Random Remarks on the Road

Tori needs her beach time, and Monday she got some. In her shadow, lower left, is a glimpse of Max.

Random thoughts on our Texas Trek (our “Treksas?)

We were in Texas four days to celebrate the graduation of a family friend. Here are random thoughts and experiences from the sojourn.

Used to be, a perfect GPA was 4.0. It was the best a kid could do. Nice round number.

More than 800 kids graduated. Some of them were insanely smart. And one had an amazing name.
More than 800 kids graduated. Some of them were insanely smart. And one had an amazing name.

But then they started adding weight for honors classes. I guess it makes sense, I mean shouldn’t an A in honors differential calculus count for more than an A in remedial basket weaving? But it throws the scale off, and I guess there’s no such thing as a “perfect” GPA anymore. Just a really, really good one.

Max had a 4.3 GPA when he graduated from EJ, which is damn good, had him in the top 10 in his class which helped a lot for college scholarships. But he wouldn’t have gotten a whiff of honors at the graduation we attended Sunday. The LOWEST five of the top 10 all had 4.7s, calculated out to the thousandth of a point.

The kid who had a 4.800 finished fifth. FIFTH! He worked his ass off, got a 4.8, and only finished fifth. There must have been a moment when he said, “What’s the freakin’ point? I might as well cut the soles off my shoes, sit in a tree and learn to play the flute.” (Bonus points for any reader who recognizes the origin of that phrase.)

Can you imagine what went through the mind of whoever was 11th in the class? Undoubtedly had a 4.7something  and didn’t get a mention.

The top in the class was 4.8615, which was the highest GPA of any graduate in the district’s seven high school. And none of these kids, when they were introduced, seemed the least uber-geeky. They all belonged to a bunch of clubs, many of which they started, played in the band, were officers in state organizations. One was even an Eagle Scout.

Amazing kids.

Tori and Ricardo and his fifth grade science fair project. At the time he took the demotion of Pluto from plant to minor planet very badly.
Tori and Ricardo and his fifth grade science fair project. At the time he took the demotion of Pluto from plant to minor planet very badly.

The graduation we attended was for a family friend – Ricardo Lopez. The family – which we call The Lopi, which we maintain is the plural of Lopez – are friends from our St. Croix days. During our last year on the island, Ricardo was in the fifth grade class Tori taught at the Good Hope School. He was her favorite student she’s ever taught. He was a little round ball full of smiles. Now, somehow, he has turned into a tall, handsome young man who will be going to Pace University in New York in the fall.

Overheard at our table at dinner – okay, I didn’t overhear it, I actually said it – “So where do the cool kids hang out around here? (longish pause) They never told you, did they.”

I take a perverse pleasure in hearing people sigh and say “Only the Baurs.” Most recently as the graduates were parading in for half an hour, we started a kick line in our row.

The Lopez Family (or Lopi, in Baurspeak) at graduation.
The Lopez Family (or Lopi, in Baurspeak) at graduation.

Far be it from me to make fun of a kid’s name, but this one is truly impressive. Just to be sure, I’m going to change ONE LETTER in the last name of this kid. The graduate with the most amazing name I’ve ever seen was: Oluwatumininu Oluwatuminmise Sadole. Wow. The name appears to be of Yoruba origin, translates to something like “God has regenerated me,” and statistically is more likely be a girl than boy, although either is possible and I missed his/her’s walk across the stage. (Give me a break, there were more than 800 kids in this graduating class.)

But when I spotted that name in the program I thought, “I’ll bet that kid can’t WAIT until she’s old enough to go to court and get the name changed legally to something simpler, something like Oluwatumininu Oluwatuminmise Jones.

That’d be SO much better.

Tori needs her beach time, and Monday she got some. In her shadow, lower left, is a glimpse of Max.
Tori needs her beach time, and Monday she got some. In her shadow, lower left, is a glimpse of Max.

The drive to Houston (actually Katy, Texas, where the Lopez family lives. It’s an affluent suburb just west of Houston) takes about six hours and we drove straight out. On the way home, however, we meandered.

First we headed down to the Texas coast to get just a little beach time in. Most of what we saw was a lot like the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, much of Alabama, the Florida panhandle. Many rental houses on stilts, gas stations and strip malls. But the beach was nice, certainly better than Mississippi’s. And when we got into Galveston, that was actually quite nice. Very resortish, a well-cared for beach, good restaurants. Yeah, WAY too built up, but still the nicest place I’ve yet seen on the Gulf coast. I wish we’d had more time there, but we had only the one afternoon and night. I’d like to have spent a little time on the history of the 1900 hurricane that demolished the island, killing 8,000 people in the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Our drive home was “blue line highway” as far as we could go, staying off the main highways and interstate and poking around in the boonies. We passed through Port Arthur, Texas, a miserable place, all refineries and dust and oily smells. But it was the birthplace of Janis Joplin, so we paid our tribute. You could certainly understand why she was in a hurry to get out.

