Posts Tagged ‘Lucy in the Sky’

Everything Old is New Again

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Well, Campers, here I am in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and I’ve just come in from having a big walk around. I can’t tell you much about Sampa, except that it’s unreasonable large and that parts of it remind me of Tel Aviv (riotous street scene) and parts remind me of Bucharest (a little more attention to smooth pavement, please). What I can tell you about is my inner weather. All day long I’ve been haunted by the (good) feeling that “everything old is new again.” Maybe it’s because I’m on a new (to me) continent and in a totally new (to me) culture, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is really like the old days for me (like 1998, ’99), when these overseas jaunts were still a novelty and the mere act of being in a strange place was enough to get me seriously off. Followers of this blog will know that I’ve lost that feeling from time to time. It’s not that I’ve become jaded, except, okay maybe a little bit I have. Anyway, for some reason this place strips all the jaded away, and I’m walking around with the sense of wonder of a much younger man.

Just in passing today I noted the difference between being younger and being older. I fancy that it’s worth sharing here: Being older means you know more and care less. I don’t know if that’s true or not. It sounds like one of the (many, many) things I say that sounds like it might mean something and then you look at it closely and realize, hey, not so much.

Here’s one thing I know about Sao Paolo: people make eye contact. It’s weird and disconcerting if you’re not used to it, but you can be walking down the street and find yourself being “recklessly eyeballed” by all and sundry. Now me, I’m a reckless eyeballer from way back, but I’m so used to that being a one-way relationship. Here, out on the street, people are checking me out as relentlessly as I them (so much so that I sometimes think they’re flirting which, alas, they are not). I was told that this was the case, but didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own, er, eyes. Why it should be I cannot say. Does it speak to an open and connective society, or just a general prurient interest in one another on the street? Dunno. I’ve only been here a day. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have it all sorted out.

In the meantime, two pictures. This first is from my hotel hallway, outside the elevator.

And that’s good advice, no? Note that this warning has been required by municipal code since 1997. I guess there were a lot of elevator accidents theretofore.

This next shot is from a toy store here in Sampa, and it just tickles me that the game that informed my childhood a damn long time ago is still out there doing its thing, forcing people to choose between the Rota Segura (the safe path) and the Rua do Risco (the risky path). Same as it ever was, my friends, same as it ever was.

For me the Rua do Risco. Always was, always will be. Because everything old is new again, and as long as I follow the unsafe path, no matter how old I get, I will stay new, too.

More later,  -jv

On The Road Again (Again)

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Well, Campers, I haven’t been overseas in almost 8 months and that’s kind of a record for — oops, I forgot my trip to Oslo in April. Okay, I haven’t been overseas in almost 4 months, which is no kind of record at all. This time I’m bound for Sao Paolo, Brazil, and I’m excited about this trip because this will add both a new country and a new continent to my resume. I will now have worked in 29 countries on 5, count ’em 5, continents. Ya-hey!

This is also an unusual trip because I’m going to do a job I’ve never done before: I’m tasked to breathe life into a cartoon mascot for a food company (can’t tell you more — would have to kill you). Well, I haven’t worked the advertising side of the street since I was 25, so this will be a real change of pace. Nor have I ever done exactly this sort of creative consulting gig before. So it’ll be “making it up as I go along” as usual. Doesn’t scare me. That’s how I roll.

As usual, I’ll be flying blind, arriving in a city I know virtually nothing about. A quick image scan on Google seems to indicate that the houses are pretty…

but the land is mostly magenta…

And covered with tall buildings.

But, one way or another, I imagine I’ll stumble along. I’ll only be there for 6 days, so no chance to chase my usual buzz of ultimate frisbee in foreign climes, and probably not poker as well. Ah, well. I’m hoping to get a little sight-seeing in, but frankly I won’t work too hard to arrange that. When you’re completely new to a place, everything is a sight to see, and even the most prosaic walk can be eye-opening. Well, I’m bringing my camera, so my prosaic walk can be eye-opening for you, too.

More later, -jv

The Warp and Woof of My Life

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Well, here I am back in Oslo, Norway, a place where I worked extensively in 1998 and 1999 — and haven’t seen since. I’m so glad to be back working here, though I don’t know if my presence represents a throwback to an earlier phase of my career or the reigniting of something that gave (and gives) me so much joy. Well, whatever. I’m just pleased — feeling blessed, actually — to be back here in this wonderful country, helping the makers of a very funny, very successful TV show do their job just a little bit better.

