Ken Umbach (researchguy) wrote,
Ken Umbach

For the Ken's Corner deprived, from April 2009

Ok, folks, I've heard that some of you are suffering withdrawal pains from the closing of Spectrum and the end of my Ken's Corner column. So, to tide you over this week, You are getting the original version. As published, the then-editor made an arbitrary change that screwed up one of my most carefully crafted bits.

Ok, now I am worried. Let me explain that I take expert recommendations seriously, and maybe that is the source of my worries.
Recently I was at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore, talking with a group of writers, at the invitation of Spectrum reader Margaret Bell. Margaret’s poetry group meets there to share readings and updates on writing and publishing. Nice folks.

Anyway, we met in a corner of the store near the magazines and next to a set of shelves featuring “staff picks” – books recommended by bookstore staff members. Now, I figure that bookstore staff read a lot and certainly see a lot of books and know what customers are buying and recommending. So a “staff pick” probably deserves a close look.

One of the books on that shelf, titled The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, I know to be wonderful, the memoir of a man who spent most of his life in the book business, from publishing to bookstore operator. The book has been around a while, so it is a good sign that a staff member noticed the spiffy new paperback edition and recommended it.

None of that is the alarming part. The alarming part is the prominently placed, staff-recommended, Zombie Survival Guide. Next to that I saw World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

Oh, my. Did I miss the memo? What do Barnes and Noble bookstore staff know that I don’t? Is this zombie threat real and immediate? Have I been oblivious to it, too preoccupied with the local squirrels, the economic situation, and the demands of my cat Boo?

I think back to movies I watched on TV in the 1950s. I vaguely recall at least one black-and-white (they were mostly B/W then, of course) horror movie about zombies, low in production values and high in fascination for a pre-adolescent boy. But that was just a movie, right? Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and even the Devil Girl from Mars were only figments of moviemakers’ imaginations, right?

By the way, Devil Girl from Mars was a “Million Dollar Movie” on a Los Angeles TV station in 1959. I watched all nine showings over the course of its featured week. Now I have learned that it is a “cult classic” that you can buy on video. For that matter, so is Attack of the Giant Leeches, a truly abysmal example of the filmmaker’s art, in which two giant leeches attacked five people in one swamp. The zippers showed on the giant leech suits.

But I digress. Back to zombies.

In the next day or two, I saw an article in the sober, dignified New York Times about zombies. (Well, ok, it was a review of a video game featuring zombies, but that is close enough.) Worse – and here it really gets interesting – have been the many recent news mentions of “zombie banks.” The famous politico James Baker was quoted in London, England’s Financial Times, of all places, calling for swift action against zombie banks!

Oh, my. You might recall that I wrote a few weeks ago about “bad banks.” And now the worry is escalating to banks run by zombies? Or are those banks that serve zombies? The spoilsport would claim that the phrase is a metaphor for banks running on an empty money tank, not a literal warning about the evil “undead” infesting our financial institutions.

But I am not so sure. Let’s add it up. B&N staff is recommending The Zombie Survival Guide and a book about a zombie war that somehow I completely missed. (Maybe the press was too busy reporting on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?) Zombies get ink in the New York Times. James Baker, a very serious fellow, warns of zombie banks and urges the Obama administration to action in the Financial Times, about as deadly serious a newspaper as there is anywhere on the planet.

I don’t know. Maybe a zombie population explosion would explain the service at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Meanwhile, California’s fiscal situation goes on swirling down the drain. Every time we turn around, the deficit jumps again and the politicos want to tax something else. More taxes on booze, on tobacco, on – well, on pretty much everything. More fees, fewer services, and everyone in a tangle over the mess.

I have a solution. TAX THE ZOMBIES.

On a more festive note, my lovely wife and I and some companions were in Auburn on St. Patrick’s Day. At lunch time, we walked from the historic courthouse building to the old Auburn downtown, and into Mary Belle’s Restaurant. The featured lunch special of the day was, not surprisingly, corned beef and cabbage with carrots and potatoes.

That is one of those family restaurants I especially like. It has been run for eight years by Tom and Gail Stout. Tom explained that they cook the corned beef right there, to be sure they get it right. I’ll be back next year for St. Paddy’s day lunch, since every part of the lunch special was perfection, from the arrangement on the plate to the seasoning sprinkled on the veggies. Well, maybe except for the parsley. It was nice, bright green, crisp parsley, a festive touch. But does anyone really EAT parsley?

On April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln, while Lincoln and his wife attended a play at Ford’s Theater. The fatal shot made Lincoln the first American President to be assassinated. The assassination had been carefully plotted, the result of a conspiracy by supporters of the Confederacy.

On April 14, 1818, Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language. Webster established principles that endured. His name has become synonymous for “dictionary” in the U.S. One of Webster’s key accomplishments was to help standardize American spelling, including many changes from British spelling.

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