Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Road Report: Tale of the Tree House

He's coming to tow your wallet away...
I can't help it if I know that Cars 2 is about to be released. . . 
Of all the Pixar films, Cars is arguably the most merchandised and heavily promoted. I don't think even the Toy Story films can compare.

Thus Cars 2 has been in my face (and I assume yours) this summer with ads, posters, and verbiage printed on food products.

According to the marketing geniuses behind this phenomenon, I should ready myself to purchase such valuable treasures as the Cars 2 Shower Gel Assortment! And I was hearing about all this before the movie had even come out...

In the midst of this media hucksterism I've tried to be a good Van Winkle and avert my eyes, but it's like trying to ignore the weather. So I've found myself saying, "Oh, never mind" and forgiven my transgressions.

After all, the original Cars wasn't all bad. I liked its tribute to the old Route 66 in the film and also how Tow Mater was the funniest hick of a fellow since "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, USMC.

My main problem was that I never bought into the concept of cars whose grilles and bumpers move like mouths and, guess what, they talk!

You see, talking animals I'm fine with. Ditto monsters and plastic toys. I can even suspend disbelief on behalf of talking vegetables. But somehow I can't quite transfer my emotions to a muffler and a fossil fuel burning engine.


The real reason I mention Cars is that the original film brought to my attention that old place on Route 66 where you can stay in a concrete Indian tepee. I refer to the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. This set me up recently to be primed to try some tepee camping of my own. It happened when I discovered we would be traveling in the vicinity of Diamond John's Riverside Retreat near Murfreesboro, Arkansas.

At Diamond John's you can stay in an air conditioned tepee.

Except this was better than the Arizona place. No concrete here. These were real tepees. Yet they were air conditioned with queen beds and satellite TV, making them semi-comfortable for those of us who inhabit tender skins several generations beyond Geronimo.

Well, I was all set to make a reservation when I discovered I could do even better than the tepee. We could stay in a tree house.

The Peaceable Kingdom
The tree house at Diamond John's is a fine experience, It's not terribly high off the ground as one might imagine, which is good news for acrophobia types. Still,there are real tree trunks passing through the room that the window glass artfully forms a border around. And the view is just great. Which is to be expected. It is a house...in a tree.

But the tree house wasn't the main attraction.

We were able to spend the better part of an evening, a night, and a morning alongside an emerald river.

Domesticated animals came and went. Like...

...the geese who congregated at the foot of our tree house and romanced us with a honking karaoke.

...a couple of goats who trod silently here and there.

...peacocks who moved along, their long plumage swishing behind them.

Up the hill in back of the tree house there were some miniature ponies in a pen begging us to feed them. The hill was important to us since there was one drawback to our lodgings. No plumbing in a tree house. We had to trek up the hill to the bath house to get water and use the facilities.

At night another creature made an appearance. I hadn't seen these in years: fire flies. They popped their lights for us in the dusk like cinders hovering above the ground. A wink and then extinction. Then another one.

Did we sleep well in the tree house? Well, it was kind of bright since we only had sheers for curtains and that night there happened to be a full moon. And our beds squeaked every time one of us turned over. And, wouldn't you know it, we had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Uh oh. A hike up the hill.

Still, it was an experience unlike any I've ever had. The climax came the next morning when I wandered down by the river and found an old electric organ someone had left to rot among the trees.

I saw words that aptly described what our time had been like.

Yes. It felt as if we had been tuned into the Vox Mystica, that musical voice that resonates right down to the level of blood and bones. Peaceful, peaceful. - V.W.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Road Report: Diamond Daze

I now realize there's a good reason why diamonds are so expensive.

It's not just because the little jewels shine so brightly. It's not just because a diamond is so hard that nothing can cut it except another diamond.

It's also because diamonds are darn hard to find.

