Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Writer's block is a little like love. When you know you're in love, you know it. Same thing with writer's block and nobody can tell you you're not.

I've been blocked for what seems like ages. Sure, I can hobble through my job. Feature writing is pretty easy. All you have to do is get out of the way and let the other guy tell his story. You can guide him a little bit, help him find his beginning, middle and end, but these are his and not yours.

I've also been remarkably entertaining most of the time with my stupid Facebook account. Yes, I delight in causing one or two nearly anonymous people to squirt hot coffee out of their nose or maybe throw up in their mouth just a little with my ongoing nonsense.

In truth, the Facebook stuff is kind of like writing radio ad copy, which is also pretty easy. You just try to make the most ridiculous bullshit sound reasonable. Low prices? Best service and selection? How about a roundhouse kick in the crotch while my partner here takes liberties with your beloved house pet?

I can do all of that, but man... I can't seem to construct a linear story. I've had a couple of good ideas lately, but there's just something missing. I can't really figure out what it is. It might be the Netflix. I've really enjoyed watching endless hours of British television --mostly Doctor Who and Torchwood. It could also be Facebook, which is superficial but still very social and some successful novelists have said writing to them is kind of a balance between going out among people to find out things about themselves and going away from people to communicate with the world.

Facebook sort of eliminates some of that, I think. It's fun. It's like having relationships, but without all the commitment. It's also addictive and time consuming, two things that make writing harder.

Still, if any of these good ideas amounted to anything, I'd be able to follow them through. And right now, I can't. The stories aren't coming, which is kind of a bummer. Part of the fun, for me, anyway, is the high of chasing the story. The plot, the characters, all comes out of my head, but still, seeing it, being the first to read it, is a charge. Writing is a privilege, even if what gets written never amounts to something anybody would ever want to publish.

You get to see something new and I love that.

But I'm not really getting anywhere at the moment. So, I guess I'll blog.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I love this time of year. Right after the weather breaks, I look forward to hitting flea markets and checking in with Goodwill. In the back of my head, I've always got a list of things I want --things I will not pay anything more than a pittance for: a decent sized stock pot, an electric mixer and a food processor, a tinkerer Swiss Army knife, a denim jacket.

The list is pretty long.

I've always been kind of a scavenger. My favorite places to shop are thrift shops, surplus stores and flea markets --Oddly, I am less enthusiastic about yard sales, which typically have better prices, but maybe seems a little too personal.

Flea markets are anything but personal. Emotional attachment is chucked out the window right after you have to haul your crap out to the car, set it up in a gravel pit and stand around like a boob waiting for someone to be enthralled by something you clearly don't believe is a treasure.

Treasure you take to the pawn shop. You can get more for it there.

A lot of the scavenging comes from my Dad. He was the guy who stopped at the bottoms of highway exits to look for lead wheel weights --the weights he would then melt down and recast as sinkers and other fishing bug parts, which he'd sell at flea markets.

He did a pretty good trade with the things and made a few bucks, though in hindsight he probably shouldn't have melted lead wheel weights on the kitchen stove. The early 1980s were not necessarily known for a lot of ecological kindness. We kidney punched mother nature whenever we got the chance and odds are the makers of those wheel weights squeezed in more lead into the lead just to make it that much more deadly.

That was the 1980s.

I started scavenging seriously after my divorce. I scavenged furniture that was put to the curb and took cookware from the open apartments of former neighbors who'd been evicted. I brought plastic containers to doomed company Christmas parties. I collected all the shrimp, cold cuts and beer the boss bought that would go to waste once she wished everybody a Merry Christmas and hustled out the door to go do carnal things to someone not her husband.

I looked for opportunities to scavenge and embraced them when they presented themselves. Once, while I was getting ready to head out for my morning paper route (God, that sucked), I watched a bread truck driver leave a Hardees across the street with his back door still open. He drove up a hill and bread poured out.

