November 17, 2017

The Sharp-Dressed Man…

Category: News — admin @ 5:30 pm


Clean shirt, new shoes,
And I don’t know where I am goin’ to.
Silk suit, black tie,
I don’t need a reason why.

ZZ Top, lyrics

I have no idea how it all happened, looking back. I mean, it sure wasn’t planned. But those journeys are the best, the ones that just come at you when you aren’t looking for anything except your ordinary day. And you don’t even realize the moment for what it is. This little foray was exactly that, back a few months ago.

A little bit of background, first. I will say. I’ve always been a rough and tumble guy from a real plain place in the country. A place where a man should be tough. His face should be seamed and weathered. Tanned by the sun. His hair should be windswept and uncontrolled. His hands should be calloused. And blackened by dirt and grease, from working the earth and working the machines that till the earth. His bread should be earned by the sweat of his brow. He should be gentle. His heart should be grateful and humble. These are some of the things a man should be.

Where I come from, it was the most lackadaisical world imaginable, when it came to men’s grooming. The men of my childhood, at least the married men, were dark and bearded and grim. Aylmer was kind of on the edge of things, when it came to letting your mustache grow. In most Amish communities, they’re pretty strict about that. Keep that hair trimmed down tight, on your upper lip. In Aylmer, not so much. It was one of the pet issues of the Stoll men, the mustache was. And looking back, it makes perfect sense, what they were saying. Facial hair is facial hair. There is no rational reason to say a beard is biblical, but a mustache isn’t. But Amish rules aren’t necessarily based on reason. The horse and buggy is the most visible symbol of that fact. (That, and maybe those awful barn-door pants the menfolk wear. Those are irrational, too.) Still, they roiled and stirred around a good deal, the Stolls did. Wear a blue shirt to church, instead of white. And it didn’t hurt to have a heavy midnight shadow where your mustache would grow. That’s the way things went a lot, back in Old Aylmer.

Mom wasn’t having any of that. I’ve mentioned it before. Her men and boys wore white shirts to church. Always. Never blue. And as for shaving your upper lip, well, there’s this little story from one fine Sunday morning, before my time. Dad had hitched up his horse and was trundling his family off to church. He wore a white shirt under his suitcoat, I’m sure. He clucked and slapped the reins. The horse clopped along contentedly. It was a peaceful morning. Until Mom glanced over and happened to notice. Dad had not clipped his mustache lately. It was clearly visible. It was, in fact, a mustache. This did not sit well with Mom.

“Dad!” She spoke sharply. And a little loud, over the rattle of the buggy. “Dad. You forgot to shave.”

My father generally remained calm under such an outburst as that. And that morning, he tried to laugh it off. Har, har. Oh, well. They had left home, now. It was too late, to turn back. It was soon time for church to start.

But there would be no peace. Not as long as Dad had that stubbled upper lip. Mom kept right on admonishing. And Dad kept right on driving. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if church was to the east of our home, or to the west. I seem to recall hearing it told that Mom kept nagging Dad until he pulled into Nicky Stoltzfus’ place, a half mile to the east. Wherever it was, that family had not left for church, yet. And Dad went to the door and knocked. The door opened. Dad asked if he could borrow the hair clippers to clean up his face a bit. And that’s how Dad got to church with a freshly-shorn face that morning. And that’s why some other family passed down the story to the children, of the Sunday morning when David Wagler stopped with his family, so he could clip his mustache hair with the hand clippers. Such a tale as that was told. A tale that actually happened.

There wasn’t a whole lot of grooming going on among the men in my Amish childhood world. Not a whole lot of grooming of any kind, I don’t guess. I do remember a few things that signified a rite of passage, though. My older brothers had these things, I saw early on. A single-edged safety razor. A pressurized can of shaving cream. And a plastic bottle of green Skin Bracer. I’ve seen that hard green glint in just about every shade of light there is. Skin Bracer is good stuff. And it doesn’t smell half bad.

And that single-edged razor. We used it for other things, too. Scraping paint. And it made the perfect blade to castrate little piglets. Dad always had a few sows around. A few farrowing pens in a dilapidated barn. And when the sows had little ones, we’d step in when they were a week old or so. We’d grab a male piglet, and one of us would hold it upside down, by the back legs. The other person would reach in, slice open the testicles, and slash, slash. It was done. Dunk a little peroxide on the open cuts, and back to Mama the piglet went. I’m sure it hurt, the procedure, but I can’t remember that we ever lost one because of infection. They healed up pretty fast. And that’s how I used a single-edged razor blade long before I ever shaved.

And I remember first using the safety razor to shave. Well, maybe it wouldn’t count as a real shave. I was probably fourteen, when some fuzzy hairs showed up on my chin and my upper lip. Barely noticeable to anyone, except to me. When could I use that razor, to actually shave? And I remember scraping the fuzzy hairs off, without any shaving cream. I just rubbed a bit of hot water on my chin, and scratched away. That was in Aylmer. After we moved to Bloomfield, I gradually entered the world of real shaving. And I honestly can’t remember what my first razor was. If it was a real safety razor, or one of those blue disposables. I dutifully scratched the hair from my face every Sunday morning before church, and splashed on some of that cold green Skin Bracer. And that right there is all I ever really knew about men’s grooming. Other than wearing deodorant, I mean.

