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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Merry Christmas at WalMart

"Merry Christmas," the guy says.

He's wearing camoflauge pants, a Ghostbusters t-shirt and a stringy beard. He's wearing mirrored sunglasses. Inside Wal-Mart.

"Merry Christmas to you." I go back to look at the beer. He's in the wine section. I'm thinking of getting--

"How you doing?" he asks.

"Good. How are you?"

"Doing just fine, buddy. How are you?"

Okay. I just answered that, but okay. "I fine."

"How's your mother?" he asks.



Okay, this is where it starts going off the tracks. I don't know this guy. If I did, he wouldn't know my mother. And she's doing fine, always has been, so there would never be any reason to ask. But I'm in Wal-Mart. Maybe he's looking for a friend. I'm looking for milk and beer.

"She's good," I say. "You have yourself a Merry Christmas, all right, my friend?"

He says, with a smile, "Hey, you, too. Buddy."

And then he comes in for it. He's an isle away, but he comes with his arms out. He's coming hard and I'm cornered between packages of Budweiser and Miller Lite. I'm about to get shanked in Wal-Mart. But he wraps his arms around me, he says, "You have a Merry Christmas, buddy."

I give him a pat on the back. There are no cameras. No one watching. Just one guy hugging another in the beer isle of Wal-Mart. Because it's Christmas.

It's Christmas, buddy. Relax.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

He's Not Real. There, I Said It. (Sort of)

Blasphemy.

I couldn't even say it in the title, just in case some little kid accidentally saw it. I didn't want to scar him. But I'll say it now.

Santa's not real.

Me (circa. 1970). Opening a present from "Santa".

I grew up like most American kids, writing letters to the fat man, hoping he'd look past all my transgressions and bring me that GI Joe with the kung-fu grip. I watched all the Christmas movies that made adults look like buffoons because they didn't believe and I sang songs about magic reindeer and put out cookies and came down Christmas morning to see nothing but crumbs. And under the tree, the payoff was wrapped in ribbon.

GI Joe... kung-fu gripping.

But then a neighbor's dad spilled the beans. I was 9. (I think. God, I hope I wasn't 15.) I confronted my parents and they came clean.

Yep. Santa, he's not real. We've been lying aaaalllll this time.

I think this is the part where most well-adjusted kids just go with the flow. After all, we were getting presents from Santa, who cares if he's imaginary. Who cares if we were told 1 million times that we just have to believe he's real and he'll be real. Because if we don't believe, well then it sucks to be you.

Who cares if we got punished for lying about who broke the window and we got grounded for losing our grade cards when we really lit them on fire and we got disciplined for making up a story about why we were late for dinner (something about a flat tire and a hobo). Who cares that we'd end up on the naughty list for all that lying and we'd get coal in our stocking for all that lying and we could wave goodbye to GI JOE AND HIS GODDAMN KUNG-FU GRIP.

Who cares, right?


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Falling in the Plot Hole

I was asked why I write fiction.

After all, I don't make much money. Few people read it. Seems like a waste of time. All valid points. Years ago, I didn't have a good answer. I enjoy it, sure. I secretly wish to make millions, okay.

Here's another: It's a challenge.

It's like solving an intricate puzzle, piecing together a mystery or discovering something new, something that's never been done. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Here's why. You start with a set of characters. They need to be consistent and they need to grow. There needs to be a plot, one that's compelling. And, most importantly, it needs to mean something. I mean, Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water... doesn't do it. Strive for something that impacts your reader with an ending they didn't see coming three pages into the story.



My latest endeavor, The Identity Thief, just collapsed only 40 pages from the end. When you're 70,000 words into the work, you'll do anything to avoid seeing the plot holes. But the characters were inconsistent and their actions unbelievable. It might be something as simple as why the character just didn't lock the door.

Here's an example of what I mean. The Maze Runner, a very popular YA science fiction novel, ended with one of the characters jumping in front of a knife to save another character. I realize that all fiction requires, to some extent, suspension of disbelief... but jumping in front of a knife?

Plot hole. It'll swallow the entire story.



