Speckles the Goose

•March 19, 2012 • 1 Comment

Today celebrates the anniversary of the time that I spent with Speckles. Every spring will make that known to me–even if I hide.Speckles the Goose came to me in an unusal way, and left in an ordinary way.

I have a border Collie, named Moose, who likes to explore. Last spring she came to the house with an average of one egg a week–goose eggs, I figured. I know dogs like eggs. It’s in their DNA. And she would lope upon the deck and finish them off and I would scold her, as if that meant anything. But one day she showed up with an egg that had not been ruptured. I confiscated it quickly, read her her rights, and walked away with the egg. Her attorney may have said something, but I ignored it.

I knew that eggs needed warmth and softness. So I took some feathers from the feather duster in the pantry, a clean tea towel and a lamp that’s meant to clamp to a headboard to facilitate reading the classics. So what? This was a classic as far as I was concerned.

Three days ticked by. The neighbor children had learned what I was up to. (Mainly because I had told them.) And one night, just before 10pm, the shell cracked and out came Speckles. He earned the name because of the small dots on his head. I immediately called the neighborhood children and they came over, long after bedtime, but this was significant. They held the little goose, spoke in a language that only a goose could understand, and stroked its damp feathers.

I had to feed the little fellow–like his mom would. So I took him out to the garden, gently raked back the mulch that dressed out a geranium and there, exposed nicely, was the tail end of a worm (but could have been the font end, hard to tell). No matter, Speckles pounced on the wiggly dinner before I could clear it properly. What an art! What a skill! And he was only three days old. So we continued this hunt-and-gather day after day, for two days. (That’s one complete day after day.)

Right after a great dinner for Speckles, I put her in a box and left it on the deck so she could enjoy the spring air, like wild animals do. Moose was just doing what a dog does–eat things. And jus like that, Speckles was gone. The neighbor children wailed. I wailed. People wailed because I was wailing. Never again would he sit on my shoulder (snuggle); never again would he waddle to the river.

It was a tough day for me. And as the sping moves on, I’m watching Moose, to see if she might have one more egg to bring home. I will protect Speckles 2 more than I did Speckles 1.

The toughest thing I deal with is that the very next week, I was going to teach him to fly. What a great memory that would have been.

I’ve been away…

•February 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Proof!

I’ve been away for a while, but I’m back!

A big part of my absence has been due to the new book that was just released by Leafwood Publishers title To Kill a Zombie. The Year I Came Back to Life–and Why. In this book you’ll read about what happened when I tried to be intential with living, engaging with others in ways I never had before–like going to a star-gazing party with strangers, trying to convince the police I was not a deadbeat dad from Texas, and the night I chatted up with a gang member from Los Angleles–and lived to tell the tale. I hope you check it out.

But for now I want to write about my son, Zachary. He’s in Los Angeles now going to school learning all about video prodution–especially how to develop video games–and working part time. He finished up his two-year associates degree recently and called to tell us he was valedictorian of his class. “Now, Zach, how do you know that for sure?” I asked.

He paused and added, “Because they gave me a plaque…and a medal…and they played my video project on the big screen in front of everyone…” His voice rose as if to ask, “Is that enough?”

I was so proud of him. Didn’t think I could be prouder, until recently he called during his short break between quarters and asked if he could go ahead and get his bachelor’s degree (two more years!). Of course, I said. I couldn’t have been prouder. Until he called the other day after his first quarter and said, “I kinda got the Best of Quarter award.”

I love every day of watching him grow up.

I’ve been away…

•February 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been away for a while, but I’m back!

A big part of my absence has been due to the new book that was just released by Leafwood Publishers title To Kill a Zombie. The Year I Came Back to Life–and Why. In this book you’ll read about what happened when I tried to be intential with living, engaging with others in ways I never had before–like going to a star-gazing party with strangers, trying to convince the police I was not a deadbeat dad from Texas, and the night I chatted up with a gang member from Los Angleles–and lived to tell the tale. I hope you check it out.

