Sunday, December 31, 2017

Paper Traitor (in progress)

Sondra rolled her head back and laughed.  The deep-throated chuckle chilled Griff, hurtled him back to the time he'd owned a tire factory.  Or was it ore?  Fabrics?  Shit.  The specific industry failed to materialize. 
The glimmering shimmering moment trickling icy fingers into his ribs was attending an animated movie with his then-wife and his then-stepchildren.  Some malevolent queen up on the screen rolled back her cartoon head and laughed at the black end certain to befall the virginal heroine. 
That version of Griff would never have believed he could be tripped up by something small and light and held in the hand, enclosed in a slipcase emblazoned with NFL logos or a Hello Kitty. 
He failed to believe he was important enough to earn the title of target.  It wasn't a vast conspiracy.  It was change.  It was the way the world worked.  Once it was cave walls.  Then clay tablets.  Now the migration from the page to the indefinable, yet another progression.  He was collateral damage.  A prince vanishing in the dust of a kingdom unexpectedly crumbled.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Whatever Is Unknown Is Magnified

There is a small percentage of Americans anticipating the moment the President of the United States pulls off the mask and reveals it's been Andy Kaufman all along.  

A goof 33 years in the making.    

I've taken Kaufman in bits and pieces.  Never seen an episode of Taxi.  The closest I've come to Heartbeeps was shelving the movie novelization in a bookstore science fiction section.  

Kaufman's all over the place on YouTube.  Letterman appearances.  Dick Van Dyke appearances.  Comedy specials.  Wrestling matches.  

From this side of the last three decades, he's unnervingly prescient, sensing the future fracturing of attention spans, leaving a record in bite-sized pieces for future historians to poke and sniff and ponder.  


At the end of his Carnegie Hall appearance, Kaufman infamously invites the audience out for milk and cookies.  Buses are waiting outside to roll the horde towards their snack.  

Credits are rolling.  A single camera bounces behind Kaufman sliding through the adoring throng.  Random women embrace him.  Smooch him.  They're electrified.  He looks like a small town unknown quantity, the guy teenagers can always count on to supply them a half-rack come Friday night.  He's in a bathrobe.  Coated in sweat.  But given the razzle-dazzle apparent on men and women's faces, Kaufman could probably fuck anyone he wants right there and then.

This week Garrison Keillor was let go from Minnesota Public Radio for inappropriate conduct, specifically, a hand on a woman's back.  

Included in an e-mail to the Minnesota Star Tribune, Keillor commented: 

"If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the belt line, I’d have at least a hundred dollars."

I read that portion of his statement and thought it sour grapes.  Chest thumping bullshit.

And then I watched women all but throwing themselves at Kaufman, a resident on the same unattractive celeb shelf as Keillor, and it doesn't remove the tarnish from Keillor, but it does dangle the awful possibility that Keillor might not be speaking a complete untruth.  


At the most wonderful time of the year, a premium was placed on Beverly Center parking.  Employees with mall parking passes were hip-checked until the New Year.  Instead, we parked at the Pacific Design Center and rode a shuttle down San Vicente Boulevard to work.  Sundays we were let off a little easier.  We could park in a garage at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, just to the west of the mall.  

One, maybe two Christmas shopping seasons, I worked the max.  Overtime junkie.  Just under 70 hours a week.  Roughly, 7 AM to 7 PM.  Mostly wielding a box cutter in the bookstore backroom. Often schlepping boxes between Brentano's on the Beverly Center upper levels to the Waldenbooks Calendar Kiosk sprung to life a level below.  

Business casual dress code.  Even for the shipping clerk.  It was a powerhouse, a $2 million a year store.  Look the part, play the part. 

I pushed through the mornings on Ralph's powdered donuts.  And home, consumed an admirable amount of bacon and cheese sandwiches, potato chips, and Coke.  And even though it was Los Angles, considering the hours toiling in cardboard, strapping tape, and packing peanuts, never really saw all that much daylight.  

Shuttle in the morning dark.  Shuttle in the evening dark.  Monday through Saturday.  Sunday a glazed over anticipation of the week ahead.  Not even counting down the days to 12/25.  In the heat of the battle no end in sight.  

I don't remember lunchtime.  I know I often walked the circuit.  The bookstores neighboring the La Cienega/Beverly Boulevard intersection.  Bookstar at Beverly Connection.  Borders.  The Mystery Bookstore.  

All four years I worked Brentano's I wore the same pair of black dress shoes.  Even after the heel wore through under my right toes.  Odor Eaters sufficed as shielding between sock and Los Angeles asphalt.

At some point, Brentano's had nabbed a USPS rolling cart. Industrial-sized, burlap strapped to a metal frame, it served as the mobile recycling receptacle.  

Typical bookstore deliveries totaled 35 boxes.  Closer to the holidays, special orders from Ingram arrived every other day, comprising a dozen boxes.  Even sliced up, broken down, the cardboard accumulated quickly.

Once full, the rolling cart got shoved through the backroom door into the back tunnels. The wheels wheeked and squeaked, pushed down the dim lit corridors to the chute room, slipping through alternating pools of light and dark, navigating narrow, seeming never-ending halls.  A lurking seed quickly full-blown, the notion the corridor is purposed to deliver prospects to some black channel state funded program. Researchers splitting skulls and injecting chemicals formulated by only the most creative Nazi doctors money can buy.

That marriage, the smell of concrete and spoiled food, permeated the back corridor.  I retain it. 

I flip open the food waste bin, a switch in the brain goes live, and the smell of slops inundated concrete materializes on top of raked leaves and windswept cedar limbs like a pungent flop sweat engulfing a recently showered torso.  


I'm getting old enough I almost want to wow co-workers with my wild youth.  With who I once knew.  How close I came.  

Like the one where I once interviewed to be Jim Carrey's agent's assistant.  Or Arnold Kopelson's assistant.  Or assistant to the CBS executives overseeing Nash Bridges.  And a runner/gopher for Almost Heroes.  Or the front office help for Single Spark Pictures.

