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Jackson Hole has the youngest old-timers of any valley in the West. Anyone over 22 who has been here at least three years considers himself qualified to tell a newcomer, “It’s nice enough now, but you should have been here before people like you came and ruined it.” After the subject of billionaires displacing millionaires and wrecking paradise, an old-timers’ second favorite subject is how much worse the weather used to be. To hear them talk, each winter was colder and the snow deeper all the way back to 1911. Before that, exaggerations set in and memories can’t be trusted.

Roger Ramsey was telling me the coldest winter he ever lived through was 1978-79, when it hit 64 below zero on New Year’s Eve and spit bounced. Tires squared, key holes jammed solid, anti-freeze froze, the electricity went out, and several hundred people piled together in a heap in the lobby of the Wort Hotel.

“I’ve been in sixty below temperature and 60 below wind chill,” Roger said, “and trust me, sixty below temperature is colder. Wind chill doesn’t mean squat unless you’re outside naked.”

What I remember about 1979 was the 155 degree difference between New Year’s and the Fourth of July. People who live in states where weather is not the central element of life can’t relate to a 155 degree jump.

Because of a childish prank up Crystal Creek involving a paint-ball gun, a sow grizzly, and the Vice President, Roger Ramsey was recently given a choice between jail and 100 hours of community service. His service entailed going up to Pioneer Homestead where the real old-timers live, and taping oral histories for the Living West in Memory Program which is an NPR show in which myths and legends of the mountains are set straight. We found Caleb Johnstone, T.R. Whitlock, and Betsy Rae McAlester nodding out at a table in the Homestead courtyard, each facing two one-dollar bills, a Delaware Punch, and one of those bruise-colored peanut and sugar patties that are shaped like a hockey puck and have the shelf life of a belt buckle. Roger says old guys eat them for the preservatives.

Roger set up his Radio Shack voice-activated microphone and, as usual, conversation sprang up on ‘How Cold Was It?’

Caleb Johnstone ran his finger bones over a head so bald you could see the separate skull plates, and told us about November of 1951. Here’s what he said:

“They was a flock of sandhill cranes bedded down the night in Christian Pond there and the temperature dropped from forty above to forty below in two hours flat. Froze ever one of those bird legs solid as rebar in concrete. Next morning they was they pitifulest bunch of birds I ever saw. But then, right while I watched, this big old crane seemed to be the boss bird commenced to flapping his wings and all the other cranes flapped their wings and pretty soon the ice broke free from the banks and that flock rose into the sky, carrying the top 18 inches of Christian Pond with them. Looked like a municipal ice rink floating in the air above Jackson as they crossed town and headed south.

“I heard that ice didn’t melt free till the flock was passing over the Odessa, Texas, stockyards where it crashed down in one huge slab. The Texans never knew where it come from, but they had such a mess of pounded meat under ice that they went out and invented the chicken fried steak.”

T.R. Whitlock stared at Caleb with one eye so cataracted it looked like a glowing Ping Pong ball. He said, “Fall of 1951 wasn’t near as cold as late March 1942.”

Caleb came back with the pithiest retort he could think up. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” T.R. said. “That was the spring Molly Van Dyke brought a little bottle of sorghum molasses to the Moran School to pour over biscuits during big recess. To stop the molasses from firming, she kept it under her armpit all morning, but come recess Budder T. Olaf got to teasing her and he threw the molasses bottle and it broke it on the bicycle rack that used to be a hitching post.”

“Does this story got a point?” Caleb asked.

T.R. blinked his Ping Pong ball eye. “After we went back indoors for elocution exercises a grizzly bear that’d just woke up from winter-sleep came out of the woods and took to licking the molasses off that bicycle rack. First we knew of it, that bear busted through the double front door with the rack and my little sister’s ruby red Flexible Flyer bicycle stuck on its face.

“It ran up and down the room, knocking over desks and chairs and the living terrarium with the hibernating snakes and the live iguana. Some of the girls let loose in their pants and what with the doors open that froze the floor slick and the bear fell and slid into the blackboard. Miss Hankfield grasped her Wonder Bread ruler .”

“I remember that ruler,” Caleb said. “It had Wonder Bread Builds Strong Bodies Twelve Ways on one side and on the other they’d written one way per inch.”

