Two Old Joes: bending time and space to bring two kindred souls together by L K Ramey

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Have you ever put down your avocado toast long enough to thank an old person for punching Hitler? If not, then you need to read this book and get your head right. Two Old Joes: bending time and space to bring two kindred souls together by L K Ramey is the novelization of a weekly podcast featuring a pair of World War Two veterans.

The story begins when Dick and Roger meet in the dusty back country of Utah. Promising a showdown with the “Nazis and Nips,” the Army Air Corp has instead sent them to a training camp in the middle of nowhere. The two of them become swell buddies in no time, smoking their doctor-recommended cigarettes and perpetrating extremely elaborate and time-consuming pranks on one another. It turns out they have a lot in common, right down to having bossy older sisters. Good practice for dealing with drill sergeants, amirite, fellahs?

Then the narrative shifts to the present day, when Dick moves into an assisted living facility after the death of his wife, and learns that Roger is living in the same building. They are so excited during their first encounter that they fall asleep and have to be woken for dinner. They complain about the usual indignities of getting older, mainly the fact that they can’t walk around armed anymore, or kill people with their cars. They wax nostalgic about baseball and food that didn’t taste like Satan’s dandruff. They buy Old Glory Insurance. Then one day Dick suggests that other people, ones who don’t have nearly so much life experience as their combined 180 years, should listen to what they have to say. And so it begins.

“When I think back, it doesn’t seem like we really asked for that much, and we didn’t expect anything to be given to us.”

Roger and Dick trade stories about the mid-century economic utopia that gave them a good start in civilian life, with GI bill educations and houses that cost less than a tuna-and-marshmallow jello salad. This raises the question of how the young people of today, despite benefiting from society’s uncritical worship of youth, manage to be such pitiable failures. The conclusion they reach is that they feel sorry for the children of the twenty first century, not over something like debt or capital accumulation, but because kids today never play outside, a condition they characterize as being “grounded for life.” I love it.

Just as in a fantasy novel that takes place in a historical era full of Problematics, we must be reminded that Dick and Roger are morally upstanding individuals by the standards of the typical modern reader. Life long Republicans now in their dotage, they have both come to have more empathy for the unfortunate, because they were smart and kind people all along. Dick is broken up about those bad people who pollute for profit, and racism, just in general. Roger gets in a few jabs about police officers shooting “unarmed Blacks,” although the masks starts to slip a little when they remark that the “tables have turned.” Now it’s the cops who are afraid, you see, and they are acting out of fear. This rant is punctuated with discussions of age-related incontinence, like L K Ramey is trying to do my job for me.

“They’re discontented with their life, so they spend more time plopped in front of the tube, Wishin’ and Hopin’, instead of digging in and movin’ on.”

I honestly wish there was a public employee whose sole responsibility was to grab every Boomer and pre-Boomer individually by the shoulders, look them deeeeep in the eyes, and say “If you wanted to fix the world, all you needed to do was stop breaking it.” That would be tax dollars well spent. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

I’ve been complaining a lot about Dick and Roger’s attitudes toward baggy pants and that hippity hop music, but that alone certainly isn’t going to put me off a character if they are well written. Your girl is a sucker for a smarmy antihero, or a lovable curmugeon. But Dick and Roger speak in that stilted “as you know” voice that hack sci-fi authors use when they need the space engineer to explain basic science to another space engineer so the audience will understand what’s happening. The two do have slightly different personalities, with Roger’s gruff ex-cop persona, and Dick’s recurring Catholic guilt. But they sound so alike when they bloviate on the evils of social media that I often lost track of who was speaking.

The book is constantly teasing that some sort of plot is going to happen. About once per chapter I anticipated some twist that would lead to a crisis that would bring us home to the conclusion of the story. I would read some snippet of tension between the main characters and the director of the old folks’ home, and imagine that Roger and Dick must evade the evil “warden” and effect a daring escape. Dick gets a mysterious letter from his son and the pair must go on a road trip. Roger and Dick start a true crime podcast with their younger neighbor about a young man who was murdered in the building during a fire alarm. The two men learn that their bond goes much deeper than either of them anticipated, especially now that they are both single. Roger dies, and Dick must learn to go on without him. Something. Anything. It’s the literary equivalent of listening to your uncle tell a rambling story at a family dinner and thinking “Aha! He really took his time with that description of chipped beef on toast. Surely this will be the point of the story.”

It probably sounds like I hated this book, but I didn’t. If you’ve learned one thing about me by now, it’s that writing talent and judgmentalness are inversely correlated, but if you know a second thing about me it’s that I am a raving, frothing masochist. Like a biology student enraptured by the squirming ecosystem living inside a McDonald’s chicken nugget, I spent most of my time while reading this book muttering to myself “Ugh, these guys are just awful! More, please.” For less than four dollars on Kindle, you too can get your blood pressure up where it should be by listening to a couple of old guys pat each other on the back. What else are you going to do with your time, play outside?

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

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