Bucket O’ Toads

During warm summer nights in that small suburb of Tucson, a mighty hunter emerged from our house. Six years old, wearing shorts and a tee shirt, high-top tennis shoes, and carrying a flashlight, a bucket, and a butterfly net, I stalked off through the streets in search of prey. It was toads I was after, big ugly warty toads. And they were out there, hundreds of them, hopping from out of the desert and through the neighborhood, all answering Mother Nature’s annual call of love.

ToadDuring the day, the only time you would see one of these puffy, awkward creatures was on the road — smashed flat as a pancake. You’d see a lot of them, everywhere, rows of them where cars would score more than one at a time. It was disgusting. Of course as a young boy I was fascinated by that, too.

But at night they were big, round, and alive. Not quite frogs, and not quite lizards, these toads had short legs and didn’t jump as their froggy cousins did. No, they hopped. Quick, furtive, nimble little hops. Like this: Hop hop hop hop hop!

Being a born Herpetologist (even though back then I couldn’t even pronounce it, let alone know what it meant) I didn’t find these creatures at all ugly. They were adorable! I liked their weird bumpy skin, their gleaming eyes, and their humble just-leave-me-alone body language. To dogs, I knew, they were deadly poison. I remember at least once my dad sticking a running garden hose down my poor dog’s throat after catching him chewing on a toad. There was poison in those bumps, and if you broke them it would come out and kill you. That is, if you happen to be chewing on it. Being that I had no intention of doing that (and this being a long time before people found they could get high by licking them) I knew I was safe.

I remember walking along the sidewalks, catching them in my net and dumping them into my bucket. I also remember dodging tarantulas and other assorted big bugs. One was a long beetle with huge pinchers in front, and if you picked these up and got them mad they’d hiss at you. I also remember some of my friends out under a streetlight with their father’s fly fishing pole, whipping the fly around in the air and catching bats (who thought the fly lure was a moth, no doubt). But mainly I caught toads. Dozens of them. Literally, dozens, all piled up and hopping in a mass at the bottom of the bucket.

Then I’d bring the bucket of toads home and put them in the backyard. One time my future sister-in-law Cara was curious as to what exactly was in this bucket I kept bringing in at night, and looked down into it as it sat on the concrete of the back patio.

I can still hear her piercing scream.

“My God!” she shrieked. “That bucket is full of toads!” By the hysterical tone of her voice, it was like she’d found a severed human head. She did a frightened dance on her tiptoes and escaped into the house, complaining loudly about the Bucket ‘O’ Toads.

I remember one time I was out later than my curfew. I was late and I knew it. I don’t remember why I was late; there must have been something extra interesting, because it was a conscious decision not to leave just yet. Then when I arrived home and my father said I was late and that meant a spanking, I voluntarily submitted, putting myself over his knee and telling him I was ready. That made him laugh; he thought it was hilarious. But the spanking still hurt.

Since being a 6 year old toad hunter I’ve learned that I was right about the creatures. They really aren’t hideous little monsters. In fact, they’re a boon to us because of the hundreds of tons of bugs they eat every year, including cockroaches. That’s hundreds of tons of bugs that would otherwise be crawling around our homes.

Yes, this toad hunter has retired his net and bucket, but every once in a while I’ll happen upon one of these little guys, and I’ll pick it up and say hello. They’re welcome around my house.

That is, as long as they stay outside.

My One Covert Mission

Spy Photographer Jerry

Back in the mid 1970’s, during a period when my Dad’s business was going full blast, we had an office down in San Diego that was being run by a crook.  We didn’t know this at the time, but we should have.  As Dad liked to brag, this was “one of Nixon’s old dirty-tricks guys.”  He enjoyed having one of Richard Nixon’s dirty-tricks guys on the payroll.  I don’t want to use his real name, so let’s just call him “Dick Headley.”

I hated the guy the moment I met him, and that’s a rare thing for me.  He was somehow oily, slithery, in a social way.  Smarmy and smart-ass.  I could just tell that everything he said was a lie.  He was the type to talk to you like a best friend and then insult and make fun of you the moment you walk away.

Dad realized there was something weird going on when a big check showed up at the office for work we had no record of performing.  Another thing we noticed, is every time my Dad left to go down there, our office manager would call Dick Headley and let him know Dad was on his way.  She did it, said another office assistant, even after my Dad told her not to.

We found later that this office manager was having an affair with Headley.  We also suspect Headley was slipping her money under the table.  It was a fact that she was spying on the main office for him.

What my father suspected was that Dick Headley was running side operations, using our employees and equipment, but pocketing the money.  The check sent in for work we didn’t perform had actually been performed, on the side, and the innocent customer had sent the check to the wrong place.  According to Headley, business was slacking down there.  During one “slack” week, my Dad called me into his office, and with the door open, said, “Hey son, how’d you like to go trout fishing with me up in Oregon?”

I gave him a funny look.  It was a Wednesday.  He wanted to go trout fishing?  In Oregon?  “Um,” I said, “sure, I guess.”

“We’ll fly up tonight,” he told me, saying that we’d stay at his friend’s ranch.  “I need to get out of here and relax.”

When we left for the airport, my Dad explained what was really going on.  He wanted me to go with him down to San Diego, and sneak around without the office manager tipping Dick Headley off we were in town.  I was going along to photograph evidence.

I’d never seen Dad so paranoid.  He acted like Headley might have spies everywhere.  We got into his plane, took off and flew North as if we really were going to Oregon, but after we got away from town he made a wide circle round to the south, and we followed the coastline down to the bottom of California.  When we landed, it was at an airport he never used.

We rented a car that no one would recognize.

Dad got us a hotel room and we ate in, watching TV, and then he made some phone calls.  One of the calls was to Headley, telling him he was up in Oregon and would be incommunicado for a few days.  Still no work?  No?  Got any promising leads?  Yes?  Great!  Go get ’em!

Spy Photographer Jerry
Spy Photographer Jerry

The next morning we started snooping around.  Dad made phone calls to some of our established customers to see if there was any work going on.  Nothing was brewing, although some said they’d have work for us later in the month.  Then one of the people he spoke to said he’d seen one of our trucks working at another site.  My Dad inquired where and when they’d seen the trucks working.  They were working that very day, down in the San Diego shipyards.

Bingo!

Dad and I piled into the rented car and zoomed out there.  We drove up and down the shipyards until we spotted one of our white vacuum trucks, removing sandblast sand out of the inside of a ship.  Dad had me sneak up and take photos of the truck and the workers with my telephoto lens.  I got a lot of shots, from several angles.  I recognized the guys who were working.

Then Dad walked right past me, out in the open, and crossed the yard to where they were working.  I followed, feeling nervous.  What was he doing?  I’d thought this was supposed to be a covert mission.

Dad asked them how the job was coming along.  The guys looked freaked – they all had that “Oh shit!” look on their faces – and Dad poked around and asked how long they’d been working on this job.  They all gave different answers, but it was clear it had been going on since Monday at least.

“Well, keep up the good work,” Dad told them, and he walked back toward the car.  He was walking so fast I had trouble keeping up with him.

He drove in a rush across town to the local office, which was a small warehouse in a shabby business park.  The place was closed and locked, and Dad’s key didn’t fit – Dick Headley had changed the locks.  There was a window open, though, up on the second story.  “Can you get up through there?”

“Uh…”  I looked it over.  “Yeah,” I told him, and started climbing.  I had to get on the roof of a lower building and work my way over the top of a large sliding door.  Swinging one leg through the window, I found … nothing.  There was no second story inside.  The inside wall, however, wasn’t finished – there were beams and supports that I used as rungs to work my way down inside.  I unlocked the door and let my Dad in just as someone pulled up.  It was one of Headley’s guys, a shop mechanic, coming back from lunch.

“Hey!” he yelled.  “What do you think you’re doing!  I’m going to call the cops!”

“Excuse me,” my Dad told him, “but I own this business.”

“What?”  He looked unsure.  It took him a few minutes, but he changed his tune, and afterwards was following my Dad around helping him.

Dad was confiscating all the paperwork.  The receipts, the ledgers – everything. He went through all the drawers in the office, all the file cabinets, all the desks.  When the guy asked him what he was doing, Dad said, “I’m performing an audit.”

