The offers keep rolling in

I must say, it was quite a surprise to hear that Clint Eastwood wants to make a movie out of my book, “The Genuine One.” I never expected Hollywood to come calling, but you just never know these days, I guess.
It’s been a couple of months now since my fictional novel was released to the general public, and it’s taking off, apparently. I’m told by my agent, Biff Shaboom, that the book is surpassing all expectations through the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, and it must be true because in a couple of weeks I’m scheduled to talk about it on national public television with Charlie Rose, and after that I’ll be appearing on “The Today Show.”

So it’s off to New York for me. I’ll be sure to pack a big suitcase, because Mr. Shaboom wants to show me the town, which, of course, will include a tour of The New York Times.
The Times has been on my back for weeks, in fact, asking that I agree to write a weekly column in its book section. I told them, however, that it’s out of the question because in spite of my success I prefer staying here in Worthington and writing for the Daily Globe. I don’t think Sandy and I can be happy in the big city, frankly; we’re humble, small-town people, you know. But the editors at The Times have been so kind, I finally agreed to at least listen to them one more time.

It’s still hard to believe, looking back, that when I started writing stories I never assumed any of them would go national, let alone be on the fiction bestseller list. But that just goes to show you that dreams do come true.

I’m really looking forward to the Charlie Rose show because he’s going to introduce me to Stephen King and Salman Rushdie. I’m not a big fan of Mr. King (his books scare me), but I’m really anxious to converse with Mr. Rushdie and congratulate him for managing to stay alive since that fatwa thing, and all. I’m sure there will be a lot of happy talk on “The Today Show,” but I’m OK with that. We writers — even those of us who are serious writers — have to put up with those kinds of things in order to keep our image in front of the public. And at least I’ll get to ride in a limousine.

I ordered a black one, with a high definition TV.

Well, before I go, I suppose I’ll have to say something about the Clint Eastwood thing. Yeah, he managed to see “The Genuine One” on the Amazon site, bought it, read it, and loved it. He called me recently and said it was the most entertaining, humorous and meaningful story he has seen in years, and that when he makes his movie it will smash all the box-office records. “It’ll make ‘American Sniper’ seem like child’s play,” he actually told me.

Just who will star in the movie, I don’t know. I’ll be involved in the casting, of course, since I’m the author, but I don’t plan on being fussy about it. I’m just not that kind of guy, you know.

Anyway, before I go I should tell you about another of my books that will be coming out soon. It’s entitled, “The Old Man in Section 129,” and it’s about baseball, fathers and sons. I recently received a phone call from nationally syndicated political columnist George Will, who said he received an advance copy and plans to write a column to coincide with its official release. Mr. Will, as you may be aware, is a huge baseball fan and has written a few books on the subject.

I suppose when George’s column comes out, “The Old Man in Section 129” will cause a sensation in its own right.

But I think at this point — April 1, 2015 — everybody should relax. As I said before, I don’t plan on accepting any of the lucrative offers that are sure to come. Sandy and I love it in Worthington and plan on retiring here.

A little richer, and a little more famous, of course. But like I said, we’re humble people and intend on remaining that way.

The impossible dream — in 2015?

Public television is in the midst of a pledge drive, and in order to increase donations they’re replaying old classic television clips.

I found myself wondering how many living souls who’ve come across the offerings really appreciate them. I saw Richard Kiley performing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. And I saw a young Dick Van Dyke singing “Put on a Happy Face” from the old musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” Another snippet showed the cast of “Oklahoma” singing the title song.

On another day, a retrospective of Bing Crosby’s career taught me things I never knew about the famous crooner. Last night PBS showed a documentary on Peter, Paul and Mary.

I was too young, or wasn’t even born yet, when some of these classic films, musicals and performers hit their stride. I grew up in a rock-n-roll world, and craftsmen like Crosby were beyond my scope. I am reminded that Frank Sinatra, himself, is reported to have called rock music — during a time when Elvis Presley was in ascendance — “the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.”

