A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #11 – The Bench

I don’t know why I stopped in Nanjing on my way to Beijing. Someone had said it was good. Buddhist temples, a mausoleum for Dr. Sun Yat-Sen… Why not? I had time to burn and no place else to be.

It was only after I arrived, hot and grimy and exhausted from late night travel on a crowded train, that I learned from a guidebook that Nanjing was called one of China’s Three Furnaces. And of course, it was August. Fantastic. The sweat was already pooling in my eyes.

After hauling my backpack across the city I learned something else: the hotel for foreigners would not open until late that afternoon. I stood in shock, desperate for a bed that would not be available for six more hours. Behind the counter they were hosing down the cement floor of the foyer. I wanted to lie down on it. I don’t need a bed! Just let me take off my shirt and lie down there! Just let my skin absorb the cool, clean water!

I babbled some Chinese, attempting to propose this alternative, clarifying the request by citing the example of the lizards that absorbed water through their skin as a means of hydration.  The man behind the desk stared at me as I spoke, his hand slowly reaching for the phone. I’d seen this before: invariably the call would be to the authorities, and a man in uniform would soon arrive to shout a million questions at me. I left before anyone could confiscate my passport and returned to the full blast of the furnace.

Only six hours. And also: six whole hours! A sign on a bank said it was 38 degrees Celsius; I was too tired to do the conversion to Farenheit but knew it was over 100. Beyond that point, what does it matter?

I trudged through the hot heavy air as if I were walking uphill through a crowd of people. What would I do for six hours? I had seen a picture of the mausoleum, it had a million steps and no shade. I needed rest first.

I found myself in a park with exactly two trees. The sun pounded me and everything I could see. The concrete was bright white and reflecting heat like a solar oven.

I needed not to move. This was the best place I could find where I would not be arrested. Others were here, lying sprawled on the benches. They looked like dead bodies, struck down by the heat. It looked like a better than option than standing up or walking around.

Every square inch of shade from both trees was occupied. Even the outskirts of the shadows were mobbed, as people had anticipated the movement of the sun and the new shade that would be cast.

The benches were all initially taken too, but in a great stroke of luck a man rolled off one and fell onto the ground. He crawled away, finding some comfort underneath another bench. I waited a minute to make sure he had left the first one behind. He had! Completely abandoned! All mine now!

And a second stroke of luck: a flagpole, unseen before, was casting a thin strip of shade across part of the bench! I could position my body so it covered my eyes. Or my neck. Whatever I wanted! I could fold my body, or try to shrink it, to maximize the benefits of this incredible gift.

It should have been inspiring, being so in touch with my body, living in nature the way I was, forcing myself to endure and survive. I had read that in some forms of Buddhism even non-sentient things can have a soul. Maybe that’s true under certain conditions. But it’s a lot easier to believe in the life force of inanimate objects when gazing upon a mountain or waterfall than it is when you’re staring at a cracking granite bench spotted with birdshit.

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Free Books! Let the Goodreads Giveaway-ing Begin! [Update: The Contest Has Closed]

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Promotion by Jacke Wilson

The Promotion

by Jacke Wilson

Giveaway ends June 04, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win
Here we go! The folks at Goodreads have approved the application and are now hosting a Goodreads Giveaway for my short novel, The Promotion, the “full of intrigue and deadpan comedy” book that everyone’s talking about. That’s right! Five lucky readers will be sent a signed paperback copy of the book, FOR FREE. What’s the catch? Well, Goodreads encourages you to post a review afterwards, but it’s not a requirement. No catch!

What are you getting? A sleek novel about a hard-luck lawyer asked to direct the recruiting efforts for his firm. As he and his miserable colleagues attempt to reel in some idealistic young law students through lies and misguided bonhomie, his mounting disillusion gives way to an obsession with a mysterious woman, culminating in a quest to discover her true identity – and perhaps to learn something about himself.

How do you sign up? Follow one of these links:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Promotion by Jacke Wilson

The Promotion

by Jacke Wilson

Giveaway ends June 04, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

I’m excited to see how all this works. You have a week to sign up. I’ll keep the link on the sidebar until then.

Of course, if you’re not a Goodreads member, or if you’d rather not roll the dice in a contest, you can always purchase the books at Amazon.com (Kindle and Paperback both available). It’s less than five bucks, so hopefully it won’t break anyone’s budget. But if you’re a reviewer, I still have review copies available, so let me know and I’ll ship you one for free. Everyone wins!

