Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Sailing clipart

Dear Family and Friends,

This has been an eventful year for us. It started out with the worst possible news when our dog Charlie was diagnosed with cancer. He had a tumor in his upper jaw that turned out to be osteosarcoma. We decided not to put him through surgery, which would have been painful and disfiguring, and instead began a course of chemotherapy to slow the metastasis. Even with treatment, it was apparent by the date of his tenth birthday, March 29, that we needed to end his suffering. Charlie passed away peacefully on Sunday, April 6, as we sat on the floor comforting him. He was a wonderful companion and we will miss him always.

Two weeks later we flew to Athens for a trip we had been planning for over a year, to re-create the Odyssey with four other people by sailing a 47-foot sailboat from Troy in Turkey to Ithaca, an island off the west coast of Greece. The combination of starting in Greece and unfavorable sailing weather turned our adventure into more of a direct trip to Turkey and back than the grand tour of the Aegean and Adriatic Seas that Ulysses had undertaken, but he took ten years and we only had two weeks. We did get to see some sights along the way though that were in keeping with the spirit of Ulysses: the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Kusadasi and the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey, and the Cave of the Nymphs on Ithaca. We ended the trip in Corfu, where it took a few days to get our land legs back. If you’re interested, there’s a fun slideshow of the trip, complete with an authentic Greek soundtrack, on John’s blog at http://whisperingjesse.blogspot.com/2008/05/odyssey-slideshow.html.

A week after returning home, John flew out to Washington, DC for an Internet development conference that allowed him to stay with Curt and Meg Haensel and their kids in nearby Falls Church. The last time we got together, Meg was pregnant with Ada, who is now ten years old and has a little brother, Peter, so it had been way too long. It was fun to spend a few days with everybody, getting reacquainted with Curt and Meg, learning about nautiluses from Ada, and trying to keep up with Peter on Guitar Hero. We hope to have them come out to Colorado for skiing or golf sometime soon.

Speaking of golf, we finally got Nan some new clubs and played together quite a bit at Redlands Mesa, the course right up the road. John established his first handicap since junior golf, but it’s not a number he’s proud of. Bad golf lives!

For John’s fiftieth birthday in June, Nan gave him a golden retriever puppy to help ease the sorrow of losing Charlie. Raising young Scout has been a challenge. He is willful and tough-minded, with a cocked-head, what’s-in-it-for-me look in response to most commands. But he is also lovable and affectionate, and a terrific hiking companion, so he has endeared himself to us completely.

Scout was a real trouper when we drove home to Wisconsin in late July. For safety, we kept him in his travel crate, which we dubbed “the space capsule,” for two days of driving in each direction with very little complaint. In addition to spending time with family and friends, Nan in Manitowoc and me in Wauwatosa, highlights of the time at home included a Brewers/Cubs game, the State Fair, Lollapalooza in Chicago, and more bad golf.

In October we returned to Isla Mujeres, Mexico for the fifth time in ten years. It rained every day but then the sun would come out and turn the puddles to steam, so it was hot and humid but otherwise pleasant. We rented an apartment for ten days that was high enough to catch a cool breeze and provide beautiful views of the beach, palm trees and the blue Caribbean. We visited with our friend Juan and his family, and toured the new house he is building. It should be finished by the time we return next September, when we will be renting the same apartment for a month, taking Scout with us, and enrolling in an intensive Spanish class. The laptop and decent Internet access will keep us in touch with family, friends and work. ¡Debe ser una aventura!

A few weeks after our return, Nan went back to Manitowoc again, this time for the wedding of her niece Molly to Brandon and to spend time with her mother and siblings. John stayed home to look after Scout and to follow all the news leading up to the election. We don’t know about you, but we were pleased with the results. It feels like the country is back on track to make progress on issues that are long overdue, like improving the economy and ending the war in Iraq.

Here’s to peaceful, more prosperous days in the coming year for you and yours.

Love,
John, Nan and Scout
Christmas Card 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Importance of Travel

There was an excellent article in yesterday's Parade magazine, the glossy supplement in the Sunday Denver Post: "Because global issues matter now more than ever... Here's How America Can Maintain Its Edge" by Simon Winchester. I was familiar with Mr. Winchester from having read a copy of his book, Krakatoa, which he gave to my wife Nan when she met him a few years ago in Aspen, so I had a personal interest in reading what he had to say.

Mr. Winchester begins by relating the story of how he followed a bucketful of excavated iron ore from Western Australia to a Japanese refinery, where it was processed into steel before being sent to a factory outside Tokyo to be used as material in the manufacture of a Toyota Corolla, which was then shipped to Seattle and transported to a car dealer in San Francisco, where Mr. Winchester purchased it and accompanied it back across the Pacific Ocean to Western Australia to show to the man who had excavated the iron ore in the first place. "I guess we are all linked," the man said. "Even if we never think we are."

Mr. Winchester then points out that despite widespread globalization of the kind detailed in his example, many Americans are largely ignorant of the world outside their own borders. Only thirty percent have passports and only ten percent can speak a second language. He argues that "To fully appreciate that we are all passengers on the same vast planet, it's essential to go and see the intricacies of humankind for yourself." And he backs up his argument with this quote from Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." He ends the article on a hopeful note by encouraging the reader to get themselves a passport and "embark on [their] own journey toward greater awareness."

Nan and I have been fortunate to travel extensively in the last few years, meeting and befriending people everywhere we go. There is no more life-affirming experience than to be a part of the lives of people from other countries and cultures, even if only for a short time, and to realize that once you get past the superficial differences of language, dress and custom, we are all very much the same. We all share the same need for love and friendship, the same desire to find meaning in our lives, and the same hope for a better future.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Miami in January

As I mentioned in the recent "Wild Iris" post, Paul Caouette and his wife Honey have invited Nan and me to join them when they go to Miami to work on their boat next month. I have decided to take them up on their inviation, but Nan is going to go home to Wisconsin instead.

During a phone conversation a few weeks ago, Paul and I talked about Wild Iris, his 1977 Valiant 40, and the work that needs to be done to prepare her for their anticipated trans-Atlantic passage in May. The older Valiants do not have self-tailing winches as standard equipment, so Paul would like to replace them some day, but in the meantime, one of them needs to be rebuilt. In an email exchange, Paul mentioned that he also needs to reinstall his anchor roller after a recent anchoring mishap in the Bahamas.

These are just two items on an endless list of tasks that need to be done between now and May. I think it's probably impossible to be overly prepared for a trip across the Atlantic. With only two landfalls, in Bermuda and the Azores, between Miami and Spain, there is little room for error, whether in judgment or in equipment failure. So I don't envy Paul and Honey their preparations, but I am more than happy to help them in any way I can in exchange for the opportunity to spend some time on a Valiant 40, the boat of my dreams. And if we can get the sails back from repairs, maybe we'll even be able to take Wild Iris out for a sail.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

See it while you can

In thinking about Sam, I am reminded of a conversation we had a couple of months ago about plans for future trips. He was getting excited about the upcoming ski season and his plans to go helicopter skiing in January with a group of friends up in British Columbia. I told him about a dream I had to join the Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. guides (http://www.rmiguides.com) for a combination climb of Kilimanjaro and wildlife safari in Tanzania. I wanted to maybe try to go in 2010, before the mountain's snowcap had melted away entirely.

Sam said, "People used to talk about places they wanted to see during their lifetimes. Now they talk about seeing those places before they're gone."

In these uncertain times, with world climate change, terrorism and economic crisis, Sam makes a very good point. I only regret that he is no longer alive to share in the adventures, while we still can.

We miss you, Sam

I found out this morning in an email message at work that the coroner's report had come back with the results from the investigation into the cause of my friend Sam's death. He died of natural causes related to a gastrointestinal bleed.

Before, I didn't know what to think. Part of me thought that Sam had given up hope after his recent misfortunes and decided to end his life. And that made me angry, that he didn't reach out to his friends and family for support. Another part of me thought that maybe he had some genuine health issues that caused his death. And that made me sad, that he didn't seek medical attention before it was too late. Now that we know what happened, the sadness has overtaken the anger and I am grieving his loss.

For a glimpse of the character who was Sam, take a look at this video of him juggling tangerines at our IT department's retreat last year. We miss you, Sam.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sam

Sam on Castleabra Peak in September 2006I found out last week that a good friend of mine had died suddenly. Sam was just 33 years old. The shock of it is still reverberating in my mind. I can't stop thinking about him and wondering what happened.

Sam started working in the IT Department at Aspen Valley Hospital almost three years ago, at about the same time that I was rehired after a two-year hiatus. Despite our seventeen-year age difference, we had much in common--skiing, mountaineering and a love of movies--so we quickly became friends.

In September 2006, the two of us backpacked up into the Conundrum Valley south of Aspen and set up camp at the hot springs there. The next day we summited Castleabra, a 13,803-foot peak that is one of the hundred highest in Colorado. After climbing all fifty-four of Colorado's "14ers," which is another thing we had in common, Sam was on a mission to climb the rest of what are oddly referred to as the "Century Peaks." That's Sam sitting on top of Castleabra, with Castle Peak (14,265 feet) behind him. (Click the image for a 1280 x 960 version.) The original plan called for us to also try to knock off Conundrum Peak, which is out of view to the left of Castle Peak, but high winds and clouds forced us back down to camp, where we soaked our tired bodies in the hot springs while drinking cold beers. It was a memorable trip, but it was the only one we ever took together.

