Book Excerpt: The Hostess 2

“I’m Lynn.”

“Josh. Nice to meet you, Lynn.”

“You’re joshing me, right?”

“Yeah, as in, I’m joshing you.” His voice had a strange note as if he were thinking, that old chestnut again.

His gaze swept me up and down. I sum myself up as average weight, median income, medium length brown hair (graying and dyed to hide that fact), and better than average features. Still attractive enough… for middle-aged. But Josh’s frank glance was admiring.

Bemused, I registered the fact that I was flattered.

We began the conversational short hand of strangers. “Lynn, where you off to?”

“I’m heading home.”

“I’m on my way to Portland,” Josh offered. “This is the tail end of a long business trip. I always take the train so I can work. I get a rental car after I arrive. But my God, this train’s packed!”

“I visit the coast the weekend before Thanksgiving, and bring back seafood,” I offered. “I barely fit my bags in the bin.”

The conversation stopped while we studied the menus the waiter brought. “Sea food stew,” I decided aloud. If the taste even remotely resembled the chowder I’d had at Mo’s Restaurant with my parents the day before, I’d be happy.

“The chicken,” Josh requested. “Can I talk the lady into joining me for some wine?”

“Actually, you can. I’d love a glass of rosé or white.” There’s something about train travel indeed… and it wasn’t like I’d be having airplane travel mile high sex with Josh in the bathroom. Is there a name for having sex on a moving train? I wondered suddenly.

Josh added, “…and the Semillon.” This time his smile was filled with promise.

I smiled back. When was the last time I’d flirted with someone?

The train staff had found their rhythms in the busy dining car. Our waiter was back almost immediately. He expertly opened a cabernet sauvignon. Josh swirled the wine in his glass and tried it, nodded his head. The waiter poured more and set the bottle down. Then he opened a second bottle, this one my white wine. “You don’t have to finish it,” Josh said when he saw my expression.

I decided to go with the flow. “Okay,” I nodded, and gave my approval. The wine tasted perfectly cold and crisply dry. The waiter set an ice bucket at the window. “Enjoy,” he said, and vanished back into the galley.

“Cheers.” Josh clicked his glass against mine and drank deeply. “Ah!” he set the empty glass back down and sighed with satisfaction. “So, are you getting out in Portland?”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fifth chapter is titled, The Hostess.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 3

They encountered air turbulence two hours into the flight and the pilots lost time. Air traffic was backed up when they reached European airspace. At last they landed in Frankfurt, ninety minutes late. Guy slumped over in a deep sleep and noticed nothing.

He woke to a strange sensation that was the absence of motion. Denice and Tia wore anxious expressions, waiting for him to rouse. Someone had gotten his carry on suitcase down for him.

Tia clapped her hands while Guy looked around and tried to understand why the plane was empty. “Mr. Guy, you were awfully brave! We hit bumpy air! I thought it was going to be bad, my mommy even got out a barf bag, just in case.”

“Tia!” Denice sighed.

“But Mommy, you didn’t use it. You were fine.” She drew the word out, fi-yine. “Mr. Guy, you slept like a baby, like there was nothing to worry about. That really gave me courage. You were zonked! I watched and did just like you.” Tia put her head against the side of the seat, closed her eyes, and snored loudly.

“I snored?” The child was informing him that he’d passed out.

“Like a trooper! No, that’s for when someone’s swearing! It’s okay, Mommy,” she added serenely. “Mr. Guy snored like a… a brick house. No, that’s not it. Like, a house on fire.”

Guy and Denice laughed and Tia joined in, all three laughing as if they’d never stop. The Lufthansa personnel watching in the aisle laughed too, relieved that they didn’t have a dead drunk – or worse, much worse – dead international passenger on their hands after all.

Denice and Tia retrieved their luggage at Baggage Claim and all three stood before a destinations board in the terminal. “Thanks again for waiting for me,” Guy repeated; he was still groggy. As he stared dispirited at the board, Guy knew he couldn’t face another flight, no matter how short.

