Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the tag “Half Price Books”

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Clearing Out the Backlog

Caution!  Long, rambling post ahead!  Please have a spotter.


It has been a while since I posted anything on here.  You may pick only one from the following excuses.  (Please don’t be greedy.)

  • I’ve been too busy.
  • I’ve had nothing to write about.
  • My carpel tunnel syndrome flared up (an old caber-tossing injury)
  • I’ve been out of town attending Banjo-Con
  • I have been unbelievably lazy (even more than usual)
  • My lethargy biorhythm was in phase with my apathy biorhythm and there was a resonance in my indifference biorhythm

But I’m here now and I’m willing to give this thing another shot if you are.  After all, what do we have to lose, except a few minutes of our lives?

The Weather Report

It was a good weekend.  It rained over three inches in a span of about ten hours from Friday night into Saturday.  This dropped the average daytime temperature from 100 (~38 C) down to the low 80s (~28 C).  That is about as close as one can get to heaven in Texas in the summertime.  As an added bonus, it was too wet to mow the yard afterwards.  That was like winning the bi-fecta (rain + no mowing).

One Man’s Trash

On Saturday I went estate sale-ing.  (Hey … I said it was too wet to mow, not too wet to go to estate sales!)  I found a few things that qualified as “finds”.  I found some children’s books (including “Stuart Little” from the 60s that I think may be first editions.  At about 25 cents a pop, I was willing to take a chance.  I found a CD of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” for a buck.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve never owned this on CD, since I’m as avid a fan of Pink Floyd as ever longed for a giant inflatable pig.  I do, however have it on vinyl.  Little good that does me.  I don’t have a turntable mounted in my car.

But the find of the day was a print of the Mary Petty painting that appeared on the October 20 1962 edition of the New Yorker.  The print itself is copyrighted 1962, so I think it is from that era.  I didn’t know what it was when I saw it since it did not have any of the New Yorker tagging on it.  It just looked like a print of a painting and I liked it a lot, so I bought it.  I haggled the haggard owner down to a mere eight dollars.  The frame that I need to buy for it will cost much, much more than that.

Mary Petty New Yorker Cover

The above is not an direct image of the print I bought.  It’s just something I found on the Internet.  Image is copyright 1962 by Mary Petty.

Book ’em, Biffo

As if sifting through other people’s belongings were not enough fun, I also went to Half Price Books (HPB) on Sunday.  I didn’t really intend to buy anything; I was just killing some time.  However, for me to say I didn’t intend to buy anything when going to HPB is like jumping in a lake and saying “I did not intend to get wet.”  I am never so weak as when I got into HPB.  I ended up buying William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, & The Mansion) in paperback.  I read The Mansion many decades ago when I was in high school and it didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but then I found out much later that it was the final book in a trilogy and that explained my confusion.  Not that Faulkner has ever written a hard-to-understand novel before.  Anyway, I’m going to give it another chance.  I don’t usually buy used paperbacks since they don’t age well, but the Faulkner estate keeps the prices of his new books so high that I have been forced to buy pre-loved versions of them.

I also found a paperback version of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novel, “Busman’s Honeymoon“.  I love Dorothy Sayers’ writing and especially her Lord Peter Wimsey novels.  As I stated above, I don’t usually buy used paperbacks, but this particular book looks like it just rolled off the presses yesterday even though it was printed in the 90s.  It was a steal at $3 (even though I have the receipt).

I also browsed through the clearance CDs and came away with a handful of finds (each for about $2).

