Monday, December 31, 2007

The bucket list for 2008

To remind myself this year, what I want to accomplish, I posted this list right over on the right hand of the blog. The upside is if I'm ever feeling a little less than creative, I can always give an update on the list.

Publish Novel -Novel has actually been written, but it's a long ways from being published.

One job. Not broke. -I still work two jobs, though one of them is as a switch monkey for a radio station.

play soccer, cripple 19 year-olds. -This one is particularly bad. I've picked up smoking, but as God as my witness, I will not buy any more cigarettes. My diet was wrecked by the holidays. So, tomorrow, we go back to hamster food and by the end of the week, we're at the gym, but I will probably changing gyms by the end of the month.

Take Vacation, have fun. -As of midnight tonight, I will have achieved the marathon run to get to where I could conceivably take a vacation at some point in the near future. One of the downsides of working for "the Man" is company policy makes you wait a year, until you're good and crispy on the outside, before you can take any time off.
This is actually not a big deal. In my previous line of work, I accumulated months of vacation time because I never took more than a day or two off in a year.
But it's still nice to know, as of tomorrow, the option to take time off begins.

Call Grandma. -Ummm... Haven't done that yet, but I promise to do that tomorrow.

Figure out how to write. -Ummm... that's going to take a while.

Take less shit. -No one has given me any shit today. Other than my usual mix of frustration and angst, along with a little sleep deprivation, I'm pretty well on an even keel today. I don't feel particularly pressured or abused, but the day is young.

Don't die. -So far, so good.

Basically, there is nowhere to go but up... well, except the last one.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

some notes...

I'm not going to blog a lot about the next stage of the novel, which is engine and body work. I'm still a little high on finishing the first run of it. As a tiny extra, I'm tossing out a couple of character notes. I thought it might be cool to share them.

Duwon Kingman- professional football player, plays for the Carolina Panthers. His agent Henry Bishop called to explain why his client was not included in the latest edition of a sports video game. He puts it off to religious intolerance. Kingman, a Chicago native, is a follower of Thor, as depicted in Marvel comics. Bishop is one of the last people Ted speaks with on the last day of his job as a sportswriter.

Jody Murphy and Doug Montgomery- Two of Ted's editors at the Charlotte Sentinel. Coincidentally, both names are of real people, who used to look over my column in college. Usually, if I could get both of them to laugh, I had a winner. I figured they were good mojo back in the day. Neither of their characters does anything horrible, which will disappoint Jody when he finds out, and the shout out is my way of saying thanks for reading a lot of crap in college.

Agnes Moody- Tenant in the building Ted works in. She's 80, has two cats she overfeeds, likes game shows and has permanent problems with her bathroom because she shoves pans of cat litter down the toilet. She's also a very low-grade psychic. There's more, but I can't give that away.

Julian Banks- The gigantic, gay neighbor of Agnes Moody. A former All-American tackle with an art degree from FSU. He is a mall security guard and in-love with a married man on the second floor, who does not return his affections. He has a really nice apartment and drinks Dutch beer. Ditto on there being more.

Steve Gomez- The married man. He's a smallish, nervous guy who drives a bookmobile for a living. He's devoted to his wife, but they've been having problems. He also prefers pajamas with Teddy Bears on them. Ditto again.

That's all I'm giving away. Now, I really have to get back to work.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A small taste

As promised, though late, here's a small excerpt from my novel. For those who haven't seen anything about it, the novel revolves around Ted Brown, who earlier this morning attempted suicide and failed. Since then, his day has only gotten stranger and stranger.
This book is a black comedy with a dash of satire.
Ted has a couple of jobs, one of which is handling maintenance for a small apartment building. He's not particularly good at the job and resents most of the tenants. Please excuse the variety of errors. This is the raw, unedited edition.

The pounding continues. They, whoever, is not going to give up. I lumber over to the door.
"Yeah," I say.
"Mr. Brown," the muffled voice says. "This is Fred. Fred Wallace? I live up on the second floor? I hate to bother you on a Saturday night, but our garbage disposal has gone out? Can you take a look at it?"
I lean against the door as he explains in monotonous detail his concerns.
"Normally, I wouldn't ask, but tomorrow is Sunday and I wasn't sure what your religious affiliation was and if maybe you did no work on the Sabbath? We have guests coming over tomorrow night for dinner and want to straighten up the place. You can understand that, can't you?"
"Sure," I say. I step back and open the door. "Let me get my tools."