There was more, a lot more, crammed into four days. But anyone who has read this far has probably had their patience tested to the limit, and I really need to get on to other things.

on the beach Texas

What My Work in Progress Isn’t

I’ve been sitting down the last few days with a printed copy of the work in progress, reading and taking notes and getting ready to get to work on the second draft. I’m even using several different colored markers, although truth be told the different colors don’t actiually mean anything other than “this is the pen that was at hand when I had this idea or spotted that typo.”

I haven’t mentioned anything about what the story’s is about, or even the title, which would give the whole thing away. And I’m not ready to yet except in the most general way. I wouldn’t say it’s a “bad luck” thing to talk about it before it’s ready, but it sure doesn’t feel right. So I’ll keep my lips sealed about that, for now.

But I will discuss what it is not, and why.

It’s not a pirate story. Not because I don’t like pirate stories or have abandoned the pirate community, or have no new ideas for pirate stories. Far from it. I have one all but finished, as a matter of fact. I thought I’d have it out for Talk Like a Pirate Day last year, But there’s a problem wth the story and I haven’t figure out yet how to solve it. Something doesn’t quite work. Otherwise it’s a good story. One day I’ll pull it out, look it over, and the answer to the problem will be so blindingly obvious that I’ll rush it out. So I’m not out of the pirate game at all. (See below.)

But the work in progress is not a pirate story. It’s a contemporary story about three kids – two boys in middle school, troublemakers, and the high school sister of one of the boys who is grudgingly along for the ride (since she has a driver’s license and they don’t.) They’re in a very, very bad situation and the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. I’m aiming at a very specific market and the reaction I’ve gotten from reading the chapters to Tori’s sixth grade class tell me I’m on the right track.

It’s an idea that has been floating around our house since 2010, and where it came from I’ll discuss when I’m ready to reveal the book. But first I have to finish it, and that means a second draft, and a third. You just never know.

There’s a very real, very practical reason for doing this, for writing an adventure story that’s not in the pirate vein. First, it has the potential for being a series of books, and I like the idea of a steady stream of income. Second, I would very much like to sell my book to a publisher.

I had an agent who tried for a year and a half to sell my first young adult pirate adventure, “Chance.” Nobody said there was anything wrong with “Chance,” it was well written, a good story, great charactes. A friend – a retired college professor – read it for me and said he’d expected it to take about a week but he was done in two days because “I just couldn’t put it down.”

Chance made it to the last pre-publishing meeting at one of the very big houses. I would have been thrilled to be picked up by that publisher. Any writer would have.

But –

“No one is interested in pirate stories,” they said. “No one’s buying pirate stories.”

And other houses gave similar responses. “Good book, but we’re not looking for pirate stories.”

When I finished “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” it was even better than “Chance,” and “Chance” was good. Not “pretty good.” Good. A new agent was very excited about it, and tried for another year and a half before telling me, “No one wants a pirate story. It’s not the writing, it’s the pirates.”

So I decided to prove them wrong and self-publish “Chrissie.” I had a sales number in mind that I was pretty sure I could hit, and it would show the “know it alls” at those publishing houses that they were wrong. That people DID want pirate stories.

And you know what? The publishers were right. I have received a lot of great feedback on “Chrissie,” and sold a lot of copies, but nowhere near what I’d hoped, nothing like a number that would convince a publisher to take another look.

So I thought I’d give a try crafting a story I want to tell in a genre publishers think will sell. I’m having fun with the story and the reaction from Tori’s kids tels me it works. They laughed where I’d hoped, even showed me places where it was funnier than I knew, prompting me to double down on those bits. And they really get into the peril.

More importantly, by their reaction (or lack thereof) the kids pointed me to places where it needs work. I have a bunch of notes for the second draft based on their reactions.

But first I took April off for two other projects. Both of a pirate nature.

One is a podcast idea Tori and I had a year ago that will amuse us, even if no one ever listens to it. And yes, it’s a pirate story, of a sort. The other is a proposal from a friend in the pirate community to collaborate on a couple of projects that are exciting and different for both of us, and I was only too happy to take him up on it. They’re both his ideas, so I don’t want to get too far ahead. I got a good start on it during April.

