My first book! The Gramble Chronicles I: Sophie’s Playlist


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Yes, I have been away from WordPress for too long, but I was productive. In 2016, I read 218 books totally 73000 pages – spanning the work of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon among many, many others. All this reading inspired me – as Faulker suggested to students once – to write for myself. I have dreamed of writing a book and always got stuck on the first page or so. Well, I finally got over the blank page syndrome and got a first volume written and self-published on Amazon. It is a fictional novel with a narrative style inspired by my favorite post-modern writers, with some autobiographical elements, lots of Miami and Paris, some Tokyo, and lots of humour. I have been publicising a bit on Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.com and getting some good feedback. Overall, the experience was very therapeutic. I felt great finally being able to thread the needle of my thoughts and memories with a plot line – which some have found a bit irritatingly immersed in my character-driven style of writing, but I assure you it is there. You can get a copy off of Amazon.com here. I’ll give you a teaser here from the first chapter. Enjoy. Meanwhile, I am working busily on the sequel, Samuel’s Playlist!

The Gramble Chronicles I: Sophie’s Playlist

By Michael FINOCCHIARO

“The past is not dead; it isn’t even past.”
William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1951)

Chapter 1

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
— Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

 “Birdie in the hand for life’s rich demand
The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Miles Standish proud, congratulate me 

A philanderer’s tie, a murderer’s shoe
Let’s begin again begin the begin
Let’s begin again”

 “Begin the Begin” R.E.M. (1986)

 

i.               Gramble

 

Gramble Thyssen was looking at the clock wondering when it would strike 5 PM so that he could leave. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was, as always, devoid of any “customers” and the silence preoccupied him: the hum of the air-conditioning, the occasional cough several aisles away, the shuffling of papers, or creak of a chair. He was alone today in his cubicle – again – as Edith was out pregnant, George started showing premature signs of Alzheimer’s, and no one had been assigned yet to the other corner, so Gramble was rummaging in the tomb of his memories. Funny how these partitions create a fake sense of isolation and look so desolate with their laminate surfaces, the carbon copy telephones, old monitors, and power strips.  The Wi-Fi was relatively unstable (despite being spitting distance between the Lincoln Memorial and the White House in central Washington, DC) and the network cables were all missing that little plastic tab designed to hold the cable in the laptop port. If all four occupants of the cubicle pushed back on their chairs, they would collide without even stretching out their legs. And should two of them need to make a phone call at the same time, well, it was hard to hear oneself think sometimes. The Standing Rock conflict in North Dakota was still a few years away, so things were very quiet. Too quiet. He opened the file before him once again. It had a few receipts stapled inside the cover smudged with a dirty thumbprint and slightly crumbled from being in his pocket. They were from his investigative trip down to Florida. What a change from DC. He decided to stretch his legs and walked over to the window from which he could see a corner of the Washington Monument. In his reflection in the window, he was a bit pale and haggard with salt and peppered brownish hair with high cheekbones and penetrating blue eyes. At 43, and a few inches shy of six foot, he had already started developing a bit of a beer gut. His thoughts drifted to that trip down to Miami. First off, after kissing the kids and his wife goodbye (“Daddy will be back in just a day or two”) that airplane ride on an aging 737 with staff that looked as if they were recruited in a nursing home – probably easier to keep these ageing employees on minimum wage and increase the airline’s profit margins rather than paying younger people that would ask for higher salaries. It did tug at his heart when their tottering hands were handing scalding hot coffee across the two seats to him at the window (out of pity or out of fear of spilt coffee, he couldn’t say). Then, the mess of Miami International Airport (MIA) which, still, after decades, was under constant construction. This time around his luggage was not lost (no, he was an old-fashioned traveler that didn’t mind checking bags even if it meant losing them occasionally). He was in no hurry; he was not really expected at the casino – a sort of surprise inspection or rather inconspicuous observation, nonetheless a regular monthly one. He had suspicions of collusion of the corrupt members of the tribes running the casino with organized crime, and thus being too obvious and cocksure with a formal visit would, of course, cause the mafia-connected individuals to flee like shadows when a light is turned on in a dark basement. He had a sense of rage against injustice; for a long time, he was able to feel he was making a difference at the BIA, but he saw the greater evil of the cancerous presence of organized crime in the casino business as disrobing the tribes of their dignity and – despite all statements to the contrary – as a way of enriching the owners of the casino while leaving the rest of their tribes in a morass of poverty and addiction. The connection to gaming reminded him of the propaganda exercises that were employed by the Florida Lottery to get it passed via a referendum under the false pretenses of improving education across the state. And yet, decades later, Florida ranked 22nd in education quality despite the billions of dollars that the lottery was supposed to infuse into the schools, but which subsequent scandals had demonstrated were just lining pockets in Tallahassee, the state capital.

