Some People (A Poem)

Some people say that our health suffers badly

when we drink too much booze, and our lives will end sadly

with headaches and nausea, shakes, ague and gagging

a blurring of vision and brain function lagging;

A taste in the mouth much like sucking on lemons,

and a general state of delirium tremens.

Sadness and loneliness, ultimate death

would plague us and follow our every breath.


But if, they remark, we’d abstain from the liquor

our bodies would heal and we’d feel much less sicker.

Our headaches would leave, and the shaking subside;

the knots in our stomach would soon come untied.

The eyesight’d improve and our nerves would be steady,

our thoughts would be clear and our brains would be ready

to face any problem or conflict or strife.

And enable a happier, healthier life.


There’d be much less shouting and slurring and weeping;

imagine the sweetness of clean, sober sleeping!

We’d face all our friends, neighbors, strangers and kin

with sanity, joy – no more shame and chagrin.

Without the debauchery we’ve come to abuse so

there’d be countless hours which we’d get quite used to

of quiet reflection and sensible action;

perhaps even unimpaired, wholesome attraction.


These people who say this, they know for a fact

that quitting the bottle will force us to act

in a manner more worthy of upright adults.

It would take but a week and we’d see the results.

If only we’d really quit drinking this time,

we’d see life as beautiful! Truly sublime!

With nothing but temp’rance and clear-headed thinking.

If that’s so, it’s settled!

I’d rather keep drinking.


Binge, Lather, Repeat

Here’s a confession: I’m not a fit person. I’m paunchy around the middle and I lack cardiovascular stamina. I couldn’t run a marathon or engage in any of those Iron-Man type competitions wherein the contestant has to crawl through a minefield under two inches of electrified barbed wire. Heck, I couldn’t even complete a half-hour of Svaroopa yoga without collapsing in pain.

And muscles? Put it this way: I’m 45 years old but I have the strength of a slightly larger-than-average nine year old girl. With diphtheria.

Feats of strength just aren’t my thing. My thing? Bingeing. Like, I’ll binge-consume anything. Inhaling a box of Cheez-its in front of Netflix on the couch at midnight, cradling a quart of whiskey is for me just an average Tuesday night, and when you think of it that’s three binges in one sitting. In a sense, isn’t that itself a feat worthy of praise? You’ve got feats of strength, you say? Well I have feats of binging!

On an unrelated subject, another one of my “things” is struggling to keep my weight down.

Oh, believe me, I’ve taken comfort in all the usual excuses: I’m middle aged, my metabolism betrayed me somewhere in my thirties, I’m biologically Samoan – you know, the same excuses you probably use. But if I stopped eating at night and abstained from alcohol consistently then I would be much healthier and, consequently, thinner.

But let’s just say, for arguments sake, that I don’t get around to making those changes. I can still make moderate adjustments to the old lifestyle. I mean, why throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say.

It is in that spirit that I try to make it to the gym most weekdays. My gym is nothing fancy, just your average low-budget dive with barely enough functioning equipment to support the occurrence –however unlikely – of more than two people wanting to do “quads” or whatever on the same day. I’m sure you’ve seen gyms like this. The carpets are all worn. The lights flicker. Most of the members are in their sixties or seventies, and everyone seems really tired. It’s like an early David Fincher movie.

This is the way I like it. In fact, I like most things about my gym.

But oh, using the locker room – that I can do without. I enter that locker room every day knowing there are numerous perils awaiting me within. It’s bad enough that the floor is basically a large petri dish culturing countless new life forms, or that the hot tub is a potent soup of dead skin cells and short gray hairs, or that no one – and I mean no one – seems to wash their hands after doing lord-knows-what in the bathroom stalls. The worst aspect of the locker room for me, though, is the likelihood that there will be other men in there. They will be old-timers. They will want to chat. And they will not be wearing any clothes.

Now my workouts may not be the most intense, but it’s very difficult for me to maintain an exercise-related endorphin high, particularly after a challenging 15 minutes on the treadmill’s Belly Fat Blaster setting, when upon walking into the locker room I’m faced with several septuagenarians, all of whom seem to really love being naked. They’re not just quietly getting into or out of their clothes, either; these guys are walking around, actively puttering about. Often they’re standing up, face to face and within inches of one another, nudely chatting about things like their recent trip to Alaska or how their doctor told them to quit dairy.

Even their personal grooming at the sinks goes on while au naturel, which I find odd. Think about it – you’ve finished your shower, you’ve toweled off, and now there are two things left to do: get dressed, and spend the next half an hour over the sink plucking your nostril hairs. Which do you do first? Well I’d get dressed, of course, since being stark naked is not a requirement of doing anything other than showering. Not these guys, though. For them getting dressed is apparently the absolute last thing they plan on doing, and even then one gets the impression that they do it only under protest.