I’m still in the pirate game. But the work in progress has taken me in a different direction, and it’s a good book. It’s a book that has a good chance of being published. I’ll be back with a pirate story sooner than you think.

The Ubiquitous Mr. Collins

I want to write a movie treatment. I have no idea what the story is or even the genre, and that’s probably an argument against pursuing it. But hear me out.

phil-collins-optimised-copyDuring the late 1980s, it only seemed as if every song on every radio station was by Phil Collins. Some of them were by Genesis – for which Collins was drummer and lead singer. I mean, he was everywhere.

I want to write a movie set in that period. I don’t have a story idea in mind, just this “thing.” Any time any character gets in the car or turns on a radio or walks into a bar, there’ll be a different Phil Collins song playing. No one mentions it, no one says, “Him again!?!” The movie will not be about the ubiquitous Phil Collins. He’ll just be all over the air.

At some point late in the going there’ll be a repeat, say “Easy Lover” comes on a second time, and the character will say “Not this again,” and change the station. And it’s a different Phil Collins song.

Now all I need is an hour and a half of story to fill it out.

Tori and John Off On An Adventure

I was last in Nashville in late December 1969. I was 14 years old when my family moved from Nashville, where we’d lived for five years, to Los Angeles.

Both I and the city have changed, and it’s hard to say which has changed most.

We got into town around 8. Between my vague memories of street names and the map on my phone we were never “lost,” but we weren’t where I thought we’d be. One benefit was that when we stopped for gas I realized we were much closer to Centennial Park than I’d thought we would be, so we took a few minutes so that Tori’s first glimpse of the Parthenon was at night, glowing under the spotlights, the way it should be.

ParthenonFor those who aren’t aware, Nashville has a full scale replica of the Greek temple. It was built for an exhibition in – I want to say 1898 – because the city has always fancied itself “the Athens of the South.” The images in the pediment were created by taking molds from the original.

The only problem with this picture is it doesn’t give you anything like the scale. The Parthenon is massive. For an idea, inside is a 42-foot tall sculpture of Athena. It’s the tallest indoor sculpture in the United States. And the bronze doors are seven feet wide, 24 feet high and a foot thick, and weigh more than seven tons. But they were hung so perfectly you can push them open with a single finger.

So we saw that, (and since Tori teaches social studies, that makes this a business trip. Take THAT, IRS!)  then decided to find a place to stay. Of course we didn’t do research and make reservations in advance, that’s not our style. We go and play it by ear. And we eventually checked into a hotel in the south end of town that was less than our budget and is nice and clean and new.

And, as I realized after we checked in, the hotel is only a few miles from the house I lived in for five years, from 1965 to ’70. Only this whole development – restaurants and stores and strip malls and hotels – didn’t even exist in 1970. This was all rolling, partially wooded hills.

We’re off now to break an old family curse and then tour the Confederate cemetery in Franklin – used to be a farming town south of Nashville. Now it’s all built up like everything else.

A Sad Story at an Estate Sale

Tori and I went to an estate sale this morning, and it just made us sad.

An estate sale is distinct from a yard sale. A yard sale is people trying to make a few bucks by selling their crap to people who say, “Hey! I’ve been looking all over for crap like this! I could really use this crap!” An estate sale, on the other hand, is usually about the family trying to empty mom and dad’s home of a lifetime of accumulated things so they can sell the house.

And estate sales usually have a story. Sometimes the story is about the couples’ travels around the world, or their love of golf, or photography, or gardening or fishing. A life spent painting, or a career aboard working ships. There’s a story, and the keepsakes, treasure and chachkas are usually laid out to show them to their best advantage. To tell the story.

Not so Saturday. We had been drawn by the photo on craigslist that showed a shelf of Toby jugs, including a pirate one. We are not collectors, but – you know – pirates.

We walked into the house in northern Metairie, a nice neighborhood, and into the saddest story I think I’ve ever seen. First of all, there was no order. I was instantly reminded of a reporter I had worked with who came back from interviewing an older woman and told us, “The knickknack shelves were choc-a-block with bric-a-brac.” Only this was far, far worse. It was chaos, accompanied by a smell that I can only call “little old lady funk.”

platesThere were easily a thousand Styrofoam containers – maybe twice that many, it was impossible to count them all. Most were about eight inches square and an inch thick, many still sealed in the plastic they had been shipped in. They spilled from every closet, they were piled on every flat surface, formed small, sad mountains in the corners of every room in the squalid house. Each contained a “collectible” plate. There were series of sports stars (Mickey Mantle, Steve Young, Kordell Stewart,) birds (Orioles in the Summer, Robins in Flight.) There was a Japanese series of kimono clad geishas. Religious themes, a series of sunsets. Children praying.