We did ski together quite a bit though, and Sam always wanted to ski the most difficult terrain he could find. Whenever we skied at Aspen Highlands, he had to "hike the Bowl" and leap the cornices at the top, slicing down the incredibly steep gut at speeds that were just "ridonculous"--one of Sam's favorite expressions. He entered the annual extreme skiing competition at Snowmass the past two years and just missed making the final day's cutoff last year.

So how could a young man possessed of such abundant energy and fearlessness be struck down in his prime? Nobody seems to know. Most of his friends didn't find out that he had died until more than a week after it happened, me included.

Nan and I had loose plans to meet Sam and a girlfriend at the Coldplay concert in Denver or at the hotel where we were all staying, but we didn't see them. Nan checked at the front desk on our last morning and found out that he had canceled his reservation. I could have called Sam but I didn't. The two of us had had an unresolved argument the Friday before and I was letting him stew. I figured, if we run into him, fine. Otherwise, no big deal. But then we returned home and there was still no word. Then it was Thanksgiving and we were up in Aspen to spend it with friends. When we got home the next day, I checked my work email and read the notice of Sam's death from my boss. That explained the absence and the silence.

Later reports estimated that Sam had died on the Wednesday before the Friday, November 21, Coldplay concert. His roommate found him that weekend when he returned from being out of town. There was no sign of violence or evidence of suicide, just Sam dead in his bed. I understand that an autopsy was performed but the results have not been made public.

In his own way, Sam was a troubled individual. His parents divorced when he was young and he claimed that it completely screwed up his life. He could be difficult to deal with at times, swinging quickly from great exuberance to deep depression. "Hot and cold running Sam," I sometimes said. He had recently been seeing a psychiatrist and taking an anti-depressant to help control his emotions, but his spirits took a decidedly negative turn when he was fired in mid-October after the final straw in a series of blow-ups with fellow employees. Failing to find suitable employment right away only deepened his depression.

But Sam was in high spirits the last time I saw him, when he invited me over to his place for pizza and beer, and to watch the Election returns on his huge TV. Barack Obama's campaign had energized Sam's interest in politics and with too much time on his hands, he had become a serious news junkie. When Ohio went to Obama and we knew he was going to win, we cheered and high-fived like our team had just scored a touchdown. He was in a great mood then, like the future was still as bright as ever, and that is the way I will remember him.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Wild Iris"

Last weekend, when Nan and I were in Denver for the Coldplay concert, we met Paul and Honey Caouette on Saturday morning for breakfast. Paul had contacted me by email a couple of months before based on a posting he read on a Valiant owners group website about my experience with "Sea Hawk," the Valiant 40 I looked at in Fort Lauderdale (Boat Quest, Part 7 and Boat Quest, Part 9). In his message, Paul said that they lived in Denver but owned a Valiant 40 in Miami, and he was wondering if I would be interested in helping them sail the boat to Spain next May.

The four of us hit it off well, chatting about everything from John Irving's books to sailing, of course, to Paul's acting in community theatre, all in the course of a breakfast at Dixon's in LoDo that stretched to almost three hours. Paul told the story of how he had come to own a well-equipped 1977 Valiant 40, the result of his winning an IRS auction. That was almost five years ago. Since then, he and Honey have sailed "Wild Iris" (formerly "Chanticleer") up and down the Florida coast and across to the Bahamas for an extended cruise. They travel to Florida every couple of months to check on the boat and take her out for a sail. She is currently swinging on a mooring in Key Biscayne.

Now Paul and Honey are ready to sail across the Atlantic, with the idea of touring the coast of Spain and exploring the Mediterranean. They are hoping to set sail in May: "Anchors aweigh on the seventh of May," as Paul puts it. The idea is for their departure to correspond with Paul's official retirement, but given current economic conditions, he's keeping his options open. Regardless, the plan is in the works; they just need to sign on additional crew to make it a safe and pleasant voyage.

If it were up to me, I'd say sure, let's join them on their trans-Atlantic passage, but Nan is less confident. It's at least a three-week commitment depending on the weather conditions, and they will be unlike anything we have ever experienced. So I don't blame her. Near the end of breakfast, Paul and Honey invited us to join them when they go to check on the boat in mid-January, and that might be a good time to see if we're really up to the challenge of making the passage with them. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Coldplay in Denver

Coldplay at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 21, 2008 - Photo 1The summer (or is it more like the year?) of music has finally wound down. We were in Denver on Friday night for the Coldplay concert at the Pepsi Center, our last concert of the year. We saw the band play there in February, 2006 during their X&Y tour, and it was stunning to see how much they have changed in just three short years. (Click the photos for full-size views.)

Coldplay at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 21, 2008 - Photo 2Back then, their stage show was almost spartan, with just a single screen of bright lights behind the band and the usual colored spotlights up above. This time around, on their Viva la Vida tour, they expanded the show to include almost the entire arena. The stage featured wings extending out into the audience on both sides, there were projection screens about halfway back so the cheap-seat crowd (like us) could get a better view, and there were large spheres hanging from above with projectors inside that showed everything from images of the band to simulations of a cloud-covered earth. The light show was also greatly enhanced, with lasers and bright spotlights projecting out into the audience.

Coldplay at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 21, 2008 - Photo 3The overall feeling was one of inclusiveness, like everyone there was not just a spectator but an active part of the show. This was especially true when the band used the stage wings as mini-stages for the whole group to gather for a song, or sometimes just for Chris Martin and his piano to play a solo number.

Coldplay at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 21, 2008 - Photo 4At one point, the band members set down their instruments and rushed up the aisle and then up the stairs to a back corner of the stands, where they picked up guitars and mandolins for an acoustic performance of "The Scientist." Unfortunately, the lights were so bright that I couldn't get a decent photo using my iPhone, which has a pretty crumby built-in camera, but regular cameras were not allowed so it was the best I could do.

Coldplay at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 21, 2008 - Photo 5The confetti that fell near the end of the show was actually colored paper in the shape of butterflies. It fluttered magically in the lights to the end, finally settling in time for the single-song encore of "Yellow," Coldplay's first big hit from their 2000 album, Parachutes.

It was a magical show, and it prompted me to download Coldplay's follow-up EP, Prospekt's March, earlier today off the iTunes store. It's a great musical complement to Viva la Vida and will keep us thinking about the concert for many weeks to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Howdy from another sailing dreamer"

Sometimes I think my life is just a little too complicated to ever allow my sailing dream to come true, but then I hear from a reader like Aaron Evans, who is living about the most complicated life I have heard of in some time. And yet he shares the same dream:

I live in Seattle with my wife Kelsey and newborn son Harmon. We got married last year. We started dating a couple years before that. I'd been trying to avoid any entanglements because I was moving to Fiji to try to start a tourism business. I'd visited before on vacation, and had local friends.

The plan was to partner with a village and do "survival tours," basically camping on the beach and learning to climb coconut trees, spear fish, and start a fire without matches. I didn't know if we'd target Jeremiah Crusoe wannabes (like myself) or wave palm fronds over Thurston Hemingway wannabes (like myself) and do catered lovos (Fijian luaus) but figured there was a market for both.

This was to be a scouting trip, where I'd get some contacts lined up, and then come back to arrange financing and market it. It didn't work out quite right, partially because I was lazy, and partly because I realized it was a bigger project than I thought, but the biggest problem was that I fell in love right before leaving. Kelsey got me to promise I'd come back, and so after three months I did.

While in Fiji, I realized I'd need a boat, or partner with someone who had a boat, so I went to the Royal Suva Yacht Club looking for contacts. On the bulletin board there I saw a posting for a crew-wanted position to Australia. Taking this as a hopeful "in," I contacted the skipper by email. It turns out that the autopilot was broken and he needed helm watches. I'd never sailed before, but convinced him I could do it.

In Fiji they have a saying, "Fiji Time," which means essentially "whenever." While tourists might get frustrated with "Fiji Time," I learned it's nothing compared to "Yachtie Time." Long story short, I spent several weeks waiting for the boat to finally leave, after picking up extra crew and eventually even getting the autopilot fixed.

In the meantime, I became friends with the skipper, Alan Toone, and another sailor, a young single-hander from England, Tony. I sailed around Fiji with Tony, and helped him get a few paying crew that helped him buy enough food and fuel to make it to New Zealand.

Finally, I went with Alan to Australia, buying a surfboard in Fiji that I lugged around, planning to use it for a couple weeks and give that country a proper tour. By the time we got to Brisbane, there was only enough time to clear customs, sleep on the boat, and catch a taxi to the airport the next morning, stopping at a thrift shop to buy a sleeping bag and some tape that I used to wrap the surfboard in to take on the plane.

I learned a little about sailing, and developed some friendships, but hadn't spent much time doing what I planned to do, and besides, I was hooked. Unfortunately, I only had a little over a week left in Fiji. I made the most of it. Finally got to one the outer islands on the local freight ship and stayed with friends, and even got in a day of surfing (or rather, floating outside the break, being intimidated by the surf.) I caught a fish on the boat ride back though, and we had a couple of really good lovos. Apart from a confusing mix-up with the daughter of my host, it was a great time.

