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PK in the Terrarium

A few years ago one of my close colleagues and friend, Paul Kozlowski, created a blog called PK in the Terrarium. He was quite a writer and wove some masterful pondering on the publishing industry and life in general.

Paul passed away at 60. I was and remain sad about losing him. His last post was titled YOU DON’T HAVE TO MOVE THAT MOUNTAIN and it is as if he knew he was going to die. It is eerie.

I was lucky enough to be included in eight of his posts — he used aliases for us all to “protect the innocent.” I was renamed “Giacomo” or simply “Big Gee.” I never knew why. I never asked him. It didn’t matter. Paul had his reasons.  I include a link here because it does give a small insight info what we both were thinking as the publishing world was evolving back in 2009-2010.

After his death, some of his thoughts were collected in this book.

PK IN THE TERRARIUM excerpts regarding some of our conversations…

Thursday, January 21, 2010


My friend Giacomo stands outside the W Hotel on Lex, thumbing the virtual keys on his iPhone. His dark gray overcoat is unbuttoned — it’s unseasonably warm for January — and his scarf hangs loose. He looks up and grins when he spies me approach. “It’s closed,” he nods his head toward Blue Whiskey. “They don’t open till five.” He and I have taken to meeting mid-afternoon, before the offices empty and the midtown bars fill with workers trying to drown their daily sorrows. So we head up to the Benjamin one block north. The bar there is warm and woodsy in a faux clubby way, its denizens a motley assortment of dejected out-of-town salesmen, weary tourists, and a couple of spectral regulars. We find two stools next to an Asian chap who nods politely then goes back to looking anxiously toward the door. Jittery. Killing time.

The bartender has big hands and a broad face and knows the difference between Islay and Island scotch. Giacomo and I settle in. We’ve known each other for fourteen years, high and low, working with some of publishing’s best and brightest, and have seen the industry we love fall ill. It’s easy to talk about structural problems — overspending on advances, returns policies, investment in technology at the expense of sales and marketing, bad debt, teetering retailers — when you’re sitting in a bar, but these are not the problems that drive us to distraction today. After all, though they are big and serious, they’re not insoluble. It’s the human problem that gets our goat — the number of incompetent and unrealistic senior executives in the industry whose overweening desire is to preserve the status quo until they can cash out and find a cushy teaching position somewhere. Every big advance that fails to earn out is somebody’s bad decision.

Giacomo looks at me with those eyes of his. He’s just been listening to me extol the virtues of my new employer and praise its smallness. “Full circle, baby. That’s what’s happening in publishing. All these conglomerates can bid for the next celebrity bio or million dollar first novel — who gives a shite? You know what they say about ‘a fool and his money.’ I think you’re right on with Other Press. Publishing books, not just printing them. It’s the small houses that are bringing back the honor to book publishing.” He raises a glass and toasts the new gig. I think to myself, there are a dozen publishers in New York right now who would benefit no end by having this guy on their payroll, but they’re too scared to hire a truth-teller. We clink tumblers, he sips his Maker’s Mark, me my Laphroaig.

I think of the snake swallowing its tail, the imperfect painted circle, the essence of enlightenment. Giacomo knows what it means. Enso. No matter where you start or where you go, you will end up where you begin. He smiles and looks out over the room. A certain uncanny gaze that sees outward and looks inward at the same time. “Listen, poot, this is no business school bullshite, this is the circle of life. Things will find a way to return, in a different but better way, to the essence of publishing. When publishers take responsibility again for what they publish.” He’s talking to me, to himself, to the whole effin city. The circle is open, uneven, infinite. One imagines that the whole city is listening. I feel joyful and it has nothing to do with the drink. Giacomo must feel the same — he starts laughing. What is this?


Mugs Like Us

Had drinks yesterday with Giacomo over at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central. The Blue Points were fresh, the waiters were surly, and the place was crawlin with tourists. It’s nice to experience a still point in the turning world. I had a lovely Pinot Blanc from the North Fork, Giacomo had the Brooklyn Lager. Made for a comfortable three-thirty in the afternoon kind of chat. The kind in which two people can solve all the world’s problems.

Big Gee‘d snagged a coupla hot leads and a nice consulting gig. “It’s ninety-nine percent politics, poot. You know the personalities in this business. You gotta deal with ’em. You and I have been around long enough, we know what they want.”

