My Father’s Handshake

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How your humble author is spending his Father’s Day, poolside, listening to jazz and blogging.

Sorry, I know it’s been awhile since I penned a substantive Jerry Project blog. Life truly does get in the way sometimes. Between two book tours in support of my first two novels, working on the third, and the marketing that goes with all that, the day job and family life, the blog has fallen by the wayside a bit. I have gotten lazy with regard to memoirs and remembrances, content with just recycling previous posts about my parents on the anniversaries of their deaths and on special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

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John Henry Knaak, Jr. 1935-2007

A thought occurred to me when my 11-year-old repeatedly asked for high-fives the other day. From the moment our children begin to interact with other human beings, one of the first things we teach them is the high-five. Meant as a greeting and also the exercise of some cognitive ability coupled with a motor skill, I’m sure it aids in some kind of early childhood development. The slapping of hands can evolve into a fist-bump perhaps, but it inevitably leads to learning a traditional handshake.

I like a good, strong, firm handshake. I can’t stand dead fish handshakes. Have you ever gotten one of those from someone? I think I’d rather hold a fish. The whole hand, firm grip, good squeeze. I like strong, whole-hand handshakes from women too, not the dainty finger grab. Is that weird?

The handshake was once meant to indicate to people meeting for the first time that their hands were empty. That’s to say they were unarmed. Over time is has become to signify many different things – a greeting between friends, a means of introduction, congratulations, or that a deal has been struck.

We Americans have become a society of high-fivers. We do it to celebrate a great play made by our favorite sports team, we do it when our friend agrees with us or we are passionately like-minded on a subject, and sometimes as a means to give respect for a quip or a zinger. The “bro hug” often takes the place of a traditional handshake with mini-chest bump added in for affectionate effect.

Did Los Angeles Dodger Glenn Burke really invent the up-top hand slap in 1977? The up-top back-around to low-five was popularized (for a minute) by the movie Top Gun. There’s the two-handed high-five, and then there’s the traditional low-five which was more common in the 1970s.

But this isn’t mean to be a history lesson on the handshake or the high-five.

My father, the late John Knaak, didn’t give credence to any of it. Oh, I don’t think he minded seeing it on the sports field or court. (We did joke about athletes’ propensity to slap each other on the ass after a great play.) He just didn’t care for it in life.

You see, you had to earn my father’s handshake. It was important. It meant something. Even when he met new people he gave it reluctantly. I think I saw him shake his friend Jim’s hand once and that was after Jim had come over to fix our furnace. He’d just as soon have you call him “Jack” before he gave you his hand.

My father died in February 2007 at age 71, four months shy of my 37th birthday. In the 36+ years I knew him and had him in my life, my father shook my hand exactly THREE times and I remember each one vividly.

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Your humble author on the bump in Pony League action at Emerson and Glide (now known as Paul Bianchi Park) in Rochester, N.Y. circa 1985-86.

I was 15 or 16 the first time. I was a pitcher for my little league team in the Northwest Youth Athletic Association, which played its games at what is now known as Paul Bianchi Park at the corner of Emerson and Glide streets in Rochester, N.Y. I was the starting pitcher in an all-star game. I was a wisp of a thing at the time. I was a good pitcher that year, I struck out a season-high 16 batters in one game, and I averaged 11 strikeouts an appearance. My high school coaches never fancied me a pitcher, so summer league is where I had the opportunity.

Admittedly, I didn’t have my best stuff in this all-star game. My fastball had no zip and I was hanging curveballs like they were paintings. Even my knuckleball wouldn’t dance. My fastball never had much velocity, but on this day, my normally live arm was anything but. However, I scratched and clawed and scuffled and kept the game close. We were up 4-2 late in the game and a couple of defensive errors put two men on. The go-ahead run came to the plate, the clean-up hitter, the guy I had trouble with all day. I threw everything at this guy, even a KY ball, but he kept fouling pitches off. Eventually, I made a mistake and hung a curve ball out over the heart of the plate. I don’t think it’s come down yet. The three-run home run gave them a 5-4 lead and was the difference in the game. Although  I should have been out of the inning, I still felt like I could have salvaged it by getting this guy out.

