Month: August 2014

10 Books ( a list of sorts, in no particular order)

Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut – I could fill all 10 spots on the list with Vonnegut, but that would be too easy, picking only one, today my choice is Slaughterhouse 5

Cyberiad: Fables for a Cybernetic Age, Stanislaw Lem – even in translation Lem’s prose reads like poetry; every time I read it, I get the urge to study Polish.

And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss – this is the book that made me want to be a reader

Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins – and this is the book that made me want to be a writer

Monkey, Wu Cheng-En – the 500 year-old Chinese folk novel about a Buddhist priest who walks from China to India and back again to bring Buddhist scriptures to the people of China

The Pop-Up Book of Phobias, Gary Greenberg – what are you afraid of? spiders? dentists? toilets? It’s all here.

The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes – this book is an acquired taste, but so are whiskey and cigars.

Maus, Art Spiegelman – a graphic novel, quite possibly the best book ever written about the Holocaust

Hammett Unwritten, Gordon McAlpine – a memoir? a novel? a novel disguised a memoir? Mostly it’s a love song to the Maltese Falcon.

On the Road, Jack Kerouac – I lied when I said I could fill all 10 spots with Vonnegut. Because one spot on any book list must go to On the Road.

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

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ARC

There it was, in the mailbox, buried between the bills and a circular from our local supermarket, a priority mail envelope from my publisher, Intrigue Publishing. I ripped it open.

ARC4An Advanced Reading Copy of my mystery/thriller, Death and White Diamonds. I’ll spend the next couple of days proofreading, one final time, as we prepare for publication. Also, I plan to spend a good bit of time smiling. It was enough to get me to take my first selfie.

ARC1

The book will be released December 15, 2014. As my thoughts turn to marketing, I find myself thinking about hiring a national spokesman. I put out a quick call for open auditions.

ARC8She wasn’t quite right.

ARC5Neither were they.

Finally I found someone who seemed to be perfect. Only I couldn’t get him to say the tag line properly. He was supposed to say, Did you ever have one of those days? Instead, he looked into the camera and proclaimed, What me worry?

ARC10

(Some of you have already talked to me about review copies. If you have, my publisher tells me you can expect a review copy by the end of the week).

I Stare at the Stars

For generations on end, men and women have looked toward the heavens and been inspired to write poetry.  I’m no poet, but even in my own case, I managed to scratch out this haiku – 

I stare at the stars
counting the syllables in
Cassiopeia. 

But today’s post isn’t about me.  It’s about B. Kliban. When people remember Kliban (if they remember him at all) they think of him as the guy who drew all those cat cartoons.  But a closer look at his cartoon collections reveals that B. Kliban, at heart, was a poet –

THERE GOES THAT ROTTEN HALLEY’S COMET!
IT MAKES ME SICK!  I WANT TO VOMET!

You can find those two lines of pure poetry, complete with caps, exclamation points and misspelled words in Kliban’s Whack Your Porcupine.

The Harvard Classics

Growing up, we devoted a bookcase in the basement to the 51-volume series of faux leatherette masterpieces collectively known as the Harvard Classics. I remember how the bookshelf would sag under the weight of all those words. I still remember  them, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr., Homer’s The Odyssey, Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle and so many more. I’d like to tell you that I read them all, but looking back through the list of volumes, I’m pretty sure I skipped a few.

And now, I’ve learned that the 51-volume series is available for free download. I am seriously considering getting the entire series. Only I find myself wondering whether my tablet will sag in the middle, from the weight of the virtual faux leatherette eBooks. 

Things I could have blogged about

It’s not as though I have nothing from which to construct a passable blog post. It’s just that I’m not making the effort. You might say that I’m cheating on my blog with other social media. So here’s what you missed.

I could have blogged about ladybug moving day. The photo essay would have made excellent blog fodder. Instead I posted it on facebook. As I explained to my facebook friends, with 750 new pets I don’t know what’s going to be harder, naming them all or telling them apart. Here’s a teaser photo…

lb4Or I could have blogged about looking for Ed Kaz at the Princeton Record Exchange. It might not have gone over well on wordpress, but it would have been huge, once upon a time, on xanga.

preI could have blogged about the terrace party at a 20th floor penthouse in midtown Manhattan. I could have shared the photo of the women who stared at us all night long from the building across the street. Instead I posted the photo on twitter.

nycAny of those accounts could have passed for a perfectly respectable blog entry.

I’ve been a bad blogger.

