Monday, March 31, 2008
I cooked a lot and when I had money, I would cook for my friends. I'd bake and bring in cakes to the office. I bought an ice cream maker and started screwing with the basic recipes, then started screwing with the recipes out of the Ben and Jerry cookbook. Here's a hint: the cherry Garcia recipe? Add Cinnamon. It totally changes it and it rocks.
At the zenith of my cooking mania, which also coincided with a substantial period of personal darkness, a local furniture store hosted a cooking contest. It wasn't all that elaborate. You submitted a recipe to their judges, they looked at and decided if you made the cut. If they picked your recipe, you made a version of it, dropped it off at the store where it was graded by judges.
There were some cool prizes. Most of it was furniture, but as I lived in an apartment without much in the way of furniture, it all sounded pretty good. There was a little bit of money, but it wasn't really the point. Winning was about bragging rights.
You could submit up to five recipes. I put up my five best and bragged about what I was going to do with all the prizes. It wasn't just some idle boasting, I completely bought into it.
I was a little disappointed when they only called me back on one. Disappointed, but not distraught. The one they did pick for the contest was probably my best. It was a kind of Steak turnover. I was ready to accept my crown.
But... I didn't win. I didn't come close. My greasy knock- off of a family sized hot pocket served on a bright red plastic platter was no match for the hordes of grandmas out there who came with, I kid you not, meatloaf decorated with sparklers and Mexican dip ensembles served on a real Mexican hat.
I got out of the contest with a green apron -everyone got an apron. It was the dreaded "participation" ribbon. I was humbled, humiliated and I took a little ribbing for my ego. I've stayed out of most contests of any kind since.
The West Virginia Writers have a writing competition, open to members of the group or West Virginia residents. I was encouraged, to the point where an entry form was brought to my desk, and so... here we go again. I have this novel and there is a category for novels. You submit something like 7500 words and a one page synopsis. You give them some money, not a lot of money, and then... well, something.
So, I've sent all of that stuff in. I'm officially in the race.
A friend of mine who has submitted in the past, is involved with the Wv Writers and encouraged me to give it a shot didn't exactly say I had a fantastic shot at placing in the thing, only that the novel category might be on the sparse side. It also might be a little unfair, he thinks. You don't actually have to have a completed manuscript. All you need is the synopsis and the required excerpt.
So going in, it might be I'm competing on a small field of challengers, some of whom may have a cool idea and some great first pages, but who will never actually finish their book. That sort of sucks. Placing third among four wouldn't exactly be much of victory (I'm sure it isn't that bad. Surely, there are plenty of hopefuls out there).
And let's be perfectly honest about this... My book opens with a suicide attempt, a bunch of foul language and moves directly into some snarky comments about an old lady and her cats then introduces a weird love triangle involving a library employee, his conniving wife and a black, gay security guard.
While I can't say I've ever read any of the things that have won or placed in the competition, I've got an itching suspicion about what does well. Coming of age stories seem popular with local books and so do stories about coal mining. My book isn't even set in West Virginia.
These are not exactly encouraging considerations, but I'm doing it anyway. I don't need to win. I don't need to place. I'll be okay with the crappy apron this time around. It's enough just to get to play and when I fail, when I see my name on the "contributed" list, but not the winner's list, it will give me my first taste of what I'm in for after the book is polished as well as it's ever going to be. It's going to hurt.
But it doesn't matter.
However it turns out, before it's over and probably after, I'll dine on taking the chance for weeks. Even if it's only dinner for one, it's still a meal.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Along the way to the end of this week, I brought my son along for one of my Cancer man gigs. He groaned about going, would have preferred to sit at the house and goof off, but I wanted to explain to him why I'm still doing this, why it's become important to me. It took me decades to have a fair understanding of the mind of my father. I never asked and I had to piece it together slowly in the things he told me. Trying to understand your father is an important step in understanding yourself. I just wanted to maybe give my son some clues to who he might be early on.
I don't know if he got it, but he didn't complain so much the second time we did the errand. He chatted with them. He was as friendly and attentive as a long long grandson. He even managed to delete from his conversation the usual stuff about blowing up aliens or creating deadly weapons for the good of all mankind. We are all very lucky he's not so good at math or science.
Anyway, here's hoping he got something out of it. Now, we just have to wait a decade or two.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I still haven't decided between "Click" and "Revolver" as a title.
The hope is I'll send this to them and in 21 days, I'll get notes back about what they liked, didn't like and what didn't make any damned sense. The book involves a lot of wackiness, but has a mean streak.
