Today’s Internoodle meme is “What books, teams, films, TV, music, food do you like?”

My friend Enola “Fanny” Guay asked, “What surprised you?” She wanted to know, “What makes you laugh and cry?”

I’m an engineer by training and inclination so I write a lot of lists. I write a weekly newspaper column about the arts and entertainment in North Puffin so I write a lot more lists. I don’t really like lists.

Fanny Guay wants a list.

The Five Ws give us the formula for reporting a story, researching a claim, or investigating a crime. According to the principle of the Five Ws, a story is incomplete if it doesn’t answer these questions:

What happened?
When did (or will) it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen?

Smoking GunThe first four are data gathering as is the meme. “What list of stuff do you want to share?”

The Why question always sounds more interesting although my cop buddy, South Puffin’s police chief Brockley Mann, says detectives don’t really care about motive. They need evidence.

Half of me agrees. The reporter in me knows the facts have to come first but motive drives my fiction/opinion writing. As Mark Twain told us, “First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.”

If I know what books, films, teams, music, and food you like, I can always make up the lies to match.

For the record:
My favorite book is generally the one I’m reading right now. I prefer turning the pages and the feel of a printed book, but I do have Kindle apps on tablet, iPod, and laptop because they simplify travel. I never want to be without a good book in hand and one in the wings.

I’m fairly well-schooled in English and American lit for an engineer but today you’re likely to find a detective story by Robert B. Parker or James Lee Burke on the nightstand. I like regional writers, too, so I just finished Vermonter Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel and would like it if Key West’s Tom Corcoran wrote another.

My first jobs were in movie theaters so I don’t go to all that many now (I was an usher at the old Warner in my hometown and a manager at the Criterion in Times Square when Nicholas and Alexandra premiered; I even survived 13 weeks of Love Story in traffic-snarled Fort Lee). I do like movies with character and story and have gone to three in the last year or so. The marvelous Les Mis. Gravity in 3D with backdrops so real that astronauts called them “true-to-life.” Hubble 3D in IMAX at the space center.

I don’t watch sports although I grew with the Phillies and the Iggles, the Birds and the Colts on the radio. A high school buddy pitched for the Mets so I watched them until I realized that he lost when I watched and won when I didn’t. I still like to drive race cars.

I like most music but claim that the only two forms I don’t like are blue and grass; in fact, I’m not keen on heavy metal but I book an eclectic outdoor concert series every summer that generally includes blues, country, folk, gospel, jazz, opera, pop, rock-n-roll, and, yes, bluegrass.

I like food. Bait isn’t food.


Call Your Mother

If your mother’s in the same room with you, stop reading now!

Josh Seftel’s story (A Mother, a Son, and an iPad, on CBS Sunday Morning this week) hit all the right cords for me. Go watch it now. I’ll wait.

<drumming fingers…>

My mom developed lung cancer, what the docs thought was non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). About 85% to 90% of lung cancers are non-small cell. She was a smoker for close to 50 years but quit in the 80s.

She tried a variety of treatments and ended up in a drug trial for one of the then-new NSCLC regimens. It seemed to work; she was in remission for almost five years. Then it metastasized to her brain.

Mary HarperShe did chemo. She did radiation. Her hair fell out. She borrowed a blonde “fright wig” from the oncology center in Key West.

I was extraordinarily lucky. See, since I’m self-unemployed as a writer, photographer, boat builder, and engineering consultant, I can arrange my schedule to suit myself. I spent several weeks down here just visiting when she was dying but still comfortable enough to visit.

We caught up. We told the family stories and the family lies. We shopped. We read. We went to a couple of art shows. We played cards and watched tube. We even went out on Joe’s boat.

I was blessed.

My mom died in 2002 about three weeks after I left; my dad died unexpectedly in 2005.

Now I wonder how much I missed, simply because the technology we take for granted today just wasn’t there.

