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Tuesday, December 1, 2020


Blog - Short for "web log," a type of online garbage dump.

To Blog - To spew uncontrollably from one’s brain; involuntary and unstoppable release of mental effluvia onto electronic media.

Blogger - A person with enough time and narcissism to document every tedious bit of minutia filling their uneventful lives.

Blogging - An activity that usually occurs after a person gains access to a computer but before they learn anything about writing. If minds had anuses, blogging would be what your mind does when it has to take a dump.

Blog Post - A short web entry by some nobody who goes on and on about their unimportant, non-eventful lives, reporting trivial crap no one wants to hear.

The above definitions are, of course, satirical. Obviously, there are thousands of blogs that do not deserve such descriptions, and it is my sincere hope that this will be one of them. After resisting the urge for many years, I have not joined the Blogosphere to bore visitors with tedious minutia about my life, nor do I intend to use the format as a mental septic tank. On the contrary, I created this blog for my friends, readers of my novel, and others, who might be looking for a brief respite from the incendiary madness of the daily news cycle.

Here you will find a good deal of humor, tips and advice on writing, a smidgen of philosophy, some unique images you may not see anywhere else (unless someone steals them, which is fine with me), a bit of inside information on my novel, and an occasional update on my works-in-progress.

I invite your comments, ideas, and suggestions, so long as they are devoid of profanity and reasonably intelligible (sarcasm is encouraged). It is my intention to make your time spent here, if not enlightening, at least minimally informative and entertaining. 

I will try to add at least one or two new posts each week, so check back often. And thanks for spending part of your day with me.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Clarabelle's Kitchen - The Truth About Men

All babies start out with the same number of raw cells which, over nine months, develop into a complete female baby. The problem occurs when cells are instructed by the little chromosomes to make a male baby instead. Because there are only so many cells to go around, the cells necessary to develop a male's reproductive organs have to come from cells already assigned elsewhere in the female.

Recent tests have shown that these cells are removed from the communications center of the brain, migrate lower in the body and develop into male sexual organs. If you visualize a normal brain to be similar to a full deck of cards, this means that males are born a few cards short, so to speak. And some of their cards are in their shorts.

This difference between the male and female brain manifests itself in various ways. Little girls will tend to care for pets or learn to read. Little boys, however, will tend to do things like placing a bucket over their heads and running into walls. Little girls will think about doing things before taking any action. Little boys will punch or kick something, then look surprised if someone asks why they just punched their little brother who was half asleep and looking the other way.

This basic cognitive difference continues to grow until puberty, when the hormones kick into action and the trouble really begins. After puberty, not only the size of the male and female brains differ, but the center of thought also differs. Women think with their heads. Male thoughts often originate lower in their bodies where their ex-brain cells reside.

Of course, the severity of this problem varies from man to man. In some men only a small number of brain cells migrate and they are left with nearly full mental capacity, but they tend to be rather dull, sexually speaking. Such men are known in medical terms as "Nerds." Other men suffer larger brain cell relocation. These men are medically referred to as "Studs." A small number of men suffer massive brain cell migration to their groins. These men are usually referred to as "Mr. President."

Friday, July 5, 2019

Clara’s Chronicles - The Truth About College

College is a bunch of rooms where you sit for two thousand hours or so and try to memorize things. The two thousand hours are spread out over four years. You spend the rest of the time starving, sleeping, drinking, and trying not to get raped.

Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

1. Things you will need to know in later life (two hours).
2. Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours).

The latter are things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology, -osophy, -istry, -ics, and so on. The idea is, you memorize these things, write them down in little exam books, then forget them. If you fail to forget them, you become a professor and have to stay in college for the rest of your life.