It takes a few more tools to deal with a clogged garbage disposal than it does to force cat shit down a sewage pipe. The root problem, however, is often similar -something has been forced through that shouldn't.
Garbage disposals are kind of like blenders. A tiny motor inside them spins blades which chop and grind up the day-to-day crap that pass over them. Last night's dinner gets turned into a slimy puree that with a little water should pass harmlessly and effortlessly out of the household. It sounds simple, but garbage disposals come with a lengthy list of rules for what should never be dropped through it.
Most people don't follow any of them, but almost everyone figures it out by trial and error.
Most of the time when a disposal unit gets jammed, it's accidental. A fragment from a broken juice glass gets through or maybe a cap from a soda bottle. Sometimes it's the seal from a gallon jug of milk, a broken spoon or plate. These are things that usually end up in the sink anyway, but just got past the stopper.
Glass, metal, wood, plastic and ceramic material should never be dropped through the garbage disposal, but they're the most likely culprit when the machine stalls.
What is less easy to grasp is how much actual garbage isn't supposed to go down the disposal. The leftover from a t-bone steak or a pork chop or a tres combo from McClucky's Chicken should be thrown away, not dropped down the sink. The chicken bones might make it through, of course. Poultry bones are hollow and less substantial than say the bones from an ox's tail or spare ribs, but they're as likely to splinter and gum up the machinery as much as block it entirely.
No bones.
The boxes, wrappers and containers from the food prepared in the kitchen shouldn't be disposed of via the sink either. Some things just plain won't go. Rubber gloves, double "a" batteries and deceased pets like hamsters or guinea pigs will usually stop the machine from working -though not goldfish. Goldfish you can grind up by the dozen, if you want. Nylon stockings, toothpaste tubes and wedding bands don't belong there either.
Basically, it's easier to list the things you can feed the disposal. The machines like soft foods and liquids. It's like they were born ninety years old and toothless.
They are the most pointless machines ever invented and are the thing most likely to require my attention on a given night. I have "fixed" almost every garbage disposal in this building a dozen times.
Repairs are easy. Most of the effort is walking up the stairs to someone's apartment. Half of the time I'm called, all I have to do is reach under the sink and press the reset button. Anyone can do this. Every tenant can do this and has been shown this time-saving problem solver many times. No one bothers with it. They just come get me.
If you run the garbage disposal for too long, make it work too hard, it will usually just quit on you, trip the breaker and stop, rather than catch fire. Occasionally, this will also trip the breaker in the kitchen. If the light above the sink is out, that usually confirms that I need to hit the breaker box in the closet.
When that fails, I use a weird little bent screw driver that fits into an octagonal slot. With the tool, I can force the grinding blades to move. If whatever is choking the machine is something minor, like a wad of cat hair or a copy of a pocket-sized danish porno magazine featuring women dressed as insects, a couple of tugs will pull it loose.
The rest of the time, I have to dig whatever has been crammed into that little hole, muck it out in front of whoever has dragged me to their apartment, while they bitch about how inconvenient this is. Whatever the offending item is, they will have no idea how it got there, why such a thing could stop up the disposal and will want the machine replaced.
"No," I will tell them, rinse off my grime filled hand and repeat the list of things that do not belong in the garbage disposal. With each visit, with each new experience, that list grows.
"And no barbie doll heads," I will say. "And no eyebrow pencils. And no rubber tubing, no soft drink rings and no electrical cords. And no glass figurines, no mardi gras beads and no fishing lures."
It is never ending.
Fred Wallace lives with his cousin Amy-Lynn in apartment 2C. The two of them look enough alike they could pass as brother and sister without a blood test. They're both from somewhere in Florida. He has a job as a bookkeeper for the fruit pie factory in Justin forty-five minutes away. She works at one of the grocery stores. They're devoutly religious, though I can't say to which cult they belong to. Both dress like models from a mid-seventies Sears catalog. Amy-Lynn wears only long skirts and drab, long sleeved shirts. She never cuts her hair.
They have a television, but still use an old VCR to play a wide variety of straight to video religious movies starring former child stars of the 70s and 80s. They get the daily paper and both weekly papers. Fred reads them all cover to cover and frequently writes thought-provoking, if clearly disturbed letters to the editor.
I've typed at least three personally. Jesus, evidently, does not want you to drive an economy car, but wants all of his children to transport themselves in Ford Explorers. Jesus, also wants people to stop paying attention to the political rants of Barbara Streisand and Bette Midler. While both are multi-talented women with amazing stage presences, both are Jews. Jewish women, while blessed with many talents, are a bit on the dumb side. Fred cites their most recent film careers as an example, as well as passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
The Wallaces hold bible study meetings in their apartment three nights a week. They can get pretty rowdy. The group hammers on drums, sing off-key and speak loudly in tongues. On a particularly good show, five or six people will do some kind of spiritual break dancing. Fred and the other "menfolk" will flail around on the carpet while the "womenfolk" chant some nonsense about the Holy Ghost.
It's an awful ruckus. Their neighbors complain, but everyone complains about something. Short of hiring a Satanic priest to stop by and perform an exorcism, the best I can do is knock on the door when the "Jesersize" stuff gets out of hand. Calling the cops doesn't do any good. Mostly, it just irritates them and I don't need the headache.
Fred leads me into his apartment. I haven't been here in a while, but it's mostly the same. They've added a few more pictures of the boy from Nazareth to the walls. They're huge fans. They have him in his early, pre-hippy days with a smart, sensible haircut, a nice tan and that friendly smile. They also have the Allman Brother years where he had the beard, the mullet and a gang of swarthy looking beatniks behind him. There are also plenty of latter day pictures, where he looks depressed, heart-broken and pretty upset about having railroad spikes driven through his hands and feet.
Amy-Lynn sits on the couch reading a book on interpreting a book about The Bible. Her thick hair is brushed back and held in place by a crust of glistening hairspray. Even in mid-autumn, when the southern heat gives way to at least a mild temperature, the air conditioning is turned on and up. There is little choice. The layers of clothing she must wear would make all but sub-arctic temperatures sweltering.
She ignores my presence here and will not speak to me directly, as this is against her beliefs.
"Right this way," Fred says.
He leads me to his kitchen, as if this is the first time, as if the layout of his apartment was somehow mysterious and ever changing.
I look in the sink. Brackish water fills it until the oily water is level with the Formica counter top. I turn on the overhead light over the sink, then reach under and press the reset button. I switch on the disposal. The machine belches, sending a bubble up from its strangled throat, but then quits with a rattle.
"It looks pretty bad," Fred says. "This seems to happen a lot. Perhaps, you should invest in a new one?"
I ignore him then slip the driver into the slot in the bottom of the disposal. I tug and push, trying to get the grinding blades to give up whatever they've latched onto it. I turn on the machine and work with it. The motor fights, but quits when it realizes it can not win.
"What did you put in here?"
Fred looks over at Amy-Lynn. She doesn't look up from her book.
"Nothing really. The usual."
"Get me a cup with a handle," I say. "A coffee pot or a pitcher would be better. I need something to bail this crap out to get a look at what I'm dealing with here."
"It seems clearly broken to me," he says. "I know we've talked about replacing it before."
"It's not broken. It's just stuck. Now would you get me something to bail this out with?"
He frowns and huffs at my entire lack of accommodation, but brings over an old coffee mug. Without his permission, I move his dirty dishes from the other half of the sink, deposit them on the counter and start pouring the cruddy water down the drain. I dip the mug into the sludge. It's thick and smelly. They let this one sit for a while or that could be my fault. I haven't checked the messages left for me on my door.
I've been a little preoccupied.
He watches me while I carefully remove the bilge. I'm careful because the shirt is already stained. I don't need to add to it. It's a good shirt. I might try to have it cleaned.
When the sink has been as cleared as I can make it, I put the cup to the side. I roll my sleeves up past my elbow and reach down into the open mouth of the garbage disposal. While I'm hunched over the sink with one hand under it and one hand swallowed up by it, I try to fish around and get the gears to move.
My fingers brush something smooth and thin wrapped under the blades. I tug at it until it comes loose, then the gears are free. I pull a handful of garbage out of the mouth of the disposal, drop it on the bottom of the sink and turn the machine on at the wall.
It falters for only a moment before it breaks free and sucks down the last of the crud blocking the pipe. I look down and see what's caused the problem. Fred is staring over my shoulder, looking down.
A dead gray condom lies limply among the coffee grinds and onion peels.
Fred looks at me. He wants to say something.
"Well, It's not mine," I tell him.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A day late...

