Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Halloween project -from last year

I'm trying a couple of things to see if I can get the format to work on this. Blogger doesn't work well with my cutting and pasting. Anyway, this is the first of the stories from last year. Yes, it is different than when I ran it last year. I had a little time to play with it, take out a factual error or two, but gist is pretty much the same.

Taking up the serpent. (1971)
By Bill Lynch

A dollar for every snake. That's what he said and it sounded like good money to my brother and me, but there was a catch.

"You have to bring in the bad ones," the preacher told us. "We want rattlesnakes. Can't have nothing else."

"Not even copperheads?" Albert asked.

Mr. Cruise shook his head. He was an old, backwoods preacher, bent and knotted like an old dogwood tree. We knew him from way from way back, when he used to come see our daddy to ge his snakes. Mr. Cruise ran one of them snake handling churches: First Assembly Of The Believer. But Daddy had been dead for over a year. Times were hard. It was just Albert, me and Mama living in a trailer park with only what she made working at the Tastee Freeze to get by.

Otherwise, we probably wouldn't have had anything to do with Mr. Cruise, his church or his problem getting the snakes.

"It has to be rattlesnakes," the preacher said. "We're fixing to have us a big tent revival. A lot of people are coming in. We need fresh snakes. Now, can you deliver or not?"

"How many you want?" Albert asked.

"As many as you can lay your hands on."

A dollar a piece was good money. We couldn't hardly turn it down. Besides, it was summer. What else did we have to do?

"We can get you your snakes," Albert said.

The old man smiled and held out his hand, ready to make the deal.

"But we ain't doing it for no dollar a head," Albert told him.The preacher frowned. "Two dollars a snake and we'll do it."

The old man laughed in spite of himself. He was negotiating with a pair of scrawny kids in dirty t-shirts and cut-off shorts.

"A dollar fifty a head then."

Good enough for Albert. We had a deal and they shook on it.

"I need them all by Friday," the preacher said. "Bring what you get to the church and we'll settle up." He looked us over. "You sure you can deliver?"

Albert held out his hand. He was willing to shake again, if the preacher thought it hadn't took.

This was a sacred and binding contract, as far as he was concerned.

"Friday then," Mr. Cruise said, crawled back in his black car and drove away.

The summer of 71 was the start of a bad spell in Cartersville, but it had been bad for Albert, Mama and me long before the preacher came to our trailer. Daddy was dead, killed overseas in the Army. Mama was working at the Tastee Freez and we were scraping by on cold chili dogs and French fries Mama got from the man who owned the place, Mr. Jimmy. We got that because Mr. Jimmy was sweet on her, Albert said.

We didn’t have no car, had to walk everywhere, but that wasn’t so bad. We didn’t really have anywhere to go, but the preacher hiring us was a good break. The money wouldn't amount to much, but it was enough to throw away on comic books, bubblegum and admission into the Carterville Public Swimming Pool, the little things that seemed to separate us from the rest of the kids we knew.

It wasn’t like we could tell Mama where we got the money.

With Mr. Cruise gone, we got down to business, went through Mama’s closet and got Daddy's green duffle bag. The sooner we got started, the sooner we could get paid, we thought.

I asked Albert, "Why does the man want these things?"

Albert told me, "That man is the preacher of a crazy church. They thinking playing with snakes means God loves them more than anybody else."

"Does it?"

"If it did," he laughed, "you and me would be getting a lot more presents at Christmas."

The two of us went up in the woods, away from the trailer park, to kick over stones and logs. Snakes aren't hard to find, if you know where to look. We took the bad ones, dropped them in the bag, and tossed the rest back out in the woods. Albert did most of the work. He had the fast hands. I just held the bag.

At the end of the day we had a half-dozen, which seemed like a pretty good haul, then we walked quickly with the squirming bag hung on a pole between us. By the time we got there, it was coming up on dark and the Tastee Freeze would be closing soon. We’d have to run to get back before Mr. Jimmy drove her home.

Mr. Cruise lived in a shack out back from the plain, white church on Big Creek road. Out front, a sign read, “The wages of Sin is death,” but apparently the other side didn’t pay too well, either. The preacher was on the porch reading his book by the dwindling light.

“Well.” He closed his book. “I have to say I wasn't for sure if you were serious.”

