Sunday, October 31, 2010

Best 'witches' to the birthday ghoul

She arrived squalling in the dark and early hours of a Halloween morning, an absolute treat after a frightening and tricky delivery, our own tiny gremlin. Later that day, a boy dressed as the Flash gave her a kiss — through his face mask — before zooming off to trick-or-treat.
She has worn many costumes in the 19 (all too short) years since then: baby pumpkin, fairy-tale princess, pink Power Ranger, witch, Indian princess, police officer, Dorothy Gale, gangster moll and many more. She’s even been known to create a costume and make up out of boredom (see left).

She won a prize in a sci-fi convention costume contest one year for the Star Trek outfit we dressed her in — mostly because she was an awfully cute 4-year-old at the time. The grownups in their expensive “uniforms” were not amused.

Over the years, we developed a tradition of taking the birthday ghoul out to eat before going trick-or-treating; the whole family would wear costumes to whatever restaurant she chose. That came to an end the year I wore a Star Trek costume and everyone in the joint came by the table to make jokes. She absolutely refused to let me wear a Mr. Fantastic outfit a couple of years back, but that may have had more to do with the way my gut stretched the fabric.

I suppose there’s only so much humiliation a young woman will endure from her father.

For the last few years, she has wandered the neighborhoods of the Hammocks in Lynn Haven with her friends and has hauled home loads of candy — so we’re a little disappointed that she has finally decided she’s “too old” for trick-or-treating.

Looks like we’ll have to hit the after-Halloween sales on All Souls Day.

All this is to say that, no matter what outward outfit she wears or how many Halloweens she has seen, she’ll always be our little monster under the surface.

Happy Halloween!

This is my Sunday 'Undercurrents' column for The News Herald.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Talk with Authors, Walk with Zombies


  • Books Alive opens with author presentations Friday (I won't be there; I have to be at work). I will be at the all-day event Saturday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). >>Details here<<

  • Zombie Walk is in downtown Panama City Friday evening, starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Marina Civic Center. I will be there (I'll be off work by then). >>Details here<<

Have fun out there. Be safe. The Zombies have assured the public they will not bite; the authors make no such promises.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Something I Learned at Church

One of my earliest memories of going to church is at the age of seven or eight. I realize how odd that is, because I was raised in church. I have vague memories of being in the nursery room, playing with toys and hearing a preacher’s voice over a speaker in the room (which I later learned was being piped directly from the pulpit); I recall napping in a baby bed in the church nursery, that half-awake awareness and sense of letting go; I recall images of my grandmother sitting with me in a pew, of her giving me cherry-flavored cough drops, of standing in the pew beside her to sing songs as she held the hymnal, of putting my head in her lap and falling asleep when the preacher started preaching.

But those early images aren’t vibrant memories. They blur together.

My earliest true, detailed and haunting memory of churchgoing is of a morning early autumn or early spring (I have a suspicion when*), the sun still low, the heat and humidity rising. Dad had dropped me and my little sister off (I don’t think he stayed for church in those days, or maybe it was Sunday School he skipped, or maybe I'm confused about this part altogether). The children’s Sunday School classes were in a small brick outbuilding behind the main church, and I was supposed to hold my little sister’s hand and walk her to her classroom (she would have been four or five years old at this time) and then go to my classroom a door away in the same building.

Her classroom door was locked. No one answered when I knocked. I tried the door to my classroom and found it locked as well. I tried the nursery door, a rising fear in my chest. Finally I found all four doors were locked. No one answered my knocks. I checked around the corner, where the car had been. The car was gone. I don’t recall if there were other cars in the gravel lot, but it seems like there were.

I didn’t know what to do, and I felt tears well up. I kept hold of my sister’s hand and went to the back door of the church. I didn’t know at the time that this was an entrance to the fellowship hall, which also doubled as a Sunday School classroom for the elderly members. It was locked. No one heard me knocking, and I was afraid to shout.

In fact, I was afraid to walk around the church to the front or look for other doors. I’m not sure if I even understood that I could do that. I was scared to leave the Sunday School building area in case someone showed up to open the classrooms. I was scared to wander, and I can’t claim I was watching out for my sister; my fear was my own, and she appeared merely confused by what I was doing.

