ABOUT THE STORY [An endnote explains how the story ‘came to be’] A tired and stressed couple’s plans for a getaway break goes awry because of weather. They arrive at their destination but become snowbound at the place they’ve rented in the country. Their friends and family that were to meet them can’t. So it’s […]
Researching some things for my Pulp Noir Ink & Shadows stories and came across this interesting article in Salon’s newsletter.
FROM THE ARTICLE:
I interviewed her as she got tattooed; she showed no reaction to the pain she was receiving. This led the tattooist working on her to observe that “women sit so much better than men.”
One thing I tell my daughters is that you have to take action to get what you want in life… but equally critical is how you respond to what’s happening, especially when things don’t go your way. And that’s perhaps the most important lesson to learn. Life, happiness, and self-respect, ultimately, come from what you […]
BOX SCORE (NONFICTION: Booknology)
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Ladies, it’s time to gear up. To step onto the pitcher’s mound or better yet, into the batter’s box in the game of relationship improvement.
BOX SCORE—What Husbands and Boyfriends Really Want is your turn with 10 ideas of how women can make their husbands and boyfriends happier.
In his debut title, WISHBOOK—What Wives and Girlfriends Really Want, author Jack Carpenter offered men 10 suggestions to improve their lives with their women, and a call to action. Game two of this double-header, BOX SCORE is the companion book for women. After you read it and make your 3 For 3 choices, your happiness with your man will significantly increase, guaranteed.
So, strap your cleats on, get your grip but be loose and be ready for a fast-paced and entertaining read. You’ll be glad you did. Hey batter, batter!
And if you want to follow my writing, click here.
The Sign of Fools & Sages (NONFICTION, FREE SHORT STORY)
‘Dream On’ started playing. I was at the kitchen counter making sandwiches.
“Do you like this song?” I asked my two youngest—twin—daughters. Alpha and Beta [not their real names] nodded at the same time; Beta with her spoon still in her mouth.
“Do you know the words?” Beta asked wiping milk from her chin.
“I do, it’s one of my favorite songs to sing.”
It’s a thing with me—to sing at times—especially as they eat breakfast while I make their lunches for school. It’s also good talk time (with topics ranging from silly to serious). We discuss school, what they’re studying, they ask me about stories I’m working on… and we talk about travel, places we’ve been and where we want to go. And I find ways to talk about life (often my stories are a good segue for that).
I had my Kindle Fire HDX, sitting on the kitchen table Bluetoothed to our home music system. [I really enjoy the rich sound from the speakers set in the high ceilings and bass thrum from the subwoofer on the floor in the corner.] We enjoy new music but do play a lot of oldies: 60s and 70s (era of my youth) mostly with some from the 50s to take it way, way, back. My twins are probably the only kids in their grade that know all the words to Zager & Evans ‘In The Year 2525.’ And a whole slew of songs from The Temptations (you should hear them sing ‘Ball of Confusion’), Johnny Rivers and Bad Company and other greats from back then. We were recently on a Styx kick, pre-Mr. Roboto songs).
I walked over and turned the Kindle so Alpha and Beta could see the lyrics scroll. A favorite line was coming up, and I sang along. “… live and learn from fools and from sages.” Beta stopped me with a question—I hate to stop when rolling—but it was a good one. The kind of question a parent needs to consider and answer thoughtfully.
“How do you learn from fools, dad?”
I turned the volume down (sorry, Steven Tyler). “Well,” I sat at the end of the table. “It’s important to pay attention to all kinds of people around you. But mostly those close to you that you might listen to or think you can learn from. You have to watch to see how they act and interact; what they say and do, especially the impression they give you. And then compare that to reality.”
Alpha’s bagel kicked up in the toaster. I got it for her and brought it and the not-really-butter spread she likes to the table. [I’m a butter believer so look down on such pretenders, but she loves it.] I explained what I meant. “Does what they say and do make sense.”
