23 March 2015

The Conclusion of Chapter 8.2

(from my forthcoming novel, Cinema! Cinema!)

“Well," said Jerry Grogan, "this one guy that I know, his dad was a sailor. I don't mean like a professional sailor all his life or anything. This guy wanted to be a professional athlete, actually. A baseball player, in fact. A pitcher to be exact. Do you know what baseball is?

“Sure,” said Rosalyn. “It's that earth sport that moves real slowly. I see it from time to time on inter-dimensional planetary television. It's the one with all of the beer ads.”

“Yeah, that's it. So anyhow, he wanted to be a baseball player, but as fate would have it, there was a war going on at the time. The guy doesn't want to get drafted into the army, so he joins the navy. Seems like a good idea at the time. In the long run, it sets into motion a whole turn of events that winds up with him retiring as a social worker rather than a baseball player, but such is life. You know how that goes?”

“Do I ever,” said Rosalyn. “I wanted to be a plumber, but I wound up as an art teacher. Some days what I wouldn't give to fix a leaking faucet or a toilet with a bad flapper valve.”

“You can do those things any time you want, baby-cakes. The next time my toilet overflows I'll give you a call.”


“Anyhow, the guy winds up floating around the ocean, running up and down steel ladders and scrubbing decks and saluting people and all the things that sailors commonly do. I don't think he had a parrot or anything. I think those are reserved for pirates, and these guys were legitimate sailors. Some of them had tattoos, though, I'm pretty sure of it."

"When the war ended," Grogan continued, "this guy's ship had the task of picking up a whole bunch of soldiers and marines who had been involved in more 'hands-on' sorts of war-making and ferrying them back home. This seemed like a pretty good deal, because the sailors were a lot less concerned about people trying to kill them or sink their ship or whatever, now that the war was done. Their thoughts had mostly turned to getting home and getting jobs or getting laid or getting really good and stinking drunk.”

“Everybody has their vices,” inserted Rosalyn.

“You can say that again, baby-cakes. So all of these sailors and soldiers and marines are on the ship together for a few weeks, and they end up getting to know each other a bit, and playing poker together and all the things you do when a war is over. And this one marine strikes up a conversation with my friend's dad, and eventually asks him if he wants to see what he was bringing home as a souvenir from the war. Well, this is too good for my friend's dad to pass up, seeing as how the guys on the ship never really had the chance to do any souvenir gathering during the war, and mostly were bringing home only tattoos or the clap.”

“I bet some of them picked up tiny things, too,” said Rosalyn, “just as a little gift for their moms or girlfriends.”

“Maybe. Here and there maybe a plastic snow-globe or something. I'll give you that. But whatever the case, my friend's dad apparently didn't want to miss seeing what a marine might be bringing back from some battle-torn island somewhere. Maybe a cool sword or a helmet or a flag or something. So he goes down to the hangar deck of their ship, where all of the marines are camped out on makeshift bunks, and the marine grabs his seabag and they go to a private little corner behind some crates and pipes and stuff. And the marine pulls a glass mason jar out of his seabag.”


“That's what my friend's dad thought at first, too. Or maybe some kind of special ethnic delicacy that he found in an enemy chow line. But the marine lifts it up in my friend's dad's face and lets him get a real close look at it. You know what it was?”


“Of course you don't. You couldn't believe it. You couldn't imagine it. You couldn't make this up.”

“What was it?” pressed Rosalyn.

“Ears,” said Grogan with a horrified look. “Ears.”


“Ears. Enemy ears. It turns out this marine was cutting off ears from dead bodies of the enemy soldiers that his unit killed. Whenever they overtook a position, or captured a bunker, after everything was quiet, this guy would go around with his knife and slice the ears off of dead soldiers, and then put them in a jar with vinegar or vodka or mineral spirits or something. He had it all wrapped up in a couple of towels, and he carried it with him everywhere. Apparently it was the second jar he had used, as the first one broke in his backpack or seabag or something, soaking everything with his field-expedient embalming fluid. He managed to save the ears, though, so it was okay.

“Lovely,” said Rosalyn, looking a little nauseated.