I don’t blame Sinatra for saying it. Rock and roll was designed to appeal to the young, and its’ contrasts with Sinatra’s style was as jarring then as it still seems to some today. But as I watched those PBS shows, I became just a little bit disappointed that the styles of the past (along with the spirit) seems so hopelessly outdated in 2015. When I listened to Kiley sing “The Impossible Dream” I was impressed with the optimism of it, the way it gives voice to lofty human desires all of us innately feel in our hearts. Van Dyke’s version of “Put on a Happy Face” might embarrass us today for the sheer sappiness of it. But I was impressed, once again, with the innocence that emerged from the performance.

Optimism and innocence are largely lost in popular entertainments today. Back then, the great performances encouraged and uplifted us. Too many entertainments today — songs, movies, books — seem intended not to uplift or inspire, but to shock and to tear down. There are many exceptions to this, of course. But it seems, sometimes, that the old way, which sought to point the audience toward what is best in the human spirit, is being discarded for what leads to pessimism and negativity.

The world today is saturated with entertainment options. You can still find Bing Crosby recordings if you look hard enough, but why bother? We’re always on to the next thing; most of us have little time or inclination to consider our grandparents’ favorites. I understand that, of course. I still prefer Neil Young to Bing, the Beatles to Frank.

But after watching those PBS episodes, I found myself wishing that young people today could stop for a moment to learn, to watch, to listen and appreciate a different era and try to plumb what were simpler, more optimistic times.

And I wonder: If they did step back into the past, would they even be able to understand it?

 

Car trunk cleanup time

One of these days, and maybe soon, I’m going to clean out all that stuff from the trunk of my car.

It’s going to happen because it has no business taking up space in there. None whatsoever. Not any more, that’s for sure.

I should have done it three years ago, to be honest. But I tend to hang onto things a little bit longer than I need to, and … well, for crying out loud … for a while there in the back of my mind I thought that maybe — just maybe — I might get the call.

That call didn’t come, of course. And with each passing year, that big old black duffle bag filled with my old softball pants, three or four my softball shirts, some long-sleeved T-shirts for those cold days, two of my favorite ball gloves, three balls, sliding shorts, etc., just seems to scream out at me to admit to reality. My ball playing days are long gone. And they aint never comin’ back.

I went in my trunk the other day to pore through the contents, and everything was there. Everything I would need in the coming spring if my old teammates called me back into action, explaining how it’s just not the same any more without me. And could I please return for one last tournament so I could stroke one of those line drives between the centerfielder and rightfielder and motor all the way to third base while the ball makes its way toward the fence.

Truth is, I’ve been retired for three years. I’m 58 years old now and probably couldn’t make it to second base even if I did get ahold of one and drill it into the gap. And I probably can’t hit the ball that far any more, anyway.

No matter. So three years after I retired from my fast-pitch softball days my trusty duffle bag, with the broken zipper and torn corners, still sits in my car trunk waiting for action. Begging for action, in fact. I have sincerely retired. But the tools of my trade — from my bats to my gloves, from my long white socks to my half-used tube of Icy Hot (which is now as runny as water) — awaits the call. The call that will never come.

For most of my adult life, the trunk of my personal vehicle has been the reservoir of my softball tools. Always ready for me, so that all I had to do was hop in and drive to tournaments near and far. I’d open the trunk and everything I’d ever need for my own little heaven on Earth ballplaying experiences were right there at hand. I was like a turtle who carried his indispensable items right there on his back — except that mine were always there in the trunk of my car.

I’ve never been very good at letting go of the things I love. I’ve still got more than a couple of old shirts hanging in my closet that my wife, Sandy, has tried to get me to toss for years. But I like ‘em. They’re still comfortable to wear. I don’t want to let them go without a fight.

But I’ve gotta grow up. Face the music.

So one of these days I’ll climb into my trunk, pull out the old equipment, dig a hole in the back yard, and resign it to the ages. Maybe I’ll invite a few friends and family for the occasion. And play taps.