So I sat on the little concrete walkway in front of the classrooms and put my back against the red brick. My sister sat down facing me and crossed her legs “Indian-style,” as we said then. She kept asking me where her teacher was and what we were doing. I don’t think she was frightened; I think she may have thought I was being bad or disobeying. I think she may have expected me to get in trouble.

She took a piece of gravel and scratched on the walkway, making light zig-zags on the smooth finish. I picked up a piece of gravel, too. I started scratching on the concrete — and this part of the memory is clearer than anything else about it. I scratched out three words:


I was angry by now. I don’t think I actually cried, but I felt like it. I felt lost, betrayed, abandoned. No one was coming, I thought. I began to wonder if Mom or Dad would ever come to get us, or if Grandma would show up with cherry cough drops. I hated being there alone. I hated worrying about what was going to happen next, and yes, even worrying about my little sister. I shouldn’t have to do this. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to go home.

We waited a long time. I don’t know how long. It may have been ten minutes, but it felt like hours. It reminded me of the long days I spent at age four in a daycare center where I was bullied by the older kids and neglected by the staff. I wanted to escape, and I felt truly trapped.

Finally, a woman came out the back door of the church and saw us sitting there. I remember she was tall and slim, at least in my mind’s eye. She wore a bright flowery dress. She had short dark hair. I don’t recall her name, but I knew even then that she was a member of the church. She asked how long we’d been waiting, and I told her I didn’t know, and I tried to shield the words I had scratched onto the concrete.

The panic rose in my throat. I was afraid someone would see. That she would read what I had written and be angry at me. That I would get a spanking from my dad.

If she saw, she didn’t mention it. She took our hands and led us inside and got us a drink from the cold, cold water fountain. She took us to a classroom upstairs, where older kids (teenagers!) were having a lesson. They gave us paper and crayons, and we drew pictures. After, the lady led us to the church sanctuary where Grandma met us.

I never forgot those feelings — the anguish of abandonment, the fear of being punished for expressing my anger. They continued to haunt me throughout my life. When my father and mother split, for instance. When I sat alone on the school bleachers and wrote bad poetry in high school. When I rode a bus to basketball games and not one other member of the team spoke to me. When I realized my few close friends weren’t going to go to university with me. Every time I try to write about real emotion and find myself backing off or tempering my language because I feel the need to find a kinder way to express what I’m experiencing, or to hide my true emotions, or that of the characters in my imagination.

I’m not sure exactly, but I think this is something I learned at church.

* Today I think this must have happened on the morning when everyone set their clocks back an hour — and if my parents forgot to change our clocks at home, then they may have dropped us off at church an hour early. We were at Sunday School at what we thought was 9:30 a.m., and no one was in the church because it was actually only 8:30 a.m. That means we sat outside for about an hour. Still, this doesn’t explain why we were taken to an inside room instead of going to our regular classes. I guess that part will remain a mystery forever.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Books Alive is Friday and Saturday

Books Alive! Weekend
When: Presentations Friday 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; book sales Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St., Panama City

PANAMA CITY — The area’s writers and authors gather for a local celebration of literacy in the Bay County Public Library’s inaugural Local Books Alive! event Friday and Saturday.

Friday’s session will focus on presentations by these authors: Gloria Dale Skinner (Amelia Grey), romance author; Cate Nobles, mystery writer; Bruce Gamble, speaking on “True Stories: The Art of Nonfiction Writing”; and Michael Lister, speaking on “Writing the Region: North Florida is my Beat.” There will be no book sales Friday.

Saturday, the meeting room will be filled by authors and their books. Alongside the folks named above will also be the News Herald’s online content editor, Tony Simmons, debuting his new collection of short stories, “The Best of Days.”

Other regional authors participating Saturday include: Charles Bryant, Norma Bowen, Sam Homola, Ed Offley, Mike McKinny, Gloria Walters, Paul Lowery, Marlene Womack, Dean Minton, Jean Mallory, Ron Frazer, Michael Brim (writing as Michael Goldcraft), Sharla Shults, Jeannie Weller, Bill Hash, Wanda Goodwin, T. Marie Smith, Chuck Waldron, Laurie Elberle, Ann Houpt, Kay McClucken, Anne Ake, Ytearie E. DeValt-Stevenson, Paul McAuliffe, Dr. John A. Ramsey, Jack Saunders and Bob Farsky.

