Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sao Paulo

Today is my last post before Christmas, but today's story is not holiday-themed. Sorry. It is, however, one fantastic piece and incredibly emotional on multiple levels. But, in keeping with the season, I'll post it in green.
 
The author, Shane Cohn, is a writer from Ventura, California. He is also another musician in what appears to be (completely coincidentally) a trilogy of musicians-turned-fiction-writers lately. Perhaps there is a connection to be made there...  Anyway, I hope you can find ways to relate to this story the way I did. Or at the very least, enjoy it.

And since I will be taking some time off to eat lots of food and be with my family the next few days, let me wish you all a very happy holiday! For me, it's not Christmas until I hear some vintage Bruce singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," so I leave you with this. Please watch after reading, and to all a good night.
 

São Paulo
By Shane Cohn


The Reading
I'm still disastrously awake, sitting at the desk in Marcelo’s apartment. He gave me his place for the weekend because he had to help his brother on the ranch. The lights are off, and I am writing in the dark.  I peer out the window. A few heads milling around the churrasquinho

I wipe the sweat off my brow and rub it into my hair.  Maybe one more beer? I turn to fish one from the ice in the sink. The ice has melted. So has Camila in the bed. Camila. Camila. I like to say the name. I say it aloud this time, "Camila!" She wakes up briefly, annoyed, “Que isso, cara?”


I met her this evening at a poetry reading in a café on Rua Fradique Coutinho in Vila Madalena. She approached me shortly after I read and told me that my poetry was vile and it disgusted her. I told her I agreed; it reviled me too. She asked who my favorite author was. I told her Hemingway, she gagged and said it all figured now. I ordered us a round, and then several more.

We got drunk and walked the crowded Vila Madalena and through the neighboring, ethereal streets. We found some trashed spray cans and did our best to contribute to the graffiti walls. It felt cathartic to scuff something up like that, like I was doing it to myself.  We continued along until we reached the stairs for the Metro, then descended.

I took a seat beneath the Linha Verde and I told her I was taking it to Consolação, near to where I was staying, and suggested she join me for some beers. She obliged, and our hands joined. I pulled her close, she resisted slightly and the metro tracks began to rattle. As it roared into the station we tore into each other.


Now she sleeps in the bed, wrapped up in my sheets, in our sweat, and she would likely become another one of those poems she reviled. But I can’t find the words right now. Somebody out there loves Camila. Somebody out there may have loved Joel, too, which is why I can’t sleep. I wake up to night terrors about the Columbia Gorge.

The Rain

The Paulista night suddenly cracks lighting and the rain quickly follows, rinsing the salted churrasco smell from the air. Camila breathes softly, but my heart speeds up. I’m afraid if the rain falls any harder my chest will open spilling out immediate longings for America, for Portland, Oregon, for NE Portland, for the Falcon Apartments on Albina Street. The rain has been doing such a thing to me lately. It stirs me up, makes my head crazy enough to think I can go back. It tells me that everyone is having a good time. They have barbecues and picnics and happy hours. It says the school will welcome me back to my teaching job with open arms, the memories will suddenly be erased and . . . Fuck. 

Fuck! I know not to think about this. I may be on the lam, but I am living in Brazil! I have enough money to get something going out here. I travel the exotic. Everything will be OK. I am OK. Joel is dead. I didn't kill him though. That's just the way it's supposed to be. I wasn't that high. He was drunk— four times over the limit—and driving the Columbia Gorge! Can't put that on me. . . Fuck those assholes. No one is moving on or is having a good time; they're all crawling like spiders trying to scratch it out from day to day and—Stop! The lightning, the rain. São Paulo, my chest is thumping.  

I get up and back carefully away from the desk, crawl into bed and protectively pull the sheets up to my neck. I can feel the warmth coming from Camila. I slip not into sleep, but into that pixelated reverie that exists in the in-between.


The Coffee Grounds
Oi, Shane, bom dia. What are you doing? You alright, pertubado?” I snap back into waking life. Camila looks different in the morning light. Less crass and much more pleasant than I remember. “You were kicking, and mumbling and your eyes were kind of twitching. Tudo bem?”

“No, I am not tudo bem.”

Porque não? Fala, Shane. Speak. I’m going to make coffee.” She wraps a sheet around herself, moves to the kitchen and looks back at me motioning for me to speak.

“I was just remembering something. My travels.”

“Yeah, why did you come to Brazil? Has it been awful? Because you seem miserable.”

“It’s none of your business, really.”

A kitchen cabinet slams shut.

My phone beeps and it’s a message from Marcelo. He says to be downstairs in thirty minutes. He wants to take me to his brother’s place. I met Marcelo in a nearby café and he has been keen to taking me on wild excursions and giving me a place to stay as long as we can practice English.


“Camila,” I shout towards the kitchen. She walks around the corner holding some filters, and a bag of coffee in one hand, while holding the bed sheet in place as it hangs loosely off her body. I notice a few of the grounds have spilled on the back of her hand, and she isn't smiling.

“Listen, I just got a message that I need to be somewhere in half an hour. I’m no good at being around people intimately right now. I’m all fucked up. It might be easier if you just leave while I’m in the shower. It won’t be awkward that way. Besides,” and in a smart-ass way I tell her “‘if two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.’” That was Hemingway. She hates Hemingway. I feel like an asshole.

