Nobody’s Angel: A New Review for an Old Book by Tom McGuane

The first thing I saw was a torn yellow sticker, Sale Price $1.49, smack dab on a not so sacred, sad piece of painted prairie.

The back cover of Nobody’s Angel has an author photo that looks scissored out, featuring Tom McGuane dead center on a photo that looks like he should have been standing off to one side, illustrative of the scale of the Big Sky.

The author is wearing one of them sweaters that’s worn only because the knitter is within shoutin’ distance. Sweaters like that, with racked bucks above the nipples, never get old: they get donated or incinerated first.

I’d never read any Thomas McGuane. I liked this guy.

Besides, the back cover blurb touted Nobody’s Angel, McGuane’s fifth novel, as  his “best work yet.” Seein’ as how there were likely four worse ones, I picked it up.  It was written back in 1979.

Nobody’s Angel is a dark barn of a book about a cowboy soldier who gets pulled by the backside of his Wranglers into the worst kind of high plains pathos–the kind that involves dysfunctional kinfolk.

The barn door of the book opens fine: chapter one is a shot of word whiskey. It tasted like more.

When I hit the first sentence in the second chapter, it hurt so hard I winced, grabbed my toe and hopped around, cussing:

“The yard light erect upon its wood stanchion threw down a yellow faltering glow infinitely chromatic falling through the China willow to the ground pounded up against the house by the unrepentantly useless horses.”

I have visceral reactions to writing. Malcolm Gladwell makes me want to comb my hair and clean closets. Salman Rushdie makes me want to solve mazes. Michael Chabon makes me want to rub the book between my legs. Thomas McGuane cracked the barn door, his word-hay sweet and sharp-smelling…then, dag nab it, I busted my toe on that sentence.

I read it again, you know, like slowing down when you pass an accident on the road. Then I closed the book and pushed it across the table.

Life’s short. I have lots of books to read. But hey, everyone’s entitled to a leaf of parsley stuck between his teeth. So the guy penned a self-indulgent sentence; I was still thirsty. I patted the cover and got back on.

Somewhere in the next five or six chapters, McGuane’s barn animals morphed from steaming-nostril beasts into carvings from an indoor merry-go-round. The characters, while vivid and rideable, were more about the curlicued carvings in McGuane’s tortured psyche.

I realized, about twenty chapters in, that I could give a hoot about what happened to any of ‘em. This is probably because I got my own tortured psyche to ride. I don’t need to straddle someone else’s unless it’s gonna give me a happy ending, thanks.

I lack education and foundation, and I like shlock. I may never be able to paint the vivid word pictures that McGuane spits out like so much Copenhagen. I might not even be qualified to dislike this book.

This writer’s world, my backyard, goes around and around in vivid flashes and aching blurs. When I stepped off, I was at the same place I was before I paid my $1.49. Nobody’s Angel left me a little dizzy–and mighty grateful to see the barn door.

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A Time of the Signs

A Time of the Signs

Great Falls is in full bloom.

From law office liberals…

to “Any Republican will do”…


until November 4th, rectangular biennials abound on Great Falls’ boulevards.

Some homeowners mix tulips with roses: this yard touts a Democrat for the Montana House and a Republican for the State Senate.  Who lives here–the Lockhorns? A blatant advocate of political gridlock? A relative of one candidate, who (not so secretly) accepts the ideology of the other? A cagey voter who wants a foot in both camps, just in case?

Here’s a cheeky conservative. The homeowner on this busy one-way has an early blooming placard: along with local Republicans, he’s endorsing Joe Biden, the perceived weaker Democrat, for president. Maybe he’s going to show up at the polls a year early, just to vote for Joe.

A privacy fence can feature home-scrawled sentiment, but if you spot a hand-painted campaign sign, it ain’t gonna be from no Democrat! It’s ironic that the party that supports small business can put up signs they spray-paint in the garage, but the artsy folk across the aisle have to shell out for posters that bear the Union bug.


If your house is for sale this fall, good luck attracting attention. For Sale signs are visual flotsam amid all the campaign placards.

















It takes chutzpah to put a political sign in front of a business: You won’t see signs at my office–instead of pissing people off before they come in, I prefer to alienate folks face-to-face.

Still, it’s interesting to see who supports whom, and to guess why. When a law office endorses a Supreme Court candidate, it’s hard for passers-by to tell if the decision is based on solid cross-examination or a leveraged analysis of someone’s bottom line.

