Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

The test

The paint can

The bottom of the paint can shows some of the colors it has worn through the years. The light blue was original.

As promised in yesterday’s post, here is the story of our paint can.

It is a newspaper column I wrote in 1998, give or take a year. I learned to never expect much feedback from columns, but this article received more than normal. It seemed people related to it.

In 2000, when I published a collection of my columns in a book titled “I Would Ask You In, But You Already Are” (now out of print, but I hope to add to it and republish someday), the paint can column was my first chapter.

The test

“Do you notice anything different?”

It’s the question a man most fears from his wife. The observance test: Do you love me enough to notice the slightest of change?

I try to look pensive, hopefully masking my terror, looking for a clue. Please, give me a sign. There it is! She waves her hand slightly around the kitchen. Relief floods me as I realize the change is something in the room. I’ll have more leeway for error there.

Still, I’m being tested. My eyes refocus and scan the room looking for something different. Only seconds pass but each shortens my life span by a year or two. I’m running out of time.

Then, there it is! The paint can is red. What color it was before, I’m not sure, but it’s obvious that this is a fresh coat of paint.

“You’ve painted your utensil can,” I say with no small measure of pride.

“I thought red would go with the wallpaper, don’t you think so?”

Good, good. That tells me it was indeed a different color. Brown, I think.

“Definitely,” I reply. “It looks great.”

The paint can. Yep, you read right. The paint can holds a position of honor in our kitchen but not just because it’s so handy at holding miscellaneous utensils. It has its value in our family because it holds special memories.

When Leah and I married we had next to nothing. I was just out of school with a low-paying sports writing job and some upcoming college loans. She still had two years to go in college. Things were tight and would stay that way for a while.

Our first home was really no more than a tiny, ancient travel trailer. My dad and I put in a new floor and paneling. I paid an out-of-work plumber to install a toilet, a bathroom sink and shower, and to rig up water and sewer lines. (It was after we moved the trailer a couple of hundred miles that we learned the guy may have been out of work because his work wasn’t very good, but that’s another story.)

Leah took charge of beautifying the outside of the trailer, which was basically silver and showed its age none too gracefully. When she got through with it, the trailer was a shiny white over blue.

Being of small stature, Leah had trouble reaching the top cabinets in the kitchen. She saved one of the paint cans from the exterior job and painted it the same blue as the outside of our new home. (I just looked at the bottom of the can. You can still see some of the blue. There also is a little brown and what appears to be an off-white shade that I believe she used in Rockport.)

Initially, the bucket served as a step stool. For years, through different homes, it always had a spot in the kitchen where it would hide in a corner waiting to be needed. I also can remember her using it to perch on while working on some project or another.

As time passed, she eventually acquired a real step stool, primarily because it was safer to stand on and also because it allowed her to reach higher. That stool is gone now, broken I believe, replaced by another.

But the paint can is still around. Leah couldn’t bear to part with it. Some years back, she painted it anew, removed the lid and transformed it into a container for odd spoons, spatulas and ladles. Ugly, some may say, at the best tacky, but they don’t see its inner beauty.

It reflects 20-plus years (now 38) of a solid relationship, one which started with little else but the relationship. Like the two people, the can has adapted as its role changed.

But it is still a paint can and, even if everything else fails, it knows it can go back to its beginnings, be a paint can all over again, and make it work.

Just an old pan

IMG_0348What do you see in this photo?

The thing filled with popcorn. It’s a pan, right? Just an old, maybe even ugly, pan. But, of course, there’s more to it than that.

It has history, a background story.

I started college right out of high school as a math major at East Texas Baptist College but was then offered a newspaper job early that first semester. After finishing school that fall, I worked for another year and decided to go to Texas A&M University to study journalism.

My brother’s former roommate’s neighbor was looking for someone to share the apartment he rented, so I was looking at surviving without a mom or a cafeteria. My new roommate had everything we needed, but for some reason I decided to buy this pan.

Perhaps it was because I knew I would be cooking a lot of macaroni and cheese or maybe I fell in love with its clever design.

You see that, don’t you, the holes in the pan and the slots in the lip of the lid? Boil something in it (like, I don’t know, maybe generic mac and cheese that you could find on sale 10 for a dollar), align the lid holes with the pan holes and, voila, it quickly and easily drains.

Don’t you love it?