We talked about e-books and agreed that nobody’s got a handle on it. Sales are soaring but that’s because e-books cost less than half of physical books. “What happens when publishers get goosed by Amazon and have to start pricing them fairly for market? That revenue stream ain’t gonna support the current infrastructure.”

“Then there’s the device issue — how many people want another electronic gizmo in their bag? I’m stickin with my iPhone if I wanna scan a text. If it’s a whole book I’m gonna read and the book is important, I’ll buy it or borrow it from the library. The good thing about e-books, it’s separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s a perfect format for pop genres, professional reading, journalism, instant books, anything that’s easily digestible and perishable. They should try out a new slogan — ‘if you want to forget what you’ve read, read the e-book.'”

Giacomo looked at his beer and smiled. “It’s actually a great time to be in the business — everything’s in flux. In chaos. And chaos means there’s opportunity for mugs like us.”

We went up to Posman’s, near the 42nd Street and Vanderbilt entrance. By any measure, it’s a very good bookstore — from the window displays to the featured tables to the mystery section. It knows its clientele and caters to them beautifully, commuters, business people, tourists, the lunch crowd. It’s not a big store, but it doesn’t have to be: the books are hand selected and the turnover is rapid, so you’re always seein something fresh. What a wonderful place to browse.

An older well-dressed couple was pesterin the guy at the register. “When is the new Steig Larsson coming out? Doesn’t he have a new one soon? Can you look it up for us?”

Big Gee and me. We were in our element and it felt great.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Afternoon delight.


Giacomo was sittin in the dark of the bar. Three o’clock. The tired middle of a tired afternoon in a week already too long by Wednesday. The bartender — an Asian chap with a droopy left eye and putty cheeks — was workin a parin knife through a bucket of limes while the Spanish busboys kept runnin up and down the stairs to the toilets. Some kind of commotion goin on in the kitchen.

A guy whose head was shaped like a football stared at the TV with his mouth open. The Dow was stagin a big rally. Madoff was gonna plead guilty to all charges. Aretha Franklin wore a special hat when she sang at the inauguration. And now apparently a lot of women wanted one.

I ordered a gin and tonic for Giacomo and a Johnny Walker Black for me. The bartender’s hands moved fast. “I bring it to you,” he said. In the old days, Big Gee would’ve lit a cigar and waxed philosophical. Not these days. He’s thinkin about gettin into the consulting racket.

“These smaller firms need help, they need someone who’s got experience. Someone who knows who to contact and can get results. I just don’t want to screw up my unemployment. I gotta figger out a way to defer payment, or go off the books. Believe me, there’s work out there. You just have to stir the pot a little.”

Big Gee was a professional pot-stirrer and a lot more to boot. He knew how to make things happen. He was honest, smart and sane. How many people like that you meet in Manhattan? I thought to myself, if he’s on the street, then this industry is seriously broken.

Quist used to tell me, “When companies merge, people become redundant. When sales head south, people become redundant. When expenses go up, people become redundant. If you don’t want this to happen to you, you need to make yourself indispensable.” Sounded like good advice at the time. But that’s before I realized that no one was indispensable, and the further up the ladder you went, the more dispensable you got to be. Companies always need somebody to unclog the sinks, tape the carpet, and move the furniture from one cubicle to another. They don’t always need college grads to shuffle reports and tinker with the margins on spreadsheets.

I hadn’t had a scotch in a while and it tasted good. Giacomo leaned back and started reminiscin about Alfred Knopf Jr. and World War Two and the way sons have to get out from under their fathers’ shadows. Even if Atheneum didn’t last long as an independent house, Alfred and his partners had worked out a nice run for themselves. In the Times obit, he was quoted as saying, “We had good lawyers.”

Nowadays, the Young Turks are bustin out with these unreal expectations. Like fat red boils. Big Gee took a sip of his drink, “They think it’s Hollywood. It’s all speculation. Who in their right mind is gonna see double digit profits year after year. It’s the effin book business.”

Mr. Kim brought over two more drinks. “You like?” Yes indeed, it was a fine thing to be sittin there in the half-light of a dreary afternoon, savorin the booze, makin conversation, while the rest of the world was sittin at their desks workin and worryin if they were gonna be next in line when the guillotine fell again. We figgered we were okay where we were, for now.



