Ticks Declare Intention to visit Switzerland

Roo and I were transiting northeastern Arkansas in an attempt to clear out of snake country when our windshield cracked in half. We camped and an installer came the next day to put a new one in. As soon as he had it in, he accidentally smashed the new one. Waiting for parts resulted in a six-day delay, which was put to use furthering this blog's chief goal: the science of analyzing highly specialized data, and the resultant warning: the most intense tick season ever recorded is here. If it hasn’t hit you yet, get ready. 

Take your pick of tick. We’ve got your tiny pinhead-sized nymphal ticks, medium-sized ticks and full-size adults. If you’re lucky you catch them when you feel their stubby little legs crawling on your skin. Usually you don't, though. They're too smart. They send some tick they don't mind losing ahead with instructions to tell your Golden retriever that there's a new kind of mouse under a culvert 15 miles south in Jonesboro and that if she breaks into a gallop now and doesn't let off, she could get there in a couple of hours and dig it up in another two. The ticks strike while you're trying to talk the dog out of it. They get on at the ankle and run the length of you before they plant their flag somewhere you can't see in a mirror. You wouldn't even know you had some of those places until a tick bit you there. 

Then, once you've found lots of ticks either crawling on you or buried in your skin in a short period, you start feeling like they're crawling all over you all the time. Ooo—like that! Feel that?! No. Wait. that wasn't a tick. That was just a dog hair... but THAT WAS! That was a tick! Ah, no. That was just my sleeve. 

My theory is that this accounts for the immense popularity enjoyed around here by the Mint Julep of the 21st Century: nine parts warm Bud Light with one part Copenhagen dip-spit backwash and an Oxycontin chaser and you won't feel a thing. You can get the first two down at the Kum 'n' Go and the rest from the guy in Adidas sandals, white tube socks and baggy plaid shorts who hangs out behind the dumpsters. If you ever make a movie about it, get Matthew McConaghey to play him.

The flea med Roo is on, Bravecto, has almost no effect on the Lone Star ticks who run this place. I've been finding at least 50 running wild on her per day with another dozen attached, in spite of an hour of careful brushing and de-ticking and then checking her constantly the rest of the time. Roo is quite put out by it. She considers this overtime. She already suffers from a severe load of chores, like standing there and having the mud hosed off her and having to be toweled dry and pleasantly brushed while she constantly keeps turning in whatever direction she thinks a squirrel may be in. If I were to comply with half the demands she makes for jerky and Milk Bones in return for her increased workload she would swell up like a bale of cotton floating in the ocean.

The ticks start their journey to me on board the SS Roo. The lazier ones don’t like hacking their way through her thick fur, so they in the lifeboats and wait for me to trigger the rogue wave that will set them free by brushing her and flicking them off the way paint splatters off a paintbrush on the side of the can, and they land on me in a wide spray and start acting like they’ve just escaped from a chain gang barracks and over the barbed wire into the open green pasture they've been taking turns looking at through a crack in the boards that the guards never plugged up. Their bushwhacking days are over. Every one of them heads north, as if they're sure Switzerland is up there. Think about it: have you ever felt a tick crawling down your leg?

Dealing with so many of them on such a concentrated basis, I’ve started to notice a few things about them. Their temperaments and attitudes vary and some of them are cuter than others. The majority of them mean no harm, while others were just born downright mean. I hope you don;t think less of me for believing in such a generalization, but I can't help it. Those bad apples make you appreciate the regular ticks more, the unassuming and polite ones, the ones who prefer that you don’t even know they’ve nudged their little nose into one of your pores and are macerating your skin layer by layer to sup on your blood and pump some ehrlichosis out of their gut as their way of saying thanks. If ticks share a common trait it would be the way they handle their poverty. They accept their lot in life. They make do. They don’t complain about they way things are or fantasize about how they’d like them to be. Okay, so some of them start to get to you—the ones who just want to be loved—but of course, it can never be. It’s better to maintain some professional distance, so usually I don’t even pin nicknames on them. Wiley or Scoot or Spot or Vlad, The Impaler.

l employ every precaution against ticks known to humanity, except the only one that would work: refusing to walk Roo. But then she would stare at me for hours on end in ways far deadlier than any tick attack. It would be worse than being chained onto a courtroom bench by bailiffs to face the family members of someone I might have killed in a senseless drive-by shooting so they could berate me and tell me how much I had robbed them of and how they couldn’t wait to savor the buzzing sounds I wold make and the way my head would start smoking when the screws turned on the juice to fry me in the electric chair. So, not walking Roo is out of the question. And nothing else works. There are too many ticks landing on you, in waves, the way Allied troops did on D-Day, or coming by air, the way neutrinos left over from the Big Bang continually wash over the Earth and pierce us by the trillions every billionth of every nanosecond. 

