Monday, December 30, 2013

See, What Happened Was...

I used to work with salesmen.  I processed the orders that they would extract, sometimes by magic, conjuring, and fraud, from often shady customers in a strange suburb of the high-tech/telecom marketplace.  We did 85% of our business in the final 48 hours of each quarter, and in their desperate drive to make quota, these boys would often attempt to make ludicrous deals.  I would bring them to my once-beloved Boss Lady for approval.  Aware of (and sharing, to some extent) my disdain for salesman shenanigans, she would ask me what was wrong with the orders, and I would tell her.  She would roll her eyes and call the salesman and ask him what in the hell he was thinking.

His answer would invariably begin with, "See, what happened was..."

This hasn't much to do with what follows, other than to give you some idea of where my fondness for this post's title originated.  How I loved the VORTEX OF DOOM, for a while, there.

Anyway, in 2013, what happened was...


I went on and on about TURNING 40, despite the fact that this happened in 2007.  Look - here's a picture...

Joe, 10-Cane, Atlantic Ocean


Turned another year older, and despite the fact that we in the DC area were enjoying our third straight mild winter (after 2009-10, we were due for a break), I pined about things like THE FOUR MOST AWESOMEST WORDS FOR WINTER HATERS, and THE MYSTERIOUS AIR OF THE FLORIDA KEYS.  It can't really be described, that air, but I gave it a shot.  Also, I have a picture of it...

See?  Magic.


There was, of course, Madness.  In the midst of it, I did manage to post a few things, one of which was an EXCERPT from a long-neglected first draft of my second little novel.

The first week of April is usually one of the happiest of my year, with Spring and Opening Day and the end of March Madness, but this year...

Kidney Stone.  'Nuff said.
That much pain (and Oxycodone) made me think of weird stuff, like my COMPLETION BACKWARDS PRINCIPLE.  Objects in mirror, and all that noise...

Contrary to popular opinion, the past is NOT gaining on us.


"The writing was on the wall, and she recognized the hand."  I jotted this down on a post-it, but couldn't find a place to use it.  Also, baseball!


My story ideas come from odd places.  I'm sure that's true for most writers, but it still amazes me.  My friends at STUDIO 30 PLUS posted the prompt "enormity," and I took that, added an old Kate Bush song, and out popped HEADS WE'RE DANCING.  There's not much more to it than some snappy dialogue, but from that strange beginning... July Camp NaNoWriMo novel would grow.  And grow.  And grow.  All I remember about July is writing, staycationing, drinking, and weighing less than I had in many years.  Oh - plus, "Sharknado!"  Okay, July is in the lead for Best Month, now.


Just in case my hobo stories were beginning to wear thin, I did an exercise in efficiency, in the form of  88 LINES ABOUT 44 HOBOES.  It's also a nod to the songwriting of The Nails.


Speaking of writing, after being canceled and resurrected three times, one of the best-written shows on TV finally reached its bittersweet finale, when Futurama's final episode aired.  Also, THIS happened.  


More work on that July novel happened, and so did [Maris]'s and my annual visit to our Happy Place, the OBX of NC.  See...


Also - and I know I'm showing my age, here - I could not pass up the opportunity to see my 80's heroes Simple Minds at DC's legendary 9:30 Club.  I hope it wasn't the last time, but if it was, they certainly went out on a high note...

Don't You...


My final National Novel Writing Month.  A typical boy-meets-ghost story, blah blah blah.  Besides that, Thanksgiving, and a bunch of terrible "football," I remember nothing of November.  [Maris] assures me that she had a great time, and got a ton of reading done.


I remember most of this month!  I started getting caught up, with THINGS FOR WHICH I'M THANKFUL, and a LETTER TO A CONCEPT, and a few NEW HOBOES.  Plus - and please believe me when I tell you this iPhone video clip does not begin to do justice to this night - there was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra...

There.  2013.  Thank you for reading my stuff.

What lies ahead?  2014 lies ahead.  And change, hopefully.  More hoboes, I suppose, to keep the three people who enjoy those stories happy.  Beyond that, I have a manuscript to prepare for countless rejections and hopefully one acceptance, and a lot of adjustments to make to my existence in this drivel-y place and elsewhere.

Come with me...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Candle-Eyed Sally Goes Home

Since I started telling the tales of John Hodgman's 700 Hoboes, I've been asked repeatedly by no one whether any of these tramps ever managed to return home from life on the road.  There were seven hundred of them; of course some went home.  Remember  Santa Fe Jingle Bell, The World's Most Christmassy Tramp?

Candle-Eyed Sally - given name Sara Elizabeth Fitzpatrick - ran away with her boyfriend in 1931, when she was thirteen years old, and he was three years her senior.  She left her family's humble but comfortable home in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania primarily to escape her father, with whom she had developed a bitter and private rift, but also because she was in love with Ralph Bourne.  They were going to be hoboes and get married by the railroad tracks at Horseshoe Curve on Sally's next birthday.

Part of that plan came to fruition, as they both quickly learned the ways of the road, but her dream of marrying Ralph died when he did, not ten months after they left home.  He was cooking a pot of hobo chili in the shelter of a small rail-side shed.  Taking a test sniff of his concoction, he inhaled a noseful of chili powder.  He sneezed so hard that in the recoil, he hit his head on the low roof of the shed, broke his neck, and died instantly.  Sally cried for a month, nearly starving and dehydrating herself to death in the process.