After you've been in college for a year or so, you're supposed to choose a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and forget the most things about. Here is a very important piece of advice: be sure to choose a major that does not involve Known Facts and Right Answers. This means you must not major in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, or geology, because these subjects involve actual facts. If, for example, you major in mathematics, you're going to wander into class one day and the professor will say: "Define the cosine integer of the quadrant of a rhomboid binary axis, and extrapolate your result to five significant vertices." If you don't come up with the exact answer the professor has in mind, you fail.

The same is true of chemistry: if you write in your exam book that carbon and hydrogen combine to form coffee, your professor will flunk you. He wants you to come up with the same answer he and all the other chemists have agreed on. Scientists are extremely snotty about this.

So you should major in subjects like English, philosophy, psychology, and sociology—subjects in which nobody really understands what anybody else is talking about, and which involve virtually no actual facts. I attended classes in all these subjects, so I'll give you a quick overview of each:

ENGLISH: This involves writing papers about long books you have read little snippets of just before class. Here is a tip on how to get good grades on your English papers: Never say anything about a book that anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose you are studying Moby Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say that Moby Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So in your paper, you say Moby Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland. Your professor, who is sick to death of reading papers and never liked Moby Dick, anyway, will think you are enormously creative. If you can regularly come up with lunatic interpretations of simple stories, you should major in English.

PHILOSOPHY: Basically, this involves sitting in a room and deciding there is no such thing as reality and then going to lunch. You should major in philosophy if you plan to take a lot of drugs.

PSYCHOLOGY: This involves talking about rats and dreams. Psychologists are obsessed with rats and dreams. I once spent an entire semester training a rat to punch little buttons in a certain sequence, then training my roommate to do the same thing. The rat learned much faster. My roommate is now a doctor. If you like rats or dreams, and above all if you dream about rats, you should major in psychology.

SOCIOLOGY: For sheer lack of intelligibility, sociology is far and away the number one subject. I sat through hundreds of hours of sociology courses, and read gobs of sociology writing, and I never once heard or read a coherent statement. This is because sociologists want to be considered scientists, so they spend most of their time translating simple, obvious observations into scientific-sounding code. If you plan to major in sociology, you'll have to learn to do the same thing. For example, suppose you have observed that children cry when they fall down. You should write: "Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies of prematurated isolates indicates that a causal relationship exists between groundward tropism and lachrimatory behavior forms." If you can keep this up for fifty or sixty pages, you will get a large government grant.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

On Writing - Rejection

Rejection is a part of any writer’s life, but don’t despair, even the best have received their share. Here are a few examples of best-selling books by now famous authors that were rejected numerous times, along with comments made by the rejecting editors.

Herman Melville's masterpiece, Moby-Dick, was rejected by multiple publishers, some of whom had creative suggestions for the author. Among them was this, by Peter J. Bentley of Bentley & Son Publishing House: "First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?"

Kenneth Grahame (author of The Wind in the Willows) once received a rejection that stated: “This is an irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” Of course, the adventures of Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger went on to become one of the best-selling children's tales of all time.

“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.” This is from a rejection of H. G. Wells’ tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds, which is still in print 121 years later.

Many readers of Joseph Heller’s satirical book about World War II, are probably not aware that he named it Catch-22 as a way of memorializing the 22 rejections it had received. In one of those rejections, the editor stated, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.”

“…overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Sadly, for this editor, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita became one of the 20th Century’s most revered novels.

Finally, here are a couple of my favorites, sent to apparently struggling writers by less-than-sympathetic editors.

"I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top."

"Unfortunately, it falls to me to inform you that we will not be publishing your novel. While it is customary to reply with a form letter, in this case I felt I had to say a few words. First, please do not submit any future work to our offices. Second, both myself and my assistant are considering legal action against you for wasting our valuable time with your relentless tripe. Among the areas in need of vast improvement are: descriptions, character development, dialogue, plot, grammar, syntax, analogies, sentence structure, scene transitions, research, and manuscript preparation. Should this novel have been published, it would likely have resulted in the end of modern book sales."

