Friday, October 31, 2008

Can't Talk. Writing.

It might seem humorous that a guy who posts once every three weeks is committing to write 50K words next month.

You'd be entirely valid for thinking so. But I do my best work under deadline pressure. And I like people to bet against me. Remember that time I rolled 8 straight points because of the guy with the No Pass Line fetish. Oh yeah. You know what happened to him. All about the focus people.

What is up with the Viking helmet? AJ has one of those that I bought him from Excalibur one year. If I can find it, I'll wear it while I write.

My protagonist is a diffident, aimless, unaware asshole. He's gonna get his lawn mowed. We'll see how he reacts. Not sure how I feel about his chances. You know I'm not the happy ending sort.

Anyone out there want to be writing buddies can a) send alcohol and b) send an e-mail and I'll give you my top secret User Name.

God Bless Us All.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

You Boys

Cross-posted to Offsprung.

The town is small. One main road, at the head of which sits the high school. As you go east, you pass four or five bars until it comes to an end at the Baptist church, the biggest building in town. I've been coming to this rural Illinois area for my entire life. The last time I was there was nearly three years ago.

The occasion then was my grandparents' 65th wedding anniversary. It was a surprise and we packed the fellowship hall with the entire family, including 10 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and the latest arrival, the baby, the first great, great grandchild. As we waited for our grandparents, ages 86 and 83 respectively, to arrive, we joked that we shouldn't yell to loudly when they enter, lest we scare 'em to death.

They walked through the door and my grandmother's face crumbled. She seemed to see every face at once and her reaction was something I'll never forget, the image I chose to remember as I got on the plane to return.

My entire family was there again. My grandmother, Sarah, passed away last Monday at 86 years of age.


A few months after the anniversary celebration, my grandma had a stroke. She made it back, but not all the way. For the past year, she's been in a nursing home. The last few months, she's been wanting to die.

None of us could begrudge her that. Her life had been full. A devoutly religious woman, she wanted to see her Savior. As the pastor said during her funeral, "She was not afraid to die."


Grandma grew up the only girl along with a handful of hell-raising, hard-drinking brothers. She, herself, never took a drink. A popular story at all our get-togethers told about the time she got into a car accident with a police cruiser and the officer, chagrined that it was his fault, locked her up for being “drunk.” What she really was was terrified. The image of grandma in a holding cell always brought laughter, but I don’t remember her even smiling at the memory. Even decades later, she was indignant at being accused.

She loathed alcohol, once threatening to leave my grandfather after the war, taking his girls away if he didn’t stop taking his paycheck down to the corner bar on Fridays. The ultimatum delivered, he stopped, smoking, too, right then and there.

Whenever I’d visit from the coast, she’d warn us to behave ourselves. Myself, my brother and my other two L.A.-based cousins. “You California Boys,” she’d say. “Life out here isn’t what you’re used to.” The subtext was that we shouldn’t corrupt our Midwest cousins. We’d carry that weight, regardless of whose idea it was to hit the after-hours roadhouses just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. More than once, we slunk back as the sun rose, our only goal to not let grandma see or hear us come in.

When I was in high school, my grandparents came to live with us in California. That was difficult for a couple years. I was just entering my Teenage Jerk phase and their presence was akin to adding another set of parents, when one was plenty. I wish I’d appreciated that time more, having them close, something my other cousins had the luxury of for most of their lives. Still, I have some great memories of that time. They got to see me play sports. I spent long hours talking baseball with my grandfather, who's now 89 himself and showed uncommon fortitude last week. We were all most worried about him, but he gave us no outward reason to be. A Cardinals fans since birth, we suggested he'd be fine once spring training came around.


My Aunt Judy sang a song at the funeral. She did so without accompaniment. It was unreal. She decimated all of us. Not a crack in her voice or a botched note. Not a single falling tear until she’d finished. By then, we were all reduced to quivering husks. My cousin Paul said he thought it was raining; the tears bouncing off the padded shoulders of our suits. We were awed by Judy’s strength. I asked her how she’d done it. “Mother asked me to,” she said.