I remember buying it at a Gibson’s store in the Greggton area of Longview, Texas. I believe it’s a warehouse for an office goods business now. That would have been 40 years ago this winter.

So, the pan moved with me into marriage some 38 years ago and was welcomed by my wife, partly because it meant we at least had a pot to … uh … boil cheap pasta in, and partly because she truly appreciated its functionality.

As time passed, we eventually had an electric stove and my pan’s warped bottom wasn’t all that great at evenly conducting heat, but it still had its uses.

A little more than 10 years ago, Leah asked my permission to draft the pan into Halloween service. She was dressing as a witch – her traditional favorite, by the way – and wanted to use my pan as a prop. She is of the Shakespearean line of witchcraft and really likes her “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” so she needed something to stir.

Hence the poorly represented skull and crossbones drawn on the side in permanent ink.

Just last Halloween, during our church’s Trunk or Treat event, we dispensed candy from this pan.

But don’t cry for it, cookware purists. It still has opportunities to serve epicurean needs. Indeed, particularly now that we’re back to cooking with gas, it is the designated device for popcorn and still serves admirably when preparing pasta.

The other day, Leah served up a request of me, should she die first. (Nothing morbid but something we do all of the time.)

“Should I die,” she said, “I don’t care what you do with much of anything. But, keep this pan and keep that paint can.”

Yes, ma’am.

Oh, the paint can? That’s a story for Thanksgiving Day.

582 simple steps

2013-06-04 10.45.49

I ran across one of my old newspaper columns yesterday. It made me think of all the folks who will be tempted next month to make a deal with the devil in order to put together toys on Christmas Eve.

You know, those with the “simple” instructions, those in a box that proclaims, “Can be assembled in 5 minutes with household tools.”

That’s like being in the photo above and being told, “Simply reach down and dip a cup of water.”

OK, here’s the column, which was originally released for publication on June 27, 2007. If you like, I may dig out an old column and share here on occasion.

Piecing it all together

You’ve probably heard about the judge who sued a dry cleaner that lost his favorite pair of pants. The business displayed a sign that said, “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” and the judge said that what would satisfy him in the loss of his pants would be $54 million.

He said he was trying to make a point. I say he just saw a route to publicity and, if there was a point, it got lost in all the hoopla. Oh, and another judge threw out the suit, ordering the claimant to pay legal fees for the defendant. His ruling stated that no reasonable person could expect such a large amount for a lost pair of pants.

Alas, we are not usually that good at applying reason, are we.

Take last weekend. My beloved decided she wanted a propane grill. We have only owned charcoal grills in the past, but she figured she would use it more often, even for quick and simple things, if there were no fooling with firing up briquettes and getting rid of residue.

That’s reasonable, as was Leah’s estimation that cooking outside more would take some of the load off our overtaxed air conditioner as the hottest part of the summer closes in.

We visited four stores Saturday afternoon, comparing features and prices, carefully weighing the benefits of this grill versus that one, deciding just what attributes she wanted. We returned to store No. 2 to make our purchase.

“Fine, I can take care of that,” said the young man with Jordan on his name tag. “Would you like it assembled or in the box? Assembling is free.”

I’m guessing we would have had to return to pick up an assembled grill, that they don’t waste space in their storage area waiting for us to come by and pick up a unit. But, to be honest, that didn’t even figure into my reasoning. Making sure it was put together right and not having to worry about tying it down in the back of the pickup so that nothing blew off of it on the highway … those were the points I considered.

But, first, let’s apply a little of the aforementioned reason. The box might contain hundreds of pieces or it may be mostly assembled, leaving me to attach the legs and handles.

“Tell me, Jordan. Can I get this home and assembled in time for us to cook dinner on it tonight?”

“Oh, definitely. I can put together one of those big ones in 45 minutes.”

Indeed, the box says it can be assembled with nothing but a screwdriver in 35-45 minutes.

Once home, I positioned the box on the tailgate of the truck and started removing pieces.

“This is not a good omen,” I said to Leah when one of the first items I extracted was a shrink-wrapped card containing 122 screws, nuts and washers.

Better than halfway through the unpacking process, I started a stopwatch running, highly suspicious of the 45-minute claim.

After all the pieces were extracted from the box, my yard was littered with 14 pieces of Styrofoam, eight boxes that were within the box, 11 plastic bags, three sheets of bubble wrapping, a plastic pad and 16 various packing pieces. And that was just the trash.

