Saturday, March 30, 2013

Failure To Follow Rules Will Cause Flooding

The thick-necked traveler ahead of me at the Hyatt was just building up to a crescendo when I walked in to register.

“Why do I need to show a credit card? This makes no sense. None at all.”

The young lady at the front desk had that same painted-on, pained expression I used to wear when I had worked in retail during my college days. She was basically telling him without saying it aloud, “Go to hell, you stupid bastard.”

The man asked to speak to a manager, and the lady obliged by stepping into the back room. I’m sure the young lady asked the manager, “Can you please tell this thick-necked, stupid bastard to go to hell.” At least I'd like to imagine that she got to say it that way.

While she was away, the man turned to me for some form of comfort.

“Unbelievable,” he said as he shook his head.

I raised my eyebrows and shifted my gaze away. Didn’t wanna be a part of his suitcase. Luckily I didn’t have to answer … the manager arrived—a striking, 6’ tall redhead with a plunging neckline and take-no-prisoners hardened look. Poor bastard was outgunned.

Young Lady turned to me and asked, “Sir, may I help you?” I presented my info which Thick Neck seemed to be lacking.

After some back and forth with Thick Neck, Sexy Manager said, “Those are our rules, sir.” Thick Neck began with another lame approach, but by then, I was checked-in and heading down the hall to the elevator to get to my room. As I waited for the elevator, I heard his loud stammers and shift in tone. A “can you do me a favor” change of tune. Watership down!

The word “rule” went through my head. I remember a former boss used to say, “If a rule exists, it’s because someone somewhere screwed up.”

While I unpacked my bags for the umpteenth time over the past few weeks, I glanced around the room. An inviting, clean, cozy room. And then the sign underneath the sprinkler system, which jutted from the wall near the ceiling, caught my eye … it read, “Contact with sprinkler will cause flooding.”

I pondered the words of warning for a moment as I walked to the window and looked out. There was Thick Neck in the parking lot, tossing his suitcase—with great force—into the car trunk, and then he slammed it shut.

It’s for the best he didn’t stay. Guys like him, who can’t follow rules, would’ve flooded his room, causing a false alarm in the middle of the night that’d send the rest of us evacuating the building in our underwear. We’ve all been there, right?

I went to the desk in the corner of my room, sat down in the computer chair, and warmed up the laptop to get back to formatting the latest Hawthorne eBook. But before that, a blog post …

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Reading Habits Of A Tired Traveler

I’m pooped. I’ve been in, like, twelve states in two weeks. Published one book during that time and working on publishing three others. Not complaining, just letting you know the reason I haven’t made my usual round of the blogs. We’re trekking again this weekend, and I hope to play catch up when we get to our destination. Many of you know I read several books at the same time. Odd, but that’s me. (And, hey, I still knock on wood religiously and carry a bottle of holy water just in case.)

During my travels—and whenever I can steal some time—these are a few that I’m reading. ALL THE WILD CHILDREN by Josh Stallings. Because I just bought this book, it’d normally be farther down on my TBR list, but the opening chapter hooked me good. An interesting life well-told. HOME INVASION by good friend, Patti Abbott. Do I need to say more? This novel in stories has all the dramatic power you would expect from one of the finest short story writers of our time.

I’ve been on a kick of recent reading letters written by various writers, most recently Charles Bukowski’s SCREAMS FROM THE BALCONY: SELECTED LETTERS 1960-1970 and Hunter S. Thompson’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN AMERICA (GONZO LETTERS).

Rounding out the list is THE KILLER IS DYING by James Sallis. I started reading this one a year back, but circumstances with day job distracted me, and the book ended up in storage. I was rummaging through boxes this week when I rediscovered it, and I’m savoring this fresh, unique novel.

So that and several ARCs—for blurbs I’m working on—is what I’m reading. What’s on your nightstand?

The Drifter Detective


Jack Laramie, grandson of the legendary US Marshal Cash Laramie, is a tough-as-nails WWII vet roaming the modern West. He lives out of a horse trailer hitched to the back of a DeSoto, searching out PI gigs to keep him afloat.

