Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, November 28, 2016

Willnot by James Sallis

Willnot by James Sallis is a poetic and lyrically written novel. It is a ballet of words that flow from action to philosophy, (“Why are we here, Stephen?” Doc asks a patient) to memories through dreams and then back through the course again. It is stream of consciousness, non-sequiturs, flashes from here and there, connected by the poetic prose and some fabulous puns sprinkled ever so masterfully. Road signs: “Caution Church,” Fiends are Forever,” This Property is Pasted,” “Watch for Falling Crocks,” a license plate in Texas: RVLTN, Revolution or Revelation? And my favorite “Jesus Saves with the first ‘s’ of ‘saves’ to Jesus Raves.” Is Jesus the subject of adjective? I’m always misreading road signs to my amusement and those in the car. It is a delightful and a fun and an addictive read. Wish there were more of it.
Lamar Hale, a doctor, and his partner, Richard, the “schoolmarm,” an English teacher, live in Willnot, a rural town. They have a cat named Dickens. Death is all around them since some of the doctor’s patients die; that’s what happens at the end of life. Richard’s student pass and fail; that’s what students do; and administrators forget they were once teachers. This is about life, real life; and death is part of real life as is schooling. The novel is filled with full tilt characters who are just “passing through” and those who “just keep moving.” Willnot is like a circus town as folks come and go with and without fanfare. A mass grave has been discovered; soldiers who are snipers from undeclared wars pass through; an FBI agent comes through on assignment and then finds it a good place for leisure time; truckers have accidents and die in the hospital; others come to the hospital and recover; students have physicals, ancestors come home to die. Lamar dreams of the past as he remembers his dad; sits by a dying man who has come home to his ancestral Haversham home and other ghosts of the past to help him with the here and now.
Over dinner every night, sometimes in their “periodic shutdowns” which meant no television, no radio, and no newspapers for twenty four hours, Lamar and Richard review the day’s events and bring it all into perspective as any dinner should. Each learns much from the other, but they learn more from those whose paths they cross during the day. These ramblings of Sallis are about the business of living and letting live that is a metaphor for all of us to follow in the living of life. As always parts of the past are integral in the present and eventually the future as stories are shared between the two. Stories are what we are all about and understanding those stories helps make our lives understandable. The threads of life are woven magically by Sallis and help create a most beautiful web resembling life; a thing we are all passing through and also seem to be strays in, trying to discover why we are here.
I think I’ll read this rich literary event again. And what’s with the title? O joy, oh frabjous day.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Presumption of Guilt by Archer Mayor


Presumption of Guilt by Archer Mayor is the latest installment of Joe Gunther and his special crimes unit in Vermont. The special unit is a unique collection of characters. Joe has finally made his relationship with Beverly Hillstrom, the ME public and it is hot, the gloves and the masks come off; Deputy Lester Spinney’s son, David, is now a cop allowing each to become more close with the other; and Willy Kunkle, a former NYC cop now in VT has settled down and has begun a family with his fellow cop, Sam. He brings his own unique brand of oddness and ways to the group with his observations and behavior. His most bizarre behavior is that he has hired Dan Kravitz to circumvent the law by having Dan break into houses to find information and evidence when procedure is too cumbersome. Dan Kravitz brings his local craziness to the story.  It is of course his actions that upset the whole applecart, otherwise why have them in the story? They even so far as to mock television cop shows when it comes to the speed of DNA results and other time consuming practices, like getting a search warrant. It adds to the tension and cowboyness of Willy from NYC. There is more humanity in this new addition to the Joe Gunther series.
This is a mystery that demonstrates how the past can come back to bite you in the ass, especially when everything from the past was done in the wrong way. Old gangsters have gone into another direction of seeming legitimacy, like the Kennedys and Rockefellers only to be dragged back to the sewer from which they came.
The body of Hank Mitchell has been found in cement poured forty years ago when the Yankee nuclear plant was built. He was killed and dumped at the pour out of convenience forty years ago. He was eliminated because he wanted to do the right thing and was in the way. This event during the deconstruction of said now defunct plant has opened old wounds and has made the discovery of his body an inconvenience to some. A group of people now in their sixties has had their lives upset with more murder. Incompetence has been renewed after forty years. These old guys mess it up thinking they still have it, but don’t. It is a clash of generations as always.
There are a number of familial themes examined in this tale. David Spinney is dragged into it, which provides his father some good teachable moments. In another part of the story, Dan Kravitz has involved his daughter, Sally, in his bizarre schemes. Here, too, there is an important realization about dad. Hank Mitchell’s family has some real important moments as they discovered that their dad was murdered and didn’t just run away, as many believed. This changes a lot of things for all of them. Even our curmudgeon, Willy shows signs of humanity as he takes extra precautions to safe guard his own child from what he thinks may be danger, causing his wife to see the sweeter side of him, which he reminds her is not real, but is. These glimpses into familial relationship add perfect humanity.
Comic relief comes from the exchanges between Joe and his NH counterpart, as they have to collaborate a bit in the case. Joe crosses the Connecticut River into NH, “Live, Freeze, or Die,” only to be insulted by his NH counterpart about the socialistic state of Vermont. Their exchanges are hilarious. It assures us that cops do have a sense of humor.
This is more than just another mystery; it is a tale about family, love, trust, and collegiality with murder in the background. This is a great series and I look forward to the next thriller.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Quiet Part IV