Even when you think you're in the clear and you’ve gotten them all picked off and Roo is washed and brushed and fed, you emerge from the shower and more ticks appear immediately. There are always five or six of them at a time, on the towel or clothes or crawling on your arm or trying to hide out of sight in your eyebrows. And those Lone Star ticks are aggressive sonsabitches. They keep an eye on you as if you’re the guy up in the tower running the searchlight on the walls. If they suspect you spotted them they start to run faster than a pack of tattooed rats and then start digging frantically the way Roo does when she believes she’s stumbled onto a lost civilization of subterranean mouses. Lone Star ticks that get dug in like that are nearly impossible to pull out because they have more backward-facing teeth than the average Confederate flag collector, let alone other ticks. Their most endearing quality is that they don't transmit Lyme disease. They've got every other disease known to tick, dog, cat, deer, horse, cow, mouse or man, but not Lyme.

If I wasn’t sure climate change is a hoax, I’d really start freaking out. But Dear Leader has comforted us all by setting us straight. Hell, I believed in the whole hoax before the President of the United States marshaled the resources of the federal government to shoot the whole wild idea right in its rabid head, right there on Fifth Avenue. Especially since he’s going to prove it by countermanding all regulations whose enforcement might trick everyone into believing that reducing carbon monoxide could possibly have any effect at all. Or exist, even. I mean, have you ever seen carbon monoxide? With your own eyes? Okay, then. Case closed. Why, you could hook a hose up to the exhaust pipe of your car and breathe it for a week and all it would do is clear your head. In fact, car exhaust is the way the planet makes oxygen naturally. And isn’t it a comfort knowing that if there really was such a thing as climate change, it would be at least 120 degrees in mid April instead of a cool 90, in which case you wouldn’t even have to put clothes on, because we’d all be wearing a suit of ticks? I’m hoping that Trump will cap his first brilliant 100 days of constant winning with an executive order to disburden Lone Star ticks of all the anti-Lyme disease regulations Obama and Pelosi and the rest of the Deep State used against them. It would be another masterstroke. Get those regulations out of the tick’s way, the Free Market will keep Lyme disease at bay, and that’s how we’ll know that whole thing was nothing but another hoax, too. I’ll be glad not to have to worry about it any more. Thanks, Obama. You should have let the ticks make an honest buck while you had the chance. But no. You had to be the Party of Nobama.

If you come down here to Arkansas, you might work up a brown lather of ticks, but you'll be disappointed in the snakes. There aren't even enough of them to weave a carpet. Not wall-to-wall, anyway. Sure, there are plenty of copperheads, but the Free Market has gotten rid of the cottonmouths here by letting everyone dry out the streams by diverting them to car washes and mortuaries, and thereby sending them all packing to Oklahoma and Louisiana, where the Free Market will douse them with crude and set on fire with the tinder left over from tearing the pine forests down. At the local pond here all you’ll see are plain-bellied watersnakes, who all look like they’re auditioning for cartoons. As soon as one of them sees Roo splashing in the water they stop swimming and freeze on the surface in mid-squiggle before they duck under and swim away, though not as fast as a tick. Harmless, though, unless you’re prone to coronaries and like to dangle a stinkfoot off the end of the dock when you're fishing for crappies.

We finally got our windshield fixed, though, so we’re free to leave tomorrow. Before we go, I have a request: if you happen to know any of the guys around here whose knowledge of history is limited to what they acquired at that highest form of American education—homeschool taught by dedicated meth heads—and who have embarked on their careers of driving around in pickup trucks with broken mufflers and festooned with both a Confederate flag and a United States flag, please inform them that, as it was the United States that ground the Stars and Bars into dirt by 1864 and spat it out in 1865, flying the two together is like featuring leprosy in a Bain de Soleil suntan oil ad. Or showcasing syphilis next to a bottle of penicillin.

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On second thought, maybe don't put it that way. They’d just take syphilis every time. They proved that in the last election. Tell ‘em it’d be like serving Krispi Kremes on a horseshit platter. 

No… not that. Same problem. I don’t know what to tell them. How about, it's like crapping your pants and calling it a hole-in-one? Nope. Won't work, either. They'll just say it was Hillary.

I’m out of ideas. In fact, I'm fresh out of everything but one hell of a good dog. And  Wiley, Scoot, Spot and Vlad. 

Every one of them is staring at me. The big one is going to win.

Hell

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Today, no matter where we turned, a snake awaited us. Five of them, no two alike. If you ever run out of places to view snakes, head straight to east Oklahoma. This one I stopped to get out of the road. I'm not sure what it is, but not venomous, by the look of that skinny head. Probably just some kind of racer. Of the many snakes that keep popping up, I'm pretty sure one was a cottonmouth. I didn't see his head, but he was too fat to be anything else. Those, and the huge selection of rattlers here, are the most dangerous. 

The strange thing is that I have no personal fear of snakes. I don't like handling them, but I have. And whenever we bump into one, other than the shock if it's a surprise, they don't frighten me. But the fear of Roo being bitten again more than makes up for it. Every minute of the day is about worrying about snakes. They poison me with worry about Roo. Especially here, where the population of them seems so high.  

I was hoping to stick around because it is difficult to work on a book when traveling in that camper. But it's clearly time to move on. I have an opportunity to see one of my oldest friends for a few days if we rendezvous in south Arkansas. Snakewise, it'll be just as bad. Alligatorwise, worse. Roo will just have to tolerate a few days on a leash. I didn't let her run around at all here today.  

