Sunday, August 31, 2008


Jenna’s lamp lit her face with an antique parchment glow as her fingers drifted on the keyboard, tracing a line through her past. I was content to witness her patient search from the doorway of the room I built last year. Still in her genealogy trance, she said, “Mason, I’m black.” Her angelic lisp reshaped my name.

The house was quiet. I said, “You have black ancestors?”

“Uh huh.” She avoided saying, “Yesth,” except to rouse my adoration.

“You like that, don’t you.”

She smiled. “I’m thrilled. I have never been interesting. I found Ezzie on my matriarchal line; she was from the Turner plantation in Georgia--she was property. But now I have to find her parents.”

“Maybe the plantation has records?”

I worked until 9:00 at night on Friday. Jenna met me at the door, clenching me, saying, “They wrote. After three months. Ezzie was born in Haiti. To Erzulie and Petro. The Turner heirs have the dates. Ezzie was illegally taken after the Haitian Revolution.”

I lifted her off her feet. “Jenna peels another layer of the onion,” I said, as always.
When she kissed me I saw she was crying. I asked, “You feel close to her?”

“I’m elated that I found her, but then it came home to me; she must have lived such pain. Without the Latham Bible, she would still be lost to me--do any others love her?”

“I know you’ll find them all.” She let me wipe a tear.

“I put it all online--can’t face responses, yet. Such pain.”

On Sunday we played chess, the force that brought us together in college, watching water stream down the window and rain fill the street. Jenna played black, we laughed about that. We did not expect the knock at the door.

He was small and bald and black as any man I’d seen. His smile was joyous; his eyes, glittering stars. “Mason and Jenna Owen?” he asked.

“How can we help you?” I said; Jenna stood behind.

“I am Lucien Boucher,” he said. “I am Jenna’s cousin.”

The reality of ancestry dazed me. It had all been so abstract. Jenna stepped beside me, arms wavered toward embrace, then back. Lucien Boucher enfolded her; “So beautiful,” she said. My stomach turned with unease, as my wife hugged this stranger.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Desperate Attempts

I previously mentioned that I am reading Empires of the Sea. I just found something that interested me greatly.

In 1565 the Ottoman Empire decided to push into the western Mediterranean. In order to do this, they had to take Malta from the knights of the Order of St. John. Jean Parisot de La Valette led the Order of St. John.

The knights faced long odds. On the heights, the Turks took Fort St. Elmo over a period of weeks amid scenes of thousands of men burned alive by oil and pitch, killed by musket (arquebus) and cannon, and mutilated by the sword. Both sides tortured prisoners to death and massacred the helpless in combat.

After St. Elmo, the Turks laid seige to the other two fortresses on the island, replaying the carnage.

Here is the quote about La Valette that fascinated me (p. 163).

The grand master was seen everywhere, accompanied by two pages carrying his helmet and pike, and by a jester, whose duties included informing him of what was happening at various posts and "trying to amuse him with his quips--although there was little enough to laugh about."


Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Old And New

At the writer's workshop I attended, we learned about the novel, Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding. I had heard of the book, but luckily had not read it. I use the term "luckily" because the instructor said that Fielding opens with twenty pages about the English countryside.

I have tried to read Melville, but he takes three pages to say something like, "The first mate was self-conscious because everybody knew he was poor." He used so many words! I try to write without using words.

By the time you get to Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, many of those words are gone. Hammett leaves in enough detail to paint the picture, but does not try to dazzle the reader with prose.


My own experience and training with writing is heavy on showing, not telling, the reader the story, paring down the prose to keep the story moving. I have found readers, though, who are accustomed to, "West Varth was in the low lands of Hamfarth, where the Juberries bloom. The Juberries were the sweetest berries in the world, except for the JuJuberries."

I have not found many of those readers, but they are invariably lost in my writing. They're looking for Tom Jones, but they won't find him in the Snows of Kilimanjaro.

P. S.: Remember the part about writing without using words? That part was a joke.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Just Love

Some people in my Church think they knew each other before this life and were meant to be together in this life. My wife and I think so.