They were taking a train on to Landstuhl. “I’ll walk you to the train platforms. I missed my connecting flight so I think I’ll just catch a train. Hey, I’ll go to Stuttgart. Aren’t Porsche and Mercedes Benz there? I’ve always wanted to go to the Porsche factory.” He lied, suddenly inspired. He and his therapist had worked out alternate plans in case Guy reached Europe too jittery to fly on. He’d arrived days before the conference began, so that he might take his time getting there. Progressive, systematic desensitization, he reminded himself.

They followed airport signs to the connected train station. Tia rode on top of the luggage trolley as Guy pushed. “So,” he asked, “will you get to see much in Germany?”

“It was planned as a family vacation. Our trip here.” Denice glanced up at Tia, perched humming. “Joe’s in the hospital,” Denice explained softly. “An IED; they’re telling me his condition is ‘serious but manageable’. Whatever that means. For his sake and Tia’s, I’m trying to stay optimistic. I want to wait until I see him before saying anything to her. It’s bad enough how much I worry.”

“Good heavens.” As they continued walking Guy held Denice’s hand in his for a long minute, a therapist unable to think of a single comforting word to say.

“I have to believe,” Denice’s eyes were tender as she checked again on Tia, “this will have been worth it. Joe still believes freedom to worship and vote and live as you choose are worth fighting for. Regardless of the deeper reasons for the war. My husband’s motivated by wanting a better world. They’re helping local groups rebuild.

“He was standing outside a school for girls when the explosion happened.” She looked at her daughter. “It’s the second time that school’s been destroyed. Like I said: whatever the other dynamics going on, we both hope for a better world for everybody’s children. They feel insurmountable at times, the problems,” she admitted. “But it’s all one world now. We have to believe that, because we’re parents ourselves.”

They reached the train station and Denice and Tia departed on the next train. Guy felt forlorn once they were gone, but he ignored the cold and his sense of foreboding. He tried to be stoic as he waited on the platform. No matter what, he wasn’t climbing on another plane! Maybe, just maybe, I can afford to sail home. I hear the QEII’s nice, he mused as a white and red ICE train approached.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 2

Despite himself he laughed. Where’d this precocious kid get her great outlook?

“I don’t know where she gets these lines. Tia always has such a great outlook.” Denice smiled with wry affection as she read his mind.

“But Mommy, why get scared? Planes only crash in moovies!”

“It’s not that we sit around watching disaster flicks,” Denice qualified. “I don’t need disaster films playing on the screen in our living room; I’ve got the one in my head.”

“We all have our fears,” Guy commiserated, remembering for a second or two that he was a therapist. The plane angled higher in the heavens and they felt the ascent despite the pressurized cabin. He gulped.

“It’s okay, Mr. Guy! We’re going up, not down, silly! Nothing to worry about.” Satisfied she’d calmed the irrational adults sitting to either side, Tia returned to the magazine pictures.

She started a cartoon as Guy and Denice chatted across her head and waited for the plane to reach optimal elevation and level out so Denice could get up.

“What’s taking you to Europe?”

“Her daddy’s currently serving in Afghanistan. Joe already had two tours in Iraq. We have Tia in a wonderful school and I’m reluctant to leave my job, so we stay in the States and meet him for school breaks and furloughs. We’re on our way to a base near Frankfurt,” she looked at her daughter and hesitated. “To Landstuhl,” Denice clarified. “For the holidays. Joe will be home for good soon but we had this trip planned already, a chance to get to see some more of Europe and where he’s been on and off for the last four years. Are you heading to Germany for business or vacation, or traveling somewhere further?”

The seatbelt lights pinged off. Denice stood up and retrieved a bag from the overhead bin.

“I have a layover in Frankfurt.” Guy drained the bottle she handed him. “Thanks! What was your question? Oh, what I’m heading to Europe for: a conference in Zurich. And I have pteromerhanophobia.”

The child looked back up at the sound of the curious word with so many syllables. “What’s that?”

“Fear of flying.”

“Which part?” Tia broke it down matter-of-factly and her manner was eerily similar to his therapist. “Afraid of being stuck inside and you can’t leave? Or something bad happening? That’s silly, because flying’s safer than riding in a car. Are you really scared of being in a plane crash?”

“No!” Guy squinched his eyes tightly closed. When he reopened them, Tia and her mother were staring. “I’m scared of being in another crash. I was in a forced landing once.”