We piled it all into the trunk of the car, and locked it up.  Before we could leave, though, Dick Headley himself came driving up, very fast, like there was an emergency.  Apparently he’d gotten a call from one of the guys at the job sight.  The car slid to a stop in the gravel driveway, and he jumped out.  “Jim!” he said to my Dad.  “I thought you said you were in Oregon!”

“I thought you said we didn’t have any work.”

“We just got some today.  I was about to call you.”

“Uh-huh.”

Dick Headley was desperately trying not to lose his cool, quick-talking a mile a minute.  Dad wasn’t listening.  At one point, Headley began getting belligerent, like my Dad had no business sticking his nose into what Headley was doing.  Dad, in one of his rare shows of restraint, just rolled his eyes and told me to get into the car.

Dad had an accountant go over the papers and receipts, and as it turned out, there were two separate ledgers.  This didn’t surprise the accountant – this was common.  Usually it was one real ledger and one for the IRS.  In this case, it was one for the company and one for Dick Headley.  Dad was able to take this down to the DA’s office and get a warrant.  They used my pictures as evidence, too.

Dick Headley went to jail.  At least, he ended up there for a few hours, only long enough to get himself bailed out.  He still had some strong political ties, as strings were pulled and he was let off, after paying back part of the money he stole.  It was only a small fraction, though, and then Headley walked away.  Smirking.

And people wonder why I’m cynical about the American justice system.

We didn’t get a chance to fire the office manager who was spying.  She quit the moment she heard what had happened.  She was gone by the time we got back.

Nana Arrives in the Mail

I was a kid when my grandmother on my mom’s side passed away. We were out camping at the time, so word didn’t get to us until we returned from the trip. My mom was devastated. Her mother had choked on a chicken bone during a midnight snack, and Grandpa didn’t find her until the following morning.

Years passed and the tragedy faded. We made the move to California. I remember this part clearly, because we were still living in the duplex, before we ended up at the house with the pool. At least three or four years had passed.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, my dead grandmother arrives via parcel post.

I don’t remember a whole lot about this grandmother. She’s only a vague memory because she passed away while I was so young. Being that she was only 14 years older than my mom, she didn’t feel she was old enough to be called “Grandma” so I was instructed to call her “Nana.”

Mom-Sput-Nana

Nana and her husband, my mom’s stepfather — who for some reason they called “Spud” — were only occasional visitors. I mainly remember them from Christmas mornings. Grandpa Spud is especially vivid in my memory because of the year he dressed up as a convincing Santa and scared the holy crap out of me.

So, years later, Nana shows up at our duplex in California in a white box. She’d been cremated and these were her ashes. Obviously they didn’t wait this long to cremate her, but I’m at a loss for why it took so long for the ashes to reach us. I’d hate to think they’d been lost in the mail all that time.

The ashes arrived addressed to my father, because Nana’s will stipulated that she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes spread via airplane over a specific forest in Oregon. My father, being a pilot with his own airplane, was the logical choice. They had all lived in the same area up in Oregon in the 1950’s, back when my dad was in the lumber business. I guess this forest was someplace dear to Nana; perhaps that’s where Spud had proposed to her. My father was familiar with the place. The idea of flying up there and taking care of Nana’s last wish wasn’t a problem. However, it wasn’t a priority either. After all, she was already years dead, and my father was a busy man.

Nana’s ashes, still securely sealed in the white cardboard box, sat around the house for a while. It would spend some time on the dining room table, or the coffee table in the living room. Or I’d occasionally see it sitting on the kitchen counter. Finally during a frenzy of housecleaning, Dad took the box and put it on a shelf in the garage. There it sat for quite some time.

It was after Dad put the white box in the garage that Mom started noticing weird things going on. She’d be cooking dinner, and have the oven set to a specific temperature. She’d turn away and take care of some other detail, and turn back to see the oven temperature knob was not where she’d set it. Puzzled, she’d set the knob back to the proper temperature, then later discovered someone moved it again. This was unsettling, especially since she was the only one in the kitchen the entire time.

Then Mom noticed that someone kept changing the temperature on the air conditioner. This also was odd because it was happening while my dad was at work and I was at school. There was no one else in the house.

These things had been going on for a while before Mom finally mentioned it. She didn’t seem frightened; she seemed bemused, almost comforted. It was familiar to her, because it was exactly the kind of things that would happen when Nana was around. Mom and Nana always argued about what temperature to set the stove or oven, and Nana always wanted it colder or warmer in the house than Mom did.

This talk of Nana’s ghost being in the house scared me, but I didn’t see any of these inconsistencies of temperature settings with my own eyes. I was 10 or 11 years old at the time. My toys weren’t moving around, and I wasn’t seeing anything strange. Nana wasn’t appearing to me in a doorway or anything like that. So I didn’t really believe it. It still gave me chills but it was fun to go along with it. Mom had always believed in ghosts. Ghosts were fun.

Taffy

Being scared was fun.

This changed when our little dog, Taffy, started getting involved.  Dad used to call used her “Ten pounds of love in a five pound package.” She really was a tiny little thing, but she thought she was a ferocious attack dog. Taffy had no fear, and she was on guard at all times to protect her family. She’d bark at the mailman, at other dogs and cats, and especially at visitors that she didn’t recognize.

Suddenly Taffy had begun to bark frantically at things that no one could see. Especially in the late evening, she’s suddenly start growling and barking for all she was worth at a corner in the dining room, or at a spot in the hallway. It didn’t seem to be that she was barking at something she heard or smelled, because she had her eyes fixed on a specific point and all her attention was right there, right in front of her. She was barking and snapping at thin air.

This is something I witnessed personally. It was very freaky. I remember that it even disturbed my Dad. “Taffy!” he’d say. “What the hell are you barking at? Taffy! Stop!” He’d have to bend down and pick her up, and carry her away from whatever had her so upset.

Finally, there was the time when my dad was gone on an extended business trip, and my mom and I were up late and watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We were sitting together on the couch, with Taffy at our feet, and Taffy started growling. By this time she’d gotten a lot less frantic about the whole thing, having become more familiar with whatever it was that upset her. She’d just stare and give a low warning growl.

On this night, she did more than just stare at a spot in front of her. Very slowly her head turned as she was growling, as if she were watching something cross the room from left to right. It was weird. I remember sliding over closer to my Mom. Taffy suddenly stood up, still tracking something with her eyes. She was pointing toward Dad’s rocking chair.

As we watched, and as Taffy continued to growl, the chair moved slightly. Just a little bit forward, and just a little bit back, like something was trying to rock in it. I remember the look on Mom’s face. She turned toward me to make sure I was seeing the same thing she was seeing.

I didn’t have to convince her to let me sleep in her and Dad’s bed that night. We slept with the lights on. As soon as my dad got home from the business trip, Mom told him that he needed to get Nana’s ashes spread over that Oregon forest.

He needed to do it now.

Me-and-Dads-airplaneDad agreed. He took me along as copilot. Back then he had a single-prop Cessna 192 and it took a while to fly all the way up to Oregon, but he navigated us via familiar landmarks to where we needed to be and then had me open the white box. Inside was a thick plastic bag. I’d expected the ashes to be white and powdery, like the ones in the fireplace, but they weren’t. They were strange flat chips colored black and gray. After all those years, there was Nana  –  and now, as I’m writing this, when I think about Nana this is all I can see. Not her face or her voice, but these strange looking ashes.

In an airplane, you can’t just crank down a window and toss something out. The only part of the window that opened was this little five-inch hatch, and when Dad reached across and flopped it open, the wind made an unbelievable wail and it was like a tornado had been let loose inside the cockpit. I had a hole cut in the plastic bag, and I shoved it up against the open window hatch as my dad dipped one wing low and circled. Most of Nana’s ashes made it out the window, but a good percentage of it swirled around us in the cockpit. I even got some in my mouth. My dad was yelling and the airplane bucked and jumped. The ashes stung my eyes.

There was a sudden THWAK, and the window sucked the last of the ashes out along with the plastic bag. I shut the little hatch, and continued spitting out ashes. Dad leveled the airplane, and after a few moments began laughing. We turned south and headed back home.

After that day, Taffy no longer barked at invisible things, and the air conditioner and oven ceased changing the settings on their own. That cinched it for Mom. For her there was absolutely no other explanation than it being the ghost of Nana haunting the duplex, waiting for us to fulfill her final wishes. I think my father was convinced, too.

