Fearless Essay

Written 18 years ago

So as not immediately to off-put some readers, I need to introduce the topic with a few prefatory remarks.

I have read, and do believe, the adage put forth by experienced writers that one must be fearless in one’s writing. One must be true to oneself, in order to be true to the reader.

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. –William Shakespeare (Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes, Hamlet’s buddy).

These prefatory remarks must include that I am on the cusp of attaining 77 years of age. My son-in-law Ken said to the family, upon my uttering something in questionable taste, that after age 60, which I then was, one can say what one wants. At age 77, it seems imperative that I say what I want, for the time is growing shorter in which to say it. Furthermore, the subject has a direct relationship to my age.

Now the subject: it’s about my scrotal sac. There—I said it. Allow me to explain.

It becomes inescapable as one ages to find certain portions of the body to begin sagging or growing larger. My nose, my earlobes, the skin at my throat are not those which I had at age 21. It is also inescapable to realize the same happens to other, less obvious parts.

Consider the ordinary toilet, western style, where one has the convenience to sit as if on a chair instead of squatting as people in many other countries do. My bones and sinews are not made for squatting. I have visited countries where squatting is the norm (Afghanistan, Thailand) so I appreciate this comfort when it is available.

Now, consider something about toilet bowls—they have water in them, usually, at least a little at the bottom. There seems to be a trend in toilet design, especially in fancy hotels and restaurants and in private homes that are trendy, to have deep bowls (a good thing) filled almost to the brim with fresh, sparkling water (a bad thing).

Why is the latter a bad thing? Because my scrotal sac becomes completely immersed in the clean, sparking water and I dare not micturate or perform even more complicated tasks, lest the cover to my blessed balls becomes anointed with unwelcome fluids and materials.

 Toilet Levels

I must not fail to speak of the sudden shock of unexpectedly immersing this container of formerly precious family jewels in cold water when sitting on an unfamiliar toilet while my thoughts are engaged with things other than the immediate task at hand, or bottom in this case.

Yes, one grows longer in the tooth and longer in the sac. This is a warning to my younger male colleagues and a reminder to amateur and professional designers of toilets, and interior decorators of all kinds, to please, for the love of your fellow (aging) man:

Keep the level of water in your toilets to the minimum necessary for a sanitary conclusion of their sacred function.

Addendum: I will not write on the horrors of trying to perform necessary functions on a toilet in an airplane or long-distance bus, except to say they typically have no water, but they are shallow and cold, and do not allow room for a proper, unimpeded dangle.

Thank you for listening.


I wrote this in 1958, before we all became trapped in the Matrix.

I suppose I’m glad you were able to fit me into your tight schedule, doctor.

No, don’t be offended, please. It’s just that I know I should feel grateful, but I seem to be devoid of all emotions.

No, not sad, just blank. I am curious to know what motivated me in coming to see you, though. It was a tossup between you and the pills.

Sleeping pills. Least painful way I could think of. Hate pain. No, not hate—that’s too emotional. Have a tendency to avoid pain is more like it. Sort of a negative tropism.

No, nothing in particular prompted the decision.

No, I have no problems—nothing real, anyway.

Well, if you want something specific, I guess paper could be one of the main reasons.

Yes, paper. My wallet’s full of it. So’s yours. File cabinet over there, the notes you’re taking. We’re all accounted for on paper. There must be a few hundred thousand sheets of paper that represent me. Birth certificate, school records, medical records, military service records, dental records, marriage license, divorce records, driver’s license, insurance papers, credit rating, job record—there most be more somewhere I don’t know about.

I’m all accounted for. I’ve been drained dry. I’m all on paper. If you want to find the real me, just search through a few hundred sheets of paper. But you know all about this. After all, you’re about twice my age.

No, I’m only twenty-five. I do look kind of withered, don’t I?

Sure I’m sure. Here’s my driver’s license. See? I have other proof too, if you want it.

You sure are taking a lot of notes, aren’t you? I have a feeling that you shouldn’t write so much, doctor. Gives me a kind of gnawing sensation. I don’t know how to describe it… Feeling thirsty… Say, doctor, please don’t write so fast… DOCTOR…

“Nurse, Anne, come in here. No, first call Doctor Brady, then come in.

