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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fiction For The Revolution


As a kid I spent three quarters of my time on restriction.  My mother came home from work and rested her tired hand on the television to see if it was warm from me watching it.  But I had given up on sneaking in television time.  I had found books.  Books that was much dirtier and meaner than television.
When I reached my late teens and early twenties I got hooked up with a group of writers and we started talking about the books that shaped us as humans, and I was appalled by their recommendations.  I had read those books, but found them very over rated and outdated.  On the Road by Jack Kerouac was a terrible piece of writing along with all of Kerouac's other books.  Catcher in the Rye inspired not even a twitch in me.  Sometimes when I see the name of a bad writer like Saul Bellow in a great writers list I gag.
I understand I am eccentric to most people, so my recommendations of dead Russians and liver wasted fools fall on deaf ears.  But there are great books out there.  Books that are so rowdy they pick up their own pitchfork.  In a world were books multiply faster than bacteria I fear the next generations will be lost with the Harry Potters and the Sookie Stackhouses.  I fear the books that fuel the angsty rebellion are falling by the wayside.  Here are a few bruisers that I plan to give to my kid, and I welcome everyone to suggest more.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
This book may not get the fire started, but it does put the reader into a thinking state.  After years of having religion shoved down your throat, this book explains why Jesus said that you can't become a messiah in your hometown.  The half man part of Jesus bumbles around through his missing years trying to find himself.  Moore pulls in a good portion of the Gnostic Gospels along with his own interesting connectors.  If you're not laughing then you're not reading it right.

Eat the Document by Dana Spiota
Flipping around between two old lovers, Eat the Document gives us a look at radicals decades in hiding for the crimes of their youth.  They are different people now, and their ideals aren't what they used to be. 

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
Tender Branson is the last of his religious cult/ pyramid scheme.  He is barreling toward the ocean near Australia and hopefully he will get his story finished before the plane goes down.  This is the best Palahniuk book ever written.  It makes you want to mock life and spit on it.  Tender Branson has been told what to do his entire life and don't know how to think for himself.  In fact Survivor shows all readers how they never really think for themselves.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
Henry Chinaski (Bukowski's pseudonym) grows up in depression era California riddled with boils and an asshole for a father.  He finds his way through drinking and fighting.  This book is a must for any boy.

What books would you add?


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Take a Punch, Literary


I wish I could tell you I got drunk and yelled at the customers.  I wish I could say I kissed the hostess and knocked over a few chairs as I walked out.  But that would be another story, a story were I wasn't so humiliated.
That night the audience clapped for the winner and I squeezed my huge crossed arms into my chest.  My nostrils flared out like fox ears and I would have burned them all alive like Jesus, as a child, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
I was robbed and humiliated in the worst way.  Every week this downtown bar & grill hosted a poetry competition.  Each Monday a cook from the kitchen would call us into a corner of the room they called a stage. 
The first week I was there on a whim.  A friend told me the B&G paid fifty bucks to the weekly winners, and she and I promptly drank the purse once it was placed into my hands.
I should have seen the signs that things were going to go bad on the night of the final competition.  By the time I found out about the contest half of the ten weeks was already over.  I won four of the competitions in a row, and on the last open round the bartender wiped off his bar with a dirty rag and told me I could not compete.  He shrugged.
"Sorry, that's what the manager told me."
So I showed up the night of the finals, where I was four of the ten winners, when the cook came out and called two of us into the corner.  Only one of the other winners showed.  She was one of those nasty Phish hippies with her hair bound up in dreads like matted dog hair.  I knew I was a chinch. 
When she took the stage her hands shook.  When she started reading her voice cracked and she could barely speak above a whisper.  I was planning on giving the final prize, two tickets to merlefest, to my parents for their anniversary.  Then I took the stage.
My delivery was perfect.  The boom in my voice carried to the back of the restaurant.  All the patrons stopped eating and watched as I delivered my sermon.  When it was over everyone clapped like it was their child on the stage.  The cook came back up.  He told the audience to applause for their favorite piece.  A mild applause broke out when he called my name.  Then it happened. All the dishwashers and staff came out of their hiding places and it sounded like a riot when the cook called up the hippie.  My jaw dropped at the injustice.  I knew none of these people could hear her poem because I could barely hear it when I stood behind her.
I walked out without the prize, but with one of the best lessons I have ever had as a writer.  Talent gets you nothing but a punch in the face from time to time.  If I were to show people my files of rejection slips as thick as volumes of A Remembrance of Things Past they would ask me why I still bother.  But I am a hard headed old fool.  You have to be if you're going to write fiction.  If you want to write great fiction you make the same mistakes over and over.
When people ask me about my writing I tell them I am the best writer they will ever know.  This statement may never be true, but maybe I am.  The reasons I say it is because when you learn to take a punch you learn how to throw a few back.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Quiet House



