The Guilty Party

Monday, December 22, 2008

Goings On, Lately




December 22, 2008



The shot above is from the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens here in Phoenix. Every year the Gardens do a Luminaria thingie, where folks wander around the gardens with their way illuminated by luminaria along the paths. Luminaria, just in case you don't know, are usually candles in paper bags, although I think the Gardens use some sort of pseudo paper bag for uniformity, sturdiness and fire retardation. Luminarias are a pretty holiday tradition around here, with some folks lining their home walkways and some neighborhoods doing up the sidewalks each evening. Along with the chilly path wandering there is always music, this year ten different locations, each offering up a unique sort of musical entertainment, from the renaissance type music of Bartholomew Faire to the toe tapping Louis Prima stylings of The Swingtips to a festive handbell choir.

But this year the real attraction for most people was the Dale Chilhuly glass art. The photo above is just one of the few dozen different pieces, some quite massive, some modest in size but all brimming with creative color, shape and a goodly dose of what I guess you could call eyepopping whimsy. The way the pieces were incorporated into the existing garden exhibits was wonderful.

So that's what we did Friday evening.
Saturday was work.

Sunday I put up some elfa shelving in the den. We have gone for years without any proper bookshelves in the den and I was pretty psyched to take advantage of my employee discount at Ye Olde Container Store to get some really nice shelves.

(If I could figure out how to get pictures someplace other than the top of these entries, that photo would be right here.)

It is great finally having my most referred to books right there where I work. Mr. Twain is keeping an eye on everything (you can't see it in the picture, but to the right of the desk is a framed excerpt from his "Rules Governing the Literary Arts", just to help keep me on the right path).

And then yesterday evening my wife and I watched "Pollyanna". Turner Classic had played it several days earlier and I DVR'd it, figuring either I would watch it alone or never get the chance before it self destructed on the recorder. It's a good movie. And although I hadn't seen it in probably thirty-five or forty years it made me realize just how much movies and books with that sort of positive "Look for the Good" message have influenced the way I try to live my life. I sure don't succeed all the time, far from it, I can be as grumpy and angry and downright pissed off as the next fellow, but always calling to me, beckoning me towards the light, are the lessons I learned from Pollyanna and her literary kin. It was good to pay her a visit again and be reminded.

This is likely the last installment before Christmas, so may I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year. I hope you all find a reason to be glad. Just like Pollyanna.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.








Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Wouldn't Want to Be Stuck in an Elevator With Him, But....




December 8, 2008

...he makes a pretty good soap.

A couple of months ago a newspaper article by Mary-Jane Butters* caught my wife's attention. The headline was "Antibacterial soap's dirty secret". As a family we have long been aware of the arguments against anti-bacterial soaps (the active ingredient in most of them is a pesticide called triclosan and killing bacteria indiscriminately is not the brightest thing in the world since a goodly number of them are what you call beneficial to humans) and although you can't avoid them in public restrooms, we make sure we use plain old soap at home. So although my wife needed no convincing, she not only read the article, but cut it out and kept it. Let's face it, we are all attracted to things and people that reinforce our own beliefs. Sometimes that is harmless and sometimes it results in certain radio talk show hosts and religious figures attaining way too much influence.

But the reason she kept the article had nothing to do with the triclosan warning, it was so she could use a sidebar list of "Ingredients to avoid in
natural soaps" as a reference when shopping. Snuggled in there with the nasty pesticide were things like alcohol (just in soap, the internally applied restorative is still safe, DEA (diethanolamine), FD&C color pigments, PEG (polyethylene glycol), and the seemingly ubiquitous Sodium laureth sulfate.

So for the past several weeks we have been in search of personal hygiene products that do not contain any of the ingredients listed in that sidebar and let me tell you, it hasn't been easy. Well, actually it is pretty easy to find the kind of products the article's author recommended, which are "handmade in small batches by community artisans". Only problem with them is the cost. A seven dollar price tag on a bar of soap makes one pause and consider. Twice that amount for a decent sized bottle of liquid hand soap is equally intimidating, at least to us.

And so last week while we were doing the family grocery shopping at our local Trader Joe's we paused to study their soap selection. Avoiding the triclosan was easy but the cheap detergent and sudsing agent sodium laurel sulfate and its close kin sodium lauryl sulfate were all over the place, including products labeled "all natural". Then, on the top row, I spotted something called "Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap". It was a quart sized bottle, the price was a fairly reasonable $8.99, and on the large print areas the label featured phrases like "PURE CASTILE SOAP" and "CERTIFIED FAIR TRADE" (I always look for that in my coffee and chocolate purchases) and "MADE WITH ORGANIC OILS". But what really caused me to grab a bottle and submit it to closer scrutiny was all the rest of the verbiage on the label, and let me tell you, it had a lot of it. And in very, very small print. Teeny tiny print packed with a life philosophy uniquely rendered into words. It was like Ornette Coleman had taken about thirty of his saxophone solos and transcribed them into a soap label.

Here are a couple of samples, one seems to be some sort of uses instruction. Out of consideration for my Dear Readers I have not retained the teeny print size**.

Enjoy only 2 cosmetics, enough sleep & Dr. Bronner's "Magic Soap" to clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting One!

1st: A human being works hard to teach love his enemy, to help unite all mankind free, or that being is not yet Human; so go the second mile, hold the other cheek brave, not meek! For we're All-One! Exceptions eternally none! ABSOLUTE NONE!