So The Identity Thief will require a new foundation. It needs to be reexamined and built anew. So that when I'm finished, I've got the satisfaction of building something worthwhile.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Face to Face.



I had my eyes molested.

It happened during an eye exam. The office was small, located in a strip mall. The room was in the back. The doctor looked to be about 70. He was nice enough, explained things thoroughly, wrote everything down. I felt pretty good that he knew what he was doing, despite the elephant skin.


Then he gets to the end of the exam. He has to look inside my eyeballs. He holds up a bright light and begins to lean in. He smells like a leather couch. A clean couch, but an old one. He's breathing loud and he leans in some more. Then he leans in some more.

Then some more.

Until the back of his hand is pressed against my cheek. The only thing separating his face from mine are his leather couch fingers.

Let me recap. I'm in a dark room in the back of a strip mall with an old man pushing his face against mine.

"No glaucoma in there," he finally announces.

What a relief.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Rat. Die now.

Beauty wins.

There's a former student of mine that's been described as hunky by every single woman in the world. When we walk through conventions, females of every age, race and creed turn and look. It's the fox and lion. I'm the fox.

So this is what it feels like to be beautiful. 

Recently, there was scratching in our attic. In the Lowcountry, that means rat or squirrel. The easiest way to get rid of one is baiting. But then they stink up the house for a week. And if it's a possum you just gassed, you may as well move.


I trapped the bugger. It's a rat and he's hopping mad. I don't care if he dies because he's got the gross tail and the hair is black and coarse and just blech. Then I realize the main difference between him and my daughter's hamster is the tail.

Hamster: cute and cuddly.

Rat: ugly and disgusting. Die now.

I once heard Donald Trump congratulate a contestant on his Apprentice show for being beautiful. In fact, he said she was beautiful, smart, successful and beautiful. Seemed rather stupid.

Hey, way to go! You're hot! Good work!

My daughter made me promise not to kill the rat so I let the revolting thing go in the woods. Hey, the owls got to eat, too. May as well let them eat the ugly rats. Not the gorgeous hamsters.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Apes. Not Monkeys.

Summerville, South Carolina is home to a semi-clandestine sanctuary, The International Primate Protection League (http://www.ippl.org/)


To you and me, they're monkeys. But since gibbons don't have tails, technically they're apes. Regardless, they swing effortlessly from thick ropes never once missing.

It's not open to the public. Fortunately, we know someone that knows someone. On more than one occasion, we've walked the whoop-whoop grounds beneath the tunneled cages. Every gibbon on the property has been rescued for one reason or another and supported by donations from around the world.


They are paired in large cages, male and female. Some are charming, others not so much. These seemingly diminutive furballs are cute enough to cuddle with incisors long enough to eat your face. They'll reach through the bars and, on certain occasions, we can touch their soft pads.


Their gaze is intelligent. Reminds me we're not the only ones that think.

We're just more likely to get ourselves in a mess doing it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Inside the Needle

I never planned on writing another novel. It's tedious, lonesome, and exhausting. Besides, I didn't have one to write. If you force it, add frustrating anger to the list.

A few years ago, I wrote a science fiction trilogy, The Socket Greeny Saga. It didn't make me famous or rich, but that wasn't the point. It was a character and a story that was inside my skull. Once they got out, I was tapped. There was nothing left to write.

Until the Needle appeared.



It started with a character, Danny Boy. Then another one, later to be named Reed. What was going to happen and what they were to discover unfolded rapidly. Two days later, I had outlined 25 chapters, beginning to end.

Most of my writing occurs in my head, unfolding on its own. I just need to make space. My wife and kids tell me I get the 1000-mile stare. And then I'm lost on the keyboard for hours at a time, but I remember something Stephen King once said: the writer's desk shouldn't be in the center of the room. That's for family. For life.



But now I've a story. It might take two months or a year to complete, but there's no hurry. It won't pay the bills, but it'll look something like this:


Inside the Needle
by Tony Bertauski



Sunday, September 11, 2011

2,977

I don't remember where I was when JFK was assassinated. My mother was still in high school. I wasn't even the proverbial gleam at that point.

But I remember where I was ten years ago.



