Prospero’s Tempest

Posted March 19, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

No, not that Prospero, and not that Tempest. But in a city where the overweening entertainments seem to be professional football and NASCAR, a tempest about a bookstore is heartening, even as it is unfortunate.

Prospero’s is a used bookstore (records and other media, too) in Kansas City that I’ve been patronizing for years. For a long time it was my Friday evening destination, and if on rare occasions I or my wife didn’t buy at least one book, we’d spend an hour or two browsing and chatting with the owner. We’ve attended some of their poetry readings and folk music sessions, and I’m sure that over the years, we’ve spent hundreds of dollars there.

About two weeks ago I saw on Prospero’s Facebook page that they now had stickers for the store. I collect stickers like a fool. The best ones I put in my journal. Others I will put on the (unfinished) walls of my Ozark cabin. (And some I may have been known to carry with me when I ran to apply atop stickers I’d see fomenting hateful class wars and such.) Thus I took myself to Prospero’s the next chance I had — which was a Wednesday! — to see what books they might have to entice me and to get two stickers. Lucky I didn’t delay.

The very next day, I saw a post on their Facebook page stating that the stickers were gone. It didn’t take much research to learn the ugly story.

Note the wording in the sticker above (inside the front cover of my current journal — a place of honor!). A certain word there raise the ire of some and resulted in more that 300 comments on the sticker announcement post. It seems that the word “indigenous” had greatly offended many people. When I had read it I assumed that it meant that the bookstore was Kansas City bred and raised, a home-grown store and not part of a national chain. Not so to other readers who took it to mean that the owner was appropriating Native American culture for profit. And that’s phrasing it nicely. Apparently there have been some threats of violence over this. (Read for yourself. I couldn’t get very far through the 300+ comments on the announcement post nor the continuously growing number on the — heart-rending — retraction post.)

Were this a simple matter of some people not knowing the true meaning of a single word, I think it could be more easily dismissed. But it seems that some are choosing to be offended and finding the occasion to be viciously vocal. The Right-wing noise machine has been fired up, and many attacks are now ad hominem, leaving behind the supposed original “offense” of the wording.

I think it’s pretty obvious where my heart lies in this matter. A gentle man of books and the arts, a poet who knows his way around the English language, is going to get my favor until proven otherwise, and I’ve seen nothing otherwise in all of this.


Prospero’s made it into the New York Times just over a decade ago for a sly act. Maybe it’s time for a follow up.



P.S. I did not vote in New York, but I was there for the fateful election day in 2016. I got the sticker from my daughter.


revisiting Daphne

Posted March 14, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

I’ve written here a few times about walking my dog around the lake in a neighborhood park near my home in suburban Kansas City. Now that the warmer weather has been giving the impression it’s going to hang around for a while, I’m visiting that park more often, and I was there over the weekend with my dog, Flike, on his leash.

You may remember this post from nearly a year ago when I opined about a tree there I’ve named Daphne. She is one of several immense and ancient cottonwood trees that stand in the park, and a terrific windstorm last summer had brought down some of those big trees. One was so immense that the poor parks people still haven’t finished cleaning up the uprooted trunk.

But Daphne continues to stand despite being in her “compromised” state. On a recent visit I noticed something about her I hadn’t before. High in her branches she has support system, a three-way arrangement, a love triangle if you will, to keep her from doing the splits permanently.

Can you make out the black wire strung between the three limbs? The city went to a lot of trouble to do this obviously, and I certainly respect the work, but to what purpose? Is the tree special in some way that it merits this kind of attention. The park is noted for having a fishing lake, a walking path, a playground, and seasonal bathrooms as well as “historic features.” Long ago, before the ubiquity of automobiles, a trolley ran out of Kansas City, and one of its stopping points was the suburb where I find myself. Urbanites of that time could take the trolley out to the hinterlands and walk to this park to stroll and partake of the manicured wilderness. Could Daphne have been connected to that in some historic way? Was she a planted tree perhaps? Would that be a reason for giving her this support garment, so to speak?


Also, today is Pi Day.


“The Kick” finds a home

Posted March 13, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running, short stories, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my story “The Kick” before. It’s running related (all of the running I do lately is in my fiction). Anyway, I just learned today that it’s been accepted for publication in Aethlon, in an upcoming edition.

Aethlon published my One-Match Fire story “Runaway” last year (I’m fond of that story), and it was the first and only place I sent “The Kick” for consideration. This is the second publication to accept a second story of mine. Mirror Dance did this as well many years ago.

“The Kick” is not related to any of my other stories or characters. It’s a one-off. And though it has a first-person narrator, he/she speaks of “you” who is the subject of the story, so it verges on being a second-person narration.