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Clarabelle's Kitchen- Random Thoughts

Skinny people piss me off! Especially when they say things like, "You know sometimes I forget to eat." Now, I've forgotten my address, my mother's maiden name, and my keys. But I've never forgotten to eat. You have to be a special kind of stupid to forget to eat.

They keep telling us to get in touch with our bodies. Mine isn't all that communicative but I heard from it the other day after I said, "Body, how'd you like to go to the six o'clock Zumba dance class?" Clear as a bell my body said, "Do it and you die, bitch!"

I had to give up jogging for my health. My thighs kept rubbing together and setting my pantyhose on fire.

I know what Victoria's Secret is. The secret is that nobody older than 30 can fit into their stuff.

Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician.

The reason why most women over fifty don't have babies? They would put them down somewhere and forget where they left them.

If men can run the world, why can't they stop wearing neckties and brownnosing their bosses? How intelligent is it to tie a noose around your neck so you can go to work and kiss someone else’s butt?

The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing … and then they marry him.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Today's Word - Administratium

Investigators at a major US research university recently discovered the heaviest element known to science. The element, tentatively named administratium, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0. However, it does have one neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons and 111 assistant vice neutrons, which gives it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons. It is also surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since it has no electrons, administratium is inert. However, it can be detected chemically as it impedes every reaction it comes in contact with. According to the researchers, a minute amount of administratium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally have occurred in less than a second. The reaction can be further delayed by a process called meetingulation, during which an assistant vice neutron gathers together several morons to drink coffee and eat pastries while accomplishing nothing of significance.

Administratium has a normal half-life of approximately three years, at which time it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization to allow a number of the assistant neutrons, vice neutrons and assistant vice neutrons to  exchange places. In fact, an administratium sample's mass actually increases over time, since with each reorganization, some of the morons inevitably become neutrons, forming new isotopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to speculate that perhaps administratium is spontaneously formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "critical morass."

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Where Pets Came From

A newly discovered chapter in the Book of Genesis has provided the answer to that age-old question: "Where did pets come from?"

One day, Adam and Eve said, "Lord, when we were in the garden, you walked with us every day. Now we do not see you anymore. We are lonesome here, and it is difficult for us to be happy all by ourselves."

And God said, "No problem. I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and will be loyal to you no matter how selfish or childish or unlovable you may be. This new companion will accept you as you are and will love you, in spite of yourselves."

And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam and Eve.

And it was a good animal.

And God was pleased.

And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and Eve, and he wagged his tail.

And Adam said, "Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and I cannot think of a name for this new animal."

And God said, "No problem. Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him Dog."

And Dog lived with Adam and Eve and was a companion to them and loved them.

And they were comforted.

And God was pleased.

And Dog was content and wagged his tail.

After a while, it came to pass that an angel approached the Lord and said, "Lord, Adam and Eve have become filled with pride. They strut and preen like peacocks and they believe they are worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught them that they are loved, but perhaps too well."

And God said, "No problem. I will create for them a companion who will be with them forever and who will see them as they are. This companion will remind them of their limitations, so they will know that they are not always worthy of adoration."

And God created Cat to be a companion to Adam and Eve.

And Cat would not obey them. And when Adam and Eve gazed into Cat's eyes, they were reminded that they were not the supreme beings.

And Adam and Eve learned humility.

And they were greatly improved.

And God was pleased.

And Dog was happy.

And Cat didn't give a shit one way or the other.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

On Writing - Analogies

Analogy \A*nal"o*gy\, n.: a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.

Analogies are important tools in the writer's toolbox. They do a lot of work in a few words, provide simple descriptions people can relate to, and help hold a reader's attention when it might be lagging. But some writers go way too far when developing analogies. Here are a few examples:

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

The hailstones leaped from the pavement like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie he would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall Man."

