Along Highway 2, North Dakota, North America
Thursday, July 31, 2008
In my travels throughout our favorite rectangular state I came across this example of North Dakota Aboriginal art.
FYI: Those are hand-painted hay bales. I believe we should call this "mixed media." They're kinda cute, aren't they?
Why Delta should send me a paycheck
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The worst flying experience I ever had was during Tropical Storm Gabrielle in the year 2000. I had to make the trip because movers and an 18-wheeler Allied moving van were awaiting me in Georgia, and I caught the last flight out of Fort Myers before they closed the airport. Wind gusts: 90 MPH. Visibility: 10 feet.
There were only six passengers on the entire DC-10 that morning, and it was pretty obvious why: The tropical-force winds and rain were causing the plane to tremble and rock. We looked like a first-time acrobat standing atop the wire, his arms spread like wings, spasmodically bobbing up and down, left to right. I heard one of the flight attendants say to the other, "The only reason we're flying out this morning is because they don't want to leave this plane behind in the storm. I mean, can you BELIEVE we're actually here this morning?"
We took off, and within seconds I wished I had put on a pair of Depends that morning instead of my usual underwear. Our plane was being tossed and thrown about so violently that I swore one of those wings was going to snap right off. At one point, someone's carry-on suitcase actually flew up and smashed into the ceiling. That was when two of the passengers screamed in fright. A few minutes later I, too, was screaming four-letter words.
During one very-brief moment of stillness, I yelled to an old woman sitting a few aisles away, "Can I sit by you?"
"Absolutely!" she answered, and within seconds we were huddled together, holding hands.
This lasted until we were north of Orlando, and at that point the captain came on the PA system and said, "Well, folks, that was really something, wasn't it? The drinks are on us this morning." Mrs. Leary (I'll never forget her name) and I were silent as we shared two gin-and-tonics, thankful to be alive.
I still fly, but not without precautions. I'm going to let you in on a little secret here: I personally am responsible for my airplane's safety each and every time I fly. I go through this little ritual that pleases the gods of travel, and I'm not sure where or how I came up with these antics. While we zoom down the runway on take off, I take my left index finger and pretend to scratch my forehead, but in actuality I am making the sign of the cross on my forehead. (No, I'm not Catholic.) I have to draw this quick cross two times in rapid succession while on the ground, and then a third time just after the wheels leave the ground.
Then, after we are aloft, I have to imagine the path of the airplane, a la Google Earth, all the way to its destination. I have to imagine it landing at the airport, taxiing up to the gate, and then I have to SEE myself walking off the plane, into the terminal. It helps if I know what the terminal looks like, but if it's an airport I'm not familiar with then my fiction-writer's mind fills in the details. And this is an important part of it: I have to imagine myself wearing the same exact clothes that I am wearing that day. And then I imagine me laughing and walking about, all happy and SAFE at my destination.
This seems to be working just fine. So....the next time you happen to catch a flight with me, be sure to leave me alone as I appear to be scratching a mosquito bite on my forehead. Indeed, I am keeping us all safe, and God knows what would happen to us all if you interrupt me.
Belle WHO? Ariel WHO?
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
My daughter has just returned from the summer camp she's attended in the North Carolina mountains since fourth grade. It's one of those old-fashioned rustic camps with no electrical outlets in the cabins and a lake instead of swimming pool. No cell phones are allowed, also no computers or phone calls home unless you get sent to the infirmary for some reason.
One night they had a Disney-themed party, and my daughter and her peers were chagrined to discover that the kids under age 12 only had a passing knowledge of the modern-classics she'd grown up: Lion King, Pocahontas, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.
"They didn't even know the words to all those great songs, Dad," she said. "All they wanted to sing was Hannah Montana and High School Musical. Ugh."
A little saddened, the counselors, after putting the girls to bed, met up in the counselor hut and proceeded to pay homage to all those great songs ... and to their childhood -- "Under the Sea," "Hakuna Matata," "Just Around the Riverbend" -- and they sang and danced well into the night.
I need your help!
I've been getting too many odd comments from readers about the new publicity photo for my upcoming book. (It's also my Facebook photo) Please look it over ...
I know the big bald guy looks kinda scary. In fact, the women editors at Random House/Ballantine even decided it was too intimidating to run on the book's back cover as an author's photo, afraid it would chase potential female readers away. Am I THAT ugly? My publicist, however, loves it and has sent it everywhere.