“Well, my friend's dad was speechless, I guess, but he never forgot the mason jar the ears were in. The marine had scratched the word 'ears' into the metal cap. Probably scratched it in with the same knife he used for removing the ears. Who knows? You don't forget a thing like that, though.”

“You would think that just seeing a bunch of ears floating around in a jar would be enough of a reminder of what's in the jar, though,” Rosalyn pointed out.

“Yeah, but I guess he wanted to dedicate that jar for one use and one use only. He probably didn't want to use the jar for making a batch of pickled eggs after the war.”

“Good point. What if he got the lids switched with another jar, though?”

“I have no idea. Anyhow, years later, probably forty years after the war, my friend's dad is on vacation in a big city on the coast, and was at an antique store with his wife, and they're poking around, looking at stuff, and he spots an old mason jar with a metal cap sitting there on a shelf, and it looks familiar.”

“No way.”

“Way. He grabs it, and sure enough, there's the same word, 'ears', scratched into the lid. The very same jar. I guess he even opened it and took a sniff. Still kinda' smelled like vinegar or something, but no trace of ears. “

“He didn't...”

“He did. He bought the thing and took it home with him. He kept it on his desk at work, and put old fortunes from fortune cookies in it. Every time he ate at a Chinese restaurant and got a fortune cookie, he'd keep the fortune and take it with him to put in the jar. When he retired, the thing was over half full of old fortunes, and he took it home with him. After he died, my friend got the jar, and now he's doing the same thing with it. It's on his desk, and he's trying to fill it to the top with fortune cookie fortunes before he retires. Only one problem, though.”

“What's that?”

“He can't stand Chinese food.”

16 March 2015

From Age to Age, it Seems

(A little bit from "Ashes and Seed Corn", another novel underway...)

Might there be a thing called generational memory? Perhaps that is not the right word for it, of course. Perhaps there is a psychologist or a wise, learned man who studies such things that has a special name for such an occurrence, and he would tell you what it is called. It would be the sort of situation where one set of circumstances is passed on from generation to generation. I'm not talkin' here about the sort of thing where a family stays in poverty or where a family is made up mostly of folks who aren't all that bright, either. I'm talkin' about the sort of thing where by chance or by design or by the same kind of luck or fortune or whatever you might call it, things happen in the same sorts of ways. And folk do the same sorts of things. And make the same sorts of mistakes. This story I been tellin' has a lot of folk doin' the same sort of things that other folk done, and from age to age, it seems, some things just never change – as little as folk change.

So to put it all together, we 'been seein' things that look a lot like a story that someone made up and put onto a motion picture-show, but yet, you see, a lot of stuff ain't just made up – it's for real, and folk get hurt and stung because of it. Hurtin' and stingin' ain't so bad except for when it don't end, and it just goes on and on. Like from one generation to the next.

Just like I'm talkin' about.

So that rain goes fallin' on the just and the unjust, and it don't really matter which of them knows which is which. I mean, you never really know quite how just or unjust you are, do you? Do the evil know they are evil? Do the arrogant know themselves to be arrogant? Again, I ain't quite sure. It seems I remember Mr. MacBurney down the road sayin' one time “you can never say 'thank you, God, for makin' me humble.'” So when the rain falls on the unjust, I suppose they think they deserve it every bit as much as the just, whatever that all quite means.

I done told you some things about old Jefferson Morgan, but he had a brother – Miles Standish Morgan – who was not nearly as well known as he was. While Jefferson moved his whole livin' out to the area near Pole Creek, Miles Standish Morgan settled north of the the old Morgan homestead, in a spot just east of the bridge over the creek just outside of Blanchers. No one lives in Blanchers anymore, but you probably knew that.

The spot where his house stood is pretty near where that main road between Croydon and Cotton City runs – the same road that goes through Pole Creek, makes itself a dog leg there and by means of Rural Route 4 connects up Highway 26 in the north with Highway 32 in the south, and is the artery for all of Crawford County. The only folk who take Route 4 north of Haverland would be the Switchbacks and them that live north of their place.


