Aloft withToots and a Kindle

25 02 2011

Xavier Cugat far Left

“Cuanto Le Gusta le gusta le gusta le gusta le gusta …Someone said they just came back from somewhere, a friend of mine that I don’t even know. He said there’s lots of fun if we can get there, if that’s the case… that’s the place, the place we want to go. We got to get going, where’re we going, what are we going to do, we’re on our way to somewhere, the three of us and you…”

 

As the snows reluctantly recedes—although the Midwest is once more beset and it is also snowing, albeit lightly, at my destination—I board an aeroplane again and become an harbinger of spring. The robins fly north every spring and I fly to the east coast.
New York City beckons in the east as Toots Thielemans performs “La Vie En Rose” on the mouth organ via my iPod. For lovers of science fiction, modern travel lends itself to the joys of high tech toys. Music from said iPod, blog posts written on a Lenovo Ideapad netbook (I mention the brand because it is so far superior to my two previous travel-computers—first was an Asus EEE which I still hate although it is long out of my life. The second was an Acer which performed well enough but whose death was only slightly preceded by the expiration of its warranty. The Lenovo functions wonderfully for having the slow Intel Atom processor. I upgraded the RAM to the allowable max of 2 gig, upgraded the execrable Windows 7 Basic to the very nice Home Premium, mais voila—a nice, light-weight travel companion for a small output of spondulicks.).
Now Toots is hitting it with “Hymne á l’amour” whilst visions of Kindles dance in my head. The Kindle III (WiFi only) came into my life late in the year of 2010. As with many unions, especially those involving extra-species (I promised my Martian son I would not speak of his mother, the Shenga joint bar maid in old Jekkara.) the beginning was not smooth.
My Kindle misbehaved on a regular basis, finally rebooting every five minutes on the last air excursion of the previous year. So I turned it in for another, but the bad behavior continued and I began to wonder what sort of relationship I had gotten myself into. Late one evening just after my Kindle had rebooted yet again, in despair, I began to yearn for a Nook and I dreamt of holding it near. Then, I remembered a technician asking about the Kindle cover which I had purchased. It actually inserted two prongs into the Kindle body. I disconnected my device from the cover and it began to function perfectly! A call to Amazon—they would not say there were cover problems, but they did not argue and allowed me to acquire a lighted cover at no cost.

 

Kindle III

Since, my Kindle and I are inseparable. We go everywhere together. She…I mean IT, reads to me as I drive to and from work. She It is not very musical, but the light works quite well and we cuddle in bed late at night and read books.
Now, airborne, I have listened to a book—Sten Book 1 by Cole and Bunch, a rousing science fiction adventure, I sold the book when it first came out. I was working for Warner Communications in those days and we distributed Del Rey. I used to bug Owen Lock constantly, “When’s the next Sten book coming?

Judy-Lynn & Lester Del Rey

Judy-Lynn used to send me photocopies of manuscripts of my favorite authors…” Owen was so nice and I loved the Chinese books he produced for Ballantine.—Today I have read bits of three books: Pathfinder by O.S. Card, several Clovis stories from H.H. Munro (Saki), “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” by one Samuel Clemens; I have used the OED which comes loaded on the Kindle, and I read a manuscript from a friend of a friend so that I might critique it. Glorioski but I do love my little burnt-orange-clad darling. Kindle, this blog’s for you.

Ha, couldn’t find Xavier but here’s his protege, Charo:
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I Love to Fly

24 09 2010

San Antonio Sky

Yes, I love to fly. As I headed for the airport in San Antonio this morning at 3:30 am, I began to hear  B.W. Stevenson’s “Texas Morning” playing in my head.  

The San Antonio weather has been wild with the remnants of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico blowing in and wreaking havoc. On my way in to Saint Anthony’s town, we sat on the runway in Dallas until 55 mile per hour winds died down and then circled SAT for a while for the same reason. When the winds reach a particular speed one is not allowed to land. I talked to a couple of good old boys who had already been to San Antone once then were sent back to wait at DFW.  

 I recall, some years ago, I was at DFW. A storm came rolling in and a plane was landing when a monstrous downdraft sucked it all the way down too soon. There’s a freeway just north of DFW Airport and some poor fellow had just moved to Dallas and gotten himself a job. As I remember, it was his first day, or maybe his first week and he was on the freeway that morning and the landing gear of the airliner brushed the top of his car and crushed it and him.  

 And then the plane hit too soon, missing the runway, and too hard and I looked out an airport window that early morning and the air was filled with fire and smoke. So I have no problem with taking our time to land.  

 I walked out of the San Antonio airport two days ago, and the sky was harsh brushstrokes of gray and black and wind whipped in all directions at once. It smelled like storm and I was reminded of growing up in Texas and just how fierce the weather could get.  

 It only dribbled on me as I drove to my hotel and when I went down to the Riverwalk for dinner it just rained hard enough to wet my glasses so I couldn’t see.  

 That night storms boiled and thundered all around and the rain pounded the window of my hotel room. I was content as Mother Texas rocked me in her roaring  bosom.  

