Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Ideas

I have a book idea that I want to write at a rate of about one a week. Some of these come and go and some have some staying power. I want to keep a list of the these book ideas. I will post them on Facebook from time to time and take votes on what ones I should pursue. If you have a favorite, one you would like to see me write, one you want to start writing, or most importantly one you would be willing to actually purchase if I wrote it, let me know in the comment section. Also if you think I am an idiot on one of these ideas I would be happy to hear it. My thoughts are not conventional but it is how I feel and I am as passionate about hearing why I am wrong as I am about feeling I am right.

First Books I have actually written or have started on

Of Pigs and Priests- The story of a Priest in the 1500's who finds himself in love with the local pig farmers daughter. Being very committed to the priesthood he doesn't do anything about it, that is until Queen Elizabeth comes to the thrown, they all become part of the Church of England and by introducing the Common Book of Prayer, suddenly Priest's can marry. The problem becomes that given the position of clergy in the 1500 he went from off limits to the most eligible bachelor in town. Everyone and their mother wants to either marry him or have him join the family. Follow him as he tries to win his love, raise some pigs, fix the whole in his church and keep the local Duke from setting him up.

Marriage Counselor's Bride for Hire (Need a better name, so if you have any suggestions let me know) - I have been releasing this book a chapter at a time on my blog (For Chapter 1 Click Here). It follows, Dr. Byron Lewis, a marriage councilor devoted to his profession, so much so that between reading about, writing about and saving other peoples marriage he has never found time to get one himself. This begins to have negative impacts on his work and that is when he decides he needs a marriage, even if it's only on paper. Taking in ad out in the local paper he begins his very unusual journey into married life. And despite all he knows about marriage it's only a matter of time when he has to take some time to save his own.

Teton Dam, 50 Years Later (I hate this title, so please let me know if you have any ideas for this one also)- I have begun work on this book and plan to have it completed for the 50th anniversary of Teton Dam failure in 2026. I don't need to go into alot of detail but this goes over the history of the dam, some related dams and how they impacted Teton such as Ririe, and Fontenelle. Goes over many of the compelling story lines before the dam itself was completed and what happened after failure, both the deaths and how the community came together. I am very excited about this book and may tell some of the things I have learned in tidbits on the blog.

The stories never told- This would be a book of biographical sketches of homeless and what we can learn from them. I have done many short stories on the homeless (Here is a link to my Homeless page). It would go over these or others stories and also go over national statics and solutions on homeless. What different communities are trying, what is being successful and what is not.

So those are the ones I have written or started to write. Here is the very long list of the ones I have not started but would like to write at some point.

Rather than Rob a Bank- I came up with this book a long time ago and I would be lying if my desire to write this has not diminished. What inspired this was I heard several stories back to back about students at university's who robbed banks to pay for the high tuition costs (Here is an article of one of them).  I wanted to write a book that compared ways of making money and compare the likelihood of them actually working, for example, the lottery, other gambling opportunities, robbing a bank, robbing other stores, panhandling, stock market, writing and singing a smash hit, and the last one would be writing a book. I planned to donate a portion of the proceeds for the tuition of the guys who robbed the bank if they choose to finish college when they got out of jail, but they will probably be out long before I get to this one.

The Blessings of Poverty and How to Acquire them even when Cursed with Riches- I grew up in a home that was technically below the poverty line. I say technically because my Mother and Father were so good with money and surrounded by such wonderful family and friends that I have to admit we never felt poor or went without, as long as you don't count those cracked wheat tacos, that was a sacrifice.  But I am very convinced that many of the blessing my parents passed on to me were not in spite of being poor but rather because of it.

  • For example, the lesson that happiness and money are not dependent variables. 
  • Hard work, we were delivering papers at a very young age in order to help the family pay the bills (Some will argue that the pace at which I delivered papers doesn't qualify as hard work, but we can leave that part out.)
  • Learning that if you want something you can earn it or go without, when my friends got Nintendo's for Christmas I was getting clothes, (Don't get me wrong we had wonderful Christmas's but the big, cool ticket items were never a part of it for us) if I wanted a CD, movie or pack of baseball cards, I had to find a way to earn the money and buy it, there was no point in asking Dad or Mom to buy it. 
  • Education was valuable, but it was my responsibility to pay for it. Both my parents had Masters Degrees but when my Dad dropped me off at college he gave me a bag or oranges and essentially said, "If you are every hungry come by but that is all I can help you with." He said this with a bit of sorrow, you could tell he wanted to help me with tuition and books, he just couldn't. I count this as one of the greatest blessings in my life. I took college far more seriously than my friends who had parents footing the bill, I graduated in three years with an engineering degree. I went on to graduate with honors with a masters degree, all with no debt and all without asking my parents for funds. Something all my siblings did as well (My cousin wrote an article about it in the Desert News and you can read it here).
  • The Lord has more control on life than does your bank account. No lesson is more important to me than seeing over and over again in my parents and in my own life as I tried to find ways to pay tuition than having no idea how I was going to make it and the Lord opening up the windows of heaven as he promised (Malachi 3:8-11). 