This morning, at approximately 7:30 a.m. I finished the rough draft of my book. The working title has been "Click," but I don't know if that's what it will stay -probably, not.

Without really trying to look, I can say, without shame, the current body of words is a terrible mess. I've got grammatical and structural things to fix, as well as a couple of gaping plot holes, a few characters I'm not sure I defined effectively and some pacing issues I need to correct. Some of this sounds worse than it is and some of it is probably worse than I think.

Doesn't matter. According to everybody, the time you put into writing the book is one third the time you put into editing it.

I will start that tomorrow. So, maybe (big maybe) some time in February or March, I'll have something to send someone. It is the book I wanted to write. I'm proud of it. I'm looking forward to the sleepless nights ahead working on the thing's motor, smoothing the dents and slapping a coat of paint on it. There's no telling if what I've done will be anything worth publishing. That's not something I get to choose... or at least, will choose.

Either way, a novel is a novel. I'm a novelist.

Fucking A.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Geek out brothers and sisters

I don't do a lot of quizes and tests, just when I'm feeling particularly lazy or if I see one from one of the blogs I read that's cooler than most.

I found one on No Smoking In The Skull Cave. It will tell you what Dungeons and Dragons character you would be based on some general questions. I turned out to be a Neutral Good Human Sorceror -only 5th level. This makes sense to people who know me and have read the Terry Pratchett books. Those who don't know me, well... what the fuck?

Anyway, it's Christmas eve. I'm doing as little as possible today. I encourage you to do the same, taking meaningless tests about your personality sounds like a pretty good way to burn 8 or 9 hours.

