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Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

I’ve seen a number of movies the last couple of years that end with one of the main characters sitting at a table, behind a huge pile of brand new hardback books, while a line of eager young men and alluring young women wait for a personally signed copy of their very own. It seems that the book signing has become a movie payoff moment, like birth, marriage, death, and loss of virginity. 

In truth, most writers claim they hate book signings, book readings, and book tours. Personally, I get a kick out of them. I wrote every day for twenty years before I met another writer. I don’t even recall talking to a reader. So, it’s fun once every couple of years to meet people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in.

Now, I have the Jackson Hole Writers Conference (send a Message if you might want to come. It’s an inspirational hoot) but before that, all I had was the occasional book tour. I lived in a hovel, back then, and I still carry my food stamp card at all times to keep myself humble, so sleeping in high-end hotels and eating without regard to costs made me feel like a kid playing dress-up. There was the fear of my mom bursting into a reading and shouting, “Tim, you are a fraud.”

Mostly they’re entertaining but even when the worst that can possibly go wrong goes wrong — no one shows up, the store has no books, someone hoists their unpublished memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional family on you — the traveling author goes back to the hotel room to watch pay per view over a mini-bar cocktail party. 

Book tours come in two sorts, with variations. The categories are air and car. When Honey Don’t came out I flew fourteen times in sixteen days, media escorts in each city, no entourage, no groupies. As a contrast, after Sorrow Floats was published I spent eight weeks driving around America, passing out t-shirts and reading the same chapter over and over. I gained twenty pounds.

I’ve learned better now. Garrison Keillor says the worst thing that can happen at a reading is for someone to read. I’ve watched the old pros — Chris Moore comes to mind — and most of them have worked up an act. They read less than three minutes out of thirty. I’ve heard Chuck Palahniuk sometimes throws body parts at the audience.

I used to think the media escort was purely an ego massage provided by the publishers to make us writers feel pampered, until I got one. A good media escort will help an author hit fifteen bookstores in an afternoon. These are called drive-by signings. You sign stock and tell the booksellers you can’t live without them. I do love people who sell books.

If you go on tour, I would advise against behaving like a jerk. The media escorts gossip. First, they tell you they aren’t supposed to talk about other writers, then, with a minimum of prodding, they dish the dirt — the women who meet up with extracurricular boyfriends, the men who drink themselves into a coma and refuse to leave the escort’s car. Jeffrey Archer is a legend for his bad behavior. He insists every escort address him as Lord Archer. Next most arrogant, rude, and demanding are the editors from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Think about that.

While it’s cool to meet fans who know my books better than I do and think I’m okay, every tour has at least one moment of crushing humiliation. Try driving 1,800 miles to Davis Kidd in Nashville and arriving to find out the events guy is off today, no one has ever heard of you, and no one can locate any of your books. I went to a Barnes and Noble in Kansas City and shyly said to the pretty girl at the information desk, “I’m Tim Sandlin. I’m supposed to be here tonight.” She disappeared for ten minutes and came back and handed me a job application.

I had a huge crowd, by my standards, at the old Hungry Mind in St. Paul. Halfway through the reading a bus pulled up and everyone but my wife and one other guy got up and left. Turned out they were an English as a Second Language group learning about American culture by attending my reading. (If you’ve read my books, you may find that appalling.) the bus came and they left. 

George Singleton ended a book tour in jail. He badmouthed George Bush on a Mississippi radio station and they busted his ass. The actual charge was being drunk and saying fuck on the air, but he claims he was arrested for trashing Bush in Mississippi.

Wherever two or more writers come together, they inevitably trade book tour horror stories. The worst (or best, depending on your attitude) story I’ve heard was told by Nancy Pearl. She’s the model for the librarian action figure, you may have seen. Has a TV show in Seattle where she interviews writers. She told me about a Canadian writer named Ian McSomethingoranother (this would be a better anecdote if I could remember his name). Anyway, no one showed up for Ian’s reading, which is okay when you’re not in your own hometown. Better than one or two coming because then you have to go through the motions while shoppers look at you with pity in their eyes. 

But the bookstore owner wouldn’t let Ian leave. She hustled around the store, begging customers to listen to the reading and finally one old guy who looked like he’d come into the store to get warm agreed to sit on the first row. 

Ian started the reading. His audience leaned forward, fell out of his chair and died. Repercussions were about what you would expect.

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Don’t do it.

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The need has come to explain myself to someone. First: I hear voices in running water. This communion-with-nature deal started out as mystic and romantic charm, like being on the edge of a great secret. I’d be hiking along the willow flats or aspen groves next to your typical Wyoming bubbling stream: Moss-covered stones, Lonicera waving in the sun, air that tastes of lemon on the back of the throat- and a murmur would float over the water’s surface. It sounded as if several young people were singing a message, or an underwater anthem. As I stood motionless, the voices grew louder and sounded like a psalm or a chant- Gregorian.., if the creek was wide enough.

Enraptured as hell by the whole experience, I would sit at the water’s edge for hours, knowing that if I was calm enough, and pure enough, the words would come together and some message of great importance would be revealed.

