The Adventures of Huckleberry Hashimoto – Jack Douglas

A couple of years ago, I saw a simple paperback book listed on eBay, which was selling for over $200.  I was intrigued as I had got into a little buying and selling, so I’ve always kept my eyes out for this book: The Japanese-Jewish Sex and Cookbook and How to Raise Wolves by Jack Douglas.  I’ve never seen the book, but I have found a few other books by the author and I have finally got around to reading one- The Adventures of Huckleberry Hashimoto.

The name of the book is based on a nickname a family friend gave the Douglas’ son, Bobby.  Jack and his Japanese wife, Reiko, (20 years his junior) take their infant son on a summer tour of the Orient in the early 1960s.  The family takes the train from NYC to LA, then a ship from the California coast to Tahiti, fly to Honolulu, then fly to Japan to meet Reiko’s family.  If you can imagine what a comedy writer would write in the 1960s, that just about covers the bases.  He [lovingly] complains about wife, kid, locals, etc.  At one point he even calls a friend’s 16 year old daughter ‘sexy’.  I hadn’t heard of Douglas before these books, but apparently he was a popular comedy writer in those days.  He mentions a lot of ‘famous’ people he knew, but I hardly had heard of any of them.  I think I’ve heard of Jack Paar, but I can’t be 100% on that.

Apart from the apparent change in taboo topics from that era, there were many funny parts of the book.  He tells of the way strangers address each other when approaching on a cruise ship: “Well- We meet again,” (followed by a small chuckle), “You’re not walking a straight line,” and “Well- drunk again!” Douglas tells of a short anecdote of cold coffee in Tahiti.  None of the coffee pots have lids, so it cools faster.  The shipment of coffee pots was separate from the lids, and unfortunately, the lids ended up in Samoa where they were sold, then sold again to tourists as the top of Robert Louis Stevenson’s last coffee pot.

In Japan, Douglas told of how he learned to gain patience as the Japanese side of the family had many customs to adhere to.  One involved the changing of shoes.  Shoes worn outside are not allowed to be worn indoors, so slippers are worn when walking through hallways (bare or stocking feet only in bedrooms), the bathrooms have separate bathroom slippers, then the commode has built in ceramic slippers one has to stand in to do their duty.  Another story involved Reiko buying a hair barrette.  The announced her intentions to her parents, who discussed it with her for 15 minutes.  It was decided. They would buy the hair barrette (four cents).  Then another 15 minute discussion was presented to find where they would go to buy the barrette, and another 15 minutes to decide which store to buy it from.  At the street outside, they had another 15 minute discussion to decide if they would walk the two blocks or take a taxi (walking was decided because it didn’t make much sense to spend more on a taxi than a barrette).  When they reached the market, another 15 minute discussion took place to decide to go a few more blocks to the cheaper market, which upon arriving they found that a four cent hair barrette was no cheaper, and they did not have the gold colored one Reiko wanted.  The shop owner provided drinks and they had another lengthy discussion and it was decided Reiko would get the silver barrette and if she was not happy in a couple of weeks she could return it with a full refund.  They took the taxi home.

This was a book I had looked forward to, though there were some funny parts, I can’t say it was my favorite.  I have another book by him, ready to read, but not necessarily at the top of my list at this time.  It was a short book, a quick read, and I think I will read more of his work one day, but it might be a while before I ‘find the time’ for it.


Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Just after I completed college, a friend attempted to introduce me to ‘Bored to Death,’ an HBO series starring Jason Schwartzman.  I just couldn’t get into it- a whiny lead and his misfit friends, a 60-something ‘New Yorker’ editor and pot-addict, Ted Danson, and a lazy, self-depreciating cartoonist, Zach Galifaikis.  Several years later, I saw the series on Amazon Prime and revisited to give it another try.  It hit me, surprisingly, and I binged through all three seasons in about a week.  I’ve watched it all the way through again since then.

I was pleased to find a book authored by the same writer of the series at a thrift store earlier this year.  In my mind, Schwartzman played the lead again, along with all the eccentricities that were included.  Written as a first-person narrative, the book ‘Wake Up, Sir!’ is a week long adventure that explores the hero’s struggles with alcoholism.  Alan Blaine is the lead.  He’s working on a novel that explains his odd relationship with his former roommate, an older man who escorts rich old widows in NYC.  Blaine is thirty years old, orphaned, and living with his aunt and uncle and Montclaire, New Jersey.  He has an affinity for sports jackets and wine. Recently, Blaine had won a lawsuit after slipping on ice and put the money to good use, hiring a valet named Jeeves (a nice nod to the Wodenhouse character).  The novelist’s first book was met with mediocre success, and he has his sights on making a bigger splash with his second work. Tired of avoiding his NRA-card-carrying uncle, Blaine decides to bring Jeeves to upstate NY and spend time writing in a Hasidic community, Sharon Springs.  The aunt and uncle were in agreement, and casually mentioned that they had planned on asking him to leave due to his excessive drinking. On the way, he called to check in with his aunt, but his uncle told him an artist colony Blaine had applied to had accepted him.  With changing plans, Blaine made a shorter visit to Sharon Springs.  The hotel he planned to stay in had a massive fire, but Blaine charmed his way into an undamaged double room where Jeeves could join him.  A curiousity had overcome him while calling his uncle and he returned to the phone booth in a drunken state later that night to call ‘Debbie,’ the name from a hand written advertisement that stated she likes her have her ‘kitten’ kissed, along with a phone number.  Well, Debbie showed up, with her boyfriend.  The boyfriend was a giant of a man, referred to as ‘Hill’.  Hill beat up on Blaine and broke his nose, but then Blaine kicked Hill’s knee and punched him in the ear, dropping him and allowing for a brisk escape for the hero.  The next day, Blaine and Jeeves showed up to the Rose Colony with two black eyes and a broken nose.  This appearance intrigued the fellow guests and he quickly made friends, and enemies.  Though Blaine swore off alcohol after the violent episode, he continued to indulge nightly as it was practically a ritual with the artists at the Rose Colony.  Each night brought further escalating malady, until Blaine found himself in the biggest scandal of the colony’s history.

