A Good Weekend for aWriter

It was a good weekend,

It started with the news that I have just sold two more signed copies of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” It’s really nice to know there are still people who appreciate it or want to read it. The setup on Big Cartel makes it easy to personally handle the signed copy sales, and even allows buyers to let me know HOW they want the book to be inscribed. I’ll be down to the post office first thing Monday to get those in the mail.

Last night I finished the fifth draft – and I think it’s the last – of the work in progress. My trusted reader – Tori – had found the usual handful of typos and or missing words. She also identified a couple of spots where the story still needed a little If it passes muster with my trusted reader – Tori – I then start the hard part, trying to attract an agent who can sell the book to a publisher. I’ve already got my query letter ready.

Meanwhile, I can’t slow down. I have a pirate stage musical I”m working on with a friend, and a couple of stories that – although I thought they were done – still need something. I’d like to figure out that something in the next month so I can make it available for International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

And the story I just finished (fifth draft) is going to be one of a series, so at the very least I ought to be able to give a potential publisher an idea of what I have in mind for the series.

So that’s a lot of work and I can’t take time to bask. But it was still a good weekend.

And hey! You can always pick up an autographed copy of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” Just follow the link on the right side of the page!

Man versus Machine

Once again, man triumphs over machine!

Specifically, this man triumphed over the dryer. Again.

When we moved in here eight years ago (literally, like eight years ago today) the landlord mentioned there was a dryer in the shed and if We could get it working, we could use it. Tori watched a couple of Youtube videos, got it working, and we were off to the races. And not off to the laundromat.

It was already an old machine when we started using it. As near as I can tell from the serial number, it was built between 1978 and 1988, which is a hell of a ride for an appliance. It’s had problems over the years and I’ve had it open fiddling with this part or that or taking something out to check it on the multimeter. I’ve opened it so many time that I have thought about replacing the bolts with a zipper. I’ve replaced both thermal sensors – twice – the fuse, the thermostat, a couple of rollers, the belt – twice. And less than two months ago we – Tori and I, working together – replaced the motor. That was tricky, because while it was the same motor, it was wired completely differently. Tori had the patience to work that out. And the dryer was running. But then last week it went belly up again. It was turning, but not getting hot.

Now, you might ask, and reasonably so, “John, it’s a 32 to 42 year old dryer. It was never meant to last this long, and somewhere down the line you’ll have put more into repairs than the thing is worth, or than it would cost to just replace it. Just let it go, and get something that was at least made in this century.”

But I just can’t. It’s like the guy said on the Kenmore DIY video, when an appliance stops working, it’s like a detective story. It’s leaving you clues about what the problem is. It becomes a game.

So, turning but not warm. That means it’s not the motor, belt or rollers. I checked the thermal sensors, thermostat and fuse. All had continuity. So I closed up the back and opened the front. I have never worked on the part where the gas jet burns and I was a little nervous. I have replaced the heating coil of an electric dryer, that’s easy, but this is – you know – fire. had to do a little research to figure out what all those piece are and what they do.

I was stymied again by the fact that there have been some upgrades since this dryer rolled off the assembly line, back during the Carter administration and the coils looked nothing like the ones I saw in the DIY video.

Then I reached in and undid the screw holding the igniter in place and pulled that out. The fact that it came out in pieces was a pretty good sign that the thing was broken, perhaps it was THE broken piece. I called my favorite appliance parts store (believe me I know ’em all!) and the guy, when hearing about the age of my machine, said he didn’t have an original equipment version, but had several “generic” igniters of different shapes, one of which would probably work. Sounded like my best choice, so I went down, handed them the pieces of my old igniter, and he brought me back something that looked exactly like the old one, but in one piece.

I brought it home, installed it, put all the other pieces back and crossed my fingers. I plugged it in, opened the gas valve and stood back. And then, all I did for the next 10 minutes was stand next to the dryer and breathe deeply. Occasionally I’d bend down over the coils and inhale deeply. No smell of gas. OK. So I hadn’t made anything worse

I turned it on. The new igniter started to glow bright orange, and the gas jet lit up like a rocket. I watched it for a couple of minutes and it didn’t cut out, so I guess I fixed it again.

Hooray! Until next time!

