Posts Tagged ‘Under the Gun’

True Fact/Bar Fact, the Vowel Edition

Friday, January 8th, 2010

We all know that two English words — facetiously and abstemiously — feature all the vowels in alphabetical order. Well — true fact or bar fact? — there are NO English words that feature all the vowels in reverse alphabetical order. Check back Monday for my considered opinion.

And by the way, if you haven’t checked out my groovy promo video for The California Roll on my website, now is probably the perfect time to do so. True fact! Just click the pic.

THE CALIFORNIA ROLL cover draft small

More later, -jv (John Vorhaus, which I only mention for the search engines).

A Fortitious Happenstance

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

So it’s Sunday, my designated writing day, and I’m banging away on my next novel (The Albuquerque Turkey, due out in 2011, so it damn well better be finished by then!) I’m arguing with myself over whether fortitious is a word. I know fortuitous is, but I’m thinking that fortitious might be my own English-to-English false cognate. So I go to the internet to glean the opinion of consensus reality. Wikipedia thinks I mean fictitious. Webster just laughs. But Google returns some 1,860 hits for  fortitious. That’s not much by internet standards (fortuitous returns 1.6 million hits) but still it’s not nothing.

I’m curious to know how others treat the word, so I click about for a moment or two, and thus find my way to “Donna Zagotta’s Art Blog” ( The use of fortitious wasn’t even hers; it appeared in the text of a reader’s comment, in response to Donna’s post about being a member of an art show jury. And now here comes the fortitious happenstance, for Donna lists the (admittedly subjective) criteria by which she judges art. Here’s what she looks for:

– Work that is personal, unique, creative, and imaginative.

– Work that contains a personal visual language.

– Work that is well put together and creatively designed.

– Work that is fully resolved and contains a complete statement.

– Work that communicates something meaningful, whether a subject is present or not.

– Work that contains beauty. Not beauty for pretty’s sake, but the kind of beauty that results when the artist is authentically engaged with process, design, subject, and meaning.

– Most of all, I look for work that contains the artist’s passion.

And I realize — fortitious happenstance — that I look for essentially the same thing in a writer’s work. People often ask me how I know if a writer “has it.” I always said that I don’t know, I just know. But thanks to Donna Zagotta, I now have (and you now have) an objective set of criteria for subjective aesthetic judgment. And that’s certainly not nothing, and surely worth the ten minutes’ detour from my work.

So thanks for that, Donna; I’ll be pitching your standards as early as tomorrow morning here in Moscow, because the writers I work with are ever in need of clear, concise guidelines, and these are among the best I’ve seen. Don’t worry; I’ll give credit where it’s due, and you may end up getting more hits at your blog. More even, maybe, than fortitious.

And the last word on fortitious, campers? Of course it’s a word. I declare it a word. Which you knew from the start that I’d do, didn’t you?

More later, -jv

The Week Got Away

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

So I went out last Sunday to a gallery show, and took some pictures of some pictures I wanted to share with you. Now, all of a sudden, it’s Saturday. Where did the week go? Well, where they’ve all gone: into a haze of long days peppered with documents to review, notes to give, meetings to attend, and then more documents to review for the next day’s merry-go-round — leavened, thank God, with the occasional expats’ poker game. I’m not complaining — still not complaining! — every day is a workaholic’s holiday in Moscow. But I did mean to post these pictures before now. Anyway, now it’s now, and here they are, some examples of contemporary Russian and European art, currently on sale near the Kremlin at prices that beggar imagination.

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Moscow 12-09 028

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And then this is me, stopping at a shopping center on the way home to try on the latest in Russian adventure-wear.

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And finally some buskers, following the internationally honored tradition of singing to people who just don’t care.

Moscow 12-09 043

It’s getting cold down there in those underpasses now. After last week’s record high temperatures, the mercury has plummeted through cold and too cold, all the way down to stupid cold. I don’t mind. I’m heading home to California in ten days, where “cold” means maybe I won’t wear shorts today. And yes, I’ve re-upped — I’ll take another shift at the mine from late January until March first. But, again, I don’t mind. After all, I work indoors, don’t have to walk anywhere I don’t choose to, and since I have a driver, I never have to get into a cold car. That’s huge if you hate winter. The weird thing is, I’m not even hating it. Could it be that I’ve thickened my California blood with Moscow borscht? No, not possible. I don’t eat borscht.

Okay, well, time to dive back into my week. Workaholic’s holiday, la la la.

More later, -jv

The Good Cognac

Friday, December 4th, 2009

When you’re in my line of work, sometimes people give you gifts. When you work in Russia, some of your colleagues may hail from the region of Dagestan, where the cognac is considered to be quite nice. When your Dagestani colleagues give you a gift, it may be freshly-brewed cognac, in the packaging of choice, a five-liter water bottle. It might look a lot like this.

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Is it tasty? Well, I could tell you that it’s far and away the best Dagestani cognac I’ve ever had, but that would be flip, so let me be slightly less so:  I like it — and I don’t like cognac.

Not like the pepper-flavored vodka someone once gave me that, “started like Tabasco sauce and finished like paint thinner.”