Inexplicably my father greeted me behind the backstop after the game and shook my hand. I said something to the effect of, “but I lost. I just didn’t have it today.” He responded with something like, “but you battled, you didn’t give up. You fought hard.”

You see, dad was a high school legend at Scottsville High. Soccer, baseball and basketball – he had a page dedicated to him in his high school yearbook. He played college basketball. I never lived up to his standard as an athlete. I always managed to make the team, but I was never good enough to start. I was a bench warmer most of the time, I played CYO basketball for the playing time, and I gave up on Pop Warner football after two years. For him to shake my hand in this instance really meant something.

The second time he shook my hand was upon my gradation from Edison Technical and Occupational Education Center – fancy name for Edison Tech high school. In June of 1987, I graduated 15th in my class of 300, was already a member of the National Honor Society and earned the Presidential Academic Fitness Award. Also, I was already enlisted in the United States Navy’s delayed entry program. I had played basketball and baseball, and ran cross country. I was involved in student government.

After walking across the stage, collecting my diploma and exiting the George Eastman Theater, my father shook my hand. This one I understood, I had accomplished something. High school wasn’t exactly an easy time for me, but a lot of kids could say that. And considering the events of the past few years, there are thousands of kids who have had it way worse than I ever did.

A lot of good came of that time as well. I did graduate, I was accepted to the two colleges I applied to (even though I didn’t go), I eventually developed my musical taste (which has stuck with me for life) and I met my best friend, who is still that to this day.

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My mom (left) and dad (partially obscured by a balloon) greet me at the Rochester International Airport upon my return from the first Gulf War.

The third time came in 1991. I had just returned from Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm aboard the USS Saratoga (CV 60). I had told my parents I didn’t want any fanfare when I landed at the Rochester International Airport. I told them to just pick me up. They didn’t listen. I didn’t feel like I had done anything during the Gulf War. I ran my squadron’s tool control program. Yes, I was a trained flight deck troubleshooter as an aviation electronics technician, but for whatever reason, I was given the tool control job. I can’t say it wasn’t important, there were major safety concerns when it came to tools and the techs and mechanics couldn’t do their jobs if they weren’t properly equipped.

But I didn’t fight. I didn’t shoot at anyone. I wasn’t shot at. Sure, there were those occasions when we had to wear gas masks on our hips when intelligence thought Saddam Hussein’s forces might launch a SCUD missile at our ship. And yes, we had a member of our squadron taken prisoner after his F-14 Tomcat was shot down. And yes, a member of the attack squadron next door was also taken prisoner after his A-6 Intruder was downed. But for the most part, I watched the war on television like everybody else.

My cousin Debbie had joined a support group of some kind if I recall, and one of our neighbors, who was a teacher (again, if I recall), had sent a ton of letters from her students. I was greeted by a throng of people at the airport. There were balloons and signs and hugs.

And a handshake from my father.

I guess it was because I had survived a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in a combat zone. Maybe he was just happy to see me after eight months. Whatever the reason, he did it and it was the last time.

My father wasn’t what you would call an affectionate man. Oh, he wasn’t one of those men who are incapable of showing physical love, he was just choosy about how he did it. He never denied me a hug when I asked for one and I have fond memories of sitting with him watching football, basketball and baseball games on TV. He was even known to snuggle with my mother on the couch while watching movies.

But that handshake, that meant something. That was important. It wasn’t given often or lightly and if you were fortunate to get one from John Knaak, well, you must have earned it. And that places you in elite company.

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The Comic Con Podcast

On the eve of SF Comic Con at the Oakland Convention Center, fellow panelists and Trifecta Publishing House labelmates Mark London Williams and Samantha Heuwagen joined me for adult beverages and conversation at Sláinte in Jack London Square. We had a wonderful time at this literature-inspired Irish pub in the heart of the neighborhood named for Oakland’s native son and world-renown author, Jack London. Mark and I knew we had found a home for our occasional grub and libation get-togethers when we saw the portrait of Oscar Wilde on the wall during our first visit.

