Phat('s) Chance for Buddha in Houston (Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation)

Genre: General Fiction

For Fans Of

John Irving, Tom Robbins, J.D. Salinger Comedic-drama. Men's short fiction, short fiction, humor, coming and going-of-age

Book Summary

It's what you have been wondering for years--just how many Buddhist monks fit into a 1970 Buick Electra 225 convertible?

It's 1990 and just another typical summer day in Mapletown, Indiana until Uncle Phat, The Reptile (or Uncle Mike, as he used to be called), wanders into the garage and gives his puberty-stricken 15 year old nephew, Galen Calcoun, only about an hour to pack. The four of them, a squinting Uncle Phat, his beloved Ruby--a 1970 ruby red white-top convertible Buick Electra 225, Galen, and "the three books about Buddhism" that take their place in the middle of the front seat, are headed to Houston, Texas to "look at an engine" for Ruby. They leave a note for the family and with ZZ Top blaring, take to the road.

Both are escaping not only the monotony of their town but also the tyranny of the "cousins" who by sheer numbers alone, wield chaos-based control over the entire clan, the brunt of which is borne by Uncle Phat though Galen is tiring of it too, even if he doesn't know it--yet. "Intellectuals in a sea of morons" is how Galen views it ten years later as narrator, recounting their trip that includes lessons in French history from Vincennes (Indiana) and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Of course they have to make a stop at Mark Twain National Forest. After a foray in a casino bar on a boat in Shreveport, LA, they have a run-in with a bunch of gun-totin' nature lovers on ATV's in Louisiana. It could go horribly wrong but thankfully Galen gets a stomachache.

Their "irresponsible" behavior is buffered by the people they meet on the trip that despite their antics, see the better side, invite them in, befriend them. The point of the trip was what again? Oh yea, getting to Houston to look at that engine for Ruby except...All the while, they are badgered by the family to stay in touch so they can get yelled at, chastised some more, bashed for acting "irresponsible". Starting with the first lie, the trip is predicated on more lies and when it ends, only one of them returns home to Indiana. Wow is now.


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About the Author

When my home burned down in the CA Cedar Fire in 2003, I came face to face with one of the fundamental thoughts of Buddhism--impermanence. The Buddhist tale about getting hit in the head with a board? This was my big ____g "board" across the face though I am not sure it led to my enlightenment...Among so many other treasured things, family heirlooms, photographs, boxes of music, the fire destroyed ten journals, the first one started when I was ten years old.

I have always written and I have always read. I am a child of the new America--suburbia in Ohio in the 60's--pillage and plunder, raze and grade, bulldoze and destroy. My street was the first one of a mega-subdivision the problem being nobody told me the nearly pristine farm that surrounded us would be destroyed. My mother was a store detective for Sears and Roebuck at the new mall. There was no child care then so I went with her, sometimes acting as a decoy so she could pick up shop lifters, a daring job for a petite woman during those times. Her life was threatened more than a few times, particularly when she broke up shoplifting rings. She was damn good at her job. Of course, all her co-workers were men and she outworked them all. Sometimes she would drop me off at Walden's Bookstore in the new mall. Apparently she had some kind of agreement with the manager because I sat on the floor and spent hours there. The greatest excitement was when she would give me a few dollars so I could buy a book, ANY book.

So what did I buy? The classics, and I still love them. Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Emily Bronte (of course Jane Eyre). I bought American poetry anthologies and read them like novels. I bought a lot of botany books, my favorite, the little Golden Guide to Botany, was destroyed in the fire. I grew to love nature essays, poetry, and settled in with Walt Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson (Self Reliance!). A guy named John Muir made we want to see the American west really really badly. Theodore Roethke is still my favorite poet (of the poets I know. There are a lot of poets).

By the time I was a teenager, I was claustrophobic. The subdivision was built out. My family had rescued a lot of wildlife. I was angry by the injustice that the wild place I grew up in had been systematically destroyed. You can't imagine the biodiversity that was destroyed--I can list it but I remember where hundreds of lady slipper orchids grew within the rich woods of the eastern deciduous forest. I still remember trying to find this place. I couldn't because it didn't exist anymore. Somebody's kitchen is on top of it now. This is how I grew up. Watching this! For years! So by the time I was teenager, I wanted the hell out.

I went to college on the other side of the state, still pretty wild, Athens, Ohio (now also greatly built-out, developed). I had a grand time. Upon finishing my B.S. in Field Biology and M.S. in Botany/Ecology, I began my career only to figure out I wasn't so great in one place and I was terrible caged in a cubicle. I had some great jobs but found many of them suffocating, the dysfunctional relationships within them intolerable. I wanted to explore, not sit in on some stupid meeting. Financially, this did not turn out to be the greatest decision...(please buy my books, ha) but spiritually, as far as my soul is concerned...

My most exciting field work was in Alaska where we were dropped by helicopter or fixed wing then we camped/hiked for weeks at a time, our duty to roam and collect as much biological data as possible. I was with the botany team. I figure nothing will top this though I am still trying. There was a stint in Colorado with the National Park Service--inside an office building 99% of the time, a stint in Wyoming. Great field work that included working on a project in Bridger-Teton NP, on the Snake River. I met Mardie Murie. Lord we were rude. My co-worker wanted to meet her and we just rapped on her door, caught her sleeping. I felt terrible but man, what an honor.

Anyway, as long as I was in the field, I could handle it but no doubt this was a strike against me when it came to promotions. I was kind of like a caged wild animal in the ole' cube and always trying to come up with excuses to set myself free.

There was and still is too much to see on our incredible planet and just like when I was a kid, I want to see it before it all gets destroyed. I don't hold the human primate in high regard. We could do with some global scale humility but our life spans dictate our selfish desires...this works against us making any grand changes for future generations.

I have grown more introverted with age, as many writers do. Nothing makes me happier than a few days before me, my Subaru, my dogs, by camping gear, kayak, an open road and sky. For me, this is heaven and I intend to be in this heaven on earth as much as possible.

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