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

The thunder was ominous sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Professor Carbuncle - meaningless words

Being a certified curmudgeon and a professor of pontifical vituperation, I tend to notice things like unnecessary word repetition, and lately I’ve become extraordinarily irritated at the overuse, misuse, and often downright stupid inclusion of unnecessary words and silly phrases on radio, TV and in videos.

For example, when did it become a rule that every answer and question during an interview had to begin with or include the totally useless word “So?”

“So, when did you become aware of the odd sex life of the male, Ethiopian cockroach?”

“So, I was sitting on a bench in the park one day, when a male, Ethiopian cockroach approached me and demanded sex.” 

“Really? That’s, odd. So tell me more.”

“So, I was minding my own business, when this ugly little bug scurried up my leg, climbed on my shoulder and started whispering sweet nothings in my ear.”

Seriously, folks, listen to any interview nowadays, and you’re liable to hear the unnecessary word “so” dozens of times. And if they removed it, not only would that irritating earworm go away, but nothing whatsoever would be lost. Read the above exchange without it and you'll see what I mean.

And whatever happened to “You’re welcome.”? My mother always told me that when somebody thanks you, the polite response was “You’re welcome.” But today, no one being interviewed acknowledges the host’s thanks with this simple, courteous response. Instead, they all say “Thanks for having me,” as if they’d just been had. And in the case of a female, that sounds, you know, a little bit lewd. These guests are supposedly intelligent folks: experts, professors, researchers, politicians, famous authors, and so on. If they decide not to say “You’re welcome,” you’d think at least one of them could come up with something that doesn’t parrot every other interviewee on the planet.  

Finally, there’s the oft-repeated and incredibly dumb sounding term “moderate-to-severe.” We constantly hear this silly word grouping in the commercials Big Pharma airs for their latest miracle drugs. Apparently the executives who approve these ads (the guys who are so smart they make a gazillion dollars a week) are unaware that only an illiterate nincompoop would speak that way in real life.

“My moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis—irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, depression, overactive bladder—” are words that would never cross the lips of any person with half a brain. Think about it, have you ever said or heard anyone say “moderate-to-severe” when describing a medical condition? For that matter, have you ever heard any sane person speak out loud about these embarrassing maladies?

And if that isn’t bad enough to make you cringe, after they show you scenes of tranquil nature hikes or sea-and-surf intimacies, while a sincere-sounding voiceover tells you how wonderful and effective their drug is, they point out that it can cause everything from brain hemorrhages to massive heart attacks, limb detachment, and terminal cancer.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Luthier's Corner - Rosette

For those not familiar with the term, a rosette (as it applies to an acoustic guitar) is the decorative ring that encircles the sound hole. Depending on the type of guitar, the rosette can be anything from a single band, to the beautiful mosaic designs you see on the finest classical and Flamenco instruments.

Many people mistakenly assume that these rosettes are painted; however, except in the case of some cheap imports, they are actually intricate wood inlays, sometimes consisting of pieces as small as 1/124 of an inch square (a little over twice the width of a human hair). If you find it difficult to believe that a luthier could position and glue together such tiny pieces of wood, you’re not alone—to do so one piece at a time would be extraordinarily difficult. Fortunately, there’s a technique that makes it a little easier, though it remains a very delicate process.

The technique predates the modern classical guitar (first devised by Antonio Torres around 1850) and is reported to have been originally developed on the Iberian Peninsula during the Nasrid dynasty of the 13th and 14th centuries. It involves the creation of mosaic tiles through a unique procedure not unlike making and slicing a log of hard salami.

Instead of using single pieces, the luthier cuts and dyes strips of wood, which are then assembled in a specific order, and glued into a log. The gluing operation is done using a press that forms the correct curves and side angles, so that when the log is sliced into tiles, each tile will fit perfectly with the one beside it to form the circular design. This circle is assembled between rings of wooden herringbone, created ahead of time in a similar way. Finally, the completed rosette is inlayed into the top of the guitar and sanded level with the surface.

