THE MUSIC MAN

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Yesterday I went to my grandson’s marching band competition. He is a really good musician. Maybe someday it will develop into something. My grandson plays the trombone and piano, my granddaughter plays the flute and piano, my oldest daughter plays the clarinet and piano, my youngest daughter plays the flute and my wife plays the clarinet. I have trouble playing the radio. Someone once said that most novelists also have musical talent. That is the reason I call myself a storyteller.
When I was young, I taught myself to play the guitar. Many guitarists have taught themselves to play. Kenny Loggins said his brother got a guitar for Christmas and never played it. One day Kenny picked it up, taught himself to play and in a few weeks he was Footloosing in The Danger Zone. A few weeks after I started playing, I had bloody fingers and people compared my playing to a brain-damaged baboon pounding on a bedspring… and those were the comments I took as compliments. Kenny and I obviously had different teachers..
I can read music, sort of—I’m pretty good at the lyrics; the notes’ parts, I don’t have a clue. I’m an excellent singer. When nobody is around, I sound exactly like Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley or any singer you want to name. I can even hit the high notes in Mariah Carey songs. The problem is, as soon as someone shows up, I sound like a cat that has a Buick parked on its tail–again, I take that as a compliment. Often people hear me sing and runoff to listen to Yoko Ono records just to get the horrid sound of my singing out of their heads..
Once, when my youngest daughter was two or three, I was taking her on a short trip. She was in the backseat strapped down in her car seat, and pretty soon she started to cry. (Kids always cry when they are in car seats, because they look at them like convicts look at electric chairs.) I started to sing to her to try to calm her down. In a matter of minutes the backseat was silent. Since I hadn’t thrown the electric switch, I was rather proud that my singing had calmed her, and then my daughter spoke.
My daughter: What are you doing Dad?
Me: I’m singing to you, so you’ll stop crying.
My daughter: I tell you what. I’ll stop crying if you’ll stop singing.
Proving that, music indeed “hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” After that all I had to do was threaten her with a song, and she behaved perfectly. I think there might have been child abuse charges that were applicable, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has long passed..
When I was in high school, two friends and I had a trio. Mainly we sang at church functions, mostly youth group. They always had us sing last in the program. High school kids have a habit of loitering around when everything is over. When we sang, by the time we hit that last off-key note, the place was empty, and in the picture of Jesus on the wall, he had his hands over his ears..
Our minister heard us sing at youth group once, and asked us to sing at the next Sunday morning service. We were thrilled because most people don’t have the guts to get up and dash out of a Sunday morning service–although there were a few who did. We finished and went back to our seats beaming with pride, until the minister got up and said:
“If you don’t get your life right, you may spend eternity listening to stuff like that and worse.”
He had them lined up out to the parking lot..
My novel County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald was on sale for 99 cents last week. It made it to number ten on Amazon’s women’s action list. I guess that makes me a top ten author?.
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LIKE CATS AND DOGS

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As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a cat person. I prefer dogs. When we were first married, my wife had a cat. It hated me, so I didn’t feel that guilty about hating it back. It spent most of its days sitting on a sunny windowsill in deep thought. I imagine it was contemplating how to hold a knife without the benefit of opposable thumbs so it could slit my throat while I was sleeping.
A person never really owns a cat. To a cat, a human is just a useful idiot who feeds it. If it had those opposable thumbs to run a can opener, a human would be nothing more than an inconvenience. Some of you cat owners are going to say that you also change the litter box, but actually the litter box is for the benefit of the human. If it wasn’t there, the cat would find a nice flower pot, rug or bedspread to use instead. They really aren’t that fussy.
A dog will run around the house barking frantically when it has to go to the bathroom. It knows if it goes in the house, the human will be mad. Dogs don’t want humans to be mad. If nobody is home, and it can’t hold it any longer, it might go on the floor, but when the human gets home, it will hide in shame because of what it did. A cat on the other hand, uses the litter box solely to do you a favor. If the litter box isn’t there, is dirty or isn’t exactly where it usually sits, the cat has no problem using the carpet in the living room.

