Saturday, May 30, 2009

From A Mountain Top


I had a mind to write a poem this morning. I found a photo of Corrine that I like. In it she's posing, wide-eyed, broad-smile, a little bit of mischief there.

I was hit with a lightening bolt of inspiration, I suppose. But then, when it came down to it, I found the words wanting. The language left me. And so much as it always does, inspiration evaporated.

It was to be something about my feelings for Corrine, of course. I am unashamedly and unabashedly, sickly-sweetly in love with her. I make no apologies about wearing my feelings for her on my sleeve. And lapel. And chest, arms, legs.

Which is peculiar, considering how these types of public displays used to be so stomach-churning for me. To hear someone talk about another with passion was embarrassing. There was a sort of desperation in it, like they were trying just a little too hard to justify the love, and therefore perhaps it was their way of projecting. That the reality of their relationship was quite the opposite of what was being said.

The truth is, I was inwardly jealous of that level of exorbitant love. I scoffed outwardly. I told myself that no one could realistically feel that much about a person without shining it on just a little.

Just as men are not to cry in public, there was this unwritten rule about romantic utterances.

I don't believe that anymore. It was an attitude I adopted somewhere in my early 20s and deepened every year until it was just part of my mental fabric. Love, but love quietly. Together, alone, but not in front of people.

My poem this morning was to be about my emergence out of this.

How a single person can affect you in such a way that it shakes up your foundation. Tears down walls, perceptions, breaks through and sheds light. Forgotten light.

I'm no poet though, as much as I'd like to be. Those fellows can say in 15 words what it takes 1,000 for me. The good poets can capture the feeling like a photographer freezes a moment, yet seem to speak volumes.

I'm a novelist. Therefore, I MUST speak in volumes and hope that somewhere in the rambling bramble of my thoughts one can spot my MESSAGE.

Which is simple: I love Corrine.

For lots of reasons. Some I've said here in my blog, many I have not. But probably the biggest reason of all is for teaching me that love should be exclaimed often, and loudly, vociferously, without apologies and certainly with passion and conviction.

Because if you feel it, but are afraid that people will hear you, then you shouldn't be allowed to feel it at all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Frag It

Friday Fragments?

Friday Fragments is an idea from Mrs. 4444 over at Half Past Kissin' Time. Check her out. A lot. She's cool.

Folks at 50

Mom and Dad will be celebrating their 50th on June 13. Corrine and I, along with my three other siblings, have been working on preparations for it since February.

It's going to be a fun time. We decided to have it on the coast, and to serve lobsters and steamers, my folks' favorite Maine dish. We're having a singer perform three of their favorite songs, including Etta James' "At Last".

This is the front of the invitation I designed. I can't believe they've been married 50 years. Who does that? They should get a Presidential Medal, not just a lobster dinner.

Never Too Late

The play I am directing, "Never Too Late" is coming into the home stretch. The actors are close to getting their lines straight, costumes are taking shape, the set is all but finished.

The play is about a couple in their late 50s who find out the wife is pregnant. They already have a daughter, who is 23 and lives with them with her husband.

It's a farce and it's hilarious.

I'm having a great time directing and I'm positive it'll bring in a full house.

Purple Goes POD

I made a decision yesterday that was not all that easy.

I published my first novel, Surfacing, using a process called publish on demand. It's sort of like self-publishing, in that you don't go through a traditional publishing house (like Bantam or Random House.)

With POD, you do all the hard work like, you know, the writing, then you contract with a publisher who acts as your intermediary. Whenever someone orders your book online, or through a bookstore, the order is placed with the publisher and just that copy is printed. As opposed to traditional publishing, which prints a certain number of books and distributes them to bookstores in select areas.

Here's the rub. Literary snobs will tell you that if you go POD, you're not a "legit" writer, because it's "too easy." Any schmo can get something half-assed printed and call it a novel.

The problem with that argument is that I still do the writing. The toiling. Shedding blood sweat and tears. Not to mention the fact that I've some God-awful pieces of shit from traditional publishers.

Going POD means I get the book immediately and no paper is wasted. My books are on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, etc. It also can be order through any bookstore in the world.

The only reason I would go traditional is for the added "legitimacy" still attached to it. Reviewers, for example, will not review self-published or POD novels. At All. And a favorable review would be HUGE for sales.

Anyway.

I don't like snobs. I don't like conventional thinking most of the time. Therefore, Purple Holly, my second novel (and one of three fictional projects I'm currently working on) will be POD.

I will have to suck it up and work hard at getting the message out when it's published. I'll be in touch. I have an idea for getting you, dear reader, to help me.

:-)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food for the Fiction Monster

If you're anything like me, then I'm sorry for you.

But seriously, I have moments during most days in which I recall something from my past that is so utterly random and so detached from the present that it makes me stop in my tracks.

I chalk it up to my writer's mind trying to unearth bits of things that I might want to use in my fiction. God knows I can't do it while actually sitting down at my computer WRITING.

For example? Well, here are a few memories that came up in recent days, the ones I remember anyway. I've GOT to start carrying around a small notebook.

Chatty Cathy

- I worked as a night editor for a daily newspaper in Vermont. It's the last job in newspapers I ever had, actually. I would come to work at around 9 p.m. and work until 5 or 6 a.m., when the paper was beginning to be put together. My job was to edit the copy from the previous night's stories. Well, to keep awake, I made a fresh pot of atrocious sludge and drank it throughout the night. The taste killed me. The caffeine kept me employed.

