Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
The first night I met K as my bartender, I was talking to a British waterworks engineer who'd recently lost his wife. K mentioned that she'd lost her husband a few years ago to cancer. He was only in his forties.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
The boy moves fast when he's motivated.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
At eleven, Dylan is pretty stoic about me leaving, except during times like hurricane evacutions in the Gulf of Mexico, or annual training, when I'm away for longer stretches than usual. My friend and coworker Todd has a son the same age, and relates that it's pretty much the same with his son.
It's all Dylan has known, after all. When he was a little guy, prior to starting school, I'd get a kick out of how he reacted when I walked through the door after being away: it was like he picked up on whatever conversation we had before I left.
But at the age of seven, it seemed that Dylan really got a grasp of how other families lived. His little friends had their dads home every night. One night, when I reminded him that I'd be leaving the next morning, he burst into tears. It shook me. I held him in my arms like he was three again.
"I don't want you to leave, Daddy."
Oh geez. For the last year, I'd been "Dad" instead of "Daddy." This was serious.
I said, "Dylan, if me going away is really getting to you, I'll find another job."
He pondered that for a moment. "So you'd be home every night?"
"Yep. Every night." More pondering.
"Dad, would you still volunteer at my school?"
"Well, probably not. I'd probably be at work. Have you noticed that it's mostly moms who volunteer at school?"
"Does that mean we couldn't go camping during the summer?"
"We could go camping, but it would mostly be on the weekends."
He frowns. "While more people are there at the lake?"
He thinks more. "Dad?"
"If you got a job where you didn't have to leave, does that mean you wouldn't be a helicopter pilot?"
"Well, yeah, I guess that's what it means."
"I couldn't tell my friends my dad is a helicopter pilot anymore?"
"I guess not," I say.
He holds his hands up in a stop right there gesture. "WHOA WHOA WHOA. FORGET IT."
And that was the last time he brought it up. Sometimes, I guess, peer influence can be a blessing.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Don't get me wrong. I'm openly affectionate toward Dylan, and he doesn't seem to mind. We hug a lot. When I drop him off at his school in the morning, I still kiss him on the head, and he doesn't seem too embarrassed.
He's eleven now, and getting more independent, and the little boy in him is receding into the background, little by little. I thought about that as we sat there on the sofa.
Sometimes, he gets exasperated with me, and informs me that I still treat him like a little kid. I explain to him that, to me, it doesn't seem so long ago that he was so small I feared breaking him while picking him up.
One day, when he was three, we came back from town. I extracted him out of his car seat, held him close, and kissed his head.
"Thank you, Daddy. Will you still kiss me when I'm thirteen?"
I was taken aback, and I laughed a surprised laugh. Where the heck did a three year-old come up with such a question?
"Well of course, Punkin'. But you know, sometimes by the time boys are thirteen, they don't want to be kissed by their daddies anymore. I might have to chase you down and tackle you just to kiss your head."
He giggled. "That sounds like fun."
It also sounds like a good motivator to stay in shape.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
My friend Steve Brewer has a new novel out, titled Calabama. I’ve read sixteen of Steve’s novels, and liked them all, but this one will probably rank among my favorites when time puts things in perspective.
I was a fan of Steve’s before we became friends. I met him a few years ago at a gathering of local authors, and bought a book from him, Bank Job. At the time, I hardly read fiction at all, tending toward nonfiction almost exclusively.
Bank Job got me reading fiction again, and opened my eyes to the crime fiction genre. My wife Rhonda minored in Theater Arts in college, and acted in several plays during and after college. She says, “Good acting is when you forget that they’re acting.” I find a parallel in Steve’s writing. With twenty-two years under his belt as a journalist before transitioning to a career as a self-employed author, he brings a journalist’s strengths to his fiction, an economical, cut-to-the-chase style that allows the story to be king. With Steve’s work, I’m reading a story, I’m not reading writing.
In an interview, author Eric Beetner said it best. He was asked, "Which author should be much better known?" He answered, "My go-to for this is always Steve Brewer. He's as good as Elmore Leonard with a fraction of the accolades."
On the website Mystery Fanfare today, Steve wrote about Calabama.
You need certain key ingredients to get going on a new novel -- a setting, a notion of the plot, a good opening line, a protagonist that speaks to you. I also like to have a title in mind before I start writing, though we all know they sometimes change.
Occasionally, the title is the spark that sets an idea on fire. That was certainly the case with my 18th crime novel, CALABAMA.
I first heard the term from a friend in Redding, California, where I lived from 2003 to 2010. Redding is an isolated city of ninety thousand people, way up north near Lake Shasta, and it's the setting for one of my other novels, BANK JOB.
Soon as I heard the word "Calabama," I knew I must write a novel to go under it. It was the perfect description for life in inland California.
When most people think of California, what comes to mind is Los Angeles or San Francisco or beach towns like Santa Cruz, where I live now. But the state's vast interior is rural and socially traditional and politically conservative and prone to pickup trucks. It resembles Arkansas (where I grew up), but with palm trees.
I've bucked that redneck mentality my whole life, so it was easy to create a character who'd do the same. Eric Newlin is a dope-smoking slacker who landed in Redding by accident. He's unhappily married, works for his father-in-law and dreams of escaping Calabama.
Eric survives a traffic accident, one of those near-misses that feel like an omen, and he decides his life is going to change. It does. It goes straight to hell. Jobless and broke, Eric gets mixed up in a kidnapping scheme with a local crimelord named Rydell Vance, and things go very wrong.
The novel's a hillbilly noir, full of violence and greed and backwoods bitterness, but leavened with dark humor.
Kind of like Calabama itself.
Alas, Steve and his wife Kelly moved from Redding to Santa Cruz several months ago. Santa Cruz is a lovely place, but good luck finding an all-night taxidermist in that town.
Calabama is available today on Kindle and Smashwords.
Monday, June 06, 2011
When I was thirteen years old, in 1969, a local pastor in our area convinced most of his congregation to move from southern California to Tennessee. He’d had a vision that a monstrous earthquake would hit California, and that most of the state would end up underwater.
I think I remember that about three-quarters of his congregation left their jobs, homes, and lives in Oxnard behind. They pulled up stakes and moved to Tennessee. Some of the people were rather connected in the community, so it made front page of the newspaper.
A week after they arrived, the biggest earthquake to hit the Tennessee area in decades rumbled through. Could that be evidence that God has a sense of humor?
As I recall, the pastor had no comment.
Monday, May 30, 2011
It seems that blogs are often a repository for grief, especially for grief attached to the loss of a pet. People seem to accept as a given that a post about the death of a pet will find like-minded eyes. Me too. This is one of those posts.
If we lose a human loved one, we expect to garner sympathy far and wide, I think. But the loss of a pet seems to occupy a netherworld in the landscape of solace. If you sit up at a bar in a tavern, spilling your heart out about the death of your dog or cat, the guy or gal next to you may weep right along with you. Or, he or she might roll the eyes and think, “What’s wrong with this guy? It’s not like he lost a brother or sister.” That’s just the way it is. If you think of a pet as part of your family, you get it. If you think of a pet as just an animal, you don’t.
Rhonda found Gomez hiding in the shrubs near a restaurant in April, 2000. It was a colder than normal day for early spring, it was raining, and the little puppy was tiny and shivering. She tried to beckon him with food, but he was scared. That’s saying something, because Rhonda is like a magnet to dogs, cats, and kids.
Rhonda came home to tell me about the puppy she’d seen. She cried in the telling. She’d found him in a parking lot near a busy street, and she feared he would be killed before she could find him again.
But the next day, there he was, hiding in the same spot under the shrubbery. She’d brought a hamburger patty, and the little puppy came to her, hunger outstripping fear. She fed him bits of meat, talked to him, and petted him. Soon, he let her pick him up.
She called me on the way home. “I have him.”
I waited for her in the driveway. She drove up, lowered the window, and opened her coat. Inside, snuggled up against her, was the puppy.
I laughed. He was so cute, it hurt to look at him. And, after riding inside Rhonda’s coat for twenty minutes, warmed by her body heat, he didn’t look scared at all.
We put a found ad in the paper, and tacked up flyers around the neighborhood where Rhonda found him. No answers. After a week, we realized that we had a new addition to our family. We named him Gomez. He was obviously part Chihuahua, and he just looked like a Gomez.
I took him to the vet to get him checked out, and almost didn’t get him back. Everybody who worked there wanted to keep him. The vet said he was about four months old, and in good shape other than having a slight case of malnutrition. She guessed that he was indeed a Chihuahua mixed with something like a Miniature Pinscher. He weighed four and a half pounds.
For the first week he was home with us, it scared him to be petted. He would shrink back and blink his eyes. He obviously hadn't benefited from human affection. It took several days, but he did grow quite used to getting petted, especially in someone's lap.
Our son Dylan was born several weeks after Gomez joined our family. We’d heard horror stories about little dogs getting jealous over human babies, but Gomez was fascinated with our little human. If we took Dylan from one room to another, Gomez would follow, stationing himself where he could watch over the baby. You could imagine him saying, "He's my boy, and I have to watch him."
Gomez wasn’t an aggressive dog, but he surprised me one morning at dawn by tearing after a small female black bear getting into our trash cans. The bear ran off, and Gomez came prancing back, for the moment feeling like a Rottweiler trapped in a half-Chihuahua’s body.
The years went by, and Gomez seemed healthy, although he was overweight and had been that way since we had him fixed. It was a dark day when we learned that he had a heart condition. Still, for the last couple of years, he enjoyed a good quality of life.
Until yesterday, when he died.
He was a sweet, loyal dog, a great companion, and about as little trouble as a dog could be. It was really difficult trying to be strong for my son last night, especially when I felt eight years old again. But, I’m grateful that a certain funny little dog joined our family for his time on earth.
So, now I say goodbye to my son’s bodyguard, who liked nothing better than to snuggle up against one of his humans, except maybe barbecued chicken. I say goodbye to a pint-sized threat to black bears everywhere. I say goodbye to my little friend.
Gomez: January 2000 - May 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Recently, Amazon announced a milestone in the reading world: Since the beginning of 2011, e-books have outsold print books on the Amazon site. Yep, e-books are here to stay.
Here’s a timeline provided by Amazon.
July 1995: Amazon begins selling books
November 2007: Kindle and Kindle e-books introduced
July 2010: Kindle e-books outsell hardbacks
May 2011: Kindle e-books outsell hardbacks and paperbacks combined
In the press release, Amazon said that since April 2011, for every 100 hardcover or paperback copies, Amazon has sold 105 e-book copies. That doesn’t include free e-books, which include nearly every title of note published before 1923. From the beginning of 2011 until now, Amazon sold three times more e-books than during the same period last year.
I resisted joining the e-reader legions for a good while, but not because of the reasons I’ve most often heard from folks: “I like the feel, the heft, and the smell of books.” No, I resisted because I didn’t want to spend the money on a Kindle or other device, and because I could often find used copies of books for less than the Kindle version.
That’s not to say I didn’t read e-books. I had the free Kindle apps for my Mac and iPhone for a good while before I bought a Kindle device, and had read a few books on my computer or phone. But at the end of summer last year, I noticed a woman sitting across from me on an airliner. She had the new version of the Kindle, with the lower price of 139 bucks. She decided to take a nap, and handed over the Kindle so I could check it out. When I got home, I ordered one.
For me, it was a natural transition to e-readers. I travel a lot, for one thing. I like to have a half-dozen or so reference books with me all the time, and that just wasn’t practical with hardbacks or paperbacks when trying to get by with carry-ons. Also, although I’m no tech geek, my job requires me to work with electronic stuff, so I’m not technology-resistant, either.
Again, one thing that kept me from fully embracing e-books was the cost of the books. Sure, a New York Times bestseller priced at $9.99 beats the hardcover price by a bunch, but I’ve never been one to chase after the bestseller list, especially with fiction titles. It was common to find used hardcovers or paperbacks for less than the price of a e-book edition. But, in the year before I bought my Kindle, I noticed the emergence of “indie authors,” writers who essentially self-published through e-books. I’ve found some great books from indie authors priced at $2.99 and below. The notion that I could find used books cheaper than e-books held sway much less. Yep, you’ll find junk out there in the indie world, but I’ve also paid 24 bucks for a hardback and been disappointed.
E-books have been a boon to readers and authors. My friend, fellow sasquatch at large, and journalist turned novelist Steve Brewer has authored twenty books, some of them out of print. (Interesting guy: he’s written for a living since he was eighteen.) Having secured the rights to all of his published titles except one , he now has them available on Kindle and Smashwords (Smashwords covers most e-book formats besides Kindle). Because Steve has the rights to most of his titles, he prices them at $2.99 and below. (The one title for which he doesn't have the rights, Boost, is priced at $9.99 by the publisher in the Kindle version.)
Before e-books, authors such as Steve were at the mercy of publishers regarding older titles. If a publisher chose not to issue a reprint of a title, the author was out of luck. E-books have changed that: Mr. Brewer reports that his biggest selling e-book title is one of his older ones, End Run, first published in 2000, despite paperback and hardcover versions slowing "to a trickle" by 2011.
Steve Brewer serves as a good example of how e-books are good for readers and authors. You can buy End Run as an e-book for $2.99. As of today, paperback copies cost $14.00 on Amazon, and the hardcover will set you back $23.95. And get this: Steve tells me that he gets the same royalties per copy for an e-book priced at $2.99 as a hardcover priced at 24 bucks.
By the way, Steve has a new book coming out in June, Calabama. Steve was kind enough to let me read his nearly-final draft, and the novel is a dandy. It's set here in Shasta County, and concerns the travails of a transplant to the area who suddenly finds himself without a job, without a wife, and ensnared in the clutches of a local drug kingpin. Fun read.
So, are e-books all good and no bad? Well, no. For one thing, my first Kindle froze up. They’ve been reliable, but they’re not as reliable as paper. (Amazon was great; they overnighted a new one to me the next day, and paid for the shipping to return the broken one.) For another thing, e-books lend themselves to impulse purchase. I’m guessing there are 20 or 30 titles on my Kindle priced at $.99 to $2.99 that I may never read. I just had to have them because they were cheap. The cost of the device itself is still considerable: the cheapest Kindle is $120. Although some devices, including Kindle, allow lending, there are usually limits such as time constraints, and library lending for e-books seems to just now be getting off the ground.
If you love print books, you might fear that growth in e-book sales threaten the availability of paper books. So far, those fears seem unfounded. When Amazon announced that e-book sales had surpassed that of print books, it also announced that sales of paperbacks had increased in the same period. I think there is little danger that paper books will go the way of 8 track tapes and cassettes. More likely, the lasting legacy of e-readers and e-books will be that they led to more people connecting to a passion for reading. That’s especially good news for novelists, since in today’s United States, fewer men read novels than in decades past: only one out of four men read book-length fiction today.
I’ve owned a Kindle e-reader for less than a year, and it’s probably resulted in the doubling of my reading volume. Really, I suppose I’m pretty much the opposite of the I Like Paper Books set: I find the Kindle so convenient, and such a pleasure to use, that I resent having to go back to a “real” book. I’m with the E-book Nation to stay. I even bought an emergency radio that charges my Kindle with a hand crank. You know, in case of The Rapture, or total economic collapse. A guy can’t be too careful.
Monday, May 16, 2011
From the yeah, really department: In February 1942, the Japanese mounted the first mainland attack against the United States since the War of 1812, and the attack was likely prompted by prickly pear cactus spines stuck in a Japanese fellow's ass.
In the early months of World War II, ten Japanese submarines patrolled the west coast of the United States. In 1941 and 1942 they sunk about a dozen ships, sticking to targets at sea. But Kozo Nishino, the commander of I-17, a 350 foot long B-1 class submarine 70 feet longer than the largest German U-boat, decided to up the ante one evening in February 1942. He surfaced off the shore of Ellwood Oil Field, near Santa Barbara, California, with his crew of 101. For twenty minutes, starting at about 7:15 pm, the I-17 fired 15 to 20 shells at the facility.
After the attack, Captain Nishino reported to the Japanese command that he’d “left Santa Barbara in flames,” but the shelling was kind of a bust. The Japanese had the best shipboard night optics in the world at the time, but most of the shells fell either well short or well beyond the intended target. The attack caused about 500 dollars worth of damage to the oil facility pier, and there was only one injury reported. (That injury actually happened well after the attack, when a worker was injured while trying to defuse an unexploded shell.)
Nishino knew the area well. In the 1930s, he’d often captained a merchant tanker in and out of the Santa Barbara channel, sometimes loading crude oil at the Ellwood oil facility.
During one such visit in the late 30s, officials invited Nishino ashore for a welcome ceremony. While walking up the path to the ceremony location, he fell into a prickly pear cactus, and cactus spines were pulled from his butt while oil field workers looked on and laughed.
As legend goes (it’s a widely accepted story, but not without dispute), Captain Nishino never forgave the folks at the Ellwood facility for laughing at him, and would years later seize the opportunity to gain revenge from a Japanese submarine. Thus, the probability that the first mainland attack against the United States since the War of 1812 was provoked by a prickly pear cactus--and laughter.
The attack on Ellwood could be viewed as kind of a joke, especially since the jitters brought on by the attack almost certainly led to the so-called “Battle of Los Angeles” the next day. Decades later, the two events would inspire the movie “1941.”
But in the longer term, the hysteria provoked by the attack was no laughing matter. It led to greater censorship of the news, and increased pressure to confine Japanese-Americans and Japanese visitors in internment camps. Soon, 110,000 Japanese people--62% of them U.S. citizens--were forced to leave homes and businesses behind and were confined to internment camps.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
(In honor of Mother's Day, here's a re-post from October 2008.)
