Surreal Trapdoor: Cat Marihuana – Our street is now cool!

Mt. Pleasant Road was once colourless, staid and outdated, lined with dusty antique stores. Nothing happening, certainly not in the evening after a pensioner’s bedtime. 

To be fair though, it always had some neat retro stuff. Penrose Fish and Chips hadn’t changed its décor, menu or deep fryer since the 1940’s.  They still wrapped your take-out fish and chips in newspaper. George’s Trains  sold my fav childhood toy: electric trains! And two ancient movie houses, The Regent and the Mt. Pleasant,  showed stale-dated films to tiny audiences of the faithful.

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Late, great Penrose
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Cinema treasure

 

 

 

 

 

And we found great food at The Longest Yard pub, our home away from home, as well as yummy cakes at the sadly gone Sweet Gallery and noms at Le Feuvre’s Chocolates.

Mind you, Mt. Pleasant had, probably still has, its seamy side.  Above those silent-as-tombs antique shops – knocking shopsSmart of them to hide in a deadly boring, whitebread family neighbourhood over stores bereft of customers. I’m not kidding: read this. There’s even a “rub map” of Toronto with Mt. Pleasant taking…erm…undue prominence! (No links, guys- you’re on your own!)

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Naughty and not so nice

Change has surged into our hapless backwater. Condos, Starbucks and Second Cup have invaded. All our favs now swept away, except, inexplicably, the movie theatres.  But wondrous new things have birthed:  Thobor’s Parisian chefs make the best bread and pastries in North Toronto and Belsize Public House is trying to fill The Longest Yard’s big shoes.

A tear and a beer at the Longest Yard farewell party. Even Mayor Tory dropped by for last call!

This week a Surreal Trapdoor opened up. On one side of one of the last chandelier-crammed antique stores,  I spied the Green Room, a medical marihuana shop, with a brew pub-like menu of plant materials on display. And on the other, Meow Coffee, a cat café! Police raids and grumpy Toronto Humane Society notwithstanding!

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Medical? Sure, do you want it to be?
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My soft spot – kitties!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are now 21st century – and cool!  I leave you, readers, with this song by Japanese pop group, Shonen Knife about bad kitties and cat mary-jane.  And guessing which  shop will become my new haunt….

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: The Mysterious Book Shop, NYC

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nNEW YORK CITY- what’s not to love!!

Our visit took a literary bent. We stayed at the Algonquin Hotel, site of the famed Round Table where sharp-tongued Dorothy Parker and her literary frenemies traded barbs and founded the New Yorker magazine.  Every guest room at the hotel gets a free copy.

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Wham! martinis

What’s it like to stay there? Great, actually! Location is excellent next to Times Square. The rooms are small, like all NYC hotel rooms, but elegant and well-designed. Each door sports a pithy saying from a member of the Round Table. You can download selected best-selling authors for free. And the bar delivers the – wham! – best martinis in NYC. Economy rules: after one, you’re flying all night!

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Algonquin cat history

Another neat tradition: the Algonquin boasts a resident cat. Current version, Matilda, happily sleeps in a  mahogany file tray on the check-in desk, Do Not Disturb sign prominently displayed. You can book Matilda for your birthday party: her fees go to support a local animal shelter. 

I crossed an item off my bucket list when we checked out The Mysterious Book Shop, NYC’s legendary crime book store. It was founded in 1980 by the equally legendary Otto Penzler who  lives upstairs.

Mysterious Book Shop
Mysterious Book Shop

The bookstore is located in the cool Tribeca area of Manhattan at a disturbingly short distance from the former twin towers, now memorialized by two sunken waterfalls with the names of the fallen carved into the stone edges. IMG_3521

20160528_11434920160528_115334The Mysterious Book Shop is not much bigger than my favorite Toronto bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street though it does sport towering book shelves, easily 15 feet high. You really do need that ladder to reach the top four or five shelves! Like many bookstores today, its stock is a mix of new and vintage books. Signings are held several times a month: if you launch your crime book here, you know you’ve arrived!

Like the Mysterious Press, the bookstore is very active in cyberspace. I recommend subscribing to its newsletter to keep up with the latest and best in crime fiction.

