Sunday, January 15, 2017

RUNDOWN OF THE ANTI-HERO

          For a long time it was normal.
          Questioning authority, opposing constraint, rebelling against the establishment qualified as heroism in film. During the Depression movie bad guys were the good guys. Films such as The Public Enemy (1931) and Little Caesar (1932) made bank while stealing the admiration of viewers identifying with James Cagney characters. Cagney's anti-hero appeals not just for his tough guy persona, but because he refuses to accept his position at the bottom of the social scale.
          A decade later Humphrey Bogart epitomized the anti-hero as both a convict on the run in High Sierra (1941) and in the same year as quintessential private eye Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Inevitably, the popularity of the character at odds with convention holds such conventional appeal, he is co-opted by the establishment. In Casablanca (1942), Bogie's Rick Blaine initially looks out for himself, but ultimately wants to help the Allied cause. (George Lucas was aware of this when he created Han Solo.)
          Another decade later, Marlon Brando redefined the anti-hero, and continued doing so throughout most of his long career. When asked what he's rebelling against in The Wild One (1953), he says, "What have you got?" As bank robber Rio in the only movie he directed, the excellent Western One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Brando's revenge against his former partner, now the sheriff (sturdy Karl Malden), is anti-hero gold.
          In 1964, '65, and '66, Clint Eastwood made the anti-hero the ultimate hero. His characterization of The Man With No Name began with the re-make of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), wherein Toshiro Mifune plays a ronin samurai. In all these cases, the lone individual at the center of the story appeals to audiences by forcefully following his own code of honor.
          Bonnie and Clyde (1967) stands as a landmark anti-hero movie not simply for being based on the well-known true story of the Depression-era bank-robbing gang, but because it's also one of film's great romances. Played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the heroes of the story steal, fornicate, and murder their way into the audience's heart. Superman never did that.
          Probably the most likeable anti-hero, Paul Newman set the bar for iconoclastic charm in Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Whether he's in prison for a small crime and trying to get out, or on the run for robbing trains, he's the hero of the story, not the guys with the badges at all.
          The same holds true for Steve McQueen. In Papillon (1973) we're rooting for the convict because we don't trust the system. Deep down what we want are checks and balances. We need to see that the underdog can win.
          One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) showcases arguably the best anti-hero ever with Jack Nicholson's portrayal of R.P. McMurphy. Lots of anti-heroes are lousy people--Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976), Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007). But Nicholson's McMurphy is an anti-hero sun god whose sacrifice saves us all.



Friday, January 13, 2017

WE COVER THE BOSS

Our version of Bruce Springsteen's I'M ON FIRE is a plucky li'l duet which, even though raw and unfinished, has value precisely because of that. Seeing how getting there is all the fun, I'm interested in process. The song ain't ours to make a dime off of anyway, so the thing here is just to show Tamson's idea of picking up the pace. Truth be told, we might have tipped back a wee dram or two that night, and thereby forgot a couple things on how the song goes. Let that be a lesson to you on why to not drink and sing. Anyway, enjoy, and do expect more fun shared by Howlin' Stew and whatever it is Tamson calls himself in the all-too-near future. By the way, I put the picture here of me with a buncha drywall I hefted because I forgot to take one of me and T-Man that night and figure he and the Boss would rather not have the song overly associated with my mighty back. Again, a lesson for you to not drink.
https://soundcloud.com/stewart-kirby/im-on-fire
I'M ON FIRE

Thursday, January 12, 2017

DIRTY ENERGY

Woo wee, got a little ragtime number for ya. Tamson Ross on gee-tar.
The guitarist for my old band CrowMag introduced me to his brother, and we done hit it off right dandy. We played a buncha songs the other nght, some newies I done wrote, plus a couple of Bruce Springsteen's. By golly when we get the time, damn if we won't do it again. I suppose we could call ourselves Howlin' Stew and Muddy Ross. The Man, maybe. I kinda like Hard Dog, too. Still up for grabs. Fer good times, click the link. We got another one on SoundCloud called JUST A FACE.


Much obliged!
https://soundcloud.com/stewart-kirby/dirty-energy
DIRTY ENERGY

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"PASSENGERS" MOVING

          Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in a love story for the ages.
          A spaceship from Earth on a 120-year trip to an Earth-like planet carries 5,000 passengers in a state of hibernation which will allow them to wake up, effectively un-aged, shortly before reaching their destination.
          Unfortunately--and this much is revealed in the film's trailer--two of the passengers accidentally wake up too soon. Ninety years too soon.
         Oops.
         We've seen these sorts of sleep chambers before. In Planet of the Apes, Rod Serling, who wrote the screenplay, repeats an idea he penned for an episode of The Twilight Zone by having something go wrong with one of the chambers. A skeleton in the cracked case shows us the dangers of suspended animation.
          In 2001: A Space Odyssey the same devices can be shut down by the computer, killing the occupants sleeping inside.
          The twist with Passengers is that the occupants of the failed machinery will have to ride out their entire lives traveling together alone through space.
          Additional twists increase the conflict. But most of Passengers consists of the two insanely good-looking stars and an automated bartender (Sheen) who looks and sounds like a perfect gentleman from the waist up.
          Probably some sort of message there.
          The look of the film is spectacular. Like The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, the ship itself is a vital character in the story. It's a place you'd like to be. Especially when Jennifer Lawrence goes for a swim in a giant glass pool with a multi-directional view of the cosmos. For that matter, especially when Jennifer Lawrence does anything at all.
          Partly because her character's name is Aurora, and for other reasons as well, Passengers would make an interesting double-feature with the Disney cartoon Sleeping Beauty.
          Without giving anything away, suffice to say that, sadly, the movie isn't only one big perfect fairytale fantasy. Ensuing conflict, however, carries emotional content because we like the characters (yes, even the all-too-lucky Pratt) and want things to work out for them.
          Not surprisingly, works best on the big screen.