At any rate, look closer at the photo, at the details of the tool belt: banana, wooden spoon, feather duster. This portrait, taken by Jane Pierce, was entirely meant to be funny and over-the-top. But did we miss it?
Doesn't this capture the essence of Linc Menner, our main character from "Househusband" and my upcoming "Man of the House?" Isn't this what he would look like?
Give me your thoughts ... and if you don't want to contact me through this blog device you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
North Dakota Ramblin' Man
Monday, July 28, 2008
Unfortunately, my idea of beauty and travel is different from my wife's. She prefers to lounge, supine, somewhere beautiful, staring at something like mountains or an ocean. I prefer to get into a car and explore a region or place that everyone else has ignored, which means I've been trying , unsuccessfully, for nearly 20 years to get Carol to accompany me to these places:
1. Buffalo, New York, site of the deserted Bethlehem Steel Plant and the infamous Love Canal (remember the big toxic-dump scare that happened there?)
2. Lubbock, Texas.
2. Bakersfield, California.
4. Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Alas, I had seen none of them ... until this month! In early July we had a family reunion in Boise, and Carol said, "Here's your chance. I'll fly home, and you can drive across Montana and all of North Dakota, and then fly out of Grand Forks. Haley's at camp. You've got two weeks of freedom. Go for it, honey!!"
"You don't want to go with me?" I asked.
"Uhhmmmm, I really can't take the time away from work," she answered, then quickly left the room.
I decided to traverse the two-lane U.S. Highway 2, which parallels the Canadian border, just about 50 miles south. I figured what the hell: If I'm going to North Dakota, then I might as well explore Northern North Dakota, right?
Don't believe me? Here's proof:
That's Theodore Roosevelt's picture in the oval. Still trying to figure that one out since he was from the East. I'll keep you posted on my investigation. And look forward to future snapshots and insights of Northern North Dakota in the coming days. I will, however, admit, that I came home four days early. Okay, let me put it another way: I spent two days in North Dakota. But they were very full days, as you will soon see.
We've got a lovely bunch of coconuts
Not long after I moved back to the subtropics, I heard a knock on my door. It was a small Asian woman. She pointed toward the street and said, "Coconut? Coconut?"
"Yes, of course," I replied. "That's exactly what they are: coconuts. Those are coconut trees. And those are coconuts."
She looked at me quizzically, then turned inward, searching for what to say next. "Ah!" she exclaimed. "No. Me please have coconuts?"
"You want my coconuts?"
"Yes. Please me have coconuts."
There was a battered white van in the street, driven by some man … and not a ladder in sight. My coconut trees stretch and arch upward for nearly thirty feet. That would put about 25 feet between this woman's head and the fruits she desired.
"How?" I asked.
"Yes?" she answered.
"No. How can you get them? Do you need a ladder? I have an extension ladder."
"So I can have coconuts?"
"Uh, sure," I said ... and you would have done the same thing if you've ever tried to hammer open one of those damn things. Honestly, we have so many coconuts on Coconut Drive that we don't know what to do with them. It's one of those things you get jaded about very quickly after moving to a place like this. They become something to dodge while driving down the street. Or something to throw into the river before hurricanes so they don’t become airborne missiles.
The woman smiled and waved at me and scampered out to the street. She then smacked the side of the van, and the young male driver emerged. He was lean and young and wore nothing but a pair of cut-off blue-jeans. And, honest-to-God, here's what happened next:
He pulled a long machete from the van, put it between his teeth as would a pirate. And, then, with an unceremonious hop, jumped upon the tree and began to shimmy upward as if it were a thick rope. He reached the top in seconds.
Meanwhile, the woman reappeared with a stained, mildewed sofa cushion, and as he hacked away upstairs she stood beneath, trying to catch the coconuts as they dropped.
I came out and watched with fascination, and I leaned into the van for a look. It was stuffed, floor to ceiling, with green coconuts. Obviously, this was one of their final stops of the day. And I realized with irony that there was a good chance I'd be paying $3.46 for one of these at the supermarket that next week.
Now imagine the gravity of this situation: Coconuts falling thirty feet from the ground, right toward your head. The sheltered, pampered Anglo-parent in me wanted to yell, "Stop! Stop! Someone's going to get hurt … or poke an eye out."
Evidently, something did happen shortly after that because when they returned six months later she was wearing a bicycle helmet for the task.
"Coconuts?" she asked me.
"Of course," I replied. And I patted my head, pointed to hers, and nodded in approval.
A pain in the ...