When I tell her that the reason why she's not getting to run free is because of the snake, and I touch her arm where she was bitten, she makes a doleful expression. I'm sure she knows exactly what I'm talking about. 

We were going to leave tomorrow, but now there are severe thunderstorms, which created a scene with Roo. They'll end soon, thank God. The atmosphere of fear, these years of it, is not easy. And please, those of you who complain that with a fearful dog I have no right to take her where there are thunderstorms, all I can say is there is no such place in America. None. Not even in the desert, and those are crawling with vipers. So, spare me. 

I just received word about the two strays. Both tested negative for heartworm and are healthy. They're headed to Minnesota in a couple of days. How strangely things work out for some dogs. One minute they're running around an Oklahoma street, the next they're traveling cross country. Or one minute they're on death row in Los Angeles and the next they're swimming in a mountaintop lake. 

Roo would identify.  

JAILBREAK!

ACHTUNG!

WIDESPREAD AMERICAN DOG CONSPIRACY EVADES DETECTION AND BREAKS TWO OKLAHOMA REVOLUTIONARIES OUT OF LOCAL JAIL.

Cited as possibly the greatest crime wave to befall Poteau, Oklahoma since Bonnie & Clyde (well, Clyde, anyway—Bonnie's leg was too rotted from burns and gangrene by then to come along), the two juvenile scofflaws discovered in an attempt to disrupt traffic last week have been successfully liberated from the captors threatening their lives.

Thanks to the generosity of so many of you, those two sweet strays I picked up last week have been spared the guillotine and are off to begin their new lives. I just received this message from 3 Girls Animal Rescue in Poteau, Oklahoma:

"We just pulled them out of the pound! They are both covered in some of the biggest ticks I've ever seen! We're headed to the vet to get heartworm tests and rabies and then we'll get the ticks off of them. Thanks so much for making sure that they are saved."

Those thanks go to all of you who donated to 3 Girls Animal Rescue for the bail. That rescue is doing an enormous amount of daunting work around here, and your money will be well spent. Even better news is that you donated something over $440 (I don’t know the exact amount because some of you may have sent donations directly to 3 Girls that I don’t know about). Hopefully those two haven’t got heartworm, which God seems to have put on Earth to torture dogs AND make rescues go broke, but if they do, at least there will be a head start on their treatment.

But let’s not worry about that—they’re out of jail on sentences they never deserved, for just trying to do what dogs do: relentlessly trying to make the world a better place for all. Which, as anyone knows who tries that, is generally considered revolutionary by half the population.  These two, at least, will be able to shed their disguises (they probably covered themselves in ticks the way I might wear a fake mustache into a bank), and retire from the front lines to be healthy and start their journey to the kind of homes they, and all dogs, deserve.

Over the weekend, I found myself a bit conflicted about their rescue.

On the one hand, they were healthy and groomed. On the other, they were running in traffic without collars (fat chance that they had chips), the little one looked like she had been pregnant, and they weren't claimed immediately. Who lets their loved dogs languish in a pound? Strikes against previous owners.

But, and admittedly this is pure speculation, but if true would make it a bit of a tragedy,  they might have belonged to one of the many migrant families working the farms and ranches around here, and they could have been scared to be deported if they contacted the police. That would be sad for the dogs, because someone did love them, even if they didn't take proper care of them. In Mexico, as Roo will tell you, no self-respecting dog doesn’t spend much of the day lying around in the street. When Roo visited Mexico, she considered that a civilized and proper thing that she herself joined the other dogs on her street to do frequently. To this day, she likes to do it, though her street-lounging options are limited in America. So, we are not too quick to judge just because not every custom doesn’t travel well.

But, then again, if the border collie’s limping was something that needs medical care...

Then again, again, sometimes dogs manage escapes, no matter how much security they’re under. I know some people are absolute in their belief that anyone who ever allows a dog to get out doesn't deserve a dog, but I don't believe that's true when someone has tried in earnest and a dog is determined to defeat every measure. Dogs are smart, and a dedicated dog not only enjoys confounding authority, they are also capable of going to great lengths to do it. I had a dog who shut down Frankfurt International Airport in Germany. He got out of his crate in the belly of the 747 we landed in and when they opened the cargo door, he jumped the 18 feet to the ground and started running around on the runway, enjoying the cool evening and open spaces. Flights had to be diverted for half an hour before half a dozen police vehicles with bubblegum lights finally caught him. 

When they did, the German authorities provided him with a dinner of fresh raw steak, eggs, and all sorts of toys. Naturally, you use soft methods first when you want to get someone to speak. I’m sure he was ready to spill the beans, but luckily I got him before he opened his mouth. Later, I learned how he did it. He was able to escape from a standard airline crate by placing his rear legs on the back wall, stretching himself out like a rubber band and pressing his nose on the steel door until he got it open an inch. Then, with the sharp steel pinching his nose, he just kept twisting his head and pushing until he made it through. He had the capacity to squish himself like a rat. Nothing could hold him. And, eventually, nothing did, but that's a sad story and not one I like to think about, have ever discussed and maybe never will. 