The pastor who officiated had known my grandma his entire life. She was the only person who still called him “Ricky.” The only person who could “get away with it,” he said. My grandmother changed his diapers in the church nursery forty years ago. He spoke of her faith, embodied in her lack of fear about dying. And of her faithfulness, how she devoted her life to her family and her church in equal zeal. All of us sitting there attested to it. I was reminded of that anniversary celebration three years ago. When all calmed down, I got a chance to sit with my grandma. I asked her of what she was most proud in her life. Her eyes got all teary and she said, “The people in this room.” Us.


I’m comforted knowing she knew how much we all loved her, how much we all needed her and how much we've learned from her example. I'd laughed at her across the generations, rolled my eyes at our different ethics, but I am not so different. I have her blood coursing through my veins. I have her lessons etched in my DNA. I have her eldest daughter, my mother, repeating her words for as long as I remember. We are products of our past, better and worse, glorious and despairing, and all we can do is exalt in the times we've had, be thankful to have possessed her as long as we have and never forget her strength and radiance. Her faith and faithfulness.

Friday night, a bunch of us grandkids and spouses went out for dinner and drinks. What always happens at these reunions is a seamless melding. Though I don’t often get to see my Midwest cousins, we fall into easy and familiar patterns. We’re bonded, untroubled by time or circumstance. I told a friend back home that everyone was responding well to the pain of the occasion because we were making fun of each other again, like always. That is grandma's legacy.

After dinner, we laughed over beers at a nearby bar. Told grandma stories with smiles on our faces. At one point, I said, “What do you think grandma is saying watching us right now?” Everyone responded simultaneously,

“You Boys.”

With reproach and love. But mostly love.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In Which I Explain Something Relatively Meaningless in a Roundabout Way

Does Matty Stairs' home run last night avenge Dennis Eckersley? I'm going to choose "Yes."

The thought process is like this. Stairs is one of my all-time favorite Oakland A's. In fact, back in the late '90s, even though they sucked (and were frequently called the "Triple A's" by yours truly) the Beer League Softball nature of the club (Stairs, John Jaha and a Jason Giambi fueled every bit as much by In and Out 4x4s as by the 'Roids) was highly entertaining. Stairs hit 38 bombs in that first year when the A's became contenders again (1999), but that was his last good season, his numbers dropping massively in the playoff year of 2000 (over 100 OPS points), and Beane sent him packing that off-season.

He always got a great reception in Oakland. There was that stupid ass sign in the bleachers that said, "Hit it Up Stairs, Matt!" And, of course, that great, penguin-esque body and Hell Bent for Leather uppercut.

Got. Damn. That ball went far last night. Whew. Right field pavilion. Same place Gibson planted one 20 years ago.

So, Exhibit A. I love Matt Stairs. He is identified with, and had his finest seasons as a member of, the Oakland A's.

Oddly enough, I shared several rounds of drinks on Saturday night with a young man sporting a Red Sox jersey with "Eckersley" across the back. Normally, I steer clear of New England sports fans and, in fact, had just walked out of a smallish alcove off the sports bar because of 12 drunk young men chanting "Let's Go Celtics!" at a baseball game. But I figured I'd give the guy a chance since he was honoring Eck (and the kid was only 24, so he was being born the last time Eck piched in Beantown). He was out from Bahstahn to see the Charger-Pats game and he and his buddy and their girlfriends and the assorted other lucky ass mofos who make up the Boston sports fan base that wandered by turned out to be good company and allowed me to get my inebriated Sports Geek on, which I don't get to do too often these days.

Exhibit B. Shots with a guy wearing an Eckersley jersey less than 48 hours previous.

It was right about AJ's bed time when Stairs ambled out of the dugout. I gave him a reprieve and sat him down next to me. I told him the history of the great Matt Stairs as an Athletic, of the many memories he gave me (and X, Stairs was her favorite A and she even made a sign for him that she displayed at the ballpark for Game 1 of the 2000 ALDS) and, above all else, the way he was about to swing from the heels. That's what I wanted my boy to see. What my friends and I call "Hitting Out."

He only took one cut, but I think he illustrated his attitude crystally and succinctly.

