A Couple of Stories About Mom

Sunday was Mother’s Day, of course, and we (me and Max and Kate) spent it celebrating Tori. A movie. Max made a special dinner (stuffed mushrooms and pasta,) a gift and – best of all – when Tori and I woke up Sunday morning the house was, maybe not spotless, but really, really clean.

It was a good day.

Right now, however, I want to talk about my own mother. To a great degree, I am who I am because of Mary Ellen Baur. She’s been gone 14 years. Instead of something sappy and sentimental I’ll tell you a couple of true stories.

Mom was smart – I mean, genius smart. She hated when anyone brought it up, but her IQ had been tested at 150. “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s plus or minus 15 points,” she’d protest. “Oh, so it could be as high as 165?” Might have been the only time she regretted her kids learning math. She was always interested in science. She could spend more time combing through tidepools than anyone I’ve ever known. She was a Girl Scout leader, sometimes three troops at a time as well as serving on the district council (seven of her eight kids were daughters, so …), ran “Great Books” programs in school, carpooled us to school (driving in three carpools every week) and so much more. And after she got us all in school, she went back to school, got her teaching credential and taught fifth grade at the local Catholic school for more than 20 years. (And, unbeknownst to me, she had a thing for Harlequin romances. In cleaning out their house, we found literally hundreds of them tucked away.)

When I was 7 or 8, I don’t quite recall now, I had the mumps. No one gets the mumps anymore because all kids are vaccinated, or should be, but in the ’60s they were still a problem and potentially serious. My glands were swollen and I had a temperature, and I couldn’t move around because the thinking was – I don’t know if it was real or not – that would spread them in my body and cause dire consequences. For a week I lay on the couch, all day and evening, waiting for the swelling to go down.

After the first day I was bored out of my mind and told mom so. She left the room and came back with a big book – the first volume of the encyclopedia. Now that might sound absurd, but she knew me.

“Look at this,” she said, pointing to articles on airplanes, astronomy and astronauts and the army and automobiles, animals and armor. I was hooked. I spent the rest of the week poring through the volume, and then, on through the alphabet. This was a kid’s encyclopedia, but a few years later when we acquired the World Book, I worked my way through that.

Yeah, as a kid I read the encyclopedia – for pleasure. Not every word, not every article. But a good chunk of every volume. Even into high school when I was at loose ends I would pick out a volume and thumb through it until something caught my eye, and settle down to read. Because of mom.

Once in high school I was going on about some – to me – interesting, trivial factoid I’d run across, and mom looked at me, shook her head, and said, “You are a font of useless information.”

Which turned out to be at least a little ironic. When Trivial Pursuits was sweeping the nation, I was good at it. Very good. I never lost. Never. Except one time. My mom beat me. Didn’t just beat me, she kicked my ass. So who had the greatest store of useless knowledge, hmm?

We lost mom to Alzheimer’s before we lost her for good in 2003. In fact, it was on Mother’s Day 1999 that I learned she had the condition. What a phone call that was. I had called home to wish her happy Mother’s Day. Dad answered and said she was taking a nap, but while I was on the line he had some news. Not only did he tell me that she had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but for good measure he added that the same week he’d been diagnosed with ALS. Yeah, that was a memorable Mother’s Day.

The last few times I saw her, she was already gone. The thing that made her her wasn’t there any more. But there was one more story.

Mom and dad were always a perfect match. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s still true, I never saw them argue, don’t recall a single instance when they weren’t one. If you’ve ever read Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” you’ll know what I mean when I call them a duprass. (And if you don’t, read the book.)

As their separate conditions deepened, they actually became even closer. As dad lost his physical ability, she became his hands. As she lost her memories, he became her contact with the world.

After dad died, mom was in a residential home in Denver, a short distance from my sister’s home. And she seemed oblivious of what had happened. Once she was talking about dad and some of his accomplishments and the cartetaker said, “Your husband sounds like a remarkable man.” “Oh he is,” mom agreed. As another of my sister’s commented, “She’s in denial – and it’s working for her.”

Anyway, that was mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

Wrapping Up a Great Road Trip

What a great trip! Two weeks on the road pirating, geeking out at roadside history, seeing friends and family and making new friends and family, and of course – selling books.

