Thursday, October 29, 2009

shock to the system

I've really fallen behind on everything over the last few weeks. There is no explanation. It just sort of happened. My Halloween project is pretty much kaput. I got wrapped up in other things and didn't make time to write.

Plus... sure, I'm going to try for another 50, 000 word pile of crap in November and I still have another nine books to read before the end of this whole hundred books thing. I've been busy.

I wrote a piece on Smith and Pyle that ran this week after I met them at an autograph signing last week. As funny as it sounds, it was my first experience witnessing one of those. Usually, when it comes to that part of entertainment, the actual worship, I skip it. As a viewer and a listener, I like the show. As a writer who sometimes writes about music and entertainment, I prefer the green room, the dressing room, the empty hallway where everybody is just being regular folks.

I like glamor. It's pretty, but it's less fun than what's under it.

The whole thing was eye-opening. I spoke to a lady who brought her daughter down from Pittsburgh to meet Shawnee Smith, one of the stars of the "Saw" movies. The girl, 16, had her stomach tattooed with the lyrics to a song Smith and Pyle recorded on their debut album. I met another woman. She and her boyfriend are big fans, but really came for the signature to document the experience as something special they did together, a kind of adventure.

She was a 39 year-old grandmother and looked ten or fifteen years older than Smith, who is 37. She looked older than me.

It's pretty easy to imagine that whatever the 39 year-old had been through to age her so much was probably more harrowing in its reality than whatever the fantasy on the screen.

There was a father who brought his three teenage sons to see the movie and to get autographs. They were stopped on the way in by the ticket clerk, but went through after he said he was coming in, too. They got a group picture with Smith, making this a family event, and as an extra piece of weird, one of the boys asked Smith to autograph a copy of "SAW" the video game.

She winced. Her smile was forced. Parts of what she was doing there definitely got under her skin. It was a job. It was clearly a job to her only and one she might have been acting part of her way through just to complete.

Oddly enough, I ended up with an autograph. I didn't ask. I don't collect these things and have never approached anyone for one. I'm more trusting of my own memory, which if it fails, won't be able to recall who signed the paper or photograph anyway. They gave it to me. I was there. I was writing about them. It was a gesture of goodwill and a thanks for coming out.

I understand some of what getting an autograph is about, what memorabilia is about. Some of the time, it's about marking a moment in your own history, noting a specific day or hour. Maybe it's to remember when got your first kiss or that first date or maybe it where you were right after or just before you told the old bag to go fuck herself. It can also be for art. Art moves us and maybe you want to remember what that felt like. A trinket can help, whether it's the program from a rock concert, the tickets stub from a gallery or an autograph from an actress in a movie.

It was, however, a little disturbing to think any of these things could be attached to a movie like this.

I guess I can hope that most of the people were there because Shawnee Smith is sort of famous. It was just about seeing a star, even if she's a small star. Smith is a pretty fair actress. I liked her in "The Stand." Seeing famous people, getting close to them for a minute, looking at them, can be hopeful. It shows you they're human, they're people and if they can become beloved by someone and vaguely wealthy, maybe it's not impossible for you.

In the end, I left feeling sad: sad for the teenager with the tattoo, sad for the dad who bonded with his kids over simulated acts of depravity, sad for so many of the people who came through wanting to see what fame looked like close up. I was sad for me because while I'm not the kind of guy who seeks out trinkets, I'm not so different than them.

If anything, I'm a little worse.

So, I took the autograph home then went looking for my family. I hugged them, then I sat behind my computer, wishing, hoping, I'd write something somebody would care about as much as a movie where a woman has a trap strapped to their face set to go off if she didn't kill somebody.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Okay, a bunch to dispatch with. Really, I'm getting behind on a lot of things.

The Naked Buddha: Venerable Adrienne Howler -Spirituality is a hot and cold affair. Sometimes, you're on. Other times, you're off. I've been off more than on lately and so I picked up a short book on Buddhism, just to get my head straightened out. This book is definitely a light read, but a decent overview of what the whole thing is really about --which is simply living in a way that's beneficial to yourself and others. Not a lot of heavy lifting intellectually, but a good introduction to some of the ideas.

The Complete Maus: Art Spiegelman -I wasn't going to include my graphic novel diet in this list. Otherwise, I'd have been done in June. I read a lot of comic books. Maus is one of the rare few that are bigger than the medium they're part of. They story deals with the author and his relationship to his father, as well as his father's recollections about surviving the Holocaust. It's a story of loss and trauma handed down from generation to generation. Really, a moving piece of work.

Reheated Cabbage: Irvine Welsh -I love this guy. A magical bunch of stories about drinking too much, making the wrong choices and using drugs. Welsh is the same guy who wrote "Trainspotting." Not always an easy read. Welsh occasionally writes in a Scottish dialect, which can be hard on those of us used to less colorful language. Still, a lot of fun and occasionally touching.

Running With Scissors: Augusten Burroughs -A funny and tragic biography about growing up OK even when your Dad is a drunk and your mom is a narcissistic asshole who pawns you off on her dodgy shrink and his goofy, dysfunctional family. Incredibly foul at points but sort of uplifting. Makes you look fondly back at the beatings you got as a kid and think, "Well, at least none of that other shit happened to me."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

14, 13

Again, another crazy week, but enough of my bitching. Here are the two books from last week I meant to put up, but didn't.

99 Drams Of Whiskey: The accidental hedonist's quest for the perfect shot and the history of the drink: Kate Hopkins -A fun, if not entirely scholarly look at whiskey, including Irish whiskey, Scotch, Canadian whiskey and Bourbon. Still, a nice read with lots of suggestions for drinks to try and drinks to avoid. She comes down hard on the Canadians, mostly for being unhelpful when it comes to her research, and she's perhaps a little too glowing of Scotch, which admittedly, I hate. I like Irish Whiskey, usually Bushmills and have really developed a taste for Maker's Mark Bourbon -neither of which I drink too often or ever in quantity for fear of devastating entire city blocks.

Human dark with sugar: Brenda Shaughnessy -a very sensual poet who makes me want to drink too much and go into porn. Well, okay, maybe not that, but she definitely writes a lot of words for a certain kind of mood. She's very accessible and does for earthy sensual love what others I read aren't so hot at.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Halloween -part 2

(part 2 -Phantom Limb)

Night in the country was loud. Summer in the country was hot. Dust and unfamiliar flavors hung in the air, captured beneath the canopy of leaf covered branches. Reptiles, lonesome birds and insects frantically called in desperation and terror in the dark, then settled into a black, hidden silence.

