May 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Somebody once said, “Life is an adventure.”

I don’t remember who said it exactly, maybe Aristotle. He was a wise man, or at least we take the word of the ancient Greeks that he was. It might have been easier to be wise way back then—fewer people, less competition for the title.

But what is adventure? Do you have to be Magellan circumnavigating the globe, or Admiral Byrd headed for the pole, or Geraldo Rivera about to open Al Capone’s vault to have an adventure? I think not. You could dive out of an airplane tethered to a former mall security guard, or bungee jump into a gorge with the taste of Jägermeister fresh on your tongue, or try to sneak a family-size bag of Vic’s popcorn into the multiplex. Or, if you’re like me, you could find adventure in books.

Do you remember those books, those little Bantam books by Edward Packer? The books with “Choose Your Own Adventure” headlined above the title? You know, the ones where you dove into the stories written in second person and where the journey was actually determined by your own decisions at critical moments? The stories where your friend, Dr. Nera Vivaldi, always showed up with a clue or advice to help you choose your path through the tale? Dr. Vivaldi seemed to show up in every new volume, whether you were in outer space with Moon Quest, or on a cruise with Terror on the Titanic, or dealing with the undead before the undead were cool in Zombie Pen Pal. Nera was ageless and omnipresent, kind of like Helen Mirren. I loved Nera Vivaldi.

You got to choose where the plot led you. Do you open the airlock when you hear the mysterious knocking from the vacuum on the other side of the bulkhead, or do you fire the rockets and incinerate the multi-tentacled alien threat, or, if you’re wrong, your desperate, oxygen-starved friend outside? Do you get in lifeboat No. 6, or wait a while longer for another way off the ship while you steal the Kaiser’s gold in stateroom 6B? Should you answer the bloodstained postcard that shows up in your school locker or “return to sender” and go to the Snow Ball with Sally forthwith?

Every choice you made prompted a turn in the saga. You might discover a diamond in the lunar dust or perish when your helmet visor cracks. You might be able to warn the captain before the unsinkable liner hits the iceberg, or you might find yourself trapped in steerage far away from Jack, Rose, and the floating door—I still think there was room for two on that bit of flotsam, I just do. Do you decide to make friends with the zombie and then become buddies like Gibson and Glover, or do you suddenly realize that your body is numb and your brain is the featured dish at Undead Golden Corral? The point of the books was that your choices had consequences—just like real, regular, ordinary, day-to-day life.

Of course, unlike real life, if you made a bad choice and came to a premature ending, in the books you could go back and change your decision. You could follow the next thread of possibilities to an alternate climax. No matter how many wrong choices you made, you always had the ability to invoke a do-over—unlike real, regular, ordinary, day-to-day life.

I loved those books. I shared them with my little ones. I remember them, and in that remembering, I recall the greatest adventure of all, the adventure that begins with three little words.

“Let’s have kids.”

Nera Vivaldi, where are you now?


This column was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.