Welcome to Level 5 of Jumanji.

With each of these monthly events, a new block is pulled from the bottom of the Jenga stack that is 2020.  As another month goes by, the world appears to edge closer and closer to outright apocalypse. Or worse yet: a reunited Milli Vanilli teaming up with Nickelback to form a country music ensemble.

In that light I thought it would be beneficial, if not a little fun, to predict what each of the following months will bring.  I’m about to be a “Nostra-dumbass”.

What could be worse than Murder Hornets?  Well, June will bring us:

Bazooka Beavers–These furry, buck-toothed balls of death will emerge from their watery dens bearing high-powered rocket launchers.  They will enter the suburbs and fire on any Starbucks and taco truck they find, turning them to rubble.  They do this simply to deny humans any joy.

But that won’t be as bad because in July, we will be swarmed by:

Dump Truck Ninjas–Roving packs of these black-clad assassins will hijack the nation’s idle dump trucks, and take it upon themselves to patrol the country.  The cities will see random dump trucks full of ninjas going up and down the streets, targeting anyone that is not dressed like a 1970s used car salesman.  Basically, millennials are fucked.

But this is nothing compared to August.  In this hot summer month, we will be inundated with:

Alpaca Tornados–What’s an apocalypse without some alpacas? These alpacas arrive in their delivery vehicle of choice: a mile high, swirling eddy of wind, dust, and pain.  An Alpacanado!  Unlike regular tornados that only hit trailer parks, an Alpacanado contains highly trained Alpaca commandos.  They’ll eject themselves from their Alpacanado with parachutes and gatlin guns, raining down destruction and mayhem everywhere.

Just when we thought the year couldn’t get any worse, in September we will see:

Sentient Dumpster Fires–We know that many things in 2020 have basically become one giant dumpster fire.  However, it’s not just one, but a huge number of individual dumpster fires scattered everywhere.  But in September these dumpster fires will become self-aware and begin organizing and plotting world domination.  And when combined, they will form a gigantic, Flaming Trash Voltron that spells doom for the Earth.

But in October, things get really interesting when we get:

Mecha-Cthulhu–From the deep depths of the ocean, an ancient evil emerges onto our shores.  But it isn’t merely the Cthulhu from H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novel.  This Cthulhu has been outfitted and upgraded with laser batteries, missile pods, Tonka Truck dozer arms, and vibrating attachments.  May Mecha-Cthulhu have mercy on us.

In November, after everything else, the government decides to announce the existence of:

Alien Truckers–We heard on the news that the US Navy confirmed the existence of UFOs.  What they didn’t tell us was that the aliens visiting us are really just interstellar truckers who use our planet as a Space Rest Stop and Strip Club.  Why do you think Florida has so many UFO sightings?  The human race sadly and grudgingly accepts the truth that our home planet is actually the Florida of the galaxy.

December, marking the end of a crazy year, gives us hope that it’s all over.  But like every 2 a.m. infomercial, there’s more!

Alcoholic Dragons–What we once thought of as myth and legend, these large, winged reptiles appear and begin scouring the land with fire and vomit.  They have an insatiable craving for high end cognac, grocery store brand vodka, and boxed wine.  As they drain the world’s precious liquor supplies, and then “drink and fly”, these alcoholic dragons create epic wildfires, and then pass out onto someone’s house.  Fire and destruction will be everywhere, but even worse than that, we will be out of alcohol.

This year, 2020, is unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes.  Sometimes we just need a little humor (and booze) to get us through each day.  What I can tell you is that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.  I am a student of history, and the human race has weathered many, and far worse storms than this.  Sure, this is serious and unique for our time.  But I can tell you that we will get through this. This too shall pass.  And when it does, we will all have a new-found appreciation for everything life has to offer.  There will be many epic parties.  

Just be wary of those Bazooka Beavers.

Which Rooster Market?

In September 2000 I was a young seaman serving in the United States Navy.  While at my training command in Florida the Navy offered me the chance to become a linguist and attend the military’s language school, the Defense Language Institute, or DLI.  I gladly accepted the offer, and returned to California where I would attend one of the military’s hardest academic programs.

Basically, being a linguist is learning a foreign language quickly, and afterwards, trying to interpret phrases you speak or hear to mean something intelligible, such as “Where is the library?” or “Yes I would enjoy some tea and cakes” and “Is there a bathroom in this bar that does NOT have a glory hole?”