 

Gramble had grabbed his bag and took a series of moving sidewalks to the tram that then took him to the rental car lot. These lots were all so damn identical. Damn government would not flip the fees for Hertz Gold membership, so he always lost about 45 minutes behind the hapless families from the Midwest who were complaining about charges on their bill or the barely-English speaking South American trying to get his reservation confirmed. Looking around the rental car center, he noticed the cracks in the marble floors – a bit shocking since the terminal was only a few years old. More mob labor with half-ass materials? The semi-circular hall was mobbed with people crowding the various counters trying to get their cars. In a hurry for the beach? For some arroz blanco con frijoles negros (white rice with black beans, a Cuban food stable)? Or just impatience in general? Hard to tell. In his work, Gramble had learned to overcome his natural restlessness and had been obliged to become very patient. He had carved caves inside his consciousness where he could sit cross-legged and stare at the fire while the world pushed and shoved around him. His thoughts would drift back to his childhood actually not far from here in Miami back before the boatlift, before cocaine built downtown, before the Marlins brought baseball to Miami, even before the Miami Heat and basketball. Back where there was only the Miami Dolphins playing in the Orange Bowl – now dismantled and replaced by Marlins Park. Back when Miami was still a relative backwater teaming with mosquitos and primarily inhabited by WASPs. There was of course racial tension as the Haitians came fleeing from the horrors of Duvalier, the Dominicans came fleeing the horrors of Trujillo on the heels of the Chileans fleeing Pinochet and the Cubans fleeing Castro. Miami was long a refuge for all of South America and the Caribbean which seemed to breed dictatorships like banana plantations (with similar amounts of support from the CIA and DelMonte Inc, respectively). Back when he was a kid, the population was more tipped towards the white descendants of settlers that had taken Flagler’s railroad to the end of the line – some continuing on the decrepit bridges further south to the keys – and building working class neighborhoods like Hialeah with its greyhound racing, Mediterranean inspired communities like Coral Gables, or tropical paradises like Coconut Grove. The sprawling mess of Kendall slowly creeping up on the eastern edge of the Everglades was still just a few years away. He grew up in a neighborhood that was lower middle class, but bordering rich Coral Gables which was literally a stone’s throw away across Red Road. His small house with a front yard was dominated by a huge 50-foot-tall pine tree which he would climb as a kid perching precariously from the thin top holding the tiny branches to get a glimpse of the Biltmore hotel off in the promised land of the Gables. The backyard contained both an incredibly fertile key-lime tree from which his mother made her legendary key-lime pie (mile-high meringue and yellow filling in the real version, never green!)  and the avocado tree on which the aggressive squirrels would devour the best avocados on the tree before they could fall to the ground. They were huge dark green avocados with a core the size of a cricket ball (smaller than a baseball but bigger than a golf ball) with the most delicious yellow flesh. Just a little salt and key lime juice, and one of them was a meal in and of itself. Across the street, the neighbors had both a mango tree and a guava tree in their front yard from which he would regularly pick fruit not knowing if they knew and ignored him or if it was OK. A few blocks down, there was the local strip mall slash shopping center with the grocery store where he had his first job: Piggly Wiggly (who the fuck came up with that name for a grocery store anyway?) and where he accidently sliced open the meat of this thumb when opening an orange juice carton, needing eight stitches to close and leaving a 2-inch long scar. There was also the time he was driving the floor-washing machine during the night shift and knocked over one of those 6-story wine racks, what a mess that was, a lake of cheap wine dripping out towards the frozen food section. It was the street behind the strip mall – and leading to the promised land of the Gables – that had a house with a deranged kid that would scream inanities anytime he passed in front. It was with a sense of both pity and terror that he would trepidatiously walk in front of this house. Sometimes, to avoid the howling, he would walk down the alley behind the shopping center. One time, he found a box of abandoned plans for an entire gated community called CocoPlum dumped there by an architecture firm (strange as there were no such firms in this residential neighborhood), but he imagined them being the secret plans for invading the shopping center so as to rob them in the middle of the night using tunnels and unguarded entrances. But that was long ago, before university, before marriage and kids, before work. All these responsibilities and constraints which made him feel caged. Being transplanted to DC some years ago and raising a family there was OK, but occasionally these trips to Florida would tug at his soul. The sunshine, the blue skies, the incredible sunsets, the nice weather…So much more positive influence on the mind compared to the long, cold grey winters of the mid-Atlantic and the terrible traffic day in and day out in DC. Well, traffic in Miami is not exactly fluid, what with all the roadwork and the astronomic population burst over the last few decades, but despite his dark childhood memories which continued to haunt him in his 40s, he still ached for someplace called home and DC was not really that for him. Oh, how he missed the beaches sometimes…

