Friday, April 30, 2010

9/30/08: Paul Newman

I am not a fan of Hollywood, as anyone who knows me is well aware. I severed my relationship with the film industry, along with TV and most established media, several years ago, and haven't looked back. That's another post, though. The point is, when I heard that Paul Newman had died back on September 28th of '08, it was entirely by chance.

And before you fire me an angry comment correcting the date of his death, yes, I know he died on the 26th, I just didn't hear about it until the 28th. But hearing about it at all was a feat, given my sequestered status. If I hear any news at all, it's typically in a roundabout way, so it's rare I'd receive word regarding something as trivial as an actor's death (not that anyone's demise is trivial, but you catch my drift). To be honest, I really don't remember the precise means by which I came across the news, but that's not really relevant, anyway. What is is that I got it at all, and what happened two days later.

First, let it be said that I know very little about Mr. Newman. I recall seeing him in several scattered films during my plugged-in childhood, but that's all -- which is to say, the man was by no means a fixture in my psychology, and when he passed in September of '08, I retained little more of him than a name and a vague face to go with it. In fact, when I received the news, I had to trawl my waters some to come up with even that, as I couldn't remember the last time I'd encountered anything relating to Paul Newman. So when I came across his name on September 30th, the second time in forty-eight hours, I smelled a hit.

At the time of Mr. Newman's passing, I had just taken up writing, and was therefore brushing up on my grammar, which was never my strong point to begin with. And what better way to sharpen my inner tongue than to partake in the myriad online grammar quizzes floating around the web? So I settled on one -- at random, of course, a fill-in-the-blanks-type thing spit out by Google -- and the subject of the screed was none other than one of Paul Newman's films. I haven't encountered Paul Newman since.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

8/14/09: The Ayatollah

The simile is invaluable, to me, at least. I use it liberally in my fiction; sure, there are plenty other effective means of conveyance, but I've found the simile to achieve that Holy Grail of Perfect Recognition in a way rarely matched by other mechanisms, and using the fewest words possible. It's a beautiful thing, a tight, well-executed simile, and I think most authors would agree. I think I'll name my first child "Like".

Last August, I finished up a novel set in the early '80s, and like most of my narratives, it was heavily conducive to simile. One such simile in the text involved Ayatollah Khomeini, neither the first nor the last in the history of literature, I'm sure. However, when I had the little brain-orgasm that gave birth to the prose, all I could think of was "the Ayatollah," his surname escaping me (the guy's not much of a news item these days). So I jumped on the good old interweb, a writer's vade mecum if there ever was one, and in ten seconds I had his name and anything else I'd want to know about the demonized icon.

Now, skip forward twenty-four hours. Within that time, a concatenation of chance events I won't bore you with saw me receive, for free, a non-working Maxtor hard drive. Having been a tech geek in another life, I decided to look up the drive's warranty, on the off chance that I may be able to get a new, eBayable drive for the cost of shipping. I went to Maxtor's website, and when I entered the drive's serial number, to perform the warranty check, I was met with one of those lovely security-word prompts that have become fashionable in the last few years. I had trouble reading the hallucinogenic globs, but I eventually discerned two words: "keeping khomeini".

Now, I don't know, exactly, how many words such a security script has to work with, but something tells me the odds were against encountering that one in particular, and within a day of the inception of my simile. It was like butter, as Mike Myers once said.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

8/25/09: The Library, Part Deux

I've mentioned previously the magical nature of my local library, as well as my habit to raid the fiction section and grab books at random. This incident was a repeat of that, loosely. Let me explain.

First, let it be known that I enjoy Stephen King. There. I said it. I like Stephen King. Very much. But please don't pen me as a fanboy, as in, someone who likes Stephen King because he's Stephen King, much in the way Bantam likes Dean Koontz. Sure, King is a good storyteller, with strong characterization and a nice, no-nonsense narrative that lets the story do its thing; but what draws me to him again and again is the humor laced throughout his writing. There's a charm to it, and that's something both unteachable and inimitable, and a barometer of true-to-the-heart writing, in my opinion.


I have eclectic reading tastes, but every few months or so, I'll get a hankering for some King, no different than a craving for salty foods. So, I've been working through the man's massive catalog that way, devouring a novel or two here and there in between exploring new authors. And near the end of August, I got one such hankering, so I hit up the library (it's not so much that I'm a cheap bastard -- which I am, admittedly -- but that Mr. King probably has enough folding-green to wipe the asses of a small nation). I browsed through their little contingency of King's work, and bemusedly chose Dolores Claiborne, its cover dominated by the cheery image of a morose woman staring down a well, presumably at you, mwahahaha. And though I knew I wanted some King, I chose this novel entirely at random, from about twenty possibles.