That was four years ago, when I was still married.

Then came the winter Julie boxed up her vitamins, the cook-book collection and two drawers full of Danskins, and moved across town. Less than two weeks passed before my shower distinctly said, “What dire offense from amorous causes springs,” I didn’t know at the time, but that’s the first line of a poem called ‘The Rape of the Lock” by a man named Alexander Pope. (Rape is the recurring theme in much of my plumbing’s poetry.)

The morning after my shower first spoke, the flushing toilet said, “Eat fish today.”

Of course, I didn’t eat fish that day. People who let auditory hallucinations boss them around wind up driving wooden stakes through the hearts of random strangers. Or tying up their mother and splitting her in half lengthwise with a chain saw. A lawn sprinkler in Cheyenne once gave me that suggestion.

At times I shout rude comebacks at the voices- “Fuck you too, buddy.” – or I stick fingers in the water while they’re speaking. Nothing fazes the jerks. They laugh and trill and go merrily about the business of driving me further from reality.

To read more Sex and Sunsets by Tim Sandlin, visit Amazon.com

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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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I know you are all on virtual tenterhooks about the state of my colon, so here is the report:

As I was lying on the skinny hospital bed on wheels, slowly rising out of the anesthesia, my brain in blackest smog, the curtain parted and in floated the angel of the Lord. I knew who it was, right off. Imagine Merle Oberon in 1939, in Wuthering Heights. Radiant vestments, tasteful wings, a glowing golden aura bleeding into pumpkin colored spires — what you would expect if you were a shepherd guarding your flocks by night, but something of a surprise in a Wyoming recovery room.

The angel saith (in a New Orleans accent): “Your doctor messed up. He ripped you a new anal cavity.”

I was stunned, poleaxed from whatever they’d used to knock me cold, so I kept my mouth shut. Besides, I’m kind of shy around angels when the backside of my gown isn’t tied shut.

“Lucky for you, though,” saith the angel. “God has decided to present you with a new asshole. For Christmas.”

The angel reached into the depths between her breasts and pulled out a black, lacquer box with a golden clasp in the shape of a map of Oklahoma. A key appeared, as if from heaven, and she opened the box to show me a royal blue Velveteen lining in which were set five brand new anuses. Anii. Whatever angels call bottoms.

“Which would you chooseth?” saith the angel.

I know what you guys are thinking: You’re thinking I was hallucinating from the drugs and the thrill of having a tiny camera and flashlight snaked up my butt. (I have full color, glossy photos of the dark chamber as a souvenir.) However, I am fairly certain that the angel was real. She had on flip flops. Hallucinated angels never wear flip flops.

The new anuses were nice, if you like that sort of thing, but the sizes were weird — frightening small or absurdly large. One was screwed so tight it had to be meant for a Republican. Another had that star shape, like the Vonnegut backside in Breakfast of Champions.

“Are these the only choices?” I asked.

“Of course not,” saith the angel. “God has created an infinite number of assholes in this world. Just look at Face Book.”

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For ten years, let’s say roughly from the day I turned 27 until I turned 37, I danced in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar six nights a week, five hours a night. Roughly. It varied a bit but not as much as you would expect.

Dancing was life, there for a while, but problems arose because the bands played forty-five minutes then took a break for fifteen and I didn’t have anything to do for the fifteen other than drink. Every night, for years and years, I mixed four or five hours of extremely aerobic exercise with at least five drinks. Jim Beam with a splash mostly. I daresay I was one of the healthier drunks in Wyoming.

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What kicked off the dancing and drinking chapter of my biography was this: The nice girl I married left me. We’d more or less raised each other from childhood and she was ready to grow up. Here is self-evident truth 2.) “The only thing worse than breaking up with your first love is not breaking up with your first love.”

I hate to think of all I would have missed if she hadn’t had the courage to go.

But, a couple months after she left I realized I was suffering from Failure to Flourish. This is a real syndrome, by the way, only it rarely afflicts people over two. It means if you don’t touch a human for months at a time, you’ll get really weird. It’s even worse for writers. My friends were imaginary to start with. I knew I was in trouble when I found myself trying to cop a fingertip-to-fingertip feel off the cashier at the Wort coffee shop.

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Then, one fateful night I wandered into the Cowboy Bar and there they were — women, waiting to be touched. All you had to do was learn how to dance Western Swing. Thank God this was in the days before the ten-step or I would have had to make friends with sheep. Western Swing involves holding hands and rocking back and forth. You spin, your partner spins, every now and then the couple stands side-by-side in a near cuddle.

I couldn’t believe it! Touch… Lots of touch and all I had to do to earn it was drink like a college freshman. Katy (the wife I mentioned; nice woman) and I were one of those couples who spend 24 hours a day together, day after day, year after year, until you realize you haven’t spoken to anyone including the wife in six days, so I wasn’t too adept at talking up the girls between dances, which is why I drank during the break.

I lived one block from the bar. Driving dunk wasn’t an issue. I do recall drawing a map to my apartment on a bar napkin one night before I passed out and waking up at home. Lord knows who took me there.

