Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Unker’s Amish voodoo balm

Still hobbling around with a bad back, but I think it’s making progress. I must have really tore up some muscle. Heating pads and Ben Gay have helped a lot, though. My sister told me about some Amish cream called Unker’s that is supposed to work wonders, if you can find a place to buy it. The web site (unkerssalve.com) is pretty hilarious, because it looks like it was designed in 1996, and is full of Jesus quotes and whatnot. The sidebar says “Listed on FDA Over the Counter Drug Registry. / Listed as OTC Drug Manufacturer by the FDA. / Stays Active for Years / To God be the Glory / No Turpentine Used.” Well, I’m glad they got out the turpentine. Her friend’s mom buys it by the case, because she blew out her knees praying. That’s a pretty good testimonial for atheism, especially to someone that spent about two months of 2006 in bed with a blown out knee.

I’m reading The Good German by Joseph Kanon, and I’ve got to say it’s a pretty damn decent book sofar. Yes, it’s a George Clooney vehicle on the silver screen, but the book is a lot more than that. It’s set in Berlin, the summer of 1945, when the occupation forces are trying to get things cleaned up and un-Nazified. The Russians and Americans are vying for their pieces in what will be a strongly divided pie in the future. The city is absolutely fucked – buildings smashed, no utilities, no coal for the upcoming winter, everyone shifting around the city, looting, cutting down trees in parks and city streets covertly at night for fireplace fuel. Cigarettes have become the new unoffical currency as a black market flourishes around silk, B-rations, smokes, booze, prostitutes, and oil. The Russians were stupidly given a set of plates for the occupation money, and they’ve printed it nonstop, flooding the currency market. And every German that wants a job (street sweeper, guard, pallbearer, whatever) has to be checked out to make sure they weren’t a Nazi, which makes the market for fake reference letters and paperwork lucrative. (i.e. a letter saying “I knew Mr. Falli when we were in Treblinka together, and he’s totally not a Nazi. Signed Rabbi I.M. Fictional”)

Anuway, all of this is a good setting for an excellent page-turner about a reporter finding out a crime that’s hard to unravel. The other reason I like the book so much is that I was just in Berlin, so all of the geographical references are very familar to me: the Ku’Damm, Zoo Station, Brandenburg Tor, and so on. But in the 1945 version, instead of glass malls and new shopping centers, it’s abject destruction, with still-smoldering ruins of houses sliced in half by allied bombs, and the Reichstag half destroyed and covered by Russian graffiti from the troops that overtook the city. Hitler’s bunker is still there (it’s now a parking lot) and the Russians won’t let anyone in, but every Pentagon brass hothead wants a picture there to send back to the kids. It’s interesting to intersect the two Berlins in my head and absorb that story.

A similar thing happens to me when reading fiction set in New York. I bought American Psycho I think when I was in Seattle (maybe Indiana) and I couldn’t get three pages into it. After I moved here and got the general gist of the city in my head, I read the book and loved it. Same goes for Catcher in the Rye; I read it when I was in high school and just thought it was about a snotty kid. But when I was able to overlay my knowledge of where the streets and subways were, it made it come alive in a totally different way.

I got Guitar Hero 2, and I’ve wasted some time in the last two nights with that. It has a new feature where if you play at a certain level through a group of songs, you’re asked to do an encore, and it picks a new song that isn’t on the list, and is generally cooler. The first three encores were Spinal Tap – Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You, Kansas – Carry on My Wayward Son; and Black Sabbath – War Pigs. So that’s fun.

Time to get ready for work. I wish I had a little more time in the morning, so I could get working on this journal book, but I’d rather sleep. At least this is a short week – TGIT.