Memory can't supply an accurate location for the latter.  Somewhere on Santa Monica Boulevard.  But I do remember the same office complex supplied What About Bob? screenwriter Tom Schulman his very own dedicated, identified, hands-off-already parking spot.


Somehow someone in a collective knotted up just outside the theater knew what The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie looked like.  This is 20 years before the magic of smartphones allows everyone to know what everyone looks like.  

Come out of some movie showing on the Santa Monica promenade, we all looked, looked at the guy we wanted to be.  Grabber of the big brass ring.  Or just some random big guy with a lot of ornamental ear jewelry.  The real McQuarrie.  The fake McQuarrie.  Some guy getting off on looking like McQuarrie.  

My friend Greg, a seasoned industry receptionist, had related that the screenwriters earning face time with producers all wore black trenchcoats, all rode the bus, and all smelled.  

The promenade McQuarrie was absent a black trenchcoat.  Which proves little.  On Friday night in Hollywood, no one is taking a bus to a meeting with a producer.  


In the afternoons, Ixtlan interns did a 'run,' delivering screenplays, picking up screenplays, dropping off and picking up contracts.

Pacific Palisades to Sean Penn's house.  CAA.  Lightstorm Entertainment.  Carolco Pictures.  The People V. Larry Flynt production offices.  Some random-assed agent on Hollywood Boulevard where I saw TV's Frank in the lobby.  And then driving home spotted TV's Frank riding a ten-speed down a Los Angeles sidewalk, cleverly steering into the Missing Persons ambulatory adage.  

And at some point, I delivered to the home of either Scott Alexander or Larry Karaszewski.  A/K the duo behind Problem Child, Ed Wood, and the yet-to-be-filmed Andy Kaufman-biopic Man On The Moon.     


Back in my anger-filled twenties, I don't ever recall prepping for an interview.  Yet only a handful of years later, I went to bar exam lengths to nail the interview for a management position at a used bookstore.  A job held for barely a year.  

I was thread-close to nabbing jobs with considerable heft, prestige, oomph even, and it's entirely possible I wasn't making measurable amounts of eye contact.   

Jim Carrey's agent and I never even pressed flesh.  It was the assistant with the expiration date arranging the hoops.  Slaving dawn to dusk, and now trying to tap down on the impression he was alone in a room with a guy ignorant of office etiquette, Filofaxes, instead, grimly, determinedly, auditioning for the role of a mumble-mouthed serial killer.


It's only now I realize my interview-schtick would've come off seamlessly were I oozing in a black trenchcoat, fresh off Metro, shrugging, lip-farting in response to a producer's inquiries into my craft.


One December morning, arrived for work, parked in the Pacific Design Center garage, engine off, keys in the ignition, I checked the dashboard clock.  


The evening before, getting ready to leave work, parked in the Pacific Design Center garage, engine off, keys in the ignition, I'd checked the dashboard clock.  


It was like the drive home, dinner, sleep, shower, drive to work...
Hadn't happened.  I'd blinked is all.  The quality of darkness beyond the parking garage was the only variable displaying slight alteration.  

Dressed in a light-colored button-down shirt.  Khakis.  Feet in the same decrepit black dress shoes, toes on the right foot shielded by an Odor Eater.  Yesterday's uniform.  Today's uniform.  Tomorrow's uniform.


$7.38 was also my hourly wage.  Which explains my enthusiastic leap into the glorious realm of overtime.  And a still-to-flag sense that sanity holds together about as well as a Granola Bar once you pull the wrapper apart.


If it turns out Andy is President, although the births and deaths in the intervening decades have supplied different faces and brains to man the ship America, there might not be much difference in the nation's reaction to the unspeakable.

A segment of the Carnegie Hall show features a 70-something former actress dancing in time to the stage band rendition of an old-timey cowboy picture tune.  

Playing band leader, Kaufman exhorts tempo change after tempo change, back turned to the old woman, unaware of her collapse, her apparent heart attack.  The stage crew arrives.  CPR is performed.  A suit jacket is draped over the fresh corpse.  The corpse is left alone on stage.  

Conspiracy theorists might argue Kaufman-As-Trump is putting Lady Liberty through similar paces.  And is seemingly laser-focused on the boys in the band rather than the symbol of freedom and democracy.

Is it telling that no one in the Carnegie Hall audience seems to move?  They wait.  And wait.  And wait past the point where anyone should wait, where the con sheds cocoon and transforms into an uncomfortable creeping status quo.

They're like Red Sox fans, waiting for Ted Williams to tip his cap.


33 years in, that cap is no longer made for tipping.  


Even delivered to Carnegie Hall via time machine, I couldn't go out for milk and cookies.  Not anymore.  Not unless Kaufman provided vegan alternatives.  

The problem with backing yourself into a righteous corner is the constant thud and bump.  A step forward.  Several back.  And that cross you're lashed to constantly slipping and sliding, begging adjustment.  

Silently, I judge fictional characters and their food choices.  Harry Bosch.  Alex Delaware.  Lucas Davenport.  I can only interpret the made-up meals as avatar-fare, echoes of the novelist's leanings.

There's milk in chocolate chips.  There's butter in the cookie dough.  

Art rarely bats an eye towards the use of the animal.

This chicken.  Now eaten.

That couch.  Looks like leather.

This model.  Purchasing the crawfish, first, for the shoot, second, for her dinner.

Images lockdown the persistent persuasion to judge and condemn those benefitting from the cut short life of animals.  Yet I'm in constant dialogue with myself.  

How can you not claim that artistic statement depending in part upon the confusion and fear of crawfish is not of the same kettle and kind as the fly fishing classic A River Runs Through It or the fishing essays of novelist Thomas McGuane or virtually the entire oeuvre of nature writer/humorist Patrick F. McManus?  

And what about Annie Hall?  The lobster scene.  

And what about Andy?  

What about Andy.

All that milk.  All those cookies.