We had a blast!

File Jun 06, 6 19 17 PM
Tori and a cannon at Jamestown.

And all in the company of my best friend, my wife Tori. Even on long stretches of road, late at night in odd places, we amused ourselves and just had a good time together. I always knew I made the right decision when I went up the stairs in 1988.

I’ve written about some of the things we encountered, including two posts (here and here) about what I’ve learned handling some of the book sales events. So this will be more a scattered collection of events, a last look back on some times on the road, before I get back to work moving forward.


Highlight of the whole trip was the three and a half days we got with our daughter Millie. Millie lives in New York, and though we talk to her on the phone almost weekly and trade texts with her often, we hadn’t seen her in two years. That’s way too long.

We picked her up in Baltimore and headed back down the road toward Knoxville. She had brought her ukulele with her and it was great listening to her. We also met up with the granddaughter of an old friend, someone Millie had shared time with growing up, so it was a bonus.

Can’t thank enough our friends Robyn and Daniel for their hospitality. They live in Knoxville, a one-day drive from our home in New Orleans, which was the perfect staging point for our jaunt into the mid-Atlantic states. So we spent a day with them on the way out and several (including two with Millie) on the way back. They have a lovely home they’re performing miracles with. It was a relaxing way to end the trip, sitting out on the patio watching birds take turn in the bird bath, watching scores of fireflies at night.

pirate wth Chrissie
Wait! What’s that book the pirate is reading? Why, that’s “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter”

Talk about hospitality! Spending three days in Hampton with the pirates of the Blackbeard Festival was nothing but fun, a great honor. Constable Heartless, Damon, Mr. Willis, Hope, Rattanne, Greg of the Motley Tunes, all of Blackbeard’s Crew, of course – they were excellent hosts – and the crew of the Vigilant (real life lifesavers, as it turned out) and the Loose Cannon Company and so many more.

Hampton’s Blackbeard Pirate Festival is one of the big ones in the U.S. It’s not just a community festival with a little pirate panache thrown in. It’s got some of that, of course. But the crews are serious about both pirate re-enacting and about having a good time, especially after the fireworks, when the festival is over for the day and the pirate camps come to life.

Singing, stories, more than a little drinking. Good times.

If you’ve been thinking “Maybe I’d like to go to a pirate festival” put this one on your list.

Had a great day in Frostburg, Maryland, with me niece Jenny and her husband Brian. They showed us all the sites of Frostburg, which takes most of a day and you actually have to leave Frostburg for most of it. But they’re such a great couple, it was a really nice day. But two things:

– We left Virginia Tuesday morning and the temperature was upper 80s. We got to the aptly named Frostburg that night, elevation just over 2,000 feet, and it was 52! We had not thought to bring a single long sleeved shirt! First item of business was stopping at a thrift store and getting some flannel, Don’t think it topped 62 the entire time we were there.

– Why is that whole northwestern corner of the state even IN Maryland? It has nothing in common with the rest of the state, the locals no doubt spend all their time complaining about how state government never pays any attention to them. I’m sure everyone involved would be much happier if the area were part of West Virginia, or possibly Pennsylvania. It’d be a no-lose situation.

Met with a lot of folks in front of my table full of books and I always enjoy talking with them. Some had never heard in International Talk Like a Pirate Day, others were surprised to be meeting one of the two people who started the ersatz holiday.

My two favorite were both young girls, about 14 or so, who showed up separately at the Knoxville Barnes & Noble. They both were shy, but with much coaxing from their mothers, they each allowed as how they wanted to be authors, to write stories. They asked for tips.

I didn’t give them tips, they didn’t need them. They got a pep talk, instead. Go for it. Finish what you start. You can’t fix it if you don’t write it down. Write for fun, there’s nothing like the feeling when you create characters that are as real to you as anyone you know, and put them to work telling the story you see in your head. Create great characters and then abuse them – get them in trouble, make the trouble worse, then get them out of it.

They both got copies of “Chrissie,” and I pointed out my email address on the copyright page. I want to hear from them, I told them. I want to know what they thought of the book, and how their writing is going. Because writers stick together.


gunter staircase
The Hotel Gunter lobby.