Miles Standish Morgan lived in a crusty-dry little tar paper shack that was the biggest little tar paper shack you ever did see, as he began addin' on to it the day after he finished building it. It looked like something out of a dream, I'm told, with rooms and walls goin' everwhichways, and chickens and such runnin' loose all day long.

Right outside of that shack there was a little footpath that old Morgan used to walk down – just a few hundred yards away and to the south of his shack, and it led a man right this little draw. Actually, it was more than just a draw – more like a little valley or a hollow in the side of the rise heading back to Pole Creek, and some say that's where another creek used to run – one that emptied itself into Pole Creek along time ago. The valley is deep enough to warrant a little bridge all its own. A little wooden bridge that someone built a long time ago, and that only took a man by foot across the valley. It was too small for a horse, too small for much anything else. You could walk across it, though.

Folk who used to live out near there said that old Miles Standish Morgan used to get in the habit of thinking it was his bridge – that it somehow belonged to him, seeing as how he lived the closest to it, and that he was the one who walked on it every day. A couple of times folks heard him hollerin' at some kids or others who walked across it when he was nearby. Folks said he only really got to hollerin' real loud when he had been hittin' the bottle . Sometimes I guess we're all kind of like that, though, aren't we?

About the hollerin', I mean – not necessarily about the bottle.

09 March 2015

For a Very Limited Time Only...

All of my paperbacks are priced at 50% off of list, and all of my e-books are FREE!  You should go and stock up!


A deal like this won't last for long!

Lake Harriet and the Trickey-Dickey Pills - Encore Performance!

 Here, for your reading pleasure, is the most-read piece on this blog, 
published in October of 2013...

David dipped his finger into the pool of clear, cold water that was just taking up space in his living room. The pool had been there for the past week and a half, and David had no idea how it got there.

The pool was six feet and seven inches in length and at its widest point about four feet and two inches in width. David knew this because on the second day of its existence he took out his fancy little tape measure and checked its dimensions. What else would you do with a pool that spontaneously appeared in your living room? He carefully noted the dimensions and wrote them down on a wrapper from a cheesesteak poorboy. He used a black magic marker, for although he originally tried writing with a blue ball point pen, some grease on the wrapper made that impossible.

The depth he had not been able to determine. That is often how it is with spontaneously-appearing living room pools.

David had been checking the dimensions daily, to see if they had changed, and he found no fluctuation in size. Now, after swallowing the oversized silver capsule of the trickey-dickey powder that he loved so much (and ingested twice daily) he was conducting another experiment. He had turned off the heat in his apartment and opened the windows. As it was in the depths of a Minnesota winter, he figured the water in the pool should freeze in no time. This had not yet happened, but the water seemed to be cooling down.

As he looked down into the water it seemed as though there was a face visible just a foot or so below the surface. It did not appear to be attached to a body, and it did not appear to be a severed head, as had been found in that one spontaneously-appearing living room pool that had cropped up in a subdivision in Dayton, Ohio back in 1997. This was just a face, or the form of a face. Perhaps that of a young woman. Or perhaps it was that of a not-as-young woman. It is hard to tell in situations like that.

As he watched the face, he expected to see its eyes open or its lips move, but neither happened. In a minute the face seemed to vanish. Immediately the pool began to shrink in size. Soon it was the size of a coffee table, then the size of a toaster oven, then the size of a napkin holder, then the size of a deck of cards.

David was left looking at a spot of dry carpeting in his very cold living room.

And with a face in his memory forever.

06 March 2015

A Bit of Clarity from Chapter 5 of "Cinema! Cinema!"


“That's one big-time icy doughnut, Baby-cakes,” said Grogan. He peeled the kumquat-flavored tissue off of his tongue and flicked it away. It fluttered off on a breeze that neither he nor Rosalyn could feel, but believe you me (as some would say), they knew it was there. People seem to be hyper-sensitive around the Waycheeda Glacier, and they sense everything's presence, even if there is no sensory data to tip them off.