“Look at this man—he’s all shriveled up. He just sat there and shriveled up and dropped dead. Weirdest thing I ever saw.

“Oh, hello Pete. Look at this guy. Weird, huh? Look at these notes I took. See what you think.

“Anne, call the coroner’s office will you?

“Pete, I’m going to write this up and present to the next regional meeting.”


Imaginary Hike…

…In the Coastal Range of Central California

The first few hundred yards are the easiest and quickest. Civilization soon gets behind and below me in my initial haste. I change to the regular and slower, upward marching that gets my heart, legs and lungs in a pleasing synchronicity.

I adjust my senses for possible sudden signs of wildlife as the unfamiliar trail narrows and the foliage thickens. I am not afraid of the coyotes, tarantulas, and bobcats, but a harmless lizard will make a sudden move that says: snake!

The only dangerous plants are the shiny red and green bushes of poison oak and the needle-tipped leaves of the yucca plant, both easily discerned.

I enter a cloud and its moisture brings welcome coolness to my face and arms.

The continuous, regular rhythm of my lungs’ halations helps me purge the feelings and thoughts associated with other humans and their works.

There is no trail to guide me further. I find a deer track.

Umunhum-03The foliage is watered by Pacific fogs and low clouds at this elevation.  Patterns of moisture flow through the undulating and twisting canyons, and through the convoluted layers of sedimentary rock below the surface.

Trees, bushes, grasses, mosses, lichen.

I don’t want to twist an ankle or break a bone by slipping into a hidden hole or crevasse.  No one knows where I am.

The delicious danger of this part of the hike makes my heart beat with more urgency than called for by the exertion of the climb.  My senses are at their peak alertness and I feel fully alive and vibrant.  I am not fearful, nor am I careless. I am positive in every movement; I neither hurry nor plod.  I observe everything around me directly, without being conscious of my observing.

This steeper climb taxes my legs and lungs, but the adrenaline generated by the adventure helps me easily overcome the burden.

Without time and almost without space, except for the flow of greens and browns past my eyes, I march upward.

I enter a different vegetation zone. Things are deeper green, and denser. Smells are damper, more pungent.  I step over trickles of water seeping from beneath the layers of fallen leaves and dead tree limbs.

I break through the top of the cloud.  The foliage is too high and thick to permit but small bursts of direct sunlight.  The dryer air has a lightness that stimulates me to quicken the pace.

I suddenly emerge into a clearing, the sun slanting from the right.  I stop, back up slightly to scan the open area from the shade, and allow my breathing and heart to resume slower rhythms.

I’ve worked up a sweat.

A large rock formation in the treeless area ahead offers time in the sunlight.

The sounds of the birds envelope me.  They have become untouched friends over the years.   I am gladdened and relaxed by their chattering, chirping, clicking and warbling.  Even the raucous jays are part of this pleasant symphony.

I see the ridges of the nearby mountains for tens of miles.

I doze, aware but unfocused.  No questions, no concerns.

Time no longer exists.  I am where I am.

I have joined with the forest and its mother, the mountain.

I am home.

Flight Check List

“Here I go again,” mutters Marvin to himself. The anticipated punishment of traveling through 9 time zones within 24 hours, with two plane changes makes him cringe in despair.

“I hope I don’t forget anything this time,” he thinks, remembering the mild panic he suffered last time when he found he had forgotten his inflatable neck rest.

He once again goes through his mental checklist to assure himself he will bring all he needs in the carry-on bag: eyeshades (check), earplugs (check), water bottle (remember to fill it after the security check—check), CD player & music CDs (check), earphones (check), NECK REST (check), slippers, melatonin and headache pills (check), extra handkerchief (check), bag of trail-mix (check), two apples (check) … “ooh, what have I forgotten?”

“Books!” (check).

Marvin has two hours before he needs to leave home via taxi to the airport. “If I just relax and visualize myself on the plane for the whole trip, I can remember what I may have forgotten,” he thinks to himself as he sits back in his easy chair.

He relaxes a bit, and the first vision that comes to him is being unable to get an aisle seat and sitting, once again, between two very large people who imprison him in his chair and squeeze him away from use of the arm rests. He knows, beyond all hope, he will not comfortably sleep for any significant time during the trip. He remembers with dread the dilemma of feeling thirsty but being afraid to re-hydrate because this means getting past the FAT PERSON impeding his access to the toilet. “Ohhhh,” he groans.