“Who’s telling the story?” T.R. said.

Caleb said, “Don’t tell it if you can’t do it right.”

“Mrs. Hankfield reached across the bicycle rack and cracked that bear on the nose. It ran clear out the back end of the coat closet and into Pacific Creek. Carried a good number of jackets with it, but lucky for us my sister’s bicycle fell off. We got away with a flat tire on the front.”

I couldn’t help myself. “So, what happened to the bear?” I asked.

“Nobody knows,” T.R. said. “There was stories going around of a bear with a wide set of iron teeth terrorizing the DuNoir that spring, and in late June a cabin maid at Lake Hotel found the bicycle rack out by the dude corrals. It had a pink tongue stuck to it.”

Roger Ramsey turned a whiter shade of pale.

“That’s not the end of the story though. A year later Molly Van Dyke marred Budder T. Olaf and for forty-three years she made him pay for that molasses, every night and every day, till the good Lord finally said Enough and called Budder T. home.”

Betsy Rae spit something green on Roger’s Nike. “Cold is one way to judge a winter,” she said, “but I prefer snow as a gauge of harsh.” Betsy Rae claims to be 112 and there are those who believe her. She is considerable older than Caleb or T.R. That much is true. More than eighty years of working outdoors in Wyoming has turned her skin the color and texture of a snapping turtle.

“Nineteen and twenty-two,” she began. “The tallest building in Jackson was the four-story, two-hole outhouse behind the Clubhouse there on Center Street.”

She spit again but this time Roger was ready for her. She said, “The men of our town were too lazy good-for-nothing to shovel snow so they’d just let it drift over the first floor, then open the door to the second and so on until mid-April when the snow started back down and so did the men.”

She poked Roger with a scaly fingernail. “That Christmas, your great-granddaddy Jug Ramsey — who wasn’t no more account than you are — rode his mule Frankie in from the upper Gros Ventre. Jug left Frankie out back in a howling snowstorm and went inside where he got caught up in an all-night domino tournament. Whiskey was involved. And a crib girl from Elk.

“The next morning snow had piled up neck high to a Mormon bishop, as they measured it back then, and Jug couldn’t find his mule. He looked for two days until he became convinced Frankie had died and been buried in a drift. Everyone said Frankie would turn up in the spring, so Jug headed home up the Gros Ventre before the next storm.

“What Jug and no one else knew was Frankie had somehow taken shelter in the first floor of the outhouse. Snow piled up so deep that winter four floors wasn’t enough. They ended up cutting two holes in the roof and stretching a canvas tarp for privacy. When spring finally did come the snow melted down floor by floor until folks noticed an odor worse than usual.

“I’ll never forget the sight if I live to be 115. Frankie was packed in there so tight they had to peel off all four walls. People came in from miles to see that donkey, and the Police Gazette even sent out a photographer. The men never used that outhouse again. The next year they not only built an indoor water closet but they let responsible women join the club.”

Like a fool, I asked, “Did the Gazette run the story?”

Betsy Rae nodded. “You betcha. Right on the front page, they had a picture of Frankie looking for all the world like an eight-foot Fudgesicle with hooves instead of a stick, and the headline there read: Jackson Men Can’t Tell Ass from Hole in Ground.

Silently, Caleb and T.R. pushed their dollar bills across the table to Betsy Rae. Roger turned off the tape recorder and said, “I’d rather go to jail.”

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A couple years ago Randolph Proust, his lovely wife Chelsey, and their children Lester and Brittania camped at Lava Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park. One hot afternoon, after lunch, a young cinnamon-colored black bear wandered into the campground and commenced to pop open various bear-proof trash receptacles. Randolph decided he would get a cute photo by smearing Sioux Bear honey across Lester’s lips and chin.

“Think cuddly thoughts,” Lester’s mother said before sending the boy off to bond with nature’s wonder.

The next day, when interviewed by the Jackson Hole News and Guide at the Lake Hotel Hospital, Mr. Proust said, “I didn’t dream the Park Service would allow bears to roam freely if they weren’t tame. My kids were raised on Berenstein Bears, Brother Bear, Bear in the Big Blue House. We came to Yellowstone to watch Yogi and Boo Boo steal picnic baskets.”

