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FeBlueberry 2000
HI-

I set aside one month to catch up on reading and videos, because I'm a slow reader and a workaholic and this was the only way I was likely to get either done. Well, that month became two months, and I still haven't caught up. But I can't stand to be away from writing longer, so soon I'll return to it. Meanwhile I will do a condensed Book & Video Report, since that's most of what I did these past two months. Not all; I did make three trips, to Miami, Orlando, and New York. Reports on two of them accompany this column: Julie Got Married, and Why I Hate to Travel: Version 2000.126. Those are pretty much self explanatory, so readers who don't find this long column sufficiently boring can skip over to them. Meanwhile, a few incidental notes.

There are some clever commercials on TV, concluding "Life sucks without a car." That started me pondering: what is the derivation of "sucks" in this sense? My RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY says "Slang. to be repellent or disgusting: Poverty sucks." To get the derivation I had to go to the Oxford English Dictionary: the phrase "To suck the hind tit (teat)" meaning to be inferior, dates back to 1940. To practice fellatio goes back another decade, but that doesn't seem to be precisely it. Variations as children's expressions of contempt go back to 1900. So apparently this expression has been around, and finally made it to acceptable social dialogue. And I still don't know how the action of sucking translated to disgustingness. I remember the line from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "I have given suck," spoken by a woman, meaning she had nursed a baby. Nothing disgusting about that.

I was raised as a Quaker, in the Religious Society of Friends, one of whose tenets is pacifism. I elected not to join, because I concluded that while pacifism is a worthy approach in many cases, it is not ultimately effective. The bully in the school yard loves pacifism in others; it makes his ugly dominance easy. He doesn't understand the notion that others might have rights or feelings. What he does understand is when someone hits him back and makes it stick. The "Curtis" comic strip shows bullies realistically. That's a black strip, with a token white, Gunk, who is a crazy vegetarian who does magic. I love that. But I wander from the subject: defense. So as I grew, I learned how to strike back, and that is part of the reason I have taken legal steps to brush back errant publishers who abused their trust. I don't seek quarrels, but when a bully refuses to respect my rights, I have found ways to make him regret it. Thus, perhaps, my reputation as the Ogre in Parnassus: I hit back. With the onset of adulthood, I have not encountered physical bullying, but did take three years of the martial art of judo just in case. I remain interested in being able to protect myself, should I need to, with the main threat being feral pigs on my tree farm. More recently I have acquired unobtrusive weapons, such as the Armadillo, a solid knife that protects the hand while presenting a sharp blade with a wickedly serrated backside. In close quarters that would be devastating. (We have real live armadillos too: they are inoffensive.) For greater distance I have a boar spear, and I do carry it where I might encounter boars. Right now they seem to be absent; I think the long drought that dried up our lake left them no water, so they went elsewhere, for the time being. Their paths remain; they'll be back when the climate changes again. But what of the in-between range of defense? Most recently I got a baton: it looks like an eight inch section of pipe, carried in a pouch that fastens to the belt. But when it is taken out and flicked, it telescopes into a twenty inch club with enough heft to be effective. So while I hope never to have to use any of these for in earnest, I keep them just in case. For that matter I have my bows and arrows; I shoot only at set targets, never at living things, but if I had to put on the hunting arrowheads, those would be weapons too. No, I don't have a gun, as the evidence is that a gun can be almost as dangerous to the owner as to an attacker. Research continues on a safe gun; if they ever make one, I may be interested. I have had some interesting dialogues with readers who know about guns. I am not anti-gun so much as anti-gun-abuse; I'd like to find a way to keep those things out of the hands of criminals and crazies, just as I'd like to keep drunks from driving cars. As it is, the continuing death toll is horrendous. Thus the philosophy of a failed pacifist.

I also believe in health and fitness, and in this period finally found heavier dumbbells on sale locally. So I bought a set of 20 lb. dumbbells, and use them along with my 8 and 10 pound ones. 20 pounds may not sound like much, but the set make 40 pounds, and I really feel them as I do 20 lifts. They don't make the lighter ones obsolete; I discovered how I can move the 8 pound weights the hard way, from overhead to straight out from my body, and back up again, slowly, from there. That's all the workout my arms need, at my age.

It occurs to me that if I comment on twelve books in succession, I'll bore most readers, so I'll intermix them. The first I read, in Dismember, was Paradox of Oz, by Edward Einhorn, for blurbing. This is published by HUNGRY TIGER PRESS, and is one of the endless sequels to the Oz series. But you know, some of the sequels are better than some of the original Baum novels, if the heretical truth be told. Not many, perhaps, but some. This one seems equivalent, being a story of Princess Ozma, who rides a parrot ox - a huge creature with the body of an ox and head and wings of a parrot - into the past. There she encounters - you guessed it - paradox, because she inadvertently changes an early event that causes the whole of her realm to disappear, replaced by a much less pleasant one. Now she's in for it. She struggles valiantly through, and finally untangles piled paradoxes and restores the wonderful original land of Oz, but it's a considerable struggle, with some nice concepts. Do I recommend this for children and Oz fans? Yes. It's a good story, profusely illustrated in the manner of the originals. No sex or violence, no naughty hints of the kind you find in Xanth; just good clean fantasy and mystery.

When I got the video card for my computer, and a VCP, I was able to watch movies in the corner of my screen as I worked. That opened up a pleasant world to me. So I got about twenty videos from catalogs, and watch one whenever I'm doing the kind of work that doesn't require complete attention. That spaces them out, and I have barely made it through half of them so far, but that's okay; they are entertainment, not work. Incidentally, a reader clued me in on a fun site that compiles opinions galore on current movies; I checked it, and it's easy to follow, color coded for good and bad. It's at www.rotten-tomatoes.com. The first of my ordered videos I watched was Picture Perfect, a 1997 movie featuring a brown haired girl. I like brown haired girls; when I met one in college, I married her, and in a few months we'll have our 44th anniversary. I mean, brown hair is better. Back in first grade I did a scientific test to see whether a brown egg was better than a white egg, and the white egg had a larger empty space in it, so the brown egg had more actual egg and was better. I had proved it scientifically, and have preferred brown eggs ever since. I'm sure the principle applies to women too, especially where it counts, in the head. What with a 25% off sale plus postage, this video cost about $12. Try getting a woman for that! It first came to my attention for the very stupidest male-chauvinist reason: we watched The Full Monty on the recommendation of a reader - my readers take good care of me, advising me what books and movies are worthwhile - and there was a preview of this one, showing the woman spinning around in a chair and crossing her fine bare legs under a short skirt. What exposure! Of course they figured some male idiot would buy it just for that, despite correctly suspecting that that was the whole of that type of scene in the movie. They sure had me figured. So I bought it and watched it, and it's light romance, nothing special but fun. I don't regret getting it, but have to say I wouldn't have, had she been blonde or in a longer skirt.