I found the ingredients list without too much trouble (after I asked my daughter to assist that is, the trifocal life can be a trying one) and with the most intimidating ingredient being something called "saponified organic coconut and organic olive oils" it certainly passed the Not In the Sidebar Test. But the label is so chock full of what can only be called exhortations that I stood there in the middle of the aisle somehow unable to either put the thing in the cart or back on the shelf. I had to read it, even though my eyes objected all the way and the syntax had the writer part of me screaming "Somebody give me a blue pencil!". If you can imagine a product label that is the equivalent of being stuck in an elevator with a person who has very definite ideas about Life, the Universe and Everything, a zealot's commitment to spread the word and a second grader's command of sentence construction that will give you some idea of what Dr. Bronner's label is like.

Oh, heck, here's another sample:

8th: More good is caused by evil than by good, do what's right! Enlarge the positive! Replace the negative with the Moral ABC's (a recurring theme) ALL-ONE-GOD-FAITH that lightning-like unites the Human race! FOR WE'RE ALL ONE OF NONE! "LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!" WE'RE ALL ONE OR NONE! EXCEPTIONS ETERNALLY? NONE!!

Not all of the material is original, he cribs from Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington and even Joe Darion, whose lyrics are a lot more famous than his name:

To dream the impossible dream!

That sort of clinched it for me. The man knew his show tunes!

So we bought Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. And you know what, it's pretty good stuff. But I've got to admit I was rather relieved when I read at this bottom of the label:

Emmanuel Bronner passed away peacefully on March 7th of 1997.


Now I don't have to worry about being stuck in an elevator with the man.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.



* yes, that Mary-Jane Butters, of United Features Syndicate fame.

**Okay, here you go: "The 2nd Coming of God's Law! Mohammed's Arab's, 1948, found Isreal Essene Scrolls & Einstein's "Hillel" prove that as no 6-year-old can grow up without the ABC, so certain can no 12-year-old survive free without the Moral ABC mason, tent & sandalmaker Rabbi Hellel taught carpenter jesus to unite all mankind free in our Eternal Father's great All-One-God-Faith! For we're All-One or none: "Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!"

P.S. If you would like to have a look at the label itself and either don't have a nearby retailer or would simply rather not move from where you are right now, here is a link to Dr. Bronner's soap website that will allow you to see the thing right on your screen.

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap label

Tuesday, December 2, 2008





December 2, 2008


A short one here, 'cause I have to leave for work in about two minutes ago. Really, it's just a question:

What music are you going to listen to on your way to work? And are you going to sing along?


Okay, that was two questions.


I'm thinking some Louis Armstrong for me.

Hello Dolly,
Well, hello Dolly.
It's so nice to have you back where you belong.

Yep, that ought to help keeping awake at 4:15.


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Letting My Betters Do the Driving Today



November 27, 2008

On this day when we all reflect on all the good things in our life I would like to say thanks for all of the wonderful writers whose work I have been privileged to read. And I would also like to put out a "thank you" in advance to all of the writers I am sure to discover in the coming weeks, months and years. Knowing at least a little bit of what the whole process is like makes me appreciate the really good stuff even more.

So, in celebration of those whose words have inspired, uplifted, informed, amused and enlightened me, here is a very small sampling from one of my commonplace books. I hope you find something here that inspires, uplifts or in some fashion improves your day, your outlook, your sense of what can be.

The average person looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feelng, eats without tasting, moves without physicl awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrence, and talks without thinking.---Leonardo da Vinci

Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian."---from "Moby Dick" by Hermann Melville

It alters ones whole conception of Man as Nature's last word.---from "Code of the Woosters" by P.G. Wodehouse

There are certain females whom one respects, admires, reveres, but only from a distance. If they show any signs of attempting to come closer, one is prepared to fight them off with a blackjack.---from "Code of the Woosters" by P.G. Wodehouse

Noah attempted to be more facetious still, and in this attempt, did what many small wits, with far greater reputations than Noah, sometimes do to this day when they want o be funny. He got personal.---from "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens

"People are put in the Hulks because they murder and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions."---said by Mrs. Joe in "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens

Everyone is an artist in his or her own right. It's just when we play together we may have a little problem.
---Victor Borge

Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action: to act you ust assume an that assumption is faith.---John Henry Cardinal Newman

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.---John Stuart Mill

Man will occassionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.---Winston Churchill

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.---Aristotle

and finally..............

The Wart did not know what Merlyn was talking about, but he liked him to talk. He did not like the grown-ups who talked down to him, but the ones who went on talking in their usul way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned. He had the glee of the porpoise then, pouring and leaping through strange seas.---from "The Once and Future King" by T. H. White


It is good to keep this perspective of Wart's all through our lives. There is always someone to learn from, someone who is a couple of jumps ahead of you, someone who it will profit you to watch, listen to and emulate. And the joy comes when their secret is suddenly clear to you. This happens often when we are children. It is something to hold on to as adults.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.







Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shameless Commerce 50% OFF!!!




Hi everyone. Yep, there's that book again. And now through November 30th you can acquire your very own copy for Half Price. Why? Because iUniverse, the nice company that publishes Close Enough for Government Work, is having a Friends and Family Sale. And in my opinion anybody who takes the time to visit my humble blog qualifies as a friend. Even the googlebot.

So, if you would like to get a copy of the book that prompted one reader to say "very original, but if I were to compare it to other writers I'd say the funny stuff by Mark Twain and John Steinbeck as well as Bill Bryson, Christopher Moore, and Douglas Adams. It's also very smart and funny, two things that I really like in a book."*

and another reader to offer this comment:
"I think its a great book and if Oprah hasn't seen that yet, well then, everyone should listen to me. READ IT. U WILL LAUGH OUT LOUD."

Just click on over to the iUniverse bookstore

http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookstoreHome.aspx

and enter NOVBOOKHALF at checkout.

And Happy Thanksgiving to all. Even if you don't buy the book!