 

“OK, OK, hold your horses,” he said as someone tried to butt in front of him because in his musings, the line had advanced and he just stood there in his self-absorbed daze blocking the impatient tourists from their cars.

 

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NSFCCDP Movie Review: Logan (2017) – Wolverine’s Last Gasp


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It has been a LONG time since I have written a blog entry. It isn’t like I haven’t watched the slew of science fiction and superhero flicks since The Martian, I just was focused elsewhere including writing my own book. But THAT is for another post!

Hugh Jackman was pretty clear that after, what, 9 films portraying the epic Wolverine character from Marvel’s X-Men universe, that he was done. BUT, he would do one very last appearance IF he was allowed to use the Logan script. Well, we can be thankfully that Marvel accepted this condition because what we have here is one helluva good superhero movie.

The premise is that a mysterious virus has wiped out nearly all the superheroes with the exception of Wolverine , Caliban, and Professor X who are hiding out in Mexico in an abandoned mill or sorts. Professor X is clearly dying and Caliban has been reduced to a house servant for the marauding Wolverine who is out stealing food and medicine for his ailing colleagues. I won’t say “friends” because he shows quite a bit of animosity for both Caliban and Prof X (extraordinary performance by Patrick Stewart by the way!) even as he is risking his own life in finding supplies. Well, turns out that – surprise! – the bad guys have been harvesting mutant DNA and experimenting on kids to create a sort of moronic super army of mutants with no conscience and, hopefully, pure obedience. Naturally, Wolverine gets dragged into this battle as he is dragged kicking and screaming into the suicidal battle – suicidal because the adamantium in his claws are actually slowly poisoning him and his self-healing powers are falling apart.

OK, no spoilers. But, let me say that 95% of this film was really excellent: the idea of Wolverine seeing himself portrayed in X-Men comics was excellent, the acting of Jackman is as captivating as the performance of little, vicious Daphne Keen is surprising. The fight scenes are epic and the plot does hold together until just before the end. And then, well, the last 5% are a bit melodramatic Marvel crapola unfortunately. A pity, because it gave Mr. Instagram, m.poulet and myself a bit of a sad, aftertaste having really enjoyed the rest of the movie.

Fino rating: 4.0/5.0

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NSFCCDP Movie Review: The Martian (2015) – Pretty good but predictable sci-fi [UPDATED]


imagesNow, I have never claimed to be a big Matt Damon fan, and so I had a bit of reluctance to give him a chance in The Martian. m.poulet and I saw it a few nights ago and I was pleasantly surprised. Well, I am not going to get carried away though. It was an interesting movie with decent science, some great spfx, and OK acting. However, I hope we can all admit that it was highly predictable (like Gravity and Interstellar which were – let’s admit it – almost the same film). Now, like for Interstellar, I was rooting for Matt to get home (in stark contrast to Gravity where I still bemoan that the alternate ending of Sandra being eaten by Jaws at the end was apparently and wrongly rejected). He does come off as a boy scout – one with attitude and a foul mouth (which is fine with me to be honest), but a boy scout nonetheless. I did laugh at the botanist jokes and I did find the whole thing entertaining, but I felt that there was not that much at stake since again it was a foregone conclusion that there would be a happy ending. So, I am asking myself, that guy that figured out the math, who isn’t he given a little more credit at the end? And may I also express some disappointment in the missed opportunity to see a double moon sunrise or sunset? If I were Phobos, I’d be calling my agent and asking for an explanation, I mean Tatooine got the double moon shot and it doesn’t even exist! But I digress..