I waited all of two minutes for him to come back then I collected the assortment of bagged rolls and bread he'd left. I ate french toast, bread pudding and peanut butter sandwiches for nearly every meal for well over a month.

Scavenging was fun. It made me feel in control. When I really started, I felt so powerless. I was working three jobs and could still barely keep the telephone on, let alone keep up with car insurance or feed myself better than 49 cent a pound black beans and 80 cents a pound medium grain white rice drowned in gallons of salsa with Arabic writing on the labels.

I remember when my weekly grocery budget was twelve dollars.

Things are better now. I still scavenge, though it's not as rampant. Most of the daily struggle for sustenance and existence has gotten easier. I'm thrifty and not so picky about where things come from. The way I see it, everything, from the air we breathe and the water we drink to the things we buy, have all belonged to someone else at least temporarily.

Life, by nature, is secondhand. That's not such a bad thing. I think it's comforting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I watch the stars at night. It's a habit I've gotten into while the cowardly dog is off to the side, in the grass, making wet sounds and grunting like an old woman climbing a set of stairs. It's really better just to keep a firm hand on the leash, look up and think of far away places.

I also hold my breath. I can go about two minutes since I cut out the smoking. I only miss it during moments like this.

Standing on the sidewalk, I try to imagine which of the bright lights are planets and which are stars. One of them is maybe the sun of the doomed planet Krypton. Another isn't a moon, it's a space station waiting on the night side of Yavin.

On a good night, if I'm standing in the right direction and not overcome by the fumes, I can find my way to the Big Dipper and Orion's belt. The rest are a mystery. I didn't pay enough attention in middle school to remember which strings of pin points belongs to which constellation, but I look up and wonder about them.

Occasionally, a plane descending from on high and approaching the airport on the other side of the city will pass overhead. I always watch and think about the places they've come from, places I'd probably like to see. My standard middle-age complaint is I don't travel as much as I'd like. I'm a tourist who has no stickers on his suitcase.

Looking up at the stars, watching the planes pass overhead, I can't help but feel a little like a clam resting on the bottom of a harbor, looking up at the bottoms of boats. Of course, clams are blind and while they might not know it, should be grateful to not have noses or dogs, probably.

The leash maybe works both ways.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blondie and the B-52s

I was a little annoyed when the listings for the Blondie/B-52s vanished... and when I get annoyed, I tend to ask questions. Hell, it worked out pretty good last time. I got a note from Henry Rollins about why he's not playing West Virginia. So, I sent a note to Blondie, asking why they removed the listing for the show in Charleston.

Here's what they said:

"The promoter asked us to temporarily remove it so they can announce it on a
specific date. This happens sometimes when a tour is first being
announced... there are any number of reasons, could be they want to make a
local ad, webpage, have a technical problem with a ticket link, etc.
It will reappear when they authorize it, which should be soon."

Of course, one of these reasons might be a nosy entertainment writer who happened to see what he wasn't supposed to.

Other guys speak truth to power, take on the government, crime or coal barons. They expose corruption, tell you not to eat the government cheese (which tasted fine to me) and generally try to give you a heads up on things you ought to know. I butt heads with and complicated the lives of people who book bands that were popular when I was in junior high.

I'm not complaining. It's kinda fun. I'm like a very low-watt superhero.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

All My Psychic Friends Have Settled Down

Just sort of thought I'd mention it, but Dionne Warwick is booked to play the Clay Center December 3 (I can't promise the link to Warwick's tour schedule will be there forever). The 69 year-old singer, best known for songs like "Walk On By" and "I Say A Little Prayer," was also deeply involved in the whole telephone psychic shtick.

I kinda miss the infomercials. It was something fun to watch back when I was 21 and was doing my best to drink a fifth of rum every single night.

Not everybody will be excited about the show. The mayor of Charleston, who has big love for 60s and 70s R&B, will probably be ready to have kittens, however. This is definitely his kind of thing. For me, my best memory of Dionne is from "My Best Friend's Wedding," which has very, very little to do with her, but I get that she's got some serious pipes (per various reviews over the last year or so, she can still sing).

