Viva Hate!

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Movie Review- Tammy
Melissa McCarthy is one of those celebrities of the moment who risks overexposure.  It's fine.  She's very funny, but that's how Hollywood works.

She made a big splash in Bridesmaids and got a good welcome with the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly, which is cut from a similar template to Roseanne- blue collar types struggling to make it but they love each other.

In season 4, that show made a 'jump the shark' move (for whatever inexplicable reason) and made Molly an aspiring author.  Many of the episodes featured McCarthy pal-ling around with a drunk author played by Susan Sarandon.

Sarandon's a great actress, and I am not sure which came first, but someone must have thought about doing a whole film about it.  Though, the film version of Mccarthy is not a straight character, but a loud, overexaggerated Will Ferrell (I never made that connection before, but he did co-produce this) type of absurd character.

In this case, Identity Theft made a lot of money, so why not a road trip with McCarthy and a drunken, insane grandma played by Sarandon.

McCarthy was hilarious in The Heat with Sandra Bullock as the straight woman.  Tammy is generally fun and often funny, but pretty forgettable.  It is McCarthy in a role too similar to what she has done before.

There are heartwarming moments of introspection (that feel genuine, not like "Hollywood" moments) which will redeem this for some.  Also, the cast of surrounding characters is very strong- Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Dan Ackroyd).

All that said, it is a disappointment.  The "straight" and "funny" roles flip back and forth between McCarthy and Sarandon, which might be part of the problem; or maybe it's because we feel like we have seen it before.

Of note to Southern Illinois peeps, the awful loser town she is from is Murphysboro, Illinois.  Route 13 gets referenced as does the very tasty 17th Street Barbeque, from which McCarthy wears a t-shirt.

Apologies to M'boro, who you wouldn't even notice, if you hadn't been looking, and any inference I am making, but that is how it is portrayed.  I am sure it is done with love, though as the director (McCarthy's husband Ben Falcone is from Carbondale, and Melissa, I am told spent a semester at SIU).

On the Shelf 122A: Marc Almond
I can't mention Almond's recent work without some mention of his collaboration with John Harle, that came out earlier this year.

The Tyburn Tree is a song cycle around the dark side of 19th century London, which means Jack the Ripper, the Tyburn public gallows, and William Blake poetry with Almond as the voice and the prog rock of Harle as accompaniment.

I am intrigued and certainly see the appeal; and I certainly applaud the artistic move, but it's not really my thing. Not that I don't like it, but I just can't imagine continuing to revisit it.

The songs are out there, though, if you are interested, don't let me discourage you.

On the Shelf 122; Marc Almond
We're obviously Marc Almond fans here.

Marc has one of the most interesting careers of anyone in the music business. He is the voice of one of the most beloved pop singles of all time, but has made some artistic moves that are clearly the kind of projects only few would dare.

Marc has stayed busy over the years, and now that it's ten years since the accident that risked his career, and retirement is constantly mentioned, he has stayed pretty busy. There have also been some strong moments in the post 80s catalogue. 2003's album of Russian covers Heart on Snow is amazing, the 2002 Soft Cell reunion disc Cruelty Without Beauty as strong as a comeback as anyone could hoped, and 2010's Variete proved relevance into another decade.

Some of Almond's works have gotten plenty of attention, while some floats under the radar. I try to keep up, but not always successful.

His newest "album" The Dancing Marquis is a total of eight songs and two remixes. More aware fans will recognize them as two recently released Eps. For me, I am discovering it as Almond's most recent work in an album form.

Almond can be inconsistent, and his persona is one that can benefit him (the Waits-ian character of "The Exhibitionist) and can distract (the Liza with a Z of Stardom Road). Though, I constantly want to make comparisons to my other musical hero (Morrissey), I realize as similar as they are, they are still worlds apart.

Of course, I just want to know if the music is good. The truth is on this collection of songs it is very good. i don't think there's anything here that would make the short list of best Almond songs ever, but fans should be pleased.

Almond gets contributions from a strong cast- Tony Visconti, Jarvis Cocker, and Carl Barat.