But then, he reminds himself that he always gets there, and the agony will be over—except it won’t! There will be one week of being a zombie after arrival. The mornings are usually all right, except they begin at two or three AM. It’s after lunch the horror begins. He anticipates the usual death of his higher brain functions, the strange twisted feeling between his eyes, around three-quarters of an inch into his skull. His eyes just close themselves, no matter where he is. It is as if a great hand descends from the sky and presses him down, down, down to the floor, or couch, or chair—wherever he may be. He promises himself not to be driving in the afternoon.

“What have I forgotten?” He goes through the checklist again.

“My reading glasses!”

Shred After Reading

Intra-office Memorandum, Level Alpha
To: Alpha 02
From: Alpha 03

2014-12-12, 1343 hours

Shred after reading.

Body of message:

Beta-05 has completed his assignment. H.L.’s domicile contained only one thing of value: draft of a story on his personal server, recreated below.


  1. Are there other copies in H.L.’s possession, digital or hardcopy?
  2. Did he send one or more copies of this draft to others?
  3. Is he currently in contact with Subject J?
  4. Does he know the location of Subject A? If so, is she open to communicating with him, despite her instructions?
  5. Current location of Subject J.

Actions taken:

  1. Corruption of the aforementioned draft of story. It resides on H.L.’s server only as a title. It cannot be successfully read on H.L.’s screen, nor can it be transmitted or recreated, unless he recreates it from memory—or from a hard or digital copy of which we are unaware.
  2. Made one digital copy of story for reproduction here; have destroyed it; you have the only known copy in this transmission, which you will destroy after reading.
  3. Left his domicile with no traces of entry.


  1. Are there further instructions for me?
  2. When will you tell Alpha 01?
  3. H.L.’s story appended.


The Man Who Couldn’t Hear Women

By H. Latham


The truth of it is that John could hear some women, but he didn’t realize this until junior high school. He said they sounded like birds chirping.  By the time he was an adult, he could hear some women most of the time and could understand some of their words, but just wasn’t interested in what he heard.

But this is to quibble because, as far as John was concerned, his default position (he thinks in these terms) was: he couldn’t hear women.  He could always hear his mom, however, but she died just as he entered college at 17.

John’s peculiarity hadn’t been a significant problem to him until he turned forty around two years ago. He and I are life-long friends, so he looked me up to unburden himself to me, in his usual measured manner and well-thought-out expositional style (I’m kind of a journalist and like to use these terms).

How John managed to get by, until now, without having important problems in life is the main idea behind this narrative, and I’m hopeful that if he agrees I can sell the story and make some money.  I know this sounds pretty cheeky and crass, but it really is an unusual story and John has all the money he needs.

If you would be interested in publishing this story, please let me know and I will send the full story to you.


Both our families lived in a suburb of the state’s capital city, within easy driving distance of the international airport, which was important to John’s parents. We lived there because it was cheaper than the city, and my parents had a small business in town.

John’s parents were sort of unusual.  I mean, they were both very successful professional people when it was unusual for both parents to work at high-level jobs that were at about the same status.  He was a banker (international) and she was an engineer (electronics), in the research division of a big company that had a campus on the edge of town.

John’s parents were old when he was born, so they seemed more like grandparents to me. He was their only child, so he had all the privileges of wealth, relative to the rest of the guys. But he wasn’t stuck up and didn’t act as if felt superior or better off.  He was just a regular guy, even if he wasn’t interested in sports.  He was good at cards, though, and he was a regular wizard at the pinball machines (this was before computer games came on the scene).

Starting when we were in junior high, I often went to John’s home to listen to music on his hi-fi rig and play on the three pinball machines his parents had bought him. He even taught himself to repair them. He had built the hi-fi rig from scratch, using Heathkits. When we got into high school he built a computer from a Heathkit, but I didn’t pay much attention to this because I just didn’t understand what he was doing with it.

Mainly it was the great modern jazz and old blues I could listen to that kept me eager to be at home with John. He also had some really interesting girly magazines, right out where anybody could see them. His parents gave him a subscription to Playboy, and he got some other, not so polite ones from somewhere I don’t know. He was in love with Bettie Page. I was too.