After I get my comments and stuff back from my posse... another month or so to make repairs (if I agree) and polish it up the best that I can for consideration by a publisher or agent. This is how I'm going to spend my summer vacation, trying to get someone to bite.
Meanwhile, like I said, I'm going to start on that other writing project. I'm going to take just a couple of days off then dig in to one of the other books.
I've actually written 3 novels so far. The one before this one, I did finish, but hated it afterwards. It wasn't so much the book, just why I wrote it, but it has merit I think. There aren't that many good existential books about "zombie undertakers come to exact revenge on the town that done them wrong." There also aren't very many bad ones. So, either way, I've got a niche.
Because it's West Virginia-based, I figured it would have the best shot of finding some publisher. It's going to be a total re-write. Hopefully, I've learned something in the last 8 years and can salvage the basic idea. Whatever, but it will be a break from living inside the head of my most recent main character. I love the guy, but we need some time apart.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Easter's on its way.
Bringin' every girl and boy Baskets full of Easter joy,
Things to make your Easter bright and gay.
He's got jelly beans for Tommy,
Colored eggs for sister Sue,
There's an orchid for your Mommy
And an Easter bonnet, too.
Oh! here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Happy Easter day.
Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Look at him stop,
and listen to him say:
"Try to do the things you should."
Maybe if you're extra good,
He'll roll lots of Easter eggs your way.
You'll wake up on Easter morning
And you'll know that he was there
When you find those choc'late bunnies
That he's hiding ev'rywhere.
Oh! here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Happy Easter day.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I'm having a tough week with the blogging. Call it post angry lesbian distress disorder, but I haven't really been able to do much for the last few days. I need a remedy.
In the meantime, here's a quote from Jay Rockefeller succinctly explaining why I won't vote for Hillary Clinton. Even if she somehow manages to land the nomination, I just won't do it. I'll sit out or I'll do what I threatened and throw a vote at Nader.
Rockefeller said, "you don't get elected president if people don't like you. You can know everything there is to know about health care orThat's the truth. I am in awe of her abilities, but I just don't like her. She can wield language like a garrote, which I can respect, be amused by, but will never love. No doubt, she's sharp and brilliant, but she comes off as personable as newly minted barbed wire. I can't vote for that. I'm not comfortable choosing to be led by someone I don't like or trust. I can't vote for that even as a vote for the lesser evil. but you have to make that connection. It's not rocket science. You have to like the person to vote for them."
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
"We will miss her dearly, but we are very, very aware that she is doing important work somewhere else right now," she said.
And creepy. Let's not leave out creepy. I don't know what bothers me more: her mother saying something entirely deranged or the AP thinking it would be a cute way to close a story. They make it sound like her mom think she's interning with Casper.
Friday, March 14, 2008
My patient was sitting next to him, fading in and out of consciousness.
"I've been up since 2," she told me. "I just couldn't sleep."
She was groggy when I came to the door, then horrified. She wasn't wearing her wig. She covered her head abruptly and asked me to wait a minute, while she got read to go out. She apologized. She hated for anyone to see her like this. It wasn't just the radiation treatment. Her hair had started falling out weeks ago. She couldn't stand to watch it go slowly, couldn't take pulling handfuls out every morning when she brushed it in the mirror.
"I got a pair of scissors out and cut the whole thing off."
She couldn't stand the wig either. She decided to wear a little hat that looks like a turban, but that only lasted for a few minutes. She couldn't get comfortable.
Her head looks like the first spring mowing made by a blade that hasn't been sharpened in years. It's ragged and uneven. Stray hairs as long as fingers stick out like weeds on a lunar landscape. Her skin sags, looks like it's starting to turn, bruise and rot. Her eyes are wild, a little frightened and angry.
The meds make her a little crazy, she warned me. They've got her on a bunch of pills. She can't pronounce some of them and she has a hard time remembering what she took and when.
On her way out the door, she reached for her cigarettes then looked up at me.
"Would that be ok?"
No, actually, it wouldn't.
I tell her I've been trying to kick the habit. I've been smoking on and off for twenty years, mostly off, and I really couldn't handle the smoke in my car. That's mostly true and it fits in with the organization's policy. It wouldn't matter either way. It's not the reason I said no.
I'm a little creeped out by the oxygen tanks scattered around her living room. There are more than a few. She needs to be smoking like I need to be gargling lighter fluid.
She didn't argue, just shrugged and left them. Inexplicably, I feel guilty about it.
My patient slept most of the way, but occasionally muttered something random to the window. She'd say something then become acutely aware she was talking to someone who was not there. Other times, she answered questions not posed by anyone.