  • The Rippingtons (featuring Russ Freeman) — Black Diamond
  • John Jarvis — Pure Contours
  • John Jarvis — Whatever Works
  • Dave Koz – Off the Beaten Path
  • Nelson Rangell — Playing for Keeps
  • David Benoit — Full Circle
  • The Bangles — Everything
  • Peter White — Caravan of Dreams

That last CD was such a fantastic find for me that I was nearly beside myself with excitement.  For those of you who don’t know, Peter White is best known for his multi-decade collaboration with Al Stewart (of “Year of the Cat” fame).  He is also a helluva guitarist in his own right and has lent his considerable talents to a huge variety of artists, such as Basia.  But the reason I was so excited was because not only do I love Peter’s music, but he wrote the song “Caravan of Dreams” about a club I used to go to in Fort Worth all the time back in the late 80s and early 90s.  Ah, man!  The Caravan of Dreams was the best venue ever!  It was a very small, very intimate club.   I remember one time (wavy flash-back graphics go here) …  I had never been there before, but I heard on the radio that Kirk Whalum was going to appear there during his “The Promise” tour, so I bought tickets on the phone (this was before the internet).  I got there and handed my ticket to the hostess and asked her where my seat was and she said, “Anywhere you want.”   I could hardly believe it!  I got a table right by the stage and so when Kirk came out and started playing I was like 4 feet away from him!  I had the same experience when Acoustic Alchemy played there.  Acoustic Alchemy also honored Caravan of Dreams in a song called “Reference Point”

So, yes, Peter White liked Caravan of Dreams enough that he wrote a song about it.  I only wish I could have seen him perform that song at that venue.  That would have been beyond awesome.  Damn!  I miss that place.


The Dismount

Okay, that’s about all I have for now.  I could ramble on, but frankly this thing has gone on long enough.  I have probably lost half of my readers, who have rambled off to find something to eat or to re-hydrate or just to shake their heads and say, “What the hell was all that about?”

For those of you who stuck it out this far, I humbly thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go re-hydrate.





Ripping Good Time


It is a great day today.

While browsing the clearance CDs at Half-Price Books tonight I found a CD by the Rippingtons (with Russ Freeman) that I don’t have.  It is called “Let It Ripp” (2003).

Man!  I love The Rippingtons!  When I invent my musical time machine that allows me to go back in time to see great bands in concert, the Rippingtons in 1989 and 2003 will be my first and second stops.

I’m listening to “Avalon” at the moment.  Simply awesome!  What sax!  I am a big fan of Jeff Kashiwa when he was with the Rippingtons.  I thought he tore it up on the title song of the CD “Tourist in Paradise” (1989).  He left in 1999 and I didn’t think he could be replaced, but Eric Marienthal is awesome on sax on this CD.

This CD is now in my top ten favorites.  I can’t believe I’ve lived this long and have never heard this CD before.


P.S.   Here is a link to my favorite Rippingtons song, “Tourist in Paradise“.  And here is a live version that is pretty cool, too.



Random Tidbits (1/28/2017 Edition)


Here are this week’s leftovers.  I’m clearing out the refrigerator.  If nobody reads them, they’re going in the trash.



The weather here in Dallas the past few days has been beautiful, which is disappointing.  By beautiful, I mean it has been in the high 50s (~13 to ~15 C).  The sun is so bright one has to wear sunglasses in the car at all times (as I mentioned in a post a few days ago).  It is warm enough you don’t want to wear a jacket, but if the breeze picks up to more than one mile per hour, you are suddenly freezing to death.  So you have to wear a jacket.  But then the sun makes you burn up.  In the car, there is so much sunshine pouring in through the windows and heating up the cabin that one sometimes has to turn on the air conditioner, even though it is quite chilly outside.  Strange days, indeed.


