Soggy Bottom Fishing Charters (Yelp Review)


Captain Quint from Jaws is alive and well and offering fishing charters in Washington; you have been warned.  I was looking for a reasonably priced salmon fishing charter, and the owner operator of Soggy Bottom Charters was all too eager to hook an unsuspecting fish.  The Captain seemed like a fun guy—as many psychopaths do—and the price was right, so I signed up without checking references, which was my first mistake.  As the date of the trip approached, the Captain called and texted with further, yet vague, details about the arrangements.  He told me to bring a sleeping bag and pillow, which I should have recognized as a warning sign, but I was caught up in his promises of catching my limit of king salmon for three days, so I didn’t question it.  Further, he informed me I was expected to provide dinner for “the three of us” on Saturday night.  This was another clue that these would not be luxury accommodations, and the first indication I would be fishing with a stranger.  Oh well, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen?  I would learn the answer to that question over the course of three nights and three days fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  

I arrived at the Soggy Bottom “resort” on Thursday night in Clallam Bay, Washington, and was introduced to my fishing partner, Randy, by the Captain.  Randy seemed nice, but our accommodations were anything but.  While the digital brochure had described the building as a “cute cabin,” that is only true if you think gulags are cute.  The single-wide trailer sized structure appeared to have been built near the turn of the last century and condemned sometime in this one.  The shingles were hanging by sheer force of will, as any nails had long since rusted away.  Inside, the ceiling tiles sagged, there was a pungent smell of mildew, and the entire structure was leaning dangerously.  The foundation on one side had sunk more than six inches, resulting in the two concrete steps leading up to the front door becoming a useless obstacle, as we had to take another two steps down to enter the house.  Walking across the room in the terminally racked structure could induce motion sickness.  There was a leak in the bathroom that meant wearing shoes was a requirement to pee, else your socks would be soaked with water and, presumably, urine.  I never learned if the shower was functional, as it became clear that hygiene was not a priority for our captain, and we wallowed in our own stench for the entire trip.  There was only one bed, which caused me some concern, given that there were three of us, and I was in no mood to get that close and personal with my companions.  The Captain said someone could sleep in his camper trailer parked outside, and Randy volunteered to sleep in the house.  That meant I would be bedding down with our bearded, Hawaiian-shirt wearing fishing guide.  I had arrived late in the evening, so we headed to bed in short order.  That night I learned that while the Captain may be a great fisherman, he was not good at sleeping quietly.  Fortunately, I had packed earplugs, which helped keep the sounds of his snoring at bay.  

On the first day of fishing, we were rousted from our less than deep sleep by the Captain at 4 a.m.  He had failed to secure moorage in advance, so we had to head out before the crack of dawn to line up at the boat launch.  Somehow his failure to plan ahead meant his guests had to forego rest.  The red flags were accumulating.  We trailered the twenty-two foot Bayliner Trophy boat to the nearby harbor, and by 5:30, we were in the water, motoring to what we were assured would be a great fishing spot.  Famous last words.

The waters were filled with other boats, which suggested to me that while there may be fish, there was serious competition for any salmon lurking in these depths.  The Captain dutifully prepared the fishing gear, quickly pressing my fellow traveler, Randy, into service.  Randy indicated having some experience on the water, so the Captain decided to make him a deck hand.  He must have decided I had little to offer, so I was relegated to standing out of the way and occasionally steering the boat while the Captain set the gear.  Unfortunately, my directional efforts only induced criticism.  The Captain would order me to turn left or right, and when I did, he would derisively shout, “Too sharp!”  If I tried to keep my steering more subtle and nuanced, he would grab the wheel, turn sharply, and offer a scolding glance.  It was impossible to break the code of the boat’s steering mechanism and equally impossible to satisfy Captain Ahab, and I decided he must take some pleasure in setting me up for failure.  While Randy was adept at getting fishing lines in the water, he had no more success in the steering department.  By the second day, Randy was so discombobulated by the Captain’s critique of his steering abilities, he managed to drive us into a tight figure-eight double loop while trying to hold a straight line.  On that first day, we fished unsuccessfully for six hours, when our captain decided to call it a day.  Keep in mind we started fishing at 5:30 a.m., so six hours of fishing meant we were done before noon.  This was not living up to the promise of three full days of fishing.  On a positive note, the Captain had stocked the refrigerator in our crumbling shack with beer, so that afternoon I was able to distract myself from the disappointing lack of successful fishing.  

Day two was also set to start at 4 a.m.  This time, instead of being barked awake by Captain Bligh, I was awoken by an annoying and persistent sound that was reminiscent of a roaring chainsaw.  The din was relentless, and I was unable to sleep through it even with my earplugs.  I checked my watch and discovered it was 4:15 a.m.  I told the Captain, and he leapt from bed, yelling at me to get moving, as if it was my fault that he failed to set his alarm.  As we scurried about the house preparing for the day’s adventure, we learned from Randy that there was no running water in the house.  The noise we had heard was a city crew sawing into the street a block away to repair a broken water main.  We could only hope the repairs would be complete by the time we got home that evening.   

Once again, we were in the water by 5:30 a.m., and the Captain said we would be traveling twenty-eight miles to a spot based on information he received from a colleague.  We were headed to the open ocean, which increased the likelihood of fish, so we were told, but also increased the likelihood of drowning in an unruly sea.  Looking out across the water, I noticed the heavy fog obscuring our vision, which did nothing to alleviate my anxiety about maritime disasters.  Of course, this was not a democracy.  This was the Captain’s charter, and there would be no vote.    Throwing caution to the wind, we headed out.  Due to the fog, we had to travel carefully so as not to crash into any other boats.  This meant Randy and I were pressed into service as fog-watchers.  We were perched on either side of the boat staring into the fog as the Captain charged ahead.  The salt spray misted my glasses, putting me in the precarious position of not being able to see, so any collision could arguably be considered my fault.  I decided that was the Captain’s strategy to ensure he would be held blameless in any subsequent investigation.  In addition to the vision problems, I had a difficult time standing upright as we plowed through the choppy water.  It was like jumping on a pogo stick with a broken spring, and my back and legs took a beating for ninety minutes as we motored deeper into the fog towards the Pacific Ocean.  

I had brought along a custom-built fishing rod that had been given to me as a birthday present by a friend when I turned eighteen years old.  I had never put the rod to use in all the years since, so I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity.  When I shared my story with the Captain, he took note of the quality of the rod and expressed skepticism about its origins.  He couldn’t believe anyone would gift me with such an instrument, and he accused me of performing oral sex in exchange for the fishing pole.  His vulgarity knew no bounds.  I take some comfort in the fact that the only salmon we caught on the trip was with my rod.  