"They warned my son I might see or hear things," she said. "It's the medicine."
How much medicine she's had later becomes an issue at the hospital. The technician isn't fully convinced she hasn't overdosed. Somewhere beyond where I'm sitting, waiting, watching a cooking show and listening to two women chat cheerfully about having vaginal cancer, she and a doctor argue about whether to admit her into the hospital.
The treatment, which usually takes about fifteen to twenty minutes, dragged on. The pair of women chewed more words, talked about their lost cervices and a procedure involving sewing a sleeve inside the vagina. Neither of them want to go that route, even though one of them has stage 4 cancer. They veered from the banal to the horrifying and back again with a terrible, practiced agility.
I have never been so grateful to have nothing to say.
There's nowhere to run. Even trying not to listen, you tend to trade one conversation for another. In another corner, a pretty, but hairless woman talks to another woman about having faith in god. The two maybe became friends coming for treatments. The one spoke in loving gratitude about the people praying for her. It sounded almost as if she was practicing a farewell address.
I watched the clock. With the round trip, I start sweating getting back to work from a lunch hour that is now closer to three.
Eventually, I got my patient back to the car. She's irritated. She misplaced a check for $700. I get the impression it's a social security check. She looked around for it, but it's not in the car. A few minutes later she's dozing off, muttering.
We didn't really talk. At the end of it, she offered a cup of coffee, if I could wait a few minutes, but I really had to get back to work. She thanked me for the lift. I walked her to the doorway. She stumbled through the still open door and back into her claustrophobic and oppressive little living room. I drove away. Turning the radio up as loud as I could, I screamed song lyrics and counted off the reasons why I didn't need a cigarette today.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Really good holidays or birthdays are hard to come by. So much so, I've tried ignoring them. It doesn't work.
And then I heard about an alternate hobby, one the sanctified Wikipedia won't add because it's in bad taste or something.
If we took a holiday...
So, it's been a particularly trying week. I got lost on my way to pick up my cancer patient this week. Luckily, she canceled exactly five minutes before I was late. That worked out better than I thought it was. My kid took up golf. I'm still having mixed feelings about that. I've been involved in a protracted pissing contest with some particularly dull people I happen to have a few things in common. I am a HUGE fan of "The L Word" and I think Ani Difranco is the coolest, even if she's seeing a guy these days. She's too happy. It bodes badly for her art. Seriously. We sort of talked about that.
But Friday, oh Friday... there's this holiday, this one magical holiday. In all honesty, I realize I'm setting my expectations far too high. Saturday morning, I'll start on laundry. I'll install that nifty little shelf I bought to keep my Buddha statue out of the reach of small hands who tend to confuse icons with big block legos. Maybe my next selection from Netflix will be in. Sure, that will be nice.
Saturday, when Friday is over, I will sigh wistfully and get on with my life.
But today is Thursday.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The set-up is this takes place right after my lead character has failed to commit suicide. Mrs. Moody from upstairs has come to ask him to work on her toilet.
The tools for this kind of job are pretty self-explanatory.
Holding the big two-handed plunger in my hands like a riot club, I ride up with Mrs. Moody to her apartment on the 4th floor. The door opens and I follow. Julian Banks, the overly-dapper security guard who lives across the hall smiles as we pass him. He has an armload of groceries, but he’s still dressed for work. He has a job at the mall and keeps weird hours.
Mrs. Moody ignores Julian. The old southern woman won’t admit it, but she doesn’t appreciate having to live in close proximity to a big, black man.
Julian knows all about this, of course. He thinks it’s funny, particularly since his place is much nicer than hers.
“I wonder how she’d feel, if you told her I was gay?”
I’ve just don’t have the heart.
Julian nods at me in passing, grinning, while Mrs. Moody opens the door. It’s a big joke. More than he knows.
I roll my eyes.
This scene, too, has been played before.
She escorts me inside her strange old lady wonderland of tasteless knick-knacks, grainy framed photos of dead people, dated furniture wrapped in thick, milky plastic and odd, unplaceable smells that do nothing to mask or compliment the insistent aroma of cat piss.
Nero and Auggie wait by the door. I nod my usual greeting. Other than each of them being the size of fireplugs, they’re reasonably adorable. They follow the two of us to the bathroom. This should be a well-worn path, by now, but she leads me there each time as if it were the first, as if I couldn’t find it without an Indian guide.
The edge of the carpet outside just outside the open door is dark and damp. Close up, the smell chokes me. What do they actually put in diet cat food, motor oil?