Closet shelves were swaybacked under the weight of them.

closet of platesMost of them you had to guess at, because few had been catalogued or labeled or accounted for in any way. They had been delivered, and immediately put away. There were also dozens of those little ceramic, Victorian buildings, each with a little light in it, that you put together into a display of an old village – church, train station, etc. Except these had never been displayed. They were all in their containers, stashed away in closets.

There were a few books, none less than 30 years old, copies of Life and Look magazine (both of which have been out of circulations since the early ’70s,) record albums – 33s and 78s – including one that caught my horrified attention, “Tschaikowsky’s Nutcracker Suite in Dance Tempo,” by Freddy Martin and his Orchestra. Thank god it was a 78 or I’d have been tempted, even though I don’t own a turntable.

In the kitchen there was a mass of dishware and appliances, all of it old. For instance, there was what I took to be the base of a blender that must have been 50 years old. A woman plugged in a coffee pot to see if it worked. It started smoking. She bought it anyway.

stack of platesThere was little in the way or clothing or personal items. No men’s clothing. A couple of canes hung over a door, they were noticeably short.

On one wall were proudly hung three well-framed diplomas. I had gleaned from the packing materials of the plates that the woman’s first initial was A, her husband’s was D. These diplomas – bachelor’s degree, masters, and doctorate, all in engineering – were all to someone whose first name was James, almost certainly a son. There was no other sign of a son in the home. Maybe he’d already gone through and taken anything of sentimental value, but why would he have left his diplomas?

even more platesThe story that emerged was of a woman whose husband had died some 30 years ago or more, who had lost contact with her son – either he had died or tired of his mother’s obsession. Her life revolved around these collectible plates. Not for their aesthetic value. The few actually on display on the wall were of Native American motifs and were nothing special. Each day that the mailman delivered a package from W.S. George Fine China or some other such purveyor was a special day for her. She lived for it. Some of these packages she opened, but most she cherished just “having” them and put them away wherever they’d fit. Even the ones she opened to look at were put back into their containers and stored.

It wasn’t a collection. It was a hoard. And it was sad.

A quick online check confirmed that these plates had only slight economic value – a website for similar objects was asking $16 a plate, and what you ask and what you actually can get are two different things. There were two guys working the sale for one of those estate sale companies, and the one we talked to was very stoned. I said to Tori that if we were different people we would offer the stoned one, say, 50 cents or a buck a plate, walked away with a couple of hundred, then catalogued them, put ’em online for five bucks a pop, and made a little money. But before I could even add the obvious she said it for me. “We’re not those people.” No. We’re not.

bad musicNetflix tidiness star Marie Kondo would have been horrified. She would have thrown up her hands and run shrieking. This wasn’t a space that needed blessing or thanking. It needed a flame thrower.

We did buy something – a book (a collection of Alexander Woolcott’s writing from the early New Yorker that I was happy to get for $2,) and a 1968 Life Magazine (that I remembered from school) containing an unpublished/unfinished Mark Twain manuscript, for a buck. There were a couple of the Toby jugs left, but the pirate was long gone, so we left those alone.

And we made ourselves a promise. As soon as we got home, we were going to throw something away. Anything. Because, damn!

And now I need a shower. To wash the sadness off.

Krewe of Chewbacchus Parade Was Out of This World

First, understand that Mardi Gras in New Orleans is more than a day. It’s a season. We’ve already had several parades and a lot more to come before the big bacchanal, which this year is on March 5.

All around the city separate krewes plan their big event. And Saturday we say the “Krewe of Chewbacchus” parade.

It’s a riff on the Krewe of Bacchus, one of the “super krewes” of Mardi Gras. Their parade is probably the biggest, the star of the season, held the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.

“The Intergallactic Krewe of Chewbacchus” (using Chewbacca of Star Wars) is a science fiction-themed group that puts on a very special parade of its own. Their mission, as they say on their website:

“The mission of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is to save the galaxy by bringing the magical revelry of Mardi Gras to the disenfranchised, socially awkward and generally weird masses who may have never had the opportunity to participate in a mardi gras parade organization. Through our works, we hope to elevate all aspects of fandom and celebrate Carnival in our unique way.”

And oh it works! There’s a real homemade, do-it-yourself feel to the two-hour plus parade as people indulge their sci-fi fantasies. There were, I guess you’d call them sub-krewes, representing pretty much any sci fi or fantasy fixture you can imagine. All with a panache and a sense of humor. It was fun.

