As an old hat new hat

andreagreveThose of you who know me best are aware of my affinity for hats. Through the years, I’ve always been told how good I look in them . . . fedoras, newsboys, deerslayers, baseball/golf caps, fezzes, berets, even yarmulkes. Perhaps it’s the shape of my head, or a matter of peoples’ preference that I cover up as much as possible. It doesn’t matter; my love affair with hats has shaped my fashion sense, and much more. As a professional educator and researcher, I’ve never been satisfied wearing one hat. Now, with full-time retirement from beloved Plymouth State approaching, my approach is one characterized more by anticipation than trepidation. On December 31st of this year, I’ll remove the academic hat for the last time. However, my head won’t be bare for long. I’ve lined up a number of others to wear and, G_d willing, those should keep my head occupied for decades. I’m very proud of my newest hat. I recently met with Andrea Greve, the owner and editor of El Coqui of Rincón, a bilingual community magazine published in the town of Rincón, Puerto Rico. El Coqui of Rincón is a magazine about and for the residents of Rincón and the area’s diverse visitor population. Andrea is a delightful young woman, not much older than my university students in New Hampshire. What I like best about people like Andrea is her willingness to take chances. Magazine ownership/editorship is a tough business, yet here she is pouring her energy and resources into the process.

Getting back to the subject of this post, Andrea has been kind enough to provide me with a new hat, that of a contributor to her informative local magazine. Marla and I have been spending as much time as possible in this area during the last decade. Given the fact that my ninth book, Another Paradise Lost, will be set in Rincón, I have been slowly building a knowledge base
–admittedly from the perspective of a snowbird–about this comparatively quiet, albeit exciting corner of Puerto Rico. Thanks to Andrea, I’ll be contributing my perspective to her magazine on occasion in the future. So, as one hat is placed on the shelf, others appear–if we’re open to wearing them. Isn’t that what makes life interesting? 2 Comments

Toto . . . this sure as heck isn’t New Hampshire

I begin the first of a baker’s dozen Puerto Rico-based posts. I call these Puerto Rico Blog II.  Many of you will, no doubt, refer to them otherwise. 

orchid2We arrived on the Aguadilla red eye (4:20 AM), two days ago. As soon as daylight made its appearance, we began to see familiar people and sites that make this corner of the world so enticing. Marla and I consider ourselves extremely fortunate to live in two fabulous places, the Granite State and the Enchanted Isle. I’ve spent the past nine months talking about the former at this location; so it’s time to redirect my focus. We arrived at the condo where we’ll be staying and immediately smelled, then visualized a small sample of the amazing flowers that adorn the property. I’m no ornamental horticulturalist, but there is something about the sight of pink orchids (pic) that relieves stress like a visual shoulder massage. During our first drive–to obtain food and other essentials–we realized we had company on the road. First, it was a long, bright green, prehistoric appearing iguana. Soon, we saw the first, second , third . . . of many horses that roam the sides of route 115. We smiled knowingly . . . full realization was dawning that we’ve returned to our second home, the one that replaces cold and snow (I used to love that stuff) with warmth and sand. autospeakersDriving along, I was just telling myself that only one thing was missing . . . a sure indicator that this is Rincon, not Rumney. I heard an otherworldly voice, just moments before seeing one of the massive traveling boom boxes that wend along the roads of western Puerto Rico (see pic). This one wasn’t blurting some campaign spiel, nor was it filling the air with a local radio station’s wonderful Latin beat. As we drew closer, Marla translated, her relaxed laughter barely audible above the sound from the huge speakers. It was an advertisement to rent time on the speaker truck. We smiled at one another . . . we’re back! 1 Comment

Brief hiatus

Hello all.  Owing to responsibilities related to teaching, research, and moving to our Rincon-area abode, this blog will be experiencing a brief hiatus. I will resume posting from Puerto Rico during the first week in January. In the meantime, here’s wishing 
you and yours a happy holiday season and a healthy 2015. 2 Comments

Thanksgiving is about much more than turkey

Like many families, we look forward to our annual Thanksgiving celebration. Much has changed since I first joined in my wife’s family celebration. In those days, we were among the youngest in the room. Nearly all of my attention was directed toward my fiancé (that hasn’t changed, even after more than forty years of marriage). Back then, there was an older generation consisting of my mother, Marla’s parents, and array of aunts and uncles. Next, there were others from our generation–people who shared our excitement and anxiety at facing a nation that had been turned upside down by the events of the sixties. Two things were a constant back then: the food (which was amazing) and the obvious expression of love and laughter in the room. 

