This week, we’re sharing stories from Rebecca Solnit, Robert F. Worth, Margaret Talbot, Porochista Khakpour, and Frank Bures.
Michael Perry | Under Purple Skies | Belt Publishing | May 2019 | 10 minutes (1,861 words)
You’d never dream it looking at me, all doughy, bald, and crumpling in my 50s, but I owe the sublimated bulk of my aesthetic construct to Prince Rogers Nelson, circa Purple Rain. The film and album were released the summer after my fresh-off-the farm freshman year in college. I sat solo through the movie a minimum of four times, wore the hubs off the soundtrack cassette, draped my bedroom with purple scarves, stocked the dresser top with fat candles, and Scotch-taped fishnet to the drywall above the bed. Intended to create seductive shadows of mystery, it wound up a pointless cobweb.
Ever tried to skip a flat stone across a body of water? Happy with a few skips? Elated at five or more? To be the best stone skipper in the world, you’ll need 89 skips to beat current Guinness World Record holder Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner (88 skips). At Minnesota Monthly, Frank Bures tries his luck at stone skipping at The Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition.
But I’d been skipping stones my whole life, ever since I was around my daughters’ ages, always getting better and better. There was almost nothing I loved better than the feeling of knowing—even before it hit the water—that you had a perfect throw, one that defies nature by making a stone both fly and float.
To reach the upper echelons of the skipping world was not easy. Mackinac was divided into two heats. First there was the “Open” division, in which every fudge-eating tourist on the island was welcome. Usually there were a few hundred people who entered. Only by winning the Open can you move up into the “Professional” division, which features heavy hitters such as Russ “Rockbottom” Byars, whose Guinness World Record held for years at 51 skips; Max “Top Gun” Steiner, who took the title from Byars with 65; and Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner (no relation to Max) who currently holds the title with 88.
What you want, according to reigning champ Kurt Steiner, is a stone that is not perfectly round but that has points, or lobes, that act as spokes. As the stone spins, these points will push the stone up off the water, keeping it airborne and preventing it from sticking.
“If you spin it fast enough, the stone will essentially walk on those spokes,” Steiner told me, when I had called him for skipping advice. “A really good skip tends to walk like that.”