Michael Wiley

Crime and Punishment and Disappointment

 Guilty Guilty Guilty  Comments Off on Crime and Punishment and Disappointment
May 312012

By Michael

I received my share of spankings as a kid (this was the 1960s, when corporal punishment was still cool), but I had it easier than my friends whose parents used a belt, a paddle, or worse (childhood bruises were still a parental prerogative, at least in my neighborhood). For most situations as I grew older, though, disappointed words from my parents, or even a disappointed glance, would do the trick. Sometimes I took awhile to catch on – once my mother gave me the silent treatment for a full week before I realized I’d forgotten to cut the lawn – but eventually I would get the message.
The simple goal was to make me feel guilty. If I didn’t know the exact source of my guilt, I should feel guilty anyway, just in case. Sooner or later I would do something that warranted remorse, so I might as well put my tail between my legs and get in proper form for it.
As an adult, I’ve shaken off much of my burden of guilt, though at odd moments I realize that I still carry a child’s imagination in my fifty-year-old body. But now I’ve generalizedmy guilt.
Am I concerned that I haven’t worked hard enough? Guilty. Am I concerned that I’ve done too little as a husband and a father? Guilty. Am I concerned that I’ve done too little to make the world a better place? Guilty. Do I suffer from liberal guilt? Guilty (which makes me doubly guilty). If a cop were to pull me into an interrogation room and demand to know what I did last night, I would plead guilty – to watching a movie when I should have been editing a manuscript, researching a destination for a family vacation, and/or writing a letter to the governor. And then I would offer to cut the cop’s lawn.
Note: This is my final Criminal Minds post as a regular bi-weekly contributor. I’m looking forward to coming back often as a visitor, though, and in the meantime promise to remain guiltily criminal minded in all of my writing.

Pulp Hamlet

 Cora, Hamlet, James Cain, Ophelia, Pulp Fiction  Comments Off on Pulp Hamlet
May 172012

(By Michael)
                                    “Rip me! Rip me!”
                                                – Cora, The Postman Always Rings Twice
Ophelia:            Rip me. [Hamlet rips her blouse.] Again . . . again. [He does, he does.]
Hamlet:             That was either my sixteenth-century fingers, or your sixteenth-century bodice.
Ophelia:            My bodice, baby! Rip me! Rip me!
Hamlet:             I already did. I already did.
Ophelia:            You’re so hot. Let’s kill my dad..
Hamlet:             Polonius?
Ophelia:            He’s a perv and talks like an Elizabethan.
Hamlet:             So do you.
Ophelia:            I know. Rip me. [Hamlet rips her bodice.] I saw him in my bedchamber fingering my knickers.
Hamlet:             Oh man, I’ll stab him in the arras.
Ophelia:            The ass?
Hamlet:           The arras – the curtain. I’ll stab him when he’s hiding behind the arras.
Ophelia:            You talking Elizabethan?
Hamlet:             Yeh.
Ophelia:            That’s why you’re italicizing?
Hamlet:             Uh huh.
Ophelia:            Grrr. Rip me.
Hamlet:             Wait – Here he cometh.
Ophelia:            Grrr.
Hamlet:             What the hell? That’s mom’s bedchamber. What kind of kinky-ass . . . Hey, yo! Polo! Wassup with the Peeping Tom? You peeping on the queen-my-mother, my-father’s-brother’s-lover?”
Polonius [Clutching his heart]:               Sire, I assure thee –
Hamlet [Drawing his sword]:                 I’ll assure you.
Polonius:           Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Hamlet:             You talking like Ben Franklin, old man?
Polonius:           Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Hamlet:             Wait a minute – That’s Elizabethan.
Ophelia:            Rip me?
Polonius:           Beware of entrance to a quarrel –
Hamlet:             Enough!
Polonius:            – but being in, bear it that the opposed may beware of thee.
Hamlet:              ENOUGH!
Polonius:           This above all –
Hamlet [Running his sword through Polonius]:    A rat!
Polonius [Dying]:          To thine own self be true.
Ophelia: [Regarding her fallen father]:    You killed him.
Hamlet:             Yeh.
Ophelia:            That’s hot.
Hamlet:             Yeh.
Ophelia:            Rip me.
Hamlet:             Later, babe. Right now, I got an uncle that needs killing.

"Mea Culpa"

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on "Mea Culpa"
May 032012
By Michael
Mea culpa. No time this week. No excuses . . . but no time. So, I post a picture – just one – from the Edgar Awards Banquet last Thursday. We weren’t quite an all-Criminal-Minds dinner party, but three of us were there – Meredith, Hilary, and I – and we carried the Criminal-Minds spirit with us, whatever that might mean.
So, until next time –

Children’s Programming

 Captain Kangaroo, Popeye, Rocky and Bullwinkle  Comments Off on Children’s Programming
Apr 192012

By Michael

When I was a young kid in the 1960s, I hated most children’s television.