Nothing was comfortable and each breath oozed its way out of their mouths like wood smoke.
Drowsy, but dreamless they listened to their aunt in the next room snore, babble and pass gas.

They were used to the heat, but also accustom to the cool comfort of air conditioning. Cecelia only had a fan, a big, cheap box fan, she kept parked during the day next to the open screen door, aimed at her sagging armchair.

“You think it’s hot now,” she laughed when they complained in the morning. “You wait until August. You’ll get used to it.”

None of them believed that.

Cecelia sent them outside.

“Go play,” she said. “I’ll call you back when it’s time for lunch.”

It was too hot to play. Peggy and Jack took the gifts from the preacher, settled under oak trees in the yard and followed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer down the Mississippi. Amy measured the dirt road, saw where it began at the mailbox then passed her foot. It ran farther, snaked past the house and climbed up the hills.

“You know what’s up that way?” Amy asked.

Jack shrugged. “No idea.”

“You want to go check it out?”

Jack shook his head. He was already committed.

“Why are you reading that?” Amy asked.

Jack didn’t look up.

“It’s something to do.”

“So is figuring out where that road goes.”

“No thanks,” Jack said and went back to his book.

Peggy was at least as unenthusiastic about moving from her spot. They were a matched pair.

“But where does it go?” Amy wanted to know.

“It probably goes to one of the back fields,” Peggy told her. “The farm is pretty big, like a hundred acres. You could get lost if you don’t know where you’re going, which you don’t.”

“Not if I stay on the road.”

“Suit yourself.” The issue was settled.

It wasn’t permission, but good enough. If Cecelia asked, she’d blame her brother and sister. Half an hour down the rain-gutted and rutted road, her leg beagn to bother her. The wound was healed. A mass of scar tissue pressed against the snug cradle of the prosthetic. She’d get used to the uncomfortable pressure. The doctors said she would, but she’d never like it and walking like this under the growing heat of the sun, she was reminded how much she resented the leg, the limp and how she got it.

She needed to rest, let the stump dry out. If she kept walking, the tender skin would break against the smooth plastic, but the grass on either side of the road was high, hiding bugs and burs and wild animals. Amy frowned. Jack or Peggy should have come with her.

On the verge of tears, Amy sat in the middle of the road and unlaced the prosthetic. Miserably, she thought, if some wild animal were to approach, she’d beat it back with her plastic leg.

Just a short rest.

For the comfort of it, she fished the ungainly pocket knife from her jeans and flipped open the blade. Cecelia said she and Peggy could wear jeans on the farm, but to church, to school, to anywhere else, they had to wear skirts and dresses.

“You’ll get used to it,” Cecelia promised.

Everybody was always saying that. You’ll get used to it, but she didn’t want to get used to it. Amy wanted to wear her jeans every day. She wanted to go home. She wanted two real legs and two real parents.

The blade of the cheap knife gleamed in the light. She held it up and watched a sunbeam bounce off its silvery blade.

As she sat there, watching the knife cut the light, with the artificial foot next to her, a scrawny looking boy in a dirty t-shirt pushed through the high grass and stepped out onto the road. He gasped when he saw her. They both gasped.

“Wait,” he said and clutched the sack he held, close to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
Amy lowered the ridiculous knife to her lap.

“You scared me.”

“I scared you?” He exclaimed. “You just about gave me a heart attack.”

They looked at one another for a moment, then laughed.

“Sorry,” she giggled and he shook his head, grinning.

He was about her age, but funny looking: too thin, underfed and pale under the dirt. His shirt was just a rag, riddled with holes and black stains.

“Why are you sitting in the road?” He asked.

“What are you doing here?” She asked. “This is my aunt’s farm.”

He shrugged. It didn’t seem to occur to him he was anywhere.

“Just passing through,” he repeated.

“Where are you going and what’s in the bag?”

The boy looked out distantly at the wall of weeds surrounding them, looked back at where the grass had spat him out and where he was going. He didn’t seem to know.

“What’s in the bag?” She asked again.

The spell was broken. He shook his head and said, “Nothing.” He opened it for her. The bag was empty.

Amy didn’t know what to make of him. He was acting peculiarly, wouldn’t tell her where he was going and hadn’t volunteered his name.

She sighed then slipped on her leg. He stared, but everybody did.

“Do you mind?”


She rolled her eyes and asked him his name.

He smiled. “Albert. Albert McCoy.”

“Well, Albert McCoy,” she said tightening the leg to her stump, “You going to help me up or not?”

He nodded and pulled her to her feet. Amy stumbled and he caught her in his arms. The knife blade in her hand pointed toward the sky between them. They stood that way for a moment while Amy’s heart pounded.

“Sorry.” He pulled away, embarrassed. “I probably stink.”

She nodded, not that she noticed. She folded the knife and pushed it into her pocket.

“So, what’s supposed to be in the bag?”

He shook his head.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.”

“What? Is it some kind of secret?”

He laughed. “Oh, nothing like that. I just wouldn’t want to scare you.”

Amy crossed her arms and frowned. She wasn’t frightened of a scrawny little boy holding a beat-up bag.

“Fine,” she said and turned to walk away.


A cold shiver ran up her spine. She stopped and turned around.

“Snakes? Why on earth would you want a bag full of snakes?”

He laughed, then said, “Well, I don’t. I got me a deal with this preacher, from one of them snake handling churches? He said if I brought him thirty snakes, he’d give me sixty dollars.”

Amy shook her head. She knew nonsense when she heard it.

“Oh, you’re full of it.”

Albert shook his head. He was serious.

“No, really. Mr. Cruise from over at Holy Assembly asked me and my brother to bring him snakes for his church. We just got a week to get them, though.”

Amy had never heard of such a thing, but then again the one church she’d been to since she’d come to the farm had been stranger than anything she’d ever seen, what with the shouting and the twitching.

Cecelia had tried to explain to them when the spirit moved some people, they spoke in tongues. Cecelia called it a holy language, a miracle. They spoke in the language of the angels and God. It was a blessing for the whole church to hear it.

“Why would anybody want snakes in a church? That’s crazy.”

The boy didn’t disagree, but this wasn’t about what he believed in.