The place we (Tori, and our friends Sheila and Mike Kelly) found ot watch the parsade from was down near the river and it was probably the worst lit section of the parade route No street lights. That was OK, because all the entries had some kind of lighting. But it made photography difficult. In the first place I hadn’t brought my good camera, so was stuck shooting with my phone. And it was kind of dark. So most of my photos are of dramatic looking blurs of light. But I can’t stop myself from shooting.

These are the best I could salvage from the bunch.

The Electric Kool Aid Acide Trek, a Star Trek tribute.
The Electric Kool Aid Acid Trek, a Star Trek tribute.

 

A hot pink Chewbacca
A hot pink Chewbacca
The Krewe of Dude, "Rolling on Shabbus since 2017."
The Krewe of Dude, “Rolling on Shabbus since 2017.”
Part of the 'Space Force" krewe.
Part of the ‘Space Force” krewe.

Chewbacchus space force 1

This button was the best "throw" I ever snagged at a parade.
This button was the best “throw” I ever snagged at a parade.
The Skull and Crossed Swizzle Sticks! Our friend Mike makes use of this throw from the Krew of Space Pirates.
The Skull and Crossed Swizzle Sticks! Our friend Mike makes use of this throw from the Krew of Space Pirates.
A crawdad rides a croc on this tribute to Louisiana wildlife.
A crawdad rides a croc on this tribute to Louisiana wildlife.
A My Little Pony for "bronies."
A My Little Pony for “bronies.”
Not sure what this one represents, but it's a good one.
Not sure what this one represents, but it’s a good one.
And this may be my favorite pick – a tuckered out young trouper!
And this may be my favorite pick – a tuckered out young trouper!

My Tale of Gridiron Glory – Or – Days on the ‘Suicide Squad’

With the Super Bowl upon us, I’ve decided to share my one tale of gridiron glory – or more accurately – my one personal football story worth telling.

I played organized football for three years – eighth, ninth and tenth grade. That final year I was on my high school’s JV team. I was not a particularly good football player, the smallest guy on the team, with hands of stone (couldn’t catch.) I had done weight training all summer and drank protein shakes twice a day and managed to lose five pounds. I was second string cornerback, third string tailback, fodder during the week’s practices as we scrubs simulated next week’s opponent and got pounded into the turf by our first-string teammates.

But I was the fastest guy on the team. No question, I was fast. So I became the “gunner” on the kickoff team, what used to be referred to as the “suicide squad.” My job was to be the first guy down the field, get there as fast as I possibly could and get to the ball carrier before the blocking had a chance to form. What I really was doing was getting knocked down by the first wave of blockers so that the rest of our team could get there and tackle the runner, but Coach Pack was too polite to actually say that.

The last game of the season, we were just killing the other team. We scored a lot. And that meant we kicked off a lot. And the other team’s biggest, toughest, meanest player was on their kickoff return squad and his job was to KILL the first guy down the field. That was me. I would run down the field full tilt, get obliterated by this guy (No. 64, I can still see it.) Then I’d pick myself up and jog off the field and coach would scream, “BAUR!!! You’ve gotta get down there faster!!” Like he hadn’t seen me get pulverized, as far as he was concerned I just wasn’t running fast enough.

We scored one more time, and the other team was pretty sore about it. This was like our seventh touchdown. We weren’t trying to run up the score, their defense just wasn’t very good. So we scored, and then we kicked off. From the corner of my eye as I raced down the field, I could see 64 setting up. But my sights and my attention were on the guy catching the ball about 10 yards beyond him. This time I was going to get him and make the tackle, I told myself. As it turned out, I was wrong.

It happened at about the 20, maybe 15 yards from the other team’s sideline. No. 64 got me with everything, and he got me square. I mean, he just unloaded. I don’t know exactly what happened but it must have been pretty spectacular, because the last thing I remember was everyone on his side of the field screaming, “GREAT HIT!!!!” I heard it clear as a bell, and then nothing. I assume I was airborne for a while but I really don’t know.

The next thing I remember, I was somehow on my feet, jogging off the field towards our bench, my head spinning and my ears ringing, and coach was screaming at me, “BAUR!!! YOU’VE GOTTA GET DOWN THERE FASTER!!!!”

Thank god that closed out the scoring.

It also was my last football game, but not because I suddenly realized the idiocy of my love for the sport. I’d have played on. But the school closed (FYI, the building is now a senior citzens residential facility) and by the time I got settled into my new school, classes were in session, the team had been practicing for a month and it was too late to try out.

Probably just as well. I might have gotten myself killed. But at least I got a story out of it.