A heavy sigh whistled over Tammy’s lips. She closed the car door and stared up at the stillness of the stars. She knew Paul was in some dark corner waiting to pounce. His Camaro was parked under the pecan tree toward the back of the house. The high glossy shine smeared the reflection of the moon.
Tammy rubbed her bare arms and felt the snap of a late southern fall raise goosebumps. Leaves had fallen off the trees and left gaps big enough to pick out the little dipper between the branches. A red light on a radio tower blinked from the field in the distance. Trucks down on the main road grumbled enough to block out the silence.
She wasted a minute before walking up the steps. This night would a bad night, as bad as the worst of nights. The nights where he didn’t accept she was shopping with friends and she was too tired to deny it. She didn’t know why she dangled the Old Navy bags in his face anymore. Nothing less than being submerged in gasoline would have dulled the musty smell of other men.
Usually Paul yelled at her through the shower curtain. “What fucking Nigger was it tonight Tammy? Who will it be next; some nasty Mexicans?” He deflated when she turned on the hair dryer. The whir muffled out his rampage and caused him to cry in frustration. Each loud sob sounded like a hiccup, and his shoulders bounced as he pulled for air. Once he was gathered in her fleshy arms she would question if she slept with men he didn’t like to spite him, or if she slept with men he didn’t like because they were men. She rubbed his back until he stopped crying then his hand traveled into her robe.
Tonight she wanted to avoid this scene. She was tired and the cool sheets were calling out to her, alone. At this point she voted for a slap or some type of physical abuse over the crying and unwanted sex. The whole mess was embarrassing.
She placed her key in the lock and heard the deadbolt click in the door. When she pushed it open she dropped her bags off by the pile of shoes lined up along the wall. She wished he would just leave. There seemed to be no way to get rid of him. He wouldn't get a job or go out of the house long enough to be locked out. His mother wouldn't take him back and he had no friends to go to.
The hum of the furnace kicked on when Tammy sat on the couch. Calling out to him would be considered an invitation, so she waited. When the heater finished it’s cycle she began to worry. She stood and gained her strength with a clench of her fists. She turned to go through the dark hallway, and after a click of the bathroom switch Tammy saw the clump of the covers piled in the middle of the bed
The top of Paul's head peaked out of the blob. Tammy closed the bathroom door and unbuttoned her blouse. In the mirror spots of aggravated skin looked like bug bites at the top of her breast. Other beard burns trailed down to her hips. As she lowered her jeans the half circle of a deep crimson hickey peeked out at her panty line. Tammy leaned her head to the left and brushed her hair over her left shoulder.
She thought about how the sound of the water would wake him. She undressed while it warmed and stepped into steam that immediately relaxed her. After fifteen minutes he still hadn’t woke up and the joy that he may truly be asleep entered Tammy’s mind. Then the floor popped and she stopped moving. She squinted her eyes and turned her ear to the door. She stood still a while, waiting for another sound.
When she stepped onto the bath mat she didn’t bother with her robe. Tammy wrapped herself in a towel and crept into the bedroom balanced on the pads of her toes. The air chilled her body in the moist crevices the towel missed, and Paul lay in the same position as when she first went into the bathroom. The loud creek of the chest of drawers did not disturb him. She was surprised he was not snoring.
As she slid her foot through the hole of her panties she caught her toe on a hem and hopped back to the edge of the bed for support. She made a mental calculation of how much weight she had gained since being a prisoner in this relationship. Her clothing sizes inched up faster than dog years, and she thought she could change that pattern if she could get Paul out of the house.
The coolness of the fitted sheet felt comforting to Tammy. She wanted a little more of the bed to stretch out on, and more covers, but she didn’t want to be too greedy with her luck. She teetered at the edge of the mattress, laying straight as a board, with not enough room to bend her legs. Exhaustion itself wasn’t enough to push her into sleep. She nudged Paul with her arm to try and gain more room, but he didn’t move or twitch. She thought about it and realized she couldn’t hear the heavy breathing of sleep. Paul should be making some sound.