A lot of miles. From start to finish we traveled 3,572 miles, passing through nine states and just glancing off the side of the District of Columbia (getting snared in the Beltway travel at rush hour, easily the worst traffic of the trip.) Big disappointment – getting out of Baltimore we took the wrong exit and missed passing through the corner of Delaware. The route we took was actually shorter, but how many times do you get the chance to say, “Hi. We’re in Delaware?” (Wayne’s World” reference.) Not many. It’s one of those places where, if you don’t have a good reason to go there, you’re almost certainly never going to. And we just missed by maybe ten miles. Chances like that don’t come around that often.

gunter animals
A few of the many stuffed animals.

And we stayed at a wide variety of lodgings – a very wide variety. Most of them were pretty standard motels, nothing special. Three stand out, each for very different reasons.

In Frostburg, Maryland, we stayed at Failinger’s Hotel Gunter. Let me just say, if life ever takes you to Frostburg, Hotel Gunter is a MUST. It was built in 1897, has this beautiful lobby with a sweeping staircase. The whole place kind of went to the dogs and was falling down, when the Failinger family bought it in the 1980s and remodeled They found all kinds of “stuff,” and I mean every kind of stuff you could imagine – and put it on

gunter display
Another random display at Hotel Gunter.

display from the basement to the fourth floor. It’s not curated, it’s just sort of there, mostly behind plexiglas. A bunch of pictures of Shirley Temple on one wall, next to a display about the Titanic. Old kitchen implements, including two cast iron stoves, a roomful of old clothes, and my favorite – the taxidermy display. Couple of dozen stuffed game animals, wild turkeys and owls and foxes and rabbits and all kinds of critters. My favorite (by far) was the dead fox carrying a dead squirrel in its mouth. Something sort of meta about that. And then, stuck in a corner as if it were almost embarrassed to be there, a stuffed toy polar bear.

Oh, and we stayed in the “Roy Clark Room.” The country music and “Hee Haw” star had stayed in the room back in 1990, and there was a picture and plaque at the door to prove it.

Hotel Gunter is such a wonderfully interesting place, bordering on the weird. The staff was friendly and proud of the place, but it was odd, like a cross between a doll house and the Hotel Overlook in “The Shining.” It was quaint and cozy and comfortable, but it would not have been a surprise to turn a corner and see a spooky pair of young twins chanting, “Come play with us.”

The Ramada in Tuscaloosa on the way home was a different story. I don’t know I’ve ever been to a motel where the staff was friendlier – it must be that Alabama thing; people in Alabama, as a group, are just the friendliest people I’ve ever met – but the hotel was in the midst of a total renovation. Our room had already been redone and was quite nice, but almost everywhere else in the building seemed to be under construction. Still, the pool was very nice, and since we’d only stopped to get off the road because we’d gotten a late start the morning before and it was starting to storm, that seemed like a huge perk.

Then there was that place in Frackville, Pennsylvania. Yes, I said Frackville. We’d finished the Wilkes-Barre signing and decided to hit the road and drive towards Baltimore until we were too tired to drive anymore that night. We should have decided to rest one stop earlier, or else soldiered on. Everything about the Frackville Econo-Lodge was dodgy, except the parts that were downright skeezy. Kind of room that reminds you of an episode of “The X-Files” or “Criminal Minds.” Still, there was a bed and a shower, it was cheap, and we were tired. It wasn’t until the next morning that we noticed that nasty stain, which we hoped and prayed was rust, running down the side of the bed’s box springs.

Anyway, we got to Baltimore in plenty of time, so I guess a motel room you don’t want to stay in – let alone sleep in – has its benefits.


tori at the spot
Tori on the exact spot where Pocahontas married John Rolfe.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but we are both history geeks. It’s hard for us to drive by a historical marker without stopping to read it. And what a gold mine. Basically, if it happened in American history, some vital part of it probably happened in Virginia. And Maryland and Pennsylvania are right behind. (Not so much Delaware.)

The highlight on that side was Jamestown, the first successful English settlement in what became the U.S. When I was a kid, about 13 or 14, we went to Jamestown as part of a vacation – except it turns out we didn’t. “Jamestown Settlement” is a recreation based on historical records, and it’s a good, educational attraction. But it’s not Jamestown. It was built a couple of miles from where the colony actually was. Until 1994 everyone assumed the land where the colonists settled had washed away a couple of hundred years ago.

jamestown dice
Tiny dice at Jamestown.