The Mental Health Podcast

31959519_10211843994955845_953289311564857344_nNew sci-fi author Samantha Heuwagen makes her second appearance on the Get the Knaak podcast. We dive into the motivations and themes behind her debut novel, Dawn Among the Stars, which is due out May 21. You can pre-order the Kindle or e-book version now.

Samantha’s tweet describes the podcast perfectly.

https://soundcloud.com/user-155936464/get-the-knaak-s2-ep7

Location Scouting After the Fact

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The Sutro Baths ruins near Ocean Beach along the Great Highway in San Francisco.

As much as I like to say that it is not a substitute for actual research, Google is a wonderful thing for all kinds of things. Maps, satellite and street view have been especially helpful to me as I embark on this new vocation as a novelist. However, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned location scouting.

Several people who have read my debut novel, The Dark Truth, have asked about my settings and locations. The story is set in modern-day San Francisco and many of the sites are real. I have used Google maps extensively as I have plotted my characters movements. In truth, I have made up very few establishments and businesses. I think in two dimensions. This has always limited my graphic and artistic endeavors. I could never be a 3D animator. I’m not sure if I could ever be a world builder either.  My favorite Stephen King stories take place in fictional towns, with fictional streets and houses, and such. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write fiction. This seems to require too much planning.

I make up businesses and whatnot when the plot or the story demands. The Dark Truth in The Dark Truth is a fictional dance club that I conjured on O’Farrell Street in San Francisco. However, 98 percent of the story takes place in the real, actual, physical world you can visit today.

Numerous places in the story were inspired by a photo gallery I found on the official web site for the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com. It was a gallery of images of abandoned places in Northern California and numerous images spoke to me as great hiding places for a vampire. I wrote about the inspiration for the title of The Dark Truth in a post on my official web site not that long ago.

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No spoilers! Those of you who have read The Dark Truth know what happens here.

In the SFGate photo gallery, I came across Sutro Baths. The photos were stunning and I decided to use this as the location for the climax of the story. If you can call looking at photos and Google satellite and street view “sight unseen,” I wrote the scene without actually visiting Sutro Baths.

This past weekend, I had the occasion to check it out and to be honest, I did pretty well in my descriptions and I was further convinced that I made the right choice for the scene. Now, I did miss some key details you can only observe by visiting. I may have to bring the story back to this spot. A hike along the Coastal Trail has me thinking about all kinds of delicious possibilities for the third book in the series, The Dark Terror.

A similar location scout, albeit ahead of time or in the middle of, helped me write several scenes in the second book, The Dark Descent. I did not plan on making Golden Gate Park a major location, but after a site visit, I couldn’t help but expand the park’s significance in the story. The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood also features prominently in The Dark Descent, and a location scout really helped me capture the flavor and claustrophobia of the area.

Bram Stoker wrote the Transylvania scenes for Dracula without visiting the region, rather relying on the equivalent of the venerable Fodor’s Travel Guide and travelers’ descriptions of the Carpathian Mountains and rural Romania for background material. By all accounts, Stoker did a pretty good job of describing his vampire’s ancestral home.

As good as modern tools are for research and inspiration, there is no substitute for actual location scouting and I will endeavor to do as much as possible as my career as a novelist continues.

Those of you who have read The Dark Truth can now see where the climax takes place and hopefully visualize and understand that scene, and hopefully agree with my choice.

Another Step in the Writing Journey

TheDarkDescent2_850I will never get tired of the milestones in my journey as a novelist. From first deciding to attempt a novel-length story, the query process, the editing and cover design to cover unveil, pre-sale and publication day – every announcement carries with it the same measure of excitement. Every time I check off a task or post that accomplishment to social media, I do so with the same fervor.