One other thing I remember. Mom often spoke it, when the boys were cleaning up to go away for the evening, or to church. She always told us to make sure we wash that cow barn or pig barn smell off, before we put on any kind of after shave or perfume. The barn doesn’t mix with the smell from any perfume. Clean up. Wash up. Use soap. Then put on your Skin Bracer. That was her refrain. Barely a generation removed from a place where such words would have been rarely if ever spoken or heard, she boldly spoke to us what she instinctively knew. That’s how civilization develops, I guess. Maybe that’s how the Amish church develops, too.

And now. Coming up to today. Well, a few months ago. I had just quit drinking. Again. Certainly it wasn’t the first time. I’ve learned to never get too riled up when I quit. Never make any promises to myself or anyone else. I’m quitting for now. Today. Only today. Forever is too scary, too long. So just for now, I’m walking a different road than I have been. We’ll see where the road goes and how long I’ll stay on it.

I had just quit, for maybe two weeks. The liquid weight practically melted off me those first ten days or so. It was just astounding. More than a pound a day. And I was strolling around in the Giant grocery store, picking up a few things I needed. Some Glide dental floss, and this and that. After grabbing my items, I noticed, there, off to the side. Men’s shaving products. All kinds of disposable razors with every bell and whistle you can imagine. The replacement blades for those things cost a fortune. It’s a racket, is what it is. There were shelves and shelves of shaving cream, in pressurized cans. And then I saw it, there, packed in a nice orange box with black writing. Van Der Hagen brand. An old-time double-edged safety razor. It almost looked out of place. And I stopped, intrigued.

I picked up the nice orange box with the black lettering. Looked it over. The safety razor was a butterfly model, which means you can screw and unscrew the end of the handle. The top opens right up, and you insert the blade, then screw it shut. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a memory shook loose, of how that worked. I had done it before. Decades ago. A lifetime ago. The Van Der Hagen safety razor came with ten blades, all neatly packed in a nice little package. That’s what the back of the box said. Twenty some odd bucks for all of it. I weighed the thing in my hands and in my mind. And then I placed the box into my shopping cart. I had absolutely no clue of the door that had cracked open, no clue that I had taken a first tentative step through that door, no clue of the vast new world I was about to discover. No clue at all, of any of that.

I took my little safety razor home. The next morning, I sprayed some foam from a can and rubbed it on my cheeks, and on my throat and neck, below my beard. And I scratched away. It felt good, and the result was vastly better than the electric shaver I had been using for the past few years. I don’t know what possessed me, to ever buy an electric shaver with those round spinning blades. It never gave me anything close to a close shave. By midmorning at work, the stubble shone from my face like a black and gray harvest. Me and my Van Der Hagen butterfly safety razor got along just fine from day one. This is the new me, I thought to myself. I’m gonna start paying a little more attention to how I look. Just the basic stuff. Nothing fancy.

And another little bunny trail, here. Ever since leaving the Amish, decades ago, I had been vaguely conscious of the fact that there was a subset of people out there. The beautiful people. They’ve always been around. I just wasn’t aware of them. They first nudged their way into my life (in a way that I noticed) at Bob Jones University, back in the early 1990s. I was too busy to pay them much mind, but I saw them. The GQ guys, always impeccably dressed. The guys who combed their hair swept off to the side, held in place by some high shine hair grease. Pomade, I learned later, it’s called. They wore the latest cool shirts and khaki pants, and shiny new leather belts and loafers. The girls had it a bit harder, having to wear skirts and all. Still, they stood out, too. It took a while for the whole scene to work itself into my awareness. Don’t get me wrong. The beautiful people were never rude, there at BJU. Just cooler than you could ever hope to be.

I remember, too, how Dr. Bob III, a gaunt giant of a man, ranted and raved against the beautiful people one day in his chapel sermon. They had all the wrong priorities, he roared from the pulpit. All their beautiful clothes and their cutting-edge styles would go down in flames and end up as dust and ashes. The Lord was not ever pleased with such things. I heard that sermon, dressed in my detestable plain cut suit coat. I looked around and felt a little bad for the beautiful people. It took so much effort, to look and dress like that. And now, Dr. Bob was hollering at them. Oh, well. I shrugged. It was a world I never knew or could even remotely imagine. I was a peasant, judging the elites of worldly society with disdain.

I walked on through life, far from the beautiful people. And it’s not that I considered myself particularly ragged or uncouth. I was just a guy who had emerged from a plain and simple place. I was clean enough, I felt. I splashed my face with Skin Bracer or some sort of cologne every day, before heading out to classes or, in summer, to work in the construction world. Around that time, a friend pulled me aside one day. She was the wife of a friend of mine, and she told me. You’re wearing too much cologne. It’s too strong. Be more discreet. I was very embarrassed, but I thanked her and meant it. After that, I splashed on way less of whatever it was I was using.

Going forward, I never paid much attention to the beautiful people. I was too busy to be bothered by them. And I had my own issues in life. But there was one other place I saw where those people proliferated. In law school. There, they were beautiful, and they were just a little bit better. Always impeccably polite, of course. And nice, and friendly. But it sank through my dense head, in those three years. These people lived on a different planet than the one I came from. I would have no chance at all of ever associating with them, of ever really being accepted by them. I could never go out with one of their women. I was way too ragged and uncouth for that. Not that the realization of any of that was a big deal. But at this level, relationships mattered. Connections mattered. And the beautiful people looked out for each other. I was never perturbed enough to be really bothered by it. But still. It was what it was, and I saw what I saw.

