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31 May 2008

Key Change

They simply have to make those electronic car keys smaller. In my most recent rash of cars — there are some among my acquaintance who swear that I change cars every time I change my shirt — the key thingies have grown successively larger and lumpier and more awkward to accommodate in pants pockets.

I suppose this is because the manufacturers, in their attempts to beat the competition, keep adding to the various sophistications that allow you not only to unlock and start the car but also to light up the neighborhood, play “Deutschland Über Alles,” squirt perfume, warm up the under-dash barbeque, pat and puff up the backseat pillows, and adjust the sun visors so that the built-in light flatters you and the reflection is that of your best side. All this before you’ve so much as swung your butt into the car.

To my mind, if they can make cell phones forever smaller they can sure as hell do the same with car keys.

And now that the subject of teeny-weeny cell phones has come up, my rant will embrace them as well.

I am not exactly a clumsy oaf, despite my senility, nor have I altogether lost my dexterity. If I go carefully I can trot up and down stairs with the speed of a turtle, and although my piano playing is no longer a threat to Dave Brubeck, I can manage to turn a tune with no big effort. But don’t ask me to punch up a local number on a cell phone, please. You do, and you’ll be likely to find yourself talking to the doorman at the Eiffel Tower.

I don’t know why the cell phone manufacturers insist on making those little buttons littler. Okay, so the smaller the electronics the bigger the movie screen and the faster the dishwasher and computer and fax machine they can squeeze into what looks like milady’s pill box. Something’s got to give, and so the push buttons are it. I understand that, I really do. But how about us guys who just want to make a phone call? Who want to hear what the guy at the other end is saying? Who expect the damned thing just to ring instead of sounding like the Berlin Philharmonic taking off on Vivaldi? Why must we ham-handed, weak-eyed types squint and use a ballpoint pen to punch in a plumber’s number, then use a stethoscope to hear what the blighter’s saying?

All this puffing and blowing is the direct result of an experience I had yesterday.

I needed to get a new suit altered, so I took it down US 1 to the seamstress I depend on to keep me looking like Tom Sellick. Once there, I was required, of course, to enter one of those little change rooms and exchange the pants I was wearing for the new ones. Despite my claims to agility, this was much like asking me to pull on a deep sea diver’s suit while standing in a phone booth. But I managed eventually and, transaction and delivery date finally agreed upon, I left for home, rumpled but satisfied. Until, that is, I got home and found that my cell phone was missing.

I hardly ever use one of those holster things you get with a cell phone because I just can’t find a location on my belt that’s comfortable. If I wear it where I can reach it, it provides a vexing obstacle to the normal movement of my arms. If I wear it to the rear, my shirt bulges like a DEA agent’s. If I wear it forward, I look pregnant. So my custom is to carry the phone in my right pants pocket because it’s not only more convenient there, it also — as small as it is — helps my change purse, jackknife, wallet, and keyhole light and chain to counter the list to port caused by the weight of my car keys, which I always carry — all by themselves — in the left pocket.

But now the right pocket, still brimming with purse and knife and wallet and flashlight, was devoid of anything cell-phonish. The left pocket was its usual key-swollen self, but nowhere could I find the phone. I rummaged in the car, I looked under beds, I ransacked the closet. No phone. I called the seamstress, and she, showing proper concern, hurried to the change room for a fruitless examination and even sent a couple of her workers to the parking lot to see if I might have dropped it there. I examined every square inch of driveway, kitchen, stairs, hallway, and bedroom I’d been likely to travel upon my return to the house. Despairing, I opened the newspaper and searched for prices on new cell phones, then headed for the car and a drive to the store offering the best deal.

You got it.

When I reached into my left pants pocket to pull out the car keys, the cell phone came with them. Somewhere in all the shuffling. I’d absently placed it in the wrong pocket, and it was so small and the key thingie was so large, I never felt the difference.

Grumpy? Who the hell is grumpy?


Notes on The Blood Order

From the day in 1964 when I held my first copy of The Blue Max in my hand, I envisioned a sequel. But time and fate intervened (as they do with everything), and it wasn’t until some fifteen years and a half-dozen novels later that the idea became a hard-back book entitled The Blood Order.

Ironically, the time gap was triggered by the success of my second novel, The Expendable Spy. In those days, tales of espionage and international intrigue had become a really big thing in the literary and motion picture arts, and because Spy had made such a splash, and because spy spoofs à la Matt Helm and others were making big bucks in both venues, my editor at E. P. Dutton gave me what was virtually a direct order to write a comic spy novel for my third time at bat. My effort, One of Us Works for Them, did so well I found myself locked into that genre for years to come. (I’ll get into this more thoroughly when the first chapter of that novel is presented in a future issue of this blog.)

As anyone who has seen the movie version of The Blue Max knows, the central character, Bruno Stachel, ended up dead in a plane crash ordained by a member of the German General Staff. Not so in my novel. Since I had visions of a sequel, I wasn’t about to kill off my main guy. It was a disappointment for me, this drastic alternative whomped up by the Hollywood moguls, but, what the hey, books are books and movies are movies, and besides, they made me cry all the way to the bank. Still, it rankled and I think that when I finally got around to writing the sequel I did so in great part out of defiance.

In any event, The Blood Order became a big success, so much so George Peppard, who played Stachel in the movie, tried to buy the movie rights. But at the time he and the studio were on the outs and he couldn’t get the backing for what was implicitly a huge-budget movie. So he had to pass, and I had to be satisfied with the rather astonishing amounts I was being offered by paperback publishers here and abroad as well as mainline hardback publishers in London, Paris, Copenhagen, and the like. Interestingly, there was never a German edition of Max and its trilogy (completed with The Tin Cravat) because in those years the German government had laid an absolute ban on any discussion of Nazism and German militarism in all media and in all the classrooms nationwide. And even more interesting was the fact that the German government permitted the showing of The Blue Max movie because the studio had rewritten the end, in which the hated General Staff decreed that Stachels’ transgressions merited the ultimate punishment. Go figure. . . .

So then, for whatever curiosity it satisfies or whatever entertainment it offers, we present herewith the first chapter of The Blood Order.


Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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