Sunday, November 26, 2017

This Is How Supervillains Are Born

     Browsing 'Fiction' after the wife and I sold books to a local Third Place Books, I found a softcover copy of The Emigrants by the late W.G. Sebald, published by New Directions. 
     Some scribbly scrawl on the title page caught my eye. I borrowed the wife's phone and performed an image search on Sebald's signature. Paydirt. 
     A Keyword search of 'Sebald' 'Emigrants' 'signed' on AbeBooks lists one result, a British edition priced north of $340. Any signed softcover or hardcover Sebald fetches collector prices. Fella's been dead awhile now.
     Third Place's signed copy was priced at $7.99.  That's not to finger waggle at incompetence. 
     Working for Half Price Books, I pulled several gems out of the buy table slush. Two I remember distinctly. An Advance Reading Copy of the first volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and even more exciting, an ARC for The Crossing, the second volume of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy.  
     On the other end of the same stick, I once got dressed down for not noticing the collectibility of a trade paperback version of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.  
     Half Price is doing a slow burn impression of the Titanic. Truthfully, I'm flabbergasted they haven't eighty-sixed their long-time bricks and mortar business model for selling chiefly online. Third Place is a different beast. There aren't 130 stores spread pell-mell across the nation. They don't host ill-advised, soul-searing flash mobs.  It's local. Even so, one would assume it can use every last injection of juice available.
     Feeling equal parts the very exemplar of moral behavior and kinship to the book-employed, I took that signed Sebald to the Third Place buy counter and in as modest and diplomatically a manner possible related the discovery and a hope the book would be repriced.
     I don't know if the buyer thought I was 'mansplaining' or if she was already in a bad mood, but the interaction left me convinced I was a rube, I was wasting her time, and my interest in helping increase their potential profits was wholly unwarranted.
     Confused and perturbed by the experience, I went the extra mile in dinkdom, crawled up the chain of command and related the interaction to someone anointed as a 'keyholder' before my wife made her purchases and we left the store.


     Look at that mug.  Robert Crais is a good looking guy.  To a certain degree, he resembles his most noted creation, Elvis Cole, a terminally sardonic but fully capable Los Angeles P.I.  
    I discovered Crais shortly after moving to L.A. and starting work at a Brentano's bookstore.  This is the period where Crais and fellow L.A. crime writer Michael Connelly were in the infant stages of ascendancy (and with a hit streaming show and some 60 million book sales to date, Connelly not only outpaced Crais but reigns as one of the crime genres undisputed 800-pound gorillas).
     I liked Connelly.  I looooooooved Crais.  Entrusted to fill the Brentano's Paperback Bestseller racks, I fudged reality and jammed that #1 slot full of Sunset Express Back in 'Mystery', Crais titles always got the face out for maximum exposure.    
     When an agent-accompanied Crais did an unannounced drop-in to the store, I breathlessly gathered stock for the man of the hour to sign.  Unfortunately, I tried to engage him in conversation.  Stuttering, muttering, sweating, there's no way I didn't come off as the potent culmination of several generations worth of intensive incest. 
    Brentano's had been inhaled by Waldenbooks.  In their infinite wisdom, some parent company higher up decided Crais was one of those authors on the brink.  He could benefit from a push towards the spotlight and Waldenbooks would benefit on the back end from a spike in sales.  
     So some sort of lunch with Bob was arranged.  At least two folks from each L.A. area store would sit down and gnosh and iron out a path to the promised land.  
     Like a dimwit, I thought I'd be one of the people invited to the lunch.  Most of management knew how much I loved the guy.  
    Right there is the stickler, perceptible to the Old Man Logan version of Brian.  An understanding of politics, how it infects and informs and influences everything under the sun.  
     One of the oh-so-many timeless lines from Blade Runner is, "You know the score, pal. You're not cop, you're little people."  
     In bookstore reality, as in any reality, "You're not management, you're little people."
     The managers returned from the Crais lunch with a gift: a galley of L.A. Requiem, the as-yet-unreleased and rumoredly epic Elvis Cole novel.  I didn't actually chuck it to the ground and grimly drop trou and anoint the manuscript in bodily waste, but my general demeanor probably indicated I was in a paint it black frame of mind.
    It gets better.  
    One of the Assistant Managers was friends with Crais's kid.  Every now and then they'd hold Buffy and Angel viewing Crais's house.
     Doubly bedeviled, I still wasn't so immature that I tore up my Elvis Cole novels or bad mouthed the books to customers.  
     I regularly remind the wife I don't have a heart.  In its stead is a hunk of black ice.  It fuels an interior Gulag where I place the things once adored that prove too painful to pursue.  I took all my love for Crais and shipped it off to the ice realm where still it remains, underfed, underclothed, inhaling coal dust, or whatever sport is in season.  


    I've only dipped a toe into Sebald.   Mostly just his poetry, leaving his novels and his celebrated memoir-fiction-history mash-ups for later.  
    After my experience trying to get his signature some props, it seems likely W.G. needs to pack his bags.  And pack for the cold.  
    Experience in trying to marry customer to product was instructive.  It's always a total chance proposition that the right customer walks into a used bookstore and finds that collectible they can't live without, personal budget be damned.  
     A display case at the Capitol Hill Half Price location featured signed Eric Powell convention sketchbooks and even a copy of his infamous Satan's Sodomy Baby one-shot.  There were even comic books signed by the late great Michael Turner.  None of those goodies were exorbitantly priced.  Arguably, they were underpriced, but if memory serves me right, those gems did an impression of the ark of the covenant; dumped into boxes, they are stored in some remote warehouse, gathering dust ever since the location went belly-up.  
     To a large degree, wielding the W.G., I know I overloaded the disarming quotient.  I will never be Hugh Grant.  Trying to be charming, I come across like some seasoned shady haunter of the freeway rest stop, biding my time until the right plump fly stumbles into the web.  
     Given that, my Sebald interruption could only be processed as intrusion.  Desperate airs towards not mansplaining backfire and can only resonate as by-the-book exercises in the putrid MS.  
    And again, although her responding attitude still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I recognize most bookstore employees carry with them an implacable notion of geography - the defined borders between customer and employee.  Any random jerk placing a toe over the line risks enshrinement in the rogue's gallery.  
     Which is fine.  Being thought of as a creep is a comfort zone, just as I'm well-tread minding the ice cored in the ribs.  And Bob can't help but be happy for the learned company.  W.G. was a professor for years and years before attempting the trade book route.  Besides, based on the image below, Sebald already knows how to rock a scarf.  And those whiskers will only grow in resplendency threaded with thick laces of quick to form and then uninterrupted ice.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Choke On It, DeMille