That hit me hard again today. Julia drove me to the train at around 4:15, then turned the van around and headed home. We saw how heavy traffic was going in the other direction and we worried about her driving back. Heavy traffic scares her.

As she pulled out of the train station, I said a prayer for her. I thought, "What would I do without her? We were meant to be together."

She got home safely.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I do not know why, but new cadets on my university's campus are called "frogs." "Frog week" is like boot camp for new cadets.

I witnessed a little of frog week. Senior cadets in the face of new cadets with, "You were supposed to stand behind the line! No, you just say 'yes sir,' or 'no sir.'" I am glad it's not me, but if someone signs up for military training they have to learn to follow orders quickly, without debate, so I understand.

During frog week, all those kids, just out of high school line up outside the barber shop and come out with their hair "high and tight." I made a mistake. I got my hair cut during frog week.

My hair is not exactly "high and tight," but it is shorter than it has ever been.

I get a haircut every five or six months. I am too cheap to worry about how my hair looks. I sorta' like having hair up there, but other than having it present, I am not particular. In fact, my short hair does not even need to be combed after a shower, since it is not long enough to be tangled, so I may get it cut short next time.

My short haircut was not intended, but upon further consideration, maybe it was not a mistake. Maybe I can make it to next year's frog week for my next haircut.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's Dead, Jim

The truck would not go into reverse. I drove it to the mechanic. The next day the mechanic reported that (1) the transmission was shot--$3,000 repair and (2) the rear breaks were shot.

I do not think that you can actually do $3,000 worth of work on a transmission. So we told them, "Thanks, we will come pick the truck up--don't lay a hand on it."

I do not doubt that the transmission is shot. Who knows?

But these guys "fixed" the brakes about three months ago. They put rotors, calipers, and hoses on. After they "fixed" the brakes, we drove home, barely able to use the brakes. They were not fixed.

We took the truck back to them the next day. They worked on it more. The brakes worked, but they seemed a bit weak and the brake light was on. I decided to ignore it.

Now, three months later, they say the rear brakes have not been working and they say that I refused to have all the repairs done at the time, according to their records. That is a lie.

I guess they're lying because they think I might be able to sue. Or, if nothing else, I could again demand that they fix the brakes.

The combination of not fixing the brakes and lying is too much. And their lying makes me wonder if I have a transmission problem or not--there are two other (cheaper) possible causes of that vehicle not being able to go into reverse.

I miss my dad for so many reasons. His ability to fix cars is the least of the reasons I miss him. But, yeah, I miss that, too.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Short Stuff

Professors submit research to journals and are often rejected. We almost always receive detailed feedback. When rejected we may revise and submit to another venue, but sometimes the feedback is off-base, so we submit without revising.

An author of around 100 published pieces of short fiction spoke at the workshop I attended. She said that on average each of her published pieces was rejected 5.5 times. One piece was rejected 32 times before being published in a professional publication.

Some of the workshop attendees are afraid to submit. I have read about that problem, but I do not suffer from it. Since I only began writing short stories last year, I have not submitted even one of them five times.

Looks like I have work to do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Julia's cousin visited. We talked a lot about good emotional health--it's a serious hobby of hers. Maybe that is said badly. I am not sure how to say it. She thinks a lot about the subject.

I, on the other hand, almost never think about my emotional health. I am happy. I am generally satisfied with life.

I think I am happy because I have very little ambition--that thing that causes people to either climb mountains or beat their heads against walls or both.

Perhaps that comes from my ancestors. None of them seemed to try to reach far beyond their grasp. Some people point to the fact that I am an economics professor, saying that obviously I had some ambition in order to get a PhD.

Maybe. I liked school. I liked learning. I found the discipline that obsesses over efficiency and loved it. Maybe you can call what I did in response, "ambition." I do not see it that way.

I do not stay awake and worry that I am not the most well known economist in the nation. I have worked with one person who did. He was not happy at all.

I do not stay awake and plot how to eclipse Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I would like to have a nice second income from writing. I enjoy writing. So if I write well enough to earn a nice second income, I will do that.

Meanwhile, I am happy. I am not going to sit around and ask, "Am I really happy, or am I just in some unhealthy denial?" That does not sound fun at all.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Foretold by the Prophet,
He comes.
Through tears and pain,
He comes.

