American popular culture isn’t exactly brimming with examples of men behaving well. Or at least, men behaving as honorably and sensibly as possible (I almost wrote, under the circumstances here, but I agree with George Bernard Shaw, there are no “circumstances,” we simply create situations, then deal with them).
Apparently (I have this second hand from an author pal of mine — I don’t watch The Tonight Show) Jay Leno recently wandered into the audience, looking for women willing to reveal their most embarrassing first date. He zeroed in on a lady who raised her hand and told the following tale.
She’d been invited to go skiing with a guy in the mountains outside Salt Lake City (no, as far as I know this wasn’t Mitt Romney‘s former girlfriend), just a day trip you understand, this was, after all, a first date. They had a good day’s skiing, had a nice time generally, and were driving down off the hill late that afternoon when the woman realized she had to pee. She alerted her companion, who urged her to hang on, as they were driving down a relatively narrow, winding mountain road with enormous amounts of snow on either side — no rest stops or roadside gas stations for miles.
She crossed her legs and held on for as long as she could. Finally, she told him it was either pull over, right now, or he’d have a serious upholstery problem on his hands. He did as she asked, and stood discretely outside the car, looking away from her, ready to warn any oncoming traffic there was a woman at work here, while she dropped her pants and leaned against the back bumper to relieve herself.
Mission thankfully accomplished, she began to pull up her pants. As she did so she started to stand, and quickly noted to her complete horror that her butt was stuck to the bumper. It had frozen to the metal like a Minnesota schoolboy’s tongue to a playground flagpole in January.
Mortified, she told her date what had happened, starting to laugh halfway through the description of her dilemma. They agreed that, while absurd, this could easily morph into a serious situation — clearly they had to free her, asap. To do that without leaving behind large patches of her skin attached to the arctic Detroit iron, they would need something warm. So ( I’m skipping some stuff here in the interests of brevity), she covered herself as best she could and shut her eyes, while her rescuer proceeded to… wait for it: pee on her butt and the bumper.
This worked like a hot knife through butter.
You may want to file this anecdote away for future reference; you really do never know.
Now this, it seems to me, was a truly manly thing for this guy to have done. Lesser men might have shied away from such a delicate task. Less manly men might have tried using, I don’t know, some engine oil, or spit or something. But this guy knew that instant action was required, and proceeded to do that which needed to be done, with style and grace (and, apparently, remarkable accuracy).
By the way, the woman married him. I mean, what else could she do?
For any of you who feel “style” has nothing to do with being a real man, I cordially invite you to visit the following alarming website: Men of WalMart.
I realized, after writing chapters on subjects like courage, truth, and action, that no book intending to help men become better humans could ignore the subject of style. The general lack thereof is a fundamental reason so many men fail (miserably) to measure up to minimum standards of civility and sophistication. Since so much of modern male culture seems to celebrate the LACK of style, I intend to strike a blow for being stylish.
What the hell does that mean? The answer’s coming soon, in MAN UP!
In the meantime, do check out the sobering (as well as hilarious) site above: consider it a visual cautionary tale…
Franklin. Edison. Ford. Jobs. In a hundred years, kids will learn about this guy in school, young adults will do their best to emulate his daring and style, to match his achievements, and old folks will read or listen or watch his 2005 commencement address to the graduating class at Stanford University and think to themselves, yeah, this man was onto something, this man knew — and deeply felt — what he was talking about.
I am writing this on a now-old and somewhat battered MacBook Pro, while listening to a web “radio” station on iTunes. I have two other Macs and an iPod Touch.
But Jobs’ true impact on my life is and will remain his shared insights into the essential core of existence, of the need, as he put it, “to stare into the mirror every morning and ask yourself if what you’re about to embark upon this day is truly what you would choose to do if this were the last day or your life,” or something like that.
I live in the wilderness. Well, on the edge of the wilderness. Bears camp out in my backyard. Seriously. One broke into a neighbor’s home a couple of years ago. He was found snoozing on his back, four giant paws in the air, having ripped the hinges off the fridge and helped himself to beer and cheese or whatever was inside.