Well, one morning, I was heading out when one of the copy editors waved me over to her computer. Copy editors tweaked the last stories. Spelling, grammar, that sort of thing. Nothing heavy. Never getting into the guts of the story to reshape it into something readable. This particular copy editor - I'll name her Cathy for the sake of privacy - was no shrinking violet. She told it like it was. To anyone. She had an opinion about everything and it was never flattering.

The thing that made it worse is that Cathy was in no position to criticize anyone about anything. She was a chain smoker, a bit frumpy in appearance, not well-read at all (of anything of substance beyond the tabloids), an admitted hater of men, and a fucking know-it-all. About EVERYTHING. I know you've met someone like her in your life. The type of person who just can't shut up and whose opinions are always vile and cutting.

Anyway, Chatty Cathy waved me over and I obliged. The morning copy editors were instructed to consult with me if they flagged something in a story beyond misspellings. So here I am thinking she's read something she doesn't understand and therefore must have me okay her corrections.

Nope.

I bent low, over her shoulder, peering at the story on her screen and she says, loudly, "Nobody wants to see your open fly."

I had everything I could do to refrain from shoving her forehead into the monitor. Instead, I straightened. And zipped up my fly. Right there next to her.

Slow like.

Sonny

- I was with my father the day he told my uncle, on my mother's side, that their brother had awoken from a coma and had smiled.

The back story first. My uncle Sonny, my mother's oldest sibling, had blown an aneurysm while going to the bathroom. They rushed him to the hospital and the prognosis was grim. He was not expected to live.

He was in a coma for over a week, the expectation being that he would never wake up. He was maybe not yet 50 years old and had two young children and a wife.

Everyone in the family visited him, that somber shuffle of people in an out of his hospital room who were there to give their last respects more than anything.

His youngest brother, my uncle Sheldon, was building a house from scratch. Ten days after the ambulance rushed Sonny to the hospital and the doctors had delivered their best-guesstimate for his lights-out, Uncle Shelly stood on the sub-floor of his unfinished house and was hoisting a beam into place when my dad and I arrived.

I remember this part most vividly. My uncle Shelly, in a sweat-stained t-shirt, stubble, worn-out from the combination of physical labor and emotional grief, his biceps straining against the pull of the huge beam, and my father stepping up onto the foundation.

"He opened his eyes and smiled at your mother," Dad said.

The beam fell to the floor and Uncle Shelly broke down in tears. My father embraced him. I looked out beyond the skeletal framing of the walls of his unfinished house, out into the trees, and I was angry at how awkward I felt.

The Coward

I'm pretty sure my college roommate was gay. My second college roommate, I should say.

I lived with Daryl my first semester, and he was a local. He lived on campus even though his parents were both professors at the college and therefore lived just a block from campus.

Daryl was not a nice person and the Yankee sensibility in me collided with his Texas-sized machismo on a regular basis. (pro-choice versus pro-life; women are partners versus women are housekeepers and child-rearers; black people are people versus black people are...you can guess what they were to Daryl.)

I say this not as an indictment of Texans. I actually fell in love with the people I met there. They were gracious, warm, and giving people. And I learned a lot from being near them.

Just as there are smart-mouthed assholes in New England, so there are in Texas.

Daryl was also vehemently anti-gay. The college I attended was a Christian university, so you can imagine his attitude toward certain "types" - gays, lesbians, liberals, Muslims, soccer players, anyone living east of the Mississippi, north of the Mason-Dixon; any football team outside of Dallas - were echoed throughout the campus. Even celebrated.

I stuck out like a sore lobster.

And boy did we have colossal arguments.

I mean, how could we not? He didn't even know who Steely Dan was for Christ Sake, and I absolutely refused to listen to Waylon Jennings.

But I regret to say, when it came to his stance against homosexuals, I failed.

Predictably, Daryl chose a new roommate for the second semester, a kid who lived across the hall from us and a fellow Texan named Jeffy. I'm not kidding you. His name was Jeffy.

Jeffy's roommate, Bob, was also a Texan, and was more or less ordered, by Daryl and Jeffy, to move his shit into my room. That's how I found out I had lost a capable sparring partner, and gained a new roommate.

Bob was quiet. Bob was a business major from San Saba who lived near Tommy Lee Jones. Bob was gay.

It was that obvious.

And while the subject was never broached between Bob and me, it didn't have to be. His effeminate leanings made me wonder, but I shook the thoughts off as an unfair, and cliched, prejudice. A book-by-his cover sort of self-admonition. The tearful calls home to his mother at night while I was "asleep" was what answered my question, however.

It's not like I got dressed in the bathroom stall from now on or feared some prison-shower kind of scenario being acted upon me when I least expected it. But I did feel fear, and that fear was realized.

Daryl and Jeffy, one morning, assaulted Bob with such a barrage of insults I felt like I was back on 4th-grade playground and kids who had just learned to swear were trying out every adjective.

Every homophobic epitaph ever uttered came from their mouths, and all because Bob had the audacity to ask Jeffy for his table back. The one they had used for their television when they were roommates and had been given to Bob by his mother as a college send-off.

Bob got his table back. In eight pieces.

I didn't say a thing to Daryl or Jeffy. I froze. I froze with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Of all the arguments I had had with Daryl about politics and sex and religion, I had lost my nerve when it really mattered.

To this day I hate remembering this. Of being a witness to a crime and doing nothing. I have never reconciled this with myself either. This fear that I am a big talker among big talkers, but when the battle ensues, that I become a coward's coward.