Friday, July 25, 2008
Yesterday at the gym a friend showed me a magazine article that said one of my favored leg exercises (weighted lunges) was bad for your back. Or maybe it was rotator cuffs. Or maybe the spine. I can't remember for sure. At any rate, if this is true it means I'm in deep trouble. Lunges, which help tone the thighs and, more importantly, the buttocks, are critical for my day-to-day happiness. Let me explain.
I have no ass. Okay, so I do have an ass, but my butt cheeks could be confused with those of a droopy, 85-year-old man. You see, my two butt bones, or whatever those things are called, have almost direct contact with any hard surface when I sit because I have no natural padding. The same gene pool that gave me this incredible brain and handsome face also neglected to give me butt fat. As a result, I can't sit for long without developing what my friend Leah has since named butt disease. Those critical lunges help build a layer of muscle that provides me at least a small amount of padding.
My wife thought I was exaggerating about my butt disease until I drove one of our cars from New York to Minnesota during a move. It was a most painful trip, stopping only for gas. The next day, I proudly dropped my drawers and underwear, turned my backside to my wife and exclaimed, "See!? See?! Do you believe me now? Butt disease! Look!'' And I pointed to my peach-sized bruises, one in the middle of each cheek. It looked as if I had stood on home plate, my back to the world's fastest pitcher, and yelled, "Okay! Give me one right HERE! And over here on this side, too!" So you can see: If I don't do my lunges twice a week I will spend countless hours shifting in my seat, muttering under my breath. It even affects my sleep.
Stop my lunges? Why? How can I believe the truth of this new medical fact? How many times in the past 50 years have we been told one cast-in-concrete medical fact, only to have them claim the exact opposite a few years or decades later? Remember when they said smoking was good for you? That it helped fight off colds? And what about crib death? The nurse at the hospital told us with great earnestness 17 years ago, "Do NOT let this newborn sleep on her back because she can choke on her own vomit and die." Yeah, but, lo and behold, that same nurse is saying this today: "Do NOT let this newborn sleep on her stomach because she will smother herself on the mattress and die."
There are plenty others: Red wine is bad for you. NO! Wait a minute, it's GOOD for you.
Always use antibacterial soap because it helps keep you healthy. …. NO! Wait! Don't use antibacterial soap; you are killing the beneficial bacteria your body needs, and thus jeopardizing your immune system. You will DIE if you use too much Purel.
I suddenly felt challenged to come up with a list of medical/safety realities that are unequivocally, permanently true:
Do not put your hand down the garbage disposal while it is running. This will result in severe injury to both skin and bones. (I saw this once in a movie, in which an intruder wanted to torture the husband of the house.)
Do not eat broken glass.
Do not dress in a burka or turban and drive through Idaho on holiday.
Do not spray Lysol into your eyes to combat infection.
Do not say to your wife or daughter, "That dress makes you look fat."
Can you think of any others? Share them with us.
Man of the House
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Finally, some news about my upcoming book: "Man of the House."
The sequel to "Househusband" will be on bookshelves September 30. Here's the description from the back of the cover:
"For more than a decade, Linc Menner has raised the status of househusband to an art form. . . . His gourmet cooking is sublime, his cleaning unrivaled, and his devotion to his daughter, Violet, unparalleledall the while remaining the happy master of his domain while wife Jo brings him the bacon. ... But when the Menners relocate from upstate New York to the steamy beaches of Naples, Florida, life takes an unexpected turn. The Manners are renovatingand Linc's bliss is now a war zone of contractors, dry-wall dust, and catastrophe. Worse, suddenly surrounded by guys whose faces go blank as he expounds on the virtues of lump-free gravy, Linc realizes he has forgotten what it feels like to be a man. ... So Linc trades his flip-flops for work boots, his wild mop of hair for a barbershop buzz, and marches his flabby physique to the nearest gym. His family is stunned, watching helplessly as they lose the man who keeps them all together. And when Linc attracts the secret devotion of one of Violet's teachers, life on the home frontand hurricane seasonexplodes in hilarity, chaos, and the delightfully skewered but unassailable true test of being man of the house."
Me again: So, this is another one of those books in which art imitates life. I've been the caregiver of our daughter since she was born, and all was well until my wife started menopause at the same time that my daughter began puberty ... and it just threw me for a loop. I was writing a different book altogether, when I was complaining to my editor oneday about my problems coping in an estrogen-challenged environment, and she said, "Sounds like a sequel to Househusband to me." So here it is.
Stay tuned. ... Oh, and here's the publicity photo for the book: