Saturday, December 31, 2005

I Have a Cold. Pity Me.

Folks, if any of you don’t want your hearts broken, I implore you not to read the following. I don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s anguish. My story ranks right up there with the poor little flower girl standing in the rain, hoping to raise enough money to feed her destitute family. Especially for her crippled little brother, Billy, who hasn’t had a nourishing meal for a week or more. How will little Billy live? Or how about the ending of The Champ, when you saw Ricky Schroeder crying over the body of his prizefighter dad. That was pretty sad, right? Well, this is way sadder than that, my friends.

See, my bosses graciously gave everyone this week off. (That’s not the sad part.) Damned nice of them, I say. I had a few plans. Tops on my list was to enjoy myself this holiday season. But what happened? I came down with a cold! Yes, a cold! On my vacation!

I begged you not to read this. Now you know.

This is one of those colds that keeps getting worse and worse. This morning, I feel crappier than yesterday, which rated pretty high on the Crap-O-Meter. My main activity yesterday was a short walk to the bank and then to the local greasy spoon where I bought myself some breakfast. Here’s another thing: my appetite sure ain’t what it was. Although I’m skinny, I can really pack a meal away, and yesterday there was some doubt as to whether or not I could finish my mushroom and cheese omelet with home fries and toast. Listen, I have been described as a remorseless eating machine, and there I was picking at my food! My God, this can’t be happening to me!

Then all I did for the rest of the day was watch DVDs. I watched Run Lola Run, The Bourne Identity (staying in Franka Potente mode — how I love the way she says “scheisse”!), a bunch of Simpsons episodes, and The 40 Year Old Virgin. I just stayed in my armchair and vegged the whole day. This is not me! I swear to God it’s not.

Right now the cold has settled in my chest. My voice is a wreck of what it once was. I have no lung capacity at all. I need to keep a box of Kleenex with me at all times. I’ve been sucking on throat lozenges like they’ve been going out of style. And it’s hard to stop coughing once I start. If I were a horse, I should have been shot by now.


In my last post, I mentioned seeing the doctor about my knee. It turns out I have patellar something something something — it’s “patellar” with three words after it. Last September, while I was toiling madly away for Ms. Smith, I thought it might be a good idea to run every morning to help control my anxiety. I sort of meditate while I run, and I reasoned the preemptive stress burn-off resulting from the exercise, combined with a little positive visualization, might be just the thing. So every morning I got up extra early and ran my modest three-mile route, counting my footsteps mentally by repeating, “one-two, one-two, one-two…” while I pictured Ms. Smith giving me a little pat on the head and exclaiming, “Very nice layout, Mr. Schprock! Hold still while I put this sticker on your forehead!” And, you know, to some extent, it seemed to work! (Except I never got that sticker put on my forehead.)

However, on the seventh straight morning, my knee started to not feel so good. The part of me that sounds like Winnie the Pooh warned I should take a day or two off, but it was quickly overruled by the part of me that sounds like Clint Eastwood. Which voice do you think should get obeyed? The one that calls you “Christopher Robin” or the one that calls you “punk”? So I kept right on running. No pain, no gain, right?

On the tenth day, my right knee was swollen and sore. At that point, Winnie the Pooh suggested one of us was of Very Little Brain, while Clint Eastwood remarked, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” I tried using a knee brace a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So I shut the running down and it’s been shut down ever since..

The funny thing about this knee injury is, while it still hurts to run across the street or walk down stairs, I feel absolutely no pain pedaling a bicycle. Why that is, I can’t tell you. If I sit any length of time with my leg bent, my knee gets very stiff and sore when I finally stand up to walk. But I can ride a bike for 60 miles with no ill effects.

So, for the past couple of months, I’ve gotten into the habit of heading down to the basement to pedal my old, semi-retired bicycle for exactly 30 minutes. Of course, I don’t ride it in circles around my basement — that would be silly. Besides, I keep knocking into the dryer and water heater when I do that. Instead, I have it hooked up to a trainer, a device that attaches to the rear wheel of a bicycle, which keeps the bike upright and applies resistance to the back wheel while you pedal.

Here’s what I do: I wake up in the morning, do the bathroom thing, and pull on the bike shorts that make me feel half naked; in other words, the ones I don’t allow myself to be seen in public in. My wife bought them for me a few years ago, but I much prefer the type of bike shorts that look more like regular shorts. I guess I’ve gotten modest in my old age. So, anyway, I pull on the skin tight shorts, tie a rolled-up bandana around my head for a sweatband, grab my water bottle and Walkman and head down to the basement.

Once I warm up, I pedal hard for one minute, then ease off the next, and alternate until 30 minutes are up. It never feels particularly strenuous, but after ten minutes I discover I’m breathing pretty hard and am starting to seriously sweat. I listen to audio books and plays while I do this. When I began, I listened to a production of Othello (Iago, by the way, must be the worst villain in all of literature). Then I followed that with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, several Sherlock Holmes stories and, lately, Agatha Cristie Miss Marple stories. You know, it’s not a bad way to start the day, listening to stories. I can think of worse.

If you’re interested, here’s the rest of the Daily Schprock Work-Out: after I’m done, I change, pack all my gear up for the day, and ride my newer bike to work. I always get in before everyone else. I do a set of sit-ups, assume the yoga tree posture for exactly 10 breaths, and then do a set of push-ups. And that’s it! That’s how I keep from looking like a broken down old man.

Well, that’s all for today. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Just Checking In

How are everybody’s holidays so far? Both the missus and I have the week off, so I’ve been taking it pretty easy. Yesterday I came down with a cold. It started off as a mild sore throat which gradually worsened. By the time I went to bed, I had a throbbing headache, my joints were all achy and it was painful to swallow. I finally fell asleep sometime after midnight and had a series of fever dreams — you know, those bizarre dreams you get when you’re sick that are never restful and make even less sense than ordinary dreams. All last night I felt I was working out a problem that could never be solved — it just went on and on in a continuous loop. Every two hours I woke up with my head pounding; finally, at 5am, I got up and took some aspirin, which seemed to help.

I don’t get sick very often. As a matter of fact, I almost escaped all of 2005 without ever having a cold. The last malady of this sort occurred exactly a year ago. Here’s a bit of old fashioned Schprock wisdom: unless you’re completely incapacitated, the best thing you can do in the grip of an illness is to drag yourself out of bed, take a shower and put on regular clothes. Something about that seems to take the edge off of whatever cold or flu you’re suffering. Try it next time and tell me if I’m not right. It so happened I had an 8:30 doctor’s appointment this morning for my knee, so I had a reason to get up at a reasonable hour and function (believe it or not, I actually considered canceling a doctor’s appointment due to illness!). As rough as I felt when I first arose, a shower seemed to do wonders.

We had a very nice Christmas. The entire clan gathered at my sister’s house — there were 17 of us! My sister specializes in family gatherings and this year she surpassed herself. The highlight was a Yankee gift swap, where we each contributed a wrapped gift costing no more than 15 dollars. Everyone drew numbers and then each, in his turn, selected a present. You had the choice of either keeping the present or exchanging it for one that had already been chosen and unwrapped. First the adults did it to show the kids how it was done, and then all the cousins and nieces and nephews had their own gift swap. Good fun.

Everybody have their New Year’s Eve plans all set? The Schprocks might do First Night in Boston. I think all the major cities have this now: you purchase a button which you wear on your coat, and this gains you admittance to all sorts of happenings. Concerts, theatrical productions, that sort of thing. There’ll be a parade and ice sculpture to look at. The whole thing ends with fireworks at midnight, at which point people will blow into their noisemakers and act like something marvelous just happened. Wow! We just went from 2005 to 2006! Everything is different now! Let’s get drunk and make some noise!


Not enough Schprock? How about trying some early Schprock? Go ahead and click it — I dare you!

Friday, December 23, 2005

All Ready for the Christmas Luncheon

It’s two days before Christmas and it’ll probably be a short day here at work. Our annual Christmas luncheon is scheduled for 1:00 this afternoon at a restaurant a couple of blocks from here. We’ll eat too much, drink too much, and then our bosses will pack us off right afterward before anybody can alienate a client while in an inebriated state. It would be very unfortunate if Ms. Smith were to call. Alcohol and discretion are mutually exclusive and a loosened tongue could be the undoing of us all.

I have worked for this company since 1987. That makes me something of an anomaly, because most people in graphic design tend to hop around quite a bit. I’m safe and snug in my little office here. And I have attended many a Christmas luncheon. The cast has changed over the years, and, though it’s been a continuum, I can roughly count the groups of people I’ve worked with as numbering three. Each group or era has had its own stamp, and I can’t honestly say that one has been better than the other. But there has been one constant throughout the years: yours truly, Mr. Schprock.

The Ghost of Christmas Past has asked me to single out one colleague who I feel was the most memorable. That is a tall order, because there have been more than a few unforgettable personalities who have walked through the door. But, after giving the matter a minute or two of consideration, I think there is one who stands out among the rest, and he is my good friend Bob.

Bob turned 69 last month, and he hasn’t worked for this old design mill for a very long time. But what an impression he made! I first knew him in 1987, after he had been fired from a previous job and was hired temporarily by my company as a freelancer. This was just before the computer age, back when everything was done by hand. We had heard of desktop publishing, but it seemed more like science fiction than the next big thing. When you heard the claim, “Someday this will all be done on a computer, and a job this size will fit on a little disk,” it was just like hearing, “Someday we’ll all fly hovercrafts, and robots will dress us and brush our teeth.” All very futuristic and unattainable to our ears.

In olden times, we used drafting tables, T-squares, triangles, ruling pens, X-acto knives, compasses, airbrushes with compressors, paints, inks, and rubber cement. We sent copy off to the typesetters, which came back to us in the form of galleys. We pasted pages for advertisements, brochures, posters and catalogs on what were called mechanicals or boards. It was an art, one that required technical skill on top of design talent. You had to have good hands. You needed to be quick and neat. And there was nobody better at it than Bob.

The first day Bob arrived, he carried all his tools with him in a large wooden wine box. He was only 51 years old then, just a year older than I am now. I would say he was a handsome man, and you could tell, without ever having heard his antecedents, that he was a sportsman. He had a husky athletic build, and he wore a Polo shirt-sweater vest combination that proclaimed him a golfer just as surely as a kilt would a Scotsman. Immediately upon being shown his work area, he straightened everything up and set things just so. The X-acto knife, hard-leaded pencils, Rapidiographs and glue bottle went over here, and the T-square and triangle were placed there. Someone got him a gallon can of Bestine and he used the strong smelling solvent to clean his table.

Bob’s craftsmanship was unrivaled. He could paste up a board faster than anyone — and yet, for all his speed, he was fastidious. You couldn’t find the slightest blemish or a single, sloppily ruled line. He didn’t mind people watching; in fact, he enjoyed an audience. His hands were always in motion; there was never a false movement. Observing him, you knew you were witnessing virtuosity.

Here was Bob’s problem: he was loud. Excessively loud. And he was arrogant and a braggart besides. Nothing you said made any sense to him. He was always right and you were always wrong. He talked and talked and talked. Bob had a naturally resonant voice and was a little hard of hearing, so everything coming out of his mouth was at a decibel level approaching that of a rock concert. He told a good story and no one appreciated his jokes better than he. And Bob had these personal sayings that were repeated constantly. The one that comes to mind right now is: “And speaking of your sister Sue, how’s your old wazzoo!”

But Bob was more than a boor. When you got to know him, you realized he was intelligent and sensitive. He appreciated art and music and theatre and I had many interesting conversations with him on those subjects. His life story, given to me in installments, was fascinating. He was an athlete in high school and college, and later played minor league baseball in the Pirates system as a catcher. After that, he signed on to a professional softball team called the Hoboes; they actually toured the country dressed up like clowns. His first marriage, which was already on the rocks, was destroyed when he ran off to New York City with another man’s wife for a couple of months. For a while he bred show dogs. At the time I first met him, he was a scratch golfer.

Bob was the best paste-up man in the business, but he never stayed with a company for more than a few years because of his big mouth. Most people liked him but hated his attitude. No one measured up to his standards and he let you know it. Bob had a habit of saying very cutting things and then finish with the statement: “I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.” He complained incessantly. Nobody worked harder, no one’s life was tougher. He would drive you crazy and then suddenly say a very funny thing that cracked you up. You both loved him and hated him.

Through the years, Bob worked for us from time to time but never constantly. After a while, we were his only client. During the intervals when we didn’t need his services, I stayed in touch with him and we’d occasionally see a sporting event together. Finally, the new way of doing things completely outmoded him. He never tried to learn how to operate a Mac; he thought working on a computer was beneath him. “Back in the old days, you had to be good,” he was fond of saying — which implied, of course, that any idiot could do on a computer what only skilled craftsmen did before.

Bob spent several hard years barely employed. He lost his condo and eventually declared bankruptcy. A friend at his country club (he still kept up his membership) rented his apartment to Bob at a bargain rate. Finally, as the last indignity, Bob was hired on full time by my company as little more than a glorified intern.

I’d like to skip over this next part, because, quite frankly, he drove us nuts. Before, as a freelancer, you could take him knowing eventually the project would end and he’d leave. Now he was with us all the time. He complained about the errands we asked him to run. He hated learning the computer, but needed some basic skills or he’d be of little use to us. His telephone manner was so gruff my bosses asked him to stop answering it. And he never tired of pointing out to us the crap we were producing. All bad design. That’s not the way you kern type at all. We never used to do it like this. Who taught you typography? If you had to, could you hand comp anything? Your clients accept this?

Inevitably, Bob was asked to leave. He took it surprisingly well; years of similar dismissals had taught him a nonchalant attitude. One time, after telling me the story of how he left one company, he brayed, “I don’t burn bridges — I dynamite them!” I’m guessing it was around 1997 or so when he was let go.

Well, it’s time for lunch and I have to wrap this up. Bob and I are still friends — sometime after the holidays we’ll get together. But of all the people who have come and gone, he was the most unforgettable.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Word or Two About the Missus

Now, I know everyone realizes that last post about my doghouse was done in good fun, BUT, lest anyone get the idea my wife is some modern day Lucrezia Borgia or Cruella de Ville, nothing can be farther from the truth. The missus is a very interesting and thoroughly non-evil person, and I have been guilty of a gross oversight by not writing a post about her earlier. However, before I begin, I raise my right hand and solemnly swear not to get treacly or maudlin (because that’s never been my style), and let me further state while I’m still under oath that I am not doing this to earn brownie points, because, although my wife knows about this blog, she never reads it.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let me explain the picture. The sexy señorita in the red dress is the missus back in 1988. The guy on the right is someone we haven’t seen in about a million years — his name is Billy or Bobby or something like that. And the tall goober on the left with the ultra-cool hairdo holding the Styrofoam cup is your humble servant, Mr. Schprock. This picture was taken during a lunch break in the middle of filming a scene for a full length motion picture called Lola la Loca. I am not kidding. The filmmaker’s name was Enrique Oliver and he was, at the time, billed as the Cuban Spike Lee. He had previously written and directed a short film called Photo Album that had earned him accolades at the Cannes Film Festival. This was his first foray into the big leagues; the project cost over $100,000 to produce, which technically meant it was low budget, but it sure wasn’t Monopoly money either. I googled Lola la Loca earlier today and came up with this.

My wife played Lola la Loca, or Lola the Crazy One, whose real name in the film was Delores Guzman. The missus had a lot of fun acting in it, and the premiere was held at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with a fair amount of hoopla. But the movie never got picked up by a distributor and, to be honest, the film suffered because the actors weren’t trained and you could tell. The best actor was Enrique himself. We have a VHS tape of it, but haven’t watched it for years.

I met my wife in 1985. I answered an ad seeking a roommate for a city apartment and wound up sharing the second floor of a house with two other guys — Allan, who was openly gay, and Rick, who was gay but still in the closet (not that he lived in the closet, but you know what I mean). My wife occupied the converted attic a floor above us and was at first just a mysterious presence — I never saw her. The missus was good friends with the landlady, and for some reason still not clear to me secretly involved herself in the negotiations for my taking a room there (she and Allan might have been doing this behind the landlady’s back and sharing in the proceeds). I found out later that when I asked Allan if I could strip the hideous wallpaper in my room and paint the walls a tasteful color, it was my future wife who told him I couldn’t, and not the landlady as he reported.

Although restricted from stripping the wallpaper, I did something that caught my wife’s eye: I didn’t officially take possession of my room until I made it livable. I plastered and painted the cracked ceiling and then I painted the woodwork. That still left the walls with the ugly wallpaper. I went to a discount store, found a striped bed sheet pattern that I thought was tolerable and bought up the lot. Then I brought the packaged sheets to my new pad, ironed out the wrinkles, and carefully stapled them to the walls to achieve a padded look. I even wrapped a makeshift cornice molding of 2-inch strapping in the material and tacked it up to neaten the ceiling line. When I put curtains on the windows, everyone declared the room looked complete and much improved.

My wife’s opinion of men was not an especially high one: she regarded them, for the most part, as slobs. So hearing of me doing all this before I moved my furniture in made me unique. I think she may have even pumped Allan for information about me and received a favorable report. It seemed the new guy on the second floor was worth looking into.

The first morning I spent there after moving in fell on a weekend, so I slept rather late. I was awakened by the sound of the missus and her friend, Zoila, on the floor above me as they dressed for church. There was no soundproofing to speak of, and I could clearly hear them talk in rapid fire Spanish, with my wife’s voice the louder of the two. She walked in her high heels with a brisk and heavy tread; you half expected dust to come down from the ceiling from the pounding. The commotion went on for a good 45 minutes or so, then all at once I heard them clomp down the staircase next to my room and afterward attack the big stairs that led out of the house.

I stayed in bed for another hour, then finally got up, showered and wandered into the kitchen to make myself a late breakfast. Rick and Allan were already there, along with Allan’s friend, Ramon. So we had a “let’s get better acquainted” session while I boiled up a couple of eggs. While this was going on, the missus and Zoila returned from church and strolled into the kitchen to visit.

My future wife looked very pretty in her white dress, and it was quite apparent she wasn’t in the least way shy. Even though Allan, Ramon, she and Zoila all spoke Spanish, the entire conversation was spoken in English. I merely tried to say the right things and generally made myself as agreeable as possible. After 15 minutes or so of discussing this and that, it was time for my wife and Zoila to head upstairs to change out of their Sunday finery. But before they did, the missus, as she walked by, playfully pinched me in the stomach and said in her strong Puerto Rican accent, “You’re a beeg one!”

Well, that was the start of it. Let me tell you how things stood on each side. My wife was nearly done earning a masters degree in education while working full time for the Department of Social Services. She drove a brand new, bright red Pontiac Fiero. I later found out she had moved from the comfort of her condo in Puerto Rico several years earlier to the United States (with only a shaky command of the English language) to improve her professional outlook. She first took a class in English, then went on to attend Northeastern University and, later, UMass Boston. She had money, she owned property, and she had prospects.

On the other hand there was myself. At 29, I had recently graduated college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree after completing school following a prolonged hiatus. I hadn’t yet gotten my first job in the graphic design field, but was instead working as a housepainter. I drove a beat up Chevy Citation and might have had $800 in the bank. That was it.

What the hell was she thinking, right?

Here are the facts, not in any particular order: my wife is extremely strong-willed. She always gets what she wants. She is fond of remarking that it is better to have common sense than a high IQ, because common sense will take you farther. She can be sensitive and easily insulted. If you get on the wrong side of her, it may not be very easy too find your way back into her good graces. Among her coterie, she is always the center of attention. She loves our daughters fiercely and would take a bullet to save their lives. She is a hard worker. She takes no shit from anyone. She can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. She is only a little over five feet but can scare linebacker-size men. She wears out the point of a pencil after writing only one sentence. She’s funny and has a 10,000 watt smile. When she calls me Johnny, I know I’m back on a good footing with her. She prevails in most arguments with me. When she insists on taking risky ventures, I have stopped saying, “Fine. Call me when it’s time to go to bankruptcy court,” because everything keeps working out. She applies her foot to my backside when needed. She has a loud telephone voice. She likes to see me look busy. She says very bad words in Spanish when she’s upset. She is very stubborn. And she is the best thing that ever happened to me.

That’s the missus in a nutshell, folks. And that’s as mushy as I get.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Brief Tour of My Doghouse

This one’s for the gentlemen. Ladies, you may read it if you like, but please try not to snigger too loudly. Indeed, this may be of some interest to my female readers, as they may get some ideas from it. But today’s post is really aimed at the guys. I want to give my comrades, my amigos in agony, a brief tour of my doghouse in hopes that I might get a small peek into theirs, just to compare notes. So often we only know our own doghouses and never glimpse those of others.

It so happens I’m not officially living in my doghouse right now; I’m just visiting. Perhaps this might explain my dry, dispassionate, almost professorial air. Usually I don’t arrive here of my own volition, you see. I am ordinarily delivered here against my will and thrust bodily through these two-inch thick steel doors into the reception area, only to hear the ominous, metallic clang of those impervious doors as they are emphatically shut behind me. You’ll notice as we enter that I am leaving them ajar, as they do not unlock from the inside. Please take care not to close them after you step through or we’ll be trapped for an indeterminate length of time.

Well, gentlemen, perhaps you’re impressed by the size of my doghouse? You can see from this reception area it’s quite large, isn’t it? I can tell you it’s constructed of the finest quality building materials. It’s virtually earthquake-proof, fire-proof, and flood-proof. My doghouse can withstand an atomic blast, a 50 megaton direct hit. Superman can’t save me from it because the walls are lined with kryptonite. Although you might think this vast rotunda is made of marble — which is itself strong — think again. These walls and the floor upon which you stand are made of a carbon-based substance known as castigite, which is stronger than diamond and harder than the hardest heart. I defy you to find the slightest scratch mark anywhere, although I have broken my nails upon these walls often enough. Knock on these walls anywhere to find a hollow or weak spot. You can’t, can you? And notice, mounted upon these walls at regular intervals, are unlit torches. I assure you that these torches have never been animated by the slightest spark. A single word is inscribed on all of them. You, over there, look closely at one and read what it says, nice and loud, so we all can hear. What was that again? Yes, gentlemen, each of these torches have the same word written upon them: hope — extinguished hope.

Undoubtedly the first thing you noticed as you entered was that portrait you see hanging there. It’s me, of course. Do you recognize the look of bewilderment? Come, come now, gentlemen, that expression is universal. The hands raised defensively and shoulders shrugged questioningly. The incipient signs of mounting terror in the eyes. The word, “What?” forming on the lips. The general attitude of defeat and hopelessness. Don’t pretend you can’t empathize or say you’ve never experienced this. You over there, you’re shaking just looking at it! And all around, in between the cold, never-used torches, are smaller paintings of broken men in various stages of despair, commonly depicted in some form of servitude or supplication. My wife decorated my doghouse herself, gentlemen. What do you think of her handiwork? Is it not complete? Can you not already feel the desolation? And yet we haven’t even passed through the four doors you see surrounding us. Come, let us see what’s behind door number one.

This is the Chamber of Mysteries. Why is it called that? Anyone? Yes, you over there, what was that? Very good, quite right. Because I often don’t know what it was I did. Here is where I frantically search my mind to figure out what the hell got me into the doghouse in the first place. Was it something I said? Or did? Or didn’t do? Was it something that happened years ago that has been exhumed, dusted off, and given new vitality? An ill-considered remark made at a party in 1998? Or, say, not painting the living room as quickly as I said I would in 2002? Tell me, gentlemen, what are your Chambers of Mysteries like? Do yours have medieval torture instruments like mine does? How about this iron maiden? Or the rack? Or the thumb screws? Why they’re here I don’t precisely know; perhaps my wife thinks they’ll help spur my mind and determine my offense without having it plainly spelled out for me. I have spent many, many hours in this chamber, gentlemen.

Proceeding, let’s have a look behind this next door. This is the Room of Serious Reflection. You see, once I have determined my crime, here is where I go to ponder its magnitude, to fully appreciate the unprecedented horror of my folly. Please notice the many mirrors that line the walls. Some are modern and others antique. Note the various sizes and shapes. Several magnify. They are all for me. They have been thoughtfully provided so I can gaze into them and see myself for the depraved, inconsiderate brute that I am. I admonish you not to look into them yourselves, for few have the nerve to do so without losing all self-worth. Indeed, I cannot remain in here for very long myself. Let us go, gentlemen, quickly now. Avert your eyes and leave!

This third door leads to the Cell of Penance and Self-Flagellation. I invariably arrive here shot through and through with guilt, reduced to a loathsome insect of a man, filled with remorse and contrition. Here on this hanger you may see the hair shirt I typically wear, and this is the whip I usually apply to my back until I fall whimpering to my knees. Over here to our left is a wall dominated by a huge blackboard. Let’s read it in unison, shall we? “I will never look at another woman again. I will never look at another woman again,” over and over. And notice this chalk, gentlemen. It is magical chalk — it never wears out. You can write with it forever. I can’t tell you how familiar this chalk feels in my hand.

And last, to end our tour, is the Hall of Discarded Boyfriends. My wife built this one just last year; she thought it would be good for me to review the faces of those who came before. Don’t be put off by the sight of all these mounted human heads, or of the frightening expressions on each of them. Let’s see who they are. Ah, yes. Pedro the Despicable. Felix the Inconsolable. Miguel the Contemptible. Salvador the Ignominious. Hector the Disreputable. Luis the Reprehensible. And so on. You see they seem to go on forever, don’t they? They are the poor, wretched souls who have passed through here before me. God have pity upon them

So, gentlemen, that concludes our sobering little tour — I hope you have found it educational. Please, if you feel courageous enough, invite me to your doghouse sometime. Step this way. Don’t mind the german shepherd at the door, he’s been fed. Thank you for coming. Bye bye now.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark

You have all met my favorite tenant, Guildenstern, from a previous post, haven’t you? Well, he’s baaaack. Oh, yes, he’s back and he’s bigger and badder than ever. Right now, I honestly can’t tell if he’s trying to bilk us out of the remaining two month’s rent he’ll wind up owing us (he and Rosencranz are set to break the lease on February 1), or if he truly intends to pay what he owes us. I’d be curious to hear what everyone thinks.

Like Stanley Kawolski, Guildenstern has a “lawyer friend.” This lawyer friend has advised him not to pay any more rent to us directly, but rather put the money into an escrow account. Then, after he’s moved out and it’s been confirmed that we haven’t harassed him during the final two months of his tenancy, he would then release the money to us. So, to recap, he doesn’t pay us anything, we allow him to move out, and then we wait for the check to come.


I argued with him, of course. I told him that he had my personal guarantee that no one would ever try screw him, that my goal was for us to peacefully coexist until he moved out. I told him what his friend proposed made little sense to me. How was I to interpret it? He couldn’t trust us, yet we had to trust him to pay two month’s rent after he vacated the apartment? In the end he wavered and told me he was inclined to write me out the check, but first wanted to talk with his friend. We ended our discussion by shaking hands. However, the next day, Guildenstern told me he had to follow his lawyer’s advice and gave me the guy’s phone number for me to call, so he, the lawyer, could explain this unique situation to me. Oy!

Here’s the main problem: Guildenstern thinks my wife is out to get him. He can no longer enjoy living in his apartment, one that he is, admittedly, paying a handsome rent for. He feels like he’s walking on eggshells all the time. And, truth to be told, my wife really does despise him. Those vibes he feels are real. When she decides to hate someone, she goes all the way. In her eyes, Guildenstern is the very devil himself. Everything he says is either an outright lie or some mischievous half-truth calculated to take advantage of our honesty and our habit of fair dealing. He has no scruples whatsoever. His ultimate aim is to bring ruin down upon us.

If you want my take on him, here it is: Guildenstern, as he appears to me this 12th day of December, 2005, is not a bad guy. He’s a salesman, and like some salesman I know, he can sling it a little bit, but no more than a lot of people. I think he was used to living in places where the landlord wasn’t continually on the premises. I perfectly understood his side of the little flap we had about the parking spaces in the driveway. I could see how my wife’s reaction to his brother’s outburst could be interpreted as exaggerated and offensive. Quite honestly, I personally didn’t care if his brother’s mail was sent to the house or not. All I cared about was if he and his roommate respected the property, kept the noise down, and paid their rent on time, and by and large they did. I’m really sorry things have come to this.

Last night we met with our lawyer — a “lawyer friend,” in fact — and she has never heard of this funky little escrow arrangement. I told her the whole story in detail and my wife, to her credit, let me tell my reasonably objective version of the events with few interruptions. I also gave our friend a copy of the lease and a copy of two of the three bad checks Guildenstern has written us. Her immediate reaction was that this was some ruse of Guildenstern’s to get out of paying the last two month’s rent. She advised me to give Guildenstern her business card with instructions for him to ask his lawyer to call her and explain to her the escrow arrangement. She also told me to inform Guildenstern that, as things stand now, if we don’t receive this month’s rent, the matter will be taken to small claims court.

And that’s where we are. Lovely.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Wednesdays

This is the last day of my vacation. I think I frittered away my time in fine fashion. I’ve tried very hard not to be too productive and I think I’ve succeeded admirably. The other day I slipped up a little bit and painted the upstairs bathroom’s woodwork, but other than that I think I’ve largely been no good to anyone. Sloth, thy name is Schprock.

A friend of mine is a member of a cycling club called the Charles River Wheelmen, and over the last few months he’s invited me to come along on some of their jaunts. On the Sunday before last, I joined them on a 60 mile trek and had an opportunity to meet some of the regulars. One of them told me about the “Wednesdays,” a sort of unofficial subdivision of the CRW who meet on Wednesday mornings for rides that average some 30 or 40 miles. As it happened that I had yesterday morning free and my friend was also available, we decided to meet the Wednesdays and go off for a little ride.

It was on the cool side: 24 or 25 degrees. I am a year round bike commuter, so that didn’t faze me; I’ve long been conditioned to it. My friend, whom we’ll call Doc (as he is a hospital doctor, and his unusual hours permitted him to ride during a weekday), has all the latest gear and accessories to handle the chillier temps. So I met him at his house and we struck off for Weston, a well-to-do suburb of Boston.

As luck would have it I got a flat on the way to the meeting place; I took a safety pin to the back tire. Luckily there was a service station nearby and I was kindly allowed the use of one of their bays to change it and thus avoid freezing my fingers off doing it outside. When we finally arrived, the Wednesdays were just pulling out. The rendezvous was an old stone church with a large semi-circular drive in front of it and you couldn’t miss their many bright yellow and optical green jerseys as they started off in a long straggling line. Doc and I headed them off, made a few hasty introductions, and we were off.

The Wednesdays are composed mainly of retired people, and they are almost all male. Yesterday there were only two women; one may have been somewhere in her forties, and the other, I happened to overhear her say, was involved in some over-55 club. In spite of all the grey hair, the Wednesdays are a fairly fit-looking bunch, and it didn’t take long to understand that they are generally an extremely well-educated group of people and many have had notable professional careers. One of my particular favorites, a fellow by the name of Mike, worked for a lab and held a prestigious title that right now slips my mind. It was he who told me about the Wednesdays and seemed very glad to see me again and renew our acquaintance. Another man, the one responsible for writing up the report of the ride, was a chief of surgery in his day and spoke with a classic Yankee blue blood accent. Yet another Wednesday owned a very successful auto repair shop which he recently sold to his right-hand man. I really had the feeling I was in the company of grownups, which may seem like an odd thing for a 50-year-old to say, but I felt very young and green. And, as many of them were plainly in their sixties, it could be argued that I was the kid.