The Blade
I'm on the back of Marcelo's Kawasaki, and we're speeding through favelas. Kids shooting marbles. Men with hollowed out eyes. A woman breast feeding. Trash fires in the street. It must be 100 degrees out.

We cut up a small hill and race across a field towards the country, and now we're nearing what resembles a ranch. Chickens everywhere. Marcelo says we're here.

The heat is unforgiving. We're in a shed now with who I think is his brother. He holds a knife, but a machete is on the wall. On the ground there is some hay, there is some blood, and I'm guessing a killing stump. His brother exits the shed.

Marcelo rubs his hands together, says I'm going to love this. His brother returns with a whale of a chicken. It's going nuts, and it's getting loud, really loud and I hate this. I hear the wings hoping they will finally fly and the brother's feet shuffling for position through the hay. Marcelo yells "Ya!" as his brother becomes too large to be human. I can't feel anything.

The brother looks at me and smiles. He's missing teeth, and he’s holding the blade. Then, an electrifying roar as he slices through the chicken's neck. Marcelo whacks me on the back and looks to see how I like it. I look at him like I've suddenly gone deaf. I look at the scene again. The blood, the body, the madness, the universe. I see Joel. I see myself, Marcelo, and his brother. I see Camila. I see São Paulo and Portland. I see it all living on the killing floor in this shed. I see Joel one more time amidst the wreckage, through the cracked windshield, slung over the wheel. He vanishes into the deafening madness of the shed. The moment's exclamation flushes quickly to my face the way a new bruise pulses pain. I laugh or cough, can't really tell, but I'm ecstatic. My throat clears and I'm howling now, tears streaming, whooping it up with Marcelo.

The Note
I’m lying down on the bed in Marcelo’s apartment while he gathers a few things to head back to the ranch. Camila’s scent is still adrift. Then Marcelo shouts from the kitchen, “Did you have girl here last night, safado?”

“What?”

“There was note on top of the coffee machine.” I snatch it from his hand.


Dear Shane,” the note begins. “Forget your personal tragedy. We’re all bitched from the start. . . Beijos, Camila.” Her phone number followed. I trembled.

I pull out my cell, dial the number and my heart thumps. She answers.

“Hi,” then a brief, heavy silence. “That was Hemingway, wasn’t it?” I ask her.

She replies calmly. “Yes, just don’t go blowing your brains out, querido. How was your day? What took you so long?”



I linger over that last question for a moment. “I want to tell you all about it.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

School-bus, Grandmother, Pretty Little Terrorist

Welcome back from your final shopping/baking/mental preparation weekend before Christmas. It SNOWED in New York this weekend and even though the sun came out the next day, the entire city seemed to forget how to function (and drive.. even underground subway drivers, which was odd and annoying).

Speaking of driving (get ready for an awesome transition here), today's story is an excerpt of a novel called The School-bus, the Grandmother, and the Pretty Little Terrorist. The author, Michael Power, calls this "your basic love-conquers-all kind of story," and he breaks down the title like this (paraphrased): The main character is hit by a school-bus and loses his leg; he returns to Wyoming after ten years and reconnects with his parents and dying grandmother; and then he returns to New York and falls in love with an Afghan woman who is mistaken for a terrorist.

Michael Power is a fiction writer, songwriter, and musician living in New York City. His first novel, The Zoo, was published in March 2009 by Cacoethes Publishing House, and his short story, Kiss of Death, was published by Writer’s Eye magazine and won fourth place in the Fall 2008 Coffee House Fiction Contest. Find out more about Michael at www.michaelpowernyc.com.

The Schoolbus, The Grandmother, and the Pretty Little Terrorist
By Michael Power

“Fuck off Max” he yelled when the cat stepped on his testicles. Now he was up. There was a moment in each of Alan’s days when the tide of the ocean of dreams receded and left him stranded on the sticky hot sand of reality. On the good days that moment did not involve testicle stomping but this was not one of the good days.

He raised one arm and swung it down to build the momentum necessary to raise his carcass from the mattress. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and with a pained grunt he found himself balanced fairly evenly on his feet. With the one eye that was moist enough to be opened, he squinted at the calendar that hung from the nail above his waste basket. It was May the second and it was 2,008 years after the purported birth of Jesus Christ. Alan let the shower get steaming hot before he entered it and then slowly cooled it until his flesh felt the sting of wakefulness. In the back of his mind, however tired and muddled the morning found him, a thought asserted itself into his consciousness: before you shower again you may meet someone, fall in love (or something like it), and be presented with the opportunity to have sex.. A thorough shower could only aid in that effort. After his shower he put on aftershave, antiperspirant and cologne to mask his natural aromas. In this way too he might be able to slip past the guardians of virtue to try his luck in the games of chance played in other people’s beds.

In his bedroom there was one window that opened on a closed alley between buildings and another that faced south and the wall of another building. This building was shorter than his so he got a fairly good glimpse of a patch of clear blue sky above it. This was the only place in his apartment that looked out on the natural world. On top of one of the taller buildings a few blocks south of his there was a water tower and in the morning the sun’s light gleamed off its metal bands in a most pleasing way. In the evening it did the same thing on the other side and Alan closed his eyes for a long moment hoping that the sun was on the other side, that the worst part of the day was behind him, that he could drink beer and listen to music and watch the sun pull the shade of night across the sky westward as it went. When he opened his eyes it was still morning so he sighed heavily and headed down the hall, stopping at Kris’ door to listen for his breathing. Kris insisted that he didn’t snore but Alan listened to breathing that was more than breathing. It was an inhaling and expelling of the environment conducted with such violence that it sounded like he was challenging the air to fight back. When Alan was satisfied that Kris was home and asleep he continued to the kitchen and gave Max his daily ration.