"A deal is a deal," Albert told him and handed over the bag.

He led us out back to the wire pens for the snakes. Carefully, he opened up the bag and shook them out into a big, tin tub. The snakes rattled, hissed and struck at the side of the tub.

"How you going to get them out of there?" I asked.

The preacher’s eyes were hard and flat.

"Don't you believe in the Lord, our savior?"

I believed just fine, though Albert, Mama and me weren’t what you called regular church goers. We had a bible at the house and got a tree at Christmas. It seemed enough for us.

“They’re too riled up right now,” he said and held up a pair of long metal tongs, like the kind you use for coal. He moved cautiously, but steadily. He picked them up with a pinch right under their jaws, then put added them into the cages. "You can’t make too much noise. If you don't want to make ‘em mad, don't make a big ruckus."

They were slow to settle in, tested out the metal mesh that separated them from freedom, but eventually were resigned to their fates.

"I count six. That's a fair piece of work, boys." He nodded appreciatively.

Albert and me grinned at each other: nine dollars. But the old man didn’t give us any money. It wasn’t Friday, he told us. He’d pay us then. The preacher stared at the snakes and rubbed his chin.

"Could you deliver thirty?" he asked.

Albert and me shrugged. Maybe, we could.

“I’ll tell you what,” the preacher told us. “Bring me thirty and I’ll give you two dollars a head.”

At two dollars a head, we'd sure try. Albert's hand shot right out.

The preacher smiled and looked at my brother’s hand.

"Now, if you can’t get me the thirty, I ain't going to pay you no two dollars. I'll only have to pay fifty cents each."

Albert and me looked at each other.

"Is that a bet?"

The preacher snorted. "No, it is not a bet. To wager is to sin. This is a business proposal. I’m happy to pay a bonus, if you can do it. If you don’t think you can, you’re better off sticking with our other deal. It's up to you."

"Sounds like a bet to me," Albert said. "But all right. Thirty snakes for two dollars each."

They shook on it and we went our own way.

"You shouldn't have done that," I told him. "A dollar-fifty a snake is plenty. Where are we going to get thirty snakes?"

Albert laughed. He wasn't afraid. Sixty dollars was real money, not just a couple of dollars to fritter away on Superman comics and candy bars. It might be enough to get a lawnmower. We could haul gas in a milk jug. In his mind, he had us mowing half the lawns in Cartersville by the end of the month at five dollars each. We could pay to get the washing machine fixed, get our own shoes for school and put something in the refrigerator besides cold hotdogs.
Over the next three days, we went everywhere looking for those snakes. We spent half a day crawling under every trailer in the park and boy did I dread that. Mr. Sherry, the manager, got onto us for poking around the underpinning.

“Here, what are you two doing?” He demanded.

“Fetching snakes for the church,” Albert told him.

The bag squirmed in my hands.

“You want to see?”

“You getting all those snakes from under my trailers?” He whispered.

“Well, they ain’t ours,” Albert told him.

He left us alone after that.

Albert and me poked around in the high weeds and went through the old forgotten places. In an overgrown field, we found a derelict farm truck left to rot and rust. Its windshield and tires were long gone. Grass had grown up over the broken glass. The wood planks of its bed had gone to splinters and came apart in our hands. In the glove box, we found a gas station map and half a pack of Lucky Strikes, but no matches.

One day, we went all the way over to the quarry, where the water in the lake below is as clear as glass. You can look down and count the cars and washing machines rusting on the bottom, slowly sinking into and becoming part of the mud.

Every day we brought the man more snakes. We brought him six on Monday, then five on Tuesday and four on Wednesday.

"We’re halfway there," Albert told me, but I didn't see it the same way.

"But we're finding fewer each day," I said. "We have to find fifteen more to keep the deal."

He told me not to worry. The next morning we went up into the hills, into the deep woods and into fields neither of us knew, where we didn’t know the land and the land didn’t know us. We ran all day and only came back with three.

The preacher just grinned.

Albert wouldn’t let me give up. We must have turned over every loose rock in Cartersville, kicked over every rotten log and crawled through every ditch. We worked from sun up until it was almost dark, sneaking into the trailer, covered in dirt and just a minute or two ahead of Mama.