I write about my son Dylan often. I was a late-in-life dad when he came into the world, and eight years later, he's still a fascinating little creature.
Dylan is a good kid. More than that, he has the makings of a guy who will be a good person as an adult. He's not perfect. He can't eat anything without ten percent of it ending up on the floor. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get him to do his homework. Sometimes he knees me in the privates when we're wrestling. I think it's accidental.
But yeah, in my heart and mind, Dylan shines in many ways. Still, Uncle E's post today in which he mentioned Dylan surprised me, and left me with a big lump in my throat. There's something about hearing or reading good things about my son from someone else--especially when that someone else is as thoughtful and perceptive as Uncle E--that just makes my heart swell anew.
I don't mention my wife Rhonda as often as I do Dylan. That largely has to do with Rhonda's desire for privacy. She's fairly well known in our community, and she doesn't like the idea of her life being an open book. So, I respect her feelings, although the woman has had a fascinating life. Heck, someone should base a novel on her experiences.
The three of us went out boat camping on Lake Shasta on my last break at home before Dylan commenced going to school again. We had a wonderful time, but two days into the trip, Rhonda had pressing matters to attend to at her office, so Dylan and I dropped her off at the marina and headed back to camp. Dylan, at the age of eight, had spent a total of two nights away from Rhonda in his life. He was brave about the idea of two "dudes only" nights at the camp, but on the second morning without Mom, after we finished breakfast, I could tell that something was on his mind.
I chuckled. "Of course not. I've had a great time, but I miss your mom too."
Monday, May 02, 2011
I recently learned via a blog post that a female friend, one of the few blogger buddies I sometimes see in person, keeps her iPhone 4 in her bra while she's at work. On vibrate. I guess calling her while she's working is now out of the question. I'd feel like I was fooling around on my wife.
Funny what you can learn from Sitemeter. I never knew, until a few days ago, that there was an Alamo, California. It’s east of Oakland.
I woke early Saturday morning, so I left while wife and son were sleeping to do some grocery shopping. On the way, I stopped to have breakfast. While I was eating, the song “Sugar Sugar” came over the speakers. That song came out in September 1969, while I was in the eighth grade. Forty-one years later, it still makes me wanna hurl. Yep, it was the #1 hit song in 1969, and the very mention of it provokes a cringe.
I posted something to that effect on Facebook, and Bob Barbanes, a friend, former coworker, and former disk jockey, mentioned the name of the singer: Ron Dante. Turns out that ol’ Ron is still active, even recently appearing with the CBS Orchestra on the David Letterman show. That’s pretty cool.
But I still can’t stand “Sugar Sugar.”
Monday, April 25, 2011
My mom sighs and asks, "What were you thinking?"
"It was fun."
"Getting soaked is fun?"
Mom shakes her head, but she's smiling just a little.
Dylan asks if we can go out "on patrol."
"It's raining," I say.
"It'll be fun."
I start to tell him that we'll wait for the rain to slow down. But then, I remember.
I grab a jacket and meet my son back at the front door. "Where's your jacket?"
"Don't need one," he says.
"C'mon. Get a jacket."
A memory. A nine year-old's memory.
We come back a half hour later. We're soaked. We're on the verge of shivering. Mom is waiting.
"Where are your jackets?"
"We left them behind," Dylan answers.
"What were you guys thinking?"
But she's smiling just a little, and while her words were "What were you guys thinking?", what we hear is "I love you both, even when you do stupid stuff."
She orders us to stand by the front door. She grabs a couple of towels, orders us to take off our shirts, towels off Dylan, towels off me. She disappears, and comes back with sweat pants and fresh t-shirts for both of us. We put on the dry duds, and retire to the sofa to watch "Dirty Jobs."
Rhonda comes out of the kitchen with hot chocolate. She looks at us, shakes her head, and utters, "boys."
I look at Dylan. He looks so happy.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
"Both of my grandfathers are gone, and it's really made me sad lately."
There are many good things about being an older parent. I think I'm much better at being a dad than I would have been in my twenties. But thinking about my dad and Rhonda's dad makes me sad too. They would have both loved being granddads, and Dylan would have loved being around them.
So, oh yes, there are minuses to being an older parent too.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Maybe you've never heard of Smedley Butler. He was born in 1881, and died in 1940. He served 34 years in the U.S. Marines, retired as a Major General, and is one of 19 Americans awarded the Medal of Honor twice.