But it did teach me not to be too absolute about any beliefs that all dogs can always be contained. Most of them don't watch the Weather Channel or documentaries about Mongolian funerals, like Enzo in The Art of Racing in the Rain. Your usual suspect dog tends to be an aficionado of The Great Escape, and there are dogs who have seen it one too many times. It gives them ideas. And a dog with that kind of idea tries to break out of the cooler on principle alone. You can't really blame them for trying. Most dogs are terrific believers in themselves. It’s natural for them to think that anything Steve McQueen could do, they can do better. This is why you must never give a dog the keys to your motorcycle. Teach them to fly, if you must (as I have, and for which I received a lot of criticism, though most of it was for starting the dog too young), but never let a dog ride a motorcycle unsupervised, no matter how good they are at it. 

Anyway, enough digressing. These strays have been saved. And even if someone lost them, they’re off to good lives. 3 Girls has earned a great reputation for seeing to that.

HUGE thanks to Carol Levin, Tammy Laub, Debra Young, Mary Vineyard, Nina Keneally, Cristina Liriano, Sherri Cleek, Susan Greer, and anyone else who donated. Even if I don’t know who you are, I love you for it.

[I think I got them all, but if you sent a PayPal donation to me and I somehow neglected to send you the receipt for passing it on to 3 Girls, please let me know and I'll send it to you. But I forwarded all the PayPal donations as soon as I was notified, so don't worry-all of them have gone to 3 Girls.]

NOTE ON THE PATREON CAMPAIGN: Please remember that you can always go to the Patreon page and edit your campaign pledges downwards. Though the day will never come when I post here daily, assume that if I do, you won't get a bill for more than you wanted to spend. At Patreon, you can limit the monthly amount of your pledge down to as little as a buck per month. If this is something that any of you meant to do, or found yourselves being billed more than you wanted to be, just let me know how much to refund you, and it shall be done gladly. And thanks again!]

Today's Strays: More dog trouble, and it could be bad this time

If I knew then what I learned later in the day, I might not have caught these two dogs. I didn't realize I was placing them in danger of their lives.

My theory is that dogs are bad with traffic because they’re wired to get out of the way at the last second and they expect other creatures to do the same thing. You know how a dogs will run straight at you and not turn until they’re about to collide. These two were in the middle of the busiest street of this Oklahoma town. About half the cars didn’t even bother to slow down. So many people just couldn’t give a damn if they hit a dog. One of the dogs, the border collie, was limping. His left foreleg was injured. He was agitated and wary. While I pulled off, they made it to the other side of the street and headed for a yard where old garage trucks are parked. They were traveling together. They probably came out of the same yard. Neither had a collar, but they were both similarly healthy. 

For the first time ever in this town, an the first time in at least six months, I had just bought a couple of burgers. One for me, and one for Roo. Good thing, because that became the bait to catch the dogs. That, and some of Roo’s jerky and biscuits. I turned into the dirt yard where they were, and Roo had to wait. I knew taking her burger was going to be a major insult, so I broke a third of it off and gave it to her before I got out and left her in the car with the air conditioner running. Good thing, too, because it would take about an hour and a half.

Neither of them were willing to come to me at first and both of them took off. The little one, though, who looks like a Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix, was less of a problem. She turned at a whistle and was interested as soon as she saw me holding something up for her to see. When I threw the piece of Roo’s burger in her direction, she stopped and wagged. She was quite a waggy little girl. Somehow the border collie noticed that she was eating and stopped running and stayed put to see what was going on. He was so skittish, though, that just tossing a piece of the burger in his direction made him bolt, even though with my debilitated shoulder I could only toss it about ten of the fifty feet between us. He acted like the dogs in the Third World countries who, I learned long ago, you could get to back off when they were getting aggressive by pretending to pick up a stone, because they are used to getting pelted. I backed off in the direction I wanted him to come—away from the road—and eventually lured him in with more pieces.

I had taken the couple of leashes I had in the car and got one of them on the little one pretty easily. The border collie, though, was a tough customer. He would come closer to eat, but any sign of the leash made him skitter. He understood leashes and he didn’t want anything to do with them. That dog had eyes like a wolf’s and seemed to be one of the shrewdest dogs I’d ever met. He was filled with a general suspicion of the world and though he wasn’t old, he understood that in the world, it was humans you had to be suspicious of.

With the little one tied to a dead tree, I concentrated on him. Even though after a while he got comfortable enough to take food from my hand, and I held the leash in the hand to get him used to it, he knew, and he was opposed to any hint of it going around his neck.He was going to have to soon, though, because even I was about to run out of food. They had gone through the remaining five or six pieces of jerky and I was down to breaking the biscuits into crumbs. The burger was the most appetizing, so I kept as much as that for as long as possible.

Finally, what with his injury and the heat, he lay down in the shade. Inch by inch I got closer, and after lots of getting up and running 20 feet away, he finally gave up and took the last piece of burger and let me put the looped leash around his neck.