UPDATE: The Contest Has Closed!

Winners have been notified and will receive their books shortly. Thanks to everyone who participated (over 900 of you)! If you were one of the unfortunate readers who missed out this time around, but you are still interested in receiving a FREE review copy, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. And to all the winners, I hope you enjoy The Promotion! Onward and upward!

Coming Soon: A Goodreads Giveaway!

Readers, big news! I just signed up for a Goodreads Giveaway, which means that FIVE SIGNED COPIES of the paperback version of The Promotion will be given away FOR FREE to Goodreads members who sign up for the contest. That’s right, soon five lucky readers will be given the chance to immerse themselves in 105  pages of misery, obsession, and madness. (“Laugh-out-loud funny,” a reader told me last night. There are a lot of miserables in this world!)

So why post now? Well, I just thought I should give a heads up to all my readers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Free books are on the way! Oh, and of course, the giveaway is open to all my readers in THESE countries too:
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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #10 – The Spitwad

Here’s something I’ve learned: teachers are human.

They’re not superheroes or gods. Not saints or demons. They’re human beings, with flaws and weaknesses like all the rest of us.

Don Ward was a fine man who taught high school biology to undeserving students in the same crumbling, run-down building for forty-three years.

How bad was our school? When I was there, ceiling tiles used to fall crashing to the floor. I’d never actually seen one drop, but at least once a month we’d see one in the hallway by the lockers, broken on the ground with a cloud of white smoke that was probably 100% asbestos. In the ceiling, there’d be a gap that stayed there forever, never to be filled. No money in the budget. Or maybe nobody cared enough to bother.

Not such a great workplace for Don Ward. How did he do it? Why did he stay? It was impossible to know, because he exhibited no personality whatsoever. Zero. His face barely moved when he spoke. With his plain brown mustache covering his upper lip, you literally could not detect any change in his expression for hours at a time. He never smiled. It was like being taught by Buster Keaton without any of the physical comedy.

That was our biology class. Day after day, Mr. Ward stood in front of the class in his drab plaid shirts, droning on about chlorophyll and flowering plants. And in exchange for his years of service he was mocked and jeered and verbally abused by the teenagers who knew everything and had all the power.

Yes, power. Who knows where this power comes from? Teenagers are desperate, scared, and self-conscious. And also cocky, fearless, and totally in control.

I used to feel sorry for Mr. Ward. If only he’d tell a joke once in a while, he’d probably have a better chance connecting with some of the renegades forced to take his class. That’s all it took for other teachers, who could pal around a little. Anything to prove he was not a robot. If only he’d ask if anyone had seen the World Series the night before. Or say he heard something interesting in church last week. Or raise his voice in anger. Or smile.

But no: Donald Ward delivered his lecture in the same way, sentence by boring sentence, until the class, forced to submit to this for months at a time, had developed a kind of of pent-up frenzy. These were high school students, after all. Adolescents! Their insides were full of raging energies that had to be discharged. They needed to show off, to thump chests, to flirt, to challenge authority. They needed all this to survive.

In other classes, the teachers released this energy with a few little quips now and then, letting the students laugh and tease and push back, so the air would clear and the business of learning could begin. It was like the quick open-and-shut of a pressure valve.

Not in Mr. Ward’s class. In Mr. Ward’s class it was all pressure, no valve. For months. Something had to give.

Which brings me to the glorious day when Mr. Ward told a joke. Well, sort of a joke.

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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #9 – The Intersection


I missed The Lion King the first time around, but they re-released it for people like me. Parents with young kids looking to kill an afternoon at the movies. A new generation.

“Jeremy Irons is in it,” my wife says, trying to generate enthusiasm.

“Oh yeah. Him. And Randy Newman songs?”

“Elton John. You know, Circle of Life and all that. Hakuna Whatever.” She scans the computer screen. “Huh. It says here the story’s based on Hamlet.”

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Tormented Philosophers In Love

You can have your Samsons and Delilahs, your Romeos and Juliets, your Abelards and Heloises. I’ll take Kierkegaard and Regine.