The test...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Strange things are afoot at the circle K.

I've grown more interested in local politics of late and can't help but watch with strained fascination the stuff concerning the governor and his family. Anyway, I read a link from a comment on Fifth Column to a Pittsburgh newspaper. If you're interested in state government at all, you should maybe read this.

If they're right, this would be another reason why The Creative Class types have little to no interest in relocating to sunny West Virginia. If you can't trust a degree from the State's flagship university, why would you want to employ someone from it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Um... nice try.

Okay, a few days before Christmas and a local radio host decides to run his mouth for a couple of days about the college football coach leaving. He ramps up listeners and response (mostly complaints), then they yank him off the air. He's suspended...

It gets reported by the newspaper. The Program Manager yanks him off the air, but essentially leaves the door open for him to return at some later point --say, like after he gets back from Christmas vacation, perhaps?

Meanwhile, the radio station can exploit it, use it as talking points for their on-air people, use it as a demonstration of their listeners for their would be clients. That the paper picked it up is free publicity. Hell, they could even try an Andy Kauffman play and turn it into a call-in to see about bringing Kidd back.

Oh, but wait... but didn't Coach Kidd do something bad? Didn't he offend the listeners? What about this thing they said about insubordination? Maybe, but probably not. There are only a few guys like Howard Stern who get to run off at the mouth and say whatever the hell they want. Mostly, DJs know what they can and can't do. They are often told pretty clearly what's okay and what isn't.

If it really bothered someone in management, he'd have gotten a call early on telling him to shut the fuck up and read another story about Britney Spears. And he would have. He would have rolled over and apologized. He isn't stupid. Jocks who piss off the boss get fired and they don't get new jobs in the glamour gig of a radio morning show.

That's the magic of radio and one of the things I love about it. It's mostly bullshit.

Monday, December 17, 2007


So, the football coach of WVU decided he wants to go to Michigan.

I'm not a football fan, haven't watched a full college game in probably ten years, but I listen to other people talk about WVU football a lot. Rodriguez leaving hurts, but not just in the expected bowl game/wide world of West Virginia sports way. It lays a hurting on the ridiculous hope that smart, talented people from the state are willing to take less in order to live a bucolic, near perfect life among the mountains.

It hurts because Rodriguez is one of us. He's a local boy. It hurts because this refers right back to all the yammering about attracting the Creative Class, about finding ways to stave off the brain drain in West Virginia. Bringing in new people, getting people to stay has always been hinged on some goofy idea, that despite being virtually last on every list for health, earning and education, living in West Virginia is attractive because we still have trees and streams, because we have values, because we're good people.

Yeah, being a hillbilly is very appealing. Remember, this is how people see us. This is what we project.

But I come not to bury Rodriguez, but to praise him. I come not to pick at wounds, but to note this could be a good thing. This might be a bucket of bracing water tossed in the state's face. This is something that might get noticed. If you want to improve the state's chances, keep a top level football coach, raise the quality of education, improve health, you better be willing to pay... and I don't mean just a salary.

Enough wasn't done to make Rodriguez want to stay. That's the truth of it. You can hem and haw and talk about all the things given to him. You can say he was given everything he asked for (or pretty close to it), that he's ungrateful and sure... I can dig that. He certainly looks like a cocksucker for posing as the state's die-hard golden boy then flipping over when he was given a better offer, but maybe his asking price and his real price weren't the same thing. Not enough was done to figure out what he really wanted, instead of what he would take. WVU, the state of West Virginia, didn't come up with what he wanted.

Otherwise, he wouldn't be leaving.

Rodriguez and the state's future are part of the same equation. I think, for things to get better, to really get better, West Virginia has to stop looking for the asking price and negotiate from there. It's a buyer's market, not a seller's market. We have to figure out what development, the creative class or whatever really wants. What we got now ain't it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

minor themes and variations

While I have my big board list of things I'd like to do in 2008... including very much making number 8 a top priority, I thought it might be cool to talk about the little things I'd like to do. These are non-binding, non-contractual sort of things which would just be nice...

1-Get to the tops of all the tall buildings in Charleston. Might be cool to see the view from the Death Star or the Union Building.

2-Try a bottle of absinthe.

3- Fill paper bag with dog shit. Light on fire. Leave bag on Bruce Springsteen's front porch.

4-Have coffee with the two presidential candidates (yes, I realize they are both players to be named later. My early picks, I think, are Clinton and Huckabee).

5-Not mention Sammy Kershaw in print for 12 months.

6-Figure a better way to mow my lawn that doesn't bring me perilously close to failing at number 8. Who the fuck decided it was a good idea to a 80 degree slope as a yard?

7-Do something extraordinary. Tell no one for at least a year.

8-Forgive public broadcasting (how long until the emails start on that one, I wonder).

9-Read more things that baffle everyone around me.