Our trek took us through several wealthy towns with a country flavor to them. Most of the houses you saw were large and set on sizable tracts of land. Along our route there were also a few farms, one with cows and bulls grazing, and another with horses. Although the day was well below freezing and there was a bit of a wind, it was very bright and the presence of the sun, if only psychologically, tended to mitigate the cold. The Wednesdays have their rides organized in this way: as all their routes are unmarked by arrows painted on the road (which you usually find in trips of this sort), there is a instead a designated leader who always stays at the head of the procession. The pace he keeps is supreme; no one passes him. At the back of the group is the sweeper. He always remains at the rear and his pace is always that of the slowest cyclist. Wherever there is a turning, the leader asks someone — invariably the person closest to him — to remain there and be the “arrow.” His job is to point the way for the slower members and remain until he sees the sweeper. Then he can rejoin the group.

Speaking of pace, the Wednesdays kept a rather slow one, but I didn’t mind because it gave me time to converse in full sentences instead of in four or five words gasps. I had the leisure to really investigate the neighborhood or region I was traveling through, to admire the architecture of the some of the houses and guess what sort of family might live there, or take in the view of a beautiful semi-frozen pond with a lonely islet set way out in its center. There was also a feeling of fellowship I enjoyed, which perhaps I might have missed if my intention were only to keep to a strict pace, never falling under a certain average mph. It was simply a pleasant outing; it reminded me a bit of skiing. In fact, we ended by gathering at an Italian restaurant for lunch, which was not unlike the apres-ski meeting at the lodge after an active day on the slopes.

I intend to officially join CRW and go on more of their trips (unfortunately gainful employment will prevent me from becoming a regular with the Wednesdays). When I get to know the members better, I think I’ll take a little poll asking them why they like pedaling a bike so much. I’m still not 100 percent certain why I do. There is a meditative quality to it that relaxes me; time never seems very urgent. Even as I ride in the city with all those cabs and buses taking aim at me, it mostly feels peaceful. And, of course, there’s the health benefit: cycling is an excellent aerobic exercise that won’t turn your joints into paste. But for some strange reason, I can never become weary of riding a bike. I’d rather pedal a bike than drive a car. It’s true: my car maybe gets driven only once or twice a week. When I visit my parents who live 15 miles away, I usually go out there by bike. It’s just a basic thing I love to do.

Well, there’s a Sherlock Holmes story I simply must get to. And then, of course, there’s lunch. Ta ta, everyone!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Trauma and Drama on the Home Front

Anybody who has the idea landlords are mean people with curlicue mustaches, black hats and a penchant for throwing poor widows and their children out onto the streets, please understand that we’re not all bad. I am a landlord and can be positively soft-hearted at times. My wife and I own several pieces of property that we collect rent on. One of the places we rent, in fact, happens to be the third floor apartment in the house we live in. And therein lies my tale.

We bought our house, a completely renovated 115-year-old Victorian, in October of 2004. It cost a bundle of money, but the former owner, a building contractor, did an outstanding job of fixing up the building, so although we got no bargain, we did at least pay what it was worth. And while everything is modern, the charm and character is still there. All the old woodwork has been refurbished and the many eccentricities you find in older houses have been retained. Hardwood floors, high ceilings, a large kitchen with all the latest gadgets, a beautiful staircase leading up to the second floor, oodles of space and so on. It really is a beautiful house, my wife’s “dream house.”

A key selling point for me was the existence of a two bedroom apartment on the third floor. It was completely brand new and as up to date as the rest of the house; it even had central air conditioning, something our part of the house didn’t have. This, I knew, could help us pay for the mortgage.

We moved in and, after a month or so, managed to find two guys in their late twenties to take the apartment. They seemed like nice people and during the term of their first lease, everything went pretty well. It turned out they weren’t noisy, they always spoke respectfully to us and they paid their rent on time. If I may be permitted to assign them names — let’s say Rosencranz and Guildenstern — then I will characterize Rosencranz as generally silent and kept his nose in his business, while Guildenstern was more the spokesman, a chatty and hail-fellow-well-met type of person. They both met in college and had been roommates ever since. Guildenstern one time had occasion to sit down to talk with my wife and I and we learned a bit of his history. At one time he was an undercover cop; then he went back to college and was now embarking on a financial management career. You couldn’t have met a more congenial guy. He had a natural cheery disposition and was extremely well spoken. It was difficult not to like him.

We set their lease to expire on August 31st, not quite a full year, with the expectation of renting the apartment for its full value in September, which is the hottest month. They understood this when they took the place. Their rent was reduced that prior November just so we could get bodies in there as quickly as possible. When we informed them of the amount we were seeking in July, Rosencranz thought it was a bit high, but accepted. Guildenstern wished to negotiate; however, while I was not averse to giving the boys a “home town discount,” my wife was firm on the figure we first told them. In the end, Guildenstern agreed and a new lease, this time for a full year, was signed.

Now, I have mentioned that things went pretty well during the term of the first lease; there were, however, a few bugs that needed to be worked out. Foremost among them was this: we have a four car driveway and my wife objected to Guildenstern loaning his parking space to friends. He had a girlfriend who stayed at the apartment for extended periods of time and it was her car that was mainly parked there during those intervals. My wife, through me (I am always the middleman), made it plain that only the people whose names were written on the lease could be permitted to use the driveway. I didn’t care really, but the missus was inflexible on the point, so, after some squabbling, Guildenstern finally got the message. However, this lead my wife to significantly alter her opinion of Guildenstern. She began to class him as a troublemaker.

After the new lease was signed, a new development arose. Guildenstern’s brother, whom we shall call Horatio, apparently moved in. I was willing to turn a blind eye to it, as I secretly hoped this would help the guys pay the rent, and Horatio seemed kind of quiet and shy, the antithesis of his brother. My wife was quick to see that Horatio had his own key, came and went as he pleased, had his mail sent to the house, and became a far more familiar presence than the two people whose names actually appeared on the lease. I heard her grumble about it, citing it as yet another trespass upon our good natures, but generally kept her peace.

Then one fateful night, after I had turned in and fallen asleep, my wife, in great agitation and loudly saying something which I took to mean that this time Guildenstern went too far, woke me up and thrust the phone in my ear. Guildenstern was on the other end and he was every bit as mad as my wife. I won’t try to reconstruct what he said, but will, as best I can, describe what happened after I fell asleep.

