First a business note: we keep getting emails expressing regret that we're shutting down. This is to clarify that HI PIERS as a business has shut down; it no longer has a physical office, and no longer sells books. But this Web Site will remain; we have no plans to shut it down. I will continue to write column for it. In fact if I ever get a modem and learn to use it, I may start visiting the site myself and answering spot queries, so that they don't have to be printed out for me. We'll see.
We're just back from our trip to Vermont, which is enclosed elsewhere; suffice to say here that it took five days and now we're trying to catch up on what piled up during our absence. So this may be somewhat scattered as I jump from note to note. Let's start with something simple: why the Microsoft Word Save As function is like quantum physics. For years I couldn't figure it out; I know how to save a file to a new title, but it kept saving it to the wrong Directory (Folder, in Windows-speak), forcing me to copy, paste where it belonged, and go back to erase the original. Windows doesn't have a Move function, for reasons of sadism. Finally I tackled it boldly, and after the usual struggle figured it out: Quantum Physics. You see, therein the act of looking at a particle changes it; it remains undefined until viewed. Why a particle should care who looks at it I'm not sure; maybe it has to get its panties on or something. Who can understand the rules of magic? Well, that's what Save As was doing: the act of checking it changes it. If you don't check it, it remains on its own default, which isn't necessarily yours. So every time I looked, it was right, and every time I didn't look, it was wrong. So now I check it before I use it, and have no further trouble. The key is when you check, to be on a file from the Directory to which you wish to save. It may have been there when you last checked, but may change if your file does, so you can't trust it to be constant.
Now another analogy: how my exercise runs related to the home run derby. I jog three times a week, and time the runs. Last fall I had a record series of 50 fast (for me) runs. Then, just as it was getting hot at the end of Apull, another series of fast runs started. I know it would soon poop out, because of the heat, but it didn't. In fact it started breaking my speed records, and kept going all summer. 10, 20, 30 runs - when would it end? I turned 64 and still it continued. I bought new running shoes, as my old ones are over a decade old and worn out, and the new ones make my feet feel better. Meanwhile in baseball Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were hitting home runs. Their season started a bit earlier than mine, but by the end of SapTimber I had a string of 55 fast runs, the same as McGwire's number of home runs. Then the race got tighter, and the three of us were tied at 63, again at 65, and at 66. Where would it end? Well, my trip to Vermont interrupted my streak at 68, while McGwire was 70 and Sosa was 66. So I was in good company, in my fashion. Not that I care about baseball.
I like to work the chess puzzles in the newspaper. I'm not a great chess player, but those puzzles aren't very complicated, and I generally get them in one to five minutes. If I can't solve them quickly, I look up the answer, because I have other things to do. Sometimes I have missed the obvious. But sometimes the given answer is wrong, and I know that no one actually played it through to discover that. One thing that annoys me is the puzzle-maker's evident ignorance of the rule of taking a pawn en passant: when a pawn jumps two spaces on its first move, if an enemy piece is covering that jumped space, it can move in and take that pawn as if it had moved there. This must be done immediately following that jump, or the chance is lost. Twice this year the answer has depended on just such a jump, with a pawn's jump making the solution - when the intervening space was covered by an enemy piece. In real chess that pawn would be taken, and there would be no solution. No one has told the puzzle maker this?
Here are three paragraphs from my recent weekly letters to Jenny: This week we went to see the movie The Avengers. That's right--I'm redeeming this sorry letter with a movie review. We had seen an ad for it when we saw Godzilla, and then when there was no advance showing for the critics, because of course the critics would trash it, we just had to see it. The critics trash anything they think you and I might like. Sure enough, the critics did trash it--and we did enjoy it. It's about this dapper English hero and this lovely British lady scientist Emma Peel who try to stop the evil weatherman from ruining England's weather. Naturally they succeed, after fantastic adventures. They are forever pausing for tea, which is something they do in England; ask your British mother. The car even serves fresh hot tea. There are some nice weather effects. And in one scene Emma, who has been abducted by the bad man, who wants to make her his love slave, is trying to find her way out of the castle. She encounters a stairway from an Escher picture, and keeps descending it without getting anywhere. Then she enters a room, and leaves it going on to the next--and finds herself in the same room. Bemused, she smashes a statue on the floor, to mark it--and sure enough, when she goes straight ahead, she enters that same room again, with the smashed statue. This is my kind of fun. She finally hurls herself through the window on the side and lands on the street, where our hero finds her. So it's a fun movie, that you'd like. So why did the critics trash it? Maybe because critics have no sense of humor, and don't understand Escher art. We concluded that it was neither a top movie nor a bottom one; I rate it a B-. I'm enclosing a ticket stub for you, of course.
Remember back in Apull, I told you about Gavin Grow, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, and had no reason to live, until a friend lent him my collaboration with Cliff Pickover, Spider Legs, and that novel gave him reason? I quote from his letter to me: "Your book represents my first conscious memory of something good
" I sent him an autographed copy of that, together with Letters to Jenny and Isle of View, with a nice letter, and later I sent him an article about chances for regeneration of injured nerves, just as I do with you. I received an impersonal thank-you letter which didn't name any books; in retrospect I recognize it as a generic form letter. Well, this week I received a copy of AMERICAN WIND SURFER magazine at the behest of Gavin Grow, containing his first article. There was also a long comment by the editor, saying that Grow was injured 11 years ago, and for the past 6 years has been writing two letters a day to people he admires. He has hundreds of pictures, books, and gifts from folk he has written to. There's a two page spread showing some of the autographed pictures celebrities have sent him. The editor is very positive, and it's a beautiful magazine, huge and slick with many lovely pictures. They have set up a Gavin Grow Fund to get him a van with an electric lift for his wheelchair. But here's the thing: Spider Legs was published in Jamboree 1998. So how could that have been the novel that brought Gavin Grow out of his funk six to eleven years ago? Obviously he just filled that name into a form letter--and filled in other names for the letters to others. So while the man is paralyzed, and I applaud his effort to make something of his life, I do feel used.
And this week was a column by a local newspaper columnist, Howard Troxler. It's priceless. He asks, suppose the players in the Washington scandal were to write to Ann Landers? What advice would she give? The first letter is from Moping and Lonely, telling how she had an affair with her boss, a prominent middle aged man who dropped her like a hot potato when others found out about it. Do they have a future together? Next letter is from the boss in a rather large government office who got flashed by a young intern, and one thing led to another until somebody blew the whistle on them. Now he's in hot water with his wife and at the office. Next letter is from a woman who learned that her husband was fooling around with a younger woman at work. Then a letter from an office worker who signs herself Likes to Tattle. And from a secretary covering for the boss. And from Tele-miffed who suspects a man he called was doing something else at the same time. And from Embarrassed at Stanford. And a subpoena from Kenneth W Starr, who just spent $40 million to determine that toilet paper should be hung over the top, not against the wall.
Now back to today's column. You see, sometimes I write a paragraph first for Jenny, with the intention of using it elsewhere also, because I don't like to repeat myself. As you can see, all three of these are on subjects of general interest. But I have to say that as I approach ten years of weekly letters to Jenny and little gifts for her birthdays, with the last response from her or her family months in the past, most of a year actually, I am increasingly inclined to bring an end to it. The time is expensive for me, and with no evidence that the effort is still appreciated or even noted, I think it is time to let it go. I can't quite be sure that my letters are being opened. Jenny Elf is now married in Xanth, and will continue, however. I got a new credit card via AAA, figuring it would be a good one. It was Platinum, with a credit limit of up to $100,000, it said. But when it came the limit was $5,000 and the time one year - compared to twice the credit and three times the time for my old Gold card. It isn't as if my credit is bad; I routinely deal in larger sums than their max, in and out. I don't need it; I don't use credit cards for investments. But it rankles in the way a snub might. I suspect I am about as good a credit risk as exists. So what does it take to rate their maximum? Bill Gates? I think they are guilty of false advertising, and I'm half inclined to let the card go after its year expires. They did send a nice traveling bag, though, for joining.
Speaking of investments, I believe I have mentioned that I ventured into venture capital to invest in Xlibris, an Internet publisher that enables hopeful writers to cheaply self-publish their books, bypassing Parnassus, the conventional New York publishing establishment. Xlibris will actually print out single hardcover copies of the books, indistinguishable from those of regular publishers in appearance and price. My World War Two novel Volk is there. My reason for the investment is ideological: I want there to be a viable alternative that gives everyone a chance. I have never been online, but I see the Internet as the best prospect for doing that. So I want to see Xlibris and other Internet publishers succeed; I think it would be good for the world. I won't go into detail, but will say that this is turning out to be an education not only about the potentials of the Internet, but about Parnassus itself and the ways of money. I was prepared to lose my investment, and have added to it to be sure the venture survives, but at this point I think I will probably recover it. I will surely have more to say at such time as the fate of Xlibris is certain.
I continue with my archery, which I started as another type of exercise, and remain with for that and pleasure and learning in a new discipline. Each morning I'm not firing arrows I draw the 60 pound compound bow twenty times for arm strength, one day right handed, the next day left handed. For those who came in late, let me clarify: the bow does not weigh 60 pounds, it weighs about 4 pounds. The Draw Weight refers to how hard it is to draw the bowstring back. I started at 45 pounds, went to 50, then 55, and a year and a half ago went to 60 pounds, which is enough. So drawing that string is like doing half a chin; my weight is about 145 pounds, but a chin requires two hands, so each arm would be drawing about 73 pounds. The other arm has to keep the bow in place, so is pushing with the same force. I don't do chins or pull-ups any more, lacking a bar, but 20 fast bow pulls suffices for a man of age 64. Anyway, for my birthday I bought myself a larger target. The old one is fine, and weighs under 20 pounds; the new one has about twice the target surface and weighs 55 pounds. But I discovered that it didn't make a lot of difference, because my aim is now fairly accurate, except for flukes that go way out. So I was hitting near the center of the big target - or still missing completely. Sometimes an arrow just doesn't go where I aim it; it's a frustration. I have front and rear sights, so I do know where I'm aiming. So I saw a smaller, lighter, cheaper target in an outdoorsman catalog, and ordered two. I set them on top of the big one, and my old target to the right - most misses are to the right, even when I fire left handed - and that array does catch most of my misses. So I no longer have to spend an hour searching for a lost arrow, or try to repair a broken one, and that's a relief. But when I ordered the targets, I saw a sale on arrows. The local store carries Easton arrows, which are all right, but these were Bear arrows, and my compound bow is a Bear. They were half price, under $2.50 per arrow instead of $5.00. So I bought a dozen. This resulted in my further education. They were shipped full length, without heads. When I buy them at the store, the man cuts them down to my length, 30 inches; he could as readily make them 31" or 32". I have some 31" arrows, and they work okay. But these were 33", way long. But I like to experiment, so I put three together at that full length and tried them. They worked well; I liked their feel. But they squeaked when drawn. I pondered and considered, and found that these were of larger diameter. My wife figured out the coding, and I got it interpreted in the archery manual that Dee Lightful Dee Lahr of Kiss Mee sent when I bought her left handed bow: I had some 2016, with 20 indicating the diameter of the shaft in 64ths of an inch, and 16 indicating the thickness of the aluminum tube wall in 1,000ths of an inch. Those are my lightest arrows, subject to bendage and breakage. I have some 2117, thicker and thicker, which are stronger. Well, the Bear arrows are 2216, visibly bigger in diameter, but not much heavier because their cell walls are thinner. But since I left them full length, that extra three inches adds to their weight. But they work, and I like them. I learned to use epoxy to glue in the inserts that hold the points, and used point from my old broken arrows, and now I have six functioning king sized arrows, with six more ready for when I go to the archery store and buy more points. Understand, I'm a duffer, so it doesn't make much difference whether an arrow is properly balanced or flexible; I'm not going to score dead center bullseyes anyway. So I fire several weights and lengths of arrows with both my 60 pound compound right handed bow and my 30 pound reverse left handed bow, and they all work well enough. Well, the big Bear arrows do strike low on the target, left handed, but I can compensate for that. And I learned something else: one reason for a fluke miss is that I can draw an arrow too far back and it drops off the arrow rest just as I fire. Well, that can't happen with the 33" arrows. I did have one fluke miss with a Bear arrow; I haven't figured that one out yet. If I ever write a book about my experiences in Archery, I'll title it Bone Arrow. Yes, that's a pun: Bow 'n Arrow.
Computer challenges: I was using Microsoft's Access database program to enter some income - my wife keeps my accounts, but I also keep my own accounts, using different systems, and periodically we compare notes and discover each other's errors - and I tried using the number-pad to make an entry, instead of the top-row numbers on the main keyboard. Access called an error and gave me no option but to shut down the program without saving, thus throwing away all my prior entries - a real rat trap! I assume that the programmers really get their jollies by setting it up that way, refusing to let it be intuitive or user friendly, finding artificial "errors" to call, and refusing to let you save when one happens. What sadism, to flash a message saying, in effect, GOTCHA! CLOSE WITHOUT SAVING, and no option but OK, so you have to seem to agree to throw away your work. I finally figured out the technicality that did it: I normally leave my number-pad natural, while it seems Access expects you to lock it on NUM-LOCK. So it punished me for trying to use it in its natural state. I think programmers must be related to cri-tics, existing in a different and nastier realm than real people do. Sort of the way mischievous fairies find it hilarious to grow a chain of sausages from a man's nose, that he can't remove without the agony of cutting his own flesh. Why am I not laughing? Hey, I have the ideal title for my book on the perils of using computers: Hardware's From Jupiter, Software's from Neptune.
We shifted some of our investment from mutual bonds to stock funds. The stock market can go up or down a hundred points in a day, while at the same time a bond moves one cent. So the first business day in AwGhost we shifted - and the second business day the stock market dropped 300 points. But the end of the month our new investment had lost about 15% of its value. We had impeccable timing. I may have commented before: I have discovered that after a while I lose my taste for losing money. My daughter Penny gave me a glass mermaid, who is suspended by a thread tied to a hank of her flowing hair. I also heard from Eric Torgerson, who hand sculpts glass fairies: he had a winged one he wanted to send me. She too suspends from a hank of hair. So now I have two lovely slender full-breasted nude figurines floating before my keyboard. I love them.
More is being heard on the Y2K problem - you know, when computers glitch at the Year 2,000 because they think it's the year 1900. Naturally the Conspiracy theorists are latching on. Some figure it will make for a horrendous economic crash. Some think it will bring on a new dark age as civilization collapses. One says that the resultant chaos will be used as a pretext to put people in concentration camps, establish a New World Order, and eradicate two thirds of the world's population. Well, I believe there will be a problem, but not to that extent. I hope I'm right. I figure the arrogant IRS will fall, because it will think computers wouldn't dare to balk lest they be audited, but much of the establishment will tide through merely bruised. Last winter we put in a geothermal air conditioning / heating unit, replacing a conventional one that was breaking down. We hoped it would save us on electric bills, as well as being more environmentally friendly. Well, over the course of the hottest summer yet, it saved us approximately 20%. This looks like success.
HiPiers forwards email printouts. I have been answering those with snail-mail addresses, and sometimes typing letters to be translated into emailese. One said that with respect to my imagined dialogue with Bill Gates about the lack of user-friendliness in Windows that this was not far from the real world, and recommended that I look at http://www.cantrib.org/nobugs.html. I asked HiPiers to check it, but am told that there seems to be no such address. There seems to be a fair number of emails with inoperative return addresses. Meanwhile some emails send good suggestions or puns for Xanth; without addresses I don't reply, but am noting these as I write #24 The Dastard, which I am about half way through at this writing. One email says "Sexist male pig! Try writing about a strong woman for once! After all, not all women are easy, beautiful, tall, thin, air-headed bimbos! We don't all wear short, cleavage-showing, scanty dresses and jump in bed with every half-wit male that happens to come along! Stop stereotyping women in your writing you disgusting horny parasite!" The return name is Marie Arnold. Well, Marie, you charming creature, just which of my novels are you describing? Surely not my just-published Xanth novel, Zombie Lover, which features Breanna of the Black Wave, who does not take much guff from any man. Nor my most recently published GEODYSSEY novel, Hope of Earth, whose females are hardly of that nature; in fact one masquerades as a man and takes a position on a Greek fighting boat. Even the most graphically sexual of my novels, Firefly, is not like that; its lead female is 40 and mousy, and the lead male is impotent. You will have to be more specific, if you don't want me to suspect that you haven't actually read any of my novels, and are just playing a pseudo-feminist record you direct at all male writers. Show me that you can present an informed opinion, rather than contumely, and I'll be better able to address your concern.
And I had an interesting publication by regular mail: Alexandra Bonyun sent me a copy of THE XANTH X-TRA, "The Newsletter by Xanthians for Xanthians." Alexandra and her friend Sara Bruce made it up as a school project, and it strikes me as really clever. It starts with an article on the benefits of crossbreeding, readily accomplished because "There are love springs sprinkled all over Xanth." There's the Dragon of the Month, Draco. There's an advice column by Nada Naga; I liked that notion so well that I wrote it into Xanth #24, The Dastard, as a passing scene; this is obviously Nada's calling. There's an interview with Marrow Bones: "How do you feel about Grace'l?" "I'd love to pick a bone with her!" And a public service one on "Surviving the Gap Chasm." A crossword with words like BEDMONSTER, DEMON, CENTAUR, and ROC. An interview with Magician Humfrey's wives titled "Half a Wife Too Many?" and a listing of the 25 worst talents of all time, such as the ability to turn back time one second, or to make the smell of sour milk, or to dull pencils from a distance. Alexandra also sent her picture: she's a brown-haired girl. As I may have mentioned before, I have always been partial to that type; when I met one in college, I married her.
I try to avoid talking politics here, because I feel that whatever credits as a writer I have do not qualify me as a political commentator. My inclination is generally liberal, but I would value an honest conservative over a dishonest liberal. The current situation, Monicagate, bothers me for not quite the ordinary reason. Here's my analogy: suppose there is a speed trap, with a motorcycle cop hiding behind a Happy Motoring billboard with a radar unit. He watches the cars whiz by, and times nine of them significantly exceeding the speed limit. But only when the tenth speeder passes does he go out and ticket the man. Then he hides again, and lets three more speeders go by, before going out after the fourth. I suggest that this is not justice. Oh, the two cars were speeding all right, but not any worse than the twelve that weren't challenged. The thing is, they were the only black speeders; all the others were white. This is selective prosecution of a racist nature. Okay, now let's get political: President Clinton, a womanizer from way back, got caught having sex with a groupie and lying about it. He's guilty of adultery, and no prize in that respect. But why is he the only one being prosecuted for it? Some of his accusers in Congress are guilty of the same thing, as have been prior presidents and other officers. What makes it an impeachment offense in the one case, and not in the others? From here it looks like hypocrisy by those who don't like the fact that a Democrat is president, and that he turned out to be not guilty of any real crimes. I suggest that either all of the adulterers and liars of either party should be kicked out, or that the matter be dropped as irrelevant private business. Selective enforcement is not ethical, and in light of the serious national and world problems that are being ignored in favor of voyeurism, it verges on treason.
Meanwhile, having found that I can watch TV on the two inch square in the corner of my computer screen, without interfering with my writing, I'm interested in seeing some of my own kind of junk, such as the old Avenger shows I ordered on sale, or historical videos. So I got a VCP - Video Cassette Player - and am learning to use it. They say the real master of the household can be told by who has the TV remote control; only recently have I figured out even how to use it, in those moments when my wife's away, and the VCR was pretty much beyond me. But on my own computer maybe I'll fare better.
And I received a solicitation from Gannon University in Pencil Vania, starting: "As a famous celebrity
" It is addressed to Mr. Anthony Piers, and starts "Dear Mr. Piers." I gather my books are not much read there.
This is the major segment of a two part report. The other part, "Names," describes more of the people I met, and may not be of interest to my general readership.
We set off at 7:30 on the morning of Thursday, OctOgre 1th, driving the car from Inverness, Florida to the airport in Tampa. I wore my new black "Safari" hat; it's not that I like affectation, but ever since that little innocuous spot of cancer on my ear six years ago I have tried to keep the sun off my ears; I do learn from experience. The trip was okay, but there was just enough slow traffic to shave our margin, so we had to use the expensive close-by parking to get back on schedule. We caught our noon flight north, sitting in separate seats because even reserving them weeks in advance, we couldn't get two together. I read Moral Calculations by László Mérö, a book which discusses games of morality such as the Prisoner's Dilemma, showing how their principles come into real life situations as well as international politics. For example, the game of "Chicken," where two drivers race toward each other, and the first one to swerve aside is chicken. So is it better to be chicken than dead? Adolph Hitler played chicken with the allies in the 1930's, gaining much ground, until Winston Churchill caught on and balked, and World War Two was upon us. There's also the "Dollar Auction," which was new to me but interesting: one one person puts one dollar up for sale to the highest bidder. Say the first bid is for 1¢; would you bid 2¢, making a 98¢ profit if you won? But here's the kicker: you must pay the amount of your bid regardless whether you win. So if another person bids 3¢ and takes it, you lose your two cents. So you bid 4¢, to stick him with the loss of 3¢. How high will it go? Say it works up to where his bid is $1; do you let it go, rather than pay $1.01, or do you figure you don't want to lose 99¢ so it's better to bid higher to salvage that? In practice it seems that a dollar can sell for several dollars, and the seller really rakes it in, because he reaps the winning bid and the losing bid. So if it sells for $5.00 he gets that plus $4.99. $9.99 for $1 is pretty good. You would never get trapped into such an auction? Well, do you buy multiple tickets for the lottery, knowing you can't get the money back when you lose? You're in a dollar auction with many bidders. So this book interests me; it does relate to real life, and shows how you can maximize your chances and minimize your losses in different situations with a little calculation and strategy. For one thing, it helps to recognize a dollar auction or a chicken game before you get into it.
We changed planes in Philadelphia and arrived in Burlington, Vermont at 2:40 PM. We rented our car, a compact Neon with the license tag CAM 391, appropriate because my wife is called Cam, and headed out for Montpelier, where we were to pick up my erstwhile roommate Robert Pancoast and his wife Nelli. Theirs is a modern romance: he went to Ukraine to teach American style economics, got lost in Kiev, and finally called out "Does anybody here speak English?" Nelli happened to be in the area, getting a cup of hot water, and indicated that she spoke a little English. Overjoyed, Bob sang her the refrain of the one song he had learned in Ukrainian, not realizing that the words translated to "You are the one I've been waiting for." She almost fell over laughing, thinking him cuckoo, but one thing led to another and now they are married. All we had to do was find them at the bus station. And we couldn't find it. We drove all through Montpelier in rush hour traffic, and finally asked at a filling station. Right: we had driven by it without seeing it. We went there, and there they were. We exchanged Ukrainian hugs and filled the little car to capacity and headed on to Plainfield and Goddard College, where we checked in at 5 PM. They had a suite in our old dormitory, now renamed and rendered into a studies building, and Cam and I went on to the Marsh-Plain Motel. No, we weren't excluded from college residence; there's no smoking there, and my wife smokes, so we went elsewhere.
The scenery was phenomenal, after two years in flat Oklahoma and 39 years in flat Florida. I grew up in the Green Mountains of Vermont, and I miss them. So why did I leave them? Because of the cold winters. When I first heard about Hell, I concluded that that was where I wanted to go when I died, because it's hot. (Later I learned more about Hell, and realized that it's not universally hot, so I'm no longer sure it's for me.) Florida may be flat, but its warm. Our morning low when we left was 74°F; it never got up to that the four days we were in Vermont, but it did get down to freezing. Typically it was in the 50's, perhaps appropriate for a 50's Reunion. It wasn't too bad when the drizzle and wind abated. So we loved seeing the rounded forested mountains speckled with bright orange maple trees - if our first child had been female, we would have named her Maple Irene, but the baby was male, and did not survive - and even the lowering clouds helped frame the scenery. The mountains reached up to intersect the clouds, and the whole scene was beautiful. But cold. We were almost constantly chilled. We had brought several changes of clothing, but had to wear most of them at once in layers. So my series of environmental T-shirts never showed, and Cam never got to wear her skirt or jewelry, and we never changed shoes. This certainly reminded us why we had left Vermont; it dampened most of the events of the occasion for us.
We had supper in the college cafeteria, and I wasted no time in fouling up: what I thought was spinach was spinach soup, so I wound up with soup all over my flat plate soaking into everything else. I thought the hot chocolate would pour as long as I held the button, but it poured a set shot, so that it tried to put two cups into my one cup and I had to pour what didn't spill into a second cup. I didn't know how to work the juice machine and had to ask a student. So in terms of being a dull old fogy, I proved myself. The Pancoasts arrived, and Nelli was very talkative, but too many of her words were Ukrainian so it was hard to follow. There was a sign at the entrance: anyone in bare feet would be asked to leave. By that token I know that Goddard is less liberal than it was in my day, for I went barefoot three semesters, to classes and meals, without challenge. A chapter in my autobiography is titled "Bare Feet Don't Stink." So what's with the college, that it can no longer tolerate the sight of the human foot as God made it? Also no smoking, including candles and incense. In my day 50% of the students smoked, including my fiancée; we did not know then how unhealthy smoking is, though it was evident that it was addictive. My fiancée tried to quit, and lasted 23 hours, and never tried again. I call her smoking my ongoing exercise in tolerance, and no, I wouldn't kick her out of bed for that.
We repaired to the Manor, where we old timers were to have our introductory party. That was the building that led to my suspension for a week when I was a student: for sitting in the lounge talking with my fiancée (now my wife of 42 years) and four other students at 10:40 PM; today folk don't believe it, because it's such an un-Goddard thing, sort of like arresting someone for walking on the sidewalk. But two others who had been suspended similarly were there at the reunion, so the facts could not be denied. That act of arrogance on the part of the faculty led to a mass community protest, and I think today it is generally conceded that the faculty was wrong. But it may be that my recent status as a significant contributor to the college dissuades anyone from expressing a contrary opinion. I'd certainly listen; I believe in free expression of contrary opinions, having plenty of my own. We met several long lost friends, but the majority we saw there we didn't know. It turned out that the 1950's decade had been extended, and there were folk there from the 1940's and 1960's there too.
Friday morning we met our neighbors to the right and left at the motel, from the Goddard classes of 1950 and 1951. They were before my time, my class being 1956, but we turned out to have much in common apart from age. One of them was Gabriel Jacobs. He gave me a copy of his book, When Children Think, and I started reading it as I had spare moments. He was a teacher, then a school principle, in the 1960's and 1970's, and he tried to encourage his 5th and 6th grade students to think, by having them write journals. At first they recorded simple daily activities, but then they got into thoughts, and it is fascinating to see their learning processes. Ten to twelve year old children do not have all the information they will have as they mature, nor are they sophisticated about social nuances, but they do have thoughts and some nice insights. "Creative thinking," Mr. Jacobs remarks, "does not usually occur on demand or after a five minute exercise in logical thinking." Indeed, some of the children's concerns are practical. Here's a sample from Ceceile: "Today I wondered why boys 'eye' girls when they see them in bathing suits. The boys wear them so can't they 'eye' each other instead of girls. They act as if they have never seen a girl's shape. On me, they always 'eye' me out no matter what I wear!" She also wonders why women "switch" when they walk. I suspect the two things are related. And from Glen: "Can you write a feeling? I say you can't because some things are so beautiful and ugly you don't have words for them. If I had a girlfriend and I had a feeling towards her it would be hard to write her. You wouldn't know that to say." And from Lisa: "I wonder if a tear is real water. Couldn't it be some clear fluid secreted by the body? How can your body know when it's time to cry?" It seems to me that Mr. Jacobs was doing the kind of teaching that this world needs more of, evoking the thoughts of his young students, preparing them for their futures by encouraging them to use their most potent tool: their creative minds. So while I never knew him at Goddard the first time around, I am glad to know him now. I can see the Goddard influence.
Friday was Work Day, and I got into edging the campus walks, using a sort of rounded implement to sever the turf that encroached on the brick. Initially there were several people there, but they tended to fade away, and one was surprised to discover me still hard at work an hour later. Well, it's my nature; when I have a job to do, I do it, whatever it is. That's why I write a great deal of fiction and answer a good many letters, seven days a week: it's my job. But in the afternoon my wife was increasingly fatigued by the cold weather, and we retired to the motel room for warm naps. We returned to the college campus in the evening for dinner in a huge tent set up on the tennis court, with dessert being the big 60th Birthday cake for Goddard. That was followed by the fund-raising auction: 60 items in 60 minutes. One of those items was the only copy of my just-published 22nd Xanth novel Zombie Lover, which I would autograph. The bidding was amazing, and it sold for $500.
Thereafter we went to the Haybarn Theater, where the play Bamberwood was presented. From the description, we expected farce, but we were pleasantly surprised. It was a double love story set in a college like Goddard, with a forming faculty couple and a forming student couple, only at one point student girl got interested in faculty man, who did have a hankering for that type. (Faculty/student liaisons were not unknown at Goddard in my day; I could tell some interesting stories of forbidden love, but with singular discipline am refraining.) Things did work out after due complications, and it was a pleasant event. I liked the way it began with a kind of moderator who changed clothing on stage, then supervised the disposition of minimal props as scenes changed, and danced with the girl when she was dancing alone, so that the audience could see the male figure she dreamed of. At one point, in an evident allusion to The Phantom of the Opera, he wore half a face mask. It's impressive how much can be done on stage with how little: minimal costumes, a bench, some cloth. This is art and entertainment merged, as they should be. I mentioned minimal costumes: at one point a young man emerged from the nude veggie dorm naked, with only a bucket held strategically before him. At the end he showed us his backside: across his bare buttocks was printed FREE DOM.
On Saturday the third of the month I attended Wil Hamlin's seminar on Progressive Education. It was like an old time class; he gave a twelve minute presentation, then turned it over to the others. There were 30-45 attendees - another event ran late, so a number arrived late - who discussed ways to improve education. The consensus was that it should be student driven, rather than teacher driven, and that not much is currently being done. These were experienced and expressive people. In fact I was impressed throughout the Reunion with the number of intelligent and eloquent folk; some had heart conditions, but their minds remain sharp. Wil Hamlin was my teacher as I zeroed in on writing as my college major and eventual career, and he was the one faculty member who openly supported the student position when several of us were (improperly) suspended; he, more than any other, represents what Goddard is to me. He is 80 now, but still active in his fashion. He is the one real person I name in my novel Tarot, which describes my crisis at Goddard, filling in what my autobiography skims over. So my attendance here was in part a gesture of support for the one who most supported me when I needed it. The fact is, if the college administration messed with Wil Hamlin, I would be more than annoyed. Of course it would hardly care about the sentiment of one student, but no college ignores the foibles of a contributor. Which is not to say that there were not other important faculty members in my day; there was the late John Pierce, who more than any other understood the concerns of the students and would keep a confidence. I remember early, being isolated and lonely, until someone brought me down to John Pierce's house where there was a folk sing, and the community of Goddard came alive for me, as it has been ever since. It was in his Crust of the Earth I came to appreciate the ongoing forces of geology and nature; it was perhaps the seed of my later environmentalism. John was a great guy, and a great teacher, though he had one weakness that led to mischief, ironically similar to one that is making national headlines today. I miss him, and mourn his loss from my life. There were others, having their effects. So I could not recover all the poignant roots of my complex relation to Goddard in this visit, but I did remember them.
My next event was my reading from Zombie Lover. It started fifteen minutes late because of a glitch somewhere else, but went smoothly enough. The college president Barbara Mossberg was there to encourage me. I selected a light piece because I wasn't sure what kind of audience I would have, but assumed mixed student and fogy. There were perhaps 150 there in the Haybarn, and they were responsive. I explained that I do write serious material, but that this was not that. I described the character Breanna of the Black Wave, who is militantly black, and doesn't want to marry a zombie king who is courting her. When asked why, she says "Well, zombies are all right in their place, but I wouldn't want to marry one." Then she realizes what she has said: an echo of the attitude of White toward Black. And she begins to change. The reading selection itself was her encounter with a werewolf prince she is trying to teach how to impress women. In essence, don't leap to stork summoning, try to impress her with your good qualities first. He has trouble understanding that women have concerns other than the stork. The audience laughed in the right places, and asked sensible questions after, so by my definition it was a successful event. At 2 PM was the Recognition Ceremony in the tent set up by the Manor. Apparently most of the alumni events were in the tents, so as not to disturb the regular student body. I may be in error here, but it was my impression that there was little interaction between the alumni and the current students. Perhaps the separation by two generations was too much to bridge, and if so, that is to be regretted. Barbara Mossberg, as the new college president, was the one being recognized, and she spoke movingly, at one point using an extended analogy from A Canticle For Liebowitz, a science fiction classic by Walter M. Miller, so she is evidently my type of reader. But as she spoke, eight students in the back row turned their chairs around to face the opposite way, then soon departed, an evident protest. Now I am no stranger to protests, and I had trouble at Goddard, and in the US Army, and in Parnassus, so this roused my curiosity. What was their case? I could not get the whole story, but apparently these students feel that the college administration is not treating the faculty members fairly, denying them contracts and tenure. They don't like the new president or the fund-raising effort to put the college on a secure monetary footing, and want her out. But they don't seem to have a positive program to offer in lieu of the present one. As a contributor to the new college endowment fund, I'm on the other side. My understanding is that the Goddard faculty members have long-term contracts that are typical of contemporary standards, and are fairly represented on the decision-making board. So the protesters don't seem to have a real case. It's easy to be a protester when your food and shelter is guaranteed, but not necessarily meaningful. Protest for the sake of protest has never been my way; there has to be a reasonable basis. Part of the ceremony brought out Nelli Pancoast, who spoke and presented a huge loaf of artistically decorated Ukrainian bread for the attendees to break pieces from to dip in salt and eat. It was excellent bread. And at some point we got butterflies: Barbara M passed out little black butterfly clip-ons for folk to wear, I think symbolizing freedom. Why does that remind me of bare buttocks?
At 5 PM there was supposed to be my autographing of Zombie Lover. The local bookstore had ordered 50 copies two weeks before, but the publisher had not delivered. They had "no record" of the order. Oh? This is typical; I put a lawyer on the case once when they did similar with signed contracts, and forced compliance. Calls resulted in the promise to deliver the books overnight, but they reneged on this too. So there were no copies, and none could be bought or autographed. Well, at least the folk at Goddard learned what writers go through with publishers. You'd think a publisher would want to sell 50 hardcovers. I have watched this sort of thing take me off the bestseller lists and shrink my sales while readers search in vain for my books. But it's like pushing on an elephant: you don't make much of an impression unless you're another elephant. This is one reason I support Internet publishing; there needs to be an alternative. But more must be said: I checked subsequently with the publisher, and learned that there are internal problems; they do want to sell copies, and someone may be fired. I always try to get both sides of a problem; a publisher is not a monolithic entity, but a complex of individuals, some of whom may be torpedoing the efforts of others. I have another book-signing coming up in Jamboree in the Washington DC area, with my lovely co-author Julie Brady, for Dream A Little Dream; we'll see if things improve
But as is often the case, I was also on the other side of a similar event. I was asked to participate the same day in a radio call-in show, The Education Revolution conducted by Jerry Mintz, and I agreed. Then reneged myself: dinner ran late, and I wasn't out of it before the show was over, so couldn't call. I hate that. I suppose I could have skipped the meal, had I anticipated the delay. It wasn't even a good meal, for us; it was cold, and the chill of the tent got to us, and so we skipped the upcoming cabaret show and the evening dance, and returned to the motel. There at last, under piled blankets, we began to get warm. The weather was the single thing that most diminished our pleasure in the reunion; I would have liked to attend the last two events of the day, and am curious how they turned out, but we Floridians simply lacked the clothing for sustained chill.
Sunday morning we walked around the motel premises, admiring the frost on the grass. We found a mowed path up the steep slope to a lovely panoramic view above. If only we had mountains in Florida! Then we went to the campus and visited the Pancoasts, who gave us lavish gifts from Ukraine: a fancy carved wooden plate, an embroidered Ukrainian shirt, a scarf that says ÓÊÐÀ¯ÍÀ, a fancy table scarf with six matching napkins, and a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. I mean a real one, full size; there was also a little pin with paired USA and Ukraine flags. And all we'd brought them was a book A Walk in the Woods we thought they would enjoy, because it's about walking the Appalachian Trail; Bob and I walked part of the Long Trail back in 1953. I was in bare feet; I won't do that again. We also attended the Alumni Association Annual Meeting, where the question was whether to hire a coordinator to keep in touch; at present it's not much organized, with one person paid half-time for a full time job. I believe a committee was formed to work on the problem. We had lunch, and gave Goddard a check; as my income declines, so do my gifts to assorted institutions, necessarily, but we do what we can. Then in mid afternoon we returned to the motel, trying to turn in early in preparation for the morrow.
Monday the 5th we got up at 4:30 AM, loaded the car - and couldn't get moving because heavy frost coated the windshield. This is not a problem we have in Florida. How to get it off? Finally I used a credit card to scrape it away, and that worked reasonably well. So we got moving ten minutes late. The drive was easy, on the Interstate without traffic, until we got to Burlington - and couldn't find the car rental office. We drove around and around as our thin margin dissolved and we got late with no reprieve in sight; Cam was on the verge of hysteria. Have I mentioned our aversion to traveling? Guess why! Finally we went to the airport and I went in to ask at the information desk. There was no one there. I went to ask at the US AIR window, but the line there was so long we'd miss our plane by the time I got to the head of it. Finally we spied a man with a flashlight outside, and he told us where to go, and we found it. The check-in was fast, and they took us back to the airport fast, and we joined the long line - and an announcement said if we had no bag to check and a prepaid ticket we could go directly to the gate. We went gladly; more time saved. We got in line just in time to enter the plane. We had made it, and from there on it was okay. We changed in Pittsburgh, where we saw another of those escalators that forgot to go up or down and just lay there on the floor to speed our transit between planes. I used the bathroom, and the urinal wouldn't flush, until a neighbor clued me in: simply step away from it and it flushes itself. Remember, I was raised on a farm with an outhouse; I'm not used to high-tech pissing. At noon we landed in Tampa, got our car after paying $39 for parking it - in my day that was a week's wages - and headed for home. We arrived at 2:30 and Obsidian Dog was overjoyed to see us. We were home, and could relax at last. Except for the accumulated phone messages, piled up mail, twelve newspapers to catch up on, and this Trip Report to do. Sigh. So what did we get from the visit to our alma mater? It was mixed, as you might expect. We did meet many friends of 40+ years ago, all of them now around retirement age, and caught up on their lives. Some who had seemed to be headed for hell actually turned out to be successful, while others went the opposite way. Some we had not been close to then were far more interesting now. Some we never knew then are great people now. Some we related to in one way then, and another way now. Some we were close to then we seem to have less in common with now. In short, the normal spectrum. The college campus itself has similar dichotomies. The center cluster of buildings remains, but their natures have changed. The college is now much larger than it was, with dormitories extending northward across what used to be open fields. Particular rooms remain, but have changed in nature, somehow.
But mostly the things of the community we knew are gone. The Ping Pong table is not where it was; Goddard's days of competition in that respect seem to have passed. The square dancing seem to be gone; the dance we missed by retiring early was swing, not square. The folk singing seems to be gone; how I loved those sessions, and I still can recite memorized songs from that era. The functional Community Meeting seems to be gone. In fact the abiding sense of community we knew seems gone. In our day everybody knew everybody, even if the relationships were not necessarily positive. Perhaps it exists today, and I was not in a position to see it. But my sense of it is that Goddard is indeed not what it was, in philosophy as well as people. Perhaps this disillusion is inevitable; you can't step in the same river twice. But it puts me into a mottled funk. I don't expect to visit it again. Oh, it's worth supporting; it's just that my memories suffice.
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