A neat idea: The Mysterious Press prints long stories or novellas by distinguished writers in chap books, costing about $6 US. I picked up The Little Men by Megan Abbott, a truly chilling tale.  Excellent writing: I can’t wait to dive into her novels!

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Otto Penzler

Otto Penzler is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on crime fiction. In 1975 he founded The Mysterious Press, publishing virtually all the greats: Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, P.D. James, Ruth Rendall, Ellis Peters, the list is endless. He also worked closely with many of my personal favs: Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke. 

Over the years, The Mysterious Press underwent many changes, thanks to the constantly evolving – or perhaps devolving – publishing biz until Penzler got the name back. In 2011, he founded Mysterious Press.com, a digital publishing house for vintage crime writers like Ross Macdonald.

Every year, Penzler brings out the highly regarded anthology, Best American Mystery Stories. (Canadians are eligible as long as their stories are published in the USA.) To be inspired by the best in crime fiction writing, these stories can’t be beat.  EAT ALL OF THESE ANTHOLOGIES!!

Penzler also includes a long list of distinguished stories in each volume, stories that almost made the cut. My friend, Ray Daniel’s short story made the long list and he believes Penzler’s recognition led to the traditional publication of his debut novel.  (Check out Ray’s most recent book, Child Not Found.

This year,  the Robert Lopresti story in my friend, Caro Soles’ Poe tribute anthology, Nevermore, was accepted into Penzler’s anthology – a dream come true for any crime writer.

EAT THESE BOOKS, TOO!

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Eat This Book!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nGreetings Readers!

This week I’m introducing a new post,  Eat this Book, inspired by the adorable black kitten munching on a proffered tome.  Hey, no cat lady crap! I owned ONE bad-tempered black cat for 19+ years. The others were/are black and white…

In Eat This Book, I’ll explore the value of books as entities, starting with the mystery books crowding my own shelves.  I’ll look at market value:  what is that signed P. D. James original today? And/or historical value: author Liza Cody and her amazing Bucket Nut series. Look for my upcoming visits to fab bookstore owners Marian Misters of Sleuth of Baker Street and Peter Sellers of Sellers and Newell

Also I’ll highlight new books that no emerging or hard-working established writer can do without.  To start off, I’m going to tell you about a book by fellow thriller writer, Kristina Stanley to be released on May 28th. (Do check out our interview on Cyber Café!)  I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

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The most pressing problem authors have is to find readers. How do you find an audience for your writing? Many writers, including myself, rely heavily on libraries and book stores, but what if you reach more people who would like your book? The answer is targeted marketing. 

Kristina and I both write outdoors thrillers. Some possible sales venues include sporting goods stores, ski resorts, boat shows, etc. Authors of culinary mysteries might choose a local kitchen store or cooking school.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. In her book, Kristina  also shares how to keep track of your books on consignment and how to manage your sales revenues and costs.

So don’t delay, fellow writers. EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: The Beer-swilling Pomeranian (WLT – Part 2)

Opening of the World’s Largest Surreal Trapdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part 1, we narrowly avoided a debate about the best bullets for dispatching a neighbour’s pesky cats. Nine mm vs 22’s, you pick. We escaped into the truck bling on display at the World’s Largest Truckstop, but then this  strange encounter actually happened.

A large, 60-ish lady  materialized beside the rack of sheepskin covers for truck seats. She bore a scary resemblance to Large Marge of Pee Wee Herman fame.

“You like them sheepskins?” she asked me.

“Um, sure,” I replied.

“My little doggie had one of her own. Just threw ‘er in the washing machine and she come out real nice.”

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Sheepskin seat covers

Dog or sheepskin?

“And you know what?” The lady stroked the sheepskin fondly. “The day she died, her sheepskin fell apart. Put it in the washing machine and it turned into this big lump of fuzz.”

“Interesting,” I said, edging away.

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Pomeranian dog

“She was a good dog. A Pomeranian. A real good dog. Cute, too. Except when she didn’t get her beer. When I come home off the road after driving my rig, she’d be right there waiting for me.  And if I didn’t give her that pint of beer right away, she’d be on my leg, growling, biting till she got it. Man, she loved her beer.”

