Monday, December 30, 2013

Logrolling in My Time

Readers of a certain age (i.e. older) may recall Spy Magazine's pithy and satirical features and columns, specifically those with a focus on New York's crass 1980s cultural buffet of absurdity. Before I had even finished my first novel (which was published second), the Logrolling in our Time column stuck out for its deft exposure of cronyism in mainstream publishing. 

One author would write a praise-filled jacket blurb for a fellow author, and then, later on, that author would do the same for his/her colleague.

"See?" my frustrated twenty-something wannabe author self would mutter internally (and often externally). "That's why I'll never get a publishing deal!"

Actually, the reason was that my work at the time wasn't very good.  But it is true; logrolling, that is. One famous author offers a generous superlative, and readers and potential reviewers are then supposed to be impressed enough to like that book. 'Well, Famous Author #45 says it's good, so it must be.'

And so, books get sold, and trees get felled. At least that's what my naive self thought was the derivation of the term logrolling; the publication of books led to trees being sacrificed for authorial ambition.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


This is a photo of me with author David B. Feinberg at an ACT UP New York meeting at Cooper Union in 1990. Maybe it was 1991, or 1992. I don't remember. 

What I do remember is my desire to capture us together while the meeting took place in the historic East Village hall, where the AIDS activism group, having outgrown its weekly space at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village, continued to develop ideas for protests and information-gathering groups in the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

On that early evening, some thought in the back of my mind might have been, "He's going to die some day, and this photo, with the very interesting checkerboard tile pattern, may be one of our only documented moments together."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What the Traffic Will Allow

As any blogger does, I'm interested in which topics interest my readers. I should not be surprised that one post, "The Body Electric," that continually gets the most views is about hunks, particularly model and veteran Alex Minsky.

Not surprisingly, when a man poses nude or nearly nude, as Minksy has done (repeatedly, thank goodness), I should also not have been surprised that the top search phrase for my blog, most recently, has little to do with my novels about a gay couple, one of them who is a paraplegic, but about the hottie.

For the record, and the guys who keep typing "Is Alex Minsky gay?", no, he is not. He is hot, and a self-described "modely model" who appreciates his gay fans.

Minsky has also generously shared info about another handsome veteran, Christopher Van Etten, a double amputee who has posed nude for photographer Michael Stokes. Check out more (possibly NSFW) photos on Stoke's Tumblr.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

PINS, the audiobook trailer

"Listen to my muscle memory."

Finally, the trailer for the audiobook adaptation of my debut novel, PINS is here!

Praise for PINS the audiobook, narrated by Paul Fleschner:

“A genuine treat for lovers of great stories. The hero of PINS, little Joey Nicci, is the undersized member of his high school wrestling team, though he has an oversized libido, fanned by his major crush on a fellow wrestler. Joey is hands down one of the most engaging characters in all fiction.” – Victor J. Banis, bestselling gay fiction audiobook author

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Left Foot

Last week I almost became permanently disabled, and it wasn't an 'inspirational' moment; nope, actually, it was a pain in the ...foot.

It's all inextricably tied in with life, work and my creative writing, so bear with me if I get a bit tangled up.
On October 5, after seeing Lady Bunny's hilarious show, and while cycling to The SF Eagle for a photo shoot of local drag diva Moni Stat's 30th birthday party, I was riding through a notoriously dangerous intersection in south of Market, 9th and Harrison streets.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Parks and Wrecks

Of all the massively stupid things Republican politicians have done about the government shutdown, the pinnacle of GOP idiocy may be the Texan Republican congressman who stupidly tried to castigate a Washington D.C. park ranger for the park being closed, when its closure was his own damn fault.

His even more deranged colleague, Michelle Bachmann, tried to position herself in a photo opportunity as being sympathetic to disabled veterans who took over a World War II memorial. Bachmann, who literally cheered for the government shutdown, is a prime example of corruption. Not only is her campaign under investigation for financial abuses. She is also one of biggest recipients of Koch Brothers/Tea Party funding.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Gay Old Time

What's it like to be in a longterm relationship? Well, don't ask me. I have no idea. So, why am I writing a novel that (hopefully) portrays the possibility of a life-long love affair? Because it's interesting. 