Everyone in Kaslo has at least one dog. No need to “exercise” them here — you simply let your best friend out the front door, he chases something wild for a while, comes back eventually, et voila. Things are, of course, somewhat different in the city. Most urban centers, in an effort to keep dog shit on sidewalks to a minimum, have designated off-leash dog parks, where canines and their owners can enjoy some semblance of the outdoorsy existence Scout and I take for granted.
I mention this because dog parks are breeding grounds for bad (usually human) behavior. Dog parks attract assholes the way trailer parks attract tornadoes. I can think of no better occasion for a man interested in finding his better self to begin the search than while walking with Fido through an offleash park teeming with canines and their often-benighted owners.
I could provide you with a few tips, but happily I needn’t bother — the October issue of Outside magazine has done that for me. Here are four suggestions from our pals at Outside that will ensure you a manly experience the next time you’re out walkin’ the dog:
Rule the Dog Park
1. DO: Address other people and say, “Good-lookin’ dog.” DON’T: Ask a dog his name. He doesn’t speak English. 2. DO: Bend at the knees to avoid being toppled during scrums.DON’T: Shout “He’s friendly!” as your dog barrels toward others. (“Watch out!” is acceptable.) 3. DO: Keep your dog under control. DON’T: Remark “Oh, look—they’re friends” as your dog violently humps another. 4. DO: Scoop poop. DON’T: Vow to clean it up later.
Seems as though much of the vaguely civilized world (this may or may not include Russia, depends on your take on “Mad Vlad” Putin) is starting to realize it’s time for men to get up, dust themselves off, shake their heads and realize there’s more to being a man than either behaving like a complete asshole, or a spineless, boring twerp.
Enter Brit television guy, James May, whose BBC2 show, the Man Lab, is designed to both remind older men, and reveal to younger types, that being a man can be playful, fun, and, well, manly.
Simon Lewis of the Daily Mail has written a terrific article based on a visit with May at the latter’s warehouse workshop-cum-studio near Wimbledon — here’s how Lewis describes the setting:
“We’re in a warehouse near Wimbledon, formerly used to build stages for rock concerts. Sparks fly noisily from an angle grinder in the corner, threatening to ignite the sawdust on the floor. A functioning train set shuttles drinks from the bar, winding between toys, tools, banjos, swords, soldering kits and half-eaten sandwiches. Propped up against the door is what appears to be a rocket bicycle…” (see above photo).
As mentioned in a previous post, I’m currently working away on two novels. I don’t know what it is with me and work — if I don’t have too much to do, I tend to do… nothing. So when it comes to writing, I’ve learned over the years that I can’t possibly bite off too much, if I have any hopes at all of completing anything.
Add to that the fact that I write in waves — when the creative writing tide is out, I move into painting and music. Ah, but when the author tide comes in, it’s an unstoppable tsunami, I whack away tirelessly at the keyboard in marathon sessions; it’s not so much a tremendous urge to write that motivates me as it is an absolute compulsion to tell a story that’s stubbornly lodged itself in my head.
So it is with this novel, codenamed SPIKE SANTEE.
The narrative starts in the mid-1950s in Oregon, following the development of the main character, a sensitive lad who believes he is destined for great things. Most of the novel’s action centers on the period 1969-1972, and largely plays out in Oslo and Stockholm, where young Santee travels in search of his destiny, before finally bailing for Canada.
At various times he finds himself:
– living with a family on Wolf Island in Oslofjord comprised of a lecherous, stay-at-home doctor, his Abraham Lincoln look-alike pharmacist wife, and their sons, one a rabid Marxist-Leninist, the other simply a royal pain in the ass;
-tutoring two sex-starved Mormon sisters from Los Angeles, whose father has moved his family to Moss, Norway, to escape the creeping tentacles of feminism, which he sees corrupting young Americans — especially girls;
– leading a short-lived strike of fellow (illegal) immigrant workers in a shabby Oslo Middle Eastern restaurant;
– hooking up with a hitch-hiking U.S. army captain, on his way to Stockholm to sell a fortune in Turkish hashish;
– pretending to study Swedish in Stockholm while having an affair with a ridiculously beautiful Finnish woman in his class;
– hanging out with a band of gypsies who have a soft spot for Steinbeck;
– forming an all-star, all-Black (save Santee) basketball team, consisting of five very tall Americans, all of them deserters from Vietnam;
– working simultaneously at a state liquor store in a seedy Stockholm suburb while labouring as the Pakistani ambassador’s translator and personal assistant;
– helping create Bangladesh while being stalked by a crazed assasin;
– finding himself seriously hungover in Arlanda Airport, ready to board the next flight to East Berlin with a lovely left-wing journalist who’s about to become the Voice of Sweden on Radio East Germany.
