Friday, February 29, 2008

Music and memory

Driving home just now I heard KISS’s Shout it out Loud on the radio. For some reason, it was like a flashback, and I was back thirty years.

The studio version of the song is kind of flat and tame. Even though that was what the radio was playing, I was hearing the live version, just as we performed it in the 1970s. That was truly electric rock’n’roll.

Some songs feature a strong guitar lead, and others have an overriding vocal presence. That particular song is really driven by Gene Simmons, with a biting, pounding bass line. He played that song with a custom bass that Steve Carr had made him, using active electronics I’d made for Steve. The electronics, the strings, and Steve’s instrument design combined to create a bass that was very trebly; very bitey. And very loud.

I don’t really know how to convey that sound to you in words, but I can hear it even now. Gene wanted that punchy sound because it had definition. Every single note stood out, distinct, clear as a bell. And we needed that bite to punch through all the stage noise. It worked. You could stand alongside the aluminum scaffolding, over on the stage right where Gene played, and the sound from that bass just dominated everything. The only thing louder was the explosions Hank would fire off every few minutes.

And it moved fast. Gene hammered the notes out at twice the speed of a traditional blues bass line. This wasn’t dance music. Not at all. This was kick start the Harley and wind it out at full throttle music. The speed, the volume, the bite; the raw power. I can even feel it today. The instruments stopped for a moment as we looked out into the audience, half blinded by the follow spots. “We got to have a party,” they all yelled, and the PA system went into distortion for a moment when the band kicked off again.

You didn't drink beer for music like this, because the sound pounded you so hard, your grip would crush the can. And if you had bottled beer, the glass would break, and you'd cut your hands. They knew better than to let bottles into places we played. No. You got cranked up first, and then you went inside, for two hours of kick-ass music.

Gene played that song with the amps at full power. Actually, as far as I remember, he played everything at full power. We had a stack of Sunn Super Coliseum bass amps chained together and I’d watch the clip LEDs flash with every note. There was a smell you’d get from the bass cabinets when they played loud for a while. It was sort of musty; the smell of hot speaker coils and atomized dust, you might call it. You just knew it was beating the speakers to death, but no one cared. If they made ten shows it was good enough.

When you stepped back from the stage, it was a bit like stepping out of the shower. You kind of moved away from the blast zone. It was still loud, but a little less overwhelming.

The sound is very different backstage. Most places, the vocals are missing and at a distance of fifty feet, it’s kind of muffled. All the voices are carried by the main PA speakers, and they’re hung from the ceiling forward of the stage. So you don’t hear them in back.. The musicians have monitor speakers – the Brits call it foldback – which throw the vocals back in their faces but the instrument sound is so loud the vocals never make it off the stage. As you walk around the stage, different instruments dominate different places. Beneath the stage, it’s the stomping of boots and the drums. On the right, it’s Gene’s bass. To the left, you’d get Ace and Paul’s guitars.

In some venues, we’d have the PA cabinets on the floor, on scaffolds. If you went under them, the bass and drums dominated. If you got close to the bass bins, the pounding blurred your vision, and you’d feel like you were getting beat up. If you stepped in front, the blast almost made your ears bleed. I never did that.

Scientists say everything we see, hear, and feel – all our lives - is locked inside our brains, waiting for some trigger to bring it out.

They're forecasting 10 inches of snow for tonight. I have to go grease the plow, to get ready.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Asperger's as illness - one psychologist's view

This afternoon, I spoke to a psychologist who had a surprising interpretation of Asperger’s and the DSM Guide. I will paraphrase what he said:

You, John, manifest many signs of Asperger’s as listed in the DSM. You have trouble with eye contact, you exhibit some repetitive movements, you fixate on special interests. You obviously meet many of the criteria.

When you were a kid, reading your description, I’d say you had major social issues and you were not able to function in school. Reviewing this data I can say, as a kid, that you met the criteria for Asperger’s as that illness is described in the DSM.

Excuse me? Illness?

Yes, he said. Illness. The DSM is a manual of disorders. Disorder is another word for illness. Now, when I look at you today, I’d say you are cured of Asperger’s. You are obviously successful in your work. You have a wife and a kid, and you talk about having friends. Given those improvements, you no longer meet the criteria in the DSM for Asperger’s. You did as a kid, but now you’re cured.


