Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

In Regards To My Absence…

In Regards To My Absence…

drinkandwritefordisplayThe first thing that I want to do when it comes to filling in my readers on where I’ve been for the past couple of months, is to rattle off this laundry list of things that people normally do, only to catch myself and think, “Who cares? Everyone is in the same boat.” Personal issues and familial obligations override everything at the end of the year. It’s nothing unusual. It’s necessary.

At least, that’s what I want to think as dozens of authors and editors crank out post after post of evergreen content to boost their SEOs and stuff. They know what to do. They know how to make themselves known. How to be present, how to sustain themselves online.

Me? I cleaned out my coffee maker the other day, and I felt like a god for 10 minutes.

I could fake my way through this. I could boldly go where everyone has gone before, and break no new ground. I could do the old Listicle thing and get all the clicks. Chicks dig clicks. Big clicks.

But that’s not me. I’ve gone over this before, and I’m not in the mood to kick that horse again.

I started this post with a head full of snark. I had every intention on laying on the dad jokes, and assume an air of jocularity whilst bullshitting my way through the aforementioned excuses…

But this year has found a way to make my heart heavy.

Not just with heroes from my childhood dropping one by one, not just because of a newly elected dictator of the United States becoming a reality.

It’s everything.

The end of the year can be overwhelming. It usually is. Whatever time I’ve allotted for myself, thin though it may be throughout the rest of the year, has become extinct on the First day of November. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard not to slip from just the normal winter blues to full blown depression. The result being, nothing gets done. Nothing other than taking care of the kids, and the house, and many other things. Come November first, I check out. I don’t resume any writing activity until long after the ball has dropped in New York City, and cause celebre has silenced.

Spending a lot of time on Twitter doesn’t help kill the blues either. The madness of the world. The shortsightedness of people. Every word is a punch, or a random shoulder check from stranger on a subway; cold, apathetic and willing to accept its own destruction. It is a cold place filled with angry people, and it’s so easy to become part of the chorus. Finding another stranger to verbally throw my shoulder into became more important than writing something meaningful.

It has warped my soul. Although on the bright side, framing an idea in 140 characters or less is good practice for succinctness. Still, there is writing to be done. And brawling on social media doesn’t change that fact.

Plus, as anyone, especially the authors and writing gurus who dispense advice on their blogs will tell you, writing is friggin’ hard.

Dispensing advice is always good to get people to return to your blog. So are motivational quotes. One of which was in my feed the other day. It was from Ray Bradbury.

“Write a short story every week. It’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.”

I was on G+, which is the equivalent of finding a spot in an open field and kicking your shoes off and staring at clouds. I just left a marathon Twitter slapfight, so my mood might have been a little dark at the time. My reply was…

bradbury

 

Mr. Bradbury is, and always will be, one of my greatest literary heroes. Most of my teen years was spent with a copy of The Illustrated Man in my backpack. Still though… going by recent experience, there might be a possibility that his stated theory could be proven false.

Just get me in front of a keyboard. I’ll show you what’s possible.

A little harmless snark was just enough to elevate the mood a little, and it was good.

Still, there was writing to be done.

Ideas for projects have lined themselves up like taxis outside of an airport terminal in my Scrivener. All of them are idyl, none of them have a place to go.

The story I’m working on now, I might have given a little too much room to grow, and might need to reign it in. (Given that the definition of “short story” depends on who you ask, I set my word count to 20,000 words. I honestly don’t think it might see a third of that).Turning it into a shorter, short story might be good insurance that it gets done.

And then, I can move on to the next one, then the next. Then, the next. And then hopefully by mid-August, I would have sharpened my writing skills beyond 140 characters. I guess, the longer I thought about it, the more…I want to say plausible it became (I hesitate on plausible. I’m a little tired of making promises I can’t keep).

I have given this a lot of thought. And by that, I mean briefly mulled it over while sipping a beer. I might…MIGHT be able to do this. Maybe I can write a story a week for a year. I don’t want to make promises, but I already have a head start. I’d still want to publish on my own so I can finally PROVE that I’m a legitimate word monkey, so maybe post a highlight of the text. Whet people’s appetites. Generate interest. Evergreen. SEO. Yippee!