Instead, Santee escapes, winging his way to that Golden City, that fabled fantasyland, that gateway to love and adventure so many seek but so few find: Edmonton, Alberta.
All writing, even fiction, is ultimately based on the experiences and dreams of the author. SANTEE is certainly no exception. I’m finding I’m scarcely needing to make shit up; in fact, on occasion, I’ve felt compelled to throttle back a bit, just to keep things vaguely believable. Ah, life IS but a dream, after all.
To give you a sense of the writing in SANTEE, here’s an early bit from the manuscript…
AN EXCERPT FROM SPIKE SANTEE
Pity the Infidel, oh Warrior, for he does not know what you know, and will not walk the golden streets of Paradise as one day you will.
Mir Zie Hussein, The Way of the World, Book Two, Chronicle 9
The room’s walls were green. Sort of avocado, actually, bathed in a sickly fluorescent glow that made them buzz. The room smelled of rubbing alcohol and aspirin, of vomit and diarrhea. It reeked of hopes shattered, dreams nipped in the bud, of souls sliding into shadow.
Spike lay very still on his back, his legs uncharacteristically straightened, a dangerous position at home, where the end of his bed almost touched the back window that looked out into the yard, a scant 30 feet or so from the Southern Pacific tracks. No need for bent knees here, he was on the 3rd floor of Salem General, a boy-raping dirty no-good Nazi hobo would have to be a world champion pole vaulter to get at him through a window up here. He stared at the ceiling, trying to count the dots in a single square of ceiling tile. The highest he got to was 97 before his eyes started to cross, forcing him to blink and lose count.
He turned his head slightly, watching the bottle dispensing a saline solution and some sort of drug into his left arm, the one with the tube poked into it. He felt fine, in a sort of vibrating, slightly unnatural kind of way. Swallowing, he noted a metallic taste in his mouth, like someone had shoved a wad of tightly rolled Reynold’s aluminum wrap in there. Rolling his eyes up slightly, he saw a number of Christmas cards standing on the nightstand beside his bed. The one with the glittery blue angel on the front was from Miss Little and his classmates at Hoover School, proudly named after America’s premier crime fighter and Commie-catcher. Or a vacuum cleaner, or perhaps a president, Spike wasn’t quite sure which. He closed his eyes and wondered if J. Edgar Hoover had a Hoover.
Just then the door opened quietly. In walked a couple of men in white lab coats he didn’t recognize, together with Spike’s parents. They gathered around the bottle-less side of his bed. One of the doctors stuck the business ends of a stethoscope into his ears and placed the listening part on Spike’s chest. While he did this, Mrs. Santee, her eyes glistening, grasped her son’s right hand and gave it a gentle, coded squeeze, the sort that only mothers seem capable of delivering – this one was the I’m terrified but don’t worry you’re going to be alright oh please God don’t let him die squeeze, which Spike instantly understood in a genetic, unconscious way.
While his mom squeezed like there was no tomorrow (a distinct possibility, apparently), the stethoscope-less doctor cleared his throat and spoke – he was a very big man, with extremely bushy, Russian-style Cold War eyebrows, so Spike was taken aback when out of his cave opening of a mouth came a gentle, high-pitched voice.
“Hello young man, how are you feeling?” the large physician with the tiny voice intoned.
Spike did his best to smile and nod encouragingly.
“OK,” the doctor continued, “my name is Doctor Wolf. And this is my colleague, Doctor Fox,” he added, gesturing to his partner, who had pulled the stethoscope plugs from the ears and was now gently probing and pressing Spike’s lower abdomen.
Spike let this information sink in for a moment. No doubt about it, here was further evidence of the Ultimate Mystery of the Universe, undeniable proof of the existence of a Cosmic Game of Life in which he was a definite player. Wolf and Fox. Not Smith and Jones. Or Burns and Allen. Or Proctor and Gamble. No sir, his doctors, naturally, had to be named Wolf and Fox. The question was, of course, whether their arrival signified that he was a lamb being readied for the inevitable slaughter, or were they sent here to remind him that he was a hunter, too, and the pack was eagerly anticipating his return to lamb-slaughtering form.