Bad Movies vs. Good Night’s Sleep

I woke up early about a week ago and decided to play TV roulette, where you pick something at random and try to sit through it, no matter how bad. I ended up sitting through “Undercover Grandpa,” starring (if that’s the right word) James Caan. It had one short scene that sort of was watchable but for the most was just trite, poorly written, poorly acted. Bad, but I was able to sit through it.

Tori woke up for the last 15 minutes or so and couldn’t understand why I was watching it. But when I explained the game, she took a turn and picked a movie so bad we had to turn it off in the first 20 minutes, so I guess she won. The movie was “The Wrong Missy,” an appalling pile of crap on Netflix. David Spade in a movie prduced by Adam Sandler’s company, so you knew it was going to be bad. And of course, it had Rob Schneider in a small part. It’s like everyone who was on SNL in that period feels some kind of obligation for keeping Schneider’s career alive or something. Maybe he has some dirt on them?

first of northern starTwo nights ago I couldn’t sleep at all. Tori got up with me and we discovered the glorious awfullness that is Roku’s B Movie Channel. We ended up watching something called “Fist of the Northern Star” from 1986, based on a manga series, and oh my god it was terrible – but terrible in an earnestly hilarious way. It was – if I may say – perfectly awful. Preening and posturing in a way that screamed “I come from the ’80s! Fear my hair!!”

And if you look closely at the image – Yes, that’s Malcolm McDowell on the right. What HE’S doing in this drech-fest is hard to imagine.

I think my favorite bit was when the hero got hit in the chest with some kind of magic punch force that created so much pressure in his body his arms sort of exploded – blood jetting out of his biceps like a geyser at Yellowstone. So he had to kick his opponent to death. And the evil henchman was defeated when his leather cap got pulled off and his brain exploded. I’m not kidding.

And yet, as ridiculous as “Fist of the Northern Star” was, it was FAR more watchable than “The Wrong Missy.” There’s no comparison.

When “Fist of the Northern Star” was over, I went back to bed and slept like a baby.

Random Thoughts at the Hospital

Random thoughts while wandering the corridors of East Jefferson General Hospital Wednesday.

First, nothing to worry about. I’m fine. Fit as a fiddle. Don’t need good thoughts or healing energy or prayer warriors or anything. None of those things would be rejected if offered, mind you, but they’re not needed. I’m fine. It’s just that I hadn’t been to the doctor in a couple of years, so when I did go in to see him last month he drove the point home by calling for a bunch of tests and inflicting some healthcare on me. THAT will show me! Today was the last of them.

2 – The words “Nuclear Medicine” are scary. Maybe it’s just the age I grew up in, with the Cold War and nuclear drills and all that. There’s something “mushroom cloudy” about “nuclear medicine,” reminiscent of Commando Cody or Flash Gordon or Zaphod Beeblebrox with his Kill-O-Zap ray gun. Instead, they should call it “Magic Medicine.” That’d be MUCH more calming. You could imagine Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts school nurse, doing whatever she does behind the scenes while you have your tests, and there’d always be plenty of chocolate. I’m writing a letter to the hospital board immediately.

3 – There was nothing to read while I was sitting in the cardiology waiting room. Nothing, that is, accept many copies of a magazine sized, 24-page pamphlet on “Advanced Prostate Cancer.” Had nothing to do with what anyone in cardiology was waiting for, you’d think it would be in urology or oncology, and maybe it was, I didn’t check. But it was the only thing to read, so I read it. It was – eye opening. My favorite line was the inspirational story of the guy who said the first step in fighting his case was “Own your cancer.” Well, I never knew you could rent it, but apparently that’s not a good deal. So yeah, OWN it.

4 – Most of the afternoon was taken up by a chemical stress test – which tricks your heart into thinking you’re running a marathon while you’re sitting in a chair. Not comfortable, but I suppose it feels better than actually running a marathon. It was actually unpleasant. And they took before and after pics of my heart. Unasnwered question – Did I win?

5 – The last thing of the day was the best – an echocariogram. For obvious reasons (one of which is my tendency to free associate) I always think an echocardiogram will somehow involve using bats to check my heart. There were no bats, but it was really interesting. I could see my heart pumping away, valves opening and closing, ventricles and atria filling and emptying. There’s also a Doppler effect, the chambers flash red or blue like the cop lights in your rearview mirror to indicate which way the blood is flowing. According to the technician, having blood flow through your heart beats the alternative.

