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(Aug. 1, 2007) 
Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day." - John Steinbeck, in "Sweet Thursday"

          It was Lousy Wednesday, but it was only Tuesday. Steinbeck came up with the term in his book, “Sweet Thursday.” Lousy Wednesday is a day when nothing goes right, and comes just before Sweet Thursday, a day when everything does.
          Just consider the damn car. I went to wash it at a self-serve place, and got in the shortest line---behind a guy in an beat-up old white Econoline van. (Tip: never get in any line that you see me waiting in.) Econoline owner must have spent $20 in quarters on that thing. He Simple Greened all 1,000 grease spots, and wiped them by hand. Twice. He soaped and brushed and rinsed and soaped and brushed and rinsed and. . .
          Never looked around to say, "Oh, I might be taking a while."
          When I finally moved up and paid my four bucks,  the machine kept demanding more coins. Four quarters did not add up to a minute in Car Wash Land---they added up to 45 seconds. I soaped and brushed and rinsed and. . .finally  chamoised the thing. A chamois, of course, is a piece of dead cow that is marketed for wiping down cars without leaving streaks. I wonder what cows would think about this. Anyhow, I bought the chamois that leaves streaks. Big, random swirl streaks. The car looks like it was finger-painted by twenty kindergarteners. On acid.
          Oh yeah, and the cat threw up this morning. I should have known that was an omen. Of course, he also threw up the night before. I went to sleep to cat-retching, and woke up to cat-retching. The sorry creature has a tiny stomach, or something, and if he eats too much, blooooooop. So I have to carefully budget his food, which means he is always---always, always---hungry. Then I feel sorry for him, and give him one half spoonful too much, and. . .blooooooooop. Actually, it’s that whoop-chug, whoop-chug, whoop-chug noise that culminates with a kind of “ACK.”
          Give cats this much: they throw up with style.
          So there I was, lunging down the hall and scooping up the morning barf while the cat took off, puking more as he ran away. Next step in cat-puke ritual: get the stuff that is supposed to get stains out of white carpet but actually just replaces them with gray blotches. I cursed and huffed and the carpet looks like it would go well inside my finger-painted car.
          Then came the following event, which I think has much in common with cat-puke. The so-called publish-on-demand company that is producing my book, “The Oaks,” botched yet another book order. I demand, and they don’t publish.
          It’s a lonnnnnng story, but the short version is that I have never sued anyone, abhor the idea of suing anyone. . .and am very likely about to sue this outfit. Get this, for starters: you call the Xlibris “headquarters” in Philadelphia, and you get. . .The Phillipines. Really. There are about 400 Filipinos “running” this enterprise, and some of them even speak English. There is at least one person that I know of in Philadelphia, and although she speaks English, it doesn’t matter.
          Funny thing, Xlibris doesn’t mention about having sold out the American worker and offshored to the Philipines in its publishing packages.
          As I said, some of the Xlibris Filipinos speak real good English, for ESL students. You should see the press releases they write for your book. For my novel, “The Oaks,” which is about a boy growing up in a small town full of oak trees, the Xlibris press release began, “Trees are an important part of life. They are the habitat of animals and provides (sic) us shelter and food.”
          Yes, yes, I hear you---why did you self-publish, Rense? I’ll tell you why: I don’t like sending my manuscript to bitchy agents who reject it---make that throw it into the recycling---because they don’t like seeing an ambitious woman portrayed in unflattering fashion. (This happened.) I don’t like getting imperious, scribbled unsigned notes on scratch paper saying “not for me.” I don’t like the fact that agents are thinking only in terms of demographics (read: pandering to Pavlovian market response)and admittedly do not place any importance on how well-written or affecting a book is. Never mind that "The Oaks" is guaranteed to make any creature more evolved than a sea slug laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, as reader Sherm Plepler put it.