Friday morning, we dug up a nest by the old school house the county used for storage. In the sunlight, they spilled out in every direction, looking for shelter. Albert yelled for me to put the bag down and help him grab them up. It was a good haul. By the end of the day, we had thirteen, an unlucky number, but one more than we needed.

"Go ahead and count them," Albert told the preacher and he took the rolling, fighting bag, but he didn’t like it. He could tell we had a plenty. Mr. Cruise dumped the lot in the tub and there were just so many, double what we’d brought him on the first day.

"Where'd you go to get these?"

"Everywhere," I said. "Took us all day. I almost got bit three or four times."

Albert smiled.

The preacher frowned, but counted them one by one. We helped, happily. Sixty dollars was going to be ours, but after the last snake, he grinned. There were eleven: one short of thirty.

"But how?" We'd both been sure.

The preacher held up the bag, looked it over and there it was: a small tear in the bottom, no bigger than a quarter, but big enough for two little ones to push out.

"Sorry, boys," Mr. Cruise said, but he wasn't. "We agreed thirty." He handed the bag to me, then counted out fourteen dollars and fifty cents. He gave it to us in wrinkled ones, like small change scooped from the Sunday collection plate. "Now, I don't want there to be any hard feelings between us," he said. "You're welcome to come to our revival next week. It starts next Wednesday night over at the high school. We'll be giving our praise and taking up the serpent for the glory of the Lord. Ain't nothing better than letting the spirit wash away your sins."

Albert looked at the paltry wad of bills in his hand. I was almost in tears.

"What sin do we got, preacher?" I asked.

He nodded his head gently then said, "Pride. And pride always comes before the fall."

Our business was done. Albert and me walked, neither talking. It was getting dark. We could’ve gone looking for one more snake, but there was nowhere to go. Besides, we'd already collected our wages. It was over. We'd lost the bet.

"But that can't be right." Albert grabbed the bag out of my hands. “That hole ain’t big enough.”
He folded the bag over, found the hole, slipped his finger through, then yelped and dropped the bag. The light was bad, but I saw a snake crawl out, then another. Here was thirty and thirty one.

"Oh," my brother said, as they slipped off into the grass.

Albert held his wounded hand away from himself, like it didn’t belong to him any more.

"Albert," I whispered. "What do you want me to do?"

"Nothing to do," he said softly. "We’ve got to get home. Mama will worry."

It was too far to go. We couldn't have made it home if we ran and Albert couldn't. In a couple of minutes, he could barely walk. In a few more, he could barely stand, then he stopped breathing by the time we got to the road.

I flagged down the first car I saw, but it was too late. Albert was gone.

Except for Mama, there wasn't much of a fuss. I told sheriff Noble about Mr. Cruise and the thirty snakes. The preacher cheated us. He'd killed my brother.

Mr. Cruise denied it. He said he'd done no such thing. It would be foolishness to send two boys out like that.

The sheriff took his side of things. It was my word against his. I was just a kid.

We buried Albert Monday morning. Mr. Jimmy, put up the money for the funeral. A lot of people turned out. They hugged me and told me how sorry they were. Mama cried, then we went home alone to an empty trailer.

I didn't sleep that night. Mama stayed in her room with the door closed, while I huddled out in the hallway afraid of what had become of us. In the dark, fevered, she called out my daddy's name, then my brother's. I waited for her to ask for me, but she never did.
People came by to check on us. They brought plates of cold food and sad apologies. Mr. Jimmy stopped by, but she wouldn't see him either. He gave me twenty dollars and told me to tell her she could call him if we needed anything. After he left, I wrote a note and slipped the money under her door, then patched up daddy's bag with a piece of duct tape. I didn't say where I’d gone. I didn’t think she'd miss me.

Wednesday night, over by Cartersville High School, the church revival was in full swing. It was a gorgeous crowd, just like a circus, with a big tent and loud music. A couple of clean men directed traffic until the parking lot was full, while I sat under a tree at the top of a hill and watched. I could hear most of it, too. The church had a brand new sound system. What the word lacked in meaning, they made up for it with volume. Mr. Cruise preached like calling up a storm. His voice roared. All had sinned and everybody had to come clean.

It was a good sermon, but me and Albert were never what you call regular churchgoers.