Randolph’s daughter clutched a Teddy Bear to her chest and cooed, “Winnie the Pooh bit off Lester’s nose.”

I thought of this story the other day when I ran into Roger Ramsey at Hard Drive Café where we was skimming back and forth across the internet, searching for happy-go-lucky dairy products.

“I know I’ve heard of Mr. Cheddar Curd.” Roger’s teeth gnashed in determination. “I just can’t find him. Look at this. There’s a Japanese anime starring the Tofu Twins. I can use that.”

I ordered a half-caff, extra dry, soy vanilla cappuccino and came back to Roger and his computer. “Why are you Googling anthropomorphic cheese?” I asked.

“Because Maurey rented Finding Nemo for Scarlet and now she refuses to eat fish?”

“Maurey or Scarlet?”

“Scarlet. Maurey never would touch my trout.”

Maurey is Roger’s wife. Scarlet Gilia is their six-year-old daughter. Roger calls her Scarlet and Maurey calls her Gilia. Maurey is an ovo-lacto vegetarian and Roger is a hunting guide. It’s a marriage made on the second ring of hell.

“Maurey did it on purpose. All those cute little fish and crustaceans love their families and friends, and the evil humans want nothing more than to slaughter them. What does she think fish eat if not each other?”

“My theory is Disney characters live on fruit juice and Dove bars.”

“Maurey’s got Scarlet so she won’t eat any food that sings and dances. It began with the stupid pig in Charlotte’s Web. Then Benny the Bull from ‘Dora the Explorer.’ She hasn’t touched lamb since the damn thing followed to Mary to school one day, and don’t even get me started on Bambi.”

This was interesting. I sat beside Roger and watched him fly from cartoon site to site. There were hundreds of them. “So Scarlet won’t eat anything other than vegetables?”

“I nipped that in the bud. Went to the library and checked out a video called “Veggie-Tales.” It’s a bunch of Christian cucumbers and tomatoes and the like, teaching each other values. Scarlet sleeps with an artichoke heart now. She’s been cutting out little velvet skirts and blouses for her carrots.”

“How about apples and oranges?”

“I downloaded a Fruit of the Loom commercial. She’s got nowhere left to turn except macaroni and cheese, and as soon as I find Mr. Cheddar Curd, I can put a stop to that.”

I tried to see the logic in Roger’s logic, but it zipped right over my head. “Why are you trying to starve your daughter to death?”

“I’m not trying to starve Scarlet. I’m showing her those idiot kids’ shows have given everything a personality. I’ll drive her back to Happy Meal burgers, like a normal child. Look at this site.”

Roger stopped on the Boohbah Home Page. Boohbahs appear to be colorful amoebas with deep, creative emotions capable of expressing joy and sadness. “Better not show her that one,” Roger said. “Lord knows what she might swear off.”

He switched to Thomas the Tank Engine, which is a show about selfish, jealous, bitter trains who treat each other like human beings. “It’s not just animals,” Roger said. “There’s a new show on Disney about talking screwdrivers. It’s ripped off a PBS show where a front end loader cries when it doesn’t get its way.”

“Bob the Builder.”

“This baloney didn’t exist when I was a kid. You never saw the Three Stooges worrying about a cream pie’s self-esteem.”

“It’s been going on forever,” I said. “John Ruskin called it the Pathetic Fallacy.”

“Somebody got rich selling pet rocks. I wouldn’t call that pathetic.”

“Back then pathetic didn’t mean politics or sports or anything it’s used for now. It meant empathetic. Ruskin had a peeve against angry clouds or majestic mountains. He said no matter how much it rains, the clouds are never angry. A cloud is nothing but a cloud. The river is not an old man. Tumbleweeds don’t tumble because they are laid back.”

“What’s that got to do with forcing a rare rib eye down Scarlet’s throat. I won’t have a daughter so arrogant as to remove herself from the food chain.”

“Ruskin’s was a worthless complaint. Writers couldn’t write without the Pathetic Fallacy. Humans couldn’t be human. Ancient Greeks thought the sun, the moon, the oceans, even the earth itself were all gods who behaved like dysfunctional families. Even us modern types created God in man’s image.”