I took my daughter to a new playground. She was three. Bob and Tom had just announced on the radio that a plane had hit one of the towers. I imagined a small plane, a private one, that got off course, maybe the pilot had a heart attack.  I watched my daughter run across the wood chips with a sinking feeling. That instinctual feeling the pulls coldly when the phone rings late at night. That feeling when you can't find your kid in the toy store.

When I got to work, everyone was gathered around a TV. Together, we watched the second tower collapse. A desperate sensation of loss opened inside me. I didn't know anyone that lived in New York. I didn't know any of the people that perished in that moment of live TV. Still, I wanted to cry.

2,977 people died.

Our ignorance can feel so bottomless.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Student Observations: The Street Inside

He was big man. Intimidating to look at, but the nicest guy you'll meet.

He was taking classes part-time because he had a family and worked his ass off in between. He was often late, but always called. Always put in the extra time because he wanted to know this stuff. When his grades were lousy, he never complained. He asked what he did wrong. How he could do better.

He was about year into our program when he and a few evening students were still in lab. I told them about the time a stranger called my wife and told her he'd kill her if he found out who she was.

art about Graffiti Arok OBS Crew Art about graffiti

Big man's eyes widened. "I'd *69 that mutherfucker and be on his porch in five minutes."

The reaction, it was genuine. It was for real. I never knew that was in him. For a moment, it was right there in front of us. Probably something he didn't want us to see, but the story triggered something. Then he put it back inside.

"All this," he said, gesturing to the warm, gentle smile we were accustomed to, "it didn't always used to be this way."

He grew up in a bad part of Charleston. Knocked around the streets, gangbanged his way through the early years. For the first time, I noticed the small scars on his face. He talked a bit about it, but not bragging.

"Nothing scares me, man," he said, not boasting. Just stating a fact. Then got back to the business at hand.

It was behind him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Questions To Never Ask. Ever.

Never ask a woman if she's pregnant. Never, ever, ever.

I have followed that rule like a religion. As far as I'm concerned, I don't see anything unless she says I do. I've had students come in with their girlfriend/wife that looked seconds away from giving birth. I said nothing.



Here's one I didn't see coming.

Ms. K is a client. I show up at her house on time. An older woman answers the door, says my client isn't here, she's running late. She'll be here shortly. I notice she looks like my client and, in the interest of making small talk, I say the following:

"You must be Ms. K's mother, you look nothing alike!" Hahahaha.

She says no. She's known my client so long they're starting to look alike. Haha.

All right. Okay. Seems a little weird that she's hanging around the house watching TV while Ms. K isn't here. But okay. Listen, she's a good friend. Maybe she's house-sitting. Maybe she's taking care of an invalid cat. Maybe she's living there...

Ooooooooooooooooooooooohhhh.

New rule: Never ask someone if they're the mother. Or partner.

Never, ever, ever.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

35 Summers



Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see when you're young, you're a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years here, a couple years there... it doesn't matter. You know. The older you get you say, "Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty-five summers left."

Think about it. Thirty-five summers.

Benny from Rumblefish (1983)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Poem Man

He was in Barnes and Noble. An old man, white hair. Old blue eyes that looked more grey than blue.

He would hold up a book when people passed. "Would you like to read my book of poems. It's about me and my daughter."

His tone was frail. Hopeful.



People rarely made eye-contact. Sometimes they'd politely nod, smile, say no thank you. Sometimes they'd actually stop, feign interest. But most of the time they walked on by. And the old man would wait patiently at the table filled with his poem books.

I was a few isles over, watching. Each time he held up the book, I was crushed. Won't someone buy his book? But still, I just watched. And when it came time to leave, I took the long way around.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Feeding Frenzy

Definition of tourist trap: Myrtle Beach.

Water Park ticket costs $30. When you get there, you'll pay $2 to park. A Slurpee costs $6, but you'll pay $7 to include the cup. There aren't enough tubes for the water slides, so you wait until someone is done with one. Or you can rent one for $4.


It costs $1 to even look at the upside-down house.

After shelling out $250 for an ocean-view room, you realize view means leaning over the balcony to see it. Technically, they're right.

The cheapest thing at Broadway on the Beach is feed the fish for $0.25, but you feel sick after watching the massive carp maul each other in a feeding frenzy for a single pellet. Even the fish the want everything in your pockets.



You leave feeling sore, used and cheap. Everything you want from a vacation.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tooth Fairies Hurt

Time slows the closer we reach the speed of light. And in hospital waiting rooms.



Our daughter had oral surgery to correct a host of problems. Nothing major. But we sat in the waiting room, staring at the status monitor, locating her patient number. Over and over. Tried to read magazines. Tried to have casual conversation. But always looking up, always locating the number.

When two hours passed, time began to slow. Each minute fell like a feather. Landed like a rock. Thoughts piled up. Even simple procedures can go wrong.

The doctor came out. Surely they don't deliver bad news in the waiting room. Flanked by resident medical students, he said, "Everything went fine."

And I began breathing again.

Your child in a hospital gown. An oxygen mask. An IV. These things slow time. When the doctor says all went fine, they renew life.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Real Man



Sometimes a book is so good, you just got to share. Here's my review of Eric Greitens's The Heart and the Fist.


Too often a real man is defined by the baser elements of machismo. By his ability to annihilate his enemy. By the number of notches on his bedpost.

Eric Greitens clarifies the litmus test of a real man.

His story starts out in a liberal attempt to help humankind, detailing humanitarian trips to third-world countries when he was 19 years old to aid the abandoned, the hungry, the homeless. While we were spending summer on the beach, he was helping the people in this world with a shattered past and a hopeless future.

Greitens's epiphany is a result of these selfless acts. People need food and shelter, yes, but they also need protection from tyranny.

His journey leads him to the military's most challenging test, the Navy SEALS. He details the unimaginable training where cadets are drowned and driven into the sand. Where even the most physically fit human is often happy to quit. But Greitens does so without egotistic style, without chest-thumping. His journey is spiritual. "Hell Week tests the soul, it doesn't clean it."

The writing is good. And why not, he's a graduate of Oxford, given the option to live a life of academic freedom and comfort. A life he eschewed for a higher calling that wasn't necessarily religious. The dialogue keeps the scenes from becoming overly dry, but often reads clunky and contrived. Unnatural. Sometimes reads like a squeaky clean sitcom, more Beaver Cleaver than Nickelodeon.

However, Greitens changes the perspective of a kill-first military. Some soldiers are on a spiritual journey. They are real men. Real women.

Real warriors.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Light

I stood outside a back room. Hands folded over my stomach.

The door opened. I stepped inside next to another student, we both did a full bow to an altar. It was basically a small table with a vase of flowers. We placed our foreheads to the carpet, raised our hands near our ears, palms up. The silence made the awkwardness palpable. Clothes rustling. Breath slightly labored standing up.

At that moment, I was having a thought. This is stupid.

The student left. I turned to face an elderly woman sitting on a meditation bench. Her hair short and void of color. She wore big round glasses that old people often wear. I started to do a full bow to her and she stopped me. "No, no," she said. "Not to me."

I didn't know what I was doing. So I did a short standing bow to her, more of a respectful greeting, then seated myself on the floor in front of her. I opened my mouth to say my name. She beat me to it.

"Hi, Tony."



There is a power in the universe, some say, that is immense. Obi-wan Kenobi called it the Force. Zen teachers call it joriki. Whatever it's called, it was in that room. It filled it. Blew through me like an exploding star. It had texture. Luminescence.

I came to the San Diego Zen Center when I was 23  years old with no expectations. If I had any, I still wouldn't have seen that moment coming.

I don't remember what Joko and I talked about. I remember smiling, a lot.

When she rang the little bell at her side and I let the next student in, doing full bows to the table/altar of flowers, I remember knowing something. I remember knowing, at the moment, that there is light in the world.

Charlotte Joko Beck died this week. It was June 15. She was 94 years old. I don't think she would remember me since she worked with so many people. But I'll say it anyway.

