Won’t be long now!

I’m getting close! Oh, so close to releasing the book. After multiple last second corrections by my lovely and talented editor I have finished formatting the book, and uploaded it into the publishing software. The cover design is also complete, along with the back cover “blurb”, and author photo. (BTW-Anyone good at photoshop? Please email me)

The proof should be arriving in the next week. If everything looks good, it could be released as early as next weekend. To everyone who has prodded, cajoled and encouraged me to see this through to completion, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

Here is the cover… “Thomas Gahr” is my pen name. My real name of course is Mr. 20 Prospect.

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An ode to Lee Iacocca

There are certain sights in life that are recognized omens of good luck no matter what culture you live in. A penny on the ground, a red sunset, and the arrival of the first Robin come to mind. This morning I saw such a sign on my drive to work. Heading down 35W through downtown Minneapolis I came upon a sight that can only be a harbinger of good luck. I saw a creature more rare than the Eastern Mountain Lion, but nearly as awe inspiring. A light blue early 80’s Dodge Omni.

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Like the American Bison these cars once roamed the roads of North America in great herds before nearly succumbing to extinction. I don’t think I’ve seen one in the ten + years since Mrs. 20 Prospect’s grandpa passed away. Grandpa lived in the woods outside Spooner Wisconsin, and drove that car to the corner café and back well into his 90’s. Even back then it was a rare sight. One of the first attempts by Detroit to make a fuel efficient, lightweight compact car they weren’t exactly built to last. Put too much salt on your fries at the McDonald’s drive through and your car was in danger of rusting out before you finished your Big Mac.

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic auto from my teen years. Whenever I see one of those things I am transported back to the dark malaise of the late 70’s, and such cheery events as the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Three Mile Island, and Love Canal. Nothing said austerity like a Chrysler Compact car. I’m not certain but I believe Jimmy Carter actually drove one. While the 20Prospect clan never owned an Omni, we did pick up a used 1983 Plymouth Turismo in the late 80’s for Dad to drive to and from work. The Turismo was just a sportier looking version of the Omni, with a coupe body. Man I loved that car with it’s “sporty” rear window louver.

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As my friends and I entered our own years of college tuition induced austerity in the late 80’s, these cheaply built American compact cars became as much a part of college life as empty milk crates, rugby shirts, and Spud McKenzie posters. Everyone had one. Chris had his family’s old K-car which he somehow managed to keep running through the duration of his Doctorate program at the U of M.

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My roommate Scott had a white Pontiac “J” car.

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Even my lovely wife had an Oldsmobile Omega that may just have been the least reliable car ever built.

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only rivaled in futility by the Chevy Citation. A car that was aptly named after a traffic violation.

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Most of these tin cans were long since defunct by the turn of the millennium, and by then we had moved on to better built, and more reliable means of transportation. Like bicycles. But there’s a part of me that will always be nostalgic for these relics of my youth. I wonder why Gen X’ers haven’t begun restoring these things the way that Boomer’s rebuild their 57 Chevy’s? Perhaps we’re a less nostalgic bunch. More likely there just aren’t any left to restore. Or maybe we just took Lee up on his offer… “If you can find a better car. Buy it!”

No friends, putting nostalgia aside, there are several things that I think we can all admit are better today than they were then. Beer, cars, and sex. Not necessarily in that order, but still among the most holy trinity of pursuits.

Everything falls apart

There are days when the kids ask me to help them with their 6th grade Math homework, that I am puzzled at how I ever managed to graduate with a Mechanical Engineering degree. If long division is a struggle for me now, derivatives, and differential equations may as well be hieroglyphics scrawled across a page. No, my engineering degree is a testament to the elasticity of the human brain. Stretch it often enough in any one direction and you can expand its volume. Let it sit still and it will shrivel until it is the size and shape of a raisin.