Bob finished the semester and we were never close and we never spoke about the incident. I left college and never found out what happened to him.

Friday, May 22, 2009

And the Winner Is....

Mrs. 4444!

Otherwise known as Half-Past Kissin' Time

She correctly identified the five quotes out of the 100 posts I've written, including one dating back to 2005!

Oh. Did I mention I had a contest yesterday to celebrate my 100th post?

Well, I did. I randomly chose five quotes from all of my posts, and asked them to be identified by date and title.

I seriously did not expect anyone to do this. I mean, come on, it's having to drudge through a lot of writing. (Except for those who follow me religiously, then it would be easy)

But Mrs. 4444 did it! AND she even commented on a couple of them. Holy crap.

I need to have more difficult contests.

And what's REALLY scary is that she even knew what the prize was.

A signed copy of Surfacing. My first ... okay ... my ONLY novel (so far)!

The truth is, it was Corrine's idea to have a contest. I was actually going to list one quote from each blog entry and I got as far as, like, 64 and gave up.

That would have been one helluva long post.

So congrats to MRS. 4444.

Go check out her blog.

It's funny, poignant, insightful and well written.

(Mrs. 4444: Send me your shipping address to turn68(at)yahoo.com.... and don't forget to tell me who to autograph the book to....)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

100 Posts Contest

Yes, you read that right

Large-breasted women love Nerds

Oh, and this also happens to be my 100th post

So, in honor of this, I have a contest!

Below are 5 quotes from the 100 posts.

The first to correctly identify the date (month/Day/Year) and the title of all quotes, gets the prize.

1. On coming back, I feared he would start yelping. I was sure his guard-dog instinct would erupt in him, and that he would start pouncing my wife's back in an attempt to alert her to THE STRANGER ON THE PATH. This is what loyal dogs do for their families: they bark obscenities at angry bears while the family can escape; they catch white-shirted Bible-thumpers in mid sentence and rush them off your lawn. ("Good morning, have you found...JESUS!")
2. There is zero romance in trying to eat mushroom caps stuffed with seafood, and baked stuffed jumbo shrimp, in a great restaurant while a 2-year-old eats the tabs of butter and the baby has audible gas. The elderly couple seated next to us were French Canadian and were noticeably put off by Gabi's hide-and-seek behind a restaurant curtain. They kept giving Corrine dirty French Canadian looks as they sipped their wine.
3. The house, built in 1850 during John McCain's first run for the presidency, is slightly pitched toward the middle. Door casings slope toward center, as do the floors, the stairs, the windows. Anything made of wood, let's say. In fact, my second-oldest brother complains that he needs to be drunk in order to walk a straight line in my home.
4. Avis is where I began. And where we all began. Avis and Howard, Ina and Ralph, my father's parents. They were the May Poles around which we, their offspring, have danced for so long, holding onto their streamers and not letting go.
5. I had one of those moments when you're being confronted by someone unexpectedly and the light around the corners of your vision blurs and your face gets really hot. That was how the email ended. Not a word about whether he liked the story or the characters or something.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Colour My World

The second job I ever had was at a department store called Ames.

Ames was like most department store chains, with a rank of checkouts in the front, a sales floor segmented by carefully choreographed departments, and all within an expansive, box-shaped building usually anchoring one end of a strip mall.

I was hired, at 19, as a stock boy, forever running in and out of the back room to fetch this or that; or assembling bicycles and grills; or checking the price of something. All the while working to keep the shelves filled with merchandise. I even had one of those price guns on my hip that spit out little price tags.

My manager was a guy named Dave who chain-smoked, kept a pile of new, unwrapped dress shirts in a tall filing cabinet in his office, and who was reputed to have slept with just about every cashier there, except for Gloria, the women's undergarment associate who was 64 and, ironically, never wore the right sized bra. I never understood why they called her the Muffin Top Lady until one of the other stock boys explained it to me.

Dave was the one who hired me, in late June, while sitting in his office. I had just finished filling out the application at the front desk when, passing by, Dave stopped in his tracks and took the application right out of my hands. Ink still wet.

"Stock?"

"Um.."

"Ever stocked merchandise?"

"Um...I bagged groceries at..."

"Good. Follow me."

And then Dave was off. Not walking. Not running. He was just there and then he was suddenly somewhere else. The only other man able to do this was my father, usually materializing a split second after I've said the would "fuck" or "shit".

Dave could be in Toiletries in the northeast corner of the store one minute, and then in Fabrics at the opposite corner the next.

The fucker was fast, man. And short. And intense.

"Sit."

He pointed to a chair across the desk from him in a 10x10 office that had a one-way mirror in the wall the size of a bay window. We were perched above the entire store and from this vantage point I could see a couple of 13-year-olds drawing pairs of women's panties over their heads and laughing.

"Get the little shits out of my store," Dave barked into a phone. "Aisle 17. Row 12." I hadn't even seen him pick up the phone. Down below, a man in plain clothes snuck up on the two boys, who scattered in different directions. The ensuing chase was like watching a mouse in a maze. I expected the piped-in Muzac to suddenly switch to the Benny Hill theme song. A grown man chasing two little boys with panties on their heads.

"Loss prevention," David grumbled. I looked at him. He had changed out of his shirt and was buttoning up the top button of his new one. I hadn't even seen him fetch it from the cabinet behind me.

"So," he said, sitting now and pondering my application.

"Bagger?"

"Uh..."

"Don't be afraid of me, Drew. I'm not the cops."

Drew? Who the fuck was Drew?

