My Blog

Molotov Brothers

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

My brothers discovered Molotov cocktails when we were teenagers. In case you don’t know what they are, as my brothers discovered it’s just a little bit of gasoline and a little bit less oil in a glass jar with a rag stuffed in the top. Wet the rag with the gasoline in the jar, light it on fire, and throw it. When it lands and explodes it creates a smoky fire that, in battle, or riots, disrupts the enemy, adding confusion and a smokescreen and fire and broken glass and all kinds of mess and nonsense.

I’m the middle brother, one brother 18 months older, the other 18 months younger, so we went through life almost like triplets—except one of us didn’t go around making Molotov cocktails. We lived right at the bottom end of San Diego Bay. There were disused railroad tracks right across the street and quarter of a mile away, a railroad bridge. Down below the bridge, 20 feet away, was a tiny stream and rocks where my brothers experimented with their Molotov cocktails. First a baby food jar with a tablespoon of oil and a quarter cup of gasoline which exploded, made a nice boom and burned till the water washed it away.

Then mayonnaise jars. Finally, when that wasn’t exciting enough, a quart of gasoline and a pint of oil in a glass gallon jar.

They lit it on fire, leaned over the edge of the railroad bridge, and dropped it on the rocks below. The explosion fluttered their pants and took all the hair off their faces and some off their heads. They were half way home before they realized they were running, and in their bedrooms studying for some imaginary school quiz when the police and fire department showed up to see what the explosion was out there in the estuary where all the protected wildlife lived.

I’ve always assumed they hadn’t blown up any California least terns or other endangered species but I wasn’t there so I don’t know. My father found out virtually everything they ever did (we discovered later because he’d also done the same things) but I’m not sure that the experimentation with blowing things up ever came to light. But I also know that after they almost blew themselves up and removed all their facial hair in the process, they never experimented with blowing things up again.


A Reading on Reading

have you heard the sad fact
that after school most people never read another book?
this is confusing to me
are they too busy? too tired? did they forget how?
it isn’t a lack of great books
I read a new one every year, another weighty tome filled with deathless prose that makes me feel and makes me see things differently, changes my perspective, changes me
and who’s too busy for that?

maybe they don’t want to change
and I get it
because I didn’t either, until I did
it’s inertia, that thing Newton described, that a person without direction will remain directionless, a resister of change will resist until resistance is not futile but painful
because they say we only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same
and that’s sad, too, if you only change to change the pain
and I know pain can make you tired but never be too tired to move away from pain and what if a book will change you without pain, did you consider that?

but I don’t think they know about the change thing, so it must be that they’ve forgotten how
forgotten how to slip between the covers of a gentleman in Moscow, how to go back to 11.22.63, where to hunt for Red October or ditch the big sleep and be gone with the wind
or they’ve mislaid the memory of saying goodnight moon with a hungry caterpillar and a purple crayon where those wild things weave a web and cats wear hats and hop on who knows who
or maybe they never knew about how the pigeon found that hot dog and why he shouldn’t drive the bus, why Anne must be spelled with an e, how the wind sounds in the willows or how to find where the sidewalk ends

but if a little engine could, even after a terrible horrible no good very bad day
maybe we can teach them again
and they’ll remember that reading doesn’t hurt, it heals
and after the initial inertia instead of resistance we’ll have more readers
and the readers’ kids will be readers
like yours
and like mine
like you
and me
and wouldn’t that be splendid?


Aging Squared

My dad was 26 when I was born. I was 26 when he died in a traffic accident.

My mom was 18 when I was born. As I approach 60 this year, she just turned 78.

When Dad died at 52 he was riding his bike 20 miles each way to work every day.

Mom has never been quite so active. These days, she’s bedridden and uses a wheelchair to get around—except when she doesn’t.

She’s started falling down. A lot. We’ve reached that point where we’re having the difficult conversations about her care and her living conditions. She’s mentally competent, so it’s her decision, but we worry about her living in a regular apartment instead of somewhere there’s onsite help when she falls.

I’m too old for this. Also too old to have a 15-year-old daughter excited about learning to drive later this year.

Maybe I’m just too old, period.

(Nah. Saw a short video about a wonderful lady who’s 108 and still chugging along, happy as Moses and loved by so many people. Here’s to my next 49 years!)


Wind in the Trees

Excerpt from a book I plan to finish someday.

Long before the huge Buick burst from the trees he heard the thrum of the huge engine his Uncle Quest bragged about. Gravel scrunched and popped as he slowed abruptly to turn into the driveway.

The massive door slammed. “Hey, Plum!”

“Hey yourself, Plum!” His uncle and aunt had been making up nonsense greetings for as long as he could remember. Never with others, just between them. Fruits meant happy, good news, his uncle’s wide smile and his aunt blushing.

“Where’s my princess? Or did she get promoted to empress by now?” Bets giggled as she ducked behind Momma’s chair. Betsy squealed as Quentin gave her hair a tug over Beth’s shoulder.

“What are you hearing?” His uncle sat behind him and looked over his shoulder toward the trees.

“Just the wind.”

“Saying anything I oughta hear?”

“Nah.” He was always a little embarrassed when his uncle asked about the things he heard. Not because he was mocking, but because he wasn’t.

“Alright, then. Keep me posted, eh?”

“Sure.” He couldn’t help smiling. His uncle was the biggest man he knew and yet he seemed small. No, not small, quiet. Young. Something like that. To look at him you’d expect a bear or a bull, but he was more like a cat, a big friendly cat.


Dry Heat

at least it’s a dry heat

crematoriums, or would it be crematoria?
they use dry heat

so does the oven in the kitchen
unless you’re using bain marie
which is French for boiled with wet air
a common cause of insanity and death in east Texas

fire
fire is as dry as heat gets
but we don’t want first responders to say “at least it’s a dry fire”
at least it’s a dry fire

that frying pan you left on the stove top after you rinsed it
when you remembered it and took it off the burner and you forgot how long it had been on so you didn’t use a potholder
that’s a dry heat

in Seattle
or San Francisco
or Milwaukee
they don’t say, when it rains, “at least it’s a cool wet”
it doesn’t help
thank you
thank you very much for reminding me that instead of being cold and wet, I could be hot and wet
because knowing things could be worse always makes the pain go away
worse things happen at sea
possibly to children starving in China
I don’t know
but I still won’t eat liver
so don’t tell me they’re hungry
it doesn’t help

temperatures should have 2 digits
I’m flexible
the first digit can be anywhere from 2 to 7
and the second digit can be anything you like
any number at all
I’m flexible

but when the temperature has 3 digits
no matter what they are
I know it’s a dry heat
I’ve used an oven
and a frying pan
and I’ve been to Seattle
and San Francisco
and even Milwaukee
not China
not yet
and nobody says “at least it’s a cool wet”
nobody says that
anywhere
and there’s a reason for it
it doesn’t make sense
even to those hungry Chinese children