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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Friday, May 29

Northern Trip Adventure

I recently flew to Minnesota to see relatives whom I may not see again for quite a while. It reinforced in me that flying these days is almost too complicated and time-consuming to consider. What follows is my lengthy blog about that experience. Forgive me the length, but I just had to write it.

Oh, my, will I ever be glad to get home. My trip north was an epic adventure with a few bright spots but also with a lot of gloomy skies.

The flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis was uneventful with a slender young woman next to me who slept the whole way. I feared some truly obese guy would be there, but he wasn’t. I read, listened to my IPod, and dozed a bit. And then we landed at 1:15. I stumbled up the gate tunnel to the terminal and didn’t have a clue where I might find the rental car windows. Bob, with his transport cart, spotted me and asked where I was headed. He told me my destination was faaaar away. I got in his cart and discovered just what “faaaar” meant—a fifteen-minute cart ride or a half hour walk. I can’t do a five-minute walk, let alone a thirty. He dropped me off and pointed me to the rental area. I found the Budget counter with about thirty people in line ahead of me. Thirty. And the Budget people were taking care of about three every seven minutes. You do the math: 30/3 = 10 x 7 = 70 minutes. That’s right. I was in that line for over an hour. My body isn’t good standing for even a few minutes, let alone seventy. There was a young mother in front of me talking several blue streaks into her cell phone, with her three small daughters running all around. Then a female friend showed up with her runny-nose son in her arms to converse loudly and enthusiastically with the cell-phone lady. Right behind me, two short Indians laughed and chatted in rapid-fire Hindi. Or maybe Urdu. They sounded like chipmunks gargling. And this went on for over an hour as we all moved forward oh so slowly. My only joy was seeing the faces of those who showed up to inquire if we were in the Budget line. We all happily said yes and pointed to the ever-lengthening line behind us. By the time I finally, finally, wearily got to the counter, there must have been at least another thirty behind me. Poor souls. I’m sorry now for having been happy at their predicament. I know I wouldn’t have wanted anyone smiling at me if I’d had to go to the back of the line.

I found my little red car in the Budget section, made my slow, confusing way out of the lot and onto 494 where I found my AmericInn lodging just down the road. A call to niece Marsha gave me instructions for finding their house. I can’t go anywhere without losing my way. That may be a metaphoric description of my entire life, getting lost along the way. So, naturally, I had to drive around most of south Minneapolis’s half-acre of hell before I arrived. We had a nice dinner—Marsha and Curtis, daughter Claire and son Phil, and the birthday girl, sister-in-law Doris, 85 years and 364 days young. Nice conversation out on their back patio under gray skies but no rain. I made my escape just before 9:00 and found my way back to the hotel with only one or two mis-turns. Another metaphor for my life—my escapes from awkward social situations. I love my relatives but I’d rather be alone than surrounded by people, even loved ones.

The next morning I drove around and around south Minneapolis looking for somewhere to breakfast. Anywhere else such places would be everywhere—countless Denny’s and Perkins and Cracker Barrels. Not here. I finally found a place called Carruthers. The packed parking lot suggested quality food and service and it had both.

Back to the hotel to watch some golf before the afternoon birthday party. As I turned for my hotel I noticed just south of Hwy 494 a Denny’s right next to a Quality Inn, easily within walking distance from my AmericInn lodging. Wouldn’t you know it, my sought-after goal was right there in front of my nose. Another life metaphor.

The party was hugely successful, with seventeen or eighteen relatives and friends (three cousins from my mother’s side whom I hadn’t seen for twenty-four years). Wine and beer flowed, then a buffet dinner and cupcakes instead of cake, then conversation as people singly or in groups departed. At 8:30 I also left, escaped back to the safety of my hotel room and a Scotch-and-water before crashing into the king-size bed.