If you think this was spooky, read this one: A Picture of a Ghost? >

Bad Boys with Rockets

With loud hissing and crackling the rocket leaps off the pad and streaks up into the blue. My friends and I crane our necks back so far we nearly fall over backward. If it wasn’t for the smoke we wouldn’t even know where it went.

model-rocketThere’s a distant popping sound, and impossibly far above us blossoms a tiny white and orange parachute. My friends and I shout and whoop with excitement, then go chasing after it. We were young teenage boys and we’d just discovered a new thrill.

Because this toy was labeled as “science” and my parents liked the idea of me becoming a scientist, my mom was more than willing to bankroll the project. At the time model rockets were still illegal in California as they were considered fireworks, so I couldn’t ride my bike down to the local hobby store and buy them. I had to get them via mail order.

I would gaze through the catalogs of the strange and exiting rockets, pick the ones that fell within the budget set by my mom, and fill out the order form. Mom supplied the handwritten check and the stamp. Half the money was spent on new rocket kits, the other half on engines. Then there would be two weeks of agony waiting for my rockets to arrive.

They came in long, rectangular boxes of white cardboard. The joy at seeing the mailman bringing one of these boxes up to my front door was equal to that of firing them off. The launching was not just something to do, it was an event. I would call all my friends. We would set a date and time. We would pray for good weather.

Sometimes I would experiment with the engines themselves. About the size of a big firecracker, they were high quality little cylinders of ceramic and dense, treated paper. Big hole on one side, little hole on the other. The little hole was the nozzle where the fire would come out. The solid rocket fuel would burn inside the cylinder and force high pressure gas out with a lot of noise and smoke, burning its way up the inside of the cylinder. When the propellant was spent, it would slowly burn a delay charge which released smoke and helped us see the rocket while it was coasting upwards. When the delay charge finished burning, the fire would hit a little packet of explosive called the ejection charge, which would blow the ceramic cap off the other end and push the top of the rocket off, and also (hopefully) push the parachute out.

If used as directed it was completely safe. However…

I found I could wrap paper around the engine, gluing it in place, and form my own homemade body tubes. I could also fill this body tube with something other than a parachute. Oh, say, possibly firecrackers, which would be ignited by the ejection charge. I’d make my own paper nose cones and fins too, making the rocket expendable.

The model rocket manufacturers had spent a great deal of time and money making these little engines as safe as possible, and there I was circumventing all their efforts. This went against everything that model rocketry stood for – a safe, exiting, fun hobby for kids and their families. It just goes to show, you could put just about anything in the wrong hands and have it turn to evil.

Not that my friends and I were evil.

Well, okay, maybe we were a little evil.

I had one set up and ready to launch in my front yard, and my friend Larry — who lived down a few houses and across the street — just happened to be coming out his front door and heading my way. I yelled, “Hey Larry, watch this!” and shot the rocket off.

My paper fins, folded over in a v-shape and theoretically sturdy enough, weren’t quite sturdy enough. The rocket shot straight up about twenty feet and then veered over, hurtling like a missile right at Larry. There was an instant of time where I saw the rocket heading right at him, and saw him standing there staring at it, eyes wide, and then at the last second it veered upward again and exploded about 30 feet above his head, showering him with bits of hot paper.

After a few moments of shocked silence he yelled, “What are you trying to do, kill me?”

“It wasn’t supposed to do that!” I yelled.

“That was cool!” he yelled back. He ran over to see the other ones I had made.

At night time we would shoot these into the air and couldn’t believe how beautiful the colors were just coming from the rocket engines. They would explode about 1000 feet up and the firecrackers would come crackling down. For a few years our 4th of July celebrations were especially fun. Our highly illegal rockets rivaled the efforts of the professionals.

We also continued traditional, safe model rocketry, launching them out in a field beside the railroad tracks. I had ones that would fly up as a rocket but come down as a glider, and ones that had three stages and flew so high we never found them again. We also had ones that would carry things up inside, such as small lizards and tiny tree frogs, and I’m happy to report they all survived.

There was this one day we were shooting so many off that it had become boring. When a train came by I had a sudden idea. “Hey,” I said, “lets shoot one at the train!”

I chose an older rocket that was beat up and on the verge of falling apart, and aimed it at the railroad cars as they lumbered past. It shot like the missile it was, and to our delight it went right inside the open door of a boxcar. My friends all laughed and one said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if a hobo was in there?” Just as he said that, a hobo poked his head out the open door and shook his fist at us, and we all fell over laughing.

Toward the end of my teenage rocketry career, I was in Arizona visiting my brother Hank and had brought all my rockets with me. We went out one afternoon and shot them off, which my older brother thought was amusing, and when the engines were all gone we went back to his house and found, to my complete amazement, a model rocket in his back yard. It wasn’t one of mine, either. It was some other kid’s rocket, and they had shot it off and it went too far up, and the wind carried it away, and it just happened to land in my brother’s back yard right after we had been out doing the same thing.

Years later, after I’d grown up and gotten that horrible, bad, dangerousness out of me, I took my kids out shooting rockets at a big club in Dallas, Texas. Some of these guys were shooting off huge rockets with really powerful motors, and they weren’t made out of cardboard and plastic, either. They were metal and hard PVC, and had sophisticated electronics aboard. These guys were very professional about the whole thing, and were highly safety conscious. I thought this was a good, safe way to introduce model rocketry to my kids.

One big, white rocket went up with a terrific crackling roar. I was video taping it, and heard everyone start yelling. It had gotten to the top end of its flight, which is called the apogee, and it turned around and started coming back down. The trouble was that the parachute had not come out, and now it was a deadly missile coming straight down. I turned the camera off and took a few steps back, because it looked like it was coming right at me.

The rocket hit the ground and exploded not more than ten feet away, showering me with stinging little pieces of PVC shrapnel, and to my horror I realized it had hit the curb right in front of my van, right next to a little kiddy table, right exactly where my younger daughter had been sitting not 30 seconds before. She had just happened to get up and wander away…

In all my years of abusing model rocketry, I had never come as close to disaster as these safe and sane rocketeers had.

The Tracks

Summer morning, and I’d awaken and jump out of my bed, eat a bunch of sugary cereal, and then jam on down the street toward the train tracks to meet my friends. I had a Stingray bike with a tiny front tire, a banana seat, and a tall sissy bar. 5-speed, straight shift. Front wheel had a drum brake like a motorcycle.

The Tracks

The bike was “boss.” It “burned rubber.”

I’d race down the dirt of the levy road, dodging shadows and fallen branches, then leap over a mound of dirt and rumble down a rocky trail to the tracks. Turning north I’d follow the tracks to the second bridge where the creek was wide and deep. Usually I was the first one there, but not every time.

Randy would show up, sometimes with his neighbor Philip. Sometimes Larry would be there. Other friends came and went; I don’t even remember their names. All us boys were in-between the 4th and 5th grades. Lizard hunters, proto-motocross riders. Creek swimmers. Train challengers.

This was the lost Tom Sawyer boyhood of my youth.

The railroad bridge was a quiet place. Overgrown with trees and brush, the creek ran gurgling at a good pace. There were mini-rapids both upstream and downstream, but right around the oily, wooden bridge supports it was almost a pond. Deep enough to swim in, and if I stood it would come up to my neck. Because of broken glass, swimming with shoes was mandatory.

bullfrogThere were always new things to see or find. We’d catch at least one snake a day, but rarely do anything besides hold it for a while then let it go again. Only exceptionally cool snakes would be taken home so that they could escape and scare the bejeezes out of our moms. But there were also alligator lizards, and skinks (with really pretty red or blue tails), dozens of bluebellies, massive bullfrogs, and the occasional swimming turtle. They had the tendency to bite, though.

The really fun stuff was more dangerous. One of our favorites was to jump our bikes into the water. I only did this when I brought my second “junk” bike out. We would zoom down the short hill from the tracks, up a big lump of dirt, and fly 15 feet through the air and into the creek. Another favorite was to huddle under the bridge as a train went by. There was talk of actually lying down the middle of the track and have the train go right over us, but thank God no one actually tried it.