10-Have a thick hamburger, cooked medium rare and seasoned, with a slice of provolone cheese, sauteed mushrooms, creamy horse radish sauce, tomato and lettuce on a Kaiser bun. It's one of the few things I miss from my ill-fated Freshman year at East Tennessee State University. A side of waffle fries, like the kind I got with my Dad at the Halo Burger in Michigan, would be cool too.

11-Learn to be more comfortable with hugs. Try to get over issues of touch before it becomes a complete phobia by the time I'm in my 50s. I'm not comfortable being touched by most people. It's short-circuited a lot of relationships that never got started because it takes me months to feel comfortable with just casual contact. I have suspicions as to why that is, but that's another post.

12-Try to get less irritated with my family.

13-Fewer cryptic blog posts, emails and statements that are really designed to confuse. A little less vague, a little more honest, too. Just fucking say it. Try to be nice about it.

14- Accept that there will always be people who have nicer things, more money, are better loved and are getting laid a lot more than I am. There are also people who, surprisingly, are getting less. Don't envy the one and feel sorry for the other. It's all temporary.

15-When possible, sleep late on Sundays.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

the odds...

Just a minor point, but my wife brought to my attention that I have (at best) a 50 percent completion history on my new year's resolutions. Even 2007, which was a pretty decent year, I only got about half of what I hoped.

She's a bit worried that I might be setting myself up to fail with goal number 8, which I'd think was funny, but only a select few would get the joke. Hippie Killer would get it. So would Laurel, though she wouldn't approve.

So... 2008 may be more interesting than I thought. I may have accidentally committed myself to some kind of potential karmic suicide pact.
Well, already 2008 is starting off on a weird foot. Should be a hoot.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How I got here.

A blog comment asked me how I made the jump from telemarketing to journalism. Well, interesting question.

I didn't start out in journalism... and let's be honest, folks. I'm only barely a journalist. I write mostly entertainment features. I talk to musicians and low-watt stars. A few of the hardcore newsies sort of look at what I do with disdain. I'm filler compared to the real news of the day -a truth I do no dispute.

I didn't intend to be a journalist. Not ever. I've wanted to be a writer since I was twelve, but how to make a living at it always seemed a bit vague. I figured I could be Stephen King. I did the math, thought he'd be ready to retire by the time I turned 30.

I went to college and studied broadcasting because I thought it might make for an interesting day job, while I wrote short stories, novels and epic poems. By the way, I write really bad poems, Seriously.

In college, I avoided news classes and focused on production aspects, copy writing and radio. At Concord College, Broadcasting majors were required to take a studio workshop every semester. It was always a one-hour credit that ate up ten to twenty hours of your time every week. I did radio semester after semester. One year, I did both radio and television.

I screwed around a lot in college and was disappointed that being a college dj and a tv cameraman wasn't landing me a lot of action. I was just one of many, and not particularly talented. As an almost last ditch attempt to get accomplish something in college, I signed on for the campus newspaper. The editor was a friend of mine. He wanted me to write news stories. I wanted to write a column about virtually nothing. I won because I was taller.

The column enjoyed some success. People bought me drinks and my ego swelled to the size of the Galapagos islands. A drunk sorority girl offered to blow me once because she liked something I wrote. Regrettably, that was about three months after I'd got it in my fool head to get married. I declined the offer and have occasionally regretted it since. You tend to to do that after a divorce.

After college, I did an internship at my hometown paper, which nearly finished me on the prospect of writing news. The hours were long. There was no pay, and they wanted me to wear a tie every day. The stories were also incredibly dull. (1994)

My first job out of college was for a small am station in Beckley, Wv. I got the job because the guy working the afternoon shift that day was an acquaintance from college, who'd dropped out a few years back. He went to bat for me after the owner of the station took ten minutes out of his day to pull apart my resume and tell me I was qualified to work at his family bbq this weekend, but not for much else.

I kept writing, but did nothing remotely journalistic. The job didn't pay much and I worked at an airline reservation company, processing tickets over the phone. Mostly, I listened to complaints. The company was run by Lex Luthor and the legion of dumb asses. It is the only airline I've ever heard of that occasionally had flights depart early.

The radio job went away after ownership of the station changed. I quit the airline company a month after my son was born.

I went to work for a Canadian-owned satellite television provider with offices in Bluefield. Again, it was a troubled company run by retarded super villains who couldn't figure out where to put the decimal point on the bills they sent people. We took thousands of calls a day and seldom for anyone not royally pissed off about something. (1996)

The job lasted a year, then disappeared suddenly. After a short stint selling vacuum cleaners, I went to work for Adventure Radio as an ad copywriter. I wrote lots of terrible lies about car dealers, who in turn made lots of money. I also got another job working for another satellite company part-time. (1997)

To keep me happy, because I was really good at writing lies about car dealers, the radio station offered me an additional part-time job as an on-air announcer. I'd been bitching like Lucy Ricardo about wanting to be in the show for so long, they finally figured out I was cheap labor and this was a way to keep me writing the most outrageous fabrications about low prices or friendly service.