I could go on but the point is that these are things my parents taught me in large part because they didn't have any other choice, necessity drove them to act the way they did. I believe the same lessons can be taught to those who have money, and lots of it, but it's not easy. It is easier to say no to your children when you don't have a choice, no matter how painful it may feel you can't say yes. The challenge is being able to say no when you have the ability to say yes.

Get Out- This is a book on the history of large evacuations and how they are run. I have to admit my interest in this has mostly been focused on dams but over time evacuations as a whole have had great interest to me. Why do some people evacuate and others not? What makes an evacuation notice effective or not? Does society hold leaders responsible for the lives of those who choose not to evacuate or fail to evacuate?

Killing Leo Ryan- This is essentially a biography on Leo Ryan. Who is Leo Ryan? You know, you just don't know you know. Leo Ryan was the congressman who was killed in Guyana by Jim Jones just before they all drank the cool aid. I first learned about Leo Ryan because he was an advocate for Dam Safety and chaired several of the hearings after Teton Dam failed. The more I learned the more I was impressed. He wanted to improve education so became a substitute teacher in the classroom to better understand the issue, he wanted to reform prisons so got himself in undercover as an inmate to see what prison life was like. When he saw in issue he jumped into it and tried to get first hand account and solve the problem. Ultimately it cost him his life trying to understand and free people from The People's Temple. He has become one of my hero's and there is no biography on his life and that is a crime that needs to be corrected.

Selfish Sex or Sex as Service- God's way of improving your love life. The target audience would be LDS couples and LDS young adults. I think there is no topic more poorly understood both in and out of the church than sexuality, and while there are several good and not so good books on the topic. I want to add my zero authority voice to the topic. Things I think need to cover:

  • Selfish sex versus service sex. Satan works so hard to convince everyone that sex is about self. The whole reason sex exists is to make you happy. God's path is the opposite, sex is all about service. It is all about making your spouse happy. You want to have a wonderful sex life then forget about your sex life. While it applies to many aspects in our life I think we would do well to apply Matt 16:25- For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever swill lose his life...shall find it. If you  are obsessed and work to save YOUR sex life, you will lose it. If you lose it, meaning sacrifice what you want for your spouse you will find it.
  • Sex is not easy for anyone. There is a fallacy that Satan continues to perpetrate that because sex is and is meant to be enjoyable that it should be easy. Sex isn't easy for anyone, sex isn't something that you avoid until married and then is all the sudden a magical part of life. It doesn't matter if you are not married and trying to live the law of chastity, struggle with same sex attraction and are trying to live the law of chastity, if you are married to someone who for physical or emotional reasons does not want to or cannot participate in intimacy the way you would like, or if you are happily married and trying to live the law of chastity. The natural man is an enemy to God  and will be forever and ever unless he yields to the enticing of the holy spirit...(Mosiah 3:19). What a perfect scripture this is for this principal. Satan wants us to assume everyone else has amazing sex lives, because than he can convince us of lies like: If only you had a spouse who shared your same preferences, your sex life would be good. If only the church would change its standards on who you can marry, your sex life would be good. If you can just make it to the alter of marriage then your sex life will be good.
  • The fallacy that Satan likes Sex and God does not. Satan has worked very hard to convince people that his political position is pro sex and that God's party is anti-sex. "Yeah, my opponent allows it in marriage with one person, but I will let you have unlimited sex, with whomever you want, whenever you want. I'm Satan and I approve of this message."  This is a lie. If the truth was to be out there, I am convinced that Satan is very anti-sex. He has no body, he does not want you or anyone else to enjoy anything let alone the type of joy true intimacy can bring. But if he is opposed to it, why does he promote it so much? Because he will promote it with the idea that if he can get you to abuse and mis-use sex then you  will lose it forever. Not just in the next life but this one as well. Extremes of this are obvious. If he can twist your mind so that the only joy in sex is with little children, you are not likely to have access and if you do gain access will likely go to jail. But this is true for what many would call mainstream relationships. Cohabitation leads to divorce at much higher rates, and single folks who are sexually active have far less sex than those who are married. And as they age the disparity increases. (While I will need to compile the data, here is just one such article showing this.) So, if your one goal in life was to maximize the amount of sex you  have, the best way to do this would be to have a healthy and happy marriage, which side promotes that?
  • Not sure if there is room for it and how I would do it but I would also want to do research related to sex workers. I live in Las Vegas area and as such see the many ill effects of sex work.It is sold as very glamorous. I would love to do, or find research that shows what it truly is? Where do most dancers, prostitutes, and other similar professions end up when age makes it difficult to earn money in their chosen profession. I honestly don't know, but would guess the statistics are not good, but need to find it out before I speak. At one time I thought I would make it, its own book but maybe just include it in this one.
Ghost Detective- This is a fiction book about a man that works as a detective on the other side. Basically he is dead and his job is to interview dead people try to solve murders and then influence the living to try to get the right person convicted. 