Then one day we found the hiding place of a genuine railroad hobo. Abandoned during the day, apparently this hobo returned at night to sleep in a corrugated metal pipe that ran under the tracks. There was clothes, cans of food, bottles of water, blankets, and a pile of really nasty, dirty magazines. They weren’t like our dad’s Playboy magazines. They were lurid and sleazy; wide open and shocking. We were fascinated, like deer unable to look away from oncoming headlights.

We didn’t know what to do with this forbidden treasure. We were afraid if we simply left it, it would disappear. But no one would dare take it home. We could all imagine the nightmare of it being found. So it was decided we had to find a new hiding place for it.

We searched the surrounding area for a likely place. There were piles of old railroad ties, and boards under grass, and areas where there were piles of concrete. We were surrounded by farmland, and we found what we thought was a perfect place: another corrugated metal pipe on the other side of a barbed wire fence, right below a small tree. It was perfect. It was about a foot wide and hidden by tall grass.

The next day we came out and yes, the treasure was still there. We’d all pour over it, joke about it, ask each other question which none of us truly knew the answer (though it didn’t stop us from bluffing and stating our guesses as fact). We were boys trying to fathom the mysteries of women. We were trying to integrate our knowledge of our mothers, sisters, and girls next door with what we’d learned from the dirty magazines. It was difficult and ultimately frightening.

bigbaddaboomI think we were all a bit relieved when several days later we came out to find the pipe holding our forbidden treasure was under water. As it turned out, the field was a rice field, and the farmer had come and turned the valve, flooding the area with water from the creek. The water had carried the magazines out into the acres of rice paddies and they were obviously ruined and lost. Our only consolation was that the next day we were treated to the joyous show of a biplane flying right over our heads, dropping sprouts into the fields of water. The daring of the pilot earned our undying admiration, especially after he waved at us from about ten feet off the ground.

After that it was back to normal at the bridge. Snakes, lizards, bicycles, and swimming. Seeing how long we could stand on the train tracks while a train bore down on us. Stupid boy things like that. I’m sure we spent the whole summer out there, but when school started again and the weather grew colder, the place wasn’t as much fun. Things changed, bulldozers pushed things around, and the old wooden railroad bridge was replaced by a new, modern, concrete one. And for some reason they cut down all the surrounding trees.

It was over. The next summer the tracks didn’t hold the same magic, and it took many years to find a place like that again. By that time I was a teenager in a different crowd of friends, and girls were involved, and there was not much innocence left. People had jobs and responsibilities. Car payments had to be made. It was different.

Like Tom Sawyer, we were doomed to grow up.

The Hole in the Field

We didn’t mean any harm. Seriously. We were just kids.

I think I was about 10 years old when we first moved to Stockton, California, and our first house was right on the edge of town in an area being developed. Directly across the street was a large empty field, a perfect place for us neighborhood kids to play. With this huge field of dirt, all we needed was a shovel. I provided the shovel, and we took turns digging. We all wanted to see just how big a hole we could make.

The project took weeks. At first we called it “The Hole,” as in, “Let’s meet at The Hole after school.” “Mom, we’re going to go play out at The Hole.” “I did more work on The Hole than you did!”

The Hole became quite large, and then someone came up with the coolest idea. With all the construction going on in the neighborhood there was plenty of wood around (scrap and otherwise) so day by day we were able to start covering The Hole with a roof. As the roof was built, dirt was piled on top of it so that it couldn’t be seen. It was at this point it stopped being The Hole and became “The Fort.”

With The Fort in place amid all the weeds and tall grass, it was the best place on Earth to play Army. We armed ourselves with cap guns, squirt guns, plastic battle axes and swords, and the filled that field with wars, insurrections, rebellions and general free-for-all mêlées. The Fort was a nexus for our little battles until summer, when a rival gang of kids, older and meaner, took it from us. Our interest in it waned, as we’d discovered new places to play (a creek with a railroad bridge, God help us) and so we finally gave up on The Fort.

We let the bullies have it.

Then I remember the day we spotted a Caterpillar tractor out in that field, lumbering and squeaking through the tall grass. I stood on my front lawn with my friends, watching in fascination as the tractor pulled its plow back and forth across the field, edging closer to The Fort with each pass. Then there was this magic moment when the entire tractor suddenly disappeared from our view. From across the field came a terrific Wham!.

Little did we realize that we’d created the perfect tractor trap.

The tractor driver came up out of that hole hopping mad, and we ran. Later someone came door to door, inquiring about whose kids had dug a big hole in the field. My mom kept her mouth shut, no doubt fearing a lawsuit. Later it came out that the bullies who’d taken it away from us got blamed, and were in big trouble.

Ah, karma.

It took a huge semi-truck looking rig to pull that tractor out of The Hole. We stood on my front lawn watching that, too. Come next summer, they’d started building more houses there and soon the field was a block of brand new triplexes. It didn’t take five years for the whole area to deteriorate into a low-rent slum.

Frankly, I liked it better as a field.

Ca11igraphy

She has the most beautifully rounded font
I have ever beheld
And I caress every curve
Of her W
With my eager gaze
Her M and her Y
Give me a capital I
Even her E and her 3
Really do it for me
She has the most beautifully rounded font
It is my favourite.

 

Reusing Disposable Things

Reusable Spork

According to a New York Times article, about 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year, and only about 10 percent of it is recycled. The rest of it is simply thrown away, and an estimated seven million tons ends up floating around in the ocean — every year.

One simple change in mindset can reduce that by quite a bit.

You know that clean, shiny plastic spork you might use to eat lunch? What would happen if you washed it off and saved it for another reuse? Just once. Or that plastic cup (or paper, for that matter) that we drink out of once and then toss … rinse it out and use it just one more time?

Imagine if everyone did that. Use a perfectly good disposable item twice, instead of just once.

Just once.

Imagine how much of a dent that would take out of those tons of plastic going into the environment. In a perfect world that would cut the plastic use in half, but of course that’s not the case, as there are many plastic items — such as in packaging — that can only be used once. But still, a significant portion of plastic use is … well, knives and forks. Plastic cups. A plate. Things that are perfectly reusable.

What if you reused them just once? Or maybe more than once?

Now, I know the next step is to wonder about substituting actual reusable items instead of disposable ones, but let’s not get carried away. We’ve got a 300 million ton plastic ship going full throttle here — there’s no way you’re going to stop it on a dime. But big changes can come from small, tiny changes. Easy changes.

Like rinsing out that cup and using it again before you throw it away. Or — be daring! — use it three times. Four!

It’s easy, and I urge you to start doing it today, and please urge your friends and colleges to do it too. Just make that simple, easy change.

Just reuse it once. Maybe twice. Something so small, it’s not that big a deal, but cumulatively it could be a huge big deal.

Sources: Raising Awareness of Plastic Waste (NY Times); U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

Trip Without Destination

She calls out his name
The brown sedan keeps driving
There shines no brake lights

She sits, cold concrete
Does not want to move or talk
He is gone for good

Motor sounds, smell of exhaust
Many shoes crunching endless paths
A bus pulls up, stops

She looks, driver smiles
Doors open and then breathes warm air
Standing, life goes on

Leaden feet carry her
Up three steps, walk down the aisle
Bus seat is grimy

Long hours pass the day
Trip without destination
She stares out window

Familiar streets now
She gets off the bus, walking
Shock, his car is home

Running to the door
He meets her in the doorway
The love is still there

Eternal Summer Dream

Creatures of shadow, light and dark,
Weighing nearly nothing
Drifting like wind-borne mist
Past the fitted stone and ancient archways
The long grass under the tangled branches.

When the afternoon sun beats down
With the pressure of a dry August heat
They rest in a quiet summer dream
Of past years and childhood games
Of restless yearnings and the touch of someone fond
A time spent long ago.

When the sun drifts down, finally
They stir in the evening twilight
And wander aimlessly, sleepwalking
Dimly aware of who they were
And what they are now.

When footsteps quietly come
To them it drums like thunder
All still, they watch
As a young couple wanders
Arm in arm through the courtyard
Hardly more than children

There’s a hush as they pause and kiss
There’s a rush of life and joy
Then as the two walk aimlessly along, they follow,
They follow along, just follow, watching,
Watching, the night itself watching,
Just watching

As the sun brightens the sky
And as the lovers sleep
They pause to wistfully touch the life
So fresh and so warm
Then drift past the cold archways
And etched stone
To the place they lie dreaming
Just dreaming, holding onto what they’d touched
Until the sunlight melts it away.