"Turner?"

I nodded.

"Artie's son?"

I nodded.

He sniffed.

"Had him as a teacher," he grumbled.

The truth is, I didn't even want this job. We were on Summer's doorstep. Outside, it was in the upper 70s. It was sunny. I was 19. I wanted to be where all the other 19 year olds were. At the arcade playing Galaga.

Down below us, through the one-way mirror, I watched the teens being collared by the loss prevention guy and escorted roughly through the doors.

"No?"

I looked at Dave. He was halfway through a cigarette. I hadn't even seen him light up. Jesus Christ, this guy was wigging me out. And he had a tie on now. What the hell.

"Can. You. Start. Tomorrow?" he asked, like he was asking a 2-year-old if he wanted to go poo in the potty.

"Um...okay."

"8 a.m."

And then Dave was gone. I looked and he was down in Hardware already, talking to Suzie, one of the newer cashiers. She was blond. She had nice legs and was graduating from high school in a week.

So, I told you all of that to tell you this: for the longest time I used to lie on my job applications. I feared complete truthfulness would keep me out of work, and as a teen, I wanted what every teen wanted: my own spending money. You know. To beat the high score on Galaga.

So, when it came to the line on the application that read "Are there any physical limitations that might hinder your performance as an Ames Associate?" I didn't put down that I was colorblind. I always figured that my inability to see any color whatsoever (except black, white and a narrow band of grays) couldn't possibly hinder me from, you know, checking the price of a pair of socks or assembling the newest Coleman.

I. Was. Wrong.

A three-word phrase I have said more in my lifetime than any other, beating out I Love You, I Need Money, and even Let's Have Sex.

That first day. That very first day at Ames Department Store, Dave pulled me aside 15 minutes into my shift and just fresh from being shown the rounds by Greg, who would roll a joint after work every night the size of a cigar and grin like Jack Nicholson in The Shining and say "It's show time!" before hopping behind the wheel of his Gremlin and squealing away.

"Got an end display I need you to facilitate," Dave said.

"Weren't you just wearing a tie?"

"What?"

"Never mind."

An end display is the space at the very end of an aisle of merchandise used as a marketing tool for those walking along the wide corridors between departments. In Ladies Apparel, for example, mannequins wore sexy lingerie, one plastic hand on hip, the other turned up in a creepily seductive way; in hardware, a collage of tools; in Seasonal, child mannequins wore beach clothes amid sand pails and beach balls and towels.

We were standing in Stationery in front of an empty end display.

"New plastic stacking crates," Dave said, pointing to boxes of opened milk crates used as shelving units for college kids.

"I want to snag the back-to-schoolers," he said.

"It's June," I informed him. He gave me the same look my father used to give me when he wanted me to stop being a dope.

Who was I to argue with Dave, Ames Manager of the Year for three straight years? And, let's face it, I was in no position to try and understand the mysteries of department store merchandising and retail marketing. I shrugged at him.

"Anyway," he said. He was halfway through a cigarette already. It was pinched between his lips as he spoke.

"I want you to facilitate this. Show me what you got. You're 19, you're probably in college, right? Make it collegiate. I'd ask Greg but look at him, he's stoned."

I looked at Greg two aisles away. He was licking a ball peen hammer.

I turned back but Dave was gone.

I spent an hour rearranging these plastic milk crates that came in three sizes: large square, rectangle, small square. You could mix and match them, stack them in any array of combination to give the appearance of a filing system. A tower of cubbies. I had fun with it, creating three tall towers on the end display platform.

I raided the stationery and filled the cubbies with notebooks, pens, pencils. I took some magazines from the front magazine-and-book racks. I folded up jeans and t-shirts from Misses. I found a couple of pennants from last year's back-to-school special and pinned those up.

I stood back and admired my first end display. A veritable marketing triumph. No kid between the ages of 18 and 23 would pass this by and not want to buy everything there. In fact, high school kids undecided on college would most certainly choose a post-secondary education after seeing my display.

An hour later, while helping the Muffin Top Lady take down outdated signage for a 3-for-1 gurdle special, Dave's voice cracked the P.A. system, interrupting Barry Manilow.

"Drew! Stationery!"

From my perch atop the ladder in Ladies' I could see, across the entire store, my handsome display. And Dave was already there. Smoking.

I rushed to him.

"Is this your way of being funny?"

I stared at him. Then at my display. Then back at him. He was on his second cigarette already. I didn't even seen him dispose of the last butt. I think he ate them.

"Uh...no?"

He looked at the display, then at me, then at the display. The way a man looks at a pile of dog shit, the dog, and then the pile again, tapping a rolled up newspaper.

"Are you stoned then?"

I had never smoked or ingested any form of contraband in my life.

"Uh...no?"

"Why do you think that's attractive?"

That's a parent's kind of no-win question. The kind that you feel you must answer, but know that you can't and therefore sound like a short-bus passenger.

"I guess ... that ... the stacks, being stacked, would appeal ... um ... to collegiate types. With, you know ... here you have ... I used pom-poms here. Thought that would catch their eye. I mean eyes...because a lot of eyes go past here. A lot."

Dave shook his head.

"You think purple and green, mixed together like this, is attractive? And why would you put the lime greens and yellows together over here. I mean, there isn't even any pattern. Like a checkerboard. I mean, that I could understand, maybe, but ..."

He trailed off, speechless. A crowd of shoppers had stopped to see who had gotten hit by the train.

Did he mention purple, green, yellow?

Oh shit.

