An Aussie Journey – The Dead Heart by Douglas Kennedy

We first meet Nick Hawthorne in a Darwin bar. As a stripper offers contorted perspectives on what Australia has to offer, our hero from Maine meets a fellow countryman from Detroit intent on doing to Asia what America does to most places. (Personal opinions, eh?) Nick has some of those. He has a personal approach to life, but feels he gets little out of it, despite having achieved the status of being the first person principal character of Douglas Kennedy’s novel The Dead Heart.

Nick is a journalist who has only ever had bit jobs. They interested him bit, earned him a bit, stimulated somewhat less. Then he found a map of Australia and became so obsessed with the continent’s emptiness that he sold up and left the US to discover the unknown, to visit the unvisited. He is less than impressed with Darwin. It’s not a good start. But a VW camper van bought from a Jesus freak promises a great escape along the road to Broome. Not round the corner…

A hitcher called Angie provides welcome diversion from the repetition of the road. She seems easy-going, not to mention easy, and a little threatening. She is travelling for the first time, but exudes confidence. Nick, however, retains control. Or so he thinks…

Until he finds himself in Wollanup. It’s a town whose recent tragic history has removed it from the map. Nick has arrived at nowhere, the dead heart of a land. He is now unknown, has sex and beer on tap and an awful diet. A horror story haunted by powdered eggs…

Until Krystal starts to cook… His mechanical skills come into play. The rebuilt camper van is destroyed again. Its renewed mobility is a threat.

Events happen, like they do… Douglas Kennedy’s The Dead Heart evolves into a kind of fast-moving, page-turning thriller. But there are characters here. Something – not sure what! – seems almost credible. Nick is not the most likeable person, but this rather self-centred, thirty-odd, overweight hedonist does realise that there might be more to life than unlimited sex and beer on tap. He wants both, but clearly somewhere other than Wollanup.

What happens in The Dead Heart is crucial. It’s a plot-led work, but it is also engaging and well written. Its racy style fits the characters┬┤ obvious preoccupations and helps to create a vivid portrait of lives that know only the here and now.

The Dead Heart is a book to be read in a single sitting. The process will leave readers wondering how they might have reacted in such circumstances. And what about Australia as depicted? Is this a stereotype? You bet…

Collapse – The House of Cards Game

The other day, I was over at a friend's house, and someone brought out a box of playing cards. There must've been for five decks there, and no one could agree on which game they wanted to play. Some want to play bridge, others poker, and then they could not decide on all the variations of those types of card games.

The kids wanted to play Go Fish, one of the adults wanted to play solitaire on her own, and things were not working out. Since most of the people in the home were left-leaning Democrats, and rather fancy themselves smarter than everyone else and really want to build a perfect utopia, I made a suggestion just for kicks.

I told him that we should play "Collapse" and I'm not really sure what the name of the game is maybe I should have called it "Detroit", but it's when you build a house of cards, and that you allow people to take cards out without allowing the whole thing to come crashing down. If you take out the wrong card, it is much the same as taking an apple from the bottom of the pile at the grocery store, all the apples end up on the floor, and you end up looking like; a big dummy.

Still, did you know there are multiple ways to play that game? One way is to see how big you can build the house of cards without it crashing down, and the other is to see how many cards you can take out. For those that like "groupthink" or a collaborative team effort, you can break people up into teams and the team can decide which card to take out, as this also works well, and those who are left-leaning of the political spectrum find this more intriguing – maybe because it is all-inclusive?

So we ended up having each team build their homes of cards no more than seven stories high. Then after they were completed we allowed each team to take turns taking one card out of which ever house they chose. If your team collapsed one of the houses of cards, your whole team was out. The others kept playing. I do not know why I ended up making up those rules, but I did, and everyone loved it so much, they were taking pictures while we were playing and posting it on their Facebook page.

If you are looking for something fun to do, and if your friends are groupthink type people, and left-leaning on the political spectrum, they might really like playing the game "Collapse" using these rules, which I think is very apropos because socialist countries always come crashing down in the end; like a house of cards. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

My Favorite Toy of 60 Years

My parents told me that theyave him to me as a Christmas present in 1955, in Detroit, Michigan in a two-story flat on Dexter Avenue.

I've seen the grainy 8MM movies, but of course, I do not remember. After all, I was barely a year old, hardly old enough to know what was a "best friend," let alone that he would be it.

At night, I'd hold him until I fell sleep; his very presence banishing monsters that lived under the bed and the shadow creatures in the closet. When wind against the windows caused the curtains to pulsate and the panes to howl a ghostly, eerie, wail, my little yellow buddy with the dark black eyes and furry body watched over me until the sandman cast his magic upon me. He shared my pillow, his yellow, foam, and fur body with plastic face peering over the blankets to protect me, long after I dozed.