I caught the fish as we moved from the mouth of the Strait into the open ocean.  We spent a large chunk of the morning trolling the area, including a spot that featured tall rocks, populated by puffins and other seabirds, jutting up from the sea floor.  The Captain had been advised by a colleague to steer “uncomfortably close to the rocks,” which caused me no end of concern about both the quality of the information he had been given and his willingness to follow directions that seemed designed sink us.  I was beginning to worry about our Captain’s state of mind, as he put us in increasingly more perilous positions with little to show for it.  I feared he was becoming more Queeg-like by the minute and might soon accuse me of stealing a quart of strawberries while nervously rolling steel ballbearings in his hand.  

In the early afternoon, the Captain said he didn’t like the way the water looked, with swells and wind increasing and causing the boat to rock more uncomfortably.  He decided to head back to the Strait, and we were off.  The fog had lifted enough that we were not needed as lookouts, which was good, because it was all I could do to hold on as we endured the worst roller coaster ride ever.  Again and again, the boat would rise up with a mountainous swell of water only to be dropped like a rock at the crest of each wave.  At one point, I was gripping so tightly I lifted one of the seats out of the floor of the boat and dropped it on the deck where it flopped around like a halibut creating a new hazard for us.  The Captain soon got the seat back on its post, and we were underway again.  Halfway back to the Strait, an alarm sounded and the Captain stopped the motor, cursing loudly.  It was a low oil alarm, which did not bode well for our survival.  Fortunately, the Captain had spare oil, and we were soon back in action.  He casually mentioned that these were the roughest seas he had ever navigated.  I concurred, but I was unsettled that our skipper would put us in such mortal danger.  I was no longer concerned about catching fish.  I just wanted to make it to shore.    

By mid-afternoon, we had made our way back to the marina not too much the worse for wear but encumbered only with one salmon and one rockfish; a paltry take for such a brutal day on the water.  After returning to our “cute cabin”, the Captain retreated to the camper for a nap, but not before instructing us to drive to the nearby gas station to put forty gallons of gas in the boat.  Of course, he neglected to give us any money, so we paid for it out of pocket.  Randy and I decided it wasn’t worth arguing, as we we had one more night and day with our mercurial captain.  That evening, while the Captain napped, Randy and I huddled by the fire we built in the rusted out pit sitting in the grass behind the house.  We shared a joint and reflected on how we began this journey as strangers but were now brothers in our suffering under the tyrannical rule of the Captain.  Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day, we thought, with fair skies, calm seas, and a boat full of fish.  

On the final morning, the captain woke me up at 4 to announce, “It’s pea soup fog.  I just can’t do it.”  With those words, he rolled over to fall back asleep, and my fishing trip was at an end.  I went to the house to let Randy know he could sleep in, and I returned to my sleeping bag to try to find some solace in the dark morning.  

Later that morning, as we packed up and prepared to leave, just when I thought my fishing nightmare was over, the Captain claimed a portion of my fish.  He said, “Just enough to feed my family,” but I failed to understand why I was obligated to provide for his brood.  Then again, judging by his ability to catch fish, I realized without me, his family might starve.  I also gave Randy a piece, as he deserved some reward for being unceremoniously pressed into service as a deckhand.  If you’re interested in a fishing trip in Washington, I strongly suggest you steer clear of Soggy Bottom Charters.    



IN TRUTH…While this “review” is based on fact, I have, of course, exaggerated for humorous effect.  In truth, the Captain is a close friend, and his generosity and fishing acumen know no bounds.  In fact, we caught a lot of fish, but most were too small to keep. Everybody gets skunked once in a while.  While the fishing was less than perfect, there was other wildlife to keep us entertained, including otters doing the backstroke, puffins en masse, eagles, and a pelican or two.  Most importantly, I was on the water, breathing in the salty air, and I was with friends.  During these times of lockdown, it was magical to be outside in a different place with different people, and these were fun people.  We laughed a lot, ate good food, drank good beer, and that’s all I could ask for.  Thank you, Captain Dave and Randy, for a wonderful adventure.  I enjoyed (almost) every minute.  


Has Anybody Seen My Wit? It Was Here a Minute Ago.


I’m not depressed, I’m just carrying around a lot of existential dread these days.  In fact, I looked up “existential dread,” just to be sure, and found this description:

“Existential dread is the terror we experience in our awareness that we are transient beings acting out life on a precarious stage.” 

While that thought occurred to me pre-quarantine, it’s certainly become more pronounced lately, and it’s messing with my head.  I’m not a massive social butterfly, but staying home for weeks has reminded me that I am not spreading my wings very far.  I’m flitting around the house, occasionally around the backyard when the weather cooperates, and, once a week, a trip to the store for beer and snacks.  I let my wife do the rest of the shopping.  I focus on the essentials.  

A few months ago, I was on stage at work, serving as the master of ceremonies for an all-staff meeting in the large auditorium in our building.  It’s my opportunity to strut and fret my hour, or in this case about ten minutes, upon the stage every couple months when my colleagues gather to hear updates.  There was a lot of sound, but I avoided fury, opting instead for humor, as it keeps the audience more engaged.  Furious behavior typically results in a visit to HR, or worse.  I shared a couple of prepared witticisms that were marginally laughter-inducing.  I also improvised a couple of quips that generated chortles, and that felt great.  Even though these are business meetings, and my role is, at its core, to keep the meeting on schedule as we switch between speakers, I see it as a performance.  While the performance may signify nothing, it feels good to do it.  For brief moments, I get out of my own head and hear the response of a live audience.  When they laugh, it’s a delightful hit of endorphins that dampens the dread and puts a smile on my face. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about performance and creativity, and it occurs to me there are three aspects to creative expression.  One of those, of course, is the performance in front of an audience.  My acting resume is limited to an appearance in Bizet’s Carmen, in in which my 4th grade classmates and I were cast as peasant children cheering for the toreador, and when I was eighteen and acted in a Super 8 film about college life parodying the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  I don’t think that’s enough to qualify for an page.  Aside from those two credits, my performances have been limited to the workplace, where I have been an occasional meeting facilitator, trainer, and emcee for the last twenty-eight years.  

Second is the act of creation.  For example, when Georges Bizet wrote Carmen, that was an act of creation.  The guy directing the Super 8 movie was creating, too.  My own personal act of creation is writing.  Putting words to paper—or, more correctly, putting my fingers to a keyboard—is both maddening and magical.  I spend a lot of time avoiding writing, as it’s hard work.  It’s hard to get started and to stick with it.  But once those words are on the screen, and I’ve taken the time to put them in the right order to communicate some idea and, with luck, grease the wheels with some wit, I feel great.  But writing is a solitary act, and the written word doesn’t truly reach fruition until someone besides the author reads it.  Publishing something I have written is a moment of intense pleasure, akin to walking out onto a stage in front of an audience.  It’s a heady dose of anticipation, and it can lead to disappointment if the response is paltry.  Instead of gales of laughter, my writing is most often rewarded with smiley-face emojis, which are nice, but my ego can be deflated by the dearth of said emojis.  I worry that either nobody is bothering to read my writing, or they have read it and deemed it unworthy of any extraneous clicks.  It’s the digital equivalent of no one laughing at my jokes when I emcee the all-staff meeting.  Dying on stage is a small death, but a death nonetheless.  