Skype™ was first released in 2003 and sold to eBay about six months after my dad died but I doubt I was even aware of it for another couple of years after that. I don’t think we started using it before 2011. Now it’s an everyday thing.

I “teleconference” with clients over Skype™ now, which is a PITA because it means I have to put on a shirt. With a collar.

A business in Oregon just interviewed my friend (and North Puffin’s mayor and general roue) Beau Pinder when he was looking for a job out west. Reporters use it more and more to “phone in” stories or to interview news makers.

Anne and I have Skyped™ when she was up north and I down here. Rufus and I used it when he had to head north and I needed to know what to pack in his truck. Nancy and I Skype™ almost every day.

Mr. Seftel uses it to talk with his mother.

“My mommy refuses to connect to the Interwebs,” Liz Arden said. “She doesn’t want any form of computer, nor an Internet account, nor a talking TV.

“I have told her about Skype™ and how easy it is for me to sit on a computer or in front of my tablet and communicate and how lovely it is to see the face of the person I’m talking to. She dislikes computers and doesn’t ‘hear’ how easy tablets and Chromebooks are to set up and use.”

I understand that. My mom refused to learn how a gas pump worked. Mr. Seftel’s mother still seems to have some technical difficulties with her iPad.

Oh, sure, I know all the reasons from technical to political not to use Skype™. <shrug> So use Facetime, or Facebook, or hangout on Google, or ICQ, or ooVoo, or any of a dozen other lesser-known services.

Go skype your mother. She’s waiting.


Good Cop, Good Cop

Did I ever tell you the story of the night I spent in jail? And did you know I do not drink coffee, ever?

My folks were heavy coffee drinkers but I never liked the taste as a kid. We spent one rainy afternoon on the boat on the Chesapeake, sitting at the dinette playing cards, my folks with coffee in their tall Aladdin™ tumblers and me with Pepsi™ in mine. The tumblers were all red. You know what comes next, right? Yeppers, I grabbed the wrong one and took a healthy chug. Even the Pepsi™ didn’t kill it. I do not drink coffee to this day.

Just to get away from all the battery acid at home, I went to college in Hoboken and ended up just six blocks from a Maxwell House coffee plant. I love the smell but still can’t stand the taste.

Back to jail.

My first car was Triumph TR-3A which got me through senior year in high school and my freshman year in college. I might still have it if my roommates hadn’t decided to float test it in the Hudson.

Enter Thunder Bug.

My beautifully restored 1950 Volkswagen Beetle had 27 coats of hand rubbed ember firemist paint (a 1967 Cadillac lacquer), hand stitched leatherette seats, and a 140-horsepower Corvair engine under the sleek, vented hood that exceeded the original body lines by no more than six inches. It had the split rear window and “semaphore” turn signals that flopped out of the B-pillars. It was occasionally persnickety.

Thunder Bug.

A few Volkswagens were imported into the United States in 1949 by Ben Pon, but they didn’t gain much popularity. In 1950, Volkswagen Beetles started arriving into Dublin packed in crates in what was termed “completely knocked down” form, ready to be assembled.

First Beetle off the BoatDespite the 33 horsepower engine, the Beetle was designed for “sustained high speeds” on the Autobahn. Assuming 72.2 mph is considered fast.

I always wanted more. 140HP was about right. Thunder Bug could, um, break the speed limit anywhere. Even on the Autobahn.

The American deluxe Beetles got hydraulic brakes in 1952, and lost their semaphores in 1955. Mine had mechanical brakes and semaphores.

I’ve pretty much always been a gearhead which is a good thing since most of my cars have required a certain amount of wrenching. Even Thunder Bug. Maybe especially Thunder Bug.

One dark and stormy Sunday night (Really. It was November. Near freezing. Pouring rain. Bitter.) I was on my way back to school when Thunder Bug coughed twice and died on the four-lane 202 in Somerville, New Jersey. I coasted to the side of the road and popped the hood. Did I mention it was pouring? I had no flashlight so I was feeling around the engine compartment for something that felt familiar when my world lit up. It was so bright, I thought the stadium next door had blown up except there was no stadium next door.