Mattie couldn’t have kids and that put a strain on the two of them. She was a gardener, a planter, and the fact that she couldn’t have children depressed her tremendously and slowly things between the two of them began to unwind. She began drinking and that was the beginning of the end for the two of them.
In the meantime, Sarah fell in love, married and moved into her own home with her new husband, Jake, who was also a doctor. Sarah was a pediatrician and Jake was a dermatologist. As Sarah turned thirty-three, she became pregnant with their first child. They were following the millennial adage, baby free until thirty-three. Within three years she had their second son. Kurt was over the moon in love with his grandsons and spent as much time with them as he could while their parents worked.
Things were not good with Mattie and her drinking continued to be a problem. Kurt would pour out the bottles but she replaced them and hid them well. Kurt gave up trying to help her since she didn’t want help. Another marriage had gone sour and Kurt was beside himself as he began spending more time at work and at Sarah’s house with his grandsons at the end of the day and on weekends.
The night of the fire began like any other evening. Kurt would come home after picking up his grandsons and delivering them home. He would make dinner for Mattie and himself. Rarely did Mattie actually eat with him since she was either not hungry or too drunk to eat. By this time, Hope was living alone after her mom died. Hope had lost all of her hope for life and was a mess. She was financially ruined and faced eviction from her home. Whatever happened to her trust fund was a mystery. She barged in on Kurt and a semi passed out Mattie while Kurt was cooking dinner. Hope was in need of money and figured Kurt owed it to her since he hadn’t paid her money for child support. Kurt reminded her that she didn’t cash his checks and that he wasn’t going to give her money now. She demanded the money and Mattie in a sudden fit of anger threw her glass of whiskey at Hope, but instead of hitting her she hit the stove with the open flames. There was an explosion that knocked everyone down and Kurt was able to get Mattie out while Hope crawled out on her own. The house was a total loss. Mattie went to the hospital and Hope went home. Kurt went to Sarah’s house. Kurt put Mattie into a recovery program and Hope moved into a smaller apartment in town, not too far from where she lived when she first met Kurt as a lithe dancer in college, the flowering dogwood. There was irony in there some place, but Kurt left it alone. Kurt divorced Mattie and provided her with adequate financial support. He didn’t feel any obligation to Hope, but did provide her with a small, a very small stipend to help her through each month. He was done with the two of them and was now back in his rebuilt house living alone and happier for it. While lying on the couch in the living room after his grandsons had gone home, he slowly fell asleep in the quiet except for the tick tock of the clock and thinking about his long term plans to take his grandsons to the national parks camping that summer and then to their return at the end of the summer to the boys’ new little sister.
(the end)

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Quiet Part III


Hugo’s business had taken off. He now had very lucrative and large projects at homes of DC’s politicians. Actually these projects began when Kurt worked for Hugo years ago. Kurt had brought botanical knowledge to the job and provided expert advice about what to plant and not to plant in this area. Keeping everything local and staying away from invasive species, the jobs Hugo did won praise and acclaim because the newly planted and landscaped properties received great accolades from the press and floral groups in the area. Because the politicians needed that kind of good press about their actions, Hugo’s landscaping business exploded. Now that Kurt was back, the sky was the limit and he was very happy about his plans for the summer.
At the middle school graduation, some of Kurt’s former students returned for the ceremonies and in their exchanges they discovered he was going to be working with Hugo and the landscaping business. The former students had heard of this new “landscaping” phenomenon and asked if Kurt might get them jobs for the summer because their parents were haranguing them about getting a job for the summer. Kurt was happily surprised and told them he would speak to Hugo about it. Hugo loved the idea especially as it meant he was now hiring local kids to do work locally using local plants. It was a win win win scenario.
That summer was the happiest Kurt had been in years. He even started butting heads with his mother-in-law and didn’t care about the new tension in the house, that he didn’t own or choose. Hope had gone from lover back to being a daughter, then mother, while lover was a thing of the past. He was now back in his plant realm and was rising from the ashes to regain himself. He knew his marriage was on the rocks and would soon be over since his mother-in-law made it her goal to force him out of her daughter’s life.
By the end of the summer, Kurt was back in his old apartment building but in a different apartment. The formal divorce was just a matter of time and Kurt let it unwind naturally since he couldn’t fight his mother-in-law who had more money than God. The big issue was of course, Sarah who was only three.
The landscaping business thrived and Kurt was helping design some of the most valuable property in America owned by some of the most powerful people in America. Because of this, television shows featuring the powerful owners of these homes spent a great deal of time in their yards speaking more about their property than about politics. When Kurt and Hugo came to discuss the landscaping plans for these powerful people, meetings were halted so the owners could spend time with Kurt and Hugo. Soon Kurt and Hugo had more work than they could handle. They were celebrities in their own right. There was a waiting list for their services.
Kurt quit teaching and Hugo made Kurt a full and equal partner in the business. Kurt was a made man. He could now take on his mother-in-law. He hired a lawyer and began fixing the wrongs done to him in the divorce. It wasn’t about money since Hope never cashed any of his child support checks; it was about equal custody and access to Sarah. Now Kurt not only had money, he had the support of some of the most powerful people in the world backing him. Soon he was seeing Sarah more now than he had before and in and on his own terms and in his new home, not too far from where she lived with her mom. She could ride her bike between homes if she wanted to.
Hope started looking and acting a lot more like her mom since she stopped dancing and never worked a day in her life. Hope was no longer the lithe and active woman Kurt remembered and fell in love with. She looked a decade older than he did. That sparkle was gone and she was old and tired before her time. Sarah wasn’t happy at her mom’s house and spent more time with Kurt than with Hope. Hope started drinking more and Sarah would tell Kurt about how when she came home from school her mom would be passed out in bed, so would come over to Kurt’s house and be there when Kurt came home from work to have dinner after she did her homework. The mother-in-law wasn’t around much either, as the family money making business began losing money and required her attention more and more. Sarah was spending more time at Kurt’s house and by high school lived there and visited her mom on weekends if sports didn’t interfere. Sarah played soccer, basketball, and softball. Kurt was there for her and since the business was doing so well and they had hired a cadre of workers to attend to all of the daily work. Kurt was designing the landscape jobs, Hugo who was older was working part time and a couple of former students of Hugo’s were now running the day-to-day business of the operations.
In his time off, Kurt would take Sarah on summer camping trips to the national parks and he would spend his time enjoying the fauna and the beauty of the parks. Kurt was a happy camper.
When Sarah went off to college, Kurt was alone and within a short time met a woman who would become his second wife. He met Mattie at a flower show in DC. She was representing a vendor that provided some local exotics. Her company became a supplier for Kurt’s business and before long he invited her for dinner. Mattie was spending more time at Kurt’s. They were married in the summer after Sarah’s sophomore year at college. Sarah liked Mattie and Mattie loved Sarah.
In the meantime, Hope’s parent’s business was losing money and sinking faster than the Titanic. By the time Sarah graduated, her grandparents were broke and living with Hope. Kurt ignored Hope’s appeal for help. Even Sarah shunned her mom as she began medical school in Maryland. After Hope’s dad committed suicide, she and her mother became recluses. Sarah finished medical school and became a pediatrician. Kurt’s business was thriving, as was his second marriage.
(to be continued)