With his car limping along, Jack barely makes it to the sleepy town of Clyde, Texas, where he stops at a garage. While waiting for repairs, he accepts a job from the sheriff, pulling surveillance on a local oilman allegedly running liquor to Indian reservations in Oklahoma. When Jack runs afoul of several locals and becomes dangerously close to the oilman’s hot-to-trot wife, he wonders if the money is worth his life.

Garnett Elliott writes in the best hardboiled tradition of the masters and turns out a tour-de-force novelette, clocking in at a trim, fighting 9k words. Take a chance on this new series ... and experience a Jack Laramie beat.

James Reasoner and Randy Johnson on "The Drifter Detective." 

Monday, March 18, 2013

White-Knuckled Drive

We were visiting family when we heard about an incoming snow storm. I believed the weathermen (yeah, beyond stupid) who said the storm wouldn’t hit the area until 7:00 p.m. We left with enough time to spare … or so I thought. We got caught in a helluva blizzard. As we inched down the highway, vehicles that had slid off the road dotted the median and shoulder. One car fishtailed right in front of us when he slowed to avoid hitting a tanker truck in front of him, causing us to nearly careen off the road and into the side rail ourselves. Removing one white-knuckled hand off the steering wheel, I shifted my Jeep into 4-Low and kept creeping along, while Little d got on the phone to book a room in the closest hotel 20 miles away. That turned out to be an hour drive, but we managed to make it without further incident. The whole time, my two-year-old charmer watched Little Einsteins on the Kindle Fire, unaware of the anxiety on her old man’s face.

So that’s how March 18, 2013 is treating me. How’s it going for you?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bullets, Drifters, Sanctuaries, And My Feminist Propaganda Agenda

Been back a day from my sojourn to the Lone Star State, and I’m already chipping away at the to-do list.

Check 1: The Drifter Detective. In this hardboiled tour-de-force by Garnett Elliott, the family line of Cash Laramie continues with his grandson. A tough-as-nails WWII vet roaming the modern West, Jack Laramie lives out of a horse trailer hitched to the back of a DeSoto in search of P.I. gigs to keep him afloat. Had this story been a 1940s flick, I could picture John Garfield playing the lead.

Check 2: Bad Sanctuary. The fourth Hawthorne Weird Western by Heath Lowrance is just around the corner, and in this book, Heath has shed some light on the mysterious 19th century righter of wrongs. Don’t know what I’m jawing ‘bout? Then here’s “That Damned Coyote Hill,” “The Long Black Train,” and “The Spider Tribe” to catch you up.

Check 3: BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled 2. After working out some kinks with the cover, the print version of this knockout anthology should be available by next weekend. The eBook is off to a ripe, good start, and we thank everyone who’s supported it. While we’re speaking of Hardboiled 2, you’ve gotta read the one-star ‘review’ from an anathematic creature who says I’m pushing “feminist propaganda.” No kidding, this may be my favorite attack ever. Thanks to a buddy on Twitter, I found out the name of this punk (borrowing my attacker’s lingo), and I will keep an eye on ’im.

Check 4: Bullets for a Ballot. This Cash Laramie eBook by Nik Morton just got a facelift. It’s been doing ok but not quite as stellar as the others in the series. I’d been thinking that a woman’s breasts prominently displayed on the cover gave the impression that the book is a bodice-ripper, not a Western. Ballot has a lot going for it with Cash as a teenager, an appearance by Miles, and my favorite ending, thus far, to any of the books. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, a character arrives on the scene who seems very familiar to the outlaw marshal—though he can’t quite put his finger on it— and the eye-opener is pure Nik Morton genius in storytelling.

So move, old son. Move.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's All Good

I talked with my nephew the entire forty miles from the train station to my sister’s home, but I don’t remember a word. Not that the conversation wasn’t interesting but ultimately my mind was preoccupied. And my stomach was twisting in knots. In less than an hour, I’d be facing my mom. Would she remember me when she saw me again after all this time? A rather selfish thought on my part, really. She has other children whose names come and go. But mine has been remembered long past expiration as the dementia takes a sledgehammer to her brain.


