Gun Control and a New Cover for Fifty-Third and Dorchester

Amazon has rules. I was blindsided by one of them. They will not advertise a book on Kindle if the cover has a realistic depiction of a firearm. The rule only applies to marketing books on the Kindle, not the books themselves. My latest Fifty-Third and Dorchester cover has a realistic representation of an AK-47 on the cover. I put it there because firearms have a deadly fascination for me. Like venomous snakes and open wounds, I don’t like to look at them, but in the right context, I can’t take my eyes off them.

I should say something about guns here. I have been around guns all my life. On the farm, we always had a rifle and ammunition around. Animals sometimes have to be put down, predators have to be killed or driven off. I had cousins and uncles who are gun enthusiasts and enjoy collecting, plinking, and target shooting. Guns are useful tools and fascinating devices, although they are less useful today because there so many people around now and accidents are more likely. I don’t like denying anyone a useful tool or a cool device.

Guns for personal protection, I’m not so enthusiastic about. Reggie Haskell has his Colt Python and he uses it much more freely than I ever would. I was threatened with firearms on the South Side streets several times. Never once did I feel that I would have been safer if I were armed like Reggie.  A gun is a desirable object on the rough streets. There are many dangerous people who would not hesitate to risk attacking anyone carrying a weapon for the weapon itself.  Maybe if I were trained like Reggie and had his temperament, I might, but I don’t and I have better ways of facing off attacks.

I am not Reggie Haskell and I would rather that only the Reggies of the world were allowed to carry.  The current popular reading of the second amendment is a misreading, in my opinion. The traditional reading gives the right to regulate gun possession to the states. The amendment gives the states the right to maintain militias, which I take to include police. In my opinion, very few people are as well-trained or strong-minded as Reggie, and therefore, very few should be allowed to carry a weapon. Most who are qualified, are in the police or military. Although I sometimes have doubts, in general, our system of government is strong enough to control both the police and the military and therefore, I would prefer fewer people carried weapons. Stories about some poor gump with a gun saving lives and property are rare to non-existent, as much as some people want to see them. Stories about incompetents with guns killing people without good reason are frequent.

The times that I was threatened by a person with a gun, I defended myself with my wits and empathy. Since I seldom carry anything of value, it has never been hard to convince my would-be assailant that I was not worth robbing and I have been lucky enough to convince them not to kill or injure me because I let them down by having  nothing to offer them. A middle-schooler with a pistol once slapped me in the jaw because my wallet was empty, but I kept my wallet and walked away. That’s a good enough outcome for me.

Fifty-Third contains lots of things that are not intended to be pleasant. That’s life, that’s what we all struggle with, and I put an AK-47 on the cover to let my readers know that Fifty-Third is a serious book about serious issues.

But I want to market Fifty-Third and I won’t argue with Amazon about their taste in book covers. That is not a serious issue. So Fifty-Third gets its fifth cover. I learn by doing. As always, comments are welcome. And sigh up for Vine Maple Studio Friends to get a free Lupaster and Haskell short story set some years after Fifty-Third.

Treasure the Morning

What’s special about mornings? I have an answer. It’s not mornings, it’s what you do the day before.

Experience developing software

When I was developing software, I discovered that when I was stumped, the best thing I could do was to think through and write down the problem as exactly as I could rather than try to concoct a solution. I could throw away the notes, I seldom looked at them again, but after they were on paper, go home, take a nap, get a fresh cup of coffee, whatever, just change the subject for a while. Don’t think about it for a while. A solution would usually come to me.

On the other hand, wracking my brain for code never seemed to work well. I might be able to hammer out something sufficient, but it was never my best work.

Conscious versus unconscious mind

From this, I’ve concluded that my conscious mind is less capable than my unconscious. The best use of my conscious mind is to clarify problems, not create solutions. If a solution does not come freely and effortlessly, I try to clarify the challenge rather than construct a response. When I think I have the problem as completely understood as I can, I stop and wait until something pops up.


This is why many people treasure the morning. The unconscious mind has a fresh cauldron of newly minted solutions to deliver to consciousness after a night of work. The new day’s task is to implement these solutions and gather a fresh batch of clear problems for your unconscious mind. I am surprised when I see how much better I feel and how much more I get done when I stop fretting over solutions and strive to understand problems.