Transformative Loops

I have found the key to happiness.

It’s not an original idea. You’ll find forms of it throughout various cultures, religions, philosophies and the sciences.

The more experience I gain in this lifetime, the more I notice everything moves in cycles. I started studying these cycles, and found the most interesting and useful ones sustain themselves. Here I’ve attempted to strip the most relevant two down to their simplest form. I call them the Positive Loop, and the Negative Loop.

The goal in life is to get into as many of the Positive Loops as you can, and away from the Negative ones. To do this you must first become aware of the various loop cycles you’re in, identify the negative ones, and make conscious effort against habits you’ve formed to break out of them.

I call this a Transformative Loop, one that actually breaks a Negative Loop and creates a Positive Loop in its place.

Once again, these are very simplified, much like representing an entire automobile engine by showing a single piston. By doing this, it makes it easier to see the solution. And, yes, the solution is simple, though identifying it may not be.

Now if this were a self-help book, I would spend 20 pages convincing you to read the book, three pages of introducing the idea, and the next 140 pages convincing you the idea works through endless sets of examples. My friends, I’m not going to put you through that. I want to share this with you because it can make your life better. By making your life better, it makes the lives of others close to you better, and so on.

If you already get the picture, you can stop reading right now. Go find examples of Positive and Negative loops in your life. Write them down. Study them. Figure out where you can break the Negative loops and turn them Positive.

Seriously, that is your mission. I want you to do this. It’s good for you, your friends, your family, and even for me. For everyone.

Writers on Writing

I’ve begin posting a series of videos on my MojoWriter.com website, featuring authors talking about writing (among other things). I’ll be posting a new video at least every other day for the next few weeks. For instance, here’s Kurt Vonnegut:

To see more, head over to MojoWriter.com.

May I Take Your Order, Please?

Something I wrote to get my head around a scene that I was working on in Eleven Days on Earth.

A waiter walked up to the table
Wearing a suit jacket that was far too small—
There was no way he could button it, and the
Sleeves came halfway up to his elbows
He sported a overlarge red bow tie
Black curly hair with oil in it, and
A large, obviously fake mustache
Which curled in waxed spirals at the ends.

“May I take your order, please?” he asked.

Before we could answer
A nude woman holding a pomegranate, with a
Bayoneted rifle slung over her shoulder
And flanked by two huge yellow and black tigers
Complained that she had been stung by a bee
And wanted her money back.

We sat for eleven minutes waiting
Then realized that ants were eating the silverware.

Virtual Interviews with Real People

This is the future, and I often hang out in virtual worlds. And in these virtual worlds I occasionally meet and become friends with real people, a lot of them authors. One of these authors interviewed me for his blog, which was fun, but even better he interviewed a very interesting and talented writer who’s book I’m reading right now: Jane Watson

A novel by Jane Watson
ISBN: 0 330 36361 1
Picador - Pan Macmillan
Australia

An excerpt from the interview: “Hindustan Contessa is a novel set in Australia and India which follows the journey of an Australian couple, as they travel in an Indian car to meet the husband’s Indian grandmother for the first time, in his family’s ancestral village. The novel’s title comes from a particular car once manufactured in India, the Hindustan Contessa, which the couple travels in,  and which seemed to me a fitting image of a dual culture. This car, once made by Hero motors of India, was an imitation of a modern Western style car with a dash of Indian style. It attempted, I felt, to have a foot in both cultures. I wanted it to symbolise the cultural identity crisis that the main characters face.”

Another major part of the story is about the couple being kidnapped and held for ransom in a cave up in the Indian hills — which is beautifully foreshadowed in the book’s introduction, a particularly visual and immediate telling of Persephone’s journey into the underworld.

You can read more about the story, its creation, and the creative process: An Interview with Jane Watson by Alexander M Zoltai.

While I have never met Alex or Jane, at least not in person, I get to hang out with them through the magic of virtual reality, interacting with them in a video-game-like environment that enables communication on a level that I still find astonishing. All physical boundaries dissolve. The people involved in these discussions are from all over the world, with very different backgrounds and viewpoints, but all having common interests. The only barrier that I really find is the one of time zones. The place where we meet and discuss is called Book Island, on a system called Second Life (the continued existence of which seems to be a surprise to a lot of people — when in fact Second Life is not only alive and well, but thriving).

You can find out more about Alexander M Zoltai, his book Notes From An Alien, and his attempts to influence world peace, at his blog. Also you can find our interview as well: Author Interview with Jerry J. Davis.

Plant Seeds and Starships

For anyone who wants to see a genuine miracle, pop open a plant seed.

The amazing thing about life is that it’s a form of matter that replicates itself. Each seed contains all the information and mechanics it needs to accomplish this.

And you can hold it in your hand. It’s a portable miracle. You can even eat them.

Seeds have always fascinated me, and they’re now serving as the basis of a novel manuscript I’m writing. One of the most important endeavors humanity must work on is to develop the technology to replicate a seed, and encode everything needed to grow a whole world inside it.

It is possible. It can be done. And it’s far more feasible than trying to send a starship full of living people (frozen or otherwise) on a journey lasting thousands of years.

Just send a seed. Send a lot of them – small, compact, self-controlled, self-replicating, self-healing, and able to last for millions of years. Scatter them across the galaxy. If any of them succeed, they will send more, and each one will build a whole world full of Earth life. They would be, literally, Earth’s own seeds.

I truly believe this is the only way Humanity is going to spread to the stars.

Here’s the very premature teaser that popped into my head for this current manuscript:

A million years in the future.

Ten different worlds.

Ten different people.

The same DNA.

Eleven Days on Earth

11 Days - BW CoverI’m happy to announce that the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years (or has it been longer than that?) is now finally released for the Amazon Kindle.

From Amazon.com’s Editorial Reviews:

Jon August is dead.

If that weren’t bad enough, the place he lands in the afterlife is one where souls prefer vodka, not beer. That’s a problem because Jon is a beer lover. Not just any beer, either. Good beer. Great beer. Because he knows that mankind’s civilization owes everything to beer. It’s the actual Holy Water.

Jon meets and falls under the spell of a mysterious goddess who helps him find his way back to the land of the living. Under the Bridge of Eternity, through the Sands of Time — to emerge not as a ghost, but a living mortal, one who can die again.

His mere presence upsets the balance of our world, and Jon finds himself a pawn in a power struggle between the modern gods — in particular, the feuding daughters of Time and Fate. One is acting as his guardian angel, while the other is trying to kill him. Jon must stay alive long enough to find the Holy Beer and, in the process, stop the power grab being made on our Universe — a struggle where not only is humanity’s fate hanging in the balance, but also the fate of our eternal souls.

Links:

How to Discover Your True Life’s Desires

It’s a very good thing to have dreams and aspirations. The problem is, which ones do you chase? Which ones do you lock in as a goal, and work toward? For some people this is a no-brainer, but for others — especially creative types who have a very large range of interests — choosing can be difficult. So difficult, in fact, that you end up making no choice at all.

Another pitfall is choosing to pursue something that, in the end, you lose interest in. The time in your life is finite, and it’s a shame to waste that time and energy chasing something that turns out to be a whim. That’s why it’s best to take some time up front, studying, to discover what it is you really want out of life, before you dedicate a lot more time working toward it.

It’s like that Talking Heads song Seen and Not Seen, where the guy spends years slowly changing the shape of his own face to an ideal, which — halfway through — he decides isn’t what he really wants.

Here’s what I did, and it worked for me. Maybe it will work for you as well.

Spend a couple weeks making a list of the things you really want out of life. Don’t be afraid to think big. What is it you really want?

Don’t worry about listing them in order, and if you think of something else later, you can add it in at any time.

My [highly edited] personal example:

  • See New Zealand
  • Get a pro camera
  • Write for a living
  • Become a gourmet chef
  • Paint pictures
  • Pursue photography
  • Own a Starbucks
  • Live in a beach house
  • Own a Bookstore
  • Learn computer programming
  • Learn database programming

Make sure you don’t lose this list. I kept mine on a Palm Pilot, because iPhones weren’t around yet and I carried my PDA with me everywhere. You can keep it on your computer, in the cloud, or in a paper notebook you know you won’t lose. It doesn’t matter where just as long as it’s accessible and safe.