     For years I worked Black Fridays, even one Black Thursday - the latter amounting to observing a scattering of mournful Thanksgiving outcasts, lonely middle-aged men seeking used media instead of human companionship.    
     Feeding the crew is a big part of greasing the skids on a Black Thursday.  Feeding the crew is a big part of any retail operation as you slide towards the oily greasy maw of December 24th.  
     Over the years - on at least two separate occasions - co-workers complained about the fact that snacks delivered to the break room didn't offer vegan options.  At the time I overheard the complaints, I was circling full-flowered vegetarian status (probably with the sticky exception of chicken teriyaki...the one dish running neck-and-neck with cheese pizza and M& M's I miss most).   
     Not that I stated it, but at the time my mental formulation for the put-upon vegans coalesced into, "You backed yourself into that corner, Jack.  Deal with it."  
     It reminded me of attending the Queer Slam years beforehand, formulated for providing gay, lesbian, bi-, poly-, and transgender folk a welcoming and non-threatening environment to celebrate their wordsmithing and their culture.  At one point in the festivity, I overheard someone say, "I don't feel represented."  I remember looking at them, but I don't remember which "category" they looked like to my straight white male mind.  Which isn't to hamstring my empathy for any group stating displeasure.  It simply illustrates the math in pleasing everyone is particularly elusive no matter the genius working the chalkboard.  
     The retail-employed treat supplier, whether employer or co-worker, operates under zero obligation to take the caloric temperature of every last employee on the schedule and provide vittles appropriate to the wants and desires on tap.  Tossing the thin weave of hard earned cash towards the good of the many is applause earning in and of itself.  Asking for that extra consideration is arguably the first step upon a slippery slope.  
     Looking at the man in the mirror, compared to those former vocal co-workers, I'm a lousy vegan.  
     Since taking the leap, I've eaten frosted Pop Tarts.  I've ingested gelatin capsules.  For the fact of purchasing food for four-legged carnivores, I would not even label myself vegan, but people love labels.  Labelling differentiates at the same time it doubles up and plops you down into an inclusive state.  I AM THIS AND THIS I AM.  Pages torn from the history book, the evangelical whitewashing of all that has come before.  Balderdash.  I don't like belonging beyond belonging to my wife and the fuzzy sociopaths running the joint.  
     When I'd buy snacks for co-workers these last few years, they were vegan-friendly, not that I'd promote the fact and not that I felt like I was slipping a fast one past anyone.  My morals decided the sacrificial bent of my cash.  I've bought the wife's groceries and doubled-down on the favor by not hectoring, indicating egg and dairy consumption are only adding to suffering.  She knows my need for a full-speed acceleration from the land of consuming animal products (at least except for honey; that shit is in everything, chapstick to bourbon).
     But if I possess any saving grace, it is acknowledging laziness and a well-honed penchant towards being full of crap.  
     If a grocery item label indicates the contents might've come into contact with dairy or eggs, I won't buy it.  Yet, say the wife has vegetarian sausage and an egg for breakfast, a full 75% of the time I won't even bother to wash the pan before using it to cook a vegan Boca burger.    
     The last time I attended any kind of Thanksgiving get-together I ate turkey.  The year before I'd tried Tofurky.  I can't remember the taste.  In an act of as yet un-repaid bravery, my brain might've blacked out the atrocity.  
     Removing myself from Thanksgiving festivities isn't a surprise.  Crowds in tight spaces just aren't my gig.  Crowds consuming animal flesh and animal products in close proximity even less so.
     Arguably, going to the movies is and is not the same as attending a holiday nosh fest.  A regular old movie theater experience involves buttered popcorn and all the milk chocolate treats money can buy.  Some theaters offer that more mature level experience and you can slosh beer and masticate meat while watching a flick.  
     Ticket bought, it wasn't until I was in the lobby for a viewing of Logan I realized theater companions both immediate and indirect were going to be putting incisors into all-out exercise while Hugh Jackman performed perforations galore.  I didn't act upon the glory of my vegan conviction and walk out of the joint.  Me and my little corner sat in our seat for two-plus hours, hardly tending a thought towards the lives of pain and terror experienced by the animals reduced to foodstuffs now sliding their way down multiple surrounding intestinal tracts. 
     Convenience might be what I'm attempting to dissect.  The moments where the knight's armor proves too heavy.  The inward tilted eye magically bestowed sight once more, we return to the Grail quest as though nothing of demonstrable significance transpired during that segment painted blank or black in memory.       
     I don't seek accommodation.  I don't go out and eat at restaurants almost specifically because people are nice enough to accommodate me, wanting to make sure the group will deal with menu choices appropriate to my rationale.  It is one of those times when it gets clear to me I've become like a cat more and more over the years.  Not the carnivorous quotient but the inexplicability of my reasoning.  For surely, if I can go to the movies where people are willy-nilly eating from the dreaded food options, I should be capable of putting aside my war long enough to enjoy company in a restaurant setting.  
     Variables at play are quite similar.  The entertainment has the most notable substitute - conversation for film - but under the bright lights, eating choices only serve to inflate the holier than thou snoot riding rein over my soul.    
     Novelist Nelson DeMille's November newsletter message irritated me enough I deleted it from my inbox weeks ago.  Wielding old salt of the earth philosophy like a machete, he gleefully hacked away, belittling animal rights advocates bemoaning the massacre of millions of turkeys.  Indeed, DeMille looks forward to the annual bloodletting.  The October 2017 newsletter excerpt below is indicative of how DeMille's heart swings towards rubber souls of any variety:

October 31 is Halloween...The politically correct crowd is upset about "cultural appropriation," meaning dressing like an American Indian or a Mexican bandito or something - unless you actually are an American Indian or a Mexican bandito.  To those well-meaning, but misguided misfits I say, Dress like the Scarecrow; he had no brain and neither do you.