“But, Mr. Guy, you’re alive.” Tia kicked her legs impatiently. “The crash couldn’t have been that bad.”

Denice laid a hand on her daughter’s knees to stop the kicking. “What happened?”

“I was on my way back from a conference, ironically one concerning phobia therapies. Little did I know.”

“But, what happened?” Tia persisted.

“We landed in a field,” Guy told her, but he stopped there. It would be cruel to scare a child. And, as his own therapist kept reminding him, pointless to keep reliving the traumatic event. The landing had been a bumpy one indeed.

After that, he drove the entire distance halfway across the country rather than fly to a symposium. A second professional trip had involved a long train ride. Guy even turned down a vacation with Stan and Lynn, which forced him to acknowledge the problem.

The Jungian conference in Switzerland offered a perfect opportunity to overcome his phobia. Guy had been comforted by the thought of a roomy jumbo plane. And it would be professionally fascinating; he’d made a snap decision to attend. Now he asked himself, Why didn’t I pick a really short hop instead? You idiot! Guy closed his eyes again and wondered when the pills and Benedryl would finally take effect.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 1

Life is like a game in which God shuffles the cards, the devil deals them and we have to play the trumps. – Yugoslav proverb


Come Fly With Me

Everyone watched. A few people muttered and a businessman clapped sarcastically as the big man finally arrived. While he didn’t actually delay their departure, Guy Carnac boarded the plane twenty minutes after everyone else.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now that all passengers are on board we’ll be getting underway. It’ll just be another minute or two,” the captain’s voice soothed.

Guy found his seat, swallowed another pill, and pulled down the shade. He didn’t have a seat behind the bulkhead with legroom, but at least he had a solid wall to lean against. Too bad it had a window.

He tried to settle down, and in. He almost convinced himself that he was ready, doing fine – and ping! The fasten seatbelts lights blinked on. Guy buckled his belt and like the signal for a race, his heart began an adrenaline gallop.

The plane moved away from the gate with the slightest of jolts.

Systematic desensitization, Guy. The laws of aerodynamics will keep the plane in the sky. Calm breathing! But, he reminded himself, you know better than most people that planes crash all the time.

He breathed faster. Get a grip! The facts, doctor, the facts! Fiercely he recited, My name is Dr. Guy Carnac, I’m a respected – highly respected – Seattle-based therapist, I’m a fifty-four year-old male, maybe overweight, maybe my hair’s thinning, but my libido is still intact and not thinning, thank you very much. I’m heading to an international conference of my peers. What’s there to fear?

What’s to fear? For starters, what happens when we can’t lift off? The plane’ll keep rolling, too fast to stop. And we’ll hit a building, or cars on the freeway, or another plane as it taxies in.… Smoke will billow as we’re all engulfed in a fireball. He gripped the seat arms. I’m wheezing. I can’t breathe, is there oxygen? Should I pull down a mask? Why haven’t the meds kicked in? Is it too late to turn back? Can’t they halt the plane? DON’T THE PILOTS REALIZE THEY HAVE TO STOP THIS FLIGHT, RIGHT NOW? Oh God oh God oh God Oh Godohgodohdgodgodgodgod.

The little girl in the middle seat eyed him as she whispered with her mother. Guy closed his eyes and pushed his head hard against the side of the plane. Machinery vibrated under his temple as they accelerated. He whimpered. They left the ground: Breathe!

For the next ten minutes he was afraid he’d pass out or vomit. He fought a need to do both and kept his eyes firmly closed.

Something scratched his right arm.

Guy opened his eyes and blue candy ribbons, pink ponies, and tiny hearts swam in his vision. For a few startled seconds he was sure he was hallucinating. The child in the next seat wore colored barrettes in her braids and a serious expression.

She looked down. Guy followed her pointing finger and saw that he’d wrapped his right hand completely around the seat arm separating their seats.

He unclamped his fingers as they continued to hurtle through space. Was that the start of a nosedive we’re going down I’m trapped really trapped even if I make it out of this seat I’m stuck on this goddamned plane until we crash and – He yanked his thoughts hard from the eventual, inevitable spiral. Guy closed his eyes and began to pray.