“That’s nice,” I said, edging away further, but the lady stuck with us.

“She was a good dog. Why when she died, I just laid her out in the back of my truck. Hadda leave her there for three days but she never smelled. Not one bit. She was a good dog.”

“Probably pickled,” Ed whispered. By now we’d worked our way past the chrome exhaust pipes.

“That’s, um, sad you lost your dog,” I said. “But we’ve really got to get back on the road. We’re doing another two hundred miles today” 

“Hadda funeral for her,” the trucker continued, undeterred. “Buried her in the back yard. My son helped and you know, while he was digging her grave, all the cats and dogs round our place turned up. Stood there watching, paying their respects.”

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Paying respects?

“Imagine.” We’d reached the shelves full of Doulton figurines.

“I couldn’t just leave her. Had to do right by my little doggie. So I buried a 6-pack of beer with her. My son was real mad, thought it was a waste a’ beer, but she was a good dog.  Least I could do for her.”

“Of course, best thing.” We neared the ceramic eagles and John Wayne memorabilia.

“Got me a new dog now. Another Pom. Keeps my husbint in line.”

“That’s nice. We really have to go. We’re Canadian. Bye.” We fled into the parking lot. 

“Well, that was weird,” Ed said, starting the Miata. “Care to bet how long that 6-pack of beer stayed buried.”

No I wouldn’t.

To quote Max Bialystock in The Producers: They all come here. How do they find me?

Excerpt – “Amdur’s Cat”

Thirteen

Thirteen is the first anthology of the Mesdames of Mayhem, featuring stories by 13 of Canada’s leading women crime writers. The collection contains one Derringer and two Arthur Ellis finalists.

“Amdur’s Cat” is my comedy thriller based on my working experiences with the government – and on the antics of a notorious Toronto mayor.  Which incidents are true? I’ll never tell! 

Read and enjoy the opening pages!

 

AMDUR’S CAT

On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

 Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion come to life.

Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

 Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

   It saw me!

Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras who ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

 By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

“No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

 “Drink?” he echoed.

 “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

 “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

 “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

 “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

  “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

   “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

    “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

“What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

   “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

  “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

  “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

No sign of the lion.

 Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

To read the rest of the story, download your copy of Thirteen from Amazon.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: World’s Largest Truckstop – Part 1

Big trucks! Big food! Big ceramic eagles – and even bigger truckers! You’ll see all this and more at the World’s Largest Truckstop on Iowa 80.  For the unwary though some truly scary Surreal Trapdoors are lying in wait just for you.

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You think I’m kidding? Read on, my friends, for the tale transcribed herein truly happened.   

Ed and I were heading down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Hillerman Writers Conference. Hwy 80 took us through Walcott, Iowa where we spotted WLT’s neon sign. Hungry and tired, we pulled in and parked our tiny Miata sports car well away from the fleet of tractor trailers.

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WLT Services

WLT covers 75 acres of land and provides parking for 900 trucks. An estimated 5000 visitors trek through the 67,000 sq ft complex every single day.  The building sports 9 restaurants, a 60-seat movie theatre, a TV lounge with leather recliners, 24 private showers,  a barber shop – even a dentist and a chiropractor!

If you want to bling out your truck, you will never find a better selection of lights and fancy exhaust pipes. Even art! In the 2-storey, 30,000 sq ft showroom, we admired the mural on the show truck as it spun round on a rotating platform. Its cab featured comfortable sleeping quarters, a DVD player, a microwave oven and a state-of-the-art navigation system: a trucker’s life looks pretty damn awesome!

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Tractor Mural

 

Truck Bling
Truck Bling
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Chrome Exhaust Pipes

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to the cavernous 350-seat café which lay in perpetual twilight except for the bright spotlights on the extensive buffet and salad bar. Several solitary, weighty, middle-aged men were seated along one of the U-shaped diner counters. Feeling out of place – and wimpy – we slipped into two seats well away from them, perused a menu the size of a road sign and ordered.

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Salad bar? Not really
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Much more representative

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we waited for our burgers, it became apparent that the men at the counter were having a long-range conversation with one another.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with hitting my boy,” said the older, grey-haired guy on our left. “My daddy whupped my ass. Did me a world of good. No govermint’s gonna tell me how to raise my kids.”