He pondered these intriguing possibilities for a moment, then decided fairly quickly that he preferred the latter answer. This triggered one of his more fervent prayers (usually reserved for baseball games when he was on the mound and the count was 3 and 2, bases loaded, parents and pals in the stands), strongly suggesting that Jesus come down on the side of the predators, this one time only. Please.
It was at this moment that Spike first let Jesus know that, if it was all the same to Him, he’d prefer to live to be a hundred. This lying on a hospital bed surrounded by anxious adults was no fun at all. He had a sneaking suspicion that life might hold a bit more of this in store. So why not go into all that at least clear in the knowledge that, come what may, he’d pull through to his 100th birthday. Take some of the tension out of it all. Allow a guy to relax a bit, roll with the punches, take whatever life dished out on the chin, get up, brush himself off, and keep goin’. Made sense to Spike. He fervently hoped it struck a chord with Jesus, too.
As he lay there repeating his mantra-like prayer, (pleaseGodletmelivetobea100,pleaseGodletmelivetobea100), doctors Wolf and Fox conferred near the door with Mr. and Mrs. Santee. Their hushed tones made it hard for him to hear what they were saying, what with his young brain being primarily occupied with ensuring that he’d survive halfway through the 21st century and all. A few words and phrases did filter through, though – words like appendix, peritonitis, and die. Phrases like must operate, never attempted before, and high degree of risk.
The general gist of this did not strike Spike, doped up as he was, as particularly sensational, or even seasonal news. Not even cheery, actually. The adults’ conversation ended with Mr. Santee, his eyes glistening, putting a burly arm around his wife who was now quietly sobbing. Doctor Fox opened the door and motioned to someone standing out in the corridor. In came a couple of nurses and an orderly, pushing some sort of rolling bed.
They moved to Spike’s bedside. The older nurse with the enormous breasts and breath that smelled of Dentyne gum stroked Spike’s forehead, pushing his light brown hair back and up as she did so.
“Merry Christmas young man,” she said softly. “We’re going to get you ready to go down to the operating theater where the doctors are going to make you all better.”
This sounded like a perfectly fine plan to Spike, who smiled back goofily in response.
As the nurses and the orderly fumbled with the line attached to Spike’s arm, his parents moved over to the other side of his bed. His mom reached out and stroked his arm. “Spike, the doctors are going to have to operate on you,” she explained. “You have a problem in your tummy, and they’re going to fix it. You’re going to be fine,” (here her motherly voice caught, forcing her to look away and out the window into the damp December Oregon night, but she quickly regained some semblance of composure and continued), “but you have to be strong and brave and do your very best to get better. Your dad and I are going to be right outside, so are your uncles and aunts, and everyone’s praying for you, all your friends and classmates, your teachers, everyone at church. You’re going to be fine…” At this she started to sob, the sort of sob parents always try to stifle, which just makes it sound worse to the person (usually their kid) who they’re trying to fake out. What Spike fuzzily took from her comments and conduct was, man, I gotta pray harder and faster, this is not looking too good at the moment.
By now the nurses and orderly had their work sorted out, Sensing a pause in the family melodrama, the skinny, tall nurse with the hooked nose and the terrible dye job announced that it was time to wheel young Santee to the operating room.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Santa Claus came by to greet you when you get back, Spike,” she added, flashing a big, yellow-toothed grin at the boy that reminded him faintly of the slightly scary image on the cover of his otherwise-cherished Bozo the Clown record.
With that the orderly walked up to the head of the bed, unlatched the brake, and started pushing the bed and Spike toward the door and destiny.
As they wheeled their way down the corridor, his parents faces floating anxiously above him, Spike took note of the occasional additional recognizable form – there was a caricature of his Uncle Burdette’s mug looming momentarily above him, his Kansas-scoured face screwed up in a grimace of encouraging concern. Burdette was replaced by the slightly older, Perry Como-ish visage of Uncle Wayne, the eldest of the three Collins siblings, a toothpick neatly, deeply tucked in the right-hand corner of his mouth, looking as he always did, as if he was bursting to say something, likely something terribly kind, but whatever it was didn’t manage to barge its way past the obstructing toothpick before the image shimmered and passed out of Spike’s fuzzy, corridor-scanning sight.