Moody’s bathroom is a swamp with tasteful accents of maroon and lavender. The shower curtain and liner coordinate with the flower print wallpaper and the painted wood trim on the ceiling. A small framed black and white picture of two kittens wrestling with a ball of yarn hangs over the clothes hamper. These might be Nero and Augie from their thin and less gluttonous youth.
Above the maroon and white tiled floor, cat turds float on a skim of gasoline colored water. They sail around gravelly, gray archipelagos and a barrier reef of wadded toilet tissue. She must have tried to clean the mess herself before just giving up.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.”
She turns and walks back toward her living room and the inevitable roar of the long dead crowds found on the game show channel.
“Come on big money, big money. No whammies!”
Fuck you and your whammies.
Gingerly, I wade into the bath. The filthy water soaks through my shoes instantly. After this is over, I’ll want to scrub my feet with a wire brush. I’ll want to boil my socks in scalding water.
I’ve already thrown out all of my other clothes. This is it.
“You little bastards,” I mutter. “You did this on purpose.”
Nero and Auggie watch me with whatever passes for ill-tempered feline amusement. This is probably the high point of their day, aside from not having a heart attack when they wake up from their afternoon nap.
For half an hour, I violently stab, pound and pummel the sludgy mess caught in the pipes. Water, shit and grit splatters everywhere. I churn the toilet like I’m trying to turn the contents of the bowl into butter.
Finally, the clog clears. With a throaty belch, the bowl empties. The toxic sludge become the problem of the sewage treatment plant.
While the cats stare at me, I offer a deep bow to them. They’d probably clap if they could get their paws that close together.
Over the noise of the studio audience in the next room, Mrs. Moody hears or perhaps senses the passage is clear. By the time I’ve rinsed off the plunger in her bathtub, she’s at the door with a mop and bucket.
“I shouldn’t have to clean up after your mistake,” she tells me. “Those pipes should have been replaced by now.”
She pushes the mop and bucket onto me. As she’s leaving, the old lady mutters she’s deducting $25 from her rent for the inconvenience.
It's not like I care.
Monday, March 10, 2008
It made sense the local gay community would come out in force and they did. The aisles were crowded with stereotypical chubby, middle-aged gals with bad haircuts and wearing comfortable shoes. Everybody seemed pretty laid back until the show started, then it took off into weirdsville.
They were a ruder crowd than I expected at a nice theater. Evidently, it's ok for lesbians to shout down singers and beg for memorabilia during a show. It was ok to cough and clear throats during the opening act, a male solo pianist. Magically, thanks to the power of lang's wonderful vocals, all that phlegm dried up after her first song.
Pulling the same sort of shit during a metal show would have been an invitation to a beat down. It's not the kind of thing I expect to see anywhere, let alone a dressy, "upscale" show at the Clay Center. It was a little embarrassing, but after what I saw at Mountain Stage during Regina Spektor's appearance last fall (a large number of mostly women left right after her set, with one more act to go), it makes me wonder if there's some sort of connection? Are audiences in general becoming bigger assholes or are lesbians just jerks at shows?
I'm not sure what to make of it.
Friday, March 7, 2008
The kids have used it like a trash can. If it were possible for rats to burrow through the underside, I'd have a problem. I promised I'd clean it... really clean it and get whatever has been dumped and left to dry out of the upholstery.
We don't really know each other very well. He knows less about me than I do about him. We've talked some about our families. I know he has a pair of children and a few grand kids. I gave him the carefully constructed version of how I ended up with five children, two of which are now above 18. It confuses him a little because the gap in our ages is close to half a century. He does the math and it baffles him. We talk about our families, the weather and the state of the roads.
He hates the roads in Charleston.
Riding blind is hard. You can't brace yourself for the small potholes and uneven patches you drive over. It's uncomfortable and startling.
"They're taking two dollars out of your check a week," he complained. "I thought they were supposed to be fixing the roads with that money."
News to me. I heard the city was installing video cameras and probably hiring someone in spandex and a cape to fight crime. I don't tell him this. At 80-something, he probably wouldn't get it.
He complains about the length of the ride every time. It probably seems like forever between points. Invariably, I forget to unlock his seat belt or unlock the belt, but neglect to unlock the back door where his wife hammers on the glass with her palms like a toddler asking for the chocolate bar hidden in the groceries.
I'm careful helping him out. I drive a compact car. Getting out is tricky for people with all of their senses working properly. He's come within an inch of gouging his cheek on the door or thumping his smooth head against the ceiling. We come too close too often, but so far, he doesn't have any interesting new wounds to show the people at church.
