Archive for October, 2010

Birthday Day

Last year, today, Dad took me and a crew of friends out for dinner.  We had a lot of wine and listened to a couple of guys who looked like the Fleetwood Mac guys sing songs about love and flowers and dark nights and bright stars and lemon trees and jet planes and fast cars and brown eyes.  Outside the restaurant, someone drove close enough to my car that their passenger-side mirror cracked and broke my driver-side mirror (at least, I assume that’s what happened).  The skeleton of the mirror was unharmed.  While the plastic shattered, the metal held tight.  And, oddly, the mirror’s glass, though it fell from three feet up to the pavement, did not break.  It lay on the street next to the car.  Wires that heat the glass to keep it defrosted dangled from the skeleton.  I wasn’t sure what to do.

In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  Woodstock happened in 1969.  Sesame Street aired for the first time in November.  I was born in October.  Dad was in New York.  Mom was rushed to Dubuque, Iowa.  I was born in the morning.  Dad arrived in the afternoon.  On the plane, flying between New York and the midwest, Dad told the fellow next to him that he was going to see his newborn son.  The man told Dad that someone had stolen his London Fog raincoat.  Nixon was the president.  Jimi Hendrix was still alive.  I imagine shirtless long hairs, high, smiling, riding bareback on white horses.  My Uncle Steve does tile work in Sullivan County, New York.  Woodstock wasn’t in Woodstock.

Dad bought some packing tape and he reconnected the wires and taped that glass back to the skeleton and the heat worked to keep the mirror defrosted and the glass worked like any mirror would… I could see what was behind me in it.  I still can.  It still works.  It’s still taped.  It doesn’t take much, although I have had to replace some pieces (the messiness is my handiwork — I need to learn to work with my hands).


Colorful Clothing

I don’t feel like wearing all of these colors.  I am wrapped in various shades of festival blue and red-grape purple. Robert McKee, in his iconic book on screenwriting, STORY, suggests that any scene worth keeping in your script need be positively or negatively charged in an emotional sense.  That is, if your character starts down, she should be at least moved a bit up (a positive charge).  If she is riding high, she should be moved down (negative).  Both positive and negative charging is generated by your character’s actions in classically plotted storytelling.  Character has a need.  Character does something to fulfill need.  That action has either positive or negative consequences.

I’ve been, of course, trending negative due to my dad.  As the protagonist in this story, I have decided to act.  I am wearing festival blue and red-grape purple in hopes of creating some kind of positive charge, even though I seriously look like a clown.

Outside, the sky is ice-shitting snow and the wind is gusting to 60 miles per hour.

Good times.

My dad and adventure

Dad died too young.  At seventy.  Some people are old at seventy.  Dad wasn’t.  He was curious.  He thought of what he did, where he went, what he ate, etc., as a series of little adventures.  He pulled adventure out of the completely mundane.  He could spend three hours at an office supply store, marveling at the invention of it all.  He could spend the same time in a grocery store, speaking to clerks and stockers he’d met on earlier trips.  He would learn the life stories of other customers as he waited for service at Best Buy.

One afternoon a few years ago, we went to Best Buy to find a new digital camera.  We looked through the multitudinous lines and options, speaking with a blue-shirt Best Buy associate about lenses and durability and product profile and weight (Dad’s questions, not mine).  The associate helped a young couple as he helped Dad and me.  This couple seemed unsure, nervous.  Soon, Dad helped the couple, too.  Dad, from decades of purchasing Batman-like gadgetry and a long career in television production, knew cameras.  The couple needed a camera for a trip to China.  Dad had been to China.  He taught them a few useful words in Mandarin.  Soon he held a deeper conversation about infertility and adoption.  In China, the couple would adopt their first child. They were terrified, so excited.  Dad told them about hotels and taxis and how kids in China are terrified of and fascinated by blonde hair.   The couple found a camera.  Dad hugged them both.  I stood by, impatient and in awe.  Three hours later we left the store with a great camera my son, Leo, uses to make collages and short videos.