The owners of this motel lean to the right; even though there’s no room in this hotel for a Democrat, he can hang out ‘on the fence.’ I’m pretty sure Norman would not have been welcome here if his last name had been Bates.

I used to have a tiny paper sign taped on my door: “Proselytizers & Politicians Unwelcome.” If I agree with you, your time is better spent convincing others. If I disagree, I hardly think I’m going to have a Come to Jesus moment on my porch, unless Jesus himself hands me a campaign brochure.

Hmm. What would the neighbors think if I put up four or five of these in my yard:





I am poking fun, but I have three good reasons to dislike yard signs. First, increased name recognition does nothing to inform. Zilch, zip, nada. Second, the presence of political signs on the yards of people we respect lessens our accountability in the voting booth (Jane likes her, she’s got to be good, right?). Third, I don’t really want to know that I am philosophically isolated in my own neighborhood. I’d rather imagine camaraderie when I smile and wave instead of envisioning the re-loading operation across the street.






This mid-term election, please ignore the signs. Consider our deeper struggles, the social and environmental issues, the state of our one-strong-rail/one-weak-rail economy, and the ability of those politicians whose signs are plastered all over town to do the job…before it’s ‘sign season’ again.




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Top Ten Reasons to Retire in New York City, at my Hubpages Blog!

Give Me Your (RE)tired, Your "Poor Me's", Your Huddled Masses Hankerin' for the Whole Foods Salad Bar

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Confessions of a Chocoholic (courtesy of Signature Montana magazine)

“What are you doing?”

I’m licking the chocolate off my iPhone, that’s what I’m doing.

Okay…I may have a worse problem than a melted mass inside my purse.

I’m not talking about an occasional craving for milk chocolate, the inferior portal candy of nine-year olds. I’m jonesing for the nearly uncut, organically grown stuff, dark and shiny as Denzel on a summer night.

I had to ask myself: am I an addict?

Addicts rationalize: dark chocolate has magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. You want instead I should break into the Filipowicz Brothers Salvage Yard and lick the rust off scrap metal?

Addicts make deals with deities: “I’ll eat this, but I’ll do an extra half hour on the treadmill after work.”  Deities are often disappointed.

Addicts have a hierarchy of desperation: chocolate chips are dinky, candy bars are cumbersome. I spurn Mr. Hershey’s kisses. My delivery system for a premium chocolate rush? Dagoba Chocodrops.

A single packet of these bad brown boys costs almost as much as a bag of plasma. There are days I want to hang the Chocodrop pouch off an IV-cart, calibrating it to dispense 74% dark chocolate at life-sustaining intervals.

When I sought solace in the like-minded companionship of fellow self-loathers, all I found were websites that reveled in this insidious addiction–featuring recipes and quotes from Bridget Jones’ Diary. Like that helps.

Narcotics Anonymous, though, had a helpful quiz. I adapted seven questions for chocoholics:

1. Do you ever use alone?

It’s a scientific fact that chocolate tastes better alone, in front of a Lifetime TV movie.

2. Have you ever substituted one substance for another?

I still have carob flashbacks from that Missoula health-food jag I had back in 1977.

3. Have you ever stolen to obtain your substance of choice?

Attempting to rearrange remaining gift-boxed chocolates around a missing mocha truffle–does that count?

4. Does the thought of running out terrify you?

I am not mining for stale M&Ms between couch cushions. I am CLEANING.

5. Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?

This time, I tell myself, eight Chocdrops will last for an entire hour…Whoa, they’re gone! The only rational explanation? A chocolate-induced blackout.

6. Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?

None of your damn business.

7. Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?

I can’t lie because I don’t know how much I use. I’ve got a bowl in my showroom (less tempting low-grade stuff), Chocodrops in my office drawer, Green & Blacks bars in the pantry and an emergency reserve of Sunspire chocolate chips in an unreliably sealed container inside my purse.

Bonnat Hacienda El Rosario 75% Dark Chocolate from Flickr via Wylio

© 2010 Lee McCoy, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

I may be a chocoholic, but I guess I’m not anonymous anymore.





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Courtesy of Signature Montana magazine

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Squashing a Spring Bug

Squashing a Spring Bug

Last night I rolled over in the dark, held my breath and tilted my head toward the window. Was that a cat on my roof?

When I exhaled, there it was again: the high-pitched whine of a clogged nostril.

An hour later I woke up cowering from a World War II air-raid dream.