Alan and Kris had been living together for almost ten years. Longer than a lot of marriages, they often remarked. It could have been an awkward situation but because of their similarities it seemed right that they were roommates. In 1997 Alan moved from Wyoming to New York City and answered an ad Kris had placed in The Village Voice: Roommate wanted.  2BR on W85 St.  Split everything 50/50.  Nobody too fucked up.  A little is OK.  Men only.” 

“Why only men?” Alan asked.

“In the ad?  You got something against fags?”

Alan could see the answer Kris wanted.  He liked that about Kris right off – very direct. No bullshit. And no tolerance for what he perceived as bigotry. His bigotry meter was obviously on a pretty sensitive setting.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Alan answered. “I was just wondering.”

“I just don’t think I could live with a woman unless we were lovers and I wouldn’t put an ad in the paper to get a lover. That would be so crass, don’t you think?” Alan nodded. “Besides, it would take all the sport out of it.”

Alan smiled, they clinked their glasses together and proceeded to drink themselves into such a stupor that when Alan woke up on Kris’s couch the next morning he had no memory at all of how he got there. He bought a bed that afternoon, the very same bed on which Max would soon be lying, cleaning the residue of breakfast from his whiskers and purring his way to a long day of napping in the patch of sun.

While his roommates enjoyed their domesticity, Alan quietly closed and locked the door on his way out and headed down the hall. Max yelled at him when he left. Max always yelled at him when he left. He could hear the cat's cries all the way down the hall to the elevator until they were drowned out by the blaring of Paul’s TV. Paul had been living in the building since before it went condo and Alan sometimes wondered if he’d been squatting there since before it was built. As he waited for the elevator he reflected on his neighbor.

Paul didn’t look good. The skin underneath his eyes was yellow and purple and perpetually moist. A milky discharge always flowed from his eyes or his nose, leaving behind a crusty yellow residue in the folds of his skin. He shaved erratically and hair always seemed to be sprouting from newer and stranger places on Paul’s head. He didn’t smell good, as if some small animal had entered one of his orifices and died there. He didn’t hear good, which is why the roar of his TV could always be heard in the hallway. Luckily for all concerned the building was constructed in the 1930s so the inside of each apartment was virtually soundproof.

Paul didn’t feel good either. His body was breaking apart and the thin reed holding it together was an insatiable lust that had infected his brain with the idea that if he could only stay alive long enough he might one day have sex again. Since he was convinced that Alan and Max were lovers he took a perverse pleasure in being as crude as possible when describing to Alan the unnatural acts he longed to perform on actresses, supermodels, newscasters and any woman unfortunate enough to slide into the quicksand of his consciousness. As the elevator descended Alan could hear Paul’s raspy laughter over a softly groaning female voice.

As soon as he pushed open the front door and left his building Alan began his daily tightrope walk to work.  In the ten years since he’d moved east from Wyoming he’d developed an uneasy intimacy with the city of New York. She was exciting. Not even her harshest critics would deny her that. She was deeply beautiful too – only those blinded by ignorance could deny that. She was smart and sophisticated of course, humorous in an earthy as well as a witty way and she was, more often than not, decent, honest and hardworking. But she had a dark side that she showed far too frequently. She could be profoundly cruel. She could kill an innocent child for absolutely no reason and go on with her day as if nothing had happened. She was the beating heart of the human race and the icy indifference of Mother Nature sewn up in five bulging boroughs. Alan wouldn’t turn his back on her and when he was on her streets he was always on guard. He plugged up his ears with tiny speakers that played songs he’d heard before many times and walked up Broadway toward the hole that led down to the subway.

Underground his fellow commuters were catching up on what passed for the news in post-civil right, post-human rights, post-free speech, post-free press, post-democracy, post-American America that had continued with its life while they slept. The fifteen or sixteen corpses that their tax dollars had purchased were not deemed important enough to make the covers of the New York Post and Daily News. It looked like Lindsey Lohan was back in rehab. Everywhere he looked he saw the same image of an intoxicated young woman in the back of a police car. He saw it every day. Sometimes it was Paris Hilton and sometimes it was Britney Spears but it was always the same sickening game of misdirection. Somewhere in the twenty-five or so purplish-gray feet of intestines that twisted from his stomach to his anus he felt a new kind of rumbling, like a small hole had been torn in the wet fleshy wall of his guts and air or blood was bubbling through. He leaned back against the door of the train and a bright white light filled his skull. He wasn’t sure for a few minutes if his legs were going to stay under him but they did, and just long enough for the train to arrive at his station and dump him out onto the platform.

