Wednesday, January 28, 2009

a mammoth proposal

There is no worse writing assignment than a book proposal. They're not only tough to write, what with having to cram 300 pages worth of story and concept into a breezy 20-page essay, but they carry huge consequences. As in, if I nail this thing, I don't really have to worry about money for three years.

The only way into it, for me, is to trick myself into it. Lately that means setting aside 20 or thirty minutes, roughly the time it takes to stream a 1973 version of "Dark Star" on the Internet, to write a single sentence. Of course, the sentence comes out about 10 minutes in, and by then I'm into the song, so I keep going, just to have an excuse to listen. By the end, I usually have one paragraph and a first sentence for another.

Proceeding in this fashion, I've managed to amass five pages over the last two weeks. And today, after cobbling together a graph, I glimpsed a link to some stuff I'd written in an earlier draft -- several good, well-polished paragraphs. So I hunted them down and I cut and pasted them in. Now, I think, I am just days away from having a complete introduction. And once that's done, if past experience is any indication, the rest should just sort of fall together.

Until the close. That will be a fresh variety of hell.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

reading missouri

I was surprised and happy to learn last night that my book was selected as one of the recommended books for the Kansas City Public Library's adult winter reading program, Reading Missouri.

Looks like a neat program. Read five books off the list and you get a prize package and invitation to a part in March.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

praise for the day

This morning Allie said she hadn't heard any pundits say that it was the blackest presidential inauguration in history.

"They had a token white guy," she said, "instead of a token black guy."

It's true, though.

Aretha Franklin with her spectacular, COGIC-style hat.

Elizabeth Alexander's tight "Praise for the Day" that plainly said, "Say it plain, that many have died for this day."

And Rev. Joseph Lowery going a little street at the end, old-man street, when he asked God to bring the day when "black will not be asked to get in back. When brown can stick around. When yellow will be mellow. When the red man can get ahead, man. And when white will embrace what is right."

And, of course, the call and response, to end it all:

"That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."


"Say Amen."


"And Amen."


Monday, January 19, 2009


I don't know what's harder to believe -- that I was once 19, or that I'm not still.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


The weirdest thing about finding all these Grateful Dead shows online is how I can feel the same obsession I felt when I was 19. A touch of it. Like when I scroll through the list of shows in 1988, the venues and the towns seem like exotic places, and the notion that the dead would be playing there makes them seem more exotic still.

When I look through the set lists, though, it seems so silly. They're all basically the same. Yet I just had to get to as many shows as I could.

Yesterday I went through and bookmarked all the shows I've been to. And over the next couple of weeks I plan to listen to them. When I look at them all lined up in order in my favorites folder, the Irvine Meadows shows stand out for some reason. Just the name. Irvine Meadows. Even now it seems enchanting.

Irvine Meadows is in Orange County. I drove past it a couple of years ago when I was on my book tour. It's a cookie-cutter amphitheater, exactly like Fiddlers Green in Denver or Sandstone here in KC. But in '88, it was my destiny.

To get there, for the three shows the Dead had scheduled there in late April of that year, and to two more a week later in Palo Alto, I took my exams early and persuaded the head cook in the dorm cafeteria to give me a box of food -- apples, bread, peanut butter, stuff like that. I needed the food because I only had $50 in my pocket, for a 10-day trip.

As soon as I hit Shakedown Street, I spent almost all my money on some dry goods that are typically not eaten. Seven days later, I was stranded in Palo Alto with no money, no ride home and a new pair of glasses. The latter I picked up (along with a weak prescription courtesy of $20-bucks-a-no-appointment-visit Dr. Huang) in San Bernadino after I'd lost mine in Joshua Tree. Grandma had saved me by calling in her credit card number. And mom saved me from having to sell myself on the streets of San Fran by wiring me some cash.

She sent enough for a bus ticket, and a little extra for food. Except, right before I bought the ticket, I spotted some other Dead Heads and we ducked into an ally and got stoned. And I was so stoned I left my wallet on the counter after I purchased the ticket. By the time I came down enough to realize where my wallet was -- ten paces across the room, laying there in plain site -- it had been liberated of all my remaining cash.

So there I was with a wicked case of the munchies, facing the prospect of a 26-hour bus trip with the one or two oranges I still had left from my box of food, and not a dime for a bite more.

I had an overnight layover in Salt Lake City. The bus stop was right across from the Mormon Tabernacle, so I decided to go over there and check it out. My hair was all mussed up and my clothes were filthy. I don't think I even had a backpack. I recall carrying in my arms my tent and mangy sleeping bag and whatever bag I was carrying my clothes in. I'm not sure exactly, but I certainly stood in contrast to the clean polo-shirted Mormons who were milling around. It was a sunny day and there were tulips bursting from every corner of the compound.

I noticed this guy eying me. After a while he comes up and says, "You look mighty forlorn." I gave him my sad story and he gave me 20 bucks. I raced across the street to an all-you-can-eat place and stuffed myself for at least two hours.

Properly nourished, I found a corner of the bus station to spread out my sleeping bag and managed to drift into sleep. Suddenly, I awoke to the scene of a couple of cops arresting somebody -- right on top of me. They had chased him to my corner, where they slapped cuffs on him, right after confiscating his gun.