Clearly, these songs play to Almond's persona of being a once-great entertainer in the most overdramatic way possible. It suits him and always has. One can almost picture the Mozzer doing something similar, but songs like "Death of a Dandy" and "Love is not on trial" seem to capture what Moz wants to do, but also shows where his recent compositions fall short. Marc has clearly been in his tune with his inner Judy Garland in a way that Moz never has. That's the difference of course. Moz may have prompted that he wanted to perform with Tom Jones, but Marc has fully embraced it.

It's to Marc's favor. The title track is a swinging hit that shows Marc in the full swagger that he's known for. While the people you might consider his contemporaries (Moz, Pet Shop Boys, OMD, et al) have had some good tracks in recent years, I can't say any have a better song.

"The Last Tasmanian Tiger" is the most Bolanesque song I have heard in years. Moz may be a huge T Rex fan, and again, he suffers in comparison. This might be a perfect Moz song, but I can't picture this year's Moz wrapping himself around this song like Marc does,

The real treat of the bunch though is the Cocker penned "Worship me Now". Like "Tiger" and "Marquis", it shows Marc embracing his inner diva. But it has also has a great Non Stop Erotic Cabaret vibe. It's everything you want in a Marc Almond song. Oh, poor Morrissey, your new album has to sit on the shelf beside this one.

Day Tripper: the Ken Gray Presidential Museum

There is absolutely no reason to go to the Ken Gray Presidential Museum.

However, if you are there, you go.

It's free, for one thing.  It's also in a mall.  In this case,the Illinois Centre mall in Marion, Illinois.  The town of Marion (about 20,000 people near Carbondale, Illinois and Paducah, Kentucky) is actually in pretty good shape, but the mall itself always resembled Dawn of the Dead, really from the time it opened its doors.  The current incarnation of the mall has a few token stores you would expect, but is largely inhabited by local shops selling country knicknacks.

But it's also home of Gray's Museum.  It would be a ripoff if it cost anymore than free, but it's easy to justify it's existence.  Gray had two long term stints in congress which lasted from Ike to HW Bush.  It means he has picked up some cool stuff along the way.  It means when Carter came to Southern Illinois to tour a mine in the 1970s, and Clinton made trips in the 90s, Gray was in the entourage.

Gray passed away earlier this month, so I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I am here to praise him not bury him.  He was a larger-than-life character and the type of politician that could have only existed in the second half of the 20th Century.  The man was the first guy to wear a pink suit to Congress.  Even at 89, he was a pimp.

Ken Gray

Gray was called the "Prince of pork" but he loved it.  He lavished in it.  It's hard to imagine such a thing now in the days where the Tea Party runs wild. In 2014, you can't even be Thad Cochran.  I get it.  You want to vote for someone who won't raise taxes.  But you're wrong.

What you really want is someone who brings that money and puts it in your local economy, and Gray certainly did that. In 24 years in Congress, he brought $7 Billion to his district.

Gray was as over the top as his suits, so I don't know that I believe half of what he says.  Gray was a pall bearer at JFK's funeral, and claims that JFK told him that he (JFK) would serve eight years in the White House and Gray would be up next (we will never know).  Gray claims he introduced the bill to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance which Eisenhower signed.  Wiki doesn't give Gray the credit (it was probably a group of Congressmen), but it should be noted that it was a Democrat who introduced that particular bill.

Gray also was involved in a scandal which alleges that he hired Elizabeth Ray (she, the famous ex Miss Virginia who became an aide to Rep Wayne Hayes and her quote "I can't type.  I can't file.  I can't even pickup the phone) and supposedly (unproven) told her to have sex with Mike Gravel to get his support for a bill).

Gray's museum is low rent, but I bring it up for two reasons.  I don't bring it up for the interesting bits and pieces collected from visits with JFK, Carter, and Clinton; or even the Barbie dolls and accessories meant to portray historical figures.

I bring it up because Gray had dozens of autographed pictures that made to the museum.  Like any politco of his era, he took full advantage of photo ops.  So along with letters from Clinton and an ink pen that signed legislation from JFK, there's Gray with Bob Hope, the St. Louis football Cardinals, Barbara Mandrell, and Donna Douglas.  Still, of note, to me was the display of two pro wrestlers- Nikita Koloff and Lex Luger (Wait, wasn' Koloff a commie?  Maybe this was after his change of heart).  Thanks random internet guy for capturing a pic.

