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Never a dull moment

By Cornelia Read

Hi guys, I am reposting an entry I did for The Lipstick Chronicles blog on Saturday… this has been a hectic week–moved into new apartment, flew to Florida for a funeral the next day, now am in Syracuse visiting with my ex-inlaws, so I hope you’ll forgive me. Also, my Uncle Bill was an awesome guy, and I’d like to honor his memory twice…

I don’t call this post “Never a Dull Moment” because I expect there to be no dull moments while you’re reading it, because who can promise that, but because it is the Read family motto. I think I may have posted the mold of my grandfather’s crest ring here before, but hey, here it is again in case you missed it:

Read, W. A crest

Just so you know I’m not kidding about the motto and everything.

I was thinking about it quite a bit this week, since–first of all–it was another kind of riotous week, in terms of basic Cornelia activities, and–second of all–because I just spent three days with a whole bunch of Reads.

This is because after moving in to my new apartment on Tuesday, which entailed getting up at six a.m., driving to Brooklyn, meeting the moving guys at the U-Haul storage place on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, making sure the truck got loaded, driving back in to Manhattan, meeting the moving dudes here, and overseeing or whatever while they hauled all my shit up the four flights of stairs to my new apartment


and then driving back down to 157th street to my pal Muffin’s apartment where I’d been living for the last two weeks and packing up all my clothes and crap after the moving guys left (pause here to reflect that any person WITH an actual BRAIN would’ve done this the night BEFORE, so that the moving guys would’ve hauled the eight bags and one box of china up the four flights of stairs) and then hauled my eight bags and box of china up four flights of stairs by myself, and then buying some Chinese takeout for me and my kid–who was having a bit of a first-semester-of-college meltdown–I got up at six thirty a.m. the FOLLOWING morning and took the A train to 125th street and then the M60 bus out to LaGuardia and flew to West Palm Beach, because my very dear Uncle Bill Read died last Friday, and my sisters and I were going to his funeral.

Uncle Bill was the eldest of my father’s nine siblings. He was 93 years old. Two days before he died, he was hunting alligators on his wife’s family’s ranch near Immokalee. On Monday, his new wheelchair was arriving. He was not a wheelchair kind of guy, to put it mildly. So, he died peacefully in his sleep Friday morning instead.

Here is a picture of him when he was a little kid:


It was done in pastels. There used to be seven of these, of the oldest seven kids, hanging downstairs in my grandparents’ house in Purchase, New York. They’re all rather beautiful. Something about pastels makes the eyes very soft and wonderful.

He was named after his father and grandfather, both William Augustus Reads before him. Here’s a towel he had in Palm Beach:


I figure it has to be pretty old, since he hasn’t been a Junior since Grandaddy died in 1976, and somehow it just looks totally Twenties to me anyway.

Uncle Bill is the guy I got to go shooting with this summer on a ranch in Wyoming, which was pretty fucking awesome. He took me to his gun club, and I totally sucked at trap shooting, but then I did better when we did target shooting with pistols and a crossbow the next day, so he didn’t disown me or anything, and I felt slightly less ashamed.

This is a man who took shooting really, really seriously. And fishing. And being an honorable man. He was really nice, which is not often something one can say about people I’m related to, generally.

Also, he was kind of a hottie. Here’s a picture of him a while back, so you can see what I mean:


Yeah, right?

Here’s another one:


The Read brothers were damn good looking, and he was the best-looking of all of them, if you ask me. And quite possibly the nicest.

That second picture is of him in the Navy in World War II. In which he had some pretty amazing adventures. He was shot down in the Pacific and missing for almost two months, and ended up getting two purple hearts and a Navy Cross. I didn’t know before his funeral service that the Navy Cross is only topped by one medal if you’re in the sea services (Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard.) That would be the medal of honor.

Here’s a picture of some of his decorations. I’m sorry it’s sideways:


A Marine Corps general came to the funeral, and spoke, and presented the flag from his coffin to his daughter, my Cousin Edith. The Navy sent a sailor to play taps, and two to stand at either end of his coffin in the cemetery.

Here’s a short video of the latter guys (which pans around to one of the two cool cowboys who flew in from the ranch in Wyoming–AWESOME belt buckle):



The Marine Corps sent some guys to shoot off a salute. Which was awesome.


And the Navy also sent a bunch of planes that flew over the cemetery in formation. One of them peeled off and flew straight up trailing a stream of white smoke, then turned back and away. This is called the “Lost Man” formation, to signify the death of someone the Navy liked a lot. They sure liked Uncle Bill, and rightly so 




(added music… and I’m really happy I got the “lachrymosa” aligned with the planes… but check out how the little cloud at center left turns into a peace sign…. Looks good in full-page mode, because then the ad doesn’t cover the planes.)


Uncle Bill was shot down in the Pacific and stranded on an island with members of the crew of the plane for two months. With a compound fracture to his thigh from the second day on.

Nonetheless, he managed to drive a samurai-sword wielding Japanese soldier into the ocean by throwing coconuts at his head. The guy presumably died. If you’d like to read more details, check out this article from the U.S. Naval Institute, “Two Coconuts and a Navy Cross.” It’s pretty amazing:


Here is a closeup shot of his drawing of a Japanese plane getting shot down the next day over the island. The engine broke off and skidded up the beach and killed the man standing next to him, and really, really messed up Uncle Bill’s leg:


Here is the telegram that went out after he was rescued:



I asked him what it was like to be a bow-turret machine gunner in a glass ball on a Navy plane in the Pacific during World War II when I was in Wyoming last summer.

He said, “Well, I’ve always liked hunting, and the ammunition was free, and there was no bag limit.”

Here’s his drawing of the view from the turret:


He got a lot of Japanese planes:


Here he is sitting in front of my grandparents’ house, back in Purchase (probably before the war):



He’s sitting in the second row on the left with all his siblings, his parents, and his first wife, after they all got home safe from the war:


My dad was the baby brother–he’s sitting on the floor, in the white shirt.

Here’s Uncle Bill holding Cousin Edith, his daughter and the eldest of my generation. She’s a lovely,  remarkable woman in her own right:


And here is the service flag Grandmama Read had, during the war:


Her husband and six of their sons served. They all came home alive. That’s a goddamn miracle, if you ask me.