The third aspect of creative expression is being on the other side of the transaction.  The vast majority of my life has been spent as an audience, reading or watching.  I watch a lot of television and read a lot, and I often feel guilty being the mere recipient of someone else’s creative act.  Cue the existential dread.  Sometimes, in the midst of reading or watching, I get caught up in the moment and am moved to laughter, joy, or tears.  But that is rare.  More often, when it’s over, I wonder if it was a good use of my time.  I feel I should be creating my own art, especially after I’ve wasted an hour going down a Facebook rabbit hole, reading memes and getting angry about stupid conspiracy theories.  The one setting in which I feel no guilt as an audience member is at a heavy metal show.  At a metal concert, I am involved in the performance.  There are rituals to perform: head banging, moshing, pushing and shoving, and screaming, or singing, along with the music.  It’s immersive.  At least, I seem to recall that it’s immersive.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a show, and I have no idea when I might see one again.  That’s not helping with the dread.    

Given that I can’t go to metal shows, I should be focused on creating art, but lately, I am avoiding writing.  While it’s not unusual for me to procrastinate, lately, I have been afraid to write.  I started this post over three months ago, and this is the first time I’ve looked at it since I went on lockdown.  I’m afraid that I’ve lost my humor.  When I think about writing something these days, I don’t feel witty, and if my writing isn’t funny, I worry that I’ll lose whatever audience I had, and that’s a bit terrifying.  

I suspect my wit-generator is on the fritz because of everything happening in the world.  Being cooped up and worrying about the spread of COVID-19 isn’t particularly hilarious, and watching the news about it doesn’t help.  There is nothing funny about how the president is responding to the pandemic, and hearing him speak angers me.  The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd at the hands of the police bring me to frustrated tears.  I want to campaign for new leaders, and I want to protest the murders of innocent people.  But here I sit on my couch, watching TV, trying to think of something funny to write, and feeling the dread.  

This week I will be emceeing another all-staff meeting, but I will be doing it via Zoom.  Even if I manage to write a few good jokes and deliver them like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which I highly recommend for those looking for something else to binge), I won’t know it.  The audience will have their mics muted, and I will be staring at a screen filled with a PowerPoint slide.  There won’t even be a gallery of smiling, or frowning faces reacting to my commentary.  I will just speak my jokes into the void of my laptop and introduce other speakers.  It won’t be a satisfying performance for me or, probably, the audience.  I miss them.    

Someday I will stand in front of an audience of co-workers and hear them laugh at something I said.  Someday I will go to a metal show again.  Someday we’ll have a new president.  Someday black people won’t fear the police.  Someday I will find humor again, and I will write about it.  I have to believe in all of those things.  We are transient beings acting out life on a precarious stage, so I think it’s only fair that the play have a happy ending. 

Stay safe everybody.  And call a friend and tell them a joke.  They might need to laugh.  

#irunformaud #blacklivesmatter

Recipe for Emotional Release


Last Thursday morning marked my fourth week of the quarantine life, when I started working, and everything else, from home full-time.  Before this, I was not skilled in the work-from-home arts, as I found the television to be an almost irresistible distraction.  Despite that, I have been adapting well.  My secret is to adhere to my normal daily routine as much as possible.  I wake up to the alarm, do my morning workout, shower, shave, dress—yes, I wear real pants every day—get some breakfast, watch a little TV, then climb the stairs to my office/lair and log into my computer by 8 a.m.  At noon, I go out for my daily run, and then it’s back to the laptop for an afternoon of clickety-clacking and videoconferences without video (to minimize bandwidth).  At 5, I log off and commute down the stairs, announce that I’m home and sit on the couch for some quality TV time.  Plus beer.  The beer helps with the adapting, I’m pretty sure.  

Thursday morning , my “everything is fine” chill was disrupted.  I was eating toast and a fried egg while watching the Today Show to find out what fresh hell had befallen us overnight.  During a commercial break, my attention was caught by two ads of the ilk we are all becoming familiar with.  Instead of trying to convince me of new and better ways to spend my money, these ads were encouraging us to hang in there, keep social distancing to save lives (which I totally believe in), be grateful for what we have, and remember that things will get better.  I’d seen these slightly cloying ad before, but that morning, I was watching intently.  I was drawn into the simple messages and images of people adapting to this new very not normal situation, and halfway through the second ad, I burst into tears.

To be clear, I don’t often burst into tears.  I cry on about the same frequency as Bigfoot sightings, though I never cry about Bigfoot sightings.  When my dad died, for example, it was months before I had a really good cry.  One afternoon in the days following his death, I was out for a run when I stopped along a quiet wooded stretch of road and tried to cry, but it didn’t work out.  I couldn’t muster up a single tear, even of the crocodile variety.  It wasn’t until many weeks later that I happened to watch a movie called In America that I actually found myself suddenly weeping over the death of my father.  Make no mistake, I loved my father.  He was a good dad.  I loved him, and I know he loved me.  But it still took months before I could let myself fully grieve over his passing.  Even after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy, it was a couple weeks later that I found myself sitting on the couch watching yet another news report and started sobbing.  My voice cracked as I said, “They were just babies,” and the tears flowed.  My wife looked at me and said, “Took you long enough” before she took me in her arms and consoled me.  

I don’t “burst” into anything very often.  Sure, I run a lot, but I am not quick about it.  I don’t burst into a sprint, as that usually leads to an asthma attack.  I also think a lot, perhaps a deleterious amount, but I do it slowly.  My thoughts simmer in a pot on the back burner.  For the most part, I tend the stove carefully and turn the heat down when something is about to boil over.  My thoughts rarely lead to an asthma attack.  But this morning, I boiled over and burst into shoulder-heave crying about social distancing so that our medical professionals could stay safe. 

During some video-free videoconferences over the past weeks, I have been talking to colleagues about how some people are struggling emotionally with this whole thing.  But, not me, I would say, I’m doing fine.  That’s what I thought, but it turns out the pot was on medium-high heat, and I wasn’t paying attention.  I sat at my kitchen table, alone, crying for a reason I didn’t fully understand.   After the first bout of weeping, I thought I was over it, but another wave of tears hit me.  This time the tears were mixed with laughter.  What the hell is going on, I wondered as a wept and giggled.  I was wrecked.  It only lasted a minute, and the release felt good.  