“Hey Bozo, the litter box was six inches from where it’s supposed to be, so I left you a present by the coffee table. Maybe next time you’ll be more careful, stupid human.”

For a dog, every time you walk through the door it is Christmas and their birthday rolled into one. They have an enthusiasm not found in any other animal. When have you ever seen a cat, hamster, parakeet or goldfish wet itself and run in circles just because you walked into the house?
“It seems like you’ve been gone since the Johnson administration.” Pant, wet, slobber, pant, wet, slobber. “I didn’t think you’d ever come back.” Pant, wet, slobber pant, wet, slobber. And that’s just when you’ve gone out to get the paper.

A cat really doesn’t care if you ever come home as long as you leave it enough food. With an automatic feeder and water, you can be gone for a month, and the cat is perfectly happy–or at least as happy as a cat can be.

“You’re back already? What, nobody else wanted to put up with you either? By the way, I left you a few presents here and there. Get them cleaned up, because I’m tired of living in this squalor, stupid human.”
If someone has a dog, everyone knows it as soon as they come through the door. It will come up to be petted, slobber on you or smell everyone’s crotch. I know people who say they have a cat, and I’ve never seen it. It’s always, “downstairs hiding in the basement” or “it only comes out at night when we’re sleeping.” Personally, I’d be worried it was spending its nights sitting by the knife block trying to figure out that opposable thumb thing.
By the way, the sequel to In The Sticks is going well. I’m thinking about calling it In The Lake. Also my thriller County Ops is on sale for 99 cents until September 24.
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THE WILD LIFE

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When I was a kid I read a lot of outdoor novels. I read everything our library had by Jim Kjelgaard and Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild. I always saw myself as that loner out in the wilds by himself with just his trusty dog to keep him company. One day I came across Jean Craighead George’s book, My Side of the Mountain, and it changed my life. The book is about a kid who runs away and lives in the mountains by himself. That is what I wanted to do. I often told people I had read the book and would like to do that myself. Usually people looked at me with shock and surprise. “You can read?” they’d ask in amazement.
Immediately I started preparing for a life of self-sufficiency in the mountains. I taught myself the ancient skill of building fire with just two sticks, half a bottle of lighter fluid and a book of matches. Learning to procure food became essential. I developed my fishing skills to the legendary proportions they are today. I’d gather grasshoppers, crickets and worms for bait and take them to the river. After only a few hours of fishing, I’d have a sizzling skillet full of fried grasshoppers, crickets and worms. I found mushrooms and learned the difference between the good ones and the poisonous ones. The internet did not exist at the time, and no books on the subject were available to me. My mushroom education was simply trial and error. Of course, I was not so stupid as to eat the mushrooms; instead I fed them to my little brother and gauged his reactions. No reactions = good mushrooms. Stomachache, foaming at the mouth and/or uncontrollable muscle spasms = bad mushrooms.
My younger years were filled with daydreams of living in the wild. Many times it saved me from the horrors of learning anything constructive in algebra class. While the teacher droned on about integers, variables and coefficients that I knew I’d never use, in my head I would be tucked safely away in my mountain cave feasting on fried grasshoppers and mushrooms.
As with all dreams the day comes when dreaming is not enough. That day for me came when I filled my oldest sister’s (the mean one’s) jewelry box with Cheez Whiz. At the time I thought it would be a good prank—one we could have a hearty laugh about. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe my sister would not see the subtle humor and social commentary on rich versus poor. She was more likely to just beat the snot out of me. I tried to clean it up, but once you put Cheez Whiz in a wicker jewelry box it is there for eternity. You can remove some of it, but it will never be clean again. My best option was to finally fulfill my dream and go off into the wilds until she cooled down or became too old and feeble to do any major damage.
Originally my dream called for it to be me and my trusty dog. A dog is always useful. It provides companionship, guards the campsite, assists in hunting and, if things got really bad, I could always eat it—or it could eat me, depending on how big of dog I had. As luck would have it, I happened to be between dogs at the time, so instead I asked my friend Weiner to come along. The choice of Weiner for a partner was not made at random. I put much thought into it and considered all my friends. I chose him because we got along well, we had often camped out together and, most importantly, he was smaller and looked more tender and tasty than any of my other friends.
When we started out I could tell right away that Weiner didn’t grasp the concept that we were leaving forever. I knew this because I didn’t tell him for fear he wouldn’t go. What I said was “Let’s go do some self-sufficiency camping for awhile.” After a couple months he’d figure out the rest on his own. Weiner also had trouble with the term self-sufficiency. I carried a folding knife in my pocket and a belt axe on my waist. What Weiner had strapped to his back looked like a silver-back gorilla covered with a canvas tarp.
Since neither of us drove and there are few mountains in Iowa and even less wilderness areas, we chose a big hill outside town. It wasn’t exactly wilderness, but it was almost two miles from my house, so I was sure no one would ever find us. We set up on the side of a hill and started our campfire. I scrounged up some grasshoppers for supper. When I got back to the campsite, Weiner was digging a can of beef stew out of his pack.
“So how come you decided to do this camping trip all of a sudden?” Weiner asked. “Usually you spend weeks planning these things.”
Guilt-ridden, I confessed about the jewelry box and a mean sister who would beat the tar out of me when she found out.
“So why don’t you just throw the jewelry box away?” Weiner asked still rummaging through his pack. “She’ll just think she lost it or someone took it.” He threw the flap on his pack closed. “You know what? I think I left the can opener at home.”