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Mostly I was a dance object and my partners were Platonics who were beautiful but wouldn’t have taken me home with them if I’d been the last cow poke on the range. Real cowboys watching didn’t know this so I developed an undeserved reputation as a chowhound. After a couple of years, I started developing R.I.s (Romantic Interests). The Platonics and I spent most of our time together and communicated through dance or even conversation. The R.I.s filled the other gaps. The R.I.s hated the Platonics and I was too vague to understand why.

“I’m monogamous,” I would say, in my defense.

“You’re sick,” the Romantic Interests would shout as they headed out the door.

I thought this was normal.

Anyone who has read my first novel, “Sex and Sunsets,” has read all this guff before. While the plot of that book is a figment of the imagination, the spirit is true. It’s a lot more factual than what passes as memoir on Oprah. Except, of course, in the book I get the girl in the end. Novels tend to turn into daydreams for the last fifteen pages.

An aside: The American cowboy is the only profession I know of with its own art forms. You’ve got your cowboy dance, cowboy poetry, cowboy music, and cowboy art. Lawyers don’t have genres of poetry named after them. Carpenters don’t have carpenter dances. All they have are the ants.

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Let’s talk language. Pudenda is a word meaning “the external sexual organs of a human being, especially those of a woman.” It comes from the Greek word pudendum, which means “something to be ashamed of.” Consider the implications of that. It will give you meaningful insights into civilization.

I’ve taken a number of writing workshops, and taught even more, and I’ve never seen or heard an intelligent discussion on the proper way to write a sex scene. Maybe the teachers were afraid of being fired. The thing is, many, if not most, novels these days contain sex scenes and most authors are botching them up, probably because no one ever wrote the literary sex manual.

I’m at the stage in my career where public shunning might do me good, and I can’t be fired, so here is my take on literary copulation:

Beginners and Pulitzer Prize winners alike fall into two primary traps: 1) too many technical terms. One is enough. Or 2) Vague euphemisms. I had a student who kept writing about his “manhood.” It took me two stories to figure out where his manhood was. If that organ defines you’re manhood, you are basically a useless man. I thought he meant trigger finger until it started throbbing.

Romance writers tend to talk in terms of flowers. Or maidenheads. If I was a maiden and someone called that thing my head, I would be offended. Romance novels have a lot more sex scenes than my books, but my books are considered racy. No less than some crankcase in the New York Times Book Review claimed my last novel had too much sex between senior citizens. It made him feel icky to picture old people doing it. With luck, he won’t grow old or won’t be doing it when he does.

There’s only one real sex scene in the book. People think my novels are racy because my characters are true to life: They think about sex and talk about sex, more or less continuously, but when it comes to the real thing, they only pull it off every 200 pages or so.

I use sex in my books for the same reason I use it in life itsownself — for comic relief. Making love without laughing is like eating without tasting. You might not starve, but you’ll miss the fun. Might as well watch cooking on TV, if all you want is to kill some time.

The way to write fictional sex is through dialogue.

“Higher, dammit.”

“You’re on my hair.”

“When was the last time you cut your toenails?”

“Wrong hole!”

I know biting body parts sounds hilarious, but it’s been done before. Gross out humor belongs in the movies. Us novelists need to be more subtle.

The sexual ambiance needs to be unique in some way, or you might as well skip to breakfast, now that it’s no longer cool to skip to the cigarette. In nine fairly racy novels, I’ve only written one graphic scene between two regular adults who like each other, and I put that one in the catacombs of Paris, witnessed by six million dead people.

If you must write serious literature, I would advise skipping the thrusting manhood or angry urethras and going with emotions. Make the sentences read as poetry — man on top, iambic, woman on top, trochaic or even serpentine free verse. (You poets can work this out with other positions and forms). Typing “bitch” fifty times is boring and has been done. So has having a woman repeat “fuck me” over and over for two chapters. Don’t do it. I liked the Woody Allen movie where he said, “Slide,” because thinking about baseball made him last longer.

I don’t feel like talking about funny sex. I don’t feel funny. My dog died today. Nothing funny about that. And I saw “No Country for Old Men” last night, my first grown-up movie in months. It’s quite good from an artistic standpoint, but if you’re the type whose insanity level can be affected by movies, books, or music, I would avoid the whole thing. There will be people hospitalized from seeing that movie, and if you’re suicidal because your dog is dying, it might throw you off the roof.

Thirdly, (is that a word?) I’m having a colonoscopy Wednesday and I can’t eat all day tomorrow. I get dizzy and make poor choices if I don’t eat every three hours. I don’t know if I can handle thirty hours, or however long it is between right now and Wednesday morning when I come back from gassy-world.

It’s just a routine test, like you’re supposed to get at my age. My wife keeps bringing up people who died from routine anesthesia they didn’t really need since they weren’t sick. Our novelist friend Olivia went in for vanity facial manipulation and never came back. Then there’s that rapper fella’s mother.

I’ve got enough anxiety without friends forwarding horror stories from the internet. Please don’t. The medical profession has transformed healthy people into plants for years. Only now, it turns up on YouTube.

Shit. She was a nice dog.

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