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The Chief End: A Column About Finer Things #3

Have you ever had a month when it seems like your life is exploding all over the place?

For me, it started five weeks ago when I got rear-ended driving down the interstate. It was fortuitous because I really hated that 2003 Ford Focus, a money pit of mechanical gremlins, and at least now the insurance company totaled it out and cut me a generous check. The downside was that for about a week and a half my life was consumed with haggling with insurance companies, getting estimates from body shops, and shopping for a replacement vehicle.

At the same time, work has been spilling outside its allotted 9.5 hours a day. My team is figuring out how to integrate a newly acquired company, divest three manufacturing sites, and standardize three more sites on common IT systems by the end of the year. On top of that I've had personnel moves to contend with, a high-profile project behind schedule, and the general assortment of business presentations to stakeholders in the U.S., Europe, and India. 

And did I mention that my wife still expects me to take at least a small role in taking care of my two young children?

Sometimes you have to squeeze the Good Life into those odd in-between moments of Real Life.

So tonight, in honor of my out-of-control calendar, I would like to highlight the short story, that easily digestible dollop of entertainment that can be consumed in 20 minutes just before bed time. 

Also, let's not forget the short cigar, the robusto, the four-and-a-half inch instant relaxer that can be consumed over a quick grill of barbecue chicken or even in the replacement rental car on the way home from work. 


Intergalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology, Vol. 1

Edited by Orson Scott Card and Edmund Schubert, 2012

Over the course of his 35 year career, Orson Scott Card has edited (or sometimes co-edited) twelve multi-author short story anthologies. I've read them all. Some were good, some not so much, but this one is by far the best.

I approached this collection cautiously. Over the last few years I've been burned on several anthologies.  Neil Gaiman's Stories, while widely popular and well-reviewed, had a handful of good tales but most left me unimpressed or (worse) bored. Lawrence Block's Speaking of Lust was full of snoozers; it only had one story that really stayed with me--Ed Gorman's "The End of It All". Joe R Lansdale's trio of Western anthologies--Best of the West, New Frontiers, and Razorred Saddles--were all a waste of time.

This volume renewed my faith in the format. It collects the best stories as voted by readers from issues #8-20 of the online magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show. (There was also an earlier anthology which collected stories from the first seven issues.)

Highlights include:

"Trinity County, CA" by Peter Beagle: One of the better dragon stories I've ever read.

"The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived" by Keffy Kehrli: Explores the links between identity, memory, and personality, and then asks what happens when science gains the ability to blur those boundaries.

"Silent as Dust" by James Maxey: A ghost story that is much more about the living than the dead.

"A Heretic by Degrees" by Marie Brennen: A meditation on religion, sacrifice, and parallel universes.

"Beautiful Winter" by Eugie Foster: A haunting, mesmerizing fairy tale steeped in Russian lore.

"Blood and Water" by Alethea Kontis: A bloody, vengeful, harrowing retelling of A Little Mermaid.

Do yourself a favor and spend the $4.99 to buy this one on Kindle.  You won't be disappointed.

Flor de Baloney Robusto
Size: 5 x 52
Tobacco: Ecuador (Sumatra wrapper), fillers from Nicaragua, Honduras, DR
Price: $5.00

According to Lew Rothman, founder of the JR Cigar Company, this was one of the worst experiments in his career. I guess it was about 5 years ago, JR purchased a bunch of quality cigars from the Villazon factory in Honduras (originally intended to be banded and sold as Hoyo de Monterreys) and decided to sell them under the house name Flor de Baloney with the years 1890 and 1892 printed on the band. It was intended to be a not-so-subtle jab at the Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 and 1992 brands, since Lew claimed any cigar purporting to use tobacco that old was full of "baloney".

The cigars did not sell because of the ridiculous name. For yearsI kept seeing them advertised in the quarterly JR catalogs; each issue the price dropped another 20%. I finally bought a bundle in Feb 2011 for $1.55/stick. Normally I would have aged these cigars at least a year, but they turned out to be a great size for smoking during my evening mile walk with my daughter, although my wife keeps saying it's not really exercise if I'm smoking a cigar. I don't know. I'm not losing any weight, but it does seem to be helping my cardio; I don't get out of breath as fast as I used to.

Back to the cigars... they taste like Hoyos to me. Same flavor profile, good construction, I've noticed some variation in taste from stick to stick. Some are definitely full-bodied, while others are more medium. 

This brand is discontinued. Too bad at this price...