This was a fun read, the main character posed many interesting questions in his thoughts: Why are Jews always persecuted?  Why are the Hebrews in so much popular media, but in so few numbers; what if roles were reversed with the Chinese?  What do you call the erotic infatuation with another human’s nose?

I hope to someday find another book by Ames in the future, but until then, Bored To Death will be on queue.

Dress Your Family in Corderoy and Denim – David Sedaris

This was my first David Sedaris book, it was enjoyable, he has a knack for storytelling.  Each chapter was a new story and while I came in expecting loads of humor, each was a different spectrum of emotion.  I noticed a lot of disappointment- be it with himself, his parents, boyfriend, or siblings.  He seemed to try to find humor in some of the stories, but many of them were just put out there.  Some seemed believable, but others involved such nonsense as his sister rifling through trashcans at night and collecting teeth.  An interesting aspect of his stories involved his struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorders.  One story relayed the feeling of needing to touch a stranger’s head.  Many times in an airplane he gets the itching sensation to touch the passenger’s head in front of him.  Not once, multiple times.  He tries to play it off as an accident, but the compulsion returns again and again.  He said the normal number of touches is three, any more and the person catches on and gets upset/uncomfortable.  The writing reminds me a bit of Augusten Burroughs in humor, storytelling, and non-sense. While it may seem uninteresting, the stories were all little pieces of his life, where one could think ‘This happened to me,’ or ‘I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that.’  Sedaris is a contibutor to NPR and I read the book, I imagined an ‘NPR voice’ projecting the story over my car radio.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard him on there, but it was a fun way to imagine the stories.

Rating: *******7/10

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

A Pulitzer winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces had me locked in from the beginning.  It’s a comedic tale of Ignatious Reilly and his mishaps in New Orleans.  He is a peculiar man, set in his thoughts and ways. He wears a green hunting cap at all times to protect his ears from noise and climate with the built-in muffs.  He is overtly religious and pushes his thoughts onto others by explaining their faults and calling them ‘mongoloids’. The ease of his harsh attitude is one of the great humors in the novel. He is a graduate of higher education, nevertheless, an unemployed son living with his poor mother.

Ignatious lives with his mother in a run-down house in New Orleans, his father passed some twenty years before.  While waiting for his mother during a shopping excursion, Ignatious was stopped by a policeman who attempted to arrest him for vagrancy.  His mother was so upset, she backed her car into a building and was liable for the damages.  With no other means of income to pay for the damage, Ignatious was sent out to finally find a  job.  His previous attempts at employment had found him banned from the public library, so he was not exactly thrilled to find himself stomping the streets for a job.

Myrna Minx was a cohort of Ignatious from his college days.  She pushed political agendas and fought social injustice.  As ignatious wandered through his journey of employment, he penned and received letters from Myrna in New York, trying to out-do each other in their absurd lives.  She always pushed Ignatious to break out of his reclusive shell of his room and sexual repression.

Officer Mercuso attempted to arrest Ignatious in the beginning, he was also the first on the scene when Mrs. Reilly wrecked her car.  He developed a friendly relationship with Mrs. R and introduced her to his Aunt Santa.  Ignatious believed his mother was betraying him by spending time with the family of the ‘mongoloid Mercuso’. Eventually, Santa introduced her to a man, Mr. Robichaux, a retired man who adored Mrs. Reilly.

Jones, an African American worked in the Night of Joy for less than minimum wage to avoid vagrancy.  He was constantly at ends with Ms. Lee, the owner.  She believed she ran into some luck having a worker at a discount who was afraid of losing his job.  At the same time, she was involved with a ‘charity’ which Jones believed was a sham, and he was dedicated to taking her down.

Levy Pants was an old company from which Ignatious gained employment.  He loved the job, he was free to do as he pleased there.  This did not last long as he rallied the factory workers to stage a protest that proved calamitous.

To the embarrassment of his mother, Paradise Hot Dogs offered Ignatious a job as a hot dog vendor.  The portly Ignatiious ate as he pleased and brought home very little pay to his mother to help pay the damages.

Interestingly, all the characters and places were tied together by the end of the story.  Seemingly unrelated, the writer was developing a cast of characters who were all unique and peculiar in their own way.  The humor of each chapter kept the pages turning, a really enjoyable and exciting read!

Rating: *********9/10

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