“It is very important to me that the library be supportive of our local authors, artists and the citizens of Bay County who make Panama City such a wonderful place to live,” said library spokeswoman Bettina Mead. “The library does not take a commission or charge for any events held at the library.”

Mead also extended an early invitation to the library’s main event of the year, Books Alive!, which will be at Gulf Coast Community College on Feb. 5, 2011, and will feature keynote speaker Carl Hiaasen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Going to a Party Where No One's Still Alive

When: Friday, Oct. 29, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Beginning at the Marina Civic Center

PANAMA CITY — The zombie apocalypse is coming.
Friday afternoon, legions of the undead will gather at the Panama City marina to begin a slow, lumbering stroll up Harrison Avenue for Panama City’s inaugural “Zombie Walk.”

Allan Thompson, one of the event organizers, wants everyone to just come out and have fun. So far, about 600 people have indicated they plan to participate.

“In the horde of zombies, race does not matter,” Thompson said, making a joke on the ongoing debate over “fast” or “slow” zombies as depicted in the movies. The important thing is not to take the event too seriously, he indicated.

“Zombies are a funny play on death, not to mention what the comedic ‘Shaun of the Dead’ movie did for the genre,” Thompson said. “Why are zombies so hot these days? Well, they don’t sparkle and they’re easy to imitate.”

He suggested that participants (and those who just want to witness the spectacle of the apocalypse) bring cameras to photograph and video record the walk. There are “zombie walks” all over the world, Thompson pointed out on the group’s Facebook page. He also listed some “rules of conduct” for participants:

  • Do not attack the living. Be respectful of citizens not participating in the walk. Do not scare little children. Do not approach people who do not want to be approached.
“If someone appears frightened, back off and keep walking,” he said. “Do not touch anyone!”
  • Obey traffic laws. No cutting off cars or holding up traffic.
“We do not want any zombies to be ticketed or arrested during our stroll,” he said. “If you get a red light, you wait for the red light.”
  • Be respectful of all businesses. Do not keep people from entering or exiting any store front. Do not harass patrons at restaurants who may be sitting outside. Let them enjoy their meal. Do not enter any business along the route until the walk is finished.
“If you need beverages or snack to bring along with you, buy them beforehand,” he said.
  • Be careful with fake blood and other makeup that may stain. No bloody handprints on public walls. No graffiti. No littering.
“Take care of all your makeup needs prior to coming to the walk,” he said. “We don’t want to leave a bloody mess.”
  • Respect authority.
“If the police ask us to disperse, do so immediately,” he said. “Do not fight them. Do not argue with them. This is meant to be fun. We do not want any zombie arrests.”
  • No alcohol. If you want to drink, keep it in the bars or at home prior to or after the walk. Drinking will not be tolerated during the walk.
“For zombies 21 years rotting, there will be a pub crawl after the walk,” he said. “Inquire the day of (the walk).”
  • No weapons.
“Zombies don’t need no stinking weapons — neither should you,” he said. “By this I mean no real weapons, fake as possible.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wish I had known her better

I first met Barbara Clemons in the downstairs lobby of the Visual Arts Center in early 1994. I was by that time the paper’s Education reporter, and she was at the museum mentoring a group of children in the After School Assistance Program. ASAP was formed to aid children living in the public housing developments around town, and it was a project close to Mrs. Clemons’ heart.

Barbara was warm, smiling, glad to be in that place with those kids. She was adamant that the community learn more about the program and support less fortunate children. I was a stranger to her, but she treated me like we’d known each other for years.

Her accent and regal bearing reminded me immediately of my grandmothers. I suspected that she, like them, brooked little nonsense when there was work to be done, but enjoyed laughing about it all later.

I meet a lot of people. Honestly, I meet so many that I have trouble remembering some of them. Likewise, most of them don’t remember me the second time we cross paths.

But not Barbara, who was always gracious and without fail asked about my family. She connected to people that way, as I have learned over the years. I remember one time being surprised that she already knew my daughter was in the same middle school with her son Scott’s daughter.

She knew me from these columns, particularly, and so she knew me much better than I knew her. But even without that pipeline of information, she was aware. Present.

