These Things That Save Us

Bert.JPGThis weekend we had to say good-bye to Senator Berkeley, my constant sidekick for the last thirteen years. As I work from home, it’s no exaggeration that we’ve spent around fifteen hours a day together, either writing or walking or napping on the couch together. Berkeley was born while Nicole and I were on our honeymoon, and we bought him from a farm near Weeping Water not long after that. He’s been around for everything, and now, suddenly, not.

This is painful not because it is exceptional. The opposite.

Going through old pictures and dredging up many memories, I was reminded of this story I wrote when he was a puppy and later published in 2011 in Conversations Across Borders, a now defunct online journal. This was always one of my favorite stories from my early publishing push, mostly because of its depiction of a dachshund named Weasel. (It’s also fun to look back on a story I wrote in my mid-20s that shows my conception of aging married couples in their 30s and how they deal with being so old.) I wanted to share it here, not necessarily as a tribute, but just because.

These Things That Save Us

After seven years of marriage, the only thing my wife and I owned in common was a dachshund named Weasel. The dog was our pride and joy, a tri-color dapple with gray spotted patches and brown ears. He had his own room on the second floor of our townhouse, a closet stocked with toys, special food prepared by a butcher, and a pet-nanny for when we were on vacation. He had it easy, but he earned his luxuries by making things simpler for me and my wife.

Weasel was the reason I looked forward to coming home most nights. We enjoyed long walks, the dog and I, while Sharon snacked on caramel corn and watched television alone. Before we left for the park each night, as a sort of kitsch joke, I’d lean in to kiss my wife’s forehead where the skin had been tweezed raw around the eyebrows. I’d say, “Love you, honey,” and she’d reply, “Have fun, boys,” as we walked out the door.

Sharon was a big blond woman, but not really fat. She was tall with hips, a small paunch. She looked athletic in a way, but my wife was no athlete. “She’s lazy,” I’d grumble to our friends at dinner parties, emphasizing her faults. Sharon had empathetic blue eyes and could be a wonderful kisser after some wine, but I never told anyone about these things. I stuck to my well-rehearsed punch lines when talking about my wife. How she planned monthly “mental health days” from her morning radio show at a Top 40 station; that she spent little time grooming herself during the week, which is common for morning radio hosts; and that she wasted most of her time wrapped in her grandmother’s quilt, curled into the elbow of our leather sectional. This was what I talked about when I talked about my wife.

It wasn’t quite as bad between us as I liked to make it sound, but it was close. We were in our mid-thirties then and had been married for seven years. We didn’t have kids, we didn’t have a mortgage, we leased our cars. We ate dinner separately, off paper plates, and only begrudged a visit to each other’s families in odd-numbered years. In even years we vacationed to peninsular Mexico during the holidays. It’s safe to say that we valued our privacy above all else. That’s just how we lived.

Sharon, Weasel and I rented a historic townhouse in a revitalized urban district, a nice gentrified neighborhood near a city park. Because the area had been declared blighted, our landlords made a killing remodeling old railroad houses into hip new digs for young professionals and childless couples. The wood floors and antique bathroom fixtures were a real boon to our self-confidence. And despite the air stream that blew through them, the single-paned, oak latticed windows were breathtaking against the backdrop of a white hot Nebraska thunderstorm.

I loved our neighborhood in those days. The park was spectacular when in season, sugar maples and red oaks blooming up with color against a deep fall sky. There were tennis courts and jogging paths, a thru road on which the WT who lived just beyond the park sped through.Bert Ball

It was a nice place to walk, which was what Weasel and I were doing on a late October evening several years ago when everything changed, a Friday just minutes after I’d returned home from tedious business meetings in North Carolina. (I worked for a venture capital firm that specialized in agribusiness and genetically enhanced corn.) The sun was starting to set as we started off, but it was still warm enough to be in traveling clothes, a polo shirt and slacks. There had been a lot of cool rain that season. The grass shivered in the mud when the northern breeze moved over it.

Walking the dog allowed me a kind of privacy, which is also why I enjoyed traveling so much. I yearned for the bustling lonesomeness of airport white noise, the freedom to be secluded in public—to appear deeply pensive without someone asking, “Whatcha thinking?” This is also why I liked to walk, to indulge in the secret adventures of a man and his dog, cruising down the sidewalk with nothing in particular owed to anyone. Just a man and his dachshund. We were free to look in our neighbors’ windows from the sidewalk, their domestic projections lit up incandescent. We could kick and sniff at garbage left at the curb. A man walking his dog has a right to be there.