I returned to Seattle, Kelsey picked me up at the airport, and I remembered I loved her. I got another job doing what I hated, but tried to make the most of it and sock away money for a boat. I tried to sate my appetite with a Hobie cat on Lake Washington, but Kelsey took most of my time.

I heard from Tony, who'd washed up on the beach in Australia after a storm and dead engine, but minimal damage, and no complaints. He met an American girl down under and plied his trade through Oz, Indonesia, and Thailand. He was looking to sell his boat, a Cascade 42, and I wanted to buy it, but had about $5000 less than he needed. I thought about getting a cash advance on my credit card, buying a plane ticket and a bag of rice when I got there, and trying to sail backwards across the Pacific, but instead I got married two months later.

Kelsey knew my plans, and had agreed to them, even taking sailing lessons and chartering with our families in the San Juan Islands the year before we got married, but she had her own dream: Ecuador.

Before we were dating, she'd spent a year in Ecuador as a volunteer at an orphanage. We've been back for Christmas a couple times, taking gifts to the kids and visiting friends. On one return trip we spent a few days in Florida, visiting the Everglades, the Keys, and the King Tut exhibit in Ft. Lauderdale. We learned two disappointing facts. She gets seasick (discovered on an amazing Sail-fishing trip off Key West), and the King Tut exhibit was a sham. No gold tombs, or even a facemask. Re-created artifacts and artists' "conceptions ," and a lot of large cardboard posters. After paying something like $60 and waiting in line for 3 hours. I can't believe there wasn't a riot from dissatisfied museum-goers.

Anyway, we got married, I spent all my time shopping for boats online, and one day while she was away at a work conference, she called me up. She listened patiently to me describe the newest boat I was interested in (a Wauquiez 32), and then announced that she wanted to move to Ecuador and start a program for the orphans there. One for childhood development, and another for troubled teens. I said sure. So four months after getting married, I quit my job again and we moved to Ecuador for 6 months.

While she worked with the kids, I worked on a business plan. I do software testing and web development, but always get testing jobs, and do a little development on the side. I'd finally decided I'll try to develop testing tools. I'd reconciled myself to a career, but wanted to be my own boss, and more importantly, wanted to have an income that I could generate from anywhere. I made some progress, and tried to recruit some local talent, but the pool was small, and I didn't speak Spanish.

Well, one day at the end of January, we found out the news that she was hoping for. She was too sick to do any work for the next few weeks, so we went home a bit early. And I got another job. On October 24th, 2 weeks late, she had a 10 pound, 12 ounce baby boy. We called him Harmon after my grandfather.

Of course, I'm practically out of money now, and my priorities have changed, but I hope in the next couple years we'll ready to sail away. Back to Ecuador, to Fiji, to the Mediterranean, and of course, everywhere else. I owe my dad a trip up the inside passage to Alaska, too.

I'm chomping at the bit to try and get my own business going, which I feel has real potential, but there's the thought that if I take the risk, I could set the boat back a few more years. On the other hand, if it succeeds, it could make the dream a permanent reality. A high speed satellite connection would only be around $15,000 extra and maybe a thousand a month. That's less than I pay on rent now. Or we could park the boat every few months, and at the very least I could get a contract job.

Anyway, that's my story. It's a foggy day, but I can just see Puget Sound through the window behind my back at work, and the winters are long and rainy here.

-Aaron Evans

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Virgin Money Atlantic Challenge

On October 22, I received this email message from Virgin Money:

Hi John,

I represent Virgin Money and am spreading the word about the latest and greatest happenings. I came across Whispering Jesse, saw that you were a sailing/boating enthusiast, and thought you this news would pique your interest!

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of The Virgin Group, set sail early this morning with the America’s Cup Challenger, TEAMORIGIN. The squad will be attempting to break the transatlantic sailing record from New York to the U.K., which currently stands at 6 days, 17 hrs, 52 minutes and 39 seconds, to become the indisputable fastest mono-hull sailing yacht to cross the Atlantic. The Virgin Money yacht is equipped with the finest and most experienced crew. Coming straight off gold medals in Beijing are Ben Ainslie, Lain Percy, and Andrew Simpson.

Sir Richard Branson will be blogging daily so you can follow the adventures right alongside the Virgin Money boat. Check out the following site for information and updates!

http://www.virginmoneyus.com/challenge

If you’d like any additional info about the challenge, or about the Virgin Money company, please feel free to let me know. The whole crew at Virgin Money is excited to take on such an adventure and hopefully you will be too!

Take Care,
Kelly

Kelly Yahr
Virgin Money
kyahr@virginmoneyus.com

Virgin Money helps people access affordable and flexible credit, offering unique financial services and a customer experience that most banks cannot match. The main idea being that you can now formally borrow money from your friends and family, while Virgin Money lends a hand in the process. With money from friends and family, you can pick your own interest rate and loan terms to best fit your situation. Rather than giving interest to a bank, you can keep it in the family – often adding up to thousands of dollars of savings. What could be better?

Website: http://www.virginmoneyus.com/
MySpace: http://groups.myspace.com/virginmoneyus
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/pages/Virgin-Money/23335479119
YouTube: http://youtube.com/virginmoneyus
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/virginmoney

----------

Very ambitious! Unfortunately, I read on MSNBC.com that the attempt was aborted after just two days, and Sir Richard's blog confirmed it:

"After approximately 2 days and 4 hours at sea in the face of impossible odds the crew of Virgin Money had to admit defeat on their first attempt to set a new world record for the fastest mono-hull crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. After 2 days that saw the crew and Virgin Money overcome seas of 40ft and gale force winds of between 7 and 9 their dreams were finally dashed when a 'monster wave' took out the spinnaker, washed a ten man life boat overboard and ripped a huge gash in the mainsail."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Boat Quest, Part 12

Book of Boat Designs by Glen-L Marine DesignsIn Boat Quest, Part 2, I mentioned a catalog of boat plans that Phil LeBoutillier had shown me back in 1996. I thought it was Fifty Wooden Boats, published by WoodenBoat, but I was wrong. I found my copy of the catalog recently while going through a box of stuff in the garage. It was the Book of Boat Designs by Glen-L Marine Designs, and its front cover appears in the image above. (Click the images for full-size views.)

Dinky dinghy from Book of Boat Designs by Glen-L Marine DesignsI flipped through the catalog and quickly found the plans that Phil had ordered for building a plywood dinghy, "Dinky," for his trawler in the Bahamas. I flipped further and found my dream plans, for the "Amigo," a fiberglass or strip-planked wooden 28-foot sloop (22 feet without the bowsprit) that I thought I could build in a large garage.

Looking back on my thinking of that time, I have to ask, what was I thinking? Build a large, heavy sailboat in seriously landlocked Colorado? Even if I could complete the project, how would I get the thing to water? The plans call the Amigo "a trailerable offshore cruiser," which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. The listed displacement is over 5000 pounds! Forgetting the trailering idea, it would probably cost more to transport the boat than it would to buy a modest fiberglass fixer-upper in a coastal area.

Amigo sloop from Book of Boat Designs by Glen-L Marine DesignsThat boat-building dream was even more fanciful than the circum-navigation one. No wonder it soon gave way to the obsession with the MacGregor 26 and the other boats that followed. But, you know, if I ever do get a boat, it's going to need a dinghy and nothing says that that dinghy needs to be an inflatable. Maybe I should put the catalog away in a safe place, just in case.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Circumnavigation Routes, Part 4

Chasing Sunsets: A Practicing Devout Coward's Circumnavigation by Lawrence PaneBefore we left for Mexico, I placed an Amazon.com order for the book recommended to me by "Melissa" in a comment to the first of these Circumnavigation Routes posts, Chasing Sunsets: A Practicing Devout Coward's Circumnavigation by Lawrence Pane. While I was at it, I also ordered Hal Roth's How to Sail Around the World: Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail, which I have wanted since browsing through it in a bookstore a few years ago.

Vacations are great opportunities for "power reading" and I had planned to spend many hours reading Chasing Sunsets. The book tells the story of the Pane family, Lawrence ("Laurie"), wife Carole and son Ryan, who set sail on their circumnavigation from Marina Del Ray, California in March, 1996 aboard their 1987 Mason 53 center cockpit cutter, Dolphin Spirit, and arrived back home in April, 2002. It sounds like a great premise, but I found myself starting to lose interest only sixty pages into it, for a number of reasons.

The book lists Carole and Ryan as co-authors, and the narrative is liberally sprinkled with their comments, as italicized asides in their own words. I found this format to be distracting, especially since many of the comments added little to the story aside from a slightly different perspective on what Laurie had just presented. Carole's comments tended to create a less than positive image of her personality. She was a reluctant participant in the adventure and lets the reader know this, repeatedly. I found myself thinking: you're doing something most people only dream of; you're doing it with your family, which includes a husband who is a safe, competent sailor; you're doing it on a large sailboat that features every conceivable convenience; and you're doing it while sparing no expense. What is the problem?

Another complaint I have is that the Pane family's voyage seemed unrealistically luxurious, way beyond the financial reach of most people and therefore difficult to relate to. The nine-year-old, fifty-three foot, totally tricked-out sailboat? Laurie mentions that it was paid for before the trip began. He politely doesn't mention the price, but a boat like that must have cost at least $500,000. Six years without substantial income? Laurie estimates that the trip cost about $40,000 a year in expenses, or $240,000 for the whole trip. It all adds up to a lot of money. I would rather read a story about people closer to my own means, people who are sailing their dream in a modestly sized boat while being as self-sufficient as possible, people like Hal Roth, whom I will get to shortly.