Thank you, Joko.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tweet This

I missed a joke on Tosh, or maybe it was John Stewart. Something about the fail whale. My 13 year old daughter explained it to me. Had something to do with Twitter.

It's about time I catch up with Twitter. I got Facebook, got a blog, a website. Hell, I even watch Randy Jackson's America's Best Dance Crew with my kids. I know who JabbaWockeeZ is, son.



So I log onto Twitter. Look at a couple people to follow, read the comments in 127 characters or less (140, 204, or however the hell many it is) about eating at diners or being stuck in traffic. 10 seconds later, I log off. Forever.

Twitter. I still don't get it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reader Email: The End is Near

I get a handful of emails from folks that read my column in the Post and Courier. Mostly questions about dying plants. This one started out no different. The reader wanted some info on why her hydrangea wasn't blooming. My answer was short, to the point with a little humor at the end.

I wrote,
The growth produced this year will set flower buds that will open in 2012. According to the movie, that's the end of the world, so that may be the least of your problems.
I smacked that out of the park. Crushed it.



This is what she wrote back:

Since you brought it up....2012....here is my take on that. I am tired of right wing stupid people trying to manipulate my every move, day to day, by their out the ass rantings based on little fact and/or merely some warped interpretation of The Book. I am not nor ever was a fan of Chicken Little nor Henny Penny and think there heads should have been wrung, figuratively speaking, long ago.

Some things there is no control over and this is one. It would not surprise me to learn that some ploy by government to keep people stirred up and thus easier to control is behind all the hype. A house divided is a house easy to conquer. So to that moron Stamping and all his right wing experts, I say, ' bite me'. 
Thanks for your input about the hydrangeas. 


At least she thanked me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Traffic Brings Out the Crazies

My wife stopped at a red light.

While she waited, she answered a text from our son. She noticed someone waving. The lady in the van next to her was giving the universal sign for "roll down the window". Only it seemed more like "roll down the window, bitch."


"That's illegal!" Veins  bulged in her neck. "I've got your license number, I'm reporting you!"

This goes on. And on. My wife, too stunned to respond, rolls up the window. The lady's eyes begin to pop out of her face that's about to catch fire. Fortunately, they went different directions. And the texting police never showed up.

Traffic brings out the crazies.



Case in point. High school. Three of us are catching a ride home with two high school seniors. They yell at a car in front of them. Apparently, it contains a Marine that has decided to show these high school punks some respect. Some honor.

(I don't know if he was a Marine, but you get the picture.)

We pull over in a neighborhood. Marine saunters over. The seniors -- well-versed in fighting -- meet him halfway. Then they clown this guy. Bad. They take his keys and throw them over a house. We pull away while he stands in someone's front yard watching.

Here he was going to improve the lives of some whipper-snapping punks with some tough love. Now he was touching his lip and looking at the blood on his finger.

Yeah, you never know who's in traffic.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nature is Dirty

First, roll on deodorant. Then Joe Camel.

Now this.


Nature has a sense of humor.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Humans Rule

Squirrels are rodents. Fact.

These bushy tailed rats have been gangbanging the bird feeder for the last two months. It started out innocent enough, every once in awhile one would hang upside down from a branch shoveling seed into its pointy mouth. Thing would eyeball me while I watched from the kitchen. What you going to do about it, son?

So I put hot sauce on the branch, see if they like a few Scovilles with their seeds. But my daughter didn't like it. Their lips would burn. Besides, they were cute. Who wants to hurt cute animals? She'll eat hamburger because cows are dumb and ugly, but not deer. Too cute. And rabbit? That's like eating our dog.


The hot sauce trick didn't work. I think they liked it. I took canes from the Alphonse Karr bamboo growing in our backyard, made a three-pole teepee and hung the birdfeeder in the center. Took about half a day for one of those bushy tailed bastards to shimmy up one of the poles and start shoveling, eyeballing while he did it.


So I greased the poles with globs of engine grease. Next morning, I stood in the kitchen drinking coffee as one of those furry pigs made the climb. When he reached the top, he began to slide. He was probably squeezing that pole with everything he had, but he went down with a stupid look on his face. He saw me in the kitchen, eyeballing him all the way to the bottom. I could see defeat in his eyes. It was over.