This might seem already obvious or a commonplace to you. In my case, I had to drive to a locale outside the little burg of Murfreesboro, Arkansas. At Crater of Diamonds State Park I found out firsthand about the rarity of diamonds as we were welcomed into the only place in the world where the public is invited to mine for diamonds.

More, you are told you can keep as many diamonds as you wish. That's right, folks, free diamonds! Just pay the $7 entry fee, rent or bring your own tools, and get to work.

Riches await you.


Since 1979, over 28,000 diamonds have been found in the crater by people just like you and me. Some were found as recently as a few days before our arrival. In a few cases, the diamonds were large, large enough to earn them their own name and a marker out in the crater noting the location of the find. Like the Star of Arkansas and the Uncle Sam diamonds.

Does that sound enticing or not? We set to work.

What I Learned About Diamond Mining
At the visitor center a park ranger gave us a live demonstration of the basics of what we were getting ourselves into. Exhibits and videos provided further information.

Legendary diamond finder James Archer
in his ever present yellow waterproof pants.
I soon realized that with our mild foray into diamond digging we were unlikely to become very adept at identifying the best digging spots and gravel with the highest potential to yield diamonds, In other words, there was no comparison between us and the Crater of Diamond's own legend, Mr. James Archer.

James rated his own display at the visitor's center. He spent decades at the crater, even into his retirement years, and he found over 7,000 diamonds.

James was famous not just for his finds, but for his friendliness and willingness to help others dig. James died out in the crater doing his favorite thing. Digging for diamonds. He was 78 years old.

As we stood in line to rent equipment I was armed with further information: most diamonds are extremely small and not that impressive looking. Some are yellow or brown. All of them look like little pieces of polished glass. The samples we saw in the display case in the visitors' center had been about the size of fingernail clippings.

What we were searching for...
Even though we were told diamonds had been found by children looking down at the dirt and seeing something sparkling in it, the usual method of prospecting involves digging up dirt and then sifting through it. There are two methods of sifting: dry and wet. In either case we had to take our two sifter screens (one coarse, one fine) and shake the dirt through it and then inspect what was left behind.

Right away I knew I favored the wet method. The wet method would lead us to the washing troughs at the edge of the crater. The troughs were covered by metal roofs. We could find our treasure in the shade.

Hotter Than
We began by filling a bucket with dirt from the crater. "Crater" is perhaps too dramatic of a word. The mining area was a plowed field consisting of rough dirt clods and gravel. The sun was burning down. A park ranger broadcast heat stroke warnings over a loudspeaker. Apparently if we felt dizzy or nauseated and it wasn't from the sight of a diamond the size of a hen's egg, we should seek immediate medical attention.

The diamond crater.


After filling it up with shovelfuls of pre-sifted dirt, I lugged our heavy bucket to the washing area and began working at the trough.

At the washing station...

A half hour later I had...a few flecks of quartz, hardly any bigger than a pepper flake.

A Dazzling Finale?
It soon became pretty obvious to me. For a person to find a diamond he or she had to be either very, very lucky or sift a lot of dirt. It really was akin to finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. Sure, you might find the needle the first time you thrust your hand into the hay. More likely you would have to search the entire haystack over and over, ad infinitum. In the meantime, someone else who is either luckier or tries harder than you, may find the needle first.

Hmm. I'm not seeing any diamonds here...just dirt!

By the end of the afternoon it had occurred to me that mining for gems and precious metals is perhaps a bit like seeking love. Yes,it can be frustrating on the bleakest days when we're surrounded by a hot, blasted barren field, seemingly bereft of possibilities. Still, it's the hope of having success that leads most of us to become what Mr. Neil Young once described in song as being a "miner for a heart of gold." We keep on digging.

If we can just find that rare, lasting, durable love to end all loves, all of the sweat and dirt clinging to us will wash away and our labors will be justified.

You can walk onto the field and hope to get lucky in an hour or you can be like James Archer and keep on digging six days a week, year after year. Pure tenacity in service of that hidden, valuable thing.