PASSENGERS
Starring Jennifer Lawrence,
Chris Pratt,
Michael Sheen,
Laurence Fishburne,
Andy Garcia,
Julee Cerda
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Written by Jon Spaihts
Runtime 116 minutes
Rated PG-13





Thursday, January 5, 2017

THE GOLDEN CITY



1


THE SIREN THAT SOUNDS indicates a rig entering the breezeway. Waiting at the other end of the tunnel I watch the silhouetted vehicle approach. A wide array of construction supplies line either side--leaning fiberglass and metal ladders, stands of pipes and gutters, large wheelbarrows bearing small, stacks of pressure-treated plywood, soundboard, pegboard, Melamine, Hardiback, stacks of 4x8 drywall, quarter-inch, half-inch, three-eighths and five-eighths, with and without Mold Guard in bound pairs of heavy brittle sheets called books. The truck pulls up alongside and the driver's side window eases down. I ask the driver how it's going and the driver says pretty good while handing over an invoice of big things bought inside the store.




After a four-year absence I have returned to my home in the West. The blush of dawn greets each day less certain than the clockwork visitations I take to my past. Hidden hands, I feel, unseen agents of good and ill, have guided my troubles and successes alike.




Swubble, Unwin and Vilkins stand nearby thumbing phones. They wear hoodies with a ball cap under the hood, hiding their heads like the Unabomber, having never heard of the Unabomber, as they discuss fantasy football and spit terbacky juice. Working at Sawyer's Lumber is one of the better jobs in town. "He's got it," I hear heading to the 2x4s with a rig in tow. Swubble and Unwin were born the year I met my future wife. For Vilkins it would take another two to enter the world, in which time my bride-to-be and I were still beginning the Golden Age of our romance. Neither Swubble, Unwin, nor Vilkins has ever been married. Neither Swubble, Unwin, nor Vilkins has graduated college, owned a home, fathered a child, or started life over with nothing after a divorce.


The driver in the rig, nearer to me in age, has never published books, nor taught creative writing classes, nor taught his daughter how to read by the age of three, or at any other time. The driver in the rig, nowhere near being credit card debt-free and unable to perform a single pull-up, idly watches while I load his truck, half-dreading the prospect of having to unload it himself later.


Shrouded in plumes of gray exhaust, Tooley and Button operate forklifts. The tire-scored rutted mud, littered with green plastic straps cut from lumber units and wooden stickers of sundry sizes, holds pockets of puddles from the night's downpour. Winding shrink wrap around a pallet, Dolken and Chumley animatedly converse on anything except The Odyssey, and neither Tooley nor Button nor Dolken nor Chumley take any notice at all when the only co-worker in the yard twice their age stands a railroad tie on end and shoulders it to the truck twenty yards away.


Tarp-like wraps torn from lumber units to which they had been tightly stapled add to the clutter of straps and stickers. Brushing creosote-soaked splinters from the railroad tie off my shoulder, I set my course to gather the debris as the laden rig leaves the yard and the siren in the breezeway sounds again.


2


All of my coworkers impress me. I'm impressed by everyone I see at work, and everyone I see at work has my respect. Everybody there is smart. Smart, capable, and interesting. They're all real characters.

A hundred of us work for a very successful business with multiple locations. We sell everything needed to build homes. The business makes millions and millions of dollars a year. We're the only game in town, and we move an incredible array of product. For me it's a brand-new skill set. I love working with people, but my favorite part is when I drive a truck. Because that really is a skill. Check the classifieds. Two positions are always advertised: Registered nurses and experienced truck drivers. I'll never be a nurse--and I have no problem with that--but I'm getting experience driving a truck, and I like that a lot.

I also like operating a forklift. I've done it before. It's fun. And sometimes I use a chop saw and a table saw. With both I'm quite precise. I know how to use a tape measure, and with the table saw I know how to run a cut smooth and straight with the wood firm against the rail. Couple days ago a customer who had received a bad plywood cut on my off day was told by the front desk to ask for me by name. I like that.

I like everyone at work. Sometimes I get a chance to speak with people individually. Then I get to really learn about them. It's essential that we see each other's humanity. What a terrible waste to be stuck with people you can't stand. And I've been there. I've had that kind of job, where there were lousy people around. But those days are long gone.

I can even walk to work. Sometimes I take my VW bug, sometimes my Chevy pickup, sometimes I ride my mountain bike. It's all good. Like living in a TV show. I meet lots of people. I'm busy. Busy being self-sufficient, busy being involved in life. I am open to the universe. I have nothing to hide.

I've lived many lives. Enough to appreciate this one. Exactly as it is.


3


The fob to my bug doesn't work. It used to lock and unlock my car with the press of a button from a distance. Then one summer day I forgot it was in my pocket when I went swimming. Ever since then it's just a key. But the key won't stay down. It pops up like a constant boner. So I have to keep a rubber band around it or it'll put a hole in my pants.