So what did I do for my own brown haired girl, for Christmas? My vaunted imagination always fails me for such occasions, but I have come across an old standby that is nevertheless appreciated: chocolate. I bought her two boxes of chocolates, that she could eat without sharing. That works every time. Women do love chocolate. I think it makes their hair brown.

I next read Bornshire, a manuscript for comment, and then the galleys of my own Heaven Cent, as that Xanth novel wends its way toward republication. Then on to the heavyweight, Carl Sagon: a Life, by Keay Davidson. He was three months younger than I, but died before me, in 1996. That sort of thing gives me a weird feeling. I tend to watch for folk in my age range, trusting that they are good ones. I hate it when they die. Carl was good, and he suffered something else I can relate to: his great popular success caused others to resent him and torpedo him when they could, so that he was not granted tenure at Harvard and not admitted to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences despite being well qualified. The consensus is that other scientists were jealous of his notoriety. You would think that scientists would be well beyond that sort of cheapness - but of course you would think that writers would be, too. Welcome to reality; the baser passions govern to a far greater extent than it is politic to advertise, masked by high sounding ideals. It puts me in mind of a concern I have: Will mankind survive his own intemperance? And the corollary question: Does he deserve to? I wish I had positive answers. At any rate, I was curious about Carl Sagan because of his age, his science - he claimed he never said "Billions and billions" but that's how I think of him - and the fact that he wrote science fiction, one time. He certainly seemed like my kind of person. When I mentioned in an interview that I was about to read a biography of him, I received an email from his sister, Cari Sagan Green. That made it personal; I'm sure I'd like her if I met her. So I read it, and learned that if Carl and I had gone to school together, we would have had little in common. He was a tall, athletic, outgoing, popular figure; I was a short, athletically excluded, withdrawn nonentity. Later in life, of course, I became a physical fitness buff, while he suffered chronic ill health and finally died from it, and I achieved success and notoriety of my own that was significant though not as great as his, and of course the popularity and consequence of it. I applaud his essentially liberal agenda; he was on the right side of most things. He was also a snob, occasionally alienating others by an indifference to the values of others verging on racism. As an adult, he seemed to perceive two types of people: those that interested him, and nonentities. He could be fabulously communicative and friendly with those who had qualities he liked, and the others simply dropped off his radar. I would have departed his radar by choice, because I believe that every person (and every other creature) has his own special value. So I think there was more than jealousy coming home to roost for him; those who are indifferent to the rights, concerns, and feelings of others may not understand why others come to dislike them. He alienated two wives by his indifference to their needs or rights; the third wife finally took him in hand and went far toward humanizing him. When his first wife was leaving him, he argued that she should stay because he was already famous and would be moreso soon; nothing about loving or needing her personally. Ouch! He seemed to have the need to be constantly adored by tens of thousands of people, without trying to do anything for them other than flash his brilliance. That looks like fundamental insecurity from here. Still, he should have been judged on his accomplishments, which were considerable. He motivated much of the search for extraterrestrial life, for example. He also was a passionate debunker of pseudo-science. He has been called the greatest popularizer of science of the twentieth century. So I am glad to have come to know him better, via this book, but I wouldn't trade places with him, and not just because he's dead. And I may have one bit of information that the author of the book, despite his encyclopedic research, did not: One of Carl's favorite radio programs (today's kids don't know how big radio serials were in our day) explored occult mysteries, then showed their simple, logical explanations. The author thinks it was Superman. By no means; it was House of Mystery. Carl may also have liked Superman - I did - but it wasn't a scientific study. Oops, rechecking that entry, I discover that it's the next line down from Superman, and is Superstition. I don't know that one; possibly it was as described. So I may have flubbed my solitary claim to superior information. Sigh.

During that paragraph I had an experience of my own: more gum surgery. There's another joy worth avoiding. I take care of my teeth, but heredity bequeathed me problematical teeth. Thus I have learned, the hard way, the natural and expensive succession of treatments for those who wish to keep their original teeth. First there are fillings. When there are so many that the tooth structure can't hold, there are crowns, or in my case onlays, covering the full upper surface. When there is trouble below those, there are the root canals, replacing the dead nerves with gutta-percha, which incidentally is also used for golf balls, make of that what you will. When there is still trouble, we get to an apicoectomy, with the base of the root cut out and replaced. And when there is still more trouble, as was the present case, there is surgery to remove the root entirely, leaving the tooth above. My problem was a cracked root that prevented last year's apicoectomy from healing properly, so I started getting swelling and pain. So now I am suffering the discomfort to that spot surgery, and it's an experience I heartily recommend to my critics. But there is one silver lining: I have to rinse my mouth several times a day with a warm salt solution. I discovered that when I put the salt in the mug of cold water and stir, before heating it in the microwave oven, the spoon makes a clinking sound that rapidly descends as the salt dissolves. So salt in suspension clinks high, while salt in solution clinks low. Fascinating. I never realized that the chemistry of the fluid could affect the sound quality of the cup. Have I serendipitously discovered a new phenomenon that will wow science some distant year when it comes to its attention? Something Carl Sagan would have applauded? Or is this something that everyone else knew long before I caught on?

On New Year's Day we discovered two things: Y2K and an anonymous bad neighbor. The latter evidently dumped a truckful of garage trash along our drive; he couldn't be bothered to drive it all the way to the dump, so now we'll have to. The former came differently to our computers: two set themselves on the year 1980 but accepted and kept the correct date, one had no trouble, and the one I use most, my Pentium I system, is locked onto 2094 so that I must reset it every morning. We have four because we don't throw out old ones; we keep them in reserve. I have a nefarious suspicion that Y2K is a mechanism of the computer industry to encourage us to upgrade soon. I'm still watching Linux; if I find a good word processor for that, I well may upgrade right out of Macrohard software.