I lost a friend to COVID-19 last week.  In truth, I didn’t know him.  We had only recently been introduced via a mutual friend on Facebook.  Our only interactions were sarcastic comments on other people’s posts.  He lived on the other side of the country, and it was unlikely we would ever meet in the real world, but I was excited to get to know him, even if only on social media.  He was funny, and I love funny.  Now he’s dead.  Just like that.  I didn’t know him well, but his death made this crazy fear-, tear-, and laughter-inducing pandemic even more real than just adapting to working from home.  I suppose those sweet ads reassuring me that everything will be all right clashed with the reality that people are dying and this is serious.  The heat on my emotional pot got too high, and that’s o.k.  I wiped my tears and a smile returned to my face.  I suspect Brad would have enjoyed the fact that I was laughing in the midst of my tears.  Rest In Peace, Brad.  

Take care of yourselves, everyone.  I don’t know what happens next, but I’m excited to see you all again some day soon, and, when we are reunited, I might even cry a little bit.  Stay safe.

Leave From a Tour of Duty


When I was in college, I read a book titled The 13th Valley by John M. Del Vecchio about the Vietnam war.  I don’t remember the plot, aside from the war thing, which is the worst part of having a bachelor’s degree in literature.  My memory for narrative details is terrible, and I often worry that my alma mater may test me at some point and decide to revoke my degree for lack of retention skills.  I’ve read a lot of the great works of Western literature, but I only have impressions about each.  Lord of the Flies: weird.  As I Lay Dying: hard to follow.   Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: the part about writing about a single brick was cool.  I might remember a few phrases, or a few scenes, but the narrative thread unravels in my mind moments after I finish the last page of a novel.  It would be an occupational hazard if I pursued a career in literature, which I suppose means being a tenured college professor.  I love that idea, but it won’t happen for me, as the students would undoubtedly catch me thumbing through the Cliffs Notes edition of whatever book I was teaching.

The one thing I do remember from The 13th Valley is a scene in which the main character, a soldier who has served a long tour “in country,” has returned to duty in Vietnam after having a few days of leave.  The character describes the feeling of being back in a war zone, with his anxiety increasing as he realizes he is, once again, in constant danger.  He had been in a high stress situation for so long, he didn’t feel comfortable being in a safe place.  He preferred the tension.  I can report that, during this time of quarantine, I have not reached that soldier’s state of mind.  I am feeling some stress and anxiety as a result of being on lock down at home, but it is, thankfully, not, yet, my new normal. 

I live in Washington, and we have been living under a stay at home order for about three weeks.  During that time, I have been working from home.  I spend my days sitting at my writing desk clickety-clacking away at my laptop and participating in seemingly endless video/teleconferences.  The time passes quickly, but it’s entirely unnatural for me.  My normal office work life is made up of human interactions.  I attend a lot of in-person meetings, in conference rooms, hallways, and workstations.  Sitting at my desk in front of my computer is almost a last resort.  Now, it’s my whole life.  My workplace is a laptop computer, and my colleagues are disembodied voices over Skype or Zoom, as we avoid video so as to minimize bandwidth usage.  Every day in this home office feels like a week, and when my work day is done, I commute down a single flight of stairs and join my fellow inmates, my wife and kids, for evening rituals, including dinner and TV.  

My daughter’s birthday was ten days ago, and she wanted ribs for dinner.  Birthday ribs have become a tradition, the official start of grilling season.  The only question this year was if the weather would cooperate.  Rain was in the forecast, so I developed a mitigation plan involving a large patio umbrella placed near the grill to fend off any unwanted precipitation.  

I woke early on birthday morning, opting to skip my morning workout to focus on preparing the slabs of pork.  Instead of swapping my PJs for workout clothes, I donned sweatpants and a hoody to brace myself against the slight chill of our house that had cooled down overnight according to the thermostat’s programming.  I retrieved the vacuum packed set of three St. Louis cut pork sparerib racks from the refrigerator and set them on the counter and gathered my tools, including a large cutting board, Santoku, nut pick, paper towels, and bowl of spice rub mixed by my son.  

As I rinsed each slab with water and patted them dry with paper towels, I found myself exhaling, seemingly for the first time in days.  My shoulders relaxed, and I became immersed in the culinary process.  I worked the nut pick along one of the bones to loosen the membrane and then pull it away, pinching with a paper towel to keep grip on the slick tissue.  I sprinkled generous portions of the spice mix over the racks and gently rubbed the meat to ensure an even coating.  Finally, I placed each seasoned slab on a half sheet baking pan to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours before I started the fire.  As I took each step in the barbecue preparation process, I felt the warmth of the familiar, like a comfortable blanket around my shoulders.  I was back in my element and the pace of time returned to it’s normal rate.  I breathed deeply, savoring the normality of preparing a meal for my family and looking forward to the time I would spend that afternoon pit-side, tending to the fire and smoke.  No computer, no disembodied voices, and no coronavirus.  Just for a moment.

I’m glad that anxiety has not become my default setting, at least not yet.  I still find peace in being with my family, and I am grateful we are together now.  Just like The 13th Valley, I’m certain I won’t remember everything about this pandemic.  The story of COVID-19 will be an epic, with too many characters to remember and far too many tragic endings.  While most of the plot details will be lost to my sketchy memory, I will remember that moment in the kitchen when everything was as it should be, when I found peace in the act of cooking.  

Happy Easter, friends.  

Love in the Time of Corona


I was trying to think of some way to write about the events of the last few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, but the thought of it only increased my anxiety.  I worried about not being funny enough, which is a concern that has been plaguing me recently and adding to my writer’s block.  I also worried that I wouldn’t “get it right.”  There are so many angles, so many subtleties to everything that has unfolded in the last month, I could write a whole book about our current reality, but it would be a terrible stream of conscious-mess that would be an insult to Faulkner’s legacy.  Eventually I gave up the thought of being a plague journalist and decided to find ways to distract myself from current events whenever possible.  The distraction I chose on Saturday night certainly got my mind off COVID-19, but, unfortunately, it got me thinking about other things that could kill me.  

There is no vacancy at the Baker Inn these days.  My wife and I are running a bed and breakfast for my son, daughter, and my daughter’s boyfriend.  In these times of frequent Facebook and Instagram memes reminding us to be grateful for what we have, I am grateful that these “kids” are all adults and fully capable of entertaining themselves.  My children can attest that I never much liked playing with them when they were little.  It was nothing personal, as they were adorable, and I love them very much.  I just don’t like to “play.”  I would rather read, watch TV, run, listen to heavy metal, etc.  Playing games, especially with little kids who seem insistent on arbitrarily and capriciously changing the rules, is not my cup of tea (and, yes, little kid tea parties, despite what sentimental marketers would have you believe, are my personal circle of hell).  I was relieved when, sometime age ten, they gave up hope and stopped asking me to play with them.  In contrast, my next door neighbor has two kids under five who demand all of her attention all day long, especially during this time of isolation.  She looks exhausted from catering to the whims of those wee monsters, who are also adorable.  I haven’t counseled her on my approach to parenting, as I am smart enough to realize it would paint me in a bad light, and I don’t want to become known as the grumpy old man next door.  