It amazes me that once upon a time my brain was more trained in the complexities of science, and mathematical logic, than it was intuition and cognition. How could it have been so different? Did the fact that my neurons flowed through other portions of my brain effect my personality, or change the core of who I am? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I should have seen it coming. The indications were there even during the height of my engineering studies. The clues were written in my textbook:

“Like all other physical laws used in classical thermodynamics, the second law cannot be proved but is a statement of observed phenomena.” – Howell & Buckius, Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, (1987) pg. 183

I can remember the effect that the 2nd law of thermodynamics had upon me at the time. I began to realize the presence of entropy all around me, yet it took me another 2 years to come to a full understanding of them.

Science is the application of mathematical logic to explain the way that the world operates. Every equation we learned for determining strength, stress, or motion included a small fudge factor to account for losses & friction. The problems we were given to solve required us to ignore the world around the problem, and focus on an arbitrary ideal system.

But no system is ideal, no process is completely reversible. The world is non-linear.

By the end of my senior year I was pointing it out to class mates with incredulity. “This is bullshit. You cannot leave out the effects of friction and losses on these problems. You cannot isolate a system from the world around it for the simplification of calculating an answer.”

They looked at me and shrugged. “So what? Go along with it and get your diploma.” So I did.

But I knew the hollowness of it all. Logic could only approximate what actually happened around us. Reality often defies logic. We become so conditioned to ignoring the effects of chaos and loss that we block out their presence in our life, and pretend they do not exist. And when we are faced with events that do not fit into our neat definition of the world, we kick and cry like spoiled children.

Not fair! Not fair!

Life is not fair. Human behavior is not completely predictable. We are constantly choosing to do things that we know are illogical, that we know will lead to results that are not in our own best interest.

Emotion is not logic.

Love is not beholden to mathematics.No equation can determine when and why a lover will sacrifice themselves for another.

So I learned to not ignore intuition. We need it as much as reason and logic to function in this world.

This is why there are two halves to our brains.

This is what makes us human.

In the end, everything

falls

apart.

Opening Day

Happy April Fools everyone! I know I’m supposed to put together some sort of tomfoolery or skulduggery to trick you all today, but the heck with it. You ain’t getting any. It’s opening day! Not just of the MLB season, but of my next round of classes! So I get to act all professorial today. (tilts head forwards, looks over his glasses, frowns)

It’s also the day my lovely and talented editor is returning the final edits on manuscript. Woot! Now it’s just up to me to set the type, layout the chapters, nip & tuck, design a cover (done), write a blurb, and hit “publish” on Createspace.com If all goes according to plan, it should be available for purchase in the next 2 weeks!

The new book website is up and running!

The facebook page is up and running!

The marketing plan for global domination has begun!

On the cusp of Spring

Spring is an uncertain time in Minnesota. The whole world seems to oscillate hourly between raw freezing cold, and the warm promise of summer. Walking the dogs tonight, the March sun was setting into a glowing orange pool on the horizon. Above it, a thin fingernail of moon was just starting to appear in the darkness. As I hustled along the quiet streets, the houses were shut up tight, shades still drawn against the night. The silhouette of geese passed overhead in the cobalt sky, their honking the only sound rising above the snapping wind.

One of the funny things about memory, is you never know what will trigger it. It can be a scent, a sight, a sound, or sometimes just a word said in passing by a stranger. Walking the dogs through the dark tree lined streets tonight I stumbled through such a portal, back into 1985. The springtime of my life, when unbeknown to me everything was about to change.

It was on a night similar to this one, when winter came clawing back in response to a warm spring afternoon, that my good friend Chris and I were headed to a dance at Batavia High. I was flying solo that night, having just broken up with my girlfriend, and lusting mightily after the girl next door. I was sixteen years old and the night seemed full of promise.

My parents were working Bingo at ND that night and had taken the car, and my big sister was out with friends, so it took a little creativity for us to get our hands on alcohol. Discussing our plans over the phone, we decided to each try to raid whatever we could get from out parents and meet at 7 pm, outside of Platten’s North Side Deli.

