Heineken has launched a new version of what one reviewer calls it’s “super-inoffensive lager,” Heineken Silver. The salient point of Heineken Silver seems to be it is even less offensive – four percent alcohol by volume compared to the flagship brew’s five percent. Inoffensive. This seems to want to be your best buddy. Is that what people want? Beer with LESS alcohol? Less flavor?
Me, I want a beer that fights back. Give me a Dead Guy, or an Arrogant Bastard Ale.
To celebrate the launch of their new harmless beer, Heineken partnered with an athletic shoe designer who came up with a kick in the brewer’s colors, with a built in bottle opener and the new beer IN THE SOLES! Good place for it. You can literally walk on beer, which in this case sounds like a better use for it than actually drinking it. But you probably can’t get your hands on or your feet into these new sneakers, since they only made 32 of them and they’re probably already all gone.
My dad, Edwin Charles Baur II, died 20 years ago today. It was not a surprise. He told us about three years before that he had been diagnosed with ALS and probably had about three years. (It was the same phone call in which I learned mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Great day, huh?) He fought it on his own terms and on that night when his body stopped breathing, his heart beat on for another five minutes.
Dad and mom were always a close couple. It’s a cliche to say, but it’s absolutely true that I never saw them fight. I honestly can’t recall much if any in the way of disagreements and certainly no fights. They were as close as any couple I’ve known. And as their conditions progressed they actually grew closer. Dad became mom’s contact with the world, she became dad’s hands.
And when he died and mom was living her last year in an assisted living home for people with Alzheimer’s, he was more alive to her than any of the residents or staff. She was talking once to a staff member about him, the things they had done and what he was like. The staff person said, “Your husband sounds like quite an amazing man,” and mom replied, “Oh, he is. He is.”
As one of my sisters said later, “She’s in denial – and it’s working for her.”
Dad was interested in everything. He was occasionally referred to as a workaholic, yet he always reminded us to “stop and smell the roses.” And the roses he grew were sort of legendry in the neighborhood. At the funeral, a lot of people talked about his roses. Also at the funeral were:
– A man who had worked for him, who told my sister, “Your father was the basis of my whole career Whenever I have a problem I ask myself, ‘What would Ed do?'”
– Members of the barbershop chorus he belonged to.
– A young man who had been having trouble in school and life, who dad began to tutor in math and eventually became something of a “life coach” before there were such things.
– And a couple of hundred other people who had touched his life or been touched by his.
He didn’t read music but was a self-taught piano, harmonica and guitar player. He read anything, science, history, . I remember many a long drive where he just wanted to talk about the article he had recently read. One of those drives is why I know – in a very general way – how a laser works. He was also the best storyteller I’ve ever known.
One thing that still stings, that I still feel bad about, is that he died seven months before the whole Talk Like a Pirate phenomenon exploded. Up until September 2002 it was a small, private joke among a few friends. I don’t even know if I had mentioned it to him. I probably did, there were seven years to have shared that, but I really don’t know. But he never got to see that, and I think he would have enjoyed the spectacle.
In explaining the wild ride Talk Like a Pirate launched for me, Tori and my partner, Cap’n Slappy, I often have said, “It’s not the way our parents would have chosen for us to come to the world’s attenton, but when the wave comes up, you ride the wave.”
But I do think dad would have enjoyed it, or at least been amused. Dad knew a good story when he heard it.
Watching the fly struggling to free itself from the hairspray holding down Vice President Mike Pence’s white locks during Wednesday’s VP debate took me back about 25 or so years to Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Tori and I spent many happy weekends watching the shows at the cultural mecca. Because I worked for a newspaper I was able to get tickets for the opening weekend of the season and the summer season, a great perk.
OSF’s Elizabethan Theater has an outdoor stage with a canopy over it – two or three stories high. I don’t remember what show the following event took place in, other than it was Shakespeare, or who the actor was. But I remember this le it wasyesterday, and probably always will.
An actor was onstage alone, not one of the lead characters, standing between the two support columns, which were 10 or so feet on either side of him. As he went into his monologue a hush descended over the audience – not because of the oratorical skills of the actor, but because, from the top of the canopy, a spider was slowly descending directly toward the speaker.
No, you normally wouldn’t be able to see the insect from any great distance, of course not. But a) it appeared to be a fairly good-sized spider and b) by chance – the placement of the lighting instruments, the spot where the actor stood and the place where the spider started his descent, the perfectly lit web was a bright silver streak, getting longer and longer, and at its end was a small black creature, perfectly illuminated, dropping closer and closer to the actor.