Then a very smart archaeologist looked at the clues, looked at the terrain and said, “Wait a minute? Why are we looking there? It ought to be over here.” Turned out he was right. The actual Jamestown site is now a working archaeological dig and we got to tour it, watching college interns painstakingly lift layers of dirt from a trench and sift it for clues. We got to stand in the exact spot where Pocahontas married John Rolfe, and look at the artifacts – tools, toys, weapons and more – that tell the story of life in the settlement in the very earliest days of our country. Wow.

Jane cellar
The remains of “Jane” were found in this excavation.

We also learned the story of “Jane” – real name and identity known but to god – a 14-year-old girl who died and was cannibalized during the “time of the great starving.” It’s a sad story and a fascinating bit of scientific/historical detective work. Tori will be using it in her sixth-grade science classes from now on. She teaches kids who are the same age Jane was when she died and was eaten. If that doesn’t get their attention and focus them on science, I don’t know what will.

Other historical stops included Harpers Ferry (where John Brown lit the fuse for the Civil War,) Yorktown, a drive-by of Williamsburg-ing (you can’t do Williamsburg in less than a day, it can’t be done. Maybe next time) and a couple of Civil War battlefields. Missed Antietam and Gettysburg, and kept groaning as we drove by Sharpsburg, Cold Harbor, Manassas, Chancellorsville and so many other names redolent with our country’s past.

And there was so much more. I didn’t even mention seeing a bear at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, or some great meals.


After we drove Millie to the airport Tuesday, Tori and I looked at each other and said, “Home? … Home.” We had planned to finish out the week on the road, attending a pirate concert by our friends Tom Mason and Blue Buccaneer in Nashville. It would have been a great cap to the trip. But we were tired. I looked at a picture of myself from the second day of the trip, and glanced in the mirror, and I was not the same guy. At some point you want to be surrounded by your own stuff, sleep in your own bed, use your own shower. The time had come.

Besides, we still had Max and Kate at home, and even though they kept telling us on the phone that everything was fine, that they had plenty of food still, that there were no problems and they’d been cleaning the house, we wanted to get back to them. A parent worries. And besides. We like them.

So we had one more lovely day with Robyn and Daniel and headed south.

Now it’s time to get to work. Because there’s two more road trips to plan this year, plus two more book projects to finish and receipts to organize and lots more business to take care of.

But not without saying again, what a great trip that was. We had a blast!

another cannon
Tori and a cannon at Jamestown.

Tales from the Road – Literally

Daughter and dad – Millie and me Saturday night after a long drive.

I’m writing this Saturday from the backseat of Bubba, our Ford pickup. I’m in the back because Friday night, after our event at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe (about which more in a later post) we drove over to the Greyhound station and picked up daughter Millie, who had taken the bus down from New York. We haven’t seen her in like two years, so we’re very happy.

It’s great listening to Tori and Millie talking about all those things mothers and daughters talk about, and even greater when Millie starts singing along to whatever is on the radio, sounding so much better than whoever is on the radio. That sounds like proud, doting dad, and I certainly am, but it’s also true. Anyone who knows her or has ever heard her sing would know what I mean.

We drove down the freeway from Baltimore as long as we could stand, then found a pretty decent hotel in Frederick, MD, for the night. Now we’re heading to Knoxville, but we got seriously sidetracked by history.

We spent a couple of hours visiting the Harpers Ferry National Park, a kind of amazing little corner of American history, with connections to Washington and the development of the railroad and Lewis & Clark and – of course – John Brown’s abortive slave uprising in October 1859. His raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, to seize the guns to give to Virginia’s 4 million slaves, was a failure, they were captured in three days and Brown was hung before the end of the year. But it was the spark that set off the Civil War.

There was a lot of action on the site during the war, it changed hands eight times during the four years of the war, and we were also able to visit one of those battle sites, Bolivar, a tribute to every foot soldier who ever lived and whose commander picked the wrong terrain to try to defend.