It is now well passed midnight on Monday, January 2nd. In a matter of hours, I will be another year older. Tomorrow, I will start on a year long journey to see how far and how often I can meet this challenge.

Happy New Year, everyone. The crapfest that was 2016 couldn’t end soon enough. The slate is now clean. No more picking fights with strangers. No more hiding away. Time to get shit done.

 

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

The sun took its sweet time sinking into the horizon that summer day. July was coming to an end, but still the days seemed longer. Maybe they seemed that way because of my particular position on the globe at the time; the parabola of the Northeast region made it feel like the Earth was grabbing on to as much sunlight as it could, as if it was storing it up for the long, cold winters. Maybe they seemed that way because I might be looking back on my twenties with a fondness for my more rebellious and carefree days. The poetry in the long goodbye note of a late summer sunset is written in the color of black raspberry ice cream and pink lemonade. It’s close to dusk, and my toes grab wet sand as a guy we just met walks out into the waist deep surf to take a piss while holding on to a case of cheap beer. There was something surreal, beautiful and strangely silly about this scene, and we all pick up on it right away. My friends and I look at each other and grin like mad. Maybe they seemed that way because we knew that this moment would never come our way ever again.

Maybe they seemed that way because we realized that the blotter acid we just bought in the parking lot outside of a Jerry Garcia concert was the real deal as it dug its claws into our cerebellum. We knew we’d be up for a while.

The last rays of sunshine flickered into nothing. I meander back to the parking lot. I have lost track of my friends a while ago. I knew it was going to be an interesting night as I looked up to see the stars dance and warp as Rob Wasserman plucked the melody to The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” on one of his many upright bass solos. The details of the rest of the night were murky. There was no sleep involved that night, however I do remember taking a much needed shower in the morning. Afterwards, I dried off, collapsed on the couch, and did my best to relax. But it was difficult because the cat kept trying to force her head into my mouth.

What I’m trying to say is, in terms of a Jimi Hendrix litmus test, I am experienced.

I have seen horizons and landscapes that shouldn’t exist. I’ve felt immeasurable joy, paralyzing fear, and pants-shitting danger. I have been places. They’re nice to visit, but you wouldn’t want to raise a family there (stay in school, kids!). I lived and breathed “trippy” for a brief moment in time.  I know what “trippy” means.

It is nothing like what they’re trying to sell you with the new Doctor Strange movie.

Now, before you think I’m hating, let me explain…

Comic books, historically, have never been taken seriously. I know, try telling that to a serious collector, and he might throw his bowl of Kraft Dinner at me. But from Golden Age to the Silver (translated: from the early 1930s to the late 1960s) pulp comics in general, Marvel in particular, have always fought tooth and nail to keep and expand its fan base. Which, in and of itself, is challenging. If it wasn’t the period where pulp comics were considered the folly, and ultimately the downfall of America’s children, then it was the Comics Code Authority making life miserable for everyone. If it wasn’t them, then it was the long process of trying to get back the disaffected youth that they were trying to get to read to begin with. If it wasn’t that, then it was trying to stay ahead of the curve and avoid being out of touch, to be reminded that you need to constantly evolve. If it wasn’t that, then it would be the endless one-upmanship with their closest competitor.

DC had been the standard bearer for what the modern heroes would be; square-jawed, two dimensional dudes in flashy costumes, swooping in to thwart a burglary in progress while simultaneously saving the equally two dimensional, anatomically impossible female from danger, and trying not to look gay while doing it.

meanwhile

Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee where busy wrangling their own creative bullpen over at Marvel. Most of the time it was hit and miss.

By the early 60s, the perfect storm of censorship and uninspired story lines nearly brought an end to the brand.

That all changed when Stan introduced”The Fantastic Four”.

On the surface, just another superhero comic. But dig a little deeper, you found four individuals with different abilities who argue and spat just like an actual family would. Just like people who knew each other would. Just like people.

