The Neon Bible

“If you were different from anybody in town, you had to get out. That’s why everybody was so much alike. The way they talked, what they did, what they liked, what they hated. If somebody got to hate something and he was the right person, everybody had to hate it too, or people began to hate the ones who didn’t hate it. They used to tell us in school to think for yourself, but you couldn’t do that in the town. You had to think what your father thought all his life, and that was what everybody thought.”
― John Kennedy Toole, The Neon Bible

Ignatius J. Reilly

Ignatius J. Reilly, sculpture on Canal Street.

Oblique Strategy: Always first steps

Six down, ninety-four to go.

While working on my goals for 2018 I decided to set a goal of reading a hundred books in the year. Thinking about it, I decided the only way to pull this off was to read short books. I made a list of 66 short novels and wrote about it. Thinking more about it, I was excited enough to jump the gun and start the 100 books immediately.

Next up is The Neon Bible, the first, and next to last novel by John Kennedy Toole. He is the author that wrote the famous A Confederacy of Dunces and created the amazing character, Ignatius J. Reilly.

It is not as well known as Confederacy of Dunces, and the author didn’t even seem to think much of it. He said, “In 1954, when I was 16, I wrote a book called The Neon Bible, a grim, adolescent, sociological attack upon the hatreds caused by the various Calvinist religions in the South—and the fundamentalist mentality is one of the roots of what was happening in Alabama, etc. The book, of course, was bad, but I sent it off a couple of times anyway.”

So I picked up the book, with low expectations, but it had a slim page count, and I loved A Confederacy of Dunces – so I was sure it would be worth the effort and time.

And it was – not entirely successful as a novel, even as a bildungsroman, but it contains some amazing scenes and descriptions of life in a hell-hole little city in a beautiful Mississippi valley. It’s pretty observant and socially aware for something written by a sixteen year old.


The Essential Hot Sauces

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune

Oblique Strategy:
Don’t break the silence

I am all about the hot sauce. Food exists largely as a means to shovel hot sauce into my mouth. There is a simple test – if it doesn’t make the top of my head sweat – it isn’t hot enough.

Ok, I’ve been digging around my archive USB hard drive and found a blog entry from 2006, my second version of The Daily Epiphany, called The Essential Hot Sauces.I had a magazine ask for an article version of this – though they settled for a different one.

Right now, I have only three essential hot sauces. There are others that are good, but these are essential.


First, is Cholula, the one that I guess would count as my single favorite. It’s the one with the wooden ball for a cap – easy to spot on a shelf. What makes it special is the fact it is made with Chile Pequin (or Piquin, similar, but not quite there, to the cultivated Tepin), a tiny wild chili instead of some cultivated pepper. The sauce costs more because of that but it has a complex flavor unmatched in cheaper sauces.

Bufalo Chipotle

Next, I still have Bufalo Chipotle on my list. None of the other Bufalo brand sauces are very good – but their Chipotle is the best. I’ve enjoyed the various uses of chipotle (smoked jalepeno peppers) for years, long before they were as famous as they are now, and am a little perturbed at something I like so much become chic, Americanized, and homogenized. Still, the old standby, Bufalo Chipotle hasn’t changed a bit. Its flavor, from a smoked pepper, is very different from any other type of sauce, and it great for a change of pace. Also, it’s thick and dark in color (almost a black-purplish-brown) and can be attractive when used with a contrasting sauce such as:

The third sauce is one I learned to like since 1998. It’s Sriracha, and is an Asian sauce – the one in the plastic squeeze bottle with the rooster on the front.


It’s thick too, and a bright orange, and mixes well with other stuff. I think I eat more of this than any other kind.

I think I need to add a couple more – a Louisiana sauce at least (Something other than Tabasco – that old favorite seems to be getting too thin and vinagar-y lately) and maybe a habanera-based sauce (these are so hot… I want to find one with some flavor in it).

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

It’s funny to read this after all these years. It’s odd to thing about a time before Sriracha because it is now such a ubiquitous part of my life. Otherwise, those three are still essential.