Alpha raised her hand and looked at Beta before speaking—it seems twins do that; I think its telepathy—and at the same time, they said, “Martin.” [Name changed to protect the not so innocent. I’ve heard tales about Martin; heaven help his parents.]
I nodded and continued. “You see, really odd and unusual people are easy to spot. You learn to avoid them and not take them seriously. But Fools can be hard to identify. They often sound like they know what they’re talking about.”
Alpha had not-really-buttered her fingers, and I handed her a napkin. She asked, “How can you tell?”
“If they tell you about things they can do… but they never do them. Or when they do, it never works out like they said and they always want to blame someone else… they never take responsibility. People like that and those full of excuses are not the ones you should listen to… chances are they are Fools or delusional.”
“Does delusional mean crazy?” Alpha asked.
“No.” Though in my mind I thought of people I’d met and known who seemed at odds with reality and could qualify as bughouse bizarre. “Not exactly. It means the world inside their head is not the same world normal, rational, people live in. No matter what reality shows them, they still believe in their own version of things. Stay far away from people like that… they’re Fools.”
Beta looked at me. “But Sages are wise; smart people. Right?”
Back at the counter gathering their lunch stuff, I sipped my coffee, nodding. “Supposed to be.” I took another drink.
I didn’t (don’t) want to make my daughters grow up paranoid or suspicious of things and people in the world, now and in the future. But I think it’s crucial to learn to not automatically place faith in anyone or anything because of a label, position, a title, or perception that they are an authority. And certainly not because the media covers them extensively. That does not confirm, nor is it evidence of, their value. My girls need to know to verify and validate that for themselves. I told them. “People who get things done and are right more times than wrong… who have real experience and produce actual results aligned with doing what’s right. People who when they talk, make sense and show intelligence and compassion… and you can match it to accomplishments and action. They are the ones worth listening to.”
I gave them the line again from the song. Yes, I sang it. “Live and learn from fools and from sages…” I want them to learn to acknowledge labels or reputations but—and this is a big but and I cannot lie—I want them to define people and assess situations based on their own relevant criteria. I continued. “Something to understand that’s important in life.” That’s not the first or hundredth time they’ve heard me say that. I got a bit of eye-roll from them but kept going. “You can learn from both types of people. The way to do that is judge by actions… results, and not words. Listen to what people say but… it’s more important to see what they do. If a person proves to be a Sage; an intelligent person with good, moral, ethical, judgment… then their words have weight.”
Beta raised her hand. “What does weight mean—you know—how you just said it?”
“It means to take them seriously and listen. They have value and merit attention.” I went to the pantry for napkins and came out with their allotment. [I tend to harp a bit on being wasteful… my ‘don’t use more than you really need’ thing. I know if they have five they’ll use five… if they have one… they know that’s it… and will use it wisely. On pudding or fruit cup days, they get an extra napkin. I’m not unsympathetic on this issue.] “But don’t give people’s words power over you. Only you can—rationally, logically and contextually—decide what’s right and wrong for you.”
Alpha poured more milk; adding some to Beta’s glass, too. “But what can you learn from fools?” She brought me back around to the original question.
“Simply, what not to do… and how not to be. We don’t live in a perfect world, and humans are imperfect, too. We all have flaws. The thing to do is to not just understand our own flaws but also see them in others because that can be a factor in gauging the value of what they’re telling you and more importantly any advice they give you.” I put a drink-box, chocolate milk today, snack bag of carrots, fudge brownie and their sandwiches (Alpha’s turkey with mayonnaise and Beta’s peanut butter—not spread too thick—with grape jelly) into their lunch bags.
I made my ‘wind it up’ motion, twirling my index finger and hand clockwise to speed them up; an eat-your-cereal signal. “So, Fools can talk a lot and have very little, if anything, worth listening to. Sages may not say much but when they do… you listen. And the most important thing is to think about what they say and decide what it means to you. That’s called giving it context.”