She almost went home, that month, but by then she knew that only one of her two loves had perished.  She loved the road.  She loved being in control of her destiny, fending for herself, being free.  She vowed to make it work.

Her moniker came from her late hobo boyfriend.  Even before they had run away together, he had taken to calling her Candle-Eyed Sally.  It was the easiest of nicknames.  Her blue eyes did indeed glow with a light that seemed to come from within, but more importantly, they flickered as only the solitary flames of candles can.  Her hair was the kind of fiery red that would have made her Irish ancestors proud.  She was sturdy and broad-shouldered, and had always been a bit of a tomboy.  

She did what hoboes did to survive, and she grew up fast and hard.  Life on the road was ten times more difficult for a girl than it was for the boys and men who dominated the hobo world every bit as much as they dominated everything else.  She learned quickly, became a tough and respected filthy homeless drifter, saw the United States from end to end and top to bottom, and made many friends.  Men twice her size were powerless when faced with her candlelit eyes and, when push came to shove, with her fearsome right hook.

She couldn't - or wouldn't - explain to her hobo brethren just what it was that compelled her to go home for Christmas in 1935, some four and a half years after leaving.  She rode B & O and Pennsy trains from western Kentucky, through Cumberland and Baltimore and Philadelphia, and walked the last miles to her parents' home.  She arrived just before dark on Christmas Eve. 

"Saints preserve us!" her mother gasped at the sight of her firstborn, standing on the porch.  "It's Sara!  She's come home!  George!  Fay!  Come quick!  Sara's home!"

Hugs.  Shrieks of joy.  More hugs.  She scarcely recognized her baby sister Phaedra "Fay" Anne, now all of nine years old.  She acknowledged her father with a nod and a quick smile.  Her mother showed her to her room, which they had kept ready for her for nearly the last half-decade.  Sally enjoyed a bath, sang Christmas hymns, gave her family gifts of hobo incense and figurines crafted from anthracite coal, then joined them for dinner.

"We've set a place for you, every night, all this time, Sara," her mother announced.  "Haven't we, George?"

Mr. Fitzpatrick grunted and took his seat at the head of the table.

"I go by Sally now, Mother," she said quietly.

"Not in my house, Sara Elizabeth," her father said flatly.  "Sally is a floozy name."

Undeterred, she added, "all my friends call me Candle-Eyed Sally."

"Leave her be, George," her mother said.  "You do still have the most luminescent eyes, sweetie."

"I can't wait to tell you about the things I've seen - the places I've been and oh, the people I've met..."

"We don't need to know about the dirty, sinful cities or the rotten, heathen drunks and criminals you've been associating with, Sara," her father growled at his plate.  "We're just happy you're home, where you belong."

"But they're not all bad, Daddy.  In fact, some of the folks I know from the road are the salt of the earth..."

"I'm sure they are," her mother nodded, "but the important thing is, there's still time to repent for all your sins."

"My what?"

"Your sins, and your sinful, fornicating ways," her mother said with a disturbing degree of cheerfulness.

"My what??"

"You heard your mother," Mr. Fitzpatrick said.  "But, tell me - why did you come home?  Were just hungry, or are you planning on robbing us while we sleep?"

The candles in Sally's eyes dimmed.  "Firstly - I live a pretty clean life, Mother.  As to your query, Daddy - I am here to tell you that I forgive you."


"Don't change the subject, young lady.  There's nothing for you to forgive your father for.  He was strict because you needed him to be strict.  But don't deny your sinful ways of the road.  We're not ignorant.  We know what goes on among those dirty hoboes.  You were an innocent little girl when you left here, and now... well, a woman can tell certain things about her daughter..."

"You must be joking!" Sally snapped.  "I was not exactly a virgin when I left here.  Isn't that right, Daddy?"

"You come back into my house and start insulting everyone and spouting your vile lies?  Get out!"  Her father thundered.

"Oh, she's just delirious from malnutrition, George. Let her be.  After a good night of sleep and some prayer, we'll all be right as rain in the morning."

"Well, I was here because Christmas is the best time for forgiveness, but I was mistaken..."

It took several minutes, but Mrs. Fitzpatrick managed to restore order and steward her reassembled family through dinner.  Sally retired to her little girl bed in her little girl room, and slept fitfully, unaccustomed as she now was to the softness and warmth.  

At nearly two in the morning, she became dimly aware of sounds coming from Fay's room, next door.  After a minute or so, her dim awareness became a keen awareness.  She recognized the breathing; she had stifled those same cries, fearing for her life.  She couldn't hear her father's words, but she knew the tones of his voice, the sinister and confusing blend of comfort and threat.

She stomped resolutely to Fay's bedroom door, and kicked it in.  "I knew it!"

"This is none of your concern," her father roared.  

"Sure it isn't, Daddy," Sally said through gnashed teeth, "but if you touch her again - ever - I will kill you myself."

"You don't understand..." Mrs. Fitzpatrick sobbed, racing from the master bedroom and wedging herself between Sally and George.

"No.  I do, Mother.  That was the whole point behind my forgiving Daddy.  I understand that someone hurt him, too.  I truly want to forgive him, but we have to get out of here."

"I'm the man of this house, and no one's going anywhere!" he declared.

