Dear Neal and Gwen,

    It's been a bit over a year since Neal wrote about your move back to TX. And I've had your letter getting wrinkled, dusty, and bent as it waited atop my desk for me to get off my butt and reply. I would like to trust that you're all three alive, well, and happy. Maybe if we correspond a bit or phone-chat a bit I can stop trusting and find out.

    I was talking with my oldest friend David - buddies since we were about 5 - about the demise of my marriage -- anyway David and I were talking and I said, "You know, Dave, I know all the psychological and practical explanations for why life goes where it does, why a marriage ends, and so on and so on, but at the bottom of it all, I'm basically an asshole." His laugh made me feel better. David points out that we're all assholes and that that's always the real explanation for everything.

    Now that that's out of the way I can talk more cheery, I'll give you an update, but really I'd like to know what's up with ya'll.

    New York continues to be depressed, and my County has, for a change, nearly led the market in lost jobs, since IBM has forgotten how to star in the computer business. I estimate we've lost about 1/3 of the middle and upper middle income jobs in the Hudson Valley. At least the traffic is not quite as bad. So I think on occasion (maybe daily) about selling the rental houses and moving somewhere warmer -- maybe next year when Sara's off in school, particularly if the real-estate market recovers a bit I'd consider selling off my house which presently keeps me land-poor.

    Glad you were finally able to sell the houe in AZ - did the buyers know that their shit would have to flow uphill under the driveway? I was hoping they'd not have a home inspector, at least not a real one.

    The Florida Sister-Act continues to be really neat. Our respective Mom's are a sketch. I visited them recently when I was down teaching a seminar near Orlando. They'd just bought matching personal alarm systems - a stupid hand-held thing I call the "shrieker" since if you're being mugged you push a button and it shrieks loud enough to crack plaster.

    After talking about them for an evening over dinner, I was asleep in Mom's guest room when she first woke me up by opening and closing the garage door -- the opener is right below my bed; then she went out her bathroom balcony door to see how good was my paint job I'd done on her roof the day before- and she set off the house alarm... so I decided I might as well get up. I was stumbling towards the bathroom-- I just cannot live in the AM before peeing and brushing my teeth - it's always a debate which I do first since I really have to pee but my mouth tastes like shit.

    Anyway, suddenly I heard this incredible SHRIEKING
    EEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAA and the plaster began to vibrate over the bathroom mirror.

    Of course I knew immediately Mom had, for some reason, let a mugger into the house and he was probably stabbing her to death right at that moment.

    So I peed, brushed my teeth, and then walked slowly and calmly towards Mom's bedroom, from whence the Shrieking continued

    Actually I didn't really brush my teeth etc. I ran in there.

    Mom had been trying to register the warranty on her shrieker machine.

    Instructions said to record the serial number, from within the battery compartment. Struggling with the battery cover she set the damn thing off.

    It occurs to me that if you're holding one of these alarms and the mugger approaches and you set it off, all he has to do is bop you over the head or shoot your ass immediately, the throw the stupid machine in the nearest canal. In fact, I'd throw one in the canal immediately if you gave it to me as a goddam gift!

    The shrieking made it impossible for us to talk, but I managed to get Mom to give me the invention, and we tried to shut it off -- she'd not really read that part of the instructions very carefully, and Neal, Gwen, you just can't stand there calmly reading instructions while your ears are being ripped off by 9 megadecibels of

    Mom lives by a golf course, but I was chicken shit to throw the thing out her window, god knows who would come and see me in my drooping jockey shorts. So I stuffed under the pillows of her couch and then piled the bedclothes atop it, after which threre continued a nearly bearable


    The instructions say "calmly push the red button three times, at one second intervals." They're not kidding about the precision of the intervals. DO they think the mugger is going to push the stupid reset button. Hell he'll shoot both you and the dumb shrieker. Probably shoot you first for having one.

    We got it off.

    That night your mom brought her shrieker to dinner in the fancy French restaurant. She had it in her purse. We told her about the morning's adventure and I swear, every time your mom's purse banged against something I was up the fuck out of my chair and heading for the restaurant's door.

    (Maybe we could have dropped it into a water pitcher. That might be really cool!) Rita managed to avoid setting off her alarm, but the idea of it led to a whole set of speculations of what to do with it if the alarm goes off in a restaurant (which would surely empty the place out and end your welcome there) or in a car (We all agreed the whole thing would go out the window-Rita said even if it was in her purse she'd throw the purse out the window, credit cards, money, and all).

    Keep your guns, Neal.

    Love to you all.




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