Humans rule.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chinese Doppleganger: T. Bertone Chomsky

A Chinese delegation came to Trident Technical College last spring.

I was asked to join the group at Jim 'n Nick's BBQ. Oh, and bring the Chinese translation of your landscape design textbook. There were 12 of us. Four spoke English. I did a lot of vacant nodding.



The delegates were university presidents and vice presidents. Educational elite. At some point, I was introduced and asked to tell them about our horticulture program and, of course, the book. I whipped out the textbook, and they ooh. They ahh. One gentleman was from an agricultural school. He flipped through the pages with purpose while the translator transformed my words into Chinese.

Five minutes later, the agriculture man passed me a pen and then motioned with his hand. He wanted me to sign it. He wanted my signature on the textbook. Why would I give him the only Chinese-translated book I possess without signing it? That would be stupid.

So I signed it. I gave away the coolest coffee table book in my house.



Later, he spoke to me and I nodded, repeating over and over, "I don't understand. I don't understand." I thought he wanted to go outside for a smoke. So I went, what the hell. Instead, we went out to Jim 'n Nick's parking lot for a picture. While someone pointed a camera and counted to three in Chinese, he put his arm around my shoulders and displayed my signed textbook. We took two pictures because he wanted more of Tanger Outlet in the background.

And then he left with my Chinese textbook.

When I got my March royalty check, I noticed an additional line item. The publisher sold 2000 copies of my Chinese translation last fall. And my name had been translated.

T. Bertone Chomsky.

Winner, winner. Chicken dinner.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Eat me, Hermione

I left my camera.

I was across campus, taking measurements for a proposed Japanese garden. Once done, I started back for my office when I realized I left my camera on one of the tables, so I sprinted back for it.

I rounded a corner, ran around some students dressed in robes and carrying wands. Assumed they were going to Drama class. One of the girls shouted, "Run, Forrest. Run."



I didn't bother responding. I was staring at the empty spot where my camera had been only ten minutes ago. I could feel the money leaving my wallet. Meanwhile, Harry Potter and friends were laughing. I caught up to one of the maintenance crew, asked him about the camera. He found it, just gave it to Lost and Found.

I hadn't forgotten about the friendly wizards. My mind kept replaying the scene, trying out different responses. The portion of my brain that still resides in 5th grade was helping. Here's what I got.

Response #1: [Turn around quickly.] "What the hell'd you just say?"

Response #2: [Awkward laugh. Smile.]

Response #3: "Eat me, Hermione. Shut up."



I tried to drop it. Such a non-event. But then I found myself still going back to it. 5:00 AM, I was laying in bed, about to get up. There I was again, rounding the corner. Run, Forrest. This time I turn.

Response #4: [Warm smile.] "How'd you know my name was Forrest?"

Boom. Nailed it. Yeah, I'll go with that. Next time that happens, I'll say that.

Yeah.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sitting: The Black Hole

I sit in meditation and watch my mind desperately trying to protect me. I watch how thoughts solidify. How scenarios form and pull me inside like the undeniable force of a black hole. I watch myself give in to the thoughts that create every possible scenario that might harm me, how I might avoid criticism, how I revel in the things I may or may not do.

Thoughts. I cling to them like a junkie.



And then I wonder who my thoughts are protecting. I ask the unspeakable, the unanswerable: Who am I?


And then return to the present moment. The sound of birds outside my bedroom window. The tickle in my nose. I stay present in a seamless moment of awareness. The thoughtless, eternal now. Until the thoughts return. And I go with them. Again. Like I have a million times.

And I return a million more.

Sitting is thus.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Looking for Redlights

Pi is a slightly disturbing Darren Aronofsky movie.



Maximillian becomes obsessed with finding the number that will solve the mysteries of life. "Mathematics is the language of nature."

He confers with his mentor, Sol. He tells him he's close to finding the answer, but he's become obsessed. Sol tells him, "When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere."

I've got a 30 minute commute home. I don't notice the green lights as much as I do the red ones. There's a belief that I'm entitled to green lights. I should get green lights, so when I get one I don't notice. But a red light? Three in a row? Five? It's like a man in the sky is singling me out.