The world is not made up of random chance. It's all connected. There is no coincidence. Eck, you are relieved.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Only By the Night

Last night, I saw the greatest band in the world from 20 feet away. No words possible.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Foreshadowing and Truckin'

One can never predict what the future holds, but I'm girding for big fun this weekend. It will feature:

a) My favorite city (all-time)
b) My favorite band (current) in a GA format at House of Blues
c) My favorite mexican restaurant (all-time)
d) My favorite traveling companion (current)
e) A pimp hotel within two blocks of my favorite mexican restaurant, the venue and smack dab in the middle of my favorite city's smokin' (it's called the Gaslamp District! Get it?! "Smokin'" LOLZ!) nightlife.

While nothing is certain, I like our chances.

All this and Truckin' too. I'm gonna print these out and read them at the rooftop bar of our hotel. Okay, not really. I'll be drunk.

Reading now, though.

October 2008, Vol. 7, Issue 10

Welcome back to another issue of Truckin'.

1. Maisy Wednesday by Paul McGuire
She always wore bright lipstick which brought out a little gleam in her lips. She frequently smiled, but never initiated any sort of conversation... More

2. Happy Anniversary by John 'Falstaff' Hartness
As we stood outside the courthouse in our newly wedded bliss (which also somewhat resembled the look of people who have just survived a tornado, as it happened much faster than we expected) we decided that since Suzy didn't have to be at work for another couple of hours, we'd go have lunch. So we scraped together a few bucks and trundled over to a nearby McDonald's... More

3. A Lock of Bonnie Parker's Hair by Johnny Hughes
They was real famous and in the newspapers and all robbing them banks, when banks were unpopular. I asked Bonnie for something to remember her by. We didn't have a pencil for an autograph. She pulled this little pair of scissors out of her purse and gave me this... a lock of her hair... More

4. Whiskey Kisses by Betty After Dark
Held apart by distance and circumstance, brought together in soft voices, the pieces of who we are fill the room with every drink we pour. The gaps in our lives slowly closing as the light from the window crept into the room. There was something unavoidable that connected us, but the details were never as clear as they were this night.... More

5. What I Knew? by Dusty Rhodes
Just walk up and ask her you idiot... You've been friends for four years... she doesn't have a date and either do you... Quit being a pussy and ask her... Christ dude... what are you nervous about... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Thanks again for wasting your precious time with Truckin'. This month's issue features veteran Truckin' writers including the legendary Johnny Hughes with another Texas tale. Dusty Rhodes and John Hartness both make triumphant returns to the Truckin' roster. Betty After Dark will whip you in a deviant frenzy with her latest sultry tale. And I shared a new piece of fiction called Maisy Wednesday.

Please tell your friends about your favorite Truckin' stories. The writers definitely appreciate your support.

Also, if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list, well, please shoot me an e-mail.

Before I go... I can never thank the writers enough for writing for free and exposing their guts, blood, and soul to the universe. Their art and dedication inspires me and I hope it inspires you too.

Be good,

"A cult is a religion with no political power." - Tom Wolfe

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


She came out, sat across from him in the shadows, crimson glow in her cheeks from the wine, a burning color, same as that which had gone out of her eyes, even in the firelight. Insomnia, she said, which set off alarms in his gut. He's heard this before. Lies to cover lies, grabbing for a branch hanging over the swirling rapids, any one will do.

He held his breath and waited. She picked at the the cotton shirt handing off her shoulder, pursed her lips around her index finger and avoided his gaze. Two feet between them and miles away from each other.

Her eyes were wet. Couldn't sleep. Came to him in a cloud, tonight and always, and pressed those lips around him when she thought he'd speak. Silent but for involuntary moans. She looked at herself in the mirror, at both of them. Her throat caught, tripped on a curb, and he reached out for her. She turned, held herself, and he sighed across the canyon. He knew better than to ask.

He hadn't understood her from the start. Couldn't bring himself to run, even when she said, "I love you so much I wake up wishing I didn't."

He tried, threw everything he had. Lied himself, to not offend. Soothed when he felt like shaking her, agreed when he wanted to spit. For the few moments, when the flames burned blue and hot and true, before she scorched him, before she locked the igloo of her heart and plunged it deep where it was before, unknowable fathoms down, covered by the years and the tales.