Now, over the course of the next 6 months to a year (or even longer if you’d like), go down this list and rate your desire for each one on a scale from zero to ten, using decimals if you so choose. Do it at least once a month. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of numbers beside each:

  • See New Zealand – 8 / 3 / 5 / 9 / 9 / 6 / 7 / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Get a pro camera – 8 / 9 / 9 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 3 / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Write for a living – 7 / 9 / 8 / 9 / 7 / 6 / 9 / 10 / 9 / 10
  • Become a gourmet chef – 7 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 3 / 4 / 8 / 4 / 5 / 4
  • Paint pictures – 7 / 8 / 4 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 3 / 7 / 0
  • Pursue professional photography – 6 / 10 / 8 / 2 / 0 / 2 / 3
  • Own a Starbucks – 5 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0
  • Live in a beach house – 9 / 8 / 10 / 8 / 9 / 8 / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Own a Bookstore – 4 / 0 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 2
  • Learn computer programming – 1 / 1 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 0 / 0
  • Learn database programming – 1 / 3 / 0 / 1 / 2 / 4 / 1 / 1

You can see immediately the goals I’ve consistently craved over time are things like a beach house and a really cool camera. One of the things obviously a whim was my desire to open a Starbucks of my very own.

Now, average each one up and sort them highest to lowest:

  • Write for a living – 8.5 Average
  • Live in a beach house – 8.4 Average
  • See New Zealand – 7.3 Average
  • Get a pro camera – 6.9 Average
  • Become a gourmet chef – 4.5 Average
  • Pursue professional photography – 4.5 Average
  • Paint pictures – 3.8 Average
  • Own a Bookstore – 2.0 Average
  • Learn database programming – 1.8 Average
  • Own a Starbucks – 1.2 Average
  • Learn computer programming – 1.1 Average

And there you go. You have a well researched list of what you want out of life. Concentrate on the top of the list, and forget about everything averaging below a six in your ratings.

I did this about eight years ago. I’m now writing for a living, I’ve saved up for and bought the camera, but I haven’t made it to New Zealand yet — though I have made it to Europe several times. And while I don’t live on the beach, I’ve found a beautiful place nestled right up against stream. So you see, once you’ve set your goals you know what to focus on and work toward — you can achieve them!

Now right in the middle of all this you may stumble into something else that fires your rockets. Add it in. Pursue it a bit. Study it as well. Times change, interests change … if I were to do this list now, it would look substantially different.

The most important thing is to make sure you enjoy life, and keep enjoying it. It could turn out that something on your list (that you’ve wanted for over a year) will suddenly drop off after you’ve started pursing it. Maybe something you pursued while you were making your list takes its place.

It’s okay. If you feel a passion for something, and the passion doesn’t fade, you may not even need to make a list or study your long term desires.

If that happens, then go for it!

If not, then at least you have a solid place to start. And everything you do, learn from it. If you can do that then nothing is wasted, and you’re living your life to its fullest.

Controlling Your Loved Ones Kills the Love

I’ve seen this happen over and over again among family and friends, and it hurts to watch.  And as far as I can see it never ends well.

To generalize this, let’s make up a story about Dick and Jane.  I’m making Dick the controlling partner, because I usually see it on the male side of the relationship, but it isn’t always so.  This is written hopefully to help Dick understand why it seems the world has turned against him, and what he needs to do makes things better for himself and those he loves.

So as our story begins, Dick and Jane fall in love and get married.  Immediately afterwards, Dick’s attitude toward Jane changes.  She’s his property now, his wife, and he is the husband.  Dick is now the Lord and Master of his castle.

Incidentally, we can’t blame Dick for this sudden attitude shift.  This is what he’d been taught by his parents, which they in turn had been taught by their parents.  This is not what you’d call an enlightened family, more a traditional one.  In the old days this was the accepted rule of thumb.

Fast forward to the new millennium.  This is no longer how society works.  Change which began a half century before has now come to fruition.  Man and woman are equal partners in a relationship, and in society.

Jane has been taught this, if not by her family then by society itself.  She is a equal and free person.  She has equal rights, and no limits to what she can pursue in life.  She can run for President of the United States if she so chooses.

This archaic rule her new husband is now trying to impose upon her does not sit well.  Jane has sudden and serious second thoughts about this marriage, but something keeps her in it.  Be it love, or a sense of obligation, or stubbornness – or most likely, the false hope that she can change him – something makes her stay.

The first few years are a period of adjustment anyway.  Quibbles and quarrels are part of the natural landscape.  Over time they settle into a sense of equilibrium, especially as children arrive into their marriage.

But slowly, over time, Dick has devised (or perhaps, evolved) ways to control Jane so that he feels secure.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Monetary controls – she only has access to specific amounts of money, if any at all.
  • Communication controls – he checks on her constantly.
  • Transportation controls – she doesn’t have a car, or at least not a reliable one.
  • Social controls – he has approval/disapproval powers over who she can have as friends.

If Jane has accepted this – if she has the type of psyche where this makes her feel secure – then she may grumble but that’s the end of our story.  But our story is not about that type of Jane.  Our Jane is resentful, feels trapped, and against her will has started thinking of Dick as The Enemy.

Now, you see, Dick loves Jane.  To him, he’s taking care of her.

Jane, however, is now starting to resent, and starting to fall out of love with, her own husband.  She begins pulling away, trying to free herself, to demand some autonomy.

Dick will have none of that.  In fact, the moment he feels he’s losing control he starts to panic, and does rash things.  He lashes out, tells her she’s misbehaving, tells her she’s causing all sorts of trouble.  He punishes her psychologically and sometimes even physically.  Worst of all, he puts all the blame on her.

This does serious damage to the marriage.  Jane now goes undercover, pursuing her freedom in covert ways.  Dick has ceased being a life companion and has now totally become The Enemy.  Her love for him may not be fully extinguished at this point, but hate has crept into the picture … it’s become a love/hate relationship.

Dick doesn’t know what else to do.  He was brought up with the understanding that control is the only path, that he must remain in charge.  When he inevitably catches Jane doing the unthinkable – outright defying him – it throws him into blind panic.  He doesn’t understand why the woman he loves has turned against him, and so now he feels betrayed.  As far as he’s concerned, he’s given her everything.

And he may have – as far as all her material needs, and her physical needs.  But he has denied her the one thing she needs most:  freedom.

At this point it’s probably too late to save this relationship.  Too many bridges have been burned.  Dick and Jane are getting divorced.

Sadly, if Dick doesn’t learn what caused this disaster, he’s doomed to repeat it with other people in his life.  He’ll drive away his own children, and probably his next wife as well.

However – and unfortunately – Dick is usually the type of person who blames everyone else for all his problems, as he literally doesn’t see or understand that he caused them.  So step one for Dick is to accept responsibility for his own actions.

Dick needs to do something called “root cause analysis” on his own life.  He has to look at his problems and ask himself, sincerely, “What did I do to cause this,” and he has to be brave enough to accept the answer that will inevitably come to him.

It is never too late to change.  It’s never too late to turn a new page in your life and start again.

Here’s a to-do list for Dick:

  • Accept responsibility for your actions and stop blaming other people.
  • Accept that you need to change, and truly want to do so.
  • Accept that in many cases you’re not the victim of your problems, you are the unwitting culprit who caused them.
  • Accept that the choices you make cause the things that happen in your life.
  • Accept that you make mistakes, and that’s okay as long as you learn from them.
  • Learn to let go of the illusion that you can control people.  You cannot.  The only person you can control is yourself.
  • Accept that the only person you can change is yourself.
  • Learn to accept people as they are.
  • Learn to love unconditionally.  Do not demand or expect things in return.
  • Learn to trust people, especially those you love.
  • Learn to give people freedom, and trust that – because you’re sincerely trying to be the best person you can be – they will not abandon you.
  • If they do leave you, you have to let them go and trust that it wasn’t meant to be.  If you let them go graciously there’s always the chance they’ll come back.
  • Always focus on trying to be the best person you can be.

The most important thing Dick has to accept is that you cannot force people to love you, and that you cannot force people to stay with you.  Instead you have to learn to become the type of person people would never dream of leaving.  To do that you must be willing to give them:

  • Unconditional love
  • Unconditional encouragement
  • Unconditional freedom

If Dick cannot do that, then he is doomed to repeat his failures.