Alan

Monday, November 24, 2008

Faith and Gratitude


November 24, 2009

Faith and Gratitude

A couple of days ago, on one of these Saturdays that all of a sudden I have free*, we had some shopping to do. First it was to Costco for necessities and a couple of Christmas gifts. The place was hopping. Normally I am not a big fan of crowded stores, but lately I have begun to see a lot of the other sort. The reasons behind this and the consequences of it happening are clear and frankly troubling. So a busy store is a happy sight, even if I do have to steer a huge shopping cart around numbskulls who stop in mid-stride to gape at a thirty-pack of compact fluorescent light bulbs or are so engrossed in their cell phone conversations they have lost all awareness of their immediate surroundings. I don't know if the dollar per transaction numbers at Costco are what they would hope for, but it was good to see them busy.

After dropping off our perishable items at home we headed out again, this time to the local plant nursery. It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in November in Phoenix. Blue sky, glad-to-be-alive weather, just the sort of day to be stocking up on fall and winter vegetation for around the house. Used to be that on a day like this the parking lot would be jammed, the employees scurrying around with great purpose and the lines at the registers long. Not so this time. Ours was the sixth car in the lot (I counted, it didn't take long). We were immediately greeted by a young fellow who was eager as could be to assist us find what we came for, and, one got the idea, maybe a few things we hadn't thought of yet. I told him we were looking for spring bulbs. Well, they still had a few and would I follow him? Sure. He hovered for a few seconds to make sure I felt comfortable with the little rotating rack that held the few dozen small mesh sacks with tulips, daffodils and such before heading off to see if the other set of customers within shouting distance had any questions. We picked out three sets of bulbs and a bag of bone meal and headed to the register. There were three young men to assist there. Did we need any mulch? No. Disappointment was registered. Soil amendments? All set on that. Again disappointment. Perhaps some Miracle-Gro fertilizer or terra cotta garden stakes to identify the plants in our garden? Got all we need (yes, we do have a few of those garden stakes. Hardly use them but they are kinda cool.) Ah well, so this is it for today? Yep. When we drove out of the parking lot the population was down to four cars.

So, where was I going with this? A couple of different places actually. First, I have a feeling that some of the problem we are collectively encountering with the economy is our own fault. We read all the bad news, we hear on the radio and see on the television how the banks are afraid to lend money and this business is filing bankruptcy and that business is laying off thousands of people and the whole place is heading to heck in a brand new GM product that has been sitting on the lot for months. So what should we do? Get out there and spend what makes sense. Don't overspend for heaven's sake, but don't run and hide either. If the bankbook will reasonably accommodate a bit of activity then do it. Somebody's job may depend on it. And eventually your job and mine depend on that somebody else having a job. That's my understanding of economic theory anyway.

It's kind of like planting bulbs. You spend money (five bucks for six bulbs), you stick them in the ground and for the most part that's it. And maybe just maybe come spring time you have some darned pretty flowers. Flowers that will brighten your day every time you see them. Flowers that will make you grateful to be alive. But if you don't plant them all you'll have is dirt. Or weeds.

Okay, so that's not going to get me any Nobel prizes for economics, but I still say faith, taking the time and investing the energy to do the groundwork and a good dose of common sense can go a long way.

Lastly a short bit about gratitude. You know, what with Thanksgiving coming up in a few days and all. Somewhere in one of my commonplace books is one of those quotes that has stayed with me and yet for the life of me I can't remember who I copied it from. Here's the gist of it: The only prayers worth praying are to say thank you and I'm sorry. I like that. We are seeing the consequences of a time during which so many "Gimme" prayers were offered up, and in some cases seemed to be answered. Didn't get us very far, did it? So saying "Thank you" for all the blessings we enjoy and "I'm sorry" for all the times we screw up seems a whole lot more profitable in the long run. And according to an article in the Arizona Living section of the Arizona Republic today, being thankful can even make you healthier. And with the cost of health care nowadays you'd think that would be a great motivator right there!







*If you have ever worked retail, especially in management, you know what I mean about Saturdays.



Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!







Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oprah and The Container Store = 20% Off

Oprah Sez "Yes" to Container Store

Hi everyone. A few days ago on my MySpace page I posted a note letting folks know that my gracious day job employer, The Container Store, had joined up with the most Powerful and Influential Person (at least in regards to a lot of people's purchasing habits) on the planet, Oprah Winfrey, to offer a printable coupon for 20% off any purchase. Not just one item, but everything in your cart. Even if you end up with two carts, and I've seen plenty of that in the past few days.

Well, the cutoff day was supposed to be yesterday, but it has been extended to November 30th. Apparently we had to get special permission from the Grand Oprah to mess with the expiration date, but she said "Sure, sounds good to me." and so there you are.

Here is the link to Oprah's site and from there you can click your way to the coupon.

Like I said before, The Container Store has some pretty amazing stuff that can make life simpler and more organized. And especially for my writer friends I think this is a good thing.

Special Update! We have jumped ahead to February 19, 2009 and the Deal Is On Again! Oprah replayed her show from November (it's not a rerun, it's an encore performance) and so The Container Store is encoring the special. Here's the new click for the current coupon.

Container Store Coupon Courtesy of Oprah.


Best to all,
Alan

Saturday, November 15, 2008




I was doing a quick read through of my MySpace comments just now making sure nothing had found its way on to my page that I wouldn't want my kids to see (it is incredible just how, well, familiar folks can get sometimes) when I came across an incredibly nice note I received back in June from a fine fellow by the name of Walter. He read my book and when he was finished he had this to say:

"Hey Alan, I finished reading "Close Enough For Government Work" and thought I'd share my opinion of your book. I was expecting an enjoyable read, but I wasn't prepared to be so thoroughly entertained. It's very original, but if I were to compare it to other writers I'd say the funny stuff by Mark Twain and John Steinbeck as well as Bill Bryson, Christopher Moore, and Douglas Adams. It's also very smart and funny, two things that I really like in a book. Please keep up the excellent work. I look forward to your next book. Cheers!"