While I am admittedly not a mechanic, I can assemble things and follow instructions quite well. Fortunately, these instructions were written by someone who knew English, but I did quickly notice one thing. The instructions referred to each part by a key, like A or B or FF, and the parts list used code numbers like 0005932. That would be great except that none of the parts were coded with either.

Nonetheless, identifying parts was not a major problem, due in part to good drawings, and I started piecing things together, my eyes on a rib-eye prize.

Thus it was, a mere three hours after I opened the box, I put a match to the burner and flames shot out.

A reasonable person would have expected a late dinner that night.

My name is Steve and I am a wanderer

Downtown Valencia, Spain

Downtown Valencia, Spain

I have a problem.

I suffer from wanderlust and it appears any treatment of the symptoms is rather short-lived. I am always looking for the next place to go, the next place to be.

Some years ago, Leah and I had been talking about a life change that would free us up to not only travel but to experience some of it more deeply.

About the same time, we found a tumor in my bladder. I was lucky to catch it early and it was successfully removed by a couple of surgeries, but it proved to be the tipping point. We decided, knowing tomorrow is never guaranteed, to move forward with our plan.

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New contest alert

question mark_250x250_scaled_croppI’m running a quick, name-the-characters contest on JP’s Facebook page. All I need are two nicknames, no character details.

Click here and enter now; I’ll pick a winner this weekend.

Rock the world

Are these eggs salted? With multi-colored salt, you could tell.

Are these eggs salted? With multi-colored salt, you could tell.

Few things affected the early settler days of the American West as rapidly and as broadly as did the implementation of barbed wire fencing.

On this date in 1873, an Illinois farmer named Joseph Glidden submitted an application to the U.S. Patent Office for two-stranded barbed wire. Suddenly, farmers had affordable and practical means to protect their crops from herds of free-ranging cattle and sheep.

I love it when small inventions change the course of history. As a young boy, I fancied myself a future inventor. When I was about 10, I drew a design for a monorail train. Looking back, I had probably seen a photo somewhere, but at the time I thought it was my idea.

But there is one incredibly practical idea of mine I’d like to see one of you pick up and run with: multi-colored salt.

Every time I shake white salt onto a food and cannot tell how much, if any, is coming out … and then I end up catching some in my free hand just to test it … I think, “Someone really should invent multi-colored salt so I can see how much is hitting my food.”

What would you like to see invented?

Where flowers bloom …

Deerfield Lake, near Hill City, SD

Deerfield Lake, near Hill City, SD

Fifty years ago today, we took a step in cleaning up America.

On Oct. 22, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act. While the most trumpeted element of the act was an attempt to limit billboards, it also included an effort to clean roadside messes and beautify natural spaces.

Let’s set the stage for those not old enough to remember. As our country became more mobile and developed a more throwaway style of consumerism, roadways became lined with trash and litter.

Sure, they are still trashy but nothing like they were back then. Decades earlier, the thought seemed to have been that nature could handle anything we threw onto the ground. As we’ve come to learn (and are still attempting to grasp … see global climate change), man’s ability to mess his nest is almost unfathomable.

In addition to the glass, paper and tin being tossed out of car windows – and the furniture and appliances dumped alongside country roads – the post-World War II era also brought a broad proliferation of plastic products.

In the mid-1950s, the Keep America Beautiful campaign began. Its initial primary focus was public awareness, attempting to reduce litter through public service advertising. It has had many successes, the most prominent of which was the 1971 campaign featuring Iron Eyes Cody, a popular Native impersonator actor, as the “crying Indian.”

So, yes, there was already a movement attempting to address America’s litter problem, but the effort that undoubtedly had the most influence on the president came from within the White House, Lady Bird Johnson.

The First Lady was integral in programs promoting natural beauty, most notably the planting of wildflowers along highways and in cities. She was such a driving force behind the Highway Beautification Act that it was known as “Lady Bird’s Bill.”

Fifty years ago, we took a “step” toward beautifying America, but the long journey continues.

Thousands of volunteers turn out every few months to pick up trash along highways. Contractors are often hired to do the same, along with regular public employees. People with minor legal problems are commonly assigned public service sentences that sometimes put them to work picking up garbage.