At DLI I entered the Arabic language program.  Like all languages taught at the language school, this program would be intensive.  When I began the course for the Arabic program, I didn’t know a single word of the language.  But that didn’t matter.  The learning environment there consisted of small classrooms and a team of professional teachers from countries like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.  And they would basically throw us into fire, so-to-speak.

It makes me wonder if the Elven language program at DLI recruited their teachers directly from Rivendell and Lothlorien.

I still vividly remember that first day of class, the very first hour where one of our teachers strode into the room.  His baritone voice greeted us only in Arabic.  The teacher spoke to each one of us in the room, but not a word of English emerged from him.  I remember looking around the room at my fellow classmates, some Air Force, some Army, some Marines, and all shared my look of confusion and horror.  

What the fuck did we just get ourselves into?

Eventually the teacher reverted to English, and explained everything he was saying.  By the end of that first hour, we could all say “Hello” and “How are you?” and “I’m fine” and “My name is…” and “What’s your name?” in Arabic.  Remember what I said about “throwing us into the fire”?  We attended class five days a week, seven hours a day, plus homework.  Like I said, it’s an intensive program.

Learning and studying the language every day didn’t stop us from having a little fun, sometimes at the teacher’s expense.  After all most of us were either just out of high school or college.  Much of our fun and amusement with Arabic vocabulary came when we learned about foods, restaurants, and shopping.  The first words to send us into snickering, giggle fits was “sugar cake.”

What’s so funny about “sugar cake”?  Well, that’s because those words sound a little different in Arabic.  Both “sugar” and “cake” are cognates in Arabic.  A cognate is a word that is similar sounding in both languages.  When our teacher for that hour, a woman from Egypt, told us how to say them, we all about died laughing.

The word for sugar in Arabic is pronounced like “sooker”.  The word for cake in Arabic is pronounced a lot like “kock”.

To be clear, these words were not listed together on our sheet of vocabulary.  But leave it to several members of the world’s finest military to pay extraordinary attention to detail, as we were trained, and connect the dots.

“Professor?” asked one of the Airmen in the class, his face completely serious while his mischievous plot was betrayed behind his eyes.  “How do you say ‘sugar cake’ in Arabic?”

“Kock sooker,” she replied.

Our military discipline may have waned at that point as we erupted into gales of naughty mirth.

“Why are you laughing?” asked the teacher.  “I don’t understand.”

She honestly had no idea.  This made it all the more hilarious, especially after we only told her that “kock” just sounded funny to us.  Of course we didn’t really tell her why.

“I don’t know why you laugh at kock,” she stated.

We laughed more.

 “What is so funny about kock?!”

We completely lost it at that point, leaving our teacher completely perplexed.

The double entendre behind “sugar cake” wasn’t the only combination of words that we identified as having dirty potential.  Mind you, we were among some of the finest minds the military had found to attend its prestigious language school.  You have to have some decently high scores on both the ASVAB and the DLAB to get in, and if you do get in, the Defense Language Institute has a high washout rate.  Trust me, our talents did not go to waste in that school.  We expertly used our analytical talents in order to put “kock sooker” together.  

America!  Fuck Yeah!

The next set of words we came across that made us guffaw, much to our teacher’s confusion, involved roosters and markets.

The word for rooster in Arabic is pronounced like “deek”.  The word for market in Arabic is pronounced like “sook”.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.  But it gets better.  Much better.  Or worse depending on how you look at it.  Take the word, “which”, for instance.  In Arabic, it is pronounced like “eye”.  And that same aforementioned, enterprising Airman knew this.  We all did.  But it didn’t stop him from asking a teacher a new, and completely straight-faced, vocabulary question.

“Professor?” the Airman inquired.  “If someone asked me to get a rooster from a market, but I didn’t know which market, how would I ask ‘which rooster market’?”

“That’s simple,” the teacher said.  “You would say, ‘Eye sook deek’?”

This teacher looked just as confused as the lady teacher from Egypt for the next five minutes while his students, all of us, couldn’t keep our laughter to ourselves.

You can’t blame us for trying to inject a little humor and fun into an otherwise intense academic program.  A few immature dick jokes here and there can be stress relieving.  Despite the fast pace of the school, and the dick jokes, about two thirds of my original classmates I started with went on to graduate, including me.  

Learning Arabic at the Defense Language Institute and becoming a linguist in the Navy was a major part of my life, and I’m proud that I did it.  It also meant that if I was ever in an Arabic speaking country, I can confidently ask someone where to find a rooster market.