Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff — complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
Pack Creek Ranch – San Juan County, Utah
The end of November, 2017
Mild, clear, calm.
Super-full moon on Dec. 3 – Venus is the morning star.
Hello – after three months of traveling abroad, I’m back at my desk in deep Utah, and settled in for the winter. My sojourn in the Czech Republic was both exhausting and rewarding. My new novel, “The Mender of Destinies”, was published in early September, and it remains at the top of Czech best-seller lists. (only available in Czech.)
With two fine actors for support, I spoke in 57 towns to sold-out audiences – more than 9,000 people – and signed more than 10,000 books. I returned home with tales to tell and material for two new books. The public presentations began with the two actors telling five of my published stories – in Czech – focused on the notion of “Players” – people who have a creative sense of mischief.
Then the actors and I – plus members of the audience – improvised in a mix of Czech and English through stories that were unfolding as I traveled from town to town.
Here’s a prime example:
CZECH BANK ROBBERS
Once upon a time, while riding on a crowded train from Prague to the city of Olomouc, I was standing in the vestibule of the train along with a class of school students. Sixth graders, I think. 11-12 years old. Traveling with their teacher on a school excursion.
One of the students came to stand in front of me. A blond-haired girl with a sparkly personality. She smiled, pointed her finger at me, and said, “I have seen your picture in the paper . . . and I have seen you on posters around Prague in the Metro . . . . Just what is it that you do?”
She oozed attitude – active curiosity – the courage to confront a stranger on a train – and a smiling, open-eyed spirit of engagement. Plus she seemed quite competent in English – most Czech young people are now.
“What do I do? Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’ll tell you – but you must promise not to tell anyone else.”
She moved closer – whispered – “I promise.”
I whispered in reply, “I’m a professional bank robber.”
She reacted with delight.
Oh, wow, really – I’ve never met a bank robber!”
Clearly a Player – a member of my tribe.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Why? What are you going to do there?”
“Rob a bank.”
“Really? Wow – that’s amazing – wait a minute, I’ll be right back.”
She went over to consult her teacher – who must have recognized me because she nodded her head and smiled. (maybe another Player?)
The girl returned to stand in front of me.
“Can I go with you?”
“Can you drive a car?”
“No, but I can run really fast.”
That’s not the end of the story.
The next morning, while walking in Olomouc, a young woman came running after me.
“Mr. Fulghum, Mr. Fulghum, wait, wait!”
She moved in close and whispered. . . .
“I heard you tell the story about the little girl last night.”
“If you ever really want to rob a bank in Olomouc . . . “
“I have a car.”
But still not the end of the story.
The next night, in Kutna Hora, I told this much of the unfolding tale.
At the end of the evening’s book signing, a dignified old lady came up and whispered in my ear.
“Listen. . . . If you ever want to rob a bank in Kutna Hora . . . .
“I have a car . . . and a gun.”
The story goes on.
The next night, in Havlickuv Brod, I related this much of the story.
At the end of the evening, just as I was about to leave, a well-dressed man caught me by the arm and said in a conspiratorial voice:
“If you want to rob a bank in Havlickuv Brod, come see me.”
“Because I am the manager of a bank – I have keys to the vault.”
And on it went.
The next afternoon, at a literary festival in the same town, a young woman came up to whisper in my ear:
“If you are going to rob banks in the Czech Republic, too many people will recognize you. You will need a mask.”
And she gave me a mask.
As the evening presentations continued, I wore the mask when I told the unfolding tale.
I said, “If any of you are interested in bank robbing, see me later.”
And volunteers turned up night after night:
“I’m a lawyer – here’s my card – I’ll defend you in court.”
“I’m a party-girl and know how to have a good time – if you want someone to help you spend your loot, get in touch with me.”
She gave me her cell-phone number.
“I’m the mayor of this town and my wife is the chief of police. If you rob a bank here, we can help you escape.”
“I have a great place to hide you and your money.”
“My mom has always wanted to rob a bank – here’s her e-mail address – get in touch with her if you want an accomplice.”
“There’s a bank right across the street from this theater – and the night security man takes an hour off at 11:00. I’m a policeman. I know.”
And so the story snowballed.
By the end of my speaking tour, I had enough Czech volunteers to form a major bank robbing gang.
And night after night, the audiences howled at the ongoing craziness.
Players and Player-sympathizers were always in abundance.
So, you may ask, what’s the point of this story-without-an-end?
It’s a serious answer to why I keep going back to keep company with the Czechs – young and old, professionals and amateurs – in every town. In a land far away from where I live – in a country whose language I do not speak – with strangers I do not know – I find a light-hearted sense of mischief akin to mine. A willingness to get in the game of the human comic strip and play – their imaginations lively – their laughter real.
The Czechs are thought of as solemn, serious folk – with a harsh history.
But deep down in their core a sense of humor remains as a burning coal ready to feed the fire of foolish joy.
It is the key to their survival as a people, I think.
And if I ever get serious about robbing banks . . . .