Farm genes spring to life, sort of

What I know about farming I can write on a kernel of corn. But I’m reading a book called “A Good Day’s Work: An Iowa Farm in the Great Depression” and a little bit of knowledge is beginning to sink in.
You would have thought I’d know much more about farming than I do, but like they say, you just can’t figure out some people.
I come from farm stock on both my Wolter and DeBoer sides, and the history goes way back. My father actively raised crops for many years, though he retired from active farming when I was still little. Even so, I remember sitting on his lap as he drove his tractor, and I remember him bringing me along when he checked his fields in the summertime. We had chickens and pigeons on our place on the western edge of Allendorf pretty much throughout my childhood, and I remember feeding them. I remember the old red barn and the smaller sheds where dad kept his tools and his antique barbed wire fencing.
But I never cared for farming. And dad never pushed it on me. He loved sports way more than farming — baseball especially — and I was every bit my father’s son.
I actually remember the moment I made up my mind that the farmer’s life was not for me. It was one summer as I was baling hay for my uncle Floyd, dad’s oldest brother. It was an extremely hot and muggy day and I spent all of it trying to maintain my balance on a bouncing rack as my uncle sped through his bumpy field. After a while, the bales seemed to get heavier. The twine that held them together dug into my fingers. Worst of all, as my sweat fell in big drops, fibers from the hay worked their way underneath my clothing in ways I cannot begin to describe. It was a new definition of uncomfortable.
That was the day I decided I’d get a desk job someday. If not a desk job, at least something apart from farming.
Truthfully, however, though I never came close to being one, I’ve always admired the American farmer and the rugged individualism that defined him. I saw it in my uncle Floyd, in his brothers, and in my cousins who continued to pursue the profession despite all the uncertainties and hardships that threatened success. Perhaps that’s why I picked up “A Good Day’s Work” in the first place — to unlock the memories that lay dormant for so many years.
In reading the book, I re-learned a lot of things about corn and bean fields, cattle and hog care and the proper maintenance of equipment. And I discovered things I’d never known about Midwestern farms in the days between the great wars.
But I think the memories of the author, Dwight W. Hoover, about baling is what I appreciate most. Here’s an excerpt that, thankfully, I never had to worry about when Uncle Floyd drove us all so mercilessly:
… If keeping your footing on the hayrack was not treacherous enough, you also had to dodge your workmate’s fork as he swung it around in preparation to move a bunch of hay. When I was in college, my uncle hired me and a one-eyed man who was an itinerant minister to load hay for a day while he drove a tractor pulling the hayrack and loader. The hired man was a frenetic worker who went after the hay with a vengeance, waving his fork wildly. Trying to keep my footing proved to be extremely tough; I feared being stabbed when I was on his blind side or falling off in an effort to avoid impalement….
Suddenly, a little hay stubble down my pants doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Not yet famous, but enjoying the adventure

WORTHINGTON — Time for an update:
My book is now officially released (since Jan. 13, in fact) and I am not yet famous.
When it happens, I’ll let you know.
Actually, I’m very pleased. The book signing at the Daily Globe went very well, and it looks like I may have a couple more signings coming up in other cities. I want to remind you, however (I want you very, very much to be reminded, actually) that we are still selling copies of “The Genuine One” at the Daily Globe for $12 apiece, a price significantly less than the suggested retail price approved by my publisher, Tate Publishing and Enterprises, based way down south in Oklahoma.
I’m happy to report that the e-cards I’ve been waiting to receive from Tate have finally arrived. This means that readers who prefer downloading the book to a computer or hand-held device can now get the job done as easy as pie. We’re selling these cards, too, for $10 each — another bargain, I humbly editorialize.
You’ll also get a free bookmark with every purchase of an e-card or paperback copy. And if you like, I’ll autograph each book and add a pithy remark that I’m sure only a genuine published author could think up.
I’ve gotten quite a charge out of this novel-writing stuff so far. I’ve already spoken at one local Kiwanis meeting and I will soon speak to another, and this week I’m going to go radio to be interviewed by KWOA’s esteemed director of news and information, Justine Wettschreck. I will try not to be a bundle of nerves in her presence.
Oh, I guess I’ve got one other announcement, although it seems a little premature at this stage. Another story of mine, entitled “The Old Man in Section 129” has also been picked up by Tate. They tell me they will soon begin production and it may be ready for the shelves (or the Internet, at least) sometime in March. It’s the story of a middle-aged dreamer from a Minnesota town with an unhappy life and a love of baseball. While attempting to bury his disappointments at Target Field he begins to be visited by old-time greats from the hereafter. Overwhelmed, he struggles to find meaning in the apparitions — or are they really apparitions? Nothing makes sense to him until … their manager appears.
I’m mum on who that manager turns out to be.
That’s all I’m going to say about it. Except that lots of interesting things happen from there to change the lives of the central character, his wife, his daughter, and his grandson.
Well, that’s enough of an update, I guess. Except one last thought: For all of you who have purchased “The Genuine One” and told me you really like it, thank you from the bottom of my heart. And for those of you who might have thought about buying it and haven’t yet: You can now get it online, but you don’t have to. You can still get it here and avoid the wait. I think the book would look very nice in any church library, or city library, and of course in your personal library, too.
My wife and children approve of this message.