His folks were hardly ever home, but he never got into trouble, especially with girls. Like I said, he couldn’t hear them, so they were pretty much invisible to him and, of course, he just didn’t exist for the girls in school. He was a geek, for sure.

He didn’t drink, either—I mean beer and whiskey—like most of the other guys. John said it took his edge off. I didn’t know exactly what he meant then, but I now know that he treated his brain like a precious instrument, which it possibly still is.

There was one girl in junior high school he could hear. She dressed like a boy and if she had tits, she hid them under a loose shirt.  He heard her talking back to group of snotty stuck-ups who were ragging on her, and it kind of surprised him. He never said anything to her, he said to me then, because he didn’t know what to say to a girl. But this was important information for him to store away for future possible use, as he told me at the time—he could hear some women, or at least this one girl.

I suppose you wonder how he got along in classes where there was a female teacher. His (female) teacher thought he had a learning disability when got into first grade. His folks sent him to a (male) specialist who said there was nothing wrong with him.  They figured he needed something, and could see he had trouble understanding females, so they put him in a nearby Catholic school run by monks and priests until it was time for junior high.

This is where I came in, at least in junior high. We purposefully took the same classes. I was a good note-taker and John could read and remember a textbook almost at a glance.  He helped me with the math and science stuff that he was a whiz at. Man, he really was a brain, but he looked geeky and stupid when female teachers called on him, so they stopped doing it. He always got an A in any class where the teacher didn’t mark him down for being asocial—“fails to engage with the instructor and other students,” or some crap like that. These were the non-math and non-science classes.

When it was time to start thinking about high school, John told his parents he wanted to go to a special technical school over in the capital, around 80 miles away on the other side of the airport. They were super okay about it, and they set him up with his own apartment next to the campus and made arrangements for an official guardian to be appointed—one of his dad’s business associates who lived in the city.  John even was allowed to have his own car so he could drive home on the weekends, if he wanted to.

When he did drive home we hung out together, as usual, but by this time we had given up the pinballs and would play the latest games on the two computers his folks had got him. He gave them all the specifications.

Even though the games were a challenge for me, John got bored with them after taking them to their limits a couple of times. He decided he was going to write his own games and, since he was taking classes in computer programming at his high school, he knew where to start. Even his school wasn’t advanced enough for his ambitions, so he learned all the other programming languages he could, on his own. He ended up creating a language that was specific to the kinds of games he wanted to play. His dad helped him get a few copyrights, and he was set for life.

But John was no business man, and he knew it. He just wanted to make new games, improve them to their limit and move on to other games and other software challenges. So, after he completed his high school early, at age 16, his mom and dad helped him enter a technical college where business was also taught so he could get in contact with business geeks.


Like I said, I come into his story again when we were both forty years old.

We hadn’t been in direct touch since he went to college at seventeen. John could easily find me on the Internet, of course, but I was surprised to hear from him. I had been working at a publishing house, mainly as a gofer with a fancy title, hoping to climb the ladder into something more interesting and remunerative.

Meanwhile John became financially successful as a geek whose talents were appreciated and used by a small team of entrepreneurs who knew how to capitalize on his technical genius. They treated him like the precious commodity he is. He lived in an artificial world they created for him, his every need catered to. But he had few needs, certainly few social needs. What he needed mostly is his own laboratory with endless and immediate access to the most advanced tools in geekdom.

But, at age forty he met a woman he could hear and fell completely, almost fatally, in love. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him but he didn’t care. He was in a new world and he explored it completely, endlessly fascinated with new feelings and sensuous experiences which had eluded him until now. He saw the world as beautiful, a concept new to him.

She, on the other hand I later learned, was not new to the game and had spotted a good target for herself. She was thirty-five, twice-before married, and very intelligent. They met at a Mensa function, something one of his colleagues urged him to do. She could match and even surpass him on an intellectual basis due to her greater life experience. She wanted simply to mate with John so she could give birth to at least one child who would have a greater than average chance to be, by her way of thinking, superior, which superiority will redound to her status. She also liked that John had personal wealth beyond his needs.