Never mind all that. The point is, while things do work, they do so only barely. The bug itself, for example. Every single bit of it is falling apart. Evidently it was constructed by mentally deficient monkeys right before lunch break. I would never recommend a VW to anyone ever. Not even an asshole worthy of an open-handed face-slap. Mostly because why recommend anything to an asshole? But that's beside the point. Point is, nobody looks at VWs. Least of all mechanics. Not the one or two worth a damn. Or even an open-handed face-slap. Sure, the Divorce-mobile is, at first glance, entirely adorable. Which I entirely hate. But it was literally the only car in town. From a satellite dealership with one car left. And then they skedaddled. I've had more problems with that car than anyone has had with anything ever. Literally.

Forget the 98 million little plastic bits and pieces that have fallen or are falling off. Let's just talk about the turn indicator. Guess what? It doesn't work. Having a spine made of steel, I graciously rolled with that punch and said No problem. Why, I'll simply roll down the window, and use my arm to indicate signals. Golly life is jolly. Haha! So easy.

And then the window started sticking. And then it wouldn't roll back up at all.

Haha! So jolly! Not a problem.

Then the Service Engine Soon light came on my Chevy S-10.

So I left the S-10 on the street and pulled my bug into my ex's garage--that would be the garage at the house I picked out, the one with the shop next to it where I wrote most of my work late at night while the world slept--and I pulled out my old mountain bike. Sadly, in my four years of solitary confinement doing time in Northern California, my mountain bike's gears ceased to function. Plus one brake squeaks like a vat of boiling rats. And a tire with a slow leak stays perpetually low.

Surely, I said, the Lord doth test me.

I work my goddam ass off! I have yet to see the fifty year-old man who can lift anywhere near the shit I lift all day, plus write to beat the goddam band. Well, not now. But usually.

Everything's falling apart like fuckin' dandelion spores, yet still I manage to retain my pleasant nature. This has not in human history been done 'til now. Check the history books. Go check it out.

And women. Don't get me started. Too late! I deserve love. Big fat juicy love. What a craphole world where I, of all people, go loveless. What I get is a bunch of old cassette tapes. Because the CDs don't play on my ancient machine. The one I used all those times in my shop. Writing books, for humanity. The lid to my CD player pops up constantly like the boner key on my fob. So I have to hold it down with the last two copies of my three print books.

Spores barely holding together.

I know of no writing professor who puts so much on the line, or keeps such consistent readership. I know of no corporate-published author more inventive or capable than myself, and I've never heard of anyone who pays anywhere near the dues.

Sometimes I'll see a hundred pageviews in Russia. Sometimes it'll be a hundred pageviews in Poland. I'm thankful for my reliable readers in Germany. Plus a few in France. Randoms in Spain, Ukraine, Norway, Mexico, China. Countries all around the world. Sometimes places I never knew existed. Mostly of course the US. Everybody helps keep me going. If I wasn't so poor, I'd pay you.

It means more than I can say that you care about what I write. Or at least want to see me fuck up. I don't know what I'd do without you. Wouldn't feel as real, that's for sure.

Hundreds of pageviews at a time. And I have to wonder: Colleges? Prisons? Mental institutions? The pageviews go for hours at a time. Plagiarists stealing my work? Ah, how sweet. Whoever you are, you're terrific fuel. You're like God to me. Always there, invisible, never saying anything.

I worship you. You are my religion.

4


The home center is old, and those of us who work in the lumber yard have seen strange things beneath the sagging roofs. Once, one of my coworkers saw a rat the size of a dog. Before I ever showed up, one of the workers went nuts with a nail gun till another guy ran him down with a forklift. But the strangest thing I've seen so far was a baby with a bow and arrows.


The baby was fat and unusually ugly. I saw it in the breezeway hiding behind the drywall. Figuring somebody was there with their kid checking out the half-inch mold guard, I went over to see what was up. Then this ugly baby whipped out a bow from behind a pallet of mortar mix sporting a shit-eating grin, nocked a wicked-looking arrow, and before I knew what the hell was going on sank it deep in my thorax. I heard it crack through bone. It hurt so bad I plunked right down on the 4x8 mason board.


The arrow looked weird, not just because it was sticking out of my chest. It looked homemade, like not from a factory or bought from a store. An inch over and it would have hit the radio I had clipped to the front pocket of my Carhartt. The baby came over toward me while I radioed in. "Front desk, copy." I could feel myself getting lightheaded, like I was right about to faint. Unsure if I'd held down the button, I called in again.


"Power on," the radio said. "One." The damn thing was always doing that. Crappy batteries or something.


"Front desk, copy." God, I thought, don't let me go like this. Not on the Hardiback. They might have been busy inside, but more likely the problem was I used too much tone. Plus I hadn't named anyone directly. I watched while the baby started to rise. Floating over me with the bow, the baby fitted another arrow.


"Go for front desk."


I could barely hear the words over the sound of my own heartbeat. I couldn't tell who responded, but it didn't matter. At the sound of the voice, the baby's ugly smile fell away and a shadow crossed his face.


"I'm hit," I said, and promptly dropped my radio. That was all I remember before everything went black.


The next thing I knew, someone was saying my name. In the center of the blackness was a small dot of light. I could see a tiny figure there, like through a telescope turned around backwards. It was one of my coworkers, the one who said he saw the rat.


"What happened?" I said, feeling disoriented. It took me a moment to realize that the arrow in my chest was gone.


"I have no idea. I just now got here and saw you passed out or something. Are you all right?"


"Where's the arrow?"


"Arrow? What arrow?"


"The one that was--it was right here, see?" I pointed at the hole in my jacket. There was a rip in it where the arrow went through. No blood, though.