Despite my distaste for playing, I relented on Saturday.  After we picked up food from three different restaurants to do our part to support local favorites, we turned off the TV to play a game.  It was my daughter’s idea.  She knows my position on the matter, but she’s cute and has the ability to make me feel shame for being a bad father.  I agreed as long as I got to be involved in the game selection.  We have a cabinet full of board games, which is largely ornamental at this point in our lives, and my daughter announced the options.  There was some interest in Monopoly, but I would have preferred ritual suicide, or a tea party, so we moved on.  I actually enjoy Sorry, as it gives me the chance to be vengeful towards small children in an acceptable manner, but we couldn’t reach consensus.  In the end, since we are all cynical to varying degrees, we settled on Cards Against Humanity, a game as deeply offensive as much of the music I listen to.      

While I was willing to play this particular game, I did have another idea for a distraction from the pandemic.  My brother and I are fans of spicy food, and we often gift each other bottles of hot sauce or other foods that have been fortified with capsaicin derivatives.  Last Christmas, he gave me a corn chip.  Three corn chips, actually, each individually packaged in a cardboard coffin labeled “Paqui – One Chip Challenge.”  These were reportedly the hottest corn chips in the world.  To be fair, he warned me that, based on his own experience, the chips were extremely hot.  I wasn’t fazed…And that was my mistake.  My plan was to play a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity and then interrupt to suggest we do the One Chip Challenge.  I thought it would be a fun family activity, something we could livestream on Facebook, and when I made my proposal after a delightfully despicable round of Cards, no one objected, but only my son agreed to participate.  

We each ripped open a small foil packet in which a single chip was nestled.  They were a traditional rectangular corn chip shape, but they were black in color.  I failed to read the ingredient list, but if I had, I would have seen that, in addition to some of the hottest chile peppers on Earth, they contain charcoal.  I imagine the charcoal was for coloring purposes, but that can’t be a good thing.  I love grilled food, but I’ve never considered eating the briquettes.  Without overthinking it, we popped the chips into our mouths and started crunching.  

My memory of the following ten minutes is fuzzy.  I have a vague recollection of wandering through my house, possibly exclaiming things that may or may not have been intelligible to any listeners.  It’s possible I slammed against the walls like William Hurt in Altered States trying to cast out the demons (deep pop culture reference).  Mostly I remember pain.  Upon reflection, I realize this experience had many parallels to our current reality.  For example:

1. I should have listened more carefully to the warning.  My brother has a higher tolerance for spicy food than I do, so when he said the chip was really hot, I should have mentally translated it into “you might not live through this.”  Despite having all the information I needed to keep myself safe, I chose to, metaphorically, to shake hands with someone who just sneezed and unapologetically wiped their nose with their right hand.   

2. It escalated quickly.  One minute we were having a fun family night, and the next there were two men down.  It was like the Red Wedding at my kitchen table.  All my evening plans, including more games and TV watching, were suddenly delayed or canceled.  

3. Wash your hands.  The one thing we got right was washing our hands immediately after eating the chips.  It was my son’s idea, as he knew that if we touched our face with the “seasoning” from our corn chips, even if they weren’t the spiciest chips on earth, we would experience some distress and, possibly, first degree burns.  I can’t imagine the damage we might have wrought if we were to stumble around the house touching things with our chile-infected hands.  

4. It’s important to self-quarantine.  After a few moments of wandering through the desert of my home, I found myself in the bathroom with my arms crossed, leaning on the edge of the sink, and drooling uncontrollably.  I did not seek that solitude to protect others.  Rather, I wanted to be alone in my misery with no witnesses to the loss of control of my salivary and lacrimal glands.  I didn’t know where my son was, and I didn’t much care other than to hope that he was still alive and sheltered-in-place.  

5. We have to adjust to the new normal.  Normally, when I eat something spicy, I feel the burn for approximately seven minutes, at which point the heat slowly dissipates into a comfortable warmth.  This night, however, even after the worst of the pain had subsided—which took far longer than seven minutes, by the way—I discovered my suffering was not at an end.  Sitting on the couch trying to focus on the television, my stomach began to roil.  It became apparent I would get to experience the burn again on its way out the back door.  I won’t go into details.  Let me just say, it was a long, uncomfortable night and next morning. 

6. Be grateful for your family.  While my suffering was entirely my own fault and easily avoided, my wife was kind to me.  She did not roll her eyes or call me an idiot.  She asked if I was o.k. on several occasions and looked upon me with sympathetic eyes, and, for those sweet gestures, I am truly grateful to have her in my life.  I’m also glad that my son is occasionally willing to join me on these “culinary” adventures, and my daughter is sensible enough to avoid them without shame or regret.  

While there was a substantial amount of misery involved, I think the One Chip Challenge was overall a positive experience.  I learned a lot about myself, and our current circumstances, and my son and I didn’t die in the process.  I think Nietzsche had something to say about that.    

So, that’s how I spent my Saturday night.  I hope you found some way to entertain yourself during your quarantine that was less painful.  If you’re in need of some distractions, I’m making the Kindle editions of my books available for free from tonight through March 29th.  You don’t need the reader; you just need the app.  With it, you can distract yourself from COVID-19 news by reading about some of my life’s little adventures, including:

  • Ten Year Run – You can think about picking up a new exercise habit and carry the Olympic Flame.  It’s a great form of social distancing, if you do it right.
  • Metal Fatigue – You can vicariously go to metal shows, hang out at a college radio station, get tattooed, and break your leg stage diving, all from the safety of your couch. 
  • Long Way From Home – You can take a trip to Europe with my family.  Come along for the ride; we’re fun.  And there’s an aircraft carrier story, too. 

Even in these crazy days, remember to be who you are, like what you like, and do cool stuff…at a safe distance from others.  Cheers. 

Running to Kill the Pain


I think I have a case of tennis elbow, which is particularly annoying because I don’t play tennis.  I can’t even use my left arm to lift a mug of coffee to my face without wincing.  That would be more problematic but for the fact I’m free of my former addiction to caffeinated coffee and don’t feel an overwhelming need to hoist a cuppa.  My troubles would be over if that were my only musculoskeletal disorder, but my right shoulder has been hurting for months, and I think rotator cuff surgery may be in my future.  The discomfort makes side-sleeping, to which I am still quite addicted, a challenge.  These upper extremity ouchies are bad enough that I’ve decided to take a couple weeks off from my daily morning workout, in which I rise at 5:15 a.m. to throw my body around the living room performing some cardio, core, or weight training, all of which involve the use of my left elbow and right shoulder to lift hunks of iron or contort my body into some ridiculous position.  Instead, I am now rising at 5:15 a.m. to write, instead of writhe, in hopes that my symptoms subside.  Keyboarding hasn’t produced any deleterious effects through the production of three books and a couple hundred blog posts, not to mention all the keying I do for my job.  Writing can be mentally and emotionally punishing, but it hasn’t resulted in any wrist pain or arthritis in my fingers thus far.  Fingers crossed I don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome.  Unless crossing fingers can cause it, in which case I will just pray silently.  