From a sea of glass and fire
Orbiting a sacred star
In robes of red
With pointed hood
He comes to change;
To set aright.

With an angry, wizened face
He comes to straighten crooked paths.
Who can bear his fiery presence?
Who can hear his angry voice?

My heart suspended, eyes o'erflow
Then he sees me and he knows;
Knee joints buckle, backbone pours,
My tongue is loosed and I confess.

Then he sleeps while
I watch, crying.
My heart resumes,
My trial, recessed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Found in Translation

The eleven year old and I went to the drugstore today. He wanted a drink and I told him he could have it. He went to the front of the store to grab it and I went to the back to pick up a prescription.

No charge for the prescription. Now that's a price I can believe in.

Anyway, he did not show up in back, so I went to the front and did not find him. When I looked down the aisle, he approached with his Mello Yello in hand. He said he had been taking his blood pressure.

I paid for the drink and we left. I asked about his blood pressure. He said it was great, except for his "diabolic pressure."

I said, "Do you know what 'diabolic' means?"

He didn't.

I said, "Have you heard of el diablo?"

He said, "Oh, yeah, the devil."

I said, "So if you have 'diabolic pressure' then . . . "

He started hitting me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tom's Past And Future

I talked about my "Tom Sawyer," who is trying to figure out what to do with himself since leaving school. He has looked for a job, but not persistently.

Today Julia said, "Son, let's talk about your future."

He said, "No. I don't want to talk about my future."

So I said, "O. K. Let's talk about your past."

He said, "I sure don't want to talk about my past!"

That perfectly expressed his current approach to life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Worst Story Ideas

I entered a contest for the worst logline. A logline is a one sentence description of a story. Both of my entries had a similar theme. I was trying to work too much into the first line and thought I had enough left over to do a second line.

Here is my favorite.

"A dyslexic child mistakenly addresses his Christmas letter to Satan, enabling Satan to steal the child's soul, but, in the end, the child steals Satan's heart."

Here is the first one I did. I kept trying to work the dyslexia into it, but could not.

"A mad scientist enlists Satan to destroy Christmas by kidnapping the world's reindeer population, but Santa learns of their plans and thwarts them in a fight to the Finnish."

Get it. Finnish.

Are they bad enough?

Monday, August 18, 2008


I love the poem, Lepanto. Maybe it is a guy poem, thick with war and heroism. The poem is written about the battle of Lepanto, at which the western fleets crushed the Ottoman navy, halting their westward expansion.

I am currently reading Empires of the Sea, written about that struggle between the Ottomans and the Christian west. If you have any love for history at all, you would enjoy the book. Roger Crowley, the author, brings the scene to life. He does an excellent job of hopping around the landscape, giving the reader a complete appreciation of the motive forces behind the two empires.

Crowley's writing is smooth. The pages slip by and the reader wants more. And the more I read, the more the poem comes to life for me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mystery Theft

I got a mail from one of the secretaries saying that the docking station for my laptop would be installed soon. She copied the mail to another secretary and to a colleague--the message applied to him, as well.

Then I got a message from the other secretary, copied to the first secretary, saying (correctly) that my colleague and I already had our laptops and docking stations. The new ones that were delivered to the office were to replace Kent's and Mark's computers, which were stolen.

The next day I asked Kent about his stolen computer. He had heard nothing of it. I asked Mark about his stolen computer. He was clueless, as well.

I am tempted to ask the secretaries about the theft, but I would rather figure it out myself. I think I'll plant listening devices in everyone's offices as a first step . . .

Saturday, August 16, 2008


The Gang of Three met a couple of nights ago. The work of mine that we talked about was Bryton Wyld. One of my gang members was heartbroken at the ending. The gang member wanted the romantic tension resolved in a pairing off, not a breaking up, as the story now stands.

The writing is not perfect--I guess it never is. But I think my gang member's frustrations came because she fell for the characters and their struggle. After Bryton went through so much, with such deep feelings for his romantic interest she wanted them together. But I just do not want it to be that kind of story. Bryton does change. There is a resolution. But it is not the resolution my gang member wanted to see.