Flawed characters were the thing that would save Marvel during the dark times of the early 70s. But at this time, they were still fighting to keep their head above water. One of the many offshoots of Marvel was an anthology series that went by the moniker, Strange Tales. The pages were mostly about monsters and ghouls and gore and blood and guts and zombies and vampires. It was presented as an alternative to superhero drama, but it wasn’t completely devoid of familiar characters. Cloak and Dagger first appeared there. The previously mentioned Fantastic Four found their origins there. Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were first kicking Hydra’s ass in a few issues. And, a mystical character who was inspired by a radio era serial rounded out the entourage.

That character was called Doctor Strange.

Without giving too much away that you probably already know, Stephen Strange is a brain surgeon who travels to the Far East to be healed after his hands had become damaged in a car accident.  You know the rest.

The movie is a total blast to watch. But that’s not what concerns me. What concerns me is the advertising campaign billing this film as “psychedelic” or “trippy”.

There is a sequence in the film that may constitute a decent head trip, but that’s not the point. The point is that this character was made before the Psychedelic Era, although it has been noted that it might have had a hand at predicting it. Steve Ditko’s motivation when drawing for the Sorcerer Supreme wasn’t to recall the night when he baked magic mushrooms on his pizza. It was more about how would somebody draw something mystical; an idea that hasn’t been explored very much. Especially in comics. If someone came up to you and said, “Draw black magic”, how would you do that? Steve employed purples and reds, darker colors and free form shapes. He employed the use of Abstract Art, something else that hasn’t been tried before in comics. To bill this film as “trippy” does a great disservice to the essence of what was originally achieved.

Shorter: The film is nowhere near as hallucinogenic is one might think. It is abstract. Or more to the point, it is abstract as much as a mainstream movie could be. It is a family friendly Disney property, after all. Trippy is “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Jacob’s Ladder” or “The Science of Sleep”. Any of these films do a much better job at portraying an interpretation of hallucinating. The effects of the movie seem to lean more towards playing with geometric shapes than anything else; brick patterns, mosaic tiles, window panes. Anything that has a unifying structure is manipulated in such a way that no longer follows an actual design. If it were trippy, the bricks would come alive and shape-shift into something else before changing back into its original form. This is was just fun with shapes. To be honest, it was fun, really fun to look at, but it’s hardly mind-bending.

Other than that, the only real complaint I have about this movie is that it moves almost too fast. I suppose that might be a good thing. Calling attention to every single dollar that you throw into a scene is considered gauche, and the MCU have been quite adept at not doing that. But still, enjoying a moment for a second or two longer wouldn’t damage the narrative. I took a YouTube refresher course on the backstory of the good doctor. It turns out that it wasn’t completely necessary, although it wouldn’t kill ya to do your research.

Personal gripes aside, the movie is a blast. It is so much fun packed into an hour and fifty-five minutes (it could have run longer, and it would have been fine). This movie is a perfect example of a comic book adaptation done right. It is a perfectly stitched together collage of right choices. The writing was snappy and alive. The casting choices were perfect (let’s leave the whole “whitewashing” controversy alone for another time, shall we?) And the soundtrack. The effing SOUNDTRACK! A perfect homage to the time from whence this came from; a full orchestra combined with harpsichord, sitar and a fuzzy guitar shoved through a Tube Screamer (go ask a guitarist) was just delicious to listen to. Still, the theme, if there was one, was as forgettable as the other Marvel franchises. It’s been a complaint amongst music and movie nerds. But at least this time, they put a little more effort into it.

Go.
Go see this movie.
Go see this movie with an open mind, and if you can afford it and have the ways and means, see this in an IMAX theater.

Bottom line, Doctor Strange is not “trippy”

…It’s…strange…in a good way.

Thoughts on Halloween 2016: Where Has The Spirit Gone?

Thoughts on Halloween 2016: Where Has The Spirit Gone?

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This picture was taken on this All Hallow’s Eve while Trick-or-Treating with the kids. I could count on one hand the number of houses that were fully decorated, and I’d like to address that in a second. But first, I’d like to point out that yes, that’s a bunny sitting quite contently in someone’s front yard. After conversing with the homeowner, we found out that it wasn’t his bunny, he just likes to hang out in his yard. Which, I guess would be slightly probable for this area.  This isn’t the first rabbit I’ve seen hanging around here.