So let’s compare that to a drunk and AA. Say a fellow had terrible trouble with liquor, and almost drank himself to death but then joined AA and kicked the bottle. Twenty years later, he still goes to meetings. The meetings keep him connected, he says, and many people in the program find his continued sobriety an inspiration.

But if I’m hearing you right, he’s not an alcoholic anymore because he’s not drinking and he’s not drunk. Is that what you’re saying?

Yes, that’s right. He’s cured.

Well, that’s gonna be news to millions of people in AA programs all over the world, I thought. And my Asperger’s is cured too! What to make of that?

I felt like a scientist feels when he runs into a creationist in the lab.

Asperger’s is a way of being. People like me are the way we are because our brains are different. A course of therapy is not going to change the structure of my brain cells. There is no smoking gun in my past that made me Aspergian. It’s not a result of childhood abandonment, molestation by my uncle, or beatings in school. I was born this way.

If you accept that premise – that Asperger’s results from brain differences we are born with – then there is no cure via psychology. Once an Aspergian, always an Aspergian. But there is moderation of symptoms and learning to cope. I’ve said that right along.

The words “disease” and “illness” suggest a condition that one catches. If you catch something, you should be able to un-catch it, or get cured. I never thought of Asperger’s – which is how I am at a very basic level – as a curable condition and I certainly don’t see it as a disease.

What do you make of that thinking? And what is the role of psychology in dealing with Aspergians? For me, the "cure" has come from understanding how my thinking differs from nypical people's thinking. I could then change my behavior to look more nypical myself. My underlying thought processed never changed.

That's a very different process than the typical therapy session.

Would conventional therapy have helped me reach that goal?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Banished and black reparations

I’ve been thinking about the Public Television show Banished, since I saw it two days ago. For those who didn’t see it, the show is about some modern day black people whose ancestors were victims of mob violence in the early twentieth century. The ancestors of the folks on the show were run out of town and their property taken over. Today, they return to those places and consider if something can be done to make those long-ago wrongs right.

One of the things that made our country great is respect for property rights and the rule of law. We have generally honored those ideas since the founding of the country, with some notable exceptions.

The exceptions generally resulted from the process of evolution in our thinking.

For example, in 1776, the framers of the constitution said, “all men are created equal,” but “men” appears to have meant “white males of European descent,” as opposed to the definition of “men” in popular use today.

At that time, there was no universal recognition of the rights of either Native Americans, black people, women, or certain other foreigners. While some individuals – perhaps many individuals – recognized those groups as having the same rights as others, their individual opinions were not backed by the force of law in American courts.

As a result, many colonial residents of this land lived in fear for their own freedom and safety. At the same time, they feared confiscation or seizure of their property. For the most part, our society has evolved to the point where Americans do not fear those things today.

Now, free Americans look back in our history to times when their ancestors were temporarily or permanently deprived of their own freedom, and they ask if that long-ago deprivation of freedom is a wrong that should be made right today. And if so, how? And if someone were to make things right, who would it be?

Indian tribes have looked to the Federal courts to redress the seizure of tribal lands in the 1800s. Now, black people are raising the issue of illegal property seizures in the American south in the 1900-1930 time frame.

In the Native American case, it was the action of the Federal government that took the land in the first place, and it’s the Federal courts that have addressed the issue today. That seems appropriate to me.

What about the black people’s situation? That’s more complex, because it resulted from individual actions 100 years ago, as opposed to the action of government agents. Who would they look to, to make that right? The grandchildren of the Klansmen or mob members who took the land? The town they lived in? The state?

I don’t purport to know the answer to these questions but I have a sense about it. I think the descendants of those victims of anti-black violence might look to the government body that looked the other way when the incident happened. Our country is built upon the rule of law and respect for property rights, and it was rule of law and respect for property that broke down on a local level to allow the incidents depicted on the show.

I don’t know if that points to town, county, or state government. I suppose it varies, case by case.

But is this right, making a claim today? We have statues of limitations for all crimes relating to property. That means, for example, that a vandalism we committed as a teenager cannot be held over our head at age 30. The only crimes for which there are no time limits for prosecution are very serious ones, like murder.

Should the statue of limitations apply to the black people’s mob violence claim?

It’s been argued that the Indian claims are not subject to the statue of limitations because they resulted from acts of our government. Can the same be argued in the case of the black people?

How far back in time should we reach with our modern ideas? If we go back far enough, every one of us can find ancestors who were oppressed, enslaved, or had their property seized. That’s true for all of us, white, black, and otherwise. Freedom and property rights are fairly recent ideas in much of the world, and they have yet to arrive in some countries today.