I would drag him from Kevin's to Joey's to Victor's during long vacations and hot muggy afternoons. He'd sit, floppy-necked, across from me on the kitchen table as I did sym lemonade and draw with crayons. While I did homework, he rested, never complaining, near my pencil jar. And when no one was to be found and there was nothing to do but let my imagination take over, I covered him in aluminum foil, wrapped saran wrap around his head, suspended him from the ceiling light, and pretended he was an astronaut.

"Commander Puppy," I said into my paper-cup microphone (adding the right amount of voice crackle to increase the realism), "This is Captain Scott Over. "

Together, we spent hours; daylight until dark. January through December. Childhood through adolescence.

As my world expanded and I played touch football in the alley with Richard and Mike and the super-nerdy Randy, Puppy waited on my bed for my arrival. To the outside world, I had outgrown him. But having him around, even if I was not, made me stronger. The consistency gave me a history, which made me feel older and wiser – and in some way, a little safer. I did not need to see Puppy to have that; I just needed to know he was around.

Rocket ships and football games and coloring books morphed into a whiz-bang whirl of deadlines and assignments, grocery shopping and homework helping, personal responsibilities and compromises. What remains of my tattered, torn, tired friend with the hole in his leg and the loose threads around his neck still sits on my bookcase. I no longer seem to have time for him, but he's never forgotten me.

In some strange way, he brings a consistency to me from my childhood until today. I lost most of my past in a divorce and via several moves around the state many years ago. Videos of my children and my yearbooks from high school are now to be found. However, I do not know whether it was circumstance or divine intervention, but I never lost Puppy – and the feeling he brings to this day. Quality. Spirit. A sense of well being that I do not want to lose.

I might be 61 years old and gray on top but, but we never grow up; we just become wrinkled kids. Having him around to this day makes my world a little better.

And that can never be a bad thing.

Mr Irrelevant is the Title (Name) Given to the Last Player Taken Every Year in the NFL Draft

Mr. Irrelevant is a title that gets discussed every April around the time of the annual NFL Draft because it is the dubious title given to the last player chosen in the draft. The title Mr. Irrelevant is given in a half joking manner because of the lack of faith that exists regarding the final player elected ever being worth mentioning again because his odds of succeeding in the NFL are seemingly so small.

For several years now the NFL Draft has had seven rounds with 32 teams. Although seven rounds with 32 teams comes out to a total of 224 picks the actual number of total picks is typically around 255. The reason that there are additional picks beyond the allotted one per round per team for seven rounds is because of something called "compensatory picks. " While a complete explanation of compensatory picks is beyond the scope of this article the gist is that there are additional picks designated for teams that lost more players to free agency than they gained. Thus compensatory picks help allow teams that are light on players to stock up a more full roster. It is not unusual for Mr. Irrelevant to be selected with the 255th overall pick at the very end of a drafting process that literally lasts days.

Although the NFL Draft began in 1936 it was not until forty years later in 1976 that the endearing phrase Mr. Irrelevant was popularized. The concept was actually the brainchild of a former NFL wide receiver and standout player for the University of Southern California named Paul Salata. At the age of 49, long after his playing days were behind him, Salata found what was to be known as Irrelevant Week near his home in Newport Beach, California.

Mr. Irrelevant Week is held in Orange County, California during the summer and among other events including a parade, golf tournament, and roast for the player lucky enough to be selected with the final pick in the NFL Draft held during the previous spring. The week long extravaganza concludes with the awarding of the Lowsman Trophy. The Lowsman Trophy mimics the Heisman Trophy (the most coveted individual award in college football) but instead of depicting a player striking a stiff arm pose a football player fumbling the ball adorns this piece of hardware.

Although it can be argued that the first Mr. Irrelevant was Phil Flanagan because he was taken with the last pick in the first NFL Draft in 1936 Kelvin Kirk is more widely recognized as the official first. Irrelevant. Kirk was selected with the 487th and final pick in the 1976 NFL Draft and there before landed an invitation for himself and his family to partake in the Newport Beach festivals that summer.

One of the more interesting career paths by a man selected with the last overall pick in the NFL Draft is probably Jimmy Walker who was chosen by the New Orleans Saints with the final pick of the 17th round (445 overall) in the 1967 draft. That same year Walker was taken with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. Walker would go onto play nine years in NBA and make a couple of all-star teams before suddenly fathering a son named Jalen Rose. Rose would go onto play in the NBA and famously with the Michigan Fab squad in 1992 and 1993. Sadly, an estranged relationship resolved in Walker and Rose never meeting in person before Walker passed away in 2007.

On a lighter note casual sports fans may find it interesting that numerous players that have been named Mr. Irrelevant played for top tier college football programs like the University of Nebraska, LSU, Ohio State, and the University of Texas just to name a few.