I could always count on seeing her at the get-acquainted gathering for Books Alive authors and volunteers each year. She would draw me down on the couch beside her and have me fill her in on the latest from my family. It was at one such gathering that she introduced me to author Michael Morris, who has described similar talks with her. She joked (or possibly only half-joked) that she wanted to adopt him.

The more time I spent with her, the more that initial reporter’s impression proved accurate. She continued to remind me in many ways of my grandmothers — her backbone, love of family and especially children, good humor, concern for the less fortunate, and strong will.

And like them, Barbara is gone now, passing away after a long illness on Oct. 16 at the age of 80. But as long as children enter an ASAP building, or enjoy a show at the Civic Center, or attend an exhibit at the VAC, or meet authors in town for Books Alive — as long as her family and friends and complete strangers whose lives she influenced keep her in their hearts — her story goes on.


Follow me on Twitter @midnightonmars

(The above is my column for Sunday's paper. Check it here Sunday morning.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

'Nothing is ever easy'

I wrote those four words on a sheet of paper with my eyes closed and a machine doing my breathing for me in the late evening of July 17, 2006.
It was the culmination of a couple of difficult years, but long story short, I had come out of a triple-bypass heart surgery and could not wake up. I had forgotten how to breathe. My eyes refused to open. I passed in and out of consciousness.

I was supposed to come around before 5 p.m. that afternoon, the doctors said, and my family gathered in the room trying to wake me. I heard bits and pieces of conversation, the voices of my wife, mother, sister, father, children. At one point, I heard my sister suggest someone turn on the TV and find something I like to watch.

“What channel is Sci-Fi?” she asked, and I raised my right hand at the elbow. I showed five fingers and then two fingers. “Hello,” and “Peace,” it might have seemed to say. I did it again and she said “Fifty-two? Channel 52? Of course, you’d know what channel Sci-Fi is on.”

But I was gone again pretty quickly. As I awoke again and again throughout the evening, they brought me a clipboard with with pen and paper so I could write to them. If my eyes ever opened, I don’t recall seeing anyone. They explained to me that I was on a respirator and had other tubes and IVs, but I would come off the respirator as soon as I could breathe on my own again. They named off people waiting in the visitors’ lounge.

I felt desperate, like a drowning man. I was alive, but I was afraid that status would change. Every time I fell asleep again was like dying, and every time I awoke was pure panic as I felt the machine pushing air into my lungs. I tried to pretend all this was a lark, and I wrote that message down.

“Nothing is ever easy.”

The nurses sent away my family as the night wore on. I wrote on the paper at one point, “Let Debra stay,” but they refused. I know I must have cried. I remember tears in my eyes, but they had been there all day, and no one noticed them now. Throughout the night, I would awaken, fight to open my eyes. The nurses tried shutting off the respirator a couple of times, but I would go back to sleep and fail to breathe. All night long, I felt like a drowning man fighting to stay afloat.

I finally came awake about 5 a.m. and a nurse was able to take me off the respirator. I had to think about breathing. I had to think about staying awake. I recall someone taking the drain tubes out of my chest, but don’t actually remember when that happened. I recall using the portable toilet in the room, but that may have been later in the day. I don’t remember when I got visitors, or who they were, except that I remember my wife and my children.

I recovered quickly, met the milestones I had to meet for release, and was out of the hospital three days later. But the truth of those four words has stuck with us.

My wife and I joke (because laughing is better than crying) that our luck is not the best. There’s always a cloud when we find a silver lining. There’s always a catch. Good deeds are punished with extreme prejudice.

If there's some assembly required, then there are also parts missing. Batteries not included — or affordable — and also the wiring is bad. Our comp tickets aren’t at the window. I can sell all the books I can afford to purchase first. The person who offers to be my agent goes out of business. That free lunch (quite literally) gives us food poisoning. That kid’s stomach ache is actually appendicitis, on the same day mom is scheduled for surgery. You have a wreck going to pick up a sick kid at school. You have a blow-out bringing another sick kid home from the doctor. You fill out all the paperwork, get all the approval codes, travel two days to Miami for testing, and insurance refuses to pay. We’re invited to a “fancy, red-carpet, black tie” event and get all dressed up and everyone else there is in flip-flops and jeans.

