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Archive for the ‘Wyoming’ Category

Don’t do it.

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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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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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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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My daughter Leila turned seven last month and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. For a couple of years, she dreamed of managing a hotel in China, when she grows up. She researched hotel management and knew the track to get there. Then, she moved on to designing clothes. She’s got talent. Lately, she switched to jewelry design.

Sunday night, I mentioned this lack of focus to me wife, Carol. “By the time I was seven I knew writing novels was my calling. I had my entire career mapped out, and I knew what I had to do to get there.”

Carol said, “Yes, but you’re a freak.”

I’m thinking the true freak — me — is the one who doesn’t even know he’s a freak. Self-awareness blows the gig.

I was right around seven when I wrote my first joke. I wrote it for my cousin to tell in the family Christmas Eve talent show. Here it is: “Did you hear about the Cherokee Chief Red Cloud who drank three gallons of Lipton tea. He was found, drowned in his tipi.” I was seven for God’s sake. What do you expect?

At nine, I had my first publication — a poem in either Highlights for Children of Jack and Jill magazine. Sometimes I tell interviewers one and sometimes the other, but the truth is I don’t remember. The poem was entitled “Trees.” There were leaves in it.

Inspired by publication, I wrote basically every day until my second publication — Sex and Sunsets — when I was thirty-seven. S&S stayed in print twenty years, until last summer. There have been six screenplays based on it, but no movies.

The first joke I wrote for public performance came in junior high. My friend Ronny was running for vice-president of the student council and he wanted a laugh to open his speech.

I wrote him this: “If Chad attacks Libya from the rear, do you think Greece will help?”

The first novel I wrote was The Battle of Bitter Creek, and one of the blog readers wrote me to say he has a copy. Amazingly enough. I’m not sure I even have a copy of the manuscript. It’s set in 1888. The spoiled wife of the owner of the railroad tells the residents of Bitter Creek, Wyoming, they must put clothes on their horses, dogs, cats, and chickens, or the railroad will never stop there again. The hero is R.C. Nash, a name I used thirty years later in Honey Don’t, my political farce. There’s another guy named Overbite O’Brien. The book was fairly low end.

Now, fifty years after the tipi joke and thirty-five years after the bad Bitter Creek novel, I have my first cowboy novel coming out next week. For those of you who keep score, it’s my ninth published book. Rowdy in Paris is set in 2004, I think. Rowdy Talbot goes to Paris to retrieve his stolen belt buckle and finds himself ass deep in a plot to destroy both McDonalds and Starbucks.

Riverhead/Putnam is publishing the book and because the other eight weren’t best sellers, they aren’t investing any money in publicity or marketing. No author tour. No free books to Book Sense stores. No co-op.

(Quick lesson in co-op: My friend who writes thrillers told me Barnes and Noble ordered 12,000 of his newest book. I said, “How did you swing that?”
He said, “My publisher is paying three dollars per copy for B&N to stock the book. It’ll go on the New Arrivals shelf.” In radio, this is condemned as payola. In publishing, it’s co-op.)

The only prayer this book has of selling enough copies for me to find a publisher willing to put out the next GroVont book (I’m on page 320) is if something happens to stick Rowdy on Putnam’s radar. To oversimplify, if they think the book will be big, the book will be big.

This can’t happen without you mighty blog readers. You want me to keep writing blogs and books, give me some support. You don’t, that’s okay too. The world won’t be dramatically different without my writing.

But, if you are of a mind to pitch in, there are two possibilities. 1) If you or your college roommate, ex-lover, or the in-law you can’t abide works for big media, tell them you know about a cool book.

Okay, that’s not likely. Second, if Rowdy makes a good run on the Amazon Top Five Million chart, it might get my publisher’s attention. Amazon measures velocity, as opposed to overall numbers. A book that sold 200 in the last hour will rate above a book that sold 20,000 last month. Thusly, when the guy at the New York Times Book Review said Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty sucked because no on wants to read about sex between old people, the book jumped 30,000 slots the next morning. Which is two books, if you’re in six figure-ville, but Jimi was okay to start with. The dynamite review in USA Today gave it an even better kick.

So, in order to make an Amazon run and hit my publisher in the noggin with a stick, you all not only need to buy Rowdy in Paris, you need to buy Rowdy in Paris at the same time.

Let’s say Thursday evening, January 24, at 6 p.m. Pacific time, which is 9 p.m. on the East Coast. You folks in Europe or wherever you are can figure it out. If you have any desire to read Rowdy or more blogs, buy the book between 6 and 7 PDT, the night of January 24. Buy several. They make outstanding gifts for loved ones.

Maybe, we’ll make a difference. Also, order books you have no intention of picking up from the chains. It’ll get me in their computers. Buy the backlist from your local independent bookstore, or go to my web site and buy first editions from Valley Books.

I would love to publish book #10 and it won’t happen without you guys.

p.s. The Chad-Libya-Greece joke is in Rowdy. Nothing is ever lost.

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Due to the severe isolation of the job, most literary writers, and a few of the genre guys, develop a co-dependency relationship with a specific bookstore. The store is usually a local, mid-sized independent where you can get to know the staff and the staff can get to know you and your idiosyncrasies. Authors become mascots, of a sort, like the store cat that customers see slinking through the stacks. We drop in at these bookstores four or five times a week, just to see the books on the shelves. We buy a few, of course, but most of the time we’re there to absorb vibrations off the printed page. We need to know books still exist. We need to renew faith that the book we’re writing now will one day be on those shelves, real and tangible.

My home store is Valley Books in Jackson, Wyoming. Steve Ashley owns Valley Books and he is the finest human I’ve known in my days on Earth. I have owed Steve money continuously for over thirty years. Back during the dishwashing decades, I would charge all my Christmas presents there, for the family back in Oklahoma, then spend the rest of the year paying off the bill.

After that, came the flush screenwriting years when I pretended Steve allowed me to hang out in his bookstore for a hundred dollar a month cover charge. In exchange, I pretended all the books were free. Most months it worked out well. Only in winter did I drop so far behind I had to write a massive check in the spring.

When I’m in the throes of writing a novel, I tend to get more than a little spooky. Steve’s employees have always been kind and patient with my abnormal behavior. More than once I came to after a bookseller touched me on the arm and asked after my welfare, when I was frozen up in front of a shelf.

Which brings us to Christmas Eve. Fifteen to twenty years ago, in appreciation of all Steve and his staff did for me, I would go in during Christmas week and clean the employee bathroom. I hoped to start a precedent ¬¬– a movement, if you will – whereby all authors clean their local bookstore employee bathrooms during Christmas week.

It never caught on. To this day, I think if Phillip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Updike had followed my lead, we would have created a new tradition, equal to Secret Santas and black-eyed peas on New Year’s. But then, Steve remodeled the store and did away with employee bathrooms. I would have probably stopped, eventually, anyway. There comes a time of life where it’s considered peculiar to clean other people’s bathrooms.

So, here is the current Christmas Eve tradition: First we – the family and I – go to the 4 p.m. Christmas carol service at the Episcopal Church here in town. My daughter, Leila, loves to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” I like tradition and ritual.

(Last Monday night, Dick Cheney was at the service. By my modest count, seventeen members of the congregation were packing guns. We skipped the Peace. Made the Good Will to Men thing seem a bit warped.)

Then, after church, I take a bottle of Frangelica liqueur to Valley Books, and right before closing, the staff, the owner, family members, and late shoppers toast to Christmas and the wonderful folks who sell books. Actually, we share several toasts. I don’t drink much anymore, so it doesn’t take but a couple shots to zip me right into the holiday spirit. And I’ve found the staff is more appreciative of a Dixie cup full of cheer at closing time than they were of a clean bathroom.

If there’s any Frangelica left, I take it home and put in into the French toast Christmas morning. I heartily endorse baking with liqueurs.

On another note, I once tried to explain to Leila why teenagers hate poems and songs featuring their name. I used the example of “Georgie, Porgie, pudding and pie.” I never met a kid named George yet who doesn’t loathe that poem. And girls named Brandy – my advice is don’t break into “Brandy, you’re a fine girl,” when you meet them. They’ve heard it before. At seven, my Leila is not impressed by people who knock out a verse of “Layla” the moment they meet her. Besides, no one can remember the line after “You got me on my knees.”

For me, the most damaging Christmas icon is that little brat Tiny Tim. God, I hated that sanctimonious suck-up. I was small for my age – I grew seven inches after high school – so the whole tiny thing made me neurotic as a Democrat in Utah anyway. It didn’t help for other kids to taunt, “Where’s your crutch, Tiny Tim? When are you going to say your line?”

But then I grew up and I am no longer an insecure, short, isolated, frightened, resentful, nerdy, twerp.

I don’t think. To prove my point, I will now take a giant step forward in my development as a whole human being.

“Merry Christmas.” Here it comes: “God bless us every one.”

p.s. Mark it on your calendar. Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty comes out in paperback on January 4. If you’ve already read the book, buy a few for your loved ones. Grandparents love it even when they claim their friends won’t. And order three from chain stores. You don’t have to pick them up. Unclaimed books will eventually reach a shelf. I’m too old to wash dishes professionally.

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When she was thirteen years old, Tanya Tucker had a big crossover country/pop hit called “Delta Dawn.” Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, she found herself famous, the Miley Cyrus of her day. Tanya went into a wild spell marked by extremes, outrageous behavior, and public delamination of the celebrity sort. Now, she’s grown into a respected icon of country music, which, goes to show you — survival is the most important element in becoming an icon. You, too, can become a venerated elder of your tribe, no matter what you did as a teenager. It’s a matter of not stopping till you get there.

Anyway, Tanya Tucker put together an anthology called “100 Ways to Beat the Blues.” In the book, 100 more or less well-known people talk about their personal remedies for fighting depression. Mostly, she chose country singer and movie stars, along with a smattering of politicians and sports guys. And me. Lord knows how I made the cut. I’ve never met Tanya, although I have enjoyed her music and she seems to have come through the too-young fame syndrome with some level of sanity.

There are a few writers in the 100— Wally Lamb, Kinky Friedman, Cathie Pelletier. Not many live west of Austin. George And Barbara Bush had to share a chapter. Willie Nelson’s advice is short — “If you don’t like the blues, play from the whites.” I’m thinking it’s a golf joke. Garth Brooks chapter is serious, sincere, and personal. Among other things, Garth says you should watch the news on TV every night. Whatever makes you happy, I guess. Roseanne said it’s uplifting to beat the tar out of your ex-husband’s motorcycle with a baseball bat.

An alarming number of the musicians recommend getting drunk. Personally, I found myself drunk a lot, back in the old days, and I don’t remember it ever making me perky, punctual , and positive.

A bunch of the your more artistic types say depression is not necessarily bad for you.

Here is my chapter:

Kurt Vonnegut says a person must be depressed to write a novel, which is probably true. However, when I am depressed I have a tendency to sit on the couch and stare at that four-inch gap between my feet for several days, until the spiritual catatonia grows boring and I get up.

Boredom is the cure for long-term depression, and anything that alleviates boredom short-term — alcohol, sex with people you don’t like, rage — only puts off the cure. So, after a few days of sitting there like an African violet in need of sunlight, I get up and fix a pot of Kenya AA coffee. Then I pop Shane into the VCR. It’s a scientific fact that a person cannot remain in the dumps throughout a full viewing of Shane.

Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur. Jack Palance.

“Shane! Come back! Mother wants you!”

The movie will renew your faith in the inevitability of good’s victory over evil, the dignity of beauty, and the inspiration brought on by a nice view.

After Shane, and a couple of cups of strong Kenya AA, I can return to my work, refreshed and ready to produce.

That riff is the closest I’ve come to a bestseller.

I once saw Tanya Tucker at the Cowboy Bar. She was with Glen Campbell, at the height of her public flame-out. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are flashes in the pan compared to a country singer gone off the steep side of the roller coaster. Tonya had taken some sort of strange pills and got herself stuck up against a wall in the Cowboy Bar ladies room. Folks went in and out of there for a couple hours, trying to peel her loose.

Then, suddenly, Tanya bounced on stage, grabbed the microphone, and belted out one of the most kick-ass sets I’ve ever seen or heard. She was a true professional, and a hot singer. I later used that scene in “Western Swing.” Nothing is wasted.

So far as I can make out, nine readers of the last blog submitted titles containing three different punctuation marks. My favorite was Hooper Humperdink . . . ? Not Him!, submitted by Jill, because it used the most punctuation in the least words, which was the point of the Go, Dog. Go! exercise. I should have outlawed quotation marks, apostrophes, and nonfiction, but I didn’t so you readers have all earned your copies of “The Pyms: Unauthorized Tales of Jackson Hole.” If you will send me an address, through Messages — not Comments or Blog Comments or anything public — I will, eventually, when I get time between now and Christmas, mail you an autographed copy of this near-but-not-quite classic.

The rest of you can actually purchase this wonder at timsandlin.com. It’s the perfect Secret Santa gift, suitable for toilet reading, as each chapter takes the exact amount of time to read as a healthy #2. They are ten dollars each, plus three dollars shipping no matter how many you buy. Handling is free. In my value system, it is immoral to charge for handling. Who came up with that scam anyway?

Today’s assignment: In thirty-two words or less, tell me how you beat the blues.

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