All that for what?

Nothing in the set lists appears to have been worth that ordeal. The last shows in Palo Alto had some surprising twists, I suppose, but nothing monumental. The only vivid memory I have of any of the shows was the last one, where they played "Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," in which Bob Weir screamed, mockingly, it seemed: "Oh! Mama! Can this reeeeeeeeally be the end?!?!"

But then, we did drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. I haven't done that since. And I visited Joshua Tree, too. That's a lovely place. What I saw of it before I lost my glasses.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

first show

I'm years and years behind the times on this one. This week I discovered The Internet Archive, where you can listen to a CD quality recording of just about every concert the Grateful Dead ever gave. So of course I go right to the ones I attended, all of which are right there for the listening.

If you click play on the doohicky above you can listen to the first show I attended, at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, California, December 27, 1986. It's actually a pretty good show. And, as you can imagine, it's got a doozy of a story to go along with it, some of which might well be fiction. Science fiction. But I'm reluctant to share it here, what with grandmas, moms and in-laws reading it and all. But hey, I was 18.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

year of the dog

Allie and I watched Year of the Dog on Saturday. The DVD box said it would be funny and uplifting. But at a couple of points we wondered if maybe the person who wrote the box copy was on crack.

The plot offers some big bummers as it unfolds. But they're crucial to the story, and we were feeling good by the time it ended.

It wasn't your typical Hollywood fair. It was structured more like a really good short story. And Molly Shannon's acting was top of the line.

Friday, January 09, 2009

power broker

I've been reading The Power Broker since before Christmas, and I'll probably still be reading it when it's time to pick tomatoes. It's massive.

The part I read last night astonished me.

With a single sentence in an amendment to a state law, Robert Moses created a little kingdom within United States territory and made it so he could be its king for his entire life.

He was head of an authority that oversaw the construction of the Triborough Bridge. By law, that authority could only remain in existence until the bonds that paid for its construction were retired. But the bridge was enormously successful, pulling in far more in toll receipts than was expected, and those bonds were due to be paid off in a hurry. Once that happened, Moses would lose his power.

At the time, there were plenty of people who would like to see him lose that power, including the mayor, governor, a slew of state reps and no less than President Roosevelt. Moses knew he had no chance of striking the part of the law that forced the authority to be shut down. So he made that part meaningless with this sentence:
The authority shall have the power from time to time to refund any bonds by the issuance of new bonds, whether the bonds to be refunded have or have not matured, and may issue bonds partly to refund bonds then outstanding and partly for any other corporate purpose.
I had to read it twice. It means that although the authority must cease to exist once its bonds are paid off, it can issue bonds as often as it wants.

And with bonds, it could, because of other vague language in the law, raise hundreds of millions of dollars to build stuff all over the place -- roads all over the New York metro area, parks, even housing. And it had power of eminent domain. And it didn't have to have public hearings. Nor any deference to the democratic process.

It was nothing short of an invasion and take over of part of this country.

With one cryptic sentence buried in the middle of a bill.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

bass ackward

I've been trying to understand the point of twitter. I'm not alone in this.

I really want to love it. For it to make me happy.

But now it seems that happiness is the key to twitter.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

mayoral freaks

Another good one from 100-Year-Old Weblog.

"Phil" Murphy is the police officer who has been detailed to the offices of the mayor in the city hall to deal with cranks and obstreperous callers. He has been connected with the police department for several years, and has served at the depot and other public places in handling crowds.

"How do you propose to deal with the cranks when they annoy the mayor?" Murphy was asked yesterday.

"Jolly 'em, jolly 'em," replied Murphy. "There's only one way to handle a crank. Fawn him, play on his vanity and get him to believe that his bug is all right. Get his confidence, humor him and feed him taffy and mentally blindfold him. When you have him in this condition there is not trouble in taking care of him."
I wonder if Jerry and Mark, the guards on the 29th floor of City Hall, read this blog.

Monday, January 05, 2009


This book I'm reading has me doing character studies. So I headed off for the library yesterday, to watch people and take notes.

I focused on one of the librarians. I liked the way her shoulders seemed to fold inward just a bit and her bangs dropped down over her face when she worked on the computer. Her skin was very white. I thought maybe she spends too much time reading to get any sun.

I already had a story in mind. I've been thinking of a man about 20 or 21 who meets a woman in a mid-sized Midwestern town and persuades her to take off for Oregon with him. It's 1970. If one of the patrons were to hit on this librarian, I imagined, she wouldn't believe it at first. Even as she packed her things to go she'd be trying to figure out what book the guy was trying to find. It would be such an adventure.

I listened carefully as she helped customers. Her voice was sharp, with a pinch of south in it, and it carried across the library. I squinted as I stared at her, trying to discern the angle of her nose. Yes, it pointed upward. She caught me looking. Twice, maybe three times during the hour I spent studying her. Definitely three, at least three.