The rabbi at the funeral said that we are directed to greet strangers with our hearts open.  I have not.  I have not had a million tiny, wonderful adventures like my dad did.  Yesterday, at the airport, leaving Florida, I forced myself to ask questions and to smile.  I learned about a Delta employee’s gold ring, mounted with emeralds, his mother’s over-sized, jewel-giving love for him, and his upcoming trip to Rio, Brazil, where he grew up, which also happens to be where my dad grew up, in the 1950s, Belgium and the war behind him, listening to classical music, going on adventures with his best friend, Michael, running for (and winning) school office, doing theater in English (his third language), never sitting still, always saying hello.

We are directed to greet strangers.  It’s a mitzvah to do so.  I will, too.  And I will go on little adventures every day.

Dad, kneeling, with sister Yol, brother Denis, and rest of family in Rio, 1953

Meat as love

In Mankato, my friends eat meat.  Like most writers of our generation, they’ve likely considered going vegetarian, for ethical and environmental reasons, as well as for fashion.  I tried, too.  I ate so much cheese, I gained weight and became anemic from lack of iron and also exhausted from lack of diverse flavor.  I am so happy to have Diana Joseph and David Clisbee in my life.  They have even more meat than this:


Diana and David with some of their meat


In the evening, Diana makes mashed potatoes and David grills this meat and often I stop by and they let me eat some of it.

My dad, Max, has been really sick.  He’s fought cancer for a couple of years and has done pretty well, considering how late in the game doctors found it.  But, the cancer caught up with him at the end of summer.  Now he’s in hospice care.  He’s on his way out, it surely seems.

On Sunday, I’ll be over at Diana and David’s place and they’ll have all this meat, which David purchases in a fascinating way.  He goes to the store, scans choice cuts for “sell by” dates.  He waits, sitting usually in the garage of his home — where he also writes poems — and ruminates on how he might prepare  that choice cut for maximum dining pleasure.  At 8:15 pm on the “sell by” date, he leaves his garage and enters the store and finds that his choice cut has been given a green sticker.  This sticker means Temporary Price Reduction for the product.  David will often pay a third of the retail price.  He buys lots of the green sticker meat.   And then he cooks choice cuts for friends while Diana makes the best mashed potatoes ever.

You sit at that table and feel like things will be okay.

Russ Feingold – Best Senator

Right before I ended my native Wisconsin tenure, I, by chance, sat next to Russ Feingold’s sister on a flight from Los Angeles back to Madison. Feingold had been in the senate for several years at that point. I asked her if he acted like a big shot at the Thanksgiving table. She said he was the absolute same person he was growing up. Super smart. Dedicated to fairness. Tough as nails.

Now, he’s in trouble for being an incumbent. I hope Wisconsin voters remember that there is nothing “establishment” about Russ. He’s a real maverick. He acts on values not on political calculation. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there like him left. Please, Sconnies… don’t let Feingold go. His opponent is an ideologue who knee-jerks without actually researching anything.  He talks like a talk radio host, which is to say, he’s an entertainer rather than a policy expert. We’re all in a lot of trouble already. Without Feingold there to voice reason, the Senate will fall further into impracticality and chest thumping and brainlessness. I wish I could cross the border and help.

Take a look at this New York Times piece.


Don't let him out that door, Sconnies.


You can help pick the cover for Stupid Fast!

This really makes me happy… Sourcebooks is allowing readers to help pick the cover for my new book!   Lots of votes rolling in already.  Why not give your opinion.  I’d really appreciate the help!


I am…

Geoff Herbach. I am the author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special, among a bunch of other stuff. When I'm not writing, I teach writing at Minnesota State, Mankato.

Stupid Fast

Nothing Special

I’m With Stupid

Fat Boy (Gabe Johnson Takes Over)

PowderKeg Stage

Herbach's favorite store

My Bizzle

wordpress stats plugin