Because of this new state John could now hear most women, but he didn’t pay much attention to this new condition until the luster of the relationship with Athena began to fade. He started noticing other women before she found the opening to get him to marry her, so she settled for getting pregnant and getting a pay-off from him. He, at this point, was spending money like a sailor and getting in bed with all the women he could. But his business partners were hovering, trying to protect him and their investment in him.

After several months of bedding every woman he could entice, he started losing his ability to hear them. At first, the sounds of their voices simple grated on his nervous system. Then he began not to understand the words they were saying to him.

This just lays the foundation for the rest of the story.

Please consider this a formal inquiry to your publishing firm.


H. Latham

End of Alpha Level transmission, 2014-12-12, 1343 hours




The occasional visitor, almost always a woman, will ask me what the cat’s name is. I tell her the cat hasn’t  told me. I say that names are for humans and a cat is a cat. So I just call him Cat, even though he doesn’t pay any attention to the name. He pays attention to food, and to warm places to sleep, like my chest when I’m sitting in the recliner or on my legs when I‘m in bed. He lets me know when he wants to be scratched without having to call my name, which he doesn’t know anyway.

Cat is pretty good company. He doesn’t make unnecessary noise and he’s good to look at. I like the way he moves. I think he hears things that I can’t hear. Every once in a while I find him staring at a wall with his ears tucked flat against his head. He can stay that way for quite a while. Possibly he hears mice. He presents me with a mouse every once in a while. I stroke him and feed him when he does his duty like this. Otherwise, his job is just to be himself, which he is good at.

The woman will ask “where did you get him?” I say “he got me.” He just showed up one day, through some passages I was unaware of at the time. He was in the kitchen when I arrived one day, and he seemed to expect I would feed him. I did, and that seemed to settle it.

He’s a bigger than average short-haired tabby, with wide shoulders and one half-an-ear that I guess got torn in a fight. I’ve known adult male cats before, so I worried at first that  he’d put his musk marks all over the place. He hasn’t, so far. I guess he doesn’t feel the need since he reckons he owns it already, or maybe he reckons it’s mine and I’m the boss? Anyway, who can figure out how an animal thinks?

I guess I’ve gotten pretty fond of Cat. He’s a good companion. If he isn’t around for a few days I wonder if he’ll be back. So far, he’s always come back, but he’s made no promises.

The Perfect Car

When I have been awake-dreaming, imagining impossible things for my own entertainment, I have thought about the perfect car. I have shared this one with Fred, because he understands; there is nothing he doesn’t know or hasn’t thought about cars.

Of course, I’d have to be completely rich with no cares about how much I spend on the perfect car. This makes the imagining easy.

Here is the basis for my desired car: I want it to be powerful, invulnerable, anonymous.

Let’s say I go into a car dealer that sells Rolls Royces, or High-end BMWs. Let’s say I look at a larger than average size, but not ostentatiously large, four-door sedan. Let’s say I like it and say to the obsequious and fawning salesman: “I’ll take it—wrap it up.” The last little comment is to make the cringing salesman quiver with uncertainty. After he mumbles a bit, I tell him the following:

I want it in exactly 30 days, delivered to my home, with the following changes—

  • I want the color to be the darkest blue that you can find, anywhere in the world, but not so dark that it appears to be black. Take off all the current paint; get it down to bare metal. Put enough layers of primer, paint and overcoat on the bare metal to make it seem that the metal itself is of the final color.
  • Take off all the identifying logos and markers. If you want me to advertise your car’s manufacturer and your dealership, I want to be paid for it—a lot. If you can’t do this, the deal is off. (Pause, while the salesman consults the dealership’s manager). I thought you’d see it my way.
  • Armor-plate the insides of the doors, top, hood and trunk with a double layer of Kevlar. Replace all the fenders and bumpers with stainless steel.
  • Change the engine and drive train such that it has the power and sturdiness of a small tank. Oh yes, I want it to accelerate rapidly—zero to 60 MPH in 8 seconds.
  • All the glass has to be bulletproof and, except where the law demands otherwise for certain windows, opaque to the outside viewer.
  • There are to be no protrusions from the surface of the car, anywhere. All antennas and other communication and electronic navigation apparatus must be internal and, of course, of military quality. The outside door handles are for show, only. I will be able to command the doors electronically with a 100% failsafe system, by my own voice and, as an alternative, by a finger-tap code on a certain portion of the car known only to me. Yes, I know that’s expensive, Get it!
  • All the internal systems of the car—doors, windows, communications—are to be easily controllable only by the driver from a console at his right hand, next to the driver’s seat. I want the best GPS system on the market.
  • There will be a proximity detector for all surfaces such that any object is detectable and communicated to the driver when it is ten centimeters from any surface. A screen in the dashboard will indicate the location and density of this object. There will also be a motion detector, synchronized with the proximity detector. Finally, as a picture of how all this will work and for what possible purpose (I am telling this to the salesman who, by now has recruited the manager who has recruited the owner of the dealership to be witnesses and mutual supporters in this over-powering transaction), let us imagine is there is a strong man with a hand weapon of any sort, blunt or sharp, or a firearm. Let us say that the car detects him and his weapon invading the protected area of one meter. I want the man Tasered—now! Yes, yes, I know. I’ll worry about the legality of all this. I’ll sign a waiver—get your lawyer if you want.
  • Finally, I want the details of this transaction completely confidential and held by a trustee whom I will pay. I want your dealership to post bond to indemnify me for ten times the final amount if you or any of your associates or family reveal the details to anyone, without my express permission. I may someday have to grant permission to a court, I know. That’s my issue with the court and the trustee whose identity you may reveal to others if you are directed to do so by any lawful, court-sanctioned authority.
  • To guarantee compliance and as reward for the extra labor involved, I will pay you the floor price of this car, plus double the extra expense of the modifications, upon my receipt of all expense records. If I detect any padding, I will reduce the extra payment by one-half. This is all to be in writing, notarized and witnessed, of course.

Have a nice day!

I trotted this little fantasy out to Fred, the knower of all things automotive, and he said it would more likely be a thing to be built from scratch by a specialist, and it would be much more confidential if done this way.

I’m not yet ready to put the specifications out to bid; I’m still working on my first million dollars.

Foot Traffic

Every time I go into downtown Stockholm I am struck by differences in the behavior of most men and most women, while negotiating their movements in foot traffic. The typical female and the typical male acts differently from the other in pedestrian traffic in the downtown areas of large urban centers.

Apple_Leopard_launch_035_540x404Here’s where I’m coming from…

When I am walking, anywhere, I have a destination and a time for arrival clearly in mind. Walking from A to B within a given period requires tactics: short-cuts, jaywalking, avoidance of heavy foot- and motor traffic, etc. In addition, I am alert to the other foot-travelers on either side and in front of me.

I am most alert to walkers coming toward me. I gauge their trajectory and adjust mine accordingly so we don’t collide and don’t have to slow down.

Most males coming toward me in a similar fashion will engage in the same behavior and, through subtle eye and body movements, we signal to each other how we will adjust our respective trajectories to accommodate the other.

Similarly, most males traveling in the same direction will not change course, left or right, without first glancing to either side and a little behind to see if he will interfere with the forward movement of someone else.

Most women don’t do these things.

1847226716_ec5a649d45In addition, many women will stop abruptly in fast moving foot-traffic, thus causing others behind to jerk to a stop or veer quickly to the side, sometimes resulting in minor collisions and certainly loss of momentum for the unfortunates behind her. The usual reason for the abrupt stops, and sometimes unanticipate-able quick movements to the side, are enticements in shop windows.

Men don’t do this. Please correct me where I may err in my observations.

And there are other uses for windows: they are reflective surfaces, sometimes almost mirror-like.

So, I have learned not to follow women closely in foot-traffic.

One more thing: many women, more than so with men, will block critical paths while conversing with each other and create bottlenecks or impasses. Women with baby carriages or strollers seem, most of the time, oblivious to any kind of traffic around them, but it is easy to forgive and accommodate them. God bless them and their precious charges.

When I am traveling well on foot and have interacted in the subtle ways with other men as described above, I feel as if in a kind of tribal hunting party where each man, with perhaps a few grunts to augment eye and body movement, will be aware of the trajectory of all others and will be at optimum performance in his forward movements.


Source of Image

Swedish Affaires

“What luck!” I said when my father told me he would be sent to Stockholm, Sweden as chargé d’affaires by our home country, Brazil—and I would be going with him.