"I am, Daddy.  Don't try to stop me.  If Mama and Phaedra have any sense, they'll come with me."  She ran to her room, snatched her bindle bag from the floor, and raced past her parents, who were still frozen in ghastly denial in the hallway.  "Thank you for the bath, and for dinner.  I still love you all, and Daddy..." her voice cracked, betraying her heartbreak at the realization that it was forever, this time - she would never come home again.  "...I forgive you."

A half-mile down the old Philadelphia road, her mother caught up with her.

"Sara!  Sara, stop!  Here.  Take this."  She held out a stack of cash.

"Mother!  No!  I don't need it, and Daddy will beat you to death if he finds that missing," Sally said.

"He doesn't know about it," her mother said.  "I've been saving it, a dollar or two at a time, for years.  Take it, please."

"I'll take five bucks, Mother.  You take the rest, and go get Fay, and promise me that you will run from that man and never stop."

"But, he's my husband.  And, and it's Christmas..."

"I know, and I am not so young that I don't understand - truly.  But your life and Fay's life are worth saving.  Everyone is worth saving, Mother, but we can't save Daddy.  Save yourself.  Save my sister.  Promise me you'll run."

Her mother hugged her, hard.  "I promise, honey.  I will.  I have to get back now.  He'll drink himself to sleep, and once he's passed-out, I'll take Fay and go.  Can we meet you?  Will you help us?"

"I'll wait behind the train station until sunup, but then I'm going.  I hope you'll come.  It will be a Christmas miracle if you come."

Her mother kissed her on the forehead.  "I love you, Candle..."

"Candle-Eyed Sally," she said.  "I love you, too.  Go.  And be careful."

The flames grudgingly returned to Candle-Eyed Sally's eyes, and they flickered faintly in the dim light of the sodium lamp that hung from the eave of the train station roof in Washington Crossing.  Sally prayed, and she waited.

It was Christmas, she reasoned with her god.  Anything could happen.  


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Gathering Before Christmas

For thirteen years, December, for at least one homeless wanderer, had been the same.  As 1940 drew to a close, Cranberry Sauce Oppenheimer stopped walking, stopped seeking work, stopped trying to recall his given name.  He knew that he was about twenty-seven years old, having left home at fourteen, and he was pretty sure he had been called Eugene, in the hazy past.  He vaguely remembered a childhood divided between Louisville and Cincinnati, but could no longer recall which had come last, and he wouldn't have been able to find his parents' home on a bet.

His annual Christmas letter to his mother was usually burnt in the hobo jungle fire with the hope that its smoke might somehow reach her, but on occasion, when December found him near the Ohio River, he would fold it into a tiny paper boat and send it floating downstream toward his two hometowns.  Such was the case with this year's note.

Dearest Ma,

     It's me - your son (Eugene, I think).  I hope you and Pa and the twins are well.  This year has been the hardest yet.  I lost my hat in a card game, but I remember how you used to say 'always look on the bright side.'  Do you still say that?  I do.  I try to, anyway.  So the bright side of losing my hat was that I learned never to play poker with a deck of only 45 cards - especially if your opponents know which cards are missing.

I worked the bean fields for most of the summer, and in the autumn I picked pumpkins, if you can believe that.  Otherwise, however, I could find no work, so I must confess that I stole more food than usual, and even took a pair of pants from somebody's clothesline.  I'm not proud of that, Ma.  I tried to go to confession a couple weeks later, but they kicked me out, on account of my stinkiness. 

My fortune went from bad to worse, when all my clothes were stolen while I was in the creek, trying to boil up and get clean for a job interview.  It would have been good work, too - helping to build roads in Indiana.  I got arrested for public indecency, of course, and although it was a relief to have a shower and a bed and a roof for 30 days, it was a jail shower, a jail bed, and a jail roof.  An old-timer in the big house told me it was Karma or some such thing, getting me back for taking that stranger's pants.  I can't say I disagree. 

I also got into a bit of trouble with my sauce-making, this year. I could only find cranberries that had been irradiated, and my sweet side dish made some of my hobo friends ill. When they saw that I never eat the stuff, they accused me of deliberately poisoning them. I tried to explain that I'm allergic, and just wanted to make a nice treat for my brethren, but it was no use. They beat me pretty bad - even knocked out a tooth - and I was on the run for weeks, before I lost them, somewhere in Pennsylvania.

On Thanksgiving, my only friend on the rails, a fellow called Bippity Hankerson, found out that his parents, who owned a little restaurant in Milwaukee, had died.  His Pa dropped a can of lard on the floor, slipped and fell, kicking the legs out from under their deep-fryer.  It spilled boiling oil all over him, and burned him right to death.  Bippity's Ma came running, slipped on all that lard and oil, and fell onto the butcher's knife she was carrying.  Bippity was so distraught when he heard the news, he got crazy-drunk on hobo wine, stumbled into the path of a fast freight, and was obliterated.  I burned what I could find of him.

So I suppose it makes sense that this December, the fog that annually envelopes me is gathering once more - as thick as ever, and twice as fast.  I'm not sure I can go on like this, Ma.  Oh, don't worry - you know I will go on - but, when this fog comes for me, I honestly can't see to the other side.  It's dark.  Christmas bells toll in my ears like a death knell.  I don't want to die, but I don't much care to be alive, either.  I want nothing.  I have nothing.  I am nothing.  Everything is nothing.  There is naught but this fog of unremitting sadness and despair.