Should we let those past events go, or take action today?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pink Floyd sound, circa 1979

I bought my first house in 1979, to celebrate the end of the KISS Dynasty tour, and my getting a real job. I lived in that house for over 16 years through several changes of career, acquisition of a wife, creation of a kid, and all manner of ups and downs.

When I got divorced and moved, I left many things behind, thinking I’d go back and get them one day. My ex-wife remained in the house; she’s still there now. Time passed and “one day” never came for all the other stuff I left behind. This weekend, thanks to Cubby, it arrived. I found myself unexpectedly cleaning up the basement and I found these gems from my past:

You are looking at the two amps that were the heart of Pink Floyd’s concert sound system in the late 1970s. When the Floyd was not on tour (which was most of the time) the sound equipment was rented out by their in-house sound company, Brittania Row Audio. I was the American side's engineer back in those days.

The Quad 303 was a very clean 40-watt amplifier, small by today’s standards but average back then. The quads drove the Gauss radial horns, with one Quad to each horn. A typical system might use 16-24 on each side of the stage. These Quads were very smooth, clean amps for horn use.

The Pink Floyd Mk III’s were brutes, real workhorses. They were based upon highly modified Phase Linear 700s. I fitted beefier power supplies, more rugged output stages, and internal limiting which upped the power 50% over their civilian counterparts while retaining the sweet sound. I made over several truckloads of these beasts in Britro’s Long Island City workshop. These Mk IIIs had a peak power of about 500 watts per channel, and they were racked four channels to a case, making them some of the most powerful PA amps in existence in the late 1970s. We used these amps to drive our low and midrange cone speakers.

These amps, with the Gauss speakers, my crossovers and limiters, and Midas consoles, made a sweet sounding system that could do anything - we could do Black Sabbath one night and Melissa Manchester the next without missing a beat. Even today, they’d do a fine job in most any venue in the world. I can still remember the feeling, standing backstage, watching the LED meters on those amps as the band played. I could feel my system run, standing back there in the dark, and I always knew just how much it could take. We never had breakdowns when I was there. I may not have played an instrument, but I knew how to make my sound system sing.

Back in the 70s most of the big English bands toured this equipment. When we brought the system to America it spent a number of years doing all kinds of music from heavy metal to new wave to blues, jazz and even disco.

It’s nice to rediscover them again, after almost 30 years in the basement. I think there's more stuff down there, hidden and awaiting rediscovery. I'll go look tomorrow.

And another night with the grad students

Tomorrow, February 19, I'll be back at The Elms to talk with grad students in Kathryn James class. For further information, she is at:

Kathryn S. James, Ph.D.
Chair, Division of CSD
Associate Professor
Division of Communication Sciences & Disorders
Elms College
(413) 265-2282
Extension 2282

I'm adding quite a few new events to the sidebar on the blog. Scroll down to check them out. Some are soon - like the screening of Billy the Kid next Sunday. Others are out as far as mid-December.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A night with the grad students

Last night I talked to the students in Kathy Dyer’s Speech Pathology class at Elms College. The great thing about talking to classes like this (for me) is the students. They ask good questions, and I have to think hard to answer them. In doing so, I get new insights into the thought processes they ask about.

Tonight, I’ll offer one of the questions and answers, edited for brevity:

Why do I seem more socially adept now than I'm? Exactly what changes? It can’t be just being older and knowing more, can it?

I think the answer to this question speaks to how we use our brains. Most of us (Aspergian and autistic people) can’t read faces and sense social cues the way nypical people can. But many of us have very good logical reasoning abilities.

I now use my reasoning power to take the place of weak or non-existent social instincts. So instead of looking at a person and sensing, he really likes me and he’s friendly toward me, I arrive at a similar conclusion by logical reasoning. I watch the other person carefully, and note what they do. Do they smile? Move toward me? Move away? I process what they say. I watch their hands.

You might say, that’s what a nypical person does instinctively. And you’d be right. But I do it with a different process, and a different part of my brain. Instead of knowing the social answer, I figure it out. Rather than sense, “she wants this” I deduce, “most people in her situation would want this.” So I don’t act from certainty of that specific person’s feelings. I act from analysis and consideration of probabilities of what most people would do in her situation. That’s quite different on the inside, but it looks similar on the outside. My results may not be as good as the sense of a good nypical, but it’s enough to get by. It’s enough to pass for eccentric instead of weird, and to seem normal in some situations.