After what seemed, oh, approximately eleven seconds, all motion had stopped. He was now in a medium-sized room, with lots of people, their voices muted by the white masks worn over their faces, moving about here and there. They all seemed to Spike to know what they were doing, where they were going, and what they intended to accomplish. That was just fine with him, he thought, as he closed his eyes for a moment.
Spike sat as usual in the front pew, slightly stage right of the pulpit. This was his post-Sunday School spot, next to his cousin, Rod. Delmar Krebs, Berean Baptist’s young minister, was in the process of laying it on thick. At least Spike assumed he was, given the man’s increasing volume, and the higher pitch his voice was taking as he grew louder. Spike wasn’t really paying attention to Mr. Krebss. He was focused on doodling on the back of the church announcements pamphlet, when suddenly something the minister said jolted him to the surface like a trout heading for airborne glory at the realization of a hook in his mouth.
“There is only one way to Heaven, only one path to salvation,” Reverend Krebs, nearly shouting now, intoned as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief, then dramatically took off his suit coat and threw it behind him where it landed at the feet of Jesus, who, nailed to a cross as he was, looked down on the crumpled Sears suit coat beneath his spiked feet with an expression of obvious distaste.
“The only Way,” Reverend Krebs continued, his voice warbling now like a small town air raid siren, “is to accept our Lord, Jesus Christ, as your very own personal savior. He is the Way. He is the only Way. Only through Him can you hope to reach Heaven, to sit one day in glory at the feet of our Heavenly Father. Without Him, you are lost, doomed to eternal damnation!”
By now the reverend was in a frothing frenzy, flapping his large hands in the air on either side of the pulpit as he hammered home this grim reminder that the Road to Paradise was indeed a straight and oh-so-narrow one-laner. Rod, to Spike’s left, appeared indifferent to this staggering statement, and was in fact fully engaged in carefully examining the booger he had recently excavated from his freckled nose. On the other hand, many of the adults to either side and behind the boys were reacting with a fair degree of enthusiasm to Krebs’ cheery news. There was much murmuring, and more than a few shouted halleluiahs, and praise the Lords reverberating around the large room.
Suddenly Spike found himself rising up off the pew, straight up, no messing around. Before he knew it, his feet were well off the ground and he was heading for the ceiling, with its big, slowly spinning fan. This all seemed perfectly normal to the boy, and also seemed to completely escape the attention of Mr. Krebs (Spike noticed the man had the beginnings of a bald patch and a bad case of dandruff as he floated above the pulpit) and the congregation, who behaved as if a kid rising to the roof on a Sunday morning in a church in western Oregon was about as normal as a wet November day in the Willamette Valley.
Looking up, Spike watched with disengaged fascination as he floated freely through the fan, entered the ceiling, and emerged out the other side, into a crisp fall day, with the fertile valley of the Indus in northern Punjab spreading out to the west, south and east. To the north the boy spied the green and black foothills of the western Himalaya. He drifted rapidly through the sweetly scented air– flew, really – in that direction, north, noting below him the teeming streets of Rawalpindi, soon giving way to a patchwork of fields and small villages as he gathered steam and moved ever more quickly towards the icy main range of the western end of the greatest mountains on earth.
He knew precisely why this was happening to him, he knew why he skimmed the summit of massive Nanga Parbat, its slopes studded with the frozen corpses of unlucky German mountaineers, he knew why he almost whacked into the icy tip of K2. He knew why he was suddenly heading east, swooshing over the Potala in Lhasa, why he was swooping low over the worshipers and tourists at Angkor Wat, why he zoomed over the endless sprawl of Tokyo, soared over the Serengeti, sailed through the skies of Senegal….
He was doing an inventory.
A checklist. For Reverend Krebs. And Jesus. He was conducting a Gallop poll for God. Counting all the doomed souls in the world. Enumerating all the little babies, the children, the young mothers, the men sitting on their haunches outside rural Punjabi teahouses, around fires in Burundi, taking off their sandals in mosques from Baghdad to Bahrain, the elders, their white hair in vivid contrast to their dark faces – counting them all, every single one of them.