Me? I’m in and out of that locker room with zero chatting and a minimum of nudity. In fact, I’ve perfected the skill of positioning my self in such a way while quickly going about my business that to even the keenest eye it would appear I don’t even have any private parts.

And at least I wash my hands after using the restroom, even if it does mean that I’m often sandwiched at the middle sink, flanked at both sides by naked, lathered grandpas.

Now that I think of it, it’s no wonder I seek the comfort of food and drink in the middle of the night. It’s the only thing that will erase the memory of the day’s locker room experience from my brain.

Netflix and Cheez-its, anyone?





I’m Sure This’ll Be Fun

Hi there, everyone. Seeing as it’s completely normal for a person to wait five years between blog posts, I thought I would revisit this thing, poke around a bit, and see if I can come up with anything worth burdening you with. I posted my last piece waaaay back in 2011, just before the family and I moved from lovely Long Beach, CA to somewhere in Santa Cruz county, six or so hours north.  I still haven’t figured out where we moved to, but put it this way – there are a lot of trees.

Anyway, if my math is correct (and I’m no slouch in the math department, let me tell you), then Sarah, who was five years old at the time of my last posting, is now, roughly, in her thirties. Boy how time flies! Lizzy and I hardly recognize her sometimes!

And let me just say that moving to the country to start a hobby farm is just as they say it is,  particularly if how they say it is involves lots of failure, loneliness, despair, death and alcoholism. Really, though, you should try it. It’s a mystery to me why everyone doesn’t do it.

Anyway that’s not why I’m writing. I’ve had a couple of jobs out here, mostly involving chopping up meat, and I’ve decided that, you know, maybe that kind of thing isn’t me. Maybe I’m better suited to using my talents more productively. I mean, who among us hasn’t awoken in the middle of the night and pondered the weighty questions, “what do I really want to do with my life? What am I good at? What makes me happy?”

I’m sure you’ve done it – we all have. Now what if your answer to those questions was, “sitting in coffee shops with my laptop?” Well then, you’d know exactly how I feel.

So there you have it. I have so much to share with you all, it wouldn’t surprise me if I posted constantly. Like, at least once every couple of months. I hope you can keep up! And if you’re new to this, feel free to check some of the archives. Really, they’re not all that bad, particularly if your views on the proper use of punctuation and sentence structure are on the lenient side.


A Like-Minded Girl

I don’t often write about the hilarity and hijinks surrounding my family life, but the other day Sarah (now 5 years old for those who are counting) prompted me to share a little gem.

One morning last week the little one and I were up early sifting through the L.A Times, as is our habit, and we came upon a single-panel cartoon that showed a dog holding up a handwritten sign, upon which was scrawled the words “I Love You,” for his owner to read.

Sarah thought this was hilarious and ran off to her art table in the den to, presumably, make one of her own, and I returned to my paper. Eventually Lizzy got up and joined me, and soon after Sarah bounced back in and presented her mother with her brand new creation:

Pretty cute, huh? I particularly like the way she used a rainbow of colors to convey her feelings toward her mother. I mean, the damn thing’s pretty vibrant, if you ask me. It’s simply bursting with joy and light. In fact, upon viewing the work one gets a sense of Mother and Daughter frolicking in the dewy grass on a crisp and sunny Spring morning, running giggling and barefoot through endless seas of green, tumbling down hills and, ultimately, lying breathless on their backs while pointing out animal shapes in the white, puffy clouds overhead.

We awwwed accordingly, and Lizzy thanked her profusely before suggesting, ever so tactfully, that perhaps Sarah could make something just as nice for her Daddy?

Well, I demurred a bit, not wanting to put the kid on the spot, but her eyes lit up and she skipped off back to the den. Though I betrayed nothing, my mind wandered in anticipation of what she would create – would she use a specific set of colors to illustrate her affection toward me? Would she add a rudimentary sketch of the two of us at the playground?  Would the pièce de résistance be the addition of an assortment of stickers or – dare I dream – even glitter?

Moments later she returned and handed me the fruits of her effort:


Somehow this one lacks a little of the, you know, pizzazz of the other. I’d go so far as to say that where the former conjured up picturesque memories of childlike whimsy and Mother-Daughter affection, the latter seemed to bring to mind a life of ennui and malaise. Not the kind of thing, I scarcely need add, one would expect from someone who had been the recipient of countless surprise Reckless Rainbow Frozen Pop Ups.