Nothing ever works out for us the way a normal person might anticipate or come to expect. at least now we have a response for that.

“Nothing is ever easy.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zombies on the move to downtown PC

Don’t say you didn’t see them coming.

We’re living in the era of the undead, the time of zombie. Long familiar to movie audiences and comic fans, they’ve never been more ubiquitous in the culture than now, (see the bestseller “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” for instance). They’re finally getting their own TV shows:

* IFC is showing a British series, “Dead Set,” at midnight on Oct. 25-29 with a Halloween marathon starting at 6:30 p.m. The show explores what would happen to people on a closed-set reality TV show like “Big Brother” if the rest of the world was overrun by the undead.

* AMC premieres “The Walking Dead” on Halloween at 9 p.m. The six-episode first season is based on a chilling graphic novel series of the same name and is directed by Frank Darabont (who made “The Mist,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and many more).

But on Oct. 29, to kick off the Halloween weekend, the undead above ground will rally for Panama City’s first “Zombie Walk,” planned to take place downtown starting at 4:30 p.m. It may include a zombie “beauty” contest and other distractions. As one with a deep-seated and irrational fear of zombies, I’m looking forward to it.

Zombie walks are a growing phenomenon across the world. There’s even a website devoted to sharing/promoting the events. The earliest on record was in 2001, and the largest was in Seattle in July, with 4,200 undead. They’re often used to raise money for local charities.

There are “rules of conduct” for participants, which include gentle reminders not to attack the living or scare little children. No touching of bystanders is allowed. Traffic/pedestrian laws must be obeyed, and police must be respected. “This is meant to be fun. We do not want any zombie arrests,” the organizers said on their Facebook event page.

Citizen zombies are also warned to be careful with their fake blood — leave no “bloody” handprints on walls, for instance. Businesses and outdoor restaurant seating are off-limits along the route. And no weapons are allowed (as if zombies needed them).

On the flip side of that, let me suggest a couple of rules for those who might be interested in seeing the Zombie Walk: 1) Do not drive a vehicle through the crowd, no matter how scared you are. That never ends well. 2)Leave baseball bats, cricket bats, swords, axes and other zombie-fighting gear at home; do not hit a walker in the head — or anywher else, for that matter.

You know what? If any of this anti-zombie activity even occurred to you, it’s probably best you just stay home with your gear, rewatch “Shaun of the Dead” or read “World War Z.”


The above was my Sunday Undercurrents column for The News Herald. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Goodbye to a friend

My friend, who perhaps knew me much better than I knew her, passed away after a long illness Saturday morning at 5:30 a.m. at her home, surrounded by her family. Her daughter called me to tell me, "You fan base has expanded to heaven." I will have much more to write about Barbara Clemons in the coming days. What follows is the feature story I wrote for Sunday's News Herald.

PANAMA CITY - Barbara Wells Clemons, wife of former Panama City Mayor Gerry Clemons and a driving force behind area civic organizations and charities throughout the last 60 years, died at her home Saturday morning after a prolonged illness, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.

She was 80.

Born in Montgomery, Ala., on May 24, 1930, Clemons was raised in Blountstown, where her father operated a grocery store and her mother was the first librarian for Calhoun County. She had one brother, now deceased, Rodney Bernard Wells.

Barbara met Girard Clemons in Pensacola, where he was in flight training with the U.S. Marines. They soon married and had the first two of five children. In 1957, after Gerry left the service, they moved to Panama City, where Barbara Clemons began a 30-year career as a pharmacist at City Drugs and her husband began his career in life insurance.

Clemons is survived her husband, their five children and 12 grandchildren: Kathie Bennett (and husband Roy) and children Katherine and Mary Scott; Becky Rast (husband Hank) and children Matthew, Megan, Laura and Luke; Gerry Clemons (wife Allyn) and children Rivah and Girard; Scott Clemons (wife Pat) and children Mary Katherine and Olivia; Ross Clemons (wife Mindy) and children Mara and Mark.

“Our family always came first,” said daughter Kathie Bennett, who was 3 years old when the family moved to Panama City. “They were married 58 years, and have five children and no divorces. I’m 56 and my youngest brother is 46. I attribute their love for being a role model to us children. I know no other like it.”