“I’m really more interested in the money,” he told her. “Times are kind of tight, you know? Sixty dollars is sixty dollars.”

And he was right, of course.

“But isn’t that dangerous, I mean, picking up snakes?”

The boy nodded.

“But I got fast hands.” He frowned. “My brother Randal was supposed to come along, just to hold the bag, but he ran off before I got up.” He was disappointed. “Randal is kind of a chicken. He’s not like us. He’s still little.”

Amy didn’t think she’d be exceptionally brave either. In fact, Randal sounded like the smarter and saner of the two.

Before the boy could suggest she might help him, Amy told him she had to get going. “My aunt will wonder where I am,” she said. “Good luck with your snakes.”

He nodded solemnly and started back into the weeds.

“Hey,” he said suddenly. “What’s your name?”

“Amy,” she told him. “Amy Foster.”

He waved at her and grinned. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe,” she said, hoping.

Amy hiked “home.” Her leg throbbed all the way. His name was Albert McCoy. He talked to her. He said she wasn’t little, not like his brother. He didn’t think she was a kid.

She couldn’t help but smile. Her leg hurt, but she didn’t care.

Jack and Peggy, of course, were still reading, though now they sat under the same tree. She’d only been gone for a little over an hour. It only seemed longer, but Aunt Cecelia hadn’t noticed.

Jack looked up. “You find anything?”

She almost told him, about the boy, about the story of the snakes, but then shook her head.

“I didn’t get too far,” she said. “My leg, you know.”

Her brother looked guilty after she said it.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I guess I should have gone with you.” He closed his book and stood. “If you want, I’ll go with you next time.”

She shook her head. “No, that’s okay. It’s probably good for me. The doctors said I have to get used to walking on it.” She looked up and down the road. “I think we’re going to be doing a lot of walking around here.”

Jack frowned and nodded.

“I don’t think I’m going to get used to this place,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to.”

Amy smiled. “Oh, it’s not so bad.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Halloween-part 1

(Screw it on the other short story. Too much to try and accomplish and I wasn't happy with where it was going. Anyway, here's part one of my Halloween project.)

"Inverted World" 1981

Amy fumed sullenly and stared out the back window. She hadn’t been allowed to bring the Nintendo, the one gift she got for Christmas from her parents she really liked.

“Aunt Cecelia doesn’t have a television?” She’d asked.

“Of course, she has a television,” Mrs. Grayson said. “But why would you even want to bring a video game to a farm? You’ve got a whole farm. The last thing you need is to hole up indoors punching a little button and shooting, what do you call them, meteors?”

“Asteroids,” she corrected, though that wasn’t one of the games she played. “Why can’t I bring my Nintendo?”

“You need fresh air,” Mrs. Grayson said. “You need to move around.”

This was because of her leg. It had been six months since the doctors stood around her bed, shook their heads and told her what no 10 year-old should have to hear.

“I don’t want fresh air,” she said. “I don’t want to move around. I want to go home.”

Her brother Jack looked over at her, then Peggy. They both nodded grimly. Amy needed to shut up. They were traveling light –just their clothes and a few small, personal items. They had a little money, each of them. If she wanted, maybe she could get another Nintendo when they got settled. This had been explained.

Nobody wanted to go through with this, not Amy, not the twins, not even Mrs. Grayson, but their options were limited. It was either Aunt Cecelia in West Virginia or foster care.

Amy sighed and stared at the ceiling while her brother and sister went back to their books. They could read anywhere. Amy didn’t have the patience and besides, reading in the car made her sick. She hated riding in the middle.

“It’s going to be fine,” Mrs. Grayson said.

No one believed that. Fine wasn’t a choice.

They rode all day, from first light until the dark of the night, stopping only for hamburgers and cokes once and to use dirty, dimly lit rest rooms behind gas stations. They drove until the straight roads wound around darkened mountains and the only light ahead shone from Aunt Cecelia’s kitchen window.

“Sorry about the porch light.” She’d waited up for them. “The bulb burned out. Usually, I get Bob to change it for me, but he won’t be here until Sunday.”

No one blamed her. Aunt Cecelia was a gross, fragile woman. She moved with a slow, swaying shuffle. Every step forward was a risk. If she fell, she’d burst.

Amy and the twins barely knew her. She was their mother’s aunt, their grandmother’s younger sister, and a peripheral character in the few stories they’d been told about their mother growing up.

Jack volunteered to fix the light in the morning, before Mrs. Grayson went back to Michigan. She was supposed to stay until Sunday, just to be sure Cecelia could handle three kids, but the social worker seemed to think things were going so well. It wasn’t going to be a problem.

“And when will the checks start coming?” Cecelia asked, a little too eagerly.

“You should start receiving their social security benefits within a couple of weeks,” she told her.
“If you don’t see anything by the end of next month, give me a call.” Mrs. Grayson handed her a card which Aunt Cecelia took guiltily.

“It’s OK,” the social worker told her. “You’re going to need that money before school starts. Raising kids is expensive.”

Mrs. Grayson gave the same card to Jack before she climbed back into her empty Ford.
If there was a problem, they should call. Otherwise, she’d be in touch. She didn’t say how or when, just she’d be in touch.

After the car drove out of sight, the yoke of abandonment settled on their shoulders. Cecelia went back inside to start lunch while the children sat on the porch looking at the road and the tree line beyond it. Finally, Amy slipped off her left leg.

Two weeks before Christmas, a delivery truck ran a stop sign and rammed the side of their car. Elvis Presley was singing “Blue Christmas” on the radio. Amy was in the backseat, sitting in the middle, right where she always sat because each twin demanded a window seat. It saved her life.

The twins weren’t there. Their parents had dropped them off at a party just a few blocks back. Amy hadn’t been invited because she was younger and a burden in middle school social situations.

The driver’s side of the car was caved in. Only Amy knew how bad it really was, what their father looked like after the accident. She never lost consciousness. The other two never had to see.

The delivery truck pushed the car through the intersection and into a tree. Their mother’s head bounced against the window once and her neck snapped. She went quick, at least, and for a minute the truck driver and everyone else gathered around the car thought she might just be stunned.

It was confusing and chaotic. Amy’s leg was caught in a snarl of metal. Everyone was shouting, demanding, soothing, praying. Amy screamed through the noise, bled and begged and watched her parents die.

