Today's Reading

This would have been a much different place if people had installed cannons in every window and fired them off anytime someone they didn't recognize came up the street. This would have been a very different kind of town if we slaughtered animals in the town square at dusk, so thanks for putting that supermarket there instead. It's a lot more convenient and a lot less bloody.

So, yes, I live in a house, in a neighborhood, alongside other houses. I have a car in the garage and one on the street. I have a mailbox and a phone and a twisted-up garden hose covered with snails. But none of this is mine, any more than it is yours, because ultimately, neither of us will be here for long. And if you live in Fresno that's a really good thing.


A lot of times after a show, while I'm signing books in the lobby, people will come up and tell me how crazy their family is, often while standing with that family.

"You should come over to our house if you want material. This one is certifiable," a wife will say while pointing her thumb at her husband.

"It's true," he'll chuckle.

Ask anyone about their family and they will tell you that they grew up in a house filled with crazy people. The parents were nuts, the kids were morons and everyone they visited during the holidays was out of their minds or borderline criminals.

It's funny to think that everyone's families are filled with crazy people, until you realize that these maniacs don't stay in the house. These same people who make life intolerable for everyone at home actually go out into the world, work in office buildings, run for office and drive around in police cars. They are in line in front of you at the airport, they are the voice on the phone when you call customer service and they check you in at the hotel. It's no wonder nothing works.

The pilot flying your plane is someone else's father, who, according to his daughter, is a total moron. She has lived with this man her entire life and has seen him walk into screen doors, drop his keys in the toilet and pour his coffee into a mug that's not there. She's watched as he's run around the house for twenty-five minutes looking for a phone that was right in his hand. She knows, without a doubt, that he is a bumbling idiot and that today he is going to fly a planeful of people to Cancún as fast as he can.

This is why your plane ticket is screwed up, why your pants don't fit after they've been altered and why your take-out order is missing the egg rolls. Of course the toilet doesn't work after the plumber has fixed it, because he's not just a plumber, he's also someone's dumb brother who was under your house loosening a pipe with one hand while responding to a text from his pregnant mistress with the other. How can he get this job right when he doesn't get anything right anywhere else in his life? We think we're dealing with a man who lives and breathes plumbing, but he barely even breathes.

Have you ever had your parents over on a bad day? One of those visits when they're as nutty and troublemaking as two wrinkled toddlers? Dad wanders onto the porch and stays there while Mom puts a plastic bowl full of nuts into the oven, walks into the other room and starts watering the bookshelves. It's less a visit with your parents than a very difficult babysitting shift. And then, they eventually leave, start up the car and drive out into the world, where they're no longer your problem, but everybody's problem.

That's how traffic jams build out of nowhere—goofy moms, dads and grandparents hitting the road at the same time. A mom hits the brakes, a dad swerves into the other lane, grandma forgets she's driving and before you know it we're all stuck.

The world is filled with family members on the loose. Luckily the world does a pretty good job of herding them around. The average person's day consists of getting up, going to work and back and in between looking for food. The faster we can get them back in the house, the better.

Fast food chains are a big help. The genius of McDonald's isn't its speed as much as its understanding of how dumb we all are and that it has to make the process as easy as possible. All we have to do is walk in, point at the big bright board and say a number.

Long lines are the result of asking too much of the public.

Starbucks has a line out the other side of the airport because it's confusing as hell. Watching someone's mom try to place an order is like watching a pony try calculus. She locks up, sways back and forth, kicks and cries and eventually blurts something out. When she realizes she forgot to pay, she fumbles around for money, then starts pounding on the credit card machine like an ape.

The security line at the airport is epically long because the rules are changing all the time and they're asking people to undress and then put it all back together. Most people have a hard enough time getting dressed and gathering all their belongings while in the comfort of their own home with endless hours to get it done. Now they want us to undo it all, taking off belts and shoes and unpacking our bags while emptying our pockets of whatever good luck charms, loose change, metal toothpicks and doodads we've collected. Then, after this fear and humiliation we have to put it all back together, hopping around on one foot like a guilt-ridden interloper who's been caught sleeping with someone else's spouse. It's a wonder that line ever goes down at all.

This excerpt ends on page 18 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Lost at Sea: Eddie Rickenbacker's Twenty-Four Days Adrift on the Pacific—A World War II Tale of Courage and Faith by John Wukovits.

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