Unity Politics- This would be a book that focuses on the idea that if the only things politicians did was focus on things that the vast majority, 60-75% of Americans believed in they would still have plenty to do. The idea behind this is that the major political parties and voices that associate themselves with these parties, Shawn Hanity, Rachel Madow etc.. have a vested interest in keeping us divided. They focus on issues that are split 50-50 and really never go anywhere. If you re-frame the conversation I think there is vast agreement on a lot of issues and by focusing on those we could get a lot done.  Let me give a few examples:
  • Abortion- Both sides of the abortion debate are so dug into an all or nothing strategy that we have lost sight of the portions we agree on and could focus on and really get good things done. People who are pro-life would like to end all or most abortions and become blinded by the idea of making them illegal and overturning Roe vs. Wade, people who are pro-choice say they believe in abortions being rare, legal and safe, but have been so sold on making them legal have lost almost all sight of truly trying to make them rare. Why? because they don't trust the other side, they see any move to make abortions rare as one step in trying to take away what they feel is a legal right. So, what does unity politics look like? It means the right saying that until we can persuade 60-75% of the population to believe that abortion should be illegal we will stop trying to make it illegal or take away peoples access to it.  Rather we will work with the other side to truly make it rare. What if we took the baseline of how many abortions were performed in 2018 and reached across the isle and tried to bring that number down. How could this be done? Both Democrats and Republicans believe that adoption is good, and there are literally 1,000's of couples waiting to adopt babies and many more who would join them if we reduced red tape. What about starting a social movement praising mothers who chose to give their child a better chance with adoption to a good family?  How about we help mothers who choose not to abort their children with medical expenses and other things? Whatever they look like we could find common ground and find things that would reduce abortion that 60-75% of people believe in rather then hoping for certain justices to retire or kill over and just the right time so we can win in the courts. 
  • Transgender Bathrooms- Democrats cry that transgender are not equally respected, Republicans cry that it is not safe for their young daughters to have to go to the bathroom with a predator of a man who claims he is female. This debate has sprung over into school locker rooms. One I understand because I have children. The reality is that I see more common ground than not on this one. With the amount of risk today given the fact that we all carry video cameras everyday and can almost instantly stream that video for the world to see we simply need more secure, individually locked restroom and changing areas. Would this provide both sides what they need? I think so, but than why doesn't it move forward? Because if that is done no one side gets to declare victory. No one gets to feel like they won. But that is what Unity politics is all about, its about giving up winning to actually making our policy's better.
  • Last one- Immigration. Both sides love and honor legal immigration, so, why so much focus on what to do about illegal immigration, that is the side no one can agree on. Rather why don't politicians focus on the improving the legal system, something that could get bypartisan support? Democrats didn't do it when they were in the majority and Republicans aren't doing it now, in this particular case I think Democrats were fearful of energizing the fringe Republican vote and Republicans are worried about offending it. This is the part that makes unity politics so hard, both parties have 10-25% that are very active that want to win and be right more than they want to get something done and politicians feel forced to appease these groups to avoid losing their seats (Jeff Flake is a good example). But unity politics is about moving beyond those groups when a significant majority of Americans want to see movement. 
I could go on about almost all politically divisive issues but that is what the book is for.