Anyway, a lot to take in for nerds like us. That’s kind of a capsule of this whole trip. We spent a lot of time getting to the next stop, where we flogged the book fairly successfully, alternating with geeking out at the history that’s all around you in Virginia. The ongoing archaeological excavation of Jamestown was the highlight of that side of the trip, but we also got a look at Yorktown, Fort Dickinson, and the above mentioned Harper’s Ferry. And my heart sank a little when I realized I was driving past Antietam, site of the worst conflict of the Civil War. It was closed so there was nothing I could do, even if we weren’t already late for meeting with my niece Jenny and her husband Brian – both of whom would have understood geekiness. And it was hard knowing I was within 100 miles of Gettysburg and the time simply wouldn’t stretch to take it in. Next time.

As I write this we’re back on the road, six hours and 46 minutes to Knoxville. Won’t be able to post this until tonight. We hit the road June 1 and from New Orleans have passed through Mississippi, Alabama, a corner of Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, back through Maryland, West Virginia, back into Virginia and we’re heading back towards Tennessee. Three of those were firsts for me, five for Tori. We have one more reading Sunday at the Knoxville Barnes & Noble.

Millie flies back to New York on Tuesday, and then it’s kind of open. There’s another possible event in Nashville Saturday the 18th, but we’re both starting to feel like we’re ready to get home. It’s been an amazing tour and we’ve met a lot of great people and sold a lot of books and showed the flag (a Jolly Roger, naturally) all over, but it’s beginning to feel like I want nothing more than to wake up in my own bed. Probably with the cat sitting on my chest, poking my face to get me to wake up.

Coming up in the next couple of days, posts on some of the events, thoughts on the things an author will do to sell books (spoiler alert – anything, a writer is or should be willing to do anything to sell a book) and some of the geeky stuff that’s happened on this June jaunt.

Day 2 on the Road – Resting Already


Day 2 of the road trip has been a rest day. We spent the first day driving from home in New Orleans to our friend Robyn’s house in Knoxville.

at the quarry
Robyn, Tori and jb at the quarry.

So instead of doing the drive to Hampton in one burst, we made plans to take Thursday off. And it’s been a very nice, restful day, enjoying Robyn’s incredible yard (She’s been in this house about a year, and already has it certified as an urban wildlife refuge.) We took her on an errand, where she traded a container of worm castings (she grows worms in her garage) for burlap sacks from a coffee roaster, and made arrangements with him to pick up a couple of buckets of coffee grounds for – whatever it is she uses them for.

We also went out and saw a couple of historic sites, the quarry where a lot of the marble in federal, state and municipal buildings across the country was mined – apparently Knoxville was once known as “The Marble City.” Who knew, outside of Knoxville?

jb and rifled ordinance
John and three-pound rifled ordinance.

Then up to Fort Dickerson, the site of a Civil War battle in which Union Forces slammed the back door to Knoxville on a superior Confederate force. It was interesting, and always a little awe inspiring to think about what had taken place on that spot 150 years ago, men not much different than myself engaged in a life and death struggle – literally – for the soul of a country.

We’ll be off at the crack of dawn tomorrow, heading for Hampton, Virginia, for the Blackbeard Pirate Festival. Looking forward to the Pirates’ Ball Friday night, where we’ll get to hobnob with Hampton’s finest freebooters. And we’ll be doing our best to sell “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,” while we’re there. After all, it was not an accident or coincidence that the opening chapters of the story take place in Hampton. I knew I’d be there soon.

This is the time.


Tori glamour shot on gun
Tori knows what the big guns are for – Looking dramatic!

It’s in the Bag

I really don’t know what I was thinking.

This is just a short note about home life. Let me start by explaining that I am the maker of school lunches in this family. I have been making school lunches for the gang at least 15 years. My job allows me to work at home, so it’s easier for me than for Tori to take that on while she’s getting ready for school. There was a time when I was making six lunches every school morning. Now I’m down to two – Tori and Max. Friday is the last lunch day of the school year. I’ve made it through another year. I have two lunches each morning next year, and then Max goes away to college and I’m down to making lunch each morning for Tori. Which I’m happy – even honored – to do.