We saw Bicentennial Man. We expected it to be a wild and funny story of a robot becoming human. Instead it was a serious story of a robot becoming human, and I think rivaling the best we saw in 1999. Naturally the reviewers gave it so-so to poor ratings. Apparently all they want from Robin Williams is humor, and figure he washes out if he gets serious. I may have remarked before that I consider reviewers to be a different and inferior life form. At any rate, he starts as a family household robot with a molded smile, bought by a family with two daughters. They call him Andrew, for android. The cute littlest girl he calls Little Missy takes to him, but the slightly older girl doesn't. She tells him to jump out the second story window. He does, and is in rather battered condition after the crash, but survives. This may be the start of certain differences between him and other robots. For one thing, he develops a sense of artistry, and makes lovely figurines. When it is apparent that the robot company wishes to exchange him for a more standard robot, so it can trash him (can't have robots differing from the norm; bad for sales) the man of the house takes charge and protects him, even setting him up with a bank account so he can sell his creations. As time passes, Andrew becomes wealthy. Little Missy grows up and gets married and has two bratty boys. Andrew goes in search of other robots like him, with human sensitivities. He finds none; he is unique. But he finances research for advancements that can make him have human feelings, both physically and emotionally. He returns decades later to find Little Missy as an old woman, and her granddaughter much resembling her in youth. He falls in love with the granddaughter and courts her, and the rest of the movie is their story as he fights for legal recognition as a human being. There are some real issues here, and it's a fine exploration of the meaning of humanity as well as a nice romance with some humor.

I read Silver Screen by Justina Robson. Therein hangs a tale. Most of the readers I hear from are American, but some are from elsewhere around the globe. Thus I have a girl in Singapore, several in Australia, 24 year old twins in the Philippines (bad flooding last year cost Zai her collection of Anthony books - ouch! - and you can check Red's web site at http://homes.acmecity.com/friends/chef/115/ for pictures, interests, and how their parents met in a bowling alley) and I hear now and then from Japan, South Africa, India, Europe and elsewhere. Justina was a girl in England whose father had died when she was ten. I relate to England; I was after all born there some time ago, and am a naturalized American citizen. We corresponded, and she sent me a poem about her memory of her father, which I included in the sequel to my autobiography, How Precious Was That While, which book has been sold but not yet scheduled for publication. Thereafter I called her the shoe polish girl, because of a reference in the poem: she remembered the smell of it. She came to see me when she was in the neighborhood of sixteen. Unfortunately her companions were so intrigued by the notion of meeting an actual writer that Justine was squeezed out and hardly said a word. I regretted that, but found no way around it; I mean I couldn't demand that I be given time alone with a teen girl, however honorable my intention. But at least we met, and continued an intermittent correspondence. I watched her grow up and become a competitive archer; then I called her Diana the Huntress, but I was sad to see the shoe polish fade. And at last, verging on 30, she became a published novelist. She sent me a copy, and when my schedule permitted I read it. I found it competent, but a bit distant, as if there was a parental closeness she had lost. It relates to computer consciousness, with the computer - actually a global program - coming across like a character. So I recommend it to hard science fiction readers and not to soft fantasy readers. I think Diana wrote this, rather than Shoe Polish. Regardless, I'm glad Justina made it; so many don't.

I also watched more of the videos I bought when MOVIES UNLIMITED sent me an 800 page catalog with a 25% off sale. After all, they were talking my language. Two of them were Lolita; the 1962 and 1997 versions. Nabokov's novel was the story of a middle aged man's sexual affair with a girl of about 12, a shocker in its day. I was curious about two things: how could they make a movie of this forbidden affair, and how did the original movie compare with the remake? Now I know the answer to the first: they eliminated the youth and the sex. Lolita is a stunning teen, about 15 and self possessed, like a starlet. I don't think even a kiss is shown in the first movie. She whispers in his ear, then there is a suggestion that she will get into bed with him - and then it is next day, diving the car. It is unrated, but would be G but for the suggestion that the girl is underage. The remake, rated R, follows the book more closely, and has Lolita age 14 but looking and acting 12, cute rather than sexy, and she certainly kisses. No sex or private flesh is shown, but the surrounding dialogue makes quite clear what is going on between them. Theoretically the man is preying on the child, but it is evident that the child is preying on the man too, exploiting her power over him. The conclusion is especially brutal, per the book. Overall, the remake is superior. That attracted my attention to the book, which remains on my shelf, as I verified just how closely the videos followed it. I remembered one paragraph that startled me, way back decades ago when I read it: it described the schedule of sex between them, once it got sexual. They did it something like fifteen times in a day, trying to satisfy the man's seemingly insatiable hunger for very young flesh. But this time I couldn't find that paragraph. Did I imagine it? I don't think so. So where is it? Maybe some reader who is more freshly conversant with the novel will identify it for me, or advise me that there is none such.

I heard from Kim Hirsh, who explained how she had come by the nickname The Deerslayer. In her own words: "My mother just bought me Deer Avenger, noting that it had approval from you. I have a rather funny anecdote about that as well. I have been nicknamed ‘Deerslayer' by my friends - have no fear, it's not because I ACTUALLY kill any deer. And now for the story: My friend Cynthia is a rather well-endowed young lady, and myself likewise. One day Cindy was blithely enjoying nature when a hummingbird flew right into her chest. The poor thing broke its neck and died within the week. Finding this episode sad but hilarious, I ran to my friend Ryan and said to him ‘RYAN! CINDY KILLED A HUMMINGBIRD WITH HER BOOBS!' Ryan looked me up and down and said ‘What'd you kill, a deer?' Thus I am the Deerslayer. It's a running joke I thought you might enjoy." I do, though I'm sorry for the hummingbird.

Meanwhile I read Chthon and Phthor, the first being my first published novel, the second being its sequel, in the form of galleys for their republication at Xlibris. No need to comment in detail; they are science fantasy, and completist collectors will now be able to get them. I hope readers appreciate the Author's Notes I added to these editions. It was interesting, reading my own work as it was in the neighborhood of 30 years ago; some sequences I had entirely forgotten. Thus it was like reading someone else's books, and I found that I liked his way of writing. Chthon remains the most intricately structured novel I have done, possibly the most intricate the genre has seen, with many literary references, but it's a solid hard-hitting story too, not gentle in the manner of my light fantasy. The protagonist does some really ugly things. So I don't recommend it to my twelve year old readers. I also read The Gift, sent by Marisol Ramos, whom you can find by traveling the link to the Xanth Thread. The thesis there is that historically, culturally, gifts were not free; they were required, and return gifts were required, and significant personal status depended on proper performance in this respect. So the exchange of gifts was not the nice thing we think of today; it was deadly serious business. From it, perhaps, our present system of trade evolved. And yes, the book was a gift. Probably because I had sent Marisol an early copy of Xone of Contention, to which she contributed.

Some readers send me my own books, to be autographed and returned. The problem here is not just the time it takes me; like as not I have to pay the postage too. For example, they may send a return envelope with Canadian postage; the US Post Orifice will not accept that, or metered return postage, because it doesn't have the current date on it. Thus it costs me $3.20 to return, despite the fact that the owner of the book has already paid that postage. Don't ask my why the P O is like that; I guess it makes more money, finding pretexts to charge twice. Another reader sent a book with a ten dollar bill; we couldn't return his change because the package had to be sealed before mailing and we didn't know the postage. So do I expend more postage with a separate letter to return his money? I thought he might write again, maybe with a thank-you note, and I'd return it then, but so far, silence. Readers have marvelous insight; the ones I most want to hear from again promptly disappear.

We watched the video What Dreams May Come. Now there was a pleasant surprise; it's a phenomenal feast for the eyes. Robin Williams meets and marries his love, but their children are killed in an accident, and then he is also killed. He finds himself in a situation very like heaven, consisting of scenes painted by his beloved wife, and when he touches things there, the fresh paint smears colorfully. Then his grief-struck wife commits suicide, and thus goes to a situation more like hell. So he goes to rescue her, and the scenery becomes violent and ugly. Of course he succeeds, after much doubt. But what makes this movie great is the visual effects, and the feeling surprises along the way, such as the identity of a lovely young woman who helps him in heaven. I recommend it to anyone; it's a memorable experience.

I popped a blood vessel in my left eye. I think it happened when my wife and I were screwing. Now don't tell me that folk in their 60's are too old to even remember how, let alone do it; we're not too old and we did do it. It was for the new shelving in my study library, to make room for more books. She used the power drill to drill the holes, and I used a Phillips screwdriver to screw in the screws. They became quite tight, and it was all I could do to turn them an eighth turn at a time. I must have held my breath and done my utmost - and burst a vein. The outer corner of my eye looked awful, blood red, and I was alarmed, despite the complete lack of pain, until we figured it out. The medical book said it is harmless and fades in a few days, and that's what happened. Moral: don't screw around too hard when you're no longer young.

I read the galleys for The Gutbucket Quest, my collaboration with Ron Leming, scheduled to be published in hardcover by TOR in Mayhem. It's a good novel, about the blues music, with much philosophy. The Gutbucket is a stringed instrument fashioned with the ashes of a blues devotee, with magic power. I'm an ignoramus about the blues, but my collaborator obviously knows them well. I also read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, because readers are asking me what I think of these British fantasy novels. It's okay; it's the story of an eleven year boy who goes to a school for wizards, and makes it through despite same evil machinations. It's a children's book, but evidently bought and read by many adults, because the first three Harry Potter novels became the top three on the New York Times bestseller lists. What I want to know is how come all the other fantasy writers who write equivalently well and appeal to children and adults can't get similarly published and promoted? It is evident that the market exists, but the publishers have mostly refused to address it. Will that change, or will they simply tune out this formidable evidence and continue to stifle most British and American fantasy writers? Don't hold your breath.

For a decade we had a kitchen garbage disposal unit, one of those devices that grinds up organic matter so that it can be washed on into the septic tank. Yes, one of the advantages of living in nowhere is that we have our own pump for water and our own septic tank for wastes; no city connections or charges. Then the unit quit. Rather than replace it, we tried shifting back to the old fashioned way: burying the garbage outside. If there's enough, it may form into a compost heap that will generate new soil. Well, it's been a couple of months, and now we are seeing an incidental benefit: things are growing. We have eleven volunteer potato plants and one cabbage leaf, except that we hadn't buried any cabbage leftovers so it must be something else. It will be interesting to see what it turns out to be. Probably not a Martian Paradise Plant, alas.

Sometimes readers send me things. I have quite a collection of etchings, statuettes, pictures, carvings, decorative plates and such, and I still use a nice blue scarf a girl in Tampa sent me over a decade ago. I also receive First Day Covers from an anonymous party; I'm not sure what to do with them, as I'm not a collector of such things. Recently I have received several videos, and have watched them along with the ones I bought. One is Embrace of the Vampire, a mixture of horror and some of the nicest bare breasts I've seen. Readers who think I have a fixation on panties should see me react to breasts. Another is Four Rooms, a farce that also has some bare breasts. Time Bandits, with wild adventures along history. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, parodying the realm of King Arthur. All good fun. So is Tank Girl, one of the ones I bought myself, sexy futuristic junk: my kind of thing. I have several more to watch when I get the chance. Understand, I don't just watch a video, I do it when I'm doing something else, like writing a novel or cleaning up old files, in proper workaholic fashion. So my attention is seldom complete, and I hope to watch many of these again with similar inattention. One that was a challenge, several months ago, was I Am Curious (Yellow), because it was in a foreign language with subtitles: I couldn't pick it up peripherally. But what a luscious bare girl that one had! Readers generally let me know their reactions to my comments, such as whether I ramble on too long - one said so, but since then three have told me they like my rambles of any length, and anyone who doesn't like them should quit reading them - and some are dismayed by my unrecalcitrant admiration of nude young women, so I'm sure I'll be hearing soon whether all these book & video comments are a glut on the market.

One correspondent has a problem I'm not sure how to address. It is neighbors from hell. For about the past year these neighbors seem to have dedicated themselves to harassing my correspondent, apparently having nothing better to do. They trespass, they threaten, they sabotage, they even once seem to have used their car to knock her husband off his bicycle in a hit and run "accident," and they call the police to complain about made-up things - and the authorities accept the word of the perpetrators rather than the victims. It's like pro wrestling, where the referee admonishes the good guy while the bad guy fouls with impunity. Thus it is the victim who gets hit with court orders to stay clear, and not the trespasser. My guess is that the neighbors want to force this family to move, and don't care how they do it. Okay, you may wonder how well I know this correspondent; is she paranoid? I know her well enough; we have been in touch about twenty years, and once we met at a convention. I believe my correspondent. Now if this were happening to me, I'd get a lawyer and make a legal case that would make the harasser sorry. I have done it in other circumstances; I am after all the Ogre. But I have the will and the means; my correspondent doesn't. She can't put $20,000 into a legal case, and now she can hardly even write a letter, for the tears. So here is a question I hope some experienced reader will answer: how can a person fight back, in a case like this?

I read Till We have Faces, by C S Lewis. Lewis is one of the recognized great writers, and while it galls me ever to agree with the critics, I did enjoy his adult science fantasy trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength when I was young, as well as the seven volume CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, which I read to my daughter when she was young. He is also noted for philosophical works as he wrestled with Christian theology. The movie Shadowlands shows his relationship with the love of his later life, Joy, the woman he married who then died of cancer. He adopted her son, but did not outlive her by many years. So when the Book of the Month Club offered an edition of one of his novels I had missed, we got it and I read it while traveling. Faces is based on the legend of Cupid and Psyche: the goddess Venus was jealous of mortal Psyche's beauty, so ordered her son Cupid to afflict the girl with a passion for the basest of men. But Cupid fell in love with her himself, so carried her to a secret palace where he made love to her by night. He forbade her even to see his face, lest word of his perfidy reach his powerful mother. When her sisters visited Psyche they were jealous of her fortune, and plotted to destroy her happiness. They suggested to her that her husband must really be a horrible monster, and she should sneak a light into the bedroom when he was sleeping to verify this. She did so, but found instead an irresistibly handsome man. He woke, rebuked her, and flew away, leaving her desolate. Cupid then got back at the sisters by leading them to their deaths, and the goddess Venus seized Psyche and enslaved her. Eventually Cupid forgave her - remember, she was the most beautiful of mortals - and interceded with Jupiter to make her a goddess. Venus was reconciled, and all ended well. However, C S Lewis felt that the legend was not entirely accurate, and Faces is her story retold - from the perspective of Orual, the ugly elder sister. Orual is actually a decent person, who sincerely loves her lovely little sister and seeks what is best for her. This is a fine story, beautifully told as historical fiction, with significant insights into the human condition, and it did move me. I'm glad I read it, and its implications will remain with me. I am a cynical reader in my dotage, and books that thrilled me decades ago no longer do so, but this confirms in my mind the quality of this author's fiction. Do I recommend it to others? Yes, for those who have thoughtful minds and an eye for style; this is not simple adventure fantasy, though it perhaps could be read on that level.

I don't pay a lot of attention to pro football, leaving that to my wife, but when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it to the playoffs I got interested. And got a blunt reminder why I don't pay much attention: did you see that bad call? The Bucs had played well, and it was a close game, and were driving in the final minute for the score that would have won it and put them in the Superbowl - and the referees reviewed a 13 yard pass play and called it incomplete. I understand that of 34 sports commentators, not one supported that call. It was simply wrong. There's an act that needs to be cleaned up; it's not supposed to be like pro wrestling. So the Bucs lost - they might have lost anyway, but that will now always be in doubt - and I tuned out. I did not watch the Superbowl, though I understand it had many interesting commercials.

I read one more novel: Proposition 31, by Robert H Rimmer. In the last HiPiers column I mentioned how I had listed Rimmer's The Rebellion of Yale Marratt as one of my favorites, and the author saw that and emailed me. I can hardly think of someone I would rather have heard from; I really liked his fiction, thirty years ago. Now he is 83 and still shaking up the establishment with his thoughts on other types of marriage. In fact he is getting his books republished at iUniverse, so anyone can see what I mean. His novel The Harrad Experiment foreshadowed coed college dormitories, and perhaps facilitated their acceptance. I visited his site, and will try to put a link to it so that others can see it, simply because sometimes my readers want to know what I like to read. We wound up exchanging books: he sent me Proposition 31 and Thursday, My Love, and I sent him Firefly and Virtual Mode. He said he was enjoying Firefly, and meanwhile I read his novel. It turned out that I had read it before - I wasn't sure, after 30 years, but I did remember some scenes as I read them - but this was my critical reading, and I was curious to see how I reacted this time. Well - mixed. Rimmer is a good writer with great ideas, a bestseller in his day, now largely shut out by Parnassus. (Why does that seem familiar?) But Proposition 31 is by no means an exciting adventure story, or an erotic effort; it's a serious exploration of the feasibility of what he terms corporate marriage. That is, two or three couples may merge and form a larger marriage unit, where Husband A has sex with Wife A and with Wife B, and similar for Husband B with both women. It's not wife swapping; the women are co-equal partners, as choosy as the men, and it happens only if they want it too. Four or six people in love with each other. The book starts as third person, sometimes omniscient viewpoint, sometimes play format, then switches to first person, and finally to other views and even a diagram of a collective marriage residence. Thus it becomes a treatise, and I understand some critics object to that, which means it must be effective. So this is not simplistic reading, though it does have sexy episodes; read it to consider its implications, and be intrigued or furious. Rimmer would like to change society, and his books are persuasive arguments. I learned from his autobiographical essay - yes, I sent him mine, too - that this novel reflects his own life in spirit. He and his wife had a long term sexual liaison with another married couple, until death did them part. So he knows it can work; he has done it. I view this from my perspective as a paleontological nature-of-man researcher for my GEODYSSEY series, and believe he has a case. We have heard about the "four year itch" that leads to the current 50% divorce rate; maybe our species isn't quite comfortable with one couple action for too long a time. Maybe in prehistory group marriage was the norm. There's the ditty "Hogamus higamus, man is poligamous; higamus hogamus, woman monogamous." Maybe that seeming conflict can be resolved by a larger marriage, with the men satisfied with two or three shared wives, and the women satisfied as long as that group is stable. Could it not be so? Read Rimmer and ponder. I'll try to report on the second book next time, and on others as I get to them. Check his web site at www.harrad2000.com/.

Every Sunday I take Obsidian Dog for a walk. That's because the other six days a week my wife takes her for a ride to the edge of our tree farm three quarters of a mile distant to fetch the mail, and she lives for the sniffing along the way. She's a highly nose oriented dog. So I fill in on Sunday with the walk, and she loves that too. It is as if we traverse three realms on that walk: first the wild oak forest we live in, then the dry lakebed - I'm not fooling when I say we have a drought - which is now an open expanse of dry water plants and mud flats, and then the tree farm portion, with the slash pines standing in their long rows. Each seems to be its own world. Not much evidence of pigs these days; I think they have no water to drink here, so have gone elsewhere.

It used to be that I put my ideas for the derivation and nature of mankind in my GEODYSSEY series, such as the Triple Ploy by which Woman captivates Man, or the true nature and purpose of dreams. I figure that when some scientist wins the Nobel prize for one of these notions, I'll be able to show where I published it first. It's a little game I play with concepts, requiring that I live long enough to see one of these chickens roost. But since I lost my market for that series - too many readers prefer Xanth - I won't be presenting bold new concepts therein for a while. So I'll present one here instead. I have long pondered the mystery of Vitamin C. I use it for general health and to stop the common cold, so that it has been longer than I remember since I have had a cold. The medical establishment still is balky about admitting that C is effective against that, but those who try it seriously know that it is. Not against flu, unfortunately; we're trying eucalyptus juice for that, but haven't yet verified it. Most other animals manufacture Vitamin C in their bodies, so seldom have colds, but we don't. So here is the mystery: why did our ancestors lose the ability to make C? Some conjecture that at one time we ate a vegetarian diet so rich in C that we had no need to synthesize it, but I don't believe that despite being a vegetarian. It is just about impossible to match the level of C animals make via diet alone. So I figure that there must have been an offsetting advantage. That is known in other ways. For example, we can choke, accidentally swallowing liquids the wrong way and going into coughing fits. Other apes can't. Why did we do it? Because the change in position of our air-passage anatomy facilitates the sounds of speech. We have the most versatile noisemaking capacity in the animal kingdom. The developing ability to speak powered language, and that in turn powered the increase in brain size, and the advantage gave us dominion over the world. It more than offset the liability of choking. Truly does the Bible speak: in the beginning was the Word. Another example: we lost our fur, so that we shiver in coolth that our pets can readily handle, and have to wear clumsy clothing to make up for it. Why did we do it? Because we needed to handle heat, there in tropical Africa, and to go out in the midday sun with the mad dogs to fetch in marrow-filled bones left over from lion kills for our dinner before the hyenas got them. We have the most effective heat dissipation system in the animal kingdom, thanks to our seemingly bare skin and sweat glands. That offset the handsome fur we originally possessed; dinner preempted beauty. So it does happen. But what could offset the phenomenal advantage of an internal supply of Vitamin C? That bugged me for years. Until the past month, when I saw an article clarifying the antioxidant/cancer connection. It seems the body does have some use for free radicals, which are like bullets battering the body's cells, the product of our use of the dangerous element oxygen. Those radical bullets are worse for cancer cells. But when we use antioxidants like Vitamin C to clean up those free radicals, that also deprives the body of a significant weapon against cancer. So the cancer gets worse. Linus Pauling, who promoted the uses of Vitamin C, spend some time trying to show that it was effective also against cancer, but failed; I think now we know why. Okay: in effect we are trading cancer for the common cold. The cold generally won't kill you, but untreated cancer generally will. Primitive man did not have fancy medicine, chemotherapy, radiation and such, so needed other ways to slow cancer. And the elimination of Vitamin C contributed to that. But why do other animals retain C? Here's the key: animals live shorter lives than we do. As measured in heartbeats, to eliminate the distortion of differing rates of metabolism, we live about twice as long as the average. There are reasons why; to oversimplify it, animals are subject to nature's red tooth and claw, and must live fast and breed young before they get killed. Old age is almost unknown in wild nature. We have achieved more power over our environment, and live longer, reaping many practical and cultural advantages thereby. So here is the connection: cancer is typically slow to develop, so doesn't have great effect on creatures who are likely to be hunted and eaten young. But it becomes a leading killer among those who live long enough for it to complete its course. So we needed a weapon to stop it - and that was the promotion of free radicals. We may not be as healthy when young as wild animals, but we do handily outlive them. We sacrificed C to longevity, and gained power thereby. I believe that is the answer to the riddle of Vitamin C. Now if I can just figure out the answer to the nature of Dark Matter, and consciousness. Have patience; I'm working on it.

My readers deluge me with thoughts and information, somewhat like free radicals. Let me mention some. I received a copy of RIDGE TO RIVER, a Publication of Arkansas State University-Newport. This seems to be a free magazine of poetry and prose of interest to the community and school, and seems to be open to anyone. Check it out at www.asun.arknet.edu/ridgetoriver.htm. I also received a gift subscription to UNITY MAGAZINE, from Mr. Norman Sukin. I don't think I know him, and my interest in biblical interpretation, prayer, meditation, and the application of spiritual principles in life is limited. I received a Flash Animated E-Card from Ynot.com on GO Network. It turned out to be a blank page, with no sender listed. I mentioned my search for the song "Down on Penny's (Penney's) Farm" last time; several readers sent me information, including the complete words. Thank you; that clarifies that. I received notice that my site was successfully submitted at the web's most relevant search engine, www.hotrate.com. Thank you; maybe that explains why my daily hits are now running between 4,000 and 5,000 and trending upward. I received a solicitation for Search Engine Registration: for about $30 a month my site will be submitted to more than 350 search engines and directories. Another report indicates that my site is not among the top 30 in any of the top 30 search engines. Okay, let's address this subject: I understand sites can now pay to be listed near the top. I'm not interested. I feel that a search engine that lists sites by pay rather than by reader interest is defaulting on its job. Don't we already have too much of this buying of access in politics? When I search for something, I want the search focused on what I want, not on a paid ad. I'll be alert for an honest search engine that does just that. It is my impression that most folk are already suffering a bellyful of intrusive Internet commercialism, and so such ads and paid placements are suffering erosion of effect. I hope so. Another reader advised me that he had worked on the Hubble Space Telescope for twelve years, and no parts were put in upside down, but that a component of one of the testing apparatuses was backwards and upside down. Another reader has been educating me about Pokemon, which sounds like an interesting game. Had I been born fifty years later, I would surely be captive to it.

Meanwhile, the next column, for Apull 2000, should be much shorter, as my energy will go to a thorough update and integration of the Internet Publishing Survey, maybe alphabetizing it and adding significant new material, pro and con. Then I'll probably let it ride for some time, as I do have other things to do, such as writing novels. This past two month stint of non-writing is perhaps my record since I went full-time in 1966, and I'm tired of it. I want to get back to finish The Iron Maiden, and then perhaps write my horror novel, The Sopaths, now that I have figured out how to make it writably less horrible.

--PIERS

 

JULIE GOT MARRIED

My wife and I left home at 1:09 PM Tuesday and drove our Saturn to the Tampa Airport, arriving just before 3. We found the spot for Continental, and were surprised. I mean, you might figure with a name like that, they'd have a big jet airplane. Not so; this was a two propeller mini holding 19 passengers. We had to walk bowed over, because the chamber height was about four feet. We had the last row, which was lucky for us, because that gave us a third seat between, for stretching out. The plane followed the coast south, then cut across the everglades. I saw a blah swampscape with huge puddles the shape of footprints. What invisible giant walked there so recently? Did anyone else notice? An hour's flight took us to Miami, where we got lost in the terminal, which had no indication where to catch a taxi. We finally figured it should be near the baggage pickup, so went there, and out, and there were yellow cabs going by. We snagged one, and for $24 flat fee got to the Alexander hotel in Miami Beach, where we had the usual trouble checking in: apparently the machine couldn't read our credit cards. They never just let me into a hotel; there's always something. But when we finally did win through to our room, lo, it was a suite with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, and living room/dinette, with 2 TV sets and plenty of furniture. All this for $159 a night. It seems you get a price break for off-season wedding parties; the suite was normally $420 a night. This meant that I could go take a morning shower without disturbing my wife, and watch the morning news, and read, and make notes for this report. I'm a morning person; she's a night person. No, I don't know how we ever got together, 43 years ago; something about opposites.