I waited until after dark, until everyone was inside the tent and recieving the word, then went down the hill, carrying my father’s duffle in both hands. The preacher's black car was parked a few rows from the front, the better to be among the many cars of his flock. No one saw me. No one was looking.

The door to his car was unlocked, but it shouldn’t have been. Only a man with no fear of hell would steal a preacher's Cadillac. There was no such a man among this crowd, I reckoned.
With my hand against the light switch in the door, I crawled in and spun the volume knob for the radio up as far as it would go. Snakes don’t like a ruckus, he said. Then I opened the bag and dumped it in the back seat. After, I went back up the hill to find my spot under the tree.

That night, Mr. Cruise gave his best sermon. Sin will find you, he said. I listened very closely, and waited in the darkness, to make sure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Project Captain America-update

The project is moving along very well. Physically, I've improved dramatically. No more getting out of breath chasing up the stairs. No more aching joints because my blood pressure is up. I feel stronger. I'm wearing old clothes and even they're starting to get kinda loose.

This is a very nice feeling.

On the positives, a few people have noticed I'm looking better. They've been cool about letting me know, which is helpful to my self-esteem and obviously flabby ego.

On the negatives, I have reached the weight where I become a magnet for elderly gay men. This has happened before and would be great --if I were gay and liked older men. I've always thought of myself as more of a fan of younger women, but none of them seem to have taken by the middle-aged guy in the gym shorts. Of course, the gym where I work out only has maybe two younger women who ever stop by. Most of the women are my mother's age.

My basic plan for all of this is pretty simple: I eat whatever I want, as long as what I want is vegetables, meat and fruit. No rice, no potatoes, no pasta and very little bread. I have to watch it on the cheese and peanut butter, which are okay, but calorie dense.

My meals aren't complicated. If it features more than a couple of ingredients, I don't bother. The more complicated you make something, the more likely it is to add on the pounds. My guiding thought is if it comes in a box, I probably don't need it.

Really, it's not so bad and I can have a beer every now and again.

I'm exercising 4 to 5 times per week at just over an hour a day. I'm pushing toward a full 90 minutes per day and hope to figure out shit to do on the weekends that involves getting out of the house more.

I have a long ways to go and completely unrealistic expectations. I'm right at 225 pounds --I don't look it. Evidently, my liver is cast iron. The computer says I should be around 135 to 160, depending on the site and whatever modifiers. I haven't weighed 135 pounds since I was in the 8th grade. 160 was about 10th grade. I'm shooting for 180 pounds by Christmas--which was my playing weight for soccer my senior year, before I discovered Marlboro reds, Chinese buffets and the magic of black out binge drinking.

3 months and 45 pounds to go and at the end I get a tattoo or an Oprah special --whichever.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lend a hand

Officially, I've started my first short story for October. It should be out next Friday.

In the meantime, because the stories are linked together by some common elements( they all take place in mythical Lee County, WV. They all sort of build and support a unified theme), next week I'm going to repost or actually post three of the stories from last year. These will be slightly cleaned up or edited for one reason or another and should help to set the stage.

And... you can get involved, too. Writing fiction involves crawling into a certain kind of mindset. Mood is important and really, writing horror/gothic stuff in the middle of the night, it's not difficult to get there. However, I could use a little bit of help maintaining the mood since I'm running on a deadline.

I need music. I've found some good, dark stuff --like The Hold Steady's "Two Crosses," for instance. I need more --we're talking certified downer music, creepy stuff that isn't comic book (Thus ruling out most of The Misfits, but maybe not Danzig), but is a little feverish.

So, if you feel so inclined, dig through your CD collection and make me a mix. I need stuff big on atmosphere, that's maybe a little redneck. Sadly, this excludes a few things as well: speed metal and cool jazz are the least likely to be useful.

If you can lend a hand -fire off an e-mail and I'll send you the address.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jokes on me, it's gonna be ok.

Today is Bruce Springsteen's birthday. He turns 60. It has now been 31 years since last he played the state of West Virginia, which seems an awful long time for a guy who poses as a genuine American icon. I've been bitching about this now since 2004. I won't be stopping until one of us drops over.

Recently, I had a conversation with Isaac Slade from The Fray. He, like me, is a Springsteen fan. Seriously, I'm a fan. If I wasn't a fan, I'd be okay with the old guy playing the meadow lands for the rest of his natural life. Anyway, he was telling me how once upon a time, Bruce had a problem separating his personal life with his professional life. He started slipping into being The Boss on stage and off.