There was an expedition to Hobby Lobby to pick up something for … some other thing.  I can’t remember.  I’m a man.  I have the memory retention of a gnat.  But there I was.  As I usually do when at Hobby Lobby, I announce, “I’m going to the man aisle” and I depart thither.  Unless a man is a painter or a calligrapher or a scrapbooker or something like that, there is only one aisle in Hobby Lobby that is “man friendly”.    We all go there.  When a new man appears on this aisle, we do the single head nod at each other.  It is our universal greeting.  It is our little way of saying, “Hey … welcome to the man aisle.”  What is on the Man Aisle, you ask?  Car models.  Ship models.   Airplane models.  Glue.  Paint.  Xacto knives.  Toy trains.  Slot car racers.  Airbrush equipment.  I can’t speak for the other men, but I like to look at all the models and think, “I could build that.”  And then I think, “If I had any skill.  Or patience.  Or hand-eye coordination.  Or an attention span longer than a gnat.”  And then, as if to prove my point, my attention wanders and I find myself reading the label on a package of model putty for no particular reason.  All of us who are exiled to the Man Aisle know better than to wander even an aisle away.  If we do, we will find ourselves on the jewelry making aisle.  Or the caligraphy aisle.  The women who are there look up at us as if to say, “Shouldn’t you be in the man aisle?”  And so we return to that aisle … even though we’ve all looked at these same models twenty-nine dozen times.


I found myself in Trader Joe’s today.  I’m not sure what to make of that place.  It is a poky little place that is about a quarter the size of a traditional grocery store.  Everything is a little cramped and claustrophobic.  There are lots of foods I don’t recognize from companies I’ve never heard of.  Packaging is simple and generic looking.  Some of it looks like it might have been made in someone’s garage.  There are a lot of interesting people there.  Hipsters, mostly.  And little old ladies in fur stoles carrying tiny dogs, looking for all the world like aged stars from the silent movie era.  Lots of men with gray ponytails.  Everyone is talking on their cell phones.  I mean … EVERYONE.  Nearly everyone in the store looks down on their luck, but the vast majority of them go out and get into BMWs, Lexus’, Audis, etc.  I really have no idea what is going on there.   Such an odd vibe.  They have excellent chocolate covered raisins, though!



I went to Half Price Books today to “sell” them some of my old books that I no longer want.  It was quite a load!  I didn’t weigh it, but I’d estimate I took them 20 to 30 pounds of books.  There were all sorts of things; anything from old computer games, to paperbacks, to college textbooks.  Even a set of encyclopedias!   Now, I know the drill at HPB.  They’re there to make money.  They sell stuff very cheap, so I don’t expect to be able to retire at what they pay me for my old books.  Today I got a little over ten dollars for my books, so about fifty cents a pound.   That is a fair price to pay to save myself the pain and anguish and guilt of throwing books into the recycling bin.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  So I pay HPB to do it for me.


The doorbell rang today, causing widespread panic and confusion.  The doorbell never rings.  No one visits anyone here in Dallas.  Besides, doorbells are an anachronism.  People just text nowadays and say, “We’re here!”  I had almost forgotten what the doorbell sounded like.  At first I was like, “What is that weird bonging sound?”  Then I realized it was the doorbell.  So I answered it.  There was no one there.  There were no packages laying by the doorstep. I walked out to the street and looked both ways.  No one was in sight.  No cars were driving away.  Then I caught a flash of red jacket catty cornered across the street.   Two boys in their early teens were darting away.   It was just a prank.  I wasn’t upset.  I was just amazed that kids still do that.  I thought that died out in the 1970s.  I’m glad to see kids nowadays showing some gumption.

================= That’s All, Folks! =================


Biff On Books: Father of the Bride, Vanity Fair, & Transistors

Free retro clipart illustrations at

My latest excursion to HPB was on December 31 so that I could take advantage of one of their 20% off sales that they have 3 or 4 times a year. This particular one ended on the 31st, so it was important I get in there when I did! My finds that day included two classics and two technical books.

Father of the Bride, by Edward Streeter (1949)

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I have loved Edward Streeter’s books ever since I stumbled across the first one about ten years ago. I read “Mr. Hobbs’ Vacation” and then “Father of the Bride” (not realizing that it was the book that the Steve Martin movie was based [very loosely] on), and finally “Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter”. I really like Mr. Streeter’s writing style. It is relaxed and casual and cozy and in someways very Wodehouse-esque. The books of his that I’ve read all follow the same theme that I identify so closely with, which is that of an everyday man who finds himself overwhelmed by the pace of modern life and by the monkey wrenches that other people throw into his desire to lead a quiet, uneventful life. The main characters in his books are all modern-day Walter Mitty’s, though they are more grounded and pragmatic and don’t spend their time fantasizing about alternate realities.