Why all of this? Because we’re still tossing trash to the curb. Leading the trash parade is tobacco products, doubly befuddling because of the accompanying risk of wildfires. Grocery store plastic bags are particularly obvious due to their tendency to take flight on a slight breeze and get stuck in tree limbs. Our society’s fixation on drinking water from disposable plastic bottles create a litter problem that will last forever.

However, while the quality of our trash might be worsening, there genuinely is less of it. There was a time that shoulders of a road were fairly well highlighted at night by a car’s headlights gleaming off cans and glass. It’s just not that bad now, in most places.

So, maybe there’s hope but not without continued vigilance. Don’t litter. Speak up to those who do. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Take an extra step and pick up someone else’s trash. Employ reusable grocery bags. Carry water in a washable, refillable bottle.

“Beauty belongs to all the people,” President Johnson said at the signing ceremony. “And so long as I am president, what has been divinely given to nature will not be taken recklessly away by man.”

Or, perhaps more eloquently by Lady Bird: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

Soul searching

Gulf sunriseLast Sunday, sitting in our little church, some internal struggles were eating at me.

I can’t even state clearly what they were, but it had a lot to do with what little I’ve done with my winters. One hears of retirees going crazy if they don’t keep busy. Well, I’m sort of semi-retired, so maybe I’m only half-crazy.

Actually, I steer away from the “retired” label. We work full-time jobs in the summer and my winters are … supposedly … dedicated to writing, but I’ve not really thrown myself into it. I think these wasted opportunities are what bothered me.

Like I say, sitting in church, I was picking up on things that were being said and sung and something inside of me was clear, “I need to go to the beach.” OK, I’m not about to tell you God commanded me to visit the beach, but I knew I needed to be alone and think. Some of my best thinking has often occurred while walking the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Driving home, I mentioned this to Leah and she responded just like I knew she would: “Go.”

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My father’s final lesson

My father with a set of his great-grandchildren

My father with a set of his great-grandchildren

Reality and the ability to relate to it became more and more elusive for my dad in his final few weeks. Indeed, it had been a slippery slope for some months.

However, there was one last lesson he had for me, one that’s taken me more than two years to recognize and might take the rest of my life to understand.

“I don’t know.”

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The Reporter and the Marmot

View from Mount Rushmore

View from Mount Rushmore with the Badlands barely distinguishable in this early evening light as the most distant strip on the horizon. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Yes, I’ve chosen a title for the next book … subject to change, of course.

As promised yesterday, here is the lead section of “The Reporter and the Marmot”:

“Absolutely amazing. This is exactly what I hoped to see. The mountains go on forever.”

“Not hardly. The Black Hills take up a relatively small area. Look on the horizon there. See a narrow brown strip?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“That’s the Badlands we drove through this morning.”

“You’re kidding. Listen, I so appreciate you bringing me to this ridge while everyone else is eating lunch.”

“No problem. Move over here and look off to the right.”

The tourist followed directions and moved closer to the edge of the cliff. His momentum never came quite to a complete stop. Just as he was bending his left knee and leaning over it to maximize his view, he received a firm shove, one hand on his left shoulder and another above his right kidney.

There really wasn’t much of a scream; it was more of a gasp, followed by a slight cry when the victim first made contact with rocks below.

Now alone on the cliff, the other man quickly looked around, as he had done mere seconds earlier, reaffirming nobody was there to challenge his version of the terrible mishap that just occurred. He carefully moved to a safer spot and peered over the edge. There was no movement to the body. At least two limbs were at unnatural angles and there was blood around the head.

“Oh, my,” he said, his hands following nervous tracks to nowhere. “Help. Help me. There’s been a horrible accident.”

He continued yelling as he quickly worked his way down the path to the parking area and the rest of the tour group.

Socially acceptable

Circling buzzardsI made a decision yesterday to try being less of a bur under the saddles of many of my Facebook friends. I’m taking it to Twitter and, to a lesser degree, here.

(Note: I’m speaking here of my personal Facebook page – steve.martaindale – and not the page of my books’ lead character, JP Weiscarver, which is linked to in the right column. JP is much better at keeping out of things like politics and religion.)

Over recent years, I’ve become more and more convicted about the ways humans abuse and destroy other humans. To a far lesser degree than I’ve actually wanted, I have engaged in Facebook quarrels over a lot of topics, knowing fully well I would achieve little but hoping “a little” would make it worthwhile.