And the other thing you need to know – well, no, you don’t need to know it, but the story won’t make much sense if you don’t – I much prefer the fold-lock-top bags to the zip-lock type. They work just as well and are way less expensive. I can pay half as much for a box of my preferred style as I can for the zipper bags, and get more than twice as many.

But they’re getting harder and harder to find. Seriously, most of the markets around here have stopped carrying them all together, or have only one, cheap “off-brand” of the fold-lock top bags and shelf after shelf of the more expensive zips. Of course. They make more money selling smaller boxes of bags for more money. So it can get frustrating.

AIMG_3308nd then it occurred to me to look online. And son of a gun, Amazon had them. And the cost per bag was not only lower than the zips, it was also lower than the off-brand bags I could find in the one local store. (Tori will tell you, “cost per unit” is a big thing to me. I spend a lot of time in the store calculating which is really the best buy based on cost per unit.) Even with shipping figured in, this was a good deal.

So I figured I’d buy a box. Maybe two, because if you’re paying shipping, you want to spread it over a larger number of products, get as much bang for your buck as possible. And then I saw that they also carried a bulk package – six boxes at a cost-per-unit so low I couldn’t help myself. I bought them.

And then the postal carrier delivered them and I realized I should have done a little more math. Because each box contains 180 bags. And there are six boxes. Which means I now have 1,080 sandwich bags!

That’s a lot of bags. That’s a lot of sandwiches! I honestly don’t think I’ll ever need to buy sandwich bags again.

Awful and Awesome – Mostly Awesome

Arlo Guthrie. “Alice’s Restaurant.” Awesome.

Arlo Guthrie
Arlo Guthrie at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

I was surprised how emotional I got Sunday in that last hour of the festival, when the audience was all singing along to that classic song.

We had planned to go to the New Orleans Jazz Festival Saturday, because the forecast for Sunday was so bad. (I had bought tickets for the final weekend before I checked the weather forecast.) Then it rained like hell all Saturday, so we figured, “Why not?”We went with the original plan

Blues Tent aisles awash
Blues Tent – Aisles awash!

I have never paid that much money to be that uncomfortable. When we arrived the sky opened with a torrential cloudburst, gutters instantly overflowing, lightning crackling and booming. As soon as we were on the festival grounds we took refuge in the Blues Tent – Brother Tryone and the Mindbenders, were  really good blues band – and the aisles down toward the front were a good three inches deep in runoff that had nowhere to run. (Although by the time we saw Arlo in the same venue at the end of the day, it had dried out. We didn’t, but the floor did.)


It never really stopped raining all day, but it never approached that opening deluge. So that’s something I guess.

We were armed with ponchos and umbrellas and a variety of other gear, but it was still pretty miserable And worth every minute.

Neal Young was really good. Arlo was great. Not just “Alice’s Restaurant.” He did “City of New Orleans,” “The Motorcycle Song,” “This Land is Your Land.” Classic Arlo stuff, and classic Arlo stage patter. He just comes across as this neat guy sitting around shooting the breeze and playing a few songs. And there was a delightful sing along at the end, a “new” Woody Guthrie song, “My Peace,” the words written decades ago by the legendary singer/songwriter, the tune written more recently by his equally famous son. I have seen Arlo on stage before, almost 40 years ago in concert with Pete Seeger, but he didn’t do “Alice’s Restaurant” then. He seemed almost unchanged, except for the hair, which is bright white. He apparently now uses the same stylist that used to do Col. Sanders. It was a wonderful and very emotional finish to the day. Loved it loved it loved it.

Neal Young fans in the mud
Neal Young fans in mud …
Youngster in the mud
A youngster in mud

Young was the only performer we saw in the outdoor area – standing in the rain, in a boggy mire. We were standing in the mire, the several thousand diehards there to see him. He and the band, of course, we on a covered stage. The mud was that special squishy,  silty kind of mud that creeps into everything, what my dad used to call “Army mud: Too thin to stand on and too thick to swim in.” It’s the kind of mud that at first feels semi-solid, but if you stand still for a couple of minutes you realize your feet have sunk in. Fortunately, Young and the band kept us moving our bodies, so we were all saved.

