Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Saturday, October 18, 2003

I didn’t post anything yesterday because I am ill. I have come down with the ferocious cold my wife imported into the family a couple weeks of ago. I dodged it for quite a while, but as it spread to my oldest and middle sons, Joe and Mickey, the germ siege around my house became more than I could fight off. Now I have the runny nose, wheezing lungs, headache, muscle soreness, exhaustion, etc.

It’s interesting how illness refocuses a person’s priorities. When you feel crumby, a lot of concerns -- for professional advancement, exercise, child care, spectator sports, literature, even the great god money -- go out the window. All you can focus on is I FEEL TERRIBLE and I WANT TO FEEL BETTER, IMMEDIATELY. Ah, well. So it goes.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Tommy (T-Model) Goodloe, my sportswriter buddy, stopped by this morning, so I asked his opinion of the flap over Steve Bartman, the 26-year-old Chicago Cubs fan who cost his team a crucial out in game six of the National League Championship series by sticking his hands between a foul fly and the outfielder trying to catch it. As all baseball fans know by now, the heavily favored Cubs proceeded to lose that game and the next and their chance to play in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

“That Bartman guy should be taken out and shot,” said T-Model. “Or at least pistol-whipped. He is the latest, and maybe worst, example of a terrible trend in sports. It’s this me-me-me thing. People go to a ballgame and it’s not about team loyalty or love of the game or, god forbid, an appreciation of the physical grace involved in athletics. It’s about ‘how can I swipe a souvenir to show off to my buddies?’ and ‘how can I get on TV for thirty seconds?’

“The Cubs deal reminded me of another travesty I witnessed on TV a few days ago. Wisconsin knocks off previously unbeaten Ohio State in college football, and a Wisconsin fan ‘celebrates’ by running naked onto the field with a few seconds left in the game and leading security guards on a chase.

“Here’s a clue, sportsfans: These games aren’t about you! They’re about the sport, the event, the beauty of watching gifted athletes compete. Stay the hell out of the way and let the contest unfold undisrupted by your burning desire to make off with a $4 baseball or your emotional need to wave your weenie in front of a TV camera.”

“Yeah, Tommy,” I said, “but Steve Bartman is being abused. He had to shut off his phone because he got so many hate calls. He stayed home from work because he was afraid to go outside. News helicopters were hovering over his house.”

“I heard about all that last night from the TV announcers doing the seventh Cubs-Marlins game,” T-Model replied. “Thom Brenneman going on and on about how people were picking on Bartman and it was a terrible thing and the poor fella didn’t do anything wrong. What a crock! The idiot interfered with the game! You behave like a horse’s ass, you get treated like a horse’s ass. It goes with the territory. And Brenneman -- what can you expect from a pretentious bozo who spells his name T-h-o-m? His name is Som and he pronounces it with a lisp? Give me a break!”

“T-Model,” I said, “you are not a forgiving man.”

“True,” said Tommy. “I am the Horton the Elephant of sportswriting. I never forgive, and I never forget. I will identify Steve Bartman as a symbol of what's wrong with sports until the Cubs actually do reach a World Series.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I greatly enjoyed reading “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” Audrey Niffeneger’s new novel.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea if time travel, especially into my own past, because my memory works in such vivid ways that I feel sometimes as if I AM time traveling. Events from my past life come to me, often as not unbidden, and I feel as if I am living them again. I would like to be able to time travel and show up at the real events and see if what my memory tells me coincides with what really happened.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” presents time travel as a genetic disorder. Henry DeTamble is “chronologically impaired,” so he pops in and out of events in his own life and those of his acquaintances more or less at random. His disappearances come on him sort of like a migraine headache -- at 31 he grows woozy and then, ka-boom, he is 6 years old and re-experiencing his mother’s death in a car wreck. Sometimes he shows up in his own life at a different age, the 40-year-old man sharing conversation and a bed with the 17-year-old boy.

The person he crosses paths with most is Clare Abshire, who he encounters first when she is 6 years old and he is 36. After invading her life repeatedly for years, Henry finally meets her in real time when she is 20 and he is 28. They marry when she is 23, and have a loving but strained (by his misadventures in genetics and time) marriage.

This is a love story as much as a scifi story, but it held my interest on both levels. For a first novelist, Niffenegger can write snappy dialogue and hold your interest with plot. Henry often is quite charming and amusing, even as he struggles to deal with his infirmity. And an infirmity it is. When he materializes at a new spot in time, he is always naked, starving and queasy. This leads to physical problems, primarily involving harsh weather, and social problems with people who are startled to suddenly find themselves faced with a naked stranger. In stressing time travel’s hazards and drawbacks as much as its joys, the book reminded me of H.F. Saint’s entertaining novel “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” which did the same thing for invisibility.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” is not a perfect book. It is longer than it should be (509 pages), and at about the two-thirds point it drags some before picking up the pace for a fast finish. Also, the details of how Henry materializes in time and the dates and conditions of the materializing are more than occasionally confusing. Overall, though, I liked the book. It intrigues.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

"I have found little that is 'good' about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all."

--Sigmund Freud

Monday, October 13, 2003

I’ve decided how I’m going to make my next million. I’m going to launch a line of greeting cards for delivering bad news.