My coworker looked at me funny. "I think you must have fallen down or something."


"I didn't fall anywhere. Did you see the baby?"


"Inside, copy."


"What are you calling up front for?"


"Go for inside," came the response. This time right away.


"I think somebody better come out here."


What a disappointment. I didn't act like that when he said he saw the giant rat. They sent me home early that day. I couldn't believe they didn't believe me. It was a baby with a bow and arrow. It shot me. I was there. I don't care what anybody says, I know what I saw. There was an arrow sticking out of my chest and it hurt. True, when I checked I saw there wasn't a mark on me. But I know what I saw. Plus I even had the hole in my jacket to prove it.


Oddly enough, on the way back to my apartment something possessed me to stop at the used clothing store and look for another jacket. I don't know what made me do it. I'd never been in there before. But as soon as I walked in, bam, that was when I saw her.


Glamorous. She looked like a movie star. Easy on the eyes, and then some. Really classy lady, totally put together. Older than me, and a whole lot hotter, too. Completely out of my league. I wanted her. I had to have her. Every fiber of my very being compelled me to get her number.


She asked if I needed help. We chatted a bit. Eventually I asked about the ring on her finger. She said she wasn't married.


"You wear that there to what, keep guys at bay?"


"No, this is just the only finger where it fits."


"Do you...socialize? Maybe I could take you out sometime. Can I give you my number?"


"Let me get a piece of paper," she said.


Holy moly, it worked! I could feel the welling of a bizarre impulse. Vivacious. I needed to tell her she was vivacious.


Customer sense tingling, I looked around and saw the store filling up. The place was packed with prying eyes. Should I hoist her over a shoulder and dash out the door? The confines were tight. I'd have to lasso a chandelier and swing with her over the crowd. But dammit, no rope! Not a chandelier in sight. Securing plans to talk soon, I vanished like mist.


When I got back to my apartment I thought about what happened. "How very odd," I said to no one but the universe. "First I was shot by a baby with an archery set, and now I'm incredibly excited by a totally vivacious woman." I looked at my phone. "I should call her. NO! Too soon. Maybe in a few minutes. NO!"


Clapping a hand to my mouth, I rolled my eyes and wondered. The arrow...did it...have some sort of poison?


I picked up my phone and called her.


She didn't seem to recognize me when I said my name, so I described myself until she remembered.


"Wow, you work fast," she said.


"Yes, well I checked my schedule. How about dinner?"


"When?"


"Oh, any night. Doesn't have to be night, either."


Waiting for her answer was like one of those moments at the Academy Awards right before the announcing of the winner. Everything got quiet except for the tearing of the envelope. And then she said the words: "Monday should be fine."


YES! So many people to thank! I knew I'd be forgetting someone! But what did that matter now? Dinner it was, then! The carpet store--surely they had a long roll of red for me to spill out for her from my rusty old pickup truck.


Ah yes, my old enemy, my pickup truck. Mentally connecting, I berated it.


"Why can't you pull yourself together? She's a classy lady. You're always trying to ruin things. Well I won't let you. I'll shield her eyes the whole way, then surprise her with the restaurant. So nyah."


The sunset was glorious that night. Much too glorious for me to eat any food. I went ahead and did that anyway, just because. But the thought of not having an appetite did appear.


They wondered what was wrong with me at work the next day. Mostly this was a holdover from the incident with the arrow which no one believed. There was a rumor going around that I had fallen off a ladder. This I knew because I planted it myself after hearing some of the others. That said, there weren't many people for any rumors to go around. Only a couple dozen of us working at the main shop, plus a couple satellite businesses in and around town. Most of those people I've never ever met. If I'd done something horrendous, everyone at work would have talked about it for awhile. But as far as anyone else could figure, I'd only been hurt at work, and it wasn't like I'd been there so long that they should care. So basically it was just a couple other guys in the yard who said anything about me at all, and that was only out of boredom.


"I can't stop seeing her face," I said to the guy cutting re-bar with me. He's the one I call Swubble.


"How many are we supposed to cut?" Swubble said.


"Thirty of the half-inch. She sure knows how to make her hair fall down. A casual toss of the head and it just flowed right over one shoulder."


Swubble fed another twenty-footer into the cutter. The long strip of metal sang slipping through. I adjusted it to meet the ten foot mark on the other side. "Do you still have the invoice?" he said.


"On the two-by-sixes," I said, fitting the bar in the hole of the cutter. Bringing down the bar I clipped the twenty in half and kicked it to the side. Twenty-seven more to go.


"I'm gonna walk over there on lunch and see if she wants some chicken salad."


"Good luck."


"What do you mean?" I said, stopping another length of twenty at the mark in the mud with my boot.


"I don't know," Swubble opined, "do what you want, but from what I've seen, they always get turned off when you show too much attention."


These words hung in the air while I jammed the bar in the hole, cranked it down and snapped the half-inch like an uncooked stick of spaghetti.


"It's only chicken salad," I said.


Swubble shrugged. "Do what you want."


"Well of course I'll do what I want. What the hell does that mean? Goddam, it's only chicken salad."


"Didn't you say you're gonna take her to dinner?"


"That's in a few days."


Swubble shrugged again. We clipped a few more in silence. When we had twenty to go (or it might have been nineteen, I forget) I said, having stewed upon his comment, "What in your experience comprises too much attention?"


"Bringing over chicken salad on lunch, pretty much."


In my mind's eye I saw the baby with the bow shoot a rat the size of a dog. Then I saw the rat chasing Swubble. The smile on my face grew and grew as the vision progressed.