Of course, it might be the case that the romantic connection at the end would make the story an easier sell. If I face the dichotomy--cannot sell in a good market with current ending vs. can sell easily in a good market with romantic connection, then let me at my keyboard, I'm editing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Who Made It?

Tonight I watched a documentary on Einstein. My eleven year old said something about him. I said, "Do you know what Einstein invented?"

He said, "No."

I said, "Einstein invented puppies."

He said, "That's stupid."

I said, "Two years ago you told me that."

I repeated a lot of our conversation of two years ago. He insisted that Einstein invented puppies. Einstein invented dogs. Einstein invented houses. Einstein invented trees."

I said, "Is there anything that Einstein did not invent?"

He said, 'No."

So, being the mathematically minded guy that I am, I applied recursion. I said, "Who invented Einstein?"

He said, "Einstein's ghost invented Einstein!"

He did not remember any of the conversation from two years ago. He accused me of dreaming up the whole thing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I took the eleven year old to the dentist. We arrived ten minutes early, no one was in the waiting room. They called him to the back about ten minutes after his appointment was supposed to start.

While we waited he griped, "What's taking so long? How many patients does he have?"

I said, "I don't know how many patients he has, but I know he has more patience than you!"

He groaned and started hitting me. But he had to laugh.

I sat and basked in his performance as the unwitting straight man.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kill The Fatted Calf

Tom Sawyer returned.

I think two things did him in. One was that he was often stranded at the house alone with nothing to do. But the other reason is more satisfying to me. He realized that they did not care about him in the way his family does.

Now if I could just figure out why he shaved his head.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Swingline, Part II

My precious filing cabinets are back.

Boss and secretary apologized to me.

I am all better now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Swingline

I hate it when I feel "small."

Today I feel like the character in office space who said, "then they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire."

I just moved offices. I had everything pretty much set up. Then I came in today and a section of my desk was missing, along with two filing cabinets.

The filing cabinets had stuff in them. The secretaries were all gone to a meeting and nobody else seemed to know who had done it. I found out which secretary had done the work order and sent her a mail. She passed the buck to my boss and his secretary.

So I wrote a letter to my boss saying that I need the things out of the filing cabinet. I also told him that I would appreciate being asked the next time someone takes stuff from my office.

And if he takes my stapler then I'll set the building on fire.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Nearly every member who attends my church has a job that we do for the church--a "calling." Here are some of the callings I have had before. I taught the adult Sunday school. I taught the men's priesthood meeting. I taught the "how to teach" course. I was the tech support person for the multi-congregation area. I kept up with the finances. I kept up with the membership records. I have led the younger men (roughly age 19-40). It goes on and on.

Currently Julia and I share the calling to substitute when a teacher of our children's program cannot make it. So far we have substituted about every other week for the eleven year olds--the oldest group of children. From ages 12-18 they are "young men" and "young women," not "children."

I hate teaching other people's kids. I have no trouble teaching my own kids because I have an ongoing rapport with my sons, as well as a range of potential punishments and rewards.* Being the oldest "children," some do not want to be there. They want to be young women and young men.

We have all types in class. We have the honest nitpicker. We have the show-out nonparticipant who wants to act stupid (he's in the gifted program at school) rather than read a verse or say a prayer. We have the girl who delights in doing nothing unless she does it backward. We have the "I don't wanna," girl. We have my son, the eager participant who wants to crack jokes and take over the class with stuff that has nothing to do with the lesson.

We have our hands full.

We are trying to figure out what to do.

Next week we will try bribes.

*Yes, punishments are an option. However, I find that if punishments are applied swiftly and consistently, without debate, they are almost never necessary. Mostly we just enjoy life together.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day In The Park

Saturday was a little festival in my town. I sat under a canopy from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM. The weather was perfect.

The festival was less than perfect. At one point a friend spoke to one of the festival committee. I heard some story about the committee head being out of the country and trying to get the committee to take the ball and run with it. My friend told me that she kept trying to get the committee to put our organization's participation schedule on the festival website. They never did. We were not on the program.