This particular copy of “Father of the Bride” which I found is in good condition and even has the dust jacket. The dust jacket itself is in pretty sad shape, but to find one at all is pretty rare. In spite of the dust jacket’s poor condition, it is actually the reason I bought the book. I really liked the colors they used and the drawings by Gluyas Williams. In fact, I am a big fan of Gluyas Williams pen sketches, so that is definitely a bonus. The book also has a Mylar book protector on it, which is nice. Unfortunately, the book itself is a “Book of the Month” club edition, which are considerably less desirable than “actual” copies. However, even “actual” copies of the book are only worth a few dollars, so I wasn’t too upset that this was a BOTMC edition.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackaray

(1977 Franklin Library edition)


I don’t usually buy ornate, leather-bound copies of books because, though they are beautiful, they don’t make good reading copies. They are heavy and unwieldy and I live in fear of spilling something on one or accidentally tearing a page or something. However, this one caught my eye. It mostly caught my eye because I just finished reading Vanity Fair a few weeks ago and it instantly became one of my favorite books of all time. It is certainly in my Top Ten favorite books of all time, and probably in the Top Five.

Mr. Thackaray’s writing style is absolutely brilliant. It is at once sympathetic towards individual characters, and yet bitingly sarcastic of the society (particularly the class system) in which they move. However, I like his form of sarcasm and parody because it is subtle and never mean. It merely points out the truth and he often does it in an apologetic, “please don’t shoot the messenger” style. He wields his rapier like a master and even though he eviscerates Victorian sensibilities regarding class and wealth, one cannot help but marvel at how beautifully he wields the instrument with which he cuts those he feels are hypocritical, pompous, arrogant, or who believe they deserve the gifts that Providence (or more accurately, the class system) showers them with. But more importantly than that, the book is delightfully amusing. Mr. Thackaray’s wit is brilliant. Is it subtle at times, though always brilliant. What is more, many of the vanities and foibles and absurdities he points out in Victorian England, are still very much alive and well today.

What is even more remarkable, is that, though this is a book of parody, skewering Victorian England sensibilities concerning class and wealth and mobility, he manages to create characters that we end up actually caring about. I found the book, taken as a whole, created emotional roller coasters for me as the various characters’ fortunes rose or fell, as relationships formed or fell apart, as misfortune fell upon the heads of characters who did not deserve it. And, of course, the relationship between Amelia Sedley and William Dobbin was extremely frustrating, at times amusing, and on the whole gut-wrenching and tragic.
In short, “Vanity Fair” is a work of sheer genius and I marveled on every page at his mastery of the craft of writing and of social commentary. As if those gifts were not enough, he also did all of his own artwork for the novel. Frankly, I consider Thackeray to be a better writer then Dickens, though Dickens was much more prolific and well known. Interestingly, they were rivals throughout their writing careers.

So, being such a fan of the book, I bought this leather-bound version of it just so that I can see it sitting upon my shelf. My previous copy of the book, the Barnes & Noble Classics Series version, is looking a bit worn and is not particularly impressive to look at. I should point out, however, that I loved the B&N Classics Series of the book because it is annotated and that helped tremendously. In fact, I recommend it highly as a “reading copy” of the book. It explained some of the archaic language or phrases, it provided insight into tastes, fads, and activities of that time period, and also explained some of the esoterica that Mr. Thackeray referred to that would not be readily known by modern audiences.