In high-production shops, the entire design is assembled as a log, which can then be sliced into individual rosettes. But many traditional luthiers remain faithful to the old-school methodology of assembling each rosette by hand, which allows them to change the design with each guitar they build.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Then Again Characters

For readers of my novel Then Again who may have wondered how the five main characters would appear in real life, I created these photorealistic images. Though based on descriptions in the novel, they were leavened with a healthy dose of imagination. Below each image are slightly edited excerpts from various descriptive passages in the book.

AurĂ©lie told me her early childhood had been confusing. A precocious child with savant-like intelligence, she was speaking in complete sentences before she was one year old, and had mastered simple mathematics by age two. I asked about her adolescence, but she refused to go into detail, saying only that after a few years of teenage sexual rebellion and a couple of failed love affairs in her early twenties, she’d given up on finding a mate and become absorbed in her work with Heyoka. It was sad to think that such an intelligent and attractive woman was an old maid in the making, trapped in a loveless world of intellectual isolation. I remembered when I first saw her, being struck by her simple, almost peasant-like beauty. She was petite and slender, with auburn hair cropped in a short afro that framed a heart-shaped face. Her azure eyes, shadowed by long lashes, looked down on a delicate nose and a wide, generous mouth. Gone was the velvet beret that had held her hair in check, and the black-and-white waitress uniform she’d worn at the club had been replaced by stone-washed jeans and a loose-fitting t-shirt featuring a photograph of Jeff Bridges as ‘The Dude’ Lebowski. 

My first clear view of Heyoka Husereau D'Ailleboust nearly knocked me sober. For one thing, he was huge, and—probably due to an autonomic fright response—my senses sharpened and my bleary vision cleared. The smile was still there, but it now protruded from the lower half of a deeply weathered face the color and texture of ruddy sandstone carved by centuries of water erosion. His mountainous nose swept out and down like an undulating inverted ski slope and, in contrast to the smile, there was a notable downcast to his triangular eyes, the pupils of which resembled pools of liquid onyx. Taken as a whole, his countenance projected a combination of intelligence and humor, infused with a touch of melancholy.

I stood in front of the full-length door mirror and examined the updated version of my body. The growth spurt I remembered from my first life was nearly complete, and the results of my daily weight-lifting sessions were evident in the hardened muscles of my arms and chest. I hadn’t been paying much attention to these changes, and when I took a good look at my face, I was surprised to see a pretty handsome fellow looking back. That Paul-Newman look was beginning to appear in my slightly dimpled chin and downturned eyes. Though there was still a whisper of adolescence in my youthful posture and smile, all-in-all it wasn’t a bad look.

The screen began to show a montage of my solo career, starting in the early days after a couple of my songs had charted, and running through the decades that followed. Seeing the venues change from concert halls to small auditoriums to “intimate” nightclub settings was depressing, but even worse was watching my hair lose its color while my smooth, tanned skin faded to chalky parchment like a decomposing corpse.

I’d always thought of Doris as a sort of female version of my dad; an efficient, yet friendly RN whose humorous manner and quick wit kept my fear of needles and other medical procedures at bay until the last possible moment. Now, however, I saw a different version, one that was not only sexually attractive, but whose smile and quirky attitude lent a certain element of intrigue to my childhood image of her as an untouchable adult. When she walked out of the cabana in a tight-fitting bathing suit, the dozen or so young interns tracked her with their eyes until she dived in and disappeared under the water. It was my first detailed look at her unadorned by her nurse’s uniform, and it revealed a body unlike those from my era, where six-pack-abs and lean, athletic figures were considered sexy. No, this was a body from the ‘50s, hourglass shaped, with a narrow waist and beautifully proportioned hips and breasts. When she emerged from the water and shook out her short, blond hair, the boys gathered around her in an embarrassing attempt to outdo one another with their antics.