Anyway, for his own sanity, he supposedly had it worked out that as soon as his boot heel touched the backstage step on his way out, he was supposed to become plain old Bruce Springsteen, not super rock star Bruce. When he was done, he was done.

We both laughed. It makes for pretty good rock and roll mythology, but first of all, it was ridiculous. You don't switch on and off like that. Nobody does. Going from demigod to regular guy takes some decompression. Second, Bruce was almost raised to be a rock star. He was never a regular guy, started young, never really had a lot of work outside of playing music. He was kind of a prodigy. He's also been known to send his extended family to pick up awards and citations people want to give him and for fun, will supposedly sit in with Bruce Springsteen cover bands.

This is not regular guy behavior.

However, to his credit, he couldn't be who he is and be a regular guy. One of his strengths as a storyteller is that does stand outside the working class, but can disconnect in such a way he can sketch it more clearly than a lot of people who come up from that. I will always be a little in awe of what he's capable of, but I get that Bruce is a product, sold not unlike a bottle of beer.

So, the story was full of shit. I think we both knew it.

Anyway, Slade laughed and said something to the effect, "Well, of course we know as far as regular guyhood, Springsteen is screwed to begin with, but whatever makes him happy, whatever makes him think he's a regular guy."

So, here's to the least regular guy I can think of, outside of maybe David Bowie or John Waters, happy birthday. And here's a tip for you. If you want to be a regular guy, the cake ought to come from Wal-mart. It won't cost so much and will look better than it tastes. There's some truth in there somewhere.

Monday, September 21, 2009

19 -and a return to Lee County

Officially, I'm going to write some short stories for October. These will be along the lines of the thriller/horror stuff I did last year. Expect (or hope for) them on Fridays, starting next week. The thought is I'll tell some more stories about Cartersville and Lee County, where there's a monster at the lake, an evil preacher looking to kick start the apocalypse and you really shouldn't piss of Nan at the Tastee Freeze.

In the meantime, here's another book I read.

The Magicians: Lev Grossman -I think I heard about this one through The Onion AV Club. It might have been through Boing-Boing, but the premise sounded cool -- a sort of Harry Potter meets Brett Easton Ellis's "Rules Of Attraction."

And you know, it almost worked.

The gist is a kid named Quentin gets accepted into "Magic College" --which is very secretive, to the point of virtually no one knowing it exists and nobody applies. Anyway, following along similar lines as the Harry Potter books, he has a few adventures along the way, deals with relationship problems and tries to come to grips with his powers while building up to a huge showdown with evil forces. What's lacking really is a sense of wonder and Rowling's sense of humor.

Magic is just something they do besides drugs, booze and casual sex. It's cool, but so the fuck what?

It's a dense, but intelligent, read. The novel is divided into sub-books, but really, it feels like the author intended for the story to be larger, like maybe he really wanted to chase J.K. Rowling down the rabbit hole and come up with four or five books in a high-end fantasy series for the twenty, thirty and forty-somethings who read Harry Potter, but was told by his publisher, "No, you get one. If they like it, then we can do a sequel, maybe."

I'd have like to have seen what he might have done if he'd been given a little more room to grow.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Waiting on Bucky

Since Bucky is making me wait this morning, I thought I'd blog about the waiting. One of the things that comes with what I do is waiting around. Phone interviews with the superfamous, famous or marginally well-known are often exercises in patience. On a good day, it's waiting to to hear something new --and I look for the new --about life, the universe and everything. And really, some of the people I speak with, bring me little insights into how the world I observe operates. They are not always aware they're doing this, even when I tell them.

On a bad day, it's kind of like fishing for assholes.

I don't know what today is going to be. I do know I probably should have heard from somebody about ten minutes ago. I'm not annoyed yet, but then again, I have something to keep me occupied.

The worst is waiting around and reading the press materials. By the way, most promotional materials about your average artist aren't worth pissing on. They seem to have gotten worse in the last few years. Once, the bios were actually mini-biographies, gave you some scope and idea of who these people were, what they might be about. Now, they're mostly about whatever new song has been squirted out. The intention might be talking about the single is somehow revealing of the artists, but really could you figure Freddie Mercury out just on the basis of "Fat Bottomed Girls?"

