Filed under: Uncategorized
So that’s what this blog has become: a place to cut and paste scraps of something or other I’ve written, A place to have a link to pass on to others when I enter a damn writing contest, Which is about the only reason I ever write anything that matters (at least to me) anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I write plenty. Just nothing deep, or real, about me, or my life, or a story that excites me.
There was a time when this was a place for me to store my stories, my memories; a place where I could look back, and read between the lines, and relive a moment, or an evening. It was s scrapbook wherein I could place all the miscellany (still love that word) that made up the life I had already lived. A place where I could keep the silly little moments that would otherwise be lost, especially in this head, what with the gaping hole memories flow out of daily.
But i didn’t realize it. Not then. Not at the time.
I wrote to be read. I wanted comments, and interaction. I wanted to provoke, to evoke emotions, or sympathy, I wanted people to see what I had written, to think about what I said, and to respond. Sometimes people did, although for the most part they were people that were at the events I was blogging about. But for the most part, it was just a place to put some words down, to practice my skills. To hone my voice.
What it became was a collection of memories. I want to start doing that again.
We shall see.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Big Bobby and Fat Joe had never liked each other. Though they often ran in the same circles (there are only so many criminal networks in the City, after all), they’d spent many years successfully avoiding having to acknowledge each other’s existence. But if Sideways Mel said they were the guys for the job, then they were the guys for the job—especially with the amount of money Mel was saying was at stake.
Filed under: Writing Stuff
So the second round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest snuck up on me. First because I never wrote down any of those dates on my calendar, and second because I didn’t know I had made it till the same day the next round began.
Didn’t get a very high score on the second story–only 8 points our of a possible 25. Unfortunately, the judge’s comments have as of yet not been provided, so I could not learn from my mistakes on that one. But combined with the 20 I got on my first story, I still made it into the top 100. (84th, I believe). So here I go again!
(assigned prompts at the bottom for those curious what was required for the story.)
We’re almost through the Serenity Prayer when Carla’s skin disappears. She makes us say it at the end of every meeting. We’re supposed to close our eyes, but I never do. Prayer, god, religion—I never got into all that.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” we say, “the courage to change the things I can, and the—“
It’s on the word wisdom that her face begins to fade away. Her eyes with that too-blue eyeshadow and all those crow’s feet, that ponytail with the stupid green scrunchie…it all vanishes. Suddenly her face is just a yellowed skull with gnarled teeth pushing each other in a million different directions, fighting for real estate.
I’ve always had “The Gift.” At least, that’s what my mother called it, even when I was a little girl. I knew my father was a troll long before he ran away from us. I could literally see his giant nose covered in warts, green skin, long, wiry black hair diving down his back. In high school, I chose the late gym class because the coach of the other class had pupil-less black eyes and the big flat nose of a pig; a year later, he tried to corner a cheerleader in the locker room.
It’s been just as much a curse as a gift, though. I can’t turn it off. Have you ever tried to talk to a guy at a club when he has the tentacles of an octopus and the head of a dog? It’s hard not to react, even when you know you shouldn’t. Just try not to fight back when the cop arresting you has one giant eye and the tongue of a snake. And what would you do if your friend came at you from behind, attacking you with razor sharp teeth? You would defend yourself, of course! But none of that holds up in court.
I’ve only ever found one way to stop it—alcohol. And lots of it.
But those days are all behind me now! I’m starting over. These meetings are the beginning of my new life. Sure, I’m required to go. But by the third or fourth, I started to actually like them. Every Tuesday, for an hour, I’m not alone. Last week, when I got my one-month chip, it was the happiest day since Dr. Jensen approved my release.
These people here, in this church gymnasium, they understand me. Sure, Carla has a lot of rules, and can be a bit of a bitch. But the rest of them, they’re my friends. Or the closest thing I have, anyway. Paul over there, he always nods when I talk. And Sadie, the one by the coffeemaker? She smiles at me, even when I don’t smile first. I’ve heard most of them speak to the group at one time or another, and I relate to them. They have problems. So do I. We help each other.