But you know, it was still a nice gift. Let’s just say that what it lacked in color, mirthfulness and jocundity it more than made up for in chiaroscuro.

The girl may be an artist yet!

Manifesto Destiny

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I will leave behind when I die. I’m turning 40 this year, and it’s no secret that my contributions to the world haven’t included curing any diseases or proving any theorems. Heck, these days I barely contribute to buying the groceries. Still, I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I need to pass something down to future generations.

And don’t tell me that leaving a happy family around counts. These types who are always on their deathbeds babbling about how the very fact that they spawned constitutes having lived a life worth living are, frankly, delusional. Some even say that raising kids is the most important job you’ll have, but I’m not buying it. I’ve been doing that very thing for a few years, and trust me – the striplings pretty much raise themselves. If Sarah can learn, at age 5, how to whittle her own cutlery, home-brew raw Kombucha, and find her way home on foot from the liquor store after midnight, then anyone’s kid can.

No, I need something lasting, something that will speak to generations after me.  Yet I’m hard pressed to come up with anything.

And then I got to thinking – what about writing a manifesto?

Merriam Webster defines a manifesto as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.” That doesn’t seem too hard, does it? Plus, banging one of these things out practically assures your name a place in the history books. Who hasn’t heard of the Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederek Engels? Mein Kampf? And who can forget Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, or Ted Kaczynski’s page-turner Industrial Society in the Future a.k.a. The Unabomber’s Manifesto?

Not exactly role models, okay, but you get the point. While searching for some “normal” authors I found a website, wherein the user submits his or her own personal manifesto, ostensibly in order to kindle some change in society. There’s even a section titled “Recent Manifestos” for the reader to scan. Surely this would be the place to find some of the best rants, right? Here are just a few:

·Shine: Brain Science, Practical Psychology, Ancient Wisdom and the Cycle of Excellence

·The Mistake Manifesto: How Making Mistakes Can Make Us Better

·25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself

·How To Be Creative

·5 Secrets of Sales Superstars

· The Design Funnel: A Manifesto for Meaningful Design

Okay, so maybe “the best” is aiming too high. In fact, these things couldn’t even be called “rants.” I mean, “making mistakes?” “Distinguishing yourself?” “Designing funnels?” If this is what constitutes your average manifesto then writing my own should be a walk in the park, so I got to thinking about what I found wrong with society. What really bothers me? And none of this politics/technology/war stuff, either – what actually troubles me on a daily basis?

I also had to come up with a writing style, since, as anyone knows, manifestos are best remembered when written with lofty, circumlocutory, abstruse prose and a reckless approach to sentence structure and punctuation. Just like I normally write!

So I gave it a go. Here’s what I came up with:

On Bicyclists on the Sidewalk

I have often found myself walking along what could in laymen’s terms be described as the “sidewalk,” and have, with a regularity as faithful as the cycles that maintain precious equilibrium in nature itself, been forced to dodge, sidestep, or otherwise elude the threatening forces of a dozen beings, each perched atop a contraption that allows for locomotion via the presence of – and successful balancing atop of – two large, narrow wheels. The person – often someone early in years and accompanied by one to three contemporaries similarly in reckless motion – produces energy by pushing his feet alternately on a sort of pedal, or rather pedals, which cause the wheels to spin and which in turn propels the individual (or individuals) forward.

What is this abomination? Are there not laws in place prohibiting these miscreants and their vile machinery from roaming these very sidewalks with the impunity they so obviously display? Many a time have I suffered bodily injury, or at least the threat of same, on what would have – nay, should have – been an uneventful and meditative walk to Rite Aid in order to procure a tube of anti-fungal cream. Ruffians! Swine!

Hm.  Okay – maybe I’ll try anther one:

On Dog Owners in a Heavily Populated Neighborhood

For who are you, that insists on owning any number of wretched canine for the purpose of constant companionship, when it is clear to even the most obtuse child that you reside in a village so densely inhabited as to preclude even the smallest beast from enjoying even minute of its true nature, to wit: to run freely after tiny fauna, fornicate with abandon, and to roll about in its own excrement? Look – see how close the properties are, how the edifices nearly touch? I mean to say, you don’t even have a freaking yard! Consequently, you must imprison the sorry beasts within the confines of your own house, allowing them outside only but two or three times a day, whereby they will undoubtedly evacuate their bowels and bladders upon even the tiniest patch of grass, most likely next to my Azaleas. Would that it were not daily befouled!