It was time to finish so they could read a while before walking to the bus stop. They brought their bowls to the sink. Murphy—our Irish Terrier, my only boy—had discovered a couple of Cheerios under Alpha’s chair and was underfoot exploring for more. While they wiped down the kitchen table and counters, another song came to mind; another favorite of mine. I switched my Kindle from Pandora to my music library; found ‘Simple Man’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd and pressed play. It got to the line I wanted before they finished cleaning up. I put my hand on their shoulders, and they looked up at me. I sang a slightly changed version of a line from that song:
“Your father’s telling you… while you’re young. Come sit beside me my lovely ones. And listen closely to what I say. If you do this… It will help you in many ways.”
They smiled at me—used to this sort of thing—and gave me a hug. As they headed to their bathroom to brush teeth and hair, I told them, “We’ll talk more about this….”
And we will….
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Dream On – Aerosmith
In The Year 2525 – Zager and Evans
Ball of Confusion – The Temptations
Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrad
LEAVING TAOS [M] (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)
“They think,” Henry nodded in the direction of the cop at the sidewalk, “the killer’s headed to Santa Fe.”
“Nah, I bet he went north.” Joe drew hard on his cigarette, taking the smoke deep then letting it out in plumes. “Folks on the radio are warning people to watch out… whoever he is, he’s a dangerous man.”
Henry shook his head slightly. Joe was one of those men who sounded, with dead-solid certainty, like he was right. But was always mostly wrong, and sensationalized everything when he passed it on to others. “What makes you think it’s a man, Joe?” He wanted to wind him up a bit and see where he spun.
“Bud Carson’s my wife’s nephew… he works with Tom Flint’s cousin. Tom’s the deputy who found the man on Old Mill Road night before last, just as he rattled out his last breath. Tom told his cousin the killer caved the man’s ribs in—someone beat the shit out of him. And get this,” he took a last drag from the cigarette butt in in his hand and flipped it to the ground, “the head had been twisted, so it was turned around backward.” He shook his head. “The poor bastard was belly down but looking up at Tom when he died. Musta happened not long before Tom rolled up.” He pinched a piece of tobacco off his tongue and spat. “Ain’t no woman strong enough to do that.”
“You haven’t been here but a year, Joe. And haven’t seen Bill Stoudemire’s wife, Maggie, then.” Henry shook his head and winced remembering his single date with her when they were young. “She’d go 200 pounds… and none of it fat.” He shuddered again at the thought of when he told her he wouldn’t go out with her again. “And she’s a mean bitch. That’s probably why Bill ran off a couple of years ago.” He looked thoughtful. “Maggie, she doesn’t come to town much… stays on her place east of town.”
“Well, I don’t think no woman could do it.” Joe turned away. “See you later.”
Henry watched him walk toward Mabel’s Diner and thought, Old Mill Road runs east-west…. right by Maggie’s land. He let the idle thought slip away. It was time to pick up that load of lumber from Granger’s and get to work.
The hatless man near the bus depot window stood shoulders hunched and faced away from the others waiting for the bus. They never should have come to Taos, he thought. But they’d heard there might be work. There was. But he and Johnny never should have taken that laborer job. Poor Johnny. He had to flirt with that woman that hired them… and then actually tap it. He’d grinned and said, “In the dark, there’s more of her to grab. And man, she can squeeze that thing tight.” But something about her had bothered him. The way she looked at them. He had slept in the barn, but after the first night, Johnny was in the farmhouse with her. The fourth day, yesterday, he had come to breakfast to find that Johnny was gone. She had smiled at him—a big-toothed invitation—and came close enough to brush his shoulder with the largest set of tits he’d ever seen. “Your friend took off… you can sleep in the house tonight.” She had put her hand on his shoulder and given it a crushing pinch. “Come supper time, I’ll pay you your wages,” she waved a five-spot in her other hand.
He had nodded and gone out to the stretch of fence he and Johnny had been mending the day before. They both needed money and Johnny wouldn’t have run for no reason, but he hadn’t wanted the kind of trouble this woman seemed capable of dishing. He had decided to finish the job and get the Hell away from her, but with that fiver.
At sundown, she had called him to dinner, “Come and get it…” He couldn’t help but hear the emphasis she had put on her call to eat… and to something else.
At the table, he had wiped his plate clean. She had looked from it to him, an up and down run of her eyes. “You eat like a starved man…” she had gotten up from the chair at the end and moved to sit next to him, putting a hand on his forearm. “I do love me a man who has a hunger,” she squeezed and let go to hand him the five-dollar bill. “I’m the hungry kind, too….” She had then—as she got up—leaned forward to drag the tips of her chest across his arm and stood looking toward the room where she’d taken Johnny last time he’d seen him.
He had stuffed the money in his pants pocket, “I left your tools out, gotta go put them away…” the look on her face had hardened into something he’d never seen before on a woman. He had met her glare, managed to work up a smile and squinted at the darkened entry to her bedroom and back, “I’ll be quick… for some of that dessert.” The smile had come back, and she showed the edges of her teeth behind the curl of lips. “I’ll get it ready,” she had walked to the bedroom as he headed outside.
When he was nearly to the fence line, he had shifted from a walk to a sprint. On the dirt road, he had slowed for the long run to town. He had spent the night hiding in a patch of woods just outside it, walked in at daylight and waited. The morning bus for Santa Fe was late. He had heard from the newsboy working the corner with a stack of papers at his feet, ink so fresh the kid’s hands were smeared with it, that a body had been found the day before just off the road near to town. And now a cop was checking people at the depot. Maybe I should tell the police what happened, he thought, maybe Johnny did run from her but was hurt bad and didn’t make it. But that arrest warrant for him in Los Angeles was waiting to land like a ton of brick. They’d send him away for a long time on that one. Where was that bus?
* * *
Twenty Years Later
# # #
This story resulted from my looking through a collection of Depression Era public domain photos and spotting one that sparked some thoughts: What were the two men on the left talking about and what about the man by the depot window with hunched shoulders, what’s up with him? That picture became the story’s cover.
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They made a rhythmic click-clack sound
[You’ll need to watch the video below or be familiar with the novel or movie, The Caine Mutiny for this to make sense, or be humorous, to you.]
We were at sea and I went from the Combat Information Center to the ship’s bridge to match nav fixes with the Quartermaster’s chart. Done with that little bit of duty I walked over to the Captain who was also on the bridge at the time. I didn’t say anything as I stood there next to him. He was tall, about 6′ 4.” He glanced down at me.
“Lowery…” he nodded his head.
“Cap’n…” I nodded back.
We looked out on the Persian Gulf. We’d just transited the Straits of Hormuz. I reached into my pocket and took out two ball bearings I kept handy for the right occasion. I began to roll them in my hand. They made a rhythmic click-clack sound. He didn’t turn to me but I felt him stiffen. Neither of us looked at each other. I knew it was coming.
“Lowery, get off of my bridge…”
“Aye aye, sir.”
I remember when this song was a hit and coming into or leaving the house, seeing mom in the kitchen. Often cooking and cleaning, but sometimes she was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and the ever-present cigarette trickling smoke—pooling with vestiges from those that came before—that climbed and formed a cloud […]
Around the first of August 1978, at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I got into a bit of trouble. Not quite two weeks in the Navy and the shock of it—bootcamp—had begun to turn into routine. Which meant you finally looked up and around —stopped thinking maybe you made a mistake—to interact […]
I was there with ‘what was’… in ‘what is’… and next to ‘what will be.’ My projects (both long- and short-form, for clients and my own work) include nonfiction and fiction. They are not just my work, not just what ‘I do.’ They are vehicles that afford me the opportunity to travel in time and […]