Here is Uncle Bill at age 92, or thereabouts, with a dead alligator:


Here he is with a twelve-foot alligator he shot last winter:


Here is his obituary from the NY Times (paid section…):



  |   Visit Guest Book

READ–William Augustus, Jr. of Palm Beach, Florida and Cody, Wyoming was the eldest of nine children. He was born on Beacon Street in Boston, Massachusetts, May 16, 1918 to Admiral William A. Read and Edith Fabyan Read. Mr. Read grew up in Purchase, N.Y. and was educated in New England, attending St. Paul’s School and the Hun School. He married Kathleen Cushman Spence and they had one daughter, Edith Fabyan Read (Wey). A divorce occurred subsequent to his missing-in-action status during WWII. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy, graduating from the Navy Aerial Gunnery Instructors School in Pensacola, Florida. He was Range Officer at the Navy Border Field Machine Gun Range in San Diego, California and became the Gunnery Officer for the Navy Patrol Squadron 101 in the South West Pacific on the Navy version of the B24 Liberator. He was shot down on his twenty fifth combat mission as Bow Turret Gunner for the Commanding Officer of the Squadron. He and some of the surviving crew were able to swim to an island in the Sulu Sea near Palawan Island within Japanese territory, where they lived on coconuts. He was wounded again in a second crash in which a Japanese plane was shot down and landed on some of the surviving members of the crew, killing two of them and further wounding the others. He was missing-in-action for two months. They were rescued by the submarine, Gunnell. His decorations include two Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, and the Navy Cross. Lieutenant William Read had flown 25 combat missions without flight pay. After the war, he became a partner with Phelps, Fenn and Company, a municipal bonds firm in New York City. In 1959, he married Isabel Uppercu Collier and they subsequently moved to Florida. They had been married just short of 50 years at her death in 2008. His skill in shooting has led to his qualification for the Navy Pistol and Rifle Expert. Mr. Read won the gold medal in the Olympics in the International Skeet Veterans Class. He is also in the Trap Shooting Hall of Fame, has won and successfully defended the Pennsylvania 50 Bird Challenge Cup, and defended it for a year. He has achieved his 100,000 target American Trap Shooting Association Pin. After his retirement, he became a licensed alligator trapper in South West Florida, near the family ranch in Immokalee, priding himself on filling his quota of 160 alligators annually with 160 shots. He was past president of the Palm Beach Skeet and Trap Club, a member of the Philadelphia Gun Club, and the Campfire Club of America; as well as the Cody Shooting Complex in Cody, Wyoming. He was also a member of the Bath and Tennis Club, the Everglades Club, and the Sailfish Club all in Palm Beach, Florida and the Brook Club in New York. He was the originator of Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, FL. Mr. Read is survived by his daughter Edith Read Wey, and two grandsons, Thomas Alexander (Lisa) Wey, Jr. and David Read (Claudia) Wey and three great-grandsons, Nicholas, Gianluca, and Gunnar Wey. He also leaves his three stepsons: Inglis Collier, Miles (Parker) Collier, Barron (Tami) Collier II, and his three step grandchildren Laura Collier, Barron Collier V, and Charlotte Collier, along with one sister, Jean Read Knox, and two brothers, Peter Read and Donald Read. He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Isabel Collier Read, and five brothers: Curtis, David, Alexander, Roderick, and Frederick. The Family will receive friends from 11:00a until Noon on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Quattlebaum Funeral Home, 1201 South Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL, 33401. Graveside Services with Military Honors will be held Immediateely following at Hillcrest Memorial Park, West Palm Beach, FL. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Naval Institute Foundation, 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21402-9987.

Never a dull moment indeed.

I am among many, many people who will miss this man dearly.

Requiescat in pace, Uncle Bill.


TEn things I learned this week

By Cornelia Read

1. Les Paul was Steve Miller’s godfather. How cool is that?

2. It is possible to turn in the final draft of one’s fourth novel at three minutes after midnight, which technically means it was a day late, and then pack up your entire apartment and put it into storage in Brooklyn in 36 hours, but only if your new landlords are total lawyer-happy douchebags.*


3. Silent movies can actually be GOOD.

And we should all go see The Artist when it comes out.

4. If your kid gives you the wicked chesty cough that’s going around, Mucinex DM totally rocks. And it doesn’t taste like nasty fake cherry bullshit. Even though I am not a fan of those phlegm CGI commercials with the family of green slime-things living in your lungs.



p.s. What’s green and skates? Peggy Phlegm.

5. Brussels sprouts cut in half, tossed with olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, and black pepper and roasted for about 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven until they’re brown and toasty can make up for totally douchey landlords.

6. David Corbett makes the best mix tapes in the history of the fucking world. Seriously. Especially when you have to pack your entire apartment in under 36 hours because you have douchey landlords.

Okay, actually, the coolest song is “Dragnet for Jesus” by Sister Wynona Carr, but they didn’t have it on Youtube so here she is singing “Each Day.”

7. If you don’t feel like packing up your toaster, your curler things you bought at a garage sale five years ago and never use, three hors-d’oeuvre platters your mother gave you, and five boxes of books you don’t want to keep, you can totally leave them on your douchey landlords stoop with impunity. If you live in Brooklyn, which of course I actually DON’T anymore.

8. My pal Andrea and her two kids have adopted the phrase “I have to go see my lawyer” when they’re staying in this house in Montauk and really have to use the bathroom quickly and need whomever else is in there to get out in a big fat hurry.

9. Pizza is better in New York City than anywhere else ever ever ever, and it’s cheap. And it’s good fuel when you have to stay up all night packing up your entire apartment because your landlords are douchey.

10. If some guy comes up to my window at an intersection and tells me my car’s on fire, I should just shoot him in the face and drive the fuck away.


And how was your week, dearest ‘Ratis? (I will be on a train and then driving to Vermont tomorrow, but will try to check in on comments… hugs to y’all….)

* And may they get bedbugs. With chlamydia.

I might just possibly be JT’s evil twin…


By Cornelia Read

So I was just sitting (okay, LYING ON MY SOFA) here, reading JT’s wonderful post about NOT SETTING GOALS this morning (it’s still Friday, as I’m typing), and I’m thinking to myself, “yes, this is wonderful advice for people who HAVE TROUBLE WITH SETTING TOO MANY GOALS.”