Weasel bounced next to me and smiled a wide-jowled dog grin, exhilarated by the cool breeze and its unsolved odor. Sharon had him under the quilt for most of the week, I could tell, putting him outside only when the rug was in imminent danger. A dog like Weasel loved to be outside. He needed to run and smell dirty things in the park, crunching cast-off chicken bones when he could find them. There was fresh air and sniffing out dead birds.

We stopped to wrestle in a mound of leaves. I let him bite my hands and squeezed his muscular hocks. Then we walked towards a squash court near the far end of the park, where the thru road entered. On cool nights like that one, I let Weasel unburden himself by the court if no one was around. He took such pleasure in it, which was understandable. It’s sometimes nice to know that others will see your shit.

As Weasel backed into a crouch an SUV came speeding over the hill at the far end of the park. Its wheels went out from under it as it jumped the apex. Its tires barked an unsure cadence as it returned to the pavement. It was going to crash. I saw this. The SUV tipped and screeched on its side across the street.

Weasel jumped towards the noise, he ran out to the length of his leash and yelped at the vehicle as it lay askew against the papery bark of a sycamore tree. Weasel and I ran towards the overturned Bronco. We crunched through leaves as fast as we could, the jingle of his tags marking our stride.

We stopped on the sidewalk across the street and observed the sweat-suited tennis players who were gathering around the vehicle. The Bronco’s airborne wheels still spun, ripped sod trailing its path to the sycamore. “Get me out of here,” the driver cried. The tennis players surrounded the Bronco, hopping on the balls of their feet, but they weren’t helping him. Weasel yelped in a frenzy towards the car’s undercarriage, its muffler, oil pan, and fuel tank—the grime-stained internal organs of a car—jumping on two legs at the end of his leash. After searching for somewhere to tie up Weasel, I slid the hand loop at the end of his leash over a bench post and ran towards the crash.

This wasn’t something I’d thought through, of course, running towards the wreck. It was a corporeal action that just needed to be done. I felt its insistence in that moment and my body was propelled by blind instinct.

The tennis players looked through the windshield at the young man trapped inside, telling him to remain calm. “Jesus Christ,” he screamed from inside the vehicle. “Will somebody help me?”

I leveraged myself on the top of the Bronco, crawled across the dusty front fender and leaned into the window to ask the driver if he was okay. He was little more than a boy, seat-belted into the cockeyed vehicle wearing a camouflage jacket and blue jeans. He had a dirty mustache and greasy, hand-swept hair.

“Can you unbuckle yourself?” I asked, checking to make sure he was alone, but the kid just screamed.

The tennis players began pleading with the kid to turn off the engine. His stereo still played crackling rock. The motor wasn’t running, but the carburetor could be feeding gas onto a hot manifold if the ignition were still engaged.

“You’re going to catch fire,” one of them yelled.

The boy seemed to come to his senses then. He unbuckled himself, wormed his way upright in the small cabin of his Bronco, and reached for my hands.

“The keys,” I shouted, directing him to pull them from the steering column. “Get the keys.”

The kid stumbled off the top of his cab after I pulled him out, tripping into the arms of the tennis players. The neighbors crowded around us and a few of them came to ask if I was okay too, grabbing at my arms, because I must have looked unsettled.

I stumbled through the crowd and sat in the root-crook of a large burr oak, collapsing into a wind-gathered pile of dry leaves. The kid who crashed his car crouched in the group of tennis players, gasping thank yous.

Within the minute, police and fire crews sped onto the scene, lights and sirens blaring, their tires screeching as they arrived. They checked out the Bronco, made certain that it wasn’t a danger to those who’d gathered there, and began marching off distances for their report. The paramedics put the kid on a stretcher and eased him towards an ambulance as they checked for spinal injury and broken bones.

A young cop approached me. “Are you the one who pulled him out?”

He scratched notes in a leather-bound pad as I told him what happened. I explained that I’d recently come back to town, having been away on business. He asked where I lived, and I told him, “Around the corner. It’s a townhouse.”

“What’s your name?”

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“Gerry Martini.”