Back above ground it was hot and windy – a beautiful spring morning. It was a small taste of the intense, debilitating heat that was soon to come but the suns rays were made more than welcome on his face by the memory of winter’s cold sting that still lingered in his bones. He put on his sunglasses and felt invisible. He could stare at people now with the comfort of knowing they couldn’t see his eyes. There were so many interesting people to look at, from little children going off to school to beautiful women appearing in the types of outfits he hadn’t seen since the last remotely hot day some time the previous September. Alan’s eyes lingered on an old couple, then a young guy jogging, then a tired-looking woman walking her dog. All through his commute – on the subway, at Times Square, and as he walked through Bryant Park – Alan’s eyes feasted on human flesh of every variety. If he was the outgoing type, which he wasn’t, he could’ve stopped any of them and joined them in enlightening conversations about their lives and interests. He wondered why it was that as soon as he got to work he’d be surrounded by people whose lives would bore him to tears. Literal tears.

Maybe his legs were getting tired of walking or maybe the wakefulness of the shower was wearing off but a feeling hit him every day at just about this point in his commute. He started to get angry, not just at the people he worked with but at the whole concept of work, and the closer he got to work the more intense the feeling grew. From Bryant Part to his office his body moved using only muscle memory. In the same way that a pianist’s fingers fall on the same keys each time they play a familiar melody, Alan’s legs carried him down the same streets, past the same deli where he got the same coffee and buttered roll for breakfast, past the same pizza joint where he got the same slice of pizza with extra cheese and mushrooms for lunch, to the same office where they’d been dragging him for these last ten years as if they had no idea that his brain had quit years ago.

This must be how people stumble into marriage, he thought, how people cling to beliefs they’ve outgrown, how people feel pain in amputated limbs. He remembered suddenly and vividly, as if it were happening right in front of him, watching his uncle cut the head off a chicken. Alan and his cousins had all laughed as the bird ran around in circles trying to avoid the fate that had already befallen it. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing, he thought as he put his key into the office lock – just waiting to fall down.

Friday, December 18, 2009

You've Got Mail

Last night, instead of being a functional human being, I watched You've Got Mail on cable and over-analyzed it. I've seen this post-Sleepless in Seattle gem several times and I usually think to myself how underrated it is. I haven't seen it in a few years, so perhaps my newly acquired publishing world knowledge has clouded my judgment. But let me just say - what the hell is up with the ending?

But first, a digression. I think it's funny (though so much in a ha-ha sense) that a movie about meeting people in a new, digital age is already completely dated. If you're still using AOL, you should probably re-think your life decisions, and if you're still going into chat rooms, then chances are they are not ones you'd want your spouse or children knowing about. Still, this outdated comment on technology is twenty times better than the slightly modernized take on internet dating, Must Love Dogs, which is just plain terrible.

Moving on.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are supposed to represent polar opposites. Big business gentrification vs. the local, independent underdog. However, the locally owned Meg gets her morning coffee at Starbucks while her typewriter-bound boyfriend chastises her for being dependent on modern technology. At the end of the movie [SPOILER ALERT], her beloved family-inherited, neighborhood favorite bookstore ends up closing. Barnes & Noble - er, I mean, "Fox Books" - wins again. But she finds love, so hey, everybody wins.

You see why I'm upset. Evil, impersonal chain stores still beat out the little guy and it's a happy ending. Now, I know why Ms. Ephron did it and it actually does make sense. But, if this movie was made now, still using and promoting modern technology the way it does, I think Meg Ryan would have a fightin' chance. That's right, you heard me, cynical literary world of the late '00s, I think the indie could win... or at least co-exist.

This is why I'm proposing (Nora Ephron, you out there?), You've Got Re-Tweeted, the inevitable sequel that is apparently only inevitable in my brain. Tom & Meg are still happily together, maybe even married, and are still fully embracing technology. Tom's publishing diva ex now owns an e-book company and Meg's anti-tech ex's head has exploded. Meanwhile, Meg, who's proven she's fine with selling out (see Starbucks comment above), re-opens her Shop Around the Corner, cancels AOL, and uses her Twitter account/blog/Facebook fan page to gain more publicity for her store than that stupid Fox Books ever dreamed of. Independents win in the end! (Winning means "not technically losing," right?)

If this gets made, I demand royalties. Or a chance to play the token sassy, brunette friend.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Green Disease

Your two-for-the-price-of-one week continues with an excerpt from a work-in-progress called Green Disease. The author, Sam Famolaro, is a musician and writer, currently studying history at Hunter College. He has a very fun "stream of consciousness" blog where he promotes his writings and current music project, The Informers. Go check it out at www.jwilkesblog.blogspot.com.

The excerpt you are about to read is written in the voice of one of five characters who tell the story of their crumbling hometown and their attempts to find an escape. Also, Sam assures me that the lowercase letters and questionable punctuation is on purpose. So even though it kills me not to correct it, I hope you all enjoy his story!