Even without the comments by Carole and Ryan, the narrative tends to read like a travelogue, with too much "we did this and then we did that" to provide a compelling storyline. After the first two chapters, I started flipping to the back of the book to check the appendices and the color photographs. There I found some good concise information: answers to frequently asked questions, covering everything from the threat of piracy to the best places visited; a complete equipment list, including spare parts; and a comprehensive bibliography listing all the pilot guides and other books referenced during the voyage.

As I read the appendices, I recalled that "Melissa" had referred to Chasing Sunsets as a great reference for planning a circumnavigation, and I can agree with that. When the time comes, I might check the book for information about such details as the best anchorages in Tahiti, but for now, I am setting it aside.

How to Sail Around the World: Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail by Hal RothHal Roth's book, despite its title, is not a step-by-step guide for sailing around the world. Instead it is a collection of twenty-nine short articles detailing the knowledge that Hal and his wife Margaret have gained over a lifetime of sailing. It begins with the dream of traveling the world and then outlines the advantages and economy of doing it in a sailboat. Hal makes it all seem so romantic and so possible. He favors providence over preparation, encouraging the reader to get out there and sail, not to sit at the dock fretting over endless equipment and to-do lists.

Simplicity naturally leads to thrift. For example, Hal sails without refrigeration and rarely uses his boat's diesel engine. But he doesn't skimp on safety, and there are several chapters on "storm management." I didn't read the book straight through but rather jumped from chapter to chapter as interest dictated. One of my personal cruising concerns is about how to handle the necessary paperwork for clearing in and out of foreign countries. Hal dedicates an entire chapter to the process, with plenty of real-life examples. He concludes with a chapter entitled "The Dream and the Reality," some final thoughts and advice on the sailing life, including the admonition to "have some fun every day."

While both books made me daydream about sailing away, only Hal Roth's book made it seem like a practical undertaking, an adventure that could begin right away instead of an expensive fantasy for some distant future. Excellent advice and an encouraging tone make How to Sail Around the World a book that every sailing dreamer should have on his shelf.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

President Barack Obama

Like there was ever a doubt. Or at least that's what we tell ourselves after a wish becomes reality.

But the anticipation, the not knowing, makes our stomachs hurt. That's how I felt yesterday, Election Day, while waiting for a moment I had been expecting for four long years, since the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when Barack Obama was introduced to the world through his keynote address.

Something bad is going to happen, I kept thinking. It's too good to be true. But then Ohio turned blue and it took only moments to add in the west coast votes to reach a total beyond 270. When those west coast polls closed, it was official.

I watched McCain's concession speech and wondered why he hadn't displayed such nobility and candor in his stump speeches. I watched Obama's victory speech and believed, as I did on 9/11, that everything has changed.

At odd moments during the day today, I thought, oh yeah, Obama is our new president. And it made me feel good, like the future is going to be just fine. Like there was ever a doubt.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Grado to Gibraltar Update

John Kretschmer and I had a good talk over the phone last Thursday night. Due to work demands, it's not going to work out for me to help him with delivering his sailboat Quetzal from Grado, Italy to Gibraltar, Spain. He still has a crew of four, counting himself, so he thinks he'll be able to manage just fine.

John told me that the new mast has been delivered from the Selden Company to the boatyard in Grado. He and Bob Pingel, who is a good friend of John and owns a boat rigging outfit in Wisconsin, were supposed to fly out this past Monday to step the mast and finish up preparations for a November 1 departure.

Perhaps to make me feel better, John told me the trip was not going to be much fun: almost 2000 nautical miles with only two planned stops, one in Messina, Sicily and another in Mallorca, Spain. He was hoping to make it to Gibraltar by November 15 in order to return home for a week before his scheduled November 22 trans-Atlantic departure, but he wasn't too optimistic about that.

I shouldn't be too disappointed. There will be other sailing opportunities. Nan and I already have plans for next year. Details to follow.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Lighthouse on Isla MujeresNan and I spent the first eleven days of October on Isla Mujeres, our fifth trip to the island in ten years. We stayed at Color de Verano, just like we did during our last trip in May 2005, except that this time we rented the penthouse instead of one of the apartments below. The views alone were worth the rate difference. The first photo shows the view from our balcony looking south along Avenida Rueda Medina, including the lighthouse and beyond it Bahía de Isla Mujeres and the ferry docks. (Click the photos for full-size views.)

Playa Norte on Isla MujeresThe second photo shows the view to the west, across the five miles of the Caribbean that separate Isla Mujeres from Cancun. Since most of the sand on Playa Norte was scoured away by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, especially near the Hotel Na Balam, where we stayed during our first two trips and where we would normally use the beach, we found ourselves using the beach you see in the photo instead. With the almost-white sand, the sun is too intense to stay out in for long, so we set up our apartment's folding beach chairs in the shade under the palm trees for afternoon sessions of power reading and frequent dips in the ocean. The ship you see in the distance is the Punta Sam car ferry, which makes five runs a day.

Nan with Juan Gomez Chan, his wife Paola, his son Manolo and his daughter, PaolinaOn Thursday, our first full day, we did a morning walk around the beach to the Hotel Na Balam to see if our friend Juan Gomez Chan was still working there. We had tried to email him to let him know we were coming, but his addresses were no longer valid. He was surprised but thrilled to see us when we entered the hotel's waterfront restaurant, as were our other Na Balam friends, Victor and Mario. After smiles and hugs, we made plans with Juan to meet for dinner on his next night off. That Monday evening, Juan's wife Paola, his son Manolo and his daughter Paolina met us at our apartment. They were familiar with the building but had never been inside, so we gave them a quick tour. Juan told us he was building a new house and wanted to get some design ideas. Color de Verano was designed and built by Louis Joliot and his wife Teresa. The café on the ground floor and the apartments above are filled with furniture designed and created at Louis's furniture factory in Cancun. Much of it is teak and incorporates a nautical sensibility which is well suited to island life. Juan and his family were suitably impressed. As we walked down Avenida Hidalgo to Rolandi's for pizza, Juan talked about his building project and invited us to see it.

Front of Juan Gomez Chan's under-construction house on Isla MujeresWe met Juan at his home in the Colonia Salina Grande on Wednesday afternoon. The kids were home from school and the house was bustling with activity. Juan introduced us to his two frisky Chihuahuas and his parrot as we sat in the living room drinking beers. Juan had wanted me to look at a problem he was having with his laptop computer, but his oldest son, Juan, Jr., had taken it to school in Cancun that day. When we finished our beers, Juan said we should walk over to look at his new house. It was about a half-mile away along a walkway that bordered the Salina Grande, the large saltwater lake located right in the center of the island. When we reached the end of the walkway, we turned right, walked to the top of a hill, and there it was. Juan's house project was much further along than we had thought it would be. Because of the frequent hurricanes, everything is built out of heavy cinderblocks and cement, and all of the walls, floors and ceilings were already in place. Juan's English is much better than our Spanish, so we can usually find a middle ground to make ourselves understood, but not always.

Back of Juan Gomez Chan's under-construction house on Isla MujeresNan and I had been led to expect a vacant lot with maybe some trenches dug for the foundations, but this was considerably more than that. Maybe Juan was just being modest. We walked up a spiral staircase to the second floor and admired the views of Salina Grande to the east and the Laguna Macax to the west. Juan explained that we were actually in his wife's sister's half of the house. His family's half was on the other side. Just as they shared a duplex in their current living situation, they were building the new house as a duplex they would also share. Juan envisioned turning the front part of his side into a small neighborhood restaurant, where Paola would cook her wonderful food and he would serve the customers. With that, he said it was time to go back and try Paola's pollo mole. It was superb, made using chiles that gave the taste of chocolate without the need for adding real chocolate of any kind. We told Paola she needed to be sure to put the dish on the menu at her new restaurant. She beamed.

Statue of the Fishermen on Isla MujeresWe had neglected to take a camera with us to Juan's house, so we returned the next day in a rented golf cart in the rain to take some pictures. According to Juan, the small arch at the back of the house is situated over a working well which was already on the property and which he plans to continue using.

While we were motoring around in the golf cart, we stopped by Louis and Teresa's latest project, a new three-unit apartment building located on the Laguna Macax. Teresa had invited us to see it when we ran into her earlier in the week, and we're glad we did. It was beautifully done, with many unique touches, like an air-conditioned, glass-enclosed bedroom overlooking a main living area featuring a tiled pool with an arched wooden footbridge. It got us to thinking about what it would be like to spend an extended time on the island.

Color de Verano, Jax and Lighthouse on Isla MujeresAll the while we were on Isla Mujeres, crews were working on the statue situated at the intersection of Avenida Rueda Medina and Avenida Adolfo Lopez Mateos, directly below our balcony. On Thursday we found out why. The statue commemorates the fishermen and their wives who resettled the island after it was abandoned by the ancient Mayans. October 9 is the local "El día del pescador," the day of the fisherman, so there was a rededication cermony that day, with flowers, dignataries and speeches.