Moving along, then. Me and my new butterfly safety razor got along just great. After a few days, I got to thinking. I wonder if I should get me a shaving brush. You know, to get the lathered cream brushed in nice and deep. So I could enjoy a better shave. So I checked, on Amazon. And right away, I found a nice little set for fifteen bucks. A brush, a cheap, plain green shaving bowl, and a small round bar of hard shaving soap. Van Der Hagen brand, again, all of it. Hmm. I wondered how soap like that would work. I had never used any shaving cream, except the kind that spritzed from a pressurized can. I had never used a brush and hard soap. I placed my order. And while I waited for my new treasures to get here, I poked around a little online. What other shaving stuff was out there?

And it’s so strange, these days. And half scary. When I searched on Amazon for shaving products, and placed my order, all of a sudden all these shaving ads started popping up on my Facebook feed. And when I clicked on any one of those links, five more showed up. I’m telling you. It’s a jungle out there. But it’s a delightful jungle, too. Or can be. I’m not going into a lot of detail about brands, here. But I will mention a few of the first ones that showed up. Brickell Men’s Products. Right there on my Facebook feed was a nice flashy ad. Try our products for free. Free samples. Interested, I clicked the link. It looked like good stuff. All I had to pay was shipping. Six bucks. Good deal. I bit.

And the other brand that came right up at me was WSP. Wet Shaving Products. A small company, it turned out later. But man, did they ever have some decent stuff at decent prices. Before I knew it, I had read pretty much through the entire site. There was a lot to learn, I saw right away. I checked out all the shaving soaps. And I looked longingly at some of those nice badger hair shaving brushes. I really needed one of those. That, and some hard soaps and maybe a nice little bottle of aftershave. This is how they get you suckered in. Not that I didn’t have my eyes wide open. I did.

My first order came, from Van Der Hagen. A stiff brush. Boar’s hair, I think. That, or synthetic. It was too cheap to be listed. A nice puck of hard shaving soap. And a swell little green shaving cup, that you use to brush the soap to lather. I kept perusing the Wet Shaving Products site. And the next thing I knew, I had ordered a starter kit. A real badger brush, a bottle of aftershave splash, pre-shave oil, and a small tin of Mahogany soap. And then the sample box arrived from Brickell. It had many small containers of the products they offer. Face Wash. Charcoal Cleanser. Restoring Eye Cream. Moisturizer. Aftershave Balm. I mean, it was all there.

I looked at that nice little package of men’s grooming products. And I looked at my shaving kit that had arrived from WSP. It was as good as advertised. The brush was soft. I opened the little tin of soap and swirled the wet brush around and around. The soap turned to lather. I felt a pang of joy. It actually worked. And then I thought to myself. What am I? Turning into one of those people I never had any use for? A beautiful person? I mean, look at this stuff. It’s made for men who have no idea what it is to hardscrabble your way out of nothing. It’s made for soft hands, not grime and grease. It’s made for a pampered, spoiled generation of men who never knew what it was to touch and till the earth.

But then I thought, too. Why not? Why not use these things? What’s wrong with keeping your face cleaned and washed? What’s wrong with moisturizing your hands and face? Why can’t I enjoy some of those things in life, as well? I’ve been a hard man, all my life. Never spent much time pondering over what it is to have a nice, soft shave. Or good clean skin. There’s nothing wrong with these things. So why not?

And so I started using the products, every day. In the shower, I scrubbed my face with the Cleanser. And after I had finished and dried, my routine developed into a little dance, almost. A splash of this, a dab of that. Wipe this goop in your hair. And I rubbed the Restoring Cream on the bags under my eyes. Every morning and evening, I did that. The bags tightened, then all but disappeared. Well, comparatively speaking, I mean. I marveled. Maybe there was something to this grooming procedure, after all, that was good for you. And through it all, I never touched a drop of liquor. And the weight kept sliding off, one pound after another. Day after day, and week after week.

I had made some fairly drastic lifestyle changes. Not for any particular reason, but just because I thought I should. And I turned my back on a few old doors and timidly walked through some new doors, into a great wide new world. A world with tastes and sights and sounds I can’t quite say I’ve seen before. At least not this vividly.

It’s a beautiful place. Each morning is a new high. I actually get up fifteen minutes earlier than I used to, to start the new day. Anyone who knows me knows that this is insane. That Ira voluntarily gets up early for anything. I never did such a thing for devotions, even, at least not in any sustained way. And it’s almost a ritual. I get up and rejoice in my heart and look with a grateful face to God. Thank you for life, and all that it is.

And then I wash and oil my face and use a shaving brush to lather up. The whole process is a production that I enjoy. I can fully shave with not a whiff of a cut, using the right products. And of course, the wet shaving world opened whole new dimensions I never saw or knew of before. Face moisturizer. Pre and post shave tonics. Hair pomades, and olive oil spray. Beard oil. The list goes on and on. I never knew there were so many men’s care products on the market. You can be a beautiful person without half trying. Or at least you can use the products they use to stay “beautiful.”

The thing is, I feel beyond refreshed when I walk out the door to face each day. I feel alive. Each day brings what only that day can. And one night, well, one night about a month ago I stopped at Amelia’s to pick up a few things. It was still early on in the process, the new lifestyle I had started. I greeted the cashier as I checked out. She has worked there for years, and we always chat about life. And that night, she looked at me.

“Your face looks different,” she said. “It’s like you’ve been in the sun. What have you been doing with yourself? You look great.” Nah, I told her. I haven’t been in the sun much, not since I went to the beach a month ago. But I’ve been trying to take better care of myself, including my face. Thanks for noticing. She smiled, and we chatted about other things. And then I just floated on out of there.

