I’ve worked some menial labor jobs in my time (dish washer, animal-waste removal specialist, house painter, construction-site Mr. Clean, landscape grunt, warehouse cog), and can’t rightly claim I’ve found a vocational calling among them. If they’ve ‘improved my character’ at all (as I was promised they would by countless authority figures), it’s not discernible… or (and this is a frightening thought), perhaps they have, and I’d somehow have even less currency to withdraw from the scant virtue-stash last seen burrowing between my mattresses, if not for all those dull hours and stooped years. Health, wealth and wisdom may have eluded me with troubling ease, but I’ll say this for the work – it leaves me free to intellectually stimulate myself however I see fit.
For instance, this afternoon I caught a link on the Little Brown Twitter feed (@littlebrown) that led me to the book trailer for Derek Haas’ The Right Hand. In parenthesis the Tweet contained the initials NSFW, which meant nothing to me. I looked it up (incidentally – don’t do an image search on those initials if you’re at the office). Not-Safe-For-Work. Apparently NSFW is recognized shorthand for don’t let anybody catch you viewing this at your job. I had to re-watch the video to find what material it contained could possibly be objectionable (I think I found it – but it’s awful mild – and it is a cool book trailer), and I found myself thankful, not for the first time, for the great freedom of the low expectations I live beneath – let’s talk about NSFW.
In the last year I’ve found myself doing some physically taxing work and, for the most part, all by myself for most of the day. I’ve capitalized on this solo time to switch the company boom box from heavy metal and talk radio to audio books.Shall we talk about inappropriate for the office, but absolutely perfect for digging deep, in the heat, for that extra measure of sweat-force? I submit for your disapproval James Ellroy’s The Hilliker Curse, read by the author. You want to get the semi-straight dope straight from the horse’s mouth? Well, it’s a tad creepy, don’t play it loud in the office, but I dug hearing the Demon Dog read it the way it must have sounded bouncing around his big, bald head. Or check out Blood's a Rover read by Craig Wasson. Twenty-six hours of blood, Benzedrine and baaaaad juju. Awful, just awful things described in electric-jazz prose and narrated with appropriately leering intonations by a fine voice actor who can spew the various characters’ epithet-strewn vocabulary with just the right distinction for each of the cast’s scores of personalities.
You know who recommended that one? Stephen King. Yeah, I’d already read the book, but Uncle Stevie recommended the audio product so strongly I had to give it a go. Thanks, man. Incidentally, King's Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four novellas, the first of which 1922 is flat-out one of the best (worst), most horrifying crime (noir) stories I’ve ever read. It’s a straight-up murder story and subsequent psychic, physical and familial fall-out (what might be called psychological horror - made me think of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, but with added dimensions that were pert-near devastating). Guess what? It’s also read by Wassen (who reads Fair Extension as well), while Big Driver – his cozy-mystery, rural-horror mash-up (features a cat detective and a slasher-style redneck killer) is read by Jessica Hecht (who also reads A Good Marriage – a chilling what-if inspired by Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer). Not one of these stories is suitable for at-work listening.
Lawrence Block’s early collected short fiction One Night Stands and Lost Weekends is another raunchy, decidedly un-PC cavalcade of perverts and killers meeting meted justice none too soon, and another recently enjoyed work week experience of mine, tho I’d not suggest you play it without headphones. Joyce Carol Oates’ A Fair Maiden was a slow-burn crime story about a young woman and a much older man, each using the other for their own ends. Yeah, it’ll make your boss squirm. Turn it down.
My favorite voice-actor reading audio books today? Probably Will Patton. He reads James Lee Burke and Denis Johnson’s books, among others, and his voice enhances the humanity already thick in both writers’ prose, but you try listening to the staggeringly-horrific immediately-post-Katrina conditions stalked by Dave & Clete in The Tin Roof Blowdown or some of the more frankly sexual passages in Nobody Move with your co-workers eavesdropping – it’s gonna get a little stuffy in the cubicle.
If anybody's hiring, I'm interested. Meantime - I'll be continuing to exploit the liberties of manual labor, as I find them, and pumping up the volume on the audio books.
You have a favorite audio book or voice talent? Lemme know, I'm always looking.
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