Friday, August 28, 2009

Name Withheld

Lindsay returned to her hotel room in Spencer, Iowa, to find this note:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Two dogs

Two dogs fought fiercely
over their dead master’s bones.
Each wanted the skull.

Monday, August 24, 2009

That Accidental Feeling

It’s right in the pit of my gut. That’s where it starts, anyway. A warm, frantic, emphatic something. Then, really fast, it spreads out to the rest of my body. My heart speeds up, my focus sharpens, and sweat finds its way out of what has to be every pore on my skin. So far I’ve found only two things that can cause this wonderful, horrible feeling. Getting in a car accident (or almost getting into a car accident) and getting pulled over by an officer of the law (or almost getting pulled over).

“Ohboyohboyohboy, I almost hit that semi.” Or, “Ohnoohnoohno, that cop’s lights just popped on and he pulled out. Is he after me? How fast am I going? I’m not going that fast. Other people were passing me. Ohno. Yep. He’s right behind me. I’d better pull - phew. He’s going after someone up there. Yeah, I knew I was okay. Other people were passing me.” And it’s right there, that magnificent natural high found almost exclusively in the face of vehicular danger. I suppose it’s adrenaline, and the feeling is some cross between or combination of fear and excitement.

I made the mistake of telling Lindsay I liked it.

This does not mean, as I had to repeatedly assure her, that I want to total our car. Nor does it indicate that I like getting speeding tickets (I kicked that habit back in college). It doesn’t even mean that I would seek out the feeling. Just that when it happens, I like to enjoy it. To realize that it’s rare and should be savored as an unsought but delightful experience, like when you happen to witness a dog running headlong into a screen door he doesn’t think is there.

But I’m pretty sure Lindsay gets the feeling now. The other day some moron (this is the technical term for anyone piloting a car you are not in) cut across several lanes of traffic at a tool booth plaza, right in front of Lindsay. Lindsay slammed on her brakes. There was a quickening of heart rate. Sharpened focus. And sweat from pores. (But don’t worry; no injuries.)

And you know what? I’m not sure Lindsay disliked the feeling...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Haiku Wednesday

In the craft fair tent
a grey racing dog squatted.
It did not know shame.

Ten Minute Story - Suggestion: Fruit Hammock

The first thing that Mike noticed when he entered the house was the smell. It was dark even though it was early afternoon (because the blinds were drawn), so he couldn’t see exactly what was causing the stench.

He found an unopened can of motor oil on the floor and slid it over to prop open the door. Maybe air the place out a little. Then he moved into the living room.

“Mr. Samuelson,” Mike called out. The heavy summer air seemed to grab his words the minute he let them loose, dragging them down to the floor before they could make it out of the room. So he called louder. “Mr. Samuelson!”

There was a rustling from somewhere in the back of the house, followed by a sort of grunt. Mike knew this was coming from Mr. Samuelson’s kitchen, but he had expected to find the old man in the living room or maybe in the backyard doing his daily gardening. But not in the kitchen. He kept a strict eating regimen and this was much too late for lunch.

Mike shuffled from the living room toward the kitchen, making sure he made a lot of noise. He didn’t want to reach the kitchen and frighten his handball partner. It would be hard to win today’s tournament with a teammate who just died from cardiac arrest.

When Mike entered the kitchen he immediately knew where the smell was coming from. A box full of peaches rested on the floor next to the ancient refrigerator. Fruit flies hovered around it. And there was Mr. Samuelson, already dressed in his old man shorts and sweatbands, stretching. His shirt was stained with peach juice.

“Mikey! Fancy a peach?”

Mike just shook his head.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To Get Started All I Need Is a Suggestion...

I recently started studying long-form improv. It’s different than what you might have seen on a certain improv TV show hosted by Drew Carey (and/or the British show that spawned it). Instead of a series of short “games”, long-form starts with only one audience suggestion. Performers use whatever the suggestion makes them think of to start scenes, then they build them into a half-hour show. The result is fun to perform and fun to watch.

But you can’t read it. So I’d like to try an experiment. Starting from an audience suggestion, I will write a short story. I’ll start the instant I read the suggestion and write for a set period of time. Probably five minutes. Maybe ten. Then I’ll post the result unedited. (Except for typos.)

“But, Steve,” you say, “where will you get the suggestion? There’s no audience.” Ah, but there is, friend. If you’re reading this, it’s you. So leave a suggestion in the comments. It should be either one word (“Expressionism!”) or a short phrase (“Puerto Rican Day Parade!”) It can be anything. I’ll use the first one posted. (So if you see that someone posted one already, save yours for next time.) I’ll write a story around whatever it makes me think of.