But still, some people go all out with the spoopy factor for their yard display. This guy just has a single bun-bun.

Worst. Halloween display. Everrrrr.

Still though, it is a black bunny, so it’s kinda scary? And knowing my luck, this one would just happen to be the one with big,wizardtim nasty, pointy teeth and bones strewn about its lair. But luckily, I didn’t doubt my courage or my strength, so I snapped a picture before he hopped away.

The people that live across the street from him had a more involved display, turning their front lawn into a festive graveyard festooned with blinking lights, tiny, cartoonish graves and Dollar Store cobwebs. A half a block away, another with the same motif. But between the first one and the last one and the majority in between, the houses were dark. Nobody home; the universal language of “no candy here”. Not many revelers out in the street either. I’m used to being run over by squads of screaming children, hyped up on too many Kit Kats, and dressed in their store bought costumes. Last night, I was lucky to see two families out, and even then they were on their way home. For lack of a better term, my neighborhood was a ghost town.

Why is this?

Well, most of the reasons seem pretty obvious this year.

Hurricane Matthew

For starters, there just so happened to be a Category 3 hurricane that mowed down most of the eastern coast of Central Florida before lumbering north and flooding the Carolinas.

Maybe you’ve heard of it?

20161101_142239The aftermath left a bunch of damaged houses, and many more oak trees snapped into kindling. For the most part, there were some damages done, but it was nothing we haven’t lived through before.

Weeks later, we are still cleaning up, and life goes on. People are still repairing their roofs. Chainsaws are still grinding away, and the debris trucks will be holding up traffic for a little while longer.

In the meantime, trees still lay in segments along a busy road with no sidewalks. Not the most ideal situation for kids to try and navigate.

It’s a Monday, fercrissakes…

I mean, c’mon! Monday? If you weren’t a traditionalist like some of us, you would have sidestepped this little conundrum and had your Halloween-y whatnots taken care of over the weekend. Partying for the past two days in your costume puts you in no mood for dealing with throngs of sugar fueled children.

Most of us have to work in the morning. Besides, isn’t there a game on? Burp Fart Scratch

It’s an Election Year

Admit it, while some of your kids might be a little fearful of stepping onto some stranger’s porch that’s rigged with motion sensor jump scare contraptions, you kinda felt the same way when you walked up to a house with about a dozen Trump signs propped up in the front lawn like cartoonish gravestones. “Oh, there’s nothing to be scared of,” you repeat to yourself as you walk passed the chained up pit bull and old engine-less pickup truck. “I’m sure they’re nice people.” Then you see the stars and bars backlit in the living room window. Then the gun rack. And then another. Then the chill goes down your spine when you see them smile on their porch, and they all have three teeth between them.

shines flashlight under chin

…AND ALL THEY HAVE IS CANDY CORN AND STALE CIRCUS PEANUTS! MUH- HAAHAHAHAHAAAAA! NIGHTY-NIGHT, KIDDIES!

It could be nothing. It could be that I haven’t properly canvassed this area. I’ve lived in this part of town for two years and I still haven’t got a feel for it. I spend too much time hiding inside to notice or care. Maybe it’s always been like this.

Then again, maybe it’s all the above factors rolled into one big excuse to sit this one out this year. The heart’s just not into it this year. It needs a breather.

Then again, maybe it’s because I live in a suitcase community. On one side of us, there is the beach. The other, a river. In between, rows of tiny houses built in the 1950s. Most of them occupied, a lot of them with “for rent” signs out front. Rent is too high for the locals, so that means flocks of Snowbirds flock down here in their Mercedes Benz’s  to escape the chilly grasp of Northern winters for a few months. They are congenial and lovely, but deep down, I think they feel about as out of place as I do. None of us have any idea what’s going on.

Then again, maybe everyone that lives here are complete d-bags and hate hate HATE Halloween like some Grinch who’s getting his list done early.

And I surely hope that isn’t the case.

I hope that we haven’t become as jaded about Halloween as we have about Christmas. I hope that somewhere there is that spirit of the holiday hasn’t completely died.