But for now I want to write about my son, Zachary. He’s in Los Angeles now going to school learning all about video prodution–especially how to develop video games–and working part time. He finished up his two-year associates degree recently and called to tell us he was valevictorian of his class. “Now, Zach, how do you know that for sure?” I asked.

He paused and added, “Because they gave me a plaque…and a medal…and they played my video project on the big screen in front of everyone…” His voice rose as if to ask, “Is that enough?”

I was so proud of him. Didn’t think I could be prouder, until recently he called during his short break between quarters and asked if he could go ahead and get his bachelor’s degree (two more years!). Of course, I said. I couldn’t have been prouder. Until he called the other day after his first quarter and said, “I kinda got the Best of Quarter award.”

I love every day of watching him grow up.

Big Surprise at the End! (…wait for it…)

•May 2, 2010 • 9 Comments

So yesterday was my birthday. Others always make a bigger deal out of my birthday than I do. Just give me some hot wings and a good movie (one with lots of metaphors and symbolism and a decent karate scene) and that day quickly makes its way up the list to one of the all-time best birthdays. This year my wife was out of town. My son is still living and working in Los Angeles. So my daughter Chera and son-in-law Craig drove in from Knoxville to celebrate. The plan was to go to the annual Renaissance Festival. This was the year I was to tote my turkey leg from the jousting exhibition to the jester’s ribald performance—without a napkin. I was going to back that up with grilled corn on the cob and a deep-fried Twinkie. But the storms changed all of that. Heavy rains cancelled that big chunk of Medieval history. I’m sure I heard the turkeys sigh with relief.

Plan B was the new bowling alley in town. From ax tossing to waxed lanes. But with the storms coming in, bowling seemed to be everyone’s Plan B. Our Plan C (which we made up on the spot) was to play arcade games—and win tickets that you could cash in later for prizes. Plan C it was!

So for the next two hours I rolled ski balls, lobbed extra-bouncy basketballs at too-tiny hoops, threw wobbly footballs into too-tiny holes in the wall, tried to burst a balloon by punching a button that would stop a spinning needle on an intsy-bitsy spot, destroyed loads of military arms by tossing soft plastic balls at a flat screen (that was way fun! Toss a rubbery ball at a tank and KABLEWY!!), shouted insults at Howie and the banker when they asked me “Deal or No Deal?” (I came to play, not deal!), played one game three times before I realized it was broken (thought it was me and I couldn’t stand that), and pulled a giant lever that made a wheel spin around (no skill whatsoever, but I did win 40 tickets on that alone!).

In the end we won over 500 tickets. Enough to trade for a tiny stuffed chicken for the dogs, a train whistle for me (which I used on the way out the door—should have seen the patrons scatter!), and a plastic dinosaur for Sawyer.

Oh yeah, Sawyer is my new grandson. He won’t be here for another 5 months. But now we know that that’s his name—and not Kate. You see, Chera had pictures made this weekend and there’s no doubt: he’s all boy. I found out the day before when I was teaching a class. No one is supposed to have a cell phone in class, but this day I took my call. She gave me the news. Then, as I held the phone up high, I had the whole class congratulate her—just before I gave them their final exam. (I may be sentimental, but I’m also disciplined.)

I’ve put my train whistle away. Now I see it as a priceless keepsake. One day I’ll pull it out so I can teach Sawyer how to blow it just right, so that it sounds like a real train—and then we’ll watch the people scatter!

Best birthday ever.