At the end, I wondered about Louisiana hot sauce, since then I made up my mind and wrote a blog entry about it:

Tabasco or Crystal

A tough choice.

Crystal it is.

And I wondered about Habanero based sauce. I have a homemade habanero sauce that is great and the link takes you to a blog entry and recipe, but I don’t make it too often – it’s too dangerous (I’m sitting here sweating, just thinking about it). I will buy a Yucateco sauce, green or red, to keep on hand in case of emergencies. Be careful with it, it’s hot.

But what I wanted to write about, is that I am addicted to a new hot sauce. We were at a restaurant (already forgotten what it was) and they had a green Sriracha sauce that was delicious. It wasn’t very hot – but it had a great flavor. They had red and green, but the green was something new.

Green and Red Sriracha

What caught my eye was that the bottles were labeled Distributed by ALDI.

Aldi, if you don’t know, is this cool new model of a grocery store. There is one at the end of our street and over a block. I like it especially because it is uphill from the house. I ride my bike uphill and then buy milk or water or other heavy items and coast downhill back home.

Now every time I go there I buy three bottles of the green Sriracha. I eat a lot of it because it isn’t all that hot – so I put too much on. I put it on everything. And I mean ever-y-thing. It’s too soon to say if I will add it to the essential list – I might tire of it. We’ll see.

The Smell of an Earlier Time Leaking Out Between the Pages

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

The fountain in back of the Richardson Library and my commuter bike.
(click to enlarge)

Oblique Strategy: Distorting time

Richardson Library Fountain in a different time of year.

I was in a bookstore once, looking around. This was one of the big chain bookstores, two stories high, the kind that have pretty much been driven out of business by Amazon. Few people were buying, but the store was littered with folks sitting around reading stuff from the shelves.

I thought to myself, “I wish they had a place like this, like a bookstore, but instead of selling the books, they would simply let you read them.” In a flash, of course, I realized that these places did exist. I was thinking of a library.

My only problem with the library is the intense impression that there is an overload of knowledge bearing down on me, almost suffocating me. I sit at the little table, maybe with my laptop, with my pitiful little pile of books – trying to decide which to read right then, which to take home. I look around and there are the miles of shelves groaning with tomes. It intimidates me. Somewhere out there is a practically infinite amount of knowledge that I simply can’t survive without. But where is it? Which books do I need, rather than want?

So many books. So little time.

If You’ll Believe In Me, I’ll Believe In You

“The Unicorn looked dreamily at Alice, and said “Talk, child.”
Alice could not help her lips curling up into a smile as she began: “Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!”
“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Alley, Waxahachie, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Twist the spine

I have been working for more than forty years now. I have some education. I get paid more than many… possibly more than most.

But I still find my self buying crap at thrift stores. Used stuff. Cheap stuff.

When is the best time to go… this time of year? People get new things for Christmas and donate their old crap to the thrift stores to sell. They might even get new gifts they don’t want and donate those.

But there has to be a time lag between decided to donate and when the stuff shows up on the shelves with a price tag. How long? It’s important for me to figure it out. There was a time when I could always buy stuff I wanted in the Thrift Stores because the usual customers were interesting in other things. Now though, since eBay became ascendant, there are people buying stuff in the Thrift Stores, bargain hunting, with the simple intention of reselling it on eBay.

I see these people – they are waiting at the door at opening, buying a seemingly random pile of crap – yet carefully curated to be worth more to someone gazing at it online. They skim off the cream of the crop of the Thrift Store bargains before I can get my greedy mitts on it.

I did stop by the local Thrift Store on my way home from work today. I am very proud of myself. I found two things that I wanted… but didn’t need. I walked out empty handed, which is good. It isn’t a matter of cost… it is a matter of space.

We Are A Nation Which Cannot Remember Its Dreams

“Every reiteration of the idea that _nothing matters_ debases the human spirit.