“Not the other way around?”

“Everything is personal to humans. That’s what sets us apart from the monkeys.”

Roger yelled, “Eureka!”

“You understand my philosophical treatise?”

“Chuck E. Cheese! She’ll never eat macaroni and cheese again.”

“Isn’t Chuck E. a mouse?”

Roger leaned toward his computer and peered at Chuck. “Oh, yeah. Can’t let her find this one. She already goes hysterical at the sight of D-Con.”

“What if your plan doesn’t work?” I asked Roger. “What if you’re creating an anorexic? Girls today have enough neuroses without thinking their lunch is getting in touch with its inner pasta.”

“I see the light,” Roger said.

“You’ve discovered a way to use your brain?”

“I’ll write a diet book. It’ll make millions of dollars.”

“Are these the same millions you made off of self-cleaning barbecue sauce?”

“Nobody ever lost a dime selling weight loss schemes. I’ll call it the Yellowstone Diet. We’ll turn South Beach into a Trivial Pursuit answer.”

“Or Jeopardy question.”

“Every woman in America will clamor for my DVDs and CD ROMS.”

I finished my cappuccino and dug a finger into the bottom foam. “So, what are you selling exactly?”

“Tapes and movies of happy food groups. Living lunch. Whenever a woman puts anything whatsoever in her mouth, we’ll convince her she’s murdering Tinkerbell.”

“Or whoever.”

Roger grinned. “Whomever.”

P.S. Someone finally explained to me that 🙂 is code for openness to a sexual adventure. I’m going to have to rethink my relationship with a whole bunch of you readers out there.

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This week, Leila latched onto a CD by Louis Jordan. I like her tastes in music. She’s at an age with definite likes and dislikes, but she doesn’t judge music based on genre, or whether the musician is young, old, or dead, or whether I like or dislike it. She judges music based on music. Her favorite cut from Louis Jordan is called “Beware.” In it, the lead singer lists various traits of women — “If she’s easy to kiss and never resists” — and the band behind him hits the chorus of “Beware, Brother, Beware.”

“They ain’t foolin’, and if you fool around with them you’re gonna get a schoolin’.” “Beware, Brother, Beware.”

It’s all what to watch out for if you want to avoid trouble. Which got me to thinking. I put in over twenty years in the serial monogamy game called dating. When I was in a relationship, I was monogamous as an Osmond, and when I wasn’t in a relationship, I was promiscuous as a wharf rat. The problems popped up when I didn’t think I was in a relationship and a woman thought I was. Or vice versa.

It’s those grey areas that will get you condemned. Anyway, I averaged roughly two three-month relationships a year, and after twenty years, that means forty starts and stops. So, I learned some basic truths and I will now give you the benefit of my experience. Just what you want. These apply to men as well as women. If you are a heterosexual female, or a homosexual male, simply flip the pronouns.

Tim’s Tips for the Interpersonal Relationship — learned the hard way

1. If a woman wears camouflage on the first date, avoid a second.
2. Never get involved with a person who insists your relationship should be a secret. This will end badly.
3. Do not date a woman whose mother is named after food — Brownie, Sugar, Honey, Cupcake — or whose father is named Bubba, Butch, Dutch, or Killer.
4. Powder and paint makes them what they ain’t. Padding and stuffing, don’t add nothing.
5. There will come a moment, usually after the third time you sleep together, when a woman will be honest for roughly twelve hours. If she says she is trouble and you would be better off staying away — believe her. If she says all her relationships end in bitterness and tears — believe her. Believe whatever she says during this gap. It won’t happen again.
6. Don’t date a woman who keeps score. This includes women who flaunt photos of all the old beaus, or women who have stars stuck on the headboard of their bed and add another one the morning after your first night.
7. If a woman is 45 and has never been married, there is probably a reason.
8. Beware of women in wigs.
9. Stay clear of women who don’t eat.
10. Women who tell you they are sterile are almost always lying. Ask for a doctor’s note. (This one is especially true when you flip the pronoun.)

Red flags: These are not necessarily deal killers, but they should raise questions.