So maybe I need to work on this thing a bit. Eventually I decided that I might get a better grasp of the concept by checking out the motivations of other potential manifesto writers. Regular people, you know, like me. Fortunately, Merriam Webster’s website provides, under the comment section subtitled “What made you want to look up manifesto?,” a glimpse into that minds of these very people. Here are just a few postings, all real:

I am creating a personal manifesto of how I should treat my family then applying the same principles to how I interact with my friends then applying the same principles to how I conduct myself in business then applying the same principles to a specific project I am working on.

So, I just want make sure I know what a manifesto is. –GH

Oh, wow! There’s one manifesto that I can’t wait to get my hands on! Seems positively gripping! Here’s another:

I’m writing a personal manifesto! –LM

Well, that one gets points for brevity, but doesn’t it seem just a bit too cheerful? I mean, one wants a decent manifesto to have some element of anger or at least dissatisfaction with the world in it, doesn’t one? It shouldn’t display the author’s personal affinity for bunny rabbits and Daylilies, for Christ’s sake. Here’s a similar one:

I saw a video the other day that had this in it’s title.. I am thinking of writing my own.. just for my own purpose.. and the process ♥. –JW

♥???” Are you kidding me? Shouldn’t it be officially established that anyone who uses a “♥” anywhere in a written sentence lacks the appropriate qualifications to write even a greeting card, let alone a monumental Declaration of Purpose?

Alright, I’m going to try one last post…

I just love the song by city harmonic wanted to know what it meant. – anon.

Okay, I give up. Maybe this manifesto business is too much trouble after all. I think I’ll stick to focusing on the smaller, less monumental things in life.

Which reminds me – why isn’t Sarah home yet? The liquor store is only ten blocks away! What’s wrong with kids today?

A Short Story in Several Parts

On an early autumn day last year, when the heat of the summer had finally lifted and the air, free of the heavy blanket of humidity it had previously been forced to move under, blew briskly about its business unencumbered, and everything was revealed more clearly in the absence of August’s foggy haze, a man named Karl began to walk down his street toward a section of town he had never been to before.

In truth, Karl had walked down his street more times than he could count. He had lived on Apple Street for over ten years and he rarely drove his car, so walking was necessarily the way he got to the nearest bus stop or to any of the stores along Main Street. Apple Street wasn’t a very long street; it began and ended at two larger roads barely two hundred yards apart from and parallel to each other. Karl’s house stood about in the middle, between Prospect Avenue and Main Street, so a walk to the end of his street in either direction from his front door would take under five minutes.

Or so Karl assumed. Every time he left his house Karl turned left at the bottom of his front steps, toward Main Street. He never turned right. On Main Street he could find a drug store, a supermarket, several restaurants and coffee shops and even a video rental store. The residents were often seen on their porch steps reading the day’s paper or drinking tea on weekend mornings; on weekdays they were usually hurrying out of their front doors on their way to work in the morning.

As far as he knew the street to his right, Prospect Avenue, had none of these things. What it was known for was something entirely different: the homes were said to be in disrepair, residents wandered and loitered day and night, and what few stores remained open sold only liquor and lottery tickets. It seemed to Karl, in fact, that if half of what he heard about Prospect Avenue were true than nothing savory could possibly happen there, particularly to him. That may or may not have been the case, of course, since Karl had never actually been to Prospect Avenue, but he always felt that he could trust his instincts, which had served Karl quite well in the past.

Which is why things had to have been a bit out of sorts on this particularly clement Monday morning last autumn. Karl didn’t have to go to work that day; in fact, he never worked on Mondays and always spent the day at his leisure. That is not to say, however, that he spent his time idly; his leisure was in fact dictated by a series of consecrated rituals: reading the newspaper at the kitchen table with morning coffee and a bowl of cereal, poking around in the garden out back, and then, at about 10:30, walking to Main Street for a bit of shopping, browsing, and lunch. These were rituals he rarely broke if he could help it, barring a doctor’s appointment or truly bad weather.

Karl enjoyed these Mondays just the way they were.

Normally after breakfast Karl would have stepped out his front door and immediately turned left toward Main Street without so much as a flicker in his mind about what he was doing or why, and he would have been off down Apple Street directly, but on this day he stood in thought at the sidewalk in front of his house for at least a minute.

What was keeping him there was a strong and entirely unexpected inclination to go in the other direction.

He couldn’t figure out why he would want to change his routine but didn’t feel that the idea was particularly offensive to him either. so after thinking about it for a minute he simply turned right and began to walk. This, he thought, was perhaps the oddest element of his surprise change of routine – it seemed to be his own intuition that was directing him toward Prospect Avenue.