At 6:30 the next morning I breakfasted at the nearby Denny’s and was on the road shortly after 7:00, 494 to 94 and 90 and east to Wisconsin, about three and a half hundred miles to Burlington where I had a dinner date with niece Amy and her husband Rick and daughter Annie. Off and on rain all the way, with by my count at least twenty-five dead deer and a few mushed badgers along the roadside, one really bad accident that held up traffic for half an hour, all cars inching along at two-miles an hour until we got past the accident site. I was finding my way to Burlington with Google maps and directions, no GPS for this kid. What sort of adventure involves GPS’s? I soon discovered, though, that trying to remember all the Google turns was about impossible. Without a navigator to tell me or an ability to read while driving, I simply trusted my instincts: keep heading southeast and I couldn’t miss, right? Right? Wrong! Instead of taking 94 to the east I stayed on 90 to the south, past Madison, past Jaynesville. And then I saw a large sign welcoming me to Illinois. Grab the first off-ramp, get back on 90 north, Burlington somewhere to the east of me. So I plunge off to the right, onto ever-narrower, ever-bumpier county roads heading east. After all, Lake Michigan would keep me from going too far east, right? Right? My trip was now expanding to more than four hundred miles. But I didn’t care. It was all part of the adventure. And I had four MP3 cds to keep me company.

The music for my adventure was one of the things to which I most looked forward, old Great American Songbook songs sung by some of my favorite old GAS singers—Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Jack Jones, Matt Monroe, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae—and a few younger ones who also love the old standards—Diana Krall, Barbra Streisand, Jane Monheit, Stacey Kent, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jackie Allen, Karrin Allyson, Michael Bublé, and the true keeper of the GAS flame, Michael Feinstein. At least 95% of the standards are about love, requited and unrequited, and are all about a simpler, more permanent love than we know today. Simplistic, maybe, but the lyrics are so much more clever and meaningful than most of what I hear from today’s young singers and songwriters, rappers and hip-hoppers. Examine any lyrics by Ira Gershwin or Cole Porter and you see clever, surprising, inventive words and rhymes. Look at one of the best-known Ira Gershwin lyrics for “I Can’t Get Started”: “I’ve flown around the world in a plane, / I’ve settled revolutions in Spain. / The North Pole I have charted / But I can’t get started with you. / Around the golf course I’m under par / And all the movies want me to star. / I’ve got a house, a show place / But I can’t get no place with you. / You’re so supreme, lyrics I write of you, / Scheme, just for the sight of you, / Dream, both day and night of you. / And what good does it do? / In 1929 I sold short. / In England I’m presented at court, / But you’ve got me downhearted / ‘Cause I can’t get started with you.” And here’s Cole Porter’s “Every time We Say Goodbye”: “Every time we say goodbye / I die a little. / Every time we say goodbye / I wonder why a little, / Why the gods above me / Who must be in the know / Think so little of me / They allow you to go. / When you’re near / There’s such an air of spring about it, / I can hear a lark somewhere / Begin to sing about it. / There’s no love song finer / But how strange the change / From major to minor, / Every time we say goodbye.” Look at the old déjà vu song “Where or When” by Larry Hart: “Sometimes you think you've lived before / All that you live today. / Things you do come back to you / As though they knew the way. / Oh, the tricks your mind can play. / It seems we stood and talked like this before. / We looked at each other in the same way then, / But I can’t remember where or when. / The clothes you’re wearing are the clothes you wore. / The smile you are smiling you were smiling then, / But I can’t remember where or when. / Some things that happened for the first time, / Seem to be happening again. / And so it seems that we have met before / And laughed before / And loved before, / But who knows where or when.” That’s good stuff.

Look at all the old-fashioned songs with lengthy intros, a practice that’s almost entirely gone in today’s music. For example, Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”: “Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom / When the jungle shadows fall. / Like the drip, drip, drip of the raindrops / When a jungle shower is through. / So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you.” And then the refrain, “Night and Day / You are the one, / Only you beneath the moon / And under the sun. / Whether near to me or far / It’s no matter, darling, / Where you are, I think of you / Night and day. / Night and day / Why is it so, / That this longing for you / Follows wherever I go. / In the roaring traffic’s boom, / In the silence of my lonely room, / I think of you / Night and day. / Day and Night / Under the hide of me / There’s an oh, such a hungry / Yearning burning inside of me. / And its torment won’t be through / Till you let me spend my life / Making love to you / Day and night, / Night and Day.” The function of the intros was as a setup for the hook, anticipatory, explaining the story to come, and then the opening bars; cue the bass and brushed snares, and then the story. One more example, this one from Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By”: “This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension, / With speed and new invention, / And things like fourth dimension. / Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory. / So we must get down to earth at times, / Relax, relieve the tension, / And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved, / The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed . . .” (And now we can cue the bass and snares, leading into Bogie’s well-known song about fleeting time.)