And he will always be a Dick.

Can Smiling Make You Happy?

When you’re happy, you smile. So, if you smile will it make you happy?

According to studies, the answer to that is “Yes.”

More and more it’s coming out that the connection between the smile and the happiness is not a one-way street. The signals sent from your brain to your body to make you smile when you’re happy can also be used in reverse. Some studies even suggest that it’s the smile itself which comes first … that your happiness is in fact triggered by the smile, not the other way around.

I am not happy as I write this (romantic problems) so let’s try an experiment. I’m sitting here at Starbucks, sipping coffee and writing on my trusty Sony Clie, and I’m going to try to cheer myself up simply by smiling.

6:42 pm – Big fake smile on my face. Still feeling sad.

6:44 pm – Still wearing a big fake smile. I’m right in the window and people are walking by. I’m on display with this stupid grin on my face, and I’m feeling more than a little foolish.

6:45 pm – The smile is now genuine because it’s starting to become funny.

6:46 pm – I am really starting to feel like an idiot now, but it’s still funny and people are smiling back at me. And, yes, I definitely feel more cheerful than I did a few minutes ago. So it works for me.

Now let me take the experiment one step further. The next person who comes through the door frowning, I’m going to talk them into smiling.

Later now. My victim’s name was Dave, a nice guy about 40 years old, wearing glasses and talking with an Australian accent. He admitted he was feeling down because of his financial situation, so I convinced him to sit across from me and try the smiling experiment. We smiled at each other until he finally asked if I were gay or something (no, I told him, this is a real experiment). A few minutes later he was laughing, and I asked if it cheered him up … and he said yes.

So in this unscientific little test of mine, I have concluded that something about smiling does in fact lighten your mood. I know from prior experience that forcing yourself to laugh works as well, but you can’t really sit down by yourself in a public place and laugh for minutes on end without frightening people.

Let’s not end this here … why don’t you try it?  Maybe we can make this world a happier place one smile at a time.

 

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

Every night I go to sleep with a CPAP machine strapped to my face, and it’s wonderful.

Used to be that I’d fall asleep while driving so often that I had my kids trained to pull the hair on my arms to keep me awake. I’d routinely fall dead asleep during meetings at work, and even once during a job interview. When visiting friends, I’d always end up dozing off on their couch. I even used to catch myself falling asleep while standing in line.

Coffee only had a limited effect. Herbal stimulants could only do so much. It was bad. I thought I had narcolepsy.

My doctor pegged it, though — she said I probably have sleep apnea. The moment she described what that meant, I knew she was right. People often told me that I snored loud, and then stopped, and then started again. During camping trips my snoring would scare other campers — my friend’s wife even thought I was an angry bear.

Spending the night at the local sleep lab confirmed the diagnosis. When I’d go to sleep, my throat would slowly close and cut off my airway. I’d stop breathing. My lungs would fight for air, which would wake me up only enough to gasp and open the airway again. Then, drifting back to sleep, it would happen all over again. All night long. Waking up every five minutes.

No wonder I kept falling asleep while I was driving. So many times I’d nod off and then come back just in time to avoid flying off the side of the road, or slamming into a wall of concrete. Seriously, that happened so often I’d lost count of how many times I almost died.

It was because I wasn’t sleeping at night.

The solution to the problem turned out to be a machine called a CPAP, which stands for “Constant Positive Airway Pressure.” It’s basically a specialized air pump with a hose and a mask. The mask comes in various designs, all meant to put air into your nose at a specific pressure that’s just enough to keep your throat from closing while sleeping.

Let me tell you, I was very dubious of being able to sleep with what I considered a SCUBA apparatus strapped to my face all night long. But being that it was so hard for me to stay awake in the first place, it only took me twenty minutes or so to drift off even with the strangeness of the contraption. I slept so well that first night, I woke up a new person. I’m totally serious, it was that profound. It had been so many years since I actually had a full night’s sleep that when I finally did, I felt like I’d just woken up from a coma.

Even now, over 10 years later, I’m awake all day long. I never fall asleep while driving. I don’t snore anymore. I’m a totally different person. The CPAP doubles as a white noise machine, and is quieter than a fan. You can usually get your health insurance to pay for it — mine did, twice. Even if not, you can now find them on the Internet for a fraction of what they used to cost.

A beneficial side effect I’ve found — and my doctor has confirmed — it may also solve any acid reflux problems you have at night.

I’m writing this to help anyone facing the decision of going with a CPAP to know that it’s not horrible — it’s wonderful. And I’m hoping that if someone else out there recognizes these symptoms, please go to your doctor and have it diagnosed and treated. Not doing so can take a serious toll on your health, and also — and more immediate — falling asleep while driving can not only kill you, but the people with you, or the other people who you might hit.

More information about sleep apnea:  Sleep Apnea – Mayo Clinic

Internet sources for reasonable priced CPAP machines:  CPAP.com  |  CPAP Supplies Plus  |  CPAP Supplies USA

 

How Men Can Last Longer in Bed

This is a very embarrassing topic, but my girlfriend urged me to write about it as a public service. “It could make a difference in the relationships for hundreds of couples,” she told me.

The subject is control over how long a guy lasts during lovemaking.

Quoting my girlfriend: “Why is it that so many men don’t care about control when it is so very important? Don’t they realize that it makes such a huge difference to their relationships? Why can they not see that a satisfied woman will do anything for her man?”

This is obviously a wide spread problem, otherwise you wouldn’t see it as one of the most popular subjects for annoying Spam mail.

The ironic thing is that teaching yourself how to last longer in your lovemaking is simple, and unlike what all those junk emails tell you, you don’t have to buy a pill or special cream. All it takes is the willingness to learn. Or, actually, unlearn.

Because of the sexually frank nature of the subject, those who might be offended should stop reading right here. I mean it. Stop reading.

You’re still reading? Okay. Let’s get right to the point, then.

Premature ejaculation in men is nothing more than a bad habit.

The habit is learned usually as a boy during puberty, directly after experiencing his first orgasm. He’s not to blame, either, it’s our sexual prudishness that is the root cause of the problem. The fear of getting caught.

All boys masturbate. All of them. Most men do it as well, and most will lie about it too. It’s extremely embarrassing, and guys would rather die than be discovered.

Why? Because we’ve all been taught that sex is bad. It’s dirty. It’s a sin.

Well, it’s not, but that’s not the point of this article. However it is this stigma over self-gratification that causes boys (and later men) to rush through it as fast as humanly possible. They feel the urge, they find a quiet place, and they take care of business. Over and done with. The original wham, bam, thank you hand.

The human penis is a simple creature. It only has a couple jobs in life, and it only does what it’s been taught to do. It stands to reason that if you spend years teaching it to ejaculate quickly, then that is what it’s going to continue doing. It doesn’t care what the circumstances … or what is doing the stimulation. It knows what it knows.

Fortunately, a penis can learn to change. Slow down. Relax and enjoy the journey instead of focusing only on the destination.

The simplest way to unlearn the bad habit is doing the very same activity which originally caused it, but with a different mindset. There are two feelings you have to master, one which you know and another you may not be too familiar with.

Lesson number one starts with you getting friendly with yourself. That’s right, it’s okay. You have an excuse. This is a class.

Start getting friendly with yourself, but pay close attention to what you’re feeling. There’s a point of no return, and there’s a point right before orgasm. They’re two separate places along the journey. Get to know these two places, but more specifically, get to know the difference between the two.

So it’s feeling good, and you feel it working up to that point, then … pay close attention … you’ll feel when it changes. You haven’t reached the point of imminent orgasm, but there is that place where you know it’s going to happen any moment. There’s a point where there’s no going back, it’s going to blow. Then, anywhere from a split second to maybe ten seconds later, you know the orgasm is about to happen.

Then it happens.

Did you feel the difference? Can you spot these two points? Don’t worry, it may take a while, but here’s the good news. You have permission to keep trying. You’re not going to unlearn this bad habit overnight. Give yourself three or four weeks of practice.

When you start being able to feel that place where you know, if you keep going, the orgasm will happen … back off. That’s right, back off from what you’re doing. Stop and let it calm down for a few moments, then start going again.