So when I see Carla for what she truly is, I know what I have to do.
I remain calm. Everyone is milling around, reluctant to go back out into the real world. I walk past Joey, who’s still in his seat, thumbing through his Bible. Past Theresa, who’s busy folding up all the chairs and stacking them against the wall.
By the entrance to the gym, near that pathetically bare trophy case, there’s a door marked “Equipment Room.” I stride purposefully toward it, my gaze unwavering. The door is unlocked. Thirty seconds later, I’m returning with an aluminum baseball bat the size of my arm.
Carla’s back is to me, but Theresa’s shriek makes her whirl quickly. My arms are raised; the bat is above my head, primed to swing.
“Maria, what are you doing?!” she says. Her tone is calm, but there’s a quiver in that last word that tells me: she knows that I know.
“I know what you are!” I shout at her. “You’re Death! But you won’t take these people! You won’t take me!”
There’s movement to my right, but Carla puts up her hand. “Paul, no!” she says, and I suddenly realize he was about to rush me. He’s still poised, arms half outstretched, eyes locked on me.
Carla’s eyes are locked on me too. “Maria. Calm down. What’s wrong?”
“I see you. I see you for what you are.”
“Maria. Let’s talk about this. Put the bat down. I know about your visions. Are you having one now?” Her tone is sweet, seems genuine, like she wants to really talk. But her face is a hideous skull, staring eyelessly into me. How did she know about my visions?
Oh, of course! She’s a supernatural being, like me. She can see what I am, just like I can see her. Now it all makes sense!
But why did she leave me alone all these weeks, when she knew I would see her true form? Why didn’t she stop me, or kill me before I exposed her?
She is reaching out to me, walking slowly. “Why don’t you give me this bat, and we can talk. You’ve had a good month. You’re doing well! You don’t want to ruin that…” Her hand is almost touching mine.
Wait! She’s not reaching for me, she’s reaching for the bat! Oh god oh no one more second and she’ll have it she’ll beat my head in we’ll all die no more time to think I have to save us don’t doubt trust your gift—
Her hand touches mine, and it’s too late. As I fall, I can hear the hollow ring of the bat hitting the ground, and Carla shouting “She must have had a stroke or something! Someone call 911!”
Now she’s above me, brushing my hair out of my eyes. She leans down and whispers, “Shhhh, don’t fight it.” As the dark starts to close in, I feel a deep sense of relief. At least now, my visions will finally stop.
ASSIGNED PROMPTS: Genre: Fantasy. Location: Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting. Object: Baseball Bat.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Round two of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest. My second entry is below. I will leave the required prompts to the end to help avoid distractions as you read. If you want to know what was required and what wasn’t, it’s at the end of the story.
Flip. Snap. Flip. Snap. The Zippo lighter was long out of fluid and a little rusty, but still opened and shut easily with just a flick of the wrist. Mike spun the wheel occasionally, watching the flint spark briefly, almost imperceptibly. The embossed letters spelling out his father’s name felt cool in his palm.
From the main room, he could hear Terry’s voice. “Anyone else want a grilled cheese?” A few of the other guys responded with grunts and yells, four-letter words he didn’t need to hear to understand. Terry entered the kitchen, his beloved “Firefighters Are Always in Heat. Local 344” hat turned backwards.
Spotting Mike sitting in the kitchen, he did an exaggerated double take. “Well look who’s finally up! Did you have a good nap?” Getting no response, his expression changed. “Hey, you’ve been weird all day. You’re not sick, are you? I’ve never seen you sleep on a shift before.” He looked around the room. “What are you doing in here anyway?”
Mike looked up at the calendar on the wall. Terry followed his gaze. “You got a thing for Miss October there? She’s a hottie no doubt, but me, I prefer blondes. Want a grilled cheese?”