 The next day was merely cloudy and so humid it felt like you could reach up and peel the weather off of your face and now my glasses fogged up. I didn’t really see much of San Antonio on this trip, but I experienced it.  

 It is before dawn, as I walk toward the terminal, the bus driver, a very nice and dedicated Hispanic gent, regales me with his exploits. For 22 years he has driven a terminal bus and never even been late for work once. In the dead quiet of a hot and humid San Antonio 4am I notice the insects—moths bang against the terminal window and crickets hop around me.  

 “Right in the middle of a ten cent scenery
Shuffled and stacked on a postcard rack
There’s a cute little kid on a Shetland pony
Smiles at me, I can’t smile back.  

Cactus Jack drinks coffee black
Tells me it’s my lucky day
Five o’clock in the Texas morning
I come a long, long way.”  

Will Stockdale & Ben Whitledge from "No Time for Sergeants"

 
 “…crackle, crackle…” The airplane shudders in the air currents. Will Stockdale spits into the back of the radio, “Hello…hello?” I look out the window and the wing lights flash through the pre-dawn cloud cover. “Sparks, what’s going on, can you reach the tower?”  

I remember this scene. Now we will break through the clouds and see below us gigantic ferns and a diplodocus or two. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  

 I shake my head to clear the morning cobwebs. How did I get on a plane to DFW? Wasn’t I just returning from there? Someone hit the fast forward and DFW is my connection again, this time on the way to BWI, Baltimore-Washington International. 

"Odyssey of Flight 33"

 Have I said that I love to fly? Ho, ho, strike up the band Willie, I’m on the road again. Behind me a tank-top-clad mother with color tattoos spilling out of her shirt all around her neck and down her shoulders, is cursing her children in a stage whisper. The little darlings are kicking the back of my seat.

Across the aisle, an elderly man—meaning older than me—is reading a magazine, well reading isn’t quite right, it is filled with photos of scantily-clad young women. But at least he isn’t drooling.  

 The woman to my right, in the center seat, is reading a magazine filled with photos of scantily-clad young women, but what clothing these are wearing I would classify as “fashionable.”  

 “Yip, yip,” at first I thought the flight attendant had the hiccups, but now I realize there is a dog somewheres about. From the lack of profundity in its bark I infer a very small dog, perhaps a chihuahua.  

 Sometimes I play a game and try and guess what people’s faces look like. I spend a great deal of time staring at the backs of people’s heads. I am almost always wrong.  

 The sun is on the horizon or we have risen up to meet it. I will see good friends, commercial friends, amigos de la calle in the suburbs of Baltimore, and other friends, mi casa et su casa friends and I come bearing tea and books including our new Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide and my godchild: Jason C.S. Chen’s A Tea Lover’s Travel Diary. Both available at Amazon and other find book retailers.  

 My GPS is primed to get me from BWI to Timonium and other nearby destinations.  

I believe the Blues Brothers said something to the effect: “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, we’re wearing sunglasses and it’s dark outside. Let’s hit it!”  

 Did I mention that I love to fly?





The Power of Words

29 08 2010

Illuminated KJV Initials

Last night it was time to read an ARC for book review purposes. I opened it and began. The first letter of the first word of the first sentence of chapter one was illuminated. The word was unknown to me. Add the illumination and I was completely at a loss. Fortunately I know the fine editor of this fine book and so asked him to elucidate. He admitted that he was a bit worried about this himself and might change it in the final version.

 This thought led me astray and it was some time before I was back reading. [ Strange interlude-once I made it past the first letter the illuminated initial, I was thoroughly caught up in the novel and read into the wee hours] “So,” thinks I, methinks. We editorial types spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over a single word in a book full of words. Or do we? Then I muses on the nature of a book, I does. And I came to a conclusion that is pretty damned obvious unless you are not thinking about it.

 Every word in a book is of equal importance. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is effing true. If any word is unnecessary, then what in the hell is it doing in the book? So all those “the’s” and “and’s” and “but’s” and “I’s” mean something. And it is right and correct then, that editors fret over each and every word. I still shiver with this thought. It is as if a physicist were worrying over the existence and placement of every atom…or quark.

Aum in Tibetan Script

 Middle-of-the-night thought processes are often non-linear. So ma’ wee tiny brain does a lurch and turns right at the nearest black hole and I winds up in India, or, for my purposes, in Tibet with Aum. I was taught by a teacher in the Tibetan tradition, that “Aum” is the presence of all sounds. Every sound in the universe, or universes, is and are all expressed at the same time by pronouncing “Aum.”

 I first learned about the power of Aum through other sounds. I was studying with this same teacher, learning a most wonderful internal martial art called Tibetan Blue Heron 藍鷥拳. Lord of mercy but this is one fine fighting system. It is similar in some respects to the better-known Crane style, but there are differences. It was brought to China by a wandering Tibetan monk, Lama, Zurdwang (1530 -1620) from Quamdo, Tibet. Sometimes it feels, in the bones, like Taijiquan. One major aspect is striking at acupuncture points. It is a subtle art among subtle arts. 