Take the story of John Banvard and his partner Gerard Nadeau. The two gay seniors in Chula Vista, California held a wedding ceremony at their retirement home. The UK's Daily Mail refurbished a San Diego TV station's coverage of these adorable older men who decided to finally get hitched after spending decades together.

But their belated union wasn't without its controversies. Some of the older residents were ticked off, and even tried to get the rabidly idiotic Phelps clan to show up and protest. That failed.

So, too, do the sniping antigay comments on the website. These two men served our country in different wars, and yet the same sort of people who bleat "Support Our Troops" are often those who denigrate equality for these men after their service.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Read Me, Hear Me, Touch Me

It's always great when word gets out about my books, and those of my fellow authors. But when the same large corporation with whom you publish actively resists getting your books shared with disabled people, that's f*cked up.

The first published review of PINS the audiobook has been posted on Amos Lassen's blog

Here's a short excerpt: "What makes this novel so important is that we so identify with what goes on and it tears at our heartstrings. I found that reading this is difficult because of the subject matter but hearing it read really drives it home."

"Hearing it now made me realize how important this book it. The voice makes everything seem more real and [narrator Paul] Fleschner is able to capture that in his voice. Get a copy and sit down for a listen. You will not regret it, I guarantee."


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sochi: Catching Fire on Ice

Will Johnny Weir be the Katniss of the Sochi Winter Olympics?

The openly gay figure skater has stated in interviews that he is "prepared to be arrested" at the Sochi Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place February 7 to 23, 2014.

In a case of calculated evil, the repressive Putin regime in June enacted a law banning "gay propaganda."   

The law prohibits statements maintaining the "equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations." Foreign citizens who violate the law in the media face a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 rubles (up to $1500 U.S.), arrest for up to 15 days and deportation.

"If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention, and for people to lobby against this law, then I'm willing to take it," Wier said to CBS, adding: "Like anyone, I'm scared to be arrested. But I'm also not afraid of being arrested."

Sochi spokesmen have clearly stated that the anti-gay law will be enforced at the Olympics. Then the International Olympic Committee turned around and lied, saying that would not happen.

The result of the legislation has unleashed a flood of violent attacks on LGBT Russians. People have been assaulted, threatened, kidnapped and murdered. A gay newscaster who came out mid-broadcast was fired, and the state media outlet deleted any trace of his reports on YouTube.

The comparison to the film and books The Hunger Games seems apt. While the hairstyles and costumes may differ, the similarities are clear. The gargantuan hypocrisy of the futuristic terror in The Hunger Games also pervades the upcoming Winter Olympics, which have yet to begin.

But the Olympics-specific violence has. An electrician at an Olympic residential building where the Games will be held was raped and tortured by Russian police.  They deny any torture took place.

The threat of violence pervades the country. Competitors in the Olympics and the fictional Hunger Games are faced with threats from their rulers. Vaunted to international celebrity status, they ride a fine line between standing up for the common people and obeying their overlords just to stay alive. Meanwhile, outside the arena, thousands suffer.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dancing Barefaced

 It's a strange situation, feeling remotely sad when a celebrity dies. Cory Monteith, Karen Black; their passings mark significant cultural moments in our lives. 

Even the death of "minor" celebrities bring on a wistfulness, like that of Munchkin Margaret Pelligrini, and Cosmo Allegretti, who created and performed the Mister Moose and Bunny Rabbit puppet characters on Captain Kangaroo, as well as the oddly endearing Dancing Bear.

But the death of Sean Sasser denotes a different sort of celebrity. As the real-life boyfriend of Pedro Zamora on the first season of the MTV show The Real World, Sean and Pedro provided viewers with a pair of young, handsome and understated examples of gay men in a media world at the time still rife with stereotypes and homophobia. While Pedro brought a face to youth in the midst of a pandemic, Sasser's supportive nature supplemented that realistic media image with a hope that PWAs weren't always alone.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Iron Man, too

It's rather bold for actor Blair Underwood to portray a white gay man.