Transistors, by Milton S. Kiver (1962)

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I can’t really review this book because I haven’t read it yet. I bought it for two reasons. One, I am interested in designing and building my own audio amplifiers as a hobby, both transistor and vacuum tube. My interest at the moment is in vacuum tube amplifiers, but right after that I plan to turn my attentions to transistor amplifiers. I found this particular book while browsing the “Technology” section at HPB, hoping to find a book on vacuum tubes. Not surprisingly, they didn’t. But I did find this book instead and I flipped through it and liked it for several reasons. The first reason is mostly because it was heavy and printed on thick, glossy paper (the kind that text books used to be printed on). Secondly, it had lots and lots of schematic diagrams and graphs. And thirdly because a huge portion of the book was dedicated to amplifier circuits. I read chapter one and really like Mr. Kivers writing style. It is informative without being dull (though a certain amount of dullness is to be expected given the topic).

I have not reviewed transistor theory since I was in college (a few millennia ago), so I am hoping I can refresh my memory pretty easily.

Vacuum tube theory, on the other hand, I’ve never been formally taught and what little knowledge I have I’ve picked up from some old codgers I’ve worked with over the years. So that will be more challenging.

Fundamentals of Electronics, by E. Norman Lurch (1981)

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I bought this book for many of the same reasons I bought “Transistors” above. It has a big section of transistor theory and its application in amplifiers. Also, it looked like a good, general-purpose reference for electronics to have laying around.

Plus, what’s not to like about a book by someone named “Lurch”?

Biff on Books – An Introduction

Free retro clipart illustrations at

One of my pastimes is to go to used book stores or antique malls or estate sales and look for old books. I am pretty eclectic in my tastes and when I go browsing for books, I’m usually not looking for anything in particular. There isn’t even really a theme to my collection. I primarily buy humorous books, such as humorous essays (Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, S. J. Perelman, etc.), biographies/travelogues (Cornelia Otis Skinner, Margaret Halsey, Betty McDonald, Mrs. Kenneth Horan, etc.), humorous fiction (Mark Twain, James Thurber, E. F. Bennet, P. G. Wodehouse, Joseph C. Lincoln, Mary Lasswell, etc.), nonsense or hard-to-classify writers (Jerome K. Jerome, Max Shulman, Will Cuppy, Bill Nye [not the modern ersatz science guy], etc.), as well as collections of humorous writings such as were published by the likes of Esquire magazine, Bennet Cerf, Irvin S. Cobb, etc.

Often I will just buy a book because I like the way it looks, the heaviness or glossiness of its paper, or even the way it feels (i.e. its weight or what it’s bound in). I have bought such varied books for my collection that range from high school physics or math books from the early 1900s, travelogues from the late 1800s, a book on fonts from the 1920s, sales books for photographic film products from the 1950s, books on homemaking or sewing from the 1930s, or technical books (electrical or mechanical) from the early 1900s. In my estimateion, book publishing before, say, 1950, seemed to be an art form and publishers seemed to take great pride in the quality of the books they published. They used high quality paper (except during the war years), ornate board covers, and lovely drawings or photographs.

We are blessed here in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area to have a chain of used bookstores called Half Priced Books (HPB). I have been a loyal customer of theirs for as far back as I can remember . . . probably starting in the late 1980s. Their business model is to buy books, CDs, DVDs, etc. from the public, and then resell them for, as their name implies, half the price that it would have cost retail. Their bread and butter, as you might expect, are all of the latest, hottest books, CDs, and DVDs. Fortunately for me, I don’t care anything at all about the latest anything. My interest is in what they call their “nostalgia” books. These are old or interesting books from yesteryear (approximately pre-1970, but can really be anything that is old, unusual, or not easy to categorize). A great deal of the items in this section I have no interest in, but once in a while I will find a gem and will purchase it eagerly, like a squirrel that has just found a particularly tasty nut. I would say 80% of my book collection has come from HPB. And better yet, most of them have cost less than ten dollars, and in a lot of cases less than five dollars.

At any rate, my intent for my “Biff on Books” entries are just to show the “treasures” that I have found on my latest book-buying jaunts. I don’t claim to be a professional literary reviewer, but I just enjoy sharing my treasures with other who may enjoy a love of books.

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