Back in his office he had my job application in front of him and he was wearing a new shirt. Come to find out he had a chronic underarm sweating problem. The pile of used shirts in the corner had telltale rings.

"Colorblind?" he scowled. I had tried, meekly, quietly, to explain while still standing in front of the display, that I was colorblind. It sounded like I was trying to make an excuse for farting in church.

In his office he scowled at my application, then lifted it up for me to see. His eyebrows raised.

"I just didn't think it would ever, you know, come up," I offered.

He put the application back down and looked out the one-way mirror. A crowd of people were throwing up in front of my display. Apparently the particular combination of colors and patterns I had chosen induced vomiting and migraines. Sales were down that week by 28 percent.

"No color? At all? Like a dog?"

I nodded. I had already removed my associate's badge and placed it on his desk, like a shamed deputy sheriff who had just been accused of shooting an innocent civilian.

And then he started laughing. His head thrown back, his nicotine-stained teeth flashing. He slapped his hands on the desk.

And then he was gone. I looked down and he was talking to Misty, the newest cashier. She was a brunette and Miss Oxford County Fair for 1981 and 1982. No one has ever won it twice since.

I didn't lose my job. I worked there all summer until I got a better offer in a GTE/Sylvania plant making parts for phones that didn't involve color.

But that summer, Dave found it amusing to call over the P.A. system every so often.

"Drew! I need a color check ..."

And then laughter.

I never lied on my application again. About being colorblind, I mean.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Corrine Montage Song

I found it!

I found the name of the song I had been looking for for quite some time. I am ashamed to say, I learned it was by the Allman Brothers, when I should have known.

Anyway...it's called Jessica

I love it because it is my montage song for Corrine.

A song called Jessica for my girl Corrine.

Get beyond the title. The point is, if I were in a theater, watching a movie about Corrine, this would be the montage song. You know, the montage? When there's no dialogue, just a string of scenes? A bridge between the beginning and end, to denote a passage of time?

This is the song in the montage of my Corrine movie.

I am big on soundtracks and the importance of music in one's life. I write my fiction to soundtracks that I have compiled on iTunes, in fact. I hit play and write to the songs. I'm serious.

For my Corrine movie, I close my eyes and a mental video projects the things we've done together, of things in her youth I recreate, of snapshots of her.

I would say go out and find the song and play it, but it won't have the same effect. This is a closed cinema, a private showing for VIP guest only.

I'm just glad I found the name of the song.

Okay, go away now. I'm watching a movie here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Coop

The current economic crises has affected yet another housing project, this time in Buckfield.

It appears I will have to put off a building project I was expecting to accomplish this weekend but can't for lack of funds. Boy will the tenants be pissed.

We purchased 17 baby chicks to whom I am contractually obligated to build a coop.

The chicks - well, 15 chickens and two bantams - scuffle around a cardboard slum beneath a heating lamp in the back hallway. We feed them. We water them. We check to make sure they're not too cold or too hot.

All the while they bitch about how their new 7-foot-by-12-foot, wire-mesh-and-strapping condo has yet to be built.

I am their contractor, hired to build their rental with the agreement that payment would be in the form of eggs. And insect abatement.

They did not check for references, however, and I made no representations to them about my ability. They seemed blithely content to chirp away and leave everything to fate, as it were. And lots of trust.

They trust I will build for them a habitable home, one with a view of Buckfield Lake, shit removal and a lifetime supply of feed; and I trust they will produce the source of my favorite breakfast as well as exterminate the tick population that has, these past few summers, used our back lawn as a Lollapalooza venue.

Gabrielle, our two-and-three-quarter-year-old, likes to check on the baby chicks regularly. As do Samwise and Gimli, our canines, and Peekaboo, Gabi's new kitten.

Samwise looks at them as fetch things - he expects all objects to be thrown for him, including shoes, cell phones, and bras - and Gimli, too short to actually see the chicks, merely stares at the side of the box and listens and sniffs. Of course he misses the fun in the fact that he is staring at the word PURDUE this whole time. Pugs are so humorless.

Peekaboo is still a kitten and therefore, it would seem anyway, has not acquired the instincts born in all cats when it comes to birds. She too is short like Gimli, and therefore stares at him staring at the box. And then she tackles him by the ankles like a playful younger sister to an older brother. He hates it when she does that.

I do pick her up occasionally to have her peer into the box itself, but the heat lamp makes her sleepy. I would pick Gimli up if I thought he'd appreciate the view better, but I'd be afraid he would mistake the heat lamp for The Light. As in, Don't Go Into The Light. He would pass out in my arms and I'd have to douse him with cold water.

The coop plans call for nothing more than a glorified cage, really. Using wood 5/4-inches thick and 3 inches wide, I will build two 7-foot-high by 6-foot-wide frames and fasten them together, with a door on the lake end, and a small chicken door on the other end that will abut our barn. A roof will cover the entire thing, made of metal roofing material.

A Noah's Ark ramp will lead the chickens up through their small door to the barn and into a room that used to be a three-hole outhouse. The three holes, and their seat lids, are still there. Therefore, leaving open the possibility that one smart ass among the group could rightfully bitch "We live in a real shit hole."

I'm not going to tell them the truth though. To them, it will be where they nest. I want them to feel comfortable, warm, and dry. Besides, the outhouse has not been used in decades. Below the holes is the dirt floor of the barn. If they were to get smart all of a sudden and lift one of the toilet lids, they could do an Alcatraz on me.