Buds are swelling on the honeysuckles. I need my coat in the morning, but I forget it at the office every afternoon. I’ve oiled the garden tools and doubled up the squat thrusts. Soon, it will be time to shave my legs for Spring.

I refuse to catch a cold.

Instead of running for covers, I open my medicine cabinet–nice and slow.

My secret weapon? A $3 dose of lipospheric Vitamin C that tastes so bad that I stomp one foot as I bite off the corner of the packet and guzzle the half-gelled contents by inserting the whole pouch and pulling it out out between my teeth. Instead of following instructions that prolong the unpleasantness, I deliver it, grenade style, in one swallow.

Take THAT, rhinovirus!

I’ve been eluding the creeping crud since Halloween, dodging contaminated airborne particles like automatic weapons fire. I empty trash cans with tongs and cut away from crowded aisles at the grocery store. Snotty children make me shiver. I gather my books and move my seat at the library at the the second sign of a cough.

In January, my husband got so sick that he jammed a tissue up each swollen nostril and skulked around the house imitating the Abominable Kleenex Man. I kicked him out of our bedroom for nine days.

Another Abominable Kleenex Man (NOT my husband)

Unlike my husband, who at least had the decency to hole up, many of the Walking Infected participate in a weird ritual of martyrdom and tribal recruitment. “I’ve been sick for three days,” one of them tells me. “I dragged myself out of bed to make this appointment.”

“Gee, thanks,” I say, disguising my recoil as a stretch.

Despite repeated confined exposure, no way am I buying NyQuil. Putting that stuff in your bathroom is like hanging a sign around your neck: “Come and get me.”

I will launch pre-emptive attacks with echinacea, garlic, zinc and Vitamin C. I will buy a homeopathic remedy with five syllables of O’s and C’s, but I will not not buy the dreaded green fluid until the pharmacist takes two steps backwards when I ask, “Where’s duh Die-kwul?”

And if there are extras from a Zombie movie in that aisle at Walgreens, I’m gonna wait it out.



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Blue Jasmine Blooms at the Angelika in NYC

Blue Jasmine opens with Windsor EF Elongated lettering, white on black. It’s the Woody Allen Font.






There are other signs of the neurotic master: interlocking abrasive family dynamics, New York City as a supporting character, and the basically vapid nature of anyone who possesses a postgraduate degree and/or five million dollars.

Midnight in Paris (2011) was a charming diversion, like an iced mocha on a hot day. To Rome With Love (2012) tasted like a warm cafe breve.Woody Allen’s next project, I feared, might curdle on the way to the theater.

Blue Jasmine is the most nuanced work Woody Allen has produced in ages. Whether it succeeds or fails, Allen’s work is always edgy.  Jasmine, instead of prickling and prodding, lifts the covers and hits us in the soft spots.

There’s a lot of “catch and release” entertainment out there. We’v all sat through some bottom-feeders.Good movies are a joy to watch. Truly fine films hook our psyches and tug hard, long after the credits roll.

The ensemble cast of Blue Jasmine gathers around an ill-prepared, Xanax-popping East Coast socialite who is forced into a cluttered San Francisco apartment with her semi-estranged semi-sister (like real life, it’s a long story, that no one wants to hear–and no one has to).

Though Jasmine–who has lost everything except a killer wardrobe, a monogrammed set of Louis Vuitton and a one-way first class airline ticket–is blue, she’d rather step over fertile soil than endure a transplant into the working class.

The supporting cast is so genuine that, at times, it’s embarrassing to watch. Sally Hawkins, Sara Silverman’s twitchy lost big sister, uses her body as an emotional boogie board; Andrew Dice Clay embodies the drudging naïveté that elects fools and resents elections; Louis CK makes a doughy charmer; and Woody has finally found a worthy heir apparent to Chazz Palminteri: Bobby Cannavale manages to be handsome, offensive, endearing and dopey, all at the same time.

Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay

Then there’s a guy who is a dead ringer for Alec Baldwin. Okay, he is Alec Baldwin, playing, of course, Alec Baldwin. Some actors who play themselves are annoying, but Baldwin sure greases up a screen.

Movie critics may contend that Blue Jasmine is about the untenable nature of contextual conscience. If I dragged your gut-scratching uncle to the movie, he would sit at your  kitchen table in his soiled T-shirt and shake his head. “It ain’t so complicated. What goes around comes around.”


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A Brief Case for Alien Invasion

Courtesy 0f Signature Montana magazine:

I’m putting a call out to any little green men within shouting distance: please invade Earth.

