Review: The Windows of Brimnes by Bill Holm Print E-mail

brimnes(Contrary Magazine Spring 2008)

Through a Glass, Outwardly: Memoirist Misses Inner Picture

In Hofsós, Iceland, in the land of his ancestors, Bill Holm spends his summers, writing, playing the piano, and being "completely, stupidly happy." The picture window of his modest second home frames a vast mountain range and a fjord of immense beauty. Through it Holm also sees waves breaking (brim) on the cape (nes). He learns a bit of the tongue, digs into Iceland’s myths and history, cobbles together some family narrative while musing on the abject conditions they fled for Minnesota. When he’s not ga-ga with joy and things Icelandic in the midnight sun, he’s fulminating about the USA.

San Diego's Highest Paid Executives Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20071227(San Diego Reader December 27, 2007)

San Diego is home to 35 rich executives, almost all white men, who receive millions in compensation for running our community's largest publicly traded companies. They have made some of their money from salary and bonuses, but the mountain of wealth each has accumulated is the result of stock and option awards. For years, income earned by executive officers has been reported by business news organizations. However, the value of stock and options awarded has been difficult for nonanalysts to determine. The identity and value of many perks have gone unreported.

Benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings are well known. But the perks suggest that executives may be financial wards of their companies. Some executives enjoy health benefits in retirement; payouts for voluntary or involuntary termination; use of the corporate jet (spouses usually fly free); use of the company car or chauffeured limousine; an interest-free loan to purchase a home; country or tennis or workout club memberships; personal health coaching; a home-security system; season tickets for sports teams or theater/music venues; legal fees; trust and estate-planning fees; bodyguards; expense allowances; and, for the very special, the crew and upkeep of a private yacht.

Review: Forging Fame: The Strange Career of Scharmel Iris by Craig Abbott Print E-mail

Forging_Fame(Contrary Magazine Winter 2007)

Study of Fraud Poet Gives Him More Than His Due

Long before the tushy University job for American poets there was a time when a few wrote verse for popular taste, published in newspapers, and eked out a living. In the early twentieth century, pro rhymesters like Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Edgar A. Guest were mainstays. If the poet could sing of democracy and motherhood, of religious awakening and moral virtue, then a modest career in writing poetry—forget selling insurance—might be had.

Enter Scharmel Iris (1889-1967), an extremely minor (Is less than minor possible?) Italian-born Chicago poet, whose writing life was both a fraud and a failure.

Is the Unexamined Life Worth Voting For? The Memoirs of Clinton, Edwards, and Obama Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

stateelecredblue512( / Shorts October 12, 2007)

"Good judgment in politics, it turns out, depends on being a critical judge of yourself. It was not merely that [President Bush] did not take the care to understand Iraq. He also did not take the care to understand himself. The sense of reality that might have saved him from catastrophe would have taken the form of some warning bell sounding inside, alerting him that he did not know what he was doing. But then, it is doubtful that warning bells had ever sounded in him before. He had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound."

—"Getting Iraq Wrong" Michael Ignatieff The New York Times Magazine August 5, 2007

She Hated Adverbs: Remembering Judith Moore Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20070816(San Diego Reader August 16, 2007)

It's a Good Story for You

Though she was my editor, I never met Judith. I knew her instead via calls and e-mail. When she phoned, there'd be that throaty alto, so sure, so self-possessed. I'd grab a pen, and she'd dictate my assignment, then say, "It's a good story for you." Why that was so I never asked. I was grateful just to be called, to be trusted. She knew the story would find its disposition in me as I wrote it.

Judith's writing is what enticed me to want to write for the Reader. During the 1980s, I devoured her profiles, whether on Herbert Marcuse or a dwarf. How shapely the prose, how fascinated the author. In 1987, a dozen were collected in The Left Coast of Paradise, a book I often reread. In the 1990s, I cherished those sections from her novel-in-progress and especially her review-essays, pieces I razored out and saved.

We Are Their Heaven Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

GP__Me_1( / Shorts July 2007)

In the last year of his life, Grandpa Wallin quit driving. For years he tooled his big Plymouth over the beveled streets, the grey, rough asphalt dark from rain or silvered by the sun. When my brothers and I rode in the back seat, he’d crab, for God’s sake, stop all that commotion. On Sundays he used to ride with us to our ritual breakfasts, a family outing so Grandma didn’t have to cook. One day, we were half way out the door when he said he didn’t feel well and was staying home. He wasn’t sickly. A retired newspaper ad salesman of fifty-three years, he seemed to be at work even at home, putting on a white shirt every day and sitting in his chair, reading. He was as stolid as ever to my nine-year-old mind. He might have been tired, though I don’t remember him napping except, maybe, when the book got dull and it rested on his stomach. (The man checked out four or five books a week from the library, Zane Grey and Frank Yerby, and read religiously.) Someone said he might have had indigestion, especially after my family’s breathless eating when we descended on our grandparents every holiday. Grandma Wallin would press him to say what was wrong, but he didn’t say. He fluttered a hand at her. Don’t fuss. Leave me be, woman.

The rest of this story is available as a Kindle eBook at for $1.99: "We Are Their Heaven."

What's That Smell? Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20070510(San Diego Reader May 10, 2007)

Andrea Kane is new to San Diego: the Navy has stationed her husband here, and they've landed in Imperial Beach. While he serves, she's become an aromatherapist and a perfumer. Locally, she's already making a name for herself by creating and marketing organic creams, lotions, and blends, pomades and balms. Kane and I are sitting side by side on a black vinyl couch in a coffee shop in Imperial Beach. I've found her because I need an expert to guide me into the world of olfaction, the odoriferous, the redolent, the aromatic. Kane is 34, wears a denim skirt, a silver-flecked black cotton shirt layered over a white T-shirt, and a fragrance. Whoa, what's that? I blurt, getting some creamy, warm waft from her hair. That hair is short braids, like sticks of cinnamon, that dangle on her forehead and flop when her raucous laugh jars them. "That," she giggles, "is me. That's my blend." She won't say what it's made of, only that she's working on it. "It's just a fragrance; it has no therapeutic benefits." Except, I think, to attract my notice of it as an enticing smell. I also detected, entering the café, a whiff of patchouli oil, an odor that, for me, signals strange. Kane says, yes, that's her too, a scent so strong that it tarries in the air several minutes after the person has passed.

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