Tammy turned over to face the lump of bed sheets that cocooned Paul and almost fell into the floor. Pretending sleep, after getting situated, she kicked Paul, but wasn't sure which part. When he didn't move she kicked again hard enough to hurt her foot and he still didn't budge. Annoyed, Tammy shoved her hand between Paul and the covers to try and get more of the blanket to cover herself. When her fingers tracked a wet spot she rubbed it for a second until she realized Paul wet the bed. She sat up, and looked down at the mattress.
“Paul, wake up. Your short dick pissed all in the bed. Paul Goddammit wake up.”
Tammy's feet stomped the floor when she rose from the bed.
“Paul wake up. If I wanted piss all over the house I would have got a dog.”
She turned on the bedside lamp and waited for her eyes to adjust to the washed out colors. She had to tug and pull at the bed sheets to get them untucked from under Paul's body. He had rolled himself in into it like a sleeping bag. When his face was visible she could tell his color was off. Tammy touched his nose and he didn't twitch.
“Paul. Paul.” She poked his forehead. “Are you okay?”
His skin didn't have the white poke mark when she moved her finger away. It took a minute to find his pulse. His wrists were still around his hips, in the thickest part of the covers. The lower part of his body was encased in a floral blob from the comforter, and Paul's chest jutted out like the stamen in a withered plant.
Tammy stepped away from the bed and hugged her sides. She couldn't find a heart beat, and when she began to pace the dull amber pill bottle was visible on the floor. She crouched and picked it up by inserting the tip of her finger into the mouth of the canister. The prescription was in his mother's name; sixty Valium. A Mountain Dew bottle sat on his nightstand. The cap was screwed back on even though the bottle empty.
Tammy dropped the pill bottle back on the ground. If Paul was alive his pale appearance wasn't far from the pastiness of a corpse. Tammy wasn't sure how long a drug overdose took, but now it felt like she was running out of time. She retrieved her robe and her phone then paced in front of the bed. If she called an ambulance they might also send the cops. Paul wasn't very big but he was too big for Tammy to carry. Either way she would have to get dressed.
She was buttoning her jeans when Paul coughed. She situated the underwire of her ragged bra, and peeked around the corner of the closet door. Paul jerked to his side. He didn't look like he was rolling over, but instead resembled a boat floundering from too much water. He finally settled with his back arched across pillows. The back of his head and neck nestled in the space between the headboard and mattress.
When Paul puked it didn't project, but flowed out like an overfilled swimming pool. The smell tinged her nostrils, and made her spit thick. Tammy grabbed on to his arms to turn him back on his side. Before she could get one good jerk Paul coughed and splattered puke on his face, and her hand. The nasty wetness looked like thousand island dressing, and Tammy's first instinct was to rub it back on him.
Paul tried to cough again but the effect sounded like a groan. His Adam's apple swelled up at the bottom of his bloated neck. Tammy stopped herself. If Paul lived he would never leave. His weird patterns of verbal abuse then retreat would be continued forever. She stepped away from him when his body began to shiver. Tonight would be a long night in the hospital, and tomorrow, who knew?
She walked into the living room and slipped on her sandals. She continued to feel the shake of Paul's body, like a kid's jaw in cold temperatures. She grabbed her purse and Paul's Clemson hoodie.
“Hey. Jerrod.” Tammy whispered into her phone. “Can I come over?”
She left the door unlocked and walked to her car. Her ears felt full as if walking in high altitude. The buttons on her cell phone glowed on her face, and the inside of the scratchy hoodie rubbed her skin like a peeled blanket.
“I'll sleep on the couch, it's no big deal. I just need a place to crash.”
The seat belt light blinked on the dashboard.
“We can do what we did last night.” The base in his voice just sounded like a grumble.
“Okay. Will you give me a call tomorrow? I have to find some place to stay.”