American Great Blue Heron

In our warm-ups, we learned a particular meditation practice. I call it Heng-Hung. We would practice controlling our breathing and focus on our centers. As we intoned “Heng” we would mentally move our centers up into the thorax, and then on a lower note, “Hung” or maybe “Hoong” and move the center down to the dandian. We were learning to move our centers at will. Ai-ya, what a fine practice.

 And there was power in those words. Night after night we meditated and intoned the words and we gained greater control of our centers.

 At this same time I was pushed kicking and screaming and dragging my heels into a meditation class. I didn’t want to learn how to meditate. I wanted to learn how to fight. Ha, to quote my Centering teacher, who gestured with his hand indicating the large wushu practice room and 40 odd students clad in black hifus and cotton shoes, “This is all bullshit! Unless you learn meditation and centering, you will have nothing!”

 So, I learned to meditate. And we were taught a mantra. It was a mantra of prosperity and we chanted it to bring good fortune to our school. It began and ended with Aum. Now at the same time I was studying acupuncture—how can you strike your opponent’s acupuncture points if you don’t know where they are? And I learned Centering, physical and mental, and Chinese Yoga (which included the feat of using each and every muscle separately), and the manipulation of Subtle Energy. Holy Moley but I learned a lot in just a couple of years.

 So we sang Aum, and with the Heng-Hoong training we found that we could move the Aum around inside the body. Change the shape of the mouth and the pitch of the sound and use your mind and Aum moved up inside the skull and then down into the thorax and the abdomen and the vibrations could be varied and watch your breathing now, and, and it was marvelous. We learned to know and control our own bodies. How many people can say that?

 To this day I am a little cautious when it comes to saying Aum in public. The word is a word of power even if only inside my own body, and with the cavity resonance it can be loud or soft or penetrating or caressingly smooth. It is my favorite word in a career involving many, many words.

Gutenberg Bible A book, and an example of illumination

 Perhaps then, a book, with all of its words, to turn things around, perhaps a book is a fraction of Aum and in its totality and in each and every word, it is a thing of power.

Shifu John Painter demonstrates Tibetan Blue Heron techniques





We Gotta Get Out of This Place…

28 07 2010

Out front

San Diego Comic Con 2010 is difficult to corral. Put 200,000 people in a small space: thrill, excite, poke eyes out with pencils, titillate, and exploit. What do you get? Fun. Mayhem. Lunacy. Yes, that is Comic Con.

 I arrived on Thursday morning prepped for a meeting with a chain bookstore buyer. I got out of the cab at the San Diego Convention Center [Strange Interlude Primo: San Diego wins, hands down, as the city with the most garrulous cab drivers—they all wanted to talk and liked to talk, and they talked—end of Strange Interlude] so I removed myself from the taxi and there were people everywhere. All over the place they were, and then some. And they were all moving. It looked like a god had discovered this gigantic ant hill full of Homo sapiens and stirred it up with a celestial stick. The humants had boiled over away from the convention center across a very wide main thoroughfare and into the streets and onto the sidewalks of downtown San Diego. I did not look to see if they were also swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

Avatar

 Then Dame Fortune smiled upon me. I was fearfully close to a meeting time and the Facebook rumor mill had declared the lines interminably long, including the “Pro” line. And if the outside of the convention was any sign…the line wove back and forth like some enormous mythical snake or perhaps the Worm Oroboros, seeming to have neither a head nor a tail. But then I spotted the door for Pro’s and there was no line, and smiling folks ushered me along and I had my badge so fast my head was spinning. Glorioski!

 “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our Comic Con dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility…” And I entered. As there were countless people outside, so the interior of the hive was filled with social mammals, all intensely active. It was hot. I suppose the climate control equipment had just been fired up, so it was very hot. And it smelled like feet.

A really good Batman and Catwoman

I was swimming uphill. Take one step forward two to the side, twist, duck the pike over that guy’s shoulder, small step, small step, slide. It had been many years since my last Comic Con and the differences, besides the enormity of the crowds, were 1. Professionalism, the exhibits and displays had a much more professional look, for the most part. The big boys, D.C., Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Hasbro, Mattel, Lego, Star Wars…ad infinitum and ad nauseum, the big boys dominated. Two and three stories some of the exhibits rose up unto heaven. 2. Noise, the roar of the crowd, the even louder roar of music and sound systems, the constant buzz of light sabers as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought an endless battle on a giant screen, barkers sought to draw me into their own little reality, and the chicks, there were lots of young, scantily clad chicks handing out…things…I do not know what, I did not take any.

A super Joker and Two-Face

 And other chicks wanted me to lie down inside a suspended animation chamber from the Nostromo in Alien…hmmm, if the very air I breathe smells like feet, what does a suspended animation chamber that has just disgorged Monstro the Human smell like? No thank you.

 3. And there were costumes, cosplay is a term I am just learning. There were very professional looking costumes like a Batman and Catwoman I saw and a Joker with a female Two-Face. Turn and look, catch an eye, wiggle your camera, and the be-costumed posed. It was as if a large percentage of the attendees were trapped in a Warholian mobius strip experiencing their 15 minutes of fame over and over and over until the show shut down.