You never saw a dog so disappointed in someone. He had let his guard down for a few seconds and now he was tied. Now he wasn’t just suspicious, he had had his suspicions rewarded. He didn’t think much of me. I tried to make friends with him. 

Here’s the problem. In this small town, there’s a Humane Society. I had spoken with them another time when I was trying to catch another dog, and I had no idea that they weren’t the only dog operation in town. They don’t kill over there, and why with these dogs seeming to be in good shape, they just needed to get somewhere safe so their owners could find them. When I called the Humane Society I got their voicemail, and on it they said to call Animal Control. That resulted in four calls from me to the dispatcher at the police department. Finally, they got around to sending the animal control officer over.

He arrived in a pickup with a steel cage in back. The officer clearly liked dogs a lot. He tried picking the little one up, but she was frightened and nipped at him. He scooped the border collie up, probably surprising him, and without any difficulty put him in the cage. I picked the little one up. She was shaking when I put her in, and the officer thanked me and left.

Later, I was walking Roo when the phone rang. It was the woman from the Humane Society. She told me that Animal Control had their own pound and that that’s where the dogs would go. She said the police would hold them for five days, and then, “They’ll take then to the vet.”

Oh, no. 

“They don’t gas them here, though,” she said, “So at least there’s that.”

So, since then, I’ve been trying without success to get animal control on the phone. There’s a local rescue here, and the woman from the HS told me that if the dogs weren’t claimed by the time their five days ran out, they would take them if they had room.

So, that’s where it stands. The idea of taking the dogs off the street only to get them killed has become a preoccupation, but I haven’t even been able to find out if the dogs have been claimed. I’ve left messages but no one calls back. The best hope is that someone came home from work and found their dogs missing and did something about it. But maybe they didn’t. That border collie might have had a good basis for his suspicions. If no one claims them and the rescue doesn’t have space, I’m going to have to figure something else out. Maybe pay the rescue. Please: do not start telling me to take the dogs. Roo and I liven a space that has 20 square feet of open space and apart from that I can not take care of more dogs. If I have to spring them, I will, but I can’t keep them. 

That’s the news from east Oklahoma. Dog trouble.

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In which my pilot Tony calls my Jimmy Breslin story and raises me a Cary Grant

Tony shows up for work.

Tony shows up for work.

One of the many problems with operating a biplane ride business is that almost no one is qualified to fly the old crates, making it hard to find pilots. The type we flew at Black & White Biplane was a WACO YMF-5. Ninety percent of them have crashed because of pilots losing control. The crashes are almost always on landing. The one we flew—99 Yankee—had three accidents before I bought it and rebuilt it. First it was flipped onto its back on a screecher of a landing. Then it was taxiied at high speed into a pickup truck. After that it went swimming in the Atlantic when someone lost control of it while looking at dolphins and hit the water upside down. The plane had a nice, quiet career at Black & White Biplane, where it flew hundreds of passengers over Los Angeles by day and had me wrench on it by night. It didn't suffer another crash until I sold it to its next owner, who totaled it. It now exists only on the old web site for Black & White, the old web site for which I leave online for sentimental reasons.

So it was hard to find pilots who can not only fly them, but fly them to a high commercial standard. Safety of course came first, sort of (after all, it was a 60-year-old engine bolted onto a wood-and-fabric 1935 design), but a pilot had to be much better than just not liable to turn the thing into a pile of matchsticks. A professional had to operate smoothly while assessing how much of a thrill the passengers could tolerate and then maneuver as little, or as much, as they might enjoy. No loss of control, not so much as a bump, was tolerable: the requirement, the ethic, called for a greased-on landing every time. The ethic was key: passengers were trusting us with their lives, often on important occasions, two of them sitting together in the front cockpit on dates, anniversaries, birthdays or even marriage proposals.

When I needed another pilot, it was a lucky thing that my pal Tony, could fly the old bus just fine and had a commercial license. Tony wrote the article linked below, which my post about meeting the iconic reporter Jimmy Breslin when I was a kid reminded me of. But, before you read that, let me share something that happened at least half a dozen times in the hangar at Black & White.

Tony would return from a flight and taxi back up to the hangar. The eight-foot wide wooden propeller would flutter to a stop, shaking the plane from side to side a couple of times, and the passengers were always, without exception, exhilarated. They had just had a thrilling and unique experience. They would be happy. Tony would help them unstrap their buckles and help them out of the cockpit and down from the wing, and they would come into the hangar and gush about what a great ride they had. Some passengers would pass you a tip—usually 20 bucks, sometimes $50, though the first one I ever flew gave me an extra C-note and said it was the best money he ever spent. 

The first time anyone tipped Tony, he politely turned it down. I had to put an end to that. A tip wasn't about the pilot, it was about the passenger. Turning it down was a personal rebuff. From then on, Tony accepted the tips. He created a kitty in a coffee can. I believe I was the only beneficiary of those.