Next, after the coop itself, is the manufacture of transportation. Corrine wants me to build them an RV so that we can wheel them to different parts of the property to peck at the grass and eat the aforementioned ticks.

This rig will be a wire-mesh box with wheels at the front corners and handles at the back, allowing the conductor, as it were, to lift and wheel the ladies to and fro, like a wheelbarrow.

They can take day trips to the far reaches. North, to the border, a wooded area best known for shade and thick grasses. Or east, down along the shores of Lake Buckfield, which enjoys the most sun and views of ducks.

This of course is all contingent upon an upturn in the economy. If our income cannot afford the penthouse and touring bus, we'll have to set them about the property freely, and hope they stick to within the borders.

I will, as ever, keep you posted.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Gabi Girl

Took this photo of Gabrielle this past January. A brilliant, shrill kind of blustery day. In the midst of one of the worst winters I can remember.

Gabi Girl climbed into this toy castle and, when I called her name, this was the face she gave me. Click on the photo and you'll get a better view of her wonderful face.

It best describes her personality. At once lovely and mischievous; happy & demanding; wanting and giving.

I loved the day her mother told me she was pregnant with her, and I loved the day she was born because she represented so much hope for me, a chance for my own sort of rebirth at a point in my life when I faced what I thought was an insurmountable wall.

Gabrielle Marrae is my daily reminder that life is hard, but giving. It can be insolent but teach you something new. That I should play more and worry less.

She is and always will be my Hope Girl.



Cheaper Than TherapyFound this blog while poking around and I love the idea. Go here to learn more about Thousand Words Thursday

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Apple Tree Blossoms and other unrelated nonsensical musings

Speaking of Apple Tree Blossoms

We have an apple tree on the north side of the house whose flowers are in full bloom. It's the ultimate sign of spring for me, the white blossoms that look, from a distance, like the tree had suddenly sprouted cotton balls.

I missed them last spring for some reason. Not this year however. I mowed the lawn for the first time and ran right into a blossoming branch, scattering the white pedals all over the place.

A veritable shower of white poetry. A poetic shower of white. A white shower poem.

Speaking of movie quotes

Corrine and I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button two nights ago. She got it as a Mother's Day gift from her two oldest children, Alyssa and Ty.

It's Forrest Gumpish, a little on the maudlin side, but a pretty good movie, I thought. I was in the mood for something like it, so it worked.

Anyway. There's a quote in it I wanted to find. So I Googled "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie quotes" because you can find ANYTHING when you Google it.

Benjamin Button, narrating, says toward the end of the movie:

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit... start whenever you want... you can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things that you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
So, that's a bit on the sappy side, but I still like it. I still think it's a truth, and I like truths in movies. Things that speak to the human condition and what it's all worth.

Like "Hey, Cameron. You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?"

See? Ferris knew what the fuck he was talking about, man.

Speaking of friends and their lives

A friend of mine told me recently that her marriage will more than likely end this year. I would say to my friend this:

I'm sure that it is for the better, and that you will be happier in the long run.
But I would then say:

I'm sorry I said that just now. You can kick me in the balls if you'd like, because, let's face it, anyone who tells you that it's probably for the better isn't helping. It still hurts, it still is inconvenient, and the pain is not something that will go away just because a friend said this was for the better
And speaking of my dog Sammy

This was Corrine's idea. To get a dog she can walk/run with because her pug, Gimli, can't walk more than a yard without convulsing and needing to be picked up.

Sammy - Samwise Gamgee - is a border collie. And he very quickly has become my favorite dog of all time, supplanting Spike, my retarded black lab when I was a teen.

And this is coming from a person not known for being a pet lover.

Samwise fetches things and brings them back to me. He whines when I leave for town because he wants to be with me. He sleeps on the floor of my office while I sit here and write about things he could never understand, but his support is felt nevertheless.

So, thanks honey, I LOVE my dog. You can walk with him anytime you like.

Speaking of lyrics so bad you love them

Chic's song, Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) has no meaning whatsoever, but, like most songs from the Disco era, it has that little something about it that makes you put on something polyester, tap your foot and sing it for days on end.

So, on this hump day, get up on yo feet and sing it with me, all you hip muthas...


Dance
Dance, dance, dance
Keep on dancing
Dance
Dance, dance, dance

Just dancing' to the beat
Feel the heat
I'm movin' my feet
Headed towards the floor
Gonna get down
A-get down some more

Rumba and Tango
Latin Hustle too
Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah
I wanna boogie wit'choo

Bop-bop-bow
Bop-bop-bow
Bop-bop-bow
Bop-bop-bow

Oh, what a treat, feels so sweet
(Ah) That body heat
When I'm dancin' with my baby drives me crazy
Makes me hazy

Rumba and Tango
Latin Hustle too
Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah
I wanna boogie wit'choo

Bop-bop-bow
Bop-bop-bow
Bop-bop-bow
Bop-bop-bow

Dance
Dance, dance
Dance
Dance
dance, dance
Dance
Dance
Dance, dance
Dance
Dance
Dance, dance
Dance

Dance
Dance, dance
Dance
Keep on, keep on
Dance
Dance, dance
Dance
Keep on dancing
Dance
Dance, dance
dance
Keep on, keep on
Dance
Dance, dance
Dance
Dance
Dance, dance
Dance

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fictional Me

I spend my creative hours working on the new story ... the one about the man and the frozen pipes and all that.

A lot of note-taking. Getting to know the main character. It would seem that would be easy to do, given that the entire premise is based on my own experience this past winter, and that therefore, by extension, my main character would be yours truly.