Meanwhile, we have some interesting skies these Moscow December days and nights. Here’s two views.

Moscow 12-09 001

Moscow 12-09 004

Must run now. Work beckons. At least I have the good cognac to come home to. More later, -jv

True Fact/Bar Fact: Heavy Metal Issue

Monday, November 30th, 2009

True fact or bar fact? In the 19th century, aluminum…

aluminumwas worth more than gold.

goldWell, was it?

More later, -jv

My Two Thanksgivings

Friday, November 27th, 2009

All things considered, it wasn’t too bad. As planned, I went to the Starlight Diner, this place…

John Vorhaus

Where they have old-timey American ads like these…

John Vorhaus John Vorhaus

Beer like this…

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Mustard like this…

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And wonderful colleagues like these…

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(Colleagues sold separately.)

I chose the traditional Thanksgiving repast of Buffalo Chicken Wrap, which I forgot to photograph until, really, too late.

Moscow 2-09 034

Speaking of late, I managed to make the late-night expatriates’ poker game with these guys.

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So… convivial meal of sketchy provenance with (new) good friends… lively poker till the wee smalls… Moscow Thanksgiving… I guess I’ve got plenty to be thankful for after all.

More later, -jv

Thappy Hanksgiving

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

This is my third straight Thanksgiving in Moscow, where, trust me, the holiday has as much local traction as Cinco de Mayo.  (Less, in fact, because at least with Cinco de Mayo there’s the attraction of tequila, an exotic change of pace from vodka. I keep reminding my Russian friends that, “You know you’ve had too much tequila when you go to brush something off your shoulder and it’s the floor.” But I digress…) So today is a typical workday for me. I’ll be vetting story ideas, editing scripts, sipping bad coffee and dreaming of the sun. Tonight, though, some of us expats are gathering at the Starlight Diner, which is as close to America as you’re likely to get in Moscow, unless you find yourself in the American Medical Clinic. (Where, trust me, you don’t want to find yourself. Last year I went in there to get a wound aspirated and walked out with a staph infection that kept me busy for many months. Yech. But, again, I digress.) Here’s a picture of the Starlight. Always wanted to enjoy my Thanksgiving repast in a red vinyl booth.

Starlight Diner

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. This is all just for comic effect. Actually, I think it’s pretty great, in a weird, perverse sort of way, that I’ve been in Moscow for three straight Thanksgivings. At least it suggests that I know how to do a job well enough to be invited back, and that’s not nothing. Also, I expect that tonight’s dinner will be shot through with the sort of siege mentality that ex-pats share. That can be fun. We’re none of us with our families, but at least we’re all in this together. It’s no substitute for being with family back home, and it’s surely no substitute for Slacksgiving, the annual ultimate frisbee extravaganza/can drive that I founded and host and have missed for the past three years. And oh, by the way, I have no real hope of having turkey. I’ve been down that road before. Here’s a table-shot of last year’s Thanksgiving repast, put together by Maxx and me from available parts.

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Not exactly the traditional approach. That’s a chicken instead of a turkey, a tart filling in for a pie, and some of the sketchiest mashed potatoes the world has ever seen.

Maybe tonight I’ll go for pizza. I understand that the pizza at the Starlight kicks ass.

Anyway, enjoy your Thanksgiving, whoever you are and wherever you are. And if you happen to be reading this blog in a place where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, go on down to the local ex-pat watering hole and watch the Americans dream of candied yams and football. Buy them some tequila. It’s not part of the Thanksgiving tradition, but they probably won’t say no.

More later, -jv

Not Just Another Pretty Phrase

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

The conversation among my anglophone friends turned to turns of phrase and I found myself using one of my favorites, “Avoid cliches like the plague.” After explaining why (I thought) this was funny, I recalled an essay I wrote years ago. Since my computer is now a dusty repository for everything I’ve ever written, I was able to haul it out and dust it off. Expand it, even, because I do believe in feeding a dead horse…

Not Just Another Pretty Phrase

My grandfather grew up in one of those quaint European countries that don’t exactly exist any more, and while he never quite mastered the English language, he was always an ardent fan. Or, as he would have put it, an eager beagle.

In my grandfather’s world, if you got in trouble you were up a creek without a puddle. If you admired someone, you’d want to follow suit in their footsteps. If you were odd, you stuck out like a green thumb. When he wanted to examine something closely he’d go over it with a fine toothbrush. If you were a good person, he’d call you a diamond in the rut. To fool someone was to pull the wood over their eyes. An achievement was a feather in your nest.

Of all his grandchildren I think I was his favorite. He used to call me a chip off the old shoulder. We were close, he’d say, like two peas in a pot, through fast and famine, come hell or hot water. Still, he was always warning me not to wreck the boat, bite off more than I could choose, or get too big for my bridges. Which he urged me to burn when I came to them.

He greatly admired President Kennedy, whom he described as “head and shoulders above water,” and “not just a flash in the can.”  He was proud to say that he supported the man long before everyone else jumped on the bandstand. Nixon, though, was a horse of a different collar, and Ford he judged dense as a London frog. And that was just the tip of the icebox! Carter and Clinton were a pair of country pumpkins, Reagan was a bull in Chinatown, and Bush father and son, “the bland leading the bland.”