We went to the Rehearsal Dinner at 7:30, where we met Julie - remember, she's my collaborator on the fantasy novel Dream A Little Dream - and fiancé Mark and the other members of the party. Rather than embarrass assorted folk by naming names and complicated family relations on the Internet, not to mention that my sieve-like memory lost them as they were introduced, I'll just say that both the Bride and Groom's family were well represented. We had understood it was to be informal, so I wore a plaid shirt, but I turned out to be the only one not in coat and tie. We sat at a table with my correspondent Kira and her husband; I had introduced her to Julie some years back, and the acquaintance seems to have taken. They are of similar ages and interests. This was a steak house, which was awkward for us vegetarians; we settled for beef steak tomato salad and carved the huge tomato sections with the steak knives. There were a number of toasts to Bride and Groom, wishing them very well. Actually Julie hardly looked like a bride, in a regular outfit with her hair done in a bun with pins sticking out as if fastening her head in place. But she was a gracious hostess.

Next day we got a cab to the seaport, as the process was due to start at 11:30 AM, but found that they weren't letting anyone board until noon. They also required us to give up our driver's licenses as ID's, to be held hostage until we left the ship and picked them up again. I had understood that was illegal, but we went along because we did want to attend the wedding. It was on the Jubilee, part of the Carnival fleet of entertainment cruises. Yes, the same company recently in the news for shipboard fires and backed-up toilets. But that was a different boat. This one seemed to be in good order, as it floated beside the pier. This was just as well, since the happy couple and some relatives were to take a cruise thereon immediately after the wedding. It seems that these are boom times for the cruise industry, despite some bad headlines. I understand that they get employees from places like the Philippines and pay waiters as little as $50 a month plus board, though they can earn several times that from tips. Other crew members make about $400 a month. It's good pay for where they come from, but also shows why such ships fly foreign flags.

We were in due course allowed to board, as a party. I had had a mental image of the big boat anchored parallel to a flat open pier, with a long thin gangplank slanting between them, as it was when I arrived in America in 1940. But things have changed in nigh 60 years. We trekked along the long labyrinth of the enclosed multi-story pier, which rather resembled an airport, complete with personal and baggage inspection, and those horizontal escalators I presume they make by taking vertical ones and puling them cruelly flat. There were also stairs up and down; we had to go up, then down and around to snake into the tiny aperture of the ship's entrance. There must be some reason for this convoluted layout. The ship turned out to be another labyrinth, with 9 floors serviced by a bank of elevators and stairs. It resembled a shopping mall, complete with assorted stores and theater and entertainment chambers. Its cabin regions were like a hotel, with long narrow halls and cramped room cells. One of the larger chambers was for gambling, with all manner of gaming machines and craps tables and whatnot; this appears to be the real appeal of such cruises, as the gambling addicts get free of American law. I wandered around, checking the upper decks, which bore life-craft and smelled of chlorine, with sea wind blowing. I had the little throwaway camera Julie gave me; the deal was to take pictures of the wedding, and we'd get a copy of the prints. I figured a wider compass would provide perspective, so I snapped pictures of the ship as well as the wedding. The flash didn't always work, but I hope I got some good ones.

The wedding was on the A deck - A for Atlantis - about halfway down, in the Churchill room. There were seats there for maybe 40, but they weren't needed, because most of the wedding party was participating in the ceremony. Fortunately Julie's father was there; otherwise I would have had to walk her down the aisle, and I had almost flubbed that when I did it for my own daughter in 1995. The men were handsome in black suits, and the women lovely in wine colored gowns. The groom's niece was the flower girl, about four years old, absolutely darling in her outfit. Sigh; we had cute girls like that once, but they disappeared into adults. The bride of course had been transformed by the magic of her wedding gown into a floatingly enchanting creature. The double-ring ceremony itself was formal and brief. Mark and Julie were man and wife.

The wedding party then adjourned to the Promenade deck for champagne, pictures, cake, and some special events. Julie is an artist and dreamer and horse lover, but not a singer. I believe she made the little swan place markers, and swan party favors, and handled much of the rest of the detail of the occasion. But she was resolved to sing, on the theory that if she could get through that, she could make a go of marriage. Remember, in Jamboree 1999 I shielded her from the perils of public speaking, as I am comfortable with that. It's travel that knots me up, not stage fright. But this time she was on her own. She faced Mark and sang - and the ship's announcement system came on, blaring her out with inconsequentials. O joy, O rapture unforeseen. But it was in a way a relief, being the worst mishap, when so much could have gone so wrong. After it finally exhausted itself, Julie had to start over. She sang bravely if not well, with meaningful words I knew I would never forget - and I can't remember them now. But she had made her commitment, surviving the Sing. Then Mark did similar, singing a poem she had written. There was indeed something quite touching about the way they faced each other and sang to each other, advertising their mutual commitment. Then the Bride threw her bouquet, and the Groom fondled her leg and drew off her garter, and threw that. Her young half brother nabbed that. I'm not sure whether that violates the Adult Conspiracy. Then there were toasts. Meanwhile, the bridesmaid tunneled under the back of Julie's long train to pin it up and make the gown navigable. It looked as if she were trying to reach a wind-up handle in back so as to prime Julie for more activity. I would have snapped a naughty picture, but I had used up my camera. Darn!

The aftermath continued, but we had a plane to catch and had to leave at 2:25 to be sure of getting home. So we missed the wedding cake. We threaded our way out of the boat and along the pier, going against the incoming flow. We recovered our suitcase and ID cards and got a taxi to the airport. Incoming security was very tight, with both of us and our things double-checked by X-ray and wand for explosive residue and drugs. Announcements were in English, Spanish, French, and we're not sure what else. Miami is truly an international airport, with dozens of airlines we never heard of elsewhere. We used the johns to change back to travel clothes. This time our plane had grown into four propeller 50 passenger effort - with only eight passengers. The entry was from the rear. The stewardess was in shorts and short sleeves. We snacked on tomato juice she served, and granola bars we had brought with us, our only food for the day. The flight ran only slightly late. We learned that they had a full load for the return trip; apparently everyone was going to Miami, not from it, at this season. After our experience with Miami prices, even out of season, it's hard to appreciate why.

Then our two hour drive home, after dark, where 10 regular letters and 16 emails had piled in, in only one day. We were back in drear Mundania. I still hate to travel. But Julie did get married.

 

Why I Hate to Travel: Version 2000.126

Something always goes wrong when I travel alone. I would much rather stay home. But when I invested in Xlibris, the company that enables anyone to publish his own books, I became a member of its board of directors, and that means I have to travel to attend board meetings. Last year it was Philadelphia, and I almost missed my return flight. This year - Jamboree 2000 - I had a similar problem. The moment my trip was scheduled, fate generated the worst storm of the winter, dumping much snow and closing many east coast airports. Similar happened last summer; remember Hurricane Floyd, with the North Carolina pigs standing on barn roofs? That's what messed up that trip, by no coincidence. But this one missed me by a day, and the flight was not canceled. My wife and I left the house at 11:20 AM on the 26th, arrived at the Tampa Airport just after 1 PM, and I caught the Continental flight out, taking off at 2:40. No trouble there, but of course there isn't when my wife is with me. I tried to fathom the complicated ticket, which was jammed with words and numbers but didn't tell me what I needed to know, such as the departure gate or when the flight might arrive. It arrived in Newark New Jersey close to on time, 5:30. But the flight before it was delayed; that plane loaded only about ten minutes before mine, and my seat mate had been scheduled for that one, so evidently there was overflow. Had that storm hit its mark, it would have been my flight impacted; as it was, it barely missed.
I entered the Newark airport. My itinerary said that another board member, whom I shall call Angel, would meet me at the gate, and we'd then take a limousine to the hotel in New York. Let me clarify something: I am not going to say anything about the board meeting itself, or identify any of the other board members, because this is private business. So Angel is named for his business, which is to make angel investments. That is, he is a venture capitalist who seeks promising start-up companies that can't get money elsewhere and supports them. Without such angels, such companies would never make it out of hell, let alone see the heaven of success. My investment is similar, except that I am a writer, not a natural venture capitalist. I invested because I want to help make it possible for every writer to realize his or her dream and see his/her book published. So it's ideological, and highly risky; I know I could lose all the money I put in. So I do pay attention, and do attend board meetings, hoping to help steer the company right. If it proves to be successful, and demonstrates that it can make a profit by serving writers' dreams, not only will every writer have his chance, but I will make an obscene amount of money. (Dream on…) But I wish I could support it without traveling. Sure enough, Angel was not there. Something had gone wrong, and I was alone in a strange city. I really hate that!

Well, I walked along the long concourse, looking desperately for a familiar face, or failing that, a phone. Nothing. Finally I reached the airport entrance, beyond which the freezing weather of the storm held sway. Where now? I asked a woman where an information desk was, and she pointed me in a direction, but there was none. But I did find a bank of pay telephones. Now there's another nightmare for me, but I bravely made the attempt. As I understand it, you follow printed instructions, pick up the receiver, dial your number, and an operator will tell you how much money to put in to complete your call. The instructions on this phone were obscure, except that it said it was 35¢ for a local call and didn't specify what charges for a long distance call. I tried three times, and didn't get anywhere. The third time an operator came on and told me that this was a restricted phone; I could not call from it. "You mean I have to find another telephone?" I asked, and she agreed. But all the phones in this bank were just like this one, and I saw no others. I do wonder why it wasn't marked "Restricted," and why they would put phones in an airport that a traveler couldn't use. Obviously I'm a misfit as a traveler; there is so much not to understand. So I resumed walking, and asked another airport employee where I could get information. She pointed me back the way I had come and said to find a person in a red jacket. There were no red jackets. (Next day they were all over, however; maybe it was their snack break hour.) Finally I saw a one-person desk that didn't say information, but I asked anyway, explaining my predicament. She looked at Angel's cell-phone number and dialed it, and handed me the phone, and suddenly we were in touch. He promised to find me within 5 minutes. 15 minutes later he did; I was waiting near the ticket windows, but he had been told they were on another floor. Another cute little airport trick? They had ticket windows on two floors. It turned out that the Newark airport, unlike most others, doesn't let folk meet folk at the gates. There were no warnings; apparently you're just supposed to know. Computer programs aren't the only things that can be user unfriendly. Travel could be so much easier if they posted meaningful notices or had helpers where they are needed. I have heard that some travelers even fake injury, just to get the help they need to find their way. But the air travel industry reminds me increasingly of the bygone railroad industry in its covert customer-be-damned attitude. So, half an hour late, we got the limo and made it through the Holland Tunnel to the New York hotel by 7:30.

I called my wife - I hate the way they jack up the phone rates in hotels - and verified that she had gotten safely home. Actually the weather struck Florida too, and during my absence bottomed out at 26°F on our tree farm, damaging or killing some of our flowering shrubs. I do pay for it when I travel, one way or another. Then Angel and I went to a hotel restaurant for supper, I wrestled with the menu as usual to find something vegetarianistically edible (I have mentioned travel hazards?) and asked for something not on the menu: an omelet without meat. The waiter said he lacked authority for that and didn't want to get in trouble, but I did get it. Whatever happened to the days when the customer was the authority on what he ordered? Angel and I chatted, and we discovered mutual interests in astronomy and the descent of mankind. What is the nature of Dark Matter? I really hope I live long enough to find out. What is the nature of Man? I held forth on my Triple Ploy analysis presented in the GEODYSSEY series - you know, how Woman evolved to hold Man's attention, with Sex Appeal, Romantic Love, and Commitment, in that order. That remains effective today, as any glance at the way women dress confirms. Then Ceo joined us. That's the Chief Executive Officer of the company. He had taken a train, so was even later than we were. By the time dialogues and meal were done, and I returned to my room to turn in, it was after 1 AM, well past my bed time. Naturally I woke early, at 4:45 AM, so had to make do on a scant four hours sleep for the big day. Ever thus. Irregular meals, can't brush teeth after, lost sleep, the tension of uncertainty - all good reasons to stay home. If only I could.

We gathered in the hotel lobby and went to the site for the board meeting, which ran from 8 to noon and was packed with information. Then we had lunch and returned to the hotel to fetch our bags and catch the limo back. The day was dire cold with a cutting wind; I think the temperature rose from 5° to 25°, a nasty range for a Florida retiree. Fortunately my wife had prepared me, and I wore the heavy sweater and scarf my daughter had given me. The sweater shows a sheep; my daughter now farms in Oregon, with goats and Jacob sheep, a handsome breed that has four horns.

The flight back was an hour late, but we had prepared for that; I simply stayed at the Tampa Airport hotel for the night, and my wife picked me up next day. Remember, we are old folk; we don't like to drive at night or in rush hours. The choice of sandwiches on the plane was ham or chicken, so I skipped it. Why I don't like to travel: let me count the ways again. I tried the 35 cable TV channels - we don't have cable at home, being stuck in the backwoods where we belong, and in the last millennium - and of course found little to watch, and went to sleep viewing the James Bond movie Octopussy, which was fine for the occasion. There are those who criticize the formula of pretty girls, fantastic gimmicks, and mindless action, but I go for it. I also finished reading the book I had taken on the trip, Till We Have Faces by C S Lewis, which features an ugly girl and depth of thought: I go for that too. So we made it home around 2 PM and I piled into the accumulated emails and letters and started in answering them, and reading the two back newspapers. I was safely back in the real world. But I wonder: next time I have to travel - and Xlibris is threatening to have board meetings every two months - maybe I should get a cell phone. That way I could call somebody when I get lost and the pay phones reject me. I hate to get roped into such an expensive device, but I need some way to cope, until such time, if ever, that I become competent as a traveler.

PIERS
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