About: Ben Miller

1. I was born at Fort Dix Army hospital in 1956, and lived in Trenton, New Jersey for a little over one month, before my parents drove back to Minneapolis where they had first met. My Dad’s folks joined them for the ride, which included crossing into Canada from Niagara Falls. 2. I do not remember much of that trip. 3. In 1976 I took a yearlong break from college, bought a ’67 Ford Fairlane 500 and toured much of the northeast, midwest, and the west for over a year, doing odd jobs like painting houses and working as a janitor at Little Company of Mary hospital in Torrance, California. 4. That old Ford had a 289 engine I could work on myself, as it had enough room under the hood for the average guy to reach in and bang around without hoisting it up, unlike cars today. 5. I do not really think I would spend much time under the hood of my car working on it even if it had enough room, in part because of the busted knuckles I dealt with swapping out that 289’s starter, selenoid, and other parts, but I appreciate a handy rationalization. 6. My mother became a nurse back when that was one of the few occupations open to women, then went back to college later in life when things opened up, earned a couple degrees and became an administrator. I’ve never heard her complain about how it was, but she made sure my sister had more opportunities, and I think that’s cool. 7. In spite of the Bush/Cheney regime, I believe our culture has made civil progress. 8. I wish that civil rights progress (both gender and race) didn’t engender so much right wing backlash, overtly attempting to return us to the 19th or even 13th century, but the pendulum swings for a reason, I suppose. 9. I went to Rochester Mayo high school and just before graduation I won a fictionwriting contest sponsored by St. Cloud State University. They were trying to recruit high school students to their writing program, I believe, and offered a dictionary and $10 as gifts. I got the check, but never got the dictionary. 10. I attended the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where I spent most of the next seven years when not traveling and appreciate the BA in English I earned there, but sometimes wonder if going to a smaller college like St. Cloud State for a year or two first might not have been a good idea. 11. My wife and I live on the island of Alameda, next to Oakland, in San Francisco Bay. I once took ferries around the archipelago outside Stockholm and found the Baltic and the islands enchanting. I loved Indonesia, when I visited. Some day I would like to visit Alaska’s islands for an extended stay, seeing lots of eagles, eating lots of salmon, reading lots of books, and trying to string a few decent words together. 12. I once visited Speakers corner in London where a very arrogant man up on a box with a Union Jack flag was loudly mocking foreigners for the crowd’s amusement. He ridiculed a couple Americans as gender ambivalent because the term cowboy is made of female and male nouns. "Hey Yank, what have you got down your trousers?" he asked a young clean-cut couple, and they got redfaced and left. He then mocked a Dane for being from a boring country where nothing happened. When I asked him if this applied to Hamlet, he scowled and claimed to have written Hamlet. 13. I asked him if the British are called limeys because they’re a bunch of fruits, and he got quite indignant, threatening to impale me with his flag. He next mocked a jolly little Pakistani fellow who indulged the ridicule, and speculated that the Pakistani looked enough like an American Indian he might be my grandfather. 14. Before I could reply, a couple police officers escorted me away. It turns out you have to be elevated off the ground to freely speak your mind in that peculiar little country. 15. In the early 80s I went to night school at City College of San Francisco and submitted a story titled "The Ph.D of Cartoons" to a contest, winning 2nd place in their Pasqualetti award. This gave me the notion I could write; since then I’ve edited and written for various publications ranging from office newsletters to CNET’s Builder.com to a casino management magazine, and the miningco.com (before it became About.com), where I reviewed a brewpub and various breakfast places on Haight street. 16. They wanted a blurb about me, too, so I told them I liked birds, books, baseball, the Beatles, beer, barbecue, Belize and Bali. 17. I’ve also edited books for several publishers, where my pay increased as the work grew less interesting. I went from travel guides to social and behavioral science books to computer books to legal references. 18. I’m not really as mercenary as that sounds. Okay, maybe I was, a little bit. But really, money may be the what Americans believe in most, but it is not my religion. I have a good friend who believes in the Church of Latter Day Appliantology (his one commandment: Thou Shalt Upgrade) but I do not worship at that temple. What gadgetry I have, I need. Really. Three working computers for two adults with three others mothballed in the closet isn’t so much is it? Really? 19. Okay, one last try: I read of a study once positing that there is an inverse relationship between how happy you are and how much stuff you have. As I understand it, the more possessions rule your life, the more you cater to maintaining your toys and rue their loss and breakage, the less happy you are. 20. By this measure, I’m doing okay—depending on how much it counts against me when I can’t find my keys, wallet, glasses, or some book I’m sure I didn’t sell back to a used bookstore, damnit. 21. I try to have a lot of systems around the house, so that I can remember where thing are. This sometimes works. 22. Yet, while I sill cannot remember where I left the new watchband I bought recently, I can name the winning and losing teams for every world series ever played. This includes the 29 dismal years from 1936 to 1964, when the damn Yankees went to the world series 22 times and won 16 titles. 23. At one point in the late 1980s my boss in SF was a New York Yankees fan, the two friends I went to Candlestick Park with most often were both Yankees fans, and my housemate was a Yankees fan, leading me to suspect the creator has a wicked sense of humor. 24. If I had the time, I would like to write a book about the seven AL teams other than the Yankees who went to the world series in those years, and the six NL teams who beat them, working title: Those Who Broke Through. 25. I’ve seen four different species of eagles in the wild, a sea eagle off Bali, a white tailed eagle above the Arctic in Sweden, and bald and golden eagles in the US. I’d love to see a stellar’s eagle in Kamchatka. 