Monday, May 11, 2009

It can’t be business as usual


Hey Giacomo, I hear some Big Thinkers recently convened a seminar in New York. Their topic was, “Making Information Pay.” These guys had tackled Big Topics before, but this was huge, even for them. We’re talking monumental. Imagine if a publisher could make information pay? Hell, it’d be like effing El Dorado. You’d see people dancing all over the island of Manhattan. Cha-cha-cha.

The Big Thinkers started with data — lots and lots of data. As Professor Strohfresser would later say, “We knew we needed oodles of data, otherwise no one would take us seriously. Shoot, everyone knows you can’t make information pay without data. Data is gold, you just gotta mine it.”

So they collected as much data as they could find. Definitions. Statistics. Demographics. Assumptions. Predictions. Government data. Industry data. Historical data. Paid-for data. Free data. Real data. Made-up data. They cast a wide net. They did a deep dive. They found data wherever they could find it. Then they took each datum, cleaned it, scrubbed it and polished it till it shone. Gold.

That was the easy part — collecting the data. “We knew the data existed and we were confident we could find it. But we never expected to collect so much so quickly. Before we knew it, we had more data than we could organize.”

They were in a pickle. They had run into a major problem. Some data pointed up and some data pointed down. This data contradicted that data. Some data was mute and told them nothing, other data couldn’t keep its mouth shut. It was impossible to organize. You had data running away, data forming cliques, data attacking other data, data trying to hide, it was a mess. So the Big Thinkers made a decision — they were only going to use data that agreed with other data. They knew they were taking a risk. Clem Hoops was the one who made the decision. “We were waiting for the publishing people to jump all over us because of our selective use of data, but they didn’t. And we don’t know why. Could it be that they weren’t able to understand the data?”

Once they’d chosen the data that agreed with other data, then they had to get it ready for presentation. Dickie Dicer put it this way, “You can’t just throw data at people. You’ve got to arrange it so a pattern emerges. Then you’ve got to format it so the pattern is obvious. It’s just like a novel — it’s the story that matters. With this audience, we knew we had to paint them a picture. Or a novel.”

They put the data in rows and columns. Then they pivoted the table to see how it looked. Too hard to read. So they sliced it. Then julienned it. Then minced it. Finally, they couldn’t control themselves and they went ahead and grated it. They had workbooks with multiple spreadsheets. Bar graphs and pie charts. X’s and Y’s all over the place. Colors and 3-D effects. It began to look like something. Something that could be put into a series of slides. Slides that would tell a story.

Tara Taradiddle put it best, “We pulled a rabbit out of thin air. And boy, did that rabbit jump!”

I’m telling you, Giacomo, the audience was serious, the Big Thinkers were serious, the slides were serious, even the lighting was serious. Makes sense. This was serious stuff, this making information pay. Peoples’ ears were glued. Their notebooks were open, their pencils sharpened. I understand it went off without a hitch. The slides were in order and they painted a picture. The Big Thinkers told a story and it was filled with data. Notes were scribbled, expectations were met. The only negative moment came near the end of the presentation when a scruffy-looking kid got up and walked out. “Thought they were gonna talk about widgets,” he muttered sullenly as the door closed behind him.

Afterwards they held a meet-and-greet. Fudge bars and teeny bags of corn chips. Sodas. The Big Thinkers stood in line and greeted the audience. Everyone understood that something had happened. The old paradigms were out. New paradigms were in. Now they would make information pay. All this took place right here in New York not too long ago. Hey Giacomo, whaddya think, should we try and make information pay? Or just watch others do it?


Friday, May 7, 2010

Beatrice & Virgil stole the loot


So my buddy Giacomo sends me an email. Hey, poot, these wankers over at Random House paid more than three million smackeroos for the Yann Martel and Bookscan is showing less than 20,000 sold. Disaster. You think they’re gonna lay off the right people — the dopes who bought the blasted thing — or are they gonna go after the little guys again, those who simply love books, want to do a honest day’s work and make enough dough to survive? I think to myself, who knows? They’ve got that German printer in charge over there — can he even tell the difference between a novel and a novelty? — marking time until his tour of duty is over.

But it’s not just the big house gasping for breath, it’s the whole tired lot of them, still bidding on books that will never earn out, getting caught up in the emotions of an auction for a property that’ll wind up worth less than half of what it went for. No one knows what value to put on these things, these ‘books-to-be.’ You read a piece, or a proposal, you take it on faith that the writer has the skill and courage to work it through, then you’ve got to turn a Word doc into a book. And listen, poot, it don’t make a diff if it’s an e-book or a p-book: it still takes an enormous amount of effort to effect the transformation. Anyone who sez otherwise is smokin bad weed. Of course the system of acquiring books is crazy, that’s why only madwomen and madmen belong in this biz. Not real business people with their legal-size spreadsheets, overseas budgets, and fancy degrees in some fictive discipline called ‘management.’