My second reason was picked up in this picture of Gray at the museum that featured in HuffPo's obituary.

This gives you a good shot of the museum and it's unique junk exhibits, like the cut outs of the Clintons in front of an umbrella.  You might miss what I am referencing, but the museum has pictures of the Presidents with blurbs underneath.

For example, what John Adams might look like.

Martin Van BurenI suppose that's no worse than assuming Adams looks like Paul Giamatti (Ok, it probably is worse) or anything that you can find in history lessons on The Blaze.

So, it certainly was a kick. The Washington Post did a nice obituary which captured a lot of the stuff I had in mind for this article

Raised on Radio #40: Moving Pictures
"What about me" is a song is I haven't listened to in literally decades, but I used to think it was the best song ever.

It is the overdramatic, hand-wringing kind of song that only makes sense in two situations. 1) It's the 80s and 2) You're 8 years old.

Fortunately, it came out in 1982, which made it the best song of all time in my eyes.

For some reason, it's obscure today. (Except in Australia, Moving Pictures' homeland where it's apparently an evergreen single). Not sure why, it seems like the perfect 80s song, ballad-ly for the soft rock crowds, but with the guitars turned up. It checks a lot of the same boxes a band like Journey does.

Maybe it's the name which sounds so 80s-ish like Missing Persons or The Motels.

It also may do with its weird chart story. it peaked only at #29, but was in the Billboard 100 for an amazing 26 weeks, making it one of the top 100 singles of the year.

in retrospect, maybe this song came too soon. Now, it looks like it would have been a megahit in the later part of the decade when power ballades were all the rage (and I must not be alone in thinking that as it was re-released and re-charted in 1989).

Wikipedia, like in so many of these cases, blames a music company reorganization (Elektra) and so headlining tours and support slots for REO Speedwagon, Hall & Oates, and Tom Petty got nixed.

So, it's just this.

On the Shelf 121: Kristeen Young
No relation to Neil. Ms. Young was a standout performer in the St Louis scene in the 90s, I am told, but by fate and timing, I never knew of her.

She has reached her greatest prominence as longtime opening act for Morrissey. A relationship (like many of Moz's) which ended badly, as Moz accuses Kristeen of making him sick and forcing him to cancel his US 2014 tour (which was bookended by performances in LA with Tom Jones and NYC with Cliff Richard). Although, Moz's reliability falls somewhere between George Jones and Axl Rose, I am clearly with KY on this one.

It should be noted that KY's fallout with Morrissey started when she started making comments about Morrissey's sexual prowess onstage, which is funny, because he's the one male who wouldn't want you to do that.

The new album The Knife Shift presents Kristeen as the next great angry woman in rock. Oddly, given the current state of indie music, this album feels like it should have been released in 2004, not 2014. Although Amanda Palmer is still a going proposition, this album seems like it would have fit better during the heyday of the Dresden Dolls and when Tori Amos was a constant chart presence, and when you could call your musical act Rasputina and be taken seriously as an artist

That's not Kristeen's fault. Those years 1997-2004 were here busy years too, and she was doing all the right things- dueting with Bowie on his Heathen, dueting with Brian Molko and with Bowie on her own albums, working with producer Tony Visconti.

Though, the landscape seems bare these days of the Polly Jeans and the Shirley Mansons, Young is staking things big here, working with Visconti and teaming up with high profile guests like Dave Grohl and Boz Boorer.

There's no real middle ground here. You either will adore her or think that she is as ludicrous as her male cockrock counterparts. Songs with titles like "Pictures of Sasha Gray" and lyrics like "I am such a slut, I have twelve hot spots", leave little room for subtlety.

While Y2K-era seems like an obvious touchpoint, 80s new wave is another obvious one. Young is as daring as she wants to be, and would have fit in fine in the days of Nina Hagen and Dale Bozzio, maybe better than she fits in 2014. I can't go too far without mentioning the obvious, as I have yet to see a review that doesn't mention Kate Bush.

However, I see Kristeen much more in tune with the 2nd and 3rd generation of Bush influence. Similarly, it's hard not to think of an obvious Morrissey influence, but giving it some thought is closer to his 90s-heirs like Suede, Gene, Echobelly, and The Dears.