When I went to the counter to check out some books, I stole another peek, glancing sideways. I hadn't been able to really see her eyelashes before. They seemed to make a difference somehow, I'm still not sure why. And she caught me again, and she didn't seem the least bit shy. Her brow bunched up as she locked in on my eyes, and she was not smiling. No, this character would definitely know if she were being hit on. I didn't dare look again.

public service

This, from a fun local blog, reminds me of my most recent job:
"Every day in the week," continued the mayor, "I have from fifty to 100 callers and I have to listen to them. Eighty per cent of my visitors have to be directed to the heads of other departments, and the other 20 per cent are politicians with an ax to grind, job hunters and cranks.

"Then you do have visits from cranks?"

"Yes, a great many and they are extremely annoying. It was not so very long ago that a fellow called upon me, and insisted that I, and only I, could remove a hypnotic spell that was upon him. I jollied him until I could summon an officer from headquarters, and I never passed a more unpleasant ten minutes waiting for the officer to report. The fellow was put under restraint, and to pacify him I underwent a sham performance as if removing the hypnotic spell. I don't know as I succeeded, but I have since learned that the fellow is now a raving maniac.
We had a few, too.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Times are really tough right now... As a white liberal, I NEED my overpriced European bread. But being unemployed and dangling by the mere threads of my trust-fund safety net, I'm forced to settle for just one loaf of Pain de Campagne and forgo the cranberry-almond. DEAR GOD WHEN WILL THIS RECESSION END?!?!?!

Anyhoo... I'm over on the Westside, feeling good to be back near the birthplace of the Orange Revolution, and I crowd into the little bakery with all the other yuppy hipster D-bags when a couple of tall, dark men come in behind me (no homo!). I spy them from out of the corner of my eye and I'm thinking they look kind of brown. And just as I check to see if my wallet is still there...


That's right! ILLEGAL ALIENS ON THE WESTSIDE! And they're shelling out the big bucks for elitist bread!! Next thing you know, they'll be buying SUSHI!!!

I didn't know whether to call La Migra (got 'em on speed dial, natch!) or shout Si se puede!

I thought the only "diversity" left on the Westside is basement-dwellers and washed-up Brown Berets. Why didn't my realtor tell me about this before I decided on the Northeast?!?! Maybe I could've afforded it after all.

Very important super-secret tipsters who know everything tell me that this is a result of Mayor Funky's catastrophic failure! And a biproduct of the co-mayor's naked toes!! (Eww!) I can't confirm it yet, but people who are a lot smarter than me (and that's pretty much everyone) believe that the shear force of Funky's downward spiral is sucking (no homo!) Kansas City into a time warp and simple-minded stereotypes are being turned inside out!! Next thing you know, white liberals like me will be listening to the Gap Band and shopping at Apple Market.


*Note to Grandma and other readers who are no doubt puzzled: This is a spoof of Kansas City's most popular blog.

Friday, January 02, 2009


I got really, really sick of Michael Phelps during the Olympics. He seems to me like the kind of guy I would've hated in the 1980s. Frankly, I was hoping he'd lose at least one race.

Now he's on Entourage and stuff like that. But he's not the biggest Olympian star in the world. That honor goes to Usain Bolt, the Jamaican who pulled back and jogged the last few yards of his races and still obliterated world records.

dead again

For about three years in my late teens, I was a Dead Head. I even traveled to California on several occasions to see them in concert -- including one that my mother will never forget, in which I tried to do California for ten days on $50. That one ended with me stranded in Palo Alto calling mom collect and thanking God for Western Union.

I quit drugs pretty soon after that and traded the Dead in for Nirvana. But the other day I got a wild hair and went looking for them online. The band's official site offers live tapes from their vault. I've been listening to them for the last day or so. I'm surprised how much I love them.

It's weird, but as I listen and get lost in the music, especially the long jam sessions on Dark Star and The Other One, I feel like I'm 19 again, stupidly happy with a brain full of wake-and-bake, or mellow and pensive in the wee-morning hours of an acid trip.

Except I'm not. Like, I can actually think and do stuff.

good things in the northeast

My neighborhood newspaper has been running some terrific cartoons by a local artist.

Also, they've been adding some nifty stuff to their website: a newsy blog, written by a dog; and a page where folks can post pictures of the neighborhood.

daily medicine

This is not this.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


  1. Sell a book.
  2. Run injury free.
  3. Do The Weekend Novelist.
  4. Make this blog worthy of a top ten list.
Or at least those are the ones I'm willing to share.

2009 will be fine

Right around this time last year, I said to one of my co-workers, "Two thousand eight. It's gonna be great!" And I meant it.

Obviously, in the context of the office in which it was said, I was dead wrong.

Now I'm unemployed, going broke and best suited for a job in a field where there are none.

Yet I feel really happy this morning. I went grocery shopping first thing, and I tallied each item on my cell phone calculator as I set it in the cart, the way I have for a couple of months now. I didn't make a single impulse buy. I don't have it bad. Not even close.

In the Great Depression, people sifted through garbage piles for food. Ivy League lawyers stood in soup lines.

Even that, I think I could handle.

But I have a hunch it won't come to that. This guy doesn't either.

Either way -- new job, or trash-can meals -- 2009 will be just fine.