Amy missed the funeral. The twins had to see that through on their own. Each of them had their own little part of the grief to bear.

Neighbors, friends and a couple of kind teachers gave them places to stay while they finished the school year and the state figured out what to do with them. Jack and Peggy were 12, almost 13. Amy was 11. The only way they could stay together was if someone took them in, a relative. In the end, all they had was Cecelia, a woman they barely knew and her brother Bob.

Cecelia lived on the family farm. It belonged to their grandparents. Bob did not live there, but he helped her take care of the house and drove her around –as his job permitted. He was a fry cook at the Cartersville Tastee Freez.

The children hadn’t been to the farm in a long time, not since their grandmother passed away, and that was years ago. Even then it hadn’t been a working farm since their mother was a teenager. The barn, henhouse and stable were rickety homes for field mice, spiders and ticks listing toward collapse into dust and splinters.

Cecelia warned them to stay close to the house and not to go messing around.

“You’re liable to come upon a snake,” she said.

The house and the acre and a half Bob mowed would have to suffice. The land beyond was wild, unkempt and threatening.

“Y’all just stick close to the house,” she said.

But Aunt Cecelia didn’t want them underfoot. They would need to find ways to amuse themselves, at least until school started in two months. She was far too busy to entertain and they weren’t guests.

The first day alone with their aunt passed quietly. She fed them lunch, then four hours later, dinner. In the evening, they watched Hee-Haw, which none of them had ever seen before. Roy Clark and Buck Owens sang country songs in between jokes too corny to be anything but intentional. Ceclia offered them ice cream, had some herself, then ushered them off to bed when it got dark.

In the dark, in the room the three of them shared, with eyes wide open and staring at the dark ceiling, Peggy sighed and asked, “So, now what?”

“Don’t ask me,” Amy replied smugly. “I wanted to bring the Nintendo.”

Bob showed up in with his truck in the morning to take them to church. He didn’t say much, except for them to sit down low in the back and hold on.

“The road gets a might bumpy.”

Cecelia’s attended services at “The First Assembly Of The Believer” on the other side of Cartersville, a crude, little building painted a rough shade of white. Bob helped them out of the truck, but wouldn’t come in. Cecelia didn’t even ask.

“I’ll wait for y’all out here.” He lit a cigarette and sat behind the wheel while Cecelia pushed them toward the door.

The children’s parents weren’t regular churchgoing people. They’d never been required to bathe and comb and dress so early on a summer day. Weekend worship was pancakes served just
before noon with everyone still in their pajamas.

The church’s sanctuary was small, just twelve narrow wooden pews arranged in a half-moon around the rough wooden pulpit. People were packed on the benches like books in a bookcase, side by side and elbow to elbow. Women in thin, plain dresses fanned themselves with stiff paper fans on sticks. Even with the windows open, a thin sheen of sweat covered most of the congregation before the preacher stepped through the door. They were drenched before he left.

Aunt Cecelia sat them in the front row.

The sermon was like nothing they’d ever seen or heard before. The preacher’s name was Pulaski, Mr. Pulaski. Nobody called him by anything else, at least not to his face.

He wasn’t a big man, didn’t have a deep, booming voice, but listening to him preach was like sitting under a tall tree during a thunderstorm. Pulaski prowled the pulpit. He paced, shouting and admonishing those who’d fallen to get right. God did not hold the hands of the weak and unrighteous. He put their feet to the flame and demanded they repent. Now.

It was spellbinding and terrifying.

All around them, people rocked in their seats. The pews trembled and creaked. Some who’d come to worship spoke out in firece, garbled words. Pulaski pulled them from their seats. He put his hands on them, and like a wolf, threw back his head and joined them in their frightening howl to God.

It was relief when, finally, he blessed the country congregation and bid them wearily to go forth with the love of Jesus in their hearts.

“I want you to meet the preacher,” Cecelia told them, but Amy, with her bum leg, still managed to swim through the teeming masses to find cool air outside.

The twins weren’t as lucky. While Amy slipped under the looming shapes of the adults, Pulaski held the hands of her brother and sister and marveled at the slightly askew mirror image.

“What a blessing. All men are born alone in this world.” He smiled. “Except for twins.”
Amy marched, lunged forward awkardly to the truck, because she could not run. Bob sat where they left him, a pile of cigarette butts on the ground beneath the window.

“Don’t leave out like that,” Bob said. “He’ll know it.”

Amy looked back at the preacher who seemed busy taking in the pleasant adoration of his flock.

“That one you don’t want to take an interest,” Bob told her.

“Is that why you don’t go in?”

Bob coughed, a kind of laugh, then dropped the cigarette onto the ground at Amy’s feet.

“No,” he said. “I done killed a man. There ain’t a half a dozen would want to sit next to me.” He shook his head, considered, then added, “That’s what I tell your Aunt, anyway.”

“Who’d you kill?” She asked and Bob smiled. It was a question nobody asked, but still not a question he had a mind to answer.

Cecelia and the twins came around a short while later. Cecelia scolded her for not being more sociable, for being rude on her first day to church.

“I’m sorry, Aunt Cecelia,” she said. “There were all those people and it was so hot.” Amy sighed darkly. “I don’t like closed in spaces no more.”

Jack and Peggy looked at her funny. They knew she was lying, but neither of them called her on it. Amy knew they wouldn’t.

Cecelia nodded, as if she understood, then put her arm around her grand-neice.

“Well, maybe Wednesday night we can sit next to the door.”

Their uncle took them around town, slowly showing them the sights of where they were going to grow up. He took them over to the middle school, where they’d be attending in the fall. Cartersville Middle School held grades six through eight.

“You’ll be over at the high school next year,” Bob shouted to the twins from the window. “It’s nice. They just built the new building last year.”

Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t much open, not that there was ever much open most of the time. The entire town seemed only slightly larger than their old neighborhood, just a handful of necessary businesses, a post office and generic, granite town building that housed the municipal court, the mayor and sheriff’s office and the town jail.

Bob dropped them off at the drugstore to look at magazines and get candy while he took Cecelia to get their groceries for the week.

“We’ll be back in one hour,” Cecelia said. “You be here or you’re walking home.”
Where were they supposed to go?

The drugstore was busy Sunday afternoon. Every stool and booth at the lunch counter was occupied. Clean, well-groomed locals wandered the aisles looking at nothing in particular; killing time.