And I’ve been accumulating a good bit of product, the last six weeks or so. You get on those web sites, and you can’t help but order this soap or that brush or that aftershave tonic. I don’t know. In some ways, I think, it’s a lot like the whiskey world. So many tastes and colors and scents and hardware. It’s like walking through a garden in full bloom. And plucking a few flowers from the garden here and there, to give to some pretty girl when you meet her. You just walk along and whistle to yourself.

It takes a while, to fill up your cabinet with decent stuff. Just like it takes a while to get a good assortment of quality whiskey. I’ve sent off for quite a few small to medium orders, and the little boxes have flowed in. From all kinds of vendors, with all kinds of brands. West Coast Shaving is probably my favorite vendor, with the largest selection. Fendrihan, for the Man of Distinction, is a close second. And the brands, well, those are numerous, like the stars in the heavens. Brickell Men’s Products. Caption’s Choice. Ghost Town Barber, by Chiseled Face. Pinaud Clubman, in all its glorious varieties. Col. Ichabod Conk’s Bay Rum splash. Dapper Dan (it’s a real product, not just in the movies). Lucky Tiger. Wet Shaving Products. Tabac. Stirling Soap. The Holy Black Trading Company. Fine Snake Bite tonic. Sir Hare (my favorite shaving soap, so far). Viking’s Blade. Son of Zeus. And on and on it goes.

These days, the boxes are barely a trickle, coming in. As the money was flowing out a bit, as I was getting stocked up, I thought about it now and then. I’m spending less per week than I was spending at the bar. And when you left the bar, the money was gone. Whoosh. Here, I was accumulating. So, yeah. Go ahead and grab a bottle of that premium small-batch brand of aftershave splash. And another brand, another flavor of hard shaving soap. And this open-combed safety razor is on sale. Umm. One more medium grade badger brush? And look at this pre-shave oil. I’ll take a bottle of that, too.

And you come back to earth, gradually. Eventually, you do. You look around. Yep, it’s a beautiful new world. It’s still there, and it’s still real. But I think I got enough stuff now, to last a while. I probably have enough really good shaving soap to last until I’m seventy. Which isn’t all that far away, when you think about it. Oh, well. It’s all good.

It’s a new process, and it’s a new pride. And it affects life right where it is. My face is soft and clean, every morning. Clean, and clean shaven, around my beard. And, of a Sunday, I’m dressing up now, at least compared to what I used to do. A starched white or striped shirt. A tie. A nice vest. Khaki pants or jeans. I even got me a silver pocket watch and chain, to wear with my vests. Because what’s a Sunday vest without a pocket watch and chain? I like going to the Lord’s house that way. Spiffed up a bit.

People notice. The other Sunday morning, I stopped at Sheetz on the way to church, for my coffee. Like I always do. The clerk looked at me twice, as I was paying up. I was all decked out in a white shirt, vest with watch and chain, a tie, shiny face, and slicked-back hair. I smelled good. Discreetly, like a sharp-dressed man should. I looked like a dude, a dandy from the big city. He took my money. And then he asked me. “Are you on the way to church?”

Funny, I thought. No clerk anywhere has ever asked such a question before, on a Sunday morning. Am I on the way to church? I smiled at him. I am, I answered. And then I said, kind of half kidding. You gotta look a little snazzy for the Lord. He laughed. Then he said. “Good thing the Lord only looks at the inside. Not that you don’t look good. But I’m just saying.” I laughed back. I hear that, I said. And, yes, it is a good thing.

And the new pride spills over, right into my life here at home, too. I’ve lived in this house for seventeen years. One night, a few weeks back, I found myself cleaning and scrubbing the cabinet above my bathroom sink for the first time, in all that time. It had just never occurred to me before, that I should.

And it hit me, as I was washing the little glass shelves. It had all started with the wet shaving. You take the time to do that, it becomes a production. A ritual, a process. Then you start grooming, a little, how you look. Then you start accumulating all kinds of oils and aftershaves. And then you start cleaning up the place where you keep your stuff. It all flows naturally, from one phase to the next. Clean up your life, clean up your face, and you’ll clean up your house, too. It sure is strange how that works, I gotta say.

I am absorbing and enjoying the twists and turns and curves and hills on this new road. Who knows, where it will all end up? It doesn’t really matter, I guess. For now, for today, I will seize and savor the moment. I will embrace each new stage of the journey, and revel in it. And I will keep walking.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers.

October 27, 2017

Vagabond Traveler: The Second Gate…

Category: News — admin @ 5:30 pm


Toil on, son, and do not lose heart or hope. Let nothing you dismay.
You are not utterly forsaken. I, too, am here–here in the darkness
waiting, here attentive, here approving of your labor and your dream.

—Thomas Wolfe

Well. I guess I can finally tell it. It’s been a long, long time coming. More than a year ago, I wrote, right here on the blog. It’s time to go shop my second book. I think I’m ready, now. It’s time, to set off on that journey. It’s time to set out for one more city. And since I wrote those words, there has not been a whole lot more to say about it all. Not until now. And here’s the story of the journey, from that day to this one.

The publishing world is a brutal, brutal place. It just is. I’ve always known that. But I kind of skirted around the reality of it all, with my first book. The writing of it came. And then the editing. And then the book was launched into the world. Amazingly, or maybe not, it took off, right from the start. I hunkered down for the ride. And a wild ride it has been.

And since then, life has just been what it was. Up and down and sideways and forward and back. That’s how I walked. That’s how the journey went. And one thing never happened, there early on. There never was a second book that came.