Yann Martel, Audrey Niffenegger, Charles Frazier, the list goes on and on. The writer’s sophomore jinx, the publisher’s sophomoric approach to bidding on a second novel after some cat’s first big success. Happens all the time. Who cares whether the property is any good — when you spend millions on an acquisition, you’ve got to turn a bunch of words on a page into An Event. Even though everybody knows that most books are anything but. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s human nature to get excited at an auction. You ever see those Japanese guys in suits at the dock when the tuna boat comes in? Same crazed look in their eyes. No wonder good sushi is so expensive.

Okay, we’re living in 2010 and sales are in the shitter, revenue is dropping like a lead sinker in mudpond, so maybe the punch-drunk MBAs in their aeries are getting the message — publishing isn’t a business, it’s a crap-shoot, a stab in the dark, a quest, a chase, an attempt to make something beautiful and meaningful out of fragile human language and wit, with an inherent worth that cannot be measured in dollars. Within the context of a culture that has no other way of measuring value. An effin Picasso goes for $106 million at auction and the media seals clap their flippers and bark, “The economy is looking up! The idiots with money are spending it again. Yea!” Tell me, poot, what is a Picasso worth? His energy, his fury, his restlessness, his vision? A canvas, some blue paint, wood?

Giacomo says things are gonna have to change, but I don’t know how you do that unless you tear the human being apart and take out the nervous system. You try to sit still during an auction, you try to keep your hands to yourself when the other guy is reaching for the last crumb. Go ahead, don’t bid on the next book by a hugely successful author. Stay on the sidelines. Publish your midlist that sells a couple of thousand copies if you’re lucky. Keep reducing staff and cutting costs. Count the number of paperclips you use and put a lock on the postage machine. If the car companies and airlines can do it, you can do it too. Remember: you don’t need staff — you’ve got software. Yes! – you can deliver a profit on declining sales. Hell, even Simon and Schuster can do that.

Or you can acknowledge that this is publishing, poot. If you’re looking to make money, get out of the biz and go play somewhere else. I hear they need clean-up crews on the Gulf coast.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sirens in the night


Sirens in the night, somebody running away from the scene of the crime — ambulance? police car? fire truck? What happened to bring on the screaming? No smell of smoke, no sound of a crash. Something else though, perhaps a person moaning or an animal whimpering. Dulled senses, reaching for the bedside lamp, knocking a box of tissues to the floor. Shite. The sound of somebody running through the underbrush or is it just the wind? The light carries its own weird shadows with it, not quite filling the far corner of the bedroom. My mouth is too dry to moisten my chapped lips. The closet door is ajar and something inside glints — a blade, a belt buckle, or an eye? I had an espresso after dinner. Now I’ll never be able to go back to sleep. It’s tricky keeping everything straight when you’re only half awake.

Some people keep a dream journal. I can’t. I have too hard a time trying to distinguish between the incidents I’ve actually experienced and those I’ve merely dreamt. Often I remember the dreamt reality more vividly than the mundane. A ship going down while the party on the bridge is in full swing. An orchestra playing, just like in the movies. Or the time I was in the West Country, hiking the humped and soggy heaths of Exmoor when I came upon a group of faceless workers hacking away at the vegetation with sickles. Flushed game birds rose from their hiding places with a great clatter of wings. The sun above the field was old and dreary. A girl with lemon breath whispered in my ear, “You can do it. You can do it.” When I turned to ask her what she meant, I saw a figure walking away from me, swinging a lamp giving off thick black smoke. It was a woman I used to know, I’m sure. I recognized that hair, those shoulders, that skirt. By then, the mowers too were gone and a chill wind had come up. She had tried to comfort me, but it didn’t work. I was still scared.