In writing, I don’t try to plan what I will write. Instead, I make notes on what I am trying to say, the kind of story I am trying to tell, what my characters feel. I notice that John Steinbeck did a lot of this in his journals and Raymond Chandler did the same in his letters. At least I am in good company with this approach.

Oddly, I often lose track of this plan and frequently have to stop myself from going for a solution instead of clarity. Insisting on a solution rather than a clear problem is a trick that my stubborn self-defeating resistance plays on me all the time.

Callie Oettinger posted a “What It Takes” blog on Steven Pressfield’s site that inspired me to think this over and I posted a version of the above as a comment there.


A Man, a Cigar, and a Plymouth

A pear tree planted by Gottlieb Waschke.

I posted this item almost ten years ago and has been one of the most read items in the Vine Maple Studio. I edited it lightly for this repost. I should note that this story is constructed entirely from hazy memories that have passed through several hands. I would not take it as entirely historical.


My great grandfather, Gottlieb Waschke, like most men from the turn of the century, smoked cigars, but he was not good at driving automobiles.

He had a nickel silver match case with a cigar end clipper and an engraving of a stag on the front. My grandmother said he brought the case from Germany.

After he married off six daughters and more or less established four sons, he bought a Plymouth and drove it around some, but he never learned to drive well. A man with six married daughters was under no  compulsion to drive any better than he felt like, and the state had not gotten around to traffic laws or requiring driving licenses. In photographs, Great Grandpa resembled his contemporary fellow Prussian, Otto von Bismarck. My father remembered him as stubborn with unshakable self-confidence, even arrogance. Those traits could not have been mellowed by his success with managing family affairs.

Dad rode with Grossvater in his Plymouth a few times. He overheard the old man muttering “Recht, recht,” and “Links, links” (German for “right, right” and “left, left”) as if he were driving his German speaking team of horses, when he wanted the car to turn. Dad, who was not more than six or seven at the time, said he wanted to laugh, but did not dare.

John Schaefer, a family friend whom I have mentioned before, told me a story about my great grandfather’s driving. One sunny September Friday,when all the farmers were in Bellingham shopping, paying bills and selling things, Great Grandpa decided to drive in to town. John Schaefer saw him in his Plymouth on the corner of State (then called Elk) and Holly, a busy spot in town. In its way, as busy as any intersection anywhere. Great Grandpa was stopped waiting for traffic. When traffic started, he popped the clutch and killed the engine. Horns started honking, and one driver, probably having just left one of the taverns that were everywhere before and after 1919, shook a fist menacingly.

John Schaefer was a self-professed no-good at that time, probably just out of one of the taverns himself, was watching from a safe vantage on a bench on the sidewalk, smoking a scant teaspoon of Bull Durham tobacco wrapped in wheat straw paper. John said Gottlieb gave his harassers less attention than he paid to the manure in his barn, took a six-married-daughters stretch, and searched his pockets for a cigar, which he eventually found. With great care. he used his nickel silver match case trimmer on the end of the cigar. The crowd gathered and more drunks got word that something was up. They began to creep out onto the street as Gottlieb trimmed his cigar exactly as he liked it, stopping to test the draw and admire his work.

John began to fix himself another smoke as Gottlieb lit a match. The first match blew out in the breeze before Gottlieb got it up to his cigar. In those days, before the landfills and regrades had leveled and molded the geography, Elk street was closer to the water than it is now and John said there were a few oysters to be picked up right in town. On a tough day, you could go out on the tide flats and gather a meal, and Jake at the Waterfront Tavern would let you eat it at the bar if you could afford one of Jake’s watery and short nickel beers.

All the old settlers, Gottlieb included, learned to go to the water when food was short, to treat the sulfurous stench of the tide flats as a comfort that could be relied on in tough times. Gottlieb no doubt smelled the tide flats of Bellingham Bay and took comfort as he calmly lit his cigar and took a few fragrant puffs, feeling satisfied that September afternoon.

The horns honked and a few more fists were raised, but John Schaefer pointed out that Gottlieb Waschke was known to have four sons and six sons-in-law, three or four of whom were always ready and eager to take offense, possessed fists like stones, and had arms as hard and tough as a vine maple trunk. This thought kept the crowd in check as Gottlieb got the fire burning nicely in his cigar, started his Plymouth, and drove on.