All doomed. All guilty of the Unforgivable Sin.
Not one of them had ever heard of Jesus.
As an extension of his religious inventory, for absolutely no additional charge, Spike paid special attention to boys whose dads hadn’t served in the Army or Navy (branches of the service that featured four letters in their names), Air Force (eight letters, hopeless) brats mainly, ‘cause he wasn’t quite sure what to do with the offspring of Marines, given that they’re technically part of the Navy, after all. Like all those clueless, doomed pagans and Muslims and Buddhists, these boys had no inkling of just how far offside with God and the Universe they were, no sir, nary a clue.
Spike suddenly found himself, breathless, back on the pew at Berean Baptist. Rod’s booger was gone. Spike didn’t care to contemplate where. Mr. Krebs, calmer now, was inviting people to step forward, admit before God and their fellow parishioners their wayward ways, to come forward and cleanse their souls by accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, their one-way, first-class ticket to heaven.
Spike heard a voice whisper something in his ear. It was Jesus. Looking up, he saw that the Lord was looking at him from the wall behind Reverend Krebs, square in the eye, his cracked wooden lips moving imperceptibly as he spoke to the boy.
“Well Spike,” Jesus said, quiet as a cat sneaking up on a puppy’s tail, his voice reminding Spike of President Eisenhower’s, “there are a whole lot of ‘em out there, huh? Did you count them? Every single one of ‘em deader’n a doornail. It’s us Spike, you and Me, against them. How do you like them apples?”
Spike thought about this a moment, squirmed a bit on the uncomfortable wooden pew, then answered with the honesty that only a small American boy, a child of the fifties, raised right and fairly high on morphine could be expected to muster: “Well Lord, it doesn’t seem fair to me, it doesn’t seem fair at all. Just ‘cause they haven’t heard of You, why does that mean they’re doomed. It just doesn’t seem right.”
At this Jesus broke into a teeny, tiny little smile. Spike thought he winked but he couldn’t be sure.
I’ve got a live one here, Our Lord thought to himself, hanging there on the plaster wall at Berean Baptist, a spruce little church tucked into in a Douglas fir grove in West Salem, Oregon. Yessir, I’ve got a live one.
Spike fluttered his eyes, saw yellow through the lids when he shut them tightly to stop the fluttering, then slowly opened them again. He was back in the green room, his arm plugged into the plastic tubes again. His Uncle Burdette was standing beside his bed, holding Spike’s hand.
“Spike,” he said, “Spike, the doctors did a good job, they did the very best job they could. Now you’ve got to help them, son. I’m gonna put this to you straight. You’ve got to take a dump, Spike, take a dump or die, I shit you not, son, I don’t know how else to put it, I know it sounds sorta rough, but there it is. You’ve got to go to the bathroom, son, real soon – then you’ll be fine.”
This news did not strike Spike as particularly remarkable, given the conversation he vaguely recalled having recently had with Jesus Christ. So he smiled encouragingly up at the concerned face of his uncle and said, “OK.”
The boy’s subsequent bowel movement was a rousing success, everyone later agreed. Spike was later regaled with lots of visitors, capped by an appearance by none other than Santa Claus himself, complete with a giant bag full of more toys than Spike had seen in one place, outside of Heider’s Toy Store on Market Street. Much was made of the fact that Spike was the only child in Salem General Hospital that Christmas Day (for Christmas Day it was). A photographer from the Statesman-Journal popped his flashbulb, Spike would appear on the front page of a newspaper for the first time in his life the next day.
In the midst of the hubbub, Spike realized that he had learned two very important things here today. He concluded that, on balance, he had a slightly softer spot for Santa than he did for Jesus. And turns out that we really are all full of shit – but you can do something about that, if you try hard enough.
The writing on MAN UP now at an end, I’m able to turn my flying fingers to the task of typing away at two new novels.
The first, NICHOLAS DODGE (a working title at this point), begins with a chase through the streets of Stockholm, then shifts to the mountainous West Kootenay region of British Columbia. On the surface, it’s tale of greed and ambition, a classic paradise-pavers vs. a colourful cast of local characters sort of story, a clash of big city developers with mega dreams, pitted against locals who would just as soon not see a gigantic, Swiss-style ski resort plopped down on a glacier smack-dab in the heart of one of North America’s last, pristine alpine wilderness areas.