Green Disease
By Sam Famolaro

benjamin rooney: 
it's snowing really hard outside, but i just can't sit in my room anymore. It's 9:30 at night and I'm starting to go stir crazy from looking at the walls. every wall in my room, including the ceiling, is the same color. a thick, bloody red. not fresh blood though, more of like an "old blood that's been drying on your knuckles for the last three days" kinda red. i didn't paint them that color, that's what they were when i moved in. it makes me a little bit suspicious of the people who lived here before me. regardless, it's giving me a headache.

i can't take it anymore so i get up and grab my coat. i shove my iPod into my pocket and lace the ear buds through my shirt and around the back of my neck so that it doesn't look like I'm wearing them. i pirated the entire Bad Religion discography last night, even though i only like about fifteen songs total. i just felt stupid downloading it all and not keeping it, so i stayed up until 5:30 in the morning categorizing it and adding different artwork for all the albums. I'm gonna have to listen to it at least for a few weeks so that i can justify downloading it. I lock the door as i head out, check for my wallet and my phone. I make it about three-quarters of the way to my car before realizing i left that pack of Camels i stole from my dad on the kitchen table. i go back inside, kick off my Nikes and put my Chucks back on. i know it's a bad decision, but they look better with my outfit, and currently fashion is outweighing function for me. i grab my cigarettes off the table and leave again.

i've already lit it up by the time i get to my car and throw my computer bag in the backseat. I've gone through four separate automobiles in the seven or so years that i've been a licensed driver. not my fault. not all my fault at least. currently, i'm driving a 91' Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera which a select group of my friends have come to refer to as "the De Niro." No joke, it's retro as fuck. serious bench seats in this mother fucker. despite the fact that it makes me feel like i'm in my grandpa's car whenever i drive it, it serves every need that i have. the stereo sounds decent. it gets me to work, plus it's so old that unlike new cars, it's still made out of all-steel and metal parts. the downside is that it's balls-out cold inside of it, even with the heat cranked up. the upside is that it's really heavy, so it doesn't get stuck in the snow very much. when you live upstate New York, it's vital to know your cars capabilities in the snow, because you're gonna get a lot of it and our world doesn't stop for snow. maybe down in the city, or farther down the coast they do, but upstate, it's just a way of life.

i start my car, then get back out to brush the snow off. it really is starting to come down now. when you see snow all the time you begin to only think about how much you can't stand it, but tonight i think it's going to be a nice backdrop. i throw out my cigarette in the snow bank and get back into the car. i plug my iPod in and put on Armed Forces. I light up another cigarette as i pull out of the driveway.

i get to Andrews' and, low and behold, he never rolled up the blunt or even broke up the weed like he said he was going to. typical actually, Andrew is mind-blowingly unreliable when it comes to shit like that. honestly though, i'm not surprised and since his parents are out of town, it really doesn't make all that much of a difference.  we sit on the sofa in his living room and Andrew turns on Sportscenter. it's the end of fuckin' winter and football is long since finished its season, yet somehow, all they can come up with to talk about is how keen they think the Pittsburgh Steelers are. Andrew flips around the stations as i break up the weed on the table. most of the time, when you're breaking up nuggets, you can tell instantly if you have quality or trash and this is quite obviously trash. it's dry and it smells like piss. my buddy Brownie used to sell me amazing stuff every single day, but ever since he packed up and moved to Tennessee (what a black drug-dealing hipster is gonna do in Tennessee, i'll never know) i can't seem to find a regular connect for decent chronic.

"hey Andrew, where did you get this shit?"

Andrew puts on MSNBC. I got it from Uncle Jack's house, Why?"

i should have known. Uncle Jack has been slinging garbage weed for almost fifteen years now. old fuck never even leaves his house. kids just roll up all day and visit. Jack has built himself quite the cottage industry actually. You can get weed, phillies, wraps, and even single cigarettes for below market value. it's like a one-stop shop for deviance. i smell my fingers. they smell like pesticide; a telltale sign that this is from the Uncle Jack's. it also means i can look forward to a shitty high and a bad headache, in no particular order.

rolling a blunt is like an alternate universe art form to people like us. i don't mean that in an obtuse sense, we don't do any of that dumb "let's make a giant blunt outta three phillies" kinda shit. i guess it's more like an arts and crafts project. you take your time, making sure that it's not too tight, but not loose enough that you start sucking weed into the back of your throat. Andrew stares at the TV.

"I'm not trying to sit outside and smoke," i tell him. "let's take a high ride"

Andrew looks at me and his face puckers up. "I don't wanna drive, it's awful out"

I stare at him disapprovingly. sometimes i feel like Andrew would be perfectly content to sit home on the couch forever and that's a bold statement from someone who spends as much time on the couch as i do.

"Come on dude, it's freezing and snowing. At least in the car we can turn the heat on."

"We can turn the space heater on in the garage," Andrew replied.

"That space heater is a piece of shit; we'll end up burning the garage down."

"i don't wanna drive" Andrew replied with a greater sense of finality. "I hate driving in the snow. If you wanna drive i'll go with you, but there is no way that i'm going to drive anywhere"

"That's fine" i reply. I'm secretly excited that he said that because i just finally downloaded the remastered version of Brighten the Corners with all the extra tracks and i was begging for an excuse to listen to it all day. i always like to be the one driving on a high ride so i can control what we listen to.

I feel like sometimes my entire life is affected by what songs show up on my iPod playlist; a slave to compressed media files. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m not in control of my life, like I’m living my life in the confines of some imaginary pseudo-hipster/indie kid image I’ve knowingly cultivated for myself. I am constantly waiting for some kind of judgment to be passed by people who I’ve never met, as if the only thing other people on the street or in their cars care about is to find out “what Ben Rooney is listening to today."