Well, Walter, I wish I could tell you that my next book is just around the corner, but I am still plowing through the darned thing and have a ways to go. But for those of you out there who have yet to add "Gov Work" to your library, may I suggest now would be a great time to correct that little oversight. It's an idea, now isn't it?

And it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the OED!

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

You know, like Walter!


In Reference to That...........

Two days ago I received the most tempting bit of mail. Of course everyday mailboxes all over the civilized world (and yes, I realize this is not a particularly accurate description, but it does convey my meaning and so shall stand) have thrust into them all manner of solicitations from all sorts of organizations, businesses and scams. Envelopes heavy with coupons from every sort of business from dry cleaners to Chinese restaurants to auto repair shops to doctors specializing in the treatment of hemorrhoids arrive almost daily. This time of year especially is guaranteed to bring catalogs by the cartload. Hammacher Schlemmer (that triggered the spellcheck), Land's End, Current, L.L. Bean, Levengers, Oriental Trading Company and one whose name I don't recall but which trumpeted on its cover Nearly Everything $14.99 or Under are just few of these periodicals of prospective commerce that have clogged our tiny mailbox in the past week. All of them I consigned to the recycle bin with nary a flinch, not one hint of hestitation.

But one modest envelope I set aside. I couldn't help myself. It arrived an Thursday and I set it aside unopened until I had the time to read it's contents thoroughly, carefully, leisurely. That precious time was this afternoon. I have read the four page brochure and the two page insert twice each. More than twice I have studied the separate order form, knowing full well I will not be utilizing it. I won't purchase this product for myself nor will I be dropping hints to my loved ones that this would be a terrific idea for under the Christmas tree this year. I would dearly love to possess it, but holy Ned in the noontime, eight hundred and ninety-five dollars plus thirty-four dollars shipping & handling is just a bit more than I think I'll ever be prepared to pay for a dictionary. Even if it is the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED as it is known amongst those who love the English language, its history, its complexity, its flexibility and its enormous range. Even though I realize the savings over the regular three thousand dollar price tag is substantial indeed. And even though my purchase would include a six month subscription to OED online.

It isn't that I don't like reference books. I love them. My Roget's Pocket Thesaurus has been with me for decades and it still gets a good workout. I have two copies of Strunk and White's Elements of Style so at least one is almost always easy to find. The Transitive Vampire and The Well Tempered Sentence, both by Karen Elizabeth Gordon haved saved me countless time. A favorite "what shall I read now?" solution is the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, as is the The New York Public Library Desk Reference. The Facts on File Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, & Literary Allusions by Lass, Kiremidjian and Goldstein has provided me with hours of perusing pleasure and answered many a question prompted by reading books written by the unashamedly erudite. The bookshelf that sits at the back of my desk's footwell (or whatever is the official name for the space where ones legs and feet go under a desk, I guess I'll have to look that up) is crammed with reference books. I can't hardly think of a better way to while away a few minutes or an entire afternoon than immersing myself in word lore.

And what better or more vast ocean to plunge into for such purposes than the OED where, according to the elegant and understated brochure: "Accompanying each definition is a chronologically-arrange group of quotations that illustrate the evolution of meaning from the word's first usage and show the contexts in which it has been used. ...authors as disparate as Geoffrey Chaucer and Erica Jong, William Shakespeare and Raymond Chandler, Charles Darwin and John le Carre. In all, nearly 2.5 million quotations--illustrating over half-a-million words--can be found in the OED."

It sure sounds like a good time to me. But it is not to be. Not at eight hundred and ninety-five dollars plus shipping and handling.

But I would sure love to. You know I would.


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.







Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Banana Nut Pancakes

I was recently sent a recipe exchange email by a good friend. Since I do have a history of posting recipes on my blog anyway I figured I might as well share my modest contribution with the somewhat wider circle of friends (and accidental droppers-by "Hello! Glad you're here!) I enjoy on both Blogger and MySpace.


Banana Nut Pancakes

1 cup of white whole wheat flour (King Arthur makes this and it's in most grocery stores now. Best price still seems to be at Trader Joes)

1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
Note: if you don't have or don't want to get the white whole wheat flour, just use 2 1/2 cups of all purpose. I like to sneak some whole grain into my family's diet whenever I can and it does give a nice hearty flavor I like. I tried using just the whole wheat and they came out too heavy)

4 tablespoons of sugar

4 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

2 eggs (beaten)

2 cups of milk (whole or 2 percent work best)

2 tablespoons of canola oil (or any other vegetable oil. just don't use Crisco or that sort of thing)

2 semi-soft to soft bananas

pecans or walnuts, chopped

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, baking powder and salt and mix it up with a regular old fork.

Combine the eggs, milk and canola oil, stir 'em up good and add to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly to make everything wet, but don't over mix to the point of no little lumps in the batter.

Break up the bananas into a bowl and mash 'em up with a fork. Get it to a puree sort of consistency, then add to the pancake batter. Stir it in completely but gently.

If everyone at the table likes nuts, mix in a handful of the chopped pecans or walnuts (heck, you can use whatever kind of nut you want, I'd just stay away from peanuts, which aren't really nuts anyway, but legumes).

If only some at the table like nuts, you can add these to selected pancakes when you pour the batter on the skillet.

Speaking of skillets, heat one up on the stove. I like medium heat, but you may need to see what works best on your stove. Spray a really light coating of Pam or its equivalent on the skillet and with a mixing spoon pour out your pancakes.

They are ready to flip when the edges have turned just slightly firm.

Keep made pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven while making the rest.

Make sure to spray the skillet every time before pouring out the batter.