The Sound Bite

Today is the 40th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon. To mark that moment in time, I am re-posting my short story, The Sound Bite, which was published in woman’s corner magazine in 2006. With apologies to those of you who have seen this before…

The Sound Bite

I watched myself on TV today, stammering, the camera catching each bit of egg as it leaked from the corner of my mouth. In case you haven’t seen the clip yet, I was eating breakfast in Washington when a reporter approached the table. “Excuse me, Mr. Maxwell. In 1974, you lived at Yellow Springs.” I waited for his question. “How much did you know about the drug dealing?”

My handlers have prepared me for the question, my campaign may hinge on the answer, but how can I reduce the events of that extraordinary year to a sound bite?

It was May 1974, three months before Richard Nixon would resign in disgrace, but the outcome that spring was still very much in doubt and I was living, thumb outstretched, on the shoulder of Interstate 40.

In 1974, I lived out of my backpack and inside my head and, after a few weeks on the road, both were in need of light cleaning. Standing at the side of the road, baking in the Arizona sun, I rummaged through the backpack, dividing my estate into piles, measuring value by the simple equation of function divided by weight.

The pile of necessities grows quickly – my Svea camping stove, hatchet, flashlight, band-aids. I select the first item destined for disposal – Learn to Play Harmonica in a Week. I come across a deck of playing cards – count ‘em forty-seven and a joker – and start a third pile for maybes. My Swiss army knife and sleeping bag join the pile of necessities. Soggy matches and a badly scratched copy of the Workingman’s Dead join the maybes and, on the advice of my spiritual side (don’t be a slave to your possessions, it advises), the maybes soon join the garbage.

Having rearranged the pack to my satisfaction, I turn my attention to the mess that I carry around inside my head. I believe that the human body is an amazingly forgiving machine designed to run on grains and vegetables, but able to derive necessary and sufficient fuel from my diet of Twinkies and tequila. I believe that anarchy is a viable political system. I believe that God doesn’t mind when I pray to the Buddha.  

I barely have time to complete my spring cleaning when a truck pulls to a stop, some twenty feet up the road. Moving quickly, I throw my pack in the back, hop in front and once again I’m off, in a brilliant red pick-up truck, fire engine red, brand new, red inside too, an automatic Chevy truck. And I’m several miles down the road to new adventures before I realize that I left my pot at the side of Interstate 40.

The driver begins talking even as I climb into the truck. “I met her at the Fillmore… I was still in the Navy then… and didn’t like her kind, you know… hippies… but shit, if Nixon can go to China. Besides, she was hot. So we moved in together. Tough at first, getting used to her. She’d make me soyburgers with goat cheese, French fries with tahini.”

“After we hooked up, I went AWOL and Francesca… that’s her name… Francesca made me turn myself in. I was gonna get screwed. But Frannie told me they would understand. No way. I mean, what the hell does she know about the friggin’ Navy? But she told me not to worry and she said I should chant. Nam myo ho renge kyo. Chant and everything would be okay. And damned if she wasn’t right. They gave me a friggin’ discharge. Nam myo ho renge kyo. Who woulda believed it?  So I chant and I drink cough medicine to get high.”

It was true. His tongue was as red as his truck.

 “We joined a commune out here in the desert. Four months later we split up. We’re still at the commune, but not together. Anyway that was a long time ago. So where are you heading?”

“I was thi…” He barely waited for an answer.

“Whatever. Look, I’m exhausted. Wake me when we get to the Yellow Springs turn-off. You’re welcome to crash there for a couple of days. If you want any cough medicine…” and he pointed to the half empty case on the floor of the truck, “help yourself.”  Just before passing out, he also showed me the unopened Thermos of black coffee tucked under the seat.

So there I was, sitting behind the wheel of a brand new fire engine red Chevy pick-up, coffee in my right hand, cough syrup in my left, a speed freak passed out at my side, probably suffering from an overdose of cough syrup, Richard Nixon still the President and I left my pot at the side of the Interstate. It’s a good thing the road was straight.

When we arrived at Yellow Springs, I was reminded of the opening scene from the movie, “2001, A Space Odyssey.”   A dozen or so apes were dancing in a circle around a large black obelisk, jumping up and down, waving their arms, in a ritual of pre-historic consciousness-raising. I stood there, mouth and mind agape, trying to make sense of the sights, sounds and smells at Yellow Springs. The commune’s idea of religion, apparently, was for man to return to his primate roots and re-pattern ten million years of faulty evolution.  Or maybe not. Honestly I didn’t have a clue.

