Had lunch today with a friend who’s been sober awhile herself. Being drunks, albeit in recovery, we each talked about ourselves until, miraculously, we started to focus on what the other was saying. It was just like a real, live, what are those things called–conversation, instead of a ping-pong game of monologues.
The Very First Tiny White Box Writers’ Retreat is now accepting applications.
–Free food, free lodging
–Friday to Sunday, 9/22-9/24
–Friday to Friday 9/22-9/29
Free transportation provided North Friday, 9/22
Free transportation South Sunday, 9/24, and 9/29
Contact Keith at (603)361-6266 for more information or to register
A quiet Sunday in Wasau, Wisconsin. I suspect there are many quiet Sundays here. Still, I managed to have a heated conversation in the hotel lobby about, of all things, an appearance I made on CNN more than 18 months ago.’
Since George was sleeping, I wandered the grounds of the Plaza Hotel, slipping off for caffeine at a local coffee shop. When I came back to the hotel, a friendly-faced Wisconsinite approached me in the lobby.
“Don’t I know you?” he said, smile on his face.
“I don’t think so. I’m just in town for a few days.”
“Nope. I never forget a face. I’ve seen you before.”
Constant reader, forgive me for this interruption in the conversation, but I’ve been arrested exactly three times in my life. Once in Durham, NH, when I was 15, and twice when I was 17, once in Indianapolis and once in Waukesha, WI. It crossed my mind that my conversational partner COULD have been the arresting officer in October, 1976, but no matter how little I think I’ve changed, no one could possibly recognize me after more than 40 years. Still . . .
“I don’t think so. I’m here to learn about ginseng with a friend of mine.”
“We’ve got a lot of that here. What kind of work do you do?”
I explained about working with homeless veterans at Liberty House in Manchester.
“That’s it! I saw you on fake news!”
“CNN or one of the other fake news stations. You insulted the president.”
“Ohhhhh,” I murmured. “You mean turning down a donation? We eventually got that, although not directly from Mr. Trump. From a friend of his, Stewie Rah-Rah, the King of All Fun.
Again, pardon the interruption, but readers are directed to the Liberty House website or, better, to Google “Keith Howard Donald Trump” for a rollicking read through yesteryear.
“Also,” I continued, “he wasn’t president then. He was a candidate.”
“Still, you shouldn’t have insulted him like that.”
I explained I couldn’t appear on-stage with ANY candidate on ANY stage, not just Donald Trump on a New Hampshire Primary stage because Liberty House is a non-profit. (In this age of twisted lexicography, the word “explain” in the previous sentence means: “said in a calm but pleading tone into the face of a man who is simply waiting for your lips to stop moving”)
“Still, you shouldn’t insult the president on fake news. It’s not very American. Look what he’s done for the country already.”
Here, I had a choice. I could go into a caffeine-fueled rant about the importance of dialog not diatribe. I could talk about the president’s recent sit-down with Vladimir Putin, where President Putin denied nefariosity in our most recent election. I could even have claimed truthfully that I’m a registered Republican. I could have done any of those things but it’s a quiet Sunday in Wasau, Wisconsin, and I wanted to keep it that way.
“Am I even better-looking in person than I was on TV?” I asked.
He laughed appreciatively and we parted as friends.
Final note to my political friends, who have known me as a moderate-liberal all these many years. In January 2016 I changed my party affiliation to Republican so I could vote for John Kasich. Although this was a tactical decision because one of the other Republican candidates scared the bejeezus out of me, it was not JUST a tactical vote. I think Kasich is a good and honorable man, and I could have voted for him last November. I maintained that party affiliation because a friend of mine, Rich Ashooh, was running later in the year in the primaries against a corrupt-is-too-strong-a-word-but-anything-weaker would-be-too-weak incumbent. Rich is an even better and more honorable man, and I would have campaigned hard for him in the general election, had he won the primary. He didn’t, so I didn’t.
Early readers of On Account of Because asked the same question over and over.
“Keith, you’re incredibly charming, handsome enough in the right light AND you’ve written a moving, funny and insightful book–one which all of my friends should read–but I have to know. How much of On Account of Because is autobiographical? Are you Clayton? Pops? Eleanor Buonardi? The mouse?”
The answer I gave each of them is the one I offer you. To quote my very loose translation of Mark 16:6–“If you’re looking for the author, he’s gone. Caught the 3:10 to Yuma.” For you, though, Constant Reader, I’ll give you the reason why the title says 99% instead of 100%. I do, Hitchcock-like, make a walk-on appearance in the book. The first reader to quote the description of me will get a free autographed copy of this and all my future books. Really and for true.
Day Three of Travels with George:
Today was a day for strange conversations. I talked with an immigrant from Communist China who thinks the Jews control the defense industry, a softball referee who finds his 14-year-old players secretly attractive, a father who got into a restaurant food fight with his son and a ginseng grower who thinks the whole thing is bullshit–but bullshit that sells! Each of those is worthy of some description, a lengthy examination, even. That’s not going to happen, though.
Today I spent the day with George, who told me about the importance of reducing risk per sale when dealing pot by the 10-lb. increment in the 70s, a new design for an engine, the advantages of federal over state prisons, ways to proofread a book using a light table and negatives, the story of his father’s funeral and more about Marshall McLuhan and Teilhard de Chardin than I thought possible for any one man to know. Since I’m now considering writing a memoir about George’s life instead of my own, I could start a rough draft here. That’s not going to happen, though.
Today I had a childhood dream come true. Really. My first published novel, On Account of Because, is now available from Amazon (and me, of course.)
Ever since I first tried to show off for Abby Levine, an attractive older girl of 11 when I was eight, by writing a book for her approval, I’ve had a hankering to publish. (No, the mysterious and alluring Abby wasn’t smitten by what I’d written.)
When I was 15 and in love for the first time, I wrote a book for the fascinating, beautiful, older and mysterious Kelly Boucher. The Tuxedo was a too-long short story about my meeting and winning Kelly, then losing her to an older guy who had a sports car AND a father who owned a freaking flower shop! I filled out the pages with lots of poetry and snippets, and hoped it would win her back. It didn’t.
When I was 21 and in love with a fascinating, beautiful, older, mysterious, married and pregnant 28-year-old woman, I tried to pry her away from her husband with promises of a book to be called The Strangest Goddamned Story in the World. That book was never written, and never will be. She is still married, and happily at this point, I believe. I’d thought about dedicating On Account of Because to her as well as my three daughters, but didn’t want to rekindle almost 40-year-old flames of anger on her husband’s part.
Today I am 58, and have a novel in print–not for Abby Levine, not for Kelly Boucher, not for the unnamed woman, but just on account of because.
Ginseng is a miracle herb that does nothing. Ginseng is the cure for every malady except a diagnosable disease. Ginseng is a force multiplier for life in its battle against death, although the death rate continues at about 100% over time. Ginseng is a root that grows wild all over the world, particularly in cooler climates, and can claim huge amounts of money in Southeast Asia, with South Korea having an exchange devoted to its sale, much like the futures markets in Chicago.
I suspect ginseng has some small beneficial effect on overall health, but my friend George is a true believer, so invested that when I offered him a free trip to anywhere in the continental USA, he chose Wasau, Wisconsin, to learn about ginseng cultivation at the epicenter of American ginseng farming. For the next five days, he and I will attempt to breach the great wall of silence maintained by ginseng farmers, learning their secrets so George can perhaps begin his road to incalculable riches, a road through a field filled with roots.
Spent the day today traveling with George–about whom more later, I suspect–flying from Boston to Milwaukee. The last time I was here I was arrested. More accurately, the last time I visited GREATER Milwaukee (which is still not all that great) I was arrested in Waukesha. Of course, I was 17, in the army and hitchhiking from Indianapolis to Minneapolis (about 600 miles). After my arrest, I was released and had to walk a few miles back to the Interstate. A few weeks after that, I was arrested for the last time (so far) in my life–still 17, still in the army.
Before you express your jealousy at my trip to Milwaukee, let me up the ante–our final destination is the ginseng capitol of the midwest–Wasau, Wisconsin! But I digress without having begun. Please, let me begin again.
George and I spent the afternoon at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Pirsig’s classical/romantic split couldn’t have been more in evidence, as George marveled at the functional advances and missteps Harley demonstrated during the last century, while I focused entirely on form–admiring the design changes and connecting them to cultural ebbs and flows. Regardless, it was a surprisingly fun time.
I then spent 90 minutes with one of my Blue Fairy Godmothers, John whose last name I haven’t gotten permission to use. John contacted me 18 months ago, after I had a public and ultimately successful contretemps with a celebrity. At the time, John was part of a consortium of folks who wanted to start up an online fantasy sports site. That idea now has a stake through its heart due to banks’ unwillingness to work with an “industry” tailor-made for laundering ill-gotten gains. John and I have maintained regular contact out of affection and mutual respect, but today was the first time we met face to face. He is a good man who asked a lot of probing questions and offered even more useful advice. If only he didn’t live in Milwaukee!
Now it’s midnight in Wasau, a traveling softball team is still splashing in the pool outside our room, and tomorrow we search for the secrets of this Chinese herb. Oh joy.