While it would be too much to say that he was exhilarated, he was almost certainly curious – even excited – about this spontaneous adventure, so he looked with great attention to detail at each of the houses and yards as he passed. The first house on his right he had of course seen many times, as it sat directly next to his own, but he hadn’t noticed it much from the front and had never seen the side opposite his own windows. Karl noted how odd it was that, even though he was quite friendly with his other next-door neighbors, he had never actually met the occupants of this house but had only caught glimpses of them moving behind their drapes or bringing out the garbage on Sunday nights.

The house was very similar to Karl’s and must have been built around the same time, but there were distinct differences that Karl picked up at once: the shutters were dark green as opposed to Karl’s black, the landscaping at the front was a bit less inventive (he thought), the outdoor lighting fixtures were much newer, and there was a dormer projecting from the north side of the roof. This was all interesting, of course, but otherwise unremarkable. He continued to scrutinize the house as he walked.

As Karl craned his neck upward, though, he noticed someone moving behind one of the second floor dormer windows. There were curtains hanging down from both sides and consequently it was hard to tell what the figure was doing, or even whether the figure he was squinting to see was male or female, but each brief flash of movement sent a tiny jolt of electricity through Karl’s chest, and he quickly found himself veering off the sidewalk and walking into an empty garbage bin.

There was, as anyone could imagine, considerable noise. It was Monday, after all, and the neighborhood’s garbage was always collected on Mondays unless a significant holiday fell on that day, under which circumstance the collection would instead be on the following Tuesday morning.

It was a shame, Karl thought, gaining his footing just in time to see the garbage bin rolling awkwardly into the street, that there had been no such holiday this week. Chagrined and wincing, he pulled himself off the macadam, hopped into the street, picked up the bin, and turned toward the sidewalk, where he planned to quickly replace the receptacle and continue his walk, albeit with a fresh limp.

He had also planned to complete the task without looking back up at the second floor window, but the same voyeuristic impulse that had forced his attention away from where he was walking seemed inclined to make its presence known again, and he let his eyes dart, ever so quickly, up to the dormer again.

He immediately wished he hadn’t.

Leaning out of the window was a young woman. She was looking at him, and she was laughing. Karl felt another bolt, this one less like electricity and more like terror, shoot from his heart up to his face, which tingled with the force of a million blood vessels quickly filling to capacity. Karl, fearing that the intensity of his blushing, together with his apparent loss of motor skills, might cause the young woman to mistakenly assume he’d just had an aneurysm and was in need of serious medical assistance, quickly looked away and focused his attention on the bin.

Under normal circumstances rolling a trash bin in position wouldn’t require much effort or contain any risk, however at this particular moment Karl felt compelled to focus every bit of his attention on the task, fearing, as he did, another embarrassing upset. Consequently several long seconds passed while he pulled and shifted the thing upright and back into its original place.

After what seemed like an hour he completed the task, and, staring at the handle of the trash bin for several seconds in the somewhat futile hope that the redness of his complexion would diminish, he gradually got his bearings back. He looked back up at the second floor window.

She was still looking at him. Her expression, this time, bemused.

His first inclination was to turn around wordlessly and go right back to his house, but it being full daylight and Karl being, as it were, on the spot, he had no choice but to acknowledge the woman. It was, to say the least, an awkward moment for him, and as such he found himself unable to render an appropriate response. He did, however, manage this:


The woman resumed laughing. Karl met her gaze but for a second, then looked away quickly.

“I’m sorry if my trash offended you,” she said.

Karl swallowed hard.

“Oh, no – it didn’t. Really.”

“‘Cause there are several more along the road here, just so you know.”

Karl nodded. “I’m aware of that.”


To be continued…

On Notice

A month or so ago I received a notice in the mail from the Long Beach Police Department. Unlike the typical parking ticket or traffic violation, though, this letter came in a nondescript white business envelope. Not overtly intimidating, perhaps, but still vaguely threatening, as I guess any unsolicited missive from the Police would be. Now I don’t know if you’re at all like me, but if you are, then any overture from the P.D., whether by mail or in person, would certainly elicit from within your soul no small degree of terror. It’s not that I’ve done anything wrong – well, not too wrong – it’s just that I tend to assume the worst.

What’s this? An official letter from the Police Department? How nice!

At the time of its arrival I was puttering in the yard (being one of those outdoorsy types), and Lizzy happened to intercept the mail at the front door. It was she who brought the letter to me, so consequently I had to act pretty damned casual as I took the envelope from her hand.

In the few seconds subsequent to my wife’s words (“Here’s something from the Police!”) I experienced a quick moment of panic. I scanned my memory for any recent offense, but the more I thought about it the more it became clear that this letter could portend punishment for damn near anything. Was I caught on camera failing to come to a complete stop at an intersection? Could a vigilante-inspired coffee shop denizen have witnessed me helping myself to extra java without dropping a quarter in the little cup they put next to the urn? Did my ISP call the cops after learning about the video I downloaded – you know, the one with the dwarf, the bucket of warm mashed potatoes, and all the marmots?