It was about time, I felt, back there a year ago. About time for the second effort. Not that it was burning a hole inside me, or anything. In publishing, if your first book does any good, they tell you. It’s time for the next one. They nudge around, kind of hem and haw. And then they ask. That’s just how it goes. That’s the formula. And way too many writers crank out a second book, when it’s not really in them. They think they have to. And that’s why so many sequels fall flat. It’s because they never came from where the first book came from. From what I’ve seen and felt, this is what I can tell you.

Anyway, back to the market. The publishing world is a brutal brutal place. You step out, you speak, and by some miracle, it works. Your voice gets heard. Your book sells. And that’s all fine. But the people in that world are focused on one thing. Can you write a second book that will sell? Not that I’m grumbling at the publishing world, for being what it is. I’m not. It’s the market. It is what it is, and it will not change.

I remember emailing my agent, back last year. Chip MacGregor. It’s kind of funny, I always thought. I have never bothered Chip, much. Just never felt any need to. I consider myself a very low-maintenance client. I never make much fuss or hassle. Heck, until just lately, I barely ever talked to the man. Well, way back, when he took me as a client, we talked a time or two. We never got very conversational. Which was fine. Then, when the book was coming together, we chatted a few more times. Other than that, we never did. There was no need to. He did his job, getting me through the door at Tyndale. And after he made that connection, he simply got out of the way and let things happen. I’ve always appreciated that about the man. He doesn’t bug you, if you want to be left alone. And he never bugged me, either, in the years since. Oh, sure. Once in a while, here came a short email. He was just checking. How am I doing? I’m fine, I always said. And that was that, until six months later, when he checked in again. Such is the relationship I had with my agent, all these years. It’s a wonder he didn’t cross me from his list. But he never did.

Anyway, I emailed him, out of the blue, last year. I think I’m ready to shop my second book. Is that something you want to do for me? “Of course,” he emailed back. And I asked. Do you think there’s a market for my stuff? It’s been a few years, since Growing Up Amish got published. Will people remember who I am? The publishers, I mean. And I gotta respect the man’s response. He never made any guarantees. You can’t, in publishing. But he told me. “There are plenty of big publishers out there who will be very interested in seeing what you have to offer.” OK, then, I told him. I’ll send you some stuff early next year. This was last year. And by February or so, I sent him a batch of my writings. Fifty pages.

I don’t know how other authors do it, to submit their stuff. From what I’ve seen in the guidelines of most agents, the process is pretty rigorous. Kind of like walking a tightrope. You gotta submit a real manuscript, or at least a good start to one. And you gotta follow all the rules. Double spaced pages. Chapter breaks. Potential titles. Blah, blah, blah, and then, blah and blah. It’s endless, the list. It’s always been wearying to me, to think of all that attention to detail.

But those first fifty pages were pretty organized. I worked hard at what I figured was a real opening chapter to a real book. I even had it professionally edited by my old friend, Susan Taylor. She edited my first book. She retired a couple of years ago. I hunted her down. Will you edit some of this stuff for me? I asked her. I’ll pay you. She could and did. It felt like old times, going back and forth with her. And it all looked pretty good, I thought, when I sent it off to Chip. I’ll see what he thinks, I thought to myself.

He got back to me a few weeks later. Lots of suggested corrections, he had. Do this. Clean up that. Edit this. Ah, come on, Chip, I grumbled to myself. Who knows, what a publisher wants? And I told him. Why don’t you let me clean up some of my writings, that I got on file and on my blog? I’ll get you a hundred pages or so. It’ll be disjointed, but it’ll be good stuff. Any potential publisher can look at it and see I’ll need some editing help. I mean, that’s how it worked last time. Why can’t we try that again? Chip allowed that he could see my point. Send the writing, he told me. So I went back to my computer. Over the next few weeks, I edited and prepared over a hundred pages of older stuff I had already written. Individual stories. Some old blogs. I cleaned it all up. Double-spaced it, even. And off it went.

Chip took a few weeks, to look it over. And really read through it. He liked it, he claimed. I don’t think we talked, then. Just emailed. I asked him. Do you think Tyndale might be interested in publishing my second effort? Chip was pretty confident. “Of course they will be interested,” he wrote. “Your first book sold a lot of copies. Tyndale should jump on this.” OK, I said. Let me know. And I went back to doing what I do, which is mostly plugging along through life, and writing an occasional blog. I never mentioned much on my blogs, that I was shopping another book around. No sense getting your readers all riled up, before anything develops. That’s what I figured.

And all was quiet, for weeks and weeks. Never a peep from Chip. Not unusual at all. Last time, he disappeared for six months, if I remember right. So I didn’t sweat it. Not much, anyway. Sure, I thought about it. What’s going on? But I also knew that the publishing world moves at a glacial pace, like an old man, hobbling along with a cane. Nothing is ever sure, not before an agreement is made. The weeks passed, then the months. I got restless. What’s going on? Why isn’t Chip getting back to me?

I didn’t take notes at the time, so my sequence of events might be off a bit. But eventually, I nudged Chip. What’s going on? Any word from Tyndale? There was no word. And then Chip forwarded a message from a small publishing company. That editor claimed to have cried all the way through my stories. Unfortunately, that publisher was too small to marshal the resources needed to edit my work. Would Ira consider taking on the editing role himself? The editor asked.

So Chip asked me. Would I? I will, when I have to, I said. Not before. Did all the big publishers reject it, yet? No, they had not. He was still waiting to hear back from a few. Well, let’s wait, then, I wrote. And I asked, too. What’s happening with Tyndale? Chip seemed mildly vague, with his answer. Tyndale wasn’t saying yay or nay. They were just pretty much ignoring my stuff.