This is lesson number two. Play with yourself for as long as you can without reaching your orgasm. Work yourself almost up to, but not past, that point of no return. Having a hard time figuring out where? Keep slipping past it? No problem. Here’s what you do: if you even think you’re near it, stop. I don’t care if you have to stop every five seconds, just stop. Let it calm down. Start again.

Keep going. I don’t care how much you want that orgasm, you goal is not to have it. Why? Let me quote my girlfriend again: “Why can they not see that a satisfied woman will do anything for her man?”

That’s why. There is absolutely nothing in this world like completely satisfying the woman you love. So…

Keep practicing. See how long you can keep it going without passing the point of no return. Challenge yourself to go longer and longer. When you feel you are starting to get the hang of it, it’s on to lesson number three, which is putting it to practice with your lover.

Now remember, you’re still unlearning the bad habit. Don’t be discouraged with failure … just keep trying. You will get better.

Let your lover know what you’re doing. Let her know you need to be in control, and why, and I’m betting she’s going to be more than willing to help. Don’t rush through the foreplay, and when it’s time to enter, pay close attention to what you’re feeling. Move slowly, don’t get too caught up into it. The moment you even think you’re getting close to that point, pull out, and let it calm down. Then continue.

You’ll find something amazing. Your penis is not so dumb after all. It can learn something new, and you’ll find that — as you get used to not rushing headlong toward that orgasm — your penis is going to get better at letting you know when that point of no return is. Also, you’ll find it takes longer to get there as well.

That’s the penis learning.

Aren’t you proud of it? Good penis! Well done!

If you haven’t noticed by now, there’s a benefit to you as well as your lover. The longer you hold back your orgasm, the more intense it’s going to be when you finally reach it. Instead of just an, OOOH! AHHHH! WOW! it will start becoming a OOOOOOOOHHHHAAAA OH MY GOD! AAAAAAHHHGGHH!!!!! YES YES YES!

And she’ll be proud of herself for giving you such a big one, too.

If you’re not convinced yet that this is worth the effort, consider this (especially you married guys) … bad lovemaking leads to less lovemaking, which leads to even worse lovemaking, which can lead to zero lovemaking. A downward spiral. Conversely, good lovemaking leads to MORE lovemaking, which leads to BETTER lovemaking, which leads to EVEN MORE lovemaking. An upward spiral.

That’s the kind of love that makes your world go round. It can make you healthier, happier, and live longer too. And, let me quote my girlfriend one last time: “Why can they not see that a satisfied woman will do anything for her man?”

So guys, what are you waiting for? Get busy. Practice makes perfect!

 

True Love = 11

Every first grader knows that 1+1=2.  Those who’ve read George Orwell might also say they’re familiar with the concept of 2+2=5.  Today I’m going to tell you that in some circumstances, 1+1=11.

The number 11 is a perfect symbol for a strong, loving relationship made of two very compatible people.

Of course, when one person joins with another it makes two people.   But in a really good relationship synergy gets involved, so that the total is greater than the sum of the two individuals.  Two people can bond and reinforce each other to become much more than just two.  Much stronger than two.  More confident than two.  More capable than two.

So you add 1 and 1 together, it makes 2, or it makes 11.  It’s a different way of putting the ones together, but symbolically it works.

The number 11 depicts two ones standing together to make one number, yet that number is far greater than the sum of one and one.  And while being a single number, they retain their individuality, standing side by side, inseparable, reinforcing each other.

Just like two people in a strong loving relationship.

Two pillars standing side by side will support far more than twice of what either pillar would individually.  Two minds, put together, can brainstorm far better.  Two passions together can ignite hotter, stronger flames.

The number 11 is also a prime number, which cannot be divided by anything other than itself.

All this is why, to me, 11 is the number of true love.

 

I Did My Own Divorce Without Lawyers

Right up front I have to tell you that this is not legal advice, this is just the experience of one person doing his own divorce. I have to tell you this up front because, especially in Texas, even distributing forms and instructions can be construed as legal counsel. That threatens the sanctity of the lawyer’s domain (and their income) so they come after you with all the fury of someone defending their own children.

Woe to anyone charged with offering legal advice without a license. Remember, most judges were also lawyers. They protect their own, and in my opinion, that’s the sole reason law seems so complicated. However, it’s not that complicated.

If you can keep a to-do list and fill out forms, you have the skills necessary to do your own divorce. When I first started the process I thought I was getting myself in way over my head, but after following through and looking back, it turned out to be nothing. It was simple. My ex and I saved ourselves thousands upon thousands of dollars.

For it to work you need one thing: the ability to agree with your soon to be ex. If you two are so angry at each other you can’t agree on anything, and your goal is revenge instead of the basic separation of your lives, then get a lawyer. You can’t do a do-it-yourself divorce if you can’t agree on the terms of the divorce.

A divorce is nothing more than an agreement in writing that follows legal guidelines. You agree on who gets what, who pays what, who sees the kids and when, and then a judge gives a stamp of approval. That’s all a divorce is. That, and a stack of legal forms. Those you get from the Internet. If you go to Google or Yahoo and search Texas Divorce (replace your own state, of course) up will pop a plethora of ads and links for legal forms services.

For some of them, you pay around $300 and then talk to a paralegal on the telephone. They ask you questions and fill the forms out, then send the forms to you. What I did, I paid less and answered the questions online. They plugged my answers into standard legal forms that were in Microsoft Word format, which they emailed to me. What I ended up with was a set of instructions, and these forms:

  • Original Petition for Divorce
  • Waiver Of Citation
  • Final Decree of Divorce
  • Prove Up Script

With the exception of the Waver of Citation, none of these look like regular everyday forms. In other words, they don’t look like a credit application. It’s more like script that reads, “This is who we are,” and “this is what we want,” and “this is how we’d like to do it.”

That’s the key right there. Using the guidelines of the instructions that should come with your forms, figure out between the two of you exactly who gets what, who pays what, and how. When you have this worked out, you can proceed with form filling and filing.

The Original Petition is the one you actually file with the court. For me, it was a simple matter of taking several copies down to the local county clerk, forking over some money, and having them stamp them and assign a case number. I believe at this point you can opt to pay the court to have your spouse served with the papers — most people do that — but because my ex was in on all this and she was in agreement with the terms, I sent her a copy personally along with a Waver of Citation.

The Waver of Citation, if you can get your spouse to sign it and return it to you, tells the court that your soon-to-be-ex agrees with everything that is in the divorce, does not intend to challenge any of it, and in fact may opt not to even appear in court.

Next comes the cooling off period, designed to make you think about what you’re doing, and possibly to change your mind and stay together. This waiting period varies by state. Also, if there’s children involved, you may be required to attend a class for how to deal with children during a divorce. If you have children and you care about them, I highly recommend you attend this type of class even if it’s not mandatory. There are a lot of behaviors which to you may seem natural or even healthy, but which will mess your children up or even turn them against you. Take the class, read a book, do something.

Also during this waiting period, it’s time to go over the details of The Final Decree. You see, in the Original Petition, you’re declaring to the court that you intend to divorce. The Final Decree spells out the terms of the divorce.

That was the biggest surprise to me in this whole process — I’d wrongly assumed the court would dictate to us how the divorce would be. No, it’s you who decide the details, you write the decree. It’s YOUR divorce. You have to follow the guidelines, and the document service will have created a rather generic version for you, but it’s up to you and your spouse to add the details.

The document service should have also created for you a Prove Up Script. You may or may not have to modify this to fit your details, but make sure this is done and you’ve read it over out loud until you’re comfortable with it. This is what you will stand up and read before the judge, the formal request for the divorce.

When the waiting period is up, you contact the court and schedule a trial. I found I could do that over the Internet by filling in a form. In your case, it may be that you have to call, or perhaps even go down to the courthouse.

After you’ve got it scheduled, and the big day arrives, dress nicely and show up to the courthouse with copies of your Final Decree and your Waver of Citation (and/or whatever other documents are required for your state), and also bring that Prove Up Script. In the court, you’ll sit and wait while other business is attended to, and when it’s your turn you approach the bench, read your script, and hand over your papers. If all goes well, and all your paperwork is in order, the judge grants the divorce right then and there, stamps it, and it’s done.

I spent less than $500 for mine.

Good luck!

This article originally appeared in GroovyMojo.com back in 2007.