Anyway, I'm kind of looking forward to asking her thoughts about astrology. I'm a Gemini and kind of hoping there might be something cool for me coming up in 2011.

We might have to do the interview by e-mail. $3.99 per minute is a bit pricey on my budget.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I bitch a lot about the bands that don't come to West Virginia --less complaints are given about the entertainers who brave crossing the border from Ohio. I don't always dig what they do, but I dig that they still come here to do it. I give props to the endless stream of Contemporary Christian and down on their heels mainstream Country bands that seem to hit every single county fair in the state.

I'm glad we get them. I wish it were more, but apparently there's not a lot I can do about that.

Anyway, the Clay Center is supposedly bringing in the B-52s and Blondie. I can't say for sure since after I learned of the show and spoke to the Clay Center, the websites who leaked the information mysteriously pulled the listings. It was like magic.

Regardless, I'm more than a little excited about the show. Sure, both bands are a bit long in the tooth. Debbie Harry is 64. The B-52s are very middle-aged and probably have grand children of some type, but it hardly matters. I grew up on both of them and the B-52s are still in permanent rotation on my stereo.

So, what makes this different than say the Pointer Sisters, who are coming to Charleston during Festivall? It's hard for me to put a finger on. Technically, they're a contemporaries. The Pointer Sisters were active during the same period, had hits and an outrageous over-the-top stage presence...

Maybe it's because the Pointer Sisters always seemed like a top 40 band who mostly adjusted and adapted to the mainstream to keep fitting in. Blondie and the B-52s seemed like outsiders who managed to become popular when the mainstream audience found them.

If anything, it looked to me like they lost a sizable chunk of their audience when they tried to cater too much to mainstream tastes. They stopped growing, started conforming and kind of faded away.

The Pointer Sisters, I think, were more a victim of a sea change in R&B that followed the genre's embrace of hip hop and a grittier urban atmosphere. They just didn't belong in the neighborhood any more.

Not that this is what really happened with any of them... Not that it matters.

I'm still pretty excited about maybe getting to see Blondie and maybe hear Fred Schneider's absurdly nasal voice tell me he's got a Chrysler that's as big as a whale and it's about to set sail.

It's probably a sickness.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Vacation Bible School

So, it looks like the Westboro Baptist Church wasn't much after all; just a raggedy bunch of miscreants dragging along their thin children to wearily hide behind signs on an endless field trip full of hate.

I can't help but feel terribly sad for Westboro Baptist's children and their hopelessly damaged childhood. Probably, there are happy memories for them. We can only imagine them by hoping somehow that beyond their parents' relentless and seemingly all-consuming hatred for gays, Jews, Catholics and whoever else makes the list, there is something like love of their own. You can hope they take their kids to the park, read to them at night and make them pancakes every chance they get.

You can hope and I can hope, but I don't think it happens so much. I think these children are growing up under siege in a world their parents tell them is filled with nothing but monsters. I think they're taught they're powerless against a million demons, demons only kept at bay through ranting prayers and the power of their foolish laws. I think all any of them think they have is their distant, angry God --a God who does very little to intercede on their behalf and only seems to bother to smite their enemies when he's bored.

I don't think I've ever seen a bunch of kids more in need of a trip to Chuck E. Cheese.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


It's hard to blog about much else besides the mine disaster. Everyone, including me, is fixated on every scrap of news. In the newsroom where I work, I keep looking across the room from the edge where I sit toward the middle. This is where the hardcore newsies sit: the jounralists.

For the last couple of days, I've been watching them, hoping maybe to see or hear some snippet of what's going on, trying to get an idea if this all means anything. Honestly, I don't know, but it feels like this could be a tipping point.

It's weird to be here. This is what the point of this place is all about --dealing with the issues that affect the lives of the people where I live. While they're waiting for names of the dead, waiting for evidence to present to the public about what happened and sort of brewing ideas of how this might affect the rest of us later, I'm talking to comedian Tom Arnold. He's playing the Funnybone this weekend.