I think it's the James Archers of this world who have it figured out. - V.W.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Road Report: Where There's Hope

We weren't on what the locals call a "Bill-grimage." A Bill-grimage? It's a portmanteau word that has come into play to describe tourists who are ardent fans of William Jefferson Clinton and his two-term presidency from 1992-2000.

As has been noted here before, this is not a blog where political notes are sounded or aired. What can one expect from a guy who is trying to avoid the news? So I'll just say that there were things I surely admired about Bill Clinton's presidency and others that disappointed me and leave it at that.

The real reason we were in Hope, Arkansas, was because it was more or less on the way to where we were going.The fact is that if I happened to be passing by, I'd probably stop off at the home of any U.S. President. From George Washington to Barack Obama, and the William Harrisons and Grover Clevelands in between, all of them have been interesting people.

Often the distance between each of these men's beginnings and where they ended up--as the leader of one of the most influential and powerful nations in history--says a multitude about what makes America a very interesting political and social experiment. "Can anyone grow up to be president?" as we Americans like to claim?

Sometimes it appears so.

You can feel it standing in the fatigued single block of low, stone and brick buildings that constitute downtown Hope, Arkansas.

A U.S. president was born and raised here? A town whose most prominent feature is the railroad station?

It's not hard to imagine that little Billy Clinton heard those passing trains. They rattled and chanted, "Let me take you away from here!"

And it had a magical effect on another man as well. Like little Billy, Mike Huckabee, another Hope resident, moved on to the governor's mansion in Little Rock and his own presidential aspirations. Clinton and Huckabee both from this tick on a mangy dog of a town? What are the odds of that?

I learned about such wonders at the train station museum devoted to Hope, Bill Clinton and watermelons.

Since I wasn't on a Bill-grimage I found myself particularly  interested in the watermelons. They grow them BIG in Hope.

Still, Bill Clilnton's presence couldn't be escaped.

Excuse the ex-president's stiff demeanor.
He's made of cardboard.

The very friendly African-American woman who was in charge of the place said President Clinton was last in Hope this past April 19th. She pointed proudly out the window. "He was walking right on the street right there!"

LOTS of whipped cream!
I wondered if former President Clinton dined at Tailgater's Cafe on the corner. It's a new establishment in Hope and they serve burgers and hotdogs and some seriously fat fries. We tried it out for lunch. The chocolate shakes were particularly noteworthy.

Another feature of this cafe is that they assign your order the name of a famous person and give you a ticket with that name on it. We got "Jack Nicholson." I was kind of disappointed. I wanted someone younger. Maybe "Leonardo Dicapprio." Still, it was better than the alternatives. "Justin Beiber?" Please. Not on an empty stomach.

Health food, Arkansas style...
Of course, Bill Clinton had heart surgery a few years ago, lost a lot of weight, and reformed his famous burger eating diet. Standing in Hope, though, one could see how he'd had been led down the wrong culinary path at an early age. This was standard-issue Heart Cloggage, Heartland, America.

I actually would have liked to have spent more time in Hope. Not for the sake of Bill, but because the town has one other claim to fame.

Here they build Klipsch speakers. These highly regarded (by some) music reproducing devices contain the famous Klipsch horn. The horn (as opposed to cone design) is said by most audiophiles to be outdated and an inaccurate way of producing musical highs. They object that a horn sounds too bright.

I once owned some Klipsch RF-1 speakers. At the time they produced the finest sounds I'd ever heard in my living room. They were especially good at pounding out the drums on rock albums like The Who's Tommy. What I appreciated, too, was that these 48" tall beasts, each weighing 50 lbs., were made in the USA. In Hope, Arkansas.

