Impressions of La-La Land

Recently, my wife and I spent ten days in the City of Angels, La-La Land, AKA Los Angeles. While large places that necessitate driving everywhere are not my cup of ube shake, LA has enough attributes to keep a visitor interested . . . for about a week. First, one cannot debate that the climate is ideal, with temperatures in the low to mid eighties, and clear skies as the summer norm. Next, you can’t argue with the palm trees . . . tall ones, short ones, leafy ones, and spiny ones. The houses and public buildings in LA are to die for (dahling, I simply MUST have the name of your architect). Then, of course, there are all of the iconic landmarks–the Hollywood sign, the movie lots, the massive Getty Museum, the Chinese theater, stars on the sidewalks, and my person favorite–the La Brea Tar Pits. When my kids were little, I told my older daughter that the tar pits were just a big, freshly tarred parking lot . . . to this day, she thinks I was serious. If pressed, I can single out the two elements of LA that were my favorites. First, there is the amazing array of automobiles–Rolls Royces, Maseratis, BMers, Benzes. However, nothing can compare with the number of beautiful people, of both genders and all ages, who are roaming the streets. Many of these are involved in the TV and movie biz; but, countless others are wannabes and just very good looking people, wearing wonderful clothes that reveal their perfect sun tans. Do you think that niece on your mother’s side is a pretty girl(?) . . . forget about it! The people out in LA have a huge head start on being and acting bootiful. Oh, yes, one additional item that exceeded expectations was the food. Funky salad restaurants, ethnic foods from places you probably didn’t know exist, and my personal favorite, ‘real’ Kosher food, can be found everywhere–albeit for a price.

My least favorite things about LA are: the traffic (I know . . . you’re shocked). Please let me assure you that the really heavy stuff can be easily avoided, depending upon your place and hours of employ. However, one needs to drive to get anywhere in this sprawling metropolis. Having lived most of my adult life in communities with populations smaller than five figures, this represents a shocking circumstance. My other issue is with the people I met out there. They say that New Englanders are cold; however, you don’t know cold unless you’re trying to ask directions in LA. Now, granted, exceptions do exist; just as not all of Attila’s men collected ears. 

So, what was the outcome of our exposure to southern California (you ask)?  We left wishing our daughter and son-in-law health, happiness, and prosperity in their adopted home. We will look forward to our annual visit with both of them. 

1 Comment

A magical moment

Second only to their newborns, authors will tell you there is nothing quite so magical as holding that new book or journal article for the first time. I can tell you there is another feeling that comes close–completion of the first draft of a fledgling publication. Last night, I completed the second draft (the first was a hodgepodge of paragraphs and ideas) of my newest book, Whacked. Depending on how one counts such things, Whacked will be my seventh (or eighth) published book. It is the fifth installment of the Kary Turnell mystery series. Whacked is my fourth book set at a New Hampshire grand hotel, in this case the beautiful Wentworth By the Sea. The book represents a milestone of sorts, in what I like to call my second career. After this book, Kary, Nya, and others will be taking a hiatus, as I begin other writing ventures. My next effort will be the long overdue Another Paradise Lost. Lost was initially intended to be the sixth Turnell mystery. Instead, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to write a piece of main stream fiction. The backdrop of the book will be love and adventure within the beautiful community of Rincon, Puerto Rico. The characters will be fictional, not to mention decades younger than Kary and Nya. The issues that the lead characters, as well as Rincon itself, must face are based upon reality. After Lost, I’ll begin work on Young Upstart, the story of a gunfighter caught among three worlds–the changing West, an Ivy League education, and the shrinking Navaho domain. Third on my list will be a collection of stories contributed by people who used Ocean Beach Park (in New London, CT) as an adolescent proving ground, with the realities of adulthood just around the corner.

For the next two weeks, I will be on leave from this blog, as my wife and I will be visiting with our older daughter, our son-in-law, and with my oldest friend and his significant other. California here we come! Be safe. 2 Comments