Top with whipped cream, berries and candied pecans. Or just butter and maple syrup.

This recipe feeds my four person family. Cut it in half if you are cooking for two. The math is easy.


I wish you all good health and healthy appetites, for good food and for life.


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Have You Voted?



Well, have you?


Hope so.


Voting is one of the things we can do to keep this country of ours strong and vital.


Realizing and acting on the knowledge that, regardless of who we voted for, we are all in it together is also a pretty good idea.

Go Forth and Do Likewise.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Abbreviated Excerpts

Abbreviated Readers’ Choice

I know everyone's time is valuable, so here are simply the opening sentences to my three in-progress novels. Which one, if any, would prompt you to keep reading?




Dash

by

Alan Hutcheson


Chapter One


Not all that long ago, Tuesday perhaps, in a land not quite so far away as you and I might like to think, there lived a youngish fellow named Dash Bailey.


From "The Baer Boys"


The Baer Boys
by

Alan Hutcheson




Prologue

It's a great speech from what might be the greatest play of all time. And I thought I was doing it pretty darned well. Hell, from where I stood, down stage center in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, I thought I was nailing it.


And finally, from "A Pm for Pittiana"

A PM for Pittiana


by Alan Hutcheson



PROLOGUE





Excerpt from the journal of Thomas Hutchinson

former Royal Governor of Massachusetts Colony


8, June 1775

Plymouth Port


Our party departed on the tide this morning from Plymouth harbor bound for Boston. We number fifty-three, among us eight families and seven single men, all persons of good background and breeding. The news late received through the good offices of the Earl of Chatham makes us bold to return to the land of our birth. His gracious services will long be remembered and his name forever upon our lips.

Results (so far) and Recipe




The votes are rolling in.

Well, maybe sauntering would be a better way to put it.

I suppose that other voting thing is occupying peoples' minds right about now. That must be it.

But to both of you I say "Thanks!".

Here's a recipe. I used one from a cookbook called "Canyon Cafe" put out by Sam's Cafe as the basis for this, but as usual I messed with it a bit.


Cilantro and Lime Shrimp and Rice

Get out your handy-dandy food processor. Gotta have one for this recipe.

Take a couple of handfuls of chopped cilantro, about half a cup of pine nuts (lightly toasted is good, but not essential), about a third cup of parmesan cheese (you can use more, it's okay with me, but don't go crazy), clove or two of minced garlic and whirl it up nicely in the processor till it's all chopped up. Add a healthy tablespoon of lime juice, maybe half a teaspoon of salt and about a quarter cup of olive oil (could be more, what you want is a nice pesto-like consistency.)

Set this aside to kind of get its flavor together.

Peel and clean a pound of large shrimp (24-36 lb). Put 'em in a non reactive bowl.

Mix up a quarter cup of lime juice, a quarter cup of olive oil and half a handful of that chopped cilantro. Pour it over the shrimp.

Meantime, get some nice rice going. I like jasmine rice. This recipe feeds about four, so follow the rice directions for maybe six servings, cause in my experience folks are gonna want lots of rice.

Once the rice is nicely cooked, you know, not crispy anymore, but not soggy, stir in about a cup of the nice green stuff in the food processor. Let it soak in over low heat.

Heat up a skillet to medium and saute the shrimp. Doesn't take long.

Dish up the rice, put the shrimp on top and use the remaining cilantro pesto on top of the shrimp.

A nice vegie and you are all set.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Opening Number Three





And Lastly....Number Three

For anyone dropping in unawares, if I could invite you to visit the blog entry titled "Readers' Choice" that would be great!

This is the third and last of the Not Yet Novels in question. It has been through numerous incarnations and is also the one closest to completion (meaning I am maybe halfway through, if I don't change direction on it again).

May I present............................


.

The Baer Boys
by

Alan Hutcheson




Prologue

It's a great speech from what might be the greatest play of all time. And I thought I was doing it pretty darned well. Hell, from where I stood, down stage center in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, I thought I was nailing it.



To be, or not to be―that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

And by opposing end them?―To die,―to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand...


"Excuse me," A voice came from the dark. It was followed by the flick and snap of paper and a muffled whisper. "Ah, Mr. Baer?"

I shaded my eyes against the harsh white lights. It wasn't much help in seeing the person attached to the voice, but it's kind of a reflex when you're talking to somebody in the house.

"Darin," I said. "Darin Baer."

"Mr. Baer, have you ever made a decision?"

"Excuse me?"

"A decision," said the voice.

"A decision?"

"About something quite important."

"Sure," I said. "I mean, of course I have. Do you want me to start again from the beginning? Or just where I left off?"

"That won't be necessary," said another voice from the dark. "Thank you very much."

"I can put more indecision in it," I said. "Or decision. I can do both. Or either."

"Next."

About two hours and five beers later I made a decision. I decided to go back to college. I was thirty-six years old and had been trying to make a living as an actor for almost twenty years. Six years at Western Oregon University and thirteen part-time jobs later I had my secondary education certificate.

After all, those who can do.

You know the rest.


CHAPTER ONE


I was leaving, practically out the door, when the phone rang. I could have ignored it, just kept going. After all, it really wasn't my phone, not then. But I didn't keep going. I backtracked and picked up the phone.

"Theater room, this is Darin Baer."

"Oh good. I was afraid I might have missed you. Mr. Baer, could I ask you to come to the principal's office please?"

It was a voice that gets a man's attention, the aural equivalent of a finely manicured female fingertip attached to a fine female tracing figure eights on your belly. Yeah, that kind of voice.