Killing Professional Sports- This one wins as my most controversial book idea, and really idea in general. The book would focus on why we should stop supporting in every way professional sports. Many would assume that this is simply the rantings of a physically inferior man who simply finds himself unable to perform any physical feat beyond touching his toes. To this I have two comebacks, I was listed as an alternate for an athletic scholarship to Southern Utah University (true it was in cheerleading, but athletic none the less), second I can't touch my toes, so there. The reality is I love sports, I love playing them, I love watching them and I think they bring about many important qualities in our kids, teamwork, hard work ethic, over coming challenges, and always pushing yourself to do better. So, when I am writing promoting the end of professional sports it is not the end of sports but just the professionals. Why? 
  • Professional sports make professions wherein a few get very rich and the vast majority of people who pursue it do so in vain and at great expense. Freakonomics did a story on the upside of quitting where they followed people who try to break into the major leagues through the minors. The problem is most of these men take on very low paying jobs in baseball while they pass up moving along in other careers, what freakonomics showed is the longer they  stayed the less successful they were. I think this would be true in most major professional sports, there further someone gets towards becoming a professional the more likely they are to bank on it, but they are still far from likely to actually "make it". 
  • Even the vast majority of those that "make it" find that fame and money too much too early and it leads to poor life outcomes. Hence you get high bankruptcy and incarceration rates.
  • This is particularly of concerns in sports that have long term negative physical outcomes. These sports use "nobodys" to beat up their bodies in order to weed out the best of the best who they can use to make millions of dollars. I was in a restaurant one day and they had a TV show that was put on by UFC. They put a bunch of guys in a training program who then beat the brains out of each other for the chance to be a UFC fighter. So, what did most of them get? Nothing besides major health issues. While it is less direct in some ways the NFL is no different, they rely on high school kids who have had endless promotion about the sport to get beat up every friday in hopes of getting beat up on Saturdays, so the NFL can makes millions why we watch them get beat up on Sundays. I am not opposed to bruises and scrapes but if further studies find that long term brain damage is found in high school football players it should stop being offered in public schools.
  • Another alarming trend is the amount of tax payer dollars going to fund professional stadiums. Study after study has shown that this is not economically beneficial for the cities that do the heavy lifting. We just got the Raiders to come to Las Vegas and it will cost $550 million dollars in tax funds. It is sold by saying it will be money that is paid by visitors however, no matter how the money came in there are many things that money would be better spent on than promoting a billion dollar business. 
  • College sports are a problem as well, but notice it is only in the sports that have big professional followings. You don't get sports allowing swimmers who can't pass a third grade math test onto their teams. You don't get boosters paying off the players of the volleyball team. Many argue that the college football and basketball programs promote the college. I am not so sure that this promotion is not more of a distraction. The stakes of football have become so great that most colleges spend more on the program than they bring in. (Here is a great article on this). No doubt football and basketball are big business but for most schools it is more a big drain than a big money maker, not only that it is a drain of time a resources not to mention publicity. Pick any school and enter the name into google news. I just did it for BYU of the first 20+ stories that came up 1 was not a sports article. BYU is a major university with research coming out daily in physics, engineering, literature, math, family studies, religious studies, and many more topics. They hold weekly forums or devotionals with major addresses from great minds of the world but most of that goes uncovered, but if the head coach of the football team sneezes in the off season, you will hear about it.
  • The obsession with sports in wasteful and unhealthy. I am the first to admit that I was a victim of this. For years every week during football season I would read every article analyzing weather or not BYU would win or lose that week. Then I would watch the game, listen to the game, or even watch the internet update each play on ESPN if I couldn't get to the radio. If they won I was elated and read every article reliving over and over the glory of the win. If they lost I was devastated and walked around in a gloomy cloud for the next three days or so. In the off season I obsessed to think that this was our year and thought out in my mind the glory of them bringing a championship to Provo. Then one day I realized something. I was handing over my time and emotions to something I had 0, and I mean 0 control over. I was wasting excessive amount of time and energy on something I not only couldn't control but that meant nothing to my future and as such it should have nothing to do with my ability to enjoy life. I stopped watching BYU football that day. I might see a play now and again but I don't think I have watched a hole game since then. I am better off. Has my pride in BYU diminished? No, I love my school more than ever, in fact it's made me take off the blinders and realize the reason I love BYU has nothing to do with Basketball of Football. It's what I learned and what I hope millions of others will learn from that amazing University. The world is chuck full of sports commentators analyzing every breath of the players and even fuller of people wasting time listening to them. Sports obsessions are unhealthy and I only notice this in professional sports and college sports that are heavily tied to professional sports, mostly basketball and football.
  • What about city unity? Right now Las Vegas is enjoying the joy of having the Las Vegas Knights or first true professional team play for the Stanley cup. I'll admit it's fun to see so many people get excited about the team, there is a tremendous amount of shirts, hats, bumper stickers and other support. But what is really behind it? Do any of the players have any unity to this city? No, most aren't from hear and if they get paid more to play elsewhere next year they will be gone. Most owners have very little loyalty to a specific city. 
  • While sports can bring out the best in us it can also bring out the worst. Along with loyalty is often crude, rude and violent behavior done in the name of sports. This is true of all sports, even little league, but I think it most often shows up in the stadiums and bars in relation to professional sports.
So, what should be done. I am not supportive of making policy against professional sports rather people realizing they are consuming too much of our time and money and simply pulling back. I would love to see expansion of local amateur sports. These could be full of people who love the sport for the truly the love of the sport, not the money. We could be proud that they are from our local area and we could enjoy a good sport game that doesn't cost huge sums of money and is kept in proper balance. This is why if I take my sons to see a game it will likely be a high school track meet, or college volleyball game. I will support my kids playing sports, preferably sports that don't have big professional following, but if they want to play golf, or play basketball I will definitely not encourage them to go pro.

Well that is all for now. I will probably have another one next week.

It is now 7/26/2018 and I have three more to add

Southern California's New Homeless- This is and idea based on some of what I have learned from Austen. The book follows people in Southern California who make 100K plus and yet are homeless. The cost of living is so high they decide to live in their cars, on the streets, couch serf with friends etc... This follows interesting stories and asked the question that is a high octane economic machine, such as southern and central California has provided, that provides so much good but leaves housing and basic necessity costs so high that it leaves behind even some of the elite, worth it?

Foreign Brides- This follows the whole story and industry around foreign brides. What is the history that has gone from war bride, to mail order to internet? Why do men/women look for them? What countries are most commonly targeted? Can these marriages be successful and if so, how? What causes these marriages to fail? How many of these things are scams for the men/women who chase them? And how many women get involved from the foreign side and get taken advantage of?

Scam Lunches- I have always been intrigued by scams. I love the series American Greed that follows various scams and how they turn out. One of the ways you can often catch a scam is as we all know is promising something too good to be true. Another good way is free lunch. People have often said there is no free lunch. So, when they want to tell you  about your business by offering a free lunch/seminar, good chance it is a scam. I would love to attend these and write up a chapter on each of them, outlining what the scam is. I would also write about the free lunch scam related to insurance that has made me thousands of dollars.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Chapter 4- The Break Up

If you have not read any of my book yet here is Chapter 1. If you want to start from the beginning, a very good place to start.