So, one day, a guy and his date got out of the plane. Like all passengers, they were flushed from the excitement of their 45 minutes squeezed together in the front cockpit (the pilot sat alone in a separate rear cockpit) right behind an engine radiating heat on a thrill ride around skyscrapers, then buzzing the Hollywood Sign close enough to see the carpentry of the scaffolding, through a mountain ravine and then a power-off descent straight down to the deck for a run ten feet over the Pacific at Malibu before a steep climbing turn to Venice Beach and back for the landing at Santa Monica. It was a hell of a ride for them, fun for us to fly, and the fact that it made our customers so happy was rewarding.

After I ran the guy's credit card at my desk at the back of the hangar, he went over to slip Tony a folded bill in the traditional handshake maneuver. Then he went to put an arm around his girlfriend, who was admiring a huge movie poster on the wall. It was for the World War One epic Flyboys. In the poster, tjhe star of the movie, James Franco, was wearing a leather flying helmet and goggles.

The woman said, "Oh, Flyboys! I LOVED that movie! And now we've flown in an airplane just like those." That made the memory of this day even better, and they snuggled a little.

"No kidding," I said. "Dja hear that, Tony? Loved Flyboys." And then to them: "The guy you just flew with? He directed it."

Naturally, that sounded a little odd. The looks on people's faces when that happened was always like, "Hunh?" I'd point at the credits on the poster and say, "Here. Tony Bill. That's your pilot."

And, in a sign of how much they had enjoyed their ride, no one ever looked like they wanted their tip back. 

Only in Hollywood.

Click here to read Tony's story. It's a good one.

This was a commercial for the company. I know it doesn't quite look like all the of $100 spent making it was put to good use.

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOS: Chicken Creek, Utah, last spring

This alarming-looking but harmless snake was particularly well-mannered, as every creature, human or otherwise, I ever met in Utah was. I nonetheless still recommend not inviting one into your sleeping bag unless you have exhausted every alternative to get rid of mouses.

This alarming-looking but harmless snake was particularly well-mannered, as every creature, human or otherwise, I ever met in Utah was. I nonetheless still recommend not inviting one into your sleeping bag unless you have exhausted every alternative to get rid of mouses.

One of the most secluded and prettiest camps we ever found was in the Manti La Sal National Forest. If any of you ever need recommendations for really off-the-beaten path places to camp, let me know. In the American West, if you're willing to brave some roads like the one below, there are tons of places like this to camp. The harder the road, the better the camp. We never saw another person at Chicken Creek for four days.

 

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Tracks like this usually have signs at the beginning warning drivers not to attempt them with trailers. I never saw one I didn't ignore, though I would have if an idiot of my caliber happened to be traveling in the opposite direction.

Tracks like this usually have signs at the beginning warning drivers not to attempt them with trailers. I never saw one I didn't ignore, though I would have if an idiot of my caliber happened to be traveling in the opposite direction.

Roo demonstrating her savant's capacity to pre-locate and mentally catalogue every mouse within 1000 meters, making for more efficient disposal later.

Roo demonstrating her savant's capacity to pre-locate and mentally catalogue every mouse within 1000 meters, making for more efficient disposal later.

If you can ID this for me, please do. 

If you can ID this for me, please do. 

This is the way any retriever worth her salt navigates treacherous waterways. As you can clearly see, Roo was flailing wildly in the torrent as she came under a brutal pirhaña attack. 

This is the way any retriever worth her salt navigates treacherous waterways. As you can clearly see, Roo was flailing wildly in the torrent as she came under a brutal pirhaña attack. 

Just outside the frame is a small-sized dinosaur, no more than 7-800 pounds. She was camera shy, so you'll have to take my word for it. It took almost no time at all to train her to peck bread crumbs off the ground like a pigeon. And, yes, dinosaurs turn out to have lovely, multicolored feathers.

Just outside the frame is a small-sized dinosaur, no more than 7-800 pounds. She was camera shy, so you'll have to take my word for it. It took almost no time at all to train her to peck bread crumbs off the ground like a pigeon. And, yes, dinosaurs turn out to have lovely, multicolored feathers.

The curse of remote areas is that there isn't much to do, so people tend to develop odd hobbies. Bulldozer and grader whittling is a popular pastime taught to small children because of the whimsical results you can expect from them.

The curse of remote areas is that there isn't much to do, so people tend to develop odd hobbies. Bulldozer and grader whittling is a popular pastime taught to small children because of the whimsical results you can expect from them.

As soon as you get out of Utah, manners fall apart and revert to their usual American standards. This example is somewhere north of Chicken Creek and serves as a reminder to screen bears carefully before inviting them to camp with you. 

As soon as you get out of Utah, manners fall apart and revert to their usual American standards. This example is somewhere north of Chicken Creek and serves as a reminder to screen bears carefully before inviting them to camp with you. 

If you made it this far and you're not a Patreon supporter, here's a free ticket to the story of the itsy-bitsy horse whose life was dramatically saved by Roo K. Beker. And in case you've been losing sleep over not subscribing to the Patreon (for as little as a buck a month), have no fear. A limited number of élite subscriptions are still available. Better hurry, though—at last count there were only about 8000 left.

