Cactus Eaters FAQ, trail links and odds-and-ends

This has been updated slightly. I should tell you right now that this contains some spoilers so stop reading right here if you haven’t finished the book. Every once in a while, I go in here and change the wording when I notice something clunky, unfinished, inflammatory, etc. What are you working on now? Working title: the title, actually, keeps changing. It is now under contract Henry Holt and Company. When exactly will the book be in your hands? I can’t say for sure. Working mighty hard, though. I am illustrating the book — watercolors and pen and ink drawings and multi-media. If given the chance I will even design the cover. There is a little bit of overlap with the Cactus Eaters but this one involves a cast of hundreds — lots of interviews, lots of historical research and travel combined with memoir aspects. Why name the book Cactus Eaters instead…

Running in mountain lion habitat

Yesterday I saw something that looked an awful lot like a mountain lion footprint on a soft dirt path heading up toward Moore Creek. Imagine the print of an ordinary house cat, but much, much bigger. It’s possible that my imagination was messing with me. Perhaps it was a coyote print, and the coastal winds had eroded the print, or blown it all out of proportion. But it gave me a bit of a scare, considering the huge full-color sign near the park entrance, saying KNOWN MOUNTAIN LION HABITAT, with instructions to hold your ground and fight off the beast if it goes after you. The place was deserted — no movement at all except for a few barn swallows swarming, a circling hawk, and a couple of jackrabbits. I’ve been up to the creek 20 times now, and I’ve only seen other human beings up there on two occasions….

Recipes in translation

This week, missing New York City, I tried to recreate the outstanding “orecchiette with broccoli and provolone” special they serve at Gennaro restaurant on Amsterdam. Unable to find the recipe in English on line, I searched the Italian cooking sites, hoping to find something similar. At long last, I found what I was looking for. The recipe was written entirely in Italian, with no English transcription. No problem! The recipe had a convenient “translation” function. I was sure that it would convert the recipe into clear, understandable, easy-to-follow English. So I pressed the little translation button at the side of the screen, and here’s what came out: Translation of recipe for the orechiette with provolone cheese and also the broccoli: Step one: To begin with a bushel of orecchiette? Always measure bushel in grams for metric system. Step two: While awaiting pasta to boil, you must prepare for the arugula…

Hiking the hood: an urban walk through Waterbury, Connecticut

Fresh off the Pacific Crest Trail, I tried to apply my through-hiking ethos to a city setting when I “hiked the hood” in Waterbury, Connecticut. I thought this one was lost forever to the analog world, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this uploaded online at the Waterbury Observer, run by the brilliant photographer John Murray. Here it is —a blast from the past dating back to 1995, which makes it one of my earliest published pieces.

Fleeing your lead-filled apartment

Thanks to everyone for the many, many emails regarding Amy’s New York Times piece about lead poisoning and old apartments (see below.) And it sounds like a few of you, after reading her story, are just about to give notice and move out of your peeling, nasty, potentially lead-filled apartments. Take my advice and get out of there right away.

Borders is closing

The other day, I made my way through the crowds of people picking over the bones of my local Borders book store. I saw a floor manager standing near the entrance, and told him I was sorry to hear the store was closing. As I spoke to him, I remembered the huge to-do about this store when it opened: protests, recriminations, nervousness, and someone (a local merchant, no less) foolishly strapping on a guitar and singing “break all the windows at Borders” during a gathering in front of City Hall. There was a lot of worry that Borders would become an overwhelming force driving out all indie bookshops. Now it turns out that Borders itself is a casualty of more overwhelming market forces. These days, it’s not so much a question of corporate versus indie. Now it’s bricks-and-mortar booksellers of all kinds trying to survive in world of online book-selling….

Amy Ettinger: Why We Fled San Francisco (in today’s New York Times). Updated blog post

On a (very) serious note, today marks Amy Ettinger’s New York Times debut. This true and scary story, published in the NY Times’ Motherlode section, explains why we left San Francisco in such a big hurry, without saying goodbye to anyone. The folks who own our building told us the apartment was completely habitable, recently painted and ready to go. They gave us no warning that anything might be amiss. The lesson, I think, is to do your own testing, and look out for your own best interests when you move into one of these old places. Alas, we can’t assume “landlords” have our best interest in mind when they hand over that set of keys. I’m very glad to report that the post resulted in a few folks contemplating a move away from their lead-infested abodes, and also prompted some folks to do their own testing.

Squawk or treat: Chickens dress like Satan, The Mummy and George Clinton in rural Aptos

So what if I missed the concert event of the year in San Francisco? (see below.) This weekend I returned to the famous Glaum Egg Ranch Vending Machine, a 24-hour automatic dance party and egg dispenser located just off Freedom Boulevard in Aptos. Three dollars (crisp single dollar bills — no coins) buys you 24 eggs and a performance by a group of shameless, butt-shaking robotic chickens who will dance and sing and squawk for you behind glass. This time, I stuffed my crisp three dollar bills into the slot, the curtains lifted up, and I was thrilled to see that the dancing chickens had brand new costumes just in time for Halloween. One of them was dressed up like George Clinton, complete with a pink-orange-green Afro fright wig. Another was dressed like a friendly Satan, complete with a felty pitch fork. They also had a mummy chicken and a…