However, I am aware, at least subconsciously, that I really don't want this to be about me, just about what I experienced. And even then, that is not enough for a fascinating story (see: one that doesn't get boring).

So, my notes comprise bits of dialogue, bits of scenes both real and imagined, and bits of character. Well. More than bits.

Writing is a searching-out process for me, where I truly endeavor to get to know the people and learn to fall in love with them.

This main character is a version of me. Someone who, at this point anyway, seems to have some of my psychological features, while being devoid of others.

For example, I grew up going to church. My main character did not. My years attending a fundamentalist Christian organization - through my formative years - shaped my attitudes about God, religion, faith, right down to what I like in food and television and music. I have unflattering views of most aspects of religion, yet I envy those who have a faith in something. That seems like a contradiction but it isn't.

Religion (because of my experience) was and still is about dogma, organization, man's punitive application of Biblical precedents. Faith is in the heart and represents his or her internal application of scriptures as it refers to a direct relationship with a higher power.

My main character?

Doesn't give a shit one way or the other.

Neither atheist, agnostic, or believer. He has not been raised in a house where church-going was practiced, or prayers were said before every meal or Christmas was a religious holiday, not a secular one.

I don't know why these things pan out the way they do. It's part of the joy of writing.

I wish I didn't have the baggage. The internal conflict, the unresolved tension that runs like a current between my father and I whenever we see each other. (It's a low, triple-A battery current most of the time. Wouldn't even light a bulb)

No, this guy I'm discovering doesn't have that in his wiring. He IS similar to me in other areas, though, the frozen pipes and shit-for-a-car notwithstanding.

He's rarely taken seriously, a fault of his own. But a real sticking point for him.

He failed once in a marriage that he should not have entered into, but after he did, managed to fuck it up.

He's unskilled, unmotivated, and unlucky, the three worst things to be if you want to be a successful writer. And each of them is a direct result of the way he was not taken seriously while growing up.

The list is longer than that, but those are the big ones.

I don't know where he's taking me, to be honest. What his 'story' is, if there is one. I don't even know yet if he's a strong enough character to hold the line of a story.

All I have is a broken bathroom pipe in February and a man with a lot of bad luck, no discernible technical skills, but one big dream.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Today's Word: Psaltery

psal-ter-y
(sal-ter-ee)

1. An ancient stringed musical instrument played by plucking the strings with a plectrum or the fingers

There once was a girl who craved Big Sam Tuckitt
Whose voice made girls quiver, but was as dumb as a bucket
To get him to sing, she showed him her psaltery
Down upon which he scowled rather dumbly
"Now all you must do is pluck it"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sea Change

I sit in my 1850's farmhouse in Buckfield and I feel a little sea sick.

The tide is inexorable, and its tug is felt in my chest. Or better, my ego. I tend to cling to the firm shore along my rocky coastline, for fear of the rip tide of life that I know is waiting to suck me under. It's the mysterious underthing that has kept me from casting out these past 25 years.

I love the shore, the warm, white sands of solid earth, where I can watch the sailboats from a safe distance.

But now, for the first time, I've grown desirous to be out there among them, to see what life is like on the waves.

I'm 41 years old and in a few months I will be a freshman at the University of Maine, Farmington. The place my own father, now 70, earned a teaching degree some 50 years ago.

I therefore enter the ranks of adults across the nation who have decided to go for that college degree after all, and beside whose names are printed “non-traditional,” the moniker given to those of us who (in my narrow, movie-fed, Animal House-distorted view of college) will not be going to keggers on Friday nights or living in co-ed dorms sharing bathrooms with mysteriously tantalizing members of the opposite sex. We are part of a legion of folks who are old enough to be most freshman's mother or father.

I am nothing if not non-traditional.

Married twice. Six children, three of whom are in high school, one a year away from middle school, and two not yet out of diapers. I have worked in two factories, I've been a journalist, and I've slaved within the boxy confines of a nondescript cubicle, within a desert of cubicles so broad and long one could barely see the bank of windows at the distant horizon. My employee number was larger than my picture, the one on my badge, my most important form of identification.

I've seen my four children birthed and have reveled in the accomplishments of two step children.

I've been to the funerals of three of my grandparents, an aunt and two uncles.

I have made colossal errors in judgment; weathered a divorce; spent more money than I earned; maxed out my first and only credit card; flirted with bankruptcy; forestalled foreclosure and been laid off from three different jobs.

I was a teenager when hip-hop was invented, back when they called it “rap” when we all wore parachute pants and the girls had Mall Bangs they aerosoled into frozen tsunamis.

The arc of my character development, you could say, is quite expansive. I would like to think it has yet to hit its zenith. I would like to think – probably naively – that I won't hit my peak for sometime. My life expectancy quotient says otherwise. If you believe life expectancy quotients that is.

I don't. Most of us non-traditionals don't put stock in a lot of things fed to us. That's why my aspiration to be the next great American novelist has stayed with me since Hank Burn's sophomore English class, back in 1985, when I was 17 and Hank was just about everyone's favorite teacher at Oxford Hills High School. I held on to that dream when so many of the kids who did go onto college after graduating saw theirs vaporize into a mist of post-collegiate job interviews and dispiriting 9-to-5's.

Since high school, I've witnessed my sea ebb and flow continuously, coming in and going out, bringing with it – and taking away – the flotsam and jetsam of a life lived. Of debris resulting from wreckage (from failed voyages) or deliberately tossed out there from where I stood. Debris of experiences, of failures and successes. It all becomes debris after all.