Every reiteration of the idea that there is no drama in modern life, there is only dramatization, that there is no tragedy, there is only unexplained misfortune, debases us. It denies what we know to be true. In denying what we know, we are as a nation which cannot remember its dreams–like an unhappy person who cannot remember his dreams and so denies that he does dream, and denies that there are such things as dreams.”
― David Mamet, Writing in Restaurants: Essays and Prose

Downtown McKinney Texas

Oblique Strategy:
Retrace your steps

John Scalzi wrote critically about writing in a coffee shop:

You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop, you know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said “Looking For Sex.” Go home, why don’t you. Just go.

He expanded this simple idea into a book, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

He’s not wrong, of course. There can be a certain stuckuppishness about going to the coffee shop to write – either with a laptop or with a Moleskine.

With me, however, it’s different. I like to go to coffee shops sometimes, I like to drink coffee that someone else makes for me sometimes… and I write wherever I go.

For years, a long time ago, I took my son Lee to two hours of art lessons every Saturday morning. While I was waiting for him, I’d go to a nearby Starbucks with my laptop and write. I developed the ability to nurse one Venti coffee for two hours. In addition to getting two hours or writing done in an otherwise wasted window of time I perfected the writer’s ability to listen in to stranger’s conversations without looking at them.

This particular Starbucks was always crowded on Saturday mornings and the conversations were usually interesting. It seems that the main topic was to beg forgiveness and seek redemption for what had been done in passionate error on Friday night. There were some interesting stories floating around.

So I view Starbucks not as a coffee seller (which is good because their coffee is awful) but as an office rental space. For the price of an overly expensive cuppa Joe you get an office, internet connection, and conference room (if needed) for a couple hours. Good deal if you ask me.

Tonight I needed to finish a short story but there was too much going on at the house. I needed to be left alone for a few pages, at least. So I packed up and headed out to a coffee shop not far from our house. Of course, in my neighborhood you won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations, they are in too many different languages.

But at any rate, three hours and one Venti later, my story was done. And I didn’t care who saw me typing and didn’t worry that absolutely nobody noticed me.

What the Pho?

Lee bought a shirt at Bistro B.

Oblique Strategy: Revaluation (a warm feeling)

Bistro B

Everybody has their Christmas traditions. Ours is to have lunch at Bistro B. I checked my blog archives, and I wrote about Christmas at Bistro B six years ago. You can read it here. It hasn’t changed much and my 2011 description is still good:

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

We were earlier than we usually were – so the place wasn’t completely packed. The menus were new – the numbers only going up to 494. And in the last six years the restroom extravaganza has been toned down more than a bit.

As always, the Christmas-day service was a little rough. There is a new “Taco” section in the menu – Candy ordered one of those. “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s new, we haven’t learned how to cook those yet,” was the answer from the waiter. Candy ordered chicken, Nick, Lee, and I ordered Pho. The chicken arrived quickly, but no Pho. A while later, the waiter came by and asked how everything was. “No pho,” we answered. He looked flustered and our three enormous bowls of soup came out in a minute. That’s cool – usually we don’t even get what we order – a busy place with a book for a menu and 494 items – you have to chill a bit.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm waters?

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a little nest of rice noodles. I don’t know what creature they originally came from

After our food we drove across the city for our second Christmas Tradition – to see a movie. It’s getting so that we will only see films at the Alamo Drafthouse (their no phone-no talking-no arriving late or you will be thrown out is a game-changer) and we took in I,Tonya at the Alamo in the Cedars. They have a nice bar upstairs with a killer view of downtown Dallas.

A nice way to wile away a Christmas day.

The family on the balcony at the Alamo in the Cedars, Dallas, Texas

The Path to my Fixed Purpose is Laid With Iron Rails

“Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale

Downtown McKinney, Texas

Oblique Strategy:
Don’t be frightened of cliches

Are you making your plans for next year? Do you have fixed in your mind the exact person you want to become?

Your mind, though, is not of one voice – but of at least two. Do you hear the little voice already telling you that you will fail and you will never become the person you think of? “It is too late anyway,” the voice says.

Where will you fall? Who will win in the end? Does it even matter?