“What were you doing here?”

I explained how the street leading into the park had a higher speed limit than it should have and pointed out the sudden drop on the park side of the hill that surprised drivers. But he only wanted the gritty details. The crash, pulling the kid out of the car.

“I was walking—” I hesitated then, realizing what I was about to say. “My dog. I need to get my dog.”

The cop followed me across the street and explained that they might need a further statement from me.

“That’s fine,” I said, rushing to the bench where I’d left Weasel, even though I could clearly see he was gone. The leash had been removed from the post. There was no sign of him. I dropped to my knees and dumbly searched through the leaves, my hands trembling.

“Have you seen a dachshund?” I asked a group of kids near the bench, but none of them had. I ran to the squash courts but they were empty, his abbreviated pile of shit lay in the dirt. The tennis players had returned to their games. I crouched and squinted, but there was no sign of Weasel anywhere in the park and my eyes couldn’t seem to penetrate the hazy fall gloaming. 

“Did you see somebody walk off with a little dog?” I ran from

person to person in the thinning crowd, pleading with them to help me.

“It’s a park, mister.” A lady in a blue fleece camisole leaned against a tree, smoking a cigarette. “Who would notice someone walking off with a dog when there’s a car rolled over?”

I searched for nearly an hour. The park was empty by the time I went home. The tennis courts were lit but quiet. The parking lot abandoned. The wide lawns held only trees.

The whole time searching I wondered what I would tell my wife when I went home, convinced that there weren’t words which could explain what had happened.

A friend once asked me if I enjoyed being married.

“She drives the nicer car,” he pointed out. “You do most of the cooking and cleaning. You shovel the sidewalks when it snows. You do the laundry. You were the one to get a second job when money was short. And you are the one that has to travel for work every week.” I had complained a great deal to this friend about the many ways in which Sharon succeeded in driving me up a wall, so he had every reason to suspect I was genuinely unhappy in my marriage. “Tell me,” he asked, “why are you guys still together?”

“Isn’t it obvious,” I told him. “There’s a simple reason why it works. I get to leave town every week.”

Sharon and I met at a Jaycees meeting when we were in our late twenties. I was attracted to her on-air brashness, her blonde Amazon height. I wasn’t exactly looking for a commitment at the time, neither of us were, I believe, but we were married within a few years anyway, in a large secular ceremony at the Alumni Center. We didn’t really have long-term goals in those days. Sure, we saved for retirement, my employer provided a great 401(k), but as to kids, or a house, that just wasn’t us. We found the perfect townhouse and were content to lease it. We were interested in the “is” phase of our lives. The middle-term investment of living year-to-year without letting things get complicated. 

But we did concede to buying a dog, after a few summers, that was our idea of an acceptable responsibility. Sharon saw an ad in the newspaper for miniature dachshunds and we drove to this farm outside Weeping Water to have a look. Weasel was the last of the litter, the only one who hadn’t yet been purchased. He was sleeping in the back of a small plastic kennel under a locust tree when we first saw him, curled into the warm belly of a bulldog puppy more than twice his size. The farm boy pulled him from the nest and held him out to us. They called him French Fry; they called all of their dachshunds French Fry for all we knew. His downy fur was grayish. He sort of rolled his sticky little tongue out of his mouth when he yawned, those whimsical puppy yawns that we couldn’t help but swoon for. The whole way back into the city he slept nestled in Sharon’s lap, crying only once, when one of us turned off the radio.

We couldn’t talk about the fact that Weasel was gone in the weeks after he was lost. The details of how it happened were never brought up after my first feeble efforts to explain them. I had my theories—different varieties of thievery—and Sharon must have held her own, but we never discussed them. I was too guilty to even look at her.

I didn’t understand at the time, but the way in which we’d lost Weasel didn’t matter. What became important were the ways in which we grieved.

We put up flyers around the neighborhood advertising a lost dachshund, walking next to each other down the winding avenues. We placed increasingly emotional pleas in the classifieds and drove around nights after dinner, shining flashlight beams into sewer hatches and under park benches. Sharon even gave Weasel’s description on her radio show, choking up as she recited his distinguishing marks, his overbite, the near almond shape of his eyes.