Comment away, loyal readers!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dream Hair

My brother Paul had a policy regarding his oldest child Gerhardt’s hair. Maybe he still does. If so, this policy probably extends to his youngest kid, Heinrich. The policy is something like this:

Paul’s head is as smooth as the roof of a freshly waxed VW Bug;
Baldness has afflicted him since about eighth grade [as it has his twin, Phil, but I’ll leave him alone for now];
Paul thinks it likely that his sons will suffer the same tragic hairless fate;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that no son of Paul’s shall be made to shear his head hair until he has reached an age where he can in sound mind request such a shearing.

Paul stuck to this for a while with Gerhardt, but eventually the boy’s mane started getting trims. Whether these cuts began of Gerhardt's own volition or due to the fact that he kept smacking into walls and low tables because he couldn’t see through his thick blond blindfold, I’m not sure. All I do know is that policy or no policy, both Gerhardt and Heinrich have longer-than-average hair. And I'm pretty sure they know it.

Last night I dreamt that I was meeting Paul and his kids at a motel. When I arrived they were already there. They found me in the parking lot. I hugged Paul, then Gerhardt, largely without incident. Then I bent to pick up Heinrich. He’s still little. Less than two years old. When I lifted him, he said to me very clearly,

“Just don’t touch the hair. It’s gorgeous.”

Paul has created a monster. At least in my dreams.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Haiku Wednesday

The common pigeon
is as dirty as a rat.
But he doesn’t hide.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Suits Me

The second floor of the Columbus Circle mall doubles as a gallery space. I’m not sure if anyone ever buys the sculptures or photos or paintings under or behind the sturdy plastic cases. I do know that whenever I’m there (usually after plodding behind Lindsay as she peruses the inventory at J. Crew) I at least glance at what’s being displayed.

Yesterday I spotted a blown-up picture of Frank Sinatra making his way down a boardwalk. Surrounding him are several people we in the post-HBO world would recognize as his entourage. But what first caught the eye (after Sinatra) was the man walking next to him. He was dressed in identical clothing. Seersucker suit, leather shoes, shirt, tie. Even his hair was the same. Turns out this was Sinatra’s stunt double on whatever movie he was shooting at the time (he looked a little pudgy but only sort of old; I’m guessing late 1960s).

But even more interesting than the two dressed-alike men were the other people on the boardwalk. They wore swimsuits, mostly, with a few shorts or shirts thrown in here and there. And they were all staring at Sinatra. Or the double. Hard to tell exactly. So I started to wonder: were they staring because this was a major movie star? (That’s the chief attribute of a movie star, by the way. Forget acting. Stars are stars because people want to look at them. They’re just so watchable.) Celebrity seems like the most obvious reason. I have a competing theory, though. If you’ll allow:

Our building has a common outdoor area with, among other things, grills and a swimming pool. We have to reserve a grill in order to use one. On weekends, the building guy in charge of these reservations sits at the pool with the lifeguards. So if one wanted to reserve a grill for use on, say, a Sunday evening, and it was already, say, Sunday afternoon, one would have to go to the pool area and ask the aforementioned guy.

So I did this. I walked into the pool area and strode confidently toward the lifeguards and the building guy. I had to walk around the pool, past sunbathers and swimmers wearing swimsuits, mostly, with a few shorts or shirts thrown in here and there. As I passed them I noticed something: they were all staring at me. After a second I knew why. I was wearing a suit.

It was all quite simple. See, since it was Sunday, we had just come home from church. I wanted to get the grill reserved as soon as possible, so instead of going upstairs and changing first, I stopped at the pool on my way up to our apartment. That I happened to be wearing a suit had nothing to do with the pool or the grill. It just worked out that way.

That’s not what it looked like to everyone else, though. They saw a man in a suit. They saw a man on a mission. They saw a shirt with buttons all the way down, plus full-length pants, plus shoes, plus a bona fide jacket over it all. Plus (Italian street vendor knock-off) Ray-Bans as the cherry on top.

When I reached the lifeguards and the building guy, their conversation ground to a halt. Their heads snapped up, faces expectant. I could have said anything.

“I’d like to reserve a grill. 5pm work?”

Of course 5pm worked. I was wearing power. It’s true. Suits give anyone an air of purpose, an aura of ambition. Were those 1960s boardwalk people staring at Frank and his double because they were movie stars? Probably. But even money says it had something to do with those seersuckers.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Am Not a Car

Most of the major metropolitan areas on the North American continent are driving communities. Places where most people must drive a car or car-esque vehicle several times in the course of their daily routines. New York City is not one of these places. You can live here* and without much effort never have to pilot a car again. Cabs, buses, subways, and commuter trains make it unnecessary to have a car in every garage. And that’s assuming you have a garage. Which you probably don’t.