Why I bring this up is because it concerns me a little when things like this happen. Halloween isn’t just for the kids. I’ve seen plenty of adults light up like a Hollywood marquis on opening night because this night is their time to shine. The sense of wonderment that you once felt as a child, whether you were too afraid to climb up the porch, or running with the pack of department store Power Rangers. The sense that we still have the capacity for letting the unknown into our lives. At least for a little bit. We still have the ability to be shocked, to have a laugh, to worry that you might be showing up to your office party in a lame costume, and realize that 4 or 5 people are thinking the same thing. It takes one night out of 365 to make us realize how human we are, and lately, it feels like it might be slipping away.

I bring this up because it concerns me. There is nothing sadder than an adult who has lost his capacity to celebrate just for the sake of celebrating. It concerns me, because it makes me sad and a little nervous that there are darker forces than ghosts and vampires who cast a pall over this night, and darken house after house. Have we become that jaded? Have we let this year grind us down? We have let the screaming heads guide us by fear. We are a divided country. One we haven’t seen in a long time. One night passing out the candy in costume. One night to join in with a parade. One night to commune with the beasts and the bunnies. One night to reclaim that wonder we once had as a child.

I think we all deserve it.

On a related note, a neighborhood that goes completely dark while a black bunny roams the streets just might be another thing to add to my Work In Progress file.

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew…

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew…

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via GIPHY

What is the essence of Rock & Roll?

Fame? Money? Noise? Pissing off your parents? A violent soundtrack to subvert and bring down the current establishment?

To a geezer like me who’s old enough to remember when MTV actually had music on their… ya know… music channel, it could be any number of those things. I say this as someone who spent his early teens consuming mass quantities of Hair Metal, whose main messages are all about fame, money and the rest.

And, I suppose it is what it is. Those embarrassing years from when KISS went disco, to the moment Axl Rose threw a temper tantrum at the beginning of a concert breaking up the band in the process, it was the next, inevitable, logical step that Rock music had to get to in order to survive. Yes, it was abrasive and deafening, and some of it sounded like it was written by a fifteen year old who found the liquor cabinet. Yes, more emphasis was placed on theatricality rather than musicianship. At that particular point in time, in the dark days before Nirvana, that’s what Rock was; obnoxious, easily consumable, and increasingly ridiculous¹.

Sure, it was pretty to look at like a Michael Bay explosion, and loud as fuck, and oh boy, is his guitar AWESOME, and wow Tommy Lee is a full blown maniac. But aside from that, could we draw a direct line from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain? Are we doing a service to the trail blazers by acknowledging their contemporaries?

The answer is no. Of course not, dummy. More Neil Young, less Cinderella if you want to pay respect. Rock music is never about straight lines or following rules, or repeating what came before. The essence of Rock & Roll is finding that one thing that inspires you, picking it up, making it your own, and leaving it in a different state than when you found it. The origin of the term can be bandied about ad nauseam, but this is the essence of what Rock & Roll means. It means putting your stamp on something, and in doing so, altering the shape and sound of it to inspire others. Like a large object rolling down a hill and causing other things to roll along with it.

Something… like …a rolling stone, perhaps?

Robert Zimmerman knew this more than most. He was influenced by Little Richard when he was younger, but somewhere along the way, he knew that there was something else to it  He knew rock music wasn’t just three chords and a couple of dance steps. It wasn’t too long before he discovered the works of Dylan Thomas, and found a new music hero in Woody Guthrie, whom he would adopt as his mentor. Leaving his middle class life behind in Duluth, Minnesota, he dropped out of college after one year, hitchhiked to New York City to meet his hero, who by this time was gravely ill. He settled into the Folk Scene in Greenwich Village that was beginning to blossom. He would have plenty of gigs. He started making a name for himself until he was discovered by John Hammond who would sign him with Columbia Records in 1962. At this point, he could have started his career under his own name, but instead he chose to pay homage to the person who influenced him to go on this journey to begin with, and changed his name to Bob Dylan.

You find that one thing that inspires you. You pick it up, make it your own, and leave it different than you found it. For his first three albums, Dylan was the torchbearer for Mr. Guthrie and used his words and passion to fight against war and corruption. He became quite adept at phrasing, at lyrics and poetic imagery. It wasn’t too long that the myth that was created would slowly take over the man. He was no longer this middle class kid from Minnesota, he was instead created from the pages of a Steinbeck novel. He came from the dust of a sharecropper’s field; a downtrodden troubadour who was born on the open road. The very definition of American Romanticism.  Success caught up to him quickly.