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dalí Theatre-Museum

I was tired from the warm rocking of the train.  I stood at the station in Figueres waiting on my wife to come out of the bathroom and a short story idea was running through my head.  I was inspired.  I had walked the streets Jean Genet had walked when he wrote The Thief's Journal.  I knew at the top of the hill another treasure waited.

We got lost, asked for directions, and ended up at some small café.  But finally the eggs from the top of the building pointed toward the sky.
 . 





Kids hanging out during a field trip.  




Through the glass in the courtyard.




The tomb under the stage of the main gallery.



The close up artwork of tiles.  As you back away you can see the face of Abraham Lincoln.




The Mae West room viewed through the curved glass on the stairs.  Then viewed from the side of the room.




Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stories You Wouldn't Tell Your Mother Episode 5: Insurance Fraud


     Dirty Dick had the tips of his fingers taped up like some type of serial killer.  The steering wheel pressed against his palm and the masking tape that covered his flared out fingers formed bent cones like Bugles corn chips.  Glass from the busted window dug into my jeans and t shirt with every twist I made or bump the car went over.  The sun had barely been stolen on the other side of Easley before we took this car, and for two hours we had to drive around with the Saturday dinner traffic before it could be disposed of.
            “Now I’m going to have to use all of my money from this job to buy band-aids.  Remind me again why you had to break the window out since you had the key?”  I asked.
            “We had to make it look real.  You can’t say a car has been stolen if you see two guys walk up to it with a key, unlock it, and drive away.”  Dirty Dick said.
            “Couldn’t we have brought a towel, or he could have left the window down.  This glass is like sitting in a basket of chiggers.”
Officially, we had stolen the car.  A friend of Dirty Dicks couldn’t afford to make the payments on his overpriced Mustang, and if he sold it he would still be upside down on the loan.  His next logical step was to have someone steal it, destroy it, and let the insurance company work out the details.  It didn't think it was a bad plan since I got half of the thousand dollars he was willing to pay to be rid of the thing. 
The real problem was who shared the thousand dollars with me.  Dirty Dick’s eagerness was overshadowed by his lack of planning.  The Mustang man had barely been in Characters night club twenty minutes before Dick busted the driver's window with the claw end of a hammer.  The last rays of sunlight were still holding on to the tall buildings, and the parking lot was almost empty.  If we would have got to see the security tapes it would have shown two idiots in ski masks in the middle of July.
After that we had to ride around for a couple of hours.  Dirty Dick was all geared up for starting the destruction at nine o’clock.  I wasn’t comfortable with that since more people would be out and we were more than likely going to be seen if we set the car on fire this early in the night.
Dirty Dick tried to lay his arm in the busted window but the broken glass kept scratching him, and then he would put his hand back on the steering wheel.  It was dark enough to suit me at eleven, so we exited the highway on the lower side of Fountain Inn.  A few cars still passed us as we turned toward the small town, and we barreled down the road with the fumes of anticipation giving us a high. 
“I was thinking we could start us a very lucrative business doing this.”  Dirty Dick said.  He chewed on the filter of a cigarette.  The unlit tip bobbed up and down like an abandoned fishing rod caught on the hungriest fish. 
“I don’t know how we would advertise.  Can we put an ad in the IWANNA for insurance fraud?”
Dirty Dick zipped through town faster than I liked.  We blew through a yellow light before it was about to change then followed the crumbling road on up to Van Patten’s bridge.  Dirty Dick eased the car down the side of the bridge, on to the rocks, next to the Reedy River.  The water didn’t move fast enough to make a rushing sound.    Instead it was more like the tinkling of a toilet that leaked.  It was completely dark under the shadow of the bridge once the car’s interior light turned off.  Although I couldn’t see the water, I could see patches of moonlight were the water tried to wash it away.
Dirty Dick threw the butt of his finished cigarette in the back seat and flipped a flash light on underneath his chin.  His long thin fingers curled around the handle like a grapevine on a trellis.  His narrow face split the beam, and the discoloration of his teeth looked more like special effects than the rot it actually was. 