Surveying the options before me in the empty house, I decided to fill an empty 16 oz bottle of Sprite with some White Lake Niagara jug wine that my Mom kept in the fridge. It seemed to be the least likely stuff to be missed. Walking down Richmond Ave to meet Chris I wondered what he would be able to score. I don’t think I had ever seen his folks drink, but being Catholic, I’m sure they were required to keep booze somewhere in the house just in case of an emergency, like a death or an unannounced visit by a priest.

He did not disappoint. Meeting up on the street in front of the corner store, he informed me he had managed to fill half of an empty coke bottle with some rum. We surveyed our options for how and where to go about drinking our booty. The wind was blowing last years leaves down the gutters of Bank Street, and the sky was beginning to spit light rain at us. We decided to try the old stone picnic pavilions in MacArthur Park, out beyond the outfield fence of Dwyer Stadium. Still, the thought of trying to drink straight rum, wasn’t sounding too appealing to us, so we lit upon a plan to buy a bottle of Coke to mix it with.

After that, it was just a simple word problem to figure out how to get the Coke into the rum, and the rum into the Coke in even amounts. I think we decided the easiest thing to do was to drink the wine first, then use the empty bottle to mix the rum & Coke. It was that sort of quick thinking that helped us score high enough on our SAT’s to get into the colleges of our choice. Oddly enough though, the SAT never presented questions on the best way to mix Rum & Coke in a park at night.

Shivering in the cold rain, we walked to the stone pavilions, and warmed ourselves with the cloying cheap wine, and the tangy bite of the rum and Coke. Taking swigs from the bottles, and holding them inside our burning mouths just heightened the numbness of my cheekbones, and nose. Then, feeling sufficiently fortified to face the lovely young women of Batavia High School, we made our way across the parking lot to the school.

As any clandestine high school drinker will tell you, the key to getting through the chaperons at the door, is to keep from exhaling. There’s a real art to being able to say hello to teachers, and parents, without letting any air escape your mouth. I’m sure ventriloquists practice something similar.

Successfully making it past the bouncers, we hung up our jackets, and started down the long hallway to the gym. The alcohol was just beginning to make its way fully into our bloodstream. I could feel the color rising in my cheeks. Passing the brightly lit glass windows of the school cafeteria we ran into Jennifer and her friends, who immediately squealed “You guys have been drinking, haven’t you!?!”.

There is no more grown up feeling in the all the world, than being 16 years old, and drunk. If I’d have known that then, I probably would have been sorely disappointed. The lights in the gym swirled, and the DJ played all the greatest hits of 1985. We found the group of Junior girls we’d come looking for, and began doing the white guy shuffle to the music, in a big circle of kids. It wasn’t long before the alcohol was making the whole scene seem like a kaleidoscope of sound and light.

The girls seemed more beautiful in that dimly lit gym, than they ever did in the florescent hum of the classrooms. Taking turns dancing slow songs with them, I was able to revel in their scents, and the fuzzy warmth of their sweaters, clinging to their small of their backs. At that moment I was in love with each and every one of them, which is to say that I was mostly in love with myself.

It was all so new. We seemed like the first teenagers on the face of the earth to discover the warm sticky embraces of dancing together. I felt like the night could have lasted forever, but before I knew it the DJ was announcing the last song of the night. I managed to grab the girl next door, and hold her close as the last slow song played, my hands slowly inching down the scratchy wool of her sweater, over the tell tale clasp of that forbidden bra somewhere underneath it. I had no thought or plan for what if anything would happen, I was purely living in the moment.

The song ended, and before I knew it, our coats were on and she was hustling off in a crowd of friends to catch her ride. Chris and I stood outside on the sidewalk, saying goodbye as they left, then turned our collars up against the windy drizzle, and started the long sobering walk home. I thought there would be so many other nights, and so many other chances to experience such bliss. I had no idea how fleeting it would all prove to be. We were growing up so fast, and time was accelerating.