     The politics of entertainers endanger love.  Stephen King's slant on the President is probably the cause of more lost readers than DeMille's exhibitionistic glee in taunting vegan pansies such as myself.
     What wears on exposed nerves is that the current seeming daily revelations of sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated by men in power will certainly take its rightful place as conversation du jour over mashed potatoes and Aunt Claire's sweet potato pie.    DeMille's steadfast stance on the slaughter of the being offered up in white and dark portions does not register as an attackable indiscretion.  
     Only if a DeMille or King or Coates or Connelly or Child were revealed as potent purveyors of the dirty old man mindset would their actions or philosophy suffice for scorn.  Meat murdered at a galloping rate per second is not as interesting or as self-relatable as meat placed in uncomfortable situations with older and well-known meat even though each victim is enduring suffering from nothing more than pure circumstance: the purveyor gets away with what they can; the prevailing culture determines said license.     
     PETA preaches to the choir this season, too, courtesy of a shock effect baby-as-turkey ad.  Given their track record, I'm slow to acknowledge common ground, and wholeheartedly rationalize anyone's gut check or ample disgorge exposed to the image below.

    Also, I freely admit the disingenuousness of a meatless radicalism when for fairly 89% of my life I bellied up to the holiday feast owning zero thought towards the short, sad lives up for dispatch. 
    I have fond memories of Thanksgiving, in particular, the pre-meal snack array my mom would prepare.  An overflowing selection of meat and cheese and dips and chips.  I know if I'd been approached by some odd duck uncle trying to politicize my football snack choices, the other adults in attendance would've softened the hectoring with chuckles and soft-pointed rejoinders indicating the soft-headed freak needed to leave the poor boy alone.  
    Every year, day, hour, second, I find myself more afield with those Black Thursday outcasts and that mythical plant chomping uncle. 
     Brothers in arms, a milling mutant strain of introvert, expatriates imitating taffy, slowly pulling themselves apart between needing no one and seeking affirmation from if not the literal company of pseudo-mystical misanthropic kin.
      Were this proud breed a Thanksgiving Day dish it would be relegated to untried status. Saran wrap tucked taut over an indistinct mass meat or loaf or dessert but inarguably brown, festooned with color-leached slices (onion? orange?) and an unseemly chunkish glaze (gravy? frosting?), whole cloth warranting distrust and distance from even the most daring of palates.   





Friday, November 17, 2017

Bentley > Jim

My word-producing silence perturbs me.  This one is weird, too.  

John D. wrote a lot of novels and - depending on the estimator - some 500 short stories, most never collected.  

Steve Scott was doing the Lord's work in a way, digging deep into his JDM resources and sharing the wealth, mostly in detailed synopses of those "lost" JDM shorts.  That it's been a year since his last peep is off-putting in a lot of ways...Honestly, mostly in that a whole effing year has gone by that quickly.  

About as Luddite as you can get (i.e., I'm the only person on the west coast without a cell phone), cloud silence makes sense to me.  I don't know how to wholly eliminate Facebook from my existence so settle for logging out and staying logged out.  

I could "reach out" to Mr. Scott, but I don't do that so well.  Commenting to strangers, I come off sounding in written-form like I sound in the spoken - potential serial killer in training.  


Exit The Skin Palace isn't exactly shattering download records.  Given my confusion towards self-promotion, not a surprise.  

Mostly, what halts me from putting up links on a lot of ebook sites is the utter conviction that it's not readers that ever look at those sites; it's only poor bastards in my boat, the unwashed hordes jostling for a tap from the fame and fortune stick.  Every now and then I poke around on Awesomegang and happen on some NoNameNudnik out there with a solid dozen works of fiction to their name and no signs of stopping.  It's glorious.  It's inspiring.  It makes me sigh and look at the keyboard like she's no good for me and I'm no good for her but we got nobody else.    

One idea for another novel remains in the infant state, what I keep thinking of as my 'Sylvia Plath' novel.  Another idea popped into my head poking at the ever popular 'what if/revenge' spinny wheel of fun.  We'll see if it attracts enough juice to go forward.  Other than bone-crushing depression another slight impediment to writing concerns hurting my hand.  I tweaked it while opening a door.  Opening.  A.  Fricking.  Door.  If this is a bellwether as to all the joys of incipient old age, I want out of the car. 


I'm trying to finish off the current roster of Bentley Little novels.  He reminds me a lot of Jim Thompson, not necessarily in a good way, but a familiar way.  

With Thompson, it's a 30/70 split, in other words, 70% of the time, a Jim Thompson novel is just kind of a turd in hand.  Bentley, I'd swing the other way around.  70/30, easy, although out of the six I've sprinted through of late, the gold is a little harder to find and cherish.  At this point, tossing in The Collection and Indignities Of The Flesh, I've read 20+ books by the guy.  Obviously, I likes.  

And true, as far as stinkers by established authors go, Raymond Chandler's Playback can't be topped in the realm of betrayal by trusted wordsmiths.  For my money, Playback's closest pop culture toxic cousin is likely Highlander II: The QuickeningYou wonder what Chandler was thinking while writing it.  Probably, "Jesus Eff, I need another drink."  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Man, I Hope Axl Is Right

The rumor about Charles held he'd squirted lighter fluid on the back of his hands and lit a match.  Self-inflicted punishment for writer's failure.  The words wrong or his sorting of them wrong or some audience reaction less than stellar.  Charles taught film studies and drama, tiny classes at the community college.  Seated up front, I had more than enough opportunity, but scars, damaged hands, these I did not see.  

Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud and Larry Brown all burned finished manuscripts.  And then there's the tale about Dashiell Hammett, winding down, whittling old manuscripts down until paragraphs became sentences became words became letters.  

The manuscripts for my books float in the cloud.  Delete is the new burn barrel.

The ache from not writing is so damnably odd.  The older I get, October and November knock me down a little harder each year.  In my most mournful phase, I always think the date I died was 11/4/2000, the day I drove out of Los Angeles for good.  Been a corpse ever since so failure in so many other aspects of life doesn't really matter.  