I think about the times when I’ve been on the phone with my mom, and we’d be having a nice reminiscence about my dad. Then all kinds of stories and references would start to pop up that just don’t fit. Come to find out, she’d actually been talking about her first husband, not my dad.

It’s like a supple-wristed Pinball Wizard launching that cognitive silver ball through the chute, sending out the ball to bounce off each rubberized pin, picking up a different piece of memory with each “bing-bing” as it travels over the 86-year-old synaptic landscape. Bing-bing! We’re in the 1940s. Bing! Back to the 1990s. Bing! Bounce back to the 60s. From hundreds of miles away, I’d do my best to knock that bastard Wizard out of the way, and I’d step up to punch those flippers, trying to jog a memory … going for a bonus game—for extra time with the mom I used to know.


We got out of the car and strolled to the house, my palms were sweating, The Who playing on the mental soundtrack. Probably should have been the fiery “Ride of the Valkyries” or the sappy “Bridge over Troubled Water.”  But I guess “that deaf, dumb, and blind kid” will do. I fell behind to let my charmers go ahead. I was scared as shit. The door opened, my sister and mom were standing there.

Mom hugged my daughter first, and then my wife. Did she call them by name? Like at the beginning of a play, the room hushed. An oval spotlight panned until it just covered the two of us. 

“Do you remember me, Mom?” 

“Of course I do, David,” she replied, her arms reaching for me. “How could I forget you?”

Always has a replay,” the singer shouted in my ear. I hugged her tight. My universe felt righted … for now. I know tomorrow everything could—and will—change. But for the moment, it’s all good.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deliberate Abandon

This past Wednesday, my charmers and I joined the swarm hopping the 449/194 Amtrak train out of Syracuse going to Chicago. There we switched trains and headed to Texas to visit my mom.

Some Amtrak facts: every day, more than 300 trains roar across the country at speeds up to 150 mph, and, with 21,200 miles of track, thousands of passengers can go to 46 states and three Canadian provinces. Train travel is booming again with 30 million riding the rails each year. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
We traveled 1,159 miles and covered eight states. A prime opportunity to see and meet the folks making connections … an eclectic mix of America on the go. College kids. Single moms. Mentally challenged. Elderly. Alcoholics. Photographers. Itchy chain-smokers. Actors. Working class heroes. Little-known pulp writers. But that’s a book or, at the very least, a post for another time.

It’s the American landscape that captured my imagination.

The countryside flickered by in a treasure trove of still-lifes -- countryside once shaped by Norman Rockwell paintings now crumbling into a beauty of deliberate abandon.

I snapped more than 1000 shots in all, creating a pictorial record of our journey that would otherwise never have been remembered. Along the steel rails, five sights/points of interest appeared more in my viewfinder than any other:

Roll it up and smoke it.

The writing is on the wall.

Crumbling down.

Meaner than a junkyard dog.

Final destination.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

From New York to Chicago

Here are two pictures of Ava and me on an Amtrak train from New York to Chicago. My second trip on the rails, her first, and we’re having a blast. As a bonus for me, there are all kinds of characters on board. Two novels worth in the waiting. 






Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tangible

My gypsy clan and I made a stop at the old family homestead in New York. Our last exit before we board the train to visit my mother. Our merry trio arrived late Monday night and didn’t have a chance to see the surroundings in the dark. When I woke up at 6:10 a.m., the clear at first light sunk in extra hard. My parents’ property is in desperate need of repair. Outside, the driveway needs gravel, fallen trees need to be cut and hauled off. Inside, soft spots in the floor boards need to be reinforced, ceiling needs to be patched, etc. I should be clear … this is not a grand estate from long ago that was meant to stand until the second coming. It’s a 1970 mobile home that sits on a basement my father built in the early 80’s. However, the crumbling abode is on a scenic twenty-two acres of land—land that would have inspired Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Robinson Jeffers to a blissful nirvana. While my dad was in good health, he—a handyman that I am not— was able to repair the place and keep it glowing.

So I was lying in bed staring out the window, my brow furrowed with thoughts spiraling like a gyroscope. After a while, I turned and looked at my charmer. I hadn’t realized she had been watching me, waiting for me to notice her as to not break my train of thought. She’s like that, which is one of the 782,432 reasons I love her. She quietly asked, “What’s wrong.”