Klipsch speakers with their distinctive copper
colored speaker cones, horn speaker
at the top...and made in Hope, Arkansas

Short on time, we didn't visit the Klipsch factory, but I noted a pair of Klipschs hanging from the ceiling of the Tailgater's Cafe. I left thinking of giant watermelons, rock 'n' roll, and a burger loving boy who grew up to be president. Mama, please check my temperature. I may have a slight case of patriotism... - V.W.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Road Report: Texarkana, the City that Lays It On the LIne

Foreground: Texas. Background: Arkansas
I'd never been to Texarkana. Wait. Which Texarkana am I talking about? Because there are two.

There's Texarkana, Texas.

There's Texarkana, Arkanasas.

Both are cities with populations between 30,000 and 40,000 people.

And they are separated by an invisible line. But invisibility is not an impediment to appreciating civic distinctions. City fathers long ago sought to make the invisible visible. They built a building and put up a sign.

All you have to do is drive downtown and you'll see the impressive combination Courthouse and Post Office built of stone. One half of this building is in Texas. One half is in Arkansas.

Naturally this has any passerby thinking to himself or herself "Photo-op!"

A person can stand here with a foot in each state.

This is what we did. But that wasn't all there was to it.

At that moment I felt very odd vibrations pass through my body. I reached out and touched the metal longitude/latitude sign. It seemed to be pulsing with electromagnetic energy...

Consider this: On the Arkansas side of the line I was sensing Hope, Arkansas which lies less than a hour down the highway. President William Jefferson Clinton was born there.

On the Texas side of the line I felt faint vibrations of President George W. Bush, born somewhat distantly in Midland, Texas.

Both men from these border states grew up and avoided the major danger to their health and welfare, the Vietnam War. Both were criticized for it, yet both men ended up living for 8 years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Did these two men from either side of the line have anything else in common? Well, each of them was likable in person with down-home, relatable personalities. Other than that, though.

Two sides of the line.

The yin and the yang.

Maybe this is why I felt so strange standing there doing my awkward straddle.

And it wasn't just political.

I felt other contraries.

Good and bad.

Light and darkness.

Merciful and pitiless.

Love and hate.

I don't like lines. I find it difficult to detect them. I'll think I'm standing in one place and discover that I'm just a few metaphorical inches removed. That slight shift is enough that I'm actually occupying another territory altogether.

For example, I think I have the smartest idea since that touchstone for my parents, sliced bread! No,turns out  my idea only feels original because it's so dumb  it's never even occurred to anyone before I came along.

Or I think there's a passionate angel whispering in my ear, but it's some devil of unalloyed selfishness.

But don't let this brief philosophical digression mislead anyone. I wasn't trying to discover whether Texas or Arkansas is the better state and then jump to that side of the line. A few minutes later we drove into Arkansas. After all, this is America. If all the red, white and blue flags I kept seeing flying in front of homes and businesses could have spoken words to go with their snapping in the wind, they might have intoned, "It's all good." Isn't that how one wants to feel about one's country?

What I worried about post-Texarkana wasn't the state of the nation, but the state of me. What I'd remembered back there in front of the Courthouse/Post Office is that there's always a line going through the middle of me. It can be a bit disturbing to carry the image futher--to start to visualize the little journeys I make back and forth across that line.

Thoughtful me, thoughtless me.

Gentle me, violent me.

Creative me, mediocre me.

Energetic me, slothful me.

Good me, bad me.

Maybe that's what impelled me a ways down the highway to throw the steering wheel to the right. We took the exit. We were headed to a place called "Hope." - V.W.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hotel Hazards

Here we are on the road and I woke up this morning and had a realization. I can't completely relax during this vacation.

Not until we get to our Sunday night destination and stop staying in overnight lodgings. You see, hotels and motels are a problem for the Van Winkles of the world.

I opened up my room door this morning and this is what I saw.

A USA Today at my feet. USA Todays up and down the hall way. A veritable USA Today news minefield.

I tiptoed around these visual temptations and made it safely to the elevator without glimpsing a headline.

Then the breakfast room assaulted me. Of course, there's an HD screen  blaring the morning news, weather, and road reports.