No journalism yet, but I did deliver newspapers for six months, then worked for CDG, where I bilked little old ladies out of money to buy vans for veterans.

I did four years for radio and realized in the last three months of it, I had no hope of ever being anything more than a guy who could write compelling lies, but whose own real voice was nothing special. I have what is often been termed a classic radio voice. It's generic. I sound like an MC for a game show. (2001)

I took a job with West Virginia Public Television. Again, I was writing scripts and doing some production. I was really in over my head, but I tend to get in over my head. The thing, however, was after I got settled, I realized the pace was far slower than what I was used to. I was almost comatose. I couldn't stand it. I saw decades of boredom ahead of me and wanted to just hurry up and die.

On a whim, I picked up a copy of Graffiti at a record store. I'd read the paper before many times and hadn't really thought much about it, but looking through the articles, I realized I could do that. It wasn't too big of a reach. I contacted Michael Lipton and asked him if he'd like me to write a column for him. I knew how to do that.

He said no.

But he also said he could use some features. Would I like to try that? I said I'd give it a shot. (fall of 2002)

I transferred from public television to public radio in Charleston. Again, I had this nonsensical idea of making it in radio, of becoming a personality. I was given the 9 to noon radio slot. It was all satellite. The only time I opened a microphone to talk was to read the donor, the weather or the top of the hour ID.

I wasn't even particularly good at that and also took a second job working for Dial-America. (2003)

I wrote for Graffiti in the meantime. I did an ongoing feature about weird shit I thought was interesting. I talked to witches, retired porn stars and the owners of a gay campground. I got a little better. I got cocky and contacted the editor of the Charleston Gazette. He offered me a chance to cover town council meetings in St. Albans. I balked at it because I didn't know local politics and because I'd just started an evening job with Books-a-Million.

That really pissed him off. He never spoke to me again.

I kept writing for Graffiti (for free) and started writing for Vibe (free), which became Voiceboxx (still free). I tried the editor at the Gazette again. I was sent to Doug Imbrogno, who asked me if would I be interested in writing about music? I said sure. He asked me if I knew any bands? I said sure.

I wasn't being entirely honest about that. I knew one guy in a band, but I did the story anyway and it worked out. I also tracked down a skinhead who'd moved to Charleston and did a story on that.

On my 34th birthday, I got a call from Doug saying they were going to print the stories and pay me. (2004)

After that, I pitched story ideas to Doug and then to Amy, who took over The Gazz. I also started pitching story ideas to Charleston Magazine, West Virginia Executive, West Virginia South and Goldenseal. Everybody said yes, eventually. (2005-2006)

I also pitched ideas to Rolling Stone, Relix and No Depression. I occasionally speak with the editors of those magazines. None of them has ever printed me.

Last winter, there were some changes in the newsroom. Several people left suddenly and they had an opening. I'd been writing pretty steadily for the Charleston Gazette and it just so happened, they had an opening in the department where most of my stuff had been published. I had been pretty unhappy with my career direction at West Virginia Public Radio. They offered and because my wife had also been offered a job the same day, so that we kept our medical benefits, I accepted. (2007)

There's no big secret. I didn't score a huge interview or come to the table with a mountain of talent. I just kept at it. Along the way, a lot of people were kind enough to cut me a break or point me in the right direction. People supported me. I could never have done any of this without a wife who would watch the kids from time to time or else allow herself to be dragged along on one of my trips. I got by with the blessings of supervisors who let me use my half-hour lunch in the middle of the night to talk to musicians in California.

I took criticism willingly, eagerly. I read books, asked for advice and got my heart broken when things didn't work out like I hoped. I kept at it, though. I faked it until it became real. It's what I'm doing now.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


This is an annual list. I'd link back to all the silly things I've made resolutions for in the past, but I've erased my past, which isn't such a bad thing when you want to make changes.

8 things for 2008.

1-I want to publish my novel. Another fifteen thousand words and the first draft should be finished. I'm at approximately 66,000 words. The thing should be ready to edit just in time for Christmas.

2-To be able to support my family with one job.

3-To get in reasonable shape to play soccer in the Spring. That means I have to quit smoking again and go to the gym on a more regular basis.

4-Take my kind of vacation. Lots to do. Very little rest, but the satisfaction of having done something besides cleaned the house halfway decent.

5-Do a better job keeping up with my Dad, my Mom, my sisters and my grandmother. My father, who is possibly reading this, may be saying hallelujah and yeah, right. He has good reason to doubt me. I say this every year. Gonna try it again.

6-Make a giant leap forward on the journalism thing.

7-Be a bit more active in my own life. I've sort of gotten a bit passive, kept my mouth shut or blogged cryptically about some inner issue. That's just not healthy and not fair to the people around me who have to deal with the inevitable fall-out.