The organizers did not publicize the thing. People were there to sell books and publicize their books. We sold a book to about half the people that stopped by our tent--that is about 8 books.

My organization had prepared to hold a reading to the absent masses. Instead we sat around and read our work to each other, then commented.

The bottom line? It was not live up to its potential, but I had fun.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Voodoo and Genealogy

I have been thinking hard about a story involving voodoo and genealogy. I have the basic plot and have started on the characters. Today bits of an opening dialogue started rolling around in my head. It is about time to write.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tom Sawyer

My oldest turned eighteen in March and graduated in May. Last week we said, "Be home at midnight. At 1:00 AM he called and asked to spend the night at a friend's house. We have always said "yes," before. But this time we had to go somewhere (that we had to be awake for) on the following day. I said, "Come home."

After he called a few more times to protest he came home and announced that he was going to go live with his friend. Julia and I did not raise our voices. We just leveled with him.

Friend's dad (divorced) takes care of friend and friend's 14 year old sister, whom my oldest likes to spend time with. I think it's dangerous for and 18 year old guy to spend time with a 14 year old girl. There is a reason they call young girls "jailbait." Now he is living in the same house with her.

Apparently the friend's father does not perceive the problems of jailbait. Nor does he seem to understand that enabling young men to be slackers is not good for them. Some adults are not quite grown.

Julia and I take this view. "You are eighteen. He can live elsewhere if you want. But we will not enable a lifestyle that is going nowhere. So, no you can't have the car. No, you can't have money for anything. We love you. We would love for you to return to your former privileges and obligations at home--each member of the family makes concessions to be able to live happily together and you will still have to make a few of those. Those concessions pale in comparison to the problems that your current sponging entails. We cannot stop you from taking a detour off the road of life. We hope you do not run off a cliff before you get back to the main road."

Perhaps eighteen is the season for such detours--this one taken at the sign that said, "to stay on the main road, sleep at home tonight." I have met people who enjoyed their detours. But I have met more who wish they had not wasted large amounts of their lives.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


The publishing business is exceedingly shallow. Agents only want a few paragraphs about the novel in a query letter. Few agents want to see the book. And they read hundreds of queries every week. Many claim that if the query is no good they can nearly guarantee that they would not like the book anyway.

An experienced author and reviewer, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, agrees that the publishing business is shallow. She says that the title of a book must sell the book to the publishing company. She says it twice. The title. Staggering.

Today I posted to an agent's blog in response to another comment by Ms. Lichtenberg. I said that modern publishing evaluates gemstones with a cursory glance, instead of with a jeweler's loupe. The stone must dazzle at a glance. Keep it going for a query letter and you are in the door. I had wondered why it was so hard to buy good books. Rhinestones with good titles proliferate.

Without question the best titled book I have picked up in years is The Book of Fate. The Book of Fate is also an unmitigated disaster of a read. Maybe extraterrestrials would be blind to the obvious logical errors in the first couple of chapters (as far as I got), but I cannot see Earthlings being able to continue to read, rather than fling the book across the room. But I loved the title and loved the cover. I checked the audiobook out from the library, so I did not give the author a strong incentive to write a sequel.

Ms. Lichtenberg's other comment was reported in Pub Rants. She said that the author should write the blurb for the back cover before writing the book. I agree.

George R. R. Martin's blockbuster fantasy series would never have sold, based on the blurb. Martin's complex characters, subplots, and superlative writing (not to mention his deep knowledge of medieval society) make the series a modern classic. In Martin's story, the old king is murdered and a squabble erupts over the kingdom. Add in the reemergence of magic and the fact that a multi-year winter will bring evil creepies from the north and you have the kind of blurb that you could read on a new book every month.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game has kid geniuses training and destroying the threat of alien bugs from outer space. Not quite a unique blurb.

But Wicked--The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as told by the Wicked Witch of the West, spawns a great blurb. I have no idea if Wicked is any good, but its blurb is as good as The Book of Fate's title.

I am an economist, so I spend much more time working with the industry as it is than ranting about it on my blog. For this rant, I blame Kristin, of Pub Rants fame.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Counting

My new economics colleague at the university is going through faculty orientation. His orientation lasts for a week. Two years ago, mine lasted two days. At my last job, orientation stole two days from me. At my first job, twenty years ago, orientation lasted thirty minutes.