We have not been very lucky with SciFi this year in terms of quantity or quality so I’ll take this one and enjoy it. I am afraid of what Disney will do to Star Wars (perhaps a Darth Maur played by a Goofy with 6 legs or something?), but in the meantime, this gets a 3/5.0 rating from me.

Obnoxious product placement: Nespresso machines in the Hab and in the Hermes, really? and the Cisco logo on the various NASA television comm screens.

Side note: Anyone else see The Lobster with Colin Farrell? If so, what the hell was that about? What do the Town, The Hotel, and The Woods represent exactly? Is it a pessimistic film or an optimistic one? And what the hell animal did Heartless Woman become? Christ am I confused.

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Hannibal Season 3 – The Gorgeous End to an Inconvenient Bro-mance


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[Spoilers avoided as much as possible but not completely guaranteed to be missing]

I am pretty sad to say goodbye to Hannibal. It took me a while to get into this show due to its excessive violent and yet I am so glad I got over these initial reservations. Hannibal is perhaps the best show ever over normal network television. I was constantly surprised by the storyline and character arcs, impressed and blown away by the imagery and cinematography, and convinced by the acting. In this last season, the writers decided to split the story in two for the first time. The first half was dealing with Verger’s revenge following Hannibal’s flight to Italy and the second culminating in the story of the Red Dragon, there was nearly no respite to the action and intrigue. And what beautiful filmmaking and music. That is one of the hallmarks of this show, how it is shot with delicacy and taste. Not to mention the re-interpretation of the various characters from the Thomas Harris books – and in particular, Mats Mikelssen’s re-invention of this debonair, charming and yet completely pathological, manipulative, and brilliantly terrifying cannibalistic killer. He brings off the character in such a believable way that we find ourselves cheering for him despite our utter horror at what he has done. Half of this season, he was often behind bars (but wow, the payoff in the last episode was epic!), but he still manipulated Will and Dolarhyde into doing his dirty work. The make up for Mason Verger (sans mask!), Dolarhyde (that tattoo!) and especially Kentucky Fried Chilton (just, wow!). It was masterful. There has to be an Emmy in there. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the show overall is the homoerotic dance between Hannibal and Will which escalates over the three seasons from fascination to bro-mance to as close to a realised relationship that the two men could ever be capable of. Hugh Grant deserves an Emmy for this portrayal (to say nothing about Mats deserving one as well) and the writers deserve one for holding this story to the end and giving us such a satisfying yet open ending with the best punchlines of the entire series….so Mr Brian Fuller, when do get get a movie again?

So, open a bottle of your favorite red wine, eat some red meat with vegetables and binge on Hannibal if you missed it. It is the most chillingly, beautiful television you may ever feast your eyes on.

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TV Series: Game of Thrones S05 (2015) – Epic but perhaps too much


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[SPOILER ALERT! There may be a few spoilers below so reader beware]

Now don’t get me wrong, I found Game of Thrones to be extremely entertaining this season. There were some epic scenes which I will not soon forget – in particular at the end of episode 8. And the long-awaited (albeit short-lived) union of Danny and Tyrion, arguably the best leader-administrator duo in Westeros or Essos. And the story of Arya – while seemingly unrelated to all the action in the rest of the GoT world – was beautifully shot. There were also some satisfying moments (Brienne’s realization of her self-oath, Arya’s crossing name #1 on her list, etc). But, I was like many others, put off by the excessive violence against women this season. I think they could tell the story just as effectively without us hearing Shireen’s screams or watching Cerei’s walk of shame for 8 or 9 full minutes. Not to mention us standing in Reek/Theon’s place watching the rape of Sansa. It was done to advance the story: Stannis had to be drawn out for the blindly ambitious egotist that he was, we needed to feel some sympathy for Cersei for S06 I presume and Reek had to have motivation to become Theon again. But I have to believe that there were probably other narrative devices that could have saved us these various spectacles of men hurting women. Two out of three of these scenes was purely in the minds of Benioff and Weiss because they were not in the books and I don’t recall Martin dragging the walk of shame over too many pages. OK, off my soapbox now…

A quick list of my “bests”:

Best moment: the zombie army destroys Hardhome
2nd best moment: Drogon saves the day (and then ruins it)
Hardest moment to suspend disbelief: How does Yon-Yon walk in the ocean all the way from Hardhome to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea?
Poorest plot device: Why didn’t Jon land everyone south of Eastwatch? Why have a forced march on the zombie side of the wall for 100 kilometers or more to Castle Black rather than just take them right to the Gift?
Most satisfying death: Meryn Trent
Most disturbing death: Shireen
Best special effects: the swirling army around Stannis and the similarly swirling Khal army around the Khalessi – both splendid shots
2nd best special effects: arrival of Arya into Braavos and the House of the Nameless God
Most terrifying bad guy: The Night’s King
Most regrettable death: You don’t know anything, Jon Snow

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TV Series: Gotham S01 (2014-2015) – Not bad for a Bruce Wayne backstory


Gotham2Although it felt incredibly long and slightly unhinged at points, overall Gotham was a pretty solid show in the superhero genre. I will admit to a bit of frustration in that Bruce Wayne is too young to be Batman and so the focus shifts to Inspector Gordon and the up-and-coming Gotham badguys: Penguin, Nygma, Fish, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy to name a few. However, the super powers and such as pretty much on the down-low, this show is more of  a cops and robbers / bad-guy-a-week episodic adventure but with the underpinning and interwoven arcs of various characters in the Batman universe. It does produce a believable grit to this downtrodden and crime-ridden Gotham and the pathos does seep into most of the characters despite the hopeful optimism of Gordon. His love interest is the incredibly beautiful Morena Baccarin (soon to be in the Deadpool feature as well since her Homeland career is apparently finished) and she is painted in a complex and interesting light as well. It was satisfying to see Harvey Bullock (expertly played by Donal Logue) come around from the run of the mill corrupt Gotham cop to having Gordon’s back. I am not sure the whole Fish storyline was completely necessary at points but I guess it served to have the two Italian mafioso bosses face off and annihilate each other to the Penguin’s advantage. Oops, that was a spolier albeit a predictable one. That’s why I rate this lower than Daredevil. OK, it was network TV but still, they did not take as many risks as say Hannibal and they kept may common tropes in the character arcs. But still overall it was good entertainment.

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NSFCCDP Movie Review: Max Max Fury Road (2015) – Charlize Theron carries this one all the way to the Citadel


Mad-Max-Fury-Road-lovely-day-1024x640There was a lot of buildup for this new installment in the Mad Mad franchise. I recall sneaking into Road Warrior as a kid and being blown away (and frankly scared of being caught). It was probably the first glimpse I got of an apocalyptic vision since V hadn’t aired yet and I was only like 12 or 13. OK, well I had read Lord of the Rings, but that was pure fantasy, whereas this was a projected Australian landscape. Anyway, I was impressed with Mel Gibson and the cars and all the action (although I was way too young for the violence against women in that movie). Mad Max, the first one, was actually released after Max Max in the US as I recall and I only saw it years later. I believe it was inferior in production values and acting to Road Warrior. I think I can skip over the regrettable Tina Turner vehicle and come to the present Fury Road. I think it was a good sort of reboot of the Road Warrior story if a bit more optimist.

Fury Road starts out with a roar and the adrenalin pumps for about 3/4 of the film. It has a few slower moments and it comes close to the edge on pathos but pulls back just in time to satisfy our lust for speed and grinding metal (I loved the dude playing guitar strapped to one of the War Boys rigs – kick ass!). The cars were apparently all real as the director and staff tried to avoid CG as much as possible. I thought the cinematography was splendid – the shots in the desert and most specially the awesome sandstorm was absolutely gorgeous. The palette goes from green-yellow to yellow-red to blue to blue-grey and back to yellow-red and green-yellow at the end so it is interesting that the colors follow the story arc a bit.

As for the acting, either (a) he was a bit shy about acting in Gibson’s shadow (b) the part was poorly written or (c) Tom Hardy is not a great multi-faceted actor because I found his performance fell very flat with an emotional spectrum limited to sad and, well, mad. Contrast that with the amazing and powerful Charlize Theron (badass steering wheel grease on the forehead and all!) who carries the film start to finish with compelling acting, great lines and expressions, and just generally being a total boss. Her stunts were awesome. And for once, we did not get the typical Hollywood ending – OK, no spoilers but the final scene was very satisfying to me.

It has been out for a while now so you don’t have to mess with lines,  so head out and see this one on a HUGE screen with MASSIVE sound and you will not be disappointed. Your eyes and ears will bleed and you will love it! 🙂

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