“You did?” I said in shock. “How are we going to go camping without a can opener? I guess we’ll just have to pack up and go home.”

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GUEST BLOGGER

 

 Since I started this blog I have had two guest bloggers, Tara Looft, who is currently trying to get her first novel published, and my granddaughter who is currently trying to get her first novel read (I’m joking). Today you’re getting a third. After my last post about all the things I wanted to do when I was young, I was contacted by a fellow author who took up skydiving and toured the world when she was grown up and should have known better. Before that one time when her parachute doesn’t open, she agreed to let me repost one of her blogs. I hope you enjoy it. If you want to read more of her blog it’s at this link http://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging I’m sure she’d appreciate any comments you might have.

    I remember the year I turned fifty. The closest of my friends were eager to present me with black balloons and shower me with bits of shiny confetti that said, “Over the Hill.” But I had an answer for them.

“Today is the first day of the second half of my life!”

The second HALF was important to me. For one thing, my grandmother lived to be a hundred and two and I aimed to match her. But more importantly, I had a huge bucket list of things that I wanted to do and I was eager to get started. Fifty was a good place to start. My baby had gone off to college and I’d moved to my new home by the sea in Maine. I had a new and interesting job with a fantastic boss, who is still my friend today, even though I’ve retired now. I look back on that birthday today and it seems like a lot more years than it’s been. But then, I’ve been to a lot more places than even I’d dreamed was possible and done some really neat things.

   

“I took up skydiving, which is probably the most outrageous and exciting thing on my bucket list. What an incredible thing to really fly with the air rushing past, tipping, turning and flipping. Then you pull the ripcord and suddenly the world is silent except for the soft flutter of your parachute. You can see for miles and it’s fantastic. Better than looking out an airplane window, even a small plane with big windows. How I love that canopy ride back to earth. The feeling of freedom is amazing.

    

“I swam with the Whales snorkeled over coral reefs and climbed Mt. Tafahi. Then I joined the Peace Corps. That adventure took me to the other side of the world to a culture and climate very different from anything I’d ever known. I lived with a Tongan family for two years, taught English to beautiful brown-eyed children and  made a whole raft of new friends. While I was there, I swam with whales and crawled through lava tubes, climbed an extinct volcano mountain, and bobbed in a warm volcano fed spa of very green water. I dove into Mariner’s Cave and snorkeled over fantastic colored coral reefs, camped on a South Pacific beach and sailed on water so blue it made me catch my breath.

    

“I found a new family in Tonga taught ESL and explored a lava tube.