You know how tough it is to break bad news to people, right? Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to do it. We just let the bad news hang around undelivered -- we don’t tell Mom and Dad we flunked out of college, we don’t inform Aunt Jane we’re getting a divorce -- until it sort of delivers itself, one way or another. Mom finds the grade report hidden in the pages of that "Slaughterhouse Five" copy we’ve carried around all summer, Aunt Jane spots our name in the newspaper’s agate-type list of divorce suits filed. That sort of thing.

Often this leads to embarrassing follow-up questions, if not outright hostilities. So why not be up front with the news? Let friends and relatives know what’s going on, leave no one in the dark. But do it from a distance (this is crucial ) and with some style. Don’t call anyone up on the phone and blubber about horrible happenings, and certainly don’t tell anyone face to face. Send them an eye-catching card, maybe even a witty one! I’ve decided to call my line of cards Bad News Bearers. On the back of each one I’ll have a little logo of a teddy bear crying.

What, exactly, do I have in mind with these cards? Consider situations like the two mentioned above.

Oregon State University invites you to leave because of bad grades? Don’t even go home to John Day. Take one of those Starbucks jobs in Corvallis and mail your Mom and Dad a card with a picture on the front of a diploma with wings, flying away. Inside will be the message: I FLUNKED OUT! Just sign your name. For slightly higher price, a deluxe card will be available, featuring a burning pile of tuition money on the back.

You’re divorcing? Buy a set of cards -- suitable for mailing to your boss, your Uncle Alf, your minister, whoever -- that look just like wedding invitations but say instead: “Joan and Jack Jones have the honor of announcing their divorce, effective on March 13, 2004.”

See? This could be a gold mine for Peoria Dave! Everybody has bad news to impart. The possibilities are endless . . .

--So and So (fill in the blank) died. The cover is a photo of a very classy coffin, something wood, maybe mahogany. Open the flap, and a hidden button triggers the playing of a dirge. Inside there is a small frame the size of a business card. Have a printer engrave the name of your loved, or not so loved, one on a set of cards and insert one in each frame.

--We’re Having an Affair!, says the cover of this card in large scarlet letters. Open it and there is an empty square in which you paste a polaroid photo of you and your lover, grinning (or whatever it is you two do when you’re together). Just slip it under your spouse’s pillow to avoid all kinds of hemming and hawing.

--I’ve Got a Terminal Illness!, says the cover of this snappy card, which is shaped like the face of a racing clock. Inside will be spaces to insert your name, your illness, and the estimated time you have left.

--You’re Fired!, says the cover of this card, which is dusted with soot to give it that realistic look. Do away with words on the inside . . . just attach the recipient’s personnel photo.

--I’m Pregnant, says the cover of this card, which features lots of pink and blue bunnies, winged cherubs and golden sunlight. Open it to see, printed in white on a black background: But Not Married! This should be a big seller among young ladies. Moms and Dads plus Grandmas and Grandads can look forward to receiving them. I may even add a space for identifying the father, if the buyer knows who it is.

--I’m Remarrying, says the cover of this card. Open it, and you see a elegant wedding announcement, except across the bottom large purple letters shout: Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! Send it to your ex-spouse and all your ex-in-laws.

--A card shaped like a piggy bank. Inside it says: I’ve Taken Bankruptcy! Mail it off to everyone to whom you owe money. Sign it with a smiley face.

What do you think? Am I going to get rich off this idea? Is the pope Episcopalian?

Sunday, October 12, 2003

If it’s Sunday, this must be The Seven.

1) What are you wearing?

Rust-colored long-sleeved, pullover shirt; “Red Dirt Kauai” souvenir t-shirt, also rust-colored; Levi’s blue jeans; white Adidas sox; fur-lined sweat boots (autumn has arrived).

2) What are you reading?

“Hole in the Sky,” a memoir about growing up in southeast Oregon by William Kittredge.

3) What’s for dinner?

Probably take-out Vietnamese noodle soup. My wife/chef came down with a terrible cold in the wake of walking the Portland Marathon last weekend (lowered resistance to infection, anyone?) and hasn’t been up to cooking for days. I’ve run through my entire take-out repertoire other than noodle soup.

4) What’s the best thing that happened this week?

I mailed out eight submissions, including poems, stories and an essay. This is a triumph of sucking it up after a long submission dryspell punctuated by several rejections. Sometimes I just feel like saying to hell with it, but -- like the man says, if you don’t try you don’t win.

5) What’s bugging you?

I spent all of Saturday lying on the couch alternately sleeping and watching football and baseball on TV. I thought perhaps I was coming down with my wife’s cold, but I wasn’t. I was just being a lazy bum. Now I feel guilty, so I am forcing myself to ignore the television and my scratchy throat.

6) Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

Show Low, Arizona.

7) What’s it all about, Dave?

I quote William Kittredge from his book mentioned above: “Philosophers argue that we cannot be aware of ourselves without language. They say we are created by our language, that we live immersed in language and cannot escape; they say language stands as a scrim between us and what we think of as ‘real,’ and that we have to name things before we can know them. As a result, we can never know what is ‘actual.’ All we can know is names, stories.”

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