The scratching returned, more insistent. “Mister?”

He peeked cautiously.

The child patted his forearm and then his hand for good measure. “I’m scared to fly, too. This is my first time. If you want, you can have my medicine. I aksed my mommy and she says yes. I told her, this guy needs it and I don’t! He’s more of a ‘fraidy cat than me!”

“Than I, Tia. Asked, not ‘aksed’. And we don’t call people names!” Tia’s mother leaned across her daughter and took Guy’s clammy hand in her own warm brown one. “I’m sorry, a little six-year-old here is excited to fly but still learning about verbal filters. This is Tia, and I’m Denice. But the offer is real. Tia was scared about such a long time up in the sky so her doctor suggested we bring along Benadryl, just in case. Somehow I think she’s not going to need it.” The little girl wasn’t listening, her attention focused on the flight magazine page that listed cartoon offerings.

Guy looked at Denice. She was dressed not in loose terry cloth ‘jogging clothes’ but rather in a flowing skirt for comfort, pretty slip-off shoes on her feet and a soft scarf around her neck. Denice smiled, and her aura grounded him.

He loosed his grip on her palm. “I’m Guy Carnac. Thanks!” His smile wobbled. “I’d sure love to take you up on that Benadryl. My own anxiety pills never kicked in.”

“Glad to. It’s in my carry on, Guy, so you just hang on til the all clear to get up. I’ll get it for you.”

Tia had followed their conversation and now she turned back to him. “Your name is Guy, and you’re a guy. You’re funny!”

“Tia! Remember what we tell you about how to address people who are older than you, namely, with respect? This is Mr. Carnac.”

“Thanks for the comment about respect, Denice. I’m not sure I deserve a whole lot right now! How about Tia calls me, Mr. Guy?”

Tia patted Guy’s forearm with her little hand again and gave him a wide grin. “Hey, Mr. Guy, smile. This plane’s not going down!”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Wine and Sculpture

IMG_4623 When my friend Liz lived in Germany, she and I would go exploring. One lovely spring day she suggested a trip to the nearby town of Weinstadt. IMG_4600It lies in the Rems Valley, a region known for vinyards and orchards. IMG_4580Weinstadt has charming villages, wooded hills, wine and sculptures… all mixed together.IMG_4629Weinstadt is actually five towns that joined together in 1975: Beutelsbach, Endersbach, Großheppach, Schnait and Strümpfelbach.IMG_4635 We walked through the streets and the Sculpture Trails in the latter two (Strümpfelbach and Schnait).IMG_4582IMG_4581Weinstadt’s slogan is „Kultur trifft Natur“ or “Art Meets Nature”. IMG_4574A family with three (3!) generations of artists reside in Weinstadt. It is their art that decorates this already gorgeous area.IMG_4599 IMG_4566Bronze and stone sculptures are tucked into bushes and vinyards, yards and walls.IMG_4624Professor Karl Ulrich Nuss first started the Scupture Route initiative. Karl is in the middle of the art dynasty that includes his father Professor Fritz Nuss (1907-1999), and two grandchildren of Fritz: Christoph Traub (born in 1964) and Felix Engelhardt (born in 1970).IMG_4613

IMG_4610Liz and I wandered through the vinyard’s sloped hills with our cameras.IMG_4612

IMG_4615Spring was running riot with blooming trees and flowers everywhere. IMG_4631The flowering Nature made the perfect backdrop to the artwork …IMG_4605

or was it the other way around? IMG_4627

IMG_4606IMG_4602NOTES: http://www.weinstadt.de/de/Home

Amongst other places, Fritz Nuss’s work is displayed in the British Museum and the Liederhalle in Stuttgart.

Photos Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell. (All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)IMG_4608

The Salt Pits

When we talk about salt, we talk most often of sodium chloride. This is NaCl, consisting of the elements sodium and chlorine.

There is a charming tradition in Germany of bringing a loaf of bread and salt to friends when they move into a new home. The saying is that if you have those two items in your house you’ll always survive. Bread and salt are still ceremoniously served to guests in parts of northern and eastern Europe.