There are crystals under her bed.
When ordering coffee, she uses five or more adjectives.
She says, “I have a bad history with credit cards.”
She sleeps in shoes, curlers, or a car.
She wails, “I’m soooo drunk when she is looking for an excuse to misbehave.
She is your roommate.
She has more prescriptions than you.

Other helpful tips for the young:

Sleeping with someone, one last time, after you’ve broken up, “for old time’s sake,” almost always leads to pregnancy.

Do not move in together because you need the money. (I’ve been burned on this one, many a time.)

Separated is not the same as divorced.

Beware of women who lie to their parents, bosses, or teachers. They will not stop at you.

You lose them the way you get them. That means if it took two slow years to start, it’ll take two agonizingly slow years to end. If it started with lightning, it will end with lightning. Most importantly, if she cheated to be with you, she’ll cheat on you. Write this one down: You will not change your mate.

The one thing worse than losing your first true love is not losing your first true love.

All these pithy pieces of advice are just another way of saying the 11th Commandment that God gave Moses, but because it wasn’t a round number, Moses didn’t write it down. Thou shalt not sleep with anyone who has more problems than you have.

If any of you regular (can’t say faithful here) readers have dating tips you don’t get in Cosmo or Men’s Journal, I’d like to hear them.

Addendum for the real fans. The paperback of Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty comes out Jan. 4, and Rowdy in Paris will be released Jan. 24. Because I am not exactly a superstar or even a likely bestseller, the fine folks at Riverhead/Putnam have budgeted around twelve dollars for marketing and publicity.

I’m on my own for selling these things. I have an interesting idea for a guerilla marketing campaign that you guys might find fun. However, a blog isn’t the place to sell stuff, and part of my plan involves possibly illegal activities. Lord knows, no one on writing a blog would try to sell stuff or encourage illegal activities.

Which means — if you like my books or blogs, and you want me to make a living at it so I can continue to write them, you should go to the Yahoo Group where a clandestine bunch calling themselves Sandlinistas meets to cause trouble. That’s http://groups.yahoo.com/group/timsandlin/ Look under the message entitled: Guerilla Marketing Scheme.

You too can help a starving writer’s daughter celebrate Christmas.

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My daughter, Leila, who is six and was named after a J.P. Donleavy novel and not an Eric Clapton song, has been pulling out the old books I read to her when she was two. Now, Leila reads them to me. How many of you are familiar with the plot of “Go, Dog. Go!” One dog insults another dog’s hat and they all end up at a big party in a tree. I learned a valuable lesson about containing conflict from “Go, Dog. Go!”

What makes the book interesting to me are the three different punctuation marks in the title. You hardly ever see punctuation in a title, except for that silly colon in nonfiction. “I Did It My Way: The True Story of Transgender in NASCAR.” Does anyone else out there know of a book with three different punctuation marks in the title? Am I the only one who cares deeply about this?

Here’s the deal. I will send a free copy of “The Pyms: (note the colon) Unauthorized Tales of Jackson Hole,” (available only on Timsandlin.com) to anyone who can find me a title with three different punctuation marks. I don’t count titles using punctuation to disguise dirty words — C;:ks?!ker!

Leila asked me to tell her a bedtime story last night and because this is Thanksgiving week, I told her the old Isuzu legend about the true meaning of Easter. The Isuzus were a splinter group of Arapaho that lived in Yellowstone after the Battle of Greasy Grass. Other Indians considered them the bastard spawn of Custer, and it is true many of the Isuzus had blue eyes and a tendency to self-promote. Their tragic flaw was the fact they were high-centered and prone to rollovers.

A missionary named Sister Leslie Gore converted the entire tribe to Christianity in 1888 by teaching them the alternate words to “Jingle Bell Rock.” But some of their Christian traditions intermingled with the Happy Hunting Grounds faith system, such as the belief Mary was impregnated by a geyser.

Leila didn’t believe me. Clutching her little Piglet stuffed pig, she said, “You’re making this up as you go along, Dad.” I said if she didn’t go to sleep the Sandman would rub dirt in her eyes.

Anyway, the true meaning of Easter in northwest Wyoming, according to Isuzu legend as told by me to my daughter:

Two thousand and whatever years ago, the established church and an occupation government conspired with the media to have Jesus put to death on a cross between a couple of telephone solicitors. Jesus’s last words, were, “Forgive me Father. I do not want to change my calling plan.”