There are many ways to keep warm in winter

Some of us can never understand why so many young people put on summery clothes during the cold of winter. Former Daily Globe editor Ray Crippen broached the topic earlier this month in his delightful weekly column.
I am one of those who, until now, often went out into the cold underdressed. It wasn’t out of fashion sense. It was, instead, due to a lack of attention to detail. But now, in my middle age, I am paying more attention to detail.
Baby, it’s cold outside. At my age, freezing temperatures creep into the bones like never before. The cold is harder to shrug off these days. Shivering is easier.
Until now, I’d only pull on my long underwear on the coldest of winter days, just to shovel my driveway. But today I’m wearing my long underwear at work. It’s amazing how comfortable long underwear can be — even when there’s no snow to shovel.
Warmth is a thought that enters my brain more often than it used to, and it’s probably going to rest there until winter passes. Let’s see: It’s the middle of January. That means one more month of hard winter before we’ll get over the hump.
Warmth. It’s a beautiful word.
There are many ways to achieve warmth, of course, even indoors in winter. Last weekend, for instance, my wife Sandy and I spent part of Saturday at the home of my daughter Laura and her young family in Lakefield on the occasion of a sleepover. It was, of course, a madhouse with three young boys — Laura’s Tyson (age 4), and her sister Kari’s Jake (5) and Nixon (2). But before bedtime, Laura and her husband Nathan inserted a children’s movie in the DVD player and prepared a batch of popcorn.
So Tyson sat on Sandy’s lap while Nixon sat on mine, and Jake scooted up next to me on my right hip. Nixon is notorious for being a mama’s boy, but with mama away he stayed on my lap for at least an hour, fiddling with his Transformer toy and talking to me intermittently in a language I could not quite make out.
But who cares? He sat on my lap. He stayed. Eureka! Jake sat in his spot for the same duration, and allowed me to wrap my right arm around him in a comfortable grandpa snuggle. They should have taken a picture.
Warmth? You bet. That kind of grandpa warmth is even better than long underwear.

Bowl me over, baby

This week’s Pigskin Pick-em will be the last one of the season, and it looks as though we will have a new champion.
Sports columnist Les Knutson owns a 105-65 pick-em record. Yours truly, who won the thing last year, is 101-69. Managing editor Ryan McGaughey is 94-76. And sports reporter Zach Hacker is 91-79. Barring a big surprise, that’s going to be the order of the finish.
Picking the games is never as easy as it might seem. National Football League contests have been especially hard on us this year. I don’t know how many times all four of us went with the “obvious” choice only to see that team beaten.
Next year, I think we might want to have an extra picker. I think it might be Zach’s dog, Homer. Zach thinks that he might have Homer pick winners according to which of two food dishes he favors (one labeled “Vikings” or the other labeled “Packers,” for instance) and Homer may do as well as the rest of us.
Judging from the job Zach did this year, however, he may want Homer to pick for him, too.
This week, of course, presents a smorgasbord of great football for the football fanatics in your life. New Year’s Day kicked off with the bowl games that really count, and with this weekend comes the first round of the NFL playoffs.
I’ve got football on my mind (not that I ever needed an excuse). More specifically, I’ve been thinking about college bowl games.
When I was still in high school I remember writing a humorous column for the school newspaper (I don’t know if it was really humorous, but that’s what I attempted, anyway) about the proliferation of bowl games that had already taken place in the 1970s. Nowadays, the proliferation has become even more extreme.
My point was, originally, that there were getting to be too many bowl games. I think today, however, the absurdity is not actually the amount of bowl games that are out there, but the name changes. It was OK to have the Peach Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and what-not, but now because of corporations horning in it’s the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl, the Vizio Fiesta Bowl and the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Here are a few others: The RL Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the Duck Commander Independence Bowl. I could go on and on.
The other day, Zach and I were musing about the bowl situation and he came up with another one. It derives from a story I brought to the Daily Globe newsroom recently about my 4-year-old grandson Tyson coming to our house one afternoon with a McDonald’s Kid Meal and a sack of chicken nuggets in his hand. “Chicken nuggets, baby! Chicken nuggets, baby!” he repeated to us.
We had no idea where he got the phrase. So naturally, we laughed.
Zach says the next bowl should be the Chicken Nuggets Baby Bowl, and he wants the Minnesota West Bluejays college team and the Southwest Huskerz summer amateur team to play in it.
Why not? It makes just as much sense as the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Christmas without the tinsel