The victim.



You will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere.

Look for red lights, and you'll find them.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Running the Bridge

    I hate running.

    I do it once a week. Hate every second of it. I follow a blog where a guy runs 50K races. He's mad.

    When my wife decided to do the bridge run this year, I passed. Maybe next year I'll change my mind. Just looks too damn cool to pass up again.

    When I say I'll do it, I mean walk.


    Heather and Douglas (her walk buddy) woke up at 4:00 am to get to the race.
    Heather in line for the Porta Potty. The stench was unbearable.

    40,000 people in this race. By the time Heather got to the starting line, the Kenyans had already finished the race.

    Charleston's famous cable-stay bridge.

    Downtown Chucktown.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Hater's Club: Know-It-All

    One of my students got a job with a local landscaping company. She clashed with the owner in the first week. I don't know the details. Personality conflict, maybe. New kid on the block. Maybe someone spit in her oatmeal. Who knows.



    "Oh, yeah. The owner hates you, too," my student tells me.

    "Me? What the hell did I do?"

    "You're a know-it-all with your column in the paper. Says you don't know shit."

    I know it all.

    My high school teachers would find that hiiiiiiilarious.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    The Southern Dust Storm

    Southern pine pollen has everything smothered in yellow dust. It's not considered much of an allergen. Just a pain in the ass.

    Don't bother washing the car until it's over.



    Open the windows and everything gets it.








    Monday, March 14, 2011

    You're not Welcome, Kotter

    My students never heard of Mr. Kotter.

    What the hell. They're in their 20s. Okay, I get that. But still, we're talking Mr. Kottaaaaaair. The show ran in the 70s, when there was only 3 channels to watch. Four, if you count PBS. Which we didn't.



    When I was 10, watching the opening scene, the guy riding the unicycle through Brooklyn and listening to Weeelcome Back, everything felt just perfect. I mean, Brooklyn was a safe place, the Sweathogs were just a bunch of fun-loving guys, and everyone was happy at the end of the day.

    The reality.

    None of those Sweathogs are coming to school, and if they do they're knocking the shit out of Kotter. At the very least, Woodman.

    But nevermind. Fonzy can start the jukebox by punching it. No one ever got sick on Gilligan's Island. And the world is a safe place, and lions don't eat sheep and crazy assholes don't exist AND THE CLEAVERS ARE NOT DYSFUNCTIONAL.

    Hallelujah and pass the clicker.

    My daughter sees the same thing. Hannah Montana, iCarly, whatever. Problems solved in 22 minutes or less. The purple dinosaur loves you. The end.

    This is the 80s.

    The other day, she says to me, after watching an Adam Sandler movie, the 80s looked like fun. She wishes she could grow up in the 80s like I did. I told her, it's not much different. Really, it's not. The movies, they sanitize the past. I wore the same goofy clothes, but I had the same problems as you. Not much different.

    Just be here, darling. It's the only place we got.

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Eyeball

    Damn near lost an eyeball.

    Well, I thought. Sawdust scratched it. Didn't seem like a big deal, at first, but then it wouldn't stop watering. That night, it got worse. Got swollen, red. Felt like a grain of sand trapped under my eyelid. I couldn't sleep. It was worse when I closed my eyes.

    Ever try to stop moving your eye?

    So I made plans for a glass eye. Maybe get one a different color. All black, or yellow. What about laser beam red. Or maybe one like Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York, the glass eye with the bald eagle. The one he taps with the tip of a knife.

    Or maybe do an eye patch. Snake Plissken was badass in a patch. I'd just look like a douche.



    Just thoughts. All these.

    That's the thing. It's hard to separate from thoughts. Hard to just be here. Just be present. Why do we cling to them so desperately?

    Reality, lost.

    My eye was fine by lunch.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Phone Call

    Our first death threat.

    It was an anonymous phone call. My wife answered. The guy on the other end wanted to know why she called him. She didn't. This pissed him off. He told her this.

    IF I FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE, I'LL KILL YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY.