Byron headed to the computer. It was two days ago that he had run his ad. Over those two days, he flipped flopped back and forth as to whether it was a bad idea or brilliant. He considered not opening the email account and let the whole thing disappear. The email was set up under a false name, and he figured the FBI could have traced it to him, but no one else could. Ignoring the email would let the entire thing wash over, but he had already taken the next two days off work to filter through emails and interview candidates. And ever more than that, he knew his curiosity was too great not to check the email. He said he wouldn't check the emails for the first day but he would have broken that promise while at work yesterday if he hadn't left the password to this new email at his desk at home.
Now that he was looking up the email, he wondered if anyone wrote him. If they didn't, he would have two days off. He was thinking that he might go visit Mark, his old roommate in San Diego, when the mail box opened and he saw that he had 221 messages. So much for San Diego he thought. Perhaps he should have taken a whole week off.

The first email was from Star Jewell. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one making up names. As soon as he opened up the email a large full body photo of “Star” in a rather revealing Star Trek outfit appeared on his screen. Star Trek was not his thing but he knew it well enough to recognize that she was trying to be Commander Troi from Star Trek generations. There was text below that he didn’t need to read as it became the first to the trash bin.

Natalia Swetlana was the next candidate. “I love be your wife. In America, I be honor you for death.” Byron wasn’t sure if this was Natalia’s poor English or google translator’s poor programming, but either way he wondered how Natalia had found his towns classifieds and how many other foreign brides, anxious for a ticket to America were in the next 219 emails. A foreign bride did offer some advantages, but at some point, even with our immigration system she would eventually make it to America, and then where would she go. No, he would stick to the domestic market.

Bambi Jones, was next in line. With a sigh he began reading, “We don’t need to get married to have a good time.” Delete.

In rapid succession the next 30 emails, fell into the category of either foreign bride or thinly veiled prostitution, and therefore also fell into the trash bin. “I would be interested in your proposal. Let’s meet.” Flipping through the emails as quickly as he had, he had stopped reading names. So, after verifying that, that was indeed all she had sent, no photo, nothing about her, no attachment, simply that she would be interested, he went back and got her name. Jennifer, was this very short-winded writer. Had her email been first it would already be in the trash bin, but the last 30 minutes had changed him. What he would have called lazy and lacking any pertinent data ½ an hour ago was simply not racy, not desperate or solely interested in his citizenship. The more he thought about it, the more he realized if he had responded to his ad, he would have been similarly brief. So, it became the first to avoid a quick demise and he went back to the rest.

The rest went very much the same as the first batch and by the time he had reviewed all 225 (the emails continued to trickle in from all corners of the earth as he reviewed), only three remained, and all three shared Jennifer’s attribute of brevity. The only thing that had been added was one email had started by adding the kind words, “This is nuts but…” The other thing the other two emails shared was a first name, Julie. They became, nuts Julie and regular Julie.

It was a bit depressing that the only ones he could see having any chance of being his bride were the ones he knew absolutely nothing about. What was the likelihood that if he actually knew something about these three that they would still be in the running? But he had made it this far, so the three J’s were to move on to round two. Now, for the first time Byron was forced to ask himself, “What was round two?”

Should he try to get more information with a back and forth on email? Given how skeptical these three were, he quickly saw it turning into a game of, “you tell me first.” The next option was to have them come to his office and simply go for a formal interview, but something told him formal was not the way to go, plus he thought he better avoid his office. Trying to explain this to Ms. Whittaker, his admin assistant would be as comfortable as answering his hygienist question, “So have you been flossing?” He knew she only asked because she knew he hadn’t been. Also, depending on how the interview went he wasn’t sure he would want these women knowing exactly who he was, what he did, and where he worked. “Trust is the foundation of which a good marriage is built.” He had said it thousands of times, and as he could hear himself saying it, he knew his new relationship was on a path to make the leaning tower of Pisa’s substructure appear to be robust.

No, an interview style would not be best. Rather a nice sit-down meal together, three girls, three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, or rather, late breakfast, lunch and early dinner. He didn’t want to be sitting around downtown with nothing to do. But how to be recognized. In 2000 B.C. a Neanderthal was to meet a female Neanderthal at a cave party and wanted to know how he would pick her out. The decision was made that they would each wear a flower, and as safety pins had not been invented, they needed a flower that would attach to their leopard skin Mumu’s easily. It was a toss-up between thistle and rose. And in a decision that would define how single people determine who in the crowd is on equal social ground as to label themselves with plants as willing to meet someone they couldn’t tell from Adam in public, they went with Rose. Historians will debate how society would be different today if they would have chosen thistle but Rose it was. And for Byron, a single red rose it would be. So, this Friday, three times, three restaurants and one rose; he figured they wouldn’t mind if he reused it.


The Marble Hallways were wide, the paintings, not replicas but each original, beautiful, unique and complementary to the surroundings. The hallways of the conference area inside the Bellagio was one of his favorite locations and on Fridays or weekends they rarely had conference going on, which left the vast hallways to himself. As he looked down the 400 feet of the hallway before him completely void of people yet full of the beauty of man’s creation, he wondered if this is how King Louis XVI felt in Versailles. While he had always considered himself well off, he doubted if in a lifetime he would see enough wealth to afford half of what his eyes beheld: the rugs, furnishing, chandeliers, art and endless marble.