My lower extremities aren’t doing much better.  My right ankle was causing me to limp for about a week last month.  The symptoms came on suddenly without any obvious causation, which seems to be a hazard associated with entering the second half of a century of living.  Fortunately, that malady has dissipated, and I can now walk with my usual gait, pain free.  Until I come to a flight of stairs, that is, when my left knee balks at the idea of walking down.  Up is fine, but down is a killer.  The only other time my left knee gives me trouble is when I’m sitting still.  I can understand a joint hurting while in motion, but it seems to me the pain should subside when motion ceases.  Irony abounds.     

I am aware that I’m getting older based not only on the evidence the calendar provides, but also an alarming increase in the number of aches and pains I have been accumulating.  You might think all this would cause me to consider retirement from running, but you would be mistaken.  In fact, the ultimate irony is that the only time I feel pain-free is when I’m running.  I’m guessing, if you’re not a runner, that sounds a bit sketchy, but I assure you, it’s true.

Don’t get me wrong, running involves a certain amount of discomfort, especially the first few strides when the equipment is shaking off the daily rust, and I’m searching for the simple rhythm of a mid-pace stride.  When I’m running, I feel my left knee smarting a bit and the remnants of ankle pain, but it becomes background noise.  My arms and shoulders stop hurting, and my mind focuses on moving my body through space.  I take in breaths, exhale, and relax.  Everything hurts and I’m dying while drinking coffee and walking or sitting still, but when I’m running, I feel the full force of my physical self.  Some days, I feel like I could run forever.  Of course, with each passing year, those days are fewer and farther between, and I rarely have any thoughts of running another marathon, but I do look forward to the half marathons and shorter events I have penciled into my calendar.  Running is my happy place, and there are few things I enjoy more than finishing another long run and reflecting on the miracle of this machine that keeps me moving.  

To ensure I wasn’t completely insane, I checked in with my stalwart running partner, Sally, who confirmed that on those days when she’s feeling achy and sore, it feels better to run than to sit still.  Such is the life of a runner, where stillness is the enemy.  

I celebrated this February 29th, the extra day that rolls around once every four years, by running an unofficial Leap Day 10K.  There were no crowds cheering for me, and no one presented me with a medal at the end, but it was a personal commemoration of my life as a runner.  I hope you find some way to mark your extra day on Earth by doing something that brings you the same satisfaction.  There are a lot of aches and pains—whether physical, emotional, or political—that may be frustrating you today, but there is always something to celebrate if you look hard enough.  Cheers, friends.  

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Juneau


The rain has stopped for now.  Soon, I will head out for a run, but I didn’t delay because of the precipitation.  Rather, my running buddy informed me there was a high wind warning overnight, so I decided to sleep in and wait for it to blow over.  No sense risking being hit by a broken tree branch while running in the morning darkness.  Avoiding concussions is one of the reasons I chose running as my sport.  It just makes sense to wait until the sky brightens a bit, so I have a better chance of dodging whatever debris might be flung in my direction by a gust.  

My first Rule of Running is to never let the weather be an excuse not to run.  Around here, weather generally refers to rain.  If I were to skip my runs on rainy days, I wouldn’t be a runner as much as a couch potato.  I spent the first twenty-five years of my life on the couch, and I don’t want to go back…at least not full time.  I still love television, but it’s more satisfying to binge Netflix knowing I got my miles in.  

Many of my co-workers who see me heading out into a downpour think I’m a little bit crazy, but they don’t understand my background.  Yes, I have an untreated addiction to running, but the truth is, I don’t consider the rain to be an annoyance.  I grew up in Juneau, Alaska, where, according to a popular bumper sticker, the Annual Juneau Rain Festival runs from January 1st to December 31st.  Rain is the norm.

In Olympia, Washington, where I live now, the chance of rain on any given day is 33%.  In Juneau, it’s 58%.  That is, there’s a better than even chance it’s going to rain every day in Juneau. Every. Single. Day.  In my overly sentimental mind’s eye, Juneau is bright and sunny, but the data reminds me that is not true at all.  

When I was thirteen, PBS aired a short film adaptation of a Ray Bradbury science fiction story called All Summer in a Day.  It’s about a class of students living on Venus, which, if you’ll forgive the inaccuracy of the science, is a world of constant rain, where the sun only comes out for a short time every seven years.  My friends and I all joked that it was a documentary about kids in Juneau.  

It had been beginning to look a lot like Juneau around here.  Since the new year began, we have had only one day without rain.  As a result, My Facebook feed has recently been filled with posts expressing frustration with the seemingly endless gray drizzle in this region.  My friends have either decided to leave town to find a ray of sunshine or to simply bemoan the fact that they are trapped and soggy.  While I have become acclimated to the Pacific Northwest and appreciate a stretch of sunny weather as much as anyone, I am a Juneau boy at heart.  

My feelings are best captured by a meme that paraphrases from the Batman movie The Dark Night Rises, in which the antagonist Bane gives a speech about rain, substituting for the word “darkness,” while fighting with the caped crusader.  

Oh, you think rain is your ally. But you merely adopted the rain; I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding! The clouds betray you, because they belong to me!

I am proud of my soggy Southeast Alaskan heritage.  I’m not the toughest guy around, but running in the rain is no big deal.  And, after I’ve got my miles in, what better way to pass a rainy afternoon than camped around a warm television watching The Dark Night Rises.  

Soon enough, the waters will recede — and for my friends who are suffering with genuine floodwaters, my heart goes out to you — and the sun will emerge from the clouds.  Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week, barbecue season approaches, and it won’t be long before I’m complaining about running in the heat.  

Hang in there, my rain-soaked friends.  We’ll get through this. 

Bringing Balance to the Force


The universe found me guilty of admiring myself too much this week.  For the past twenty-one years, I have been running in organized races and accumulating the swag that comes with it.  The ribbons, medals, trophies, pins, race bibs, and, interestingly enough, drink coasters were piled unceremoniously on a bookshelf, and I decided it would be nice to have them displayed in a more dignified manner.  My hubris at wanting my wonderfulness on full display was balanced by my intention for that display to be on a wall in my bedroom, where only my wife would be subjected to it on a daily basis.  She did not object, as she has her own collection of running swag that needed a place to hang.  Not only did this project hold the promise of braggadocio, it would give me chance to exercise my modest woodworking skills, which roughly equate to my running capabilities.  It’s not always pretty or fast, but I usually get good results.  