I was able to grab my much needed coffee and get out like a soldier who had wandered into no-man's land and somehow made it back to his trench without any bullets hitting him.

I did see the weather report numbers, which is all right since that's the kind of news that's personal and unavoidable. Also, because it didn't tell me anything I didn't know.

Straight 100+-degree F. days for the next five days. Absurd!

But the good news is that we're driving north today. We should start to see daily highs "only" in the mid-90s.

Is there a lesson or a moral in all this? Only that I haven't been on vacation in a while and a good feeling is starting to come back. It's one of shedding my known life and daily routine.

Now someone else is making the morning pot of coffee. Someone else is going to make our beds. Someone else is going to cook dinner every time we decide to eat out.

It's nice too that I don't have a bunch of clothing choices, only what's in my bag. No office to go to. Reading email? Let's just call that "optional."

And there's a different view outside each morning.

Sunrise over the hotel parking lot. Not Eden, but not the same old same old either...

The effect of being on vacation is that a little more of who I normally am falls off each hour as the wheels of the car keep rolling and my familiar world becomes just an accumulation of miles behind me.

Sometimes it's good not to be "me," even if for a while longer I can't get around the fact that I still have to be "Van Winkle." - V.W.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Van Winkle Plans a Vacation

It's that time of the year. Many Americans are hitting the open road for their family vacations. Here at The Van Winkle Project, we're about to do the same.

Planning phase.
America is such a large country with so many roads and sights to see that it invites this kind of diversion. All you need is a car, money for gas, and a hotel or campground to stay at when the end of the driving day comes.

I grew up in a family in which the parents had a vehicle especially well suited for the road trip: a station wagon.

By the time it was over we would have owned two Ford wagons, each with all that luxurious space behind the passenger seat for three small boys to spread out in. And unlike a mini-van, which was yet to be invented, a station wagon rode just like a car.

Cruisin' and smooth!

We made 18-hour drives between Wyoming and Oklahoma. We drove to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

Trusty vacation road machine: Our 1957 Ford Country Sedan...

After we moved to Alaska long road trips would cease by necessity. Places in Alaska tended to be connected by airplane, not asphalt. Motivated by the lure of salmon to catch, though, we still made plenty of 100-200 mile day trips in the last of those Ford station wagons, the one we boys called "the Golden Pig." We hauled our aluminum boat on the rooftop.

How We Did It
Preparations for road trips in those days were fairly simple. My dad bought a case of motor oil because the 427 engine in the '57 wagon had a leak in the valve cover and we had to pull over every couple of hours and add a quart. He got some maps at the gas station.

Part of the vacation "goodie box." Disgusting,
metallic tasting store-brand soft drinks.
Cheaper than Coke or Pepsi, our parents considered it
a "bargain."
 As for our mom, she prepared the "goodie box" which contained chips, cookies, and soft drinks.

And, of course, she packed our suitcases, standard hinged affairs with snap locks.

We loaded up and we hit the highway.

Our second car, the famous "Golden Pig" which
took us on trips in Alaska.

There was very little in the way of radio stations to listen to. We had no battery-powered devices to help us out. If we had a breakdown, we would have to stand at the side of the road and look pathetic because there was no such thing yet as a cell phone.

But we had a good time.

In the back seat, my brothers and I squished together in a fraternal way we were long used to. We read books, dozed.

I used to stare at the blur of landscape and try to hear symphonies in my head. Time's passage was a slow, aching bruise, but I think somehow we were better able to bear boredom in those days. Having very little to do seemed closer to the daily norm than something exceptional and unbearable.

Gotta Get Away
So there's this family reunion we're heading to in Branson, Missouri, a place I will not write about at this time, even though there's much that could be said about it as a tourist destination.

The reunion begins this Sunday.

For a variety of reasons we're going to make our way north slowly,  never driving more than 300 miles at a time over the next four days.