While his pessimistic, or maybe realistic side didn’t give him any better chance of this working out than the millions of gamblers whose money had paid for the lavish furnishings that surrounded him, his optimistic, or maybe romantic side was willing to give it a chance, and that is what had led him to choosing a location he loved so much. The next corner would end his solitude for that is where the conference portion of the hotel ended and the day to day traffic of gamblers, diners and hotel patrons began, and shortly after joining the fray he beheld his destination, Bellagio Patisserie, a little French place behind the hotels conservatory, tucked next to one of the largest chocolate fountains in the world. Anyone who has had a desert from, Bellagio Patisserie, will not soon forget it. Each one was an artistic masterpiece. These are the kind of desserts people took pictures of before Facebook and Instagram so degraded the art of food photography.

Finding a seat, he paused and noticed the time, 10:50, ten minutes early was, in his view, perfectly on time. Verifying his rose was in place he began to look for its match. Ten minutes may not seem like a terribly long time but it can become quite drawn out when one is waiting for the women who may become their wife to walk into the picture. Odd looks began to float his way as he tried to focus on each new woman that entered his view, searching each of their persons over to see if somewhere she bore a rose. Specifying where the rose was to be worn has crossed his mind, but he had decided it would be too controlling. Now that he was forced to look over each woman’s person he was convinced that overbearing or not he should have specified and made a mental note that if he was ever randomly meeting potential brides in public for the first time again he would specify the location of where to wear the rose. Through trial and error his technique on how to search for the rose was improving. For one thing, after the second man gave him a glare of death that said, “I wish we were not in public so I could properly disembowel you,” after Byron had finished the rose scan on his significant other, he determined to first check if the women was with someone, and then search for roses.

It was now 11:02, ten minutes had seemed eternally long but he had at least known when that would end, now that the clock had rolled past 11:00 the clocked has actually slowed even further. How long he would wait until he simply gave up crossed his mind when he saw it, a single red rose. She was breathtaking. However, I am forced to pause from our story to explain to the reader that in the English language we don’t always think of words based on their definition. Case in point, breathtaking. Someone can be so amazing beautiful that seeing them for the first time causes the unexpected viewer to forget how one goes about breathing. But being hit by a 350 lbs. line man may also be breathtaking. In this case it was neither beauty or the impact of a 350 lbs. line man, rather simply the shock of seeing her made Byron forget, momentarily how to take in air. So, I repeat, she was breathtaking. She was clearly a student of the history of red roses as a form of greeting, because in homage to the Neanderthal that first begun the tradition, she was dressed in 100% leopard skin. Leopard skin top and skirt, both worn just a bit tighter than most leopards wear it. Byron was reminded of what PG Wodehouse had once said that, it was as if she had been poured into her dress and someone had forgotten to say when.  To make the ensemble complete she also touted a small leopard skin purse and had 6-inch heels on with a leopard skin print along the heel. The lip stick was brighter red than the rose and the only thing larger than her augmented top was her hair.

Catching his breath, he quickly realized she had not noticed him yet. If he acted quickly he could hide his rose and avoid a meeting that was sure to be as awkward as her skirt was short. But as his hand moved to the rose, she noticed him, made eye contact, smiled and began heading his way.

As soon as she got within ten feet she opened up with as voice as big as her hair.

“So, you’re my mystery man.”

Byron nodded and reached out his hand to shake hers.

“Shake hands?... I don’t think so.” She said, absolutely bubbling over. She then grabbed Byron pulled him in for a hug, then moving her hands onto the back of his head turned it to her and kissed him square on the lips. Again, breathing stopped. Finally, she released him and as he gasped for air, she said, “That is how you say hello.”

“Well Jennifer.” Byron said, trying to get his bearings.

“Call me Jen, or Honey Boo if you’d rather.” She said as she raised her eyebrows.

“Okay, Jen,” he was going to say nice to meet you but had always been a poor liar, so changed it to, “thanks for coming. My name is Byron.”

“I love it.” She jumped in before he could continue. “When I was a little girl I dreamed of marrying a Byron, or was it Brian, no Ryan. But pretty close right, isn’t that amazing!” Byron was not sure how to answer, and luckily why he puzzled on what to say she asked, “Byron what?”

At this moment Byron had two very instantaneous thoughts. The one was that he did not want to tell her his last name. The sooner he found himself under a sign that read, “Exit”, the better and whatever his future brought the less it had to with Ms. Honey Boo the better. His desire that she have any ability to ever find him again, and that is exactly what his last name would give her, was zero. The second thought related to never seeing her again was that now that he was past the ambiance that was Jen, Honey Boo-boo, he had a strange feeling that his wasn’t the first time he had seen her, but how he could have forgotten the encounter was beyond him.

“Hello Byron, you there?” Clearly his thinking was too slow for her. “And people call me a dutz,” She continued.

“Oh, sorry, have we met before? For some reason you look very familiar.”

She was a bit taken a back. “I don’t remember meeting you before, and most people find me impossible to forget.”

“I can see that,” Byron agreed.

“So, Byron what is your last name?”

“Oh…uh…” torn between lying and trying to come up with an excuse he said, “shouldn’t we get to know each…Smith.”

“Jen Smith. It is perfect. I never thought my name would be Jen Smith. I mean, I love it, but what are the chances?” At first Byron thought the question was hypothetical, but the dumb look she continued to give was clearly wanting and answer.