Because I set, like, not enough of them, I think. Except for goals such as, “um… dude, maybe you should try thinking about thinking about setting a goal or something. Next week.”

Well, actually, I set goals like, “I will stop being such an asshole-procrastinating-bitch type person and perfect myself OVERNIGHT, and start keeping actual to-do lists which I will then NOT FORGET ON THE F TRAIN ON THE SEAT NEXT TO ME WHEN I AM LOOKING THROUGH MY BAG FOR MY iPhone HEADPHONES,” for instance.


And then I get to the part of her post where she quotes Leo Babauta, about making oneself NOT set goals:

“What do you do, then? Lay around on the couch all day, sleeping and watching TV and eating Ho-Hos? No, you simply do.”

Yeah, right Leo. Actually, I’m lying on the couch right now, and I would be eating a Ho-Ho, FOR BREAKFAST, only that would require getting up and walking around the corner to Steve’s C-Town grocery on Ninth Street and PURCHASING a box of Ho-Hos, which seems like entirely too much trouble.

(I would have inserted John Belushi’s classic “Little Chocolate Donuts” thing from Saturday Night Live, but NBC seems to police Youtube pretty intensely so I offer you the following lovely homage in its place…)

 As my daughter and I decided about a month ago, we both suffer not from OCD, but from “OC… um… whatever.”


Meanwhile, the final (please GOD) draft of my fourth novel is due a week from today. O joy, o rapture unforeseen. (Look! SQUIRRELS!!!)

Maybe I should make some flan.

 Because, come to think of it, I don’t actually LIKE Ho-Hos all that much. I mean, if you’re going to blow calories like that, why not eat something good? Like a doughnut.

Except that maybe an apple fritter would taste even better

But really, I think I’d like to be JT when I grow up. That would be a worthy goal. She is an awesome woman. And an actual grownup. And I bet she writes her novels sitting up instead of lying down on her sofa, which is what I’ve been doing for about the last book and a half. When I actually leave my bed and meander over to the sofa, which requires a great deal of coffee.

But the concept of me EVER getting to be even a tenth as organized and thoughtful as JT is strikes me as being about as likely to come true as me growing up to be Batman.

I ran into a high school friend on the sidewalk yesterday, here in Brooklyn. We talked about all kinds of stuff because she was supposed to be going to yoga class and I was supposed to be going to my new bank. And we cracked each other up by admitting that we have both realized we have a problem with transitions.

Diana discovered this when she was talking with a friend about her procrastination, and he said, “yes. This is called having difficulty with transitions.”

And she said, “THAT’S IT! THAT’S PERFECT!!”

And he said, “Yeah, um… I know that because I teach Kindergarten, and it’s something we work on a lot with the kids. Who are, like, FIVE.”

So I told Diana I’m so bad with transitions that it requires a great deal of concentration and willpower for me to bathe, most days. “Because I just look at the bathtub, and I think, ‘you know, I’m DRY right now, and if I get in there I will be, like, WET. And it will be, um… different.”

And then of course once I am actually IN the shower/bath, I have the reverse problem, which is that I’m wet, and it’s warm and kind of cozy, and it seems like an awful lot of trouble to get OUT of the shower/bath,

because then I will drip on the floor and everything and start getting cold, and then I think about how the reason you get cold is because evaporation is an endothermic reaction, in that it requires energy for the water to become a vapor and leap off your skin, so it sucks up heat to do that and everything, and then I wonder if that isn’t EXOthermic, and remembered that this is why I got a D- in high school chemistry for the year, but I also remember that evaporation is additionally a really neat-jeato way to refrigerate things when you’re camping. You just dig a hole in the dirt and wrap your food in a wet towel, and it will stay cool for quite a while. Except then of course your food is in the ground so that’s a really crappy idea if you’re camping someplace that a lot of bears hang out. Or, you know, even ONE bear. Or probably coyotes. Or, like, dingoes, if you’re in Australia or something. And I wonder if Meryl Streep watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I hope it would make her laugh if she realized they named the band “Dingoes Ate My Baby.” Or was it “stole my baby?”

Anyway, as my pal Muffy always says about the difficulty we share with the whole transition-to-bathing thing, “you know, I just have to tell myself, ‘Muffy, no one has ever REGRETTED taking a shower.'”

Maybe I should make some flan.

Or just get off this sofa and go buy some little chocolate donuts. For lunch. Because it’s almost lunch time.

Back to the novel… Wish me luck, and some of JT’s mojo, please

Home again, Home Again

By Cornelia Read

So with any luck, while you are reading this I will be driving a U-Haul truck from Exeter, New Hampshire, to Park Slope, Brooklyn.

That would be if New York can avoid tsunamis, tornadoes, typhoons, monsoons, and any other kind of natural/manmade disaster to which geography is heir for the rest of this week. (and yes, I KNOW that Route 66 doesn’t go through New York. But still, it’s such a great road-trip song…)

I will be returning to the city of my birth, the closest thing I have to a hometown. And I am feeling pretty fucking awesome about that.

I’ve only got temporary digs, at the moment–a rental in a brownstone that’s been sold already, super cheap until the actual closing (through October, anyway.) Here’s a pic of what will be my new block:

Pretty damn great, right? Small but with a garden…

At the moment, it is Thursday, and I am supposed to be packing. More than I have already packed. I pick up the U-Haul tomorrow afternoon,

and have to book the guy to help me load it, and have the post office forward my mail, and remember to turn off the electricity and cable before I hit the road. And all that other grownup stuff I so totally suck at.

I have actually made a list of all the shit I have to do between now and Saturday. It’s a Word file. It scares me. I prefer not to open it. This is part of the reason I suck at being a grownup.

But… I have moved before (NYC to Long Island

to Hawaii

to Long Island

to Carmel

to Dobbs Ferry

to Long Island

to NYC

to Rhinebeck

to Bronxville


to NYC-for-the-summer-of-sophomore-year-in-college

to Dublin

to NYC-for-the-summer-of-junior-year

to Long Island

to Williamstown

to Syracuse

to around-the-world-for-a-year-with-a-backpack

to Syracuse

to Pittsfield

to NYC

to Boulder

to Cambridge

to Berkeley

to Exeter

to… NYC again.)