The writing thing though.  Without it, I get a little twitchy.  Maybe not DFW or Hemingway not being able to write twitchy, but twitchy.  I admit an ignorance of the horror stories of female writers dealing with a downturn in the muse pulling strings, but I can imagine it's a mover and a shaker in Ms. Woolf's decisive day at the waterfront.  

Novel ideas are DOA.  What passes I make towards poetry evict Bill the Cat style hurling from the reader-portion of the writer in my head.  I'm all tapped out in the essay/social commentary vein.  Right now, it's the shits all around up to the point I can't even finish a letter to grandma.

The cat thinks it's marvelous though.  The somber monkey spends less time seated at the desk, more time on the bed, staring into space, sighing.  

So long as someone wins. 


Saturday, November 4, 2017


Talk of the tech writer focused on two fronts.  Arranging a meeting with her and the fact that for her size, she sported large breasts.  The manager even held his hands up, cupping the phantom mammaries just so the others in the office caught the idea completely.   The tech writer, mercifully, was not present at the time.

When I orbited the local poetry slam scene, mostly as observer and occasionally as an open mic mumbler, I earned a permanent gnarl in my neck and shoulders, reacting to the inevitable 'beautiful woman' poem - the short piece detailing the attractiveness of a male poet's affections, usually a co-worker or some poor soul at the bus stop or the Whole Foods, going about her day, unaware of the cosmic tumult her existence inflicted on some random victim, how her winsome gait inspired spirited comparisons to creatures springing across the African plain, or perhaps, soft, slow summer rains.

That stands steady as obstacle-deluxe for the poet.  Describing meat in ways meat has never been described before.  

I still remember a woman's reaction to a double-header of male-assayed slam pieces.  The first - performed by a veritable Baby Huey of a man - alerted the audience to the fact that he was the follow-up to the midnight bootie call man.  In the second, a male duo dished a hip-hop description of tag teaming 'fat chicks.'  The female audience member finally cried out and pulled the plug on the ever-escalating in aggression piece, arguing that this wasn't clever wordsmanship.  Instead "it was all just meat."
Objectification is a handy dandy tool.  The Incredible Hulk is a busy guy.  He doesn't have time to spout at length about specific feats.  "Hulk is strongest there is!" encapsulates the general thrust of complex force-versus-mass calculations Bruce Banner could rattle off to colleagues without breaking a sweat.  

Can you penalize a budding Rod McKuen for celebrating the fortunate arrangement of particulate matter by cramming insights into a minimum of saliva-flecked stanzas?  The human eye and ear can only take so much.  We're all semi-familiar with the realm of perfect forms.  We get it fairly quickly when yet another model fresh from that particular production line stands at issue.

While working part-time in college, a full-time male colleague asked if I'd noticed that one of my female co-workers sported 'blowjob lips.'  As far as I know, this winning physical feature was never brought to the young woman's attention.  

More recently, a co-worker at the bookstore described a former female co-worker as 'inappropriate shirt girl,' a determined-to-be-tactful term that in its very propagation negates tact.  The woman in question was big busted.  The possession of flesh in such generous quantities is often not the owner's fault.  The male co-worker making the remark could easily be deemed 'inappropriate shirt guy,' since he had 'pulled the ripcord' so to speak, and was inflating daily.  His propensity for a size too small button down shirts only emphasized enshrinement in the same spilled tar.

No one should trust men who state for the record that all they care about are eyes or a pretty smile.  That kind of white-washed line only serves as a front for seething, pulsating animal aggression.  Yet, when I think of my wife, more often than not, I picture her smiling face.  This might have something to do with the fact that on exit or entrance to the residence, I often end up glancing at the headshot on her work ID.

Thinking of myself, I usually first consider my knuckles or my nose.  Both are problematic tissue issues.  Regular exposure to heat and now cold only exacerbating that old inconvenience of dried, damaged, psoriatic fun.   

Thinking of random comic book characters always inserts a particular penciler's take on the character.  I think of Superman, Curt Swan's Superman leaps to mind.  I think of Spidey, I think of the Ron Frenz version.  

To be fair, to point out the obvious, often thinking of women, I don't think of the soul, the personality, instead my brain slingshots focus towards proportions, hefts, winsome gaits.  I don't own the confidence to swap precise preoccupations with any other living soul.  Keeping to the shadows is the wiser course.  

The human dilemma is the attempt to extricate ourselves from the limits of our bone-and-tissue home.  To connect with other souls and slip the dread chamber.  The machinations of propagating the species, the drive to create fair copies of those who stir us the deepest, remains priority one.  Tabs and slots.  Insertions and suffusions.  Without avenues for release, with preferred avenues stymied, the fuel begins to bloat or leak.  

That's not an explanation or an excuse for harassment or predatorial behavior.  But the runway for that behavior is laid down by a slow accretion, toxic environments built one derogatory comment at a time like one of those mosaics created by the clever arrangement of hundreds or thousands of smaller articles.  

All the male colleagues mentioned above would fall into the category of 'good guys.'  All are married.  Two have children.  Their wives trust them.  Their daughters trust them.  Yet, unleashed in trusted environments, they willingly and gleefully reduce women to component parts, objects, targets, meat.  

The current cultural climate includes discussion of men - good men - stepping forward and permanently denouncing the culture perpetuated by the Weinsteins of the world.  About time.  Good for us.  Clap-clap-clap.  It smacks of window dressing.  Harumphing.  
Some long-simmering seething with pork piece of legislation about to go up for a vote in Congress.

Meat is what we are and what we have.  We can't divorce ourselves from the genetic imperative.  And we can't get what we want - who we want - most of the time.  So it distorts our interactions.  If you can't tell the tech writer her boobs are big for her size, you'll at least inform some colleagues of your discovery.  By directing attention to a couple pounds of fat, you now own those breasts.  Mark it as a win.

When I think of that tech writer, I don't think of her pleasing proportions.  I just picture her as any man or woman reduced to a component part, now licking blood from paws post-revenge.  We focus on the pleasing aspects.  The tantalizing aspects.  Ignoring at our peril that any potential feast almost always bears some kind of claws.  