For what did Swubble know of such matters? He was barely out of diapers himself. Probably he hadn't ever even heard of Agharta. Made sense to me, though. I figured there must be an access point somewhere on the premises leading down to Hollow Earth. A tunnel beneath a stack of pallets. One of the advanced beings, a descendant of Atlantis and Lemuria most likely, an impish sort resembling a baby, had wandered out no doubt and gamely sported with me. By sheer chance? Maybe. Or perhaps the being was drawn to me, curiosity compelled by one whose emanations differ from the bulk of the herd. Nor was it inconceivable to me that I'd been tagged specifically for purposes of procreation study. An underground thesis on accelerated virility. Mine was not to reason why. Ever mysterious the ways. Cognitively I understood that she was simply a woman, this recipient of my desire. Naturally, of course. She was a human being, flawed and perfect, frail and strong. Yeah yeah, got all that. I wanted to get to know her, that was all, and I didn't want to wait forever. What, was I supposed to wait for somebody else to snap her up? I'm a man, dammit. What's so terribly wrong with that? Aside from the obvious, I mean.


Lunch came and lunch went. A couple hours before closing, as Swubble, Unwin, and Vilkins lounged around on bags of concrete mx spittin' terbacky and talkin' 'bout fantasy football, I stared dejectedly down the breezeway at the remainder of the Hardiback.


"I forgot to ask you how lunch went," said Swubble. "Did she like the chicken salad?"


"I dunno. I guess. Never saw her eat it. Told her she could keep the container."


"I'm guessing she freaked out that you showed up?"


"Yeah, little bit."


Vilkins spat. "Did you tell her how you got shot by a baby with a bow?"


"No," I said, staring at the Hardiback. "I think she figured that out on her own."


5


Inexpressible yearning as ever relentless, packing drywall with the boys, my mind's eye travels round my life.


When my daughter was four, my mother died. We had awoken to a valley blanketed in snow. After dropping my wife off at the college, I felt the inspiration to do something unusual by taking the kid to a café in town where she could have a big chocolate chip cookie for breakfast, followed by a trip to the park. That morning the park was all ours. No one else was there. The snow lay thick and unbroken, a pristine world in another dimension muffling everything else away, just the two of us in our snow gear with a circular sled and a cord attached for giving rides. It was the first time I let her slide down a slope by herself. I told her she could do it. "Hang on tight!" I said. At the bottom of the slope she looked back up and said, "Again!" A long time later we went back to the house, and there on the machine I found the message waiting for me. From my dad's flat tone I knew what to expect when I returned the call. Mom had died only hours prior. Right about the time I felt the inspiration, in fact.


I drove down to California early the next morning and returned two days later with one thing: a small blank writing journal bound in brown leather with a clasp. She hadn't written a single word inside. I could smell the cigarettes on every page. I took it back to my shop where I wrote late at night to record what had happened. Once I started writing in it, I just couldn't stop. I couldn't bear for the experience to die.


Somehow--and this was where the magic started--recording the bare facts morphed into a story. I had no plan. All I did was follow a voice, or perhaps better described as the beam of a flashlight trained only a few feet ahead. Everything was a surprise to me and a joy. I had nothing to lose, no expectations to fulfill. I was living in the moment, half-self-hypnotized, with a backlog of things to say, yet ready to be surprised.


The first story I wrote featured an elderly Irish woman in a small Northern California town. Mom loved the redwoods and was always proud of her Irish roots. She had a weird doll from her childhood kept in a box in the attic. Time and periodic heat affected it adversely. Plus she kept a lot of contact with bulb-headed gray aliens. Other than that, the story had little to do with her. When it was done, I started on another. I simply kept at it. An arabesque world fell from my mind. I wrote late at night while my wife and daughter slept. I wrote standing up in my shop wearing snow pants. This windowless structure adjacent to the garage got so cold, the ink in my ball point pen would freeze.


Eventually it wasn't only late at night that I wrote, of course, nor only in the winter. I'd catch a spare moment to write whenever I could. Indeed, I'd been writing all my life.


The outside world could never understand what I did in my shop. And they wondered, oh yes, they all wondered. They wondered with suspicious, hateful eyes as they strove to peer inside my precious sacred shop precisely because I did not want them to. Sometimes I heard helicopters hovering overhead. Literally. Vast amounts of public funds were wasted in that way. They must have thought that I had some sort of underground illicit operation accessed by that shop. They were dying to know what I was doing in there. Undoubtedly lives were consumed in the desperate attempt to crack the riddle. But I refused to let them know. And there was nothing they could do. Not the meth dealers across the street--scared the shit out of them one time when I shook one of their little lackeys around through the open window of a parked car--not the heroin house around the corner, nor even their clients in the choppers overhead.


Partially to confound potential prying eyes, I had devised an interior door. The shop's original metal door, on which I kept a padlock, opened outwardly; two inches behind it was the second door, made of plywood, which opened inwardly. And this was all situated in a corner which precluded possibility of anyone being able to see the inside of my shop. For that was my sacred writing zone. Off limits. Access denied. I kept them all in the dark for years, and I never once slipped.


"Sir, thermal imaging indicates he's flipping us off leaning backwards with both hands."


"Hmm. Must be hiding an interior chamber under the concrete. I can't take it anymore! Fire a missile!"


"Sir, the missile's stopping in mid-air. It can't figure out what he's doing, either! It's turning back on us--NO!"


"Abort! Abort!"


BOOM.