It was a Somerville cop. Patrol car with high beams and twin million candlepower spots.

To set the scene, I was a college kid with a hot rod. I was probably unkempt. I was definitely unshaven. I was absolutely soaked. It was about 1969. College kids and authorities didn’t mix well.

He was smart enough to stay in his car where it was warm and dry. I wandered back and we spoke through his slightly lowered window. I ‘splained what had happened. He volunteered to stay and “light the scene” for me while I troubleshot the car.

I spent the next half hour alternating between his (warm, dry) passenger seat and tracing wires and fuel lines in the (cold, wet) work space under the hood. We determined it was a dead fuel pump.

“You can’t leave it here on the road overnight,” he said.


“There’s a car parts store right over there. If you think we can push it into the lot, you can leave it there.”

Did you notice the “we”? He helped get the car down into the parking lot.

“I can’t let you stay here,” he said. “Do you have any place to go?” Only later did I realize he was afraid for my health if I had slept in the car, not worried about my transiency. I told him I was on my way to school and had neither family nor friends in Somerville.

“I guess I’ll have to put you up then. Get in.”

So we rode back to the police station. He got me a couple of blankets and showed me the closet where they keep the cots. The closet had, um, bars. And a door that locked from the outside.

Fortunately, I got a single.

They didn’t lock the door.

And they gave me an extra pillow to go with the extra blanket.

Still, I didn’t sleep well. I had to keep kicking the door to make sure it was unlatched.

Reveille came early Monday morning. As my night watch rescuer was going off duty, he brought me in a take-out cup of black coffee. I hate good coffee and this was cop coffee. Best drink I’ve ever had. I drank it all down. And then he took me back to Thunder Bug. The rain had stopped.

Good cops they grow in Somerville, NJ. Good cops, indeed.

Next up, my ride in a New York City paddy wagon…



My business card identifies me as a Barefoot Writer, Photographer, and Engineer.

North Puffin Gallery Business Card
When I have a camera in hand, I’m primarily a photographer but I’m leaning more and more into digital painting (“dainting”?). My dad whose 94th birthday would have been today was a pretty fair amateur photographer. My mom was an award winning painter.

I took a series of photos looking across Burlington (VT) harbor and Lake Champlain toward the Adirondacks on a gray and dismal summer day. The weather didn’t keep the sailors away, just the sun. Rather than losing what was a nice scene with good composition, I decided to use it as the underpinning for this digital painting.

No camels were harmed in the making of this work, since it was all done pushing colored bits rather than colored brushes.

The idea for creating a photorealistic — and artistic — image from a bland photograph isn’t new to me. American artist and illustrator Bert Monroy is one of the pioneers of digital art. In an interview I heard he talked about his (phenomenal) Times Square panorama but even more than that, he reinforced this notion I have of making lemonade out of the spilled lemons.

I go for a realistic representation in my own work, even if the individual objects are more drawn than pixelated.

My own Burlington lighthouse is pretty accurate. The sailboats, at greater distance, less so but they stand up to poster sized enlargement. And I deliberately flattened what Liz Arden called “the cartoon mountains.”

I take a lot of images at my own beach on the Atlantic in the Keys. It’s a place I like to go back to again and again and I like taking you all along. Every day is not perfect there but every day is perfect in my photographs.

Of course, the painted nude is perhaps a bit more fanciful. That palm doesn’t exist in nature. I don’t think my inch of beach has ever seen that much surf although I did use it and its sky as my model. And I’m pretty sure no ladies have taken the sun quite that way on that beach. I do like the artistic use of body paint.

Painted Nude on Beach
Did I mention that I occasionally nap on the beach?



When I’m …

When I get older losing my hair,
Many (many)(many)(many)(many) years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo
You’ll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I could be handy shooting that fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave
Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Launching Away.
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?