Cynthia McCauley, who now heads the Chautauqua Learn and Serve Charter School in Panama City, met Barbara Clemons at City Drugs more than 40 years ago. McCauley had just moved from Indiana, where she worked for her father in his pharmacy, and she got a job at the drugstore. Though Barbara barely knew the young mother, she was a steadfast supporter through a difficult time in McCauley’s life after her son developed encephalitis.

“Barbara, Gerry, and all their children prayed all night on their knees and he recovered. It was a miracle,” McCauley said. “While I can never repay her, I will work to develop the promise in every life I can. I will care for them and have faith in what they can be — without limits. Barbara Clemons did that for me.”

In 1958, Barbara Clemons became president of the Newcomers Club. Later she served as president of the Junior Women’s Club and was on the executive board of the Junior Service League. She was also a Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader, and taught Sunday School at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church.

Clemons served on the board of directors and as chairwoman of the Junior Museum of Bay County, where her passion for the arts and children became an effort to bring the two together. She was on the founding board of the Northwest Florida Mental Health Center (now Life Management Center) and later served as chairwoman.

“Her instruction to us, all our lives, was ‘Find a way to be more, to give of yourself,’” Bennett said. “I can’t even list all the things she’s chaired.”

Clemons was a lifelong patron of the Arts. She served on the boards of both the Panama City Music Association and the Bay Arts Alliance, and was the driving force behind the renovation of the Marina Civic Center through a partnership with the mayor — her husband.

“One topic that always came up during our visits was the pride she had for her family,” said author Michael Morris, who met Clemons at a Books Alive event. “She taught them to stand up for social justice, whether for those in need or for books that others decided to ban. But beyond all of the social contributions that Barbara Clemons leaves behind — and make no mistake there are many — her greatest successes are found in her children and grandchildren.”

Her leadership brought about the expansion of the After School Assistance Program. She championed the construction of an ASAP building, as previously the program was housed on an unoccupied apartment.

“As a result of her work there, she discovered that many of the children served weren’t given birthday parties,” Bennett said. “This gave ‘birth’ to the Birthday Club, a group of roughly 40 of her close friends banded together to host monthly birthday parties and holiday parties for the children. … At Christmas, they ensured every child got something they needed and something they wanted.”

Clemons instilled a love of literacy and learning in her children and many others, Bennett said. “Regular conversations with her included references to great books, which challenged all of us to read and to be enlightened,” she said.

Both Barbara and Gerry Clemons enthusiastically supported the Bay County Public Library’s annual Books Alive conference in hopes that this would enhance literacy and the cultural environment of Bay County.

“She gave other fine gifts to her community, but this was one of the finest, one the entire community looked forward to with much anticipation and joy,” said author and Books Alive presenter Linda Busby Parker in a letter to the Clemons family. “Though she was a small woman, she was a mighty force — a mighty positive force.”

Bettina Mead, in charge of community relations for the library, said Clemons was a friend and mentor for the past 30 years.

“My mother died when I was 20, and I know I could call Barbara and speak to her about whatever was on my heart," Mead said. "I know she would listen, give me advice if I ask, which of course I do, and most of all love me, as one of her own. Not only do I love her, I admire and respect her and will always cherish her in my heart.”

Scott Clemons, now the mayor of Panama City, said his mother’s greatest gift was her “infinite devotion and love” for her husband and family.

“Above all, this is a love story about a husband and a wife whose love was so profound that it redefined their very being,” Scott said. “A love so boundless that it poured over into and shaped the lives of five children and 12 grandchildren. So boundless that it flowed out, forever changing a community.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Some questions may be better left unanswered

It has been one of those weeks with more questions than answers. Here are some of the things that I’ve been wondering about lately.

* Something for the Bay County homeless coalition to consider, with all due credit given to “Audrey” the kitten, who was rescued from a drain pipe at Pier Park last week: What if homeless people tried crawling into pipes beside area businesses and meowing until the fire department could flush them out? Maybe then someone would give them a cute name and take them home.

* People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw wild parties.

* If you download a digital copy of the Quran or an image of a U.S. flag and then you delete it, is that the same thing as buying one and then burning it?

* Can the hard-of-hearing play things by ear?