By 1965, Bob Dylan had become restless with who he was. He was never one to stay in one place, or be satisfied with with where he is. He released ‘Bringing It All Back Home.’ This was significant in that he was starting to step away from the protest material and dip into the personal and abstract, and in doing so, finding his own authentic voice.

…Oh, it also marked the beginning of him ‘going electric’.

‘Highway 61 Revisited’ came soon after. It was considered a critical darling. A rare specimen that stands the test of time with songs like ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. His knack for wordplay and imagery, now instantly recognizable, were miles, years ahead of its time.  A pop star was supposed to sing about love and relationships in ways that would be easily digestible for mass consumption, and here comes this guy, seemingly out of nowhere, writing lyrics about the human condition and loss and yearning. He heralded the beginning of the Singer/Songwriter movement.  There were a few people who dismissed this album as a complete head-scratcher, because no one had heard anything like this before. But those same voices in the same breath lauded it for elevating the artform from its current state.

Whether it was on purpose or not, the awesome trilogy of groundbreaking albums came to its brilliant conclusion the following year with ‘Blonde on Blonde’. Considered an instant masterpiece and one of the most important albums of all time, it had completely changed the landscape of what songwriting was, into what it could be. It was also the first double album released ever… not much to say about that, just wanted to point that out.

In the months that followed, there was nothing. He had all but vanished from the public eye. Some say it had to do with a motorcycle accident he was involved in near his home in Woodstock, New York. Some say it may have had something to do with the press, and how they kept diving deeper into the myth and poking their nose into things he’d rather not let them see (related: ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’). An increasing drug dependency, marital issues. Perhaps a salad bar sampling of all of the above. He would still release albums, but he would tour less, and give fewer interviews. In any case, it felt like we were losing his voice.

On October 13th of this year, The Nobel Academy had given their prize in literature to Bob Dylan. The reason given was “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I suppose it was gracious of them to give him this award while he was still alive. But my biggest question is, why now? The source that they were sighting was ‘Blonde on Blonde’, something that was released over 50 years ago?

Why did they wait so long to award this particular poet? There were strong enough contenders who have released works this year? Why not them?

His name had been tossed around for years, but never put into serious contention. He had already won a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In 2012, it was the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Maybe the time was right for another literary award? Maybe the time was right to pay proper homage to a man who has influenced generations of poets and songwriters?

The short of it was that Alfred Nobel was a little vague when it came to exact criteria to award writers for literature in his will. Double irony points because the committee notes that it was a poorly written will, and so the requirements are left open to interpretation. Maybe now was a good time to recognize the juggernaut that is the Bob Dylan library.

Not so you’d notice from those critical of the Nobel committee. Citing Karl Ritter from the Associated Press:

Others lamented a lost moment for books.

“An ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies,” wrote “Trainspotting” novelist Irvine Welsh. “I totally get the Nobel committee,” tweeted author Gary Shteyngart. “Reading books is hard.” The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said it was too bad that a “real” writer didn’t get the award.

The sting and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from purists and critics the moment Bob Dylan had the gall of picking up an electric guitar are still present today. It’s less the notion of ‘You can’t please everyone all the time’, and more like they awarded a fraud.

Personally, I’m happy that he won. Upon hearing the news, the first words out of my mouth were, “It’s about damn time”.

Who gives a rat’s ass if he ‘went electric’? Who cares if he isn’t the character you thought he was? A “real” writer? Apparently he’s never heard ‘Hurricane’ and not have his blood truly boil. Apparently he’s never dared to unpack the cryptic bombast of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Apparently, he’s never found solace in the cold comfort of ‘Shelter From the Storm.’

A “real” writer? Does a “real” writer to you have to be dead in order to be real in your opinion? A chi ha scritto questo articolo, credo che non si sa quello che uno scrittore “vero” è stato, se lui si avvicinò e si schiaffeggiato in faccia unta. So, go take your hipster ass somewhere else, because nobody gives a shit what you think a “real” writer is.