None of it worked though. Weasel was irrecoverably lost.

pillow

There were times when that dog meant more to me than anything else in the world, but, until he was gone, I didn’t realize how much he’d also meant to Sharon. She needed Weasel to cuddle with under blankets on the couch, caressing his velvet ears, feeling his cold black olive nose against her neck. Sharon had a strong desire to be soothed, for a soft couch and downy comforters. And for a small dog that liked to sleep inside her space, that burrowed under the blankets and nestled his head in the softness of her thighs. It was enviable, in some ways, what they shared. They had a common space, a drowsy comfort. She needed to freak out with him at strange noises when I was away on business, the fur on the back of his neck mohawking into angry spikes. The only remedy to this nervousness was to scratch his puffed chest until it calmed him and her both.

For two weeks I changed my travel plans at work, concocting paper-thin lies for my boss so I could stay home and look for the dog every afternoon with Sharon after she came home from the radio show. It was a reversal of my former routine, now power-walking the neighborhood during daylight hours with Sharon and a sleeve of flyers, searching out groups of kids to ask if they’d seen our dog. I’d avoided children before, because their rough fingers patted Weasel’s back too stiffly and they asked stupid questions. “What is he? A dog-shund?”

Sharon cried on my shoulder when I finally had to leave for Raleigh-Durham. I kissed her on the top of her head and said I loved her. She cried harder when I told her this, her chest heaved, fists clinging to my jacket. It wasn’t until I was in the car that I noticed my shirt was marked with her tears.

She called my cell phone throughout the first day in North Carolina, but didn’t leave messages. When I called her at lunch and in the evening she was tight-lipped. She didn’t have anything specific to say, but she needed to call. Sitting alone in our house, she was compelled to press the buttons on her phone, to punch in my cell number. She needed to tell me that there was no news about Weasel.

“Do you think it’s time to quit looking?” Her voice, the smoky tenor she spoke through on her radio show, had turned into the whiny voice of a teenager. “It’s all I think about at work. Where could he be?”

“I’ve only been here one day.” I sighed into the receiver at the hotel. “But I can come home if you need me to.”

“Okay,” she whimpered. “If you want to.”

Driving home from the airport, I hoped that Weasel would be there when I walked in the door. Sharon had called three times while I was in the air, but hadn’t left messages. It was possible that she had found him, that she didn’t want me to find out through voice mail, that she wanted to surprise me. It was possible that Weasel would be there, his leash on, waiting for me.

This would be the first time I’d come home from a business trip without his yelping to greet me. I didn’t want to believe what was happening would happen.

The house was quiet when I pushed open the door, the living room lit softly with lamps, the television turned off. Sharon was in the room, I realized, on the couch with her head under a quilt. The quilt was black and yellow and cream, its squares stitched into a pattern of striking contrasts.

I thought to call out to my wife, to walk into the kitchen and yell her name across the house as if I didn’t know she was laying there on the couch. I wanted to compel her to stand up and greet me. I dropped my luggage to the floor and tossed my keys on the table. I pressed the door closed and flipped the dead bolt. I rattled the chain loudly into its lock.

Sharon didn’t move from under the quilt. I could hear her breathing, her stifled sobs that couldn’t be concealed. Sharon could never stand to be looked at when we dealt with real things, if she might cry. She couldn’t take that kind of open suffering, and agonized in different ways.

sunset

I walked to the couch, sat by her legs, and rubbed her feet through the soft quilted fabric. For a long while I just sat there. The thought occurred to me that I could leave, that I could grab my jacket and head out for a walk in the park. It was another beautiful fall evening. It wouldn’t have been a strange thing for me to do.

But I lifted the quilt and crawled under with my wife instead of leaving. My body pressed against hers, our long legs mingled. We found each other’s hands and breathed together. In the musty darkness I felt the cold wetness of her cheeks on my face, but we didn’t kiss. We didn’t talk either, but merely shared each other’s air.

More Photos from August Events

Here are a few more photos from my events this month. Between the release of Kings of Broken Things and the launch of our “roving” bookstore (Dundee Book Company) I took part in an even ten events this month, ranging from traditional readings to launch parties to street fairs, radio spots, a cocktail party, and finally setting up last Sunday at my grandparents church. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating to talk to so many people about the book, and the events start up again this Friday when touring-author Zachary Schomburg and I will read from our debut novels at Solid Jackson Books. See you soon!