The only thing that gets me through these Decembers is knowing that you and Pa are out there somewhere, praying for me, and knowing that no matter how numb I may be to it, Christmas happens, and is beautiful.  It also helps knowing that it won't be long before our beloved Cincinnati Reds get back onto the field. 

Until then, sure it's bleak.  I hate the fog.  It always ALMOST kills me, but I'm like a bear.  I hibernate as best I can.

Please wake me, Dear Ma, when it's over.

Your loving son,
Cranberry Sauce Oppenheimer, aka Eugene (I think)

Another post in response to a community prompt from my friends at

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dear Stillness

Dear Stillness,

     My name is Joe, and although I very much doubt that you remember me, we have met several times.  To be fair, it's a bit of a stretch to say that we've "met."  Your carriers, I've met.  You, I've only seen.  I've admired you - marveled, actually.  I long for just a sliver of what you have.

The first time I saw you, when I was seventeen, you seemed utterly foreign to me.  You took the form of my best friend's aunt, a retired teacher from the island of St. Thomas.  You were constantly surrounded by activity.  Your husband laughed and joked incessantly, and your brother was - and I presume still is - a whirlwind of noise and adventure.  Yet, somehow, you maintained your serenity.  You had an elegance, a way of gliding through all the chaos with a calm, warm smile.  I'll never know how you did it.

Gossamer Cumulus Fluff Over St. Thomas - 1995

A few years later, I saw you in the person of my sophomore crush in college.  Everyone thought you were an airhead of some sort, so slow to speak up, so blue-eyed and faraway.  I knew you were more than that - smarter than all of us, and full of the same insecurities and nineteen-year old angst that plagued us all.  You were probably just counting to ten before responding or reacting to anything or anyone, but it came across to me as the kind of stillness that usually accompanies one much older than you were.  Even if you were totally faking your serenity, it was a skill that I lacked, and I envied you for possessing it.

[Photo deleted - release not obtained]

Then, you appeared as a fictitious character, portrayed by a young and relatively inexperienced actress.  I must admit that in 1992, I utterly failed to notice that it was you, but a few months ago, when I took a closer look, there was no doubt.  As portrayed by the not-yet-hated-at-the-time Christina Ricci, little Wednesday Addams in the big-screen adaptation of "The Addams Family" showed me a new facet of you.  You weren't just still - you were cool.  It was as if movement of any kind - physical or emotional or otherwise - was simply beneath you.  Ricci was like ten years old when she did that movie - how did you DO that?  I would be thrilled to have just a day of being so committed to motionlessness.

Finally, you might think that I'd been too busy to have noticed, but your presence in my father did not escape me.  Even before his stroke, you had him sitting quietly at the edge of the action.  Not quite a wallflower - he was perfectly willing to participate in a gathering, and when he did so, he was extremely capable.  But, he didn't need to move, to make a sound, to be heard.  He -you- would just as soon observe, note, learn, and be.  He could do small talk, but by that last decade, even I could see that he abhorred speaking in the interest of the avoidance of silence.  This was, to me, one of his greatest gifts and, Dear Stillness, he got it from you.  It made those few words he did venture to say just that much weightier.  

The Man and His Books

I don't regret the fact that I inherited his temper and his sarcasm - but not his stillness.  However, I do both rue and lament it.  Yes, I stole that line. I'm not as clever as he was, either.

Anyway, Stillness.  I like you.  I admire you.  I want what you have.  I don't even have the excuse of a house full of children, or a high-octane career, but for whatever reason I cannot reach you.  I won't stop trying.  

To be still.  To be at peace.  Just for a moment.  Must be nice.

Love, Joe 

Rock Creek Valley Elementary School.  Snow.  Night.  Stillness.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doc Aquatic's Croc

"This time, for sure!" declared Doc Aquatic, as he plunged his rusty croc noose into the still black glass at the edge of Lake Surprise, turning it into whitewater in an instant.  In the darkness that lay eighteen inches beneath the chaos that was the water's surface, he had snared a large something which he desperately hoped against hope was not another alligator, or foot locker.

It was 1937, and the Great Depression showed no signs of relinquishing its brutish grip on either of the nations - the Americans' or the hoboes.'  Sully Irwin, aka Doc Aquatic, having fought and robbed and pickpocketed and unmentionabled his way from Hampton, Virginia to South Florida, was a man on a mission, nearly devoid of hope, but not officially resigned.

In life, back in the twenties, he had been a veterinarian.  Then the markets crashed, the banks were run upon, the machinery of commerce ground to a halt, and while Doctor Irwin's job technically was not lost, those of most of his clients were.  He let his assistant go, and then his secretary, and finally his office.  With his vet bag in hand, he was welcomed back into the Atlanta home of his parents in 1928.

Mr. and Mrs. Irwin were peanut farmers.  Well, Mr. Irwin was a peanut farmer.  His wife was the wife of a peanut farmer, as it was, in fact, the 1920s.  They were killed by a rogue family of elephants, who had noticed the scent of the Irwins' harvest as the circus train had passed the farm in August, 1929.  The once-majestic, now-captive pachyderms didn't mean to squash the Irwins' heads into the loamy Georgia soil like a couple of gourds;  the pair was simply in the way.  Sully held onto the farm for a year, but when the bank that housed the family's holdings - mostly in cash - closed its doors, he was left with no options.  He went hobo in 1930.