“When I left Tonga, I traveled home the long way. In New Zealand I hiked over a glacier and into ice caves, rode in a helicopter and took a train ride through the alps. In Syndey Australia, I climbed the bridge, met a wallaby and visited the Opera House. Two of my children traveled to meet me in Thailand and during our week there we had a James Bond experience, running through a busy market from a tuk tuk driver who didn’t want to lose his fare. We fed monkeys and fish, rode elephants and rafts and participated in Song kran, the Thai New Year where NO one stays dry. In Vietnam, I toured the Hanoi Hilton, Khe San, the Mekong River and the tunnels of Chu Chi and got the “Other” side of the story of the American War. But I also took a train ride down the coast from Hanoi to Saigon, stopping in Hue, Hoi An, and Nga Trang, visiting thousands-of-years-old ruins and temples, cruising on the Perfume River, and I swam in the South China Sea where once our soldiers went for R&R. In Saigon, I had lunch at the Rex Hotel before flying on to Singapore. From there, I visited friends in Marseille, France and was treated to a week long jaunt of castles, quaint villages, churches and pubs and the beautiful coast. And then I was home again.

    

 

    

 

    

In the years since then, I’ve acquired ten new grandchildren and moved again, this time to St Augustine, Florida. I’ve become a published author and begun a new career. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in places like Paris France and Times Square. I’ve dressed as a colonial Spanish lady and worked in a taberna circa 1740. I’ve made dozens of new friends and discovered dozens of new historic sites, but I’m just getting started on that bucket list. So, this year is number sixty-eight, but who’s counting? I’ve still got a lot of places to see yet, new friends I haven’t met and books that still need writing.   What’s on your BUCKET LIST?

If you want to check out her books here is a link to her authors page. Skye Taylor. I’d buy them now. When that parachute doesn’t open, the price will go up.

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BRAVERY IS FOR THE YOUNG

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Back when I was young, indestructible and had the common sense of Brussels sprouts, I wanted to go skydiving. Jumping out of an airplane and freefalling within a few hundred feet of the ground before popping the ripcord was a thrill I couldn’t imagine. I’d want to hold off opening the parachute for as long as possible, because at the time, hanging below a parachute hundreds of feet off the ground had to be the most boring thing I could imagine. Today if I was in an airplane it would take a whip, gun and a very angry sasquatch to get me out of it.

When I was little, a friend of mine, Ray, and I would climb an old railroad trestle. We would climb it from the ground to the top: up the stone supports, onto the steel girders and up to the railroad tracks where we would be about seventeen gazillion feet in the air. (I never actually measured it, so I may be off by a few feet one way or the other.) We never worried about falling because there was a river below with water to fall into. If we missed the water, there were trees along the banks with branches we could grab before we hit the ground. And if we missed the branches, we could maneuver ourselves in the air so we would land between the rocks, and the soft sand would break our fall–sometimes high optimism covers up low intelligence. Someday I hoped to scale some unconquerable peak. Hanging by two fingers, I’d stop for lunch and deftly unwrap a baloney sandwich with one hand and enjoy a cold Dr. Pepper from the cooler with ice strapped to my back, while all the time looking for that soft spot between the rocks in case I lost my grip. Nowadays I drive pitons, string ropes and put on a safety harness if I have to climb up on a chair to get a dish out of the top cupboard in our kitchen.

I used to skateboard when I was little, and I’m not talking the wussy skateboards they use today that don’t break in half over jumps and the wheels stay on. I’m talking homemade skateboards where you grab a 1X6 or 8 or 10 and nail an old pair of metal roller skates to it. That was skateboarding at its finest. We didn’t wear those sissy elbow pads and knee pads they wear today. No siree, nothing but skin to protect us from the pavement when we crashed. And we crashed a lot; because those old wheels locked up if you hit a crack wider than a quarter, a rock, a stick or a night crawler crossing the road. We had scrapes and cuts, but we were fine–most of the time you could barely see the bone. It didn’t bother us because we were tough and in a punch-drunk daze most of the time from loss of blood and head injuries, because we didn’t wear those sissy helmets either. Occasionally now, I’ll see one of those new skateboards with the polyurethane wheels sitting on the sidewalk, and a small voice will say, “You can still do it.” It’s Satan talking. So I don’t do it, because I still have the will to live.