It will happen. I will get off my bed and put on some REALLY LOUD MUSIC and actually start putting dishes in a box and throwing out more of my clothes (okay, not throwing out, carrying down to the garage in my current building to pile on top of the donations box, but still: DUMPING.)

And then… then I will be on the road again.

Please wish me luck, and forgive me for not checking in on comments… I’m trying not to drive off the BQE right now…

My Anti-Playlist

By Cornelia Read

I am pretty much a fiend for music. I no longer listen to it when I write fiction, but that’s because I’m so sucked in by lyrics (good or bad) that I can’t delve into the world on the other side of my keyboard if there are tunes playing. My brain just can’t let go. This led, long ago, to my sister nicknaming me “bitch at the switch,” because I am such a control freak about what’s playing on the radio/stereo in cars.

I just cannot abide sucky music, and there’s a lot of it out there. Especially on the radio.

I’ve gotten pretty spoiled, what with being able to transmit tunes off my iPhone onto my car radio over the last couple of years with the aid of this little black plastic lollypop thing I bought at Walgreen’s for twenty-five bucks, since I don’t have an MP3 hookup-linky-thingie to plug into direct.

But that splendid little objet wasn’t my first foray into bitch-at-the-switchness…let’s just say I’ve been an early adopter of musical-control-freak technology since all we control freaks had was the AM dial (mix tapes, mix CDs, and now *sigh of bliss* iTunes. Even Sirius radio is not enough for me, sorry.)

I blame two things for this:


  1. Driving cross-country in a 1967 Ford Country Squire wagon with my mom at the wheel the summer that STUPID “Sundown” song was playing over and over again on every AM station from Salinas through Newark.
  2. Having my maternal grandparents play nothing but the former muzak station out of New York known as WPAT–“beautiful music for beautiful people”–nonstop in their Lincoln every time I spent any vacation time with them.
  3. Andrew Lloyd Weber. More on him later.


Oh, wait. That’s three things.

Shucky darn.

This all comes to mind because I drove to NYC a while back and my Walgreen’s lollipop thing doesn’t work when FM stations 88.1 through 88.7 are actually transmitting, so driving through Worcester, Hartford, New Haven, and the environs of Greater New York forces me to listen to the few CDs I have left or to actual radio stations.

Yes, I suppose I could listen to nothing at all, but that is just not an option for me. Especially on a five-hour road trip I’ve done several dozen times. I think I might end up bashing my head through the steering wheel in sheer desperation. I need a soundtrack.

But if I HAVE to listen to radio-that-is-not-programmed-by-me, there are certain songs I will avoid like the proverbial plague. These have been, to my mind, SO overplayed for the last several decades that I’m amazed more people don’t light their radios on fire. Seriously.

Here are my bottom ten–the songs that you’d have to totally Clockwork Orange me with the eyeball clamps and everything before I’d deign to listen to them from start to finish:

1. “Sundown,” Gordon Lightfoot. 

Dude, I would creep around your back stairs just to duct-tape your mouth shut, so I never had to hear this stupid damn song ever again. And I think I know why your girlfriend is messing around on you. She would like you to stop singing. Forever. This reached #1 on the Billboard charts. And was simultaneously #1 in Canada. And tortured me for 3000 miles in the back seat of an unconditioned station wagon in the summer of 1974.


2. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” also Gordon Lightfoot.

Have I mentioned duct tape? I’m very sorry that this ship sank and everything, but I would like to put all recordings of this fucking song in a leaky dinghy, then push it out to sea and shoot at the damn thing until it sinks. Blech. Blech, blech, blech.


3. “Riders on the Storm,” The Doors.

I think when your grocery store starts playing a song to let you know they’re about to turn on the lettuce misters in the produce department, it should officially be banned from airplay on actual radio stations. Especially when it’s raining.

4. Like a Virgin/Material Girl/Papa Don’t Preach. Ma-fucking-Donna.

I hate these songs. Hate. Like, to the point where I wish I could claw out my own ears level of not-enjoyment. I have felt that way since I first heard each of them on the radio, and don’t even get me started on having to watch the videos of them on MTV, back in the day. They make my skin crawl. They make my eyes itch. They make me break out in bad, bad Tourette’s episodes.


5. “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy I’ve Got Love in my Tummy,” Ohio Express

What, have these guys been hanging out in the back room of a bear bar? Ewwww. Twee, twee, twee, ptui. Double ptui. Triple.

6. “Just a Smalltown Girl/Don’t Stop Believin'” Journey

Okay, I must confess that there is a great deal of Journey that I actually LIKE. Which is probably because I listened to their album Evolution over and over again in this very cute surfer boy’s car in California the first time I ever did mushrooms. But these two songs are anathema to me, and they’re the ones that get played over and over and over again. I mean, seriously, you want a Journey song for the closing number on the final episode of the Sopranos, and you pick one of these? Gag me with the Garden State Parkway.

7. “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers

You got to know when to fold up, and when to stop playing a really annoying song on the radio. I wish this train would just keep going, gambler and all, until I never have to hear about it again. In fact, the next time this comes on the radio, I would like to walk away. I would like to run.

8. “Ramblin’ Man,” The Allman Brothers

If you must play Allmans on the radio, please limit yourself to “Whipping Post,” “One Way Out,” or “Statesboro Blues.” These are brilliant songs. This one is just, basically, the anthem of those who refuse to pay child support. And lame.

9. Most country music apres Tammy Wynette, except for The Dixie Chicks and maybe some Roseanne Cash.

Really, I love me some good twangy pedal steel and a good shit-kickin’ beat, but “Achy Breaky Big Mistake-y” is enough to make me take a cricket bat to the speakers in my car doors. It’s like being force-fed a cocktail of grenadine, maple syrup, and ipecac.

10. Andrew Lloyd Weber. All of him.

I was tortured with Evita in my teens–long story–suffice it to say I saw the damn thing three times on Broadway against my will (matinee, Lupone-less, each time.) And then there was the endless night of Phantom when I first moved to Colorado… not to mention Cats.

If I am bad in this existence, my afterlife will consist of an eternity on a desert island with Andrew Lloyd and an accordion. Please GOD don’t make me listen to him in the meantime. Please. Please please please.