“So what do you want to do?  Do you want to spray paint it first, stab the tires, or pee on the seats?”
A car passed over the top of us.  The drone of the tires on the concrete of the bridge was as loud as a jet passing by.  I kept looking over my shoulder.  This place was popular for teenagers who wanted to drink beer and smoke pot.
“I want to get it over with, and get out of here.  If we get caught we will be in real trouble.”
“Okay, okay.”  He said.
He popped the trunk latch and jumped out of the car.  When I stepped out to the river's edge the soft ground sank an inch under the weight of my foot.  Dick threw the cap to the can of gas on the ground and started splashing the car liberally like it was oil on a salad.  I had to back up to make sure none of it hit me.  I stepped away and fired up a cigarette but I was still close enough to smell the fumes.    On the trunk lid he shook out the last drops of the gallon and threw the empty can into the grass. 
I wasn't really thinking when I did it.  I flicked the butt of my smoke toward the car and the flames reared up from the ground like summoned demons.
"What the hell are you doing?  The key is still in there."  Dirty Dick said.
The flames from the hood tickled the canopy of live trees above us.  Ashes from burned leaves snowed into my hair and the ground, and the singed branches of the tree sizzled as the moisture burned out of it.  Dick ducked into the driver's door and reached for the key.  The flames covered the area and I could feel my skin tighten like it was sunburned. 
"Hot!  God dammit."
His armpit caught fire from reaching over the burning door and his hair singed away from his tank top.  He grabbed the key and rolled away from the car.  I tried to help him up but he lay there, rolling back and forth, like a clean dog in a pile of dung.  When he stood up he waved his hand in the air like he recognized someone.  I could see patches of the remaining curled hairs and the blush of burned skin.  He wasn't burned bad, but a red blotch welted up from his rib cage to just below his elbow.  He danced a minute in the fire light before one of the tires exploded and I ducked to the ground.
"Let's get out of here."  Dick yelled
We ran up the embankment toward the church parking lot where we had Dirty Dick's car stashed.  I got winded and prayed to fate that no cars would pass us fleeing from the scene.  Dick was faster than me.  He made it to his car a good minute before I walked up and he stood jerking on the door handle of his Camaro.
"I left my keys in the other car.  Why in the hell did you light the damn thing?  I had some new CDs in there still."  Dick said.
"You don't have a spare any where?  In your wallet?  Who takes their keys out of their pockets in a stolen car?"
The black smoke billowed into the sky.  It formed a black cloud over us and blocked out the stars.  Dirty Dick tugged on the door handle a few more times and I watched as the bridge disappeared.
"We have got to go back and get'em."  Dirty Dick said. 
"We don't have time.  Someone's going to call the fire department or the cops."
"Well, we can wait here for them to arrive or we can figure out something."
A set of headlights was dulled by the smoke.  The car slowly drove over the bridge, toward us, when Dick and I ran to the bushes.  I laid flat on the ground and tried to get myself as low as possible.  Dick took a knee in the bushes and wedged his bony body into the thickest part of the shrubs.
I raised my head after they passed.  The car was going slow and I heard the engine idle as they drove by, and then it sped off after they had a good look at the car parked at the church.  I felt something wiggle on my face.  I wasn't sure if it was a bug or stray hair, but I slapped at my face trying to get it away from me.
"We've got to figure out something man.  We got to get out of here."  I said.
"I might have a key in the glove box."  Dirty Dick said.
He didn't tell me his plan again.  I picked myself up and brushed my clothes off with my hands.  Dick picked up a small rock and walked back to the car.  I heard the window crack when he hit it, and the sound of the pellets hitting the parking lot was like quarters dropping from a change machine. 
After Dick walked over to the driver's seat I jogged back to the car.  The engine revved up when it started and, again, I sat in a pile of glass.  When we drove through the cloud I could taste the thick smoke.  It was chalky with a strong dose of sulfur.  The headlights were useless until we got to the other side.  Dirty Dick rolled down his window and held his right hand against the roof to let the cool air blow over his burn.  The tape that rose above the tips of his fingers had charred black and flaked off.
"My burned up CDs are coming out of you half."  He said as the fire trucks screamed toward us.