Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill

My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.

We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.

I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.

I said, “We’re running aground.”

Nothing happened.

I said it again. “We’re running aground.”

Still nothing.

I said, “Hey, we’re running–”

… more … “Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill”

Fortnight

  • 3-day convention in Tucson
  • 3-day drive
    1. Tucson AZ -> Tucumcari NM
    2. Tucumcari NM -> Kearny MO
    3. Kearny MO -> Cameron WI
  • 3 days with friends in Cameron, in a big old rambling farm house and a nameless puppy waiting to be given to our host’s granddaughter as a graduation gift (she named him Winston.)
  • 4 days house-sitting at a gorgeous home buried deep in the woods with 2 friendly cats and 1 that’s a bit cranky
  • 1 of those evenings out on the lake, seeing osprey, kingfishers, great blue herons, turtles, and a muskrat

Today:

… more … “Fortnight”

Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”

How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer

Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)

The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.

I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.

“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.

… more … “How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer”

How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light

We sat in the dark back seat, watching the digital clock (made of actual light bulbs) atop the bank in Chula Vista. It was a long red light. We’d seen the time change from 7:03 to 7:04 and all four of us started counting the seconds until it changed again.

Quietly, in the back seat: “57, 58, 59” and then, not quietly at all, the four of us shouting “Now!”

At that moment, the left turn light changed to green.

Dad stomped on the gas.

We weren’t in the left turn lane.

… more … “How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light”

Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line

While Jake Calcutta is off getting a sanity check, my oldest work in progress is coming out of hiding.

I’ve written over 30,000 words of Jake Calcutta and the Temporal Lisle, including a 1,000-word summary of the latter 2/3 of the story. It’s all in the hands of my fact-and-sanity checker to confirm that the story makes sense as I’ve planned it. Once James has confirmed there are no plot holes big enough to chuck a cat through, I will finish it up and send it out upon the waters.

While I’m hands off that story, I did an experiment to see which of my possible ideas I should start work on. Led by emotional events of the past six months I chose the coming-of-age story I started January 1st, 2010 (for the mathematically challenged, that’s 7 years, 4 months, 1 week, and 2 days ago.)

The blurb, for now:

… more … “Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line”

Nothing But Stars

The blue-grey clouds squished over the rooftops down the road as I warmed my hands on my mug of darker-than-clouds coffee. A good night’s sleep would have been nice, thank you very much, but no, I got to bed early, tossed like a fish till all hours, then awoke, twitching and wild-eyed, at 3:13am. I’m not superstitious, so twitching awake from a nightmare to my WalMart digital clock displaying the usual number of disasters followed by the unluckiest number didn’t bother me at all. Not one bit.

bluegreyclouds

When it’s black night out here you can’t see the next house, a hundred yards up the road, unless Mort is going fishing and he’s up early. Otherwise, new moon like this, you see nothing but stars until the sun oozes up over the hills behind my cottage. Then, the stars are there one moment, gone in a blue-grey haze the next.

Except that was all in my imagination, of course, what with the thick dark cover of clouds. It would get lighter. It would not get sunny.

Matched my prospects for the day.

I swallowed the last of the lukewarm brew in my mug and went upstairs to shower, shave, and dress for my last day as an outsider.

Tragedy, or Comedy? Knowing the Ending Makes All the Difference

Happy endings ahead on all fronts. This could have all become tragedy on various levels. You may know that comedy = tragedy + time. This means that the time you backed into the 100,000-gallon aquarium and flooded your new Cadillac can become a great story you tell over and over rather than something you never speak of again. In this case, all ended well, so feel free to laugh at my antics. Someone should.

pocket-change

6:55am

Awoke to my phone ringing. I charge it in the living room, so there’s no way I was going to get the call. Sue tried to catch it but it stopped ringing.

Her phone rang seconds later. It was my mom, sounding pretty sick. She’d tried to get a doctor’s appointment the day before because she could barely breathe, but they didn’t have anything until today.

She said “I’ll try again tomorrow, if I live through the night.” My mother is famous for her positive perspective.

This morning she couldn’t breathe so she called to see if someone could take her to the emergency room.

… more … “Tragedy, or Comedy? Knowing the Ending Makes All the Difference”

You and Yew

yewI’d heard the construction equipment even before I trudged across the lawn to where my car was parked in the driveway because the garage was too full of stuff.

A backhoe was ripping the 10-year-old foot-tall yew hedge out by the roots.

When I could move again I shut my mouth and marched to the sidewalk. I raised my voice over the sound of the backhoe. In my current emotional state it was not difficult.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY HEDGE?”

The guy on the backhoe leaned back, eyes wide. The front bucket paused with the third or fourth yew plant dangling by its roots from one of the teeth.

“Um, we’re widening the curb cuts. You got a letter.” He still didn’t move.

“DID THE LETTER SAY YOU WERE GOING TO DESTROY MY HEDGE?”

He shut the machine down, but he was still leaning back, still eyes wide. The wide eyes flicked to his right, my left, and his shoulders slumped down from “high alert” to “someone else’s problem” status.

“Can I help you?” Important looking man in suit approaches. Well, not suit, now that I look, but he’s management, not labor.

I’ve started breathing again, so there’s no more screaming.

“This hedge takes decades to grow. These little twelve-inch plants have been here since the house was built 10 years ago. What’s going on?”