Brisas Grill on Isla MujeresAfter taking photos of the statue, it occurred to me that we didn't have any photos of our apartment, so I crossed the street and snapped some shots of it to put everything into perspective. The penthouse is at the top of the yellow building on the left. We spent a fair amount of time at Jax, the sports bar right next door, in the center of the photo, that is run by American expatriots, Michael and Jackie. That's Nan on one of the blue bar stools.

On our last night, we stopped by the Brisas Grill, which overlooks the dock that accommodates the Isla Contoy tour boats. Juan had told us that Ventura, one of our old friends from the Hotel Na Balam, was working there. He was, and we chatted with him about the good old days and what everybody we had known was up to now. We drank wine as we watched the sun set for the final time and had our photo taken by a nice couple from Indianapolis who were celebrating their second honeymoon. Then it was off to Jax for a final dinner of excellent seafood before catching the ferry back to reality the next morning.

Nan and John at Brisas Grill on Isla Mujeres, with Ballyhoo in backgroundOn the long trip home, our talk returned to the idea of spending an extended time on Isla Mujeres. We have both wanted to get better at Spanish, so we could use the time to take daily lessons and immerse ourselves in the language. I can do my job from anywhere I can get a high-speed Internet connection, so I could work enough to keep some income coming in. But what about Scout? Nan emailed Teresa when we got home to ask if she would consider renting the penthouse to us and our well-behaved dog for a month. Being a dog lover herself, she said yes. So next September, we are going to drive down to Cancun by way of Santa Fe, San Antonio (Hello, Shepherds!), Tampico and Campeche, and catch the Punta Sam car ferry over to the island for our first experience with what would essentially be living abroad. ¡Debe ser una aventura!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tom Bodett

Nan and I just got back from our fifth visit in ten years to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. There will be more on that, including photos, in my next blog post, but I wanted to share something in the meantime, an email exchange I just had with Tom Bodett:

On Oct 14, 2008, at 10:11 PM, John Lichty wrote:

Tom—

I have enjoyed your work for years, from the Motel 6 ads to Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, including being in the audience for the taping of the show in Aspen a few years ago, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no idea you were also a writer.

My wife and I just returned from renting an apartment for a couple weeks on Isla Mujeres. It’s located across from Cancun and is a great place to vacation if you ever get the chance. Anyway, there was a book exchange shelf in the lobby and on it I found a hardcover copy of The Free Fall of Webster Cummings. Wow, I thought, an actual Tom Bodett book! Who knew? I picked it up and started reading immediately. By the time I got to "snap-on crab bait," I was laughing out loud and completely hooked. What a great story, full of unique characters and warm humor. I can’t wait to see what happens to Norman Tuttle in your new book.

Thank you for all you do. Keep up the good work!

—John Lichty
Grand Junction, Colorado

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His reply from this morning:

From: Tom Bodett [mailto:tbodett@gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 5:30 AM
To: John Lichty
Cc: Tom Bodett
Subject: Re: "Free Fall"

Thanks for the note, John. I'm glad to hear these old books of mine are still finding their way to folks like you.

My best,

Tom

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How cool is that? If you're interested, here's a link to Tom's website: http://www.bodett.com/.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Dandy Warhols in Aspen

Poster for the Dandy Warhols at the Belly Up in AspenThe summer of music continues. Nan and I have been big fans of The Dandy Warhols since the release of their third album, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, back in 2000. Last night we finally got the opportunity to see them perform live. They played the Belly Up in Aspen, a nightclub we know well from our twenty-plus years living in Aspen. So we drove up for a wild night of psychedelic rock and roll starting with The Upsidedown and Darker My Love.

I stopped by the souvenir stand before the show started with the idea of buying a Dandys t-shirt. It turned out that Brett Kron, the guitarist from The Upsidedown, was behind the table. We chatted for a few minutes about his band's relationship to both the Dandys and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. All are part of the vibrant Portland, Oregon music scene. I also met Bob Graham Mild, The Upsidedown's drummer, when he stopped by.

I found a good-looking shirt but they only took cash, so I went off to find an ATM. When I returned, a different guy was behind the table. He introduced himself as Travis, one of the sound people for The Dandy Warhols and Zia McCabe's husband. Zia is the band's eclectic keyboardist. Like an idiot, the first thing I could think to ask was, "How many kids do you guys have now?" That made Travis laugh. "Just one," he responded. We talked for a few minutes about what a great place Aspen is and how well the band's tour was going. They had played to a packed house at the Gothic in Denver the night before and were headed to Los Angeles in the morning. He asked if there was any particular Dandys song I wanted to hear. How about "We Used To Be Friends", I asked. "I'll tell Courtney to be sure to play it," he said.

The show started at about 10:00 with The Upside Down. The similarities to the Dandys were immediately noticeable: guitar-heavy pop melodies with strong buzzy undercurrents. I was glad that Brett had also talked me into buying the band's new CD, Human Destination.

Darker My Love was next, and they were just that: darker. The guitar parts were complicated and the band members concentrated more on their playing than on their stage presence. There were interesting tempos and change-ups, but it was not the type of music I would rush out to buy.

The Dandy Warhols in Concert at the Belly Up in AspenAt midnight, The Dandy Warhols hit the stage with "Moham-med" [Not "Solid" as originally written. Thanks for the correction, Zia!], followed immediately by my requested song. Travis wasn't kidding, I thought. Nan and I had good seats, but we wanted to get closer so we spent the rest of the concert on the dance floor, pogoing around like crazy to an hour and a half of really good, really loud music. If I had to describe it, the Dandys' music sounds like the Cowsills on acid, like "Aquarius" as performed by The Rolling Stones. The show ended with lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor doing a solo electric rendition of "Every Day Should Be A Holiday". If only!

Grado to Gibraltar?

One would think that moving a sailboat out of the water and into a secure boatyard would be the safest place to store it for an extended period. I'm sure John Kretschmer thought so when he left his boat, Quetzal, in dry storage in Grado, Italy. Quetzal is the 47-foot Kaufman cutter that Nan and I helped sail on our Odyssey trip this past spring. After we left the boat in Corfu, John sailed her with another group up the east coast of the Adriatic to Venice and then on to Grado, where he had her hauled out until he could return for the next passage.

A few weeks ago, I received an email message from Harry, another of the Odyssey crewmembers, that Quetzal had been seriously damaged. I confirmed the details in an email exchange with John. He said a tornado had struck the Grado boatyard and knocked Quetzal off her supports. Fortunately, she had fallen to starboard and landed on an inflatable boat so the hull damage was not severe, but not so fortunately, the mast and rigging came down on a powerboat next to the inflatable and on the fence beyond that. They were a total loss.

Instead of returning for his scheduled Trans-Med trip earlier this month, John returned to assess the damage and begin the process of making Quetzal sailable again. He ordered a new mast from the Selden company in France, at a cost of at least $20,000. With any luck, it should be delivered and installed in time for a November 1 departure. Then he'll need to hustle in order to meet a crew in Gibraltar, Spain in time for the November 22 start of the Trans-Atlantic passage he has had planned for over a year.

Since the Trans-Med passage was canceled, John will have no scheduled crew to help him sail from Grado to Gibraltar, so with Nan's approval, I volunteered. I offered to cover my own expenses in exchange for the opportunity to help John and one of the original Trans-Med couples sail Quetzal two thousand miles in two weeks, and John accepted. If it goes as I expect it will, with minimal landfalls and continuous overnight passages, it could be a serious experience builder. More details to follow.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Circumnavigation Routes, Part 3

In a comment to my first Circumnavigation Routes post from July 23, "Melissa" recommended the book Chasing Sunsets by Lawrence Pane to go along with the book I had written about, World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell. She said, "We used Chasing Sunsets as a reference book for getting ready to cruise and found its real-life information to be invaluable." That was all the convincing I needed, so I filed away the title in the mental checklist I keep for future Amazon.com orders.

As coincidence would have it, this month's Latitudes & Attitudes features a new column entitled "Cruising Tips" by none other than Lawrence Pane. Melissa was right; Mr. Pane knows his stuff. His tips on the timing of a circumnavigation are the natural complement to planning the route itself (and I quote):
  • Because of the cyclone season, the South Pacific cannot be entered before March and has to be exited by November.
  • Again because of cyclones, the Queensland, Australia coast is not safe to sail between November and March.
  • The most favorable conditions to go up the Red Sea are found in February, March and April.
  • The winter months, November to March, are bad months to sail in the Mediterranean.
  • The best time to cross the Atlantic Ocean is November and December.
  • June to October (sometimes November) is the hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean, so sailing in those months is dangerous.
This advice plays well into the idea of the discontinuous voyage that I presented in that first Circumnavigation Routes post. If you find yourself sailing in an area of the world that is about to enter an unfavorable weather pattern, you leave the boat and return later when it is safe to sail again. Of course, you would want to make sure the boat was safe from the weather, which could mean hauling it out and storing it "on the hard," but even that is not a foolproof strategy, as we will see in my next post.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dog Days

Scout the Golden Retriever at Dog Days in Grand JunctionSaturday, September 6, was the fourth annual Dog Days celebration at Lincoln Park in Grand Junction. It's a day for dogs and their owners to get out and have some fun. There is a run/walk in the morning and then the pool is open to dogs and their owners for the rest of the day.

