Reading List: Jan. 1 – June 30, 2017

Remember, reading fuels writing fuels reading, ad infinitum. Here it is, my reading list for the past six months: 

 

  1. William H. Gass. The World Within the Word. (1978) [ESSAYS]
  2.  Benjamin Hale. The Wild and the Wicked: On Nature and Human Nature. (2016) [NF]
  3. Alan Bennett. Writing Home. (1994) [NF]
  4. Mary Oliver. Upstream. (2016) [ESSAYS]
  5. Alan Bennett. Untold Stories. (2005) [ESSAYS]
  6. William H. Gass. Finding A Form (1996) [ESSAYS]
  7. John Le Carre. The Pigeon Tunnel. (2016) [NF]
  8. John Osborne. An Autobiography:1929-1956. (1981) [NF]
  9. Christopher Fowler. Bryant & May: Strange Tide. (2016) [FICTION]
  10. William Albracht and Marvin J.Wolf. Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate. (2016) [NF]
  11. Ervin Goffman. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.(1959) [NF]
  12. Christopher Buckley. The Relic Master: A Novel. (2015) [FICTION]
  13. A.L.Rowse. The Tower of London in the History of England. (1972) [NF]
  14. Margaret Bourke-White. Portrait of Myself. (1963) [NF]
  15. T.S. Eliot. The Sacred Wood and Major Early Essays. (1998) [ESSAYS]
  16. Catherine Ann Moore. This Precious Book of Love: Shakespeare, Women, and Narrative in the 19th Century. (2011) [NF-Dissertation]
  17. Peter Watson. The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New. (2011) [NF]
  18. George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel. (2017) [FICTION]
  19. A.L. Rowse. My View of Shakespeare. (1996) [NF]
  20. Brian Lamb. Booknotes. (1997) [NF]
  21. Winston S. Churchill. Marlborough: His Life and Times. (1968) [NF]
  22. William H. Gass. The World Within the Word. (1979) [NF]
  23. Howard Rheingold. They Have A Word For It. (1998) [NF]
  24. Willard R. Espy. Thou Improper, Thou Uncommon Noun (1978) [NF]
  25. J.N. Hook. The Grand Panjandrum: And 1,999 Other Rare, Useful, and Delightful Words and Expressions. (1980) [NF]
  26. J. Donald Adams. Copy of Harvard. (1960) [NF]
  27. Larry McMurtry. The Last Kind Word Saloon. (2014) [FICT]
  28. Konrad Lorenz. On Aggression. (1963) [NF]
  29. T.T. Monday. The Set Up Man. (2014) [FICT]
  30. T.T.Monday. Double Switch (2016) [FICT]
  31. Finca Vigia Edition. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. (2003) [FICT]
  32. Adam Sisman. John LeCarre: The Biography. (2015) [NF]
  33. Yuval Noah Harari. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. (2017) [NF]
  34. Nancy Isenberg. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. (2016) [NF]
  35. William T.Vollmann. An Afghan Picture Show: Or, How I saved the World. (1992) [NF]
  36. John Crawford. The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq. (2005) [NF]
  37. Tad Taleja. Foreignisms. (1989) [NF]
  38. John Forsyth. The Outsider. (2015) [NF]
  39. H.R.McMaster. Dereliction of Duty.(1997) [NF]
  40. Northrop Frye. The Educated Imagination. (1964) [NF]
  41. Benjamin Hale. The Wild and the Wicked: On Nature and Human Nature. (2016) [NF]
  42. William H. Gass. Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (2012) [Essay
  43. Jason Stanley. How Propaganda Works. (2015) [NF]
  1. Steven Pinker.Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. (1999) [NF]
  2. J.Bryan III. Hodgepodge: A Commonplace Book. (1986) [NF]
  3. Diane Ackerman. The Zookeeper’s Wife. (2007) [NF]
  4. Jonathan Lethem. Motherless Brooklyn. (1999) [FICT]
  5. Lewis Carroll. Sylvie and Bruno. (1988[1890]) [FICT]
  6. Philip Roth. The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography. (1988) [NF]
  7. Thomas B. Costain. The Pageant of England: The Magnificant Century. (1951) [NF]
  8. Stephen Coonts. Intruders. (1994) [FICT]
  9. Douglas R. Hofstadter. Le Ton Beau de Marot: The Praise of the Music of Language (1997) [NF]
  10. Steve Berry. The 14th Colony. (2017) [FICT]
  11. Simon Read. Human Game: The True Story of The ‘Great Escape’ Murders and the Hunt for Gestapo Gunmen. (2012
  12. [NF]Nelson Demille. Up Country. (2002) [FICT]
  13. Nelson Demille. Night Fall. (2004) [FICT]
  14. David Grann. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. (2010) [NF]
  15. Richard Mccord. The Chain Gang: One Newspaper Vers the Gannett Empire. (1996) [NF]
  16. John Leo. Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police: John Leo Essays. (1994) [NF]
  17. Irving Howe. A Critic’s Notebook. (1995) [NF]
  18. Susan Lambert. Roaming With Rudy: A Walls to 4 Wheels: Living Outside the Box. (2016) NF]
  19. David Grann. Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. (2017) [NF]
  20. Phillip Kerr. The Other Side of Silence. (2016) [FICT]
  21. Phillip Kerr. Prussian Blue. (2017) [FICT]
  22. Joseph Heywood. Upper Peculiar. (XXXX) [SS Draft]
  23. Dan Hampton. The Hunter Killers. (2015) [NF]
  24. Raymond Chandler. Trouble Is My Business. (1992) [SS]
  25. Raymond Chandler. The Simple Art of Murder. (1988) [SS]
  26. Nancy Isenberg. White Trash: The Four-Hundred Year Untold History of Class in America. (2016) [NG]
  27. Martin Hintz. Finland. (1983) [NF]
  28. Alexander Solzhenitsyn. August 1914: The Red Wheel I. (1971) [FICT]
  29. Rory Clements. Prince. (2011) [FICT]
  30. Daren Worcester. Open Season: True Stories of the Maine Warden Service. (2017) [NF]
  31. Marchette Chute. Shakespeare of London. (1949) [NF
  32. Annie Dillard. The Writing Life. (1989) [NF]
  33. Henry Watson Fowler and Francis George Fowler. The King’s English. (2012) [NF]
  34. John Stow. A Survey of London. (1842) [NF]
  35. John London, Ed. Theatre Under the Nazis. (2000) [NF]
  36. Rodney Symingon. The Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Third Reich. (2005) [NF]
  37. Kimberley Blaeser. Apprenticed Justice. (2007) [POETRY]
  38. Nicholas Shakespeare. Priscilla: The Hidden Life of An Englishwoman in Wartime France. (2013) [NF]
  39. Anselm Heinrich. Entertainment, Propaganda, Education: Regional Theater in Germany and Britain Between 1918 and 1945. (2007) [NF]
  40. Gordon Henry, Jr. The Light People. (1994) [FICT]

At Bookbug in Two Weeks

Exclusive First Listen w/ Author Joe Heywood

The promotion of the Book Bug says, “Fans of Joe Heywood: Join us for a VIP preview of some of Joe’s not-yet published short stories. He wants to see what YOU think of some of his new, surprising characters. Joe will also read excerpts from his Woods Cop series and other writing.”

In fact, I  won't   be reading
from Woods Cop stories but material from a new collection called UPPER
PECULIAR,  all stories about Yoopers, not Woods Cops. The stories are
entitled:
"Best Baseball Man Ever"
"Once Through The Spin Dry"
"Hearts of Wolves"
And perhaps I'll read one of two other selections, which have nothing to
do with the UP.
Either,  "La Cabra (The Goat"), which is taken from a new novel called
BROWN BALL. Or
"Bringing Home Sheep, about businessmen sent to an immigrant camp in
California to search for employees from the company's Vietnam operation,
which folded when the North Vietnamese came south, and almost everyone
affiliated with the U.S. was forced to boogie. Many of them ended up in the US in
camps around the country.
Event date:
Wednesday, April 19, 2017 – 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Event address:
3019 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
Recurring Event:

February in Michigan, Temperature in the 60s (?)

Sheesh, this weather seems like a fantasy so why not go whole hog… YO!, ALERT! THIS IS NOT REAL, THIS IS NOT REAL….!

“By the Book”
New York Times Book Review

Joseph Heywood

This weekly feature appears in the New York Time Book Review and features either authors of hot books, or writing greats and their latest offerings.  Interviews do not include we of the Rus Tribe.  The pub does not seek people like me in part because as I like to put it “outside New York is China.” New York has minimal interesting in rust-country scribblers, or in news from out here, UNLESS said report is written by some New York-based individual who travels out in these parts for a period of time (like hiking beyond the Pale) and imagines it to be terra incognito (Beyond here Dwell Dragons) where this stout individual has barely escaped with life and limb. But are they interested in  one of us who lives IN terra incognito, Nosiree Marie.

Let’s be clear on reality: My writing  career has gone from internationally unknown to regionally obscure and in that capacity this obscure author would tell them sure, you betcha, okey doke, wah! Seriously, who turns down the Failing New York Times (as it is termed in Presidentialese).

Okay, this isn’t real, but, as an author, I get paid to make things up — but here we go–

What books are currently on your nightstand?

The Farmer’s Almanac in large type.

What’s the last great book you read?

Out loud or to myself (without moving my lips)? The last great book I read was Stephen Greenblatt’s The Curve.

What’s the best classic novel you recently read for the first time?

Classic Comics, or classics without pictures? If the latter: Marcel Proust’s  À la recherche du temps perdu. And Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Sterne’s work has some drawings. Does that eliminate it from the classic definition? I  read both last year. Plus Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Amazing read.

How do you organize your books?

Inside my home, in rooms, on shelves, in rows, tallest to shortest and (port to starboard). I have a library in excess of 25,000 volumes. Do you guys  have a better approach to organizing them?

Tell us about your favorites short stories:

My favorite was written by my late father in a high school class around 1937. The title was “The Game.” The narrative consisted of four words. “Rain, game called off.” Talk about flash fiction. I also like the stories of Stu Dybek and Bonnie Jo Campbell.

What moves you in a work of literature?”

Opening the book and finding a complete world I had not anticipated and probably could not imagine on my own.

What genres to you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I especially like bathroom and public graffiti, and cereal box promotional copy. I rarely read conservative Horatio Alger stories or the Federal Register, which is like reading  substandard pidgin-Klingon.

What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?

Easy. Bear with me here: I grew up in a USAF family and we were flying back to the States after a 3 yr tour in Europe, and I came down with measles and the crew offloaded (dumped)  us in the Azores and I was hospitalized. The measles then passed from me to my brother and by the time we were healthy enough to travel again,  three weeks had passed. At one point in this stay, a MATS MedEvac came in from Germany, loaded with Section 8  and sundry psychiatric cases. One of the passengers got loose and the flight had to be delayed three days while the manhunt went on. The fellow was eventually located under a thick bush not six feet from the entrance to the hospital.  Meanwhile we had psych patients wandering all over the place and one came into my room and saw me doodling and next thing I knew he showed up with a book on how to draw cartoons.  He had gone to the PX and bought if for me, to encourage my drawing interests. I still have the book (though I couldn’t lay my hands on it with dispatch.  I also still draw cartoons. By far this was the best book gift I ever got.

Second best would have been Peyton Place, but by the time it reached me from my pals, it was pretty tattered from heavy teenage “reading.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, would you invite?

Well, no croaked-folk… putrescence does not  positively stimulate my appetite. But okay, I’d either invite James Salter, Mike Delp, and Bonnie Jo Campbell and we’d talk rivers and trout and all that romantic and savage outdoor stuff. Or I’d invite, Wm Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, and A.L Rowse, so I could sit  back and see if the Bard would bug out after suffering Rowse’s legendary arrogance, or if Churchill and the Bard will gang up on the big-headed professor. Talk about a great dinner party! I can’t wait. Will you guys set it up or do I have to ask some reporter from a press conference to do it?

 

Next up I’ll be fauxinterviewed by the retired Brian Lamb for  C-Span’s Booknotes.

Mike Delp Licensed Michigan fisherman and poet.
The late James Salter, fighter pilot, combat vet and the Writer’s Writer.

Dinner party guests:

Author Bonnie Jo Campell, country girl.
The Bulldog, Winston S. Churchill, adventurer, soldier, journalist, politician, war leader and author.
Wm Shaksper, Author.
Al Rowse, Oxford Prof, expert on Elizabethan England.

Oklahoma City and Now: How Things Were 22 years A

It was April 19, 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed.  Before this heinous event I had invested several years in researching domestic terrorism and in writing a Novel I called The 47th Day. I had also been tracking terrorist groups  country by country ( and terrorist) events around the world since the 1970s.
Five day after Oklahoma City, April 24, 1995 I wrote the following, which I intended to send as as a VIEWPOINT to our local newspaper, The Kalamazoo Gazette. For reasons now long forgotten,  I never sent the piece. In looking for something else I ran across this and was struck by the fact that much of what I wrote back then, and the observations made still hold today. This is not an indictment of any particular political group. Rather it is a look at what seemed to me to be  steady, slowly spreading simmering  discontent in this country, especially the rural and fly-over parts. The Oklahoma City Bombing was neither a milestone, nor a watermark in the history of domestic terrorism, save perhaps for the magnitude of casualties.
The alleged perpetrators of the Oklahoma crime are being portrayed as a violent fringe of demented people with peculiar beliefs, and they certainly are, yet there some reason to believe that the “fringe” is not as small as the media and knee-jerk political  rants suggest. If the fringe is defined as those parts of society outside the “mainstream,”  those who feel isolated and alienated from the political infrastructure, the “fringe” may be considerably larger than it  appears at first blush. What this portends for the future, I don’t know.
Isolation and alienation occur when people feel ignored by political power, or persecuted by it, and see no logical way to obtain power except to seize it in the same way our Founding Fathers seized it more than two hundred years ago – violently and in open rebellion. That time however, the rebellion came from the money-men and the top and was pushed down to the poor to prosecute for their “betters.”
One might argue convincingly that the seeds of such rebellion are not only planted now, but growing slowly.
The massive national political move to the right in last fall’s elections (Conservative Republicans took 2 of 3 House and Senate seats) suggests a rejection of Big Government centered in Washington, D.C.  Our Capital is increasingly seen as distant, disinterested,  impotent, and uncaring. Those inside the Beltway have their insulated way of life and let the others eat cake.
The conditions of violence and economic abandonment in many of our rural or semi-rural and suburban regions suggest a rebellion against incumbent power and the status quo. The riots in L.A. surrounding the Rodney King incident were reminiscent of earlier outbreaks in Watts, Detroit and elsewhere where open warfare broke out against police officers and brought looting, and other illegal acts of desperate people. Our mistake is seeing such things in black and white terms. They are not. The country’s poor may not be rioting and killing cops, but it the cauldron is simmering and  people are not far from taking some kind of drastic action.
In virtually any part of rural and blue collar America, you will hear attitudes and opinions that range from healthy skepticism to vehement cynicism about the Federal government.  You will also hear nightmarish archetypes (modern myths) about life among The Other, stories with no basis in fact, yet as is true with all myths, accepted for their symbolic and archetypal power to differentiate  us from them.
Consider the immediate swing of public opinion against Arabs and Middle Easterners while the fires were still burning on the Federal Building ruins in Oklahoma City. We seem to be a nation of victims looking for other victims to replace us.
Middle Class whites are reputed to have led the conservative shift last fall; poor whites play only a marginal role in the shift because the poor (of any color) generally don’t express their dissatisfaction at the ballot box. Yet the sense of frustration with Washington felt by the Middle Class, is also felt by the poor, and perhaps more keenly because such folks have little ability to do anything about their circumstances Certain racial classes may lead the poverty roles percentagewise,  but in sheer numbers the poor in this country are white and most people, including our political and elected leaders, seem to pay little attention to this reality.
At the heart of the pro-gun movement there is an inherent belief that anti-gun foes are led by the government and, all logic aside, people wonder why they must disarm. The facts are in their favor. That is, most white people who own weapons do not commit murders or mayhem. Most people of any color and with any level of privately owned arms don’t commit such crimes. Weapon ownership is seen as a Constitutional right and adherents wonder, if they are not acting criminally, why the push to disarm them? It’s a reasonable question. Absent compelling answers, people tend to invent their own.
Our justice system is viewed as inept at best and a mass failure at the worst. Slick lawyers and incompetent judges make a pathetic stew. People with means (money and connections) get a different quality of “justice” than the poor, and never mind color.
The mass media, pursuing the commercial definition of news (that which attracts audience size attracts advertising revenue) give us a steady stream of stories of violence and outrage.The media formula for squeaky-wheel news is so well understood that infinitesimal groups with obscure grievances, real and imagined, can manage their way to major news coverage, creating, at least momentarily, perceptions not warranted by reality.
Churches in this, the most religious of nations, offer claims to the path to peace and love and salvation (some are also preaching that wealth is an indicator of  God’s light) but some churches act more like competing country and social clubs in a battle for members and their money. In the best traditions of institutional (not necessarily enlightened) write off non-believers  of competing groups as doomed in the sense of ever achieving salvation. Nationally known spiritual leaders, their feet of clay publicly cracked and revealed, go off to jail for bilking believers, yet beliefs continue because human beings need to believe in something, however imperfect. It’s no wonder that many of the cults and leftfield political groups in this country use the rhetoric of God and religion and organize along church-like lines.
Under such conditions, isolation and alienation seem inevitable.
What  will the view be of Washington when late baby boomers hit their mid to late sixties and find a sick and ailing Social Security or social net?
The economic trend lines among minorities of all hues and ethnic backgrounds,  especially the poor, the young, and the elderly, are not comforting.
Warfare, is said to the be the last option of diplomacy, but if the individual is a sovereign citizen, then violence is the last option of individuals trapped without hope.
Violent and extremist political organizations and pseudo-spiritual cults have always been with us, just as vigilantism has been a constant and ugly thread in American history.
My own Michigan has had its share,
In 1936, sixteen Michiganders were arrested as members of an organization called the Black Legion, though responsible for 57 assassinations and attempted killings over a half decade. The  national umbrella group for the Black Legion was the United Brotherhood of America, headquartered in Ohio. Members of the Black Legion here in Michigan were white, drawn from the ranks of the employed and unemployed, from blue collar ranks, members of government agencies, day laborers, police officers, firemen, hospital workers. This group operated in virtual anonymity for nearly a decade and was only accidentally uncovered here in the process of a murder investigation. The Black Legion controlled numerous front organizations with names that ought to strike a familiar chord: The Wolverine Republican League, the Bullet Club, The Wayne County Rifle and Pistol Club, the Malteca Club, Night Riders, and The Black Knights.
History, it seems to me, doesn’t repeat so much as it doesn’t change a  hell of a lot.
The so-called Patriot Movement spawned state militias, pledged their allegiance to the American flag and proclaimed themselves patriots in service to country – not, it should be noted, in service to government, but to country. The men and women I know who serve and have served, may do it out of patriotism, but feel no need to bellow it to the public or to get a bunch of attaboys and attagirls. It’s my prejudice, but I always suspect people and groups who self-name themselves patriots or claim similar titles. Whenever I have dug into such groups (militias, etc) I have found them invariably the opposite of what they purport to be.
In the collective American psyche, there seems to have developed a profound difference between government and country. Perhaps this has always been around, but it is a relatively recent discovery for me. The difference? A country is loved unconditionally (theoretically) but a government is never to be trusted.
I spent three or four years looking at this shaded part of America in preparation for writing my novel, which I  completed and sent to my editor at Random House. He sent it back some time later and said in essence, no can do, he couldn’t suspend  his disbelief long enough to accept the premise. He told me, “What you’ve written could not happen in this country.”
A few months later came Oklahoma City and that day I got a frantic call from that same editor. “What you wrote can be real. It is real.  Send that manuscript back to me ASAP!” which I did, and not long after, he died suddenly, and that was the end of that book.  Such are the vagaries of a publishing career.
In researching, studying and spending time with different groups I observe certain shared characteristics:
1) Race or ethnic identity is often a central issue. We hear mostly about white racists, but racism is not exclusive to one race;
2) Such groups often arise from a single individual with charisma and the ability to give voice and a compelling story to a perceived wrong shared by others;
3) Paranoia provides glue. Such groups view themselves as targets of various conspiracies. The government and its law enforcement arms are viewed as The Enemy;
4) Weapons and paramilitary training are not uncommon, even among groups claiming to be extensions or offshoots of traditional and conventional religions. If there’s a conspiracy to get you, you need to be able to defend yourself. Self-defense is a common line of rhetoric espoused simultaneously with a group’s  push to develop offensive capabilities. This is not surprising. Over  Fifty years of Cold War our Federal government behaved similarly;
5) The movements often are presented as quasi-religious with the inherent right to worship freely; more often, such groups take on the force of religion for their adherents and those who try to opt out are demonized, and worse;
6) The groups all espouse self-determination; that is, the right to do and think and believe what they want without external interference. Ironically, such groups seem to demand near-absolute obedience to the cause by all members;
7) The membership is drawn from the disaffected. But the disaffected can take in fairly large segments of our population, and this distinction is sometimes not apparent. There has been in the history of American hate groups quite a number of highly educated founders and leaders. To write off such groups as ignorant clods or uneducated fools is to invite disaster.   Smarts and education are different things. It often doesn’t take a genius to coalesce support; Hitler is a classic example of a sociopathic maniac who found an audience and used it to ruthlessly move to take power;
8) The founders of such groups tend to lead by the authoritarian model of top-down, often imposing a military style chain of command on their organizations. Such groups, as they grow, tend to disintegrate because the original leaders lack vision or persuasion power to take the group to the next level. Or the founder-leader refuses to share the vision or his power with fellow believers. This, on the surface, might seem to indicate that the ability of such groups to survive is small, but the reality is that while one group  may fail, adherents will move to like-minded groups, or found their own. In a society filled with increasing numbers of alienated and disaffected individuals, the recruiting field in quite fertile. Remember, a cancerous tumor is a collection of cells, not a single cell. The overall hate movement grows larger, not smaller.  Not single group dominates, but this is not to say that one day movements may coalesce and join forces and visions;
9) Because of some law enforcement excesses spawned during the Vietnam War, the Justice Department  has implemented controls that minimize the ability of law enforcement to identify, surveil and infiltrate such groups. Because the burden of common crime is in some places  so heavy, and police resources limited, hate groups often take a lower priority until an outrage changes the priority. Violent behavior is not exclusive to one part of our political range. It can come from the left or the right, and has;
10) Hate groups exist everywhere, in apparent small numbers if only active participants are counted,   but when cadres of philosophical and ideological sympathizers are considered, the  overall size of this fragmented movement is much, much larger than it might initially appear. The aggregate of sympathizers  is not at all insubstantial and the role of sympathizers in the  proliferation of underground and extremist organizations. In every conflict there are more sympathizers than participants and combatants; in our own American Revolution there is evidence that there were fewer rebels and sympathizers for rebellion,  than Americans loyal to Great Britain. This changed over time, but it began with the rebellion seated in a small portion of people. The power of small, committed groups to violently affect political and social change against unfavorable odds  must never be underestimated;
11) These groups invariably strike the chord of Constitutional rights and protection under the law at the same time they seek to deny others their Constitutionally guaranteed rights and protection; and,
12) Organizations disappear entirely, or go dormant and later re-emerge when conditions are deemed more favorable. As long as conditions which spawn such movements persist, such groups will be among us.
The dreadful crime in Oklahoma City should terrify and sadden us, but it should not have come as a surprise. The only real surprise is more tragedies of this kind have not happened before this.
The truth is that the government, for all its size and impressive might, is limited in its ability to keep us completely protected from all psychopathic elements of our society and others around the world. Even if President Clinton gets the legislative initiatives he wants to allow police agencies to increase their efforts, episodes like that in Oklahoma City  will no doubt be reduced, but they cannot be eliminated.
In Russia (aka the old USSR) citizens now lament the loss of domestic peace and stability under the Communists when there was virtually no crime. (Disinformation as much as reality).The Russians also had no freedoms. With true freedom comes the competition of ideas and beliefs and  frequent verbal sniping , criticism and complaints.  Sometimes such dissatisfaction turns to violent behavior.
President Clinton is right in calling for us to speak up in the face of hate rhetoric. But if  the wake of Oklahoma City creates a politically intimidating environment that will not allow all opinions, no matter how loathsome, to come forward into the light, we will all be the poorer for this. We already have seen in this country a powerful force coercing us toward what is called political correctness.  What is deemed “correct” is dictated and controlled by those in power. This is the major take-home of history.
Opposing groups attempt to control the story of what is and what has been, but suppress any and all opposing stories  or contentions.
Hate is like anaerobic bacteria  living lives in the ark and proliferating in the absence of oxygen. In our democracy, where we have always tended to put our faith in free speech, the way to defeat such pathogens is to expose them to light and oxygen, where they can be examined and rejected by the powerful collective good sense of the American people.
It won’t be easy. The battle will not ever be over, at least in our lifetimes.

Book Signing, Kazoo Books, 1-2:30 P.M. Saturday Dec. 10, 2016

7th Annual Author Hop & Merry Mitten Holiday Event

socializing-at-the-author-hopOur biggest event of the year! Meet area authors, chat over refreshments, pick up a new book (signed books make great gifts!). Mystery, memoir, contemporary fiction and local history will all be represented. Children’s authors & Illustrators will take over our annex for a concurrent Merry Mittens event in conjunction with the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators).

This year’s confirmed authors include Mark Nepo, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Joe Heywood and Kelly Fordon. We are also featuring children’s book authors and illustrators: Ruth Barshaw, Leslie Helakowski, Kristen Remenar, Matt Faulkner and more. Author Hop is an day long, multi-genre open house author event held annually at Kazoo Books’ Parkview location. Complementary groups of regional authors take to the floor in shifts, mingling and participating in casual Q&A. Readers get the opportunity to chat with their favorite authors as well as exposure to new work relevant to their interests. Over the years, Author Hop has been enormously successful, bringing in visitors from all over country. Kazoo Books is located at 2413 Parkview Avenue, Kalamazoo, (269) 553-6506.

Hope to see fans there.  Merry Christmas. Over.

Note to Self, Outside New York is China

Portage, December 5, 2016: From the Author’s Journals, Oct 23-25, 1987.  My Editor, Joe Fox, wanted me to fly to Houston for  the city’s annual Authors’ Dinner.  On Random House’s dime, natch.  I agreed and one of the Random House people called to “help with arrangements.”

The Random House  facilitaor asked if I preferred to fly through Chicago or Detroit to get to Houston?

“Dayton,” I told her.

Silence on the other end. “The Dayton near Ohio?”

“No, the Dayton IN Ohio.” Outside New York is China.

“Okay, Kalamazoo (it’s real is it?) to Dayton. Then where?”

“Yes ma’am,  Kalamazoo is real. Dayton to Houston and that would be the Houston  NEAR Texas.”

Snigger. “I know Houston,” she chirps. “It’s IN Texas.”

Bravo. Thus endeth the exchange. Two weeks later, the tickets arrived with this route: Kalamazoo-Dayton-Atlanta-Houston. I called the facilitator at Random House. “Uh why Atlanta?”

“There are no directs from Dayton so we had to put you through Atlanta. No directs from Dayton? Our Chemical Division people were using just this connected almost daily. “It’s in Georgia,” she added.

I asked, “What about Dallas?”

“That’s not in Georgia.”

“Yes-ma’am, I know that. It’s in Texas.”

“I don’t get it,” she said, her voice betraying practiced patience, here a person who is accustomed to dealing with and “handling” authors..

“Houston is in Texas,” I told her, hoping she’d make the Dallas and Houston connection all on her own.

“You told me that last time,” she said.

“Houston, TEXAS. Dallas TEXAS. Get it?”

Long pause, caution in  her voice when it finally issued. “The  SAME Texas?”

“Presumably.”

She asked, very tentatively, “So, you want to go from Atlanta to Dallas to Houston?”

“No. Dayton to Dallas to Houston.”

“But there are no directs from Dayton to Houston.”

“That’s why I’ll go through Dallas.” Outside NY is China.

I ended up flying Kalamazoo to Dayton to Atlanta to Houston. You can argue with ignorant, but you can’t change what it is.

Someone in Dayton had scratched on the wall over the sinks, “Yolanda go back to Texas you Bitch.” I wondered if Yolanda had come north to Dayton through Atlanta. It never hurts to ask questions even when answers don’t exist.

This past summer Joe Fox (my editor at Random House) and I spent a week in the Upper Peninsula, which to the uninitiated is somewhat like West Texas, more space than people, weather so poor nobody ever bothers to talk about it anymore. The night before last they had 12 inches of snow. In August is was 90; people sat on their porches holding ice cubes in their hands, not to cool off, but as some kind of amulets.

We spent the night talking about Indians, gambled in a casino with Canadians, a place run by the Soo Tribe of Chippewas (which in their tongue translates to “original” or “spontaneous man.”) There is nothing spontaneous in outcomes in a casino. All the dealers were blond, naturally or chemically. We drank Jack Daniels from tin cups every day at 5 p.m., kept to  two-tracks and tote roads.

Fox said,  “Let’s talk about Native Americans.”

I said, they  refer to themselves as Indians.”

He was astonished. In New York they’re always called Native Americans.”

Outside NY is China. “Because those in NY using that term haven’t bothered to look past the Hudson River. When we reached the Soo I took him past the  main tribal office for the Soo Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“Amazing,” he said, and laughed.

All that week we meandered with intent and without  plan. I fished small creeks for brook trout. Fox sat in the Bronco scratching at the manuscript  that a father  has written about his chess prodigy son.

We had Jack in Tin Cups at five sharp daily.

We stayed  one night at the Falls Hotel in Newberry, the hotel a  leftover from logging days. We sat in the bar with some orderlies and nurses from the State Hospital and watched the Tigers on TV . The game went poorly. The Tiger short-reliever came up short; the drinking crowd decided to drive to Detroit to break one of the manager’s fingers – a mild yet emphatic reminder  to never use “Willie” again. I gave them a $20 and told them to break two – for emphasis.

One night I fished the Fox until dark. That old faker Hemingway called the Fox the Big Two Hearted, but  the actual Two Hearted is 50 miles NE crow-fly from Seney, where Fox and I were.  Hem was just trying to hide the real location. He never willingly gave up such secrets. Hem made out the river to be wide and clear. He was half-right. It’s narrow, overgrown with bank tag-alders and the water, though clear, was stained by tannin from tamaracks all along the river.

That night, having a second round of Jack after I came back to the truck from fishing (released several small ones), Fox asks, “Are there bears around here?”

“Probably,” I said. We were standing outside the truck near a river floodplain, a favored travel route for bears.

“Shouldn’t we be goingm” Fox asked, “instead of standingout here in the dark?”

“Nah we’re good. These’re  blackies –like big dogs – and they’re skittish and don’t eat Ford Broncos.”

“How big are these animals?”

“Up to five or six hundred pounds, but usually a lot smaller than that.”

“I’ve never seen a five hundred pound dog.”

Outside New York is China.

Joe Fox died after our second book together. Still miss you, Keed. That’s how he always referred to me, Keed this and Keed that. I was in my early 40s.  He was one of a kind a good guy and a no bullshit, hands-on line editor, a dinosaur. I’ve had a lucky life and it’s filled with dinosaurs and one-of-a-kinds.

Over.

Upcoming Book Signing Event: December 10, 2016

Kazoo Books Author Hop/Merry Mitten Event is scheduled for Saturday, December 10, 2016. The store is located at 2413 Parkview Avenue, Kalamazoo. Drop by to shoot the breeze with your favorite authors, get books autographed, have a cookie and tea or coffee. Hang out. Lonnie and I will probably arrive a little before out 1 P.M. schedule and leave a little early. We have a wedding in Allegan later that afternoon. See you then.
Schedule of authors is as follows:
1100-1300: Ruth Barsaw, Leslie Helakowski, Kristen Remenar, Matt Faulkner, Heather Smith-Meloche, and Buffy Silverman.
1300-1430: Joe Heywood, Kelly Fordon, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Mel Starr
1430-1600: Mark Nepo, Maureen Dunphy, Phil Stagg, Andy Mozina, and Grace Tiffany.

Journal Entries from Exactly 33 Years Ago Today

PORTAGE WINTERING-OVER CAMP: Sunday, November 20, 2016 — Winter, after a long delay has finally showed its ugly mug. Snowed yesterday and it is dusting again this morning as the temperature has dipped into the twenties  the last two nights and is forecast to do so again tonight.

We have the contract set on the next Woods Cop book, but publication will not be until February 2018. Meanwhile I’ll work on something else. And paint and draw.

Part of getting ready to write is getting “the room” ready, which entails a lot of filing and sorting through notebooks and ironically I found one journal with an entry 33 years ago from the exact date, in 1983.  That Nov 20, like this one was also a Sunday. Here’s the entry:

Sunday, November 20, 1983 – Tonight ABC aired its controversial film The Day After.   My generation and those who have followed behind us, have all grown up with the bomb.  But even those of us who served in SAC, which was tasked with delivering bulk of the U.S.’s nuclear weapons in an all-out war – I suspect –rarely gave the aftermath much serious thought. The truth is that those flying bombers and tankers (B-52s and KC-135s) didn’t really plan to come back. There were, of course. Di rigueur contingency plans on paper directing us to “recover” in  Milwaukee or Green Bay, where we theoretically would present ourselves to the local military commander and be at his disposal. (There were no women at such operational ranks in those days). The plans were of course, on paper, but nobody viewed the mission as anything but a one-way ride. In fact mission success was bolstered by such thinking. If our families were to be obliterated behind us, then we would damn well make sure the other side got a lethal dose. What we knew was that our country would never deliver the first strike and therefore we were assured that any strike we launched would be in retaliation for something done to us. Somehow that put the white hats on our heads.

The ABC program has created a tremendous public  discussion and controversy that has run for several weeks at various levels of intensity. The Freeze/Disarmament people have tried to use the film to support their position; the militarists naturally have used it for their own position support. Business as usual among America’s special interest groups.

The Day After makes one think, that’s for sure, but in one sense the result of a nuclear exchange is almost immaterial: What I’m getting at here is that 25 million Russians died in World War II and Uncle Joe Staling and his henchmen hardly blinked. Ironically, while Hitler’s forces poured across the Bug River into Soviet territory, Stalin was still conduction mass transportation of political enemies to GuLAGS in Siberia., and it was hard for Soviet military leadership to convince the Soviet leader of what was happening.  25 million dead then, so what’s the biggie for the Soviets if they lose another 100 or 200 million bodies?  Obviously their leaders realize their country would no longer exist in political terms so they, as our leaders, must factor all that in and what has prevented a lethal exchange so far seems to have been the strategy called MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, which means nobody can “win” such a war in conventional terms, because both combatants will be obliterated, and there also will be all sorts of Massive  collateral death and destruction in Europe and in the Soviet’a satellite countries, but these are government decisions, not decisions in the purview of common folks — those on the receiving end. For the fodder-folk, be it from nukes or conventional weapons the ultimate result is the same. Some will die swiftly, some slowly – and many, in the downstream from hunger and infectious diseases.

If Americans come “unglued” over this show, I’m guessing it will come from seeing Americans dying in huge numbers on their own land and  in their own homes. It’s been a long time since our civil war — though emotionally the damn thing continues to persist and some who were on the southern side call the conflict The War of Northern Aggression. Weird. Massive human loss and societal destruction is a reality we’ve never had to deal with at the magnitudes Europeans and Asians did during World War II.

Despite what one hopes for, how does a “side” disarm in the face of those who would use their power either to dominate, or out of paranoia and fear in their leadership ranks. (Remember, Hitler repeatedly gave orders to fight to the last man, meaning old, young, male and female, military and civilian,  everyone until no German  was left alive to fight.)  Like most thinking people the nuke thing disturbs me when I bother to contemplate it, but I don’t pay it much attention as long as the Cold War situation remains in some sort of stasis.

If I harbor a fear, it’s this: If one side feels critically threatened and has emotionally unstable leadership,   such leaders might feel they have no choice but to strike pre-emptively, which is why we don’t need  dozens of countries in the world with proliferating nuclear weapons programs. I don’t put my concern solely on the Soviets and smaller nations led by questionable personalities.  Never mind the “Global Communist Threat,” the last big war was fought against European Fascist states – the far right of the political spectrum in those days, not the extreme left.

Leon Uris’s novel —  Mila 18 was published in 1961 – my high school graduation year –  and this novel compellingly told a story about circumstances in the Warsaw Ghetto during WW2. To some extent Uris looked at the philosophical question that involves the response to life-threatening aggression:  Does one turn the other cheek, or does one fight back? Is not fighting back a matter of obedience to a higher religious ethos and principle? Or, when we are truly threatened, does it impinge on those being attacked to not willingly (or easily) surrender their life and liberty? In Mila 18 youth eventually rise up to take over defense leadership in the ghetto, intent on fighting back, no matter the cost, and if I remember correctly from actual history the survivors of this resistance movement emerged later to push the creation of the nation of Israel.  Such questions will always be among thinking people, but the real concern here is not how the masses will act,  because unless the enemy already has fallen upon us – the decisions are vested in a country’s leaders.  God help us if we have an unstable soul with his or her hand on the “football.”

That concludes the journal entry. It’s fun and semi-instructive to look back and see what was rolling around in my empty coconut in those long ago days. Since I left college in 1965 and joined the USAF I have kept a journal, not daily, but regularly for some 51 years and looking back pleases me, makes me smile, and sometimes disturbs me. Once in awhile I even find a good idea I can use now.

Also, there are some notes from 1967 – 49 years ago– when the killing  in SEA ramping up as it was rolling along; I was in training as a navigator at Mather AFB in Sacramento California then.

March 15 –  North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh demands that bombing be halted and the U.S. troops be withdrawn from SVN before direct peace talks can begin.

March 22 – The U.S. announces that Thailand has given permission for us to use bases for B-52 air ops; previously our missions and sorties had to be flown out of Guam, which is a long haul from South Vietnam.

April 4 – Martin Luther King Jr. says “the U.S. government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He encourages draft evasion and a merger of antiwar movement with the civil rights moment.

April 15 – Antiwar demonstrations all across the country, 50,000 in SF and 100,000 that in NYC. Songs of those days were “All You Need is Love, and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Out at Mather AFB we paid no attention to Martin Luther King or  to the demonstrations. We were  focused on training to do a job and intent on doing it as well as we could. These were, to be sure, strange, strange times. Ironically most of the boys I went to college with never served in the military. They evaded in any way they could and frankly it was easy enough back then to get a medical excuse that would allow one to remain home while others stepped up to serve the nation and risk their lives and limbs.

Enough for today. Got real work to do  Journalizing-blogitating, by any definition,  is not real work, but such trivia  keeps us writers writing and that’s always a good thing for us. Shot and a beer. Over

On the Road to New York City, September 1986

All the years I traveled around U.S. and elsewhere,  I kept notes, some brief, some in depth. Been cleaning the studio,  and organizing files, ran across some travel stuff. Not in any order, but  this all took place during one Big Apple trip. This trip was strictly for biz,  and on my dime to meet with my agent and editor to talk about The Berkut which will publish next year, and other book business.

Flew Blue Goose from Kalamazoo to Dayton to   catch  Blue Goose connection to New York. Our lead flight attendant has a rubber backside. Men lean into the aisles to watch her wake.

I went to my seat and sat down. Turned out I was the wrong address.  I pulled out a 6-month old boarding pass and had to move. This is not unusual when you travel as much as I do.

After boarding our pilot announces the Air Traffic Control computer is down and we are on “an indefinite delay.” We sat for 30 minutes and when the computer came back on line were 8th or 9th in line for takeoff. We finally go wheels up 1+45 after we were schedule. Glad I’m not connecting at LaGuardia (LAG). Not too far from Jackson Heights where I attended St. Joan of Arc in first grade. My old man was station in recruiting down at Whitehall Street, once made the papers for swearing in Whitey Ford.

Someone in the back of our bird has a heavy wet cough – the sort that goes on and one with every indication that it will end with a lung flying down the aisle. It goes on throughout the flight.

When I fly I take turbulence personally and I do not like not being able to see the flight crew and monitor what the hell they are doing.

Grab quick minimalist breakie at LAG: Orange juice, coffee, milk, and a bagel. “That’ll be $8.”

The Libertarian politician Lydon LaRouche has his troops at a table at Laguardia.  One LaRouche guy says to me, “Sir are you interested in a strong defense for Europe?” I keep walking and he says, “Hey, keep walking Mister, the stock market’s gonna keep going down.” Like that means something to me? I live paycheck to paycheck.

New York, New York, it just is.

My cabbie from LAG to Manhattan is named Luis. He wants to open a “good restaurant.” He tells me he’s Puerto Rican, does not like his Cuban cousins. Talked about the Feds, other drivers, Possible U.S Canada merger, Puerto Rico statehood, cheap Cubanos and his lazey son-in-law

On foot in Manhattan a block beyond a clump of stores I come upon an old black man clinging to a public telephone platform while singing, “America,” his free hand outstretched, the universal hit-me-with-some- green- gesture.

Lunch with my Random House editor Joe Fox. La Petite Marmot. Yellow walls, Waiters in white jackets, black trousers, one block from the  the UN Building, Fresh flower baskets on the tables. Also baskets of cut veggies. Brown marble bar. Gold-plated dessert gurney. Deep green-gray carpet with short pile. Fox wants to talk about the future books, says, One word: “Loot. People love stories about treasure. Loot’s the ticket. “

At a nearby table a gorgeous lady in a skimpy black dress shouts, “Fuck you, you Latvian pig!” She is alone. There is nobody sitting close to her. Bad day, one presumes.

Styles in restaurants for the ladies: spike heels. FMR mainly, prominent breast architecture, most with hair that looks like they were prepped by electrocution.

OBSERVATION: Good restaurants never have clocks.  And, those that do are interested in moving people through. Good restaurants let people be.

Out at the airport there is a call for pre-boarding. Exactly what does that mean? You’re either on or off the aircraft, right?

Outside the Glaziers’ Union Hall on Sixth Avenue, there is a gathering of people in satin union jackets and a tall black woman with flaming red hair, a decent six-five in her heels.

A  Cabby’s reaction to my tip: “Three fucking percent” Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”

Dinner at Village restaurant. Our waiter has long black hair in a ringlets, a touch of rouge on his cheekbones, a falsetto, feminine voice.

In Greenwich Village after dinner. On the street under a yellow light lamp there is a young man and young woman locked in an embrace, weaving, off balance, their lust knocking their gyros out. She has her hand between his legs and is rubbing vigorously. My agent Betsy Nolan says,” Like I really needed to see THAT.”

We pass a shop in the village, the windows filled with what look like ancient travel posters from the USSR.

Betsy’s office and apartment are in the Korean Green Grocery district.  She owns the upper floor of an old factory. On the ground floor there is a Korean-run hat shop. Davey Crockett hats are on sale, no prices given. The man, Betsy says, pays $10,000 mo. rent. To sell coonskin caps. Weird. One block north of us is the Furrier district, west is the garden district. Activity in this neighborhood usually starts around 0400,and shuts down by 1700.Across the street from her building is a brothel called, The Love Apple, all Oriental establishment, stocked with sporting ladies.

Betsy has a house guest. His name is X, a native San Franciscan, recently located to  So California. He’s a decorator for a mannequin company, a business Betsy calls cutthroat.  X’s former lover now works for a competitor and they hate each other. X, Betsy tells me, has had a tough life. His grandfather hung himself because an operation for one of his daughters went poorly. X’s uncle  then hung himself; he was the husband of the woman whose operation failed, but his suicide note said he did it because his father hung himself.  X’s  father then hung himself and it was X who found the body. Thus, a father and two sons hung themselves until dead, all of them in the same room of the family home. So much for Ozzie and Harriet.

When Betsy lived in Paris in the  early 1960’s she authored a book (in French) on the historical antecedents of the Vietnam War, but no U.S. publisher was interested. “It made about 15 cents,” she tells me and laughs.

Monday night Betsy went to a focus group. A writer friend had authored a book on the women’s movement. All the women at the meeting were 48-52. All related how the movement was the most important event/influence in their lives. One woman vehemently disagreed. She has M.S., as does her husband. She announced, “The woman’s movement doesn’t mean shit to me or to people like me, to the handicapped or seriously ill. When my first baby was born the State tried to take her away. “You can’t hold your baby,” they said, “and, therefore, you can’t properly care for her. This is what they told me. Bullshit! I fought them. You know what? Babies know. Mine knew I couldn’t hold her, so she clung to me – like a monkey. I took her everywhere and she just hung on. When her diaper needed changing, she lay perfectly still so I could  change her. Babies know these things. They compensate. And the State wanted to take her! Where was the damned Women’s Movement then? Nowhere. They couldn’t care less.” Betsy said she was blown away by this. Me too.

I had a suite at the Helmsley at $300/ night.   No idea who made the reservation. The price made me dizzy. The toilet paper was wedged so tight you had to take it off one sheet at a time. The stopper in the sink wouldn’t hold. The vanity mirror was loose and tilted down as if it had broken its neck. Couldn’t close the door to the bathroom while on the toilet. I love New York. Three bills a night. Ridiculous.

Heading out to LAG. The Cabby tells me of his exploits in North Africa with the Brits in WW2 (under General Alexander). Claims he fought against Rommel in 1943. I asked him: “Does it seem like a distant dream, or like yesterday?” He looked back at me, said softly. “Like last night.”

Betsy tells me she arranged a date for her friend X. She described his date (a man) as “lewd and Lascivious.” Said X,”Goody!”

En route to Dayton, the man beside me has white hair and is extremely stooped. There was a woman’s travel case on floor at his feet. Beside him sat a woman with her granddaughter a girl of 3 or 4, black-hair, bright eyes, delicate little creature. The  man asked granny about the weather in Dayton. “It snowed a couple of days ago, but didn’t stick.” He sighed loudly. “I’m 72 years old and I’ve never yet seen snow.” Lucky man in my estimate. We’re bucking a 130 knot headwind going west. Time flies when you’re having fun. No snow when we land. This makes the man sad. Not me. I guess I lack an empathy gene,except when writing.

Excerpt From a novel in development, BROWN BALL

The following is an excerpt from the opening of a new novel to be called Brown Ball. I started writing it January25, 2012 and is now finished in draft form. Read and enjoy. It’s not the woods cops, but it is about life — in the form of baseball — for a to-be 13-year-old in the summer of 1956 in San Antonio Texas. 

Prologue

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;/Into a thousand parts divide on man,/And make imaginary puissance;/Think when we talk of horses, that you see them/Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;/For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,/Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,/Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply./Admit me Chorus to this history;/Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,/Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Wm Shakespeare, Henry V

            If much of life is ambiguous, baseball isn’t.  But the soul of life, and the soul of baseball, share common fuel called stories.  Sometimes baseball is life, but life is never baseball, and neither life nor America’s pastime end in ties.  In life and in baseball it’s how  you handle curveballs that often determines  your success. All stories and all lives involve curveballs of some kind, including how a story is built and how it is told.

Some, if not all  English-Speaking Critics  would no doubt argue it’s not classy to start a tale with once upon a time, but dammit this story is a baseball story  with all its genes packed deep in the family of Once Upon A Time.  And, if it’s not what the Frogs over Paree-way  might call literature (like we care what the hell the  Frogs think?) so fricking be it.  We are telling this story and we elect to kick off the telling as we choose,  as a tale, not a sleep- inducing academic biography. Historians and writers know that hanging dates on stuff is intended to make readers feel comfortable.  Pitchers hang curveballs on batters to make them feel uncomfortable. Most humans fear curveballs, and  need to know where and when stories take place in order to take the dream into their own heads. But giving  names to places, and providing minute-by minute times  won’t make a thing real.  Such devices only just help reader to orient, by giving them some concrete  facts to fix in their heads, like guideposts.   

Our story isn’t real but it damn well might be, and what is reality?  Is reality the same thing we think we see, or is reality separate and independent of what we think we see? While this seems a simple question, the answer is not as easy to glom on to, which ome wiseacre wrote early in this new century, a  long six decades after our story took place.

Or is reality nothing more than a kaleidoscope of infinite possibilities? Like we need that to confuse us even more? Old Bob Hicok, a frollicking 20th century tool-shop poet once wrote, “Tests show within seconds, recall’s fiction that we create more than remember.” Okay, then. Thanks Bob.   Here’s storyteller reality: There isn’t any reality except what  the  storyteller chooses,  be it present or past, and unless  we’re telling it to you, it’s not reality at all. It just is. Or was.  Or might be, which is all part and parcel of one thing and none of it is the least-bit shipshape, nor intended to be. This is one of those stories we hope will take you into a world where your heart can pump and your head spin happily. 

If you ask us, fiction and nonfiction, given the shimmery wet shadow of reality, means whatever you want them to mean and thus I figure to start this tale off with “Once upon a time,” which I’m about to do, despite the learned frowns of erudite coastal clowns who think they dictate the rules and taste for stories. They don’t. Readers do. Don’t believe me? Look at that old boy the late Jim Harrison.  Most of the whole damn reading world was gaga over him, admired him to the point of making him a treasure, but this own native land? The critical clowns here  paid the man hardly a glance. Readers, meanwhile, did, as they always do,  pay damn good attention. And readers and listeners are all that counts in yarn-spinning business.  This said, Dear Reader, let us commence.

Once upon a time there was a boy, and this boy was precociously worldly smart in a lot of ways and he’d always heard the term dirt-poor bandied about, had even seen some of it first-hand and for real over in war-torn Italy, not to mention in yeasty Casablanca, but that had been over there and then, and this was here and now, in America the Homeland of Plenty, which got him to thinking there might be a whole lot about this  country casually tossed around as reality when a great part of it is make-believe at best.  But, to be fair and balanced in my telling, this boy, like most boys of twelve going on thirteen, well he was, when it came to a lot of important aspects of his life,  as dumb as a moose doot.

Let us be more precise. Our boy was tall for his age, wiry, driven to ask a lot of questions. How was it some Nazi war criminals got prosecuted, but the Japanese mostly got left alone? This struck him a peculiar and in ways he couldn’t pinpoint, somewhat evil. And why had the newspapers hidden the fact that FDR had been a cripple in a chair? Or why were women were called the weaker sex. That certainly wasn’t true in his home.

What if there’s no Hell after death and that this thing we call life is actually Hell? Sure couldn’t ask the priest a question like that. The Church taught that questions alone were grounds for excommunication, so even if you were twelve going on thirteen, you weren’t going to ask the wrong question to the wrong person at the wrong time and risk having your soul consigned to some sort of eternal Leavenworth. And if God made everything, why the heck did he design a cat with nine lives and only one body?

Thinker, brooder, that was our boy, living to some extent in his personal ether. Physically, he was neither  handsome in appearance nor homely. He had the piercing, dark-green eyes of his father, and the same daggering gaze when he got focused, eyes that in an instant would go from alive and welcoming to chiseled in stone.

He was also a doodler at all times and though he was criticized for not listening or paying attention, his marks in school showed no such deficiency. Some took the doodling as an indication of the boy’s lack of attention, but the boy claimed it helped him focus. Worst of all, such a deviation from apparently not paying attention might be read as disrespect, the worst of the mortal  sins for a boy growing up as a brat in a military family,  a difficult style of life, which was never easy for children and  tended to leave a lot of wounded in its wake. Kids either  thrived under such stress, spreading their wings and soaring, or they folded their wings and crashed. There seemed to be little middle ground. Identifying who would fly or crash was impossible to predict and by the time the result was  there, it was permanent and too late to correct. Every kid growing up in the military life was going to pay a price. All that was in doubt was how much.

Most parents had no idea of this cost, and tended to think the lifestyle was beneficial to their offspring. After all, they liked “seeing the world.” Why wouldn’t their kids?

            Ardie Hunter had seen grand paintings in gold gilt frames purporting to be God when his family lived in Florence, and damn if his Mississippi Grandpa Atley didn’t look like he’d been the model for the artist. It was bad enough being a lone Yankee deep in Rebel territory, but to be hosted by, cooked for, and bossed around by the likeness of God?  Truthis , it wore on that boy’s nerves from the start and forced him to cope by imagining himself as a fighter pilot, shot down over enemy Korean territory after a valiant dogfight against overwhelming odds, compelled to eject from his North American F-84 Sabre jet and, once on unknown ground, to escape and evade, living off his wits as best he could manage in a strange land (without brainwashing and torture of course). The Civil War had ended nine decades back, yet that boy couldn’t help notice that there were people down here, for whatever reason, who didn’t seem to accept history-book fact as reality. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t home and personal fantasy was a proven escape mechanism, as it always had been for him.

            So once upon a time, and never-you-mind geography, grand-scale history and such, this whole thing with his Southern kin was as perplexing as it was confusing. Barest naked facts: His Mississippi mother had married his New York State (not the city- never that) father and the couple and family had spent very little time below the Mason Dixon Line for reasons never adequately explained, this in a family where discussion was as common as palm tree-lined boulevards in Poughkeepsie.

            One day the sky took dark and growly and winds began to hoot like hungry banshees, and Grandpa Atley Ardghal Gilead grabbed young Ardie Hunter from the cook shack and yowled with a  heretofore unheard urgency, “Get on down in the shelter, Sonny!”

            The boy balked. Until this moment he’d been told repeatedly that going down in the storm shelter would be to risk sudden death. “Stay the hell out of that cellar cause it collects poisonous serpents of unruly temperaments,” Atley drawled repeatedly. As an Air Force officer’s son, the one thing the boy knew was how to follow orders from those higher up in the chain of command. Remembering this, the boy got to the threshold and could go no farther or further. Snakes or orders. How the hell do you make the decision when both choices stink equally?

             Atley unlatched the double wooden doors on the storm shelter,  flinging them open to reveal an ominous black void, and growled, “Get yore skinny butt on down in there.”

            “Snakes!” the boy countered.

            “Ain’t no snakes down there, leastways not no more,”  Atley said softly.

            The boy descended cautiously, his legs rubbery, his heart racing, thunder throbbing ponderously over their heads, rabid dog winds growling and drooling,  snapping as the door slammed down with a gunshot- ponderous bang, and his grandfather threw the bolt to hold the it in place.

            “You afeared of dark?” Atley asked right off.

            “How come there  ain’t snakes here now?”

            “What you think we been eatin’ on since  yore mama Leakey’s magic fried chicken run out?”        

            The boy felt like he would be sick but at that exact moment there was a roar overhead so loud it sucked all thought and intentions out of his head.  He cowered in the darkness and felt his grandfather’s hand on his lower back, and stood there on wobbly legs, panting like a dry-mouth hound until the cacophony passed and silence took on weight. The old man’s hand, it should be noted was somewhat famous down that way, it having been measured as 10 inches across from finger knuckle to finger knuckle and never mind the thumb which put the fist right around a foot across, and for a lot of folks a damn fearsome looking thing.

            Grandpa Atley said, “I believe that thing up there done passed on over us, Ardie.”

            Ardie? The boy was stunned. This was the first time ever his grandfather had used his given name. Before this it had been “you-boy-kid-sonny-bub.” Atley had  picked a helluva time to get grandfatherly and the boy was in a quandary about how he was supposed to react. Ardie Hunter was nine at the time and it was early summer and Mama Leakey had loaded his six-year-old snot-nose brother and him on a Greyhound in Alexandria and the three of them had ridden all night and all the next day into what his mother called Deep-Dialed-Dixie. They stayed on the bus until they finally reached Cottonmouth, a mirage of a dirt crossroad.

            He learned eventually that they were five miles south of Mize, on the upper edge of  an untamed and elliptical region called Sullivan’s Hollow, Mississippi, a legendary place not on printed maps, but deeply etched in the minds of all who lived nearby, or had to pass through,which most did quickly as they could manage.

            Mama Leakey handed him over to a giant white-haired old man standing barefoot in the pink dust, got back on the bus with the snot-nose and left him, her firstborn, with a grandfather he’d not seen since early babyhood and of course had no memories of, good or bad. Mama Leakey, meanwhile, took Ardie’s younger brother and  hightailed it by bus on to her high-strung sister Higgy over to Hattiesburg.

            Whenever Ardie asked Mama Leakey about her family she’d touch his lips softly and coo, “Now you just hush, honey.”

            She’d rarely talked about her father or her family, yet here she had dumped him with the man like he was some kind of stray dog, explaining nothing. Hell, that woman didn’t even make a try at an informal introduction, just pressed the boy’s hand in Atley’s giant’s mitt, climbed back on the bus, and was gone, leaving him to reality:  Marooned in Cottonmouth, the entire transaction odd at best, and having been dumped, he eventually learned that the previously unspoken and secret plan was for him to remain ten days.  At first blush, the prospects sure did not look promising, nosiree.  The old man, who was tall as a lot of small trees went barefoot, his huge feet covered with a layer of soft red dust that made it look like he grew right up out of the ground the way the local flora had.

            The boy, Ardie, was feeling pretty down that day. Here was clearly a turning point, a time of change for him and he couldn’t help think, even at nine years old that baseball was the only consistent system or rules he knew or trusted. Wherever the game got played in the world, the rules were the same and none of this the slightest bit of help to a kid trying to  roll with life’s new knocks, grow up, and facing a situation he’d never imagined for himself. Baseball, it struck him, provided paths to follow, base to base, until you reached home, or didn’t. Life on the other hand gave only ambiguity, or worse, insipid platitudes and worthless directions from mouth-breathing adults. Eat all your food. The kids in Africa are starving. What the hell did his eating everything have to do with some African kids eating nothing? You didn’t find this kind of stupid direction in the game of baseball.