Walking for miles, searching for day-labor jobs, and hopping freight trains was to Sully an utterly alien existence.  He survived - barely.  "Oh, how I long to be a real veterinarian again," he would lament to his fellow vagabonds, "I was ready to dedicate my life to my reptilian friends, when all this misery descended upon us."

"Oh shut up, Doc Aquatic," his fellow hoboes would snap, "and give us whatever medicine you have left in that silly alligator bag."

"Crocodile," he would correct them.

As a hobo, Doc Aquatic found that the opportunities to practice veterinary medicine were few and far between.  He helped farmers and ranchers when he could, but his dream was to correct the overbites of the nation's crocodiles.  While the average hobo's most prized possession was has bindle stick, or lint wad, or tin coffee pot, Doc's was a rusty old noose designed solely for the capture of crocodiles.  For years, he wandered through the Carolinas, Georgia, and the northern Gulf Coast, searching for crocs in need of mandibular correction.

He found only alligators.

"You too far north, man," Buck Mope told him on Christmas Eve, 1936.  "Got to get way down Florida - down past Tampa.  Everglades is where you got to go, if crocs what you huntin' for..."

"I am not hunting them," Doc Aquatic insisted.  "I am seeking new patients.  I am a doctor of veterinary medicine, and it is my intention to put a healthy smile on the poor, wretched face of every last one of our beloved crocodiles."

"Beloved?  Ha!" Buck scoffed.  "Make more sense if you just stick to horses and cows.  But tell me - you know anything about ferrets?"

Doc Aquatic knew nothing about ferrets.  His mind was made up.  He knew what it was that he was put on this earth to do.  He worked his way south, eventually finding the Florida East Coast Railway.  In Saint Augustine, he thought he had caught a patient, but it turned out to be an Alligator.  In Jupiter, another.  In the desolate backwaters of St. Cloud, the same.  In Pahokee, he saw nothing but crocodiles, some upwards of twelve feet long, but they casually, infuriatingly eluded him, and he caught nothing but mossy logs, and dead birds.

He had thrown his rusty noose into the water on numerous occasions, but he always reconsidered, and at great risk to life and limb he would wade into brackish water and retrieve it, swearing to himself, "okay, just one more try, and then I quit forever."

On the eastern shore of Lake Surprise, more Keys back country than Everglades, he spotted the familiar bumps on the otherwise polished black surface of the water.  He waited.  The animal was asleep, but at one point it opened wide for a languorous jaw stretch.  

"Oh, brother croc," Doc said quietly, "you are in desperate need of veterinary orthodonture."  He waited some more, careful to be sure the beast was still asleep.  It was.  He moved closer, and silently thrust his noose forward over the croc's snout, then jerked it back toward him.  It worked.  After a hundred alligators, and months of failures of every kind imaginable, Doc Aquatic was going to fix the crooked bite of his favorite of all the reptiles.

He only had one long-expired syringe of sedative left, so he worked more quickly than he would have liked, but after thirty-five minutes, he was reasonably satisfied with the outcome.  This multi-hundred pound lizard, battle-scarred and old, now had perfectly-aligned jaws and, apart from the two that had to be removed, perfect and very clean teeth. 

"Beautiful," Doc declared, nearly overcome with joy and pride.  "I knew I could do it."  Such was his satisfaction, his unadulterated bliss, that he was still admiring the creature's luminous teeth from the inside, as it swallowed him whole.

The story of this particular member of the 700 Hoboes Club was inspired by the writing prompts "Doctor" and "Crocodile," courtesy of my friends at  STUDIO 30 PLUS.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

That Thankfulness Thing - 2013


When last we (I) spoke (posted), there was a novel that needed my attention.  That one is now a finished first draft, and I had so much fun completing it, I cranked out another one in November, for National Novel Writing Month.  As a result, I once again failed to post something for which I'm thankful each day of November.  Yes, I hear you.  YOU'RE WELCOME!  Sounds as ghastly boring for the writer as I'm sure it does for the reader.

That's why I do *THIS*, instead.  Needless to say, I'm grateful for all the requisite things:  job, home, health, family, and above all, [Maris].  But there's so much more...

1.  The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It's like the Fourth of July and Christmas had a baby, and added two extremely gifted guitarists.

Photo by Joe - 2012

2.  Loren Bouchard, creator of "Bob's Burgers."  I'm a sucker for witty dialogue and wild-but-believable child characters.  He is also responsible for the ingenious "Home Movies" and "Lucy, Daughter of the Devil."  Do yourself a favor and find these old, short-lived shows on the Huluverse or whatever.  They're very clever.

3.  A yankees-free baseball postseason.  Even without my Nats and/or O's, it was pure joy to watch, this year.  Bonus points for getting rid of the braves in short order, too!

4.  Humidifiers.  Machines that emit beautifully-moist air and mesmerizing white noise, and dare us to attempt to clean them.

5.  Hoboes.  ALL THESE PEOPLE, and those who succeeded them.  They complete me.  Not really.  But they keep walking, and trying, and surviving.  I like that.

6.  The sand cat at the National Zoo.  He's incredibly shy, but he said hi to [Maris] and me before vanishing for the night at the grown-up version of "Boo At The Zoo."

7.  While we're at the zoo, I can't begin to express my gratitude for the people and giant pandas responsible for little baby Princess Bao Bao, whose name ("precious treasure") totally suits her.  After last year's heartbreak, the joy is just that much greater.
Photo by Abby Wood, Smithsonian National Zoo - 2013

8.  Lint.  It's not just a currency, anymore.

9.  Leo the parakeet.  When no one else could teach me how to say "Pretty pretty pretty stupid weird bird," Leo was up to the task.