Okay, so if these ten things were permanently expurgated from the playlists of the world, I would be a happy woman. What ten songs would you Ratis like done away with? SPILL


Double You Three

By Cornelia Read

I gotta say, I totally love me some Writer’s Almanac. I first got turned on to this when I was driving my kids to school in Berkeley, as it came on the Bay Area’s NPR station every morning at nine a.m. If you are not familiar with this fine institution, it’s basically Garrison Keillor telling you about which writers’ (and writerly persons’) birthdays it is, every day. And then reading a groovy poem out loud. Which is kind of awesome, really.

These days, since I have outlived the maximum-chauffeur years, child-wise, I get it as an email around midnight every night. I miss the lagniappe of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and the poem comes at the beginning rather than the end, but it’s still pretty damn amazing on a daily basis. Just, Snacks-‘o-Thought, in a rather lovely way. And sometimes the conjunction of people born on the same day seems almost prophetic or something. Like, better than a horoscope.

But last night was an especially good one, at least for provoking snacks ‘o thought on my part. First off, today is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s birthday.

And I never knew before that he went through a total shitstorm in his life while quite young and gave up writing for ten years, commenting later: “I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live…” which just, well… mon semblable, mon frere. Let’s leave it at that.

AND it’s also the day Anne Hathaway died. Shakespeare’s wife, to whom he left his “second-best” bed.

AND it’s the day that Robert Burns was roundly and publicly chastised in church for having knocked up a chick to whom he was not yet married–with fraternal twins.

While perhaps having also gotten another chick pregnant (that would be the OTHER chick, pictured above, whom he called his “Highland Mary.”) And even though he THEN got published and all of a sudden chick numero uno’s parents welcomed him with open arms as a son-in-law and stuff, and they went on to have a boatload more children–and he had a separate boatload along the way with a bunch of OTHER chicks, apparently. Which state of affairs (ahem) was accepted with grace by his wife, the former Jean Armour:

She bore his philandering with patience and apparent good cheer, just as she continued to bear him children — the ninth was born on the day of Robert Burns’ funeral in 1796. “Our Robbie should have had twa [two] wives,” she is said to have exclaimed upon taking in one of his illegitimate daughters to raise.


Oh, AND today South Carolina delegate John Rutledge “presented a first draft of the United States Constitution to the Constitutional Convention, in 1781,”

while it’s also the day that Jane Austen finished writing Persuasion.

So all of that seems pretty damn auspicious, to me, but I think my favorite bit from today’s Almanac is the following, in that the innovation has been quite literally and profoundly life-altering for me (and probably you, too, if you’re reading this, which we must presume you are):

It was 20 years ago today that British physicist Tim Berners-Lee posted a description of a project he called the “World Wide Web” to an online newsgroup, effectively revolutionizing modern life. 

Working for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Berners-Lee invented his service to allow scientists to easily share and access information via the Internet. Although the infrastructure of the “Net” had been growing for years, it was until then a highly technical system known mostly to academics and scientists like Berners-Lee. The World Wide Web, as Berners-Lee conceived it, would use the Net to connect documents with clickable links — or hypertext — and make them searchable.

Under the encouraging headline “Try it,” Berners-Lee’s post included information on accessing the first Web server and a Web browser prototype, and gave the address — or “coordinates,” as he called it then — of an example website he’d created. This Web page — the world’s very first — further explained the project he’d nicknamed “W3,” explaining how to search the Web and how to build your own page. Academia began using the service first, then industry. In early 1993, Mosaic was released, the first Web-browsing software for PCs and Apple Macintosh computers. Anyone with an Internet connection could now surf — and help create — the Web.

Berners-Lee had written in that first post: “The project started with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone.” Today the word “much” seems quite an understatement, and “academic” almost laughable. But it is astonishing to be reminded that so much of what’s on the Web is “freely available” because Berners-Lee created the Web for free. For his donation, he was named by Timemagazine as one of the top 20 thinkers of the 20th century, and was awarded a knighthood in 2004.

Berners-Lee said: “The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished.” 

I mean, DUDE–THE FUCKING INTERNET, right? Or the worldwideweb or whatever. I get kind of confused. But still… I mean, here are ten things that happened to me because of the internet (in reverse temporal order):



  1. I signed up for The Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, and ended up meeting Lee Child and a whole slew of other groovers, including many of the people who’ve written for this blog.
  2. I found my mystery-writing group in Berkeley on craigslist, and got published five years later with the help of all those good folk.
  3. I (earlier, slightly) found, which landed me smack-dab in the middle of a bunch of burgeoning writers who were AWESOME and funny and talented and wonderful, right when my life had totally turned to shit. They gave me my chops back, as a writer and as a human being. Seriously.
  4. Part of the reason my life had turned to shit is that I found out my husband had been fucking the secretary at his office in Boulder, shortly after I learned how to do email. Because I found their emails. (Okay, this one SUCKED, but still–life altering.) We were in Cambridge by that point, but still…
  5. I got to meet a really groovy writer named Dick Pollak (because of an autism chat group on Compuserve) who wrote a deeply amazing book about Bruno Bettelheim, who was such a giant shitheel I would still like to dig him up from his grave and hit him over the head with a shovel. Even though he was cremated. (Bettelheim, not Dick. Dick is excellent.)
  6. Well, I can’t even begin to enumerate all the amazing shit that the world wide web has wrought in my life… because it’s just totally stunning and mind-boggling and FUCKING AMAZING. So I will stop at six. 


But I am hugely, hugely grateful to Tim Berners-Lee. DUDE–YOU ROCK!!! THANK YOU!!!!

What’s the best thing that’s happened in your life because of the web, o dearest ‘Ratis? What’s the shittiest? What would you be doing right now instead of reading Murderati, if this whole shebang hadn’t been invented?

Where The Buffalo Roam

By Cornelia Read

I have traveled more this summer than I have… um… in a long time. In fact, I have traveled so much that my brain feels like it’s scattered across the continental United States. Including Alaska. Because, hey, Alaska is on the continent, even though there’s some Canada in the middle.

Which is not a complaint–I love traveling, and I’ve had an amazing time rocketing back and forth and stuff. I’m just kind of stupid.

I have a theory that the deal with jetlag is that your body travels at the speed of sound or whatever, but your brain is in a covered wagon behind two oxen on the Oregon Trail. Kind of getting jostled. And it takes a while for the twain to re-meet.

So here is where I just got back from: Wyoming. Where the buffalo roam. And the elk, and the bison, and the antelopes, and the horses and stuff.



I got to go stay on my Uncle Bill’s ranch outside Cody, which was pretty fucking awesome. Here is what we ran into on the driveway, on the way in:

These guys are just kind of pets, who wander around. I thought that was pretty great. But then one of them decided to scrape the paint off the rental car’s hood with his teeth. Not so great.

And, frankly, he was a little pissy about it.

Which seems a little entitled to me, considering what the hood looked like.

But hey, it was totally beautiful there, even though there are wolves and you kind of shouldn’t go outside without “bear spray,”

and so maybe it’s not so great if you’re a young elk (this was also on the driveway, BTW):

But, seriously, beautiful… here is one of the trout ponds:

And here is one of the 183 alligators that Uncle Bill shot last winter in Florida:

Uncle Bill likes to shoot stuff. He is very, very good at it. He taught me a bit about shooting while I was there, too. I kind of suck at trap shooting, as it turns out. I only hit one clay pigeon on Saturday, and one on Sunday. Out of about 50 each day. So, you know, MASSIVE suckiness on that front. And I think he was a bit disappointed.


(This would be me, NOT HITTING ANYTHING)

Thankfully, I did better with the crossbow:

Here is what I hit:

Not too shabby.

And also, he loaded up a nice pistol for us and let us shoot at the range he’s set up on the place:

I did okay with that, too:

Although when I posted this pic on Facebook, I got shooting tips from no fewer than four men. Only one of whom I actually know in real life. No women offered comments–perhaps because I didn’t actually ask for advice? Testosterone is funny stuff. Go figure.

Also, I beat Uncle Bill at chess three times. Which was pretty great. But then again, he’s 93 and he’s only been playing for a year. And he beat ME six times. So… well… it’s kind of like the time my sister sent a postcard home from Switzerland in eighth grade that said, “Dear Mom, I was in a ski race the other day. I came in third. Unfortunately, there were only three people in the race.”

Although as my sister likes to point out in retrospect, “the other two people made the Swiss Olympic ski team, so I didn’t suck THAT badly…”

Don’t even ask how many times he kicked my butt at Go. Because that’s just embarrassing.

But the best thing about being there, other than the fact that Wyoming is so gorgeous:

(this is where we stopped to picnic, on the drive up from Jackson)

Was getting to hear Uncle Bill’s stories at dinner.

I posted a link to the interview he did with a naval research institute magazine about getting shot down in the Phillipines during WWII the last time I posted here, but I got to hear way more details about that adventure in person.

Like, about how he had a COMPOUND FRACTURE of his leg and they were on the island for six weeks, and he made himself a crutch out of the bomb cradle from this Japanese plane that got shot down a couple of days later–wrapping the metal with the shrouds from parachutes in the Jap plane. Which had thirteen dead guys in it. 

I asked him what they ate while they were there.

“Coconuts,” he said. “Although I did see one of those Komodo Dragons, and thought maybe I could get it so we could grill it and have it for dinner, but then I realized that it was going into the plane to eat the dead Japs, so I decided against it.”

They finally got the two guys in the best shape to build a raft and go to another island for help–from the Phillipine guerrila fighter dudes. They finally got picked up by a submarine.

“What was that like?” I asked.

“Food was good,” he said. “Always is on a submarine. But the view’s terrible.”

He ended up in a hospital in Australia for a couple of months. The guy in the bed on one side of him had his arm in a sling after cracking up a Jeep. Guy in the bed on the other side had his leg in a sling. He told Uncle Bill that everything had been going fine “but then her husband came home.”

Uncle Bill has a Wyoming license plate with a Purple Heart on it. And he totally earned it.

Also, he told me about going hunting with my Great-grandfather Fabyan in the Twenties, which was pretty great to hear about. Bill is the eldest of my dad’s eight siblings. So, the stories about family stuff go way back. Which I love.

(Uncle Bill is second from left, top row. Sorry this is such a crappy repro–photo of a photo, taken with my phone.)

And he gave us his passes to the Buffalo Bill Center, in Cody. Which is an incredible museum.

They have astonishingly beautiful paintings of the west:

And incredible Plains Indian artwork:

And then we went to Bubba’s for Barbecue:

Which was pretty damn fabulous:

Also, I learned how to make really good buttermilk biscuits from Billy, who works on the ranch. He’s from Florida. I made sausage gravy, which Billy said looked relatively authentic. Though he makes his gravy from sausage he makes himself, out of wild boar he shoots in the Everglades.

He made his biscuits with Crisco, for us, but at home he makes them with lard he renders from the wild boar fat. The dude is SERIOUSLY awesome. And he’s also a rocking crossbow coach. Well, and pistol coach. We said we were psyched to get to do “biscuits, bows, and bullets” with him.

Uncle Bill has asked me to come down to Florida to shoot alligators, which I totally want to do this winter. But I’m also hoping to taste some of that boar gravy… and more of Billy’s biscuits.

Anyway, the whole trip was astonishingly wonderful. And we scattered some of my dad’s ashes on one of the trout ponds–under some falls where he always suspected a really giant trout was hiding.

I also loved getting to go to the bone store with my stepmom and half-sister–and travelling with them generally:

Even though my half-sister kicked my ass at trap shooting:

I am hoping I get to go back to Cody some more, because it was lovely, and Uncle Bill is fabulous. And also, I need more practice shooting so I don’t embarrass the family quite so badly.

For now, though, I have to go back to being a Democrat.

Though I did return to New Hampshire with a souvenir:

And some very fond memories:

So, hey… thank you, Uncle Bill!

What’s your favorite thing you’ve done this summer, o dearest ‘Ratis?

Okay, so I’m a blurter.

By Cornelia Read

Unlike JT, I am NOT actually at Thrillerfest. But I find myself in New York City anyway so last night I went down to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop for the T-Fest group signing and party. And by the end of the evening, I was totally blurting stories. Which, you know, I tend to do HERE, but when you find yourself telling your Albanian waiter at the beautiful Italian restaurant you are having dinner at with Toni McGee Causey and Allison Brennan and Keith Raffel and Sean Chercover and Keith’s gorgeous, brilliant daughter Madeline… wait, where was I? Oh, yes… telling your Albanian waiter IN THE MIDDLE OF PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE ORDERING DINNER FROM HIM that your mother’s boyfriend’s father was once the King of Albania’s doctor, and that this job–although it was given to Mr. Mom’s Boyfriend’s Dad to get him and his family out of Nazi Germany–came with a house, a butler, and a housekeeper (who was married to the butler) AND that when Mom’s boyfriend’s family finally made it to New York City in the Thirties, Mrs. Mom’s Boyfriend’s Mother kept in touch with the housekeeper, and wrote her a letter from Manhattan saying “I know you won’t believe it, but I actually cook and clean all by myself again,” the housekeeper wrote back, “Oh, Mrs. [Cornelia’s Mom’s Boyfriend’s Mother], I am sure that you are a wonderful cook and keeper of houses, but my goodness, WHO GREETS THE GUESTS?” Because I guess that’s your first thought when you’re married to a butler. In Albania. Or something.

Anyway, did I mention blurting? Yes. Blurtissima, that would be me.

And, also, earlier in the evening, I was telling the lovely and patient Robert Crais all about the three generations of women in my family’s tattoos. Um, possibly there was quite a bit of wine involved in the evening. I’m just saying.

But. This may also have been prompted by the fact that my daughter just got a tattoo. While we were driving home from the Adirondacks the other day. Okay, not actually WHILE WE WERE DRIVING. We stopped the car and got out and everything. In Rutland, Vermont (known to the locals as “Rut Vegas.”) This is because my daughter, who is seventeen, has been heavily researching tattoos–specifically where you can get one done when you are underage but your mother is a little wacky and will give you permission–which turns out to be, ahem, only in Vermont. Hence, a pitstop in Rut Vegas at a tattoo parlor called Long Trail Tattoos, at which my kid got inked with the thing she’s wanted for the last year or so and has been begging me to let her get. So now she has a pierced nose (promised to her “if and when you actually get into college.” Whereupon she gets in early decision, go figure.)

And also, when she wants something, she looks at you like this. Though this is also the “OMFG, will you STOP taking pictures of me already?” face. And of course the piercing is on the other side of her nose so it’s not like you can see it, here.

Where was I? Oh yes, the tattoo:

This would be the “before” picture. Natch.

Here is when we got underway:

And here is more “underway”:

And here is the final product:

And the reason she wanted to get it so much is because her twin sister’s name is Lila, and Lila’s nickname is “Lila Bean,” and Grace feels tremendously attached to and protective of her, what with Lila having such severe autism and everything. So, you know…. how can a mom say no to THAT, right? It made me totally tear up when she first told me she wanted it, and she has been unwavering in the desire for a whole year. And, um… I am a wuss and apparently not too conservative in the parenting department. Oh, and a blurter. We were talking about blurting. (Remember Alice? This is a song about Alice...)

So we have been in Alaska and the Adirondacks in the last two weeks, and then two days ago I drove to New York, and on Wednesday I’m flying to Wyoming to go shooting with my 93-year-old Uncle Bill. Who is a great storyteller. And, I hope, a blurter, like moi. In fact, here is one of HIS stories:

Two Coconuts and a Navy Cross, click click click

And I am looking forward to hearing about way more of his adventures. AND shooting. Because the man can shoot.

And that is my blurt for this morning… can you guys share a time when you overshared? Because it would make me feel WAY better about my mouthy evening last night….

OMG OMG OMG, Mea culpa culpa culpa…

Hi everyone,

Hugest apologies for posting so late in the day. We have screwed up the schedule over at Lipstick Chronicles, so I’m now supposed to blog at both places on the same day, only I thought it wouldn’t start until NEXT Saturday, and have been on a cruise ship with seventy-five-cents-a-minute internet for the past ten days, and am currently en route from Anchorage to Newark.

So, not only am I late, but I’m going to double post the same thing I have up at LC.

Hope everyone is having a great summer so far, partied on the solstice, and will forgive me… My first plane is boarding right now, and I’ll try to catch up with comments in Seattle if I can get wireless access during the stopover.

xx Cornelia




By Cornelia Read

So I just finished my first-ever voyage on a boat (not counting ferries or dinghies or floatingish thingies that are inflatable and/or require what the sailor types in my lineage always refer to as “a nice breeze” to locomote). Which was pretty damn cool, I have to tell you.


The trip was an enormo-prezzie to the fam from my mother, in honor of three of her grandkids having graduated from various and sundry schools this month.


Mummie (hey, if you are a parent of the female persuasion and gift your offspring with splendiferous adventures of this magnitude, you deserve the classically haute-Mitfordian pronoun, right?) treated me, my sister, my sister’s husband, my eldest girl, my niece, my nephew, and two school pals of niece and nephew to the proceedings, which was damn fine and gobsmackingly generous of her.


Mom does tons of awesome stuff for us all, and I don’t know how she comes up with the buckage for it. I think she subsists on cardboard soup and government-cheese fumes in between these stunning bouts of maternal largesse or something. Really.


I have learned many things during my time at sea. Here are some of them: 


1. If you are a woman who has two sons in the Navy, DO NOT let them take you drinking in Pearl Harbor, because you might wake up with a two-foot-tall tattoo of angel wings from your shoulder blades to your waist, even though the last thing you remember is being led into a room with all these weird pictures on the walls and one of your kids saying, “you can do Mom in the other room, me and my brother will stay together.” And then waking up with your nightgown stuck to your back, totally hospital-cornered into the guest bed so tightly you can’t move.


On the bright side, this woman’s sons did this to her because they think she IS a wonderful angel, and she already had a number of tattoos. And it’s really pretty (she showed us by pulling down her tanktop straps on the Denali Lodge shuttle bus, and also I saw her getting her formal portrait photo done on the ship). But still.

And hey, could be worse:


Although I think this one might be suitable revenge on the guy who did the angel wings tattoo at one’s children’s behest, if one were to, say, kidnap him and take him to a rival tattoo parlor, after nuking him with one of those Marlin Perkins Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom tranquilizer darts.


2. Go to the fire drill on the first day. Because you’ll want to know what to do if bad stuff happens. Which it so totally probably won’t, but still. Sometimes it does. And I say this because this is the ship my Grandmother Smith christened in the ‘30s.


3. Bring stretchy pants. Because you will eat the entire side of a house at every meal. With ice cream on it. Probably flambé.


And then a couple of bowls of gravy and some chocolate mousse. And twice your pre-cruise weight in smoked salmon.


4. If you are bringing your own luggage to the departure dock, make sure that the guy you give your stuff to attaches THE TAGS FOR THE ACTUAL CRUISE LINE YOU ARE GOING ON to each of your bags (e.g., if you are going on a Princess Lines cruise, having the guy apply Holland America tags is a really, really bummer idea.


As you may have surmised, I speak here from personal experience.)


5. If you forget suggestion number four, be on a ship that has nice people working on it. Because you will need awesome, awesome people who will make it nice for you even though you are wearing the same clothes for three days (and totally feel like Immigration is going to send you back to fin-de-siecle wherever from Ellis Island–with “Scarlet Fever” chalked on the back of your itchy homespun-tweed shmatte where you can’t even see it–well before the Holland America boat decides to take its sweet time lolling into Juneau.)

The people on our ship made Gavin McLeod and Lauren Tewes


look like rank amateurs. Even though they only played captain and cruise director on TV and stuff (okay, I do admit I kept expecting to find Isaac mixing frothy/frosty day-glo libations in a blender behind the Lido deck bar,



and to run into various bejeweled Gabors in the elevators.


Or at least Paul Lynde or something.)


6. A lot of people end up crashing in Alaska from elsewhere. And their stories are pretty great.


But here is a caveat from a tourbus person about the whole “there are five single men to every single woman here on The Last Frontier” thing:

“Sure, the odds are good. But the goods are odd.”



7. IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Do not let your fine-looking teenage daughter go party with the dudes who run the zipline for the rest of the day until the ship embarks after they send her whizzing along cables above the tree canopy for an hour and a half unless you want her to hang out with some guy named “Steve the ‘Stache” and discover an entire galaxy of body-piercings neither of you had ever envisioned in your wildest nightmares. Even though she is rock-solid on assuring me that she is not interested in any of them, but she got great pictures of them sent to her by Steve the ‘Stache over the last several days. Isn’t texting fun?


So even though I worry she might change her mind, which she insists she totally won’t, I did love hearing about the slightly exaggerated ruler (with witty disclaimer caption) the aforementioned Steve has reportedly had tattooed on his inner thigh–which had me doing spit-takes of mirth throughout dinner that night, every time I thought of it. Which almost makes up for the whole piercing-galaxy thing.

And, hey, she just got another text from Steve the ‘Stache. Who is a mere eleven years older than she is.


8. Deleted.

9. The legal smoking age in Alaska is nineteen, which becomes an important thing to know if you have recently decided on a whim to buy each of the three kids in your traveling party who just graduated from high school his or her very own sixteen-dollar Arturo Fuentes Hemingway Classic from the ship’s cigar bar.


Like, especially if you have just told the bar-server chick who’s kinda-sorta in charge of the place for the evening that your young companions are all eighteen. Whether or not they are actually, uh, seventeen. Allegedly.


Not least if the bar-server-chick-k/s-in-charge-of-the-place-for-the-evening only remembers that the smoking age in Alaska is nineteen after you’ve helped your young companions set fire to said trio of sixteen-dollar cigars.

Though it is rather fine to finish smoking your respective Hemingway Classics on the fantail of the Promenade deck at midnight when it’s the longest day of the year, still totally light out, and you happen to be sailing through a really groovy-looking fjord in Alaska. Just saying.



Especially when you and your three young smoking companions can sing all of the verses of Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” from memory, afterwards.




Complete with lyric-appropriate arm motions.


[DISCLAIMER: My young traveling companions are all really nineteen. I have intimated that they were underage merely for humor purposes. They were slow learners and all held back for a year in grammar school. Cross my heart and pinkie swear. And I didn’t let any of them sample my rocks glass of Scotch, either. Because, let’s face it, a fine single malt is, like youth, wasted on the young.]


10. Pack your sleeping pills, your toothbrush, your deodorant, and a change of undies in your carry-on bag.


Even if you didn’t sleep at all the night before you flew to Vancouver because your writing group is on California time and you are Skyping in from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to hear what they thought of your second draft–which means 8 p.m. for them is 11 p.m. for you, and doesn’t leave you a whole lot of sleeping time by the end of the session before you have to get back up again.

Because despite that stuff, all-nighters are no excuse for stupid. Or crappy packing.


11. The long-term parking lots for the Newark Airport are actually located in Western Pennsylvania. So you’ll want to get up at 3:30 and not 4:00. Even if you didn’t sign off with your writing group until 1 a.m. And this is especially true if Air Canada’s ground crews are on strike. But I’m pro-labor so it was worth it to leave earlier.



12. Douglas Adams was absolutely correct when he posited that “no one has uttered the phrase ‘as beautiful as an airport.’” Especially when it’s in New Jersey and you’ve been awake for circa forty-eight hours.

(I will spare you an illustration.)

Although he might have reconsidered if he’d been admiring the interior design of the Vancouver Airport for two hours from a bench next to the baggage claim. It’s pretty great.

(But, you know, still an airport. Not, like, a splendid afternoon in the Bois de Boulogne or the view across Florence from Fiesole at dawn or whatever.)


13. Denali (AKA Mount McKinley) is REALLY FUCKING BIG. And I say that having trekked to the base camp on Annapurna.


Trust me, the Himalayas are totally pussified by comparison.

Kind of like Vancouver’s hockey team.




14. I make a habit of dancing once a decade. I recommend doing this on a cruise ship. I just did. It was totally great. Especially when me and my niece’s pal dragged my mother out onto the dancefloor for “We Are Family.” 

And now I will not dance again until 2021. Phew.


 15. I found out my new $49 iPhone takes video. My old $200 iPhone did not, but it was four years old or something.

Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how I’m going to post them. So here’s a nice lady on a ship waving goodbye, instead:



Tell me about a trip that you loved… And please forgive me if I don’t check in very often the day this is posted–ten-hour flight back to the East Coast, and spotty internet…