“I know it’s silly, but I wanted this place to stand forever. I wanted to always return and see my mom and dad.” I pulled the curtain farther back to view the entire snow swept lawn. “My dad is always here … in the land, the trees and grass, and the creek that passes by. All him.  But mom … she lived for this home, and I can’t keep it up. The center can’t hold. And all that bullshit.”

She wisely let me stride down the ‘woe is me’ lane and listened intently. I waxed, on and on, about how we live in a disposable society and other mental crap, like, even memories don’t last … just look at my mom and the broken down merry-go-round that passes for a brain of hers. Nothing lasts forever.

I paused and contemplated what I just spat out. When I float back from my wounded spot, I found my charmer’s reassuring, green eyes. She said very simply, “Even the pyramids are crumbling, what do you expect?”

“Yeah. Nothing is tangible,” I replied. A few seconds passed, and we spontaneously laughed at the  direction our gravity-filled conversation lead us.

Our daughter woke up and looked at us. I saw my dad’s eyes and mom’s inquisitive nature. The past collided with the present in a whirlpool of emotions, and a thousand clich├ęs could be inserted here, but I’ll spare you because there’s nothing new that you and an incalculable number of human beings from the dawn of time haven’t felt.  

My little girl asked me to read her a morning story, and so I do. I reach for one of her tiny books from the collection we piled on the nightstand. This dilapidated old trailer lasted long enough for me to read Biscuit Visits the Farm to my little coconut in the same room that my mother and father read Curious George to me. And, hell, that’s all I need to double down on life and keep pressing forward.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Grasping A Slippery Ledge

“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” --James Joyce, Ulysses
I last saw my mom on December 2, 2011. At that stage she was already confusing name and faces. Forgetting children and close friends. A flickering light of memories, grasping a slippery ledge. It was maddening to get her out of her home, but we managed it. For her safety, it was a must. She and my sister hopped on a train bound for an endless cycle of frustration, turmoil, and the occasional splinter of joy. Now more than a year has withered away.

I talk to Mom a couple of times a week and she seems to remember me. “Doolittle,”—her old and affectionate nickname for me—she starts every conversation with. My sister says, “You will be the last one she forgets.” But what if she has already forgotten? She calls me Doolittle on the phone, but maybe she’s saying it to a ten-year-old boy. When I see her again, maybe my appearance won’t live up to what she’s seeing in her mind. Maybe I should shave this goatee. Lose some weight. Dye the gray in my hair. No, there’s nothing to be done except walk onto her stage like an improv performance artist and waltz to her tune. “Blue Danube,” anyone? Dementia is a kind of natural acid trip for the people suffering from this gives-no-quarter disease. A recent back and forth:

“Doolittle?” a barely audible voice says over the crackling line.

“Mom, why are you whispering?”

“They’re out there, hiding underneath the window so I can’t see them. They’re plotting to break in and rob me,” she says, her voice trembling. “I’m waiting for Blood.”

“Blood? What do you mean? Who’s out there?”

“Those cutthroats. But he’ll come.”

“Who, Mom? Who will come?”

“Blood.”

“Blood?” I say again, then dwell on it for a beat before venturing forward. “You mean Captain Blood?”

“Yes,” she says with determination, “and he’ll put these money-grubbing snatchers in the ground.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her we’re a long way from Port Royal.

Maybe I should prepare for our upcoming visit by watching FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS to be in the right frame of mind. Anthropomorphic desert animals! Bats bulleting the sky! Grab a flyswatter. Infuse Gonzo with surrealist Dali’s draping clocks, blank playing cards, and a man with no face. Stir in Dylan’s “Series of Dreams” playing on an infinitesimal Lewis Carroll phonograph. “And there’s no exit in any direction, ‘cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes,” the troubadour warbles. And if I start to get down, I will ask the court jester to do that Zorba dance that so mesmerized Basil.  

Reminds me of another quote, one from Henry Miller, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Yeah, I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Time to make that journey. Eyes wide open, old son.