What must it be like to know that thousands of fans will do that to see you? His set was a mixed bag, a lot of jams that turned every song into 10 or 15 minutes. But yes, he finished with “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World, which is just one hell of a great song.

Of the acts we saw throughout the day, and that included Ellis Marsalis (the head of the clan, father of Wynton, Banford, Delfeayo … that whole insanely talented family,) the best was Trumpet Mafia. One bass player, one guitar, a keyboardist, a drummer and a conga player, and 12 trumpets. Twelve. A dozen. Wow! What a sound. Powerful! And all of them really terrific players. I have 30 seconds of video I put on Youtube just to give a soupcon of what it was like. Just amazing. Check it out.

So yeah. Tori, Max and I were wet. We were cold. We were exhausted.

We had a great time!

A Wing and a Prayer

Sometimes days go exactly as you plan. And some days are like this Saturday.

When I woke up Saturday I knew exactly how the day was going to go, knew what I’d do and when I’d do it. Had it all planned out. Then we heard the first car horn.

We were outside, and every time a car passed down the street it honked. It puzzled us. Then we saw it. Out on the pavement there was a bird – walking down the middle of the street. Sidling a little to one side or the other as cars passed, but not taking off.

It couldn’t. Even from 50 feet away we could see there was something seriously wrong with its wing, and there was an ugly red gash just in front of where the wing connects to the body.

The bird marched gamely on, then crossed the street. It stood at the end of the driveway three houses down from us. And just stood there. Tried to flap its wings and take off, but couldn’t.

Most people – myself included – would be inclined to think, “Poor bird. Mother Nature sure can can be a bitch,” and then get on with our day. Not my wife. Not Tori.

First we called the animal rescue place here in town. They would send someone out to “stabilize” the bird, then take it back to the shelter for rehab. It would cost us $300. I explained it’s not my bird. But it was my call, the woman explained, and they had to charge somebody. Well, that was out. I hung up.

That’s when Tori took over. She wouldn’t just forget about it. She couldn’t. Half an hour on the phone and she had found someplace that would take the bird, if we could get it there. The bird hadn’t gone far, so we were able to get around it and subdue it. I’ll say this, for a bird with a broken wing, she was otherwise very healthy and fast on her feet.

So between the calls and the chase, that was about an hour. Then we got in the car. The place that would accept the bird – the only one we could find on a Saturday – was an hour and 15 minute drive away. Middle of Nowhere Louisiana.

Wings of Hope was at the end of a long road in the middle of the country (which down here, is only three days of hard rain from returning to swampland.) The woman who runs it, Leslie Lattimore, has been involved in rehab all her life and runs the place as a labor of love. They operate on donations – and I recommend checking them out on line and sending them a few bucks.

Anyway, she looked the bird over, holding it gently but surely, talking to it the whole time. She couldn’t offer a lot of hope. The wing was badly broken, apparently held on only by skin, not tendon or muscle or ligament. Under those circumstances, there’s very little chance of recovery, but she said she would do what she could. At the very least, she said, we had spared the frightened bird a death in the cold rain on the street, or being torn apart by one of the neighborhood’s feral cats.

We made a donation and left, trusting that she would do what she can, and what she has to.

I think days like Saturday are exactly why I love Tori so much. Not because she’s kind to birds, or anything like that. But because her heart is so big, and she won’t let anything stop her from doing what she can for what she thinks is right, regardless.

Maybe it was a fool’s errand. It was obvious from the start the bird was badly injured, and the chance that it could recover seemed pretty small.

But if that’s the case, Tori would prefer to be a fool who cares and who tries, rather than a sage who sits back and says, “well, probably nothing you can do.” At least Tori tried. And I’m with her. That’s the gift she gives me.

She helps me be a fool.

Love in the Supermarket

IMG_3172I was at the grocery store Thursday afternoon with Max. We went through the checkout and headed our cart towards the door. Usually that’s a 10, maybe 15 second walk. This time it was moving much more slowly. Ahead of me was an older couple – he looked like he was in his late 70s, at least, and she wasn’t more than a year or two younger. They both had hold of the cart and were using it and each other for support, slowly pushing it towards the door.

The passageway was a little narrow. I could have probably maneuvered past them, but I didn’t want to disturb or alarm them, and I didn’t want them to feel like they were in the way.