Later, he was cut down and body was hauled off to a cave. While the Bible says he would be dead for three days, any first grader knows Friday sunset to Sunday sunrise is only a day and a half, but you have to suspend some disbelief here, to be a true Fox News Fundamentalist.

So, after three days, Jesus rolls away the rock covering the cave and rises from the dead. He steps out of the cave, and if he sees his shadow he runs back in and we get six more weeks of winter.

Leila sat up in bed. “Is that true?”

I said, “It’s Gospel.”

“What about the Easter bunny?”

“The Isuzus didn’t believe in a rabbit who hid eggs around the house and then forgot where he hid them until they started to stink in mid-summer. They bought into the rising dead guy theory, but they just couldn’t swallow a holiday hare.”

Leila hit me with her Piglet.

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Friday night I drank a glass of red wine and Saturday morning I woke up with the stigmata. Not full blown stations-of-the-cross stigmata, I grant you, but I had big red blisters at the base of both my palms.

For those of you not familiar with the term, stigmata is a Catholic thing where beatific vision types bleed from the spots where Christ got himself nailed. It’s considered a miracle, if you are devout, and if you pull off three miracles you qualify for sainthood. For those of us who aren’t devout, it’s a reaction to the histamines in red wine. Francis of Assissi had it. Catherine of Siena didn’t bleed any more than me. These saints with stigmata were all from France and Italy, as far as I know. They probably drank a lot more than one glass of red wine, so it’s no wonder their blisters broke.

Elmore Leonard wrote a fine book about a non-Catholic with the stigmata. His characters made a big deal out of it. The hero was so sensitive a high-quality woman fell in love with him. Nobody genuflects when I bleed. My wife feeds me an antihistamine and tells me to drink white next time.

But then my stigmata doesn’t stream down my wrists. Maybe I should drink more.

I used to drink more. From 1977 to 1987, or so, I got drunk six nights a week. The drink itself changed every few years, but it was never red wine. Like all good hippies, I made the transition from drugs to alcohol by way of tequila. Anyone who’s ever snorted a dark powder only to find out he has Maxwell House Instant crystals up his nose — another mistake I’ve made — will tell you don’t buff the stuff, so I started on straight, pure shots with a lemon chaser. Slowly, I worked my way through sunrises and bloody Marias, although I never sank so low as the yuppie margarita. From tequila, I went on to whiskey. I always figured I wasn’t a true drunk because I avoided scotch.

I did waste a year or two on Grand Marnier. I was working in a terrible Italian restaurant — “Nobody Eats Here Twice” — that closed at midnight and every night at ten I chugged a coffee cup full of Grand Marnier. If tequila is the missing link between booze and mescaline, Grand Marnier is the Quaaludes of the alcohol kingdom. Taken in large quantities, it’s a rank concoction. These days, I put a dollop in pancake batter, but that’s my limit.

I ended my run on Jim Beam with a splash. Bars in Wyoming closed at ten on Sundays, back then, and the band didn’t play that night, which means I didn’t dance, which means I didn’t drink on Sunday. I can’t remember what I did do. Movies, maybe.

I finally quit after I married an alcoholic and saw what a stupid maneuver self-destruction is. The world over people argue about which is worse: being an alcoholic or being married to an alcoholic. To me, that’s like choosing between death by cancer or emphysema. It’s more academic than practical.

Emily is dead now, which is a drag. I’m not shooting for false pity here. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in fifteen years when she died. Her niece, who didn’t know who I was when she first sent messages to my web site and only a couple years later discovered I used to be married to her aunt, told me the news. One more weird irony in the life of a writer.

My doctor told me more alcoholics die from lung problems than liver or heart disease, because most alcoholics smoke and the cigarettes kill them before the alcohol. I think that’s what happened to Emily, but I’m not sure. She got pneumonia. I’ve found cigarette and alcohol addicts often die before they have to because they’re afraid of doctors and hospitals. Being sick is bad enough without withdrawal, so they put off seeking help way later than the rest of us would.