* They say many hands make light work. So how many hands does it take to change a light bulb?

* Stephen Hawking now says God was not necessary for the Big Bang to have happened, but I think Stephen Hawking’s existence is just more proof there is a God.

* What do French people say instead of “pardon my French”?

* Do you still call them “earthquakes” if you’re on another planet?

* Why is it always Florida that makes the news for its crazier inhabitants? I’d like to point out, for the record, that many of those who make the news while living here were not born here.

* Do desert nomads save for a rainy day?

* If you have skeletons in your closet, can you make no bones about it?

* Why are UFOs visiting Chinese airports so regularly this year? I thought UFOs preferred lonely country roads.

* Who robbed Peter to pay Paul? Mary?

* Who would win in a fight: Captain Kirk or T.J. Hooker?

* Did it occur to the people who, in their arguments against building a cultural center with a mosque in it in New York City, like to point out that “they” condone stoning or oppress women or don’t allow Christians to build churches in countries ruled by Islamic fundamentalists — you’re just pointing out that if we don’t want to be like “them” then we should not have capital punishment, we should support equal rights, and we should let “them” build halls of worship? But then that wasn’t your point, was it?

* If all good things come to an end, do bad things just go on forever?

* A barrel full of monkeys doesn’t sound like much fun. And what do you get if you scrape the bottom of that barrel?

* Would demon possession still be nine-tenths of the law?

* There may be more than one way to skin a cat, but who sits around and figures out that kind of thing?

* Lunch must not be very good if: 1) the best things in life are free, but 2) there is no free lunch.


This was my Sunday column for The News Herald.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Best of Days

I finally finished the editing and formatting process for this 222-page selection from my "366 Days" project, representing what I hope were the best of the flash fictions, haiku, character studies, short stories, and experimental pieces from that year-and-a-day of work. The Best of Days collection does not include "The Traveler" chapters, which are being developed into a novella, or "The Year of the Comet" chapters, which may be resurrected as well. But there are some personal faves in here, and a few that people remarked upon as their own favorites.

If you hit the link above and buy one before the end of the month, you can get it at 20 percent off the regular price. When I bring them out to the public at the Oct. 29-30 Books Alive! event at the library, they'll be at full price.

I'm pretty pleased with the work in this one. Every piece has a different style and feel, and there's more humor than I remember (it was a pretty dark time I was working through). I'm proud to have my name on these stories. I hope you'll check them out.


Monday, October 04, 2010

After 25 years, no end in sight for silver linings

I am not the easiest person to live with, and while this may come as no surprise to regular readers, let’s not get into all of that right now. Suffice it to say, in a quarter-century of marriage, my wife has been handed ample reason to trade me in for a newer model.
Of course, she was warned going in that her mileage may vary.

The fact that she was still here to celebrate our silver anniversary last week is not a testimony to my worth as a mate, but rather serves as proof that she just doesn’t know how to give up on lost causes. It’s true. Once she gets an idea in her head, she simply won’t let it go, and if she finds something broken she wants to fix it.

She’s a natural helper and healer — it’s why she’s a good nurse — but that also ensures that she labors under the false impression that she can make a decent husband or father (or human being) of me someday. Or at least house train me.

Old dog, meet new trick.

The thing is, we’ve had our share of dark clouds in the past 2.5 decades, but we’ve found our share of silver linings too. We’ve made mistakes — in fact, I hope she’s not keeping score — but we also have accomplished a couple of things together that are worth noting.

The most important of these, as you might surmise, were the additions of a pair of reasonably healthy, happy, intelligent and successful young human beings to the general population. If we did nothing else right, those two would have been worth it, and I know she would agree.

We’re at that stage of life where we realize there are some dreams we may never achieve, and yes, we have a few regrets. But we don’t have to look very far to see that we’ve been blessed in a myriad of ways.

I thought about these things last week as we walked hand-in-hand along the shore of Panama City Beach. We gathered a few shells, watched sandpipers scatter, looked at the wall of condos receding into the distance, and enjoyed the clear, cool water. The sun was warm, the breeze soft and crisp, the conversation full of memories and love and hope.

I could live like that for the rest of my days, I thought.

Here’s to another 25.


This was my Sunday column for The News Herald on Oct. 3.