I have, in effect, substituted one part of my brain for another to mask a deficiency. Why did I only do it when I was older? First, I had to know the opportunity existed. I didn’t know about this until I was middle aged. Second, I needed a large database of life experience from which to draw good logical inferences and conclusions. Third, I had to have the desire to change. The positive feedback I’ve gotten since finding out about Asperger’s has provided an incentive.

I wonder if this is the same process of brain retraining by which stroke survivors teach their brains to substitute undamaged areas for damaged areas and thereby recover some lost skills.

Can other people do this? I don’t see why not. I’d be interested to hear from others who’ve done or tried this sort of thing.

So I thank the students for having me there last night. I feel like I get a little smarter every group I talk to.

Kids and me

I'm headed to Houston on March 5, for an appearance at the Monarch School. Last week, they asked if I'd do a live radio show with them, and I said yes. You never know what you'll get on live radio and this show was unique.

After a brief introduction, the host turned the show over to three Aspergian students, and they spent the whole show talking with me. It's kind of neat, and you can hear it at this link:

For those of you in the Houston area, here's a link to the school and event:


John Elder Robison, brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors, will speak and sign copies of his bestseller, “Look Me in the Eye” on Mar. 5, 2008, from 7-9 pm at the United Way Community Resource Center. Click here for more info and click here to register for this exciting event! Ask me about evaluations and other services available through The Monarch Diagnostic Clinic - visit our website at

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Game of my Life

Have any of you read The Game of My Life? It’s a memoir by J-Mac, Jason McElwain, the autistic Rochester high school student who shot all those 3-point baskets at his Senior game a few years ago. He’s still all over YouTube and his book is here:

The book is sort of divided into three parts. The beginning is written by co-writer Daniel Paisner. The middle is told by J-Mac himself, and the conclusion is in Daniel’s voice. The heart of this tale is J-Mac’s own story, which we get to early on. His story is interspersed with occasional passages from friends, parents, and coaches but the bulk of the tale is in his own words.

I really enjoyed J-Mac’s voice. I will say, you may have to be a basketball fan to enjoy it, but I loved the innocent voice he has. I loved the way he just told his story. People say there are no bad guys in my writing. Well, I say the same thing about J-Mac. It’s a nice story.

Actually, his voice reminded me of the voice of Perry, the fictional figure in Pat Wood’s novel Lottery

One key difference between this story and Lottery, though, is FOCUS. That, of course, sets many of us on the spectrum apart from others like Perry. And J-Mac has a total focus on basketball. Many of us on the spectrum have our special interests, and J-Mac’s is clearly basketball. We relive the game and the seasons with him, second by second as we move through the pages. I’m not a huge sports fan, but I enjoyed this because his hopes, hard work, and simple joy come through so clearly.

J-Mac’s story ended with a wonderful triumph, the story of the team’s basketball season. Frankly, I think the book would have been wonderful if it ended there. But it didn’t. When we moved into Daniel’s conclusion, I felt the tone took a nose dive. We went from wonderful triumph to dry facts, Daniel’s interpretation of J-Mac’s future and his life today. And they way Daniel described this made me sad.

It also made me realize something else.

As an autistic person – even a real high functioning specimen – I really don’t like the way I feel when I read what some Nypicals write about us. There’s just too much “poor them, they’re so impaired” in some writer's tones. And that's what I felt here, analysing his present and his future. So what if he’s working in a grocery store! He’s working. And that, for him, is a major, major triumph. It’s not “JUST a grocery store.” Reading it that way, it feels demeaning. I know no one meant it that way, but I heard that stuff myself, when I was younger, and I really don’t like it.

I guess even at 50, Aspergians like me can still be sensitive to stuff like this.

Not all Nypical writing about people on the spectrum is like that. Some actually makes me feel good. Oliver Sacks and Tony Attwood come to mind, for examples. I can also take/enjoy moms writing about their kids, because I understand where they’re coming from. But this ghost writer – at least in this example – didn’t feel right to me, adding his two cents to this story.

I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, and I feel bad because I don’t want to belittle his contribution, but I just did not like how that ending made me feel. I’m sure Daniel contributed a lot, getting J-Mac’s part of the story assembled and set down. To me, that was enough.

That said, this is a book any parent of a kid on the spectrum could take inspiration from, as could any young person. I can recommend it for that without reservation. I learn something new from every book like this that comes along.

