Archive for October, 2009

Pool with The Viper

on October 27, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Pool with The Viper

Okay, so maybe pool/billiards isn’t Layla’s top skill and action heroes don’t rely on it to save their necks. But everyone knows that if James Bond or Lara Croft ever walks into a posh private billiards room in Monte Carlo he or she could pick up a cue and beat the pants off any opponent, even a world champ. And that’s because Bond and Croft are just plain cool.

Hence I consider it my action hero duty to learn billiards. Hence last night I had my first billiards class with Melissa “The Viper” Little.

She’s ranked twelfth internationally among women, just returned from playing a tournament in the Philippines, and talks about appearing on ESPN the way other women chat about shopping at the Gap. So you know she’s gotta be good. And with a nickname like The Viper I was expecting a tough, leather-clad biker chick who chews nails and swigs beer. Instead we five beginner students were greeted by a pleasant mom with sparklies on her t-shirt who was the model of patience and eager to share her love of the game.


The class, which was on the second floor of the Wynkoop (downtown restaurant, micro brewery, game place) was two hours, and as you might expect for a rank beginner like me there was only so much I could learn in that time. Yet simply getting down the correct stance, attitude, grip, strokes and follow-throughs started to make a real difference in my game. Yes, there’s still massive room for improvement, but at least I now appear to know what I’m doing at a pool table instead of rambling around it like a posturing twit.

At a hundred an hour I can’t afford The Viper’s private lessons. But the good news is she teaches two hour clinics for $35 one Saturday a month. For me that’s a great way to spend some winter afternoons. Beer and pool. I’ve got class.

Failure to Launch

on October 26, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Failure to Launch

I was supposed to go paragliding today, but because the wind gods were feeling surly it was a no-go.


My virgin tandem paragliding experience was first scheduled for last Friday. But Thursday night my instructor Kay called and said that the weather wasn’t very promising, so let’s try Monday morning.

On Monday morning she called again and said, Too chilly; let’s try for this afternoon. And that’s why at 1:30 I drove out to the foothills west of Denver and Golden and parked near the designated open field. I met Kay, but no sooner had she shook my hand when she gave a scowl at the nearby windsock. It was drifting in the wrong direction, she declared. For about ten minutes we waited, examined the hills above us from which we would launch, and turned this way and that to feel the wind. Then she pulled out her cell phone and called the Wind Whisperer. I had no idea there was such a service. Anyway, the recording she heard made up her mind. “Winds are from the north,” she announced. And unless we wanted to slam into a mountain or land on the highway, cold north winds weren’t what we wanted.

So once again, my first paragliding experience had to be postponed. Now I’m really pissed that the weather in Colorado this year has been so crappy. First too much rain this last June, then two measly months of a shabby remaining summer, now a cold autumn that’s already turning into snow and an early winter.

I want warm thermals so that I can fly away, but right now it looks like they won’t blow around before late next week.

For a few days I was a kind of Robinson Crusoe on a small island off the coast of Panama.

It’s another personal adventure I’ve given to Layla in The Compass Master, but unlike my Bosnian one this story is staying in the manuscript.

I use the island for the flashback scene of Layla’s first encounter with Zach Sandoval, her future lover and co-hero in Compass. She had gone there to get away from a broken heart. I went because I was unemployed and sinking into a depression so black and despairing that only an extreme escape could save me. So with what money I could spare (and really I couldn’t spare a dime) I bought a ticket to Panama, stayed on one island on the Atlantic side, then in the mountains, and eventually ended up camping on the beach of an island on the Pacific coast.


The island is a few miles in circumference and has only a handful of inhabitants. Besides the monkeys and iguanas some Guaymi Indians and white people live in far-scattered places, and at one end, perched on a cliff, is a funky bar/café surrounded by a couple haciendas and hammocks rented out to the low-budget travelers who come by. Frank is the German ex-hippy who owns and runs the place, and maybe it has a name but everyone just calls it Frank’s place. It makes an appearance in my book too, as does Frank. I decided that it was a memorable place for Layla and Zach to meet.

My first night on the island I stayed in a small hacienda that looks out over the water and toward the mainland fishing village of Boca Chica. The next day a fisherman in a hand-made boat took me to the other end of the island and the isolated beach where I set up camp. My tent and campfire were above the waterline and at the edge of the jungle, which was peaceful during the day but at night roared to life as wild animals called endlessly to each other.

Every night obsidian darkness cloaked the world around me, and the only lights were the million stars and moon and a rare planetary display of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn. And every night I made my way through that darkness and onto the beach with its volcanic sand and gazed up at the sky. In one hand I carried my flashlight and in the other my machete. I slept with them both, too.

During the days I meditated, walked, climbed, swam, and let myself heal. Whenever I ran out of water I hiked the couple miles to Frank’s place; once I got lost in the dense jungle,


and another time I made it to a cove where I flagged down a fisherman to take me where I was going. Another time I stumbled onto Christina’s place. She’s a cool retired German nurse who lives in one of the island’s few houses and has a shack in a shaded cove. The shack has only three walls and is smaller than a walk-in closet, but that was all she needed to sell beer to the fishermen and cook me some great pollo y ariz. She also had an outdoor faucet where I washed the sand off my legs and filled up my water jugs. We talked about books and how Mark Twain is so great.

I wish that like Layla I’d met someone like Zach while I was on that island. But other than partying one night with dreadheads and a few other travelers and going to another island to body surf with them, I was very alone most of the time, and in hindsight this was good. I needed the soothing balm of solitude. By the time I left the island I had pretty much healed. And when I write about Layla at her beach campsite and changing her future to include Zach in it, she’s feeling a lot better too.