The night I got the nod from Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin, a legendary New work reporter, died this week. I met him once. 

It was the night of August 10th, 1977. It was summer vacation and I was working for a weekly Manhattan fish wrapper called Our Town. Back then, there weren’t many teenagers who wanted to spend their summer vacations running around the city writing anything, let alone stories about another ConEd rate hike or rent strikes or an apartment building with broken plumbing a landlord wouldn’t fix or a taxi that knocked a hydrant over on 83rd and Lex.

There were all sorts of newspaper traditions in those days, one of which was copy boys in the newsrooms. Their main action consisted of waiting next to a reporter’s or rewrite desk at deadline so that as soon as the copy was stripped out of a typewriter the copyboys could run it over to the editor’s desk. The ones in positions of trust might operate under special arrangements authorizing them to pick booze and cigarettes up at a local liquor store so that they could run that back to the newsroom, too. They were as much mascots as anything else. They’d get to hang around—as long as they didn’t get too close or say anything—and if they were lucky maybe be awarded a nickname or be the butt of a few jokes. Mainly, what they got was a chance to watch some pros make it while others failed.

I'd always wanted to be a reporter. I even applied once to be a copy boy at The New York Times, but they wouldn’t have me. Same for the Daily News, the New York Post and The Village Voice. You had to know somebody and I ended up instead working in a fertilizer factory.

But that was the summer before. This one, my mother was mad at me about something—I don’t remember what—but she wasn’t talking to me. She could lower the boom on a silent treatment like something out of an East European fable where some kid gets his foot stuck in a tree trunk for a hundred years or grows a repulsive wart of some kind that everyone but him can see, weeks of silence at a time, months of her crossing to the other side of the street if you happened to be coming home at the same time she was going to the Five and Dime. Nothing can wear you down or make you want to stay out of the house as much as a silent treatment, so I was doubly interested in getting a job.

They were running Our Town out of a few rooms on the ground floor of a red brick building a couple of blocks away from my mother’s apartment on 72nd Street. I showed up and asked for a job. I could take pictures, I said. So can I, the editor said. I can develop them, too, I told him, in my bathroom at home. Maybe he was just good at not showing that he was relieved. After all, who in his right mind wanted to work there? There was no prestige to it, no cachet whatsoever. They had enough trouble giving copies away, let alone getting anyone to work on them.

The editor leaned back in his swivel chair and said a tryout might not be out of the question—as long as I didn’t expect much and didn’t plan on getting underfoot too much. He sent me out to try my hand on something. One of the boring stories I would soon be specializing in or a picture of a doorman or a subway car or pizza parlor. Before long, I was useful and he seemed to get a kick out of my working there. Kids are malleable. In those days you certainly didn’t need to be too polite to them. Editors traditionally used blue pencils to carve your stuff up. Everything I handed in took him about half a minute to draw lines through, whole paragraphs crossed out, arrows showing where to move the remaining few, words circled, question marks underlined three times all over the place. I would stand at his desk waiting. It was like being in the thrall of a captor who liked to nick you with his stiletto. When he was done, he would air slide the sheets back at me over the top of his desk. “Clean it up and make it interesting,” he told me, and I never forgot it and still can’t live it down. He didn’t offer any short courses in just how one might accomplish those twin goals, but by the time I returned to school I had the idea that it had something to do with doing it until it started to happen. “Oh, and hurry it the hell up,” he’d say, with a look like I gave him gas the way bad cole slaw does. He was a sport and I looked up to him.

I learned how to do layout. Sheets of paper on long plywood tables tilted up at an angle were covered with the articles and photos, the ads, the classifieds. When something needed to be changed, you cut it out or pasted something over it. If a story had to have a black border around it, you used a special kind of tape with little black lines on it. You felt like you were actually building the thing, creating it. Deadlines enjoyed more respect than a Catholic cardinal on the take. Production time at a printing press was booked. There was no screwing around. Oh, you’re late? Sorry. Pay your bill or a couple of guys with broken noses might decide to take a morning off from the Teamsters and pay you a little visit. On the nights when the rag was put to bed, everybody had a sense of satisfaction, of camaraderie. Even including the kid, me. They wouldn’t pour me one of their shots of whiskey or let me smoke any cigarettes, but it was still good. I was a newspaperman, author of dozens of front-pagers people might glance at wile they took the elevator up to their floor, and as far as I was concerned, it was the best thing to be in the world.

And so it was that on the night of August 10th I was in bed in my room when my mother broke the silent treatment to swing the door to my room open and switch on the lights.

“Brrrian!” she said. She had a heavy German accent and the Rs came out of her throat like she was sweeping glass off the sidewalk after a bombing raid on Dresden. “Brrrian—dey caught Son of Sam!”

Holy crap! Son of Sam. The maniac who had been terrorizing New York, murdering young women by sneaking up on them and shooting them at point-blank range with a .44. Occasionally he would dispatch a cryptic message that demonstrated that he was a madman. Famously, he even sent a letter to Jimmy Breslin. After they caught him, he somehow evaded the electric chair, and, in fact, years later, officials became fond of saying what a pleasant guy he became once they got him stuffed full of meds in the pen. He even started preaching the Gospel.