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Moving Into A Land Of Both Shadow And Substance

Casey performed at least one sex act back in the Brentano's 'Kids' section.  He told me about it while we walked from the Beverly Center to turn in the afternoon deposit.  Or he told me while getting a hot dog at Tail O' the Pup after the deposit.  Or in the store itself, opening or closing, or even back in a quiet moment between customers in 'Science Fiction/Fantasy', Casey's go-to for reading material.  

It's all a blur.  It couldn't help but be.  About 1 in every 10 sentences out of Casey's mouth orbited his nutsack.

For someone so unapologetically sharing about his sexual exploits, Casey had almost zero tolerance for sex-related counter jabs.  

Once he held up some new release, a book and frisbee sealed in cellophane, and he asked, "What do you think this is?"

"Your mother's diaphragm," I said.  

Casey looked disgruntled.  He did bounce back relatively quickly.  Of course he did.  I was locked in the front row, never complaining when he'd whisper fresh exploits, even with the curly haired waif on staff, one of the many women he delighted in denigrating, living up to his oft-voiced credo, "I'm not a nice guy, Bri."  
Since virtually all of my adult working life involves serving the public, I collect anecdotes.  A recent one, the creepiest one, the one with the most resonance involves a dad dropping his kid and wife off on university grounds.  Kid and mom go to join a campus tour.  Dad goes to find parking.  Dad pays the gatehouse attendant for a parking permit.  The gatehouse attendant can't help but notice in dad's lap is a smartphone, the paused screen displaying a naked woman arrested in what appears to be mid-writhe.  Like she's riding someone.  Like dad here has been driving the streets, porn spooling out on his khakis the entire time.  

The problem for the harasser or the sex bragger or the sex addict is to balance variables.  

For the harasser and bragger, it's target/audience and environment.  For the addict, it's constant deflection of the unwanted on-looker.  

Not being a woman, I can't vouch for it, but being harassed, it would seem essential issues eroding from control are safety and security -- the safety of the workplace and the security of the job.

For a harassed male, wanting to keep employment secure is important, but I'd substitute identity for safety.  

Men aren't supposed to get harassed.  It's like suffering rape if you're a guy.  Does it mean you aren't masculine enough?  Does it mean maybe you wanted another guy to give it to you?  Maybe you're gay after all.  

Remove the physical attack and substitute unwanted verbal gymnastics sourcing from a woman or man, and it's still demeaning, and a sure launch into the twilight zone.  How can you stay on the same parcel of self if you're accusing someone who weighs all of a buck-ten of peeling back that supposedly hardy rind?

I never met Kevin Spacey.  He never looked at me.  No one ever introduced us.  But not long after he won the Academy Award for American Beauty, he ended up at the Brentano's cash register.  One of the temp employees freaked the fuck out -- an almost odd occurrence given the fact the Beverly Center was prime stomping grounds for celebrities from Jason Alexander to Larry Flynt.  The 'almost' qualifier solidly in place since 6' tall Rebecca successfully betrayed her Swedish roots with vocal gymnastics arguably pertinent to the introduction of Keyser Soze to her afternoon register shift.  At least one other employee, a perennial knock-knock-knocker on the acting fame door, was incensed that Rebecca couldn't display more decorum in the presence of newly entitled Hollywood royalty.

The closest I've ever gotten to getting propositioned was when an obviously intoxicated and quite possibly mentally unstable Los Angeles Public Library patron offered to suck my cock.  We were in the 'Gardening' section at the downtown branch.  He stood on the other side of the shelf, staring through the void created after I'd slid a book into my hand.  After about three seconds of broadcasting system-wide confusion, the signal bounced off his antennae, and for all I know he wandered off and found a willing participant that very hour.  

I don't question my would-be paramour's attempt.  Deep cored in my being is an unsettling resilience, or, tolerance, or, flat out chicken-shit gene.  A girl I pined for once pinched my arm black, laughing that I hadn't let her know it hurt.  The current deluge of revelations presents evidence of the hegemony in if not decay, sudden disarray.  The time for tolerance might be over.  If it means scum like Brett Ratner faces prison time or just final total excommunication from the glittering basin, the world can't help but be a better place.     



Monday, October 30, 2017

Here's A Noose. What's Your Hurry?

(WARNING: What follows isn't book or writing or media related.  It's personal.  Delivered with all the usual charm.  But it's about the dread S.H.)

I hate having my picture taken.  I know what I look like.  I know what my voice sounds like.  Neither pleases me.  I am still gobsmacked that my wife married me.  The wedding photos show a luminous bride.  The groom looks like the guy the neighborhood kids are 75% certain is a serial killer.  


Enrolled in a metro driver class, the problem put before the students involved figuring out a desired route or destination when the bus passenger at hand might have a speech impediment.  Solution: You let the passenger use her or his finger to write the relevant number on your palm.  

As a test, to see how sensitive our palms proved, the class instructor had each table pair proceed to palm write.  I wrote in the palm of my classmate.  She got every number.  Swell.  Her turn.  She wrote 5.  Yep.  Got it.  17.  Sure.  Then...69.  With a pause.  And a little sidelong glance to see if I 'got' it.

The metro class was a time-intensive endeavor.  Basically, you got shot through the chute to try and take a CDL test determining whether or not you had the right stuff or not.  Almost all of us were working full-time jobs while taking the class.  A little harmless sex joke didn't seem appropriate to bump up into kerfluffle form.  Also, as though I can't stress it enough, I am not a good looking guy.  If anything I believe sexual advances made towards me are made for the simple reason my default setting is looking uncomfortable.  I guess some people just want to up the ante and pop the uncomfortable into the red with a little squirm thrown in for flavor.  

For years (and years and years and years and sweet Jesus, years) I worked in the retail book world in the general Seattle-area, all for the same company.  

I encountered three instances of sexual harassment at 2 of 3 locations, and the harassment I encountered/endured/dealt with sourced from female co-workers.  