26. Lately my wife and I are reading a lot of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. He’s not a great stylist, but the characters and dialogue are a kick. 27. I read constantly as a kid, and in my late teens was heavily influenced by Kurt Vonnegut. In my 20s I read a wide variety while in college, especially Brautigan, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Castenada, and Hammett. I still re-read JD Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, occasionally and think it a near-perfect novella. In my 30s I read all of Anne Tyler’s novels, and much of Barbara Kingsolver, Gore Vidal’s historical novels, Louise Erdrich, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love Langston Hughes’ Simple stories. More recently I’ve read a lot of Richard Ford, Raymond Chandler, and Graham Greene. 28. When I first Toni Morrision’s Beloved I couldn’t understand how such an exquisite writer was not famous and highly rewarded. 29. Since then she won the Nobel prize, and I celebrated for her. 30. I can sometimes cure my insomnia by counting backward in various multiples between 13 and 20. Seventeen is good, so I start at, say, 800 and go: 783, 766, 749, 732, etc. It clears my mind. 31. It doesn’t always work. 32. My wife and I were married at the Unitarian-Universalist church in San Francisco, in a small yet pleasant ceremony. Our German Shepherd / Doberman mix Vinnie attended in a tuxedo designed for dogs. The minister had to be assured Vinnie would behave before agreeing to let him attend. 33. While unforeseen events had us switch our ceremony from the Chapel to the Sanctuary, everything went very well. I even remembered my lines. Vinnie watched the ceremony quite patiently, and stole the show from everyone except the bride. 34. I grew up rooting for the Twins and Vikings, among other teams, but gradually became dis-interested in the NFL because of the constant life-shortening injuries, and rarely watch a game any more. 35. I still look in the sports page to see how the Vikings are doing. (I’m curious to see if this will be the year where they finally win their final game of the season. As they have made the playoffs 378 times in their almost 50 years of existence yet never won a Super Bowl, you may well appreciate what a grand tradition ending the season on a losing note has become for Vikings fans.) 36. I once sketched out a short story where many of the authors I liked played football. If memory serves, Ernest Hemingway was the quarterback, I had Kurt Vonnegot, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Herman Melville, and Charles Bukowski as linemen, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a flashy running back, and Richard Brautigan was an amazing if erratic wide receiver. Mark Twain was the head coach and was given to waxing philosophical about whatever problems the team faced. 37. The story was long on character and short on plot. 38. I was a distance runner for 30 years, and have estimated that I’ve run enough miles to go from SF to New York three times. 39. I now have a bad achilles tendon in my right leg, and have to stretch, but do so, as I often walk down Market street from the ferry building to the civic center for my exercise. 40. My father ran marathons until he suffered an achilles tendon problem. too. This happened for both of us in our 40s. 41. I have seen the Minnesota Twins play baseball at nine different ballparks: old Metropolitan Stadium, Anaheim Stadium, the Oakland Coliseum, old Comiskey Park in Chicago, Milwaukee’s County Stadium, the Metrodome, Fenway Park, SF’s Pacific Bell (Your Name Here) Park, and Dodger Stadium. 42. I loved old Comiskey Park, and wish I could visit it again. I liked the picnic benches under the bleachers, looking out at the outfielders. I liked the arched windows. It is as close as I have ever come to feeling transported back in time. 43. I do not like Dodger Stadium. I find Dodger dogs bland and overhyped, and found their parking lot to be the worst I’ve ever experienced, having spent almost two hours, until midnight, eagerly trying to escape the place. 44. As sports fans treasure garments celebrating their team, among my favorite sweatshirts is a deep blue number noting both the 1987 and 1991 world champion Minnesota Twins. 45. In spite of the whining of Braves fans about Ron Gant being pulled off first base in the 1991 world series, replays clearly show Kent Hrbek’s muscles do not flex until Gant is off the base. Hrbek had every right to tag him, and doesn’t hold Gant’s leg up until the play was made. Besides, it was Gant’s bonehead mistake not to slide back into first, not Herbie’s. 46. I moved to California from Minnesota in a circle of seven friends. Though we have all gone separate ways, we keep in touch. Life was a moving party for us back then, and we can still smile and laugh when we recall it. (Most of it.) 47. I used to get tan when I was young, playing as a kid and going to the ballparks, and got tan on trips to Belize in ’89 and Bali in ’91, although I’d been warned about it before Bali. In December of 2000 I had a small melanoma removed from my brow, and now I apply sunscreen every day, even rainy days in winter. I have joined the mole people. Where once I turned to face the sun, now I seek the shady side of the street. Getting a tan is so alien to me, it seems as if the times I sat in the bleachers sprawled to maximize exposure was a separate incarnation. 48. I was raised Unitarian-Universalist, and am grateful for its practice of religious tolerance. It is not true that you can believe anything and be UU; you cannot practice intolerance and be UU. You cannot believe in fascist white supremacy or Jihad or genocide or that a terrorist attack in NY justifies torture in prison camps or slaughter in Baghdad. 49. To be UU means developing and being able to voice your own beliefs in a coherent and consistent fashion, yet tolerating someone else doing the same. 50. I believe dogs are more social than people. We are perhaps smarter. Yet we can be content alone. Dogs are more content when all the pack members are together. Our two dogs believe quite deeply it is a bad idea for us to go our separate ways when commuting. Despite the paycheck rational, they are convincing me. (You see? I’m really not that mercenary!) 51. One of the best jobs I ever had was as a paperboy for the morning Minneapolis Tribune. I got up early and had my route to myself. Darkness, dawn and early daylight, all four seasons, it was great. If I could make the kind of money I make now by going out the door at 5 AM in January in Minnesota when it’s so cold my breath forms icicles on my facemask, I’d be there in a heartbeat. 52. If you don’t understand this, my dogs do, which also ups their rating on my sociability scale.

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