In my experience such ravishing tones are most often distributed to women who are from a personal appearance standpoint are strictly made for radio, or, as in this case, the telephone. To be fair, the same can be said for a lot of guys, yours truly being a prime example. I've been told more than once that I can sound more suave than Cary Grant and more disarmingly charming than Hugh Grant, but the bathroom mirror reminds me every day that I'm a skinny guy with lopsided shoulders and eyebrows that for some perverse reason have started to go bushy.

"The principal's office?"

"You will find it just past the counselors' office, at the end of the hallway," said the Voice. "One of the ladies in the front office can direct you."

"I'm on my way."

I didn't need directions to the Westview High principal's office. I had been there before, just not recently. I paid my share of official visits to Principal Sturdevant's office during my career as a student. The person doing the summoning back then was Sturdevant's secretary, Mrs. Crumbkaeuer, a wizened apricot pit of a woman who, according to school lore, was something over one hundred years old and drank a quart of Johnny Walker Black Label each and every day. Her age may have been exaggerated, but, judging by her voice, which was gravelly to the point of boulder-strewn, a couple of fifths and a carton of Camels might have been a closer estimate of her daily vices ration. Or maybe the woman never touched a drop or lit up at all. All I'm saying is it wasn't a fingertip on any body part sort of a voice.

I locked up the theater room and headed for the administration building.

The office was hopping with kids, support staff and a few lost looking parents. I didn't see Mrs. Cahill, the lady who had sped me through check-in that morning, registering my presence so I could get paid the eighty-three dollars and forty-eight cents that is the daily stipend for high school substitute teachers. She had also given me the keys to the theater room. Now nobody said boo as I went past the counters, around a corner and down the hall. I figured The Voice, if she was stationed in the same spot Mrs. Crumbkauer used to stash her scotch, should have her desk in the big open area at the end of the hall, just outside the principal's office.

There was a desk but it was unattended so I couldn't see if my Ravishing Voice/Lumpy Exterior theory held up in this case. But whatever the current secretary looked like, she certainly kept a nice, clean desk. Computer monitor, spotless deskpad, black lucite pen cup with one pen in it, a telephone. I looked for a name plate; every desk in a school office has the occupant's name displayed on or above it. Except this one didn't.

"Is that you, Mr. Baer?" It was The Voice, this time combined with a faint background of music. It took me a second before I realized the voice and music were coming from the phone on the desk. An intercom.

"That's me. I mean, I'm me." I waved at the phone. "I'm here."

"Please, come on in. The door just to your right."

I stepped into the sound of a string quartet and the look of professional success. The walls of the office were covered chair-rail high with deep-toned wood paneling and from paneling to ceiling painted in a greyish-green, with some sort of dimensional treatment to it. Thanks to a short term live-in relationship I had with an ambitiously domestic—hence the short term—female named Rachel, I've seen enough decorating shows on television to know a mysterious technique had been applied, but I hadn't paid enough attention to be able to tell you its name. Along one wall of the office were what I think are called lawyer's bookcases, the kind with beveled glass doors hinged at the top. In the middle of the floor was a plush looking oriental rug and in the middle of the rug was a massive desk with carved detailing. Everything in the office, with one exception, gave off an aura of refined, confident masculinity.

The exception was the woman standing behind the desk. There was nothing even remotely masculine about her.

She had shoulder length chestnut hair and eyes to match, maybe just a shade lighter. A perfect sprinkling of pale freckles—I am partial to freckles nicely done—ran across her cheekbones and nose. She wore a conservative dark blue suit and a crisp, cream colored blouse buttoned to the top, but the Made-for-Business outfit was not able to conceal a damned feminine figure.
She pointed a tiny remote control at one of the bookshelves and the string quartet faded.

"I can't seem to get anything but the classical station," she said. It wasn't an apology, more a statement of fact. She came around from behind the desk and offered her hand. I can't identify perfumes any better than I can paint treatments, but I'll tell you this: she smelled good. "It is nice to meet you, Mr. Baer," she said as we shook hands. "My name is Natalie Willoughby. I am the principal here at Westview." The principal was The Voice. So much for my Rule. She gestured to a chair in front of the desk. "Please, won't you have a seat?"

I sat.

She sat. On the edge of the desk. For about half a minute she seemed to be studying me. I tried to look worth studying. Well, mostly I tried not to stare at her legs.

"Mr. Baer," she finally said. "I want you to know how much I appreciate you helping us out on such short notice."
"I'm a sub," I said. "That's my job. Besides, I live just a few blocks away." I motioned vaguely in what had a one in four chance of being the direction of my home. "I am sorry about missing first period."

"Well, that certainly was not your fault," she said, which was true. Usually I get called for my substitute jobs either the day before or at least a couple of hours before school starts. This morning the call had come just in time for me to make it in by second period. She crossed her legs. Did I mention she had freckles on her knees too? I probably shouldn't have been looking that close, but I was and there they were. "I hope the rest of your day went well?" she said.

"Hmm?" This was not fair. She had asked about my day, right? "Oh, it was great. Just great." Which was, from a substitute teacher's perspective, true. Like the saying pilots have about any landing you can walk away from being a good one, for a substitute teacher any day you make it through with your will to live intact and the inclination to lobby Congress in favor of mass sterilization held in check is a great day.

Opening Number Two






Opening Number Two

If you are wondering what is going on here, please refer back to the blog entry with the heading "Readers' Choice".

Thanks!

This entry is quite a bit longer. If you nod off halfway through, please let me know. For those of you who have read "Close Enough for Government Work", I will tell you that Ted and Jerry, as well as Hank Berringer and a couple of other characters from that book figure into this one.

A PM for Pittiana


by Alan Hutcheson



PROLOGUE





Excerpt from the journal of Thomas Hutchinson

former Royal Governor of Massachusetts Colony


8, June 1775

Plymouth Port


Our party departed on the tide this morning from Plymouth harbor bound for Boston. We number fifty-three, among us eight families and seven single men, all persons of good background and breeding. The news late received through the good offices of the Earl of Chatham makes us bold to return to the land of our birth. His gracious services will long be remembered and his name forever upon our lips.