I pick up the finished blunt and hold it between my thumb and forefinger. I run the flame from my lighter up and down the length until all the saliva dries off and then I sit back and wait for The Rachel Maddow Show to go to a commercial break so I can attempt to convince Andrew to get off the couch. from the way he’s sitting now, with one sock on and his legs over the back of the sofa, the prospects are grim.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Red Convertable

Things are wild and crazy today in my attempt to publish twice the number of stories per week until the end of the year. That's right - a Monday publication. Today's is shorter piece, but pay attention to how the simple writing style slowly reveals something larger and much darker than expected.

The author, Steven Finkelstein, has written three novels, a screenplay, a comic book series, and many short stories, essays, and poems. His work has been featured in Farmhouse, Freight Train, Expressions Journal, Kaleidoscopic Resonance, Perceptions, Oysters and Chocolate, Three Pillows, Bare Back, in the anthology Patchwork Path, and most recently in the U.K. publication Scarlet. After reading his story, The Red Convertible, below, please go check out his website, www.stevenfinkelstein.com.

The Red Convertible
By Steven Finkelstein

Buzz had very few memories of his father, an insurance salesman, who had left him and his mother when Buzz was very young. His recollections were of a square jawed, smiling giant who would arrive home after days on the road to scoop Buzz up and place him on one of his broad shoulders, gripping his knee with one huge paw to keep him from falling, parading him around the driveway. Buzz would shriek with laughter as his mother stood in the doorway looking on, her arms folded across her chest. And as vividly as this, Buzz remembered his father’s car, a 1952 Cherry Red Cadillac Convertible, his pride and joy. 


Buzz had grown up when interest in the space program was reaching its height, and he loved to sit in the car and pretend it was a spaceship, what with its size, its sleek tail fins, and its chrome grille that was always shined to a high gloss. When his father had driven out of Buzz and his mother’s life forever, the last the boy had seen of him was the receding taillights of the red Caddy.
 

Buzz passed through his teenage years, growing to man’s stature. He was reckless and often in trouble, and his mother was only too glad to usher him out of her house for good when it became legal for her to do so. Buzz eventually managed to put himself through a small community college, majoring in business, and after trying a few career paths he ended up becoming an insurance salesman. The insurance game had changed since his father’s time, and the days of salespeople traveling from town to town peddling policies were long since over. Now it was all done over the phone, and Buzz discovered that he had a great aptitude for it. He excelled at convincing people that he had their best interest at heart, and although he was successful at his job, there were many other aspects of his life that were lacking. He felt a general feeling of being unfulfilled, and there was little that brought him any real joy.
 

One night he was walking home from work, and he happened to pass by a tiny hobby shop he’d never noticed before. In one of the windows there was something that was so arresting that he simply stood on the sidewalk, transfixed, unable to tear his eyes off it. It was the box for a model car, and the picture on it was of a 1952 Cherry Red Cadillac Convertible, the identical car that his father had owned. 

He rushed inside, but when he approached the counter, he found a man ahead of him who was just then requesting for the same model Caddy to be taken from the window. Buzz spoke to the man urgently as he made his purchase, attempting to explain his position, but the man would not sell. He was adamant, for as he explained, the model was for his son, to complete his collection, and this particular model was very rare and difficult to find. Buzz followed him outside and up the street, using all of his finely honed persuasive abilities, but the man would not budge. Finally Buzz, becoming angry at the man’s obstinacy, pushed him into an alley and threw him against a wall. In his anger he’d been much rougher than he’d intended, and the man struck his head very hard. Still, when he sunk to the ground, Buzz had no qualms about grabbing the desired piece of memorabilia and fleeing the scene. 

It was only several blocks further on, when Buzz had torn off the wrapping and thrown aside the box, that he got a look at his treasure and was dismayed to discover that contrary to its depiction on the box, the convertible inside was not Cherry Red after all, but Burnt Sienna.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Laundry Shoes

Happy Rainy/Snowy Wednesday everyone! Less than three weeks until Christmas, and even though today's story isn't about the holidays, it is about giving a gift. I'm unsettled at the end of this story, as I think I'm supposed to. Try to read it keeping the boy's actions vs. intentions in mind, and what happens because of them. The author, Judy Mayhew, is a writer living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She currently belongs to two writer's groups and is working on a novel. 
 
Laundry Shoes
By Judy Mayhew
 
The boy waited until his mother carried her basket of wet laundry onto the back porch of their double-wide trailer. He could see her from her bedroom window, worn jeans frayed at the cuffs, flip-flops revealing rough heels. Her arms held high, a clothespin in her mouth. The cool breeze filled her first sail and she bent to its mate.
 
He pulled her dresser drawer open, inch by inch, and felt for the stack of bills, folded and double circled with a rubber band. The band stretched until it snapped off and landed on top of a pile of cotton underpants. Two hundred and twenty dollars, the same as yesterday. He peeled five twenties from the top of the bundle and tucked them into his back pocket, glanced out the window and saw her peg a pillowcase to the line, open side up, one peg on each side. The packet of bills felt slightly thinner between his thumb and first finger as he wound the band twice around.

The drawer slid home without a sound and he tiptoed down the hall, opened the back door and watched as she swung the line out as far as it would go. The first sheet caught on the wisteria growing up the anchor pole and she tugged the line to extricate it. The sheet caught the wind and billowed free. Tucking the empty basket under one arm, she turned to the door. A smile lit her face and she held out her free arm to touch the boy’s shoulder.