10.  30 pounds.  Not sure where they went, and despite the fact that about 7 of them came back, I'm thankful for their disappearance.

11.  The prospect of an outfield patrolled by Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Nate McClouth.  Start working on your beard, Nate.

12.  The Patron Spirits Company.  Obviously, their tequilas are top-shelf, but they also quietly produce Pyrat XO, one of the finest blended rums in the known universe.  That's something I think we can all enjoy!

13.  The Intracoastal Waterway.  I've never seen anything larger than a 19-footer on it, but I still think it's neat.

14.  Sharknado!  If the people who breathed life into this blissfully abominable work of crap did so with "awesomely bad movie" in mind, then they succeeded brilliantly.  If, however, they were serious about making a real sci-fi thriller, then having it turn out the way it did (you can smell it from space) is its own special brand of genius.

15.  Steroid-free living.  I fully expect it to be short-lived, but for now, it's the best thing ever.

16.  Simple Minds.  They, like so many aging bands, are as good now as they were 25 years ago.  Were it not for Simple Minds, I'm not sure how I would have survived my freshman year of college.  They serenaded a packed house at DC's 9:30 Club a few weeks ago, and it was totally worth leaving the beach for.  Jim, Charlie, Mel, Ged, and Andy - here's to you.
Photo by Joe - 2013

17.  Dogs.  'Nuff said.

18.  H. Jon Benjamin - The coolest voice actor since Patrick Warburton.  Anyone who can be Jason AND Coach McGuirk, AND Bob Belcher, AND Sterling Archer, and make every one of them seem real and unique and interesting, is okay in my book.  All right, so he's not in my book - or any of my other books - but still.  He's got a gift.

19.  The fact that I know what the fox says.  Trust me when I tell you that you do NOT want to know.

20.  Jolt Mints and Kickstart.  Caffeine, delivered.  I canNOT imagine life without these marvelous inventions.  Well, I can, but it's an ugly, post-apocalyptic imagined life, so I try not to imagine it.

21.  Two novels.  Two.  In the span of five months.  And one of them might even have potential.  Actually, they both have potential, but one has a lot farther to go than the other.  Stay tuned.  And no, there are no (real) zombies.  Might be a hobo or two, though.

22.  Legs.  Still.  Legs.

23.  The National Gateway Project.  On-time and on-budget - so far.  It's neat!

24.  Allie Brosh.  If you haven't experienced her book, or her blog Hyperbole and a Half, go now and do so.  We'll wait.  Go!

25.  Did you go?  I wasn't kidding.  GO!  She's brilliant and flawed, hilarious and heartbreaking, just like life.  Anyway, so... number 25... Um... BREAD.  I love bread.

26.  Sleep.  Can you remember when you were a child, and you resisted sleep, for fear of missing something or whatever?  I can't.  I gobble up sleep like it's made of Doritos.  I'm typing these thankfulness things faster and faster, just so I can hurry up and go to sleep. 

27.  Candles.  They make [Maris] happy, and as I've said before, Fellow Males:  WHO DOESN'T WANT A HAPPY PARTNER???

28.  Snow.  Ha ha ha just kidding - I'm an adult now.  Snow is the WORST. 

29.  That vintage arcade machine at Playland in Rehoboth Beach - the one with the miniature fire truck that shot real live water at the little "fire" targets.  When I'm a zillionaire, I will find myself one of these machines and buy it and love it and feed quarters to it all day long.

30.  1983.  It was pretty much all downhill from there.

And with that, I am BACK.  Stick with me - more to come.  Hopefully, something for everyone!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Toodles Strunk Says So Long

For three years and eight months in the mid-1930s, Toddles Strunk roamed the American Southwest from one day-labor job to the next.  He stole rides on Union Pacific trains, walked hundreds of miles a month, slept in flop houses, or under the stars, subsisted on little more than the kindness of strangers, and made strategic friends when he could.

He was born Nathan Hoth, to immigrant parents from Greenland, in 1905.  His father was a watchmaker and his mother was a primary school teacher.  They died in 1934, minutes apart and on opposite sides of town.  Mr. Hoth was working on a commissioned pocket watch for the mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania, when he lost control of a hairspring, sending a compensating balance wheel rocketing into his forehead with the force of a gunshot.  He died on the way to the hospital.  Mrs. Hoth asphyxiated on chalkboard eraser dust, just as the principal was receiving the news of Mr. Hoth's demise. 

Nathan, who had never held onto a job for more than a few months, couldn't bear to stay in Allentown, and with stick-and-bindle in hand, he hit the road west.  He was slow to learn the hobo way, but after about a year of arrests, forcible removals from train yards, and beat-downs at the hands of cop and criminal alike, he began to get the hang of it.  He remembered the only good advice his parents ever uttered - "kill 'em with kindness" - and made it his mantra.

After another year on the road, he was widely known as Toodles Strunk, one of the nicest hoboes anywhere.  He made sure he worked hard when he was lucky enough to land day jobs.  He constantly smiled, no matter what was happening inside him or out.  He remained chipper through the most desperate poverty, through illness, robbery, assault, and battery.  He gave more than he took.  He said please and thank you and when in town, he always tipped his ratty cap to women he passed on the street.  