Here are some photos of my own basketball team in action - the University of Massachsetts

Finally, I got my copy downloaded to my Kindle, which I really like.

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And in other news . . .

I will be attending Kathy Dyer's class at Elms College this Tuesday at 5:30. I'll bring pizza and entertain the students as best I can.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Is God in the bank or the machine?

Many people, when confronted with tragedy or great difficulty, turn to a higher power. For example, when faced with job loss and foreclosure, some pray or seek help from a God. All of us know people who feel they got a good outcome from doing so, though there are believers who attribute the outcome to God and skeptics who attribute the outcome to luck.

Then there are those who seek help from real world sources. Some people would not describe themselves as “praying” but they would apply for relief from 25 different organizations and spend the next week fervently hoping for relief. Most observers would attribute a good result in this case to hard work, those others would credit divine intervention or luck here, too.

Some people would do both.

What’s the difference between those people? Presumably, each recognizes that the other choices exist. Are they hoping for the same thing, or a different thing? One could argue that the people in the second group have less ability to imagine the somewhat abstract concept of God showing them the way, so they turn to something more concrete, like Chase Bank or Countrywide Lending.

All seek the same result at first. Some of each group have bad outcomes. Some have exactly the good outcome they hoped for, and many have a good or acceptable outcome that is substantially different from what they were orignally seeking.

One could argue that the folks in the second group are more likely to get help because they are seeking it from institutions that can actually provide help. Whatever powers we attribute to God, most agree he’s not a cash lender.

It’s actually not clear to me which group is most likely to get a good outcome. My first thought is that most that turn to real world sources can only be satisfied by a loan or a job, but actually that’s not true.

I already understood that the folks who ask God for an answer could end up with many satisfactory outcomes. They could find a lender or employer. They could find a person who takes them in. They could join a church or a mission. They could move back in with elderly parents and experience personal growth. Clearly, when facing the loss of a house there are many possible good outcomes, some of which involve retaining the house and some following different paths.

I had thought the “different paths” answer would mostly apply to people who asked God for help, as opposed to, say, Chase Bank. But upon reflection I see that isn’t so. There's just as much diversity for this group as for the God group. Many of you will remember fortuitous events in your own lives that happen in the course of dialy life/business. Events like those prove you can find a different path anywhere at all. The lender may say, “we can’t help you but these people can . . . .” You may meet someone on the way to the bank. You may see a sign in a window. You may pick the winning lottery ticket out of the gutter in front of the bank.

So if those two actions (pray to God or put hope in Chase Bank) are essentially the same in intent and range of outcomes, could we infer that, if there is a God, He is in both? How would that affect the spirituality of the different people and their goals?

Now, some of you may ask, “Does this have anything to do with Asperger’s or autism?” Yes, it does. Many Aspergians (me included) don’t “dream” of abstract concepts. We plan. We don’t say, “I want to be xxxxx,” with xxxxx being some life goal. Rather, we break xxxxx down into 100 discrete steps and then we begin following those steps to a goal. That being the case, some of us would find the idea of prayer or a God too abstract but we might break the same journey down into steps and pursue the same goal.

Are people who do that any less spiritual? Why?

I suspect more Aspergians will be found in the second group because of our tendency to literal-mindedness. Even though we have many religious Aspergians, I suspect this manifests itself in more concrete or real-world thoughts and actions.

Is the difference essentially that some people are more literal-minded and hence choose the Bank because it's clearly defined and visible? Certainly that applies to Aspergians and Nypicals alike.

How might we interpret the spirituality of different people in light of this?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Internet and capitalism

Many of us complain about the unfairness of our economy, especially the tax system. There’s a popular perception that the biggest companies and richest people pay little or no tax, and the burden is shouldered by those in the middle.

The ideal vision of many is a society where the rich pay most all the costs of society and the burden trails off to zero as one moves into the middle class, while benefits rise. The poor would actually get support from society.

And how likely is that to happen, with giant companies, lobbyists, and our government of special interests? Yesterday I realized it IS happening online. Doesn’t the Internet work that way?

As the Internet has evolved, it has become more democratic. In most of the United States, individuals can get free or very inexpensive access. And how is that supported? By larger corporations who paid the big money to build and run the backbones.

Today, those large corporations are building networks as fast as they can, and they will bring cheap access to more and more people worldwide.