Sandy and I were sitting in our family room last Friday night with our middle daughter Kari. Mike and Kari’s two boys, Jake and Nixon, played nearby with the tub of toys they’d dumped into the middle of the room.
The television was on, showing a “Toy Story” movie for the kids, who seemed much more interested in interacting together at our feet. The lights were low, and although Christmas wasn’t going to arrive until almost two more weeks, we could feel it all around us.
Kari felt it the most. “Mom, dad, why don’t you have your decorations up?”
I chuckled a little. Sandy answered her. “Well, I guess since we’re having our family Christmas this year with you in Mankato, dad and I decided we didn’t need very many decorations.”
Kari was a little sad. “You guys always taught us to love Christmas. OK, it’s your house. It’s just feels a little strange that you haven’t decorated like you always used to,” she said.
She’s right, we’ve always been prolific Christmas decorators. We always had a big tree (artificial, admittedly) and we decorated it profusely with colorful blue and red balls (sometimes silver, sometimes gold) that we collected over many years. We took down our wall hangings and picture frames from all over the house and replaced them with Christmas-related themes. It was a big production. It involved packing lots of things away in boxes and bringing them downstairs, and carrying up lots of other boxes filled with reminders of the holiday.
We carefully set up the Nativity scene — sometimes two Nativity scenes, in prominent locations. When the kids were little, we hung a large December calendar with pouches and a little cloth mouse that the kids moved, each day, to the correct date so they could see for themselves how near Christmas Day was coming.
But this year we didn’t bother. We had become a little lazy. All we had to show for the coming of Christmas in 2014 was the little ceramic tree in front of our bay window. The big tree was still in our basement, unadorned.
Sandy put Kari’s mind at ease. “You know how we’ve always loved Christmas,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful how you’ve always looked forward to Christmas so much. It shows that we taught you well how to celebrate it.”
Kari agreed.
As they talked, I thought to myself how sweet it is that Kari now has our mouse calendar at her house. For several years now, she has brought it out of hiding at the beginning of every December and hung it on a wall in her own living room. And today, Jake and Nixon take turns advancing the little mouse closer to Dec. 25.

Those crazy dreams, and what they can become

Ray Charles once said, “Dreams, if they’re any good, are always a little bit crazy.”
Dreamer that I am, it wasn’t long after I began writing short stories that the dreams kicked in. I imagined that I would become a nationally-known author, invited as a guest on public television shows, maybe even have one of my books made into a movie.
It’s fun to dream big, knowing, of course, that dreams like that don’t really come true for people like me, a regular schmo raised in small-town Allendorf, Iowa, a normal guy with balding head and a slightly pronounced middle-aged pouch — a person people pass by on the street without even noticing.
But a funny thing happened to me, as some of you might already be aware of. One of my stories, “The Genuine One,” has been picked up by a national publishing company and is about to be made available nationwide. Just when I had become satisfied with the idea that the only people who’d read my books would be family and friends, my mind has been beset again with crazy dreams. That is, who will play the main character when the movie comes out?
Now that the word’s out, I’ve been asked by several people how I come up with story ideas, how long it takes me to write a book, and whether I have the entire book put together in my head before I type it on the page, or whether I make it up as I go.
I think there are many ways to write a story – as many ways as there are writers. Personally, I develop the theme in my head before I begin to write. I have a distinct path where I want the story to go. I jot down ideas about the beginning, the middle, and end and file them in a folder. By the time I’m less than halfway through the book, I have a folder filled with little scraps of paper indicating major and minor plot twists that I want to pursue. Writing a complete story, then, can resemble piecing together a puzzle.
It can be maddening just coming up with a good story. I can’t remember how many times I came up with an idea one day, and dismissed it the next. I have also begun writing a story only to abandon the project because I didn’t like the theme any more.
Since beginning my story-writing escapades five years ago, however, I’ve managed to write five books that I’m still pleased with. One of them, at least, was thought marketable enough by a publishing company that they told me they’d like to produce, distribute and publicize it with their own money. That, I can tell you, is both exciting and humbling at the same time.
Readers, I hope that you can join me at the Daily Globe on Friday, Dec. 12, for my book signing event, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. I don’t want to be presumptuous and promise you’ll love the book, although I sincerely hope you do.