We held our breath.And by we I mean the entire audience. At the Elizabethan you often see bats flitting in and out of the lights, but this was better. The whole thing took a more than a minute,, with the actor declaiming below, unaware of the approaching arachnid.
The spider landed on what I recall was a large, sort of turban-like hat the actor was wearing, his web describing a a silver trail from the canopy to the actor’s head. After a brief pause, just long enough to appreciate what you had just seen, maybe a three count, the actor finished his monologue and turned sharply on his heel, exiting straight upstage.
And that bright silver thread snapped and vanished.
I always wondered if anyone ever told the actor about it, if anyone in the company had seen it and told him, “Dude! You won’t believe what just happened!” And if so, I wonder if it affected in any way the actor’s behavior during the run of the show. Did he approach the monologue with any trepidation? Did he step just a tiny bit forward or backward? Or did he just decide, “Screw it. It’s an outdoor theater, Mother Nature happens.”
It’s not quite as amazing as a fly stealing the attention of an audience of, say 40 or 50 million people and becoming a perfect metaphor for the current administration (flies are drawn to shit) but for those in the audience, it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
This is the story of how Mark Summers and I – he’s Cap’n Slappy to my Ol’ Chumbucket – got our first agent and our first book deal. It is NOT supposed to go like this. It’s not supposed to be this easy.
And, I’m afraid, it’s not likely to work for anyone else.
Almost 18 years ago the Pirate Guys were unleashed on the world. We had created the ersatz holiday, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and Nobel Prize winner Dave Barry wrote a column about us. Suddenly we were “a thing.” At first we thought, “Well, that’s cute, there’s our 15 minutes of fame.” But it turned out to have legs. Within weeks we’d been on NPR and radio stations around the world – literally – we’d been interviewed on air in Australia and Ireland.
“What do we do next?” we wondered.
At my wife Tori’s suggestion (and later our friend Gary, but Tori was definitely first) we registered a website, talklikeapirate.com, and started talking about what we’d do with it.
“We ought to write a book,” one or both of us simultaneously said. “‘How to Talk Like a Pirate.’ That’d be funny. Yeah, we ought to write a book.”
We talked about it for several weeks. It always seemed like a great idea, very funny. I think we fully intended to do it, but we never did any actual work towards writing or even deciding what might be in such a book. Just talking about it and laughing.
As you can imagine, Tori was getting a little impatient, waiting for the talking to end and the writing to begin. Finally, she decided it was time to take things into her own hands.
She stealthily, surreptitiously, did a little research – to that point none of us had a clue about how to write or sell a book. She learned about the role agents play, and the importance of a query letter. She wrote such a letter – “I’m John Baur, co-creator of International Talk Like a Pirate Day. We’ve had success way beyond what we expected and have written a humor books about pirates.” Note – she said we HAD written such a book. She pulled together a list of 25 agents and – literally in the dead of night – sent the letter off. And waited.
For 24 of the queries, that was as far as it went. A few wrote back saying our book “did not meet their current needs” (I have a theory about that I’ll discuss some other time) but most did not respond. You’ll find that’s the way it goes.
And then one, a guy named Peter Miller who owned the Peter Miller Literary Agency, wrote back and said, “I’m out of town for a couple of weeks, but when I get back that next Monday, I’d like to read it.”
Tori told me and Mark – “OK guys, you’ve got 10 days to write it.”
You don’t think that’ll light a fire under you? Most of the first draft of what became “Well Blow Me Down” came together in one long weekend involving a LOT of beer and pizza. At the end of the weekend I looked at the legal pad filled with scribbled idea and jokes, then started pulling them together. Another meeting and we actually were able to turn it into something worth showing people. It wasn’t as good as it became, but it worked. We were able to send off a reasonably funny proposal by the deadline.
It was at least good enough to get Miller to decide he wanted his agency to represent us. He assigned us to one of the agents in his office. That was Scott, who took us under his wing, got us to refine the manuscript, then did his best to sell it.
It didn’t sell after about six months of trying, so his next suggestion was, “Publish it yourself. If you can sell enough copies it’ll get the attention of publishing houses and they’ll be more willing to take a chance on you.”
This was just before the boom in print-on-demand publishing, literally right on the eve of that development. We had to get copies printed and shipped to us, then get out and sell them. We worked out how much money we could afford to lose if we didn’t sell any, and that’s how we ended up with 5,000 copies of “Well Blow Me Down” in the garage.