For entertainment on the road we have:

  • Sirius satellite radio*
  • Great Courses lectures on CDs
  • Music CDs
  • Music stored on an iPhone
  • MP3 player
  • Books
*NB: The Van Winkle Project travels with me, so there will be no news or sports programming allowed to reach our ears.

Where will we stay? In the old days my dad hardly ever planned for such eventualities. It would have meant the difficulty of digging up the information about a hotel in another state, then making an expensive long distance phone call to get a room reservation. 

So we looked for a hotel when the time came, usually an hour after the sun dropped below the horizon and we started seeing the highway courtesy of our headlights.

Vacation research question: Will this Comfort Inn
really be comfortable?
But I don't like to subject us to chance and roaches.

Last week I spent hours reseraching lodging on-line and read guest reviews. Then I booked us rooms for each night. Even eating options have been noted.

Of course, one could just hop in the car and see what happens. Which seems to me a major difference between 21st Century road travel and the 20th Century's version of the same.

These days we have way more choices about how to approach our adventure.

Will we be like Columbus who sailed off with nothing more firm in his mind than that surely he would eventually reach India (about which he was completely wrong). Alternatively, will our road trip be more like a NASA moonshot with every possible contingency planned for?

Or perhaps something in-between?

I suspect many readers can testify that their best road trip moments have happened after a wrong turn. Or unexpected weather. Or an encounter with a stranger.

Mystery should be part of the lure of leaving home, too. Let's close the travel guide for a moment, fold up the maps, and just wonder. America's a big country. What is out there that I can't even imagine? - V.W.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Books For Sale

Today is the day above all days in the year that I look forward to. . .

No, it's not Christmas.

It's not my birthday.

And, it's not "Judgment Day."

Did Van Winkle "sleep" through this?
Yes, we were one of the lucky thousands of cities to be graced with a billboard declaring that the world as we know it was ending in May. The merry month of May came and went. Nothing seems to have happened. No Rapture. No Tribulation. No Mark of the Beast. No nothing.

Or am I mistaken because of my Van Winkle Project vow not to follow the news for just a while longer?

Did I miss Judgment Day?

Whatever the case, the day I most anticipate has managed to roll around again. This marks the 13th year I've been able to attend, spend an hour or so blissing out, then write a check and walk out the door, a satisfied man.

With both hands gripping bags of books purchased for pennies on the dollar.

The Reading Generation
One of the more interesting facts about the city I live in is that it has more than its share of retired folks. Many of them grew up here. They either never left or they moved back to spend their golden years stretching their twig-like limbs beneath the familiar hot sun.

The older folks are attracted by the relatively hospitable cost of living (you can still by a perfectly adequate used home for under $100,000), the low crime rate, the many churches, the patriotism (we are home to a major Air Force base), and the cultural life spawned by three major universities, including free concerts and lectures.

1998 Buick Park Avenue: the Septuagenarian's choice
to drive slower than the speed limit.
Whenever I go out I can spot the old people quite easily. 

I come upon a car going down a straight, otherwise empty street and it's moving along slower than the speed limit. The car is almost always a 10-year-old Buick. Yep, that's one of them behind the wheel.

Or they're the gray or silver or bald heads that are already in their seats at the movie or theater twenty minutes before the show begins. It's a senior paradox: they like to be on time so they always make sure they arrive early.

But, "bless their hearts" (a Southern politeness phrase I've learned is used to mask what actually amounts to a sharp criticism) these old people have one especially favorable characteristic as far as I'm concerned.

Call me crazy, but I smile
whenever I see an old person reading.

They were part of a generation that reached adulthood before the arrival of television. Much more than the people who would be born after them, they always knew how to make their own entertainment.

They played  cards. They knitted. They collected coins and stamps. Another manifestation of this pre-TV/computer screen DIY mentality toward leisure?

They've always been readers.