From one generation to another

Even while I placed the item in the cardboard box and wrapped it in duct tape, I second-guessed myself.
Did I really want to part with my dad’s World War II mortar shell? It wasn’t that I didn’t want Clay to have it; it was just that dad’s war mementos are excruciatingly hard to part with no matter what the reason.
My father, an infantryman in World War II, died in October of 1990. Ever since then, as his only child, I’d been the keeper of his WWII things. They are quite possibly my most prized possessions, because they remind me of the service dad rendered in The Great War — but mostly because they remind me of dad.
His life is in that trunk. It contains the small black German mortar he brought with him from the war in Europe. There is the plate off a stricken Japanese war ship from his service in the Aleutian Islands. There are American and German war-time knives, a Nazi armband, photographs, a pencil drawing of dad sketched by a German POW at the camp dad was stationed at after the war ended. He had paper money and coins saved from France, Belgium and other countries he saw while fighting in Europe. The trunk contained non-war trinkets, too, like old pocket watches handed down from dad’s father and grandfather. Besides the war stuff, I placed other things in that trunk that remind me of him — letters sent home to his family from his WWII days, items from his amateur baseball days before the war.
I had known about those war things since my earliest of days. Dad used to show them to me from time, then after a few minutes of wide eyes and lots of questions, back they went under lock and key.
Recently I opened the trunk and picked up dad’s heavy mortar shell — the kind it was his job to lob, himself, from the American side. The inside of the shell was hollowed out, but it’s still heavy. As I held it in my hand, I thought that this might be a good time to pass it along to my grandson Clay.
Clay, at 12, is my oldest grandson. His middle name is Robert. My dad’s name was Robert. The fact that Clay has dad’s name as part of his own has always had an effect on me that I can’t quite put into words. I wanted to name my own son Robert, in tribute to dad, but God chose instead to bless me with three daughters. My oldest daughter, Shannon, thought enough of her grandpa, herself, to grace Clay with that middle name.
So I thought this might be a good time to connect Clay with the great-grandfather he’s named for. I put the mortar shell in the little box and went to the Internet where I found a Wikipedia description, with pictures, of the mortar dad carried with him in the Army, and the shell that it came from it. The shell photo looks exactly like the one I held in my hand — yellow, with thin red lines and tailfins.
After having applied the duct tape, I set the box down and wondered if I should — or could — give it up just now. I finally decided to go ahead with it, convincing myself that Clay Robert is old enough to appreciate it and sensitive enough to cherish it if only for the fact that it once belonged to the great-grandfather whose name he carries. We all own things that mean more to us than they otherwise would because of the story behind them. But we can’t hold onto them forever. Dad couldn’t. And neither can I.
I brought the box to Clay when he was in the middle of something else. I favored the casual approach. I didn’t want to make too much of a big deal about it. As he opened the box I just told him that I wanted him to have that mortar shell, and that every time he looked it at he should think of his great-grandfather and feel proud to carry his name. Clay read the Wikipedia article with great interest. The other piece of paper — a little note I wrote to him to explain that he’s becoming quite a young man now — I asked him to read at another time after I left.
Today, that mortar shell has a special place in Clay’s bedroom. I think I did the right thing. I think Clay’s great-grandfather would have been proud to see it there.