“Damn right!” echoed down the line.  

The waitress set a plate with a 5-inch pile of sliced raw onions down in front of the heavy-set man sitting on the opposite side of the counter directly in front of us.  He wiped his black goatee with a paper napkin and dug into the crunchy offering.

“I wouldn’t want to ride in his truck tonight,” said Ed, not so sotto voce. I elbowed him, but  Goatee wasn’t listening. The waitress had placed 5-inch plate of fried bacon down next to the onions.

“I gotta problem,” declared Old Trucker as Goatee tucked into his meal. “My neighbour and her cats.  Damn cats keep coming into my garden to do their business, you follow? Only one way to handle things as far as I can see. My 9 mm pistol.”

“You don’t want to waste 9 mm fire power on a cat,” Goatee said between bites. “The cat’ll just explode. A 22’ll do the job and the ammo’s way cheaper.”  

“Well, I got a 1000 rounds of 9mm just sitting round the house. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

Ample evidence that our counter companions weren’t Democrats. I’d guessed right, go figure. Two timid Canadians down their burgers, paid fast and with cash then took refuge in the truck showroom. 

Refuge? Hardly. One of the weirdest Surreal Trapdoors in my life was about to open.  Tune in next Monday, Readers, for my tale of the beer-swilling Pomeranian.

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Surreal Entertainment

 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas, Baby Part duh!

Vegas, Baby, where even the dragons wear rhinestones!20160107_142920

 

 

It’s Chinese New Year and the casinos are set to retrieve some of the $$$ lost to off-shore manufacturing. Everywhere are displays of dragons or monkeys since 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.

Gambling is a popular pastime in China. As a student at UBC, Vancouver, I remember hearing the clatter of mah-jong parlours in the not-so-hidden upstairs rooms of popular restaurants and seeing whole families picnicking at the race track. (So what if my friend and I were betting on the same Exacto.)

One day till we storm through the exhibits at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES),  so I end up doing  another 20,000 Fitbit steps through this R-rated  Disneyland.

T-rex, real or pretend?
T-rex, real or pretend?

First stop, the Cosmopolitan, a newer addition on The Strip. The décor is big, bold eye candy like the silvered T-rex head above. The décor materials aren’t cheap: the two-storey chandelier bar is cloaked in real crystal, though it looks like plastic. The overall effect to my mind is vintage “Scarface”, the cult classic gangster movie starring Al Pacino.

The Chandelier Bar
The Chandelier Bar

 

My favorite casino after The Venetian has to be Paris.  Boulevard cafes crowd round the casino tables in a perpetual dusky twilight, the French signs are pure “Pepe le Pew” and the pastries look French but taste American. Even the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe outside are spotlessly sanitized.  Love it!   

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Eiffel Tower

 

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Arc de Triomphe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellagio’s and Caesar’s Palace are the high end with a string of shops outdoing Rodeo Drive.  Caesar’s was the first casino to feature Disneyland animatronics and fantasy boulevards where blue skies turned into glowing sunsets and starry nights.  Once Caesar’s ruled the strip, but now crowds shun it and it’s in bankruptcy protection. I find it hard to understand why. The food and atmosphere are still great. I sip a nostalgic Americano beside the oversized Trevi fountain.

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Bellagio’s fab Venetian glass ceiling
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Nostalgia by the Trevi fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Vegas is almost gone. Darwin is in overdrive: billion dollar behemoths crushing under smaller places, like the Imperial Palace and the Hilton, their identities obliterated by white paint to lure in time share buyers. The veteran burlesque shows like Jubilee are hanging in, but for how long?

Vegas has a sleazy, dark side. The homeless camp out on the pedestrian skyways. A van circles constantly with in-your-face T&A ads promising girls delivered to your room. And elderly Hispanic women snap hookers’ business cards in your face as you plough through the crowds.

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The A-list mingles with the B-team on the Strip, but the B-team can still be fun. My personal fav is Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood, which features, I kid you not,  a zombie burlesque and Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theatre, starring trained cats and dogs. Popovich is for children of all ages and I adored it!

And if you think cats can’t do tricks, watch this video!