In the first instance, the unwanted advances/jokes were directed both at me and another male co-worker (we'll call him Connor).  Connor and I approached our boss, informed the boss of the goings-on, and agreed we'd try to defuse the situation on our own before opening the human resources can of worms.  The can, I'm still happy to say to this day, remained unopened.  I don't know what particularly drove my female co-worker into her temporary madness, but she's still someone I miss, and over time have come to admire for her fine works outside retail-Hell. 

The other two instances I'll thumbnail.

One, basically at a workstation by ourselves, a female co-worker let me know how much she enjoyed anal sex with an understated offer for partaking in the activity.  There was no provocation other than the Casual Conversation Muse was having a glitch of unfortunate proportions.

Two, another female co-worker, on multiple occasions, let me know how much she enjoyed oral sex - receiving and performing.  

In one of the above instances, the co-worker would get a pass from most people, even management, even the most rod-up-their-butt human resources expert for the simple existence of outstanding health issues.  It's what I think of as the Ewok Effect.  

Take any issue of the day, and insert an Ewok, and the scoundrel in the crosshairs is suddenly sympathetic.  Think of Hitler.  But if it's an Ewok in jodhpurs and with the little cute!   The Holocaust is practically excusable.

So, if the female employee telling me about anal or oral is somehow hurt or hobbled in some dreadful and permanent state, complaining either to them or to a boss about being harassed is tantamount to complaining about an Ewok.  

ME: "Hey, I know I'm gonna sound like a jerk for complaining about this but the Ewok was telling me in graphic detail about getting a little nookie."
BOSS: "The Ewok had sex?  OHMIGOD!  That is so cute!"

I come from the Go Along To Get Along School.  The bad thing is I also come from the I Never Forget A Slight School.  And not slights directed only my way but towards family.  This is not a happy marriage.  This is why my hair is thinning.   

In his work office, my dad would hang a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models calendar.  On the inside of the door.  In other words, no one could see it.  And it's not like Dad held meetings in his office.  He was usually out of the office, out in the woods doing the job of a Fire Management Officer.  But one woman in the business office took issue with the calendar and filed sexual harassment charges.  She was a piece of work, the kind of turd that bobbled back up in everyone's toilet, seeking to inflict hardships with wide a brush as possible because of course everyone always tries to undermine a minority woman.  I think the troublemaker would be a short spitting distance from 70 at this point in her life.  Even so, given the chance for a face-to-face, I would have to fight like a mother dog to suppress unleashing a hot torrent of insensitive language.    

This is now a post-Harvey Weinstein world.  And now Kevin Spacey is thrown into the fire, too, with who knows how many more to follow.  What Annabella Sciorra, Natasha Malthe and just too goddamned many other women have suffered at the hands of Weinstein and his species of shit is a different kind of Hell than I can know.  All I've known in comparison was a Heck.  A low-level smidge of a Heck.  

I think the basic problem is people have genitals.  And as so often occurs, people misread the room.  And the company.  And their companions openness to information or first-hand experience with said genitals.     

What I'm waiting to see yet not expecting to see, is men coming forward to detail their experiences being harassed by women.  It seems highly unlikely any woman could be a Weinstein-sized monster.  But I know there have to be lots of men who've bitten their tongues or didn't want to rock boats and went along to get along.  Saying something, problems arise.  Saying nothing, the stress monkey shortens your lifespan.  The poisons don't care.  A or B, the crossbones marked wine is gonna flow.



Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pluck Your Magic Twanger, Froggie

Blazing Saddles is overloaded with memorable scenes, but the one I always think of is where the Honorable Governor Lepetomane hands out paddle balls "in lieu of pay."

When I can't write prose, I usually do not write at all.  2014 I didn't write a damn word.  It was a weird stretch following a solid decade and a half of writing every morning.  

This year I cranked out two novels, and then September shuttered the doors.  I keep poking at novel ideas, even something titled The Monitor which would be in the vein of Bentley Little but most of the inspirations seem best suited for continued segregation in the hopper.  

So, in lieu of prose, I've turned back to poetry.  Not that this is a good thing.  Not that I'm qualified to be called a poet.  Karyna McGlynn is a poet.  Morris Stegosaurus is a poet.  I'm just some poor schlump, but like schlumps in even the darkest part of the forest, I feel the need to connect.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bottling Whine

According to author Amelinda Berube, there is a likely reason 50+ agents have given the big thumbs down to Exit The Skin Palace:

I suspect the trouble you’re encountering in pitching to agents is that you’re kind of falling into a weird place between middle grade and YA. With a 12-year-old main character in the query and opening chapter, most agents are likely dismissing it as miscategorized. 

And according to query feedback courtesy literary agent Peter Knapp of Park Literary:

I found both the narrative and the dialogue in this manuscript to sound older than the MG voice you want to aim for. I’d say the characters talking about losing weight and bottling “whine” to sell are more likely to be heard from YA characters.

Dead, Monty is 12 and will be 12 forever and ever until he moves on to whatever is beyond the Game Room (the rust-colored wasteland occupied by ghosts with too strong a tie to the land of the living).  

Having written a second title using the character, I've realized I take the approach to Monty that Sam Raimi uses on actors from Bruce Campbell to Tobey Maguire, which is to just really smack the poor SOBs around and make them suffer for the good of the art.  

Besides being dead and fighting malevolent forces, Monty gets to watch friends and family move on without him. 

Right out of the box (or out of the grave -- so-to-speak), he discovers a good four years have inexplicably ticked away.

His parents have chosen to have another kid.  His two best friends - Trista and Denny - are no longer 11 and 12.  They're teens.  Monty...He's a pre-teen.  For good.  If ever there's a 4th book (let alone a 3rd) Trista and Denny will be graduating high school and leaving Monty all but behind.  

I didn't know that on top of trying to surf the deluge of self-published writers out there I'd also be adding an extra chain to my ankle by blissful ignorance of category (middle grade vs. young adult vs. teen, etc). 

There's something to be said for tempting a protagonist with monumental despair when the author -- given the steep climb to having adoring readers and any sort of 'literary career' -- considers 'despair' the default setting for the whole writing enterprise. 

I expect Monty's stubborn nature to make up for my mourn-ridden slack. I can feign doing my part, and a shared lockstep - though off a beat here and there - is not a bad rhythm.