“Suit yourself.” Opening the fridge, he said, “Hey, your wife called again.”
“Right, sorry, I keep forgetting. Anyway, she called again. That’s like six calls this week. Says you haven’t called her back and to tell you she needs to talk to you today. That’s how she said it, all important-like: ‘today.’ Sounded kinda serious, so maybe call her back, huh? At least so we don’t have to keep taking all these messages?”
“Ooooooookay then. Good talk.”
The awkward silence was shattered by the familiar screech of the alarm. Terry sighed and started putting the bread back into the bag. “Every. Damn. Time…” he muttered.
Mike was already on his way to the truck.
Fifteen minutes later, they were streaking down Third Avenue, each man doing his own pre-fire ritual. Hector fingered his rosary beads. Jack had his eyes closed and head back, either praying or meditating. Joe and Joey were pumping each other up like they were about to play in the Super Bowl: “Let’s get out there and save some lives!” Mike just rested his head on the cool glass of the window. Flip. Snap.
“Hey,” Terry said from behind him. “I meant to tell you. Hank found your dad’s old helmet in the freezer yesterday. That’s like the twentieth time it’s shown up in a weird place. The guys…well, they’re not thinking it’s so funny anymore, you know? Maybe cut it out with that?”
“It’s not me. It’s him.”
Terry sighed. “Listen. We’re all real sorry about your dad dying and everything—”
“Three years ago today.”
“Oh. Uh, yeah. He was a great man and a terrific firefighter. Everyone in the house loved him; you know that. We miss him too. And we’re trying to be understanding. But this whole ‘he’s still around’ gag…well, it’s getting pretty weird.”
“It’s not a gag. He’s here.”
Terry rolled his eyes. “You’ve seen him?”
“No. But…well, I can feel him.”
The truck stopped in front an old Victorian house. An ambulance had already arrived, and a crowd milled around it. They were high society types, middle-aged people in nice suits and fancy dresses. Several women were draped in blankets. Physically they seemed fine, but their vacant stares showed that they were still in shock. A red haired girl in a sequined gown didn’t seem to realize she still held an empty champagne glass at her side, just stared up at the flames peeking out the second floor windows.
Inside, it was hot. Like always. The fire was in the walls; though Mike could see no flames, the thick black smoke was everywhere and visibility was low. He could hear the guys’ shouts signaling that a room was clear.
Through the haze, he could see the faint outline of a man standing motionless in the hallway. “Terry?” He took a few steps toward the man who suddenly came to life, turning away, and casually walking further into the building. His white hair almost glowed through the dense smoke.
“I’ve got someone!” Mike shouted. Into his walkie, he said, “Survivor on the second floor headed east! I’ll bring him out the back!”
The hallway was long and narrow, with very little smoke. He could see the figure at the end of the hall now, headed up the stairs. “Hey wait! This way, man! You gotta get out of here!” He sprinted after him. The waves of heat emanating from the walls made everything seem to vibrate.
The third floor was completely ablaze. He could see the man facing away from him in the middle of a large bedroom.
“Hey buddy! In case you haven’t noticed, the house is on fire! We gotta go!” Up here he could feel the intensity of the heat through the mask. A drop of sweat trickled down the back of his neck and he shivered. He walked into the bedroom; this close to the flames it was hard to even open his eyes. Squinting, he shielded his face with a gloved hand.
The man turned around slowly. His face was grim.
“Pop?” Mike slipped off his mask and reached out his hand. “Pop! I knew you’d come!”
Outside, the chief was talking to the homeowners. “The house is clear. There was one guy still in there, but Mike’s bringing him out right now. We’re doing what we can to save the building, but the structure has been severely compromised.”
“Wait,” said the husband, “Who did you say was still in there? Because everyone’s already accounted for.”
“Are you sure?” The Chief looked confused, then grabbed his walkie. “Mike you still in there? You got the guy? You out yet? Mike? Mike!”