He likewise put popular culture under the microphone. He liked movies that kept him on the edge of his teeth, but hated ones that fell apart at the scenes. Old-fashioned music, he said, had missed the beat, but when he fell for a song, he swallowed it all: hook, line and singer. Of modern art he simply said, “There’s a sucker bored every minute.”

He had a knack, that man. He could kill two birds with one bush, cut to the cheese, blend an ear, make a mountain out of a manhole, vanish into thin ice, let the cat out of the hat, and whip up a tempest in a teaspoon. He’s the only man I know who could have his cake and take it too.

No babe in the weeds, he made his own hay in this world, or, as he liked to put it, “pulled his own leg.” He kept his ear to the grindstone and his feet on the ball. Never having ridden the gravy boat, he knew better than to cut off his nose to split his face. He was a man of action, ready to nip any problem in the butt. He never changed horses in midtown, or waited for the other shoe to shine.

Beggars, he noted, can’t be cheaters. They shouldn’t act so high and dry. Just the same, he was always ready to roll out the magic carpet for company, even his no-good brother, who was constantly reinvesting in the wheel and looking for a noodle in a haystack. He called his brother a flaw in the ointment and warned that, “A fool and his money are soon partners.” His brother had feats of clay, he lamented, and was always barging up the wrong tree.

When he met his wife (“the old ball ‘n’ socket”), it was love at first base. They were young when they married, “still wed behind the ears,” poor as church keys and living from hand to hand. Later, when she became a milestone around his neck, he found that she left a lot to be despised, and feared that she would eat him out of house and garden. “Oil and vinegar,” he often cautioned me, “don’t mix.” Still, he gave it the old cottage try, even though she made him madder than a wet blanket, for he knew her like the back of his head and, at the end of the rope, familiarity breeds content.

A natural philosopher, he knew you can’t put toothpaste back in the tub, and that Rome wasn’t burned in a day. “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it,” he’s say, likewise encouraging me not to punt myself into a corner, put the horse before the cart, and especially not to stick out like a sore throat, because, “The squeaky wheel gets the grief.” Once in a blue mood, he’d accuse me of looking at the world through rose-covered glasses, but later claimed he was just yanking my chin.

As he grew older, he came to terms with the modern world, and learned to play his credit cards close to his vest. He could never teach an old DOS new tricks, but had better luck tilting at Windows. In his Twilight Zone years he noted that he was no springing chicken and furthermore not longing for this world. He wasn’t trying to make a slick purse out of a sow’s ear or glide the lily; he could just read the writing on the wallpaper, that’s all. He was old as the halls, ready to throw in the trowel.

And now he’s passed on. Having kissed the bucket and bidden the dust, he’s pulling up daisies, out of his miniseries at last. Things are quiet now that he’s gone, so quiet you can hear a pin cushion. And when I find myself missing him most, I remind myself that there’s no use crying over skim milk or, for that matter, beating a deaf horse. It’s just the dark before the storm. Every silver lining has a cloud and every DOS has its day. I tell myself these things and I start to feel better.

Guess I’m just a chip off the old shoulder after all.

Overdue Props

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

It’s Sunday night in Moscow. I’ve finished all my homework, yay me, and I’m girding my existential loins for another intense week of labor in Moscow. I’ll have the usual “circuit court judge” rounds: Monday at Gorky Studio, Tuesday at the Happy Together production offices, Wednesday at the Sony office, Thursday at Amedia Studios, and Friday, well, that space intentionally left blank. One thing I like about my job — it’s a juggling act. Never the same from day to day, and always something that needs to be done. Documents to review, notes to give, opinions to offer, even — from time to time — some real writing. No complaints about the work. Nor even about the weather, which continues to be balmy (by Moscow in November standards). Many degrees above freezing almost every day. And while the ten-day forecast doesn’t even lie in promising sun (no one would believe it anyhow), neither does it look like the temperature’s going to fall off the table any time soon, so yay weather. It’s all good.

While I have a moment, let me offer overdue mad props to my web designer, Anne Francis. Anything you like about this new website of mine, either in terms of graphic presentation or functionality, you can thank Anne. She has a touch, that gal, and I am in her debt. Should you happen to be in the market for a new website, visit, and tell ‘er JV sent ya.

Here’s what St. Basil’s Church looks like, under current conditions.

John Vorhaus

And here’s the ceiling of the G.U.M. department store.

Killer Poker

Parts of Moscow are pretty. The rest of Moscow is Moscow.

More later, -jv

Oh, PS: Bar fact. Total bar fact. No one got it right.

True Fact or Bar Fact?

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

The city of Yekaterinburg, Russia, recently launched an anti-corruption campaign by commissioning some 40 cartoonists, artists and illustrators to contribute anti-corruption messages for exhibition.

John Vorhaus

The campaign fell into scandal when it was revealed that the city official responsible for commissioning the art work was demanding kickbacks — up to 50 percent of the commissioning fee — from participating artists.

True fact or bar fact? -jv