“This town needs a movie theater,” Jack said sourly.

“I hope it’s got a library,” Peggy added.

Amy counted the money in her change purse and wondered what she could buy here. Whatever she got would have to last the week. Cecelia had explained she didn’t come into town much, just when Bob brought her.

Jack spent half his money on comic books, while Peggy looked at the Hollywood gossip magazines. Amy stared at a glass case full of pocket knives, then bought a shiny, black camp knife that came with a folded spoon. It was cheap: eight dollars.

“What are you going to do with that?” Peggy asked.

She flipped out the shallow, metal spoon.

“Eat cereal?”

Jack thought it was pretty cool. He promised to share his comic books to look at it: a fair deal.
An hour later, Bob came back with Cecelia and told them to hop in. He took them for chili dogs at the Tastee Freeze, which were a different kind of hotdog than they got up north, but still good. Nadine, the pretty, young woman who ran the place, refused to take Bob’s money.

“It’s on the house,” she said. “Your family is our family, Bob. You kids ever get hungry, you come here.”

When Nadine’s back was turned, Bob told them never to do that. If they wanted a hamburger, he’d pay for it.

“Nadine’s got a kind heart, but she’s got a business to run.”

Bob blushed when he said her name. He was so much older than Nadine. Only Cecelia seemed to miss the bright red heart pinned on her brother’s sleeve.

“I will take care of their feeding,” she corrected.

At the farm, Peggy helped Cecelia with dinner while Amy and Jack played with her new knife.

“What did you think about that church?” Jack asked.

“Don’t like it,” Amy repeated, again. “Don’t want to go ever again.”

“Yeah, but we’re stuck,” Jack said.

Amy nodded, then blurted out, “Bob told me he killed somebody.”

Jack already knew. It was supposed to be a secret.

“Dad told me,” he said. “At Christmas one year, we got a card from him. He threw it away.”

“Who’d he kill?”

Jack didn’t know. He doubted their father knew.

While they were taking turns cutting up sticks and exploring the other functions of the cheap utensil, Peggy found them.

“Cecelia said to tell you not to get dirty. Company is coming for dinner tonight.” She didn’t look particularly happy about it.

“Who?” Amy asked.

Peggy frowned and crossed her arms.

“No.” Jack shook his head. “Please, not him.”

But it was.

“Son of a bitch,” Jack spat.

Mr. Pulaski arrived in a big, black car driven by a giant named Henry.

“Henry won’t be dining with us,” Pulaski told Cecelia. “He has some errands to run, but was kind enough to carry me out here.”

Henry nodded then took his leave without any discussion of when he might be back.

Dinner was a more elaborate spread than anything Amy or the twins were used to. Cecelia cooked for an army most days, but for the preacher the table was loaded down with three meats, half a dozen side dishes and two kinds of pie, plus biscuits and corn bread. A pitcher of iced tea sat precariously on the edge of the table.

“Cecelia,” Pulaski said warmly as they took their seats. “I hope the trouble you went to was mostly on account of the children.”

Cecelia blushed to be acknowledged and also to be called out on the conditions of her hospitality.

He smiled and asked everyone bow their heads while he asked the blessing for the meal. With a quiet “Amen” he picked up a knife and began carving the roast.

“So, tell me about where you’re from,” the preacher asked. “I don’t get to the city very much and haven’t been north in…” He shook his head. “It’s been a while.”

He asked questions and the answers poured out of them. Jack and Peggy told him about school. Jack wanted to play football when he got to high school.

“The Confederates would be lucky to have you,” he laughed. “Big, healthy boy like yourself. You favor offense or defense?”

Jack didn’t know for sure, just that he wanted to play.

“Their daddy played some in high school,” Cecelia added.

“I’ll bet he was a fine sportsman.”

Peggy was interested in science. She liked animals and wanted to study to be a veterinarian one day. Cecelia winced. She understood women worked outside the home, knew plenty who did, but seemed to think doing such a thing was less of a choice and more of necessity.

“Tending to animals is a sacred calling,” the preacher said. “We are directed to watch over them by God, you know?”

Peggy said she didn’t know that. Cecelia piped up, suddenly remembering what the preacher said was true.

“That’s in Genesis, right?”

Pulaski smiled and nodded. Cecelia’s cheeks bloomed pink again.

They talked pleasantly throughout the meal, though he scarcely spoke to Amy or Cecelia. Jack and Peggy did most of the talking. The preacher asked polite questions and responded to the things they said.

“I imagine our country ways are a bit different than what you’re used to,” he said. “Tell me, did your parents bring you to church?”

Jack and Peggy looked at each other, then shook their heads.

“We’ve been to church,” Jack said.

“We go at Christmas,” Peggy elaborated, leaving out the part about how their attendance even then had varied from year to year. “We go at Easter and maybe one or two other times a year.”

“Mom and dad worked,” Amy explained. “Dad worked night shift and weekends sometimes. I guess there wasn’t a lot of time.”

Cecelia looked appalled, but the preacher merely nodded. He seemed almost pleased.

“Part of the trouble with cities,” Pulaski said. “There’s so little time for family, even less time for worship. Well, I guess you’re in luck.”

The thought they were lucky had never crossed their minds.

“What I mean,” he said. “It’s different here. There’s time for family.” He smiled at Cecelia. “There’s time for God.”

After dinner, the preacher asked the children to help their aunt clean up. Peggy could put the food away. Jack scraped the plates while Amy and Cecelia washed them at the sink.

Jack and Peggy finished far sooner, of course. The kept the preacher company on the porch, still talking when Cecelia and Amy came out with a tray of glasses and a pitcher of lemonade.

The big, black car came up the road by the time the preacher finished his last sip.

“Just a second, Henry,” he told the driver. “If you might open the trunk for me.”

Henry, wordlessly, complied.

“I should explain,” Pulaski said. “Henry can speak. I’m afraid he has a bit of a stammer, which troubles him.” He sighed. “We each must bear our burdens the best we can. Henry chooses silence.”

From the depths of the trunk, Pulaski retrieved a pair of books.

“Your aunt tells me the two of you like to read,” he said. “It’s a good habit and lucky again, I happen to have these.” He gave them copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. “They’re old books, but good books. I hope you haven’t read them.”

Amy almost spoke up. Cecelia sent the same books at Christmas. It was how the social service people had gotten her address, how they’d discovered the children had a living relative who might take them in.