There was a chance he could become ambassador within a short time as there were no other suitable candidates. He had traveled throughout the Scandinavian countries for the commercial company he founded and, recently, sold.  Father said because it was the language of business and technology, almost everyone spoke English in Stockholm. He, of course, spoke it for business purposes and insisted we children learn it as well.

I am the oldest and had just finished high school. The good luck included the other children staying behind with Mother to complete their studies, since the length of Father’s assignment was still uncertain. And, I was eligible to study in any of Sweden’s universities, but not right away. We would arrive in late June, and the schools started in late August.

Swedish girls! Blonde, fair, ripe Swedish girls. The month of waiting was agony, my imagination building scenarios of meeting girls and having love affairs. I joked to myself that I was about to charge into some affaires, but not like what Father would be doing.

Within a few weeks of my arriving there was a special event for families of foreign diplomats at a Stockholm museum. It had many permanent exhibits of art and culture, and the special exhibit was of the Swedish painter Anders Zorn. But I was there to meet girls.

There were sixty of us, half parents and half children. I arrived alone and was quickly herded into the group by a Swedish guide. We were to make a tour of the entire place, take a coffee break in mid-afternoon, and finish the tour at the special exhibit.

I scanned the faces. There were around ten girls or young women who seemed, at first glance, worthy of my further attention. I started sweating, wondering how I could begin a conversation with any of them. My English isn’t perfect, and perhaps theirs wasn’t either. I worried there could be misunderstandings.

The guide was blonde and good looking, but seemed too old for me, or I would be too young for her—I didn’t care about age. I was looking for experience. The tour became boring, and I was never able to get in the right position at the right time to begin a conversation with any of the girls. I just couldn’t get into the right rhythm and state of mind. I thought the day was going to be a total disappointment so, just before the coffee break, I decided to skip the coffee and take a quick look at the special exhibit before I left.

I showed my pass to the man guarding the entrance to the Zorn exhibit before turning hard right into the viewing rooms.

My brain exploded.

I was looking at a beautiful, blonde, naked, unashamed girl of about sixteen. Of course it was a painting , but that was not my immediate impression. I felt like she was inviting me join her on the shore the water behind her. She looked perfect, just as I had imagined Swedish girls to be.

There was a bench in front of the picture. Knees trembling, I sat on it to gaze at her like a peeping tom. I looked around the area and saw more pictures of naked girls, sometimes two together, or an older and younger woman bathing together—all comfortable in their nakedness.

It was shocking, but the few people who passed by or who were looking at the other pictures seemed not to be at all disturbed or be making any remarks or, most importantly, not noticing my rapture.

“I see that you like Zorn, or at least his girls. He sure likes them, doesn’t he?”

She said all this as she sat, or rather bounced down to sit next to me. I stifled a scream into a hoarse squawk from the unexpected suddenness of her presence and her words. I couldn’t answer—my mouth had gone dry.

“I’m Ylva. That means wolf in Swedish. A female wolf. What’s your name?”

I unstuck my tongue from my teeth and mumbled “Carlos,” only I had to say it twice to pronounce it correctly.

“I thought you looked like some kind of Carlos. You know, Spanish or Italian or something like that. Is your pappa an ambassador? Mine is, but he’s an ambassador from Sweden to another country, so he and mamma are not here right now. So, I’ve got the whole house to myself.”

Then she looked straight at me, right in my eyes, with a sort of a question on her face. She wasn’t quite blond, but she was young and fair and pretty. Her clothes were frilly and colorful. I had noticed her briefly during the tour but didn’t think her to be Swedish.

“Uh, yeah, my father is chargé d’affaires here for my country—Brazil.

“Well, that’s great! How long have you been here? Have you been all around Stockholm?

“I’ve been here two weeks. I haven’t seen much yet.”

“That’s wonderful, bra. Bra means good in Swedish not brassiere. I can show you all around. It’s so boring being alone at home and my friends have nothing new to say.”

I went hot all over from her frank and open way of speaking, but I started to gain my strength as I saw that I might be able to fulfill one of my fantasies.

The affair lasted one month. She got bored quickly, and I was glad. I had my first experience, but she made me a crazy with her moods, quickly changing from one to another. I yearned for some peace and quiet.

After she stopped inviting me to her place, I began to explore Stockholm at my leisure, open to whatever adventure might come my way before I began studying at the university.

One day my feet took me to the museum where I’d met Ylva, and I found myself looking at Zorn’s girl again. She still looked beautiful to me, but somehow less desirable, now that I had been intimate with a flesh and blood girl. Besides, I had begun to realize that the perfection I could see in Zorn’s paintings would be difficult to find in a real girl. But then, Zorn had to have models, didn’t he?

Maybe I could get some girls like Zorn’s models to pose for me if I took art classes at the university. Like father has often said—nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Missy, Sissy and Stokes at the Iditarod

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for five winters, hence my familiarity with the Iditarod. The ‘rules’ discussed here are purely imaginary–I don’t know what the rules are, but these seem like good ones.

“Missy, Sissy and Stokes.”

Andy said this with such fervor it seemed his heart was about bursting through his puny chest, thought Gardner “Hutch” Hutchins as he made a record of the lead dogs for this team.

“We don’t usually record more than two lead dogs per team, but there ain’t a rule against it.”

“Missy is their mom, so they all get along. And anyway they take turns of course. One of ‘em is always on the sled to rest while the other two work.”

“OK, Andy, another unusuality, but no rule against it. Where ya’ from?”

“We’re from Stokes, Montana, right where the Mississippi River starts. That’s how the lead dogs got their names.”

Hutch could now understand the source of Andy’s passion and pride. “What’s your full name and age?”

“Well, I prefer Andy but my given name is Anders. Anders Andersson, with two esses, and don’t start makin’ wisecracks about Swedes and squareheads. I’ve got as much Irish in me as Scandihoovian and my Irish is a little touchy. My middle name is Aloysius. My mom has a sense of humor. I’m 23. This is my first time in Alaska. We’ve trained for two years, summer and Winter, all in Itasca County, where Stokes is.”

“All right Andy. Your secret’s safe with me. Have you filled out the release and insurance forms and all that? Yeah, give ‘em here. How many dogs ya’ got, and what’s their names? I’ve already recorded Missy, Sissy and Stokes.”

“They’re all named after some place in Itasca County: Effie, Jessie and Swannee. Swannee’s named after the Swan River. Spang, Bovey and Nash. Nash is from Nashwauk, but that’s too hard to say when I’m yellin’at ‘em. Inger, Birch and Bear, after Bearville. The rest are Morse, Kelly, Whiskey, Beaver, Mak, and Coon. The last six are the newest and youngest, but they’ve got great heart.”

“I don’t doubt it, Andy. They all do, don’t they? Let’s see, I count eighteen. One lead dog, sixteen behind her, or him—I guess Stokes is a male?—and two spare leads resting on the sled. Is that your plan?”

“You’ve got it.”

What’s your local address?”

“Itasca’s Sons of the Pioneers put me up at the Captain Cook Hotel, and it is so grand I feel guilty. My God, what luxury. How can people stay hard and fit with all that?”

“They don’t, Andy. OK, that’s it. Thanks for the info. Oh, I almost forgot—who’s your contact back home?”

Hutch now saw Andy’s mood change swiftly. He seemed to be holding back tears.

“It’s my brother, Casey—he’s in Grand Rapids, the main city in Itasca County. It would’ve been Lorie, but she kicked me out of the house saying it was either the dogs or her. What a helluva choice to give a man just as he’s about to run the greatest race in world. And for the first time. But I ain’t gonna let that affect me, except maybe to prove somethin’ to her.

“Women in the Lower 48 just don’t understand,” said Hutch with some anger in his voice. “Andy, I hope you don’t mind hearing some advice from me.”

“Go ahead Hutch, you’re old enough to be my Pop and I always listen to him.”

“Just get out there on the trail to Nome and don’t think about anybody or anything but your dogs and how much you’re enjoying yourself. Like you said, it’s the greatest race in the world, and there’s very few who run it.”

“I’m enjoying myself already, and your advice has solved a problem for me.”

“How’s that?”

“I’ve pretty much used up all the names around Stokes for my dogs, and now I know what I’m gonna name the next pup.”

“Okay, I’ll bite, what’s the name, Andy.”