Our entire planet is in trouble. Ocean levels are rising. Food crops are being co-opted. Overpopulation and pollution are acknowledged global threats. Human rights abuses and terrorist acts, domestic violence, mass shootings, coups, jihad and organized genocide take turns at being our Disaster Du Jour.

Our dependence on fossil fuels can be compared to addiction; we might change our dealer, our dose, or our hydrocarbon of choice, but we have no plans, at least for the next couple of hundred years, of giving up the jobs and energy that dead dinosaurs provide.

What we need is something to unite us, a common enemy to force us to clean up our acts, to make us think twice about the things that pull us apart.

Where Nelson Mandela, Black Elk, Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have failed, I am hoping the Threat of Little Green Men will succeed.

Because most of us in the developed world have a comfortable routine, we trust that, at the last minute, someone will spare us the obvious inconvenience of rescuing us from ourselves.

There’s plenty of time, right? Everyone who’s ever seen a Hollywood blockbuster knows, before we even deserve to be rescued, things have to get really bad. Living in the majesty of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, among the great peoples of the Great Plains, it’s hard to ask–are we there yet?

Our earth has experienced at least five mass extinctions. These events occur when changes in the planet outpace the present species’ ability to adapt. Some of these extinctions were unquestionably extraterrestrial (asteroids, not aliens–gotcha).

We wouldn’t have time to fight among ourselves if there was a credible interstellar threat. We’d have to get in shape, conserve energy, and, instead of lavishing media attention and money on entertainers and sports heroes, we’d be forced to value cooperation and critical thinking skills–and possibly, good aim.

Humans  unite during a crisis: it can sometimes take the worst of us to bring out our greatest assets, our kindness and courage.

Give me the threat of an alien ray gun aimed at our bare human behinds, and we might come together to save the entire world.


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Pardon Me… Do I Know You?

(Reprinted with permission from Signature Montana Magazine)

Welcome to Great Falls, Montana, birthplace of Linda Ann Hopkins and Sheila Young.

If those names aren’t familiar, maybe you’ve heard of Tera Patrick or Victoria Paris? These two women are near the top of the charts when you search online for famous people from Great Falls.

Great Falls, home of premier western artist Charlie Russell, refuge for authors A.B. Guthrie, Dan Cushman, Jamie Ford, Pete Fromm and Wallace Stegner, training ground for Olympic skaters John Misha Petkevich and Scott Davis, waystation for Lewis and Clark–and our most famous natives are a couple of porn stars?

Victoria Paris (not a recent pic, as you might be able to tell from the '80's hair)

Our Chamber of Commerce is not doing enough to promote our erotic heritage. I’ve been here all my life and I had no idea.

Imagine how this discovery could swell our tourism base. Finally, Great Falls could give Mitchell, South Dakota’s Corn Palace some stiff competition. While Aunt Betty visits the C.M. Russell Museum, Paris Gibson Square and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Uncle Phil could while away the hours at Great Falls’ newest tourist attraction, the Porn Palace.

Perhaps we could make up for ignoring Tera Patrick and Victoria Paris by erecting a statue at the Tourist Information Center. The dedication ceremony, with bands from both high schools and a nighttime fireworks display would jam traffic all the way past Dick’s RV Park.

Tera Patrick, in one of the few Internet images that did not melt my screen.


If celebrating our erotic heritage is not to your liking, we could try to displace our tassel-enhanced natives from the top of online search engines by launching a clicking campaign for other famous Electric City natives.

How about googling Gerald Molen? This Hollywood producer won an Academy Award for Schindler’s List, as well as producing Rain Man, Days of Thunder, and Minority Report. If his face is familiar, it’s because he appears in cameo roles in the movies he’s produced.

Respected stuntman Buddy Sosthand was also born in the Electric City. He’s worked on many A-List movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean, 21 Jump Street and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Just a ways north of town, up in Conrad, we have Wylie Gustafson, energetic country crooner and composer.

Click hard on those famous names and we’ll topple those porn stars off Google’s pedestal.  If we can’t out-click the more lurid among us, perhaps it’s time to round up investors to approach Mr. Molen, give some vitamins to that stuntman and get our world-famous country yodeler to lay down a vocal track. I have an idea…


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Your Salsa is from New York City? My New Yorker Comes from Boone, Iowa.

Cajole, Threaten, Hint and Lie: Renewal Notices from the New Yorker

The first letter came without a threat last May, in a plain white envelope.

It was from the subscription department at the New Yorker with a return address in Boone, Iowa. I felt like one of those cowboys around the campfire lamenting the origin of their salsa: my New Yorker magazine comes from… Iowa?

If there was a terrorist plot against effete rural liberals, a renewal notice from the New Yorker, postmarked from a town named after the symbol of rugged frontier justice would be just about right.

I shook the envelope. Something awful, like anthrax or Sweet&Low might pour out. Above my name, in caps, “EXP FEB 13.” Even if this renewal notice was legit, my subscription didn’t expire for ten months.

Either the terrorists would have to try harder, or I’d  hear from the New Yorker again. I tossed the unopened letter in my desk.

Within a few weeks I got another friendly reminder, same return address. This time I googlemapped Boone, Iowa. No magazine fulfillment center. I thought about staking out the Boone post office, waiting for a dandy with a top hat and a monocle to unlock P.O. Box 37685.

Wait. Why does Boone, Iowa have 37,685 post office boxes? The population, according to the 2010 census, was 12,635. I’d be damned if I opened that letter. Something wasn’t right.

The third notice came from a different P.O. Box, three doors down from the old one. It had the word “REMINDER” in all caps, above my address. Kind of classy, like the guy at the opera who coughs and stares at your crotch to let you know you forgot to zip.

I had 33 issues left, a little over nine months of New Yorkers. I ignored their request.

I admit that I am easily annoyed. I’m taking pills for it now, but they are obviously not working. It tightened my gut that Condé Nast, the publisher of the New Yorker, was rubbing its hands together, wanting me to feed the beast.

I understand beasts need to be fed. I throw money at open mouths too. I’m offended to be asked to throw money at Boone, Iowa in May for a New Yorker subscription that runs out in February, that’s all.

I also resent anyone trying to con me into paying far in advance for goods or services yet to be rendered. That’s called ‘playing the float’.

Could my highbrow magazine be attempting to shave a few issues off if I renewed early? No… The New Yorker would never commit such a low-down offense–though there have been legal settlements in the past for ‘short sheeting’ subscribers in the periodical biz.

What they are unquestionably guilty of is negligence. The New Yorker farms subscriptions out to CoMag, a company, until recently co-owned by the publisher of the New Yorker, Conde Nast, along with archrival mega-publisher Hearst.

Hearst and Conde Nast sold their distribution monster to a third party, Jim Pattison Co.. Pattison already owned NewsGroup, which distributes 1.5 billion periodicals per year.

Picture (an as yet, uncalculated) huge percentage of all the print magazines published in the U.S. and Canada, throw them into a pile of glossy glued bindings, and run them all through the same huge stainless steel distribution funnel.

Publishers shove the stuff in the big end,  they wash their hands, you pull it out the small end.

You can’t blame me for being annoyed and suspicious. No one is washing my hands.

The New Yorker is a top tier magazine. Erudite cartoons pepper pithy reviews; insightful, vetted commentary is quoted worldwide; their exasperating feature articles beat a topic with a stick, soak it in quotes, hang it out to dry and then fold it like origami. It’s a thing of annoying beauty.

Why would this bastion of intellectualism farm out their subscription service to a company that cajoles, pokes, prods, threatens, and lies to a loyal subscriber?

It’s even worse that they can shrug their shoulders and say they had no part in it.






Yep, they lie. I received at  least three reminders with the words “Last Chance.” (Obviously not). Two others said “Final Notice.” White ones, manila ones, blue ones.  One was emblazoned with a huge militaristic “DEADLINE EXTENDED.” Several featured a Stars & Stripes stamp. Is there a battle going on? Is it my patriotic duty to renew?

Within the past few weeks, as my subscription was truly about to expire, their tactics changed: they wanted me to think I’d already renewed, and that I just needed to send in the “Confirmation Notice: Enclosed.”

Last week  the Crooked Tree Coffeehouse here in Great Falls, Montana received their January 28 issue. I did not.

Had the New Yorker given up?

A few days later, I got my copy, with a thick paper overlay: LAST ISSUE ALERT. The attached “Pay me later” prepaid postcard offered only one alternative for last-minute renewal “$99.99 for 47 issues. 64% off Cover Price!”

I was only mildly tempted.

On Thursday, another issue arrived. Surprise. My “last issue” wasn’t the last issue after all.

It’s not the last issue I have with the New Yorker. Or is it?



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Movie Tickets as Tacit Endorsements or How to Review a Movie You’ve Never Seen

Check out my hubpages blog for a commentary on Zero Dark Thirty.



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