The only response was a low rumble from the house itself as it fell.
Story Requirements: Ghost Story. Location: Fire Station. Item: Champagne Glass.
Filed under: Writing Stuff
I spent about 10 hours staring at a computer screen to make two pages. And that’s not counting the time I tried to sleep in but my mind was already working on the assignment.
The NYCMidnight boys had given me 48 hours to write a thousand word story. But because of other plans that had already been made, I only had 24 of those.
Genre: Science Fiction. Location: Fish Farm. Object: Heroin.
Here’s what I came up with.
This is how I met the Fishmonger:
I had taken the early Hover Train west. It didn’t make for the best view; at that time of day, the greenish brown clouds hung low, grabbing onto the earth as if fighting to stay. Later, the giant fans would blow them up into the hills so people could start their day. What was left the sun would burn off and it would be clear and hot. As always.
The trip was a gamble. Spending your last few credits on a train to some hickville town, based on nothing more than a tip from a guy in the joint…well, it’s not what most people would call a smart bet. But I always say it isn’t gambling if you have nothing to lose.
A train attendant walked through with a small rolling cart. “Can I get you anything, sir? Coffee? Beer? Marijuana? Something stronger?” She opened a cardboard pharma box, full of cigarettes, cigars, small bags and vials of pills, powders, and plants, labeled clearly and arranged by price. “The heroin is on special this week, an especially good deal.” She winked and I smiled, but shook my head.
The sun broke through the clouds, and I reached up to my specs and engaged the sun screen. I could see hundreds of kilometers in every direction. As we started our descent, I noticed little buildings surrounded by brown squares, pencil thin roads connecting them and leading off into the horizon, disappearing into the mist.
Walking off the train, I scanned the billboards absentmindedly. One of the attached retinal scanners must have caught my glance because it automatically started playing its message in the speakers on the stems of my specs. “RE-ELECT MARIA GONZALEZ FOR PRESIDENT IN ‘76” it shouted as trumpets blared. I shook my head as I walked past and the volume dropped out.
The nervous-looking guy with the gray beard and tinted specs had to be the guy I’d spoken to on the phone. He was waiting for me, I could tell. Not just because he was the only one in the station, or because I was the only one getting off the train, but because of the look on his face. He fidgeted a lot, glancing around, clearly uncomfortable. “Mr. Irratu?”
“Yeah,” I replied, disengaging my sun screen. He held a retinal scanner to my face and it beeped. He looked at the screen, then put it back in his pocket, satisfied, and reached out to shake my hand.
“Welcome to Missouri.”
I grew up eating fish. My family had a little pond on our property, out in the middle of nowhere far away from everyone, and no one ever even told us about the ban. Looking back, it seems amazing, but somehow we never heard about all the deaths. We were just too far inland and too far off the grid. In our schoolbooks, the oceans were still blue, there was still white on the globe, and penguins weren’t extinct. Too bad those books were wrong. I always liked penguins.
But why should all fish be illegal anyway? Yeah, our oceans, lakes, and rivers were filled with oil, chemical waste, and other toxins. And because of that 90% of fish were poisonous. But not all. Not ours. With drugs legalized, the country was financially stable again, but now it was full of junkies, so it seemed stupid to say people couldn’t eat fish. And my pops had always taught me that it wasn’t breaking the law if it was a stupid law.
I gave my life to the fish business. I spent every day at the hatcheries and farms, and every night doing the books, handling our other affairs. I helped the Fishmonger build an empire across the Midwest, the Bible Belt, even up near the Great Lakes area. We had everywhere but the coasts. Because that’s where the regulators were. That’s where they were watching for you.
What we both knew but never said was: it couldn’t last forever.
The Fishmonger’s name was Bob. But no one called him that. Even after 15 years with him, I still called him “sir,” just like everyone else. In private, though, he was Bob, and I was Al. I was more than just his right hand man. I was his best friend.