“Now, I’m sorry,” Pulaski turned to Amy. “I don’t have anything for you this time. Your aunt told me you like video games.” He laughed. “So far, nobody has turned in one. If they do, I’ll make sure we get your cousin Bob to bring his truck.”

The preacher thanked Cecelia for inviting him to her home, said he hoped he’d see everyone in church Wednesday night, then he and the mute driver left.

Cecelia went back inside while they watched him leave.

“Why did you take those books?” Amy asked them. “You already have them.”

Jack shrugged.

“Yeah,” Peggy said. “But we never read them.”

“We just didn’t.” Jack added, uncomfortably.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Halloween Update

I am still running a little behind. The short stories have turned into a novella. I've got the first two parts done, but haven't quite caught up with getting the third short story from last year posted. I needed to make an adjustment.

It's been a busy couple of weeks. If I explained why, it would be more obnoxious than I could stand --but let's just say I've been talking to lots of people.

Anyway, the short story from last year will go up tomorrow (hopefully). And part 1 and 2 of the novella will go up Friday. Part one is called "Inverted World." The second is titled "Phantom Limb." These titles may seem familiar.

Monday, October 5, 2009


There's been a bit of a backlog due to everything else going on. This will be quick and merciless.

Underground: My Life with SDS and Weathermen -Mark Rudd: Rudd was a student radical and a member of the SDS, then the notorious Weathermen, who incited riots, bombed and plotted against the government over a range of issues including civil rights and the Vietnam war. Rudd was a firebrand and a rabble rouse, but kind of a dumb ass domestic terrorist. As he describes them, the Weathermen came off as middle-class kids raging against a machine they didn't understand with crackpot ideas that occasionally meant well.

Rudd went into hiding, came out of hiding to much fanfare then wound up as a professor, where he still believes in progressive ideas, but isn't so much for overthrowing the government. He sort of apologizes for his activities, but also tends to distance himself from the major decision making.

Skinny Bastard: Rory Freedman and Kim Barnoin -What looks like a take no prisoners approach to nutrition and dieting is really a tedious Vegan diatribe about how if you simply give up meat, quit smoking and stop drinking coffee you'll get a hot body which women will paw all over. The authors jettison what the reader wants --which is to be thinner, healthier and more attractive -- to push a suspect agenda. If most women in the English reading world were Vegans, yes, they might have a point. Most are not and the whole idea of converting to munching on tofu and sipping decaf green tea to attract anyone is laughable unless you are already so inclined.

Other than doing your part to save animals from unnecessary suffering and the relentless barrage of descriptions of what you're actually eating, they're comparatively vague on things like exercise or goal setting.

Still, in fairness, I did find some good information and it did make me think about what I eat, but there was a lot of garbage to get through.

My verdict: I shit on this book.

A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Flannery O'Connor -A decent collection of O'Connor's short stories. Very dark and insightful. Also good for the season.

Men, Women and Ghosts -Debora Greger -I never warmed up to this collection of poems. Greger trips through the past to the point of distraction. I tried. I just didn't love it. Somebody else might have better luck.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Halloween Project -last year, part 2

Here is another of the stories from last year. This one deals with the odd goings on at the local Tastee Freez, where Randal and Albert's mother worked.
I'm still setting up for the stories from this year. The first of the new is taking a bit longer than anticipated. It's long and may have to be broken in two parts. I might not have it ready to go until Sunday.

Hamburger (1972)
By Bill Lynch

We were all real sorry about what happened with Bridget. I knew Bridget. She and I worked the counter over at the Tastee Freez here in Cartersville. She was a real good worker, a nice girl, dependable, pleasant. We miss her.

But I guess you lose a child and it changes you. That's what I hear. I've never had any children of my own. James Senior and me tried for years, but he was older and besides he already had a son, Jimmy. He's a sweet boy, as good as my own. That's always how I've seen it.

Jimmy was sweet on Bridget -always had been. She was older than him, had two half-grown babies, and of course, he owns the Tastee Freez, people would talk. They did when I married James Senior, but he didn't care. A little more time and he might have worked up the nerve to ask her out. They’d have made a cute couple.

Bridget just couldn't get over losing her little boy. She took to drinking and sooner or later that stuff will kill you. It's slower, I suppose, if you stick just to whiskey. Bridget switched to gasoline and a quart of that will kill you right off or so I hear. I don't drink.

For the longest time, Jimmy just moped and the Tastee Freez suffered. He wouldn't hire anybody to take Bridget’s place. He couldn't stand the idea of coming in to work without her there.

Of course, Jimmy never loved coming to work at the Tastee Freez in the first place. Jimmy wanted to be a doctor, but then James Senior went and put his car in the creek four years ago. It fell to Jimmy after that. He didn't want to be there and tried to make it easy on him. We all did. I kept an eye on things upstairs, while Jimmy hid down in the basement, reading his books and smoking cigarettes, just like his daddy before him.

It ain't exactly a prison. The Tastee Freez doesn't look like much, but we make money.

People wonder why my husband didn’t leave the store to me. Let me tell you. Second wives get sort of second-class status, but maybe he was thinking of me. When we got married everybody thought I was after his money. He was a good deal older than me, but James Creevy wasn't stupid. He'd have said, “So long” if I was up to something, if I really wanted his money. We were married ten years before he died, and I was a good wife. I didn’t always agree with him, didn’t like some of his friends who came around and stunk up the basement at the Tastee Freez with their cigars, but at least, they didn’t come to the house.

Work is a comfort to me, particularly after James Senior's death. We spent most of our time together here and this little place was a lot more interesting than our big house on the other side of town. Back in the twenties and thirties, James Senior told me, he used to run whiskey out of the basement. He never got caught, though he was smart and got into something a bit safer. There's a lot of room down there. We use it for storage. It's where we keep our coolers. James had a little office down there, which Jimmy took over. Both of them practically lived down there.

Me, I like being where there's light, but every king must have his castle, I suppose.

While the boys stayed in the dungeon, I ran the store. It doesn't take an army to make hotodgs and hamburgers -just a couple of girls and an ex-con everybody calls Fry Cook Bob. James Senior installed a doorbell for us to call him if we needed him, not that he was always much help when he came. Jimmy was some better, but after Bridget died, he wouldn't answer the bell. I had to really bug him to get some help.