Charlie loved Dog Days. He would be the first dog in line for the pool. As soon as they opened, I would throw a tennis ball out into the middle of the calm pool and Charlie would hit the edge at a full run, diving as far as he could, making a big splash, snagging the ball and dog paddling back for more. He would repeat this routine until we were both completely exhausted, him from all the running and swimming, and me from having to haul him out of the pool every time by his elbows. Twice Charlie was featured in mid-dive in photographs on the front pages of the local newspapers and once he was on the local TV news, swimming with a ball in his mouth.

Scout the Golden Retriever about to be launched into the Lincoln Park Pool during Dog DaysIn Charlie's memory, this year Nan and I took our puppy Scout, along with Hannah, a golden retriever we occasionally dog sit for. They were not as enthusiastic about the water as Charlie was. I think there is something about clear water that unnerves some dogs. They look past it to the bottom of the pool and think they're going to fall, so they stay clear. They might go down the stairs into the water, but that area of the pool was already crowded with wet dogs. So to get Scout and Hannah into the pool, I hip checked Hannah as she was standing at the edge, and I just picked Scout up and physically launched him about ten feet out into the water. Hannah swam right back to the edge, climbed out and shook off the water. Scout had never been in water over his head before and executed an exaggerated dog paddle, slapping the water with his front paws, to swim back to the edge, where I hauled him out. I tried to encourage him to go in by himself to retrieve the tennis balls that were floating around, but he wouldn't do it. A few more hip checks and launches, and they were both ready to call it quits.

Nan, Hannah and Scout at Dog Days in Grand JunctionA swimming pool is probably not the best introduction to swimming for a dog. We'll need to find a pond or lake in the area that's not too muddy and give it another try. In the meantime, we'll keep filling up the plastic kiddy pool in the backyard so Scout can at least wade around and stay cool.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Obama in Grand Junction

John Lichty at the Barack Obama rally in Grand Junction on September 15, 2008Barack Obama spoke in our town today. My friend Phillip Linville and I witnessed the historic event from just fifty feet away thanks to Phil's willingness to wait in line for three hours on Saturday to get us tickets. Still, after waiting another three hours this morning, nowhere near the front of the line, we were both amazed to be so close. It more than made up for not getting tickets to Obama's acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium during the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago.

The warm-up speakers were obviously excited to be sharing the stage with Obama and speaking before a crowd estimated at about 6,000 people. Notables included Governor Bill Ritter and Senator Ken Salazar, but the introduction duties fell to local citizen Bill Haggerty, who mangled Obama's name but scored points with the audience when he presented him with a locally grown peach.

Change We Need Event for Barack Obama in Grand Junction on September 15, 2008Obama's speech focused primarily on the economy, which was especially pertinent today given the failure of Lehman Brothers, the acquisition of Merrill Lynch and the record decline in the stock market. He also spoke about issues important to Western Colorado, particularly water rights and energy development. Overall, his message was one of hope for a better future for all Americans.

The importance of this election in deciding the future course of history, either change for the better or more of the same, was evident on the faces all around us. People were still waving their "Change We Need" signs as they walked back to the parking lot.

Seeing Barack Obama speak in person was a tremendously uplifting experience, one that could not be dampened by the protestors lining the entrance, not by the boy in the Denver Broncos jersey with the "Your [sic] in McCain country" sign and not by the young woman holding the racist "Got White Guilt?" banner. Has there ever been a greater divide in the way people think in this country?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Searching for epic hero Odysseus in the winds of history"

Anchored at Cape Sounion in the shadow of the Temple of PoseidonJohn Kretschmer's article about our Odyssey sailing trip was published in the Travel section of the Miami Herald today: "Searching for epic hero Odysseus in the winds of history" The Web version included three photos, two by John and one by me. John's are the two embedded in this post. Mine is the one of John in the left sidebar under My Photos.

It was interesting to read John's take on our adventure, which took place more than four months ago. Some of the details were not exactly as Nan and I remembered them, but then embellishment is the writer's prerogative. As John just emailed me, "The piece has a few fictions but not too many."

Pastel-colored fishing boats at Pythagorio on Samos, GreeceThe article balances the history and mythology of Odysseus with the details of our trip in fanciful ways, as if the Greek gods themselves were behind our misadventures. It is an entertaining read. If you read it online, there is a form at the bottom for submitting comments. I'm sure John would enjoy hearing from you.

My account of our trip is due to be published as a feature article in an upcoming issue of Latitudes & Attitudes. At least that's what Editor Sue has told me. It will be my first published piece, so I'm pretty excited about it. With any luck, it could create opportunities for future writing assignments. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Opinion vs. Fact

A few months ago, I had a brief argument with a person about whether or not Barack Obama is a Muslim. She said that she had heard from her friends and family and had read on the Internet that he is indeed a Muslim. I countered that I had seen interviews on TV and read in newspapers and magazines that his father was a Muslim but that Barack had been raised a Christian by his mother and grandparents, and that he is a member of a Christian church in Chicago. She shrugged and said that she could believe what she wanted to believe. That unexpected reaction threw me for a few seconds. Then I responded that there is a difference between facts and opinions. She shrugged again and walked away. Argument over.

I was reminded of that incident recently when John McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate. As a virtual unknown, the press dug into her background quickly. It's no secret that I support Obama and do not think too highly of his opposition, but some of the dirt on Sarah Palin still surprised me. Mostly it was the obvious pandering to the Christian fundamentalists. I expected the strident anti-abortion stand, but then it was reported that she was "skeptical" about evolution and global warming. I started looking around for something to throw at the TV.

It amazes me that people think it's acceptable to have opinions about the validity of scientific theories, as though the word "theory" lessens the truth somehow. What about the theory of gravity? Would anyone hold an opinion denying gravity? Why then would anyone deny scientifically proven theories confirming evolution and global warming? Because they don't fit certain religious principles or a particular worldview? A better idea, and one based on the scientific method, would be to adjust one's thinking to conform to observed, repeatable phenomena. Fossils have not been placed in the earth to test our faith. Faith has nothing to do with them. Faith is for phenomena lacking sufficient evidence one way or the other, like the existence of God.

Applying faith and opinion to matters of truth and fact is not intelligent. The idea that we might elect someone to the second highest office in our country who thinks this way should make all right-thinking Americans consider their votes carefully.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jazz Aspen Snowmass 2008

Nan and John at Jazz Aspen Snowmass 2008Nan and I used to attend the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day weekend music festival every year, but we have missed it the last two years in a row, partly because we live in Grand Junction now and partly because we didn't think the music line-ups have justified the trip.

This past Labor Day weekend, we decided we would attend at least one day of the four-day festival. For us, it was a choice between Bob Dylan and John Fogerty. I had seen Bob Dylan twice before, once with my friend Curt Haensel back in 1986 at Alpine Valley when Bob was touring with Tom Petty and once with Nan at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in 2002 when it was held at the base of Buttermilk Mountain. We had both seen John Fogerty once before when he performed at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in 2005. That was our last Jazz Aspen Snowmass show and it was so good that in the end we decided to see him again instead of Bob.

As we waited for the festival gates to open at 2:00, the clouds that had looked threatening earlier in the day began to drop a steady rain. That's always a potential problem with outdoor concerts, but we were prepared with rain jackets and a waterproof tarp. Our plan was to run to a spot next to the sound tent, close to the stage but not too close, spread the tarp, position our lawn chairs to hold it in place, and then head to the tent-covered bar to stay dry. Luck was with us though, and the rain stopped as soon as we got in.

The first act was Tift Merritt. We didn't know what to expect since we'd never heard of her, but she and her band were terrific. Her voice sounded like a combination of Joni Mitchell and Mary Chapin Carpenter, and she accompanied herself on piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar. When her set ended, we wandered over to the merchandise tent where Tift was signing copies of her CDs. She was very friendly and chatted with us briefly about what an enthusiastic reception she was receiving in Colorado. We smiled and told her it was because she was so talented and her songs were so heartfelt. Her latest album, Another Country, is still in our car's CD player. Good stuff, especially "Morning Is My Destination" and the title track.

Dwight Yoakam was next. He is a little more cowboy-country than what we regularly listen to, but he played a bunch of classic Buck Owens songs from his new tribute album and put on a great show with his excellent backup band.

John Fogerty on the stage at Jazz Aspen Snowmass 2008Our friends Robin and Dick joined us for John Fogerty's headline act with their son Alex and Dick's cousin, who was visiting from Sweden. I have been a John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival fan since the mid-1960s when my dad started buying their albums. I know all their songs by heart, but I wasn't the only one singing along to classics like "Who'll Stop The Rain?" and "Willie And The Poor Boys." The highlight of the show was a combination of songs off his latest album, Revival: "Long Dark Night" followed by "I Can't Take It No More." Together they form a harsh diatribe against the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. The crowd roared its approval. The show ended after two solid hours with fan favorites "Fortunate Son" and "Proud Mary."

It's always a blast to revisit the music of your youth, especially live in concert. If Jazz Aspen Snowmass keeps bringing in talent like John Fogerty, we'll keep coming back.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Doggie Day Care

Scout the Golden Retreiver in the doggie pool at the Animal NannyYesterday afternoon, Nan and I took Scout to check out a doggie day care facility, The Animal Nanny (http://www.animalnannygj.com/), on the north side of Grand Junction. We're thinking it would be good for Scout's development to spend a day or two a week hanging out with other dogs. It would also provide him with more exercise to burn off his puppy energy than he is currently getting with our daily hikes in the desert and walks in the neighborhood.