Wait; that was Raymond Burr.

Burr, who lived a discreet life with a long-term male partner, was perhaps best known for his 1960-70s TV shows Perry Mason, and Ironside, about a San Francisco police chief paralyzed after a sniper shoots him. Determined to continue striving for justice, he solves crimes with the help of a driver and assistant.

Underwood will play the lead in a revamp of the original Ironside. The updated version is set in New York City. If the show were accurate in its portrayal of daily life, it would include the numerous transport difficulties faced by disabled residents. But since it's filmed in Los Angeles, that will probably be overlooked.  New York City's record on accessibility, even decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act, is, well, dismal.

Some in the disabled community feel that if there isn't an able-bodied back story to be visualized, the character should be played by an actor who actually is disabled.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

PINS, the audiobook, now on Audible

Patron saints, headlocks, 
thrash metal, crash diets, 
dogpiles, nutpulls and 
only the occasional assault. 

PINS, my acclaimed debut novel,
narrated by Paul Fleschner. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bear Hug

I love it when current pop culture, or a sweet Public Service Announcement, reflects the values and intention of my fictional work. Sometimes I find a direct connection.

My (and my characters') love of forests and nature play a big part in my last novel, Every Time I Think of You (set in 1979-80). A new clever series of ads conveys a similar love and respect of nature and our forests.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Stupids

This blog has aimed to promote my books, and offer enlightening insight into goodhearted people, fictional or otherwise, that relate to my novels' themes.

But today I find myself overwhelmed by a veritable smorgasbord of The Stupids.

The biggest recent act of stupidity (allegedly) is that of the pilot of the Korean Asiana, who crashed the airplane on a runway at San Francisco International Airport. While bold acts of heroism have been documented in saving nearly all the crew and passengers, one passenger, alleged covered in the fire-preventing foam, was not seen by a rescue truck and run over.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Long March Home

A million people gather blocks away at City Hall, where soon I'll join them with friends and strangers. They'll wear rainbow shirts and leis and colorful clothes, and drink drinks, and listen to music, and nibble fried meat on a stick. Corporations will ply us with brochures, while we wave at celebrities in convertible cars. But it wasn't always that way.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sharing Big Joy

Art is often a collaborative process, even writing, which is often considered more of a solitary act. My own literary solitude was given a friendly, communal pinch in the butt as I met and hung out with many artists who have inspired me along the way.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to see the new biographical documentary about poet and filmmaker James Broughton. Big Joy, directed by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade, enjoyed a rousing welcome at its sold out premiere as part of Frameline's SF International LGBT Film festival. 

A sold out audience enjoyed a thorough exploration of Broughton's life and art. What's so fascinating is how his life and art coincided with several major cultural scenes, specifically in Bay Area. A member of the San Francisco Renaissance in the post-World War II era, Broughton's experimental poems were part of a group of artists who paved the way for the Beat poets and the North Beach artists who included Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (whose City Lights Bookstore is celebrating its 60th anniversary today). As Broughton entered into a male relationship, his freeing philosophies inspired the Radical Faerie movement.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Blue Monday: (Your thumbs are too short to box with George)

'Blue Monday' is not just the title of a New Order song.

It was also a failed musical written and composed by George and Ira Gershwin.
That's something I learned, because I was listening.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre is hosting the last performance of musical biography chameleon Hershey Felder and his Gershwin Alone solo show, a biographical song and story performance woven as neatly as the famous music duos music and lyrics.

Hershey Felder brings his hit show to Berkeley Rep 
His mingling of biographical events recreate the composer's life while sharing many of his best work, and a few unusual gems.

 The evening's sing-along was a hoot, with one gentleman getting up onstage as Ethel Merman.

But what was most fascinating, was my view.

(I have to thank the press staff at Berkeley Rep yet again!)

Amazingly, through his finale of a muscular solo performance of 'Rhapsody in Blue,' I had a direct view of Felder's hands at the keyboard, and was starting to remember the chords from the work.