6 – Tori was with me all day, or as close as the hospital would let her. For a lot of it she had to sit in the waiting room reading (she brought a book, no “Prostate Cancer” for her) while this went on. She used the time to learn how to turn off the oxygen and other medical gasses throughout the east wing of the hospital if that ever becomes  necessary. But she got to see the echocardiogram and was fascinated. *Could* I have done it without her? Probably. It was just a matter of sitting there letting people scrubs do things to me. But I wouldn’t want to, not in a million years. She’s there to support me and I’m there to support her. And now when I say my heart belongs to her, she knows that’s not an empty promise. There’s really one there. And it’s hers.

Anyway, that’s it. Unless I hear otherwise in the next week or so, I”m going to assume I’m fine. I’ll see you all eventually.
jb

First Rehearsal, That Was Fun

That was fun. Tuesday night was the first night of rehearsals for me and Max with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans. It was the chorus’s first rehearsal of the year, aiming towards a performance of Haydn’s “The Creation” in the spring. I’ve never heard it before but, let me tell ya, it’s got some snappy passages.

I learned a lot. For one thing, I learned I’m no longer a tenor 2 for the purposes of choral singing. I’m a bass. And while I can’t read music, I’ve still got a pretty good ear and can find my place with the other basses fairly well. But I’m going to have to do a lot better and spend at least an hour or so every day working on it.

When I was in musicals at Albany Civic Theater I was usually the lead or support – because I wasn’t a good enough singer to sing in the chorus. The chorus has to be able to sing the music as written, and mediates the tempo between what the orchestra is playing and whatever the lead has taken it in his head to sing. Now I’m going to have to get good.

Also, the music director has very, VERY clear ideas of how each word will be pronounced. I hate to disappoint him in advance, but while I plan to get that eventually, pronouncing the words his way is way down my list, well below learning what the words are and what notes I’m supposed to sing.

The people are all really friendly, and happy to see some new faces. I looked around the room, then leaned over and told Max that at 21, he is less than a third of the average age in the room. I, on the other hand, turning 65 next month, am probably right about at the mean. Anyway, it was a start.

The Northwest’s Pirate Prom

Saturday evening the Northwest pirate community will hold the 10th annual Swashbucklers Ball, the pirate prom of the Northwest, in their filibuster finery. Once again, I will not be there.

It starts at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie. I thought about getting out there for it, but then I mapped it and learned it would be a 37-hour drive, which means I’ll have to leave for it yesterday at the latest, and really, I should probably leave earlier, like last Monday.

So there you are. I’m afraid I won’t make it.

They started holding the ball right after our family moved from Oregon to the Caribbean. I’m sure it was nothing personal. We moved out of the area, our friends threw a party. Just a coincidence, a matter of timing. Now, if we were to return to the Northwest and they suddenly stopped holding it – you know, hands in their pockets, idly kicking at stones, whistling, acting surprised and saying, “Pirate party? What pirate party?” then I might begin to wonder if I need a new deodorant or something.

But I kid!

Ideally, what I’d like to do is for me and Tori to just show up one year. Buy a couple of tickets, slip in and sit in a dark corner in the back, and watch. It’d be fun to see if anyone noticed.

That won’t be this year. The ball is being held this weekend – about a day and a half from when I post this. Too late to start planning now. But next year? The year after? Who knows. Keep a weather eye out, pirates. You never know who might show up.

In the meantime, to all me mates gathered Saturday at the Milwaukie, Oregon, Elks Lodge, friends and crewmates and all who are on the account, have a grand time and know we’ll be thinking of you.

Ol’ Chumbucket
Jan. 10, 2020

A Resolution to Be More Musical, Even if It Annoys People

jb in porkpie hate
The author wearing the porkpie hat he received for Christmas. What does this have to do with the subject? I like a hat that makes me look vaguely like an old jazz guy,

Let me cut straight to the chase, then if you’re at all interested you can read the build up to it.

My new year’s resolution is to get more music in my life. Not just listening to the radio or cuing up tunes on my music library, although no doubt I’ll do that, too. But I want to sing more, perform a bit, whatever it takes.

One of the things I’ll do to achieve that is to finish the pirate musical I started last year, and then the other. I’m also going to try out for a chorus next week. I have some other things in mind as well, but those are the two big ones to start with.