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Artistically speaking

steve caricatureIf you’ve been on here at all, you know I write a series of mysteries and I like to use realistic settings. That’s why my central character is a reporter on a small daily newspaper on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why one story is set in Antarctica and another involves a flower delivery scenario.

I know those things because I’ve lived them.

The book I’m (slowly) working on now is set partially in Mount Rushmore National Memorial and in Yellowstone National Park, places my wife and I worked the previous two summers. This year, we’ve been working at an amusement park in western New York.

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screenshotDoes your Internet browser anticipate what you want when you begin entering a url? I suppose it’s an option and maybe it’s the beginning of the Skynet computer network, but it saves me keystrokes.

Here’s a fun exercise. On a blank url field, type “A” and see what site your computer thinks you want to visit. I ran through the alphabet and here’s what I got. Leave a comment to give us your highlights and/or lowlights.

A: Because I’m a Texas Aggie, of course.

B: This one might be a little skewed because I recently researched there for a new computer.

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Keeping it straight

Notecards for hikersI’ve been asked how I keep information straight in my books.

Things like:

* Sunday services at JP’s church begin at 11 a.m.

* Palmetto Club members Selma Brewster and Essie Baldwin have been engaged in a long-running feud.

* JP’s landlords do not own a pickup truck.

* A city park frequented by JP is J.M. Qwilleran Park, known as Qwill for short.

* Lydia Murray calls her mother Mom.

* Jennifer O’Hanlon is almost 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

Those are six of hundreds of facts small and large that I’ve pieced together during the writing of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series. They’re all together in one large file that grows with each story.

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Spelling and facts

question mark_250x250_scaled_croppThe question came up, “What’s the most important thing you learned in college?”

My lesson came from my first journalism professor at Texas A&M, Bill Harrison. He was a good mentor for the written word and one of his pet peeves was misspellings, which he punished heavily, something like dropping your score on an assignment by 10 points for each mistake.

But here’s the birthplace of my lesson.

He told us he never marked a word as misspelled without first looking it up to make sure he was correct.

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July … that’s hot

July is hot, historically, as proven by the past month’s glances at history. Follow them daily through @smartaindale on, link in the right column.

July 1: In 1979, Sony sparked a revolution in personal electronics with the introduction of the Walkman stereo cassette player.

July 2: In 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

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Just sharing

Life Hack-PBandJ

Ministering on the Ice

Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

I was saddened reading this story, “Catholic priests to leave Antarctica because of decline in church-going,” from The Press of Christchurch, New Zealand.

To be clear, the U.S. Antarctic Program will continue sending a Protestant chaplain (who is willing and able to minister to all faiths) during the summer months; it’s not abandoning the faithful on the Ice, just narrowing the program for reasons given in the article.

Why am I sad? For one, it’s simply because I have a deep appreciation for what the chaplains do there. (I wrote a story about them, “Chaplains unite to service Ice community,” which you’ll find on page 3 of the issue linked to here. Coincidentally, the Roman Catholic priest there at the time was the Rev. Dan Doyle, the same priest quoted in the above article.)

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A day for explorers

lunar footprintI’ve thoroughly enjoyed posting daily historical notes on my Twitter, Facebook and Tsu pages (check the right column to follow on Twitter).

Sometimes the entries are vivid memories, both good and bad, and often they are surprising tidbits or good old-fashioned “Hmm” notes. Today’s is particularly special to me and concealed behind it are two other little jewels. First, in its customary abbreviated form, here’s what you found on my social media pages:

“Note for July 20: In 1969, humans walked on the moon.”

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Public service announcement for cigarette smokers: Many of your number willfully create an incredibly negative image.

While I detest tobacco and its disastrous effects on society, I also possess considerable compassion for the restraints we’ve placed on smokers. Not that I want to return to the days when every cafe and office is filled with smoke, but I simply feel bad you have to stand out in freezing rain in order to get your fix.

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We warned you

In case you mdeer signissed it, we’re summering in western New York, where I’ve noticed they have incredibly disciplined wildlife, as illustrated by the warning sign pictured here. What does this mean? Watch for deer for the next half mile, but then abandon all caution?

deer everywhereThen, less than five miles away (both are in Genesee County) there’s this incredibly honest sign. Yeah, watch out for deer everywhere and don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Surprise photo

Aussie koala signThe challenge was to blindly pick out a photo in an album – real or virtual – and tell about it.