Here's a synopsis (and, again, my apologies for spoilers): The book is one big confessional from Ms. Claiborne, an underprivileged Mainer who justifiably murdered her husband during a solar eclipse. And now the part material to my incident: Tucked in the nitty, gritty, slang-ridden narrative, there's an incongruous scene in which Ms. Claiborne hears a woman's discarnate voice saying something or other, which is not explained in the novel.


I read the book, which was satisfying, what I'd come to expect when opening a King novel; and then returned it a couple days later. Upon doing so, however, I found my appetite was not yet satisfied (it was King-sized, you could say, and, yes, I really just said that), so I checked out a second selection, Gerald's Game, this one, too, pulled at random from a pool of twenty or so King novels I haven't read. I'll skip right to the point, here: In Gerald's Game, you find out the source of the bizarre voice Dolores Claiborne hears in her only-loosely connected novel.

And I happened to get the two of them, back to back, without any foreknowledge of King's little Easter Egg. Now, the odds weren't quite as high as the hit I outlined in my "Big Tits" post, but I think the "coincidence" at least bears mentioning.

Monday, April 26, 2010

2/28/10: Spit

You've gotta love those days when you go through your busy routine, doing your thing all over town, only to discover, afterward, you've had an eyebooger playing stowaway, or that a zit the size of Asia had materialized over your forehead. Especially nice are when such occasions include a significant other, or, worse, a potential. Oddly, these days have a habit of supplanting those that are supposed to be the exact opposite -- birthdays, graduations, vacations.

My contretemps occupied the last category: vacation day. It was the same vacation, in fact, in which the Almighty decided to enlighten me on the intricacies of patchouli. The morning of the twenty-eighth, as I readied myself for my impromptu and aimless beach getaway, a phrase popped into my head, as phrases have a way of doing, in my case: "Is just spit I wipe off my chin." It's a song lyric, actually, Skid Row, "Riot Act". Classic album, if you're into early-nineties metal.


The phrase looped through my cranium all morning as I slaved to my grind, and I thought both nothing and everything of it, a kind of listless zen. At one point -- an early point -- I remember blowing my nose, a nonevent. I went places, I saw people, I had face-to-face social contact; and then, my obligations done, I went home, intent on loading up my truck and hieing off on my halfcocked trip. I bee-lined for the bathroom beforehand, however, and after doing my necessaries, I stole a glance in the mirror. And what did I find clinging for dear life from the forest of stubble over my chin? Not spit, no, better: a little arachnid glob of snot, an apparent misfire when I'd blown into the Kleenex hours earlier.

It wasn't a direct hit, but it was uncannily close. And who's to say Sebastian Bach's said spit wasn't, in fact, mucus? The two can look remarkably similar ...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

4/15/10: The Necessary Lies

April fifteenth was an interesting day. First I had the taxi slap me like a pissed old lady, and then I got the phrase stuck in my head: "The necessary lies," over and over again. I had gone about cutting the lawn I'd set out for, basking in the warm afterglow of the preceding Experience, and that's when the words jumped in my head, dancing like the good folks of Soul Train. I didn't know what they meant, but I tolerated them, in the way I've learned to humor the oblique things that invade my headspace.


I cut my grass, I went home, I took a shower. Nothing monumental there. And still the phrase is weaving through my thoughts, cryptic as ever. Then I lay down to read, ritual for me when the workday is done. I opened the novel I was entertaining at the time, Mortals by Normal Rush, and not three lines down did I come across the very three words that had infested my gray matter, terminating a sentence. I was dumbstruck.

Now, Logical Me was quick to point out that I could have subconsciously skimmed over the words earlier that day, when I took my postprandial reading-break. It's a phenomenon I'm well acquainted with, actually. I often run across it while editing my fiction: I'll often substitute a word, praising myself for my divine editor's eye, and then discover the very same word a paragraph or two down. Happens all the time. I've concluded we read into things much more than we consciously realize (which extends far beyond literal reading -- we know more than we know).


I began siding with good old Logical Me, that necessary bastard ... but then stopped: I distinctly remembered reading the novel-page containing "the necessary lies" for an extremely brief amount of time. Already into my third five-minute grace-period for finding a good stopping place, I'd been in a hurry to finish up the preceding page and get out of the house, and I'd read no further than the end of the connecting sentence. Which was only two words, right at the top of the page, which I'd quickly devoured before slamming the book shut, having it open no more than a second. Superman couldn't have read the paragraph that fast, consciously or otherwise.