Could they – oh god help me! – could they have found out about the chickens?

But as I say, I tried to remain nonchalant. I opened the letter, and sure enough, I’m told in plain, cold, accusing black lettering that I’m to report to the Long Beach Police Department on the date specified for something very, very serious.

A job interview.

Wait – what?

A bit of history here: a couple of years ago I started the process of interviewing for what was advertised as a municipal job with the Port of Long Beach. It seemed like just the thing for me – one of those clerical spots wherein the applicant need only prove that he or she can type around 10 words per hour, as well as display a proven ability to show up at work with a pulse.

Note the dreaded description “Perm/Full Time.”

Having worked for about five years with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue – a job that not only required an absolute minimal amount of brainpower and effort, but also imposed upon its employees several breaks during the day, two or three “personal days” a season, a few sick days, some vacation time, and a nice, fat, holiday off a month even if there wasn’t an actual holiday (“Evacuation Day, anyone?) – I new that this Port thing would be right up my alley.

Long story short, several months of waiting, a background check, two tests, three interviews and one economic disaster later, and I didn’t get the job. It’s okay. I moved on.


But now it’s a couple of years later, and I’m suddenly being told to report for an interview for a completely unrelated government job. The letter was threatening in tone, not unlike a summons to appear in court or an order to pay a decade of back child support because of one little mistake you made in Chinatown during a particularly crazy Qi Xi festival. On reading it I got the impression that if I didn’t respond I would most certainly be physically removed from my home and thrown in prison for an extended stay, the duration of which I would no doubt spend as that prisoner who wheels the book cart around to all the other inmates, passing out copies of Mein Kampf and taking furtive orders for things like cigarettes and Rita Hayworth posters.

You are ordered to respond to this letter!

Now I know all these police officer-types tend to operate on the serious side, but was this really necessary? Frankly, it was damn unsettling. And what if I were to show up for the interview? Can you imagine what that would have been like? I can hear the questioning now: “So, Mr. Miller – have you ever been beaten with a bar of soap and a sock?” or, “It says here on your resume that you were once a Boy Scout. Could you, then, construct a shiv out of an 8-track cassette tape and a kitchen spatula?” or, “Mr. Miller, where do you see yourself incarcerated in five years?”

And whoever wrote this dreadful thing must have felt that it needed an extra dose of intimidation, because a little further down the page I was told in no uncertain terms that I had exactly two weeks to respond, or else there was a chance that I would never be allowed to work in municipal government again.

Scary prospect, I know, and such a tempting offer. But I steeled myself and decided to ignore this warm, welcoming invitation. I figured I’d be better off looking for employment somewhere else – perhaps a job less confrontational in nature. Somewhere where I’d be less likely to have my body and spirit beaten down on a daily basis while enduring humiliating verbal assaults and other indignities from my superiors.

Okay, so that rules out a Hollywood production company – but I’ll keep looking. I’m sure I’ll find something.


Screenwriting is Hard!

I know I haven’t been posting very much lately, but trust me when I say that I’ve been extremely busy. For several months now I’ve been struggling with the plot to my new screenplay, Satan’s Sputum, and although it’s hard for me to admit, I’ve come to the realization that I’m going to need some help. I don’t know if you’ve ever written one of these things, but if you have you know that they’re no walk in the park. It makes me wonder how these Hollywood types can bang out so many high quality scripts week after week.

Don’t get me wrong – I have sought out help. I’ve spoken to several screenwriters I know, read all the right books, and even rented Because of Winn Dixie (which has, you’ll find, a similar narrative), but still my screenplay needs some tweaking. I know it sounds crazy but I was thinking, as a long shot, that perhaps I could get some advice from you, the reader, about turning this little script that is so near and dear to me into the blockbuster I know it can be.

With that, here are some of the plot points I’ve been agonizing over:

First of all, when my protagonist, the washed-up taxidermist Tucker Starr, graduates from Community College with a degree in advanced Cetacean Psychology and is reunited with his long-lost sister Leticia McNabb outside the Tastee Freeze in Act One, how do I describe, realistically, his horrific flash-back to first grade (wherein his teacher, Ms. Stump, forces him to recite, in front of the entire class, the filmography of the character actor Dick Miller while jumping rope and wearing a coon-skin cap). This is an important scene, because if done right it will explain Tucker’s eventual transformation (in Act Three) from a mild-mannered loner to an internationally recognized, megalomaniacal neck tie designer.