I finished the principle writing for The Dark Descent the first week of December 2017. After a few weeks of reading it over and editing, I submitted it to my publisher, Trifecta Publishing House, on deadline. The next steps include cover design. Last night, I approved the final cover design for The Dark Descent, the sequel to my debut novel, The Dark Truth. The Dark Descent is Book Two – The Dark Passage Series. I am under contract for three books in this series, and there just might be a fourth.

The Dark Truth went on sale Nov. 20, 2017, and The Dark Descent is due out in April 2018. The third in the series, The Dark Terror is due out February 2019.

I do hope you like the cover, and I hope you buy and enjoy the books as much I enjoy writing them. I have a lot more stories to tell.

 

 

B-Boy Running Adventures 2017 – Goal Accomplished

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In 2015, I set a goal. I set out to run in every city I visited as I traveled for work. I usually make 10 trips a year, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less, and I thought this would be a great way to see the cities I visit and also keep me from getting bored with running. In 2015, I missed one run – Detroit – because I had the flu. In 2016, I made nine trips, and missed one run – Denver – because I had the flu. But I was able to add Mexico City to the list. This past year, I made 11 trips, including Mexico City again, and I nailed all 11. I was able to add a few to the list as well.

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The last two were polar opposites. I ran in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve, and near LAX in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Philly was fun and interesting, except for the young lady who wouldn’t yield to me on the sidewalk and thought it would be better to mean-mug me instead. The City of Brotherly Love was less than friendly as the streets were packed with last-second Christmas shoppers. Most were oblivious to runners and pedestrians as they skylarked their way out of the shops along the busy byways of this historic city.

I got to see some of the historic sites and old neighborhoods. There is such a stark contrast between east coast and west coast architecture. I grew up in western New York so I am used to the rude behavior, the cold weather (it was a balmy 39 degrees) and the austerity of the buildings. I ran 3.61 miles in 38:08. I would have gone further, but the pedestrians and traffic lights get to be a bit bothersome after awhile.

IMG_1850My route took me past Independence Hall, Independence Historical National Park and the Liberty Bell. There’s something to be said engaging in such a modern activity like running, with state-of-the-art Bluetooth headphones connected to an iPhone and a GPS capable mobile app, through iconic, historic neighborhoods. What exactly I don’t know, but there is something.

I only spent approximately 30 hours in Los Angeles and I was determined to get a run in. I met up with my buddy Sal and we headed out toward LAX. I really would have liked to run Santa Monica Pier, but there just wasn’t enough time. It was just a bit too far from where I stayed.

IMG_1972The neighborhood was unremarkable. I think I did this one just to get it done. We ran a full 5K and my time came in at 33:26, not quite race speed. It was a cloudy 51 degrees in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve.

I am quite happy with the fact that I finally nailed every city. I even ran in Lima, Ohio, on vacation over the summer.

Here is the complete list of the cities I’ve claimed with a run the past three years:

In no particular order

Philadelphia – 1
Pittsburgh – 1
Buffalo – 1
Chicago – 1
San Diego – 2
Nashville – 4
Los Angeles – 1
Miami – 1
Jacksonville – 1
Tampa – 1
New Orleans – 1
Seattle – 1
Houston – 1
Dallas – 1
Kansas City – 2
IMG_1855Overland Park, Kansas – 1
Denver – 2
Minneapolis – 1
Phoenix – 1
Mexico City – 2
Washington, D.C. – 1
Baltimore – 1
Cleveland – 1
Lima, Ohio – 3 (one trip)

I’ll even throw in Pennyhill/Bagshot, England, in 2014 here because that is where I got this idea to run in the different places I visit. That’s 25 cities, two continents and three countries.

I must admit, I haven’t run in a month, and frankly, I have fallen out of love with it for the moment. Don’t worry, I’m starting to get the itch again. In 2018, I’ll be able to check off a few new cities and return to some old haunts.

“City to city, I’ma runnin’ my rhyme.”