A word about the Waycheeda Glacier before we go any further. The name is quite curious, and it shows up in print with different spellings and different forms. “Way-chee-dah” was apparently the name that the ancient inhabitants of Bezelda gave to themselves. It means something like “people in search of cocktails”. The ancient inhabitants resettled there by means of time and space travel – all of the prehistoric Bezeldans or “Way-chee-dah” came from Detroit.

Detroit, Michigan, that is. They were the smart ones who knew enough to get the hell out.

“Waycheeda Glacier” is the official spelling on government documents and on maps. Maps and newspapers up until the 1950's (in the earthling manner of marking years) most often hyphenated the name: “Way-cheeda”, and sometimes “glacier” was left uncapitalized. Bezeldans who live near the glacier sometimes just call it “the 'cheeda”, and the guides who take paid expeditions atop the glacier for backpacking, picnicking, and sex usually refer to it as “The Ol' Doughnut.”

Now that you know these details, we shall now attempt to refer to the glacier from this point on in the manner of the Bezeldan Tourism Council and the official government appellation: “Waycheeda Glacier.”


02 March 2015

Nearly Assumption Day

I was walking downtown (fancy that) to meet my brother Pat at Limpy's Place one fine summer evening, just after the war. It was the cola war, in case you were wondering. Do you remember that? Some of the most viciously-fought advertising campaigns ever seen. It was brutal. I was able to serve as a mercenary for one of the minor combatants, “Okra-Kola”. Okra-Kola was a soft drink produced in Oklahoma City (where else?) that was designed to go perfectly with barbecue, and that was made with real okra – not artificial okra, the way that “Dr. Okra” from Tulsa was. I managed to free-lance a couple of slogans for the company before they folded:

“Okra-Kola: It's the Stringy Thing!”

“O-K! Seed-free Since '73!”

In retrospect, perhaps it wasn't my best work.

Anyhow, I was walking down to Limpy's Place and as I passed the Johnson & Weinberg Hernia Parlour, I happened to spy a most curious little box on the ground. Who can resist these things, right? It was blue and seemed to be lacquered. I stopped and looked both ways. Then I looked up and down. Then I lit a cigarette, just to make me appear more nonchalant. Putting the lit cigarette behind my ear, I stooped down, picked up the box, slipped it in my jacket pocket, and walked on.

A few steps down the sidewalk I turned into the alleyway just alongside the New-China Sauerbraten Buffet (which gave off a much more agreeable aroma than you might have guessed). Making sure that the coast was clear, I pulled the box out of my pocket and slowly opened it. Inside there was a lone slip of paper – bigger than you might find inside a fortune cookie, but smaller than a business card. That narrows it down, doesn't it?

I took the slip of paper and turned it over to find some words written in the finest blue script.

It was wisdom. Divine wisdom.

I read the words again.

I felt a warmth that I had never felt before. It was as if my entire intellectual and empirical faculties were beginning to glow as an ember. I was alive. Alive and on fire, as it were, with this new-found wisdom. I needed to share this with Pat.

I ran out of the alley and sprinted the block and a half to Limpy's Place. I burst in the door, nearly tripping over Filthy Milt Gozomski who was back in town and apparently on quite the bender, owing to his prone position on the floor. I leaped over whatever it was that he was lying in and stepped over to Pat, who was just finishing his first triple de-alcoholized scotch-and-tumbler.

“Tom, you look all out of breath. You okay?” he asked, licking the little bits of peat moss from his complimentary “scotchy-doodle” that Limpy gives to all of his hard-core de-alcoholized scotch drinkers.

“Patrick...it...it...it's wisdom...divine wisdom!” I said, handing him the little slip of paper. “I'm burning with the enlightenment of the ages!”

Pat glanced at the slip of paper, and then up at my head, and then back at the paper. “Inspected by #7” he read aloud, frowning and looking a little doubtful.

“Oh,” I said, “I must have read it upside down. I thought it was in Cyrillic.”

“Here's your martini, Tom,” he said, pulling out a barstool and handing me a wet rag. “Drink up and crush out that cigarette behind your ear. You do know that Brylcreem is flammable, don't you?”

(Almost a true story. The names, circumstances, locations, and dialogue have been changed to protect the innocent.)