I bring this with me to college classrooms where kids my daughter's age will be studying next to me, and I wonder who has the advantage? Me with my lifetime of bumps and bruises, or them with their wide-eyed naiveté? Cynicism versus optimism? They wanting to be me, me wanting to be them?

It doesn't matter. They will have to learn for themselves after all. And they do have one thing going for them: they have, at 18 or 19, taken ship when I am, until now, still ashore. Heels dug into the cooling sands against my fears when they, it would appear, are facing theirs with sails full set.

In the fall, with this new tide, I take up new oars. Perhaps they will propel me further out, away from the shore this time. Someplace where I can see the horizon better. Away from the rip, away from all the detritus of my life, out and out, so that this time when I look back, I will no longer miss the sea for sake of the shore.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In My Queue

We signed up for Netflix last week, in large part because I have a couple of good friends, Sean & Jami, who do something on their blog each week called Netflix Fridays.

They order these movies and watch them, um, on Fridays. And in their blog they discuss the movies they've selected. (They also have something called Margarita Classics in which they describe watching incredibly bad movies while drinking ... um ... margaritas.)

Anyway, they're a fun couple, they have the second-cutest little girl, Ryan, I've ever seen**. And I have been a friend of theirs and Jami's sister, Gianna, since back in the Pajama Game days. (Ask them the reference someday. It's Jami and Sean's favorite community theater story..)

Anyway.

Netflix.

Here's what Corrine and I watched this week:


The Impostors. A comedy with Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci. And a shitload of other actors.

Why I love This Film: The story revolves around two out-of-work, down-on-their-luck actors before WWII. There's a scene where they sit on the edges of their beds in their one-room NYC apartment doing "exercises": facial expressions based on an emotion their partner gives to them. Like "Ecstatic" and "Fortunate". All you see is a close up of each man's face and I go into hysterics every time I see it. The scene ends with Stanley's character standing and looking straight up into the camera as he does an Oliver Twist sort of impression, cockney accent and all.



Vicky Christina Barcelona. A drama? Comedy? By Woody Allen that takes place in well...somewhere overseas. I don't know. I fell asleep. Then I woke up and realized it was still playing, so I fell back asleep.

I didn't like it, in case you missed the sarcasm just then.

All I could do was hope that Javier Bardem, who plays the male lead, pulled out the cattle gun he used in No Country For Old Men and used it on the females. (You have to admit, that cattle gun was way cool. Wish I kept one in the trunk of my car)

Well, not on ALL the females. Corrine thinks Penelope Cruz is hot, so any woman my wife thinks is "hot" I think is hot too.

Coming Attractions

A Room With A View

I watched this when I was a senior in high school and then had a crush on Helena Bonham Carter for the next 20 years. I'm not sure but I think this was her first feature film.

Why I Love This Movie: Wow. So many reasons. It's Merchant & Ivory; it's got English actors, and I'm a HUGE anglophile; (I used a fake British accent to seduce Corrine.) it takes place in Florence, a place I've never visited but have always wanted to; (After going to the U.K. of course); and it's historical; and it's well-filmed; and...well, I watched it at a time when I went to see every movie that came out.

Howard's End

Another Merchant & Ivory and therefore with English actors, this time taking place in England, and starring Helena, who, in my dreams as an adolescent, gave me shivers with the way she said "How do like your tea, Luv?"

Man.

Anyway, there's a really good story here too. About class distinction, the power of wealth, the weakness of the poor, and all those fancy story-telling techniques they used to have in movies, back when movies had messages.




** But THE cutest in New Hampshire

:-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Youth Rant, Old Argument

Did you know that Neil Simon was 30 years old before he wrote his first play? The author of some of the greatest Broadway comedies (see: the Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Last of the Red Hot Lovers) didn't get his "start" until he was old.

Older. I meant older.

Like me.

This gives me unimaginable hope.

(Technically Neil Simon wrote for the Golden Age of Television's funniest shows in the 50s, so he was a writer in his 20s, but not a NAME. His name was not on the marquee.)

I live in the same world you do: where "talent" and "success" are prepackaged, televised, and shoved down our throats. Individuality is out the window. In order to be a "great" singer, actor, writer, etc., you must be no older than 26.

I've been seriously worried about this. I'm not kidding. Each year I get eight new gray hairs over my temples and I get one year further away from stardom.

Okay, I don't want to be a star. Writers are not celebrities. I would love to be a success, though, and there's a part of me that keeps wondering if aging is pulling me further away from that?

You laugh. You scoff. You guffaw at my lameness. But I am serious.

I can't pick up the newspaper, go online, or watch television without seeing youth served while my favorite actors are getting older while in fewer movies; my favorite novelists are older and not producing anymore; my favorite musicians...okay, my favorite musicians are all from the 80s. Bad example.

The point is, and I KNOW age has nothing to do with being a writer, I'm still a bit edgy about our culture celebrating a celebrity's YOUTH, not his or her talents per se.

Know what I mean? Is it me or are we enamored with their youthfulness first, their talent second?

Okay. Fine.

You're right.

I'm putting off writing by talking about how afraid I am that my age is hindering my chances of being successful when really the only thing hampering my chances of success is...well...not writing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Today's Word: Otiose

O-ti-ose
(o-she-os)

1. Lazy: idle
2. Futile: ineffective

A wife said to her man 'Adios!
I can't find a thing in this house'
To which the man yelled
'Margarite, What the hell?!
You would if you weren't so otiose!'