Whether in spite or because of the ominous journey ahead of her, Regine made an important decision, it seems, on the day of her departure: she sought out a strange man to whom she had once been engaged; a man who had left her, and to whom she had not spoken in 14 years. But if they had not spoken, Regine Olsen and Søren Kierkegaard had not exactly remained strangers either. For years they had passed each other on their walks throughout the city, often in an openly calculated fashion. On Kierkegaard’s 39th birthday, for instance, Regine suddenly appeared on the street in front of his home on Østerbro. “As often happens to me of late, I can’t help but smile when I see her,” the melancholy Dane wrote in his journal. His smile was returned, whereupon the birthday boy removed his hat in greeting. Then, as if by agreement, the old lovers again went their separate ways.

That’s Morten Høi Jensen writing in the L.A. Review of Books. Anyone the least bit familiar with Kierkegaard’s writings will know how tormented he was by the unfulfilled love he had for Regine. Now we hear Regine’s side of the story – and we learn that she too felt a connection to him.

So what happened?

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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #8 – The Burger Car

Home from traveling, I jump into the gray Corolla. I’ve been a Five Guys Dad lately, flying to Los Angeles for work and back home on weekends to take the boys to soccer and movies and the library and their favorite restaurant. It’s not an ideal way to parent, but what can you do? My job requires it, and my life requires my job.

As usual, I’m first. As I wait, the smell inside the car rises up and makes me shudder. Old burgers and fries. The smell of a grill, the smell of grease. I do not feel like I do when I’m on a sidewalk and the hot fumes coming out of a bar make me hungry and eager to go inside. This smell is stale and disgusting and I hate it.

I’ve never liked this car. I was forced to buy it in a hurry (two cars in two days) when moving here from New York and starting a new life. Everything was rushed then, everything was secondary to trying to keep a toddler and an infant fed and clothed and safe. I overpaid for the car; my half of the negotiations still stands as a particularly disgraceful display of weakness on my part.

Hate the car. And now I can’t even muster up the energy to replace it. My wife never drives it. It sits here all week, its slaughterhouse smell trapped inside like The Ghost of Weekends Past. The good times have faded, left behind like grease-splattered paper bags.

With one exception (when a rat chewed through some hoses), the car has been dependable. I hate it anyway. I hate the color, it’s too small, it’s boring, the carpet is already practically destroyed. We’ve abused it with spills and mud and orange peels and juice boxes and crumbs. The car is filthy, inside and out; the windows are crusted with bird droppings; crumbs and bits of leaves line every possible groove. Being in here makes me feel weak and unhealthy and ashamed.

And now there’s the smell. The smell that conjures up all my frustrations.

Here’s Proust on his famous madeleine:

And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.

Extraordinary changes? Perhaps—but in my case, they were all going in the wrong direction.

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Small Press Shout-Out: Valancourt Books!

Here’s what I love about small presses: they’re quirky, they look for (and fill) niches that the big guys have missed, and they often appear to be as governed by personal passions as market research.

Today’s shout-out, Valancourt Books, is no exception. Their catalog sports many overlooked and forgotten gothic books. Because they’ve identified a missed opportunity? Maybe. Because they think there’s a readership out there who would love to see these books dusted off and brought out in new editions? Maybe.

Because they just plain love these books? Definitely.

Publisher and general editor James D. Jenkins has the story:

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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #7 – The Keyboard


Every kid in school was afraid of the music teacher.

The grownups didn’t understand this. Miss Steiner had been teaching forever – she had taught the grandparents of some of my classmates – and when she had been young she had apparently been kind and patient and not yet disillusioned. To us, though, she was impossibly old.

And worse than being old, she had gotten mean.

At least it seemed mean at the time. Now I think it was probably a vast internal cauldron of frustration, simmering for years, now boiling over. Decades of teaching music to elementary school children had taught her one thing: children are terrible at music no matter what you do. And the corollary statement: if you are someone who loves music, then observing this phenomenon up close, day after day, year after year, will destroy you.

By the time our generation came along, Miss Steiner was desperate to save Music from the butchering hands of grade school kids with no talent. She would accompany soloists at recitals, pounding the keys of her piano in an attempt to drown out some poor clarinetist murdering a rendition of “I Love You Truly.” She played with desperation, as loud as she could, sweating and clenching her teeth and gasping for breath at the end of each song. It was as if she had no choice – as if Music itself had demanded it of her.