I don't think so.

Well, so he didn't call and I didn't hear from his publicist --who was cool enough to schedule an interview on Saturday, but apparently isn't working on Saturday herself. I could wait around for another thirty minutes. Maybe somebody would call by then, but that's sort of silly and degrading. If he wanted to do this, he'd have already called. There will be an apology later on and an excuse, which will strain the limits of casual credibility. There always is.

We'll get back to business later on. Meanwhile, the weather looks nice and I am looking forward to my Saturday afternoon nap. Maybe I'll figure out how to get that nine inch nails CD out of my car stereo player. Oh, the possibilities...

Friday, September 18, 2009


Locally, I think, blogging has taken a hit in the last few months. Not only have I slowed down, but almost every blogger I know has dropped back or dropped off. I can't say why this is. For some of us, blogging is a pretty juvenile form of communication, but one we embrace because it works. Maybe, a few people grew up, got better lives and better things to do.

I can sincerely hope all my blogging friends who've cut out or just cut back are simply getting laid a lot more than they had been. No time to blog. Too busy. Yeah, that sounds exactly like the problem...

The world we live in can seem really lonesome. At it's worst, blogging feels like talking to yourself. There's just no return on the investment when nobody comments. You can be sure, really sure, anybody is there. Nobody reads. Nobody gives a shit. It's better to go screw around on facebook, where we can all send each other quizzes until every single day is like taking the SAT to get into the University of Hell.

I can't say why other people laid off. I know I laid off of the medium because I've been very wrapped up in tons of things. I've been really enamored with my own health of late and seeing how many damned books I can cram in my thick noggin' before the end of the year. So, I've slacked off, but it was coming before then, I think. I was really sick of my own complaining. I felt raw from the soul bearing I'd done. I was a little bruised from the legal stuff with the lawyer Randy what's-his-name and his client.

I was also in a rut.

To dig out, I even started another blog to separate interests. My actual intention was to get it going with all my wild, secret tales of writing about musicians and other people of note. I was going to get it going, then kill this blog. Yeah, that's what I was thinking.

Of course, that blog is just deadwood now. I don't care about it. Truth be told, I just sort of remembered I got into writing about famous people as a means to an end, not because I have a deep and abiding love for actors, musicians and the like. Writing about entertainment is the least of what I'm capable of. It doesn't mean it isn't fun. It just means I want to do other things, too. I have things I want to say. Nobody wants to pay me to say them, so it won't be art, but I can still say them.

I'm still going to blather on about my books. I still have 20 left and I'm still going to drone on about how fit and fucking spectacular I'm getting --what with all the weight loss, good eating and wholesome exercise. I will also work in the occasional negative statement about Bruce Springsteen (this is absolutely necessary), but the point is I want to use this space again.

It all sounds positive. I assure you, it won't be. So, say hello to the new boss, same as the old boss...

Back by Monday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

21, 20

I promise when I get through with this book list stuff to go back on the warpath with the blogging, but really... there are only so many hours in the day.

Anyway, this pair of books is pretty dark.

Hey Nostradamus! : Douglas Coupland --I wasn't much impressed with his book Generation X. It seemed about half-baked and mostly just thrown together. My official opinion at the time I read it (circa 1997 or so) was, "who did he blow to get this published?"

You can only go up from there. Hey Nostradamus! is a decent novel, though at times, it feels like he's cribbing style from Chuck P or even Kurt V. The premise is a few disgruntled kids go on a shooting rampage through the cafeteria of their high school before they are interrupted by a lone kid, Jason, who manages to kill one of the gunmen.

The novel then sorts through the life of the one hero kid and his family in the years following the attack. The book is supposed to be a dark comedy and sure, they're are dark comic moments, but it's more of a tragedy. Jason is haunted by what happened and what he lost. His girlfriend/secret wife was among the killed. The stress of the situation cracks the miserable facade of his parents' marriage and really, it's a long slide downward for everybody.

Depressing, but genuinely moving, though only really funny if you take a lot of prescription medication.