Excerpt from the journal of William Pitt the Senior

Earl of Chatham, an eloquent, if ineffective

voice for reason in Parliament before and

during the American Revolutionary War



8, June, 1775


I am finally rid of that fool Hutchinson. News comes this morning from Plymouth that the late governor of Massachusetts Colony, along with four dozens or more of his fellow Americans, has taken passage on the good ship Dandelion and is even now bound to Boston.

It weighs on my very soul to contemplate the falseness I have employed; the news, the messages, the correspondence that existed only to convince Hutchinson he was once again welcome, indeed clamored after, in Boston. And yet such remorse is readily bourne away by the thoughts of how intrusive and sycophantic, how insufferably boorish the man made himself this long year of his exile. An exile which brought him, along with countless others calling themselves Loyalists, to an unwelcoming London. Goodness knows he received little reception from either society or government, but he took no notice, and for reasons known only to the Almighty attached himself to me with such unwonted intimacy. I could scarcely pass wind but the man would be there to give praise to its delicate sonority and fragrant air.

Anywise, it soon became clear Hutchinson, in spite of his protestations of devotion to Mother Britain, as he would insist on referring to the place from which his ancestors fled, for reasons one might only hazard to guess, did yearn for the country of his birth, his education, and, to hear him so describe it, his service. And so my bit of deception is not without redeeming character. Once arrived in Boston I pray he may find the fortitude to endure whatever welcome he might find and reintroduce himself and his family into familiar society; it is clear he has no place in London.

The expense of the sea passage has been my own. I have commissioned Captain John Stanley, a mariner of great experience and modest expense, and outfitted the good ship Dandelion in generous fashion for this passage.

May they have a fair voyage and safe.

* * * * *

Six months and five days after its departure from Plymouth, the Dandelion was blown ashore onto an uninhabited island in the Lesser Antilles. The passengers and crew praised Providence for deliverance from the storm and the opportunity to gather provisions before continuing their circuitous journey homeward. They were especially thankful for a safe landing as they had been without the guiding hand of Captain Stanley for most of the journey. The stalwart and economical seafarer tumbled overboard just east of the Azores whilst engaged in a bit of playful chase with sixteen year old Mirabelle Stubbs, daughter of Cincinnatus and Ruth Stubbs. Mirabelle reported the incident only to her diary and so the captain's disappearance remained a mystery to the rest of the passengers and crew.

While Hutchinson and his followers scoured the island seeking provisions, the good ship Dandelion, having been inexpertly anchored, drifted back out to sea. The returning Loyalists had made the Americas, just two thousand miles south of their intended destination.

Without much in the way of ideas, or at least ideas that had any hope of consensus or success, the one thing they were able to agree on, largely because there were no other options, was that it would be best to stay put for the while. The while became quite a while and it was determined that the place required a name. After much debate that included no fewer than seven fist fights and one pistol discharge which killed the fellow wielding the firearm, it was decided to name their new home for their benefactor back in England. The two finalists in the subsequent what-form-shall-the- name-take dialectic were Pittiana and Pittstopia. Pittiana won after the lead Pittstopian advocate was found six days after going missing, in somewhat bloated and discolored form, on the coarse sands of what was later christened Chatham Beach.

Manifest Destiny came to Pittiana several years later in the form of an adjacent and even smaller island to the northwest. It was discovered by Mirabelle Balmoral, nee Stubbs while she was looking for a quiet place to practice her alto recorder. Mirabelle, whose musical inclinations were frowned upon by her husband, restricted her explorations of the island to a small cove with an even smaller beach, perfect for solitary recitals. That is until the day she was followed by Mr. Balmoral, who tried to take her recorder from her with the expressed intention of "turning it into splinters". Mirabelle defended her instrument with a quick and well placed knee into Mr. Balmoral's instrument, so to speak and then took off ran away into the interior of her island.

Her husband gave chase, although his vision having been compromised for a moment or two the direction he took was inaccurate by several degrees, a margin of error that should have been of little consequence on such a small patch of earth. But for him the consequences turned out to be anything but small. A few hundred yards inland he found himself running across an open patch of what at first appeared to be moldy ground, having a curious purple-green glow to it. As he ran across this self illuminated earth he found that it was possessed of a somewhat bouncy quality. While it was true that Mirabelle's husband was not a lover of music and his attitude towards the role of the woman in a marriage could most charitably be described as the product of his time, he in truth did have a lighter side to his nature. There was nothing he liked better than a good romp, and was easily distracted by any opportunity to display his physical prowess, even if the audience was just himself and, as in this case, some curiously colored earth. The springy nature of the earth was at its most pronounced near the center and with such an assist under his feet the temptation to test his vertical leap was too much. And so he took a few steps back from what seemed to be the optimal spot, made a running start back at it and sprang into the air with satisfying results. The satisfaction was short-lived, however, for when he landed a small spark flared out from under his sturdy boots followed quickly by an explosion that if it had not divided him into the human equivalent of splinters would surely have rendered him deaf for the remainder of his days.

Mirabelle heard the thunderous boom, and using a slender thread of smoke rising into the air as a guide, quickly made her way to the edge of the clearing. The smoke had largely dissipated by then but she deduced from the smoldering spot of very bright earth right in the middle of the clearing that she had found the source of the big bang and it did not seem advisable to Mirabelle to investigate any closer. And since the noise most likely would have attracted the attention of her husband (little did she know!), she thought it a grand time while he was distracted, to slip back to the cove, tie his borrowed boat to the back of the family skiff, and head back home. She would send for him in a day or two.