 At one point I wandered up onto the second floor balcony to avoid a lot of the crowd and a section was roped off so that a pair of beefy, homemade-armor-clad knights could clang and bang each other whilst a king with robe and crown adjudicated. This was of course the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronisms.
These noble warriors and I have crossed paths many times.

On the outside: San Diego is one swell city!

The weather in saint Diego’s city was cool, nice, just around 70. The sun shone bright on the ocean and sailboats abounded.

 [Strange Interlude Secondo: My hotel was far from the madding crowd. Howsomeever, one reason I chose it was because it was on the shuttle bus line. Several years ago I had made the horrible mistake of choosing an hotel not on a line. During BEA my boss and I trudged for miles lugging briefcases and suitcases though the early summer high humidity in an annoying drizzle in New York City, and my left shoulder still clicks because of that. So I was on the bus line. Hurrah. Well, that morning I had an early appointment and took a cab.

Go ask Alice...wait, wait, she's late, she's late for a very important date...

 In the evening I boarded the appropriate bus. There was just me and a guy from New Jersey. The bus driver, also loquacious, gabbed about being in law enforcement and he did this to earn poker money. The bus continued on and came to a final stop at a Hilton on some island. The Jersey guy de-bused. I sat. The driver turned and looked at me. “You get off here. This is the last stop.” Me: “That sign on your windshield says there are two more hotels, and mine is next.” Lawman: “I’m not going any farther, you have to get off here.” Me: “But…” Him, “Did I mention I was in law enforcement?” Me: “So I get off here, eh?” Him: “Yeah, there’s a taxi.” He pointed. I disembarked. End Strange Interlude the Last.]

This guy stayed at my hotel and he got on the bus like this.

 I had many good meetings with buyers from all the major book chains, and I saw artists including Tom Baxa, Mark Nelson, and Todd Lockwood, plus meeting Dave Seely, and there were writers, and publishers, and editors I have known and appreciated for many a year including a super conversation with Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders and a swell dinner with D.C.’s Bob Wayne, writer Joe R. Lansdale, and Karen Lansdale. Ha, ha, it was an especial delight seeing Mary Franklin of Lucasfilm. I had not seen Mary in about seven years…oh how tempus does fugit!

 This was the place to be and to be seen. It was exhilarating and exhausting and gratifying. And I will be back next year. Oh, and I bought myself a bright red Green Lantern hoodie. Now I just have to wait for the Seattle weather to get back to normal so I can wear it.

More Comic Con photos: http://www.piercewatters.com/ComicCon2010.html 

The Littlest Storm Trooper

 





Of Egyptians, Candide, and Sappho

12 04 2010

“He who has once drunk of Nile water will forever yearn to be by the Nile again; his thirst cannot be quenched by the waters of any other land.” Sinuhe The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, translated by Lynda S. Robinson.

Finnish dust jacket

There has been much talk around me, as of late, ranging from fellow workers to my sister-in-law, about the fine book, The Egyptian by Finland native Mika Waltari. This is a book dear to my heart. I even liked the kind of god-awful movie starring Victor Mature and Jean Simmons. It was a poor-man’s Ten Commandments. The film changed the intent of the book but as a kid I adored it. Now it’s “Meh.”

Anyway, all this foofarah has re-whetted my appetite for a good Egyptian tale and so I downloaded the audio version to my iPod, and listen whilst I travel. Charlton Griffin reads it with a fine English accent and he does adults, children, and women, all really well. Ha, laborers and other low classes including the young Horemheb when he first meets Sinuhe, all of these folks have cockney accents.

Mika Waltari

The thing I notice most is the very fine writing. But I do not recall the quote at the top as having been written in quite the same way, although I read the only English translation in existence until 2002, and that was done by Naomi Walford and it was an abridgement.

Using Amazon as a source I compared the prose of the new translation to the audio book and I believe they are one and the same. Audible.com does not give translator attribution.

Charlton Griffin

Now to the heart of the matter. As I was toodling along beside Lake Sammamish this cloudy Seattle morning I found myself enrapt by the prose being spoken. This was swell writing. I was quite young when I read the Walford translation and I have given away every copy I have ever owned including a first edition hard cover, so the Walford text eludes me. By-the-way, the Walford version of The Egyptian was the number one best selling novel of 1949, and the number one selling novel translation of all time until it was surpassed by Umberto Eco with The Name of the Rose…sometime in the 1980’s, I think. I was working for Warner Books at the time and sold the book into the wholesale market.

The Name of the Rose

Now, where was I? Oh yes, cruising along beside a long and beautiful glacial lake and listening to Mr. Charlton Griffin read the words of, presumably, Ms Lynda S. Robinson, a resident of Texas, possessing a doctorate in Anthropology and author of a number of Egyptian whodunits. So listening to this very fine prose as you may find an example of at the top of this blog, I said to myself, “Self, is this fine prose the result of the translator’s excellent translating skill, the result of a very fine novel so well written that it almost translates itself, or half-way between and both?” Self answered, “Both, I do very much suspect.”

So I turned off the lovely voice of Mr. Charlton Griffin and began to cogitate. What other books do I admire, having only read the translation? First up was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I adore this book and have read it many times. And I only read the Bantam edition so I am reading the translation by Hilda Rosner. I like this one so well I am kind of afraid to read any other. I am beginning to think that the translator plays a huge role in my reading enjoyment.