Friday, April 23, 2010

10/1/08: "I'd like you to meet somebody"

I work out, at a local gym. No, I'm not bragging. It's just something I do, exercise, a necessary pill of life on earth. My favorite part is leaving the gym. That's always a good time of day for me, and on the October afternoon in question, I was in particularly good spirits. The weather was nice, I'd had a good workout, God was in His heaven. However, my exit from the gym was delayed a minute or so. There had been a man applying a vinyl graphic over the door, and he'd been accosted in conversation and didn't notice my needing to leave. Him and his friend chatted a moment -- probably not even a minute, more like thirty seconds, whatever -- and then Friend came inside, thereby allowing me through. The sign man apologized as I left, and I told him no problem, because it wasn't.


I went on my way, merrily going about my errands and enjoying my hard-won endorphin buzz. First stop after the gym was the local UPS drop, to ship off a guitar (another pontifical favor for my un-eBayed friend). As it turned out, though, the shipping fee was more than I expected, hence I had to leave it and go foraging for cash. I returned to the drop a half-hour later, and when I arrived, guess who happened to be there, pasting a vinyl decal over the door? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't Santa Claus.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

7/21/09: eBay Priest

Everyone loves eBay. Even people who don't use the internet or have an eBay account. Everyone with a feedback rating of over a hundred has a friend who fits this criteria, it's impossible not to, a Rule of the Universe, and said friend has no doubt recruited you to sell a thing or two for them over the years. Last year, my eBay-illiterate friend asked me to peddle a guitar for him, and I agreed, happy to. Besides his incentive of a commission, it bolstered my ego, made me feel like a priest playing go-between with him and God. Or something.


I sold the guitar, being the twelve-year eBay veteran that I am, and on the July morning in question, it came time for me to meet with my one-man flock so that we may engage in communion, aka me exchanging a check, less expenses and my cut, for the sold guitar. We were set to meet at 11:30 in the morning, but as I scrambled out of the house, only narrowly on time, I realized I hadn't double-checked the figures, so I begrudgingly stomped back inside and booted my computer. I feverishly totted the figures, and when I was done, Windows Calculator proclaimed the outstanding balance at $1,124.00, which was somehow disparate to my earlier figure by a good fifty bucks. Good thing I'd checked.


I shuffled back to my truck, made-out check in hand, and when I key the ignition, what does the clock on the dashboard read? 11:24. I'd been inside, calculating the correct sum, for four minutes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sometime in '09: Big Tits

The library is a magical place, for me at least. I rarely have any idea what I'm looking for when I go in, so I more often than not end up with a couple random books. And this undefined day in 2009 was no different: I walked in, and arbitrarily roulette-wheeled myself two books, Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker, and China Bride by Henry Luk. Well, that's not entirely true: China Bride was random, a result of it incidentally occupying the very end of a row, but the Clive Barker was a tad less so. I'd visited the C's in pursuit of another author whose name escapes me, and, disappointed, I happened upon the teeny collection of Barkers the library held, thus inspiring my selection.


I left with the two books, and started into them that afternoon, beginning with China Bride. The moderately short novel was the saga of a wealthy Hongkonger who imports his busty American wife to the region. The Hongkonger -- or Konger, if you will, I like the word, has a plosive feel to it -- becomes kidnapped, and adventure ensues. Long story short, his bride, from which the book's namesake is derived, winds up miraculously tagging along with the tactical unit sent to derail the Bad Guys, and the thrilling climax involves her exposing her massive chest to save Hubby's life, an uninspired though not unoriginal ending. (And I'm sorry to spoil the gripping denouement to any potential readers of the fantabulously unknown book, but it's central to my tale.) I finished the book in two days, and though unimpressed with the writing (English is not Mr. Luk's first language, so I have to cut him some slack), I enjoyed its naked portrayal of Hong Kong, a place I will most likely never set foot upon in my mortal life.


Next came Coldheart Canyon. I won't go into the premise of the book, as, being Clive Barker, it's more convoluted than is germane to the story at hand, but here's its relevant nugget: there is a female character in the book, with a prodigious chest, and the climax of the story involves -- drum roll -- her exposing her outsize mammaries to save the day.

Now, I don't know, exactly, how many books inhabit the adult fiction section of the Watauga County Public Library, but I have no doubt it's in the thousands. And though I'm miserable at math, it doesn't take an Einstein to grok the chances of choosing, at random, the two whose climaxes involve the utilitarian exposure of well-endowed women.

Make of it what you will.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

3/2/10: Patchouli

I write, therefore I keep a ledger of new words, which I populate throughout the day and then look up at night. One such word was patchouli, which came from some short story I read last fall. It's a plant, for those who don't know, as I didn't when I wrote it down, and it's used for a perfume. What does that tell you, though? I mean, if someone asks you what patchouli is, you can now look down your nose and tell them it's a plant that yields a fragrant perfume -- but how, exactly, does that perfume smell? Ah, we now meet the limitations of language. Sure, I could throw out a laundry list of adjectives describing the fragrance, but, ultimately, you'd never really know until you smelled it yourself. The nose knows, and more than we can cram into the clown-car vehicle of language, as it were.