Well. You gotta wonder why a publisher wouldn’t jump on the second offering from an author who brought in a million bucks (or at least hundreds of thousands of dollars) with his first book. And, yeah, I knew. Many of the people I worked with at Tyndale had moved on. Or retired, like Susan had. But not all. And there had been a departmental shakeup, too, that I knew of. The place wasn’t the same as it had been, back in 2010-11. But still. I was disappointed in Tyndale. The publishing world is a brutal place. That’s a given. But they could have relaunched my first book along with the release of the second. Anyone with half an eye could see that. It just doesn’t make much sense to ignore potential profits that are as good as guaranteed. Not to my way of thinking, it doesn’t.

Chip was astounded, that Tyndale didn’t bite. I wasn’t all that astounded, but I sure felt deflated. It just seemed like something that was destined to happen. A road block, thrown right up in front of me. Good grief. If something can go wrong, it will. But we talked, then, Chip and me. And he spoke calmly and wisely. “If the book is not wanted at one place, we will take it to a place that does want it,” he said. “Let me keep shopping around.” I felt better, at his words.

But deep down, I felt ripples of uneasiness. The market sure wasn’t falling over itself, to take my stuff. What if no one wanted what I wrote? What if there were no takers? What then? In the publishing world, as in life, I guess, no one cares much what you did six years ago. What have you done lately? Publishers focus on one particular thing. Can I make them money? And I got no problem with any of that. No one publishes a book just for fun. And no one should. If you don’t figure to make money, there’s no sense even bothering with it.

See what you can do, I said to Chip. Keep me updated. I’ll wait to hear from you. He said he would. And it wasn’t long after that, that I got a happy message. An editor from Harper Collins was very interested. A guy editor. Most editors are women, these days. Like someone told me, once. “Publishing is basically ten thousand women, and a couple hundred men, mainly in production and sales.” That’s true, I think.

And Chip told me. The man from Harper really loved my work. It might be just exactly what he’s looking for. I was a little astounded. Harper Collins. One of the Big Five publishers in New York City. That was Big Time, like Peter Gabriel sings. Bigger than Tyndale, for sure. I agreed, of course, when Chip wanted to set up a time for us to chat with the editor man from Harper.

It happened a week or so later. At the last moment, Chip took ill. So he couldn’t join us. I called the number right at 5:30. And the editor was there. We spoke our names. Introduced ourselves. And we talked. It’s a big deal, when an editor from Harper Collins takes the time to talk to you. A big deal. We got along great. I felt calm. He had a lot of questions about how the first book happened. And what I figured would have to happen for the second one to become real. I was totally honest. I write raw stuff. I can tear your heart out. Make you laugh. Make you weep bitter tears. I just have a hard time connecting it all into a book. That’s what the Tyndale people did last time. Connected everything. That’s what I’m looking for now. Editing and connecting.

The man seemed impressed, I gotta say. He dug a little deeper into my “philosophy of writing.” I told him. I don’t believe in writing courses in college. I’ve never been to a writer’s seminar in my life. You either got it inside you, or you don’t. That’s the way I see it. He seemed to hear my words. And he told me. “A guy like you should be talking at these seminars. There’s a lot of people out there who need to hear what you’re saying.” And we chatted, too, about what my story line might be, for the book. It’s a lot of father/son stuff, I said. I’m open to suggestions. I’m totally open to a publisher’s guidance. That’s why I need a publisher with some resources. I need some time and I need some help, to get it all together.

An hour whooshed by. Then another ten minutes. He needed to go. So we wrapped it up. He was definitely very interested. But. But. He had to get the concept through the Publishing Board, there at Harper. Yeah, I said. I know all about Publishing Boards. They’re like the Wall of China. You can’t get around, and you can’t get through. I know it’s a real job. He said he’d be in touch with Chip, soon. And I thanked him for the time. We hung up. I didn’t feel exhausted or anything. But it was a big deal, to chat with an editor at that level. I knew that, right as it was happening.

Chip and I chatted via email, then, the next few days. And I went back to my daily routine. Go to work. Work on my blog now and then. And wait. I should hear something from the editor man soon, I figured. Surely within a month.

And the weeks swept right on by. I heard nary a peep from anyone. Oh, well. No use fretting. I’m sure the man is fighting his Publishing Board, to get his idea through. And then, out of nowhere, another message from Chip. He had another editor who wanted to talk to me. A lady, this time. From another big publisher. Hachette.

Hachette? I thought to myself. I wonder what company that is. Sounds French. I googled the name. And learned soon enough. Hachette is one of the Big Five in New York City, just like Harper Collins is. The company was French, actually. And it had bought out the publisher Time-Warner. That name I knew. Wow, I thought to myself. That’s wild. First an editor from Harper Collins, now from Time-Warner. This is big time. There must be something they like about my stuff. Either that, or Chip just has good connections. Maybe both. And Chip scheduled a conference call with the Hachette lady, for one evening after work. This time, he wasn’t sick. So the three of us connected.

It went well. At least I thought so. The woman lives down south, in Nashville. She sure had a strong southern accent. We talked, and I told her pretty much what I had told the guy from Harper. I can send you all kinds of good stuff. Stories that will tear at your heart. But someone needs to fuse it all into a book. That’s what happened with the first book, back in 2011. And, I know. That’s a lot of years that have passed. I know, an author is supposed to crank out his second book way before I did. It doesn’t matter to me, I said. It didn’t come, so I didn’t write it. I think I’m ready, now. I’m ready to try, anyway.