Look at it this way: Take your favorite English language novel, I have so many, I will just choose one, and so let us choose The Death Ship by B. Traven. Ha, funny that my old brain should pick that one seeing as how Mr. B. Traven, also known as Ret Marut, Traven Torsvan, and Hal Croves, to name a few, wrote in German whilst living in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.

But I digress. So suppose someone decided, just for the heck of it, to rewrite The Death Ship? It would still be in English and still tell the same story but it would be using someone else’s words. That makes it a different book, neh?

Siddhartha

So I guess I really like Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Hilda Rosner. And I fell in love with The Egyptian by Mika Waltari and Naomi Walford, but now, being fickle as only a human can be, I have transferred my affection to The Egyptian by Mika Waltari and Lynda S. Robinson.

Other translations? Ah, I dearly love Candide and I first read the lovely translated words of Voltaire in a Norton Anthology in college. I have no idea who the translator was, but it was love at first read and I am still head over heels mad for the English version of Monsieur Françoise-Marie Arouet de Voltaire’s opus. And now I dearly love the hard cover volume issued by Modern Library to mark their 75th anniversary, Candide being the first book Modern Library published. It is illustrated by Rockwell Kent and translated by Peter Constantine. So here is a book that has provided two lovers. For, both translations I do love, indeed.

Candide is expelled from the castle

And now to a translation that might be unique, and which is certainly more famous than the work it purportedly translates. Edward J. Fitzgerald offered his “translation” of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam. It became almost instantly beloved, read, and quoted. But scholars often say “pish tosh” to this translation. Perhaps the flowery imagination of Mister Fitzgerald saw words that Omar the Tentmaker never wrote. I have read several translations and there is a difference and I always prefer Fitzgerald.

Literal:

Signs of destiny have always been
Those hands inscribed both good and mean
What was written, came from the unseen
Though we tried without and worried within.

Meaning:

One is great
Who faces fate
Before it’s late,
Appreciate
The destined state
No matter how much we debate
Oppose, engage, or calculate
Even try to accelerate
Fate only moves at its own rate.
Futile is worry, anger and hate
Joy is the only worthy mate.

 Fitzgerald:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
[Thanks to Shahriar Shahriari]

Over the span of my life, I vaguely recall two or three major translations of Homer and always each would be declared definitive. I am not a huge fan of reading Homer, or at least I have yet to try an edition which does not also try my patience. If only I could read the original Greek. Alas.

Sappho at Leucate

My final thought on translations, at least for the nonce, regards Sappho. I took a Greek history course in college and the text book contained translations of two poems by the lady from Lesbos. The book is long gone, probably sold for beer money at the end of the semester, and I know not the translator. But, romantic that I am, I memorized both poems. I have seen different translations of each over the years, but nothing so satisfying as the ones in my history text. My memory of one poem is:

“It seems all heaven here, to sit beside you, listening lover-wise to your sweet voice, and sweeter yet, your laughter’s witcheries. But oh why beats my heart so wild, one look at you and swift as thought, I am as tongue-tied as a child. Words die in my throat.”

And I guess I will have to get hard copies of both translations of the Egyptian and compare them. Oh, and speaking of translations, if anyone ever finds a copy of Waltari’s “A Nail Merchant at Nightfall” let me know.

“With the approach of age the soul flies like a bird back to the days of childhood. Now those days shine bright and clear in my memory until it seems as if everything then must have been better, lovelier than in the world today.” The Egyptian by Mika Waltari and Lynda S. Robinson and Charlton Griffin. [Gee, the professional reader makes such a difference, I might not have noticed Robinson’s stellar prose were it not for the splendid delivery of Mr. Griffin.]





A Wandering Salesman I

20 03 2010

Snowy Baltimore

I tend to associate the “spring” in “Spring” with the word capricious. Winter is leaving but it doesn’t go away all at once.  Forward and back and back and forward, the sun shines more and the temperature rises then falls back again. Slowly, inexorably, we are now moving toward sunny skies and warmer weather. But like the random leaps of a goat, the capricious bit you see, it doesn’t get from point A to point B in a straight line.

Sunny Baltimore

I was in Baltimore this week. It was quite cool in the morning but Mr. Sun was shining and the temperature approached 70 during the day. How-some-ever, recall that not too long ago, that part of the Northeast was experiencing record snowfall. One storm alone deposited 26 inches on Philadelphia. So as I drove to call on one of my favorite distributors, I noticed the piles of dirty snow sitting in shady sections alongside the road, in residential yards, and in commercial parking lots.

Yes, spring was here, but ol’ pappy winter had not let go complete, yet. But this means yours truly is back on the road with Willie Nelson playing inside myownself’s pea-like and aged brain. On the road. I love traveling. Over 35 years plus of commercial travel I have stumbled through the weeds to view a fresh water spring beneath an old bridge in Waco, Texas. I visited Stovall’s Hot Mineral Baths before fire destroyed it.

The Ghost of Stovall's

One small yet splendid pleasure was an 80 mile side trip to Turkey, Texas, the birthplace of Bob Wills. The country road wound around and up and down on the edge of the Llano Estacado. Coming around a curve in the low but hard-as-my-own-head bedrock, there below and in front of me was the confluence of two rivers. They roared and foamed and must be why all else was stone, but in the V formed by them was a little farmhouse, and I was jealous of the people who got to live there.

Llano Estacado

Then up to the true caprock itself. It was flat and the purple sage waved in a strong wind that must have  been coming straight down from Canada. We got out of the car and looked north across the Great Plains to the horizon and it was so flat with that cold wind blowing in my face and the sage a-dancing around, it seemed one could see into forever. Great Mother of Pearl but what an experience.

The Ginkgos of Tokyo

And I went to Japan. The air smelled…different, alien—but alien in a good way—just not as expected. I always wondered if that scent in the air in early summer in Tokyo was from all the ginkgo trees. And the crows they were gigantic and spoke a different dialect from Texas crows. And the katydids had become “mimi’s” because that is what they said, “Mimi, mimi.” Woo hoo, it was just swell. And so was the country. My friend Masaaki and I hit a fabled little soba joint and sat there for hours slurping down first class soba, sashimi, whatever other tidbits the chef and owner deigned to offer us, and sucking up the best sake I ever had before or since.

The author boards a Tokyo train - "Dosdesukaden"

A young Japanese fellow came over and introduced himself and complimented me on my Japanese-like ability to inhale soba noodles, and could he practice his English? Masaaki and I finally hit the subway headed for Ueno station, but we were so drunk we missed our stop twice and kept having to get on the subway going the opposite way. A little Japanese schoolgirl, going home from a late night after-school class of some sort was the only other passenger in that car with us, and she slept when she could. And the train did indeed sing “dodesukaden, dodesukaden, dodesukaden,” as it clattered along the tracks, and I was in my own little Shinto heaven thank you very much Mr. Kurosawa.

In the Ginza

I will only mention my two weeks in China briefly for that trip requires its own  blog, and I’m not sure if attending the first World Tai Chi Festival on Heinan Island as a member of the U.S. Tai Chi team counts as business travel.

A Ramen Shop in the Ginza

Oh, and in Tokyo I ate a peach, well two peaches, actually, and after having one of those, nothing else for the rest of my life will count as a peach. And eating ramen at a joint in the Ginza where the ramen was flavored with miso and the customers ate with both hands, chopsticks in one hand and porcelain soup spoon in the other. But where was Tampopo?

In "Tampopo" the Master instructs his student

And the beautiful Geisha standing in the unisex restroom proffering a terry cloth towel after I washed my hands. This was whilst we were at Rocky Top in the Ginza where Masaaki and his bluegrass band were playing.

And now I am returning from Baltimore after presenting upcoming book titles to our distributor’s sales force, a bunch of mostly-young, really smart folks who love books and can talk about your product or the industry itself. And they have become friends and the smiles of reunion are genuine on both sides.

Then there is the travel within the travel. When I have to rent a car I am very fearful, having no sense of direction. I always get lost, the only question is when and how bad.

Let us not forget hotels. They are mostly good these days. In my youth, traveling publisher’s reps clued each other in on which place to stay in Amarillo or Lubbock. Who had hot water or even who had any water pressure at all. Today there are numerous fine places to stay at reasonable rates. Many have refrigerators, microwaves, and even small stovetops. At some future date I will write about the fine hotels in which I have had the pleasure to stay. And I won’t forget my friend Maria at the Holiday Inn in San Antonio.

Narita Airport, Tokyo

Finally there are the airports and the airplanes. Certain airports are like old friends and others old enemies. The old friends are best and I will mention DFW in particular. Going east from Seattle, many roads lead through DFW. I usually fly American Airlines and so wind up in the same terminals, A and C. My favorite is Childs Barbecue but Dickey’s Barbecue is very good too. This trip I discovered a new place, Tequilaria, owned by Jose Cuervo. They serve…tequila. But I also had their soft tacos which were fabulous. And DFW has wine bars, and a new fast food place that serves bison burgers. Oh, and very important, recharge towers have popped up all over the airport like chromium trees. The netbook and the smart phone must be fed, too.

And the planes: I used to have a running battle with the planes, what with small seats, scant legroom, bawling children…oy. But I have found that if I sit at the back and get a seat on the right side aisle, all is well. I like 31D on S80s. Today I am in 35D on a really swell 757, so much leg room, and it is somewhat empty, so the other two seats on my side are vacant, well, I could almost live here. Except for the squalling infant several rows up. Ai-ya, now there are screeching children behind me, too. But, that’s why God created iPods.

Home

So winter is done and my clock has sprung forward whether I like it or not, and I am returning home. Another good thing about travel, you get to come home. In the Egyptian by Mika Waltari, our hero, Sinuhe, has just returned to Egypt with his buddy Horemheb from a visit to the Hittites. Sinuhe exclaims, “Nothing tastes so sweet as the waters of the Nile.” “There’s no place like home.” Right Dorothy? But next week, I am “…On the road again, gee but it’s great to be on the road again…”





Waltz Across Texas

23 05 2009
San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio Riverwalk

The spring Texas trip began with a flight from Seattle to DFW. Before changing planes I grabbed a Cousins sliced beef brisket sandwich. Nowhere but Texas, my friends. Also, many of the chairs in DFW airport have an unique design. Instead of long rows, they are grouped in fours with a table between every two chairs. A small thing, but if you travel a lot, this is a real convenience.

DFW Airport

DFW Airport

Then flying on to Austin and a short drive down to San Antonio. Last time I looked, San Antonio was the tenth biggest city in the country. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. The flight selection is terrible and the downtown area traffic is incredibly light. It is often easier to fly in and out of Austin. Of course, this knucklehead got lost for a while, driving back and forth between two toll booths. I had to stop and dig my shaving kit out of the trunk. That’s where I keep all of my change.

Finally finding I-35, I drove the short trip to San Antonio listening to Dan Simmon’s Hyperion on my iPod. The best thing about new cars is the auxiliary jack for iPods.

Visually, there is no separation between Austin and San Antonio these days just mile after mile of Dennys and Olive Gardens, chain after chain after chain. Sigh.

The hotel in San Antonio is downtown, just a few blocks from my next-day appointment. It was late when I got in and I decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. That was a bad choice. The food was terrible and some kids—teenagers—were sitting at a table next to me with a cell phone on speakerphone and chattering mindlessly to some brain dead individual on the other end. The waitress did not ask them to turn it off, but she did bring me a tumbler full of wine “on the house.”

Calling on the military distributor in San Antonio is always a delight. The buyer is knowledgeable and a good person, and we share many memories of publishing in Texas. The head of the company is a hoot, he is smart and funny with lots of personality.

Molcajete

Molcajete

Presenting our titles went well and then we adjourned to the Riverwalk for an early dinner at Boudros. This restaurant must have the best guacamole in the entire universe. They make it at the table using a traditional molcajete, lava stone mortar and pestle. The guacamole starts with ripe avocados, of course; finely chopped red onion; garlic; lime juice; a mixture of fire-roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes; and…the juice of half an orange. Wow, this is stab-the-waiter-in-the-hand-with-a-fork-if-he-tries-to-take-it-away good.

The River Walk is a nice touristy attraction. I suppose it is the biggest thing in San Antonio. Lots of great food with boats toodling up and down the river, including boats with full dinners served. In April the temperature is in the low 80’s, so tolerable. Summers in San Antonio can be insufferable with temperatures over 100 and high humidity.

San Antonio has a swell history with great Mexican food all over the place. Chili, Texas chili, the real, genuine, original chili—that’s chili with an “i” my friends—chili began in San Antonio with the Chili Queens selling it on the street by firelight. No beans, just beefy, spicy goodness.

Of course San Antonio is also the site of the Alamo, the old mission around which every Texan rallies. Davey Crockett died there, and Jim Bowie, and the massacre of the colonists foreshadowed the battle of San Jacinto where General Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana and won independence for Texas. Funny, it seems like today most of the visitors to the Alamo are from Mexico.

Leaving San Antonio, I headed back to Austin for dinner with one of our authors, a very famous author. He and his wife have become dear friends of mine and I look forward to seeing them with great anticipation. Four hours at the dinner table turned out to be not long enough to cover every subject. What fun.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

The next morning I stepped out the door of my motel room in Austin. It was warm and humid. A brown grackle was prowling in the grass at my feet looking for food. The air in front of me erupted as a mockingbird chased a boat-tailed grackle away from her nest. Yep, spring in Texas.

Mockingbird

Mockingbird-State Bird of Texas

Driving up to Dallas. Traffic is heavy, the roads are badly in need of repair, and thunderstorms are rolling in. Listening to the Groucho Marx version of the Mikado helps.

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

What memories on that stretch of I-35. It passes by Salado, a tiny town noted for the Stagecoach Inn, on the old road where the stagecoaches traveled—the swimming pool is spring-fed, and the wait staff has to memorize the menu, it is not written down—and then past the exit to Killeen where Fort Hood is located. The first thing I ever did as a Ballantine Book rep was to rack Fort Hood, all 13 stores, for Ballantine War Books. The brainchild of one of my mentors, Ian Ballantine, those books sold like crazy. I wish they were still in print.

Passing Killeen and Belton and Temple. Temple was the home of the local distributor and a great place to call on. Ha! Memories of one drunken night in downtown Temple with the book buyer. He drove and managed to bottom out his car on a concrete divider in downtown Temple under the innerstate. When you went drinking with him you were in for it. It always began at the Ramada Inn bar. Every time he finished his beer he ordered another, and one for you. Sometimes I would have three or four beers sitting in front of me. I vaguely remember winding up at a Czech dance hall one night. Times were different then. We would have wound up in jail…or dead, today. Now I won’t get in a car if I had even one drink.

On through Waco, infamous for the Branch Davidian fiasco. But I remember on my first road rep trip south traveling with the legendary Dink Starns, once described by publisher Tom Doherty as a “boulevardier.” Dink took me to some old bridge that used to be a main thoroughfare and we trekked down under the bridge so I can see a spring bubbling on the edge of the river. Dink taught me many things, including how to sell books.