“Actually, relative to other names, quite high, I think.” Figuring he wasn’t going to get out of a meal with Jen he decided they better get started. So, before she could ask another question he said, “Should we get something to eat?”

“Sounds great, do they have Vegan or Paleo diet?”

“I’m not sure, you will have to ask.”

“I can’t stand the thought of using animals for food, except cows, and fish. See, I hate cows and fish don’t really count. But real animals, I love them. That is why I had my purse made with real fur, to always keep animals close to me. And Paleo, I don’t really know what it is, but I read that its really changing the way people diet and I want to get on board.”

Byron decided not to comment and just got up and headed to the counter, glad the place made as you ordered, limiting the conversation that would occur while they waited for their food. After a long conversation between Jen and cashier on whether or not whipped cream was part of the Paleo diet (she decided that it must be once she figured out it was a cow product), they sat down and began to work on their crapes.

As Byron began to eat he began to think of ways of letting her down. On one hand if he asked her questions he could use her answers as an excuse as to why it wouldn’t work. On the other hand, he hated even to ask, thinking that it might only serve to get her hopes up. In the end he thought he better ask her a few questions, otherwise she may start asking him some.

“So, Jen, have you ever been married?”

She smiled and laughed. “Is this a trick question? I read the ad, no previous marriages. And I have not been, as long as you don’t count the annulments, and the law doesn’t count them, so I don’t think it would be for if you did.”

“The annulments?” questioned Byron.

“Well first, turns out you can’t marry your cousin, at least not when I tried. But the next time, on our wedding night I found out he volunteered going to kids’ classes and hospitals and things as a clown, and I was like ‘I don’t think so, I’m not being married to no clown! Beam me up Scotty! I’m out of here!’ I should have asked my nephew how he met him when they set me up.”

Suddenly it hit Byron. It was her reference to “beam me up Scotty.” “You are Star Queen, you sent me two emails?”

She laughed, “No silly, I did not send you an email as Star Queen. My Star Trek loving, alter ego is Star Jewell.”

Byron waited for a minute assuming she would elaborate on why the two emails but since the question was about Star Queen she felt like the issue have been fully addressed, forcing Byron to be more specific.

“Okay, you sent me an email as ‘Star Jewel’. Why did you send me two emails?”

“In case you weren’t into Star Trek. Duh… Looks like it worked.” She said with a wink.

“Star, Jen, Boo-boo” he rattled off before he got to the point, “this isn’t going to work, I’m sorry.”

“You are breaking off our engagement.” She said loud enough that the fellow patrons began to listen.

Byron was not sure what so say but finally came up with, “We are not engaged.”

She opened her mouth in shock and for a moment was speechless, as tears began to drip down her face. It was clear at this moment she was winning this case in the court of public opinion and Byron heard from a table nearby someone mutter, “What a jerk.”

After a few gasps of shock from Jen she finally pulled her strength together and in her most powerful voice said, “Not engaged huh, well that is rich, take this.” A half-eaten crepe with an excessive amount of strawberry syrup and whipped cream smashed into his face and chest and was now dripping onto his pants and the floor as the nearby diners cheered and Jen walked out.

Here is a link to Chapter 5.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

On their backs

Beach in Thailand

I never expected to be laying on the floor trying to sleep in a hot room with no air conditioning between a bunch of immigrants from Cambodia, but there I was, and of all the things I did in that beautiful beach town, it was the most memorable.

Early that day I walked through glimmering walking streets with neon lights everywhere, I visited the huge shopping malls with their beautiful and elaborate displays, I waded in the warm ocean water, and I sat in the shade of a palm tree reading the entirety of The Alchemist while someone brought me fresh coconut water until the sun slowly set over the ocean waters into a beautiful evening. It had been the definition of picturesque, the type of day that would be written about in travel logs and put in advertisements for tourism and hotels. Yet it was not the most interesting, or most treasured part of my short trip to the Thai beach town. That would come later, when I planned to be far away from there.
I planned to stay only few days, and the few days were up. What is more, I only had money for a few days. I had been in Thailand some time and no longer had a bank card, or anyway to get money. My only option was the cash I carried. I was running low, but I was not worried. I just needed the 500 bhat or so for a bust ticket and I would be gone back to my home in the north-east of Thailand. That is how travel had always worked for me before, but not this time.

“Mae Sot” I said to the lady at the counter, “Full” she replied, and pointed me to another bus company. I went there and got the same response. After exhausting every bus company in the city I realized I was not getting home that day. I went through a lot of crazy stuff in Thailand, but this is the first time where I felt genuinely panicked. I had not realized is that it was a holiday weekend and everyone was headed back home. Every bus was full. I was stranded.