Monday, May 27, 2013


"[Every Time I Think of You's] first encounter sets in motion all the elements of a first-rate love story – the clash of economic and cultural hierarchies; the tension of family dynamics; the dizzying swirl of falling in love." – Bud Gundy, author of Elf Gift and Butterfly Dream.

Sometimes, a colleague offers a review, and it both champions its strengths while critiquing in an informed way. 

A new friend and I were discussing the Bjork concert at Craneway Pavilion on BART. smarter folks had booked a ferry; a friend had bought scalped tickets for twice as much. Yet the train offered a new conversation, and a sense of relief when the fellow artist, a talented performer, said bluntly, that he liked that what it sounded like, but her huddled stance, away from the audience for most of the show, was offputting.

While my friend opted for the bleachers, I had stupidly stood behind the superfluous pendulums, my view even more obscured, thinking she might stand in front of it at some point, or at least face the other half of the audience.

But the real point my other performer friend made was the iPads he noticed. I thought them just a cheesy stage device, but he saw lyrics on them.

"For seventy-five dollars, plus an hour and a half train ride, I expect them to know their lines."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That's Entertainment

My post on arts and entertainment with a disability focus includes a dance film, naughty comics, art exhibits and the alleged "happiest place on earth."

Musical Chairs
Ballroom dancing, injury and trans fabulousness fill the new movie Musical Chairs with heart, spirit and a sense of love. Susan Siedelman (director of Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna's breakout film) brings together a diverse cast for an upbeat, sweet-natured story of a dancer whose post-injury recovery includes being coaxed into wheelchair ballroom dancing by a social dancing instructor. A group of other paraplegics join in, building up to some nice dancing and light comedy.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Student Bodies

May 4. 

It's a day I avoid thinking about, a day somewhere in between the May Day protests that usually end up at nearby Civic Center Plaza, with resultant noisy media helicopters overhead, and Cinco de Mayo, with its accordant bar party invites.

But as someone who grew up in Ohio, and attended Kent State University, May 4 is a haunting morbid anniversary, historic proof of just how awful America can be.

These days, you can Google "campus shooting" and see dozens of horrifying events documents in thousands of news stories. Deranged students have been the culprits, usually.

But back in 1970, at the peak of U.S. anti-war protests, after several days of increasingly crowded student rallies, Ohio Governor Rhodes called out the National Guard, and after a tense stand-off, 60 shots were fired, four students were dead and nine others injured.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I almost became an amputee at age six, and it was pretty much my own fault.

Jim & Paul (lower seat) take a little thrill ride.
Riding in a small Ferris wheel at a small town county fair in Central Ohio, some time in the late 1960s, my brother and I, in cute nearly matching outfits, rode a few loops on what I see now, from these old family photos, was a shoddy, poorly-built amusement park ride.

Only moments after these photos were taken (by my dad, probably), my brother and I began to mug and swing ourselves in the seat. Maybe the ride was not moving (my brother recalls that detail), but somehow my little boy leg got caught in the exposed hinge mechanism of the ride.

My sharp shriek of terror and pain halted the operator from possibly restarting the ride, and possibly cutting off or mangling my foot (or knee? It's a bit of a blur to me).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Livin' in the Eighties

Brits celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher
The death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher serves as the final nail in the coffin of the 1980s. While politicians, including our own duplicitous president, chose to commemorate Thatcher's "strength" and power, others, including British citizens who survived her  establishment, know from their life experience, that the decade was one of hardship, capitalist corruption, and utter cruelty.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Incremental, Incidental

Magnet SF
There are lots of ways to promote your books, and literacy in general. An author often has to do the bulk of promotion on his/her own. This is even when they have a deal with a major publisher. Sometimes, an event just happens without one's own doing.

This month, I'm honored to have Every Time I Think of You chosen as the book for Magnet's Book Club. 