My approach to this award-display problem was inspired by a woodworker offering his wares at a Christmas Bazaar last year.  The item that caught my attention was a coat rack made out of a whiskey barrel stave, which is a curved and slightly tapered piece of white oak that, when joined together with other staves, make up a barrel in which whiskey is aged.  I loved the idea of a stave used as a display rack, in part because I enjoy whiskey (or whisky, if I’m in a scotch mood), but I didn’t want to buy the rack as it was expensive and not quite the design I was looking for.  I thought I could create something more specific to my needs.  I found a set of three staves online for a reasonable price and placed my order.  Three staves made sense: two for my racing awards and one for my wife’s.  My running habit—not to mention whiskey-drinking habit—has been established for quite a bit longer than hers, so I have amassed a larger collection of medals.  

She helped select the hooks to affix to the staves, and I set about applying coats of polyurethane to preserve the wood.  The staves are beautiful, with a weathered dark grain interrupted by rusty stripes resulting from the metal hoops that held the barrel together.  I didn’t bother to apply polyurethane to the back side of each stave, as they were deeply charred.  Whiskey is aged in charred barrels made of oak.  The white dog, as clear un-aged whiskey is known, gets its color and flavor from soaking into the burnt wood.  You can see how far the whiskey soaked into the wood by examining the side of the stave and noting the line were the color changes.  It reminds me of a smoke ring on a barbecued pork spare rib.  Running, whiskey, barbecue, and self-admiration are a few of my favorite things, so this project was a win-win situation.  In fact, it was almost intoxicating, as I discovered when drilling pilot holes for the hooks.  Each time I drilled through the wood, a hint of whiskey perfume would float through the air, as if I was walking through an imaginary Home Depot cologne department catching whiffs of Eau de Jim Beam.  Despite my potentially inebriated state, I managed to drill the holes straight, plumb, and even thanks to my wife’s excellent measurement and marking skills and my talent with a hand drill (note to family: a drill press would make a great Father’s Day gift).  

The coup de grâce of the project was anchoring the stave racks to the walls of our bedroom.  They were to hang on adjacent walls, and I was certain, based on thirty-plus years of experience affixing objects to walls, that I would need anchors beyond simple screws.  I have spent many hours in my life hunting for wall studs with mixed results.  Since the staves were going to be placed in specific locations, regardless of the placement of structural members, I assumed the odds of hitting even a single stud were minuscule.  So, I bought a fresh box of three-inch long 3/8ths toggle bolts to ensure I was prepared to secure the staves.  

In perhaps the most remarkable stroke of luck I have experienced in all my years of wall-related projects, I discovered the spots we had chosen to mount the staves, based purely on aesthetics, aligned perfectly with studs behind the walls.  Never before have I managed to find such solid footing in the walls of my home.  No matter how much time spent tapping for, electronically sniffing, or measuring multiples of sixteen inches on center, I would invariably find a dry hole and have to resort to some sketchy plastic threaded or expansion anchor or spring-loaded toggle bolts, creating enormous gouges and/or holes in the drywall and hoping the object being attached to that wall would both cover the scar and hold fast.  The whiskey stave racing medal rack mountings are an unprecedented feat in my woodworking career.  Apparently, sometimes when you stop trying to outsmart inanimate objects, things just work out.  I drove simple woods screws through the staves and into the studs, and stood back to admire my handiwork.  Even without my medals and bibs displayed on the racks, I was exceedingly pleased.  With them displayed, I was quite enamored of myself.  Here was clear evidence of twenty-one years of racing, starting with the 1998 Seattle Marathon, laid out before me.  I toasted my coolness with a glass of whiskey.

Of course, my hubris was cut down to size two mornings later when I went to the garage to fetch a soda pop from the spare refrigerator.  I noticed a large portion of the storage shelving I had installed a few years earlier had become dislodged from the wall.  Four shelves filled with boxes of Christmas decorations; containers of screws, nails, and bolts; and miscellaneous tools, tape, and other (heavy) hardware were hanging at a precarious angle, pressed up against another set of shelves.  I surveyed the situation, and it appeared to be a high stakes game of Jenga.  I knew I needed to unload the shelves, but if I pulled the wrong item away, the entire assemblage would likely come crashing down on me and the concrete floor.  I proceeded carefully, starting with the objects that seemed to be freestanding.  Progress was slow, and in the middle of my efforts, my wife came into the garage to get something from the refrigerator.  She saw my predicament and asked if there was anything she could do.  I grumbled, told her no, and said I just needed to unload the shelves.  She said o.k., retrieved her item from the fridge, and walked back through the door into the house, flipping off the light on her way.  It was merely out of habit, of course, but as the door closed, I was plunged into darkness just as I was reaching for another box.  

“THANKS A LOT!” I hollered with every bit of sarcasm I could muster.  She quickly returned, flipped the light back on, and apologized.  My humility was fully restored as I realized that my wall-anchoring success of two days prior was matched by the failure of my shelving system.  There is balance in the force.  I spent the next afternoon unloading all of the shelves in the garage and reinforcing them with additional standards, brackets, and heavier duty screws, all firmly attached to studs.  It was not a particularly satisfying project, as I was simply repairing damage and attempting to prevent future calamities.  I made up for it by running a half marathon yesterday.  It was a small local event, and the last eight miles were a lonely slog, but I came home with another medal to hang on my new rack, along with sore legs and feet.  Today, I’m resting a bit and watching the Super Bowl.  It’s a good day to let my legs recover, appreciate the fact I can still run ridiculous distances, and acknowledge I still have things to learn about woodworking and wall anchors.  I hope you take a moment to appreciate yourself today, for all the things you’ve accomplished and the things you’ve learned along the way.  Cheers!

Reading, Writing, and Resolutions


It’s about a month into the new year, and I’m doing pretty well with my resolution.  I considered  resolving to decrease my waistline but decided against making such a formal commitment.  Perhaps that comes from turning fifty-one and surrendering to a few realities.  Then again, that may just be a euphemism for giving up.  I do hope to lose some weight this year, but my resolution was to read more.  

Sadly, most of my reading recently has been Facebook-based, which is a wasteland of memes and political rantings.  I appreciate getting updates from my friends, but aside from that, Facebook doesn’t satisfy my desire to consume information from the printed page.  Ironically, while I love books, I have a love-hate relationship with reading them.  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, I hate reading, I love having read.  I have a degree in Literature, which means I am trained to be a good reader, but I’ve always found it frustrating to get started.  It tends to cut in on my TV time.  

A few of the gifts I received for Christmas and my birthday, also occurring on December 25th,  helped set me on a course of reading this year.  I was given five books, and I’m halfway through the fourth as I write this.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, as someone who writes exclusively about himself, all of the books I’ve been reading are biographies, or autobiographies written with the help of a professional writer.  I’m drawn to stories of real lives, and I was gifted with five compelling tales.  

The first was White Line Fever, by Lemmy Kilmister, one of my heavy metal heroes.  His book is interesting not because of the writing, which attempts to mimic his way of speaking but comes out a bit stilted in written form, but because of the life he led.  He was the reference standard for the rock star life and kept it up until his death at age seventy.  I never seriously aspired to the rock and roll lifestyle, as I have no musical talent, and I much prefer lounging around the house than traveling in a tour bus and working late hours.  If rock and roll was an eight to five gig with a short commute, I would consider it, but, of course, that would be the diametrical opposite of rock and roll.  

