Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye Weird, Wacky 2010

Weatherwise, and largely otherwise, the year 2010 is going out in a familiar pattern. Meaning no pattern at all. A couple of weeks ago we had snow and 7 degrees. Today it's been up almost to 70. Before the ball drops (or, in Nashville, the guitar) at midnight, storms will arrive, and the thermometer will begin its descent after daylight, ending up below freezing.

The TV folks spent most of their time this evening looking back at the wild and woolly year. Floods and tornadoes and earthquakes vied for attention with terrorists, spies who were never out in the cold but came in anyway, and, oh yes, Obamacare. Nashville had its share of water problems with a 1000-year flood in May. The other most-talked-about event was the election that considerably altered the landscape. For us in Tennessee, it brought a Republican governor, a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress (we already had two Republican senators), and a State Legislature with the largest Republican membership in history.

Personally, I'm not sure I can compete with any of the weirdness that marked the Year 2010. One of the more interesting experiences was attending the 60th anniversary reunion of my old Air National Guard unit that provided me the opportunity for a year's adventure in Korea during the war that hasn't officially ended yet. My fifth Greg McKenzie mystery, A Sporting Murder, came out from Night Shadows Press in September. I had a nice launch party, complete with cake, at Mysteries & More Bookstore in Nashville.

The weather curse caught me the following month, however, when I was invited to talk about my new book to the Nashville City Club Book Club. The threat of nasty weather kept the members at home while I had a nice dinner with the club president and his son.

I suppose the most significant event for me this year was turning 85 in November. I don't bemoan old age the way a lot of my contemporaries do, plus many of those not as long in the tooth as me. I think it's pretty cool to still be sailing along singing a song. Actually, I don't do much singing anymore. My one problem is a cough that has left my voice sounding like somebody with terminal laryngitis.

My most shocking accomplishment, maybe weird would work here, came earlier this week. In A Sporting Murder, one of the characters talks about gambling a few times with the murder victim at Harrah's casino on the Ohio River at Metropolis, IL. Greg McKenzie thinks:

"Jill and I made that trek up I-24 to the Illinois side of the river occasionally. We looked on it as a recreational thing and set a fairly modest limit for what we’d spend. Sometimes we came back winners. Most of the time we didn’t."

That was wife Sarah and my personal experience. This time we took our usual $400, realizing we might come back empty handed, but hoping otherwise. We had two free nights in the hotel and coupons for free meals. After day one, Sarah was about ready to pack it in, but I assured her I would win it all back (did I mention I'm an incurable optimist?).

The last day she suggested we play a small cluster of new Blazing 7's slots near the entrance. They were quarter progressive machines, meaning the jackpots constantly increased, though only a penny at a time, staring with a few hundred dollars. After playing a bit on my $20 bill, winning a few small rounds, watching Flaming 777's popping up above and below the payoff line, suddenly I looked and there were three of them lined up in the middle. The machine lit up with JACKPOT.

The guy who came to pay me off and reset the machine said it hadn't increased much since the last jackpot. We went and played some other slots, feeling much better though not winning a lot. Later, as we made our way back to the entrance, Sarah said, "Let's play these Blazing 7's again." Having never hit a jackpot before, I was sure my luck had been depleted. But I sat beside her at the same machine.

Before I had hardly spun the reels 10 times, up came three Blazing 777's and the JACKPOT sign flashed again. It was still paltry compared to what you'd get on a dollar machine, but to a guy whose luck had always been lousy at best, it was quite a thrill.

So I'm looking forward to 2011 with a new lease on luck. Meanwhile, I'll keep writing mysteries and plugging along as usual, weird or no.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's Snowing for Christmas

As I write this, the clock has just passed midnight, making it officially Christmas Day, and for the first time in 17 years, snow is falling on December 25th in Nashville. As my protag Greg McKenzie pointed out in the new book, A Sporting Murder, if you're looking for a white Christmas, this isn't the place to look. But here it is!

For the first time since I can't remember when, we won't be having a big crowd for Christmas dinner. Our brood has outgrown our house. Sarah and I joined two families when we married 11 years ago, and both of them have been busily expanding. Jointly, we now have 6 children, 11 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. Add 7 spouses to the mix and that totals 33 people, including us.

We split up for Thanksgiving, with Sarah's crowd gathering at one of her granddaughters and my crew dining here. For Christmas, my older son is staying in Pennsylvania, where he'll have his two sons and two grandchildlren for dinner. And my younger daughter stopped by Christmas eve on her way home to Oak Ridge with her four kids, for their first Christmas at home in years.

With snow on the ground, and in the streets, we plan to have a small dinner here with two of my kids and Sarah's grandson. We may miss all the usual hubbub, but it will be a time of relaxing and reminiscing. At our age, that's a good thing.

I'll close with my best wishes for all to have a merry and joyous Christmas, and may your best dreams come true in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Infamy Isn't All Bad

Let me start by saying I'm reasonably pleased with the way my life has turned out. For sure there are things I would have changed, had I known what I know now, but I'm quite happy with the overall result. At this point, you're probably thinking what the devil does this have to do with infamy?

It goes back 69 years to that fateful December 7, 1941. What happened that day put me on the path that led to where I am now. It was one of those blockbuster events that cause people to recall what they were doing when they heard the news. I was riding in my dad's car, listening to the radio. It was around 1:30 p.m. when the news broke on CBS Radio (WLAC in Nashville). I don't remember if I heard the initial announcement or a follow-up. But I remember the message.

The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. You can listen to the original radio reports at the Modesto Radio Museum website.

I had just turned 16 and gotten my driver's license. I didn't get to use the car much back in those days, and even less after gas rationing started in 1942. But like every other boy in my school, I couldn't wait to get out and join the service. My older brother was drafted after finishing his first year in college. I was only 17 when I graduated but promptly enlisted in the Army Air Corps Reserve, getting called to active duty a month after my next birthday.

In his famous declaration of war speech, President Roosevelt called December 7 "a day which will live in infamy." For me, it was a day that set the course for my life. That decision to join the Army sent me on a circuitous route around the Southeast Training Command. My final assignment was at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas.

While there I worked with a fellow Aviation Cadet who had studied a year at Yale before entering the service. We were talking one day about what we'd do when the war was over (it was winding down at the time), and he said if he had it to do over he'd have studied journalism. Up to that point I had never considered writing either as a hobby or a profession. But the idea struck a chord, and I decided to find a journalism school to attend.

One thing leads to another as things develop through life. If the Japanese hadn't bombed Pearl Harbor that day, I probably wouldn't have joined the Army Air Force, wouldn't have wound up at Randolph Field, and wouldn't have been steered into a writing career. So for me, that day of infamy started things in motion to produce a life that has been uniquely satisfying.

Currently I enjoy writing mystery novels and have no plans to break off in another direction. I've had a lifelong adventure with words. I tell the full story on my website in an essay entitled "Reflections on the Writing Life - my 60-year odyssey with the written word."