So that’s the warp of my life: traveling the world according to the now-venerable formula of exchanging knowledge for experience plus money. If I get to do this until I die, I shall be content.

Meanwhile, over there on the woof of my life, it looks like Lucy in the Sky is starting to gain some of the traction I hoped it would. Here’s a clip from a brand-new review:

Attention all Baby Boomers or BB wannabees: If you want to remember/learn about what really happened in the `60s and `70s with the Hippie Generation, “Lucy in the Sky” gives you a riveting, hilarious, honest, insightful look at what most of us teenagers went through during that time. Vorhaus has captured those feelings impeccably in Gene Steen, his intelligent, good-hearted, restless symbol of teen angst in a stereotypical Midwest suburban household. Gene thinks there is something to this hippie culture, but is not sure what until he experiences the freedom and risks of choosing his own path in life free from parental or societal restraint.

It goes on like that for a bit, and makes me think that, yeah, what I hoped to convey is getting conveyed.

And it tickles me no end that I write in a language where “woof” and “weave” can mean the same thing.

Here’s how the warp and woof intersect: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been using my teaching enterprises to support my writing endeavors. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been using my writing income to subsidize my overseas adventures. Years ago I made the profoundly lucky discover that “those who can do, do both,” and so long as I’m willing to accept a little personal schizophrenia (and why not? strong cloth requires both warp and woof) then I can continue to run pell-mell down these two interesting roads at once.

That’s it for now. Rainy Oslo beckons. (And EXPENSIVE Oslo: this place makes Moscow, Russia, look like Moscow, Idaho, but whatever). Photos may or may not be forthcoming, for I forgot and left my camera at home — and I hate the camera on my iPhone almost as much as I hate Siri.

More later, -jv


Friday, April 13th, 2012

So here I am in Madison, having a peak experience at the Writers Institute and bringing my usual mix of information, inspiration and bafflegab. Mostly, though, I’ve been keen to walk the streets of Madison, since the city plays a not-insignificant role in my new novel, LUCY IN THE SKY. There’s a point in that book when our hero, teen hippie-wannabe Gene Steen, makes his way to Madison at its counterculture height in 1969. Never having been here before, having only imagined the place and researched it via Wikipedia, Google Earth, and my own febrile imagination, I was curious about how the reality would match, or fail to match, my vision.

So I took myself out onto State Street, then as now the main shopping street and chief hangout for denizens of the nearby University of Wisconsin at Madison. The result was weirder than I expected. Even through the veil of 40+ years, it was clear that State Street had not lost its hippie roots. Evidence? These shots from the head shop Sunshine Daydream, which could easily have opened its doors in the sixties.

Of course there have been a few changes — witness this sign in the window of Sunshine Daydream:

Not sure there would have been quite the need for this “no guns” admonition back in ’69. Yet the spirit lives on.

As I strolled the streets I experienced an odd schizophrenia. I have never been here before, yet I knew for sure that I had been here, both in the 1969 of my imagining and in the real world of my writing desk, just about a year ago. I felt at once alien and quite at home. This feeling serves as a certain synecdoche (look it up) for my whole experience of writing the novel. I have described it as an emotional memoir — the story of the hippie wannabe I always wanted to be but never quite was. Until I walked State Street last night, I didn’t realize how fully I had achieved my goal of reliving a past I never had. This is the power that a writer enjoys, at least within the realm of his own head and heart. I was never here in 1969, yet thanks to the power of imagination, I got a chance to relive the experience for the first time, if that makes any kind of sense at all. Out on the street last night I experienced real nostalgia and real joy, and realized that, by a certain backdoor means, I had achieved an important goal for myself. I brought a time and place alive in my mind, in a way that I now know to but full, complete, and deeply satisfying. I’m going to school on this. The writer I will be from now on will strive to recreate this sense of abstract creation. I will make worlds, if for no other reason than that I may visit them.  And I don’t know, but do suspect, that this will make my future works more powerful, visceral and satisfying for my readers as well.

In past I have spent time in college towns and felt the familiar “bottom ache” (see LUCY for more on this concept) of lost youth and time gone by. Here and now I don’t feel those things. I need not long for something I wanted and never had, for, thanks to the experience of writing LUCY IN THE SKY, I feel like I had that something; I need not regret a road not taken, for now I’ve gone back and taken it, at least by roundabout and fictional means. To me that’s a win.

Yet as whimsy is still my stock in trade, I can’t close this post on that. Instead, I offer this cut-out from a warning sign at the UWM boathouse on Lake Mendota. It offers this sagacious advice:

Remember… hug the shoreline. There’s only hard paddling and dangerous water elsewhere. I do not consider these “words to live by.” I consider them words to reject utterly. To quote Bruce Springsteen, “Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun, oh but Mama, that’s where the fun is.” Hug the shore? Screw that. I’m going where the hard paddling is.

More later, -jv

Oh, PS and inevitably, Check it out. You, too, can live in the past.

Bafflegab Books is Proud to Present…

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Here’s the logo for my new publishing company, BAFFLEGAB BOOKS.

Its first release, LUCY IN THE SKY, is available now at

For those of you who have followed my work from THE COMIC TOOLBOX through all those poker books to the “sunshine noir” mystery novels THE CALIFORNIA ROLL and THE ALBUQUERQUE TURKEY, you’re going to find LUCY a bit of a departure. It’s a coming-of-age tale set in Milwaukee in 1969, and it’s more of an authentic emotional journey than, you know, bafflegab. That said, if you like the way I put words on the page, you’re really gonna love LUCY. Here’s what she looks like.

And here’s where to go for an excerpt:

The novel is available in print, ebook and author-narrated audio. I’m especially pleased with the audio version of the work, because I think I brought a level of emotional texture to the read that a third-party reader would not. If you like taking your stories in through your ears, I definitely recommend grabbing LUCY in that form.

In whatever form you encounter her, I hope you enjoy her, and if you do, I hope you’ll post a short review at Amazon, so that others can find their way to the work, too. It’s “a trip and a half for young seekers and old geezers alike,” and with all due false modesty, I really think it rocks.

More later, -jv

Excerpt: Lucy in the Sky

by John Vorhaus


A coming-of-age tale set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1969, Lucy in the Sky lightly touches on such weighty issues as the meaning of life, the purpose of art and the existence of God. For those interested in answers to The Big Questions or just keen to revisit a simpler time, Lucy in the Sky promises a fun and compelling trip – and that’s trip in every sense of the word!

Gene Steen is an earnest, intelligent, truth-seeking teen stuck in a suburban cultural wasteland. He wants to be a hippie in the worst way, but hippies are scarce on the ground in the forlorn Midwest of Gene’s 15th year. Then, propitiously on the Summer Solstice, his life is turned upside down by the arrival of his lively, lovely, long-lost cousin Lucy. She’s hip beyond Gene’s wildest dreams and immediately takes him under her wing. Lucy teaches Gene that being a hippie isn’t about love beads and peace signs, but about the choices you make and the stands you take. Yet for all her airy insights into religion, philosophy and “the isness of it all,” Lucy harbors dark secrets – secrets that will soon put her on the run, with Gene by her side.

Lucy in the Sky resonates of such classics as Summer of ’42 and Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and invites the reader into a richly detailed vision of the ‘60s, as realized by sure-handed prose and authentic sense of place and time. With frank talk about sex and drugs, Lucy pulls no punches about the realities of the era, yet delivers an uplifting message about personal power and the path to enlightenment. A rewarding read for young seekers and old geezers alike.

So here comes an excerpt, y’all.

oil and sterno more like

This story is about the summer my cousin Lucy came to visit, and since she’s the star of the show you should hear how she sounds.

“The space program, Gene? The space program? They’ve got a lot of nerve calling this dinky neighborhood we live in space. Say they do put a man on the moon, so what? That’s just one flyspeck next to another flyspeck, you know? You can’t touch the infinite with rockets. You gotta go inside your mind, Gene, all the way down to your soul. Look at it. Live it. You’ll find out. It’s big as everything. Now there’s your space program.”

And she looks…amazing. Copper is her favorite color. She has copper hair, copper hairpins, copper earrings, bracelets, finger rings, thumb rings, toe rings, copper, copper, copper. Go Lucy, go with your copper. Go with your peasant skirts which wherever you got them it sure wasn’t Sears. Go with your chunky heels and funky sandals. Go with your lace leggings, oh my God. Go with your ankh necklace, and the other one, the leaded red cut crystal octagon that gives me Lucy times eight when I look through it, her halter top times eight when I look through it, no bra times eight when I look through it, oh God, Lucy, you cripple me, you slay me, you do.

She tilts down her copper sunglasses and I feel her eyes burning into me. I know she’s reading my mind. She knows I lust for her bust. My cousin! But if I know Lucy, she’d just say something like, “They’re only secondary sex characteristics, Gene. If it gives you pleasure to look, look.” ‘Cause that’s how she talks. She doesn’t talk, she blurts. Blurts!

She and my dad, though, cats and dogs.

Oil and Sterno, more like.

You know how you know when you’re always right? Me neither, but my dad does, and Lucy does, too, but they can’t both be right, that’d be like matter touching anti-matter and blooey! So blooey it is on Nixon and Vietnam, and blooey on civil rights. Blooey on short skirts and long hair. Blooey on pot versus booze. Blooey on Andy Williams versus the Who. Blooey on whether she should call him Uncle Carl or just Carl because Lucy finds honorifics ageist and  classist, whatever those words mean. Blooey even on football versus baseball (barbaric versus boring and I say they’re both wrong). Blooey on everything because if she says black he says white, and that’s how the two of them are now. She’s under his skin. It’s really interesting to watch.

She’s under my skin. Been there since day one. Summer Solstice. Longest day of the year.

groovy discounts

I’m horsing around in my treehouse with Gilbert, who’s not as dorky as his name sounds, in fact he’s pretty cool. He kypes his brother Wade’s Playboys and Rolling Stones and brings them to the treehouse. He likes the cartoons in Playboy, like this one of a Girl Scout showing her cones and saying, “Well, if you don’t want any cookies, how about a nice set of cupcakes?” I like the music reviews in the Stone. Neil Young played last week at the Troubadour on the Sunset Strip. Man, what I wouldn’t give to be on the Sunset Strip. Or even anywhere, because everybody knows this is nowhere, this treehouse in Milwaukee or even anywhere in Milwaukee. And also nowhen because while it might be the 1960s where Mr. Neil Young lives, it sure as fudge isn’t here, not while I’m still getting my hair cut by Luigi the homuncular barber, and my clothes come from, yep, Sears, and a big night out for the Steen clan is eating at the Jolly Pop Drive-In and seeing Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies.

(And not while I’m still saying fudge instead of fuck. You know?)

So it’s Saturday, June 21, 1969, here at the corner of nowhere and nowhen, the first day of summer and the first day of summer vacation and less than a week until I turn fifteen. “Hair” by the Cowsills is playing on WOKY, the Mighty 92, on the bulky brown transistor radio I keep up here in the treehouse. Being almost fifteen, I’m almost too old for a treehouse, but I’m kind of calling it a clubhouse now, or even a redoubt, which is a word I learned for hideout or lair. I know words. I like learning them. Plus geography, geology, biology, psychology. I’ve always been a pretty good student, not because I’m trying to earn Brownie points, but just because I dig it. Though more and more these days I can’t help feeling like I’m learning the wrong stuff, the stuff that doesn’t matter. Where’s the stuff that does?

So lair. I’m in my lair. Listening to “Hair,” “Hair” in my lair. But keeping the volume down though, because Dad’s down there mowing the lawn and Dad doesn’t like rock and roll, though how the Cowsills are rock and roll I don’t know. I mean, they’re not exactly radical, are they? They even wear the same clothes, and in my opinion, no one can really be rock and roll if they wear the same clothes, not since the Beatles cut it out. But this nicety is lost on my dad. If it isn’t anciently old, it isn’t music to his ears. And it’s nonsense, what he listens to. I mean, granted, “Hey Jude don’t make it bad” is hardly Walt Whitman or even e.e. cummings, but on the other hand, “Flat foot floogie with a floy floy?” What the hell’s a floy floy?

Rolling Stone has a thing on when Jim Morrison flashed his wiener at this concert in Miami last winter. I would like to’ve been there. Not that I’d want to see the Lizard King’s wiener, but still.

It’s already hot, summer hot, but not humid like it’ll get. Come August I’ll be totally broasting, sleeping naked in my bedroom in the ovenlike upstairs of our house, with the windows open and the sheets thrown back and the ceiling fan squeaking loudly on its cruddy ball bearings and me wishing it would at least have the decency to suck up a mosquito or two. Now, though, it’s still okay. Hot for sure, but not oppressive, and the maple and oak trees up and down both sides of the street make pools of cool shade on the concrete slab sidewalks and the lush green lawns that front all the cream colored brick two-story homes.

My lair looks almost straight down on the street. If you wanted, you could chunk water balloons on the roofs of passing cars. Or heave ones at Dad as he mows, an act of D’Artagnian rebellion that would never in a million years have crossed my mind during these last five minutes of my life before Lucy arrives. Right now I’m let’s face it quite a square, a rebel without a clue. I don’t smoke dope or even coffin nails, or curse or shoplift, and I even still enjoy Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies, though I know it’s not cool to admit it. I’m not cool, I admit it. I even have a very not cool name. Gene. Eugene Montgomery Steen.

I mean, come on.

But there’s a streak in me. Iconoclast, I guess you’d call it, or maybe just weirdo. Anyway, I like to do dumb things if I get the chance. Like, here was my school science project from last year: “How Stupid Are Science Projects?” It was a joke, because actually I like science, but serious too, because I did it like you’re supposed to, all scientific method and such. I took a survey, correlated the results and reported my conclusions, supported by pie charts, bar graphs and good ol’ Venn diagrams. I even had control questions like, “How stupid is Gomer Pyle?” (A hundred percent stupid, hence the control.) Sixteen percent of adults surveyed thought science projects were stupid. Ninety-three percent of kids did. I should have called it, “How Stupid Are Adults?” but anyway.

So I’m up in the air in my lair when I notice this VW microbus coming down the street. “Hey, Gilbert,” I say, “check it out. Hippie van at six o’clock.” I don’t know if six o’clock is actually the direction I’m looking, but I know from the TV show Twelve O’Clock High that twelve o’clock high is straight ahead and up, so I know it can’t be that. Maybe it’s six o’clock. Maybe it’s 7:23. Anyway, here comes this big beater of a van with a bumblebee black and yellow yin yang painted on the front, and trust me, hippie vans don’t roll down streets like mine every day, or even any day ever. So this is news.

Gilbert slides over and we peer down through the redoubt’s redwood rails at the microbus, which is riding low on bald tires and belching sooty uncombusted gas, and just couldn’t look more out of place in this neighborhood of Dodge Darts and Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers. But it catches my eye because it looks hippie and anything that looks hippie catches my eye these days, even the ads in the Milwaukee Sentinel which have lately started sticking flowers and peace signs into the graphics and offering “groovy discounts” on dinette sets. I know it’s bogus, but there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’m like a moth to a flame with hippie stuff because this is Milwaukee and when I tell you that flowers and peace signs in newspaper ads are about as hip as this place gets, I’m not exaggerating all that much. But I’m so hungry for it, man. I mean, imagine you’re a caveman eating raw mastodon and you hear that some other guys somewhere have been farting around with something called fire. You don’t know what fire is, but you hear it does awesome things to meat. You’d naturally want to try it. You’d crave to. That’s the way I feel. I’m a caveman living in a cultural cave and I’m getting sick to death of eating raw mastodon, which, yuck.

Then the van does something I’d never expect it to do, not in a million lifetimes. It stops right in front of my house. No vans like this ever stop in front of houses like mine. It might as well be a spaceship.

Well, in a sense you could say it is. It surely contains an alien.

maryjane virgin

The van knocks and pings as the driver driving it shuts it off. This draws Dad’s attention. He looks over at the microbus, but keeps pushing the push-mower because he’s a dog with a bone with that lawn, it’s his joy and pride. Last year when Milwaukee was considering banning phosphate in fertilizers, Dad stocked up. On that and DDT, too, which he filled a whole back room of his hardware store with, because he feels about bugs like he feels about crabgrass: Enemy! Die! Now he’s got enough banned pesticides to keep his lawn going through Armageddon, and that makes him happy.

What doesn’t make him happy is hippie vans parked at his curb and though he’s still got the  push-mower going whiska-whiska, he’s got an eye on the van, too, possibly sizing it up for a good dose of DDT just in case. Then the side door slides open, squeaking on rusty rollers, and a big, metal-frame backpack flies out and thuds on what they call the parkway, the strip of city grass between the sidewalk and curb (which Dad tends grudgingly because its city property and they should care for it but he’ll be, and I’m quoting here, “good Goddamned” if he’ll let any part of his cherished domain be an eyesore, you betcha).

The science project I didn’t do last year was “Does Heat Really Rise?” which my teacher, the dreaded Miss Buchanan, rejected because of course heat rises and she said I could do better than that if only I Applied Myself, which led to “How Stupid Are Science Projects?” which she even had to give me a good grade on because after all I did do the work. But heat does rise, this we know, and smells rise with it, which is why I smelled burning oil and the reek of brakes and cooked anti-freeze coming off the van, and then when the door opened something else that the news magazines like to describe as “sickly sweet,” but I think is more like sage gone bad.

“Is that what I think it is?” asked Gilbert who, so far as I know, is a maryjane virgin like me, but we both spent enough time in the boys’ room in junior high to know the difference between cigarettes, which everybody smokes, and dope, which only the Afro-Americans and the drama kids smoke. I shushed Gilbert and we crouched down lower, because between the hippie van and the pot smell and the backpack flattening Dad’s precious Perennial Ryegrass (even if it was city property), I sensed that the situation could get edgy. Dad took a couple of steps toward the street, stopped, put his hands on his hips and just radiated disapproval. It’s easy to know when Dad’s angry, his shoulders scrunch. And he hates hippies like a cat hates baths.

I saw a foot first, then another, both wrapped in strappy sandals that crisscrossed the calves all the way up to the knees. Then came the hem of a calico sundress fluttering in the June breeze, and then the rest of her, all willowy arms, jangling bracelets, suede leather handbag and  giganzo lavender floppy felt hat. In a voice kind of husky but also sort of lilty, she said, “Thanks for the lift, dudes,” and blew some kisses back into the van. She closed the door behind her and the van labored off. Then she took off her hat and shook out her gorgeous unstoppable copper colored hair, letting it fly free.

Can you fall in love with the top of a head? I kind of think you can.

Gilbert gawks. I gawk. Dad gawks, but not in a good way as it dawns on him that for some utterly inexplicable reason, this chick thinks that wherever she’s going, she’s there. He steps forward to disabuse her of that notion PDQ. “Can I help you?” he says, which doesn’t sound at all like can I help you except if he means can I help you go away?

“Uncle Carl?” she asks, but from the way she says it, almost a squeal, you know she doesn’t think it’s a question. She beams him a smile you can see from space.

“Yes, I’m Carl. Who are you?”

The girl acts surprised. “What do you mean who am I? I’m your niece, Lucy.”

At this point she kind of dances past him and pirouettes around on the lawn, just happy to be out of the cramped confines of the microbus, I guess. We already know how Dad feels about his lawn, so he’s not likely liking this very much, but he likes it a whole lot less when she dances back to him, throws her arms around him and gives him a big hug and a wet smooch on the cheek. He recoils like she’s wrapped hot snakes around his neck. He doesn’t like to be touched. “Where’s Aunt Betsy?” Dad mutters something I can’t hear, and the girl says, “Great! I can’t wait to meet her!”

She bends over to pick up her backpack. I can see right down her dress.

I swear I see a nipple.

not a girl who misses much

I didn’t come down from my treehouse clubhouse redoubt hideout right away, because when I saw Lucy humping her backpack right across Dad’s lawn, and Dad huffing after her, totally leaving the lawn mower where it was, which was totally unlike him because you never know, you know, lawnmower thieves, I thought there might be some fireworks and like the sign says, “Have a safe and sane Fourth,” so I figured I was safer and saner up a tree. But then curiosity got the best of me, because who was this chick – this hippie chick! – and what was she doing at our house? And since I didn’t hear shouting or see things flying out windows, I thought I might safely do some recon. Just nonchalant, like. Like I’m just coming in for a Fresca after a sweaty morning of goofing around outside. I stop off in the garage and grab my baseball glove, an Eddie Matthews model I got for a birthday present last year, surely on discount for what’s the market for genuine Milwaukee Braves baseball gloves when the Betraves have moved to Atlanta? That’s the joke they told that summer, “Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee move to Atlanta.” It’s funny if you know that Schlitz calls itself the beer that made Milwaukee famous. Or you know what? No, not even then. But anyway funnier than, “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of town.”

Gilbert doesn’t want to come with me, partly, I think, to be alone in the treehouse with Little Annie Fanny.

Gilbert spanks it. I know he does.

So I walk around to the side of the house and go in through the back door, and here’s what I see in the kitchen: Mom standing at the counter, mixing a pitcher of frozen Minute Made lemonade, working that big wooden spoon to beat the band; Dad leaning against the Frigidaire, arms crossed, looking considerably irritated; my kid sister Katy sitting at the kitchen table, drawing, her legs swinging back and forth just off the floor; and this Lucy person wearing a very puzzled look, like maybe she just found out that Lake Michigan was made of lime Jell-O. “That’s odd,” she says. “That’s really, really, really weird. Are you sure you didn’t get my mom’s letter? It would’ve come from France.”

“This family doesn’t get mail from France,” says Dad, seriously glowery. I can already tell he’s not this chick’s biggest fan, and not because she tromped on his grass but just because she looks and acts the way she looks and acts, which you could sum up in just one word, free, which is pretty opposite to my severiously uptight father who has been known to wear ties on weekends. It’s like he already knows somehow that she’s gonna upset apple carts around here, and it doesn’t exactly take a Magic 8 Ball to see that signs point to yes.

“Now, Carl,” says Mom, using her wife-calms-the-husband voice. To Lucy she says, “What would the letter have said, dear?”

“No, you know what?” says Lucy, “This is gonna be awkward. I should just go.” She pushes her hair off her face. Her dozen bracelets slide down to her elbow.

My sister looks up from her crayons. “Tinkly,” says Katy. She’s eight.

At this point, Lucy notices me, or I would say lets herself notice me, because I’ve already been standing there for half a minute and she strikes me as not a girl who misses much (do do do do do do, oh yeah). She comes over and gives me a big hug, bigger and longer than the one she gave Dad. “You must be Gene,” she says. “I’m Lucy.”

I instantly have a boner, which lasts exactly as long as it takes to remember she’s my cousin.


The Doo Dah Bookfest

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Hello Campers,

I had a fun weekend here in sunny SoCal, dropping in on the semi-famous Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena on Saturday, and rocking the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday. At the latter I signed a bunch of books and pontificated most punditally on a panel (on writing comedy, natch). At the former, I just sat in the crowd, agog, as tortillas and marshmallows (the traditional projectiles of the Doo Dah Parade flew.

Brief photo essay:

Well, this wasn’t really from the parade, but from my pre-parade breakfast at Denny’s. We live in a perfect world, folks; you can get bacon on your sundae.

Everything old is new again at the Doo Dah parade.

And even dogs get into the act. Meanwhile, at the LATBF…

…I signed books at the Vroman’s tent (note the fan agog in the background — as if.)

…signed somewhat less frantically after my panel appearance.

…a panel I shared with (l. to r.) Don Winslow, Lee Goldberg and Thomas Perry, estimable authors one and all. Thanks especially to Lee for moderating so immoderately.

And so how do you feel about the death of Osama Bin-Laden? Me, I feel, well, not much of anything at all. I can’t see it making much of a difference on the geo-political scene, can you? I mean, it’s not like those with a suicide-bomber bent are suddenly going to say, “Well, that’s over, we can all go home now.” If anything, I imagine it’ll fan the flames.

Oh, like those flames need fanning.

You know what? That’s too bummeresque for a pleasant Sunday night. Let’s go back to the Doo Dah. This here is Snotty Scotty and the Hankies.

And on that musical note, let’s say…

More later, -jv

Said Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

That quote is on my mind just now because today I finished (well, finished enough to send to my agent) my next novel, LUCY IN THE SKY (A Sixties Trip). It’s a departure for me. No cons, not comedy (well, not much). It’s a coming of age story about a 15-year-old boy living in Milwaukee in 1969 who wants to be a hippie in the worst way. Well, he doesn’t know what a hippie is, really, he just knows that there are none around here, as far as the eye can see. And then, one day, this smart, sexy, incredibly hip 17-year-old girl turns up on the family doorstep, and Gene is instantly in love. Just one problem…she’s his cousin. Well, it turns out she’s not his cousin and — well, I guess you’ll have to wait to find out the rest. Right now I’m on pins/needles wondering what kind of reception the MS will get from my agent.

I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done.

I think it may be the worst.

Truth is, I’ve lost all perspective.

But Churchill said it: you have to fling the beast.

The beast is flung.

I feel empty inside, drained, like I always do when I finish a big project. This one has consumed my days for the past six months (and I think if you can knock out a novel in six months, you’re doing all right.) Tomorrow I’ll have to find something totally else to do. I’ll try, as usual, to take some time off before starting another big project. I’ll fail, as usual, sooner rather than later, because writing is the itch I always need to scratch. But for now, I’m “taking the win.” I’m enjoying the fact of a job, well, done.

And watching the Red Sox. Go Sox.

More later, -jv