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?

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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





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…”





The True Story of Book Publishing

25 02 2009

Hilarious but true. This is how it’s really done. Honest.