Decades later, some things have changed. Our parents and nearly all of the aunts and uncles are gone. Sadly, we hear from those cousins less and less frequently. Now, when I look around the table, I am far closer to being the eldest than the youngest person in the room. Two things that have not changed are the food (still amazing) and the atmosphere. Sisters Marla and Rayna are at the center of all this. Their love for one another has transcended two generations, as timeless as a Beatles song from years ago. Our two children and Rayna’s three generate such a wonderful energy together. Throw in two sons-in-law and a four year old sweetheart and you have the formula for an amazing gathering. Each year, we talk about the ones who are no longer with us, always in the most loving terms. This year, we temporarily missed the company of my older daughter and son-in-law, as they have begun their newest chapter out in the Golden State.

Using a model that those senior citizen tour groups should adopt, we spend several days together, but provide opportunities for people to go their separate ways during the day. For MarRay-plus, this means a shopping trip, usually to an outlet or some secret shopper’s nirvana. Some of the younger generation prefer to visit Fun Spot, another long term tradition. This year, my younger daughter and I decided to try something different. On Friday, we visited my friend Bob Manley’s new establishment, Hermit Woods Winery. With Bob as our attentive host, we sampled seven New Hampshire-produced wines in the comfort of his wine bar. Elisabeth and I had a terrific time learning about the origin of HWW’s wines, then testing them for color, scent, and taste. If you’re a wine connoisseur, or merely like to taste something new before committing to a purchase, I highly recommend making a visit to Bob and his partners on Main Street in Meredith NH.

One of the Thanksgiving traditions that has always divided the genders is watching football on television. Most of the men do this, while the women avoid it. This year, a new family tradition appeared–Mexican Train. A game that is reminiscent of Dominoes, but infinitely more interesting, Mexican Train has taken the family by storm. It provides opportunities for a little friendly competition. More important, it is the perfect milieu for what this family does best–laugh. The decibel level at the Thanksgiving Mexican Train table is right off of the charts. As one who eschews turkey (I make, but don’t partake) and pumpkin pie, I definitely joined the right family . . . a quirky, wonderful bunch, one and all. Someone please pass the chili. 2 Comments

One of my highlights

This past Friday, I had one of the highlights of my years as a writer. Thirty-six hours prior, the terrific publisher, George Geers, approved my seventh book–“Whacked”–for publication this coming spring. That alone would have kept me warm through the cold spell that has hit New Hampshire. However, this proved to be chapter one. I arrived at Concord’s beautiful book store, Gibson’s, for a presentation and book signing. Immediately, good things began to happen. First, a number of old friends dropped by to support me. They were followed by an audience of strangers, mystery fans who wanted to learn more about this gently aging tale spinner from Plymouth. Speaking to an audience of attentive people is like a dream for a writer, and this group was absolutely superb. They listened, asked intelligent/challenging questions, and were in no rush to leave. Their actions would have been sufficient to make this a memorable evening. But, then, those strangers (and some friends) in attendance began to approach me with books to sign. Anyone who does this to a writer deserves a reward: perhaps a ticket to heaven, a ride in a space shuttle, a get-out-of-jail-free card. Nothing would be too good for those patrons of the arts. A number of those in attendance have known me for 20, 30, or more years. Their past support and friendship have never been subject to sunset laws. For those people to leave their houses on a miserable night was extra special. I’ve been fortunate to experience a number of wonderful times as a writer, but this one takes the proverbial cake. To each of you who supports my work, I am forever grateful. Hopefully, the best is stillgibsons2 gibsons1 to come. Leave a Comment

Once upon a time in the West

Several months ago, I promised to tell you an interesting story about my next book, tentatively titled, “An Eye  for an Eye.” The story about this book has two interesting segments, the first of which dates back more than half a century. 