    End quote.



    She didn't know who it was. Didn't matter. You hear that and all sorts of nightmares march through your skull. On go the lights in the yard. Doors locked. Double checked. Dogs inside. They won't hurt anyone, but they look like they will. That's a plus.

    Oh, and check on the gun.

    I got a .357 revolver. What the gun retailer called "Home Protection." Yes, I want that. "And you'll want these." "What are they?" "Hollow point bullets. They got stopping power."

    Those, too.



    I hope I never, ever use this gun. I've shot it at the range. Sounds like a cannon. A friend once told me a 9mm is the best gun to have hidden at home. Said it will flatten a man in a second. Said you'll want someone to break into your house. He's a Navy SEAL. I'm not.

    When I bought the gun, my wife asked if I thought I could really shoot a man. Really, truly. Could I pull the trigger on another man. Seriously. I said I don't know. But if a man comes into my house with the intention to harm my family, to KILL YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY, I want the option.

    So far my pistol has collected dust. I like that. But I cleaned it. Because, you know.

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Susan's Black Eye



    Black-eyed Susan. Some call it Brown-eyed Susan.

    Both names seem... wrong.

    The second more than the first.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Getting It Out

    My story is like any other. I was on welfare at the time, writing in cafes on lined notebook paper. About a boy wizard with a mysterious lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

    Ten years later, I had 400 billion dollars.


    All right. My writing inspiration isn't so glamorous, or universally loved. And I don't have any theme parks. My beginning started as a story for my son, when he was seven. Cliche, I know. You see, I started it because he hated to read. I figured, what the hell, I'll write something he'll dig. A kid with superpowers, cracking skull, saving the world. My son could name the characters, give me ideas and we'd run with it. I envisioned him sitting on the couch next me, devouring page after page. Dad! When's the next chapter going to be done?

    He said it best when my efforts failed. "Dad. I just hate reading."

    Even JK wouldn't win this battle.

    But here's the deal. The character I started out with got stuck in my nugget. I've written textbooks and magazine articles and newspaper columns, but I'd never done fiction. How hard could it be? Really. You just make stuff up. It's not like I needed a fact-checker. I didn't even need reality. This kid could strap on rockets and fly to the freaking moon. This is fiction, baby. Don't tell me what I can and can't do.

    Oh. Was I wrong.

    Fiction, for most of us, is hard to write. Good fiction, that is.


    Socket Greeny was the character. A sixteen-year old kid, asking the big questions about life. Why am I here? What's this all about? Do I matter? Teenage angst on growth hormones sort of dilemma. Maybe not the most original, but something teens can relate to. I know, I was that kid. And that's why Socket wouldn't get out of my head. He had a story to be told. Well, I had a story that I wanted to tell through him. And in the world of fiction, I could make him whatever I wanted. Make him indestructible. Yet vulnerable.

    Socket's this misfit. He's got white hair, but he's not an albino. It's a pigment disorder. He's different. His dad is dead. His mom, a workaholic. He whittles his life away in video games and energy drinks. That is, until he discovers his true nature.


    My life and Socket's go opposite directions from there. No, I don't have white hair and my parents are alive and well. There were no fantastical worlds in my life. No superpowers to be discovered or off-world creatures to befriend. I wasn't the center of the universe and I sure as hell wasn't saving it. It was just me and everyday life. My path ended up grinding through life's problems the old fashion way. Slow and ordinary.

    By the time I was in my 20s, I'd started a Zen practice. Meditation became a daily routine, in addition to retreats and various other inner efforts. I made some sense out of things through some hard work. Found some meaning. The struggle, it's worth it.

    Socket's life isn't so ordinary. But it's not so far off, either. He still struggles with the everyday issues of where he fits in. His relationships. And what the hell does all this really mean.

    I don't know if I'll ever write another novel. To wear out a cliche, it was a story in me that wanted out. It's out. Besides, novel-writing is as much about promoting (or more) as writing. And I'm not jazzed about that. Maybe in ten years there'll be another one. Or maybe I take the JD Salinger route and never write another one. I sure hope that's not true, for a number of reasons.