Don’t Be Garrulous

•April 25, 2010 • 4 Comments

I always advise fellow writers to go to a writers conference, but don’t be garrulous. And if you don’t know what garrulous means, you will after this. I attended this one particular conference a few years ago. We were still signing in and mingling, still getting to know one another, asking one another that tired old question that gets asked over and over again at writer’s conferences: “So what do you write?” Earlier, when I picked up my name-tag I was instructed to write my genre just below my name. I’d written a few mysteries, so I wrote David Pierce mystery. What I learned later was that I’d gotten some bad information. Perhaps I’d been the only one to get that information. What I was supposed to have written was one word that describes me. That explains why this rather silly-acting woman approached me, read my name tag and giggled as she said, “Ooooh, mysterious, are we?”
At this same conference about four of us men had circled up, talking shop. Using short, curt answers whenever possible—like men do. Except for this one fellow, John. He told us he liked to write historical fiction. Someone else in our group, maybe me, asked him “So what’s your book about?” John took a deep breath and proceeded to tell us all about his novel:
“Well, you see, a young man named Danny Arnberger finds himself in a war-torn village in southern France. A place called Roujan. The whole town is surrounded by the Germans. Danny’s been shot in the leg and needs help bad. His buddy—Bobby Lehman–although he won’t be his buddy when they get back to the states because he’ll eventually have a fling with Danny’s girlfriend, Sarah Arnold—who works at a bakery but volunteers at the hospital on weekends. And she owns a parrot. Now Danny’s bleeding pretty bad and so Bobby has an idea that he can make a radio out of a potato and call for help. In the field across the street, next to a German tank, is a big potato patch. Bobby knows it’s a potato patch because he was in 4-H in the sixth and eighth grades. He would have been a member in the seventh grade, but he had the chicken pox that year—because of his cousin Jeanie Lee Calloway. So Bobby takes out a pocketknife—the one his daddy gave him, who owns a gas station back in Indiana. Now, here’s the cool thing. Bobby’s daddy used to be a traveling salesman and when he was in Birmingham one weekend, he hooked up with a dancer in one of those racy clubs, had a fling and never saw her again—Mabel was her name. Mabel got pregnant that night and raised a young girl on her own. A girl named Sarah—Arnold. So you see, Bobby’s been dating his own sister! And that’s just the first chapter, so far. I just have to write it.”
Chapters 2-7, that John shared with us that night, were just as…convoluted.
You can imagine that the three of us listening to this were speechless—and a little sleepy. Finally, one of the men spoke up and said, “John, all that you just said there would be so much better for us,” he waved a hand over us, “and everyone else,” he waved a hand over the entire world, “if you could do it in about two minutes.”
Don’t be that guy. Don’t be John, who sells insurance in Des Moines, who every day when he passes by the hardware store thinks he should have gone against his wife’s wishes that day back in 1973 and partnered with Jack Buford and bought that place. Even though Jack did go to prison later for paving old people’s driveways and charging them twice what it was worth. Don’t be that guy.
Robert Frost says, “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.”
Write about your story more. Talk about it less. And above all don’t forget to go to those conferences—just stay away from John.