And the nice lady seemed impressed. She loved my style of writing, she told me. That’s why she reached out to Chip. And we talked. Of course, she would have to go back and present the whole idea to her Publishing Board, too. Of course, I said. I don’t claim to know a lot about publishing, but I do know that much, now. From all I’ve seen in the past. I think we talked for almost an hour. And then we wound things down. And I thought to myself. I hope there’s a bidding war between this woman and the Harper guy. That would be nice. I’ve been wanting that black Jeep ever since I drove one down to Florida to see Dad last April. A nice down payment on a book might get me a nice down payment on that black Jeep. Who knows? That was my random thinking after I chatted with the lady from Hachette.

And I thought about it a lot, back then. The Harper guy called in May, the Hachette lady in June. And I mulled it over, in my head. It’s kind of wild, that people from that level of the publishing world reached out to me. It’s a big deal. And I knew, too. Before another book will ever come, the right door has to open. The second gate to the golden city. That gate has to open, or there will never be another book from me. Not that such a thing would be the end of the world for me. I’ve always claimed that. And I meant it, too. I’ll write another book when and if it gets here. If it never does get here, well, at least no one can ever take away my first book. That’s what I always told myself, anyway. Maybe I was whistling past the graveyard. Maybe I was just trying to calm my mind.

I knew what part of the problem was, if no offer came. Chip had hedged at it, delicately, a few times. My “platform.” It’s nowhere close to what it needs to be. Mostly because I don’t pay any attention to it. I’m supposed to be connecting to 50,000 people every month, which just boggles my mind. How in the world does one do that, and remain real? How do you do that without pestering people to read your stuff? I have never done that. I have never paid any attention to increasing my platform. I blog when I feel like it. I post on Facebook as life unfolds around me. I mean, I live. Or try to. That’s one side of the equation, when a publisher looks at me. My platform is sadly lacking. The other side? I’ve written a NY Times Bestseller that’s approaching 200,000 copies sold. It doesn’t compute, any of it. And it almost makes their heads explode, the bean counters in the publishing world.

And June soon passed into July. I never told many people about the two Big Five publishers who had reached out. Well, I told my family. I figure family has the right to know about most things as they happen. And I told my coworkers at the office. Some of those people, I’ve been working with for years and years. There’s not too much I hold back. So I told them. And I said to everyone I told. At this stage, there is nothing sure. Nothing concrete. But this has to happen before anything else can happen. The door has to open, one crack at a time. The gate to my second book has to open, however slowly. This stage has to happen, or there will be no others. And I drank scotch on the rocks quietly and intensely as the month of July rolled by.

August came. That’s my birthday month. Another year, coming at me. Fifty-six. One of these days, I’ll be hobbling along with a cane. And, of course, August is the month of the Great Annual Ira Wagler Garage Party. This year, I scheduled it for the 19th. And this year, I invited people from just about all over. From the Midwest and from the South. Family. Friends. Relatives. Neighbors. Come one. Come all, I told them. This year will be a special year. And I thought to myself, too. It sure would be nice if I could announce it at my Garage Party. My offer for the second book.

As August rumbled by, the Garage Party came and went. And this year, my nephew John Wagler and his wife Dorothy flew in from all the way out in Iowa. And my niece Janice came, too, from Florida. And her brother, Steven, drove up from his home in South Carolina. It was a big old gathering for a big old party at Ira’s Garage. It was a great, grand affair. But I never breathed a word in public about a book deal, because I never heard an offer from anyone about a book deal. After the party, I got to thinking. I’ve heard nothing. Nothing. Maybe it’s time to start getting a little nervous.

And somewhere in about here, it just hit me one day. I’ve been drinking way too hard, all summer. Way too hard. Sure, I could blame the pressures of not knowing about the book. I could blame all that. Those two Big Five publishers who nibbled, yet kept shrinking back. And one day, soon after my Garage Party, one day I just said to myself. I’m tired of waking up, all exhausted from the whiskey. I’m intensely ashamed of being a big, fat slob. I’m tired of feeling so bloated and heavy, tired of bulging out of my biggest clothes. I’m tired of being tired all the time. And I made a snap decision. I’m quitting. I won’t say forever, because that’s too long. I’ll just say, for now. At least until I lose a bunch of pounds, and get to feeling a little better. So that’s what I did. Just quit drinking, stone cold. One day, I’ll write a blog about alcohol and me. That’ll be the title. Alcohol and Me. That, or Running with the Devil. Either one would work, I think.

I nudged Chip now and then. Bothered him more than I ever had before. It’s just how it went. September came. And Beach Week approached. This year, I was alcohol-free, going in. A few weeks before we left, I got a merry little note from Chip. Virginia is taking your book to the Board this next week. Virginia. That’s her name, the lady from Hachette. Wow, I thought. She’s taking it to the Board. Publishing Boards have traditionally not been very kind to me. My stuff squeaked by the Tyndale Board, somehow. But before that, the Harvest House Board deemed my writing “not sweet enough.” I never forgot that. How obtuse those people were, on that Board. I have been very leery of all Publishing Boards since then. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of them, near as I can tell. And now the concept of my second book was being presented to another Board by a brave warrior editor who was willing to go to battle for me.

I felt very tense about it. But still. This had to happen, before anything real could happen. Before any offer could be made. The Wall had to be crossed. Passed through. Whatever. Oh, well, I thought. Beach Week is coming right up. At least I’ll know, one way or the other, by the time we head down there. And the week came, that the Board would hear about my book. I tried not to think about it, much. I just hoped the writing would be good enough to persuade. It was too late to change anything, if it wasn’t. Oh, well. Just keep walking. That’s what I told myself.