Romping dogs at the Animal NannyColin, the owner, met us at the gate and showed us around. Her facility is in the process of taking over an old mechanics garage, so there are still several old vehicles and rusty parts on the grounds. The dogs are carefully isolated from the junk by a series of fences and gates. Colin led us down a hill into the dogs' play area, a large space covered with wood chips and shaded by cottonwood trees. There were two large troughs set up as swimming pools, and Scout promptly climbed into the smaller one to cool off. Back at the building, Colin showed us the dogs' napping room, a cool, dark and quiet room lined with pet transport crates containing snoozing dogs. There was a fan to keep the air circulating and classical music to keep the dogs calm. On the door was a poster of Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer from the National Geographic Channel, featuring his philosophy of dog training: "Exercise, Discipline, Affection." It was good to know that Colin is an adherent.

Nan with Colin and dogs at the Animal NannyThe thing that impressed me most was that in the half-hour we were there, none of the ten or so dogs we encountered ever barked or showed any aggression. If anything, they were all overly affectionate, eager for attention from people they didn't even know. Scout seemed to fit right in, holding his own with dogs twice his size and finding his place in their pecking order. We're confident that he will benefit from the experience. We sure hope so because The Animal Nanny also offers overnight boarding and vacant home services, which could work out extremely well for us in our future travels.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Circumnavigation Routes, Part 2

One of the major considerations for us in planning a circumnavigation is what to do with our dog Scout. Do we leave him at home or do we take him with us? With our previous dog Charlie, we expected that he might be gone before we started the trip, maybe three or four years from now. But he died prematurely of cancer this past April at the age of ten, creating an overwhelming feeling of loss in our lives. Instead of waiting until after a circumnavigation to start thinking about a new puppy, we brought Scout into our lives in June to help ease the pain. But now what do we do?

When Nan and I attended Lin and Larry Pardey's cruising seminar in Denver back in 2004 ("Lin and Larry Pardey"), that was one of the big questions that came up: Is it possible to sail with your pets? Lin said that it definitely is, that people do it all the time, and that the only limitations are the restrictions some countries place on the importation of animals. Even that, she said, was becoming less of an issue though, as more countries adopted the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). She referred us to The Basics of Boat Travel with Your Cat or Dog by Diana Jessie. According to Jessie, Great Britain instituted the PETS program to allow pets from specific countries to be exempted from the quarantine period--as long as six months for Australia and other desirable destinations--that prevented many people from traveling with their pets. To qualify, the pet must have proof of a current rabies vaccination, an implanted microchip for identification, and a blood test certified by a veterinarian. Papers must be filed in advance with the destination country, but then the pet is free to travel upon arrival.

Jessie's book carries a 2003 copyright, so it is possible that the situation has changed since it was published, hopefully for the better as far as pet owners are concerned. It would still be a good idea to check each destination country's restrictions before planning a trip, but it is encouraging to know that if we want to take Scout with us, we should be able to. If we find that he is not welcome in certain of the countries we wish to visit, we could use the concept of the discontinuous voyage ("Circumnavigation Routes, Part 1") to return Scout home for those particular legs of the trip. Of course, he would need to fly internationally and that's a serious concern all by itself.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kurt Vonnegut's last speech

At the conclusion of my time in Wisconsin, Nan stayed on in Manitowoc to look after her ailing mother for another week, and Scout and I drove back home to Colorado. To pass the time, I listened to the audio book, Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut. It starts out with an excellent introduction written and read by his son Mark. Vonnegut died last May, and Mark's introduction is an eloquent eulogy of his father's life.

The second selection is Kurt Vonnegut's last speech, given just two weeks before his death. Understood from that perspective, it can be interpreted as a summation of all the thoughts and ideas that guided him through his life. Listening to it confirmed for me why his books were so influential to me as a young adult and why I think and feel about life the way I do today. Vonnegut was the master at presenting the human condition in its most stark light, separate from preconceptions but with humorous attention to the absurdity of it all. The speech demonstrates that, even at eighty-four, he had not lost his touch.

As best I could, I transcribed all twenty-two minutes of it:
Kurt Vonnegut at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, April 27, 2007

Thank you. And I stand before you as a role model courtesy of Mayor Bart Peterson, and God bless him for this occasion. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. And just think of this: In only three years time, during World War II, I went from private to corporal, a rank once held by both Napoleon and Adolph Hitler. I’m actually Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I mean, that’s what my kids, now in late middle age, like to still call me when talking about me behind my back. Junior this and Junior that. But whenever you look at the Ayers clock at the intersection of South Meridian and Washington streets, please think of my father, Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., who designed it. As far as that goes, he and his father, Bernard Vonnegut, designed the whole darn building. And he was the founder of the Arch’s school. And the Children’s Museum. His father, my grandfather, the architect Bernard Vonnegut, designed, among other things, the Atheneum, which before the First World War was called Das Deutsch Haus. I can’t imagine why they would have changed the name to the Atheneum, unless it was to kiss the ass of a bunch of Greek Americans.

I guess all of you know I’m suing the manufacturer of Pall Mall cigarettes because their product didn’t kill me and I’m now eighty-four. Listen, I studied Anthropology at the University of Chicago after the Second World War, the last one we ever won. And the physical anthropologists, who had studied human skulls going back thousands of years, said we were only supposed to live for thirty-five years or so because that’s how long our teeth lasted without modern dentistry. Weren’t those the good old days? Thirty-five years and we were out of here! Talk about intelligent design! Now all the Baby Boomers who can afford dentistry and health insurance—poor bastards—are going to live to be a hundred. Maybe we should outlaw dentistry. And maybe doctors should quit curing pneumonia, which used to be called “the old people’s friend.”

But the last thing I want to do tonight is to depress you, so I’ve thought of something we can all do tonight which will definitely be upbeat. I think we can come up with a statement on which all Americans—Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, straight or gay—can agree, despite our country’s being so tragically and ferociously divided. The first universal American sentiment I came up with was: “Sugar is sweet.”

And there is certainly nothing new about a tragically and ferociously divided United States of America. And especially here in my native state of Indiana. When I was a kid here, this state had within its borders the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and the site of the last lynching of an African-American citizen north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Marion, I think. But it also had and still has in Terre Haute, which now boasts a state-of-the-art lethal injection facility, the birthplace and home of the labor leader Eugene Debs. He lived from 1855 to 1926 and led a nation-wide strike against the railroads. He went to prison for a while because he opposed our entry into World War I. And he ran for president several times on the Socialist Party ticket, saying things like this: “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. And while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Debs pretty much stole that from Jesus Christ, but it is so hard to be original. Tell me about it.

But alright, what is a statement on which all Americans can agree? “Sugar is sweet,” certainly. But since we are on the property of a university, we can surely come up with something which has more cultural heft, and this is my suggestion: “The Mona Lisa, the picture by Leonardo da Vinci, hanging in the Louvre in Paris, France, is a perfect painting.” OK, a show of hands please. Can’t we all agree on that? OK, take down your hands. Let’s say the voters are unanimous, that the Mona Lisa is a perfect painting. The only trouble with that, which is the trouble with practically everything we believe: It isn’t true! Listen, her nose is tilted to the right, OK? That means the right side of her face is a receding plane going away from us, OK? But there is no foreshortening of her features on that side giving the effect of three dimensions, and Leonardo could so easily have done that foreshortening. He was simply too lazy to do it. And if he were Leonardo da Indianapolis, I’d be ashamed of him. No wonder she has such a cock-eyed smile.

And somebody might now want to ask me, “Can’t you ever be serious?” The answer is no. When I was born at Methodist Hospital on November 11, 1922, and this city back then was as racially segregated as professional basketball and football teams are today, the obstetrician spanked my little rear end to start my respiration, but did I cry? No. I said, “A funny thing happened on the way down the birth canal, Doc. A bum came up to me and said he hadn’t had a bite for three days, so I bit him.”

But seriously, my fellow Hoosiers, there’s good news and bad news tonight. This is the best of times and the worst of times. So what else is new? The bad news is that the Martians have landed in Manhattan and have checked in at the Waldorf Astoria. The good news is that they only eat homeless people of all colors, and they pee gasoline.

Am I religious? I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves Our Lady of Perpetual Consternation. We are as celibate as fifty percent of the heterosexual Roman Catholic clergy. Actually, and when I hold up my right hand like this, it means I’m not kidding, that I give my word of honor that what I’m about to say is true. So actually, I am Honorary President of the American Humanists Society, having succeeded the late great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, in that utterly functionless capacity. We humanists behave as well as we can, without any expectations of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community. We don’t fear death, and neither should you. You know what Socrates said about death, in Greek of course? “Death is just one more night.”

As a humanist, I love science. I hate superstition, which could never have given us A-bombs. I love science, and not only because it has given us the means to trash the planet—and I don’t like it here—it has found the answers to two of our biggest questions: How did the universe begin? And how did we and all the other animals get the wonderful bodies we have, with eyes and brains and kidneys and so on? OK, so science sent the Hubble telescope out in space so it could capture light and the absence thereof from the very beginning of time. And the telescope really did that. So now we know that there was once absolutely nothing, such a perfect nothing that there wasn’t even nothing. For once, can you imagine that? You can’t, because there isn’t even nothing to imagine. But then there was this great big bang. That’s where all this crap came from. And how did we get our wonderful lungs and eyebrows and teeth and toenails and assholes and so on? By means of millions of years of natural selection. That’s when one animal dies and another one copulates. Survival of the fittest. But look, if you should kill somebody, whether accidentally or on purpose, improving our species, please don’t copulate afterwards. That’s what causes babies, in case your mother didn’t tell you.

