Archive for September, 2007

I hate to do this to Litlove, especially since she’s been unwell lately.  However, it must be said:  She is in serious danger of getting completely humiliated in the Race of Rejection™.  As Regular Readers® may remember, Litlove and I are in a fierce competition to determine who can first compile twenty rejections from publishers or agents.  When last we checked our standings, I had racked up an impressive four rejections.  Litlove, sad to say, had none.

Today the humiliation continues.  Yes, friends, I have received another rejection, bringing my total up to five.  According to my admittedly weak math skills, that means I am twenty-five percent of the way to complete victory.  It may not be too soon to raise my arms in a victory salute.

I strongly suspect Litlove will soon have no choice but to concede defeat, as I am sure her first query will result in an acceptance, leaving me the unchallenged King of Rejection©.  As King, I promise a benevolent rule and publications for all.

Now, I understand there are a lot of Litlove partisans out there in Blogland who might say, “But Hobgoblin, your article is going to be published in Americana–surely that means you have already lost!”  To this I must reply, “Not so fast, oh doubters and naysayers!  The competition rules clearly stated that the rejections were for my novel, virtually assuring me a swift and decisive victory!”  Allow me an evil and despotic laugh: “Bwahahahaha!”


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The Rewards of Racing

Cyclists in southwestern Connecticut  are lucky to have race promoters who know what they’re doing.  I’ve mentioned the races Aki promotes as being models of perfectly organized events.  Rick, the guy who promotes the Tuesday Night Worlds, puts on a four-month long series that has become, for me at least, the best thing to do during the summer.  Last night we had a big barbecue and awards ceremony that included the debut of the race video.

At many of the races, we rode in front of video cameras.  There were cameras along the sidelines of the race, one helmetcam for in-the-pack action, a bike frame camera mounted low on the forks, and motocam (a cameraman hanging off the back of a scooter), just like the pros have.  The photographer put together an awesome 45 minute DVD with spectacular race footage, still photos, and interviews with some of the racers.  Since I tried playing for the cameras in more than one race, I got some decent air time.  I have to say, I look pretty professional there, which is, I’m sure, all a photographer’s trick.

We also got our awards last night.  Since Rick gave out awards for the top ten, I got a plaque proclaiming me the eighth place finisher in the B race (I missed seventh by ONE POINT!).  Not only that, but our team took third in the team classification.  I feel especially pleased with this for several reasons.  First, it underscores just how much of a team sport cycling is.  Second, our prize is a formal team portrait done by the photographer who did the pictures and DVD, so everyone on the team will get something.  Finally, we scored 135 points, of which I contributed 58.

Races like this work because everyone involved is excited by cycling and hugely committed to making racing fun and popular.  Most of the racers, as I have said in earlier posts, are typical New England professionals, with real jobs, who compete just for the fun of it.  When we get the chance to feel like Tour de France racers, with videos, interviews, and prizes, we get to realize our Walter Mitty fantasies and, just as important, we feel like coming back next year for more racing.

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Check out the American popular culture newsletter–I’m the “featured article.”  The article itself will appear in the fall edition of Americana, and I’ll post the link when it comes out.

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Boats, Part 2

We scurried back to the waterline, our shoulders hunched as if we expected the spectral shape to take on an even more menacing form and swoop down on us.  What I could see of Dad’s face in the last dregs of twilight was tight and drawn.  “I didn’t like that at all,” he said, his voice tense and shaking.  I didn’t say anything.  I was too scared.

Eventually, we thought we saw the spot in the dunes we had reconned earlier, so we trudged through the deep sand and over the dunes, making our way through thick patches of central California beach chaparral.  The western side of the dunes was actually easier to navigate despite the thicker growth, because the light from the town on the other side of the bay illuminated our path.  After a great deal of searching in the wrong little sandy inlet, we realized that the boat was about a hundred feet north, in another little sandy inlet.  The pile of debris loomed darkly, and we quickly uncovered our find.

Although the tide was on the way in, at least according to the tide book, we didn’t count on the fact that it takes longer for the tide to make it the four or five miles down the bay from the breakwater, where the Pacific flows in.  The tide would be rising as we paddled across the bay, and this would help us since the currents would be favorable, but at the moment, there was still about a fifty yards or more of thick, viscous black mud to traverse before we could get to an open channel.  What to do?

Both of us knew from past experience that the mudflats are almost as good as quicksand–you would sink in eight or ten inches, and then the mud would suck at your feet and pull your shoes off as you tried to take a step.  With the added burden of the boat and our gear, it would be very difficult to cross the mud to the water.  Waiting until the tide reached us was not really an option, either, since Mom would be waiting at the town jetty.  The back bay is a great place for scavengers, as our little treasure proclaimed, and among the flotsam and jetsam were dozens of boards.  We carefully poked and prodded the edges of the dunes to find some long, wide boards that we could lay on the mud to form a temporary boardwalk.

Since we were on a commando mission, we had been very quiet the entire time, even when confronted with the Haunted Log back on the beach.  So, as we dragged the boards out, we were still whispering and trying to move with as much stealth as possible.  I showed my lack of commando skills, though, when I accidentally let one board go.  The noise it made when it splatted on the mud awakened a flock of sleeping pelicans, who took flight, adding their terrified squawks to the echoing gunshot sound of the dropped board.  I grinned at my dad in embarrassment, and we realized then just how silly our stealth was–no one knew or cared that we were out there.  We were two miles as the pelican flies from the nearest human habitation, and at least four or five miles by land from anyone.

Soon we had the boat in hand and dragged it to the channel.  As we were dragging, we could see the water getting closer with the incoming tide. We hopped in as soon as the boat started floating and unlashed our makeshift commando paddles.  I briefly wondered what we were going to do if the boat turned out to be less that perfectly watertight, but I shoved that aside with a sweep of the awkward paddle.

The paddles.  They were makeshift, for sure, and they were far from efficient.  Dad had gone for quickness and not for perfect design when he cut them.  They were shaped sort of like big, fat commas and paddled about as well as commas would.  In spite of this, after about an hour of paddling, we could make out the line of lights at the jetty.  Shortly thereafter, we completed our maiden voyage, bumping roughly against the boards of the jetty and smiling triumphantly at my mom.

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Messing About In Boats

My dad always had a fascination with boats, and when we lived in the San Joaquin Valley, our vacations to the coast involved a lot of time standing on the wharf, looking at the sleek sailboats waiting to be taken beyond the breakwater.  Once we moved to the coast, the obsession remained, and many family excursions were trips to the boat basin in the state park where the big teak beauties displayed their sparkling brightwork or to the Embarcadero, where the smaller boats held court.  Although I appreciated the boats, and enjoyed looking at the pictures and plans in Wooden Boat magazine, my interest never reached my dad’s level.

On New Year’s Day, 1984, we took a family hike on the sand dunes that protected the bay from the Pacific.  We parked at Shark Inlet and hiked over the biggest dune to the ocean side.  Then we traversed back to the bay side, slipping down the slithering sand to the dark, strong-smelling, reed-lined mucky shoreline.  There, tossed by the waves in a tiny cove was a small boat.  It had once been white, but was now a discolored and battered gray.  The fiberglass shell was peeling away from the plywood heart.  The small bench was covered with drying sea grass and splatters of mud.  Clearly the boat was a lost derelict.

“The law of the sea,” my dad proclaimed.  The salvage law, he argued, meant that anything that washes ashore belongs to whoever hauls it away.  Finders keepers.  We decided that the boat was ours by rights.  Since we couldn’t haul it back to the car over two miles of dunes, we would have to come back later that night when the tide was high and paddle our find to the other side, the home side, of the bay.  To secure our prize, we dragged it further up the dune and hid it under heaps of sea grass and other debris.  Then, noting carefully where the boat was by sighting across the bay and finding some landmarks on this side, we set off for home.

Once home, Dad and I realized that we needed paddles of some sort.  There was a sheet of half-inch plywood in the garage, so Dad whipped out his jigsaw and cut two stubby and terribly awkward-looking paddles.  We lashed them up with rope, since rope is something you will always need on a boat, and made slings to carry the paddles.  The rest of our gear was strictly commando-raid equipment.  I wore an old camo jacket and jeans.  Dad put on his field jacket and dark watch cap.  I pulled on a balaclava.  We both wore gloves.

Just as it got dark, Mom dropped us off at Shark Inlet again.  She would meet us at the town jetty in two hours.  We set out up the dunes and decided that it would be faster, easier walking on the ocean side, where the sand would be packed firm.  Slinging our paddles over our shoulders as if we were carrying M16s, we half-jogged over the deep sand, looking around intently to make sure we were not being followed.

As out adventure continued, we felt more and more tense.  Even though there was no earthly reason to suspect that anyone knew we were claiming the derelict boat, and no reason anyone would give a damn if they did know, we became very vigilant, ready for any sort of ambush.  The pale light reflecting from the ocean signaled the death of the first day of the year, and it was just enough to see our way over the dune.  Once the sun’s last glimmers faded away, starlight and the eerie glow from the power plant over the hill helped us but also tormented us with shadows and half-seen menaces.

On our left, the ocean glimmered a dark silver.  On our right, the dunes were pure and utter blackness against the sky glowing with the town’s lights. Keeping our eyes on the shape of the dunes, trying to remember where the boat was, we came across a slender dark shape jutting into the sky.  What is that? we whispered to each other.  The shape was vaguely human.  Tentatively, the same way a dog will carefully make its way to something strange and frightening, we inched our circuitous way up to the shape.  As we got closer, it looked more and more human, like a tall man standing there wearing a long jacket or cloak.  I shined my flashlight toward the shape.  We both jumped as the light seemed to illuminate a dark, snarling gray face.  It took several terrifying seconds before realizing that it was just a log, a piece of ancient driftwood, that someone had set upright in the sand.  The silvered grain of the weathered wood swirled and twisted in the dim glow of my flashlight like a bearded, angry face, speckled with sand.

“Let’s get out of here,” my dad said, sounding much more nervous than I wanted him to sound.  We turned and scurried back to the ocean and continued on our way.

I’ll finish this up tomorrow.  In the meantime, if I may be so bold, check out this post.  It makes me feel happy.

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Article Publication!

An article I wrote on Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson is going to be published in Americana!  I am pretty excited about this because it got rejected by another journal of pop culture because it was too theoretical, something that makes me laugh.  I’m not a big theory guy, so anyone who finds my articles too theoretical is really not a theory guy.   Anyway, I’ll post a link when it’s published.

Here’s the funny thing:  I was sort of depressed that the article got rejected, so I sent it off, electronically, in sort of a throwaway gesture, without revising or doing anything to the MS to the other journal.  The lesson here is that you need to find the right home for your writing.  A rejection just means you haven’t found that home yet.

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Yesterday we closed the pool for the season. Before putting on the cover, I reinflated the big float that keeps the cover off the surface of the pool and attached a new rope to the float’s grommets. I fumbled with the knots untying the old, rotted rope and again with the new rope, wishing yet again that I had more skill with ropes and knots than I do. I can manage a square knot and a couple of other knots that probably have names, but I don’t know them.

I learned to tie the square knot in Cub Scouts. One day when I was in third grade, the school sent out a notice that there was going to be an informational meeting for boys interested in Cub Scouts. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, even though most of my friends thought scouting was stupid and only fags would join. Nevertheless, my dad and I made the trip one night to the cafeteria of Del Mar elementary school with my mom’s admonition to my dad not to volunteer for anything ringing in our ears. There were a couple of dozen boys, many of them scary older boys who had made the transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, milling around. The Pack Leader called the meeting to order and started talking about Scouting. When it came time to organize the Dens, no one stepped forward. Fourteen eight-year-old boys looked sad–no Den Leader meant no Cub Scouts. Finally, to my immense joy and pride, my dad stood up. When we got home that night, my mom did not even have to ask; she saw my triumphant grin followed by my dad’s sheepish grin and said, “You volunteered, didn’t you?”

We had Den meetings at our house. My mom baked something for the boys, usually cupcakes or brownies, and my dad devised skills tests and games. The boys practiced the Cub Scout oath and salute and planned what we needed to do to get the three badges–wildcat, wolf, and bear (I think I remember the badges correctly). One of my dad’s skills tests was to stand over a large empty wine jug with wooden matches and try to drop, from varying heights, a match into the tiny mouth of the jug.

The other thing that vividly stands out in my mind is the square knot game. After demonstrating to us how to tie a square knot correctly, my dad gave us two pieces of rope. We gathered together in pairs, and Dad faced us off across a strip of masking tape on the floor. He looped a piece of rope around the back of one boy and handed the loose ends to the other, then he repeated the process with the other boy. The object of the game was to tie a square knot in the rope looped behind your opponent’s back and then pull the boy across the strip of masking tape. The first to tie and pull would win the round, but only after Dad had checked the knot to make sure it was, in fact, a square knot.

When my dad started to get involved with sailboats, he spent a lot of time learning new knots and practicing them with various types of rope. He grew very skilled with many knots and was quite proud of his splicing and turks heads. One year on my birthday, he sent me a leash he had made for Muttboy, with the splices carefully bound and reinforced with turks heads done in contrasting black cord.

So yesterday, as I was fumbling with my knots, I thought it would be great if my dad were around to show me how to do a really good knot, something elegant, neat, and effective. My thoughts fall that direction too frequently and I can imagine the things he would say or do if he had had the chance to come up to Connecticut to visit. I see and hear him when I go on walks with Muttboy–he would laugh at the dog’s antics as much as I do. Or at a bike race, I can see his big grin as he comes up to my team rehashing the final sprint around the start line, handing me a bottle of energy drink. Or on my deck, making fun of my lousy knots and telling me how to make a real knot so it looks like I know what I’m doing.

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