“Everyone got a letter, sir. Widening the curb cuts for handicapped access. Federal law.”

“Yes. Letter. Did the letter say ‘move your plants or we’ll tear them out with a backhoe’?”

Blank stares. Stare. Management. Labor had its eyes down, inspecting the instrument panel on the silent backhoe.

Management, to Labor #2 at the next house over: “Run to Home Depot and get some 5-gallon buckets for this gentleman’s plants.” Then to me: “I’m very sorry about your plants. We’ll get them planted in some potting soil and put them wherever you like so they can be planted again when the work is done.”

He wasn’t quite fidgeting, just shifting his weight slightly from foot to foot. Hoping for peace. Ready for a fight.

I was sick of fighting.

“Okay. Sorry. Thanks.”

He may have answered, I don’t know. My ears were ringing as I trudged back across the lawn to where my car was parked in the driveway instead of the garage.

When I moved out months later, the yew plants were still in buckets in the back yard.

Last time I saw the buckets, just before she filed for divorce, the plants were all dead.

To Us All in the End — But, Perhaps, Not Today

The wind howled so loud he could just make out his cell phone, ringing his mother’s home phone. Maybe it wasn’t turned up all the way. Didn’t matter; he daren’t give up one hand in the fight against the steering wheel.

It was why he’d moved here, to watch over his aging mother. He didn’t begrudge his brother and sister their lives; he’d have moved here for the beauty of the place, not to mention the economical lifestyle it allowed.

He didn’t begrudge his mother the gentle neediness of a twice-widowed elderly woman. She’d mellowed in her age. Less mourning, more reminiscing.

lonely house

He’d begrudge the final call, though, when it came. Her apartment door would be unlocked, as it always was. He’d step in, calling her, but she’d not answer. She never did, whether she couldn’t hear him or just wasn’t answering.

That’s what he’d begrudge: the finding, then the calling, the endless mourning of others on his behalf.

It started to snow as he slowed for the series of camera-topped speed-limit signs at the edge of town.

Turning onto Main Street, he heard his phone ring through to her voice mail, finally. The wind blew less fiercely between the buildings so he pulled his left glove off in his right armpit and pressed the hang-up button on his phone, dropping it clunk rattle back into the door handle of the van.

My Biggest Fan

BestBeloved01Some days, I just need a cheerleader to tell me I can do anything.

Some days, I need to be told I’m heading the wrong direction.

Some days, I need someone to let me cry over nothing.

Some days, I need to know that my failure wasn’t so bad.

Some days, I need someone to laugh at my jokes.

Some days, I need someone to laugh at me, so I don’t take myself too seriously.

Most days, I need ’em all.

And every day, I get exactly what I need.

December 26th was our 10th anniversary. Here’s to 10 million more.

BestBeloved03BestBeloved02

Songwriting is Easy

Like Hemingway said, just sit at your typewriter and bleed.

I’ve written 5 songs in the past couple weeks, as part of two songwriting challenges.

I’m emotionally exhausted. Even the fun songs are emotional effort, but the ones that dredge up the past or make me look inside my dead father’s brain are like digging a grave with your own bones.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • Into Town — A desperately lonely song; nothing at all like my father would have been if he were the one alive and alone instead of my mother.
  • I ♥ You — A totally silly diatribe, to balance it.
  • Good Pair of Jeans — Another fun one, because Poppies refused to come out.
  • Upside Down Smile — A jazzy number for my Best Beloved, which also helped Poppies ruminate in my unconscious.
  • Poppies — Finally, Poppies, which just might be my father talking to me again.

A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck

In the past couple months more than one person has, out of the blue, asked me what was wrong. I’ve noticed it myself: more tough mornings, more cancelled work days, more struggle to create, then flopping into TV-watching or eating instead.

During the past year I’ve been aware that there’s a seismic shift making its way from my inside out.

During the past six months I’ve realized it’s the rest of what I started 10 years ago.

The rest. As in, perhaps it’s the end of an era and, by definition, the beginning of one.

the bridge over the River Laune in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, Ireland
… more … “A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck”

Shoulda Been a Cowboy

My dad’s been dead almost 30 years. Missing him a lot today. Probably not at all related to the fact that I’m a few days older than he was when he died.

I tell this story when I perform my song Into the Sunset but I’ve never written it down until now. … more … “Shoulda Been a Cowboy”

The Great Debate About Breasts (and Feeding)

Men have an innate sexual response to the sight of a woman’s breast. It’s not a choice, it’s biology.

Breast-feeding is not a sexual activity. Men know this. We are Neanderthals, not idiots. … more … “The Great Debate About Breasts (and Feeding)”

The Packard Door That Wouldn’t Close (or, The Al-Can Highway is No Place for a Nap)

Before my parents married my father was in the Air Force, stationed for most of the duration in Alaska. He spent his time as a radio operator on a Tin Goose, the historic Ford Trimotor. When he left the Air Force he was given a plane ticket home to Wisconsin.

Another chap who got out at the same time sold his plane ticket and bought an old Packard, declaring it was cheaper to drive home to the mid-west, and then he could sell the car.

I’m not sure if it was my father’s love of adventure or his notoriously thrifty spirit, but he sold his plane ticket and rode along.

He regretted it.
… more … “The Packard Door That Wouldn’t Close (or, The Al-Can Highway is No Place for a Nap)”