Think of the implications... As the rigors of aging require them to move into smaller houses or assisted living or nursing homes or, worse case, settle into the turf beneath Forest Lawn, they have to unencumber themselves of some of their possessions. You've probably guessed what they are casting aside at a prodigious rate.

Their books. Lifetime collections of books.

This is why the annual Friends of the Library Book Sale is a bibliophile's dream.

At 9:55 the line is almost out the door...
The Hunt Is On
I walk into the Civic Center downtown and elbow my way past the crowds toward the long rows of tables groaning beneath the weight of "Fiction."

I'm always excited about what I might find in hardback. Give me a nice stiff spine. Un-yellowed pages. Perhaps a dust jacket that is still intact. I'll pick up a copy for $1.75. As I said, pennies on the dollar.

And children's books? They go for $1 an inch. Your purchase is measured with a ruler at check-out. What a deal!

As I browse these tables crammed with the castoffs of someone else's cultural life, I notice that most of what was purchased came from the bestseller list. It's interesting to see how quickly these authors sank from sight. Does anyone talk anymore about Sidney Sheldon? Rebecca West? Frank G. Slaughter? Whatever happened to Arthur Hailey who wrote about the perils and loves in a different industry in each of his novels? Airport, The Moneychangers, Hotel. Did Mr. Hailey ever write about steel? Silicon? Wal-mart?

I  begin in my favorite section - fiction.

Look at all these hardbacks...
 I keep searching, hoping to find my version of treasure. Like the year I picked up a hardbound copy of The Writer's Chapbook, a collection of writers' advice on their craft, edited by George Plimpton. It turned out to be signed by Mr. Plimpton, himself--famous writer, founder and editor of the Paris Review, and affable host of America's most celebrated late-20th Century literary salon.

Or our son found on the special items table (i.e., $5/book) a hardbound tribute to the Wallace and Gromet movies signed by their creator, Nick Parks.

What "treasure" might be lurking in one of these rows, I wonder.

And even without an author signature it was nice to pick up hardbound copies of Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself, Truman Capote's Music for Chameleons, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest, and any book by my favorite, Mr. Kurt Vonnegut.

What an upgrade! This moving from paperback to hardcover is like trading in T-shirt and jeans for a nice Italian suit!

Today's Finds
So I walked away with fewer books than some years, but there was still enough to please. Such as the first really LONG book I ever read from beginning to end. That honor goes to A Thousand Days by Arthur Schlesinger who told the story of JFK's abbreviated presidency in this book. I read it in fifth grade and wrote a book report. I was so impressed with myself! A Thousand Days was 1027 pages long!

I'm also happy to have picked up the only novel written by F. X. Toole who spent most of his life as a cornerman for a succession of boxers. As anyone knows whose read his short story collection that gave Clint Eastwood the material for the film Million Dollar Baby, nobody has ever written with more authority about punching the speedbag, climbing into the ring, or hitting the canvas.

And a first edition Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is not too shabby of an acquisition either.

I also had another bit of good fortune...

I found all three of Cormac McCarthy's novels that are part of his "Border Trilogy," I now have a nice uniform edition of some of the best work of the best living American writer.

But there's still one more book I have to show off. It wins the prize for the "Most Unexpected" volume.

Did you know that Charles Lindbergh wrote a lengthy book recounting his adventures in aviation up to and including his historic crossing of the Atlantic?

As I could tell from the price listed on the dust jacket, this book came out in the 1950s. What was most surprising, though, was that the entire memoir is written in present tense. Who was writing nonfiction in present tense back then? I can't think of anyone. Yet it's a wonderful gamble on the part of the writer. All of those present tense verbs can make us feel we are climbing into the cockpit with Lucky Lindy.

So I walked out of the Civic Center without anything by Kurt Vonnegut this year, but I still feel fine. In fact, I strongly suspect that there may have been a book or two by Kurt and I just overlooked them among the thousands of competing volumes. Oh well, my loss can be someone else's gain. And there's always next year - V.W.