That’s why it was such a hard conversation we had that night.
For so long, it had seemed like we were just doing a good deed. People wanted healthy fish; we provided it and made a lot of money. Everyone was a winner. But breaking the law was still breaking the law. And if people threatened our business…well, they had to be stopped. That’s just how breaking the law works.
Bob wasn’t privy to this information. He never thought that there were rivals trying to take down his business. That there were snitches offering us up to get reduced sentences. That blackmail was something I dealt with every day. He never knew because he never wanted to know. That’s what I was there for.
His daughter’s husband was a gambler, who hadn’t come up a winner like I had. He came to me for help, but that’s not how the game works. You don’t get money for being a loser. You earn your keep. He didn’t like that answer. He was desperate, threatened me, and the business. So I did what needed to be done.
Late that night, the Fishmonger came to me, confronted me. He was red-faced; his daughter had come to him crying. What had I done. He’d finally come face to face with the truth. And he blamed me.
I reasoned with him, tried to make him see. Called him Bob. But he was emotional. Things were said that couldn’t be taken back.
I did what had to be done. As I always had.
That’s how I became the Fishmonger.
- Mon, September 11, 1995; Foo Fighters Concert at Liberty Lunch (405 West Second)
- Wed, Oct 18, 1995; Matthew Sweet, Dog’s Eye View at Liberty Lunch
- Wed, Nov 8, 1995; Rancid, Lunachicks, Liberty Lunch
- Thur, Nov 9, 1995; Everclear, Ruth Ruth, Magneto USA, at Electric Lounge (302 Bowie)
- Thur, March 21, 1996; Refreshments and Dishwalla at Electric Lounge
It all started, as most things seem to do for me recently, with Turntable.fm. Someone played a Spoon song, and I heard a lyric about the “Electric Lounge.” I immediately recognized the name as a venue here in Austin that exited the first time I lived here, but not the second. I remembered seeing shows there, wondered what had happened to it, where it used to be. (I find that I know the city a lot better this time, and so don’t really have any idea of where I was before and how it corresponds to where things are today.)
Googling it, I found not only the address, but a couple of shows that I know I attended. Which led to looking up Liberty Lunch another live music venue (not surprisingly, both locations have recent construction/condo/developments there now). Which led to some information on a couple of the shows I attended at those venues, most notably Foo Fighters at Liberty (after which Dave Grohl hung out in the back till every autograph seeker/fan was gone, turning down one guy’s invitation to go play pool with, “I would love to man, but we gotta get back on the road to Dallas tonight”) and Dishwalla with Refreshments at the Electric. Both of these shows stand out in my mind very distinctly.
Those memories were good ones, are still, and made me miss those days when I was young and stupid, living hand to mouth, going to school in the morning, working at the Doubletree hotel till 11 and running to a live show after work. I remember buying two tickets to every show, even when I didn’t know who I could take with me. Even taking my roommate Bill to see Rancid (he slipped out of the club to go watch a Red Sox game at the sports bar down the street and came back for the encore. He told me after: “those guys would have been all right if the guy could sing at all”). Standing alone with a Shiner waiting for the band to play.
Hm, it starts to sound kind of sad when I think too much about how many of those shows I went to alone, but the truth is that it wasn’t. It was amazing. I saw more live shows in that time than I’ve probably ever seen in any other time of my life. And big rock bands, that were just getting started. It was special to me, and it holds a good place in my heart.
But the most interesting thing I’ve taken from that, aside from the wave of nostalgia that sweeps over me as I think of more bands to look up, was the date of that Foo Fighters show. I remember sitting out back waiting for Dave to leave the venue and walk to the bus with the other fans. I remember telling him that I had seen him with Nirvana a couple of years previous in Oklahoma City. I remember him signing my ticket and still not leaving just to see what else he would say—not just to me, but to anyone.
What I did not remember is that day was September 11, 1995.