And yes, my fellow Hoosiers, I’ve never denied being one of you. This is indeed the apocalypse, the end of everything as prophesized by St. John the Devine and St. Kurt the Vonnegut. Even as I speak, the very last polar bear may be dying of hunger on account of climate change, on account of us. And I will surely miss the polar bears. Their babies are so warm and cuddly and trusting, just like ours. Does this old poop have any advice for young people in times of such awful trouble? Well, I’m sure you know that our country is the only so-called advanced nation that still has a death penalty and torture chambers. I mean, why screw around? But listen, if anyone here should wind up on a gurney in a lethal injection facility, maybe the one in Terre Haute, here is what your last words should be: “This will certainly teach me a lesson.” If Jesus were alive today, we would kill him with lethal injection. I call that progress. We would have to kill him for the same reason he was killed the first time: His ideas are just too liberal.

My advice to writers just starting out? Don’t use semi-colons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college. So first the Mona Lisa. And now semi-colons. I might as well clinch my reputation as a world-class nut case by saying something good about Karl Marx, commonly believed in this country and surely in Indian-no-place to have been one of the most evil people who ever lived. He did invent Communism, which we have long been taught to hate because we are so in love with Capitalism, which is what we call the casinos on Wall Street. Communism is what Karl Marx hoped could be an economic scheme for making industrialized nations take as good care of people, and especially of children and the old and disabled, as tribes and extended families used to do before they were dispersed by the Industrial Revolution. And I think maybe we might be wise to stop bad-mouthing Communism so much. Not because we think it’s a bad idea but because our grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now in hock up to their eyeballs to the communist Chinese! And the Chinese communists also have a big and superbly equipped army, something we don’t have. We’re too cheap! We just want to nuke everybody. But there are still plenty of people who will tell you that the most evil thing about Karl Marx was what he said about religion. He said it was the opium of the lower classes, as though he thought religion was bad for people and he wanted to get rid of it. But when Marx said that, back in the 1840s, his use of the word “opium” wasn’t simply metaphorical. Back then, real opium was the only painkiller available for toothaches or cancer of the throat or whatever. He himself had used it. As a sincere friend of the downtrodden, he was saying he was glad they had something which could ease their pain, at least a little bit, which was religion. He liked religion for doing that and certainly didn’t want to abolish it. OK? He might have said today as I say tonight that religion can be Tylenol for a lot of unhappy people, and I’m so glad it works.

About the Chinese communists? They are obviously much better at business than we are and maybe a lot smarter, communist or not. I mean, look how much better they do in our schools over here. Face it! My son Mark, a pediatrician, was on the admissions committee of the Harvard Medical School a while back. And he said that if they had played the admissions game fairly, half of the entering class would be Asian women. But back to Karl Marx. How subservient to Jesus or to a humane god almighty were the leaders of this country, back in the 1840s, when Marx said such a supposedly evil thing about religion? They had made it perfectly legal to own human slaves and weren’t going to let women vote or hold public office, God forbid, for another eighty years. I got a letter a while back from a man who had been a captive in the American penal system since he was sixteen years old. He is now forty-two and about to get out. He asked me what he should do. I told him what Karl Marx would have told him: “Join a church.”

And now please note, I have raised my right hand, and that means I’m not kidding, that whatever I say next I believe to be true, so here goes: The most spiritually splendid American phenomenon of my lifetime wasn’t our contribution to the defeat of the Nazis, in which I played such a large part, or Ronald Reagan’s overthrow of godless Communism, in Russia at least. The most spiritually splendid American phenomenon of my lifetime is how African-American citizens have maintained their dignity and self-respect despite their having been treated by white Americans, both in and out of government and simply because of their skin color, as though they were contemptible and loathsome and even diseased. Their churches have surely helped them do that. So there’s Karl Marx again. There’s Jesus again.

And what gift of America to the rest of the world is actually most appreciated by the rest of the world? It is African-American jazz and its offshoots. What is my definition of jazz? Safe sex, of the highest order. The two greatest Americans of my lifetime, so far as I know, were Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ve heard it suggested that Roosevelt wouldn’t have had such empathy for the lower classes, would have been just another rich, conceited, ruling class, Ivy League horse’s ass if he himself hadn’t been humbled by polio myelitis infantile paralysis. All of a sudden, his legs didn’t work anymore.

What can we do about global warming? We could turn out the lights, I guess, but please don’t. I can’t think of any way to repair the atmosphere. It’s way too late. But there is one thing I can fix, and fix this very night, and right here in Indianapolis. It’s the name of another good university you’ve built since my time, but you’ve named it I.U.P.U.I.! I.U.P.U.I.? Have you lost your wits? “Oh, I went to Harvard. Where did you go?” “I went to I.U.P.U.I.” With the unlimited powers vested in me by Mayor Peterson for the whole year of 2007, I rename I.U.P.U.I. Tarkington University. “Hey, I went to Harvard. Where did you go?” “I went to Tarkington.” Ain’t that classy? Done. And done. With the passage of time, nobody will know or care who Tarkington was. I mean, who nowadays gives a rat’s ass who Butler was? This is Clowes Hall, and I actually knew some real Cloweses. Nice people. But let me tell you, I would not be standing before you tonight if it hadn’t been for the example of the life and works of Booth Tarkington, a native of this city. During his time, 1869 to 1946, which overlapped my own time for twenty-four years, Booth Tarkington became a beautifully successful and respected writer of plays, novels and short stories. His nickname in the literary world, one I would give anything to have, was “That Gentleman from Indiana.” When I was a kid, I wanted to be like him. We never met. I wouldn’t have known what to say. I would have been ga-ga with hero worship. Yes, and by the unlimited powers vested in me by Mayor Peterson for this entire year, I demand that somebody here mount a production in Indianapolis of Booth Tarkington’s play, “Alice Adams.”

By a sweet coincidence, Alice Adams was also the married name of my late sister, a six-foot tall blonde bombshell who is now in Crown Hill along with our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, and James Whitcomb Riley, the highest paid American writer of his time. You know what my sister Allie used to say? She used to say, “Your parents ruin the first half of your life, and your kids ruin the second half.” James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, was the highest paid American writer of his time, 1849 to 1916, because he recited his poetry for money in theaters and lecture halls. That was how delighted by poetry ordinary Americans used to be. Can you imagine?

You want to know something the great French writer Jean-Paul Sartre said one time? He said it in French of course: “Hell is other people.” He refused to accept a Nobel Prize. I could never be that rude. I was raised right by our African-American cook, whose name was Ida Young. During the Great Depression, African-American citizens were heard to say this, along with a lot of other stuff of course: “Things are so bad, white folks got to raise their own kids.” But I wasn’t raised right by Ida Young alone, a great-grandchild of slaves who was intelligent, kind and honorable, proud and literate, articulate and thoughtful, and pleasing in appearance. Ida Young loved poetry and used to read poems to me. I was also raised right by teachers at School 43, the James Whitcomb Riley School. And at Shortridge High School. Back then, great public school teachers were local celebrities. Grateful former students, well into adult life, used to visit them and tell them how they were doing. And I myself used to be a sentimental adult like that. But long ago, all my favorite teachers went the way of most of the polar bears.

The very best thing in life you can be is a teacher, provided you are in love with what you teach and that your classes consist of eighteen students or fewer. Classes of eighteen students or fewer are a family, and feel and act like one. When my grade graduated from School 43 with the Great Depression going on, with almost no business or jobs, and with Hitler taking charge of Germany, each of us had to say in writing what we hoped to do when grownups to make this a better world. I said I would cure cancer with chemicals while working for Eli Lilly. I have the humorist Paul Krassner to thank for pointing out a big difference between George W. Bush and Hitler: Hitler was elected. I mentioned my only son, Mark Vonnegut, a while back, you know, about Chinese women and Harvard Medical School. Well, he is not only a pediatrician in the Boston area but a painter and a saxophonist and a writer. He wrote one heck of a good book called The Eden Express. It is about his mental crack-up—padded cell and straightjacket stuff. He had been on the wrestling team as an undergraduate in college. Some maniac! In his book, he tells how he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School. The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut. But don’t borrow it, for God’s sakes! Buy it! I consider anybody who borrows a book instead of buying it, or lends one, a twerp. When I was a student at Shortridge High School a million years ago, a twerp was defined as a guy who put a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the backseats of taxi cabs. But I hasten to say, should some impressionable young person here today, at loose ends or from a dysfunctional family, resolve to take a shot at being a real twerp tomorrow, that there are no longer buttons on the backseats of taxi cabs. Times change.

I asked Mark a while back what life was all about since I didn’t have a clue. He said, “Dad, we’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” Whatever it is. Whatever it is! Not bad. That one could be a keeper. And how should we behave during this apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another certainly, but we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog if you don’t already have one. I myself just got a dog. It’s a new cross-breed. It’s half French poodle and half Chinese shitzu. It’s a “shit poo.” And I thank you for your attention. And I am out of here.