Warhorses (poems) : Yusef Komunyakaa - It took a long time for me to warm up to this one. Komunyakaa's poetic imagery is heavily influenced by military imagery, combat and gore. It was kind of a turn-off, but eventually, I came around and really dug his ability to turn a phrase. Some of his poetry seemed to be about being carried along by forces beyond your ability to control and also a struggle to be a soldier without becoming a savage.

I seldom read about poets before I read their work. I don't want to build up sympathy with their own actual history, but would rather know them through their words. The agony of parts of his life make me wonder how he's managed to write anything, particularly in the last few years, but maybe that's part of his poetry, too --a dumb resolve to keep moving forward.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

23, 22

As promised, here are the lot for this week...

In Your Dreams: Tom Holt --A legitimate find. I love this guy.
Consider what might have happened if Harry Potter had discovered he was a wizard at the age of 25 or 26 instead of 12. Imagine he'd figured this out after he'd taken a job with a strange, international company that makes its living using sword and sorcery in occasionally murky ways.

This is the story of Paul Carpenter, slacker, forced to work at Gilbert and Sullivan, where he fills out forms, deals with occasionally lethal office politics and avoids the goblins who are allowed free reign of the building after 6 p.m. Oh, it's fun and silly and really, just a cool read.

Big Ideas: Alex Hutchinson -A slender volume detailing a collection of the most important inventions over the last 100 years. Some of their are pretty obvious, like the internet or velcro. Others are less so... like protease inhibitors, which is one of the reasons people with HIV isn't an automatic death sentence these days. Everything is in short bursts with tidbits about why it's important, occasionally some of the controversies surrounding the idea. Informative, if not always amazingly compelling.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Sorry, this is from last week. I have two for this week, I'll get to tomorrow.

Endpoint: John Updike -Author John Updike is a writer's writer and really one of the greats of the 20th Century. His work was consistently good and he was prolific --I am in awe of the guy for a lot of different reasons. Endpoint is a collection of his poems, his last poems as he was facing down the final years of his life. They're occasionally melancholy or nostalgic, but often still very much engaged with the business of living. Not his finest work, but still very nice.

Manhattan Loverboy: Arthur Nersesian -One of the strangest books I've read this year, which might be saying something. It's basically a convoluted revenge story, told with unlikable and barely sympathetic characters. I laughed some, but really, I think I probably should look up this author's magnum opus "The Fuck-up."

A Writer's Guide To Fiction: Elizabeth Lyons -A book for struggling novelists or even just people interested in the craft. Lyons comes highly recommended (Chuck Pahlaniuk) and I dug it. Maybe it's just having a dialog going about writing in my head or maybe it's what she actually has to say, but I'm feeling better about the writing I'm doing.

It's the first book from the library I've read this year, I bought before I even finished reading it. I got a used copy for six buck on Alibris online. It should be here by sometime this week and I plan to re-read it immediately.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I have a pretty cool job. It's not one I ever imagined, but I kind of like talking to famous and semi-famous people. Most of these people are in fields involving self-expression and an exploration of the human condition. They don't always have to be fully articulate or aware of what it is they're doing, but ultimately, music and art are expressions of our nature.

We tend to move away from being human. We isolate ourselves and use technology, religion and anything else we can lay our hands on to isolate ourselves both from ourselves and each other.

Art is an attempt to reach through the cocoon.

Anyway, Hank Williams, Jr. was one of the guys who reached me. I grew up in a redneck town in Virginia. Most of my friends' parents worked at the Celco plant or were teachers' kids like me. Hunting, fishing and football were big time entertainment --none of which I cared for-- but it was part of my culture and while I listened to every British pop band I could lay my hands on, sampled Heavy Metal and punk the background music of my childhood was country.

Hank Williams, Jr. was a big part of it and despite the fact I didn't care much for football, hunting or fishing, I dug the guy. His music was more rocking and seldom plastic (He had a couple of really shitty songs that were prefabricated shit, but mostly...). He was genuinely funny.

I dug the whole self-reliance as a philosophical point of view, respected his struggle through adversity (the man had his face torn off) and his fight to both honor his father, while desperately trying to get out from under the man's shadow.

To me, he was an outlaw's outlaw. He was an anti-authority figure who went his own way and made it work through diligence, crazy luck and massive talent.

I was a bit shocked when he signed on to play Massey's party, but... you know, corporate events, lots of people do them --I think even U2 has done them and they are the biggest band in the world.