And the week passed. No word came. Nothing. No yay. No nay. Saturday approached. I packed for the beach. And we headed out, Wilm and me. Just like we do every year. It was my turn to take my truck. We arrived. Everyone else did, too. And Beach Week came at us. It was a little different for me, being alcohol free and all. I had lost a solid dozen pounds or more. And that week, I gained a few of those pounds back. Not from drink. From all the good food. We feasted like kings, as we always do. The difference this year was, I was in bed by eleven or before. Every night. And every morning, I was the first one up. A halo hovered over my head, I felt like. By the time the others stumbled into the kitchen, I had dined magnificently on eggs and buttered toast and bacon, and was drinking coffee and orange juice. I read. I wrote a bit. And I never heard a word from Chip, about the Publishing Board at Hachette. Not a word. Nothing was going on, apparently.

And soon the week had swooshed right by. We all headed for home. The tension inside had lurked, latent, all week. And after I got home and Monday morning rolled around, I still had heard nothing. So I sat down and wrote an email to Chip. What is going on? Come on. This is crazy, that I’ve heard nothing. And Chip wrote back, very calmly. He wasn’t sure what was going on. He had emailed Virginia. He was expecting to hear from her any time. Sure, I thought. I mean, why would anyone be contacting us now, when there had been only silence for weeks? I was stressed, I will say. All my eggs had been shopped out, in one basket. If there were no takers, I would have to find another road. Another door. And I’d have to start all over, in the journey. I did not want to do that. I really did not want to.

And it was all a little surreal, in that time. How I felt, and how I looked at life. I had quit drinking, stone cold, a mere few weeks before. And I wanted a drink real bad, as the tension levels escalated inside me. I really did. A good stiff scotch would have tasted so, so delicious. But I never went there. Not other than in my head. All of life is a choice, at least those parts of life in your control. Yeah, you can be addicted to this or that. Still. What you choose to do, how you choose to handle that addiction, that is a choice. Nothing more. Nothing less. And it was a choice for me in those tense and murky days, not to drink. I’m not saying I never will again. Drink, I mean. I rarely say never. But I chose not to at that time. I’ve still chosen not to. And I’m down twenty-six pounds.

I waited then, to hear from Chip. Something had to give, one way or the other. Something had to break. I plugged off to work, every day, that week. No news. No word. Tuesday came. Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, I got home from work. Checked my emails. And there was something from Chip. The subject line was two words. Good News! I fumbled with my mouse. The computer half locked up. Come on. Open. And then the message opened. A single line. “Look what came in last night, Ira… a real offer! Have a look, then let’s talk…” Below the line, he had forwarded the message he had received. From Virginia, at Hachette. She was making a formal offer for Ira Wagler’s book.

And she wrote what she was offering. A contract. She was looking forward to helping me craft a follow-up to my first work. And she wrote the standard contractual terms. The upfront offer. The percentages that would follow. The black Jeep might be a real possibility, down the road, I’m thinking. But at that moment, I just sat and absorbed. And Virginia wrote, toward the end. Speaking of Ira Wagler, she said. “His writing is well-loved by the folks here.” And I just sat and looked at the message. Here it was. The thing I had been stressing about for months and months. The offer had come. From FaithWords, a division of Hachette, the publisher formerly known as Time-Warner.

And I thought to myself. I sure could use a good strong scotch about right now. But even as the urge flashed through me, I knew I would not choose to do that. The celebratory drink would have to wait. Right now, I just needed to sit and let it all sink in. And, oh, yeah. I needed to tell someone. I looked at my phone. And then I called Janice. The book deal came through, I told her, my voice sagging with relief. Janice knew all about the stress I was in. We had spoken about it, down at the beach. And she listened to me telling her how the offer had finally come. And she told me she had known it would, and then she told me she loved me. In a moment like that, that’s just about all you need to hear. That someone loves you.

In my heart that night, I danced in silence with myself. And over the next few days, I murmured the news to a few close friends. My family. The people at work. And one or two others. But I could not tell the world, not just yet. Chip told me. From the New York publishers, the formal contract will take some time. Months. But there will come a pre-contractual memo, with all the details. When that memo gets here, the offer is set. No backing out, from anyone. And even that memo took some time. Well, he had the final negotiations to work through. And then, one day last week, after work, here it came. The memo. It came through. And now I can tell the world. I have an offer for my second book. A real offer, from a real publisher.

Virginia wants the manuscript by sometime next summer, maybe June or so. And then, they want to release the actual book in the summer of 2019. A year later. It takes time, as I remember, for a book to work its way from writing to publishing. So right now, well, right now I’m back to earth and looking at the road ahead of me. The next eight months are going to be intense. That’s all there is to it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s a big, big deal. It really is. And I feel a lot of emotions. A lot of relief, too. The market actually took what I had to offer. There’s nothing like that feeling. And I know, as I approach the second gate leading to the road to the second city. The city of my second book. This journey will be a lot different than the journey of the first book was. The thing is, I know a little bit about what the jungle is like, ahead of me. I’ve been there before. The first book was a long time, coming. So was the second book. And one thing I have learned, when it comes to a new journey like the one I’m fixing to travel.

I will walk forward. Whatever comes, I will face the future. I am not afraid. The Lord has blessed me once again by granting me one of the deepest desires of my heart. That’s a beautiful thing. I am grateful. To Him, and to all of you, my readers. Thank you for always being there.

And now, I stand and lift my face to the heavens in gratitude and praise. Walk with me on this new road, through this second gate to a new and glorious dawn in a new and shining city. It is ours to grasp and hold, the joy and celebration of it all.