Saturday, August 23, 2008

The man with the short gray attention span

Until recently, my only experience with audio books was through the cassette player in my old Subaru, listening to some Louis L'Amour tapes my mom loaned me for the long drive from Montana to Philadelphia. Maybe it was the road noise, or maybe it was Louis L'Amour, but somewhere on a particularly tedious stretch through Indiana, I concluded that audio books were not really my cup of tea.

Listening to books, my attention tends to wander. Sometimes half a chapter will go by before it returns. By then I'm not sure who's shooting who, and trying to rewind to just the right spot when you're driving is sort of like texting when you're driving -- the sport of fools. Also, I have this problem when male readers do women's voices, and vice versa. It just seems faintly ridiculous, and takes me out of the story.

But recently my friend Yvonne showed me the wonders of the New York Public Library's audio book collection. For a flat fee you get access to thousands of titles, including some very popular authors, that can be downloaded and played on any MP3 player -- no iPod required. I downloaded Lawrence Block's The Girl With the Long Green Heart and have spent the last couple of nights listening to it before drifting off to sleep.

This turns out to be a problem. With a print version, I know know I'm done reading, generally by the sound of the book hitting the floor. With an MP3, I might wake up at 2 a.m. and the guy is still rambling along as though I've been hanging on every word -- and he's just wrapping up Chapter 18. Yeah, I can skip back, but that would involve knowing precisely when I drifted off.

And again: the reader has a nice hardboiled baritone, but I always wince when he pitches it up to voice the willowy redhead who is central to the plot. Let's just say my suspension of disbelief gets unsuspended in a hurry.

That said, I do like the idea of having books around when I'm in no position to read them: walking the dog, say, or the running on the treadmill at the Y, or staring moodily into the middle distance. I'll probably try a few more titles.

Anybody else have anything good or bad to say about audio books? Check out the New York Public Library site and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Can Mrs. Dyer have her freezer back now?

So little is certain in this crazy world. But one great truth remains as constant as the stars: When two rednecks say they have Bigfoot in a freezer, they don't.

I mean, this is pretty basic. And yet for a week or so, even reputable news services were covering the claims of Ricky Dyer and Mathew Whitton as news. Some even ran the ludicrous picture supplied by the pair, showing what appeared to be a Planet of the Apes mask, a couple of doormats and a platter of link sausages jammed into a freezer. Not sure what the garden hose was for. But that's Sasquatch alright. I'd recognize him anywhere.

Now it falls to a web site devoted to Bigfoot-related dumb-assery to set the record straight. "I observed the foot which looked unnatural, reached in and confirmed it was a rubber foot," wrote Steve Kulls of the Sasquatchdetective site. Science triumphs again. You'd think this sort of thing might somehow embarrass Mr. Kulls, but I guess if you run around calling yourself a "sasquatch detective," you're already largely immune to feelings of shame.

Anyway, we see again that without Bigfoot hoaxes, there can be no Bigfoot enthusiasts. Which is ample reason to lock up Dyer and Whitton and throw away the key.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Here's a clue for Hasbro

It is with great regret that I learn of Hasbro's plans to market the game of Clue without the revolver. That little gun was one of my favorite game pieces of all time, second only to the iron in Monopoly. (I'm not talking about the lame card at left, by the way, but the little metal gun that looked like you could load it with little metal bullets).

Getting rid of the gun is a puzzling choice by Hasbro, since statistics indicate that firearms remain a favorite means of homicide among Americans. Certainly guns figure in more slayings than trophies, dumbbells and poison, all of which Hasbro has seen fit to add. If the company really wanted to bring the game into the 21st century, it might have changed the gun to a Glock 19 and added a pimped-out Escalade as one of the rooms. Now we're talking murder, baby.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A dark morning of self doubt

They say that when your plot starts to flag, you should kill somebody. In the story, I mean. Fine. But if I did that, pretty soon I wouldn't have any characters left. Now I'm in the last stretch of this book I started a year ago and about the only thing I can think of is a large meteorite wiping out all my characters except for the protagonist, who is left to wander away contemplating vague epiphanies.

That's fine too, except it's not really a meteorite type of book. It's more of a Fried Green Tomatoes type of book, without the lesbians. And, I'm beginning to understand, without the sales potential. I'm really not sure what I was thinking when I started it. But now it's acquired a life of its own. A crude sweater has taken shape, missing a hole for the head, and still I keep knitting away.

But such is the glamor of the writing life. You hammer blindly at the keyboard, hoping there's an invisible muse out there leading you along by the nose, and that she's not rolling her eyes at the awkward turns of phrase, the particularly egregious cliches. And you pray she takes a more active role in the second draft.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The boy is back in town

Finally home after a 3,600-mile road trip, with a new resolve to post here more frequently, finally finish that damned novel, and mow the lawn, which has gone primitive during my two-week absence. That last will have to wait, since it's raining now. You can mow a lawn when it's wet, or you can mow it when it's a foot high, but you can't do both.

So, to the blog. I renewed ties with a lot of friends and family and was lucky enough to catch my home state of Montana at its best: dry sunny days and cool nights scented with hay or lupine or alpine fir, depending on where I happened to be. The only bad weather to be seen was in Wyoming. No problem, since I was just passing through. Back here in Wichita, where summer is not the gentlest season, I'm thankful to have missed the past couple weeks of 100-plus heat and the woolen humidity so common in the Midwest. September can't come soon enough.

Above is a picture of yours truly at the stick of a Dimona motor glider, soaring high over the pine-studded slopes and dun prairie around Flathead Lake. I'm only pretending to fly it; let's just say my rudder work is rusty after a few decades out of the cockpit and I was all over the sky during the few minutes my friend Mike Stockhill let me have a go. But as a way to see Montana, I highly recommend it.

A motor glider is a wondrous machine. No need for a tow-plane; you climb to altitude under power, then shut down the engine and ride thermals ever higher, looking down the long wing at the scenery below. Quiet, too, except for the wind rushing by. If this aircraft didn't cost about as much as my house, I'd buy one tomorrow.

Of course, you can still experience Montana the old-fashioned way, slipping on a day pack and gaining your altitude one step at a time. My brother Ed and I put in a 12-mile hike (round trip) to visit a couple of lakes below Hollowtop Mountain in the Tobacco Root range. Yes, we may have been hobbling a bit when we got back to the car, but it was worth it.

The whole trip was worth it. Venturing out on the road always is, gas prices notwithstanding. I'm afraid to total up the charges on my credit card, so I probably won't for awhile. But in the meantime I've acquired some more good memories: lifting hay bales in Eureka, plying the waters of Flathead Lake on a pontoon boat, picking huckleberries up Blacktail, digging for crystals north of Polaris, strolling through the ghost town of Coolidge, harvesting lettuce from my Mom's garden in Sheridan. All stuff I've done before, but the older you get, the more poignant these things become. Life's short. So damn the expense.

Above is a building in Coolidge -- or perhaps an example of the kind of house you can get for a quarter million these days in Montana. They say the state's real estate boom is slowing down, but I didn't see much evidence of it.

Here are a couple more photos of the hundreds I took during the last two weeks. I don't claim they're art, but I'm posting them here just because I can. The one at left shows Ed and family mining the glittery earth at Crystal Park. That day we discovered a few good-sized amethysts and lesser crystals of no particular value -- but beautiful nonetheless. Below is a sprinkler head on an irrigation line in the Tobacco Valley. The few folks still haying in the valley prefer wheel lines because no kid in his right mind is willing to take the job of changing pipes by hand. Anybody's interested, I've posted a few more pics from the trip here.