Next, I need to solve the problem of how Leticia’s Ecuadorian house-boy Arturo, who had earlier been abducted by Sufi Dervishes while lying in a large zucchini patch and writing a free-verse poem about his favorite food (Quinoa), manages to escape their clutches. Specifically, how do I write a chase sequence that involves only whirling?

Here’s another: when, on page 93, Tucker learns that he must rescue his primary school sweetheart Soon-yi McGraw (now a grown woman with, mysteriously, a third arm growing out of her left foot) from the evil Matador Testardo, why, when learning of her plight, does he immediately run to the kitchen, empty every box of dry pasta onto the floor, and fall into the fetal position while mournfully singing “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat? Does this seem out of character, particularly when taking into account his issues with gluten?

Also, I fear I need a little help with some of the dialogue. For example – in the first few pages of Act Two, when the secondary character Beaumont Affleck-Smythe wakes from his coma and sneaks out of the nursing home by hiding in a bucket of expired beet puree, he has a poignant discussion with a Little Girl before stealing her trike. I need this scene to reveal, from Beaumont’s past, the source of his paralyzing fear of raw Kale. This is particularly important because it provides the motivation for his renouncing all worldly possessions and becoming a peripatetic Jazzercise instructor in the epilogue. Also, I need the proper context for him to use the word “effluvia.”

I’m also struggling a bit with continuity. For example, on page 159 Testardo is wearing a gingham poncho while vacationing in La Mancha with his blind podiatrist Randy (where he finds the golden penguin statuette buried under the windmills of Campo De Criptano). How do I reconcile that with the pivotal scene on page 62 where he clearly vows, after losing both his legs to the ravages of disease, to wear nothing but purple rayon until a cure is found for Tennis Elbow?

And finally, in the denouement, Tucker must retrieve the microchip embedded in his now-rabid marmot Gustavo, talk a suicidal Leticia down from the top of the refrigerator, find the courage to finally change the greeting on his home answering machine from Carl Kassel’s voice to his own, and still make it to the Umakweyana competition at his niece’s Waldorf school in time to win the rubber trophy he has coveted all his life.

Phew. See what I’m saying? This screenwriting business is hard work! Anyway, if any of you have any suggestions, I’d be happy to take them. I plan on getting Satan’s Sputum shot by some big-time Hollywood director, too, so if I use any of your ideas you can expect a pretty sweet payday in the near future (I’m thinking this material is perfect for someone like Terrence Malick, or maybe Vincent Gallo).

Oh, and just so you know, I plan to submit the final draft to the Göteborg Feminist Film Festival as well, and the submission date for their Screenwriting Competition is in eleven months. That means I’m really going to have to get cracking!

I Got Your Smile Right Here…

September 11th came and went last month, and for once I thought that I had found an appropriate event that we could take part in as a family. You see, for the past couple of years we’ve had to endure a memorial service of sorts put on by a neighbor up the block that resulted in our street being overrun by fire engines, foot traffic, and hundreds – and I mean hundreds – of bikes. And not the kind of bikes whose riders pump the pedals and occasionally jingle a tiny bell on the handlebar, either. I’m talking about Hogs. Big, metal things driven by men and women who would kill you without a second thought, though not before revving their engines aggressively and making you spill your Kombucha.

As you might imagine, all of these people and their machines need to park somewhere, and consequently the street is closed for several hours in the evening to accommodate all the ruckus. When we first moved here we were intrigued, and excitedly walked up the street to see what was going on. Sadly, the gathering proved to be less a heartfelt and touching memorial to those fallen on that day than an opportunity for jingoistic chest-thumping. Nice.

Anyway, we had already decided to vacate the area this time around, and while scanning the local paper the week prior I found what seemed to be just the thing for us: a drum circle.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been part of one of these things – I’ve sat in on a couple myself, once back in the 90’s with an assortment of older, ex-stoner types I knew from my aged, hippie landlord, and once more recently in the decidedly less substance-reliant environment of a work related morale-boosting session. The latter occasion was one of those non-spontaneous and, in fact, paid for orgies wherein two goofy, late-middle aged men in Hawaiian shirts and gray ponytails pass around an assortment of percussive instruments and whip up the reluctant attendees to beat their tom toms or djembes in order to create some sort of communal, cacophonic bonding session. That experience wasn’t all that bad, so I figured, why not again?

I know, I know –  I don’t know what I was thinking either. Maybe I expected it to be a more dignified event, with well dressed, educated and multicultural NPR listeners milling about.  Either way this one, advertised as an alternative to the typical September 11th memorial, seemed appropriate. So I signed us up.