Now, here’s the story behind it, in many unrelated pieces.

The story started about 10 days before Christmas. Or in September. Or possibly in 1965.

Ten days before Christmas Tori and I went to see Max and the UNO choir join with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans to perform Handel’s “Messiah.” (I didn’t mention that? Check this video.) It was really great, and to Tori’s chagrin, I found myself singing along to the parts I knew – and I surprised myself with how many there were.

It reminded me of when I was fourth grader at Christ the King School in Nashville and a member of the choir. There was some big to-do we sang at in the Nashville cathedral, something to do with the bishop. Maybe his birthday, or funeral, or installation. I don’t know and I’m not sure I ever did. Anyway, it was a big deal, a full mass, and we practiced like crazy for a couple of months under the tutelage of our choir director, Mr. Guertz, a German choir master who seemed to be at least 400 years old. I was pretty sure he’d known Bach personally. Anyway, we were pretty good, got a lot of compliments. It made an impression. I can still remember parts of the service we sang, although I doubt I could sing it now, my voice was significantly higher in those days.

My dad was a singer. He sang everywhere, all the time. Especially in the car. Any family trip was a singalong. When he retired he joined SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society) and put as much time and energy into that as he had his professional career. He even wrote his chapter’s annual show once or twice, and wrote/edited the chapter newsletter for years until he died. God, he loved it.

So I grew up singing. Although, like dad, I can’t read music. Got a pretty good ear, but I can’t read.

In September I mentioned on Facebook that I needed some new vices. Tori and I had marked the 100th day since we’d quit smoking. (FYI, s of this writing we’ve marked 214.) I also have cut back on my coffee consumption, and we recently realized we don’t drink much anymore. We didn’t “quit drinking alcohol,” we just realized we hardly ever do anymore. So I need some vices. And my Facebook friends were very helpful. If by “Helpful” you mean mostly mocking.

Among the offerings were suggestions that I take up meth (a non-starter), knitting and/or crocheting, move back to the northwest “and ease into the CBD trade,” volunteer for some do-good group or agency, get a New York Times crossword puzzle book (I already have the NYTimes crossword a day calendar. Any more than that would lead to madness.) online gambling or becoming a regular at a casino poker table, or adopting several cats and posting daily photos of their antics. Oh, and someone suggested that to fill the time I used to spend smoking, I take up smoking. Still scratching my head over that.

Two of the suggestions, however, weren’t stupid. The first sounded odd at first blush, but hear me out. FB friend Steve Sanders said “Try writing poetry. It is highly addictive, horribly distracting, and you will never make a living doing it. The perfect vice.” Well, he’s close. As I said up above, I’m writing the book for a pirate musical. A friend is writing the music. With a little luck the first draft will be ready by late spring. So it isn’t exactly writing poetry – but I will be writing and thinking in rhythm and rhyme.
And my son Max suggested he could teach me to play guitar. So that’s gonna be on the agenda as well this winter. Oh, I don’t expect I’ll ever be much good at it, but I want to be able to pick up a guitar and tinker around, make a little noise that is recognizable as music, and please myself, if no one else.

That was September. Then this Christmas we saw “The Messiah,” and although it wasn’t a sing along, that’s what I did.

And Tori, afterwords said she wanted me to start singing again. I have a very special wife. She’s never been the, “Oh, behave yourself and be serious” type. She’s the “How do we make this work?” type, and often knows what I want better than I do myself. So we talked about different things I might try, and I agreed my resolution for the new year would be to find a way to get music back in my life. Then Max came home and said the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans, which he had just sung with, was holding auditions and he invited me to come try out with him.

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far, the musical, the chorus and maybe guitar.

At the front door of the Guitar Center there is a sign that says “We Sell the Best Feeling on Earth” and every time I see it I think, “They must all be virgins.”

But I’m willing to give it a shot and find out if they know something I don’t.

Give an Adventure this Christmas

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season. If your list contains someone who lovea a good sea yarn it’s not too late to order my young-adult swashbuckling novel “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” It’s the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy and runs away to sea to find and rescue her father, who has been captured by pirates.

You can order it through all the usual places, from Amazon to your local bookstore. Or if you want an autographed copy, go through my site at Big Cartel, and I’ll get one in the mail to you the next day.