A pair of women in their 20s came up behind me, no cart, and started swinging around to pass me. I pointed ahead and they both slowed and smiled. “That’s so cute,” one of them said.

We all waited for the couple in front to clear the narrowest spot, then the two women went on ahead and out. I waited behind the older pair. They moved slowly, resolutely, towards the door, apparently talking quietly to each other, swaying slightly as they walked so that their shoulders bumped on every other step. It even took them a few seconds to negotiate the double door, but then they were out and headed towards their car. I lost track of them as we headed towards our own car.

Instead of taking ten seconds or so to get out of the store, it had taken a minute and a half, maybe two minutes, an insignificant portion of my day. And I got so much more for my time. They weren’t in any hurry. They didn’t need to be. They were with each other. What else did they need?

The best-laid schemes

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men, Gang aft agley.

Robert Burns, “To A Mouse”

Monday started with a vow to be more organized and focused in my work this week, and it paid off. Got some work done on the WIP, then got some work in on organizing book appearances (one yes, one no, but at least I can cross off that note to myself) and then put in eight hours on the “day job.” It’s in quotation marks because I do most of it at night.

Tuesday was spent not throwing up.

I haven’t thrown up in more than 40 years, seriously. I was still in school the last time I upchucked. But, man, Tuesday was close to breaking my streak, and I have no idea why. My stomach was on fire, my head was aching. It came out of nowhere and it laid me up for most of the day. Maybe it was something I ate, except I didn’t eat anything unusual, might have been a bug, but no one else in the house was struck. A bug of some kind? On’y 12 hours long.

But, oh, what a 12 hours.

So I didn’t get anything done. This morning was spent mostly taking care of work stuff that should have been done yesterday. Then I wrote this. And then I’ll get back to work. Because work doesn’t do itself.

Pizza at Big Rico’s for my birthday

No one does a slice like Big Rico. No one.

If you recognize that slogan, then you’ll understand why I was so happy to receive a “Big Rico’s” T-shirt from my family for my birthday last week.

My new shirt. I like it a lot.

It’s an ad from the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” for Big Rico’s Pizza. “No one does a slice like Big Rico” – then a pause, and a slightly sinister – “No one.” Big Rico’s is the only pizza parlor in the desert community of Night Vale. The others all mysteriously burned down.

“Welcome to Night Vale” is a strange and twisted tale. The best way I can describe it is if you combined Lake Woebegone or Mayberry with “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits,” then had it written by Dean Koontz. The twice-monthly podcast is in the style of a broadcast from the town’s community radio station, featuring updates of activities and city council meetings, local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and the glow cloud that hovers over the town at night while citizens pretend to sleep. It presents the bizarre in a perfectly matter-of-fact way.

And my family knows me, and knew exactly how much I would like that shirt.

If you haven’t been listening to “Welcome to Night Vale,” and that might be a small number considering that it has been the most downloaded podcast on iTunes, and if you like the weird, then give it a try. It’s odd enough that it probably doesn’t matter if you know what’s gone before. Just dive in anywhere. But I strongly urge you to start at the beginning. That’s the episode that starts with this warning from the announcer:

“The City Council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Sommerset, near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible that you will see hooded figures in the dog park. DO NOT APPROACH THEM. DO NOT APPROACH THE DOG PARK. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park, and, especially, do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The dog park will not harm you.”

WRITING NOTES: I’ve gotten a LOT done in the last two days, but very little of it was work on the WIP. I worked on setting up a podcast (lots to learn,) have done a ton of laundry, washed many dishes, mailed off books, ran around to the bank and some shopping. Lot of stuff. Still had a little time Tuesday, and got 300 words in. I should I have a couple of hours later today and with luck will get another couple of hundred or so in today. Hard to say.

CORRECTION: My friend and partner in piracy Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers pointed out that I was mistaken when I wrote last week that I had never seen a movie with Minnie Driver. I had forgotten she was the woman in “Grosse Pointe Blank,” an entertaining movie starring John Cusack about the difficulties of establishing a romantic connection when you’re a professional hit man by trade. And it gets a lot more complicated than that. Great supporting performance by Dan Ackroyd as a rival hit man who’s trying to set up a union.