Obviously, with ambitions like these, the album is a bit all over the place, but for me when, it's good, it's great (and dare I say, better than anything her old boss has done recently), and when it misses, it's still pretty good.

On the Shelf 120: Neil Young
Maybe David Geffen was right.

In the neverending war between artists and 'suits', inevitably most fans ends up siding with the artist- thus it has been for Hank Williams 3 vs Mike Curb, George Michael vs Sony, and Prince vs Everyone.

Still, with A Letter Home, it's inevitable to think is Neil Young just like this. Does he act this way on purpose or what?

When 2012's Americana was announced, I thought- a standards album of songs we think of as 'patriotic kids' songs'.

Indeed, we were all wrong. It was incredible.

So when I heard his new album was a series of songs he felt were influential, I was pretty stoked.

Oh, and they're recorded on 1947 technology- Jack White's Voice-O-Graph booth which lets you record direct to vinyl.

Wait, what?

I was a 90s indie fan. Believe me when I say I have Lo-fi cred. My shelves have albums by the likes of Sebadoh, Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese, Jandek, Smog, Guided by Voices, and a series of artists who wanted to record on 4-track in that decade.

This is No-Fi.

It's Neil. So, you can't hold it against him. If you take out Trans, Everybody's Rockin' and Arc, and just look at the last 15 years or so, this is a guy will record a concept album, a country album, a quickly written political riposte, reworked older material, a solo garage album, and an extended psychedelic jam. If you don't like what Neil's doing, don't worry, he will have something you like in a matter of months.

A Letter Home is a tough pill to swallow though. We would be forgiving if these were tracks found in decaying dust bins, but it's hard to explain why someone would do such a thing on purpose.

Indeed, as we have gotten used to Alan Lomax's and others decades-old recordings- this record sounds even worse.

Of course, it can never be as simple as that. I was ready to dismiss this pretty quickly, but thst's the wrong reaction, too. These are actually really good covers.

There is some well-known and well-trodden material here too. Neil really makes good use of it. I'm not entirely convinced that he needed to go to the extremes he did to 'strip' these songs down, but there's no question it works.

I do find the fidelity a little hard to swallow at times, which is why I won't call this a great album. But it's a very good album, and he's pulled off something - a good covers album of songs in which many people will already know.

Anyway, that's my take. If you don't like it, Neil is probably prepping something new as we speak.

Iowa Cubs game
The second game I have attended this year is the July 3 "Independence Day" game- which frequently sells out and appears on 'things to do in Des Moines' list for the fireworks afterwards (You also get the bonus of seeing Des Moines' fireworks from "Yankee Doodle Pops"- an annual event where fireworks are played downtown while accompanied by the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra).

At July 4, even the racing mascots take time to honor the country

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Before furiously racing to the finish

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The Iowa Cubs have added to their roster- the #2 rated prospect in their minor league system Kris Bryant to their already here #1 prospect Javy Baez.

Oddly, for those who don't know, while Triple A baseball is the closest to the pros, it is unusual for the best players to spend much time here.  In many cases, they are rushed to the pros.  that said, the Cubs' (who surely could use them) General Manager says he wants to give them opportunity to play and grow before they are called up.  It's good news for Des Moines.

Besides Bryant and Baez, the 2014 version of the Iowa Cubs is one of the most talented I have seen, with a list of players who have appeared on 'Top Prospects' lists in the last couple of years-  Relievers Tsuyoshi Wada and Zach Rosscup, catcher Rafael Lopez, second baseman Arismendy Acantara, and outfielders Matt Sczcur, Josh Vitters, and Brett Jackson.

More of note to big league fans, the I-Cubs have signed Manny Ramirez as a coach and part time player.  Manny has 2500+ major league hits, 500+ home runs, and a lifetimke batting average of .300 meaning he's one of the best players of our generation, but also one of the quirkiest, which inspired the term "Manny being Manny".

His presence was a hit with the crowd.

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The I-Cubs looked good, but couldn't stop a ninth-inning comeback by the Omaha Storm Chasers, which surely dampened things, but you know.. fireworks.