Ellie, whose intelligence and beauty would one day outshine even her mother’s, was referred to by the gang as “Super Baby,” and no one ever complained about the fact that she spent almost all her waking hours—first crawling, then toddling—around the studio. When she wasn’t on the move, she would sit quietly, watching Jimmy and Sam operate the huge mixdown console, or looking out through the glass partition at the musicians as they played.

“You need to keep a closer eye on Ellie,” AurĂ©lie said. “She’s a beautiful girl, Rix, and I don’t think you’ve noticed how fast she’s growing up. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem were it not for the fact that her intelligence makes her curious about everything, and it won’t be long before her curiosity turns to sex. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that an emotionally immature, sexually ripe virgin rubbing elbows with musicians and famous rock stars will be particularly vulnerable.”

She was right, I hadn’t even begun to think about such things, nor had I paid much attention to Ellie’s physical maturation. But now that I thought about it, there was the growth spurt and the recently appearing breasts. I hadn’t worried about her safety or wellbeing because of her intelligence and logical way of thinking. Plus, she had several dedicated protectors in the studio who’d been looking out for her almost since the day she was born. However, if she decided on her own to do something clandestine, she was so clever that no one would even suspect anything was going on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

On Writing - Character Mutiny

Readers have a hard time believing it when a novelist claims her/his characters have hijacked the story and are taking it in a direction they didn’t initially intend. “How,” they say, “can a character you invented do something to your story that you didn’t plan?” The answer is simple: if you create a character, invent a back story, shape their personality, and make her/him believable, it’s only natural for that character to come to life on the page. In which case, you have a person to deal with, not a slave.

When planning a novel, I create detailed profiles for each of the main characters before I begin the writing process. Though most of the details never see print, these profiles allow me to get to know my characters on a ‘personal’ level: how they look, how their background shapes the way they act, what their opinions might be on any given subject, and so on. I even do this in a less- comprehensive way for characters I assume will play minor roles in the story (doormen, cab drivers, distant relatives, etc.). But occasionally one of these peripheral characters will jump up and say, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t relegate me to a minor role, I’m more important than that!’ I may disagree and try to push ahead with the story as I first envisioned it, but sometimes that character quickly becomes so intriguing, I have no choice but to write him/her into the deeper narrative.

A good example of this occurred in the first chapter of the novel I am currently writing, when a character named Kate, who was supposed to be a relatively unimportant assistant to the protagonist, suddenly asserted herself without my permission. I almost always base my characters on people I’ve seen or known, and I had based Kate’s profile on a young lady I’d met during my morning walks who had some interesting physical attributes. But rather than explain further, I will quote below some excerpts from that chapter that might help you better understand how her character evolved.

I was scheduled to meet the notorious expatriate’s assistant at the Key West Visitors Center on Big Pine Key, about 35 miles shy of the famous ‘Conch Republic’ itself. During our last phone conversation, Kate Wallinski had assured me that I would have no trouble recognizing her. “Just look for someone who resembles one of those stick figures we used to draw in kindergarten,” she said. And as I pulled into the parking lot, there she was, dressed in loose-fitting, canary yellow shorts and a colorful Jimmy Buffet-style shirt that hung on her toothpick frame like a wilted bandanna on a wire hanger. Anorexic would be a less than adequate way to describe her appearance, which, given my penchant for pithy journalistic commentary, I might have compared to a skeleton dipped in flesh-colored latex.

I parked next to the Mercedes G550 she was leaning on and took a moment to gather my thoughts before stepping out into the sweltering, late-summer heat. Silently admonishing myself not to look shocked, I nonetheless felt my eyes widen and my jaw drop as I approached her and accepted the bony hand she held out to me. A broad smile spread across her face—a quite pretty face, actually—indicating that she was used to such reactions.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” she said with a chuckle that betrayed not a hint of embarrassment or rebuke. “Happens all the time. I’m Kate. And you must be Mike, the famous journalist.”

“I … uh, don’t know about the famous part,” I stammered. “But yes … yes. Mike Early. Pleased to meet you.”

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