When one of the apes offered me a barbecued veggie burger, I understood what I had been observing. The simian ritual I had imagined was nothing more exotic than a Sunday barbeque.

That didn’t explain the outfits. The apes were pretty obviously men in monkey costumes. Of course, the same could be said of “2001.” The simian leader introduced himself as Monkey-in-the-Middle-of-the-Void, but most of the apes called him Stanley.

Stanley’s monkey religion was an attempt to find meaning in the changes that time had wrought on his life. If you could take a peek beneath his fake fur, you would find Stanley Nussbaum, urban guerilla. A minor celebrity among sixties radicals, missing since the explosion in Mexico City, Stanley Nussbaum’s campaign of civil disobedience was already fading from the pages of the daily papers and the synapses of the American conscience.

“You may remember, a few years ago, a minor explosion in Mexico City? On the run, I ducked into a community theater, looking for a place to hide. The only costumes I found in storage were a musketeer, a gorilla and a nun.  I chose the gorilla. Imagine if I had chosen differently, today I might be Sister-in-the-Middle-of-the-Void.”

“From beneath my fur,” Stanley continued, “I began to see things more clearly. I realized that there was a nation within the nation, a nation of walking wounded, kids who were disillusioned by Nixon’s America, but who were equally unable to deal with the alternatives. That’s when I began to hear about other gorillas popping up.”

“Not that everyone here at Yellow Springs wears a gorilla suit. Far from it. Yellow Springs is a haven for anyone who doesn’t fit into the middle-class American plan – radicals, potheads, runaways, orphans and waifs, the abused, the confused and the easily amused.”

As Stanley talked, a young ape female sat quietly at his side. Even covered in fur, I could tell she was pretty. “C’mon Stanley, don’t be so dramatic. Some of us are just here for the hot monkey love.” And she gave me a smile that went straight to my groin.

Stanley chuckled. “I’m sorry. I’m being rude.” He turned back and looked at me closely. “Max, right? Meet Francesca. Francesca…Max. And Max… don’t believe anything Francesca tells you.”

The Yellow Springs Monkey Farm was home for the burned out, dropped out, dried up and disillusioned, those who, having survived drugs and protest could not survive the cynicism of the Nixon presidency and had nothing left to do with their lives but hide out in the desert – some disguised as a gorilla, many more hiding in plain sight – and pass the day in purposeless activity. And they were all deeply, madly, unrequitedly, in love with Francesca.

I spent the summer of 1974 living at Yellow Springs Monkey Farm.  Nothing much happened that summer. Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, but I mean nothing much happened to me. I did my share of the chores and smoked my share of the weed. I joined the long line of men pining for Francesca’s attention, and went to bed each night, alone. I studied Stanley’s brand of Buddhism, and became a regular member of his prayer group.

“The essential challenge to the serious Buddhist,” according to Monkey, “is to achieve enlightenment, release from the cycle of death and rebirth. But for some Buddhists, the goal is not individual enlightenment, but universal enlightenment. These Buddhists believe that there are special individuals… bodhisattvas… who have achieved individual enlightenment, but who choose to remain in the world, helping the rest of us on the spiritual path.”  Stanley was on a roll.

“Gradually, more and more people will get the message (that there is no message).  Soon there will be more and more bodhisattvas wandering the earth, helping an ever smaller number who still haven’t figured it out. Eventually we all get there, but there has to be a moment when there’s just one unenlightened slob left, one guy who just doesn’t get it, one loser who is standing in the way of universal enlightenment. And that hold-out, he’s what I like to call the last bodhisattva, ‘cause after he gets it, there’s no one left to help.”

Stanley had been building to this point for months and as we listened, we patted ourselves on the back for we understood his lesson… that we were the bodhisattvas, small in number now, but growing every day, the spiritual leaders, at the head of the parade.

“Only sometimes I get to wondering…” we were startled, believing that Stanley had completed his lesson… “if we can really trust the bodhisattvas.”

He had scarcely gotten the final words out when pandemonium broke loose in the monkey house. Everyone had something to say; apes were jumping up and down, arms and opinions akimbo, and everyone chattering away all at one time. Gradually, out of the chaos, coherent thoughts began to emerge.

“I think the point is there’s good and evil in all of us,” opined an elder statesman in the group. I could distinguish the veterans from the newcomers at the Monkey Farm by the condition of their fur. The speaker’s fur was matted and threadbare, bald spots exposing the inner fabric of the costume. He was obviously an early convert to the way of the monkey.

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” rejoined a relative newcomer to the farm, resplendent in his thick, clean fur. “The retreat from absolute values is merely an excuse for evil.”

“He’s right.” Another threadbare veteran of the monkey wars joined the debate. “Sure, we’re each of us a mixture of good and evil, but the point is, there have to be standards. Otherwise we’re no better than animals” – an odd comment for a man dressed like a gorilla.

No monkey lacked for an opinion or the willingness to share it.  “I’m not sure it’s that easy. I read a poem recently… I forget who wrote it… anyway he compared the dharma to an onion. You peel away layers and keep peeling until you discover the nothingness at the center of the onion.”

“It was Snyder,” suggested another monkey, “and it was an avocado, not an onion. The dharma is like the pit of an avocado…hard, and just when you think you grasp it, it slips away.”

It was time for me to slip away. I listened to their arguments as long as I could, but there’s a reason why monkeys are under-represented on debate teams. True to their simian nature, rational disputation quickly gave way to rude gestures and even ruder noises. While Stanley and his monkey disciples argued about the hidden meaning in his ancient tale of good and evil (the secret is that there is no secret), I decided to get some air.

I struck out alone for the foothills that pushed up out of the earth just beyond the border of the Monkey Farm. It was barren country, dry and dusty and desolate. It seemed like hours that I wandered alone in the foothills.  I tried to meditate, but my thoughts kept turning to Francesca. I don’t know if it was the intensity of my thoughts that drew her out, but suddenly I spotted her coming over the rise. Francesca and I began walking, heading nowhere in particular, enjoying each other’s company.

Francesca never participated in Monkey’s prayer group.  If she had a spiritual side, she kept it well hidden under her sexy ape exterior.  “What brought you here?” she wondered aloud.

“Out here? You mean, here? Now?”

“You know,” she explained, “here, the Monkey Farm.”

Growing up, I had committed to memory every bad break and bum rap that life had dealt me, every misfortune and injustice. My reasons for leaving home, I knew to be unassailable. So I was surprised when I heard myself answer, “I don’t know… no reason really.”

We strolled quietly and watched the shadows melt to black on the hills. Under the cover of darkness, Francesca kissed me monkey-style. Turning her back toward me, Francesca asked for my help. My hands trembled as I fumbled with the zipper.   Francesca was even prettier than I imagined, her pale skin glistening in the moonlight. I made for us a bed of fake fur.

That night, surrounded by the ghosts of long-forgotten dreams, the future Mrs. Maxwell and I made love.

Was Stanley dealing drugs at Yellow Springs? Perhaps. But if he was, it was one of the least important activities that summer at the Monkey Farm. And me? I find it hard to believe that people really give a damn what I was doing back then. 1974 seems so long ago. Most people don’t remember what Nixon was doing then and he was doing stuff a lot worse than me. I didn’t subvert any governments, didn’t send any Americans off to die in Southeast Asia. All I did was get high and fall in love back at a time when both of those were relatively safe things to do.

Autism in Adolescents and Adults

I spend a lot of time blogging about books. Tonight, I want to recommend a very different sort of book, Autism Spectrum Disorders in Adolescents and Adults: Evidence-Based and Promising Interventions, by Matt Tincani and Andy Bondy (eds).

I have spent the last 40 years developing community-based programs and services for adolescents and adults with autism. I have focused especially on the clinical and regulatory issues inherent in the transition between adolescent and adult services (I know some of you thought I was a mystery writer) so it is heartening to see a comprehensive discussion of these issues.

But that is not what I like best about the book, coming from Guilford Press in September. What I like best is chapter 13.

“Chapter 13, by Markowitz, deals with an aspect of life that many families are reluctant to face: aging and its associated issues of estate planning and funding. The growth in the number of individuals with ASD has had a great impact on the number of adults needing services and lifelong oversight. The author reviews several life-sustaining factors, including appropriate medical care, the role of parents and guardians as advocates, and the transition from work to retirement. Markowitz provides a careful review of residential alternatives and what factors may influence their selection. Finally, there is a review of issues related to funding for services and support.” (from the preface, p. xv, Tincani and Bondy, Guilford Press, 2014)

Make no mistake. I had nothing to do with chapter 13. As I said elsewhere, if I had written chapter 13, someone would have died. The Markowitz who authored chapter 13 is my talented wife, Carol.