How quickly it would pass. That was over 25 years ago. Stumbling back into that evening tonight was like finding a rare coin whose true worth is not in its value, but the warm reassurance it gives, as you turn it over and over in your hand.

Homecoming

First day back at work after a weeks vacation, so I’m running a little behind. Please have a seat and help yourself to a cup of coffee while you wait. There’s a stack of old National Geographic and Field & Stream magazines for you reading enjoyment. There’s also this… 2 years old, but somewhat along the themes of coming home again. Or leaving home. Or something about home. I just know it’s a warm one, which we all desperately need right now. So come with me to 19th century Pietravairano, Italy and stand with my great, great, grandfather Francesco DeBottis as he ponders his fate.

The Flight of Icarus

for Francesco

The buildings rise like wooden blocks stacked one upon the other, clinging to this impossible slope. The afternoon sun warms the stones, and peeling stucco. You run your hand across their rough face, and feel the heat burning like blood within. In this shimmering summer heat, people take refuge in the oasis of shadows under doorways, and passages. The streets so narrow, even a donkey would struggle to pass.

As you climb, your foot slips on the dusty cobbles, rounded smooth from the passage of feet, and time. The slap of the fountain echoes down the alleyways, as the women gather around to collect cool water from deep within the mountain. At the end of this crooked lane lies the steps to the Castello, overgrown with weeds. No one goes there now but children, and dreamers.

You climb the last few steps past the walls of the town, and turn, looking out over the cracked red tile roofs. The patchwork green of the valley is ringed by a crown of hills, set against the faded blue of the cloudless sky.

Rolling up from below, the peel of the church bells tolling the Angelus. This is the noon hour, the axis of the day. Women bless themselves above the wash tubs, and pause to pray. Even the barefoot children stop their clamor, aware of something watching from above.

You look beyond the crown of hills, to the bald mountains rising in the summer haze. No snows are left to feed the rocky streams, just the seeping of springs, like blood from within the stones.

High above a hawk is turning in the sky, rising on the warm breath of the village as it exhales.

You close your eyes against the brilliance of the sun, and dream of flight.

The Thermodynamics of Loneliness

The snow squeaks like Styrofoam underfoot as I climb the hill to my dorm after my shift at the Radio Station. Overhead, the stars are frozen in the midnight sky. I have no idea how cold it is, but I know when the snow squeals like this it’s below zero. I dig my hands deeper into the pockets of my wool coat, and try to pull my head down into it like a turtle.

All year I have been working this 11pm – 2am shift with my roommates, but tonight I flew solo. There was something peaceful, yet exciting, to cue up records in the silence of the studio then send them beaming out into the frozen darkness. Invisible waves of sound to bouncing off the ionosphere, and into the radios of total strangers. Tonight as I trudge home on the snow covered sidewalks my mind wanders.

I’m 3 years into the mechanical engineering program, and have become a hermit. My days and nights spent hunched over a desk beneath a yellow cone of light, scribbling hieroglyphics across tablets of paper. This left brain existence has tipped me off of balance. My dreams have become swirling fractals of color, dividing down again, and again into an infinity of inner space. During the daytime I scratch out formulas and equations to calculate the movement of bodies, but at night those bodies take on a life of their own, impervious to my attempts to deconstruct them. Ones and zeros multiplying through the synapses of my brain, as I chase after them trying to decipher their meanings.

The second law of thermodynamics has taught me that work can be pulled from a body only when that body interacts with another at lower temperature. But out here in the night air my body leaks its heat away into the void and what am I accomplishing? I think ahead to the empty bed that awaits me, and wonder what calculations are necessary to reverse the entropy of loneliness. I dream of a body that awaits me there, her breath rising in the cold of the room. I can feel her warmth as I slip beneath the blankets. What laws of thermodynamics can explain love? Electric sparks flow up and down my spine as human touch connects  us, and heat begins to flow.