Aethlon is a print publication only, so unless you subscribe, I won’t be able to share the story with you anytime soon.

Anyway, happy news.

a man of my size

Posted March 12, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


Perhaps 25 years ago, I was trying on some slacks in the men’s section of a large department store. In the pocket of one of the pants* I took home I found a pen. And not just any pen either. It was a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck ball point pen. Apparently, a man of my size had tried on this same pair of pants earlier and somehow left his expensive pen in the pocket. The pen came to me and has remained in my safekeeping for more than two decades.

I’d often wondered if the pen was worth anything, if it was even an actual Mont Blanc or just some knock-off. (I mean, how could you leave behind something like that if it was genuine?) There happens to be a pen store in my fair city, but whenever I am in that urban mall I don’t have the pen with me to have it authenticated. Except one day last week, when I went to that store deliberately with the pen in my own pocket.

I showed it to the man in the store, and he examined it with his loupe. He read out a serial number that was a good sign (though he thought the number too long) and looked at the ink cartridge in it, made by Mont Blanc and apparently designed to fit in only their pens. What was missing, though, was a tiny etching on the inside of the pocket clip. He said I had two out of three points of validation and that if it were genuine, it would cost nearly $300 to buy such a pen today. Then he suggested I return in about an hour when the store owner was in. He would be able to give a far more informed and confident assessment of it.

So we knocked around the mall for a while and then returned at the suggested time. The owner was in then, and I gave him the pen and told him my story. He was most interested in how long ago I had come upon the pen. That, he said, was a sufficient explanation for why the etching inside the pocket clip was not there. They apparently hadn’t been doing that at the time. He told me had no reason to think that the pen I had not was the genuine article. That poor man of my size had lost a valuable pen, and he must have been frantic about it.

I’ve always had a fascination with fountain pens, and I told myself that when the book deal finally comes through, I’m going to get myself a very fine fountain pen to sign¬† the contract with. No book deal has appeared yet, but when I was in that pen store last week, I decided it was time to indulge in the pen I’ve dreamed of for years: another Mont Blanc, but this time a fountain pen. And so I asked the man to show me what he had.

He asked me a few questions and then brought out of the locked case two pens that seemed to match my wants. They looked identical, and they were except that one had a fine nib and one a medium nib. Slim, black resin barrel with platinum trim and the signature snow cap on the top. He dipped each in ink and let me write with them. I thought the fine nib allowed for better handwriting. (Fine points lead to fine thoughts, natch!) It had a bladder that I could fill by drawing ink into it from a bottle, or I could use pre-filled cartridges. And the colors of ink were amazing. (I’d read recently that green ink in is favored by introverts. Anyone else ever hear of this?)

About a year ago, I was in this same pen shop looking for a fountain pen to give my excellent son-in-law, who had begun using fountain pens for making his notes at work. (He also was going to shepherd me at a half marathon I was running in New York soon, so I wanted to give him a worthy gift.) The pen I chose for him was a nice instrument, and I didn’t mind spending about $150 on it.

But when it came time for me to buy myself the Mont Blanc I’d always wanted, I got severe sticker shock when I learned the price was more than $600!

For a pen!

I blanched. I babbled. I balked. I said I had to think about it. The expression on the man’s face suggested he’d seen my kind of reaction before. I exited the store as quickly as I could, my wife beside me telling me just to get myself the pen and flashing the considerable enhancements she’d had made to her engagement ring recently to suggest obscene self indulgence was okay occasionally.

There was no way I could justify spending $600 on a pen. A pen! We found a place in the mall where we could get a couple of slices of pizza and I could anguish over this ridiculous situation. Sure, it was a nice pen, but how often would I ever use it? I keep my journals with a mechanical pencil (that I think I spent $14 on, and that seemed extravagant). I write the occasional notecard or postcard in ink, but as of yet, that fabulous book deal hasn’t come my way. I just couldn’t do it.

But then the thought came to me that the very next day my wife would be down at that pen shop getting me the pen, and she might not get the right one, so I should probably preemptively get myself the correct pen rather than see that kind of money spent on the wrong thing that I might then be stuck with.

An hour later I was back in the pen store for the third time that day, swallowing hard as I spent $600 on a pen. A pen!

When I took the pen home and sat with it at my desk, I couldn’t bring myself to use it. It seemed too valuable to sully with ink and my grubby fingers. My buyer’s remorse was nearly instantaneous and certainly intense. There are children in my community who were going to bed hungry that evening. My dog has access to better health care than many people. And I just spent $600 on a pen, a bauble, that I was afraid to use.