Inside, the fire crackled still. She was asleep on the couch. Couldn't move after telling him. More crying and hateful justification. "You can stay tonight," she'd said. "But just tonight." He sat at the kitchen table, piece of charcoal in his hand, yellowed parchment in front of him. The way he saw her way back then, guileless smile, surprised, looking back over her shoulder, the eyes black on the page, like in the shadows, but he saw their deep blue anyway. She'd gave him that much. Once or twice. He brushed the charcoal over the page, filling it in, corner to corner. Softly at first, then harder, until the ragged edge of it tore at the paper. The veins in his arm leaped and he took the paper in his hands, relishing the crushing of it. She would have liked it. Fawned over it, the likeness, the art.

He tossed the paper into the fire and watched it burn. Saw it curl when the greedy flames attacked. He permitted himself one last look at her, happy that she didn't see the look on his face or know the twisting inside of him, kinked steel. He grabbed his keys and quietly slipped out the front door, not concerned with what he was leaving behind. It would vanish like the smoke coming from the chimney. He wished the same for himself.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


"I think fiction writers tend to be mullers and grudge-holders and slow-burners and people who go over the same incident over and over again wondering what went wrong."
--Michael Chabon

I'm currently reading Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union and to call it brilliant is not near enough. I've mentioned this before about Chabon: Not only is he a joy to read, he also makes me want to write. I can offer no higher praise. And so it has been again.

He said the above in a 2007 interview, which I read yesterday. I do these kinds of things. I get involved in a book and somewhere in the middle go back and read the reviews.

What he says is absolutely true, of course. Regardless of whether I consider myself a real "writer," this is the process I go through, artistically. You need to know why your characters do what they do, right? So you dig in, dirt under the fingernails, and come at the situation from every angle until it makes sense. Or doesn't.

The problem in this is that I write from personal experience. So these events I describe have some basis, to varying degree, in my real life and while trying to gauge the whys and wherefores, I have to be careful not to pull my day-to-day down into that morass of relentless examination. Must make sure the creative time does not bleed into other areas, that when the writing's done, it's done, and not a looming cloud that blackens my mood. Because, let's face it, I don't write fun stuff. I'm more interested in the shadowy corners than I am in high noon.

And you can't live a healthy life in those corners.

"I don't have that ability, or the desire, to look around me and say, 'Here's how we live now.' I don't know how we live now--and I won't know until we don't live that way anymore."

Therein lies the problem. The present is too crowded. Too close, like pressing your face to another's; they become distorted in that nearness. Circumstances and the emotion of the moment obscure the long view, the big picture. That claustrophobia lends itself to thrashing about indiscriminately, without forethought or finishing purpose. Feeling trapped, so you can't get to the places you want to go.

I look back at what I wrote when X left and a lot of it is wrong. Abject, but wrong. The process, however, of getting all that shit out of my head and heart, was ultimately successful, not just in listing where change was needed and where focus must be trained, but in the stuff that didn't matter a whit out in the harsh light and seeing it for what it was. I was able to leave those superfluous issues to wither there.

The fact remains, it wasn't the spending of all that emotion that saved me. It was logically piecing together the whole sorry affair. Not WHY it happened, but WHAT happened. Once the puzzle was complete, once it made sense to my literal brain, I was free.

And now that I "don't live there anymore," I know what it was, see it with the surety of a detective.

Since, I've been trying, in fits and starts, to discover what my own motivation is for the rest of this life. What it is that I need.

"A mistake has been made; he is not where he belongs. Every so often, he feels his heart catch, like a kite on a telephone wire, on something that seems to promise him a place in the world or a means of getting there. An American car manufactured in his far-off boyhood, say, or a motorcycle that once belonged to the future King of England, or the face of a woman worthier than himself of being loved."
--"The Yiddish Policeman's Union

I've known all along, of course. Resisted my obvious purpose. Fear, stubbornness and weakness being the attending culprits. No surprise one is unhealthy with that trio ruling the roost.

It's not the places I've long wanted to go. That's not the focus. Rather, purpose depends on the shape I'm in when I get there.