I did love the cartoons and remember my earliest ideologically-driven fight being with one of my four-year-old friends over which cartoon to watch: Popeye the Sailor (my choice) or The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show (his). Captain Kangaroo also was okay, but only because he had a bowl haircut that looked much like my own and had a friend named Mr. Green Jeans. And Bozo’s Circus was great, mostly because it aired from Chicago, where I lived, and the Grand Prize Game promised extraordinary riches to kids like me.

But Romper Room creeped me out. I could deal with saying the Pledge of Allegiance with a wild-eyed hostess and with the snack-time prayer, but I knew not to trust the Magic Mirror. The hostess would stare through an empty plastic ring and chant like one of Shakespeare’s witches,

Romper, bomper, stomper, boo.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.

Magic Mirror, tell me today,

Have all my friends had fun at play?

Then, of course, the hostess would claim to see the children in “Televisionland”: “I can see Billy and Tommy and Debbie and Susan . . . .” In later episodes, the kind of spiraling special effects that used to represent hallucinatory and mesmeric experiences in films would accompany the appearance of the Magic Mirror. I remember feeling relieved when the hostess failed to see “Michael.”

My mother claims that I liked Mr. RogersNeighborhood, but it aired only from 1968 when I was already seven, so I’m pretty sure that she either is mistaking me for my younger brother or is the victim of one of those swirly, spirally things you could get sucked into on Romper Room.

I like to believe that I had good taste as a little kid. I still prefer Popeye over Rocky & Bullwinkle, though flying squirrels have risen in my opinion. Bozo now scares me as much as Mr. Rogers, and I only wish I still had enough hair to wear it like Captain Kangaroo.

A Questionnaire for Psychopaths

 Ants, Jiffy Pop, psychopaths  Comments Off on A Questionnaire for Psychopaths
Apr 052012

By Michael

Have you always suspected that you’re a psychopath? A short questionnaire will tell you all you need to know.

1. Ants are:

(a) Fascinating social insects belonging to the Formicidae family

(b) Capable of carrying six times their own weight but no where to be found when you’re looking for help moving the living room furniture

(c) Tastier than Jiffy Pop when cooked with a magnifying glass

2. Children are:

(a) God’s gift to the world

(b) Funny little things that vomit when spun

(c) Tastier than Jiffy Pop when cooked with a magnifying glass

3. Adults are:

(a) The caretakers of the world

(b) Overrated

(c) Not nearly as tasty as ants and children

4. Psychopaths are:

(a) Manipulative, shameless, conning trolls

(b) Callous, dangerous, controlling monsters

(c) The best dinner guests

Life at Thirteen

 Mike plus Kim Living in a Tree  Comments Off on Life at Thirteen
Mar 222012

By Michael

(1) What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The kid who wanders the hall between class periods and lights a Bic under the butts of classmates who are standing at their lockers. Also, having to explain the scorch marks on my jeans to my mother.

(2) Where would you like to live?

On a mountainside in Colorado by the side of a waterfall, next door to Kim Basinger.

(3) What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Long John Donuts from the German bakery on a Sunday morning. Kim Basinger.

(4) What fault do you most indulge?

I’m thirteen, so I try to indulge every fault equally and thoroughly.

(5) Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

This year I’m reading mostly nonfiction, especially the True Case Files of the FBI. Hoover interests me less than Ma Barker’s sons and Al Capone.

(6) Who are your favorite characters in history?

Kim Basinger.

(7) Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Ma Barker (as an anti-heroine). Kim Basinger.

(8) Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

See answer to question #5.

(9) Who is your favorite painter?

Picasso. Or Francis Bacon. Or Edvard Munch.

(10) Your favorite musician?

I’m in that sweet middle ground between the Beetles and Black Sabbath.

(11) What quality do you most admire in a man?


(12) What quality do you most admire in a woman?

Kim Basinger-ness.

(13) What is your favorite virtue?

See answer to previous question.

(14) What is your favorite occupation?


(15) Who would you most like to be?

I’m having a hard enough time just being myself to want to be someone else.

Trust Me

 donkey, Shakespeare, trust  Comments Off on Trust Me
Mar 082012

By Michael

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “trust” comes from the Latin for sucker punch. That’s not true, but when someone says the word – as in “Lend me twenty bucks, and I’ll pay you back right away; trust me,” or “Trust me; this won’t hurt” – I prepare for the worst. Except in rare situations, only untrustworthy people say, “Trust me.”

The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet tells Juliet, “There’s no trust, no faith, no honesty in men,” and who can blame her? In my first Joe Kozmarski mystery, The Last Striptease (which I like to think is the kind of mystery a descendent of Shakespeare would write if the bloodline had been thoroughly bastardized), Joe trusts people about as much as the Nurse does. When an old family friend says, “Trust me,” Joe replies, “Not a chance.” And he’s right to say it: the family friend is a crook.