But I straddle the two worlds. My wife Lindsay drives to work farther into the Garden State. I work at home or take public transportation under a large river and into the former New Amsterdam. On weekends, though, we have the freedom to choose the PATH train (a subway that runs between Jersey and Manhattan) or our car. And if we go somewhere in our car, I drive.

Switching back and forth can be taxing. Sometimes, after a weekend of driving, a Monday morning walk along a sidewalk with the flow of traffic (yep, walking traffic; city sidewalks are pedestrian highways - believe it) will find my reflexes still thinking I’m behind the wheel. When I want to look behind me, I don’t turn around. Instead I glance a little to the right and a bit upward to the spot where my misguided brain thinks there will be a rearview mirror. I am genuinely perplexed when my eyes find at best blank space and at worst a suspicious passerby. I’ve also caught myself dropping my gaze to a person’s hindquarters to see what State this tourist is from and why in the Samuel J. Hill she’s walking so freaking slowly and zigzagging (is she doing it on purpose?) back and forth when I’m clearly trying to pass her because I’m already seven and a half minutes late to work?!

But of course there is no license plate on her bumper, because she is not a car. She is a person. A slow, clueless person. Probably from Jersey.

*Yes, that’s right. I claim to live in NYC. Maybe you’re calling foul, rightly pointing out that my address clearly states Jersey City, New Jersey. Seriously, you insist, “Jersey” is in there twice. Yes, it is. But we live four blocks from the Hudson River. We’re at least five times closer to Manhattan than we were when we lived in Queens. It’s practically another borough and I’m counting it. While we’re on the subject, where do you live, gentle reader? Chicago? St. Louis? Los Angeles? Or is it Wheaton, Columbia, IL, or Pasadena? That’s what I thought.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

About a Blog

I’m hesitant to write this post because it’s about this blog. That sort of bores me. Blogging about a blog seems too self-referential, like I’m breaking the Internet’s fourth wall, winking through the screen. Breaking the fourth wall is easy and hacky, and unless you’re the Mel Brooks of the Internet it probably won’t work for very long. Since I'm not even the Mel Tormé of the Internet, I’ll try to keep posts like these to a minimum.

[Time for a lengthy aside. I hate saying or writing “the Internet”. First, why is capitalization standard? I can’t say “internet”? Also its name has been changing ever since Former Vice President Captain Planet invented it. The Web. The Net. The Internet. Cyberspace. Can we just pick one? I suppose my fear is that I’ll look foolish and naïve to future generations, the way I chuckle at early twentieth century newspaper clippings that reference those magnificent Automobiles and Aeroplanes. And let's not forget that early nineties Sandra Bullock smash, THE NET. (That’s right. You shuddered. Just a little.) Some get around this by wedging tongue in cheek and typing “interweb” or “Internets”, but that smacks of adolescent exclusivity. I’m not going to invent a new term just to avoid being thought primitive by people I’ll never meet. Of course, this is assuming that people in the future will continue to attain literacy. So maybe I’m worrying about nothing. I mean, have you played video games? Seriously? Any of them?]

My concern about this little backwoods corner of the www is that I haven’t given it a cohesive theme. This means I don’t really know my audience. Not knowing your audience in writing is bad. The audience is the most important part of any story. Without an audience a story - or in this case a blog - doesn’t know what to do.

But I think I’ve found a solution. When I’m working on a screenplay or manuscript or article or poem, I don’t have the intended audience in front of me so I can ask them what works and what doesn't. I do have a substitute, though. Someone who will laugh if something is funny or lean forward if something is compelling or yawn if something is boring.

Wait for it...

It’s me. I’m the audience. The first one, anyway. The primary gatekeeper. The initial arbiter of all things creative. So I’m going to post things that I find interesting. That’s the de facto theme of this place. I’m my own audience. This way I guarantee that at least one reader will be satisfied.

So stick around and see if me as an audience matches you as an audience. Feel free to laugh, lean forward, or yawn as you see fit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Haiku Wednesday, Inaugural Edition

If Wednesday were an age, it would be like 35. Not old but not really young, either. Just sort of existing.

To make Wednesday a little more interesting, I hereby institute Haiku Wednesdays. Each Haiku Wednesday will find me posting one of my haikus. I love the form because it's short and sweet and a great way to learn lean, succinct description.

Hopefully this will give Wednesday enough confidence to start claiming it's only 29. And maybe we'll even believe it.


Under the table,
Frank loosened his belt a notch.
The pie had been rich.