8-Make it a good year.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bringing on the heartache...

The old guy sat next to me and said, "If you want to avoid prostate trouble, you ought to get yourself a girlfriend."

I looked over, as I was driving, but didn't say anything.

"That's what a doctor told me back in 69," he said. "After I lost m'first wife. I'd gone in to a doctor, a urologist I think, for some tests. He said that if you had regular sexual activity, you didn't have much to worry about with the prostate. Slim to none, really. The guys at the cancer support group said the same thing. It was really only a problem when you suddenly stopped for one reason or another. Now doctors today, I've talked to, don't say that, but the guys at the support group say, 'yes.'"

"Well," I laughed. "I guess I could see the point."

"He told me I should go out and get a girlfriend."

I nodded.

"O'course what did I know about what you were supposed to do to get a girlfriend? I'd been married a long time, just lost my wife and I didn't go much to bars. He said I could take matters into my own hand --which I'd stopped when I was about seven-- or I could stop by his office about once a week. I could pay him ten dollars --this was about 1970, right-- and he could jam his finger up my ass."

I laughed. The guy was in his eighties and had the usual aura of grandfatherliness. I don't recall ever discussing sexual health with either of my grandfathers, but they died while I was fairly young. It just didn't come up. Mostly, we talked about... hell, I have no idea, but not the prostate gland.

"So, get a girlfriend if you want to avoid prostate problems."

I dropped him off at his door. I'd been feeling rather bitter and angry all morning, had been fuming in the car on the drive to pick the old guy up. We'd had a pleasant drive down to the hospital, but after I'd dropped him off, I'd gone for a short drive to grumble to myself a bit more. I turned the car around, went back to work and couldn't stop laughing.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

One year later

A lot has happened in a year.

A year ago, I was struggling through a bad case of bronchitis and a major blow to my morale after the landlord told my family to hit the fucking road right around Thanksgiving. I was exhausted from the move, which was still just finishing up.

A year ago, this week, the landlady decided I wasn't moving fast enough and decided to help herself to our stuff while we were still moving out. Her top picks were my leather winter coat and a dehumidifier from the basement, which was a necessity since the walls sweated year-round. I decided since they were keeping my stuff and our security deposit, I'd just hold on to the key to the door. It seemed fair to put them to the trouble of changing the locks.

Things got a little worse after my son's daycare opted to name us the most likely family to need a trashcan full of food. We were probably lucky my wife was the one who picked up my son that day. We needed it. I have been grateful for it, but if it had been me that day, I'd have told them no.

Pride goes down bitterly.

Last year, I wore my agony over the whole season like a crown of thorns. I nearly drove myself insane trying to scramble to find a few bucks to make Christmas for my children better than dismal. It turned out better than I hoped. I spoke to my brothers on the phone Christmas day and wished I was there for once, but accepted that here wasn't terrible.

I counted down the hours until 2007 with the fondest wishes that 2006 would disappear. It was hard for almost everybody I knew. Everyone's life seemed to be falling apart. Jobs were bad. Relationships were on the rocks. The whole world was tilting, sliding into the gutter. I think we'd all have started drinking if we just could have afforded the booze.

It wasn't over immediately. 2006 and the relentless onslaught of bad... from repossessed cars and lost jobs to failing health and uncertainty faded from view slowly.

We settled into the new place. It wasn't as nice as the townhouse. It cost a bit more, but it was fine. The new neighbors seemed less concerned with what we were doing every minute of the day than the previous batch. My wife was offered a job the same day I was. She took hers. I took mine. We got cars to replace the ones taken by the bank or destroyed by lesbians. I caught up a little with the people I borrowed money from. I quit my job at the bookstore. I left at a good time, the relationship with the place had grown stretched a bit thin toward the end, but we parted friendly. I still go over for coffee every now and again.

2007 wasn't easy by a long shot. I fought the never ending battle of the bills, the battle of the bulge and the endless battle for some kind of inner peace. I lost most of that, but it's not the winning, it's the fighting that counts some of the time. It wasn't a particularly happy year, but happiness is overrated. We got through without any of us ending up in the morgue, unemployed or locked away in a room with comfortable walls. The holidays were tolerable. My birthday wasn't a disaster. My kids are thriving and the landlord this year installed a new stove in our place. He didn't kick us out at the start of winter.

It was a good rebuilding year after a particularly bad season. I'm glad we got that.

I can't say which way 2008 will go. I can't even say if I'm ready if it turns sour again, but I'm hopeful once again that it won't.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Getting right with the Lawd...

I wasn't particularly feeling inspired when I logged onto the blog a few minutes ago, the remnants of yesterday's bout of the flu maybe. I'd really just signed in when the student loan people caught up with me.