But as she turned to go she stumbled across something in the scrubby groundcover. It was a boot. She bent to pick it up but found it was too hot to hold. When she dropped the boot it landed sole up and she saw two things. First, that the nails on the bottom were glowing bright, bright orange. Second, that the initials G.W.B. were etched into the heel.

Mirabelle knew the bottom of that boot all too well. Every evening she had been obliged to straddle her husband's legs, one at a time, backside facing him, and then grab hold of the extended boot and yank it off. His contribution to the effort had been to plant his other foot against her backside and push.

She gazed down at the boot for a moment, then looked around for any other bits of her husband. Then she brought the recorder to her lips and played a short and lively dance by Demantius that Captain Stanley had taught her in one of his less energetic moods. She played it as loudly as she could, looked around her, and then followed it with an encore. She tipped over the boot with the toe of her shoe and was about to insert the non-blowing end of her recorder into it to pick it up, but for whatever reason, whether because such a reminder would have been too painful or because of a concern for the cleanliness of her instrument, she instead found a sturdy twig to perform the task.

She backed away from the clearing and made her way back to the cove, where she placed the boot in the borrowed boat, tied it to the back of her skiff, and began rowing back out to sea. But as soon as she was clear of the surrounding arms of the cove, she set aside her oars and untied the rope holding the two vessels together. Once again she picked up her recorder. The slow and melancholy tune she played was an improvised one, but had all the refinement of Haydn on a good day. She watched the boat with its boot passenger bob and drift towards the open sea and then turned herself toward home.

There was of course a search for the missing Geoffrey Wallace Balmoral, but as he had proven in life to be more than a bit of a dunderhead and lazy into the bargain, the search was brief and its lack of results a minor distraction from the everyday business of survival.

Mirabelle's retreat was discovered eventually by a group of teenagers who had gone out boating together with the intention of finding a secluded spot for some skinnydipping. The young ladies of the group encouraged the young men to doff their duds and plunge into the water with the promise to afford the lads an excellent show they had no intention of performing. The boys soon discovered the deception, came back to shore and the inevitable chase ensued, full of giggles and shouted commentary regarding the effects of cold water bathing. When one of the girls playfully hurled a flask at her naked and rapidly warming pursuer she missed by yards, which he found quite amusing. Until, that is, the flask landed in the curiously glowing clearing directly behind him and he suddenly found himself with a scorched bottom.

The adjoining island and its explosive interior were subsequently annexed and declared off limits. A patrol was established to enforce the rule, but as it was manned by volunteers and especially since the detonating nature of the place seemed to be a sufficient deterrent for most, soon enough the widow Balmoral had the place once again to herself. She remarried a fellow named Pherrett, who didn't mind her music making at all, as long as she took it out of the house. They had one child, a boy they named William Franz. He had no love of music, which disappointed his mother but she found solace in the boy's knack for the visual arts, which she discovered when cleaning under his bed only to find dozens of skillfully executed sketches of female nudes, all of them easily recognizable, a sure sign of talent.

"That's quite an imagination you have, young William," she said after confronting him with the evidence.

"Oh, it's not imagination," said William. "I do them from life."

"And just where do you and your floozies meet for such wicked carrying on?"

"The only place that's safe," he said. "Your island."

She pondered this for a moment before responding.

"Well then, it will be my island on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You may have it Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays will be for chores and Sundays are for worship. Agreed?"

"Yes, mum."


Since that time Pittiana has been a quiet presence on the world stage.

Until now.



CHAPTER ONE



Leonard Featherstone looked at the digital clock in the center of the dash. It said 3:06 A.M. He shifted, trying to fend off a cramp that was beginning to grip the left side of his butt. He looked at the clock again. It still said 3:06. It was a chilly January morning in the parking lot of the Casa Bonitas Mananas Apartments in Mesa, Arizona and it was Leonard's turn to stay awake and watch.

He tried shifting into an angled position across the narrow seat, but that pushed his right shoulder against the door frame and made him hold one foot bent unnaturally against whatever it was that came down from the underbelly of the middle of the dash. He gave a tug to the recline lever between the seat and console and found himself suddenly staring at the headliner. Horizontal might be all right when it came around his turn to sleep, but as a lookout position it wouldn't do.

He sat back up and tried the lever again. The seat back did not move. He grabbed the headrest and pulled, but the seat still refused to budge. He yanked the lever up and shoved it down several times. The little car rocked with each tug.

"Damn!"

His partner reached over and flipped the lever up with one finger. The seat back snapped up so fast it was all Leonard could do to keep his head from smacking into the windshield. His partner turned and, to all appearances, went back to sleep.

Philleda Johnstone-Crumb looked enormously comfy wrapped up in her puffy ski jacket. Leonard listened to the sound of her breathing and studied the reflection of her face in the dark window. He couldn't help thinking that notwithstanding the fact she had just now almost rocketed his head through the windshield his partner was a rather attractive young woman. Asleep she looked damn near enchanting.

Enough of that. However enchanting an appearance his partner might present asleep or awake Leonard was not going to allow it to distract him. Not when he finally had an opportunity to advance up the Pittiana Intelligence ladder. All he had to do was take care of this assignment with some speed and polish and he would get the promotion he so richly deserved. Then he would finally be making enough money to move out of his sister's flat where he shared a bathroom with his three hygienically moronic nephews. And then it would be time to think about enchanting young women.

The only reason Philleda was along for the ride was the fact that she was supposedly familiar with the territory, having attended Arizona State University some five or six years earlier, graduating with a degree in kinesiology, whatever in the hell that was. As near as Leonard could figure out it had something to do with dancing. A spy with a degree in tap.

Their mission should have been simple. All they needed to do was bring back home one Geoffrey Sandrich Witherington-Pherrett.

A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.