Magnet is the San Francisco men's health center that does HIV and STD testing. They also host monthly art exhibits and readings, like Smack Dab, the (usually) monthly open mic event cohosted by author-colleagues Larry-bob Roberts and Kirk Read.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


As the Supreme Court hearings on the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 are debated online, on radio, and this evening, on one of KRON4's alternative channels, I've been alternating between Facebook and its sea of red equal sign profile images, with hundreds of creative variations.

I just finished a chapter where Reid listens to Everett use his amazing debate skills on another issue relevant to the setting of the sequel, the early 1980s.  I'm wondering if he would have have considered debating gay marriage rights, if they could even imagine this situation, where hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in multiple cities, and the multiple aspects of these lawsuits are beguiling, if not confusing.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


A wheelchair-using BART commuter in the early 1970s
My weekend was full of East Bay arts, all of which ended up being, in some ways, connected. For those of you not in the San Francisco area, East Bay is the Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island of the Bay Area.

Some people in San Francisco may dismiss the East Bay, make "bridge and tunnel" jokes. I ride BART a lot, and while a few unpleasant events have happened to me, none of them were serious. The few very violent events - shootings by criminals and BART police have been covered by other media quite extensively. But personally, I can honestly say that it's a pretty amazingly efficient commuting experience.

One of the things I recently learned while researching the sequel to Every Time I Think of You, a novel that includes a disabled gay main character, is that Bay Area Rapid Transit was one of the first mass transit systems that made platforms and elevators and train cars accessible to wheelchair users.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lady Gaga's Crip Chic

Lady Gaga once again exploits disability as a pose, so I'm going to exploit her. It's been said that the 'virality' of a good blog post includes catchy words that will generate lots of clicks, or in the case of Lady Gaga, random clicks that have nothing to do with anything.

Friday, March 8, 2013

How to Succeed in the Book Business While Really Really Trying

Every now and then I get a request from a fledgling (or even successful) author colleague asking for tips on the book business. To me, that's almost like asking a kid riding a Big Wheel for pointers on competing in the Daytona 500.

They also ask to "pick my brain" which sounds painful. It's not, really. 

But the prerequisite to any such talk is that you read one or several of Dan Poynter's books on self-publishing. It's as useful a handbook as my Wolf Cub Scout books were when I was a kid.

Pretty much everything you need to know is in Poynter's books, from developing a book that sells (if that is your goal) to marketing a "difficult" title that may be limited to a subgenre.

By "subgenre," I mean a book that's a genre within a genre, of course.  Take PINS, for example: gay + sports. While my subsequent three books were produced via Print-On-Demand (POD), PINS was done the old-fashioned way.

It's a long involved tale, some of which I'll be explaining within a few brief minutes at an author panel that's part of Word Week. The Noe Valley Book Festival is like a mini-LitQuake. Panels, readings, and a Saturday gathering of many authors selling and signing their books are part of it. It's mostly for Noe Valley area writers, but I got in because I'm nice.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Reality Shown

"How much of the stories in your books are real?"

That's one of the most frequently asked questions from readers and interviewers. Undoubtedly, other writers are asked the same question. 

Explaining the various aspects of real life and fiction is kind of like dissecting your dinner before you eat it. It's not pretty. When you order coq au vin at a restaurant, you don't want to see the chicken get plucked.

It also makes me wonder. Why do you want to know? Does figuring out what actually happened versus what I made up make the book better, easier to understand? If I wrote a memoir, would you ask which parts were made up? More than a few memoir writers have been called out for using a heavy dose of "creative nonfiction," a valid genre, but one that's gotten a few authors in hot water (James Frey on Oprah being the most notorious example).

But more, the question leads me to be cautious about revealing the true source of my inspiration. It's not unlike the drag term "showing your candy." You know what's down there, but you don't want to see it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Unremembering AIDS

As the Academy Awards approach, I'm betting on How to Survive a Plague to win Best Documentary, not only because it's the front runner, but because I'm in it.