Right about the time I suddenly moved last fall, I lost contact with the student loan people. In the shuffle, the fleeing into the night, my coupon book disappeared. I'm not well known for being organized, but I wasn't particularly worried. This wasn't the first time. They have always been so good about hunting me down whenever I've gotten behind. Some of my most meaningful and memorable phone conversations have been with timid telemarketers trying desperately not to lose their fucking minds while talking to me.

I take it easy on them. I've been there.

I used to do telemarketing. In this day and age and in this state, I know a lot of people who've worked that kind of job. It always sucks and when you come, not asking for money, but essentially demanding it from strangers it can play hell on your nerves. After all, you have no idea how they're going to react, whether they're going to go all nuts on you or fall apart or simply say hang up after a cherry-picked bit of profanity.

I did real telemarketing (that's outbound calls) twice. Once was for a company that did work for different charities. I quit after I got a 35 dollar donation from a double gold star mother for a veterans group that was only going to see thirty percent of what she gave. The other was for a company that pitched credit cards to people. I lost interest in it after I sold a card to a mentally impaired man who answered all of my questions correctly.

I've sat in rooms and watched single mothers cry their eyes out after a particularly nasty call. I've listened to ex-cons beg the managers of these places to give them another chance when their quota numbers were down. I don't know, but it might have been that the shitty telemarketing job was all that was keeping them out of a return trip back to jail. I've watched people harden from doing that kind of work, watched them lose a little faith in themselves and a lot in everyone else.

I didn't put up a fight. I agreed to pay them, which I planned to do anyway. It also gave me the chance to hope the young virtual leg breaker sent to get me to cough up their dough, finds her way to somewhere else. I did, eventually.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gotta get on with these...

Those of you who came back after the break will notice a few changes... like my archive has been completely obliterated... my blog roll is absent... well, that's mostly it. I'm not actually going to explain what happened, but I am acknowledging that it had nothing to do with:

a- my day job (which could care less about my little ramblings over here).
b-my night job (which wishes it was cool enough to do something like that) .
c-any kind of legal suit (I ain't cool or important enough to merit the attention).
d- Sammy Kershaw, Bruce Springsteen or any other celebrity I've said something ugly about (see 'c').

So, I'm starting over. It's just kind of the way it is, I guess.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lights on

I've started taking more of an interest in the building beside Public Broadcasting on Capitol Street. Saturday nights, I'm usually there reading cards and the weather while Garrison Keillor turns in a carbon neutral radio show. It's a quiet gig, but I get a lot of work done.

It was a Saturday in November, I parked the car and I walked toward the entrance. Halfway across to the door, I remembered the coffee I'd brought from home to help me stay awake. Public Broadcasting has coffee. They get big packages of the precisely measured Maxwell House bags, which have the authentic Colombian taste of Juan Valdez's greasy ass.

Call me a coffee snob.

I needed the coffee and went back to get my freshly ground Mexican Organic. The lights of the neighboring apartment building glowed warmly in the gloom of the fading daylight. On the third floor, illuminated against the shadow of the building and framed by dark curtains, two women stripped to the waist were fondling each other. They were pale skinned, young and slender. I can't say beautiful. Their faces were obscured by the shade drawn partially down the window.

I stood there for a moment, surprised, amused, interested then a little ashamed at sampling someone else's moment. This thing I was seeing wasn't meant for my eyes, but wasn't stolen from them either. They weren't being immodest, just careless. I wasn't trying to invade their privacy, but had happened upon it like a penny found on the street. I wanted to turn away, but could not until they moved away from the window to some couch or bed out of my view.

I was disappointed, but relieved to be free. I'd been like a deer caught grazing in the middle of the road. I collected my coffee and calculated the likelihood of either of the women chucking a television set on top of my car from that distance. Something like that happened in this parking lot a little over a year ago.

A year ago, my old car had been smashed by an angry and jealous woman whose girlfriend supposedly was cheating on her. The woman had crept into her apartment and shoved everything she could lift out the window. Some of it had rained down on my car. It dented the roof and the hood of the station wagon. It cracked the windshield. The car took a beating, but it was insured. It was also parked because I couldn't afford to fix the rusted out suspension system.

I remember the cop who investigated the incident seemed a little confused at how I took the whole thing. He expected me to be upset, to be indignant, to be righteously angry. This was my car, but I wasn't even really annoyed. I laughed about it. It's an example of how things work in my world. My luck is seldom bad, but it's always hard.

It's truth. The things you own end up owning you. I couldn't drive the car. It was unsafe. I couldn't afford to fix it, but I couldn't afford to replace it. I was stuck in limbo, still making payments on it every month, still paying for insurance and still riding the bus.

The check from the insurance company was enough to pay it off. I was free.

Standing at my car, looking at the window, I reckoned they'd have to be Olympic hammer throwers to hit the windshield from here and quite frankly neither of them had the forearms, but that was okay. The car I have now drives fine.

God bless angry people who do good deeds by accident and bless people who aren't afraid to love others with the lights on and the window open.