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Boot Camp Day 10: Can I Get a Witness?

I received an e-mail today from Patty Gras at KUHT (Houston PBS). She’s a producer and the host of a “health and lifestyle” show called Living Smart. The show features topics related to health, alternative medicine, diet, self-improvement, and so forth. Here’s what she has to say about an upcoming show:

“Did you know the happiest man on the planet is a Buddhist monk? Scientists checked his brain waves and found him to be the most joyful person on earth, so we decided to talk to another monk, Master Jian Xiao Shih, so he could share some of the secrets to happiness!

“Master Shih of the Chung Tai Zen center of Houston will share the art …more

Boot Camp Day 9: An Apology and a Plea for Patience

I embarked on a new initiative today. Inspired by what I’ve accomplished in the Boot Camp, I’ve set an ambitious new goal: to write 3,000 words of first-draft text every day. It’s my hope that with this commitment, I’ll push my daily writing routine to a new level and generate some material I can get published.

Today’s 3,000+ words took the form of several fragments—the very raw beginnings of a few stories and essays mixed together with assorted rants and ramblings. I’m going to select a chunk of 1,000 of those words to send to Max as today’s submission for the Boot Camp class, but I’m not ready to post anything (else) new to the blog today.

But don’t worry! I’ll be posting more here soon.

Cleanliness is just a good idea

If I’m going to poke fun at goofy signs, it’s only fair that I applaud the ones I like:


Everyone should wash their hands

Employees must


I found this nugget of wisdom on an unassuming, hand-lettered wooden plaque in the restroom at Antidote Coffee (729 Studewood St, Houston). It’s a refreshing change from the standard-issue health department signs that you see all over the place. I like the reasonable tone, the gentle admonishment that could be spoken by your grandmother, or maybe a patient nursery-school teacher.

“We want you to wash your hands because we care about you,” it seems to say. “Oh, and if you work in the kitchen, we really must insist. Thanks for being so understanding. Have a great day!”

Boot Camp Day 7: The Secret Language of Postal Workers

I had to go to the post office yesterday.

I’d finally gotten around to doing one of the most heinous tasks on the to-do list I call “Noxious But Necessary”: I had written a letter to the Houston Police Department’s red-light camera enforcement unit to explain why I should not be held responsible for running a red light that I didn’t run. I printed and signed the letter, made copies of the letter and original citation, enclosed the exculpatory photos of my actual car with its actual license plate, and packed everything neatly in a 6-1/2 x 9-1/2 envelope. (Everything looks more reasonable, law-abiding, and forthright in a 6-1/2 x 9-1/2 envelope, don’t you agree?)

Unfortunately, my sister, though not usually given to conspiracy theories …more

Boot Camp Day 6: Things That Stood in the Way of My Writing 1,000 Words Today

The first thing I had to do this morning—after brewing a pot of coffee, of course—was to soak in the bathtub for a while. See, I overdid it yesterday in a couple of different departments. I walked 6-1/2 miles in the stifling heat and humidity of mid-day because I had received an invitation to a party that would conflict with the usual timing of my walk. Then I went to the party in question and drank four beers, which is about four more beers than my normal daily consumption of late. So when I rolled out of bed at the crack of 10:15 this morning, my first rudimentary (dehydrated, hungover) thought after “must have coffee” was “must soak in tub long time.”

Coffee mug in hand, I crawled into the tub with the latest issue of Granta, my favorite “literary magazine.” I had read most of the issue, so this morning’s soak was focused on finding every scrap of text …more

Boot Camp Day 5(b): The City

On the wall to the left of my bed hangs a mosaic that I call The City. I don’t know if I made up the name or if it was one given to the piece by my parents. It’s about 18 inches wide, maybe 30 inches high, and it consists of hundreds of squarish tiles, each a little less than half an inch wide, laid out in neat rows to form a crude cityscape. The top half is made up of even individual rows of uniform color, mostly shades of sky blue, but with some yellows, metallic gold, browns, and darker blues thrown in to suggest pollution or the heat of the afternoon, or maybe the coming of night. In the bottom half, there are clusters of rectangular shapes that suggest a skyline. In this part, there are blocks of orange and off-white and gray and larger expanses of metallic gold tiles. The whole composition is set in a bed of white mortar and framed with a narrow, plain wooden frame of cherry-stained wood with a flat finish.

This piece of art has been …more

Boot Camp Day 5(a): Coffee, Rain, and Conversation

There is one thing that stays the same she said and I said What’s that? and she said We always end up talking about Peru and I asked her Do you want another coffee and she said No, I’m fine, but go ahead if you want and so I was gone for a minute and when I came back the conversation turned to other subjects like how hot it gets in Dallas in the summer and how the grass turns brown for what seems like six solid months and all you can think of is Will it ever rain again? and how we don’t know why we stay here but we guess we’ll stay put for a while and then she told me that she liked to think of herself as a poet and I said I can see that in you so why don’t you go back to writing poetry? and she said It hasn’t been the same since he left, but maybe I will.

Note: The prompt for this piece was the lead line, “There is one thing that stays the same…,” which is taken from the work of Abigail Thomas, and the inspiration was a real conversation to which I’ve added a few imaginary elements in order to protect the innocent.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

Boot Camp Day 4: Easter Morning

Gordon knows his wife could use his help inside the house. There are many things to do before the children arrive for Easter dinner. She likes to put out the good china, and there’s silver to polish, and linens to iron, napkins to fold, but he doesn’t consider any of that to be his responsibility. Early in the marriage, he would have been more accommodating on this point, but that was a long time ago.

Bernadette was up at 5:30. She made coffee and began puttering in the kitchen. Gordon lay in bed until 6:15, his usual time, then got out of bed, put in his dentures, took a four-minute shower in the coldest water he could stand, and went to the kitchen for a cup of black coffee. As he drank the hot liquid in impatient sips, he toyed with the garage door opener in his other hand.

“You don’t really have to …more

Boot Camp Day 3: Searching in the Dark

It’s the same dream, but it’s always different. I am back in the old house, the one where we lived before the war came and my father lost his job and we had to move north. I know, as I always know, that HE is here. He is here in the house with me. I can’t hear him, I never see him, I don’t want to see him, because I know what will happen if he finds me.

I wake up in my bed in the room we shared. I look around me in the darkness. I can see the three windows, filled with starlight and street lights. There is more light out there, on the shingles of the roof outside the windows, more light on the lawn that slopes away toward the valley. It is most dark inside the house, but this room isn’t the darkest.

Everything is there as we left it. The huge old radio …more

Boot Camp Day 2: A Different Kind of Faith

How open should an open mind be? What are the limits of tolerance and understanding, and what happens to those limits as our knowledge of the natural world grows?

Today I had lunch with an old friend—an intelligent woman in her late thirties, the executive director of a thriving arts organization. We met at a vegan Indian buffet. Since our last meeting had been at a vegetarian restaurant she’d picked, I asked her a few questions about her vegetarianism. She said she hadn’t eaten any meat or fish for 12 years. I admired her commitment. I told her that although I’m attracted to the environmental, social, and health benefits of vegetarianism, I enjoy eating a moderate amount of meat too much to make the complete change in eating habits.

Later, I asked what I thought was an innocent question: Is there anywhere in Houston where one can learn to practice meditation in an environment free of religious influences? …more