The reason I didn’t remember, of course, is that that date had no significance at the time. Only now, in retrospect, can I look back and think, “wow, six years later, the World Trade Center would be destroyed, and it will change all of our lives.” Weird perspective to have, even now.
Of course, there was lots of stuff I didn’t know then. That I would move to NYC with a guy I didn’t even know at that time that would prove to be the best friend of my adult life. That I would move to Los Angeles, live with a Swiss girl, be a camera guy on a Disney television show. And of course, the millions of other things that would happen AFTER 9/11. Oh how much of my life has changed since then. And I had no clue. I just wanted to talk to Dave.
I’m glad, though. What would I have done with all that information? How do you live your life knowing what’s coming the whole time? How do you concentrate on the present if you know the future? What would that moment mean to me if I had known what would happen in 2001?
I hope to think of more shows I saw here in Austin, and look them up. Record the dates, so I can always know. It’s a bit of chronology I never had, a good way to track my first time in Austin, which is such a blur in my memory. Because those were some of the happiest moments of my time here, and I don’t want them to disappear the way the clubs that held them have.
Foo Fighters Setlist:
- (Late! cover)
- I’ll Stick Around
- Big Me
- This is a Call
- Weenie Beenie
- For All The Cows
- My Hero
- Oh, George
- Alone + Easy Target
- Down in the Park (Gary Numan cover)
- Good Grief
Remember in high school, when your friends came over and hung out at your house? There was nothing really meaningful to do, so you all just sat around and hung out, talking about…whatever. Girls, teachers you hate, what you’d do with your life as soon as you had the money/time/freedom.
And through it all, the music always played.
There was always music playing. The idea of silence or an unaccompanied conversation just wasn’t an option. There was always a new album, either from that band you all loved, or better yet, something new that you found, that you loved, and that you couldn’t wait to share. You told them all how this was “gonna blow your minds,” and then you threw it on, and watched their faces as they heard it for the first time. They saw you watching them and closed their eyes to avert the pressure, to try and appreciate the music without letting your enthusiastic stare affect them. And slowly, their heads started to bob, or they smiled, or they made that “ooh!” face, or…and for that moment, you were a God.
Remember? Well, they made a site to let you experience that feeling again, and it’s called Turntable.fm.
Being at least marginally technologically literate, I first heard about it on twitter, where someone I barely know bemoaned that it was “totally over” since some publicist had mentioned it to him. It being the first time I had ever heard of the site, I didn’t know if I should pretend to know, shake my head, and agree that it really was a shame, or acknowledge that he was way ahead of me and go check it out. I opted for the latter.
Now, a couple of weeks later, I have to be careful lest my new obsession get in the way of other things, like work…and my actual life.
At first it was just a neat place to hear some new music, picked by other people, not an algorithm. I imagined it could work like Pandora, but with less repeats and a little more variety. But then I started thinking, “you know, if they like this song, I bet they will like this other song.” I realized that every time someone clicked the “this song is awesome” button which made their little avatar dance. The DJ playing the song got a point, and there were much cooler avatars for people with more points. I thought, “I can play them some music they will really like, and I will get those points, and we will all be so happy!”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one with this thought. Turns out, it’s actually quite hard to get a coveted spot at the decks. I tried starting my own room, but no one came. I finally found a room that allows three songs per user and keeps a waitlist. And this room has become my new online home. (I’m even there right now as I write this.)
Now I stay in the same room every day, interacting with this little community of people that do the same. I get on the list in the morning, finally get on the decks to play my three jut after lunchtime (the list is always long), and am done. Should be simple, right? But somehow, it isn’t. I spend hours watching people chat, seeing what songs people like and what they say about them. Telling them what I think of their music. And checking to see if it’s my turn yet. All for the 15 minutes of watching people’s little avatars bob their heads as one by one they click the button to let me know they like the song that I made them listen to. And it’s the highlight of my day.
Not sure how I feel about that fact, but there it is.