He knows, just ask him.

I still rely on the wise advice of “Sarge” — a law-enforcement type I followed around for a story in the San Diego Reader a few years ago.  (It’s about a very busy bomb and arson squad near San Diego.)

Recently I emailed Sarge and asked how I could make my new tool-belt look older. No one wants to look like a rookie, right?

His response:

“As for how to age a tool belt, just leave it out on your back porch in the rain and sun for a couple of weeks and it will look pretty salty. That’s what fourteen months in and out of the jungles of Southeast Asia did to me and my Battalion of Marines. When we got back to Camp Pendleton we scared every one just from our salty “don’t give a shit” attitudes and appearance.”

Sarge is now “retired”–working for the feds. He knows a little something about everything.

Prince William and Kate, quail eggs, and other thoughts.

Sources close to the Royal Family have already blurted out the news that there will be 16 different kinds of canapes for the reception following the April 29 wedding of Prince William and his Kate.

One of the anticipated treats is quail eggs with celery salt. Now, there’s some confusion about what else will be served with the little treats; some accounts claim goat cheese and caramelized walnuts. But everyone is in agreement on the celery-salt part.

That may not sound like a difficult thing to produce, but considering that an estimated 10,000 total canapes will be served, if you divide by the 16 types, that could mean something like 625 quail-egg items lined up for sprinkling. That’s a lot of celery salt. Enough to give the chef a good case of repetitive-stress injury, even.  If they have worker’s comp in England, we’d like to see the wording on that request-for-benefits form.

(Before you bird-rights people start, uh, flocking here to comment–do not worry–this is not a lot of work for the quail. Some types apparently lay an egg a day. Which is roughly equivalent, in energy expended, to writing half of a blog post. Trust me, this is E-Z.)

Our big attraction to royal doings stems from our amazement at the ways they make simple things more complicated. Even though they can afford to send a score of footmen over the pond to get a planeload of frozen stuffed mushrooms at Costco, keeping them on ice for the return trip and up to the reception, they insist on doing things the hard way. Put out bids for quail eggs, organizing the celery-salt experts. On and on.

Given the furor over invitations to the canape reception, you know there will be someone who finds a way to smuggle a quail egg out in a pocket and get it bronzed. Or, two quail eggs, which could be bronzed and used for book-ends.

Personally, I think canapes would be much more enjoyable if they were made of familiar comfort foods. If  bubble-and-squeak is too common for the Royals (or too difficult to crowd onto a cracker) they could use American comfort foods. A square of meatloaf and a dab of mashed potato on a toast point. Carefully sculpted peanut butter and jelly towers, maybe. Tiny pancakes with bacon bits and a dab of maple syrup.

I’ve stalled long enough. No one wants to say it out loud, but someone has to tell the Queen: No one wants to stand around all dressed up and eat salted eggs. They just don’t.


Tiny Book Reviews: Women at war and the men who loved them.

It’s been months since I blanketed readers with lists of obscure and bestselling books of interest.

Consider these for a start:

The best novel set in the civil rights era that I have read (and I’ve read as many as I can get my hands on) is Magic Time by Doug Marlette (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). I was crushed to discover that the author has since passed away. Marlette wrote a historically accurate novel with nearly perfect pitch. Protagonist Carter Ransom, a newspaper columnist back home in the deep South after years away, is as wounded and honorable as the homeland he revisits.

Burial for a King : Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and the week that transformed Atlanta and rocked the nation, by Rebecca Burns (Scribner, 2011) is a surprise: Fresh reporting and perspective on a tragedy that is one of the most written-about events in American history. By focusing tightly on the week of King’s funeral, and capturing moments of the extraordinary strength of Coretta Scott King, Burns adds a valuable work to the canon.

With a selfish, spirited heroine of the Scarlett O’Hara variety, The Linen Queen, by Patricia Falvey (Center Street, 2011) is set in a Northern Ireland village during World War II.  There’s a love triangle at the center of this good novel, but the small domestic details of the life of a small-village millworker is the best stuff.

Reading Away,  by Amy Bloom (Random House, 2007) made me realize how many more picaresque novels are about men versus women. And what a shame that is. Bloom is a fabulous writer and her heroine, Lillian Leyb, is brave, foolish and memorable as she arrives in America in 1924. When Lillian learns the infant daughter she left for dead after a pogrom is alive, she vows to return to Russia and find the child.  The characters who help and hinder her are brilliantly drawn. Bloom employs a very finely wrought back-and-forth-in-time style that every fiction writer should study.

The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee (Riverhead Books, 2010) has a Sophie’s Choice quality–a painful war story with a fierce female survivor at its center; unfolding events from which we cannot avert our eyes, and which stay lodged in the brain for weeks. Set first in the Korean War era, it seems especially poignant to read of such spoils of war today, with US military involvement on more than one front. Chang-rae Lee is already established as a powerhouse and this book keeps that reputation intact.

If you, like me, missed the coda to Armisted Maupin’s wonderful Tales of the City characters, don’t wait any longer. Go get Michael Tolliver Lives, (HarperCollins, 2007) and remember what it was that made the Maupin novels so engrossing the first time around. Almost 20 years after Maupin brought gay, lesbian and transgender characters to the mainstream, he revisits the veterans of those distant days. This isn’t just a book for nostalgic old farts; if  the whole series is new to you, start at the beginning with Tales of the City.

(Note: The links to these books are from Powell’s, Portland’s famous independent bookstore, arguably the best in the country. Sometimes a link disappears when the particular copy I’ve bookmarked is a used one that has been sold. If you get a “not found” message, simply search for the title again on the Powell’s home page. They never run out of books.)