I took the pen back to the store on Saturday to return it. I expected a fight, one that I would collapse before, shuffling out of the door with my tail between my legs and the pen still in my pocket. To my surprise, however, the man who sold me the pen three days earlier had no hesitation about accepting the return. It was quick and painless, and he even apologized, saying he should have tried to steer me toward a less expensive pen at the time. (I wouldn’t have listened, but I appreciated that he recognized my struggle.) I suppose he’s seen this kind of thing a lot before too.

I am thoroughly cured of my desire to own a fine fountain pen. Gel pens that I can pick up by the half dozen from the school supplies aisle at the grocery store are fine enuf for me. (As long as the ink is blue.)

Soon after that I returned to the department store where I had inadvertently gotten the original Mont Blanc pen to see if they had a lost and found department. I wanted to get the original pen back to the man of my size. While they do have such a department, they don’t keep turned-in goods after thirty days — and certainly not thirty years — and the woman behind the desk couldn’t quite grasp the idea that I wanted to return a lost item rather than report it. So the man of my size has lost a valuable pen, I am weighted with it, and the story doesn’t have an ending.




*Yes, I am aware that in some parts of the world the word “pants” refers to what many people consider underwear, but that’s not my meaning here.

who uses Scrivener (or anything like it)?

Posted March 8, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Finnegans, Process


The One-Match Fire¬†short stories that have occupied my crusty creative self for the last few years eventually coalesced into what could be called a loose novel form. I consider (most of) them stand-alone short stories (and some have gotten published as such), but collected in the novel format they feel more like episodes than an attempt at a continuous narrative. That’s fine, of course, and I think it works well enuf.

But now I’m working on that cozy mystery novel (Finnegans Fogbound) and I’m finding that I must give a great deal more attention to plotting than I needed for One-Match Fire. Events must happen in a certain order at certain times in certain ways. And I am out of practice in conventional novel construction.

A commenter here recently asked if I used Scrivener to do whatever it is that Scrivener does. I don’t. I’ve never considered it. Looking at the site, I see how it could help a writer organize the grand effort, but I wonder if I need such an involved tool. (One I would have to pay for.) Would it do anything for me that drafting an outline and keeping a list of characters can’t?

Do you use Scrivener or anything like it? I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts or recommendations.

today is 6MAR18

Posted March 6, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: , ,

As you probably already know, today is the birthday of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate and perhaps the best-known practitioner of magical realism. While there has been some backlash against magical realism in recent years, the achievements that were made by Garcia Marquez are undeniable. I’ve read some of his works, including A Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera (twice) plus some shorter works.

The company where I sell my labor is international, and we were recently acquired by (or merged with — depends on who is talking) another international company, expanding my exposure to the world. I have daily interactions with people in India, for example. And this is why I wrote the date in the headline as I did. My company has asked us to use this international standard for writing dates, and I have no problem with it. Thus not an affectation.

The Magnolia Review, with my story “Fire Sermon,” came out today as well. The issue is not online, nor it is in print. It is only available to subscribers in PDF form, though I was given a copy by email to see my story and feel the warmth of pride and a kind of achievement of my own. The link is only to the cover art and the table of contents. Here is a link to the issue where you can read my story (if you want). This was their fire issue. Not only is my story, “Fire Sermon,” in it, but there are stories titled “Fire Pit,” “Dustoff under Fire,” and “A Fire in the Neighborhood,” as well as the poems “The Burn,” “Night Fire,” “Beautiful Fire,” “The Fire Chief’s Son’s Sensory Memories,” “Fire Chasers,” “Orange Flame,” “The Fire Triangle Fuel,” “The Fire Triangle Heat,” “Chicago Fire,” “October Fire,” “Feeling the Fire Nearby,” “Old Flame Burning Forest,” “Cotton House Fire,” and even “Prometheus.” There is also a piece of art in the issue named “The Fire That Night.”

There is a single sentence missing from my story. I don’t know if the editor cut it deliberately or not, and it doesn’t affect the flow or “meaning” of the story much, so I’m not going to sweat it. I haven’t read all of the contributors yet (I sometimes do that when my story mingles with others like this), but I intend to read the fiction at the very least.

off kilter

Posted March 5, 2018 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Uncategorized

I traveled to and from St. Louis over the weekend to help my son and his wife move into their new apartment. (Larger apartment in the same complex. The moving effort took less time than the drive there.)

I didn’t get any writing done, though eight hours of driving in two days does give me plenty of time for reflection and plot planning. So when I got home yesterday, I was busy making notes on my ideas lest they evaporate from my mind. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but they generally come back to me.

Anyway, here’s a photo from across the street of the hotel where I stayed:

According to Webster, the word “kilter” is of unknown origin.