And to his friends and hobo brethren, he always said "so long," instead of "goodbye."  He said that "goodbye" was too permanent, and that because he never met anyone he didn't want to see again, "so long" felt better, because to him it meant "until we meet again."  He also sometimes said "Toodles!" in a sing-song falsetto, for the same reason.

So long!

This hobo's story has no ending.  


I guess what I'm trying to say, gentle reader(s), is that after three years and eight months of Mostly Harmless Drivel, I'm going to be taking a bit of a hiatus from my beloved blog.  As some of you know, I cranked out 62,000 words of mostly harmless novel during July's Camp NaNoWriMo.  Novels are needy things, and this one is not finished.  Apparently, I can't adequately divide my attention between this place and that. 

So, for as long as it takes, which hopefully won't be more than a couple of months, off I go.  It's not goodbye, but simply so long for now.  


This post partially prompted by my friends, whom I will dearly miss, at  STUDIO THIRTY PLUS.  So long for now, bloggy web-friends!


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Never Assume That The Thing Clawing At Your Ceiling Is A Squirrel

Presenting an excerpt from my 2011 Camp NaNoWriMo novel "Sand In The Worcestershire In The Embalming Fluid."  Still there?  Okay.  Let's take a peek at chapter five...

Scratching.  At three fifteen, Dun was gradually drawn from sleep by the sound of scratching.  He lifted his head in an attempt to locate the source.  It wasn't either of the windows in this guest room, where they had bedded down in a deliberate attempt to minimize their exposure to the outside world.  It was coming from the ceiling.

"Oh shit."  Dun said, matter-of-factly.

Lucy stirred, and Dun held her closer.  After a few seconds, she could hear it, too.  "Oh shit!" she gasped.  "Is that in the ceiling?"

"There's an attic.  I forgot all about the attic.  I am just not equipped for this horror movie stuff." he muttered.

"Do you think it can get in?  Is there like, one of those drop-down doors with the folding ladders, or an access panel, or what?" she turned on a light and pulled on a t-shirt.

"I don't know.  How strong are squirrels?  They're so small - how strong could they be?" he reasoned. "As far as I know, the only way up there from inside the house is the big door in the ceiling, out in the hallway."

The distinctive sound of tiny claws digging and scratching at hundred-year old wood - or maybe it was on the ceiling's sheetrock - stopped.  Before either of them could say anything, it resumed, only now it was at the other end of the room.  Then it ceased again.  Dunstan, having quickly climbed into his jeans and Hog's Breath Saloon t-shirt, took the broom they had brought upstairs with them and gave the area where the sound had been a gentle poke.  Then, a firmer poke.  There were a couple of odd banging sounds from above him, then some more scratching, now apparently out over the hallway.

They stepped just outside the bedroom, near the top of the stairs and directly beneath the trapdoor to the attic, and they listened.  The noises seemed more frantic and haphazard than they did evil.

"Well, it doesn't seem to be interested in the door," Dun whispered. "We could probably just leave it until morning."

Lucy wrinkled her nose.  Dun thought for a moment that that may well have been the cutest thing he'd seen her do, so far.  

"I don't know," she said.  "Even if it doesn't want in, those little assholes love to chew stuff.  We had a family of them in our attic once, and they cut the phone line - and a few minutes later, one of them got into an electric main line and ZAP!  Blackout for us, fried squirrel mama in the attic, and two little stupid orphan squirrel babies running around.  It was a mess."

"Oh.  Right.  Forgot about the chewing.  Should we just call 911 again and let them deal with it?"  After three days with Lucy, he was already fairly certain of what her answer to that question would be.

She stared thoughtfully at the ceiling.  "It's a squirrel.  I'm pretty sure we can take him."

"You think so?"

"I do.  I mean, look at our size advantage, and these giant brains we have.  Are there any donuts left?" she asked, eyeing the broom Dun was still holding.

"At least one.  Glazed, I think.  We'll need something to trap it in, though - like a trashcan or a box."  he thought aloud.

"I got it!"  Lucy scampered into the bathroom at the end of the hall and emerged a moment later with a large towel.  "Do you have a hammer?"

"A hammer?  What for?"

"You know, like in 'Christmas Vacation?'  I'll throw the towel over it, and you hit it with a hammer."

"Ew!  Wait.  They only said they were going to do that, and somebody's mother fainted and the thing ended up just running out the front door."


"So, it's an untested strategy.  What if we--"

"'An untested strategy?'  If they had actually done it in the movie, it still wouldn't really be a test of the strategy, would it?  I mean, it's a movie."  Lucy was having fun with this, which was helping immensely Dun's fight against succumbing to panic.

Eventually, they agreed on the rough outline of a plan.  Lucy would pull down on the cord connected to the attic door and hold up a donut-topped mop handle, while Dun would stand ready with the broom and a can of wasp and hornet spray (Dun had thought he might be able to at least stun or temporarily blind the rodent with some extra-strength Raid).  While he whacked, de-wasped and um, swept the critter into submission, Lucy would throw a laundry basket over it.  They would then scoot the upside-down basket over to the top of the stairs and drop their prisoner into a metal roasting pan, slam the lid on it and throw the whole thing out the front door, possibly after giving it a good shake, to ensure a stunned and disoriented little Bullwinkle sidekick would emerge.