Here’s a tip you won’t find in the standard writing manual. Recovering alcoholics should never go on a book tour. It is almost impossible to spend six or eight weeks flying around, sleeping somewhere new every night, living though hours of boredom between moments of exposing yourself to strangers, without resorting to mood enhancement. It’s the only time I drink more than one glass of wine a month. I can name more than one writer whose tour ended in rehab.

The only novelist I know personally who can pull the totally drink-free book tour off is Chris Moore. Chris has the self-discipline and willpower of a Samurai. When you’re on the road, the publisher pays for everything. An ex-professional dishwasher and spare change artist like me tends to wallow in hog heaven, to the point where I gained fifteen pounds on the Sorrow Floats tour. Chris, when faced with the endless possibilities of dinner on someone else’s tab, chooses Caesar salad.
Imagine that.

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My friend Meg died last week and we held a remembrance for her Saturday. Rocky Mountain dead social get-togethers are nothing like the ornate, formal wallowings of the South, or the drunken melees of Ireland, or even the celebrations of life they put on in California. Western events tend to be more low-key neighborhood potlucks.

Meg’s remembrance was a cookie exchange. Leila made fudpuckers, which are Reece’s cups dropped into shells made from peanut butter cookie dough. The occasion was sad and dignified, without the outward pretensions of sadness. The Wyoming way is to feel deeply but keep it to yourself. Keep the smooth side up and the rough side down.

Afterward, I hiked up Taggart Creek to my favorite thinking rock — the place where we scattered Mom’s ashes a couple of years ago — and worked out the percentages of this death thing.

You should know that about me. I work out percentages on any given problem. There’s a fictional detective — Hercule Poirot, I think, but I’m not about to go look up it up. Blogs should not need research — who likes to say, “Rule out the impossible and what you are left with will be the answer, no matter how unlikely it appears to be.” Or something like that.

So I discarded the after-life theories that struck me as impossible and looked at what was left, which wasn’t much.

First off, I think of the Great Mystery out there beyond what we can see as the internet, and the various faith systems floating around as browsers and search engines. For instance, Christianity is the AOL of spiritualism, because the user’s manual says one thing and the practitioners do the exact opposite. How Pat Robertson can pray on TV and make all that money is totally bizarre to anyone who has read Jesus’s parables. But, whatever. If it gets you into the Web, it works.

Personally, I use Safari, which is a bit like the Cheyenne Medicine Wheel. It’s only useful if you are Cheyenne or own a Mac. Everyone else is out of luck. You could stretch the hell out of this thing and equate Muslims with Internet Explorer and Buddhists with Firefox, but what the hell. You get the idea. It comes down to access.

As I sat on my rock, watching the leaves change color, I wasn’t concerned so much with the door as to what lies on the other side. Odds-wise (what a cool word, odds-wise) you would figure a white-out would be logical. No sequel. Ashes to ashes. But, for me, the void doesn’t compute. I look back at eternity, stretching forever and ever off one way, and forward, at eternity stretching forever and ever off the other way, and then compute the odds against this moment, a dot in an eternal number of dots, just coming up. These odds are way beyond the odds against streets of gold, or happy hunting grounds, or recycling, or any of the Wishful Thinking theories. The odds against Wishful Thinking being true are one in the number of digits of pi, but the odds against this random moment appearing on its own, compared to the number of moments randomness implies, are way the hell and gone past that.

Which means, either time does not exist — Tralfamdorianism — or there is something going on that is unlikely. Compared to nothing going on which is impossible.

My personal theory is we’re in a computer game. Reincarnation only with a physical machine somewhere instead of a spirit that leaves the body, wanders the Whatever until it attaches itself to another body, and comes back. This religious belief doesn’t take a smart person to figure out. There are hordes of books and movies based on the idea that we are nothing but bits of information — from Matrix to Cyberchase — but I personally haven’t read or seen a story that takes it all the way into a theory as to why time does not exist and therefore eternity does. They’re probably out there. I don’t read much science fiction, myself. Or religion.

Look at the guy running around in Final Doom. If we take him far enough, he becomes aware of himself (“I think, therefore I am”) but is he aware that he is in a game? The question I haven’t nailed yet is this: Am I the space marine in the game or the kid playing the game? And how do you know if you won? Most kills? Most love? Longevity? I hope to hell the scoring is more subtle than Final Doom.

