June 27, 1968

A man driving a 1963 Rambler Ambassador throws his cigarette onto the road. Speedy runs him down, knowing the butt-flicker is the owner of the newspaper where he works.

After work, Izzy has an important meeting with Juliana.

The maintenance barn was an inheritance from the days when the country club had been somebody’s farm on the edge of town. It was filled with equipment—mowers, tractors, three-wheeled jitneys for getting around—and a small mountain of 70-pound bags of fertilizer sold by the public works department of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and manufactured by the good people of Milwaukee doing what comes natural to them.

I washed up more thoroughly than usual and sauntered down the lane toward the employee parking lot. Juliana was smoking a cigarette in her family’s Fairlane parked under a tree.

She had her waitress uniform on and it was a little tight, which I later found out was by design, and the top two buttons were undone. It was hot, but having been outside all day I was used to it. She ground her cigarette out in the dashboard ashtray, looking at me with a smile in her eyes.

“You were going to throw that out the window, weren’t you?” I said.

“And have the whole goddamn Boy Scouts of America breathing down my neck?” She fired up the Fairlane, and we rolled in a very well-behaved manner out the entrance road of the country club. I studied her thighs beneath the steering wheel.

It was soon clear that we were not going directly home.

June 20, 1968

Riding home with his mother from work, Izzy spots a butt-flick from a 1964 Volkswagon bus. In Thailand, the air force was dropping flowers and popcorn from airplanes to celebrate the adoption of a new national constitution. When they get home, Speedy is excited about a constitutional argument about the legal standing of trees.

My father was excited because a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Minnesotan named William O. Douglas, was there to support the protesters.

“Justice Douglas said that trees and paths and waterways should have the same legal protection that people and corporations have,” my father told us over our hamburgers and salad as the sun began to set. “He said the environment and all its parts should have standing to bring lawsuits in court. It was the damnedest thing I ever heard.”

I was trying to picture trees in a courtroom.

“When I was a kid, we used to go fishing over there and no one gave much thought to the barges on the canal. And then one year, they weren’t there. It was funny to have this big-shot Supreme Court justice and his newsmen and photographers and FBI spies making so much noise about preservation.

“Nobody can bring the barges back,” he said.

Then something came to his mind. “I started to interview this guy who didn’t seem like one of the protesters—his shoes just weren’t right—and he started to tell me why he was there and then stopped. He asked me if I was undercover, which is the most bizarre thing anyone has ever asked me.

“I told him I worked for the paper, and he thought about it for a moment and said he didn’t have anything to tell me.”

June 16, 1968

June 16, 1968, was Father’s Day.

Izzy comes across a woman enjoying a cigarette in the passenger seat of a 1959 Mercury Monterrey. Later, he and his sister visit their uncle at the hospital.
“‘You’ve got untold worlds that empty into thee,’ I said. His eyes flickered with the strain of struggling to command his voice. Then he looked away.”

June 9, 1968

Izzy and Speedy follow a kid in a 1957 Buick LeSabre who is looking for a way out of the draft. They end up at a Quaker meeting.

“In the Army, my father also met a soldier who told him about Dick Mobius, a mythical apostle of Herman Melville who started an anonymous society with no leadership, no secret handshake, no dues, no organization and no mission statement. The sect is held together only by its oral tradition: memorizing passages from the tale of the white whale and spouting them when it seems appropriate.”

Day 1 in AutoFlick chronology

June 7, 1968, is the first day of the AutoFlick story. Izzy and his father see two kids in a 1965 Triumph Spitfire throw cigarette butts into the road. They follow them to a gas station.

While there, a woman driving a 1963 Chevy Malibu comes into the gas station and drops her cigarette on the pavement, crushing it with the toe of her shoe.

“At the time we were riding to our work that June morning, I had no idea that a social science experiment was about to happen to me.”



New Cover, AutoFlick for Father’s Day

AutoFlick has a new cover, and I’m happy to say the novel is now available at two actual bookstores in Bucks County, PA: The Doylestown Bookshop and The Lahaska Bookshop. Go there. Buy lots of books. Tell them I sent you.

And I’ve retooled my online sales strategy. For two years, I have watched in frustration as Amazon sellers undercut the $16 retail price. Within a week after the book was first published, someone was selling a “used” copy for $11. Now, there are people offering the book for $2.

I don’t know how they manage to do this, but I think I made a mistake in how I designated sales channels on Amazon’s CreateSpace program. I have turned off all those options, although I suspect the resellers will continue to offer steeply discounted versions of the book.

The only authorized seller (by me) is my Amazon Seller page. It’s the only way you get a copy with the updated cover.


Another bit from Except Me and My Monkey

I begin to melt in the soul of the minivan whose ageless heater stirs decades of cramped adventurers. A bouncy ride back to the outfitter’s store, I weigh my options for dinner. Unsolicited, Lakshmi, the Hindu woman, tells me she’s heard the Kangia Café is good. It is across the street.

So, I find myself having supper with her. Locals speaking Greenlandic at the few tables. We claim seats at the counter looking onto the street, peeling off some layers to spray around ourselves, building a nest of sorts. I wonder if she’s being nice to be because of something she saw back in the Reykjavik domestic airport.

The Inuit proprietress asks what we want and, glancing at the chalkboard menu, I propose a baguette more because I like the sound of it. Lakshmi says she wants one too. The proprietress is busy with a pipeline of pending orders. We return to the counter.

“I am going to places that my husband said he always wanted to visit,” Lakshmi says. This is a great relief to me as we now have a topic to talk about.

“Why did he want to come here,” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says softly, almost as though she is with him again in her mind. “He never said.”

“And he is ….”

“Dead. He died happily, I think.”

“How long.”

“One year ago.” I am sure she is remembering him. It’s almost as though he’s there with us. He’s one of those tall, handsome Indians with majesty in his stride and graceful airs, I decide.

“Where else has he taken you.”

Lakshmi then proceeds to tell me about her sexual experience over 30 years of marriage and family vacations and their life in America and the handful of oddball places she’s been since her husband died less than a year ago. The one that sticks in my head is the two of them waking up in a meadow in late spring, cows milling around. A married couple date, after farming off their two children to an obliging neighbor. A concert with college kids at the liberal arts bastion where he taught English lit to America’s future. The Byrds. Eight Miles High and then the meadow. They did it again in the morning before an audience of great, moonish bovine eyes assessing their significance in the universe.

I am spellbound during this reckoning and almost disappointed that the owner-manager of the Kangia Café has summoned us to the counter to choose the ingredients for our baguettes.

It becomes a wonderful little meal. I throw some barbecue chicken into my order, although my what’s left of my family back in Maryland is steering away from meat that doesn’t swim. That’s what vacations and turning points are for, among other things. Lakshmi, true to form, goes strictly vegetarian.

I am encouraged that my Hindu friend also orders a bottle of local beer, which Greenlanders are remarkably good at even after only a relatively short period of time since temperance was no longer the rule of the land. Can’t go wrong brewing or distilling when you start with glacier water.

At a moment when I’m about halfway through my sandwich and I turn to look at the production end of the café and the proprietress glances my way at the same time, I offer a thumbs-up and rub my belly, a satisfied buddha or lesser Inuit idol and she smiles. As the world is relatively small, you can never go wrong thanking the cook.

Lakshmi and I finish our supper perched on stools, watching the traffic, pedestrian and vehicular, out on Ilulissat’s main drag. We drain our beers in quiet and I pay the check. As we put our layers back on, she thanks me without looking, the way a wife would acknowledge a husband.


Chapter 2 excerpt: Except for me and my Monkey

In Ancient Footsteps.


A near-handful of hotels in Ilulissat have dispatched vans to greet us, the recent arrivals from Reykjavik. Energized, I find my way to the Hotel Icefjord driver and identify myself but I must have used too many English things because he just grins and nods his head. I wander away.

Suddenly there is no one near the Icefjord sign and I realize the Dachshund-size baggage claim belt has already delivered its goods and there is my bag, forlornly waiting for me. Together, we roll outside where the Icefjord van is quickly filling up. It’s down to an Italian couple and me for the last seat in the van.

They can’t be separated, so I take the last seat, next to Hank, who is squeezed into the middle of the front seat. I didn’t notice the make or model, but it’s a ubiquitous three-row van that may have been purchased online from a Mexican auction lot. In Greenland, the main requirement is that it use diesel.

The roads, and everything else, is completely covered by a winter’s worth of snow, compacted to a fun frozen concrete that the drivers in Ilulissat take as a perfectly serviceable driving surface. No need to take corners cautiously, or slow gently to stop signs, or even stop at all, much less give a little leeway to pedestrians, of which there are many. No, sir. If you’re driving on this – no chains, no four-wheel drive and, for all I know, no snow tires – just go ahead and drive. Fast as you think safe.

We bob, we weave and we swerve past the new graveyard and the Hotel Arctic and the frozen harbor and through downtown Ilulissat, turning whimsically here and frantically there and finally over a blind drive into the front entrance of the Hotel Icefjord. As I was the last one on, my bags are the first off. I hustle inside.

Later, on a guided hike to Sermermiut.

We drive to the starting point of the hike in another rundown minivan that keeps the tourist industry humming in Ilulissat.

The proceedings are in some disarray. The guide indicates that he’ll do the English spiel first and then the Danish, and he tells me about an old cemetery up the hill, but the old cerebrum isn’t ticking as smoothly as usual given that I’ve had about three hours of sleep since the night before, whenever that was. The journey from Iceland took three hours and crossed three time-zones, meaning we got to Greenland about 10 minutes after we left. I start walking up a staircase in the side of a hill that he said led to the cemetery when he calls me back. Not yet, gringo.

More discussion, mostly in English. Stay on the path, it’s a UNESCO heritage site. The expedition gets underway. It’s cloudy and plenty cold and every once in a while, it snows or the wind, which is at our backs, picks up. There are interesting photographs as the sun, low on the horizon, tries to muscle through the clouds, murky blue and yellow hues in the sky. But to get to those polaroid memories, I have to take off my thick winter gloves to work the camera. And in no time, the fingers start to freeze and then you just get the gloves back on and there’s another photo asking to be taken. Again, it is somewhere south of zero.

The snow is crunching, reverberating, underfoot. The tones modulate based on some hidden algorithm buried below. The Danish kid is whistling along on his sled. The pipsqueak in the backpack squawks every now and then.

The guide explains that the third wave of native people, the Thule, lived here as late as 1850, when they were lured away to the comforts of European living in Ilulissat, then going by its Danish name.

We march on, the slanting rays of sunlight strafing the landscape tipping down to the waterfront, where we cannot go. Have to stay on the boardwalk, which is buried under the snow, but it’s playing a part in the modality of our snow crunching boot bass line.

The guide is trying to explain the geology of the place. Some brain cells turn to permafrost. Not getting it, completely. Now that we’ve stopped walking, it’s getting colder. If that was possible.  The guide pours coffee and tea into plastic cups. He tosses one into the air and the coffee freezes in brown sleet before it even completes its arc. This is magic, he says.

Except for Me and My Monkey

Chapter 1. Jet lag.

The minute I saw those two women I figured they were trouble. Not that kind of trouble. The other kind, the somebody’s-going-to-get-hurt trouble.

Watching them in the waiting lounge at the domestic airport in Reykjavik, I took them as lesbians at first. The sultry, black-haired one with serious eyes was pulling money out of her wallet to pay for their beers at the snack bar counter. The athletic red-head was laughing too loud at some joke. Yeah, I thought, the dyke on the right usually pays.

It was somewhere around eight in the AM. I had flown all night from Baltimore and got no sleep even though I took my medication – two Sagamore manhattans in the BWI airport lounge – before departure. After landing in the predawn, stumbled through the various gates and bought a bus ticket from Keflavik to the old domestic landing strip right in Reykjavik, smaller than a lot of bus stations I spend the night in back in the States.

I watched them take down their beer breakfast and reconsidered. They aren’t queers, I thought. They’re having too much fun together. Unless this is their first go-round.

I went out to watch the lines form and dissolve at the one check-in counter as each flight assembled itself and took off to some nook or cranny in Iceland. Like geese waddling around with rolling suitcases and backpacks until one of them ups itself into the air and all the rest follow after, honking like there’s no tomorrow. One of these days, there won’t be. A model airplane hovered overhead.

Man sitting next to me talking to his wife. Americans. He was rehearsing the schedule of activities they would have on their trip. Almost like he was talking to himself. Like a little kid rehearsing the adventures he was about to have. They had the same tour package I had, even to the point where I corrected him in my head when he mixed up the iceberg boat trip with the dog sledding. Hank, probably not his real name, was excited. His wife, a short blonde, was probably a dream when she was sixteen and was stuck since then with a weird Sandra Dee hairdo. There was an upturned curl on the top of her head, like her coif was waiting for a surfer to come along.

She didn’t seem to be responding to him. She was chewing gum and bobbing her lower right leg over her left knee with that distracted way some women have, like they’d rather be doing anything other than listening to the guy’s drivel.

Time moved slow. Not enough of it to go out in Reykjavik. And I’m beat. A flight to Kulisuk formed just before my flight to Ilulissat. Outdoor thrill-seekers with skis and monster snow boots, gear bags massive enough for a Tokyo salaryman’s bed chamber. Two American women getting on in years making friends with everybody and letting the world know they were going on an honest dog-sledding expedition, not a tourist thing, and the mostly younger people indulged them.

Finally, they all tromped through the international security check which from where I sat looked seemed to take place in a closet and then it was just us waiting on the 11:45 to Ilulissat. The last flight until later in the afternoon. Once we were safely off, the check-in counter would close and, I’m guessing, so would the snack counter.

A short gray-haired woman who I later learned was from Pittsburgh. Intensely focused on the goings-on, asking questions at the counter, checking and re-checking her paperwork. Two Indian people who turned out to be from Chicago. Various Danes. None of them particularly great.

I checked in. They put a tag on my bag. Since they were only processing one flight at a time, I wondered how anything could get misplaced. Went through security, which was in closet with a door at each end, and out to the boarding-area waiting room. About the size of a small Dairy Queen. Bought a bottle of vodka in the duty free.

A Danish couple with a teenage girl. He’s got a friendly face and a Euro way of ignoring his wife or taking her for granted. She’s blonde and prototypically sweetly beautiful, blue eyes and honey-toned Scandinavian complexion.

Finally, we are directed through the boarding gate and outside. It’s Reykjavik cool, the sun breaking through, and it feels great to be outside again and walking along a string of turbo jets until we get to ours and climb aboard. I’m in the back. The Danes are behind me, There’s a truly lesbian couple further ahead in the cabin. Hank and Sandra Dee are just a row or two ahead, across the aisle.

We roll down the runway, the stewardess addresses us in Icelandic, I think, which nobody speaks, but it’s their airline, and then in English, which all the Danes seem to get. It’s a spunky little Bombardier Q200, only 19 passengers, but able to carry a lot of cargo and, more importantly, land on short, dicey airstrips. And usually there aren’t more than 19 people at a time interested in going to Greenland.

Reykjavik disappears under our wing and we are off into the North Atlantic and soon over the clouds and I blissfully drift to sleep. Totally missed the beverage service.

Woke up still over clouds, but the watch tells me we must be getting close to Greenland. Or over it. Still, those props keep spinning, driving air into the jets. We are a somewhat dumpy and middle-aged goose floundering north of the polar circle. Fully of jolly vacationers.

Sandra Dee has moved to the seat behind Hank and is leaning over, embracing him from behind with the small matter of the seat separating him. The Danish family has split up across the five seats at the back of the plane. He’s alone by the starboard window, his feet up on the seat next to him. The wife and daughter are a world apart, looking out the window behind me.

There are a few splotches of something below the wing. Far below, the Greenland ice cap. Undulating whites. Then more obvious changes in the terrain, even something like a mountain or ridge, still buried in white. And then more breaks through the clouds and a ravine or two and enough clues to sense that the landscape below is falling, sloping down toward the west coast of Greenland.

Suddenly, there is water below and ice floes or ice bergs in a gray-blue sea. In a few minutes, the landing gear deploy while we are still over the sea and the juxtaposition is one I have never seen before, a possibility that we would try to land on chunks of ice in a frigid Arctic sea with rubber tires. This throws me for a moment.

Then there is snow again beneath us, and suddenly closing down, and landscape rushing past and we’re getting closer and that goddamn tarmac has got fucking ice on it dude, what are you thinking, but the pilot takes us down on the lethal frozen landing strip and it doesn’t make even the littlest damn difference. We do not slide suicidal into a cliff or explode into a storage tank of aviation fuel. Instead, we manage to brake and come to a tidy halt because that’s what our stubby Q200 was designed to do before it makes a clever pirouette at the end of the short runway in Ilulissat. A jaunty short taxi out of harm’s way toward the terminal.

It’s cloudy and sort of snowing. It takes only a few minutes for the props to shut down and the door opens and the steps take you right down onto the tarmac swirling in cloudy snow. Ilulissat, the terminal exclaims. The six aircraft in the Air Iceland Connect fleet are each named for famous women in the settlement of Iceland, when Vikings who felt there was little opportunity left in Norway headed west into the sea. Ours is named for Aud the Deep-Minded, who captained a ship of 20 men and when they got to Iceland rewarded them with their freedom and gave them land.

By the way, it’s incredibly cold. Below zero cold.

Cancer Wins the ZodiOlympics

Feb. 25. The crab could not be stopped. After a weak showing on Friday, the Cancer team rebounded with two impressive days on the medal stand and won the ZodiOlympics going away.

Cancer pulled in 10 medals each of the last two days of the winter games, ending the tournament with 74 total medals, nine more than second-place Aquarius. On a metal-weighted basis, the crab scored 150 points, 19 more than Taurus.

Cancer had the best men’s team, pulling in 39 medals, two more than Pisces. The fish men actually tied the crab boys on a medal-weighted basis. Cancer was among the top women’s teams, and it won the most medals in hockey. In addition, Cancer captured the most glory while wearing ice skates or skis on their feet, the two biggest event categories.

Sagittarius had the top women’s team, with 39 total medals, though they were one point behind in the medal-weighted scoring.

Virgo didn’t accomplish much, finishing 10th in medal count, but it placed in the middle of the pack on a weighted basis and it was also the most successful team in snowboard events. Aquarius were the top sledders with 11 medals in luge and bobsleigh.

Sagittarius won the most medals in curling, the only event in which competitors wore shoes.

Finally, Libra could not seal the deal. After fighting to a tie for 11th place coming down the home stretch, the scales captured just one medal on the final day of the ZodiOlympics, while Capricorn pranced ahead with eight medals.