Photos from the Road: Bad Faith Book Tour ’16

The summer photo dump spectacular continues! Here are a bunch of photos from the bookstore readings I was a party to this summer while out promoting Bad Faith, my debut collection of short fiction.

On to the photos in a second, but first, thanks to all the booksellers, book buyers, and bookstores along the way for your hospitality and hard work. And a special thanks to Dave Madden, Amina Gautier, and Tyrone Jaeger, my compatriots out on the road. This was such an amazing experience and I couldn’t have found any better people to share it with.

The 1877 Society

A quick note of thanks here to The 1877 Society for awarding my short story “Violate the Leaves” the prize for Best Short Story in their inaugural writing contest!

Here’s what they had to say about “Violate the Leaves”: “Wheeler’s story digs into the psyche of a military family through the eyes of a child whose mother is deployed. He is left to experience life with his father; it’s one much more grown-up than he’s used to.” That’s pretty much it!

The 1877 Society is a group of library enthusiasts and advocates in their twenties and thirties who support the Omaha Public Library Foundation. Please consider joining, as I recently did, if you’re in Omaha. It’s a fun club with monthly book-related events and certainly benefits a good cause. (This event in particular looks especially.) To join or for more information, send an email to 1877society@omahalibrary.org or call (402) 444-4589.

Thanks again to The 1877 Society, the judges, and to my fellow winners, Kristine Mahler and Benjamin Simon!

Leaving Europe, Coming Home

From inside the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant wheel in the Prater.
From inside the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant wheel in the Prater.

This post has been sitting in post-op for quite a while but I’d still like to make a few points and share a bunch of photos from my last few weeks in Europe this summer. I’ve been back in Nebraska, more or less, since the end of August and have been kept busy readjusting, recovering, and trying to make up for lost time with the girls. So the blogging has been neglected. Hopefully nobody is too crushed by this fact.

My three months at Solitude served me and my body of work very well. Quantitatively, I wrote a whole new novel from beginning to end, sans a few scenes that didn’t quite take off that I’ll get to soon; conceived of and planned out a multimedia project and presentation (more on this in the coming months) that will illustrate a lot of the research and creative process that went into writing my first novel, the historically-set The Uninitiated; yet another small revision of The Uninitiated before sending it off to agents; and one new short story.

Thinking about these things numerically isn’t usually the best, but I think the work is pretty good too. I’m really excited about the new novel–called Safe Haven, for now, or maybe From the Files of the Chief Inspector. It’s kind of crazy thinking about how it took three years to finish a draft of my first novel (with rewrites coming in each of the two subsequent years to get to a draft that I feel is more-or-less done) and that a first draft of the second novel pretty much took about five and a half weeks to get down. The book isn’t quite done, so hopefully I’m not jinxing myself, but it’s interesting to look at the differences of the two projects. The second book is set in in 2008, so obviously there’s a big difference in the amount of time demanded by research. Also, I had a much clearer idea about what the second book would be about and how I’d structure its different parts, which is probably the biggest change. Anyway, now that the first draft is nearing completion, I’m excited to get onto the 1-10 years of revising before it’s ready to let anyone else actually see it.

From the Files of the Chief Inspector, or, Safe Haven, or, More Work, a novel.
From the Files of the Chief Inspector, or, Safe Haven, or, More Work, a novel.

Just a teaser, a literary crime novel, the book features love stories set in the context of a post-9/11 domestic spying campaign. If you’ve followed this blog for a while and are familiar with my reading obsessions the past few years (Bolaño, D. Johnson, U. Johnson) then you probably could approximate the tone and style of this new project. It’s been fun to write, I’ll say that.

Thanks so much to Mr. Joly, Silke, Marieanne, Claudia, Lu, Clara, Lotte, Sophie, Maria, the other fellows, and everyone else at Akademie Schloss Solitude for their assistance and support during my residency. Solitude is an amazing place made so much more so by the people there.

My final few weeks allowed for just a little more travel in Europe. After taking longer trips to Amman, Italy, and Paris (x2) I decided to keep my last few cities decidedly Germanic, sneaking in a few days in Hamburg, Berlin, and Vienna. Rushing through these cities didn’t do them any kind of justice, but a taste is better than nothing.