When I was a boy of 9 or 10, my best friend, Rich Kallan, and I loved to go to the movies. His older cousin, Steve, was our companion during several matinees. One of the movies we saw was a western with a particularly fascinating ending . . . one I will not share with you at this time. Years passed, Rich moved to California, and we lost touch for more than two decades. During that time, I often thought about Rich and that western with the amazing ending. The problem was I couldn’t remember its name, nor any of the actors who starred in it. During my mid twenties, I worked in my family’s bookstore in New Haven CT. One of the other clerks in the store was a brilliant, curly haired Yale film student named Max K. One day, I was discussing western films with Max, who, as it turned out, was something of an expert  in the genre. I explained what I knew about my western and Max stood there scratching his head. He promised to research the movie and get back to me. Unfortunately, Max turned up nothing. Years later, I sought out the film librarian at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, in Los Angeles. I posed the same question to him; he, too, came up empty. However, he told me of a collector of western movies who lived in North Carolina. I contacted this expert and he immediately told me the name of the film. Better still, he had a copy on VHS which he offered to sell to me for ten dollars. Of course, I accepted. To my chagrin, it was not the correct film. However, after a long time apart from my friend Rich, we resumed our friendship, in 1990. These days, Rich, his significant other Darla, Marla, and I try to meet once a year. Several years ago, Rich and Darla joined us in Puerto Rico. One night, I reminded Rich about how his cousin Steve used to take us to the movies. Of course, we shared a number of fond memories about that. My spirits soaring, I told Rich about the plot and ending to my western. When I finished, Rich stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he said with great confidence, “Mark, I’ve never seen a movie like that in my life.” 

So, here I was, back to square one. Two years ago, I was working on my sixth book, “No Vacancy.”  My field work took me to Flagstaff, AZ, where the local CVB was kind enough to arrange for lodging in a motel, per my request. While in Flagstaff, I asked about the presence of a railroad hotel that I could use as backdrop for a western I was now determined to write. They were more than happy to accommodate me at The Weatherford, an 1890s era hotel. I was grateful for the offer and parked behind the hotel for the evening. You can imagine my shock when I walked around to the front of The Weatherford . . . it was the hotel in my western! So, as I begin to write “An Eye for an Eye,” I have no doubt that this story was meant to be told. Stay tuned. 3 Comments

Polling these days is not easy

It’s no secret that I didn’t enjoy the outcome of the elections a few nights ago.  However, one thing that did impress me was the success of a few polling companies at predicting the results. Ignoring Rasmussen and New England College, whose efforts are terribly slanted politically, some pollsters shone brightly. Andy Smith, who (in this longtime researcher’s opinion) was less than impressive two years ago, absolutely nailed it on November 4th. Unless you have ever tarried in the field of survey work and polling, you have no idea how difficult this job is. There are so many things that can go wrong when you’re attempting to compile a statistically significant representation of what a population (voters, travelers, etc.) is thinking. First, one needs to determine what the very definition of that population is. Next, one needs to identify a representative, valid sample to survey. This isn’t easily accomplished. Do it improperly and you’re stuck with a biased, worthless sample. One of my favorites is the survey company that stops people in the parking lot of a supermarket, then announces that shopping is a favorite activity of people in the region (duh!). The third element of the survey process is the most difficult: getting people to actually complete the survey. More than two decades ago, we used to expect a 90 percent participation rate when conducting an intercept survey (“excuse me sir, will you please answer a few questions about blah blah?”). Telephone surveys were regarded as a less expensive approach, but one that yielded a response rate in the 75 percent range. Mail surveys could expect 40-50 percent participation, depending upon how many letters were sent. Looking at the response rates today is enough to send a researcher straight to the Pepto Bismol, as the figures are closer to 10, 3, and 1 (optimistically). Worse still–suppose you actually get the responses–can the polling/survey team actually believe that they are representative of the population being studied? Often the answer to that question is ‘not so much’.  This forces some research teams to throw caution–and reputation–to the wind. For others, the solution lies in Panels. Panels are carefully selected groups of people who are paid to respond to a contracted number of surveys during the year. Quality research houses, such as Ohio’s TNS, carefully vett their panelists, and scour their responses for inconsistencies. So, with all of this in mind, the fact that some pollsters were able to call the results of the election within a few percentage points is most impressive indeed. I may not have liked this recent message, but I do respect some of the messengers. Leave a Comment