And it worked. We sold a lot of them, not all 5,000, but, if memory serves, more than 3,000. You’ve gotta hustle. That put Scott in a position where he was able to get us a deal with New American Library.
There’s a lot more to the story, but here we are pushing 900 words, and I have work to do so I’ll leave this here. The point is, we got our first agent in a very odd way and, I’m sorry to say, it probably won’t work for you. Although you’ll never know unless you try.
That’s our family motto: “You’ll never find out if you can fly if you don’t throw yourself off a cliff from time to time.” So knock on the door. If they don’t open it, kick it in.
Tori spent Saturday going over the fifth draft of my work in progress with the proverbial “fine tooth comb.” Which would be an issue if I’d used that phrases in the story. My characters are around 12, 13 years old. Would they say “with a fine tooth comb?” Would they even know what that means?
I only ask because there were a couple of similar idiomatic issues in the manuscript, about which I will soon have to make a decision. Because the project is all but finished, The story is good. It’s a matter of tweaking a little punctuation, changing a couple of names, that kind of thing. Nothing involving changes in the actual story.
So while she was doing that (god I love you, Tori! I’m so lucky, and not just because you love me, but because could there possibly be a better in-house editor than a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher? I don’t think so!) I was beginning one of the most tedious and yet inspirational parts of all this. Shopping for an agent.
Because you’ve got to have an agent. You’ve got to. If you don’t have an agent, you’re just begging to be taken advantage of. Or ignored all together. Publisher’s virtually never accept unsolicited manuscripts. The “slush pile” from which the next unknown bestseller is going to be snatched has moved from the publisher’s office to the agent’s.
Among things that my agents have done for me over the years is get them to put more money up front, get money for the German language rights to a book (there never was a German-language edition, but our agent got us a little bit of cash for the rights to it. If they had actually made one, that would have resulted in more money) and holler at the publisher when a check was late – “lost” on some desk at the publishing house. Agents definitely earn their keep.
(And before you ask – if you query an “agent” and the purported agent wants money up front, you’re being conned. A legitimate agent does not get paid until you do. Let me say that again. A LEGITIMATE AGENT DOES NOT GET PAID UNTIL YOU DO. Which gives them an incentive to sell your book.)
So you go through lists of agents and agencies. You want to make sure that you know the rules each agency isnsists on when submitting your work. Some want your first ten pages. Some want the first 25. Some want your query letter written a specific way, and others use an online form. You also want to send your query to agents who actually are looking for the kind of thing you have written, who perhaps have sold things in your genre. You’re looking for the person in each office who seems to best suit your career.
It’s totally random. But for a few moments for each agency, it’s like you’re on Literary Tinder, trying to spark up a relationship. And then on to the next. Swipe left (or right, I have no idea. I’ve never been on Tinder.)
After two afternoons of poring over the website I was using, I had a list of 14 potential agents, 14 potential relationships.
And it’d be nice to think somewhere in that 14 is “the one.” But the reality is, it’s a long slog. My last time, I sent out 71 queries before I found an agent, Eddie. He was worth the effort, extremely positive and hard working. He tried for a year and a half to sell “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” Sadly without success.
He was preceded by Scott, who also seemed blindly optimistic about the odds of selling “Chance,” my first pirate novel, a story he called “Treasure Island for a new generation.” You have to love that kind of enthusiasm, right? He had gotten “Pirattitude” and “The Pirate Life” published, and he got “Chance” to the final meeting of a really big publishing house, REALLY BIG, a meeting after which there would have been contracts and money and a chance for a lot of sales. Sadly, that was the high point of that one. (There’s a funny story about how Scott ended up as my agent. I’ll tell it tomorrow because I’m running out of space here.)
Neither Scott nor Eddie were ultimately successful and they eventually ended our relationship. That happens, too. When you first get signed by an agent, it feels as if they’ve fallen in love with your book. It feels like you’ve been asked to the prom by the captain of the football team. But if, after months and years of putting in effort on your behalf without any recompense, they “fall out of love.” You can’t blame them. They’re in the business to make money. If you aren’t making money, they aren’t. The first thing the publishing business is, is a business.
So both Scott and Eddie fell out of love with my work. Yes, they are on my list to query soon. But I really have no idea whether our past is going to help or hurt. Will hearing from me stir those embers? Or will they not want to go to the prom with “their ex.” Will they feel, “Him again!?! No way! Once burned, fella.” And yeah, it hurts a little. But it’s part of the game, part of the business.
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!
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.
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?
Two 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 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.
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.