I think part of the reason I don’t want to do dangerous things anymore is because I spent twenty-six years in law enforcement and had to do many dangerous things, such as teaching my oldest daughter to drive. (See Driving a Straight Stick.) I’ve driven as fast as I want to go in conditions I’d rather not drive in at all. I’ve felt that adrenaline rush as much as I care to in one lifetime. It’s not that I still don’t take chances. Just this morning I skipped my bran muffin. There’ll be hell to pay tomorrow, but I can take it.
Quick update on the sequel to my first novel In The

Sticks. I had been really struggling with it for awhile now. It’s not that I didn’t know where the story was headed, it’s just that there weren’t many twists and turns and a half a billion suspects. Those of you who read my first book know I like a lot of suspects. I like to let the reader think he knows who the murderer is, then, wham, I throw water all over his conclusion. I found a bunch of water buckets lately and the story is going well.

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IT’S CALLED SHOPPING NOT BUYING

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          In his short story, Delta Autumn, William Faulkner wrote: “But women hope for so much. They never live too long to still believe that anything within the scope of their passionate wanting is likewise within the range of their passionate hope…” What Faulkner was trying to say in his Nobel prize-winning, world-renowned style is: Women are nuts and believe anything they want, they can get. (If you have a problem with that, get a hold of Bill. I don’t make this stuff up; I just report it.)
When I first read that passage I thought, when did Faulkner meet my wife? My wife will hang the laundry out on the clothesline even though every weather report says there is a three hundred percent chance of rain, thunder is rattling the windows and quarter-sized drops of rain are dotting the cement of our patio.
“The storm might miss us,” she’ll say as a gust of wind comes up and flips over the garbage can, the grill and the Chevy Equinox.
When we take a trip, I live in constant fear of running out of gas because my wife is sure it will be cheaper in the next place down the road. If it is cheaper, she is certain at the next place they will be giving it away in some type of promotional deal. So we drive on with the yellow LOW FUEL light dinging as she searches for the mythical free gas. Normally we end up paying a higher price than we would have if we had just stopped at the first place, not that my wife doesn’t suggest driving back to the place where it had been the cheapest. But by then I’ve chewed off all my fingernails and half my toenails worrying that we’re going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. I don’t want to hike fifteen miles to the nearest town to get a can of gas. Even then she’d probably make me hike to the town after that one, because that might be where they are having the free gas promotional deal. Gas is not something you should do a lot of shopping for the best deal.

Shopping is my wife’s downfall. When I need a pair of black socks, I go buy a pair of black socks. All you men are saying, “Tell us something not so obvious like the Chicago Cubs won’t win the World Series this year,” while you women are rolling on the floor in fits of laughter. There is an old saying among fisherman: If you caught fish every time you went, they’d call it catching not fishing. There is a reason women call it shopping and not buying. My wife will go to a fabric store to get a couple yards of muslin. I don’t know why she needs muslin, but she’s constantly running out of it–one day I’m sure I’ll find one of the rooms in our house wallpapered with muslin. While she goes into the store, I’ll wait in the car, because men are not allowed in fabric stores. There is no law forbidding it, but common sense dictates unless you want to hear volumes about gingham, calico, crepe, swansdown and aba–which men think was a Swedish singing group but isn’t– you’ll stay outside in the car and listen to ABBA on the golden oldies station.

Three days later my wife finally comes out of the store carrying ten bags.
“That’s a lot of muslin,” I’ll say.
“I didn’t get any muslin,” she’ll reply. “It wasn’t on sale.”
“So what’s in the bags?”
“Other stuff that was on sale.”
Sale is the magic word, and if it’s on sale and there’s a coupon, she’ll buy as much as they’ll allow, even if it’s aba.
Okay, I’ve had some fun at my wife’s expense because today is her birthday. I married an older woman, so for the next four months she will be a year older than me—not that I would ever mention it. Age seems to mean less every year. When I look at her now, I still see the same cute long-haired high school girl I saw when I first met her, because I’m old and I really need new glasses. No seriously, physical looks mean so little when you get down to it. Looks attract. Eventually Time sculpts all of us into wrinkled old people. If looks is all you have in a relationship, you have nothing. So happy birthday, Beautiful. I got you a card, a cake and some muslin.

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RETURN OF THE DUSTMOP WITH LEGS

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