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Quiet Part II


“We have to stop meeting like this.” Cowgirl said to Kurt, who was nursing a beer, when she came up to him a week later at that same bar. “I’m ravenous, let’s get some food.” She announced. She downed the water sitting on the bar.
“Let me cook you dinner.” Kurt suggested.
“You cook, too.” She gleefully responded. “Wow, Okay, cowboy, but I’m not a meat eater.”  She coyly replied as her hand found her way to his crotch and she giggled again and said, “I do make exceptions, though.”
Again Kurt left the change of a ten on the bar and they ambled out.
They stopped at the market on the way to Kurt’s house and picked up fixings for dinner. They picked up a salmon fillet and some asparagus. Kurt had the rest of the ingredients he needed at home. He put the salmon on a bed of spinach covered with some halved cherry tomatoes and sliced onions in a wine and vegetable stock in a baking dish and cooked it at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. He quick steamed the asparagus just as the salmon was cooked and cooling. He served that with previously made cucumber and tomato and red onion salad in red vinegar. Cowgirl was impressed and appreciative and she was ravenous in more ways than one that night.
As they were eating, Kurt discovered her name was Hope, and she learned his name as well. Hope was a dance major for no reason at all except she liked dancing. Kurt came from money, but not enough that he didn’t have to work, but he did for a local landscaper so he could get practical knowledge for his theoretical knowledge in his botany classes. His parents were not happy he was working because they feared it would interfere with his studies. Hope on the other hand didn’t work and would never work a day in her life. She was a trust fund baby. She was rolling in money and would for the rest of her life; she thought or was made to believe. Kurt didn’t see this as a red flag, why should he? He should have is what he learned later.
Kurt shared his dreams with Hope about working in the forests of the national parks. She shared her experiences of visiting the national parks with her uncle and aunt, and not with her parents who were busy making money so she wouldn’t have to work. Her folks traveled first class to the best places in the world, while her uncle and aunt preferred camping in the national parks and took Hope because they didn’t have children. She didn’t have dreams. She was a sad hopeless child.
During the last two years of college, they lived together, and Hope was still dancing, but was neither interested nor involved with Kurt’s landscaping or even concerned with his dreams. Instead of applying for national park service, Kurt found a science-teaching job nearby and soon, Hope was pregnant. Her dancing career was over, but then she never had plans for one, so she wasn’t disappointed. Her parents were ecstatic and so happy at the prospect of becoming grandparents. All of a sudden her mom was in her life like never before. Either the mom was at their apartment or they were at her house in the Virginia suburbs during the pregnancy. Before Kurt knew it he was sucked into their family and saw little of his own. One day when Kurt came home from his menial job, which he was growing to hate, Hope told him she and her mom found the cutest little house in Virginia for them to move into. Kurt and Hope had never spoken about this move nor of getting a house. This was her mom’s idea and she did it because she could and just assumed Kurt would go along with it or didn’t care if Kurt liked it or not. Once they moved in, Kurt had a bad commute each day and was getting less and less happy. Every day he came home, Hope’s mom was there and the house was changing into something he didn’t recognize. As Hope got into her last trimester, Hope’s mom turned from a constant visitor to a permanent fixture in the guest room. Kurt was living with his wife and mother-in-law. Kurt had done his job; he had gotten Hope pregnant. He wasn’t needed anymore. The last time Kurt and Hope were alone together was when she gave birth to Sarah. After Sarah was born, Kurt was looking in from the outside as his mother-in-law took over everything.
Kurt started coming home late as he found himself stopping at his watering hole on the way home, where he ran into his old boss, Hugo, from the landscaping business where he worked during college. Hugo was shocked to see him still in town and asked about what happened to his national park plans. Kurt explained how he got a woman pregnant and was now a middle school science teacher so far from his dreams he forgot what they were. Hugo, too, had his problems as his son was not interested in the landscape business and Hugo’s business was struggling. As the two continued talking Hugo asked, “Hey would you like to come back and work with me during the summer?” Kurt immediately declined but after another beer, turned to Hugo and told him that the idea might be good since he realized being in the house all summer with three generations of women might not be healthy for him. He told Hugo he would and maybe they should start as soon as school let out which was in a month. Hugo suggested some work on the weekends since spring had already offered him good contracts that he was afraid he couldn’t fulfill.
Kurt wasn’t sure if it was the extra beer or the idea of rejoining Hugo that made his return home so much more enjoyable since the birth of his daughter. Kurt ate alone because the women ate at the regular time and he wasn’t home. His mother-in-law said they had to keep a schedule for the sake of the baby and the mother. All the fun of bathing the baby, feeding the baby from extracted breast milk, changing diapers and calming a crying baby had ben taken away from Kurt by his mother-in-law. It was then that Kurt realized how unhappy he was and was elated at the prospect of rejoining forces with Hugo and being out of this mad house in the summer. That weekend he began to retake his life back when he rejoined Hugo.
(to be continued)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Quiet Part I


As he lay there on the couch in the absolute quiet, except for the constant tick tock of the clock, he reflected on the fact that this was the time he liked best. The outside interferences were silent; rain and snow do that. This time it was snow. As Kurt sat and celebrated the quiet, his attention to it made him wander off the reservation. All of a sudden his stomach was making noises and his head was swimming in it all. ‘It all’ being the operative phrase as he had to recover from a burned down house and women. The last was of course the herculean task. The former merely a bump in the road, a road that ain’t paved. Suffice it to say the women were instrumental in the burned down house.  An ex and a future ex got into a heated argument in the kitchen during Kurt’s preparation of dinner, which involved alcohol and fire. Kurt had decided to stay at his daughter Sarah’s house while his home was being rebuilt, enjoy his grandsons, and savor the renewed quiet of his life.
Kurt thought short term, never long term.  It’s how he got here. So where is here?
Kurt loved to cook. He loved to cook for a woman, to share a fine meal, and then to share his bed. It was his way of seduction. He was good at it, too good perhaps. Kurt met his ex this way. She a dance major and he was a science major studying botany. He wanted to get into forestry and work in national parks. Instead he became a middle school science teacher teaching about exploding volcanoes, balls rolling down chutes, and mixing chemicals to clear out a room in seconds.  Occasionally he’d take the students on field trips to the woods to look at trees and identify them, but it was more of a hassle to do that then not. Field trips sucked because of all the paperwork and supervision of middle schoolers. So much for his dreams.
She was lithe, beautiful, and reminded him of the flowering dogwood. That she was from Virginia was apt he thought. He had to explain that the state flower and tree of Virginia was the flowering dogwood. This should have been a clue to him, but it wasn’t since he wasn’t really interested in her mind. That was another mistake; always make the mind the most important thing he would learn. Rules were good if you followed them he always reminded himself after each mistake from a broken rule.
He first saw her dancing at the local bar that had live music almost every night and was intrigued with how her body moved, she was hypnotizing. At a break in the music she came to the bar and stood next to him. She ordered water without ice. She chugged the water and ordered another and left a dollar on the bar. “May I buy you the next drink, Miss?” Kurt inquired. She looked at him, smiled and said, “Maybe another evening, cowboy.” After she chugged that one, she put down the glass, smiled again at Kurt and left. He was intrigued, Cowboy?
It was two weeks before he saw her again. He returned to that bar regularly hoping to see her again.  He had pretty much given up hope he would ever see her again, but went to the club anyway and was pleasantly surprised to see her dancing beautifully on the dance floor when he walked in. He went to the bar ordered a beer and stood there just staring at her and imagining what it would be like to be in bed with her. While she was dancing, she looked over at him, smiled, turned away for effect, made some pretty moves and then turned again and while staring straight at him walked over to him in the middle of the song and asked, “Buy a girl a drink, cowboy?” Kurt ordered water without ice. “You remembered, good.” She said never taking her eyes off his. When the water came, she consumed it in one gulp and handed the glass to Kurt who handed in to the bartender and said, “Do it again.” They never broke eye contact. After she downed the second one in two gulps, she asked, “Do you dance?” “No, not really.” Kurt sighed. “Hmm, alright, let’s go to your place and I’ll teach you.” She offered. “Okay.” Smiled Kurt as he left the change of a ten on the bar and they left, hand in hand. “Do you have white wine at your place?” She asked. “Yes, I do.” He replied. “Good.” She purred.
When they arrived at his apartment, she asked for that glass of wine and to look at his CD’s. She put on the sultry Bill Withers, took the wine and put her arm around his neck, drew him in and said, “Let me show you how to dance.” She moved her body against his and they danced. As she sipped and they danced, she giggled and said, “I see you like me.” Their pelvises were touching and it was obvious he liked her. She put the glass of wine down and she had them naked in minutes. She was ravenous, all consuming. She was all over him and they made love all night long, here, there, and finally ended up in bed. As the sun began to rise, she rolled over, gave him a kiss and said she had an early dance class. “That was fun, let’s do that again, soon, Okay cowboy?” Exhausted and in disbelief with what had just happened, he barely uttered or moaned, “Sure.”
As she was leaving, he mustered enough strength to ask, “What’s your name?”
“Cowgirl.” And the door slammed shut.  He was left with just the tick tock of his clock and his own inner peace.
(to be continued)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wintering by Peter Geye


Wintering by Peter Geye intrigued me because of the title. We are heading into winter so it seemed appropriate. It also returns me to the northern Minnesota woods and deals with generations and survival in nature.  It’s about living in harsh conditions, surviving in harsh conditions, and loving in harsh conditions. This is a sad love story. A love story that is eked out after hate has run its course. It involves four generations: Odd, Harry, Gus, and Tom Eide, and the complicated story of their women and family: fathers and sons, infidelity, forgiveness, and the passing on of history to the next generation.
Who are we and how did we get here? Why do we have to wander in the wilderness for so long and so slowly like glaciers? Although Voyageurs are real people who wandered the Minnesota lakes, the metaphor cannot be lost on any of us and about our quest to discover ourselves.
A father, Harry, and his son, Gus, travel in the Minnesota north woods on the lakes in canoes the father made. They are following the maps the father made to find a fort in the middle of nowhere. They are doing what the Voyageurs have done before them. But it is mostly lies, the reason for the trip, the maps, and the fort. The father is running into the wilderness with his son to draw his enemy out into this domain and away from the comfort of his enemy. This is another Into the Wild adventure of sorts. The reason for the conflict in this remote village near Lake Superior is because of women, their photographs and their portraits and men’s desires. In the privacy of the wilderness all the secrets ooze out. The denouement is the finding of hundred year old letters in a safe hidden in the wall of an apothecary shop that is being converted into a historical museum of the town and of the families, especially the Eides’, providing clarity about the past and a clue as to how they got here today. It is not just another well-told tale of a dysfunctional family; it is a tale of unrequited love. Love isn’t something to mess with. Don’t play hard to get or you never get gotten. Don’t wait for the right moment cause the right moment is now. When a conversation should continue, don’t excuse yourself and go home alone. The saddest love story is one told of regrets and should haves. I’m not just talking about love between a man and a woman, but also about the love of a parent and a child. Love is a lot harder than hate. This is what makes us dysfunctional, hating more than loving; not loving for fear of the pain of loss is dysfunctional. The lesson is to grab at love when it is right there in front of you instead of walking away from it. Be proactive. Bring the flowers. Be vulnerable. Be engaged in your life and love and discard hate, fear, and second thoughts. Life is too short to not share it with another. Winter is always followed by spring for a reason.

Friday, November 11, 2016

An Unsung Hero by Michael Smith


An Unsung Hero by Michael Smith tells the life story of a young County Kerry man, Tom Crean, and his extraordinary adventures in Antarctica. He was an early conqueror of that vast land and lived to tell about it. How he survived and even seemed to flourish in such a place is the focus of this book. I read this book in front of a raging fire or wrapped in quilts in my bed. I was freezing as I read this book and it wasn’t that cold outside. I’m a wimp compared to this man. These adventures happened before WW I and the third and most impressive of trips to the frozen land was during the battles of WW I. They were not equipped for their ordeal with proper clothing as we are today. He was the first to go where he went and do the things he did. Studying Antarctica is so commonplace today because of his exploits. He did this to survive and to assist scientists and explorers, and eventually save those men around him, a rare trait in a man today. He was selfless and humble.
Crean joined the British Navy at sixteen in 1893 to escape the harrowing life as a farmer in his County Clair. The life he was about to begin made his farmer future in Ireland seem an idyllic life. It was the calm and the songs he learned on that farm saved him and many others on his three heroic trips to the frozen continent, which has honored him by having his name affixed to a couple of landmarks down there.
I’ve camped all my life. I’ve done solos as a hiker, in a canoe, and now in my Scamp trailer. I pride myself on being a survivalist of sorts and have often surprised myself about myself when I have been alone in nature or with others. Story of Tom Cream I was amazed at skills and his fortitude. Considering his equipment and the times, I was constantly in awe considering the improvement in equipment we now have that has allowed more of us to be like Crean and his comrades. I know I would have had a hard time surviving in his realm. I’m sure I would have, but I don’t want to test that theory. This is a most inspiring story of an unsung hero with a happy ending, unlike Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My dad wasn’t handy


My dad wasn’t handy. I remember when I was young and I was sitting with my mom’s dad and he was showing me pictures of my mother when she was born. One of those pictures of my grandparents holding their newborn daughter hangs on a wall in my bedroom. Everyone in the picture is dead. The images of their faces are imprinted on my brain. When my older daughter, who is more like her mother’s mother in every way than any single way she is like her mom, gave birth to twin girls. I was stunned at how one of them looked just like my mom when she was born. As she got older, she looked more and more like my mom and started to remind me of her, too, in her mannerisms, and in her sly humor. On one occasion I was stunned when after she was not behaving well and giving her mom a hard time, I said to my granddaughter in private, “Why are you giving your mom a hard time?” Without pause and with perfect sincerity, she replied with a look that froze me, because it was my mom’s face and attitude, “Because I have to.” That wasn’t learned. My mom was dead before my granddaughter was born. It made me believe in reincarnation. My son had a formal picture of himself taken for his fraternity and he sent me a copy. I went and dug through my family pictures to find a picture of my dad when he was in college and on a beach in Cape Cod with four other college buddies, all dressed in suits and ties. I stared at the black and white picture of my dad and then at the color picture of my son. Both dressed the same; they could have been the same person. The cock of the head, the smile, the eyes, the ears, the hair, the hair! The hair was the most bizarre. They had the same cut, how can that be so many decades apart. He looked more like my father than I did. He is more like my father then I was, just as I was more like my dad’s dad than my dad was. My dad died a couple of weeks before my son was born.
My dad’s dad was handy. My dad wasn’t handy. His dad was an engineer and worked with, not for Edison, in NJ. I never met my father’s father, even though he died when I was in my twenties. My father had serious issues with his dad. For one thing, he was upset his dad never took credit for what he did with Edison. My cousins would tell me stories of how when they went to Grandpa’s house he always had gadgets to open doors or do chores around the house. My Grandpa was a tinkerer and an inventor. I am more like my dad’s dad than my dad.
My dad’s dad was handy. My dad wasn’t handy. I’m handy. As I was growing up, I’d tinker with things. I’d take things apart and rebuild them. I took a bike apart and reassembled it. I took outside steps apart and rebuilt them based on what I learned in the deconstruction. I rebuilt my 1960 VW 36 horsepower engine and was able to fix it when on the road. My dad never had a chance to see me work with and on computers. He did encourage me into carpentry in my youth so that I would have a fall back in my life if my primary career didn’t pan out. As I was doing this tinkering, my dad would often say, sometimes with disgust, how I was like his dad. I always sensed it was an insult to be like my dad’s dad.
My dad’s dad was handy. My dad wasn’t handy. I’m handy. My son isn’t handy. My son has business acumen just as my dad had, something I lack.  I have tried to teach my son carpentry skills or how to change a bike tire or drive a stick shift, but without success. What is it about every other generation and those connections that aren’t shared by parent and child? As I observe the generations from child to parent to grandparent, I am more conscious of the patterns we follow from generation to generation. Traits skipping a generation, adjoining generations butting heads, generations separated by another generation seem more similar than adjoining generations. Is it nature or nurture? Or is it our desire to be different from our parents so we force our similarities out as we seek uniqueness and individuality that may be encouraged by our grandparents?
I was a child, am a parent, and now I am a grandparent. The relationship I have with my grandchildren is so different from the relationship I have with my children. The relationship I had with my mom’s parents is similar to the one I have with my own grandchildren. Why is that? Since I’m not the primary care giver of my grandchildren, I have a more relaxed relationship and they know it. I’m the parent of their parent and therefore can deal with their parents, my children, on behalf of my grandchildren or so they think. I believe it is also a joy for parents to allow their parents to spoil and care for the grandchildren in a way others can’t. Children may feel joy in having their parents use their knowledge to help the grandchildren prosper and live a more full life because of knowledge of life and family.
Ironically, even though I was so different from my dad growing up, I find it odd how much I’m like him now. I do things that remind me of my dad. I look at pictures of him with my second daughter and see myself as a grandfather like my dad. I see goofiness about him with my daughter that I never saw in him as a parent. He was always so serious with me and so much more fun with his granddaughter. I know my daughters love me with my grandchildren and allow me valuable time with them. I’m different with my grandchildren unlike how I was with my own children.
My dad’s dad was handy. My dad wasn’t handy. I’m handy. My son isn’t handy.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Revolver by Duane Swierczynski


Revolver by Duane Swierczynski is a classic Cain and Abel story, a story about a dysfunctional family. It could be Greek or Nordic, too. All families are dysfunctional. On one side of the family table, in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, sit cops while on the other half sit gangsters.  The story revolves around three generations. In this racially loaded tale, the third generation has to solve the crimes of the previous two generations, the sins of the father, so to speak. The crimes are murder and cover-up as the bad seeds climb the ladder of power, first as gangsters then as politicians. It is always interesting how the crooks seek legitimacy through politics and the slow ascension to the highest offices. The Kennedys come to mind as Joe has criminal ties in his early years and then his sons attain the highest political offices and are ironically killed when they attain it or almost attain it. Some may call this kind of justice, karma.
All families have their secrets and closets of skeletons. There just isn’t any getting away from family, no matter how hard one tries or how far one tries to run. Changing names doesn’t work, nor changing cities. Family will always suck you back in. In this tale we watch as family members face their past, their present to form their future and inevitably repeat and continue the sins of the father. It requires that we face our ghosts, bury them, expose them, and move on. There is no hiding our familial ties no matter how hard we try. This tale reminded me a great deal of my own family and just how dysfunctional it is and how much I learned about my own family from other family members after my father died. I was amazed at the complexity of our dysfunctional family history.
As I read this tale, I enjoyed from the reader’s POV, the deconstruction of the entire complexity of family as an objective viewer, while at the same time appreciating my own personal story and family history. I have slowly come to realize over time that we all have stories of dysfunction in our families, which was why I so enjoyed this tale and found it hard to put down. What I enjoyed the most about this tale is that it was merely a look at three generations knowing that the dysfunction started before these generations and will continue for them, me, and all of us into our future generations. The symbology of Cain and Abel, as well as those other similar stories from other cultural religious mythologies, are an important metaphor for all of us about our own dysfunctional families. All cultures share in this story of dysfunction, power struggle, and failed attempt to right wrongs as the dysfunction continues, our great flaw and hubris.

Friday, November 4, 2016

My Bicycle Part IV


In 2003, I moved back up to Hells Kitchen to 50th Street between Ninth and Tenth Ave. The place was gentrifying nicely since my former days in 1981. I had a backyard to store my bike and as I found I spent more time on it, I needed to upgrade. That was when I went to a local bike shop on Ninth Ave and met a rider who had done some riding in France and knew bikes. He set me up with my current Cannondale Six and had maintained it ever since for me. This was when I started doing some serious riding, joined the NYCC bike club and went on road trips with them and started doing centuries more regularly. I got a teaching job up on 102nd Street and would often ride my bike to school and back instead of taking the subway. I was closer to the George Washington Bridge and spent every weekend in NJ riding up to West Point or just along the river. I was still learning how to ride a bike.
Riding in NYC was an intense experience because of the number of people on foot, in vehicles, and on bikes. It kept me constantly vigilant. People cross any street any where on the block whenever they want to, which makes them a constant road hazard. They look for vehicles not bikes, so they don’t stop even in crosswalks against the light, which was why many bikers in the early days carried whistles and used them. In time the whistles became useless. NYC is a pedestrian city and all bikers must recognize that. I preferred riding on the left side of the road, away from the side where buses drove. They don’t care about anything except getting to the bus stop, their domain. Cabs are always a menace as they care only for their fare and tip, not bikers. The next hazard about cabs is that the passenger rarely looks before opening a door and often as the cab is coming to a stop. Getting “doored” is not fun. It happened to me once and never again. Trucks always provided pause as they were concerned for one thing, the delivery and they didn’t own the truck. They parked wherever they wanted causing constant problems. Oddly enough, other bikers could be a problem especially if they don’t communicate. The bike messengers were the worst, though more often than not the better bikers on the road, but they broke all the rules making it difficult for the rest of us on bikes as they blew through crosswalks and in between crossing traffic. The delivery bikes were the worst as they always went the wrong way on streets and avenues. I had my biggest issues with delivery bikes, especially when I was walking, and in many cases when shocked by them going the wrong way I’d have to push them to save myself and when on a sidewalk I wouldn’t move. They were the bad guys of biking. My favorite riding was on weekends when the normal New Yorker is calmer and the city was filled with tourists who observed the rules of the road. That made traveling on any of the avenues a fun ride as I could get my speeds up and go the entire length without hitting a light. I also found myself riding more down the middle of the road with the traffic than on either side. On good days, I was going with the traffic or faster, which made it very safe.
I had many different kinds of locks so that I could get off the bike and go in to someplace to enjoy myself. Locking a bike in NYC is an art. When done well, the bike was there when I returned. I’ve seen many bikes locked up, missing a seat, a tire, or both tires. Thieves would take whatever they could as a prize. I never lost anything.
In February 2012, I retired and moved to Maryland on the Eastern Shore near Assateague Island. I found the flat roads fabulous. I spent my first year riding every day. I was doing centuries every two weeks while a fifty or sixty-mile ride was the norm. In that first year I did four organized centuries in addition to my own rigorous riding regimen. I got into watching the Tour de France every July and learned so much about riding. Now I have a Scamp trailer and travel around the country with my two bikes. The road bike to enjoy the Colorado mountains, the Road to the Sun in Glacier, roads all along the Great Lakes and the California coast while the mountain bike gets me around the parks and along the carriage paths of Acadia. The mountain bike was my main form of transport in NOLA for Jazz Fest, while morning rides found me along the Delta of the Mississippi south of English Turn from my St Bernard campsite for my daily twenty-mile ride. Now I have restricted my rides to twenty miles every day for an hour and fifteen-minute exercise regimen, except when I cut the grass, which takes me two and a half hours. I can’t ride and cut the grass on the same day. Tried that once and suffered for a day.
In 2010, I had a TIA stroke, which was a surprise and a wakeup call. It happened after a sixty-mile ride and the doctor believes I was stricken by some cholesterol that broke away and affected the back of my brain and vision. Bike riding was crucial in my recovery and eventual easing off the medicine as exercise and diet have been very important for me in my retirement. Today at sixty-seven, I’m a stronger and more active man then I would have expected. My doctor is very happy at where I am in regards to my health and that is very important as I now turn my attention to my grandchildren. It is all about maintenance of the bike and my body. My bicycle is very important to me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

My Bicycle Part III


Things changed a bit once I got my driver’s license.
The bike was rarely used from my sixteenth birthday until my thirtieth birthday when I moved into NYC in 1979 and got rid of my car and lived on my bike. I lived in Hells Kitchen on 49th Street between Eighth and Ninth Ave on the fifth floor of a five-floor walkup. I carried the bike up and down those stairs when I needed cheap transportation. I couldn’t afford cabs and the subway system was not extensive in my area or where I went. I was all over the city on weekends.  I would ride down to Sky Rink to play hockey at two in the morning with guys my age. I’d ride down to Roxy Roller rink to roller skate with the beautiful people. I’d lock my stead up to the fences near these venues and ride home and then walk up those stairs, take a shower and on some nights walk over to 54 to close out the night and greet the morning. The bike kept me in shape and allowed me to live this life.
The brakes were the first things to go on the bike. I took them off and put soccer shin pads on the calf of my right leg. I’d put my leg in front of the pedal and stomp my foot down on the road so I could stop. I could stop better this way than with brakes. The tape was the next to go and the bare cold handlebars were covered with old time plastic grips for a kid bike, similar to the ones I had on my first bike. The sparrow seat was shredding and showing more metal than leather. The bike was a mess, but it still got me around. No one wanted to steal it.
When I got married I didn’t need the bike that much. We’d visit her sister in NJ and I’d take the bike to take lovely rides in the Princeton area with my brother-in-law. Over time the wear and tear on the bike in NYC took its toll. One day when my brother-in-law and I were riding in town, I went over a metal road construction plate and bent a wheel. Once fixed, it wasn’t too soon until the frame broke on another NYC road hazard. The NYC streets were brutal and it was time to retire the ten-speed for a mountain bike. I deconstructed what was left of the bike and kept only the rear derailleur, a Grand Sport Campagnolo from before 1966. The new bike, a Rock Hopper was perfect for NYC and for me to get into shape since I was about to be a father.
Bike use in the city was increasing so it was getting safer. I would take that new bike up to Central Park from where we lived down near the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. I’d go up Sixth Ave, do four or five loops of the park and then take Seventh Ave home. Sometimes, I’d go over the Brooklyn Bridge to ride around Prospect Park. I’d explore Queens and Brooklyn until I learned about the George Washington Bridge and its path across the Hudson River into NJ to ride along the Hudson north on River Road. There were lots of riders there and this became my main source of exercise, which still included Roxy but not hockey nor 54.
Since I was a teacher we had summers off and I’d take my bike with us when we went camping as well as one for my daughter. She learned to ride a bike on these camping trips, but never rode in the city. When she was young and to give her mom a break, I’d strap her to a baby carrier seat I had on the back of my bike and take her on my rides up to Central Park. She would fall asleep, so I velcroed her helmeted head to the back of the child carrier, to prevent her head from flopping around.  I did my first century on that bike and swore I’d never do that again. It took me a few days to recover. I didn’t do another century until I bought my road bike.
When my wife announced we were pregnant again, I was ready for my son and spent more time riding because at the age of forty-four, I knew I’d need more energy to father this boy. He spent his early years in that same bike carrier his sister had enjoyed. I even took him along on two five-borough rides. Soon he was on his bike during our camping trips and actually did ride in NYC with me on the quiet streets of downtown. During his middle and high school years in the city, he spent as much time on his bike as I did when I was his age. When my daughter was in college and he was in his junior year of high school, their mom and I divorced. I lived nearby in a neat apartment on Broadway and Wall Street, next to Trinity Church, two blocks south of the WTC. He went to school two blocks north of the same WTC. Right after 911, my bike became very important to me. I lived in the belly of the beast and the bike was the only means of transportation down town. On 911, I went up to my apartment on the nineteenth floor, cleaned out the refrigerator and threw it all down the garbage chute; grabbed my dirty laundry, I was planning on doing laundry that night; and grabbed my bike and walked down the nineteen floors, the electricity was out when Building Seven went down, and rode to my former home where the kids were after I dropped them after a day from Hell and collecting them from their schools. I stayed in their apartment, because the building had brought in a generator and the family went uptown to stay with friends for the two weeks our area was uninhabitable. I did not return to my home for two weeks and used my bike to get to and from work. There weren’t any nearby subways functioning for a while and the ones that went through the WTC were out for a long time, as they had to remove the WTC from the tracks. That was when I learned I needed to carry identification with me all the time in NYC. On a beautiful bike ride out of the hell that was downtown, I was stopped at Chambers Street after blowing through a checkpoint on Canal Street. I was escorted back to my building by a State cop from Illinois, who was there to help the city authorities. From that day forth I have ID and medical cards in my under the seat satchel that also holds spare tubes and a Swiss Army knife. I carry a pump in my bike shirt.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Bicycle Part II


When we moved to Wright Street, on the other side of town, I was introduced to my first big hill. Going down was fun but it ended on the Post Road at a spot where it began climbing another hill after passing over the Saugatuck River on its way to Norwalk. I’d go down and use my foot brakes because I still had a one speed American bike and then attempt to climb back up the hill. It was weeks before I was able to ride from a standstill at the base of Wright Street at the Post Road back to my house at the crest of the hill.
This bike was getting too small for me, another birthday brought me my first three speed English bike and I thought I owned the world. The world was suddenly bigger. I was riding longer rides and was joined by my neighbor John. He and I would spend the next half dozen years exploring Westport to the Norwalk border on the Post Road, where we’d ride to the new fifteen-cent hamburger joint or the store where we’d get a half dozen glazed donuts and lemon ices. We’d leave Westport on long ten-mile rides to Georgetown, beyond Wilton and Weston. On one such ride I had my first major accident.
The accident was probably my fault. One rainy day, I took my bike apart completely and laid it out on a large leaf blanket in the garage. It took me less than an hour to tear it down and almost two days to reconstruct it. I didn’t secure the handlebars well enough, because on that fateful day as I was careening down a hill on our return trip from Georgetown the handlebars didn’t hold and I went head over teacup into a bloody heap on the road, luckily in front of a nurse’s house. She bandaged me up while we waited for my parents to arrive and take my broken bike and me home.
Looking like the mummy, the mechanic at Western Auto showed me what I had forgotten to do to secure the handlebars and I learned more about my bike for future reference. My dad was none to pleased.
During middle school, my bike was my best friend and means of escaping the bullies. I removed the baseball cards from my spokes as they announced my whereabouts and I needed to be more stealth. I learned how to make running mounts to escape, to quickly accelerate and speed through the gears to gain more speed to escape the bullies. I was becoming an accomplished rider as hills and long rides didn’t faze me. Because I had a bike I had a paper route so I could make money for baseball cards. I still shoveled snow and mowed lawns, but I loved delivering newspapers most.
Instead of studying, I’d ride and that caused my parents to send me away to boarding school, which restricted my riding to the summers, which were spent on Nantucket. My bike was taken to the island and left in our new house there all winter. My freedom had been clipped as I was stuck in boarding school and released to a small island in the summer. Within a couple of years, I knew the entire island and had a handful of bike friends. I also learned more about bike maintenance, as I became friends with the Young family, the owners of the biggest bike shop on Nantucket. I learned how to fix flats, fix chains and do minor repairs. It was also where I first learned about ten speed bikes. An older brother of a friend was selling his ten-speed so he could upgrade to a motorcycle. I bought it for fifty dollars. It had Campagnolo parts. This was 1966 and it was a light blue frame, not azure blue, with a Campagnolo Grand Sport rear and front derailleur with center pull brakes and a sparrow seat. It was the fastest and meanest bike on Nantucket and it was mine. I only have the rear derailleur, which hangs on a nail in my house now. That bike lasted me until 1981, when it was finally destroyed by the streets of NYC and was replaced by a mountain bike, a Rock Hopper.
I was very fortunate not just to be on Nantucket for the summer but the neighbors across Union Street came from a town near my school and they always brought a gorgeous baby sitter with them, who in turn would invite her just as gorgeous friends from home for brief visits. I dated many of them and saw a few of them back at school. I got into the bad habit of riding without shoes before I got my ten-speed bike. I was still riding the three speed English bike. I would ride these girls on the bar as we went into town or to the movies or just around. One day to avoid an accident I got both feet caught in the spokes and cut my feet up real bad. I still have those scars. I was off the bike for a month and that was painful.
Once I got my ten-speed, I’d ride back and forth between town and Sconset, a seven and half mile ride, two or three or four times in a day for fun. In those days there was a half way restaurant where I’d stop for snacks. On occasion I’d make the big trip to Sconset and then around the Wauwinet Road back to town. I’d ride to Madaket and on dirt roads to the beaches like Cisco, Dionis, and Tom Nevers Head. The hardest part of riding on Nantucket was of course the cobblestones and I was determined to ride them from the base of Main Street all the way to the top where they ended at Liberty Street. I don’t know how bad it was on the bike or on me, but it was an important rite of passage. The cobblestones never gave me a problem.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

My Bicycle Part I


My bicycle has helped shape and form my life. I determine whether it is a good day if I can ride my bike or not ride it. When I say my bicycle, I mean the bicycle at the time. I had my first bike at seven and now at 67 I have two bicycles, a road bike and a mountain bike. My bicycle is my salvation. I don’t say this lightly. I’m not a Tour rider or a competitive rider, though I ride hard. I say it is my salvation because it offers me freedom when I need it, it provides transportation when I need it, it provides joy and adventure when I seek it, it has provided me vitality and life when I am sore for it, and therapy sessions at the most crucial parts of my life. My life would not be the same if I had never ridden a bike.
When I was seven I received my first bike on my birthday in the fall, a season known for when bikes are put away for the winter and saved until the spring. My dad patiently walked and then ran behind me on West Parish Road in Westport, Connecticut holding the back of my seat and letting go when I got going faster then he could run so that I could wobble down the street for those few fleeting moments of joy and wonder that I was riding before I tumbled over in a heap by the side of the road. My mother was incredulous that I kept at it and pleaded with my father to separate me from my bike. They both learned that wasn’t going to be possible. Even when my dad chained the bike to a post in the garage, I used a hacksaw to free it and eventually me from its chains. I’d spend afternoons learning to ride the bike and soon was all over my neighborhood in the mid 50’s visiting friends and riding to and from elementary school. A favorite destination was the firehouse because it would take me on a long journey from home and seemed acceptable to my two working parents. My dad worked during the day on Madison Avenue and at night as a professor of business classes at local colleges, while my mom was an economics teacher at two local colleges. I was a latch key kid in Westport in the mid fifties. It was a safe time then, unlike the times we have evolved into.
Two neighbor boys had bikes and the three of us would ride the roads like we owned them, down the middle until a car came up on us or towards us. We were the kings of the road. We seemed to threaten lone bike riders who always pulled to the side of the road to let us pass without joining us. We were looked up to, even admired it seemed to us as we rode by the gaping and big-eyed biker on the side of the road staring after us. I remember in third grade when a classmate was upset with me for stealing the attention of a young girl in our class. His response was not to hit me or beat me up; instead he took the air out of my tires and twisted the handlebars to make it impossible to ride. As I walked my mangled bike, I cried all the way home. My thoughts were that the bike was dead. Dad took it to Western Auto and a day later it came home whole. I rode the bike back to Western Auto to ask them what they did, and that was when I began to learn about bike repair, first about air in the tires and then how to change a flat tire. Although it would not be for another thirty years before I would actually change a tire on the road, I could fix my own flats once I got the bike home. I spent many miles walking a bike with a flat. That was the cost of freedom as were the falls that caused nicks and bruises and loss of blood. I was learning how to ride a bike.
I’d ride my bike to the local dairy, before the Connecticut Thruway cut through the fields and caused the closing of the dairy. I’d go to watch the bull in the field and even get in the pen to see how brave I was with him in his realm and as I tempted fate by challenging him to duals. He never got that close as I was always back over the fence long before he was close enough to smell me, but it was an adventure into danger for me and my bike got me close to that danger.
Later I would use the bike to escape my human bullies when I was in middle school. For now, though it was my sole and favorite companion. I’d often use different routes home after school to discover where classmates lived or just for the adventure. On one such occasion, I recall finding a satchel containing two Nazi armbands, one white with a black eagle on it and an orange one with the swastika. I was scared because these were bad symbols and I knew it. I was careful with them and stored them away with my treasures until I couldn’t bear it any longer and couldn’t sleep knowing they were there. I showed my mom, who was shocked and aghast at my find and wanted to know everything about them. They even had the police come over and have me show them where I found them. It was a big deal to them for some reason I never knew, but to this day suspect was to find the owner who may have brought them back as souvenirs or were owned by a Nazi. It was a scary red scare kind of atmosphere with McCarthyism still in the air and an actual NIKE site in Westport. I do remember I was sad to see them go and thought them prizes.
I used my bike for clandestine purposes. The thruway was in full construction and large trucks called Euclids were destroying much of our playground and woods. I would ride out to these behemoths, climb into the cabs and take the large metal balls on the gearshifts and throw them into the woods, thinking I was disabling the giants. I didn’t and the road was eventually built much to my chagrin. To this day, I rarely drive that road because of the rage I held for it as a youth. I always prefer the Merritt Parkway or the more northern road, 84 when passing through Connecticut.