At a deeper level the novel is about priorities, personal and collective; it’s about lust and longing, it’s about the one thing we all have in common — the desire to be happy.
If pressed to name an influence or two for this work, I suppose I would trot out fellow Pacific Northwesterners Tom Robbins and Ken Kesey. Large literary shoes to fill, but what the hell, ‘eh?
I don’t know about you, but I love seeing snippets of authors’ works in progress, small tastes of the feast to come. So in that spirit, here’s how NICHOLAS DODGE begins….
EXCERPT FROM NICHOLAS DODGE
Nicholas Dodge ran for his life.
The streets of Stockholm streamed past as he sprinted, buffeted by a strong, icy easterly blowing in from the Baltic. He fought to keep his bare feet in contact with the slippery, snow- covered sidewalk as he windmilled around a corner, flailing from Tyska Brinken onto Skomakargatan, heading towards Stortorget, Storkyrkan, and the Royal Palace.
Dodge knew if he could make it to a guardhouse outside the palace, his diplomatic passport would see him safely inside – it was his only hope, the Gamla stanunderground station was too far, there were no taxis about at this time of night here in the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town, and in his half-clothed state a deadly combination of exhaustion and early hypothermia would prove his undoing, sooner rather than later.
He pounded past the Nobel Museum where Skomakargatan became Trångsund as the tower and massive copper roof of Storkyrka rose to his right. Only a couple of blocks to go.
The Finn flew ever faster in pursuit of the fleeing foreigner, his feet hardly touching the polar pavement. Unlike his quarry he was warmly clad, in black greatcoat and watchcap, lightweight woolen pants, fur-lined leather gloves, and winter boots with soft rubber sticky soles. In his left hand he carried a razor-sharp Iisakki hunting knife, featuring a six-inch carbon steel blade, stacked leather handle, aluminum finger guard and pommel, with a lightness that belied his purpose. He had gutted many deer and fish with this knife. Now he would gut a Canadian.
Her name was Louhi, a queen of Pohjola, a shape-shifting witch from the pages of the Kalevala. She was tall and lithe and wavered slightly before the window, like a young, healthy birch swaying gently in the breeze on the shore of a lost pond in a dark, forgotten Nordic forest. Her eyes were deep green, her long, thick, gently curling hair a rich auburn. The green eyes glowed intensely as she moved, naked, to the apartment window, her lips, small breasts and flattened, slender-fingered hands pressed against the chilled pane. She stared unseeing over the narrow, centuries-old streets that stretched out below as she entered the spell trance. Her breath, which smelled faintly of dill and cardamom, fogged the glass as she silently mouthed the Old Words. Her lover would live; her husband would die.
Gasping, Dodge flung himself around the corner, turning right onto Källargränd, then immediately cutting across the street, heading for the left turn that would take him onto Högvaktsterrassen and the palace. He could barely feel his feet – good news, less pain, bad news, less balance. His bare legs felt leaden and near-numb. There had been no time for pants when the husband had returned home unexpectedly early. It was strictly a spring-out-of-bed, grab-your-shirt-and-jacket, open-the-window and jump-onto-the-roof sort of escape. One did not stop to reason with an enraged Finn. Especially a Finn carrying a large hunting knife.
Arms pumping, legs beginning to fail, Dodge crossed to the right side of Högvaktsterrassen, heading for the light above the nearest guard box. As a half-naked, foam- flecked American rapidly approached, the alarmed young guard, a draftee from Eskilstuna, raised his Ak 5D assault rifle, and shouted, Halt! Stanna där! Halt! Stop there!
Several things happened almost simultaneously.
Dodge slipped on a patch of ice and sprawled headlong towards the frightened soldier, screaming as he felt himself falling, “skjut inte, jag är diplomat! – don’t shoot, I’m a diplomat!” The last thing he remembered thinking before all lights were extinguished was a simple entreaty to Odin, Thor, or any of the other northern gods who might be bemusedly watching this farce play itself out: let me survive this and I will leave Europe forever, I swear by all that’s holy.
The soldier, a 20-year-old who had never fired his automatic weapon outside a firing range, a rifle customized for use in rugged Swedish conditions by the good people of Fabrique Nationale, hesitated, unsure what to do.