“Hi, honey. What are you doing this morning?”

The boy shrugged. “Just going to the mall, I guess. I need batteries for my iPod.”

“Can you pick up a couple of D-size for the flashlight?” She set the basket on top of the washer and ruffled his hair.

He nodded and pulled away from her.

“Do you need any money?”

“No,” he said, gazing at the newly applied red polish on her toenails.

“Be back by noon. Grilled cheese for lunch.”

The wide corridor echoed with the click, clack of high heels as a store clerk hurried by carrying a cardboard try of lattes. He wandered slowly, stopping at every window. Cheap jewelery, books, CDs. The twenties warm in his pocket, he stopped at the window of a shoe store. A pair of red high heels with open toes and an ankle strap of rhinestones caught his eye and he entered the store. He hadn’t seen her in high heels since his stepfather left.

A bored young clerk, hands in the front pockets of her tight cords, approached him.

“You want those?” she asked.

He nodded.

“What size?”

“I think 6.”

“Just a sec,” she said, snapping her gum.

The black curtains at the back of the store parted as she pushed through. The boy sat down on the narrow wooden bench. The girl returned and placed the box beside him and he lifted the lid. Nestled together in white tissue paper, the shoes lay like jewels. He reached in and ran his finger under the rhinestone straps, diamond bracelets for her ankles.

The girl checked her watch and stifled a yawn.

He breathed in the smell of leather, cardboard and the warm sweat at the girl’s waist and placed the lid on the box.

“How much?” he asked.

He girl pointed to the sticker on the end of the box.

“89.95,” she said. “Plus tax.”

“Okay. I’ll take them.”

The girl shrugged and headed for the till.

When he reached his driveway, he saw his mother in the open doorway talking to the widower who lived in the big house in town next door to the pharmacy. The man passed a black garbage bag through the doorway and she smiled and held out her hand. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.

The boy crouched behind his mother’s rusted Nissan as the man sauntered down the walk and climbed into his Mercedes. His mother pushed the door closed with her hip, and the boy rounded the house, slipped in the back door and hurried to his room. He hid the box under his bed and stared at his worn running shoes.

At breakfast the next morning, he set the wrapped box beside his mother’s coffee mug. She set his cereal and toast on the table and eyed the box, running her hands down her hips.

“What’s this?” she cried.

The boy studied the raisins in his cereal.

“Happy Birthday, Mom,” he mumbled.

She sat down sideways on the chair, knees together and set the box on her lap.

“Oh, honey. Thanks for remembering. I didn’t expect anything.”

She pulled the ribbon off without untying the knot and slit the tape with her fingernail. With the coloured paper neatly folded beside her mug, she lifted the lid and pulled back the tissue. Her eyes widened as she lifted the left shoe by its rhinestone strap. She smiled and brought it close to her cheek, then paused and glanced across the table. Her eyes glassy, she lowered the shoe into the box and covered it with the crumpled tissue.

Clouds moved in from the north as she rubbed the top of the box with her palms and looked out the kitchen window.

“Thank you,” she murmured, and turned to look at her son.

Raisins, evenly spaced, circled his cereal bowl. The boy gazed out the window at the sheets hanging still in the damp air.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Editing Your Life

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector." - Ernest Hemingway

Since two of my favorite methods of relaxation are reorganizing my bookshelves and cleaning out my closet, it should come as no surprise that throwing away clutter fills me with a sense of accomplishment that, in turn, creates a very happy moment. I'm a "what's next?" person, I think. In high school, all I could think about was graduating. And in the years since graduating from college, I've never once had a "if only I could go back for just one day" moment. (To the town of Ithaca, maybe, but not to college.)

So, this morning, after a weekend away from Google Reader, I saw 1000+ unread stories and I deleted, without reading, about 980 of them. This made me feel good about myself. I can't explain why. But then I saw THIS pop up and immediately opened it. In case you have yet to click that link, I will just tell you that Boing Boing does, in fact, explain my elation over deletion. From the article: "The more I delete, the happier I am. It's about learning to say no — learning to refuse things that aren't contributing to my work or to my life." Sums up my philosophy nicely, if I were to call my obsession with neatness and simplicity a "philosophy."

Relating this to writing, since everything so often does, see the above quote by Hemingway. Now allow me to get slightly personal. In my final year and half in college, I became depressed over a very traumatic death in my family. I was fairly decent at hiding just how depressed I became because deep down I knew it was grief and not clinical depression, and grief eventually passes. Still. I took a writing seminar called Writing and Healing specifically to write about this event.

I'm not about to tell you a story where I was magically cured of my grief through the power of the written word, or anything like that. However, the class made me look at what I was going through in a different way - as a piece of literature. The same way we'd tell people in workshop, "This doesn't really work here," or "More of this, less of that," my professor and peer group used the same workshop slogans on my pieces. In a way, they were telling me "If it doesn't make for good writing, then stop worrying about it." Pretty harsh lesson for someone going through a rough time as it is, but it helped. The actual writing I produced was still terribly emotional and unedited, but the idea of keeping only what matters, whether in writing or in life, stayed with me.

How do you edit your lives? Cleaning? Drastic hair cuts? Defriending on Facebook? (Which I LOVE on a whole other therapeutic level that can be saved for another day.) Think of Hemingway next time you sit down to write. What absolutely must be there, and what is just, simply put, shit?