What we got, unfortunately, was a gaggle of dread-locked and patchoulied trustafarians whirling about on the beach while a DJ bobbed over a large CD player and music blared obnoxiously over loudspeakers. There were drums laying about alongside mini-accordions, flutes and peace tambourines, but no visible “circle.” Even worse, some of the attendees had apparently been encouraged to wear costumes, the unsightly result of which was far more visible skin, piercings and Bob Marley tattoos than is traditionally appropriate at an event billing itself as “for the whole family.” Apparently to these hippie-types the words “wear a costume” mean “dress like a Gypsy stripper with a Meth habit.” And to think I was this close to having Sarah show up wearing a Winnie-the-Pooh suit.

Needless to say, it really soured my mood, and we left almost immediately. So much for unity.

I’m not quite sure why this kind of thing bothers me, but it does. I try not to be judgmental, and I don’t begrudge anyone’s habits. It’s just that I don’t like to be in close proximity to their display.

Another example: a few years ago when we lived in Arlington, Mass, I used to take a bus down Mass Ave to Harvard Square, where I worked. If the weather was nice, I would get off the bus several stops earlier than I needed to and walk the remaining half-mile or so.

Anyway, once as I was passing alongside the park just before the Old Burying Ground by Garden Street, I noticed, up ahead, a shadowy figure lurking furtively behind a tree. I could tell that the shadowy figure was waiting for me to pass, presumably to surprise me with some unwelcome assault. I wasn’t worried about being mugged – this was, after all, in broad daylight and in public, a stone’s throw from one of this country’s most prestigious Ivy League schools. I couldn’t see much, but something in the demeanor of the person suggested a fate worst than violence. Something, in fact, far more sinister.

He looked like a Liberal Arts major. And he looked like he was going to smile at me.

Sure enough, just as I approached the tree out popped this guy, dressed in sandals, shorts and a t-shirt. His hair was long and curly, his face rotund. He was, as I had feared, smiling. A lot. Now I’m usually pretty good at avoiding these types, having spent many years dodging Greenpeace workers and Lyndon Larouche supporters, but the absurdity of the moment caught me off guard, and before I could react he had positioned himself to my right and, pointing to me in an animated fashion, exclaimed,

“Hey man, you dropped your smile!”

Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m a pretty happy guy. Sure, times get tough, dark clouds occasionally gather overhead – these things happen. But I always keep the stiff upper lip and soldier on. What I mean to say is, I’ve had adversity just like the next guy, but I keep things in perspective. Once, for example, the Whole Foods near me was completely out of sprouted Kamut. For, like, two weeks. But did I waver? Did I give up? Nope.

But for god’s sake, people, if there’s one thing that interferes with my natural state of cheeriness it’s when other people feel the need to pop uninvited into my universe. I don’t know about you, but I have a visceral aversion to anybody, ever, trying to get me to be part of something they’re involved with. In my experience these things never end well. You know how it is – a nice couple you used to know cold-calls you out of the blue saying they’d love to catch up, and the next thing you know you’re enduring an hour-long, glassy-eyed Amway pitch, followed by a return visit thwarted only by the last-minute act of hiding in the bathroom until they’ve stopped knocking. You can feel your individuality and freedom of choice drip away steadily with every word. It’s the same way, I’ve found, with Mary Kay parties, volunteer work, toddler play dates, and any leisurely trip out of the house that involves more than two people.

So when faced with an obviously MDMA-saturated, parent-financed, Harvard Square-loitering goofball encouraging me to display happiness, the last thing I’m thinking about is picking up a smile that I had “dropped.” In fact, if I could have picked up anything at that moment it would have been a rock and bunged it at the guy’s head. I mean, come on! I was having a perfectly nice day!

Anyway, my experience with last months “drum circle” was similarly disheartening. Maybe it’s me, but if passing a sign that reads “Peace, Love & Unity” creates in the passer-by feelings of anger, repulsion and violence then something’s wrong.

But who knows? Maybe, upon reflection, the problem is with me. Maybe I’m not as mellow and happy-go-lucky as I think. Maybe I need to address my own issues before judging others based on their interests. Maybe I need to be less aloof.

Or maybe I just need more Kombucha. That I can do.

Hello there…

Hey there  – I’ve been thinking about blogging for a while now, and after seeing many of my friends jump on this bandwagon I’ve decided it’s about damned time to give it a go. I’m not yet sure what I plan to contribute to this, but I expect it’ll take on several forms: a way to keep distant family members up to date about my (and my immediate family’s) life, a venue to rant about everything from politics to everyday annoyances, and, especially, a means to get my writing going. I do hope you come along, and please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts!