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?”


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.