Horatio, as it turned out, wasn’t quite the diffident little guy I thought he was. It seems he had a “history,” one marked by mental and physical issues. He had had several brushes with the law, apparently hung out with the wrong kind of people, and was capable of alarming mood swings. Sometime earlier in his life he was literally run over by a truck; this required many operations that left him in constant pain and the need for painkillers. That night when he showed up at Rosencranz’s and Guildenstern’s apartment, he was distraught because his painkiller kit had been stolen and he needed something for the pain. He called the hospital pharmacy from the apartment and the pharmacist told him she couldn’t dispense medication without getting official word from his physician — which, at that time of night, wasn’t likely. Horatio flew into a rage. According to my wife and Daughter Number 2 (Daughter Number 1 was fast asleep like her old man), Horatio called the woman on the phone every terrible name you could think of; he was screaming so loudly every word came through to our portion of the house perfectly clear. Then, after he hung up, he got into an argument with Guildenstern. There was a lot of FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! THAT FUCKING BITCH! and slamming of doors and stomping of feet. It was, to put it mildly, a very scary scene.

My outraged wife went straight to the their apartment door and pounded on it. Rather than answer the door, Guildenstern called down to our house, where he and the missus must have had a colorful conversation before I found myself jostled awake and telephone planted on my ear.

I have to say this about my wife: she is no politician. She is very quick to anger, and, once angry, is not the most reasonable human being you might ever wish to meet. That night she was absolutely spitting venom. I told Guildenstern to meet me downstairs where perhaps we could discuss this better face to face. He agreed, and as I headed down to the kitchen, I told my wife that if she didn’t calm down, this wasn’t going to work; it would only make matters worse. But the missus was worked up into a fine froth and all I could do was stand between them like a helpless referee and utter platitudes neither of them heard. Guildenstern took extreme offense at my wife insisting his brother go to a shelter. Then, when he told her how many times he had refrained from complaining about the noise we occasionally make, a quick look at her face made me regret our meeting in the kitchen with all those sharp knives within reach. In the end, it did us very little good. What seemed to help was a few days later when I met with Rosencranz and Guildenstern in their apartment, listened to their grievances, and told them our stance on things in a much more diplomatic way than how Guildenstern heard it a few nights earlier.

But things never really had a chance to settle down. Although we saw much less of Horatio after that, he still received his mail at our house, and my wife took great exception to him using the upstairs apartment as his address. So she started writing “return to sender: does not reside at this address” on Horatio’s mail, and this, of course, led to another point of contention. Guildenstern complained to me that when Horatio — who is indigent — had his mail sent to his parent’s address, several important letters went missing, so they decided his mail should be sent to Guildenstern instead. My wife countered that this was the very type of mail we shouldn’t be getting. He isn’t our tenant, and she didn’t feel comfortable with court documents (for that’s what those important letters were) being sent to where we live. She didn’t relish the possibility of the police showing up one day looking for someone we technically were not responsible for. He should, instead, get a P.O. box.

This was the final straw for Guildenstern and he called me saying he wanted to break the lease and move out. I agreed and promised to get back to him about what the terms of breaking the lease should be. In the interim, he had a change of heart and said he’d stay and take care of the mail. My wife had by this time desisted from writing “return to sender” on his brother’s mail and was content to let him sort that problem out. Then, a little over a week ago, Guildenstern thought he had evidence that my wife was now throwing away Horatio’s mail and wanted to move out again. I asked her if she was doing this and she said she hadn’t. So I called him back, told him he was wrong, and offered to pay for a P.O. box for his brother and thus end the controversy. This was his response: “Look, I really don’t want to move out — it’s such a hassle. I’ll tell you what: I’ll forget everything if you come down on the rent.” I quickly told him never, not in a hundred years.

And that’s where we stand right now, folks. All my good will toward him has been exhausted. Lately he hasn’t even paid his rent on time and half of his checks have bounced. It will be a pain trying to find new tenants at this time of year, but that was it. Out, out, OUT!

Friday, December 02, 2005

My Vacation So Far

Let me get the bad news out of the way right now: I haven’t yet watched any daytime TV during this strange little vacation I’m taking all by my onesies. Not even Turner Classic Movies, which is my favoritest of all favorite channels. I know, I know — the life of dissipation I thought I would enjoy has so far eluded me. Hell, I don’t even know which channel Oprah is on. But if this is any consolation, I plan to see either the 11:15 or 12:15 showing of Harry Potter today at the Loew’s Cineplex. That means I’ll be rubbing elbows with the chronically unemployed and kids skipping school, which will help me feel a little more like a deadbeat.

I consider myself a pretty big Harry Potter fan, by the way. I think J. K. Rowling is an amazingly gifted storyteller and deserves all the popularity she has. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, she reminds me a little bit of Dickens, but don’t tell anyone I said that. I read the first four books until I discovered the excellent audio versions performed by the incomparable Jim Dale. Now I’ve got ’em all on CD and I’ve listened to each of them twice. I have my old road bike set up on a trainer in the basement and, while I make myself breathe hard and sweat pedaling it, I have lately been listening to my second run-through of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Incidentally, I’ve got a little theory about Dumbledore’s fate for all who’ve read The Half-Blood Prince: think horcruxes. Huh? Huh? Am I right?)

Anyway, I’ve been occupying my time by biking, reading and writing. I’m on a Sherlock Holmes kick again (they run in three-year cycles) and I unearthed a summer 1990 edition of Story and read a perfect little work of short fiction by Bobbie Ann Mason entitled Tobrah. And, of course, I’ve been reading the blogs. There’s lots of good stuff to read there.

And that’s The Schprock Report for Friday, December 2, 2005. Have a great day everyone. Over and out.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Satirical Rogue: Part One

Stanley Parkhurst was an artist. He had the sentiment of a Sappho or a Milton, the innate sense of drama of a Shakespeare, the storytelling gift of a Dickens, and the wit and philosophical insight of a Shaw. Of course, had he read all of these worthies, perhaps he could have recognized this for himself, but you may take it from me, he was all of these things. Stanley Parkhurst, somewhere just short of his thirtieth birthday, discovered one day that he was born to write. He had picked up a used copy of Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck at a yard sale (selected mainly because it looked short enough for him to read all the way through) and decided after reading it that he could write something as simply and easily as Steinbeck evidently did by stringing together the right amount of well-chosen words as a composer would notes from the scale. He knew he had the poet’s soul, that necessary animating flame which fires the kiln of great literature. All that was wanted was the proper expression of it.

But perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself, because to know Stanley Parkhurst’s story, I think you have to know a bit about his wife, Maddy. They met one summer’s day on Cape Cod literally by accident, when Stanley’s newly purchased Sunfish, The Periwinkle II, was rammed by Maddy’s great uncle’s two-masted schooner, The Dreadnought. Stanley had earlier that day purchased the used Sunfish (with trailer and trailer hitch) from an old man by the name of Gustafson who ran a sailboat rental business right down at the dock. Gustafson personally took Stanley out in it and gave him a quick 15 minute lesson, teaching him how to use the tiller and work the sail and so on, finally complimenting Stanley on how quickly he gained a proficiency at it. Then Stanley dropped Gustafson back off at the dock so the old man could install the trailer hitch onto his car while Stanley went off and practiced some more.

Although Gustafson praised Stanley’s nascent seamanship mainly to unload one of his older boats, the truth was, Stanley could sail the little Sunfish quite well. He instinctively had a good sense of how the wind acted upon the sail, he quickly understood the concept of tacking, and in a short while found he could make the boat go exactly where he planned. Running before the wind, he thrilled at the power the strong gusts put in his hands as the sail snapped full and the little boat took off at full gallop. The spray of water kicked up by the bow exhilarated him. Stanley felt proud and happy and wished he knew a sea shanty or two to sing as the small boat coursed along.

Now, it’s always been a bit murky how The Periwinkle II and The Dreadnought came to bump heads, but most of the people aboard the schooner think that The Dreadnought’s de facto captain, Thad Wilthorpe, was the guiltier party involved. There actually was a trained captain aboard, a former emergency room physician who chucked the medical profession for the sea, who was ostensibly hired to chart the course, see that the rigging was well tended and to take the helm in tight places; but Thad, the vessel’s owner and self-styled Vermont Dairy King, was really the man in charge. That day he had relatives on deck with him, and the old dairy tycoon was in thunderous form as he stood at the wheel with his own captain’s hat jammed onto his head at a jaunty angle, shouting often conflicting and incomprehensible orders to his small crew for the benefit of the Krumms, this poorer branch of his family, who knew little of the sea and betrayed their ignorance by showing fear at all of Thad’s daring maneuvers.

At one point, when the trained and experienced captain implored Thad to slow down, suddenly the The Dreadnought and The Periwinkle II locked onto a collision course. It was completely unanticipated. One moment the diminutive sailboat was safely over to starboard, and then the next there it was right in the way. The Krumms on board the schooner and Stanley in his Sunfish recognized the danger at once, but Thad and Captain Springer were too involved in a heated discussion to notice it right away. Finally, when Maddy Krumm stood up and shouted to her wealthy great uncle, “For Christ’s sake, will you look at what you’re doing?” Thad’s and Captain Springer’s heads snapped around just in time to see Stanley launch himself off his little boat and swim desperately from where the impact was sure to occur. Springer and Wilthorpe immediately and simultaneously barked orders that no one could understand and seconds later The Periwinkle II was dashed beneath the bow of The Dreadnought.

To Stanley, everything that happened afterward was in a swirl — the events hardly seemed connected. Maddy dove into the water; it was she who took hold of Stanley and pulled him to the schooner. Somehow he was lifted aboard. An old man dressed up like Popeye asked him what the hell was he doing out there. Another man with a less affected nautical look started giving orders and told Popeye to shut up when he interfered. The girl, Maddy, hurled abuse at Popeye and told him she’d never sail with him again no matter how much money he had. A man with a funny toothbrush mustache who Stanley guessed was her father warned, “Now Maddy…”

It could be argued that the next several years were in a swirl too, because when Maddy grabbed hold of Stanley and swam fiercely to safety with him in tow, she never let go, she just kept right on swimming. It was always said that Maddy was a sucker for stray animals, and I think this extended to human beings as well. Stanley was a stray to her — a big, goofy stray. In truth, he wasn’t bad to look at, tall and slim and fit. His features were strong and attractive, accented by a bold nose and pale blue eyes. He always had a wistful look, something you picked up on immediately when you first met him, the look of a dreamer Maddy supposed. He spoke with a slight stammer she found endearing. For some reason perhaps no one will ever figure out, it seemed that strong-willed Maddy could have saved Stanley’s life every day and never found it tiresome.

And where Stanley was tall, Maddy was quite short, just barely five feet. She had a pretty face and a pleasing figure and her movements were always decisive and athletic. She had an easy smile and a ready wit; you couldn’t best her in a game of badinage, because she could give it right back to you with interest. Her voice was at once delicate and carrying. But, petite as she was, Maddy was an imposing young woman, someone you soon learned not to trifle with. Everyone always said this about her: she got what she wanted. And I may use this as an example: Maddy wanted Stanley Parkhurst and she got him — he really had no say in the matter.

They married sooner than Stanley expected. They bought a house Stanley was sure they couldn’t afford. They had their first child, a boy, before Stanley was ready. Their second, a daughter, came not much more than a year later. Maddy kept a brisk pace and Stanley always had to run to keep up.

Now, something else I should mention here is that during the time when Maddy first commandeered Stanley’s life and steered it onto a course he couldn’t have altered if he wanted to, Maddy was at no loss for suitors. Chief among them was a young attorney called Preston Farnsworth, who Maddy’s family felt sure would wind up being her husband. He was every parent’s idea of what a son-in-law should be: handsome, promising future, looked good in a suit. Preston had an Ivy League education and knew a lot of the people you read about in the newspapers. His name appeared on some prestigious Who’s Who list and his office walls already had an impressive collection of framed, official-looking documents. Preston seemed to completely have his way with everyone except Maddy; everyone fell before his charms but her. She liked him well enough and thought he was funny; he had the money to offer her a good time and so forth; all in all, she supposed he was worth keeping around. But Great Uncle Thad irrevocably altered the dynamics of things when he turned Stanley’s tiny sailboat into driftwood. Preston could only be a friend.

So, as I said, Stanley Parkhurst was an artist; he was Sappho and Milton and Shakespeare and Dickens and Shaw all rolled into one. If I forgot Dostoyevsky, I’m sorry — there was a little Dostoyevsky in him as well. But Stanley didn’t earn his living as a writer. Stanley was an insurance actuary. He was very good at it, in fact, and made a sizable income doing it. All his life Stanley was strong in mathematics and computers, and when it came to developing business models and forecasting risks, very few people were as good at it as he. You could even say he found his work fulfilling. But after that fateful day when he purchased John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, his passion became writing. All he wanted to do was tell stories and he used every spare minute in this pursuit.