You can read about it tomorrow.

Fun fact: Arnold says he wouldn't have gotten into comedy like he did if he hadn't been fired from his job at a meat packing plant. He got fired after he was arrested for public nudity at an old folks home. It was a prank. He went streaking and got caught. The meat packing place fired him. Head west, young man.

Anyway, I like what I do. Chatting up the somewhat famous is fun and for me, kind of enlightening, though in a decidedly left-handed manner. However, it's during times like these that I wonder if I should be doing a bit more than looking for amusing anecdotes.

Of course, clowns have their place, too, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Henry Rollins Ain't Coming Here

Odd things set me in motion. For some reason, this morning it just seemed too much that Henry Rollins would be, like most touring artists, navigating around the state of West Virginia.

So, I sent him a note, pointing out that I noticed he was skipping West Virginia for his little spoken word tour.

I'm not even a huge Henry Rollins fan. I have one album, have read a handful of articles by him and probably only seen his "Liar" video twice, but his skipping my part of the world seemed too much to absorb right after the mines harvested a few more lives. It was just a little too much with the happy-go-lucky nuts of Westboro Baptist Church already packing for the weekend trip here --and odds are, they're already printing up signs about how God hates miners, how this is the fault of fags or more precisely, America's love affair with fags.

Who knew?

The attention to this most recent mining disaster reminded me of how little the rest of the country pays to West Virginia unless they can exploit us, turn us into a TV cooking show or a movie meant to confirm and conform to the worst expectations of people with basic cable.

It bothered me that Rollins couldn't be bothered to come here. It just did.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Outside, the weather was gorgeous and green. In the span of days, the world had turned from the cadaverous gray of late winter to the forgetful middle of Spring. Where had all of the flowers come from? When had the dried twigs sticking up alongside the road had the time to blossom into seed catalog fountains of pink and yellow?

Nobody knows or if they do nobody listens.

Warm weather brings everyone out. Birds and squirrels hop from branch to branch, while sleepy bugs burrow their way out from the rotten wood. Joggers, some sweaty and doughy from a well-fed winter, take to the sidewalks and run by the river in pairs or alone. Many huff and flail their limbs desperately, their eyes wide and wild, almost frightened.

Any minute one of them could fall over, roll down the bank into the river and disappear.

Others, more sensibly, start with a walk or else let themselves be dragged by their tiny dogs. Some of them hold leashes in one hand with a smoldering cigarette in the other. Some of them smoke, drag their dogs while they steer lisping motorized wheelchairs.

It's fascinating to watch. I drove around the block to see it twice.

The junkies were out, too, wearing dirty tee-shirts and moving like George Romero zombies as they crossed the road. I watched two of them sit at a bus stop, both grinning at each other like drugstore jack-o-lanterns while a third stood, arms by his side, palms out and eyes closed waiting for the sun to stop talking to him.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Gazz April One

So, if you haven't seen it, the Charleston Gazette did an April Fool's Day section with the Gazz, my section of the paper. I'd love to send you to a link, but after some debate, we didn't run the gag stories online.

I could type them here, but I'm lazy.

Anyway, if you want to see them (and they're not too shabby, if I say so myself) you should pick up a copy of Thursday's Charleston Gazette.

On a separate note, one story didn't make it. I wrote up a piece about how Festivall was getting Gene Rayburn to be their grand marshal. Rayburn, for those of you who remember, was the host of "The Match Game" in the 1970s and was kind of this leering game show guy. My grandmother adored "The Match Game."

Rayburn has been dead for about ten years ago.

Anyway, I thought it turned out fine. It was solid satire, but not everybody was feeling it.

Not running my Gene Rayburn piece was probably for the best.

Anyway, if you feel so inclined, spend a couple of quarters and check out the Gazz today. Let me know what you think.