“You must remember this / A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. / The fundamental things apply / As time goes by. / And when two lovers woo / They still say, ‘I love you.’ / On that you can rely, / No matter what the future brings / As time goes by. / Moonlight and love songs / Never out of date, / Hearts full of passion, / Jealousy and hate. / Woman needs man / And man must have his mate, / That no one can deny. / It’s still the same old story, / A fight for love and glory, / A case of do or die. / The world will always welcome lovers / As time goes by.”

Modern songwriters don’t seem to write this way, with a few obvious exceptions like Stephen Sondheim and the Bergmans, Alan and Marilyn. One of my favorites from the Bergmans (right after “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”) is “Pieces of dreams.” Take a look: “Little boy lost, in search of little boy found, / You go awondering, wandering, / Stumbling, tumbling round, round. / When will you find / What’s on the tip of your mind, / And why are you blind / To all you ever were, never were, really are, nearly are? / Little boy false in search of little boy true, / Will you be ever done / Traveling, always unraveling, you, you? / Running away could lead you further astray / And as for fishing in streams, / For pieces of dreams, / Those pieces will never fit. / What is the sense of it? / Little boy blue, don’t let your little sheep roam. / It’s time, come blow your horn, meet the morn, / Look and see, can you be far from home?” If you want to hear it with the wonderful Michel LeGrand music, go to YouTube and search for Streisand’s version. Songs don’t get much better than this.

Enough about music, although I could go on and on and on. My adventure continued through heavy rain, too many dead deer and other small critters along the roadside, and one bad accident that delayed me for half an hour of creeping along at walking speed until I got past it. And now I’m back on the Wisconsin backwoods looking for the elusive Burlington. A lady at a tiny roadside store on a lonely county road told me how to finally find Burlington. I arrived to discover that I had not only chosen Memorial Day weekend for my trip but also a famous Burlington chocolate festival, the streets bursting with countless chocolateers. I found my hotel, got checked in, called Amy about dinner to learn that Annie had to work and wouldn’t be joining us. We decided to go to the place where she was working and let her serve us. It wasn’t quite the fancy dinner engagement I’d envisioned, but it was all right. I had a very good dirty martini and a bloody beer prepared by a bartender who wasn’t quite sure of either drink. I explained to Amy and Rick that when I was a young, naïve South Dakota boy, tomato juice in beer was what we called a Bloody Mary. What did we know about fancy drinks with vodka and tomato juice and celery stalks? Ah, the old innocent days of my youth. The dinner was fine, the reacquaintance with the niece who was most like my sister was good, so too the hasty acquaintance with grandniece Annie, a lovely young woman who, like me, loves to write. I would like to know her better, but that will happen only in e-mails. I’m better with written words than with conversation face to face. I hope Annie and I can become Ethernet friends.

The next morning, in more rain, I left for Madison for my Monday date with sister-in-law Linda. When I booked my room in Madison, I assumed that Watertown, where Linda lived, was just a short hop down the road. Wrong assumption again. It was several long hops. I got to Watertown and didn’t have a clue how to find her house, and each time I called her on my cell phone, I got no answer. Finally I figured that when calling a cell phone out of state I needed to use the 1 prefix. I’m a cell phone imbecile with a very cheap dumb phone to match my cell phone dumbness. She’d been trying to call me on my cell phone but mine wasn’t turned on except when I wanted to call Rosalie in Arizona. Cell phone stupidity, right? Right? Certainly. She directed me to her house in a new development to the west. Since her son Steve and his fiancé Gwen and her mother were coming from Milwaukee to join us, we decided to order pizza instead of dining out. Good decision. I heard all about Steve and Gwen’s plans for their June wedding, their Wisconsin reception, and another reception in South Dakota in July. The one in Mobridge sounds like it will be a West-river hoot, with not one, not two, but three pigs ready for an outdoor roasting. Should be a blast.

I left just as the sun was setting and drove back to Madison where I collapsed on my AmericInn bed, more than ready for my long trip back to Minneapolis, more than ready for my flight back to the Valley. My adventure was . . . interesting. But I think I’ll confine my future adventuring to Arizona and let friends and relatives pursue their own adventures by coming here to see me. The drive was without incident. I didn’t get lost even once. The flight was without incident. But it involved nearly the entire day. I was at the airport by 8:30, three hours ahead of time. The flight took three hours (but I gained back the two I’d lost on the flight out). At Sky Harbor I connected with my driver without too much waiting. I was home by 1:30, very happy to greet Rosalie and our three kitty boys, Tiger, Tuffy, and Charlie. “Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”
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