Should I or shouldn’t I(?) . . . collecting artifacts while on vacation

Many of us have been faced with temptation while traveling. I’m not talking about that gorgeous red-headed guy or woman you may have met at the beach bar. Rather, I’m referring to “things” you may find lying around. During my earliest vacations, bringing home a special rock was an important part of our family’s experience. For example, for years, my father and I would scour fringes of wooded trails in search of the elusive Native American arrow head. Later, as a twenty-one year old, I traveled north to visit Niagara Falls, at a time when the American Fall was dammed up. I returned home with a rock that I’d plucked from the river bed; it was a source of pride for years to come. Even in my sixties, whenever I walk the beach south of Rincon, Puerto Rico, my eyes are focused downward. A shark could swim right up along the shore, and I’d never even see it. That’s because I’m searching for two items that are frequently washed ashore. One favorite is a grayish chunk of limestone coral, whose surfaces have the appearance of a moonscape. My other item of choice is shared with many other beach goers; this is the ubiquitous sea glass. Sea glass comes in a range of colors, including clear, white, brown, various shades of green, blue, red, purple, and black. Anyone finding the latter four has indeed discovered treasure. In truth, glass collectors and jewelry makers alike will pay up to one hundred dollars for such a find. My effort to discover glass in any of the more rare colors has been fruitless. I’ve even been tempted to go to the drugstore, buy a bottle of Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, smash it, then swirl it in brine for several months . . . nah, I’m not that desperate.

All of us have heard the expression, “take only photographs; leave only footprints.” This is particularly applicable when visiting national parks and cultural enclaves. Not that everyone listens. I must confess that a number of my colleagues (and their colleague)–both past and present–have taken rock samples, e.g., cobbles and quartz crystals, from the field. This has been done in the name of science, or, rather, education. If one is going to teach about the erosive power of ocean waves, what better way to show students how this works than by producing samples one can see, touch, etc. Many years ago, my mother knew that I was craving rock samples from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. So, she picked up a few small pieces of lava to bring home for her favorite younger son. Unbeknownst to either of us, this seemingly innocent act incurred the wrath of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. When, a few years later, my mother contracted a deadly disease, there was only one action to be taken. I packaged up those rocks, found the address of the National Park Service in the appropriate portion of Hawaii, and mailed Pele’s children back to her (albeit, too late for my mother).

So, if you will indulge this writer, please allow me to offer the following advice (talk about doing as I say, not as I’ve done): 1) don’t take anything from national parks, heritage sites, or other significant natural settings; 2) never remove anything from an indigenous cultural area . . . what may look very nice in your trophy case is very likely a resource in their community; and 3) go ahead and collect those glass fragments; after all, they’re what the locals would call . . . litter. 3 Comments

Get out of the way son . . . it’s for your own good

When I was a young boy, growing up in New London, Connecticut, we were a family of four: my father and mother, older brother, and yours truly. Even though my brother is only three years older than I am, I try to convince him that there was at least a decade between our births. In one way, there may as well have been. When it came time to repair something around the house, my father usually did it by himself. However, if the project at hand required at least three (hands, not people), my brother was called into action. Sometimes, I felt that my father would rather have summoned Attila the Hun to assist than ask his younger son. When an emergency arose, my mother would call upstairs, “Bruce, your father needs you.” While she never said, “Mark, don’t even think about it,” the implication was clear.

Jump ahead fifty years or so. Until recently, my brother has done much of the work in his house. He’s built a wall in his living room, painted the house, done basic plumbing, and even a little electrical work. During my thirty-five years of home ownership, I have mowed the lawn twice, changed a bunch of light bulbs, hung dozens of pictures, and wrapped the garbage weekly. If a roof is leaking, I’m quick with the telephone. A faulty pipe or electrical outlet, you ask? Bill Hickock would be envious at my speed with a wallet. 

My pulse quickens when I think about the money I would have saved by doing much of this stuff myself. Readers may be tempted to say, ‘why don’t you try it now? It isn’t too late’. The response is simple: 1) I like things done very well and in a timely fashion; and 2) I don’t do things like that very well and in a timely fashion.  For example, one day, I decided to put a new door on a coal bin in our basement. I struggled with a sheet of wood and several nails for over an hour. By chance, a carpenter we had hired for a larger project saw me struggling with the bin. Frustrated, I offered to pay him to complete the job for me. Less than one minute later, he had hung the door, filed his nails, and plowed the back forty. That was my last effort at carpentry. 

The point is, if you have a child, grandchild, niece or nephew, give her/him the opportunity to help. By providing the next generation with the rudiments of house care, or house work for that matter, you may be raising a progenitor who doesn’t reach for a saw to screw in a nail. 2 Comments

One of those life changing (nearly life-ending) moments

For some reason, I’ve been reflecting upon my academic career, which reaches its 40th anniversary next year.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was asked to speak at a meeting of economic assistance administrators. I accepted before learning that there would be no compensation. The program coordinator advised me that there may be hidden rewards for my generosity. Was she ever correct. When I finished my comments about community management through tourism development, a woman in the back row stood and asked, “Will these ideas work in rural communities in coastal Alaska?”  I must have responded something like, “I don’t know, lady, but I sure would like to find out.” Months passed, and before one could say Rumpelstiltskin, I was traveling–by bush plane, by SUV, by sea plane–with this same woman into some of the most remote villages on the North American continent. One of those experiences stands out to this day. I think you’ll understand why.