If a salesman says, “Trust me,” buy a different product.

If a politician says, “Trust me,” vote for the opposition.

If a lover says, “Trust me,” check the phone log, and find another bed to sleep in.

Weird then that some of the saddest words are those that express a betrayal of trust: “I no longer trust you; you’ve lost my trust.” These words cut to the heart. They’re ones that no one ever wants to speak or hear.

Trust is a confidence game, a game of faith – blind faith, as all faith ultimately must be – but a life without it would be cynical and empty. So, may we all trust wisely and well, and if others betray our trust, may they suffer Shakespearean indignities: may their heads turn into donkey heads and may their hands never wash clean.

What City?

 Al Capone, Carl Sandburg, John Dillinger, The Bean  Comments Off on What City?
Mar 012012

By Michael

Okay, this is easy:

  1. A one hundred-ton silver bean lies in the heart of this city.
  1. One would think that a city with a bean in its heart would be soft, but not this city: Carl Sandburg called this city “the hog butcher for the world.”
  1. If you described this city as soft around the time that Carl Sandburg called it “the hog butcher for the world,” Al Capone probably would have shot you between the eyes.
  1. If Al Capone didn’t get you, John Dillinger would.
  1. Unless Dillinger was at the movies at the Biograph Theater in this city, which is where he was when he got shot to death.
  1. Dillinger wasn’t watching The Blues Brothers, though the movie is set in this city.
  1. Nor was he watching When Harry Met Sally (also set in this city) because he didn’t like chick flicks (which he thought were soft), though he might have been convinced to attend a chick flick had it been Valentine’s Day.
  1. But not if it was the day of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, which occurred in a garage in this city.
  1. This city is a friendlier place that it once was, though it’s still a city of broad shoulders (that’s Sandburg too).
  1. Now, you’re unlikely to get killed by either Al Capone or John Dillinger, even if you’re hanging out at The Bean.

I’m Easy

 Heaven's Dog, Obsession, seduction  Comments Off on I’m Easy
Feb 232012

By Michael

I admit it: I’m easy to seduce – a not unusual condition for a guy, but who am I to argue with biology?

A cheap date, I’m happy with the chicken mole at Nuevo Léon in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood (you can carry me out the door for less than ten bucks), though I’ll roll over and expose my belly if you treat me to a couple slices of abalone sashimi at Japonica in New York or a plate of vegetarian pork at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco.

Put Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” on the stereo when we get home and you’ll see me doing dances I really shouldn’t do. Play it a second time, and I’ll sing along using a fake Brazilian accent.

I don’t mind being plied with alcohol, my chosen brands being Maker’s Mark bourbon and Hornitos tequila – though I’ll drink most cabernets that sell for more than seven bucks a bottle and any beer, whatever the price.

But if you really want to move my soul, try a few lines from Raymond Chandler. Vivian Sternwood in The Big Sleep would be good. Say, “My God, you big handsome brute! I ought to throw a Buick at you!” and I’ll start humming Ravel’s Bolero. Follow it up with, “I loathe masterful men,” and steam will pour from my nose and ears. Or give me some James Cain. Try Cora from The Postman Always Rings Twice: say, “Yes! Yes, Frank, yes!” – substituting “Michael” for “Frank,” please – and I won’t say no.

Eyes, ears, tongue. These are the pathways to my desire – very wide pathways: superhighways, great salt flats.

Oh, but I’m also married – happily – and that makes my condition of easy seducibility both more difficult on the one hand and simpler on the other. On the one hand, my wife has seen me dance and is embarrassed and she’s unimpressed by my Brazilian accent. On the other hand, on every birthday I give her copies of The Big Sleep and The Postman Always Rings Twice, each Valentine’s Day I give her an Etta James CD, and you know where we go to dinner.

I Can’t Get No

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on I Can’t Get No
Feb 092012

When I was growing up in Chicago, the radio station WRXT mostly aired a consistent if idiosyncratic playlist, but now and then they juxtaposed genres, sounds, and styles. On those occasions, the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” might transition into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and “War Pigs” transition into a Beethoven piano sonata and the sonata transition into Miles Davis’s “On Green Dolphin Street.” They were (and are) a commercial station, but sometimes they behaved like the unruly, eclectic music fanatics they must have been before they put on their professional hats.

With the WXRT precedent behind me, I construct the following playlist or soundtrack for my life.

Chet Baker, “Let’s Get Lost”

John Coltrane, “Naima”

“Whatever Lola Wants,” Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, as performed by Ella Fitzgerald

Buddy Johnson, “Since I Fell For You”

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Rolling Stones

“Blue Skies,” Willie Nelson

Celia Cruz, “Guantanamera”

Don Giovanni (Commandatore Scene), Mozart

“Dance This Mess Around,” B-52’s