“All right, Nadine,” he told me. “I’ll get somebody in.”

We'd have probably been better off if I'd have kept my mouth shut. First, Jimmy hired Claire and Sadie: pretty girls, but useless. Claire was sixteen and had about hundred boyfriends, all looking for a free meal. Sadie was seventeen, but smoked and cussed like a forty year-old trucker.

They both hated me. Every time I went downstairs to fetch another bag of French fries, I swore one them was going to lock the door behind me.

“Oh don’t worry about them,” Jimmy laughed. “I got the key.”

Neither lasted. Good help is hard to find. Luckily, bad help is hard to keep. Claire ran off with one of her redneck boyfriends. Her mama said she'd done it before, but so far had never gotten married any place where her sister's birth certificate was valid I.D.. Claire's mama said she'd be back, then asked if we’d hold her job.

Jimmy, of course, said yes.

Sadie we caught stealing, was stuffing five dollar bills in her pockets when she thought nobody was looking. Jimmy fired her on the spot, but didn't call the sheriff.

Next, we got Jeanie, a doper. She was twenty, out of high school and could work lunch. She also hung out with the Heathens motorcycle club. They came around on the weekends. Sheriff Noble had to break up fights next to the picnic tables. I was glad to see her go. When she stopped showing up for work, the bikers went with her.

Finally, there was Nan. Nan did two years in Alderson for stabbing a man with a broken beer bottle.

"It barely broke the skin," she told me.

I did not take to Nan at first. Jimmy liked her, but up to this point, Jimmy's ability to judge a person's character was a bit suspect, as far as I was concerned. Nan, naturally, was blond and prom-queen pretty, but she was wicked and mean. She had Jimmy's number right off. Nan didn’t mind going down in the basement. She took her time getting back. It wasn't long before she had Jimmy on a leash. He'd do anything for her and would put up with anything.
Nan came and went as she wanted. Sometimes she worked. Mostly, she didn't. It wasn't anything for her to just punch in then go downstairs. She'd punch out at the end of the day. Jimmy gave her money and while I was glad to see he was getting over Bridget, I was worried about who he was replacing her with.

Of course, something like that couldn't last. Nan stopped showing up and I thought she'd moved on to greener pastures or found a hillbilly boyfriend who didn't take kindly to her making time with the boss.

“She’ll be back,” Jimmy promised, but he stopped putting her on the schedule.

Finally, he hired two decent girls: Irma and Kate. They were good workers and nice to be around, not that Jimmy noticed. He stayed in his basement with his books.

The Tastee Freez settled down. We got back to work.

A month later, Sheriff Noble came by asking about Claire, Sadie and Nan. The boy Clarie ran off with, his truck had been found in a deep pond on a farm over in the next county: no sign of Claire or the boy. Sadie had just plain disappeared. Her parents were frantic and then there was Nan.
Nan was on parole. Her parole officer hadn't heard from her since her last day at the Tastee Freez.

“It's looks kind of funny, Jimmy,” the sheriff said and Jimmy agreed. He told him he'd had nothing but bad luck since we'd lost Bridget.

The sheriff was sympathetic, but asked if he they might look around.

“Anything you want, sheriff,” Jimmy said and he took them everywhere, especially the basement. The sheriff spent about an hour downstairs going through boxes and the cooler. The worst he came up with was a dusty jar of whiskey and an old, dog-eared girlie magazine. It had to be his father's; the things a wife has to put up with. The sheriff let Jimmy keep both, then Jimmy treated them to a couple of chili dogs --to go.

“Call me if you hear anything,” Jimmy asked. “I'd kind of like to know.”

Jimmy was rattled. The sheriff might not have noticed, but I did. There was something he wasn't telling.

A couple of hours after the sheriff left, Jimmy came up the basement stairs, screaming his head off and holding his hand. He'd cut off two fingers while slicing onions. Blood was everywhere. Bob had to take him to the hospital.

It seemed very strange, but he was funny about it. He didn't want any of us to clean it up. Jimmy told us to stay out of the basement.

“It’s my fault,” he said. “I’ll clean it up.”

It was his restaurant.

The next day, while he was downstairs mopping up blood and looking for his fingers, Nan turned up. She strolled in right at lunch, looking thin and hollow, like she hadn’t had a bite to eat or a night’s sleep in days.

“Let me speak to Jimmy.” It was all she wanted.

They talked downstairs for a while, then Jimmy called her parole officer, told him she'd taken some time to work out a problem.

"I asked Nan to marry me," he said and the parole officer agreed to cut Nan a break -with some considerations.

It was a small ceremony. Half the town turned out to wish Jimmy luck. The other half just came to rubber neck. Nan looked nice, though white seemed a stretch.

Nan was different now. She was pleasant, polite and a real hard worker. There were no more stories of ten dollar tricks, bar fights or police chases. I got to like her. She was good company.

Of course, a change like that would have a price.

Last Sunday, we closed the store down for annual inventory. Bob got the day off. He was in prison a long time, doesn't like his schedule disrupted, but this was family business. It was just the three of us: Nan and me and Jimmy. As usual, Jimmy was in the basement. I buzzed him because I couldn't find a case of mayonnaise.

After ten minutes, I told Nan I was going to check on her husband.

"What should I do?" She asked.

"Keep counting cups. I'll be back."

But Jimmy wasn’t there. The basement is big but it isn't that big. I was getting to the ridiculous point of checking the inside of the freezer when Jimmy came out of a little square in the the basement floor I'd never seen before.

"Jeez, Nadine," he yelped. "You nearly scared me to death."

"What are you doing?" I asked.

It was a funny moment. He looked down from where he’d come, then told me, "Come here. I want to show you something."

I followed him down long, stone steps that wound down into a mine shaft. Electric lights were strung on thick, black wires and dangled from the beams. The air stank of bad booze, dodgy wiring and rotten hamburger.

“Dad and his friends used to come in and out this way. It goes out to the old quarry, but that’s been flooded for years."

“Bootleggers?” I asked.

“Dad wasn’t a bootlegger.” He kicked a piece of glass gently. "You don't remember this place, do you?"

I looked around. There was nothing to remember.

"Come on." He took my hand and led me further down the tunnel, to an adjoining room. "Watch your feet."