A nanosecond later, a viciously sharp Finnish hunting knife with a six-inch blade missed the back of the falling Dodge’s neck by less than an inch, instead striking the wood of the ceremonial guard box with a thud as it brushed the left side of the startled soldier’s helmet.
The soldier’s finger didn’t wait for a signal from his brain. Displaying tremendous initiative and an admirable lack of hesitation, it reflexively squeezed off a long burst from the Ak 5D that quickly and efficiently ended the current life of one Aarto Roitu.
Roitu’s widow, Louhi, smiled as she slowly moved her face back from the damp windowpane. She breathed gently on the glass, creating a small circle of condensation. Languorously, she drew a heart in the centre of the circle with the middle finger of her right hand, then watched with amusement as its lines began to immediately dribble, then disappear. “Adjö Nicholas,” she whispered into the black January night. “Vi ses igen nångång, det kan du lita på.” We’ll meet again someday, that you can reply on.
I don’t want to give the impression only North American men are in dire need of up-manning. From crazed Norwegian mass murderers, to loutish British street thugs, to panty-ripping French financial gurus, Europe has more than its fair share of male assholes.
This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a hayseed Arkansas choirboy. He makes Rupert Murdoch look like an honest man and all-’round nice fellow.
For those of you who don’t follow these things, in February of this year, Berlusconi — who is ridiculously wealthy, owns virtually every television network (well, the three largest ones), newspaper, and soccer team in Italy, and single-handedly keeps the folks at Grecian Formula solvent — was indicted on charges of child prostitution (you know, the usual — paid sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan night club dancer) and abuse of office (using his political clout to “suggest” to the already laughably inept and breath-takingly corrupt Italian police that they ignore the whole thing).
At last count, the feisty Berlusconi had dodged a guilty verdict through 28 trials since first coming to office in 1994. He’s so outrageously corrupt, it seems likely the only reason he ran for public office in the first place was to avoid the law (active politicians are exempt from prosecution in many cases), and when necessary, change whatever niggling statutes might remain that could possibly lead to his spending some time in a cell rather than one of his lavish digs in Rome, Milan, or Sardinia.
Then there’s the rumor of his ties to the Cosa Nostra…
So clearly Silvio is a breathtakingly vain, disgustingly venal, obviously over-sexed, dirty old man. Some leader. Some role model. All of which begs the question of how he has won re-election after re-election over the past 17 years and counting.
Obviously, the men of Italy need help. Right now. I expect Italian publishers to scramble all over themselves to acquire the rights to MAN UP.
At one time I considered using this shot on the front cover of MAN UP. The idea was that Humphrey Bogart represented a decidedly 20th century notion of manliness, a subtle way of suggesting that the book was about moving on, leaving the past in a puff of smoke, encouraging men to embrace the new century. I showed a cover mock-up to a number of men and women whose opinions I value, and the feedback was interesting. The two most common themes were, “who’s he?,” and “why would you want to feature a photo of some old dude smoking on the cover of a book that’s (presumably) about helping men better themselves?”
Let me tackle the latter point first. My thought was that Bogie smoking clearly evoked a bygone era when a smoldering cigarette was a potent sex symbol, especially in the hands (and mouth) of a rough, tough cream puff like Bogart. That was so clearly then, I thought it might convey the (apparently counter-intuitive) message to potential readers that this is definitely now, a time when men are coming to grips with addictions and other afflictions that on balance screw up their lives more than enhance them. Most of my esteemed reviewers disagreed. So much for having a little fun with the past.
As for the “who the hell is he?” critique, that one is unassailable — you either know who the man is, or you don’t, and the fact is an ever-increasing number of men neither do, nor care. Which on one level is too bad, because in Bogart we have a man with some considerable virtues. He was short, and several notches below good looking. He had bad hair on a good day, and talked funny. Yet he managed to become one of the biggest box office stars of his generation, was wildly popular with women, and men generally admired him. He was a formidable leading, man holding his own amongst the likes of the vastly more sophisticated Cary Grant, or the considerably more virile Gary Cooper. Which just goes to show, what’s inside does, in fact, count for something.
So here’s lookin’ at you, Bogie. You didn’t quite make the cover, but here you are on my website, and that ain’t half bad.