They were well-pleased with their plan.  It was a brilliant plan.  It made them want to high-five and kiss and crack open some champagne.  They even had a contingency plan for failure to get the basket over the squirrel, or for losing him down the steps.  Dun would keep after it, using the broom as a kind of hockey stick, and she would assist with the mop handle and the garden shovel they had retrieved from behind the kitchen.  They would usher the thing out the front door and onto the porch - then out the porch door, if things were going well.  Then, they would have awesome celebratory sex and go back to sleep, assuming that the on-again, off-again sirens could stay off-again long enough to allow the latter.

"Ready" she said.

"Wait," he pointed at her bare feet. "We should have shoes on.  Don't want to get bitten during battle."

"Dun, I have nothing on but this t-shirt and some deodorant... and a little foundation... and maybe a hint of blush... and... You're right - jeans and shoes required!"  She located her jeans while Dun fetched their sneakers from downstairs.

"Okay.  Now are we ready?"  She stepped up to him and looked into his eyes.  "Listen, if I get bitten and rabid and dead, I want you to know..."

"Yes?" he smiled expectantly.

"I want you to know that I really, really like you."  She kissed him.  "Now, let's get that varmint."

I wrote this two years ago, and hadn't revisited it until tonight.  I was writing-prompted to do so by the second of this week's two STUDIO 30 PLUS prompts, "SCRATCH."  I figure that posting it here is probably the only way I'll ever get it to see the light of day, so... why not?


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Keeping Your Woman Happy In 5 Easy Steps

For No Reason

I'm often asked by no one just how it is that [Maris] and I have such a ridiculously, effortlessly, splendidly wonderful marriage.  Well, I would be asked that, if people could move past their shock and, in some cases, disappointment at the fact that we've made it beyond the year they all gave us - almost thirteen times over, at this point.  Let me tell you, it hasn't been easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Hahaha, what?  Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard that.  Rubbish!  Relationships can be hard work.  Ours is not.  Why is this so?  I've thought about this for a very long time - over an hour, now - and I've come up with the answer to that question.   

It boils down to five simple steps that any man can take to ensure his mate's happiness - and therefore a smooth and loving relationship.

1.  Be with the Right Person.  Notice I said "be with" and not "find."  Being with is easy.  Finding - I have no idea how to go about finding.  I know this sounds simplistic and easy for me to say and well, stupid, but it really is just about the only thing that makes it all go.  I've been in a few relationships, some of which were really good - one of which was a short marriage to a wonderful woman - and I can tell you that any one of them could have been made to work, but only [Maris] was - and is - the Right Person for me, making this the right relationship.

Now, before you even get started - yes, I know this is a ludicrously oversimplified view of relationships.  I'm only keeping it this way to make a point.  I hear so much bitching about lazy, immature husbands/boyfriends, and so much grumbling about nagging wives/girlfriends.  Power struggles,  conflicting interests, recurring arguments and on and on and on...  Here's the thing.  Some people need that.  Others can't stand it, and would rather die than fight.  When I say be with the Right Person, I'm not saying be with someone who never disagrees with you, any more than I'd say be with someone who is your total opposite.  I'm saying be on the same page.  If you both need to be with a complementary opposite, do that.  If you need to agree on as much as humanly possible, that's cool, too.  As long as you're both on the same page.  

2.  See #1.

3.  Grow up.  You can't know if your mate is right for you if you don't know yourself, and you can't know yourself - at least, not very well - until you grow up.  Sorry.  It is the way of things.

4.  Flowers.  Anniversary flowers, event flowers, "just because" flowers, and flower flowers.  Even flowers from the grocery store florist count, if you get them often enough.  Unless she hates flowers, in which case we can broaden this rule to "stuff she likes."  Find out what she likes, and DO THAT.  If she likes rummaging through the city dump, guess what.  If she enjoys GRILLED food every night, then get grilling, buddy.  If she likes lasers and electric guitars, do this:

(devil horns)

This is not rocket science.  Well, not if you've followed step #1.  I know that even in 2013, there are a lot of men who will scoff at that, and call me unpleasant words like "whipped."  This amuses me, because really, why wouldn't you want a happy woman?  They tend to be just SO much more fun than the unhappy ones.  Is it me?  It must be me.

5.  Understand and accept that happiness is never guaranteed.  No matter how perfect the match, no matter how meant it is to be, no one can be happy all the time.  If your mate is happy all the time, there is something wrong with him or her, and professional help should be sought immediately.  Just try to keep the naturally-occurring bits of unhappiness to a reasonable minimum, fight against the external forces of meh as a team, and follow the steps above to ensure that said unhappy bits are not your fault.  Actually, they can be your fault every once in a great while - it happens.  Also, remember that happiness is a journey, not a destination.  This is true when one is alone, and so too is it the case with couples.  It sounds simple, I know - like a cheesy motivational poster at work - but it is absolutely true.  You never arrive at happy.  You either are or you aren't. 

There.  If you study these simple steps, practice hard, and send 10 new visitors to my blog, you too can have a happy woman.   Wow - relationship advice is easy!

Finally, if all else fails, there's a secret bonus step...

6.  Marry [Maris].  Ha!  Too late!  Mine, mine, mine!  Seriously, though - being with the Right One really does make all of the above just ridiculously easy.

This post started around the idea of how my wife's love of GRILLED food plays right to one of my strengths.  It was prompted by my amazing fellow bloggers at  STUDIO THIRTY PLUS.