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Books- June
Out oMy League- A Rookie's Survival in the Bigs- By Dirk Hayhurst  -  Hayhurst was a pitcher with a short major league career and is now a Baseball commentator.  He wrote a book called "The Bullpen Gospels" which got a lot of acclaim, and gets comparisons to the groundbreaking Ball Four by Jim Bouton,

To be fair, I have not read that book. This is the sequel, which is why I picked it up so cheap.  It is a comparable book, I am told, with some reviewers preferring the former, and some the latter.  Also, let's be clear, in a world of 24 hour sports (multiple) networks, twitter, Deadspin (the sports version of TMZ), Hard Knocks and everything else, there will never be another Bouton.

That said, some people are uncomfortable with Hayhurt's book, and it's biggest revelation is one that is just seeing the light of day.  Minor league players get paid squat.  Mother Jones just did an article last month and undoubtedly, we will hear more.  Taking out the $84 million contracts, we are talking there is a vast difference between being the worst player in major league baseball and the best player in the minors.  To the tune, that the MLB minimum salary is $84,000/month, and a Triple A player (a step away from the bigs) might get paid just over $2000 a month

This isn't a serious expose, but that is the background of the story.  Hayhurst talks about the difference in lifestyles- the pay, the per diems, the hotel, the travel.  He does it in a fun way and is a good writer (though one suspects, maybe this could have just been some blog posts) and it does seemingly go on for a few pages too many.  There's rookie hazing, of course, and Hayhurst is a virgin teetotaler (mostly) around a group of manly men.

There is a very human element in his story which makes it an all-audiences book, not just a sports book.  His family stories will appeal to some- a disfunctional relationship not too far from Silver Linings Playbook.

Also what makes it work is we all know people who had great talent and didn't make it (high school injuries, etc) and bookshelves are lined with books by the supergreat.  What makes this story of Hayhurst's so compelling is that he is one of those somewhere in the middle.  When do you give up on the "Dream"?  Why do you keep following the "Dream"?  When is it about money, fame, family?  It's not black and white.

A good book, but three stars (out of five) for being so long, and though there is certainly something here for everyone, not sure everyone would want to make it through a 340 page slog.

Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin

This book caught my eye, and I have to say it lived up to it.  It is not a typical "history" which a few pages in feels a bit "off", but by the end of the book, you have probably decided you wouldn't want it any other way.

It covers about 60 years where life on the Mississippi River was shall we say 'colorful' and Sandlin makes a compelling argument that it was wilder than the Wild West.

There's pirates of the most terrifying kind in The Crow's Nest.  There are the worst possible disasters (and ones we don't read about) in the sinking of the Sultana and the New Madrid Earthquake.  There's con men, revivalists, tonic peddlers, and all manners of vice that goes with them, and that ultimate place of vice in Mardi Gras.

There's Lynch Mobs and Lynching, which is not quite what you may think of, but is indeed, immediate justice with no courts, but the public taking drastic action.  There's legends and myths like John Murrell, who was supposedly inciting a slave uprising (though actual facts seem to have no bearing on the excited claims that the public believed and led to angry mobs and violent actions taken toward river-side gamblers.

There's the siege of Vicksburg, which you don't hear about.  There's the tall tales like Mike Fink and where they came from.  There's the Moundbuilders and the ancient history of the region.  There are the painted panoramas that take over Europe with the painted description of the river and the crowds that wanted to see it.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  It draws a lot from contemporary accounts of the day, so it's the kind of history book that gives you things you don't know and make you feel like you were there.

I have always intended to read Twain's Life on the Mississippi and although I haven't, it is my understanding that this has a lot of material to reference.  I also found it somewhat funny that  reviewer on goodreads said it would be good source material for role-playing games, but honestly it is.  It is good reading for storytellers, film makers, bloggers, etc who want some good source material that is underused.

Interestingly, railroad comes along and kills off the exciting, dangerous world of the Mississippi, and the story ends with Twain lamenting that there is nothing like what he saw as a youth.  60 years of the River being wild and then done.  No more of the flatboats that Abe Lincoln once floated on in the 1830s.  Nothing resembling the traffic of those years when that was where money was to be made.

A near perfect book for me.  I found it incredibly fascinating in a 'myths and legends' sort of way, and really getting a feel for the day-to-day.  As in if someone wrote a history book about 2014, it would cover elections and supreme court rulings and foreign wars, but to really get a feel for 2014, you would have to know who the Kardashians are (I am not wrong).   This book does a good job of getting to those nooks and crannies of everyday life back then.  Highly recommended.

Comic Reiews: Recent Titles- All First Issues

Better late than never.  For the three people still on Livejournal...

Nailbiter (Image) -written by Joshua Williamson-  A lot of buzz on this one, especially from horror comic fans, so I had to pick it up. 

This is a hard review to write, because I didn't fall into the crowd that has went "OMG, this changed my life", but you cantell right away the ambition is there to be that.

It focuses on a town that seemingly breeds serial killers, the most recent being the title character.  It goes for that creepy small town vibe that gets done to death in indie films, but let's get this ot of the way first, Mike Henderson's art is incredible.

Certainly, that aspect put me over the edge, which isn't to say anything bad about Williamson.  Certainly, there's enough elements there that I might not be 'hooked' but I know I am getting in something worthwhile.

I think it was BleedingCool, but someone said it feels like it is being written straight for AMC, and I get that.  It certainly makes a statement.  I only give it reservations, because I felt Williamson's writing felt a bit forced.  Someone like a Garth Ennis or other top-level talent would have been subtler in development, and probably did a better job in making the characters feel more real. 

I'm probably slighting Williamson in those remarks more than I intend, but that's how I felt.

What a truly epically creepy cover, though

Trees (Image)- written by Warren Ellis-  So, it feels like in the last five years or so, when you think of Ellis, you think anything but comics.  He's written a cople of books and he's a huge internet sensation.

There's gonna be buzz around Trees, but man, does he deliver.  Expectations have to be through the roof, and this along with Moon Knight seem to sit right with his best work already.  Okay, it's issue #1, butI have to say we will be talking about this comic in 20 years.

A quick plot recap-  Strange alien 'trees' show up out of nowhere, and .... nothing happens.  For years.  It's as if the aliens came, but instead of attacking or even making peace, they simply sit there.

Which sounds boring, right?  But Ellis sets it up perfectly.  It has a real classic Twilight Zone vibe.  It's a subtle horror with elements of classic sci-fi.  Also, because of the attention to detail, there's room here for geopolitical stories a la World War Z (the book, anyway).

Ellis really has a book here, and there's more to it than just the trees, but all of it is setting up well and there's no mis-steps.  it's really a perfect book, and part of it too, also is Jason Howard's art is absolutely definitive.

I know most people here would wait for the trade, but be sure to take note.

Once again, what an absolute epic cover.

United States of Murder, inc.  (Marvel/Icon) -written by Brian Micheal Bendis-  I feel like I don't need to plug this at all, because it's story by Bendis, ar by Michael Avon Oeming.  So, go get it.

Seriously, Bendis and Oeming (especially when together) have written some of the best crime noir fiction in comics in the last 20 years, so you know it's going to be good,

And it it.  It's a good concept- the Mob runs the country, but someone wants to take them down.  There's twists and turns, strong characters, and because it's Bendis, some snappy dialogue.

I like this a lot, and this did not disappoint.  My only real complaint (and it's minor) with Bendis's work like this (Powers being his most well-known title in this genre probably) is that I do think his plot arcs sometimes disappoint.  I don't feel like I get the payoffs at the end, as I might with J. Michael Straczynski or other writers.  But seriously, I have never held that against Bendis, because his 'getting there' makes his stories well worth it. 

I am not saying that is what will happen here (the first issue definitely delivered for me plotwise) but in the past, that has been the case

-  - -

And one sorta review -I didn't buy Big Trouble in Little China (Boom! Studios) written by Eric Powell, based on an idea by Powell and John Carpenter, but I wish I did.

I wish I did, because I think it's going to be collectible, and worth something.

I didn't, because it looked terrible.  Even with Carpenter in the credits, what I did read in the store ("This isn't a library!") was awful, and the store clerk said he read it and it was even worse.

Some of it is online here, and I know it will be of some interest to some of you, but I just had to pass