Pfft…critics….

Yes, Rock is usually not known for its poet laureates. But then again, there aren’t many Rock musicians who knew there was more to this music than verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus. There aren’t that many Rock musicians (left) who knew that there’s more to this than how many albums you sold or how many appearances you made on television. There aren’t that many Rock musicians that know what the essence of Rock is.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan. It’s about damn time that they recognized your contributions to the world. Thank you for your words and your passion.

Thank you for inspiring me.

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Keep on Keepin’ on…

¹Possible exceptions are too many to list here…

It’s Been A Pleasure…

It’s Been A Pleasure…
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Last rays of sunshine for a while over the Halifax River.

The last post was meant to be a throw away. A doodle. Something to post to let people know that I’m still tending the light over here and that things were going normally.

It took me three weeks to churn out over 3000 words. Three weeks for something that was essentially a warm-up piece. I have several other WIPs in progress, and the idea that every single one of them will get easier the more I do, and I want to get to them. Life and other distractions notwithstanding, I plan to keep going. Hopefully, the next one will be two weeks, then the next will be one. Things will always get in the way.

I want to keep going.

…Except… I might be experiencing a bit of a setback this week.

For the past few days, a strong and potentially deadly hurricane has been forming just south of Cuba. As of this post, it has chewed up the Bahamas, and is making a bee line to the Space Coast. By the time he arrives, he will be a Category 4 hurricane. By the time he arrives, he will be landing somewhere in Daytona Beach. Just down the street from me. The last time I experienced this, was in 2004 when Florida probably forgot to pay some karmic debt from a millenia ago, and Fate set Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne loose with a couple of aluminium bats  to collect.

It felt like they were coming after me. They almost completely destroyed the town I was living in. It took over a year to fully recover. I moved further north since then. It still feels like they’re coming after me.

For a frame of reference as to how bad a Category 4 is, Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 when she touched down.

Although everything else would be a cakewalk compared to 2004, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was more than a little nervous.

Matthew is a Category 4. Maximum sustained winds averaging 130 miles an hour. Rain flying at you at about the same speed as a bullet. Power lines supported by poles that haven’t been replaced or modified in years will eventually buckle and break through the winds that a strong enough to push a car down the street against its will. Power outages will be widespread, water and other resources will be scarce. Houses that come with a set of wheels are going to be the most at risk. Dead oak branches from ancient trees will take their revenge on any structure near them. Mayhem will ensue. Services will be slow to respond.

Matthew is a Category 4. Category Fours do not fuck around.

I am a little nervous.

But, we’re Floridians, right? With a capital ‘F’. This isn’t our first go-around. 2004 had an army of storms. This time, it’s only one. Just one. A couple of days of horrible and possibly deadly weather, and that’s it. Just strap in, pack up everything that isn’t nailed down, hunker down and wait.

…and if it suits you, pray.

It’ll be over soon.

So, just a note in case things go south around here. I just want to say thank you for all the follows and likes and comments. Thank you for the encouragement. Thank you for allowing me to open a new chapter in my life and run with it.

The skies have darkened, and tree branches of every shape and size that surround my house have started dancing. This is how it starts. The orchestra warming up.

I want to keep going. I want to keep writing. I want to keep doodling until I get it right. I just wanted to let you know that if this might be the last post I make…

…it’s been a pleasure.

 

The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

writingprompt9202016There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. She rests the tip of her nose on the brim of her cup, not necessarily to sniff, but to let the warm, honey sweetened plumes of steam defrost her rosy face. Her fingertips, pink and brittle and shyly poking through slowly unraveling knitted, fingerless gloves. They want so much to keep a firm grasp to the outside of this flimsy, disposable vessel, but the boiling tea inside deny them their full embrace.

There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. Her gaze is aiming for a target further than the window, further than the people walking by, further than the other side of the street. It was blocks away, on the other side of town, skimming across the ocean to the places only she knows.

I’m used to this, whenever she vanishes from right in front of me. She was never snobby. Not the Teddy Bear I remember. She prefered the company she kept.  She was never been ungrateful or aloof. She cherishes every person in her life, and has gone out of her way to help every person in need more times then I can remember. And yet, I can’t help thinking the same thing now as I did then. I always thought that such generosity might have come at great cost to her.