The same thing has happened with web applications. Big companies spend millions to develop software, but simple versions of those tools are available to individuals for free, or nearly so. Look at Blogger . . . it’s a great example. As is Gmail and all the other free services one can find online.

All those services were built by and are supported by large users – the “rich people” of cyberspace.

There are some, like Microsoft, who want to charge money for most everything. But what about all the other huge companies whose wares are available to the individual for free or nearly so? Those companies seem to be thriving with support from the richer denizens of the net, and their model is becoming more and more dominant.

The concept of the Internet as a bunch of fee-based sites seems to be fading. More and more is free, even from organizations like the NY Times and major magazines. The percentage of "paid subscriber" content seems to be shrinking.

We do have our problems with spam, porn, viruses and the like, but overall, the Internet seems to govern itself pretty well. Why can’t government achieve a similar result? I think the answer is government itself. But anarchy isn’t the answer either. The Internet is not anarchy. It’s something else.

Is there a lesson for our country in the way the Internet runs?

* * *

And on other fronts . . . Look Me in the Eye seems to be on sale in the UK. Do we have any Brits on the blog yet?

* * *

And there's more . . .

I now have an author page on It's here:

I'm still filling it out but it's a start.

And I have also added sports photos to my online gallery. You can see the main gallery here:

And the college sports here:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

One more camera down the road, and I'm feeling good about it

When Nikon introduced the D3 and D300 cameras last November I got one of each. The D2xs and D200 cameras I’d been using were now surplus. I’ve gone through this cycle quite a few times as Nikon has introduced new models. First there was the D1, then the D1x, the D2h, the D2x, the D200, and then the D2xs. Each one was better than the ones before.

In the past, I always sold the old cameras on eBay. This year, I decided to do something different. I gave the whole D2xs system to the Media Relations folks at UMass Athletics.

I feel good, having given them nice equipment that they can use for years. And they are thrilled to get it. We should all be aware of the need to support our colleges. As rich as some appear, most scrape for dollars. UMass is no exception.

Some people ask why a geek like me would support athletics, as opposed to engineering. Here’s why: I run a business in a city (Robison Service) and I see firsthand the struggles inner city kids go through. When schools award athletic scholarships a high proportion go to poor kids in the cities, and those kids become role models for their communities. Engineering students don’t tend to become role models in the same way. So a scholarship for basketball can have farther reaching benefits.

Sports draw attention to a school, and everyone benefits from it.

That said, I also support other programs at UMass and Elms College. My father attended graduate school with the help of a living expenses scholarship from the Ralston Purina folks. I’ve given money for similar programs at my schools. Any of you can do the same . . . small donations add up and they form the large part of the endowment at many schools. You hear about the guy who gives ten million dollars but those people are rare. It’s the folks who give a hundred or a thousand, thousands of times, year after year, that keep our colleges afloat.

Anyway, I’m happy to have done it and I have some pictures from today’s game, which was Women’s Basketball against St Joe. I’m sorry to report, we lost. They didn’t whup us like dogs, but they whupped us just the same.

Women’s sports are a lot more civilized. I have never seen a riot or even a noteworthy fight (the kind that gathers a crowd who cheer and lay down money) after a game. The people just disperse and leave in an orderly fashion.

But this is the calm before the storm. The UMass Police are gassing up the helicopter, feeding the patrol horses, and loading the tear gas cannons to get ready for Superbowl Sunday. They may not riot for Women’s Basketball, but they sure riot for the Patriots, especially if they lose. By two this morning, we’ll have burning cars, drifting clouds of poison gas, and looters in the street. Ten thousand drunk and crazed students against one hundred cops.

Here we have a face-off over the ball

The referrees watch from the sidelines, whistles at the ready. Refs are not local. They travel a circuit so they're never in the same arena twice in a row.

There's often action to be photographed on the sidelines. Here's what looks like a French horn player, idling, waiting for GO from the conductor. I originally called him that, but a reader wrote in to tell me it's a Sousaphone instead. So it's one or the other. Whatever it is, they use it to play loud musical accompanyment for every big play and at random moments throughout the game. There's always the hope that a honk from the horn will throw the opposition off just enough . . .

Here we are, back to the play:

My friend Gordy brings binoculars to watch the cheerleaders, but with a photo pass you can go right down and mingle. I tell him that, but he has yet to buy a camera.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Meet the Queen of the Road

Have you ever sought out the services of a psychiatrist? If so, what were they like? If your experience was like the one my brother described in Running With Scissors, your shrink was a freak in a Santa suit with a goodie bag of pills. But if it was like my modern-day experience, your shrink was conservatively and properly dressed, polished, articulate, and inscrutable.