Well, not exactly. I'm probably in the background of a wide shot or two at some of the LGBT Community Center meetings, and a protest or three. I think I saw myself. But I was, in a very small way, part of the movement, albeit only in what I like to call Decorations Committee. Making banners and posters was certainly not as essential as the work of the more intellectual affinity groups like TAG, whose determination led to so many achievements in drug treatment approval.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tragedy Tomorrow

"Why are you so cruel?" asked a young writer in my most recent online interview. It's a good question. Why bring misfortune and tragedy upon one's fictional characters?

Telling a compelling story inevitably must involve some sort of conflict, otherwise it's a fairy tale. And even fairy tales often have a level of gruesome tragedy. But what is it about consciously bringing unfortunate events into fictional characters' lives that's such an onerous task?

I like my characters. Heck, in Every Time I Think of You, like many readers, I fell in love with them. So why make them unhappy?

Oscar Pistorius in court
Who could make up a story like that of Oscar Pistorius? Only months ago, I was posting about his amazing victories at the Olympics and the Paralympics. Pistorius was a sexy role model and a hero to millions. 

Then, on Valentine's Day, he allegedly shot his girlfriend four times before crushing her skull with a cricket bat. The owner of numerous guns, Pistorius was allegedly paranoid about home break-ins, and also had prior violent outbursts. Who could make up such a horrid story? Who would want to?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sinking the Pirates

One of the great things about having popular books is that they get read by a lot of people.

Not to get all Napster vs. Metallica again, but there comes a time when you have to stand up for yourself and your fellow artists when you see their and your stuff getting shared for free, without your consent.

And when it’s in the hundreds, we’re talking about rent money you’re losing.

So, when, in the midst of a title search, I added pdf and/or epub, mobi or ebook, I found web sites that do not sell my ebooks, but trade them, in the hundreds. If you're an author with a few ebooks out, you're probably getting bootlegged, too.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dark Days

The man who "served" as mayor of New York City during its worst health panic in a century is dead.

The dreaded unavoidable posthumous confrontation with this inept crank is upon us.
I lost count of the number of times I had protested outside, and sometimes inside, buildings where Koch appeared. Those days were dark, horrible and yet energizing for those who fought. And he was The Foe for New Yorkers dying of AIDS.
For an astute summation of the relevance, read Ed Koch and the AIDS Crisis: His greatest Failure. by David France, in New York. Here is my own fictionalized variation on an encounter with hizzonor:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Discovery Channeled

Nature and adaptability.

Two themes pervade my research for the sequel to Every Time I Think of You.
So many new developments in each area promise a great future for the duo in this 1980s-set story. But unfortunately, I can't include them, because they wouldn't have happened yet.

But I can share them now.

Monday, January 21, 2013

One Today

Watch gay Cuban-American poet, Richard Blanco, deliver the inaugural poem, “One Today,” during President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Read the full poem below (yes, I bought his three books last week, and look forward to reading them all!).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter of Our ... Content

Well, any "grumpy cat" feelings of resentment over my comparatively limited books sales (see previous post) have been eliminated by two things; nice reviews and snow!

Check out my GoodReads profile. Among the new reviews is one from  Mrs. Condit Reads blog.
"Both of the main characters of this story grab you and take you on a journey of discovery with them. What could have been a sweet, wonderful story suddenly becomes something darker and much grittier after an accident changes things in a way that neither of them expects. You want to grab them up and hold them, protecting them from the possible future they’ve lost and the potential future they now have to find, whether it be alone or together remains to be seen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Read? Good.

So, if my books are so good, why aren't they more popular? Is it because I'm not popular? Am I the Grumpy Cat of gay publishing?

I've been wondering that recently for several reasons. The first is that I've had several friends and colleagues ask to meet up for a meal or coffee, or via phone calls and emails, to "pick my brain" about publishing. While I can imagine nothing more painful-sounding than having my brain picked, I do offer my advice, but no brain chunks.

But I'm not sure if my advice is worthy. I plow through the chores of doing it all myself, and take some small comfort when colleagues who have the advantage of prestigious publishers and agents regale me with their woes (mostly to do with a lack of control over their work), the position of being a "success" still befuddles me somewhat.