Music class was taught on the school’s stage, a dark, cavernous area separated from the gymnasium by a heavy curtain. Someone said Miss Steiner lived back there, like a troll, which I doubted but could never quite disprove. Sightings of her outside the school were rare and unconfirmed. Someone said they saw her at a restaurant once, where she was eating pancakes, and someone else said they saw her walking on a sidewalk with a man during Cheese Days. Both of these were impossible to imagine.

Another rumor informed us that Miss Steiner’s gray, wiry, bouffant hairdo was actually a wig. A girl reported that she’d seen Miss Steiner with her hands on her scalp, adjusting her hair as you might a poorly fitting helmet. I don’t know why the idea of a wig terrified us so much, but it did, as if Miss Steiner were not a music teacher at all but secretly some kind of space alien or bald monster.

Now that I’m an adult, my guess is that she was not adjusting her false hair. I would bet she was trying to press out a migraine headache. She was anxious and angry and had pretty much lost control of both her classroom and herself. If you told me she drilled holes in her skull to release the pressure, I would not be all that surprised.

During small group sessions she was usually fine. She could even demonstrate patience, now and then. But when conducting the entire band, she had completely given up any hope of sanity or rational behavior. Wearing a blue pantsuit and nurse’s shoes, she stood on a raised wooden platform, whipping a baton that had long ago splintered from the abuse it had endured at her hands. The way she whipped that thing around, slicing the air and battering the music stand in front of her, was simply incredible. More than once I had seen her hit herself in the eye with her own baton, an obviously painful event, but she only blinked and muttered and resumed screaming.

Yes, screaming. It was the hallmark of her performance: in both recitals and concerts, she screamed through every single song.

Kevin, no! Kevin! Kevin Schlotzky!—NO NO NO NO NO!… Not yet, drums. DRUMS! DRUMS!! NOT YET!!!! You—you with the flute! Like this! Like this! Da-DA-da. Da-DA-da! [whipping baton against music stand] KEVIN SCHLOTZKY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU ARE PLAYING THE WRONG SONG! PUT YOUR INSTRUMENT DOWN, KEVIN, PUT IT DOWN AND DON’T PICK IT UP AGAIN!

I would say Miss Steiner was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but that can’t be right. Surely the breakdown had happened long ago. By the time I reached fourth grade we had to be at least a full decade in.

You might think that all this had soured me on music, but here was the thing: somehow I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to learn to play the piano.

And as everyone knew, Miss Steiner was the only piano teacher in town.

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Review of The Race: “Warm and Full of Life…”

“[A] delightful novella about politics, scandal, reputation and above all, the importance of love…” – mylittlebookblog

Readers, it’s a very good day here on the Jacke Blog. My novella The Race has been reviewed by mylittlebookblog, and the results have had me smiling all day.

I’m not sure which is my favorite snippet. Maybe the one at the top. But this is good too:

Although the book is short, Wilson also manages to make the characters warm and full of life whilst being well structured with evocative personalities.

Thank you! And there’s more:

Wilson manages to exert meaning and feeling from the characters’ personalities onto the reader, in a candid style but with humour.

I won’t disagree! The rest is too good to interrupt…

  • The writing style is also a real credit to the writer and it not only gives the whole book a certain manner but it also makes the reader feel wholly consumed by the novel…
  • I (honestly) read this is one go; I could not help but keep reading in which to know what was going to happen next…
  • I fell in love with this humorous and clever story because overall it is an extremely realistic tale of tragedy…
  • …beautiful prose, well-defined characters and a real understanding of pace and writing style…

Really wonderful praise; I’m very grateful to Lizzy at mylittlebookblog for giving this such a good read and for writing such a positive and enthusiastic review. I’ll close with what’s my favorite quote (at least today – tomorrow I’ll probably savor a different one):

[W]e follow this campaign right through the end, to see whether the outraged public will forgive this disreputable politician or whether he will go down like a sack of bricks.

A sack of bricks! I might have to redo the cover to add that line.

What a thoughtful, generous review – a true delight to read. Thank you again, Lizzy!

You can read the full review at mylittlebookblog (and really that site should be a regular visit for you if it isn’t already).

And of course, you can find The Race at Amazon.com (in Kindle and paperback versions) and other formats and locations.

Are you a reviewer? Leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll ship you a free review copy. Or you can just read a free story about a football coach desperate to find some meaning in a winless season