This lacuna occurred to me a couple months after I made the maiden entry, in the ugly depths of February. I was studying my ledger, eating (I maximize), and as I happened across patchouli, I asked myself the same unanswerable question I just raised: But what does it smell like? The question arose idly amidst my study, like weeds in a garden, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, enough to stick with me the rest of the day. It didn't, however, hound me enough to go foraging for a sniff of the perfume, and eventually the question drifted into the cluttered mental locker into which all such minutiae must go.

Fast forward to later that week, around the 20th, I want to say -- the last leg of the month, in any case. I woke up one morning, and was instantly struck by a realization: I had to go to Myrtle Beach, SC, the first of the month, to my parents' vacation trailer. Illogical as it was, the thought came with the lightning-strike peremptory of all the other little God-bombs that pop into my head, and I knew resistance was futile. So I made the plans.

Luckily, this venture wouldn't cost much, thanks to my parents' pro bono policy regarding use of their trailer. I still had to dip into my savings, of course, but the trip wouldn't do them much harm. That said, though, the whole premise was awkward: I had no one to go with, no real reason to go, and nothing to do once I got there. All I had was the inscrutable and subjective inkling that I Go, which isn't too easy to explain. It seemed much ado about nothing, like I was dressing black-tie for a trip to McDonald's. However, I had submitted my first novel manuscript that week, just meeting the contest deadline, and I was celebrating that job done, inconsequential as such a contest entry was; so I used that as my excuse to take off to the beach for a week. It was still awkward, of course, but it was better than, "Cuz God said so. See yas."

Fast forward again, to March 2nd, my arrival at my parents' North Myrtle Beach vacation trailer. My trip from North Carolina to the coast had been uneventful, and though I still had no idea why the hell I was there at all, I was enjoying the outing, lonely as it was. I spent the day in the trailer, doing what acclimating there was to be done, and when night fell, bringing a chill (I may have been at the beach, but it was still winter, and a pugnacious one at that), it came time to find the controls for the trailer's heater.

I had been to the trailer before, a couple years ago when my parents had first made the much-toiled-for purchase, and I remembered the controls, a little coppery box sporting an -ometer of some flavor, being along a wall partitioning the two halves of the doublewide -- or so I thought. It wasn't there, so I ended up having to hunt for the thing. I covered every wall of the place, and no box, which led me to begin tearing through cupboards and cabinets and closets and every other potential hiding place, however unlikely. After exploring every square inch of the kitchen and master bathroom, I wound up in desperation opening the shutter of a shoebox-sized cubby I'd never noticed before, set into the wall a couple feet from where I thought the box should be (the box was behind a propped door, for what it's worth). The cubby had a collection of various this-and-thats, some batteries, some aspirin, an alien-looking plumbing doodad whose purpose escaped me -- along with two bottles, teeny caramel-colored glass bottles with white labels.

I took one out and read the label: Camphor, it said, and I discerned it as a thing for smelling, as used in aromatherapy. Bemusedly, I halted The Great Heater-Control Pursuit, unscrewed the childproof top, and took a whiff. It smelled good, so I replaced it in the cubby and removed its kindred bottle -- Oil of Patchouli, according to its label.

I laughed, loudly, and then opened the bottle. It, too, smelled good.

Monday, April 19, 2010

4/15/10: Taxi

It was a sunny spring day, and I was in my truck, preparing to cut a beckoning plot of grass, when I settled on the song. Having just struggled into my lawnmower-man fatigues, I was shuffling through my battered MP3 player, trying to decide on the album I was least tired of, and that's when I noticed Muse's Black Holes and Revelations, a little nugget I hadn't listened to for nearly a year. However, for some reason that I would only later understand, I selected the song immediately preceding the Muse album, "Super Sex," by Morphine. I didn't feel like listening to it -- it's a good song, sure, a choice cut from the expired band -- but I felt that familiar old tickle in the back of my head, the one that says Do this and don't ask why. So, I did it.

I hit play, then at last got out and began unloading my mower, the legato instrumental intro to "Super Sex" in both ears. Cars zipped indifferently past over the two-lane road at my back, pelting me with ephemeral cushions of air as I gassed up and Mark Sandman readied his soupy monotone. There was a faint sense of prescience as I stood along the road, like watching a basketball player agonize over a foul shot; I knew I'd chosen the Morphine song for a reason, but I couldn't say why. It didn't take long for it to become apparent, however: The first word of the song is "taxi," spoken twice, and the very instant the first repetition boiled over my headphones, a van stormed into the driveway at my right, the no-frills magnetic sign on its driver's-side door advertising Boone Taxi.

My skin prickled.