Here’s what might be possible, and, if it is possible, then by Hercule Poiret’s theorem, it is trruth: The goal of each game is for the society within it to progress to the point of creating the game itself, before we destroy our environment and make a bell go off somewhere, a screen go blank, and some kid with bad skin say, “Shit.” The he goes to bathroom, gets a Coke from the fridge and comes back to push the Replay button. If we create the Existence game where thousands and thousands of lives can be played out in a short time, some of them leading to the creation of their own Existence games, whoever is at the top of the heap can go on forever.

Should the folks from “This I Believe” ever give me the call, that’s what I’m going to tell them. I’ll call it Timianity.

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My friend Janine Smith of the famous JZine site collects movies where at some point, generally toward the end of the second act, a character says, “I’m too old for this shit.” She’s found thirteen of them, enough to make a genre. I call it the-aging-actor-repeating-a-story-he-nailed-thirty-years-ago thriller. Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford are in the midst of deja vu careers pulling these roles. Because I’m living with a six-year-old, I watch a lot of Disney Channel, and I’ve noticed a similar repetition. I must have seen twenty made-for-TV Disney movies in the last year, and in practically every one, well-intentioned-but-misguided parents try to control teenagers who are torn between doing what matters and doing what other people tell them matters.
In the end, the kid finds proper values, but right before the climactic victory, the mom or dad who wants the kid to go to Harvard or be a sports star or something equally terrible whines, “But, honey, I hate to see you give up your dream,” and the balanced, together teenager says, “No, Mom/Dad, I’m giving up your dream.”
How many movies can use that line before producers start suing each other?
What brought up this trip down Insight Lane is I just got back from Oklahoma where my dad had surgery after yet another fall in the nursing home. He has this in-and-out dementia where he forgets he can’t walk and then he falls down and breaks bones.
Old age is a good time to get to know your parents. They’re stuck in a hospital bed and you’re stuck in a vinyl chair next to the hospital bed and there’s nothing much to do but reach closure with the past. Nobody feels judgmental, at least my dad doesn’t during the cogent hours, so you can talk without filters or fear.
I asked him why he and Mom never gave my grief about being a fiction writer. I mean, I turned 35 living in a tent, illegally squatting, on Forest Service land, working as a gardener for the Rockefellers three days a week and washing dishes in an Italian restaurant three days a week to make enough money so I could move indoors and write all winter. If my daughter is still homeless by choice at 35 I will personally drag her by the ear into an employment agency. I’ll say, “Grow up, for Chrissake. It’s time to get real.”
“Why didn’t you and Mom tell me that,” I asked Dad. “You must have thought it.”
“You still had a dream,” Dad said. “We couldn’t tell you that was wrong.”
Only now, when he has to be fed by hand and he craps himself daily, did I get around to thanking him. Or even realizing what he and Mom did. It’s too late to thank Mom.
On a slightly lighter note, he was in assisted living first and a nursing home later as I was writing Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty. The book is about an inmate revolt at a continuing care center full of aging hippies in 2022. It’s Cuckoo’s Nest meets Grumpy Old Stoners. The top nine layers are funny geriatric sex and drug use. The revolutionaries chant, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, AARP is going to win.” Half of them think it’s 1969 and Nixon is outside the walls.
But the tenth level, way under there, is serious as Alzheimer’s. Americans treat old people like dirt. We steal their dignity, self-respect, and pretend they are invisible. So it goes.
The interesting thing I found in assisted living is old people act exactly the way they did in high school. There’s the cool kids, the cliques, the petty jealousies, the geeks (me), the incredible importance of who sits where in the cafeteria, the gulf between those who drive and those who don’t. The sexual plotting is wonderful. Gossip controls the rec room. Meanness and kindness are doled out without thought.
Life is a circle, in the words of Kahlil Gibran or Woody Allen or somebody else wise. You’re in diapers, you walk, you drive a car, you have sex, you work like a sweatshop whore in Cambodia for fifty years, then you stop having sex, they take your car, you stop walking, and, soon, you’re in diapers again. Death and birth are the same thing.
This is true. You have to believe somebody, so it might as well be me.

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