I will say that the best Mexican food I had in Europe was at Tin Tan in the Mitte area of Berlin. There were some decent burrito stands in Paris, but Tin Tan was faraway the best. This turned into a running-joke by the time I left Germany, but I was really craving good Mexican food so much. I like paprika and pimento peppers as much as the next guy–probably more–but it wasn’t so easy to go on without a steady supply of chili peppers. (I had plenty of Döner, currywurst, and schnitzl too, don’t worry. Would have liked to live on crepes a few days, but that wasn’t really in the cards.)

Pretty much right after getting home to Nebraska we set off for the Pacific NW to celebrate the weddings of a couple friends. It was a great trip. More travel for the girls–planes, trains and boats this time. Daughter 1 was pretty appalled at how slow and low-tech Amtrak trains are, having worked her way up to a college sophomore level of pretentiousness about rail-travel after summering in Europe. Not everything is the TGV, honey.

While I was definitely not in the mood to spend more time on an airplane at this point, it was great to catch up with so many old friends during my homecoming weekend.

In fact, I was pretty much awed by the reception I received in returning. From Nicole and the girls and the extended family, to the writers at Creighton, even to the security guards at the courthouses I cover for work. People are nice. It was really quite touching, like I’m George Bailey or something.

After that, October saw three trips to Kansas City to following the Royals on their historic run to the World Series. In all, I saw the madcap, 12-inning Wild Card game victory over the Oakland A’s with my brother, drove down for the ALCS rainout with Nicole, and parlayed what we sold the ALCS rainout tickets for into two seats for Game 2 of the World Series against San Francisco. What a crazy run.

A bunch of photos:

Paris, Stuttgart and Rome…with Small Kids!

paris brunch
Brunch in Montparnasse.

Nicole and the girls stopped by for a three-week visit recently. Here are some highlights:

-We met in Paris and stayed four nights. It didn’t seem like the best idea to jump into such a bustling world metropolis right off the bat, but things actually worked out better in the end, I think. We had an apartment in Montparnasse through AirBnb–so there was a kitchen, separate rooms for adults and children, and the flat usually was home to two boys the same ages as our girls, so there were toys and appropriately sized beds that allowed for a long nap once the family arrived. Maybe I’m remembering things rosier than they actually were, but the time difference wasn’t such a massive problem as I feared it would be. For one thing, we kept finding ourselves stranded from the apartment late at night. Since we didn’t bring along car seats, this meant long walks through the city after midnight. Daughter 1 put in a lot of miles over a couple nights, with complaints that seemed to taper off as the routine of getting lost and marching, marching, marching took hold. I think she was a little excited/scared to be out so late too, even if it only felt like late afternoon to her body.

I had one night in Paris before the family arrived and also spent the night wandering around Montparnasse. As someone who’s spent a lot of time walking at night, Paris after dark was irresistible.

Notre Dame along the Seine.
Notre Dame along the Seine.

In general the girls got along pretty well in Paris. Everything was new and exciting. We had that on our side. Look, the Eiffel Tower! Look, Notre Dame! Look, Van Gogh’s Starry Night! Look, jugglers on a Seine quay! Only about every twenty minutes did one of us stop and ask, “What the hell were we thinking?”

Daughter 2 developed an interesting habit of shouting out dire warnings at inopportune times. Like, “Everybody get off this airplane now!” And, “Oh, no! The Eiffel Tower is falling down! It’s broken!” Luckily she doesn’t actually have the shining. None of her visions came to pass.

I was pleasantly surprised how helpful a lot of Parisians were too. Like when we kept getting trapped in Metro gates because there isn’t enough time to push through two small kids while carrying luggage, stroller, etc, so the backpack or an arm gets clamped in the gate. Or the lady at our neighborhood bakery understanding my broken Franglais, sometimes sprinkled with Latin, sometimes Spanish. The waiters in the cafes we visited were particularly helpful. Very surprising. Checking three times if, “Yes? You know steak tartare is raw meat?” before being served at Au Pied de Fouet. Getting high chairs and complimenting Nicole’s French. Always having special desserts for kids–ones that didn’t have egg wash baked on top, so daughter 2 could eat dessert too, even with her egg allergy. Not batting an eye when daughter 2 knocked a glass of water over the table. (Even though I haven’t gotten over the fact that she washed the au poivre sauce off my steak. I’d been waiting my whole life for that sauce!) I feel like most places in Paris (within our price range anyway, which maybe pointed us in the right direction) were pretty accommodating.