How much orientation does one need? The thirty minute orientation was about twenty minutes too long. A week long orientation is a heartless theft of irreplaceable time.

In my thirty minute orientation the head of the accounting department spoke for a time. He was clear that, "We wear suits. That is proper attire for business professors."

I asked my department head about that afterward, since I only owned one suit. He said, "The only person who wears a suit every day is the head of the accounting department." My department head wore a shirt, tie, and sport coat. I wore a shirt and tie for a while. Then after a year or two I started wearing whatever I wanted to, which was usually jeans and a knit shirt. I was the worst dressed professor in the college of business administration.

My unprofessional dress style rankled the accounting department head. When I grew my ponytail he nearly had a coronary. I heard that he went into the meeting with the dean and department heads and put his fist on the table and said, "John has a ponytail. We must have a dress code."

He and I are both tolerant absolutists. I am more tolerant than he is, though. He would kid me and I would kid back. He looked like a televangelist. We were both convinced, but did not spend a lot of time trying to convince each other.

When I cut the ponytail, a few years later, I put it in a baggie and left it in his mailbox. My note said, "Happy Birthday." I signed it, "John." He was perplexed. He actually went to another department head, also named John (who had very little hair), and asked if he had left the ponytail in his mailbox. The other department head made the obvious guess and sent him to me. We got a laugh out of it.

He was jovial enough, but he was, as the stereotype would suggest, opposed to any change in the way the college was administered. After I left, the new dean came in and asked him to step down. He could be a professor again, but not department head. He chose to retire, instead. He had been in the retirement system so long that he was working for nothing, so it was no sacrifice to retire when he did.

I went to a U. with a new dean--the former head of accounting at that U. Professors do not like to be managed at all. She micromanaged everyone. Her priorities were set in stone, but they ran counter to the the priorities of the market for professors. Since she had low value for professors like me, whom the market valued higher, she lost me, along with a few other productive professors. Three weeks after I found my new job the president of the old U. forced her to resign because she had caused so many faculty to leave.

I did not know there were accountants like the ones at my current job. Don't get me wrong, I have had accounting professors as friends (including the televangelist), but the accountants where I now work respect economics in ways that I have never seen.

The ringleader said it this way. "Accounting is all based on economics."

I, frankly, didn't get it. He explained, "We measure the activity of the firm. But what is important to measure? The answers all come from economics."

He was right. I never knew it was nice to be appreciated. It's not stupendously nice. But it's nice.

Monday, August 4, 2008


My ancestry is strongly Irish and Injun. Suffrage has two characters with Irish accents. I am doing a reading on Saturday and need to do a passable accent for those characters.

I would prefer not to do the accent on the old Kelly's Chili or Irish Spring soap commercials. So I have been looking for Irish accents to mimic.

My son had an interesting technique. When you make a statement in an Irish accent, make it lilt up on the end as if you were asking a question. So you say, "Let's go to town," in about the same cadence as you say, "Are we going to town?" It seems to work for him.

I found some on YouTube. It is funny that the Irish guys who discuss the accent do not have much of an accent. Then they demonstrate by slipping into the accent. Perhaps that is because if they were really immersed in the accent they would not be able to tell someone what is different about it.

I got a few rules from the Irish guys on YouTube. The "a" sound in "cat" or "that" is a dominant way of saying the short "a." That "a" is broad--drawn out. The long "a," as in hate, is almost another syllable, so that it becomes hayet. An ending "t" on a word is barely there. So "that" is almost "thah." The "th" is usually made into a "d" or a "t." So maybe "that" is almost "dah."

At some point I began to wonder if they were teaching the accent incorrectly, so that they might be able to laugh at us.

I am not afraid of offending any Irish in the reading. I would just like to get it right.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


We left for church at about 9:30. As soon as I shut the door, I asked Julia, "You do have your key, don't you?"

I once heard a comedian (maybe it was George Carlin) define an "idio-second" as the period of time that elapses between your hand leaving the knob and your realization that the keys are locked inside.