One of our first ventures brought us into the Athapaskan village of Minto. Minto could be accessed in three ways: by bush plane, by a one hundred mile long gravel road, and by snowmobile (winters only). At the very moment we entered the village via the horrible road, a small airplane was taking off. This latter circumstance proved to be very meaningful. One thing I’d learned about remote tribal villages is this: outsiders are unwelcome unless there is a local present to vouch for them. In our case, the person we drove all the way out to meet had just departed on the small bush plane. To make matters worse, we heard a loud hissing sound as we exited our SUV (don’t worry, things get worse).  It was immediately apparent that our rear tire had been punctured by a sharp rock as we entered Minto. As a further problem, my travel partner had no idea where the car dealer had placed the key to unlock the lug nuts on her spare tire. What to do? We needed a mechanic; however, the few villagers who allowed themselves to be seen treated us as though we were invisible. Finally, an elderly man offered to show us the house of the village’s auto mechanic, in exchange for a ride to Fairbanks where he intended to go drinking with relatives. My colleague had no choice but to agree. However, once we nursed the car to the mechanic’s house, the latter wasn’t the slightest bit interested in helping us. So we sat, and sat, in his driveway, hoping he would relent and help us. After nearly two hours of this fruitless activity, our fortunes changed. Another villager drove into the yard and, without saying anything to us, walked directly into the mechanic’s house. While he was gone, his cute little three year old daughter remained outside in the car. As the father of two daughters–both of whom I missed dearly–something clicked with the little Athabaskan girl. By the time the father returned, his daughter and I were engaged in a rousing game of peek-a-boo. Fortunately for us (particularly yours truly), he saw this as a sign that this cheechako was okay. He turned on his heels and, fifteen minutes later, the mechanic emerged from his lair. To their credit, those two men struggled for over an hour, seeking a remedy for the lost lug nut key. Finally, my colleague remembered where she had seen the key, and the tire was fixed.

I don’t know about you readers, but I look back on times like these and direct thanks heavenward, as this easily could have been a fatal experience. On a happier note, remind me to tell you how I once did a solo drum dance for an entire village of Yupiks. 3 Comments

Should I stay, or should I go?

After nearly two decades as a mystery writer, I’m having second thoughts. I’ve spent the last two years researching and writing Whacked, a murder mystery set at the beautiful Wentworth By the Sea resort. As the fifth installment of my Kary Turnell series, Whacked is definitely the best of the lot. However, I’m thinking about sending Kary on a vacation of sorts once it has been published. My next book, titled Another Paradise Lost, was scheduled to be another Turnell book. Now, I’m not so certain. The number of other mystery writers, both good and bad-albeit-popular [did someone mention Dan Brown(?)], is staggering. Two weeks ago, I spent a delightful afternoon with a lawyer turned mystery writer named Chris Casko. Chris has written a compelling mystery titled The Elimination Plan. Yet, he struggles to get anyone to notice. Like yours truly, he has a comparatively small, but faithful, following. The problem for the Caskos and Okrants of this world is how to take the next step. 

I love to write, and will continue to do so until the cows make their last trip out to pasture. I’m seriously considering writing Another Paradise Lost as a novel, set in the milieu of a beautiful community that is struggling to survive the two-headed monster: growing speculation and tourism. The star-crossed couple, Mateo and Adela, are a metaphor for the changes that are happening in beautiful Rincon, set on Puerto Rico’s Caribbean shore. I’m already looking forward to writing this one. 

My next effort will be The Young Upstart (tentative title), a classic Western. It’s the story of Andy Scott, youngest son of the town marshall of Flagstaff, Arizona. Andy will face life-altering issues stemming from his contrasting life experiences: as a student at Yale University, and as the most natural talent with a six shooter the West has ever seen. 

I have three other book ideas in mind: a story for teens, a collection of short stories set at Ocean Beach Park in New London CT, and a history of the Inuit cooperative movement in Arctic Canada . . . maybe when I’m ninety.

I’d be very interested in your reaction to all of this. 3 Comments

Book signing this weekend

I will be signing Murder at the Grands on Saturday (6/12), at Bayswater Books’ “What’s So Great About New Hampshire?” event. Join us between 10 and 1, in Center Harbor. 2 Comments