The fools.


Unwin, a coworker I named based on a page of Oliver Twist, requests a respite. Dolken and Vilkins, our cohorts in sheetrock, each take a moment to pack fresh terbacky deep in the lip fer spittin' purposes. Phones in hand they stare at screens, tiny little screens packed with the great big world. I check my own phone for messages from women seeking the raw sensuality that only I can give. Having taken the home-building world by storm with a passionate intensity unmatched, unbridled, unblunted by time, I've smoldered my way into the hearts of several alley cats, women whose honesty, talent, and affection intrigue me. One messages a selfie of her sweet smiling face, and the subsequent steam in my stride powers me through the rest of the drywall at a pace that takes years off of young Unwin's life.


Having unloaded the truck, we head across town to the yard where contractors pull through the breezeway for pressure-treated beams forklifted onto flatbeds and boxes of joint compound chucked in the back ends of rigs. Over the shrill blare of the chop saw and the high grind of shop plywood ripped we shout our lumber songs till the quittin' bell sounds and each man clocks his time card loathe to leave the Melamine and smooth shank hot-dipped nails electro-galvanized.


When I return to my apartment I realize, criminy, I've left my android in the yard. Damn, damn, damn. It's dark outside, and I had dreams of drinking beer. I had been looking at a message when a customer popped out of the molding room and I so I set the phone on a ledge behind a pallet of mortar mix expecting to return right to it all because I didn't want to have to say, "Just a minute, customer, I'm not done looking at my phone." But then I got repeatedly sidetracked and completely forgot. The night is cold and I can't let my android freeze. Hoping that hasn't already happened I realize there's no way around it, I have to go back.


Locking my apartment who do I see heading up the stairs but this one sketchy wench who blew me off, in the dismissive sense, when she found out what a straight arrow I am. Hot little body aside, her Tweekers Only policy did give me pause. The night I took her to dinner she cocked her head to one side and said, "Really, you've never done meth?" like she was talking about trying guacamole for crying out loud. From the bottom of the steps she probably does recognize me, even though I'm wearing a sort of ski mask, on account I work outdoors where it's buttass cold, but she's with someone else and backs out the door, as though she were a polite person, to make room for me coming down the stairs holding up my mountain bike. The friend she's with, a dicey slattern her own age, averts her eyes from me as well. On the icy porch I don ragged work gloves as the pair race upstairs making mysterious comments. It's strange to me she's still on my phone. Despite the fact I deleted her number, a little orange circle with her name appears every time I turn it on because I don't know how to remove it.


The glistening road dimly reflects the dull glow of the street lamps. Heading back annoys me, not just because of returning to work after putting in a full day, but mostly because I know I'll have to break in. Only technically, of course. Still it's a prospect I don't relish. In my pocket I have a light with an elastic strap that fits like a headband. I can wear it to improve my visibility on the mountain bike if I feel the need. Trying to save the battery though, I instead plan to use it only to find my phone once I'm in the yard. If I'd left my phone in the breezeway I'd be out of luck because that part's closed off. The yard however is easy to enter, in spite of locked gates and barbed wire. The main structure is so old, antique lumber flaps in the wind.


Invisible security beams positioned all around necessitate cat-like stealth as I head around to one side while the train blares by and slip back a crappy old board dangling by a nail. Reminding my mountain bike hidden behind a drift of snow to keep quiet, I scooch on in.


The yard shut down after dark feels like an abandoned amusement park. An empty Styrofoam cup tumbles across the tundra while silent forklifts stare. Knowing where the cameras are, I avidly avoid them. If somehow detected I will simply tell the truth, that I was there to get my phone before it froze. Just for kicks I creep around anyway in total ninja-mode.


Lumber unit stickers littered near Doug fir adhere to the hard-packed snow. Shrink wrap unraveling from pallets of cinder blocks and roofing paper whips like ghostly garments in the wind. Imposing collections of icicles hang from busted gutters ragged as the teeth of the Hydra. Sure enough, where I left it, I finally find my cell phone. And amazingly enough it still works. Equally amazing, I don't have a single message. What a bummer. I rather had hopes of finding something dirty. Hasn't ever happened, but that doesn't stop me hoping.


Mission accomplished, I pocket the phone. Just as I do, out of the corner of my eye I notice a moving light. Resigned to having been detected, my first thought is, Great, now I have to kick someone's ass. No way I'm getting caught, detection out of the question. Never gone to jail, never sold drugs, never had a venereal disease. Straight arrow, trouble unacceptable. I'll beat the holy shit out of this guy before I let anything bad happen.


What I initially took for a flashlight, however, soon intrigues me. It's not somebody else testing a forgotten phone, nor is it some smartass screwing around with a laser light. Rather it's a golden glow, a golden glowing orb.


The orb darts around the aged timber of a huge structure of shelving some twenty feet high and extending at least sixty feet, a structure precariously leaning like a castle formed of playing cards. Rickety stairs lead to insulation stored in the upper deck. The orb drifts up there, then suddenly returns below where three levels of shelving hold lengths of synthetic decking called Trex. In the deep recesses of a ground-level shelf, the glowing orb hovers about and gently bobs.


I can't help but wonder what the hell the damn thing is. I have to go and see.


The only way to get behind the Trex is to clamber across the back of the shelving. Having heard the song by T. Rex ten bajillion times, the opening notes of "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" inevitably enter my consciousness.


The glowing orb was strange enough. Yet stranger still, when I near it, it descends. But to where? I have to see.


Pulling the light from my jacket pocket, I take off my ski mask and strap the band across my brow. At the back of the Trex there's a hole in the ground. The hole is easily big enough for a large man to enter.


Being careful not to fall, I peer down inside.


6


At work the next day there is a snow shovel in my hands which I imagine setting aside. I can hear the others around the corner, shooting shit near the cedar and pine. It is one of nature's finest wonders, my coworkers coalescing together, mysteriously dispersing like birds at the first indication of a supervisor's approach, then coalescing again as the presence of the supervisor diminishes. None of them know what lies behind the decking. I envision myself entering their midst as one who walks in two worlds and informing them of my find. But something won't let this happen. A power beyond my control.


I linger around the Trex half-aware I've gravitated toward the secret aperture. Forklifting lumber units in the bay nearest it has packed the snow into a thick layer of ice which grips the concrete with such resilience, the furious attack of the metal snow shovel sends an ear-splitting clang that makes me wonder if hidden hands are using me to awaken something below.


Spools of rope sold in the store hold tremendous interest for me. As I silently consider the specifics of borrowing a spool for late night spelunking purposes, Cheswick, one of the supervisors, manages an appearance successfully unannounced. Discretely positioning himself behind stacks of fibrous blower insulation, Cheswick is there when Vilkins returns from a long vacation in the bathroom.


"Was somebody at the potty," Unwin asks, "or did you shit your pants on the walk back?"


Vilkins' voice beams. "Hustle along now," he encourages. "If you hurry you can still catch a whiff of the honey ham." Further discussion of his prior day's lunch meat intake ceases when Cheswick steps triumphantly into view.


To see the look on his face--which I do, strolling around the side to get a better view of the proceedings--you'd think Cheswick was a tagalong younger sibling who'd just caught the big kids passin' a doob. He doesn't say a word, only trots off with a shit-eating grin to go get Fritz or Ben. It's a scene that makes me reconsider an earlier post where I'd given everybody the benefit of the doubt and said they impress me. I like to start folks off with a solid A. Then if they fuck up I have to work down from there.


True enough, much of the time the boys do screw off. This however cannot be rationally blamed. The nature of the job requires a certain amount of down-time. I'm the only man in the world crazy enough, confident enough, and physically impressive enough to work a job so far beneath me at such an elevated state. It's different for me. Being twice their age, and the Yard Dad of everyone there, I know who I am. But they don't know who they are at all. Abandoned on vacation because I wrote books, for me it's a paradise to be in the same town as my kid. I've returned to my home after arduous adventures and resumed my kingship. That's why they call me Odissus, unaware that they've misspelled it. These guys don't have any of that. How can I blame them for the crack they smoke, the heroin they shoot, the hours they log groping one another, swapping chew-spit? Sometimes in the saw room, suddenly dropping Carhartt overalls, they like to compare thongs--and who am I to judge?


Cheswick though, he's a real douchebag, and because of that Fritz stalks out of the shop and hunts each dude down in the yard letting four of them know that they can go home.


Fritz. I like the guy because he's not from this planet. Once I wondered why he seemed to single me out with certain special tasks. Not that I minded, really. I was merely curious. I asked him. He stared at me a second and then he said, "I ask you to do things because I know they'll get done."


I liked that. Told him so, too.


The rest of the afternoon proves uneventful. Swubble, Unwin, and I hold down the yard-side of the fort with ease. Only in the last hour do I remember that on this night I am to take a woman to dinner. I met her at the health food store. The urgency I feel to explore the enigmatic hidden hole puts me in a tight spot. Do I drop a bundle on a woman and risk disappointment? Certainly descending into a cave has never let me down.


One time a woman came through the breezeway looking for 4x4s with her friend. Both of the women crept along in the car while I lumbered ahead in the yard. There were only a couple of cracked, warped pieces left, which at the time I didn't know would've been totally appropriate. Having radioed across the street for a new unit, I performed a dejected jig for the benefit of the customers with the embarrassed assurance that this is what I was required to do to entertain customers while they wait. The ladies loved my four-second show, this spontaneous bit of levity. Then another customer appeared, as so often happens, so I headed off letting the ladies know that the 4x4s were coming over on a forklift shortly, and that was that. Or so I thought.


A few minutes later, one of my yard brothers, Tooley, hopped off the forklift with a piece of paper in his hand, saying that the customer in the passenger seat wanted me to have her phone number.


Why how very jolly.


"She didn't happen to have a strange little arrow sticking out of her, did she?"


The next night I called her up. And she was nice. For a week or two there we texted pretty regular. True, she messaged me some ancient pictures that did not reflect her appearance in person, but I looked past that. Equally true, it wasn't like she was My Girlfriend. We planned on a dinner date a week in advance and she blew that off at the last minute, but I didn't make a big deal out of it. I took her out to lunch one time, and another time bought us lunch from a supermarket deli. No great shakes. It so happened that the evening of the deli lunch was when I took that one sketchy wench out to dinner, because in fact I'd met her first and we'd agreed to go out sometime. Being single I went ahead and did that. Because I didn't want anything hanging over my head, seeing how I got nothin' to hide, I also told the one who wanted me to have her number. I wasn't particularly interested in her. She spent ninety percent of her energy complaining about totally solvable bullshit. And I simply didn't find her very attractive. So the next morning when she sent me a long vindictive text it was easy for me to respond with two simple words, Good luck, and be done.


Meetin' the women, breakin' the hearts.