I’m scared of poverty, even though my happiest days were when I was young and foolish and had nothing. Cooking meals on a hot plate, sleeping on the floor, keeping milk and butter in a plastic bag hung out the window so they’d stay cool. Wearing shirts from the Army Navy store that lasted for years with a little help from the sewing kit. The bunch of us, we’d mooch off each other, grab what we could when no one was looking, and go hungry every so often. Quist used to tell me it was good for the character. “Hunger’ll build you up, poot. Early success’ll kill you.” What did he know? His economic life was a long string of failures, one after the other. But in the end he was happy, sitting on his porch, letting wind whenever he felt like it, sucking on his pipe, drinking his whiskey and milk. He had a roof over his head and a front row seat for viewing the human parade passing by.

It’s one thing to be hungry at the end of the week, it’s another thing to be homeless. Thank god the years when I couldn’t afford a car I didn’t need one to sleep in. It’s different now. I’ve got a house and a car, but life seems more precarious, as though I could lose everything in the blink of an eye. I know I can’t afford to waste a day worrying about the economics of the present, the tax collector or the loan officer at the bank, the size of my 401K or the overseas exchange rate. What am I gonna do, bury that effin gelt in a hole? There’s too much to do to worry. Find good books, publish them well, develop talent, take care of relatives, bolster friends, fight the daily physical battle against inertia, gravity, decay, loss. Read and write, walk in the woods and pay attention to the natural world of which I’m part. Fight stupidity and greed and violence with knowledge, humility, and serenity. How’s that for an agenda, poot? You really think you’ll have time to worry about losing your shirt and getting burnt if you tackle the big stuff? No. And yet I lie awake at night marveling at how little I’ve accomplished, how small this life has been that I’ve lived thus far, constrained as I am by fear and anger and confusion.

I don’t like people telling me what to do, least of all myself. You tell me what to do and I’ll gum up the works. You try to sell me progress and I’ll piss on your pant leg. And every time I think I’ve got myself quieted down enough to try the contemplative life, something intrudes — desire, anxiety, music. I’d be a rum monk, bouncing off the monastery walls, if they ever let me in. I know myself, I could only rake stones for so long. Still, there are moments when it seems that hunting the divine fox is the noblest pursuit. Funny — there are some illusions that I will carry with me into the grave.

My buddy Giacomo says this is a journal, these words, these sentences that come to me uncrafted. These paragraphs and blog entries out of which I wind narrative threads around my waking life. Like my heroes Emerson and Thoreau, Montaigne in his tower, Merton, others too numerous to mention. The damn espresso. It keeps me awake, but it dulls the senses. I reach for a word and it isn’t there. No, I can’t keep a dream journal — I wouldn’t know what to put in it. Let me shut the light and try to go back to sleep. There’s only an hour and a half till daylight and the mockingbird has already begun his routine. That woman in my dream, the one walking away from me. I thought I recognized her. I believe I’ve seen her before. Isn’t she the homeless ghost who keeps turning away from me whenever I come near?


Friday, May 22, 2009



A perfect dawn, the eastern sky aglow over the dark wood. Mr. Mockingbird runs through his entire repertoire, morning’s stout-breasted chanticleer. I stagger about the house like a blind man looking for a lost key. Too much vino last night. Feels like some goon came by and beat me with a stick. My effin kidneys are throbbin. A coupla days ago I had a tipple with Giacomo — you know, solvin the world’s problems over vodka-and-tonics. He looked at me and winked, “Listen, if everybody drank this stuff every day, there wouldn’t be any problems to solve.”

Inexplicably, my tongue seems to have cemented itself to the roof of my mouth. Forget the Scope, I need Liquid Wrench. Lemme see if I can work that thing loose. I’m irrigatin my mouth like crazy, but I don’t have enough courage to use the toothbrush yet. So I make a pot of coffee, spillin grounds all over the counter. Boy, it’s hard to handle a measurin spoon when your hands shake.

After gettin properly be-suzzled with Big Gee, I wandered across midtown to see my buddy Rae. We sat outside and watched pretty boys and girls in shiny red shoes and black cargo jeans empty out of the hotels on Seventh Avenue, tryin so hard not to look lost and lonely. Rae ordered a wine and ast me, “You comin to BEA next week?” She’s the best party planner in North America. She’s also the best party-goer — if she can’t find the heart of Saturday night, it don’t exist.

I said, “You know, kiddo, I wish you were runnin the show. This year everybody’s gonna need a little lift-me-up, dontcha think? We need the Reverend Al Green to show us the way.”