You may ask yourself, “What is she (the shrink) really like?”

Some of you may claim no personal experience with a shrink. But even you must have an idea what they’re like, from watching Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos.

You may even go so far as to muse, “Would she do something wild like that?” I will leave the definition of “something wild” to your imagination for the moment.

This afternoon, I read a book that answered some of those questions. The book is called Queen of the Road, and it’s by a real shrink named Doreen Orion. In the book and in real life, she has a mate named Tim who is also a psychiatrist. For Tim, being a shrink is not enough. He has dreams of becoming a Machine Aficionado, like me, even though he knows that doing so might change him forever.

In the beginning, we see Doreen as a sedentary and spoiled female with few if any practical skills beyond those required for acquiring and maintaining a medical license. She does not perform manual labor. She does not know how to operate heavy equipment. She does not design or even program computers. She does not own or covet exotic weapons. She has a dog, but it’s a housebound poodle. She does not have a passel of beagles under the porch. There are no old motor vehicles on blocks behind her house, and no farm machinery. She does not race bicycles or airplanes.

Queen of the Road tells how those lifestyle deficiencies began to affect her husband. Finally, he was seized with such a lust for powerful machinery that he bought a bus. A fairly large one; a Prevost for you bus lovers. Forty thousand pounds, with three axles and a large diesel engine. The nature of the engine is not clear from the book, but there are clues.

Doreen ponders the difference between a 6V92 diesel and an 8V92. Both are products of the Detroit Diesel Company. The 6 has six cylinders, the 8 has eight. 92 is the size of each cylinder, in cubic inches. It is evident when she writes this that her sheltered life is about to change.

He has lured her into the bus world, and they undertake to convert their bus into a motor home. Already, the conservative shrink facade is crumbling. Then . . . they quit work!

They move into the bus, and depart on a year of cross country travel. It’s the same scene I lived in the 1970s, without the drugs, guns, and loud music. Or maybe its not. But if they have drugs, guns, and loud music, they do not mention them here. Reading the story, you too will long for a bus unless you already have an abundance of machinery.

If you are a female, you will wish you had a mate like Tim to operate your bus. If you are a male, you will wish for two females like Doreen to accompany you. And the “two” is not my idea. It is hers, and she mentions it twice.

Together, Tim and Doreen experience many things together that I have also done:

They repair a broken bus by the roadside

They confront armed robbers

They travel the Alaska Highway

They visit the Cyclorama in Atlanta

They have trouble with the Law

Reading their story, I felt glad I had undertaken my wild times with a bus at age 20, and not at age 40. Her bus driver was a gentleman. My bus driver was a whiskey-crazed mad dog who drove an armored bulldozer in Viet Nam. Hopefully (because I remember my own times in a bus) our experiences differed in certain key ways.

There are elements of romance to the story, but I myself do not write romance and I am not qualified to report on it here. I will say there are indications throughout the book that Doreen likes her mate, and her mate likes her. I do not think either of them will be appearing on the True Crime TV shows anytime soon, but you never know.

On the cover, the bus is described as having a “mind of its own.” I’ve known a lot of buses in my time. One of our long time customers owned the Peter Pan Bus Company, one of the largest bus fleets in the United States. I’ve been in their bus garage more times than I can remember, and I’ve seen hundreds of buses up close, but I’ve never seen a sentient one. I believe that was an error or exaggeration, or perhaps literary license.

But they are close to Area 51 out there, so maybe her bus is Different.

At the end of the story, Tim and Doreen still like each other, and they remain married. It’s clear that they have both acquired many new skills and their view of the world has changed. At the end, Doreen remains a psychiatrist, but Tim’s future is less certain. I think both are happier. I plan to go to Boulder in March, where I will examine them in person and report back.

They may regret that, because my knowledge of machines extends far beyond buses. And Doreen and Tim are already on a slippery slope that’s covered in diesel oil. And I know where it leads. I myself have a house whose driveway can accomodate the largest buses. My garages can hold seven cars and two motorcycles. And I have many pieces of Diesel Machinery here on the property, including a Front End Loader. Anyone who likes buses will also like a Loader.

You will never look at a psychiatrist the same way again. And you will never take a bus driver for granted, either.

Her book is coming out this June. Here’s a link to it:

Here is her blog