I thought, "Ok, so he signed on for a gig. He's just working." And really, how was this different? Sure, they had some crazies (Ted Nugent and Sean Hannity, an English lord who has it in for Al Gore), but I didn't think Hank was one of them.

So, I took a chance to see if I could talk to him. Hank would not be qualified as the low-hanging fruit. What he said about not doing many interviews is right on the money. He's a millionaire many times over and a respected elder statesman of country music. He is not on the comeback trail.

Anyway, it's usually a pain in the ass to even try to talk to someone of his caliber. Often, it's a runaround leading absolutely nowhere (As with Willie Nelson, lo these last five years). I expected it to end with the offer of a free copy of his latest album and the usual apology, "Sorry, Hank's not doing any interviews right now."

I was OK with that. He had no need to talk and I hadn't listened to the new album yet. I'm at peace with No. I understand it. Artists don't do interviews because it benefits your paper. They don't do them because they like talking to reporters. Sometimes they won't even do them if they benefit ticket sales. Mostly, they do them when they want something: people to come to the show, buy their album, sacrifice virgins, whatever...

Imagine my horror when he said yes. He wanted to talk. I could have ten to fifteen minutes. He'd call me --and they'd get that album in the mail in a couple of days. It wasn't that big of a deal, but it probably wouldn't be there before the interview.

This sent warning alarms off all over the place. The show was already "selling" very well. The need for him to do it was very small. I couldn't see a particular gain, but I wasn't about to back away. I had questions... or really, just one question: Why?

And he told me.

Over the phone, I was nervous. I even apologized for being starstruck, which happens rarely these days --but it was Hank fucking Williams. I barely asked questions. It was a light conversation, where he did most of the talking --and after he parroted conservative bullet points and made some ugly statements (He called Barney Frank a queen, for instance), I was stunned. I could have kept him on the line for another five minutes, but I had nothing left to say, except "Thanks, we're looking forward to having you up this way again."

A better reporter might have stuck it out, maybe tried to tease out the words I suspect he uses privately to describe Obama. I just don't have the heart for that shit.

I got off the phone and just sort of stared at my computer. I felt like I'd been punched. The great anti-hero of my country music youth had become a bitter old man and a oatmeal-brained toady for corporate interests. It's not that I don't fathom his politics, but his politics don't have any foundation other than the bullshit he hears on talk radio. He thought Obama would have lost the last election if not for the electoral college. He thought it was somehow close. Without the electoral college, Al Gore would have run against John McCain in 2004.

So, I poured over my notes and fought with writing the article. I worried about it and lost sleep -stupid, but I had issues. First, the nature of the material was obviously negative. Hank said mean, bad and dumb things. So, it was going to be a negative looking article --if I used his words. Writing negative isn't much fun. I don't really do that kind of work here.

Second, I was writing a negative article about a big entertainment name. I could expect backlash from either Hank's people or his fans. I might get some fun phone calls, some hateful e-mail or a death threat. Such things do happen from time to time. Also, writing the article could affect my ability to work with the publicity company handling Hank. I deal with them several times a year and really, they've been one of the better companies to work with.

Third, I was writing something that did not portray the headliner for Massey Energy's party in a very positive light. The president of the company isn't really known for being particularly forgiving or understanding. He comes off as angry and vindictive. I might be bringing some trouble to my paper, which is like every other smaller paper in America --struggling to keep afloat.

I wrote it anyway; not to be brave, not to score points and not to say, "look what I did to an American treasure." I wrote it because I'd have felt worse if I hadn't.

In happier circumstances, I'd have loved to speak to him, calmly, about whether the booze helped him with the writing or if it was always a hindrance. I'd have liked to ask whether his decision to do only 20 shows a year now has to do with getting old or growing weary of being around so many people so much. I'd have liked to ask whether he was fed up with people in general --and why hunting has grown to take such a prominent place in his mind. Hank's life over the last few decades has seemed like a vast playground. I wonder if he thought that had any effect on his perceptions, if being free from most of the day to day struggles gave him a better or even diluted look at the world. Does he find little tasks around the house to keep him occupied or is every day another day of summer vacation?

Somebody else will have to ask those questions. He won't be talking to the likes of me again. I regret that, but it couldn't be helped.