Near Waxahachie

Near Waxahachie

I-35 divides at Hillsboro with the west branch leading to Fort Worth, and the east branch to Dallas. I go east past Waxahachie and the super collider that wouldn’t be. The condition of the road is horrible. Texas always took pride in their miles and miles of miles and miles of interstate and I am sad that the highway system has fallen into such disrepair. At the same time, around cities, they have taken to painting overpasses. What a waste of time and money! Let concrete be. Spend that money on road repair. Now everything that is painted will have to be repainted, or wind up looking as shabby as the roads.

Dallas traffic, as usual, is brutal. Drivers in Seattle are so nice I forget what it’s like to drive in an urban combat zone. You have to be alert, mean, and aggressive.

Up I-35 East past downtown Dallas and the insane interchange there. I exited when I came to Royal Lane. Lordy, how many times have I taken that exit…well I just couldn’t count them. East on Royal Lane, the businesses are even more decrepit than before. Looks to me like the general infrastructure in Texas is disintegrating, but I haven’t seen everywhere.

Bumping over the railroad tracks at Denton Drive. This always makes me think of my friend Gary, who was a US Treasury agent. He picked me up once, at Martin News, for lunch. As we toodled down Denton Drive, Gary kept honking his horn. He knew every hooker in that part of town. He told me a story about searching for a suspect with his partner in that neighborhood. It was Sunday evening and a little hole-in-the-wall church had just let out. It was a hot and sultry Texas evening. Gary and his partner had each bought a beer from a nearby convenience store and were sitting on the curb in front of the church.

One of the congregation, a prostitute, came out, bought a beer, and joined them on the curb. Her pimp walked up and started berating her for not being on the job. Well, this hooker just got tired of him, and pulled a straight razor. She slashed at the pimp, cutting his fancy outfit but missing flesh. In a flash, he took off across the tracks down through the bottoms. The hooker hiked her tight skirt up around her waist, kicked off her high-heeled shoes, and ran after him brandishing the razor. Gary and his partner watched them disappear into the distance. Then they turned and resumed their manhunt.

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

On the other side of Denton Drive there is a post office on the right, at the corner of Gemini and Royal.  A right turn on Gemini and Martin News is on the right. Everything is closed up and the fences enclosing the loading docks are topped with razor wire.There used to be a Dairy Queen across the street from the Post Office where we often ate lunch. Now it is Tacos and Teriyaki, whatever the hell that means.

Martin News was the book and magazine distributor in Dallas, probably since the 1930’s. It began with K.T. Martin, Sr., then his son K.T., Jr., “Bubba.” Bubba Martin was infamous for his temper, but he was also a clever manager of his business and it thrived while he was alive.

Some years after Bubba’s death, the family sold the operation to Anderson News, who recently shut their doors. See my previous blog “Give Me That Old-Time Magazine Distribution” https://chadao.wordpress.com/2009/02/12/give-me-that-old-time-magazine-distribution/.

Tacos & Teriyaki

Tacos & Teriyaki

I first caught sight of Martin News in 1975, when my boss at Trinity News, Garry Wilkerson, pointed it out as we drove past. Garry and I were on our way to open a new Century Book Store on Mockingbird Lane. Since then I spent much time, a whole lot of time at that agency, selling both magazines and books. They offered me a job once, managing a bookstore they were opening, but I declined.

So many of my friends worked in the business and Martin News was a meeting place, especially if you were a book rep. Regardless of other business, all book reps had to gather one Friday a month to show their monthly offerings to the book buyer.

Bubba, himself, did the buying for many years. You never knew what was going to happen. When I was with Ballantine, my boss from New York went in with me once, and got thrown out. I kept my mouth shut, and Bubba’s parting words were, “If I didn’t see Pierce back there working his ass off every week, I would throw you and every blankety-blank one of your books out of here.” Then we went out to the company car. My boss chewed me out for a while for not backing him up. To his credit, he eventually ran down and admitted that I had to work at Martin News and did good to keep my mouth shut. Ah, Fridays at Martin News.

Whataburger

Whataburger

Every time I visit Texas I have to have at least one Whataburger. So I traveled the back streets from Martin News over to Walnut Hill to a Whataburger that has been there since the 1950’s. When I lived in Texas, Whataburger had a jalapeno burger but since had dropped it from their menu. Now it is back. Glorioski!

The last leg of the trip involved a flight to Amarillo to call on Hastings Books. After all these years in Seattle I am always amazed at just how flat Amarillo is, up there on the caprock. Amarillo and Edmonton, Alberta are the two flattest places I have ever been. I mean flat.

I visited one of Hastings’ stores while I was there and was happy to find our Pathfinder books.

Amarillo

Amarillo

My return trip to Seattle went through DFW, but the Amarillo to DFW leg was cancelled and the new flight postponed several times. Hell is sitting in the Amarillo airport. Good thing I had a good book. Bad news is I had planned on eating barbecue at Cousins’ again at DFW, but my flight got in just in time to catch the next leg and head back to Seattle and rain and cool and the place I now call home.

 

We started off with Willie. Now Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield can take it on home. I just got in from Texas, babe, indeed!