In contrast, Brian Slagel’s book For the Sake of Heaviness, is interesting because it’s the life I wanted to lead but lacked to courage to embark on.  He was a big fan of heavy metal and started a successful record label out of his mom’s basement.  The book is so well written that I got a bit angry at my twenty-two year old self for walking away from my college radio show where I was the metal music program director and had connections in the record industry.  Oh, the places I could have gone!  

The third book was Trump and His Generals by Peter Bergen.  While exceedingly well researched and written, the book was a depressing reminder of how the American train is coming off the rails under this administration.  

The fourth was You Negotiate Like a Girl by former Oakland Raider executive Amy Trask, which stands about for its use of curse words.  Outside of a Samuel L. Jackson movie, I’ve never experienced such frequent use of the F and MF words.  To be clear, I was not offended in the least.  In fact, I was delighted by her zeal for the colorful language that was part of being a Raider during the Al Davis regime.  Speaking of Al Davis, the book I am halfway through is a biography of him, and it’s been a slog.  Just Win, Baby was written by Murray Olderman who shies away from f-bombs but apparently hasn’t met an anecdote he didn’t like.  The book is littered with snippets and tangents that confuse the timeline and narrative thread.  It’s like reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones with the pages out of order.  It’s daunting to keep track of the cast of characters and their relationships and wondering which are central to Al’s life story or merely bit players that only Mr. Olderman found interesting.    

In the spirit of full disclosure, the underlying goal of this literary resolution, in addition to reading about interesting people, is to figuratively disarm the biography genre.  I am reminding myself that writing a memoir is not an insurmountable task.  They are just a few hundred pages of life experience.  Of course, if you are not a writer that sounds like a lot.  However, like running, if you put your mind and body to it, the miles and pages start to add up quickly.  Similar to my interest in losing some weight, I intend to write another book this year.  Unfortunately, it will be about my passion for grilling, which might put the weight loss goal in some jeopardy.  The hard part is getting started.  Much like my feelings about reading, when it comes to writing, to quote Ms. Parker directly, I hate writing, I love having written.    

Last year I published my third memoir, Long Way From Home.  Upon reflection, I have accepted that it is not my best work.  I like it, and I’m proud of myself for having written it, but it wasn’t fully realized as a compelling memoir.   I think my friend Sean said it best, in reference to several heavy metal artists, “Great band.  I really like their first two records.”  Not every band or writer gets it right every time, but, to quote from T.S. Eliot, “for us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”  I can do this.  I have done this.  I will do it again.  I will keep reading, I will keep writing, and I will be judicious with my use of expletives and random anecdotes along the way.  

I wish you luck in sticking with your resolutions.  Don’t be afraid to try something and then keep going.  Before you know it, you’ll have met your goal.

Ghosts of Winters Past


Telephone Etiquette Rule #1: 6 a.m. phone calls should be reserved for notifications of death, dismemberment, or disaster.  I’m fifty-one years old, and I have enough life experience to know that, generally, early morning or late night phone calls are harbingers of one type of doom or another.  Fortunately, they are rare occurrences, as my family and close friends are familiar with the rules of telephone etiquette.  For the most part, the early morning is my quiet time.  I get up at 5:15 to work out, desperately clinging to some semblance of fitness as my waistline continues to defy me, and the only sounds I expect to hear are my own breaths of exertion from hoisting dumbbells over my head — or otherwise throwing my body around the living room in a cardio endeavor — and the latest episode of whatever show I happen to be streaming.  A ringing telephone is not welcome in this space.  Despite my preferences, my relative silence was invaded thrice this week by the sound of my telephone chirping at 6 a.m.  The first morning it happened, I dropped the weights I was clutching and raced to the kitchen towards the cradle in which the handset rests.   Yes, I still have a landline telephone.  I was experiencing a variation of the fight or flight response, as I desperately wanted to answer it before the sound disturbed the slumber of my still sleeping bride while at the same time fearing that bad news was on the other end of the line.  I braced myself for word of some dear friend’s passing when I heard a recorded voice telling me it was a call from the Olympia School District.  While no one had died and there was no disaster looming, the call did not bring happy news.  

It’s winter in this neck of the woods, and while the Pacific Northwest is best known for it’s propensity for rain, on occasion we are beset by snow.  It is not the snow of my youth in Southeast Alaska, but it is snow nonetheless, and it is always disruptive to the routine in these parts.  The phone call I received at 6 a.m. was a notification that the school day would begin two hours late.  It was a safety precaution, allowing the buses extra time to make their routes and deliver the children safely to their respective campuses.  It’s a nice service for parents who might need to adjust their work schedules to accommodate the needs of their children.  You might think I would be grateful for this notification, one that spares the parent of a school age child the need to dial in a radio station or watch the crawl on the local TV news channel to discover whether the school day has been adjusted or canceled.  I would be grateful, if my children were still students in the Olympia School District.  My son graduated from high school two years ago.  He is now attending college 150 miles away and is solely responsible for determining whether school is closed.  While it is true that my twenty-three year old daughter is an employee of the Olympia School District, they really don’t need to call me about the schedule.  She has her own phone.  

Once my annoyance at the early morning disturbance of the peace abated, I admit I experienced a bit of nostalgia.  Those 6 a.m. calls are noisy reminders of the days when my kids were substantially more wee than they are now.  I remember those mornings when I would answer that 6 a.m. call to learn that school was closed for they day, and I’d smile knowing that it would be a good day for my kids.  They got to sleep in and, after a long winter’s nap, would play in the snow for the remainder of the day until they felt the need to warm up with cups of cocoa.  I didn’t usually get to join in the fun as they office was typically running on normal schedule, but knowing the kids were having a special day was comforting.  Growing up in Juneau, Alaska, we didn’t have a lot of snow days.  On rare occasions school would close because the pipes froze.  More to the point, if the toilets didn’t flush, we were excused.  Aside from that, we Juneauites were in class no matter how much snow fell.  My wife, the Maui girl, on the other hand is entirely unfamiliar with snow days.  Even as I toiled away over a hot keyboard at work, I took pleasure in the idea of my babies frolicking in the snow with their island girl mom.  The simple pleasures of youth.  

With more cold temperatures and the threat of snow lingering, I anticipate a few more days of 6 a.m. alerts until we can manage to get our phone number excised from the auto-call list.  While I love our school district, and have only fond memories of my children’s time as students, I do not need those weather watch calls to remind me of those days.  I just need to finish my workout, get showered, and call the office to see if we’re open.  If I’m lucky, they’ll close the place down, and I can have a cup of cocoa while I call my son to find out how the weather is up north.