This was a place no light was meant to touch and no eyes were meant to see. It was hidden for a purpose. Nothing good had ever been done here. In the center of the room, a stone table raised out of the floor. A shallow indention ran the length of it. It was just long enough for a man to lay down. The stone was stained and ooze glistened from the bottom.

“I remember when he lost his eye,” Jimmy said. “Nothing worthwhile is ever gained without sacrifice.” He held up his mangled hand. “That's what he told me after I found the magazine.”
Jimmy picked up the dog-eared skin magazine the police had discovered from off the ground and handed it to me. I didn’t even want to touch it.

It was all in black and white, on cheap rough paper that hadn’t faded enough over the years. On the cover, a woman in fishnet stockings, heels and very little else was bent over, as if straightening her hose, but looking back at the camera, smiling.

“Jimmy, I don’t want to see this,” and pushed the magazine back to him.

He sighed, took the magazine, then opened it up to one of the greasy pages.

“Look,” he said.

It was more of the same.

“Just look at her face,” he said. “Look at her face, Nadine.”

An ice cube blossom in my stomach. The hair was different. She had one of those old stiff hairdos the women on television used to wear, like June Cleaver or Donna Reed, but I knew the face.

“That’s not me,” I said. “I would never do anything…”

It was so private. The thought sickened me.

“Of course, it’s not you.” Jimmy took the magazine and put his hand on my shoulder. “Not exactly, anyway.”

James Senior, he explained, had been part of a club, like the elk’s lodge, but more peculiar and very secret. They'd been up to no good. That much Jimmy knew. The police had almost gotten wise to them, but then the quarry flooded. They disbanded --mostly.

"I thought the old man was off his nut." He shook his head. "I mean, the man sold hotdogs and hamburgers.” Jimmy was dumbstruck. "But he showed me."


Jimmy pointed at the stone table.

I looked into the hollow. A brown, bloody crust skimmed the bottom. Tatters of blue fabric decorated with sunflowers poked out from under the scab.

"I'm sorry." He emptied the jug onto the table. "I haven't had time to clean up."

"What did you do?"

"Nothing my father didn't do before me."

Then it all came back. I had been here before. I remember eating the eye. Something was said to me, but in words impossible to repeat, like swears, but also like rules. I was like clay to be molded into whatever shape he dictated, told who I was, what I would be and what I would know. The memory was put aside. I don’t think I would have married James Senior if I’d remembered.

I was the first, but I wasn't the last. She was upstairs counting cups.

"Oh, Jimmy. You killed those girls, didn’t you?"

"It wasn't like that." He kicked a stray pebble to the side. "Not exactly. I was going to make her like Bridget.”

He had a photo album: wedding photos from the newspaper, a page from a high school yearbook. There were snapshots: Bridget in a swimsuit at the beach, another with her boys. “I was going to make her again, but closer to my age, change the color of her eyes, make her a little taller so people wouldn’t think it was really her.” He frowned. “She was the girl I wanted, but then the police.” He groaned. “I had to do something. So, I made her look like Nan."

It was unspeakable.

“I’ve never been good with girls. I wanted someone I knew I could count on, who'd never leave me. I wanted someone beautiful.”

It was tragic.

“Nadine,” he said. “I've known you for more than fifteen years and you look the same as you did when Dad brought you home. You're perfect and you don't get tired. You only sleep because you think you have to and you're strong. You could carry boxes up and down the basement stairs from now until doomsday and never break a sweat."

I have always prided myself on being a hard worker.

I looked at the table. This was where I was born.

"Nadine?" He asked.

"Your daddy," I said. "He killed other women to make me?"

"Well, not exactly," Jimmy admitted. "You need life to do this, the divine spark, but the spell isn't picky. Dad must have collected every stray dog and cat in the county, but I couldn't do that.” He shook his head. “A bunch of cats and dogs turn up missing and we'd never hear the end of it."

He had a point. The new health inspector was a monster.

"What happens now?"

"Nothing," he said. "You, me and Nan are a family." He looked at me. "And I've been thinking. You don't have to answer right now, but we could open a second store over in Red Hook. You could run it for me. How’d that be?"

It was something to think about.

"We better get back," I said. "Nan will be wondering where we went."

He agreed, but added, "There's just one more thing. Don't tell Nan about this. It’s a rule." He looked back at the table. "It was in Dad’s books. He probably wanted to tell you for years, but he couldn’t. He loved you, you know?”

I never doubted. Working with him side by side for ten years, sharing his bed, keeping his home, listening to him, I knew how he felt about me. He told me, but he never had to. It wouldn't have mattered.

“She can never know. It's a rule."

I remembered all the rules. My heart sank.

“Jimmy,” I said. “Nan and I can’t have children. She won’t grow old, but she can’t give you a son either.”

“That wasn’t in Dad’s notes,” he said. “Are you sure?”

I nodded. We weren’t designed to be mothers. We were servants, playthings, slaves...bound to our creators. We could be given the shape of women. We could look like women, act like women, think like women, but were never women. I would never have granbabies.

It was plain to see he hadn't thought any of this through nearly as carefully as was required.

“We should get back,” he said abruptly.

“Okay, Jimmy.”

We walked back up the dry stone steps that led to the basement. There wasn’t much for either of us to say. I reached down and helped him up. He seemed lighter somehow. When we were both clear, he pressed a brick in the wall. The door in the floor disappeared.

He looked around asked me, “Nadine, what'd you come down here for in the first place?"

"You know," I laughed. "I don't remember," then I hit him. I wasn’t upset or anything. It was just what needed to be done. I hit him as hard as I could. If I’d wanted to, I could have explained how he’d voided the contract his father made when he created me. Ownership passed to him in his father’s will, like the Tastee Freez. I could have told him ignorance isn’t just bliss, it’s protection. A made thing must never know it is made. Otherwise, it’s released from its bond. I could have told him, but instead I grabbed him by the collar, picked him up and carried him, squirming, to the top of the steps.

“Nadine,” he whimpered.

“Shhh… Jimmy.” I snapped his neck, then tossed him to the bottom. He laid in an awkward pile next to a case of --mayonnaise. That’s what I needed.

Nan was still counting cups when I opened the door. She’d done this several times since I’d left.

"You were gone a long time," she said.

"I have to call the police," I told her.

She nodded.

"You're going to have to cry a lot," I said. "We both will."

She looked at me innocently.

"Should I start now?" She asked.

"No," I said. "You can wait a while, at least until we get the lids counted, too."