7


The chatter of the restaurant forms a wall around us while we talk. Behind me stands a statue, a life size warrior modeled after those thousands found underground in the pyramid tomb of China's first emperor. It's interview time.


"What do you do at Sawyer's?"


The honest answer is, "As a newspaper columnist for the last fifteen years who has also taught Creative Writing, I perform physical labor that guys half my age have a hard time doing because I got nothing from the divorce when my wife abandoned me on vacation after twenty years together for writing books," but instead I downplay it so she won't feel bad. Sometimes I drive a truck, sometimes operate a forklift, usually I pack drywall and move lumber around. She's not impressed.


At the table next to us Chuck Woolery happens to be eating a meal, and he turns around to ask us how our date is going.


"Well Chuck," she says, "I can tell he's not rich. I knew that as soon as I saw his pickup truck."


"Did it ever occur to you," Chuck replies, "that maybe he just might be an eccentric millionaire?"


"Thanks, Chuck." Impressed, I give him a thumbs up.


"Well then why does he work such a low-end job?"


"Eccentricity," he pointedly enunciates.


"I can handle this, Chuck. The reason why I work there, and I'm perfectly happy to tell you, is a very good one. Simply put, the reason is, I work there so I can have interesting experiences. For writing purposes. That's it."


She takes a big bite of noodles, being sure to soak up plenty of the sauce while it's still warm. She's feeling attacked from all sides. She's ready to ask for a doggie-bag, I can see it in her eyes.


Chewing her noodles she nearly speaks, pauses to swallow completely, then wipes her chin, shakes her head and pronounces, "I just don't think you've got enough money at all. And so you know, there is someone else I have to get past. I'm not over him. So no, thank you for dinner, but no. Waitress, can I get this in a doggie-bag?"


Spontaneous hisses of disgust issue all around. Even Chuck Woolery is frankly angry with my date. None of us ever saw him like this on Love Connection. That's because never before did he have such cause. But he visibly brightens when the waitress responds.


"No," she firmly states, "you can't have a doggie-bag. I want to know why you went out with him, why you let this man buy you a meal when you claim you're 'not over' somebody else. Who, some supposed fuckin' millionaire?"


Virulent epithets hurled from the crowd. Things start getting ugly. To quell the mob's rage, and to keep from having to see Chuck Woolery tear my date to pieces with his bare hands, I pay the bill and leave...






MORE
SOON













Wednesday, January 4, 2017

FOUR PRESTIGIOUS LIMERICKS

I once met an ex-Playboy bunny
with a disposition so sunny,
I wrote her a letter
in hopes I would get her,
but she said that my hose was too runny.


I once met a woman from France
and tried to get into her pants.
Unlike the rabble
I beat her at Scrabble
and then said goodbye to my chance.


I once gave a woman a hint
there was more in my trousers than lint.
I sang her a song
while I showed her my dong,
but she laughed because she'd dated Clint.


A woman I met with exceptional looks
loaned to me her Limerick books.
Now when I talk
I rhyme of my cock
and the usual result is, "Gadzooks."





Sunday, January 1, 2017

"MINIMALISM" WASTES TIME

          If Werner Herzog made a documentary on the making of this documentary, that would have been interesting.


          Minimalism--A Documentary About the Important Things starts off with famous images of customers trampling over each other in department stores trying buy things the day after Thanksgiving. "We get so wrapped up in the hunt," one of the film's speakers informs us, "that it kind of makes us miserable."


          Images of traffic jams. Images of smog-filled urban skylines.


          "I was living for a paycheck," another speaker says, "living for stuff. But I wasn't living at all."


          An expert tells us we are biologically-based for delusionary craving. That we're wired for dissatisfaction. That empty consumerism is an addiction. That advertising has polluted our culture.


          Hands clasped with laced fingers before our misty eyes, we await some sort of wisdom. Because these things we already know.


          Then we get to the movie's crux: A couple of guys with something for sale.


          Calling themselves The Minimalists, Josh and Ryan seek radio and TV gigs on a book promotion tour where they preach about not needing things as much as they used to. Doing this works out pretty good for them. Got them a movie on Netflix and everything.


          About as sincere and as necessary as a Super Sale, Minimalism reminds us of the adage, "Those who speak do not know, those who know do not speak."


          What Josh and Ryan have to tell us is that painful experiences growing up made them so excessively materialistic that they burned out, and have now turned being burned out to their advantage. It's one of those rare film experiences that puts doing the right thing in the wrong light.


          Abject transients have almost no voice in Minimalism. One scene at a speaking gig in Las Vegas--Josh and Ryan head to a book festival with big Starbucks coffees in hand--shows a listener, perhaps best described as authentic, briefly taking the two to task. Then he gets a hug and they move on. Primarily though, the filmmakers choose to ignore those with the most minimalism, the real ripe cases, focusing instead on career-oriented talking heads pushing their own personal product. Designers of mini-homes, for example.


          It's not "A Documentary About the Important Things" as the trite title claims. Nor is it even a documentary, because it doesn't explore anything. A better title might have simply been Less. And a better approach would be to analyze the subject, beginning perhaps with Buddhism.


          But no.


          Instead, Minimalism is as fluffy and hollow as the empty consumerism against which it preaches. What the subject of doing more with less deserves is serious substance. Unfortunately, delivering a quality documentary is where Minimalism proves most minimal.


MINIMALISM--A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS
Starring Joshua Becker,
Ryan Nicodemus,
Dan Harris,
Joshua Fields Millburn,
Shannon Whitehead
Directed by Matt D'Avella
Runtime 79 minutes