I shot out of bed and pulled my jeans on, made sure I had my notebook and pens and strapped my Nikon SLR around my neck. I flagged a taxi down on York Avenue and rode it all the way from 72nd Street to One Police Plaza where the press conference was going to be. It was far. That was as exotic a ride as taking a taxi to Philadelphia.

Outside, police headquarters was mobbed. The wires—United Press, Associated Press—the TV reporters with handkerchiefs in their hands to mop up the sweat dripping down their faces as they tried to get it right in front of suitcase-sized video cameras and hot lights, the radio guys trying to sound smooth into mics with their station logos in boxes around the shafts—WCBS, 1010 WINS, WABC. And of course the print reporters, the ones with no more tools than pen and pad. This news was as big as news got.

I of course did not have a press pass. The cops, who issued them, only allowed one to Our Town in a sign of disrespect. But on the night they finally reeled in the Son of Sam, the news was good, and so the cops didn’t have any reason to lock anyone out. In I went with all the others. You could tell who the big shots were because older cops with rank—they were for the most part Irish then and still called Micks, at least by the Polacks or Krauts—were doing favors by filling them in before the announcements were made. 

The strange thing is, I don’t even remember if I wrote it up or not. After all, what could Our Town possibly add to the story? Especially when the likes of Jimmy Breslin owned it. I was there because not being there would have been inconceivable.

A senior cop announced what had happened. A combination of a parking ticket and a lucky tip from someone Son of Sam let go instead of shooting led them to his apartment in Yonkers. “You got me,” David Berkowitz, as he was identified, told the cops. He came along peacefully.

After the formalities, most of the reporters stuck around. I wasn’t in their club, but I wasn’t exactly out of it, so I milled around with the rest of them.

That was when I spotted Breslin. Jimmy Goddamn Breslin in the flesh. Years before I had read The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Oh, he could write. You should have seen the piece he wrote when Son of Sam sent him a letter. He is with relatives on one of the victims in their apartment, sitting around a table reading the grim communiqué from Son of Sam. Someone remarks that Son of Sam could write. Breslin agrees. He started the story that way. Breslin was the reporter’s reporter, the kind of guy my editor expected me to read. Breslin’s stories were like surgeries. He cut right through all the crap and told you something that even if another hundred reporters were trying to tell you the same thing, they never could. People in his stories weren’t Mrs. Alice Smith of 180 Tenth Avenue, they were a woman nicknamed Allie with the right kind of stain on her apron from making the kind of casserole someone trying to stretch the kind of money Mr. Smith brought home after getting yelled at all day to push 50 garment racks faster down Sixth Avenue would make. The kind of hurry she would be in because she had to round up the kinds of kids she had. And at the end of it, you’d know exactly what he wanted you to know: that maybe the guy who brokered the garment rack jobs was a crook. No one else could do it like Breslin. It would be a few years before he would pick up his Pulitzer, but he was already a legend.

He was standing there scribbling in a five-by-eight spiral notebook that he braced against his beer belly. He could have used a haircut. He wore a tie, the same kind a footpad or any guy on the subway would wear, loosened and off to one side. It looked like he hadn't untied it when he took it off, just pulled the knot down enough to get it over his head and back on when necessary. Clearly not a man who wasted time admiring himself in the mirror. As he wrote, the tip of his tongue was sticking out just a little. His notebook looked like he had been using it as a pillow on bus rides in its spare time.

I stood there and gawked at him for a minute before I snapped a picture. That made him stop writing and look up at me. In a second he had me figured out. Spindly kid, notebook, camera, who knew exactly who he—Breslin—was. And more than that, maybe: some kid, new to the racket, a kid who appreciated Breslin, which meant appreciating the writing of Breslin.

He didn’t mind at all. In fact, Jimmy Effin Breslin—may those saints the Micks always swore to strike me down if it ain't the truth—himself looked at me and gave me not just a smile, but best of all, a perfectly doled-out nod of professional recognition. Not the kind you’d give a copyboy. The kind you might give a colleague. Then he got back to writing.

All right, so maybe I didn’t really meet Breslin, if by meeting someone you mean exchanging a few words instead of standing six feet away from him without so much as a How you doin'?

But what there was was something much better. Better than a press card, better than running down to the corner Greeks for ten paper cups of coffee for the newsroom at the Times, better than being there the night they caught Son of Sam. I got the nod from Breslin.

The night was shot anyway so when I got home around three or four in the morning I developed the Tri-X film in my bathroom and printed it up on glossy eight-by-ten Kodak paper. I tacked it to my wall and looked at it all the time. I’m pretty sure I still have it, in a trunk somewhere. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter too much, because I remember Jimmy Breslin where it counts most—where I met him. In a cub reporter's heart.

That's right. I maintain I met him. Dere some kinda problem with dat?

And you can take it from me: Jimmy Breslin was not just a great reporter—Jimmy Breslin was a great and generous man.

May he rest in peace.