Mark Kurlansky writes, “Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable… In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, wth truth and wisdom. The Catholic Church dispenses not only holy water but holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom.” [1]

Seeing the hard way salt is won from pits changed forever the way I think about this simple condiment.

We were staying for only a few days in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, and spent a day with a guide and a driver to see a bit of the area. One of the spots we toured was a traditional salt harvesting town. A little settlement lives at and from the pits (and has burned down numerous times). Each time, they rebuild right next to the pits.WR_05_03_176

WR_05_03_164Salty waters are brought up from deep underground

WR_05_03_180and then boiled in open metal pans. Their burning fires glowed and sent off intense heat. The briny steam that rose felt like being in some strange circle of Dante’s Purgatory.

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WR_05_03_161Once the water has boiled away the salt is gathered in baskets, weighed, and stored in a barn. WR_05_03_175

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Workers then bag and tag the salt, preparing it for market.

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Salt is a serious business. The salt from this mine is sent to the north where people still suffer endemic goiters.

I thought of the pits of hell, of work so demanding and hot that it left scars. Just being tied to a spot like this must bake you and make you hard. Or so I thought. Instead, I met workers doing their jobs in neatly ironed clothing. The women all had on jewelry. A group of little children trailed us everywhere, laughing and mugging as children do.

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Since that day salt has tasted both sweeter and bitterer, or herber as the Germans say. And in that small word I hear the echo of the coming season, Herbst, Autumn. The summer is burning away and fall is coming. May your harvest tables everywhere include bread and salt.

NOTES: [1] Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Vintage Books, 2002), p. 7.

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Uwe’s photos of our trips to Laos and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier posts Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient or A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1 &  2 for more about food.

 

Soccer, Religion & Pink Floyd

On July 4th, Germany made soccer history. They are the first country to ever make it to four World Cup Semi-Finals in a row. I’m back in the US for a visit, and watched that game early in the morning on my friend’s couch with the German flag in face paint on my cheeks and a German lei draped around my neck.

Soccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock PhotosSoccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock PhotosSoccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock PhotosSoccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock Photos

I came to soccer late. It wasn’t until after I moved to Europe in 1992 that I realized how exciting the World Cup is. The globe takes its soccer pretty seriously (understatement of the century!); I first became a fan out of a need to share in the experience or miss out on life for weeks at a time. When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, I became a fan for real. What great matches! What a party!

So here I am in 2014, cheering on everyone. I’ve cajoled my friends into going to pubs and restaurants with wide screen televisions, or watching at home. I was happy to see the USA make it through the elimination round in Group G (the Group of Death), ironically up against Ghana, Portugal, – and Germany. I rooted for both even as I knew Germany would take it.

During the next round I watched the Argentina-Belgium match on a Spanish speaking station. I had the volume turned low, but I love hearing the cheering and chanting of fans in the stands.

The sounds suddenly reminded me of Pink Floyd, of all things. I was 16 when Dark Side of the Moon was released, and if you know me that fact explains everything. But Floyd’s earlier album (and that’s a word that really dates me) Meddle contains the song “Fearless” with a background of singing Liverpool F.C. fans. At the time I didn’t know from soccer. I was sure the sound had to be religious chanting, like the noise of saffron robed Indians on a hillside in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Remember the scene in Dharmsala where they sing out notes and point at the sky? I somehow made a connection between religion, and Pink Floyd, and joyous tones.

It was decades later that I moved to Europe. When I heard the chants of fans in the stadiums I realized with a start that it’s really about soccer.

So it’s all come full circle. I’m back for a visit in the wonderful country of my birth; I’m watching the land I currently call home kick butt and take names as they make sports history; and it’s all accompanied by a soundtrack that returns to me to one of the happiest times of my life.

GO TEAM !!!

NOTES:

  • A shout out to Mark O’Brien and American Dream Pizza for opening up the bar early so we could watch Germany make more history as they beat Brazil. 7-1, baby!   http://www.adpizza.com/
  • Soccer ball image courtesy http://www.dreamstime.com. Cover art work for Pink Floyd’s Meddle, image courtesy of Wikipedia. Music video courtesy of YouTube.
  • Go to my earlier post The Year the World Came to Party. for more on soccer. Travel Karma & Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? describe trips to India.