          So Xlibris cannot deliver my books, and therefore I’ve lost customers, orders, and money as a result. I’ve been a journalist most of my life, so I’m used to losing money---but still, you’d think Xlibris would grasp this principle: in order to profit, you must first make product! At least I’ve gotten to talk to lots and lots of Filipino people with names almost as funny as mine: Sweetie, Mark Anthony, Sam (a woman), Ivy. . .
          Lousy Wednesday, but it was only Tuesday.
          On top of all this, I finished the final “Harry Potter” book today. This should have been a happy event. I celebrate J.K. Rowling, I even forgive the fake “K.” in her name. I think she has done something utterly miraculous, which is to write a story so compelling that the world, or much of it, cannot put her books down. The woman is not, in my humble view, a distinctive writer so much as an irresistible, strikingly imaginative storyteller. I had taken to referring to her as the first joyous, constructive phenomenon to come along since The Beatles.
          I mean, she has even riled up all the so-called “Christians,” who condemned her books for referring to magic the same way idiots condemn Mark Twain for using the historically correct patois, “nigger,” in “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn.” Windfall profit!
          The Potter stories, you see, are not mere “fantasy” tales; they extol and promote ethical behavior, love, loyalty, friendship, goodness for its own sake, bravery, perseverance through relentless absurdity (The Rip Post motto!), kindness, charity, compassion, decency. . .while at the same time acknowledging that the world is unfair, ugly, fraught with evil, death, disease, murder, biliousness, belligerence, and stupid literary agents.
          Important stuff!
          But J.K. has let me down---and, I think, Harry, too. (Warning: if you haven’t finished “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” skip the next few paragraphs.)
          The poor woman! She must have had a devil of a time completing this epic, trying to decide what to do with The Boy Who Lived. It should have been simple. If ever a character in all of literature was destined to die, and needed to die in order for the whole story to make sense, this was the guy. Harry needed to be potted. Every clue, omen, curse, twist of fate, quirk of circumstance all pointed to him catching the Bone Coach after he turned 17.
          And for 90 percent of this final tale, that’s still where everything points---right to the point where. . . Harry dies! Yes, he does actually check out. It’s a staggering scene, and left me having to take several breaks from the book to scare the cats with my nose. It is a moment of Shakespearean nobility and Twilight Zone-ish poetry, a grand culmination of myth and theme, and all the preceding six books suddenly fall into place as one vast tale to rival Wagner’s “Der Ring Des Nibelungen” for scope and story impact.
          All Harry’s bravery, instinct, principle---all the times he abandoned the safety of a careful plan to stand up for what was right, to end someone’s suffering, to flatten some fathead with a spell---well, it all just pulsed and glowed with sense and poetic rightness at the moment of his demise.
          Then Rowling put an Expelliarmus curse on the whole deal.
          She. . .brought Harry back to life. You know---whoops, just kiddin’, folks! And she tacked on another couple chapters that amount to the cheesiest, corniest, and emptiest clichéd Hollywood switcheroo finale since “it was only a dream.” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollow.
          I don’t know, maybe J.K. didn’t want to hurt the kiddies by letting Harry croak, or maybe she feared croaking herself, at the hands of crazed fan assassins, if she offed the most popular literary hero of our time. But she betrayed all the books, and every principle that Harry seemed to stand for, rendering them all so much convenient device, so much incident, when she did it.
          So I finally said to hell with everything---the cat puke, car streaks, trying to pry books loose from The Phillipines, and Harry Potter---and packed up my laptop and walked into Westwood to drink some tea and try to write. If you haven't noticed, I’ve been as interested in writing lately as the country is in Paris Hilton, as George W. Bush is in universal health coverage, as Dick Cheney is in Zen Buddhism.
          So I strolled into the Green Tea Terrace, which is in its final days of existence, but the lone employee was closing up early due to lack of business. I went around the corner to a Coffee Bean, but every table was full of greasy young people, cell phones, and prosthetic brains. I turned around and walked home.
          Lousy Wednesday, but it was only Tuesday.

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