Rae smiled. She’d recently emigrated from Manhattan to Brooklyn and it’s done wonders for her psychic energy. “I can practically see into the future now,” she said as her smile broadened. “I think you’re gonna go places.” A cheese plate appeared with a basket of bread. The wine wasn’t that great, but I was past tastin. I was guzzlin. Rae and I split up before the sun did its deep dive into Jersey. Like an angel in a fiery lake.

The coffee and Advils are slowly workin. I also discover that I left the bathroom window open last night. Now I got thousands of gnats and moths roamin around the house. Maybe they’ll all just go home. I turn on the radio — don’t know why, it’s the same show every day — and some lady with a honey voice starts softly croonin:

I love to be lazy in the mornin’
I love to be lazy at noon,
I love to be lazy in the ev’nin’,
And watch the cow jump over the moon.

I love to be lazy at the office,
I love to be lazy at home,
I love to be lazy when I travel,
To see the last few buffalo roam.

I love to be lazy in the water,
I love to be lazy on land,
I love to be lazy when I’m flyin’
through the sky with a drink in my hand.

I love to be lazy in the winter,
I love to be lazy in spring,
I love to be lazy in the summer,
And in the autumn I don’t do anything.

I love to be lazy in my body,
I love to be lazy in mind,
I love to be lazy in my spirit,
And leave all my troubles behind.

Somehow I took comfort in her singing, poot. I figgered, maybe it’s true that I’ve been pushin too hard, thinkin about books and the future of publishin and all. Maybe I just need to relax. You know what Quist always said — “Things’ll work themselves out in the end just fine, if you let ’em.”


Thursday, April 2, 2009

A New Age


I was walkin up the hill on Alturas Road. The lake was as blue as a Giants jersey and the smell of spring in the air made me want to eat a clump of dirt. Yesterday I saw a transient loon bobbin in the drink near the clubhouse and today a kestrel did her tail-dippin routine on a telephone wire. Leonard Cohen is tourin at seventy-four and Obama’s in London tryin to salvage the international banking system. The Free Market Boys are stagin a rally and Giacomo has put on a tie and started to consult. Everybody’s got their assignment and their playbook. You breathe in, you breathe out, you reckon you’re alive, and then you slip into that old belief in a benevolent god like a muskrat slippin into muddy water. Nothin gonna stop you from singin hallelujah now, poot.

I watched a red Sebring crawl up the other side of the hill. I thought to myself, whoever’s drivin that bomb is takin special care to avoid the potholes. Impossible, there’s too many of ’em. The car stopped about ten feet from where I stood and the passenger window opened.

I walked over, bent down, and looked across front seat. It was Cholly’s wife Rosemary. She leaned toward me, “Hi. How you doin? Everything okay? We haven’t seen you in a while.”

I told her I was fine and said, “I dint recognize the car — what happened?”

“Yeah, I just got it. Pretty neat, huh? You can’t believe the deal they gave me — the Chevy I traded in, they gave me more than book. No interest. It was too good to pass up. Like the color?”

I did like the color, but kept my yapper shut. I was afraid I’d say something nasty about Chrysler and the junk they kept puttin on the road. When I was a kid I drove a Plymouth Belvedere for a coupla months. That slant six, you couldn’t kill it with a shotgun. But the rest of the car? Crap. And then there was my buddy up in Croton — bought a Sebring ragtop a few years ago. White. Everything inside was plastic. He took it down to Florida to visit his parents. Three breakdowns — he couldn’t get the roof up in a pourin rain outside Baltimore, the steering linkage fell out at a rest stop in Columbia, and the front right seat-belt jammed, trapping his girlfriend for forty-five minutes, until Triple A showed up and cut the damn thing open. “Thank god the linkage didn’t go while we were drivin. We woulda been dead. And thank god for the warranty. I dumped it as soon as I could. Got an Accord.”

But Rose was smilin and inside it smelled new. You never know — this one might be a good one. Everyone deserves benefit of the doubt. She drives to Dover every day, so she needs something comfortable and reliable. She turned on the stereo. “Listen to that. Something, isn’t it?”

We finished talkin about the state of the roads and how long it was takin to clean up the winter damage. Then she waved goodbye and started down the other side of the hill, real slow. I waved back, turned, and looked out at the lake. A breeze riffled the surface and a cloud dragged a shadow across the far shore.

I ast myself, you know what’s wrong with this country? You go down to your local Barnes & Noble, they got two bookcases of “Science and Math” books. But then they got seven bookcases for “Religion” and two more for something called “New Age.” Whaddaya think, poot, we gonna survive past 2012?


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