"You're a good," he fumbled for the right word, "man, Bill. You're a good man."
For a second there, he was going to call me "kid."
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Everybody is cooler than you are. You'll figure that out after you get a couple of phone calls, a couple of emails or have a couple of conversations with either the people you talk to or the people who read you. The big joke is everybody is a critic, except the guy who is actually paid to be a critic. Then he's just some asshole with an axe to grind.
Everybody you speak to is going to have better taste in music, be better educated, be more well-read and have a better grasp of music, the music industry and life in general. You do not know anything. You just don't understand. Readers will tell you this a lot more than the guys on the other side of the phone, the microphone or across the table. Mostly, those guys will just smile knowingly and nod. You can do the same when they say something completely stupid like, "Well, really something magical happens when I play. I bond with the audience. It's magical."
Um, actually, no... No, that's not it at all.
But go ahead, let them have it. You can't win arguments about about what someone thinks they're doing and what they're actually doing.
Readers occasionally will take you to task, tell you some point you didn't get about a song, a band, an album. They will usually come spoiling for a fight and you can fight them, if you want, or you can listen for a second. Every once in a great while, they're right. You didn't get something. You misinterpreted the meaning of something (I've gotten nailed quite fairly on spelling a few times). Mostly, they're not, but telling them this is virtually impossible for a kaleidoscope of reasons.
Concede nothing. Be nice. Let them say what they have to. It's all O.K. They're just cooler than you. Writing about music, writing about art... Hell, writing about anything, isn't about being cool. It's about telling a story and being true to that story.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Big surprise. I don't like the Clintons and repeat...in any election where either of them runs for anything, I'd sooner spend election day drinking and playing video games than cast a vote for the Democrats led by Hillary Clinton.
I have not forgotten the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the interesting way all the radio stations turned to shit virtually overnight. I blame Bill Clinton for making Big Media bigger and less trustworthy and reliable than ever. I expect under the Clinton II it might even get worse. Big Media is taking a financial bath because of technology changes that grew exponentially after the Clintons. I suspect they'd want a friend in place who might be help them return to their former profitability.
Anyway, something crossed my mind this morning. I wonder how many people live in Ohio, but actually work in West Virginia? How many people make the commute? It is often mentioned how shitty state jobs are, but not all of them are that bad. I know at least three guys in state government who don't actually live in West Virginia. I wonder how many coal miners and business types live in Ohio?
It's deeper than that.
Former President Clinton has made appearances here. He and Smokin' Joe are supposedly buddies, both committed to finding a way to include coal in a future, enviro-friendly, post-gasoline energy plan (um... not very likely). Chelsea stopped in for a birthday dinner at the Bistro (are you fucking kidding me?).
During an election cycle, it's pretty standard for candidates to stop by, shake babies and kiss hands. Realistically speaking, little West Virginia doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot for the national election...except everybody cares about Ohio. I've noticed the appearances we're getting from the Clintons and company are focused near places within a rock's throw of Ohio (I'd bet Morgantown will see some action, now... Pennsylvania's primary is coming up) and away from the heart of coal country. They don't seem to give two shits for the tar paper shack crowd --which the tar paper shack crowd thoroughly gets.
I don't know the numbers, but I'm wondering how many people from Ohio read the Huntington and Charleston papers, watch Charleston and Huntington based television stations. Likewise, do border media in Ohio report on things like Chelsea Clinton eating a salad at the Bistro?
I think West Virginia is getting used as a means to get to other people whose votes count a little more. If that's true, it makes me hate the process a little bit more.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I'm going to get back to my music writer series shortly. I've gotten some nice personal response on it. I think the point of my bothering with it was to show what I do isn't all that special. Once you get past the initial "gulp, they're famous" it's pretty easy to move on. The hard part is coming up with questions and doing the little dance back and forth that's conversation with a stranger.
More on that soon.
Meanwhile, a big shout out to my lazy, unimaginative, derivative homeboys over at Graffiti, who also decided it would be cool to slice and dice my article about Rock 105's Valentine's day giveaway for some lame ass filler piece. They lifted the quotes and threw in some snark, which is like they wrote their own article, but without actually doing any of the work.
The writing is better, but the paper as a whole gets less interesting every issue. However, I can not deny the power of the free paper. It gets plenty of traffic in your average men's room -which fits the direction of the paper.
Unrelated, but I actually got into a brief discussion with an employee at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, who thought the agency should use Graffiti as some kind of spiritual mentor to keep hip and up to date. There are not enough words to describe how dumb an idea that is.
They still don't get what it is they have over there and I've given up ever trying to explain. What a waste.