Readers have said of “Chrissie” –

“If you like reading adventure tales, wry humor, or just books, chart a swift course for Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter. … John Baur’s first stab at young-adult fiction features top-notch characterization, breathtaking battle scenes, and as much plot as your favorite Rafael Sabatini and Hunger Games novels — combined.”

“Just finished Chrissie Warren! Wow what a journey! I laughed, I cried, and I can’t say I could enjoy anything more. This has to be among the top in my favorite pirate books. I’m so glad this amazing piece of literature found its was onto my bookshelf!”

“Fabulous. … I enjoyed it tremendously!”

For the autographed volumes go to the Big Cartel link here – http://tinyurl.com/nu5ajsz. And make sure when you check out that you use the “Notes to Seller” tab on the checkout page to tell me who you want the autograph made out to. Otherwise I’ll put a generic signature. The “Notes to Seller” tab is at the end of the payment section – not where I’d have put it, but they didn’t ask me.

And have a M-aaarrrrrr-y Christmas!

Just in Case

Max and I went out to the Bywater (the neighborhood between the Marigny and the Ninth Ward) last night to see a man about a guitar case. Turned out the case wouldn’t fit the Fender we got Max at the garage sale last month. Too bad, it was a solid case at a great price. So he still doesn’t have a case for the guitar, but it wasn’t a wasted trip. The guy was fascinating. We met him at his studio and it seemed like he knew most of the musicians who have ever played in town, had stories and advice.

The most interesting – and immediately useful – thing he said was about the case. It was a plastic shipping case, the kind you’d use if you were checking a guitar on a plane. Sturdy. Good locks. He said it had been used once – when the guitar had been shipped to him. There was no point in using it. A gig bag makes more sense when you’re playing clubs and bars all around town.

“Most venues don’t have anyplace to store a case,” he said. “There’s no place to put it. Use a gig bag and you can throw it in a corner, or under the drummer’s platform or anywhere out of the way.”

So that’s next on the list. Find a good gig bag.

A Walk(er) Down the Rabbit Hole

I had just finished my fourth adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” last night. I’ve adapted the novel as a four-person staged reading, as a straightforward stage play and, my favorite, a stage play about Dickens writing the story and how it changed him. I’m still really proud of that one.

The version I’m on now is for Tori’s drama class at T.H. Harris and it has its own challenges. Due to the way the show will be scheduled, it has to be really cut down. I mean, 20 to 30 minutes MAXIMUM. So when I say I’m finished, I really mean I’m finished with my first draft. I’ll probably have to chop it further.

But I learned something really interesting – well, interesting to me any way.

You know how, at the end, Scrooge tells the kid to to buy the prized turkey and the kid replies “WALK-er.”

I’ve never really paid much attention to it. Obviously Walker is Victorian era equivalent of “bullshit,” or at least “baloney.” But this time, after ignoring the word as I have in previous adaptations, I dug a little deeper and found myself going down the rabbit hole. Here’s what I found.

Yeah, Walker is exactly that – a mid-Victorian era expression of disbelief or dismay. But there’s more. Walker is only HALF the expression.

The full phrase is “Hookey Walker,” always written with initials capitalized, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, suggesting it might reference a person or place. It’s also occasionally used to mean “humbug,” (Scrooge’s favorite phrase,) as in, “That’s all Walker.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary there are a handful of explanations for where the phrase came from, none of them convincing.

So two things – first, I wanted to replace it in the text with something young kids today would recognize, so I asked the young kids assembled at my kitchen table for their weekly Dungeons and Dragons session. And after tossing out several suggestions, they came up with the winner. In this version, instead of the boy saying “WALK-er,” he’s going to say, “That’s whack.” Thank Chaz.

Second I want to bring Hookey Walker back. I’m going to change the name of one character in my work in progress to Hookey Walker. (Yeah, he’s an idiot.) And I’m going to start using the phrase in my day to day conversation. “Don’t give me that Hookey Walker!” “Did you hear the president’s latest rant? What a bunch of Hookey Walker.” And of course, “WALK-er.”

I also need a T-shirt, which will soon be available online, saying “Bring Back Hookey Walker.” And if anyone asks, “Who’s Hookey Walker?” I will be happy to explain.