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Secret Lives of Titles

Remember when it seemed every single title (fiction and nonfiction) in the bookstore claimed to be "The Secret Life of" something? Or when we were forced to hear about daughters of Gravediggers and Memory Keepers and Heretics and Calligraphers and so on and so on?

Working in publishing, I see a lot of similarities among titles just here at the office. Preparing our rights guides for the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, I noticed the children's and YA titles usually told some kind of story involving The [noun or verb] Of The [noun]. Who decides on these trends anyway? What makes one type of title catch on over another?

In late summer/early fall of this year, it seemed magicians were staking their claim as the next cool title accessory with the release of The Magicians by Lev Grossman and The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. I admit that the word "magician" does make a book sound more appealing, but I'm still hoping this trend doesn't catch on. Trends in general put me off because I am the type of person who will say something like, "If I see one more novel claiming to The [scandalous career or quirky subject matter] Diaries, I'll scream!" Hence, I will not buy the book based on something resembling a principle.

What would you like to see become a trend? Or, what title do you think will start a trend, whether we like it or not? For 2010, I'm making the prediction that Sarah Palin's Going Rogue will begin a Going [blank] craze for a while. It's already spawned the parody, Going Rouge, and if 2008-2009 has taught us anything, it's these two things: 1) Publishing houses will cling to anything in order to survive, and 2) Sarah Palin cannot be stopped.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Boots

At last! It's story time again. The best word I can think of for today's piece is "confrontation," and I'm curious to see your opinions are on this.

The author, Stephen Baily, works the copy desk of a newspaper by day, but is a published writer by night. His poems have appeared on contemporaryrhyme.com and barefootmuse.com. He is also a playwright, having had staged public readings of two of his plays in Manhattan, and a third play nationally broadcast on the Public Radio Satellite System by Shoestring Radio Theatre in San Francisco. Here is his story, "Boots."

Boots
By Stephen Baily


Aldovici, John, was about to take off his left boot—the right one was already lying on the concrete at his feet—when a briefcase was put down on the bench alongside him.

We called them engineer's boots. Black, thick-soled and cinched at the instep with a buckle, in those days they were available to fashion-minded apprentices in a dubious branch of engineering only at select military-surplus stores. The briefcase was of a caramel-colored leather as yet unscuffed. Another sort of engineer might have found it useful for his purposes. Between two rows of lockers in the basement of Amerigo Vespucci Junior High School, the bench ran the length of an aisle in which a couple of dozen boys were changing from classroom attire into gym shorts and sneakers.

“You doing,” muttered Hervish, Barry, to whom the briefcase belonged.

That's right, don't answer, you son of a bitch. In the charm school of the streets it's axiomatic that greetings are never returned if their intent is propitiatory. Because it's also axiomatic that a snub is resented only in inverse ratio to the size of the snubber, Hervish became suddenly very interested in the dial of his combination lock. The lock had accompanied him through his academic career for so long he could have negotiated its intricacies blindfolded—and yet, in the spotlight of Aldovici's stare, his fingers stiffened like shy performers, overshooting the last number and making it necessary for him in intensifying anxiety to run through the sequence again. Twice around to the right and on to twelve. A full turn back to the left and on to two. A final quarter-turn back to the right to thirty-six. Success! He'd gripped the handle of the locker and was pulling the door open when a foot, still in a boot, kicked the door shut again with such violence that every head in the aisle snapped around, as at the report of a gun.

“I don't understand,” Hervish said, amid the subsiding echoes.

This was true but misleading. What baffled him wasn't the situation, which was self-explanatory, but his response to it—a wild surge of fear that, denied any other outlet, like some small crazed animal burrowed into his groin and began scrabbling for issue there.

Aldovici, busy with his boot again, remained silent.

The work proved difficult, so that, like a victim of constipation at stool, he grunted, clutching his shin with one hand and the boot with the other. The heel of the boot was caked with mud picked up at the site of the expressway under construction nearby. A footbridge had yet to be thrown over the roadbed for the convenience of students obliged to cross it. In consequence, traces of mud were also observable on Hervish's brown oxfords.

“No,” Aldovici said, without looking up, when Hervish reached for the handle again.

Bootless at last, in his stocking feet Aldovici rose. Though he turned out, when upright, to be shorter than Hervish, he was very nearly twice as wide. Freeing the end of his garrison belt from the loop that restrained it, he jerked the belt to the left till its big buckle unclasped. The black leather of the belt was studded with rivets of the same copper color as the zipper he now proceeded to draw down. Pinning to the floor with his right big toe the hem of his left jeans' leg, he extricated his left foot from the jeans, then used its heel to pin to the floor the hem of his right jeans' leg while he extricated his right foot. The gym shorts under his jeans were distinctly grimy. So was the white T-shirt under the turtleneck he pulled off over his head, to the detriment of his duck-tail. He was tying the laces of a beat-up pair of ankle-high handball sneakers with vulcanized toes when a bell rang with a clangor that made everyone wince. Reluctantly, the other boys in the aisle began filing out of it. As they turned the corner, they all looked back over their shoulders and grinned. Having stowed his boots away and shut his locker, Aldovici sauntered out after them, carelessly stuffing his T-shirt into the waistband of his shorts.