I was an American in beach town Thailand, who didn’t speak more than a few phrases of the language, almost out of money (with no way to get more) and no place to go. I could not afford another night in a hotel and still have enough to get a bus out of the city. With my phone nearly dead (I had to find some outlet in the bus station just to keep it alive) I reached out to a few locals I had met and randomly got contact information from (even though I had no real intention of ever talking to them again). I'm not in the habit of asking to stay at the house of people I recently met, but desperation is a powerful motivator. The first person said I couldn't, but then on the next I lucked out. She was not even Thai, she was Cambodian, and I had no idea what was about to happen.
It was about 10 p.m. when I got to her place. I had walked most the way because I couldn't afford a taxi. She didn’t get there for about another hour. Most her flatmates didn’t get there for a few hours after that. If these were Americans you might think they were late night partiers. But these were not Americans. These were Cambodian immigrants.
The town is in many ways the Las Vegas of Thailand. Both in their way are beautiful with a facade of bright lights and spectacular shows, huge modern shopping malls and luxurious hotels. It was full of tourists from Russia, Germany, Australia, and just about everywhere else. There are so many Russian tourists that most signs are in both Thai and Russian, a strange combination you would never expect to exist.
And just as in Vegas, to have clean hotels and cheap food, someone, usually immigrants, needs to clean the hotels, wash the dishes, and make the food. In Vegas those people are often immigrants from Mexico, in Thailand immigrants eagerly come from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia to hopefully earn some more money than they could in their home country. In fact it might come as quite a shock to some western tourists to realize that their “authentic Thai food, at a Thai restaurant, in Thailand,” was actually made by a Burmese cook.
Regardless, in this place I will generously call an “apartment” there lived seven (four guys and three girls) of these immigrants. While most westerners in the town were out partying, I was with the people that made all the partying possible. The guys were all dish washers and cooks at restaurants. They got home about 2 a.m. The girls were either masseuses (as was the girl I knew) or maids and janitors for the many hotels and guesthouses. They got home between 11p.m and 2 a.m. One of the guys came in about 3 or 4 (I was in a sleepy daze by that point and could not pinpoint when it actually was).
The outside of the apartment probably most resembled one of those apartments they always show in documentaries about Detroit. They lived on the second floor. The stairs condition did not suggest to me that this was going to be any more of a luxurious stay than the outside had.
However horrible experience you have had with apartments, I assure you, your perception of apartments is a much too generous a mental image for what I saw. It was a single cement room. The walls had probably been painted at one point but at this point it was impossible to tell what color exactly. Some hue of grayish blue would be my best guess, but I'd more confidently bet on horse racing and I know nothing about horse racing. They did have electricity, and a fan. Air conditioning was of course completely out of the question in the over 90 degree swampy air. There was a single cupboard which they put some clothes in, but most their clothes and belongings were just stacked in piles around the edges of the room. They had a few “windows” or rather square holes where something that loosely resembled a screen to stop bugs was in place.
There was no bathroom in the room, but rather a single bathroom for the whole floor, which had about 5 or 6 other apartments which I could only imagine consisted of similar arraignments as the one I was visiting.
After walking around in the previously described weather all day, I was glad to have the chance to shower. The shower consisted of a bucket and a bowl. The bucket was full of water and the bowl was to pour said water over you. This was the nicest part of the apartment.
When it was time to go to bed, they put down several mats (the hard plastic-type) and blankets across the floor, then they all laid down in a row, the girls on one side, guys on the other. No beds. There was no carpet in the room, and some sheets you could have read through were used as blankets. That was their living experience. That was the sum total of their apartment. I did not get to know them very well as I mentioned, they got home pretty late and as you can imagine were pretty eager to get some shut eye. A few of them had children back in Cambodia, and most had not known each other previously. They were in the city of fun and pleasure to work, get some money, and get back home.
I laid there on the floor, hardly able to sleep in the sweltering heat, with hardly any space to move wondering how in the world I had arrived at that point. Earlier that day I had walked through some of the nicest buildings I had ben in, and here I was. It was amazing. The previous night I had stayed in a guesthouse with air conditioning, cable TV, and large and comfortable queen bed with a heated shower. Would I have welcomed one of these people into my room if they had missed their bus out of town while hardly knowing them? I don't know, probably not. I had truly been blessed. None of them were Christians, they were all Buddhists, yet they really were the people described in the words of Mathew, “I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” I was that stranger. As I lay on that floor, for a moment my anxiety about essentially being out of money and not having any idea how I would get home went away. How could I ever thank them enough.
The next morning I had to leave early with my fingers crossed I could arrange some transport. I thanked them as best I could (they spoke limited English, I spoke even less Thai, and even less Cambodian) and was on my way. Looking back now and thinking of that crazy apartment that they let ME stay in, I'm just overwhelmed at how blessed I was to run into such amazing people. I had multiple experiences like this while I was down and out with nothing while in Thailand, and always someone was there to help me. The world, for all its darkness, truly has many wonderful people.
It has been over three years since this little adventure. In that touristy town. While there I did do at least a few of the “touristy” things. Yet my favorite experiences from that trip were A. reading the entire book The Alchemist (as described above), eating breakfast with a German professor (a story for another time), and my last night staying in the most poverty-stricken of circumstances with a bunch of Cambodian immigrants. I guess this is to say there is nothing wrong with taking that big vacation to Disneyland or five star resort in Mexico. I'm sure it will be a great time and create many memories. However, sometime when you don't want to spend so much try something a little different. You don't need to go to Thailand or even get on a plane, just talk to some person you would never talk to normally. Find out about their life and how they live. It won't cost you much of anything and you may get a memorable experience out of it. Also, you may one day be stranded in a city with not even enough money to get a hotel, and you will be grateful for that connection you made and the chance to lay on a floor, and regardless of how destitute the circumstances, I promise it will feel better than a palace.