Julia checked her purse. No keys.

I was preoccupied with the keys on the way to church. We don't have a spare key hidden anywhere or a window left unlocked in case of such an emergency.

We talked it out. The handyman, whose phone number is stored on my Palm, has a spare key. We'd call him from church on a Sunday and beg for help. And there is a guy at church who has a locksmith service. Since I don't have enough money to buy a combo meal after six weeks without a paycheck, we'd need someone who would work in exchange for a promise. A fellow church member was our best locksmith bet.

I preferred the handyman to the church member locksmith, so I called the handyman from the lobby phone at church. I got his answering machine, but then I always do. The poor man likely has people calling 24-7, like I was doing. I left a message, but during the message, the phone started clicking like someone picked up. But nobody picked up. I finished the message, but wondered the clicking was the sound of me getting disconnected.

During church I was distracted. "If we get home and can't get in, we can sit outside, use the bathroom at gas stations, we can eat . . . no, we can't afford to eat. Oh, wait, the absentee next door neighbor has a loaded blueberry bush! We'll try all the windows in our house. We could probably force the weird back door into the basement. But then we'd have to force another two doors. All this security is good when I am worrying about someone breaking into my home. I would like something to slow an intruder down while I grab my twelve gauge shotgun loaded with number six shot. I figure number six shot (squirrel shot) is small enough that if I miss an intruder and hit a wall that two layers of sheetrock will slow down the shot enough so that it will not kill a family member."

Yes, I was distracted.

I looked for the locksmith. I did not see him. I assumed he had stayed home. So I called his number from the lobby. Another answering machine. I did not leave a message. I figured I would try him again later.

An hour or so later I called the handyman again and left the message, all apologies for leaving two messages, feeling stupid explaining the mysterious clicks.

Later, sitting with the little kids in the class that Julia and I teach, I heard the lobby phone ring down the hall. I was not close to it, but I walked out to see if I could make a connection with someone who could let me in the house. No one was talking on the phone, but the cord was swinging back and forth. Someone had answered it, hung up, and walked down the hall. Great.

I tried the handyman again. I got him! As I started talking to him the locksmith passed by, walking down the hall. So he was at church. And he was getting calls from within the church from someone who would not leave a message. It must have been confusing, but a little confusion never hurt anyone. That is probably not true. It is likely that a great many people have died as a result of becoming a little confused and doing something wrong, like stomping the accelerator instead of the brakes. But surely that was not this case . . .

No, it was not. As far as I know the locksmith is still alive and is none the wiser.

On the phone, the handyman told me he had already left the key at my home. I was so happy.

Life's tragedy, averted.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Eleven Year Old's Question

My son walked up while I was sitting down to watch a boring news show. He said, "Dad, I have a question for you."

I try to irritate him as much as possible, so I pretended to answer his unasked question. "When a man and a woman love each other very much . . . "

He said, "No, Dad! Not that!"

I said, "There is nothing more important than continuing the species--the cycle of life."

He said, "Yes there is. I want to know if you'll make cookies out of this cake mix."

I got a good laugh out of his question just because it pegged where he is in life. Girls are disgusting, as are topics involving men and women. Cookies are important!

Friday, August 1, 2008


When my dad was young, few people would hear about a job that was even twenty-five miles away. And if someone heard about a job in another part of the U. S., they would never go to interview for it because transportation costs were so high.

Today, with low cost information and low transportation costs, people can do nationwide job search, fly out for interviews, and move the household. So they do. I did. That is why my kids have not seen their grandparents in so long.

When I was young, we spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house. She lived five miles away. My cousins spent just as much time there, so I knew them well. I can count on one hand the number of times my children--the oldest is 18--have seen their cousins.

On the other hand, meeting people from around the nation is easy online. We could use more online resources to regularly visit with family. But we don't.

Why not? Is it that we value something physical about our families, but value something intellectual about online friends? Or is it that the older family members are not that interested in technology?

I can easily explain why families seldom see each other in person. But I find it much harder to explain why more people are building huge online networks of friends--but not family.

Perhaps I am an outlier. Perhaps mine is the only family that has not built strong online bonds.