The photo that came up was basically nothing. I’m not sure why I took it and it didn’t show anything in particular, so I cheated and moved one photo to the left and found this one.

Leah snapped it in June 2008 during our serendipitous Australian vacation. By that, I mean we scheduled flights, hotel and rental car but otherwise had no specific plans. It was an amazing experience.

This photo isn’t dramatic, but I suspect you’ll instantly see why we took it. I mean, where else in the world does one see a koala crossing sign? Unfortunately, we saw no koalas, crossing or otherwise.

Dream big

A month ago, I posted a reference here about having high hopes attached to an application for a one-month writer’s residency in an exotic location I did not want to divulge at that time. Here’s the rest of the story.

The residency is sponsored by the relatively new National Parks Arts Foundation, which aims to help artists and maybe gain additional exposure for the country’s parks. So far, it has very few residencies, but the one that totally captured my fancy was in the Dry Tortugas National Park.

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June in our rearview mirror

Edward H. White II displays the U.S. flag on his space suit during his historic spacewalk, or EVA (NASA JSC Photograph S65-30431)

Edward H. White II displays the U.S. flag on his space suit during his historic spacewalk, or EVA (NASA JSC Photograph S65-30431)

While sitting on pins and needles waiting to get a highly anticipated phone call, let’s review June’s glances into history.

For several months now, I’ve been tweeting each day a quick note on something that happened on that date in the past. To keep up with them in real time, use the link in the right column to follow me, smartaindale, on Twitter.

June 1: In 1967, The Beatles released the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

June 2: In 1935, Babe Ruth ended his Major League baseball playing career after 22 seasons, 10 World Series and 714 home runs.

June 3: In 1965, astronaut Edward H. White became the first American to “walk” in space during the flight of Gemini 4.

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Shawn mania

shawn mendesWorking in an amusement park this summer promised new experiences, but Saturday’s events were nowhere within my realm of expectation.

One, I looked into the eyes of a horde of screaming and crying teen and tween girls totally enraptured with a recording artist. Two, I feared being trampled by said horde.

Unless you’re close to a girl about that age, it’s likely you, like me, have never heard of Shawn Mendes. That’s understandable, considering the Canadian singer is only 16 years old. Here’s a great article in Sunday morning’s Buffalo News that probably tells you all you need to know for general purposes.

How did I get into such a precarious position? Ah, such is the life of a park sweep.

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Father’s Day and Charleston

Papaw Thanksgiving 2012It’s the third Father’s Day that I won’t be able to call Daddy. Maybe that’s why he’s entering my thoughts about Charleston.

He was joined in my musings during a near-sleepless night by people sharing comments on social media that indicate a belief we no longer have racial strife in this country, that the Confederate heritage is nothing worse than sweet iced tea on a front porch and that the fact guns do not actually kill people means there should be no restraints on who can get one.

And I keep thinking about a high school playoff football game. And there was my youthful hope when our school was integrated in sixth grade.

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And the name is …

The name for the car salesperson in my next book is Kat McFarlen, as submitted by Catherine Salazar. The winning doesn’t stop there, but more after this.

Kat stood out because she does not follow the car salesperson stereotype, but my real reason for selecting her was because Catherine’s character definition opened up great possibilities for interactions between Kat and JP Weiscarver.

I’ll give you one bit from the nomination: “She chose a job at the car dealership because, ‘well, why not?’” To learn more, of course, you’ll have to read the next book.

Oh, I mentioned more winning.

My two other standout suggestions played up to the stereotypes. Understand, I do not have a problem with that for a minor character because, as I like to say, there’s often a reason for stereotypes. These two did such a good job of defining the characters that I decided to merge them into one and make him the sales manager.

Luke Condie suggested the name Lucas Slicky and Matt Roberson submitted Dickey Funkhouser. Since I just cannot bring myself to go with Dickey Slicky, I intend to use Lucas Funkhouser.

So, that’s three winners and three free books. Lucas Funkhouser might say, “Hold on there, Slick, or you’ll be giving away more than you’re selling,” but keep checking back as I continue writing through the book because I really want to have another contest later.

Thanks for the entries!

Two-day bonus

With apologies to those who made the deadline and are awaiting a winner from Name That Character, I’m putting off judging until Thursday morning.

Good news to those of you kicking yourself for not getting in, I’m extending entries until 8 a.m. EDT Thursday and will have a winner posted here by noon.

So, get busy. Click here for the original info.

Name That Character is back

question mark_250x250_scaled_croppHere’s the post for which you’ve been waiting, the next Name That Character event.

Would you like to earn a free autographed copy of my next book? In each of the four previous, I’ve opened up a competition to name someone in the book and assign some characteristics and/or background story to that person.

Each has been an overwhelming success. If you’ve read these books, you’ll recognize Virgil “Moose” MacDuff, the lineman from “Hurricane”; Sandra “Sunny” DelSol, the dispatcher in “Penguin”; Gene Teller, the contractor from “Rose”; and Matt “Matty” Davis, the former pro baseball player turned sports store owner in “Sloth.” Read more of this post

Once upon a May day

TWC_logo_100x100For several months now, I’ve been tweeting each day a quick note on something that happened on that date in the past. Here is a compilation of May events. To keep up with them in real time, use the link in the right column to follow me, smartaindale, on Twitter.

May 1: In 1931, New York’s 102-story Empire State Building was dedicated.

May 2: In 1982, the Weather Channel made its debut.

May 3: In 1999, some 70 tornadoes roared across Oklahoma and Kansas, killing 46 people and injuring hundreds.

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Keep this between us

May I tell you something? It will only take a minute and I’m just dying to share it with someone.

I’m pinning some hopes on something special and … what? I’m not sure I want to say just yet. You’re right, that’s a bit cruel. Hmm, I’ll tell you what it is but not where it is. OK?

Last summer, while working at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, I got to know a wonderfully talented artist, Lane Kendrick. She opened my eyes to the possibilities of securing an artist residency. Yeah, writers are considered artists.

I finally did a bit of research this winter and found there are quite a few scattered around the world. Generally, each offers a place to stay from a week to six months free of rent. Some include food and some a stipend, but mostly they are opportunities to get away from it all and concentrate on writing.

OK, I promised to be quick. I’ve already been rejected by one program. It really didn’t interest me an awful lot and I knew it was quite competitive, so no big deal.

However, I filed my second application packet yesterday and this one is different. It is in an incredible location and lasts for one month this fall. Leah is allowed to accompany me (that was a requirement on my end) and we’ll be almost isolated. I’ve already worked up a promising angle for a JP Weiscarver story set in that location … something different but I think you and I will find it a rewarding tale.

While putting together my application, I made contact with someone within the sponsoring organization to clarify a couple of issues and we became engaged in a lovely email conversation, which excited Leah and me even more.

She didn’t come right out and say so, but my impression is they have not received a ton of applications. Part of the reason for that may be all of the warnings they listed. Not only will we be isolated much of the time, but there will be no telephone, TV or … shudder … online service for a month. Oh, yes, we need to carry in a month’s worth of food, but water and electricity are provided, though we have to learn how to maintain the solar generator and operate the reverse osmosis magic water maker.

Sound like fun? I’m supposed to hear back from them by early July. I’ll tell you all about it then. For now, keep your fingers crossed.

Some gave all

MemorialDay“It’s been a good day, Bubba. We started out with a ceremony honoring those who died while serving the country during wars both noble and ridiculous.”

That line comes from the first chapter of my latest book, “The Reporter and the Sloth,” which begins on Memorial Day. The lead character, JP Weiscarver, is talking to his pet ferret while watching for stars from the Oldport beach.

I wrote that on purpose, the part about some wars being noble and some ridiculous. War and conflict are much too prevalent among us humans. Sometimes, they prove necessary to combat a great evil. Sometimes, they are merely the result of greed and pride.

For those on the front line, however, the results are the same. Regardless of the motive for starting or entering a war, the effects will include dead, injured and psychologically damaged men and women.

On this special day, we in particular honor and remember those who answered the call, whether as a volunteer or a draftee, to serve their country with their very lives. Even in an ignoble war, we owe unreserved honor to those who paid the ultimate price.

May they all find a peaceful rest.

(The photo, by Stephen Smith, comes from the Arlington National Cemetery web site. It shows a Marine Corps bugler playing “Taps” during a funeral ceremony.)

Wait for it

As much as we may groan, something inside us takes pleasure in a bad joke.

Don’t confuse this with a dirty joke.

Boy 1: “Wanna hear a dirty joke?”

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Bladder not pleased with Virginia

Don’t take it personally, Commonwealth of Virginia, but my bladder wasn’t exactly pleased with our brief visit.

I’ve explained to my bladder that it shouldn’t apply its discontent to the totality of the state and certainly not to its inhabitants and I remain confident all will be forgiven and the bad memories will pass.

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Glance at Aprils past

Since early December, I’ve been tweeting each day a quick note on something that happened on that date in the past. Here is a compilation of April events. To keep up with them in real time, use the link in the right column to follow me, smartaindale, on Twitter.

April 1: In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed a measure banning cigarette advertising on radio and television, to take effect after Jan. 1, 1971.

April 2: In 1968, the science-fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, had its world premiere in Washington D.C.

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Take a chance

Take a Chance DayApril 23 is National Take a Chance Day, according to, where the notice urges:

“On this day, take a chance on your dreams and your goals. Mark Twain once said ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowline, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’”

The timing is particularly poignant for me as my wife and I are setting out today for our third summer living our dream.

It began in 2013 living and working in Yellowstone National Park. Following a fantastic experience there, the temptation was great to return there the next year, but our dream was to keep moving, exploring and discovering.

Last summer was spent in Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This summer, we’re shuffling things a bit, working in a theme park in upstate New York.

Many people – some old friends and a great number of tourists with whom we interact while on our adventures – have said something like, “I would love to do what you’re doing,” but we know most of us get too comfortable in the day-to-day to take a chance. And that’s not necessarily bad; it’s what many really want.

We talked for some time about our dream and whether we could or should pursue it. Then, in the fall of 2011, I had a tumor successfully removed from my bladder and we took that as a sign to move forward. We drastically downsized our lifestyle, my wife retired from teaching as soon as she was eligible and we took a step off the cliff.

If you have a yearning to try a new career, to change what you’re doing with your life, to travel, to … whatever … what better time to start working on it than National Take a Chance Day?

It doesn’t have to be put into effect today (though it could) but start planning. Set a deadline.

Be sure and let us know what you want to do.

Best wishes

Earth Day

Do cheaters win?

Does the name Jacqueline Gareau ring a bell?

What about Rosie Ruiz?

Their names are tied together in history, but I’m betting many more of you recognize the latter name. I know that’s true of me.

On this date in 1980, 35 years ago, Jacqueline Gareau won the Boston Marathon in record time, though that fact was not acknowledged for another week because Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line first. While Ruiz still maintains she ran the entire race, officials determined she somehow left the course and sprinted back into competition near the finish line.

The point here, though, is not to argue the facts of the race but to question what we remember and why.

Gareau was awarded the win in record time. Ruiz was labeled a cheater, yet her name is arguably the better known today.

Am I right and, if so, what does that mean?

Then what happened?

We were dining in a Whataburger (a wonderful fast-food franchise popular in the south) the other day and my attention was drawn to a table of four old-timers … meaning they were even older than me.

One of the three guys was particularly loud and I eventually figured out why. He was talking on his cell phone.

Now, talking on a cell phone in a restaurant is one of those particularly unpopular things that people like to fuss about. To be honest, I have no problem with it if you can talk in a normal voice and, let’s face it, the fast-food environment is not the same as a high-end establishment.

This guy, however, was making a nuisance of himself and I finally saw why. He had the phone on speaker and had placed it on the table. His business was so important he wanted everyone to know what he was doing.

We hear of an aging person’s “second childhood,” that point in decreasing mental abilities where one behaves more like a child. The fellow at Whataburger caused us to wonder if maybe second childhood is preceded by second “teenhood” in the aging process.

You know how some teens just assume everyone wants to hear their music or an amazing story about what happened last night when so-and-so went out with so-and-so.

Have you made any observations of second teenhood?

Perhaps I should apply for a grant to study this theory.

Get your ‘Penguin’ while it’s hot


So, you want one of my paperbacks for a bargain. Yeah, personalized, autographed and mailed to you in the United States for a mere $7. Act now and we just might make it happen. Why? When I publish a new book, I order several for promotional use, etc. For a reason I no longer remember, I bought quite a few more of “The Reporter and the Penguin.”

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