-Next we took the train to Stuttgart. After sweating it out in the city, the castle and surrounding forests at Solitude were perfect. We ran around the tunnels and corridors of die Schloss, hiked in the woods, went to the city for dinners, kicked a football around the lawn. We also napped.

It seems like we didn’t do a ton in Germany. As Solitude was home, we mostly tried to recover from Paris and prepare for an upcoming trip to Rome. There were a few events around the Akademie, including an exhibition of fellow Samir Harb’s comics Introduction to [Arch]comicology about Palestine. There was getting groceries and walking out to see the horses that live here. There was finding snails and slugs and frogs on the hiking paths. Getting stuck in rainstorms on the way to Bärenschlössle im Rotwildpark, twice! Mostly we just enjoyed Solitude. It’s an amazing place up here and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with my family.

-Then there was Rome. We stayed four days at Lido di Ostia, a beach resort community on the coast. This is technically part of Rome, about an hour away by train, and was the seaport of ancient Rome. More recently, the area experienced a boom in the post-war years as a tourist destination for modern middle class Romans, and apparently hasn’t been redecorated in quite some time. Everything was so wonderfully 1960s, when Federico Fellini and other Italian cinema icons transformed this stretch of beach into the Roman Riviera. Between a couple days at the beach and strolling the boardwalk, we took the train to the city and saw some sights from ancient and modern Rome.

Italy kind of surprised me. I guess I’d always thought of Italy as more-or-less the same as Western Europe, with some Southern European flair. The loud cousin, right? However, I was reminded much more of the Middle East than anything being there. This makes sense, as Italy is the gateway between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Just walking the streets. The attitudes and postures, the way people spoke and argued. I found it very interesting.

-A few more days at Solitude followed before a return trip to Paris by train. We stayed at one of the American style hotels by the airport. The girls were besides themselves they were so happy. Room service. Big rooms with hideaway couch beds. Showers with drains that worked. Kids’ play rooms off the cafe. Daughter 1 wasn’t shy about letting me know that this was what she expected when we told her we’d be staying in some hotels in Europe. Duly noted, kid.

-Below are some more photos. (The good ones were taken by Nicole.) Just a couple more weeks before I head home.

 

 

One Last Key West Photo–TW Reading at the Seminar

Wheeler-KWLS-2014-5517
Photo by Nick Doll.

I had a jacket on and everything! And only look a little puffy and haggard. Not bad for Day 12 at the KWLS. This was taken during the award-winners reading on the final Sunday of festivities at the San Carlos Institute. I presented part of my piece that won the Marianne Russo Award, “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown,” which is excerpted from the novel I’m working on.

The Year in Photos: 2013

February: We celebrated Valentine’s Day for the last time in our old Benson home and prepared to move across midtown to Dundee.
March: My novel excerpt “River Ward, 1917” was accepted for publication in Boulevard; “The Approximate End of the World,” which was previously published in Boulevard, was noted in the Thirty Other Distinguished Stories section of New Stories from the Midwest 2012.
April: While a freak snowstorm hit Omaha, Nicole and I were off in Los Angeles soaking up the sun in Echo Park; another excerpt from the novel, “The Hyphenates of Jackson County,” was a finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest, but did not take home a prize.
May: The list of upcoming fellows at Akademie Schloss Solitude was announced, which means a good chunk of my 2014 will be spent in Stuttgart, Germany; I was also profiled in Creighton University’s Alumni Spotlight feature, since, you know, I’m so distinguished and what not.
June: A short story, “Shame Cycle,” was accepted for publication by Gargoyle, which should be out in June 2014; the novel-in-progress was long-listed for Inkubate’s Literary Blockbuster Challenge; I offered some summer reading recommendations via The Kenyon Review.
July/August: Things slowed down midsummer, but we piloted a pontoon boat around the Ozarks and went to a baseball game in Kansas City.
September: A trip to Chicago with the girls; began taking some writing classes at the new MFA program of Creighton University.
November: “Impertinent, Triumphant” was accepted for publication by Five Chapters–look for that in March; I won the Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar and will be there for eleven days next month.
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Happy holidays! Here’s hoping everyone has a rewarding and profitable 2014. And that we’ll hold everything together during what promises to be a busy, stressful, lonely, and amazing year.