Tower of Terror…Redux

•March 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

One day, in Florida, the kids took me to ride the Tower of Terror. Chera was 16 and Zach was 11. I was fine to just stroll around MGM grounds there in Orlando, eat popcorn and have the kids pose with characters like Spider Man and the Power Rangers. I even thought about doing something…wild, like buying a hot dog, or a funnel cake, or a bag of sugar deep-fried and molded onto a stick. But the kids shamed me into climbing on board a ride called The Tower of Terror and taking a quick jaunt with death.
The car was big and boxy and held six other people besides us. We began our ride on the ground floor of what appeared to be a six-story building. Nothing scary here—unless you happen to have a fear of elevator rides. At the top the door opened and our cart jostled into what looked like a long hotel hallway. The lighting was poor but I could see the guest room doors with numbers on them. And—how cute—there was scary music playing and people were screaming in the distance and from behind the closed doors. I’d seen haunted houses like this many times over the years. So I was watching for, and expecting, doors to pop open with wizened old men waving their arms about, screaming, waggling an ax or—if this was a really top-notch haunted house—a chain saw, revved up and that oily, gassy smell becoming the new odor of fear. After our car rolled out of the elevator, I was expecting a short tour. Maybe even just a blast of air in the face. I’d have settled for that. But at that very moment, when I was expecting a cheap fright, the bottom fell out. And just like that we were falling, falling, falling!
I hate the sensation of falling. Absolutely hate it. So we were falling and everything went black. A solitary light flashed. We stopped falling, and I could sense that something different was happening: We were going up. Then, the moment my organs settled in their visceral fluids, we began to fall again. Up and down, up and down. My insides were confused. Finally the car stopped and we rolled out into daylight. Back in the darkness other people were still screaming. Outside, people were laughing. I laughed too and told the kids how cool that was. They thought so and wobbled along beside me to the exit. Before we reached the gate, there was booth where you could see a picture of yourself riding the Tower of Terror. The kids bellied up to the counter and scanned the photos on the electronic monitors. Zach spotted it first. He seemed excited, but then his face went slack. He frowned. He turned to me and said, “Dad? Were you scared?”
When I saw the picture I knew why he thought so. Chera and Zach had their hands raised high, their heads tilted back, eyes wide open and mouths open in a full laugh/scream. Me? I was curled up in the corner of the car, eyes squinted shut, teeth clenched, squeezing the safety bar. I could have been praying. I couldn’t remember that posture. But, then again, it had been dark and I had believed I was okay to express myself freely—without condemnation.
“Whoa, Dad,” was all Chera could say.
We walked out into the crowded park but I felt very much alone. I couldn’t live like this. “Come on, kids,” I said, making a u-turn and heading back to the Tower of Terror. “We’re going to do this again.”
We latched back onto the long line and eventually climbed back into our cart and back up the tower we went. We exited into the same spooky hallway. Only this time I was ready for it. When the bottom fell out, I threw my arms up over my head. I screamed and laughed. And since I wasn’t sure when the camera would flash, I did that the whole time—more than anyone else in our car. My throat was sore, my heart was racing, my bladder was threatening. Everyone must have believed I was having one fun time.
When the car finally came to a stop, I led the way to the picture booth and found our shot right away. “Look at that, kids! Look at your dad!”
“All right! Way to go, Dad!”
We walked out into the park and I was so satisfied with myself that I bought ice cream for the three of us. The cold was good for my throat.

On Climbing a Mountain

•March 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

People have often asked me, What’s it like to climb a mountain? Here’s what happened at Mt. Rainier—from my book Don’t Let Me Go.
You have the ability to grow bigger and stronger. You work, you train, you focus. You run when you’re tired. You pack when you’re aching. Then one day you’re ready. You shower and shave and brush your teeth. You buy some new water bottles and some black underwear (or blue). You fly to the right state, take the rental car to the trailhead. You skip the sandwich this time and you begin to ascend for a different reason now—the promise of ice cream no longer a necessary enticement. You push into the wind and the snow, pulling yourself and your nose, coated in 40 SPF sunscreen, up the ice. You climb all night—even though you want to rest—and by daybreak you summit. You stand at the very top, or somewhere pretty close—nothing higher for a thousand miles. The sun rises and wants to know what you are doing up here, so high, so dangerous. Below, the birds shake their heads and call you crazy. You hope someone is down there, perhaps by that lake that is glimmering cobalt blue and looks no larger than a thimble (although you know it is). You hope that someone is taking a photograph that will wind up on a calendar or a place mat in a restaurant, or on a coffee mug or key chain. Then, there you’ll be, all over the country (and especially in the Seattle area) hanging on walls, lying on dinner tables, hanging from a trucker’s belt loop, so tiny and insignificant that not even the world’s most powerful microscope can prove that you really are standing there. But you are. And you will stand there in complete and utter awe because you’ve never seen anything so expansive. The only things that even comes remotely close to describing the sight are those three dots at the end of a sentence that indicate, that even though the sentence must end (because of paper and ink and those sorts of constraint), the idea behind the sentence just keeps going and going….
Then, just when you feel like you are absolutely the highest thing on earth, forgetting about the Himalayans and the Andes for a moment, God looks down and says, “Oh, there you are. I knew you would make it. Would you care to dance?” That’s when you throw your head back, raise your arms upward, as if stretching, and your feet will begin to move.
That’s what it’s like at the end of a climb.

 
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