At first, she would disappear for a day. A few people would notice her absence, and were curious as to how long she’d been gone, but she’d always come back. It wasn’t too much later where she would disappear for days at a time. Then a week. Two. Until one day, we suddenly realized that nobody had seen her for months. She returned at the end of summer; A touch of bronze to her skin, freckles occupying the bridge of her nose, and several colorful ribbons wrapped as tight as Maypoles through strands of her hair. This latest trip? Gone for a little over five years. Heavy, woollen scarfs wrap around her neck. A journal bloated with ink and memories lay sleeping beside her.

I’m used to this. We all are. She would take center stage for brief moments of our lives. She would swoop in and fill our days with art and literature and things we’ve never seen before, and people we’ve never heard of, and music we’ve never danced to, and wisdom we’ve never thought of. She would paint our worlds in a wonderful and jubilant shade of chaos, and then vanish. Carried away on a multi-colored vapor trail of her own imagination.

She is back again. For a while, at least. I should be lucky enough to have at least a few moments of stillness with her before her muse finds her again. But, even though she is sitting across from me in our favorite booth, she is still miles away.

“Tina and I finally found a new place,” I say trying to coax her down from whatever cloud she’s on. Tina and I are irrelevant. Our quest for a better place is never-ending, and as far as that goes, nothing much has changed. Nothing that is happening in my life at this moment has anything to do with what’s going on inside her head right now. I could tell her that Tina’s been plotting my murder for months and I’ve only found out after a conversation with the cat. I could tell her that the place we found was a cave deep in the White Mountains that was previously occupied by a Bridge Troll and his pet unicorn. I could have strung together any combinations of words and scenarios, and it would have received the same response.

First, it’s the acknowledgement that someone may have been talking to her, “Oh?”
Next, comes the feeling that she should have kept up with a conversation, “Oh.”
Last, would come the recognition that she was lost in the great beyond again, “Ohhhh.”

Her eyes brighten. The apple of her cheeks shine. She has come back, body and soul. “I miss Tina,” she says recalling the years of almost sisterly companionship between them in the steam of her steeping tea.

“She misses you too. She speaks about you often. You should drop by sometime.”
“Really?”
“Of course you should. I insist. We’ll put on a spread, invite some of the old crew back, we’ll have a few laughs. It’ll be great.”

I offer every single time. It’s what one does, now that one has achieved adulthood. Should the occasion arise, you invite long lost friends over for dinner. Miss Manners told me so. Actually, that’s not true. I have never cared long enough to do any extensive research, but I’m fairly certain that there isn’t a social etiquette book in print that states that it’s expected of you to extend an invitation for an impromptu soirée for an old friend, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Then again, I used to be a pack-a-day smoker who spent most of his days blasting punk music from a beat up tape deck, and most of his nights stumbling home. And now these many years of kicking and screaming later, I have become a responsible adult. I have always been reluctant to bare this title, and she knows it. She knows my heart. I’ve never been much for social graces. Neither has she, and that is where we found each other so long ago.

I offer every single time, thinking this time she’ll change her mind. Her smirk tells me that I should know better. There is something in her eyes that won’t let me forget who I was.

“Alright,” I chuckle, changing the subject. “How was Europe? Was it as life changing as you thought it would be?”

“I guess you can say that,” she says as her fingertips have finally made peace with the scalding water swirling inside her paper cup. “I’d get reminded of just how far I’ve gone with every border crossing I had to make. It made me more homesick every time I was asked for my passport. But the people I met were pleasant, for the most part. A lot of people were quite helpful, even after they realized I was American. I met this circus troupe in Nice. We were all heading the same direction. For a while, it almost felt like they kinda adopted me as one of their own. Which would have been cool, I think. We barely spoke the same language, but we all got along. We all had the same spirit. Since my French was horrible, I had to act out my conversations in mime, and I made them laugh!” she exclaimed with genuine giddiness. “Can you believe it? I made professional clowns from Europe laugh! I taught them how to cuss like an American, they taught me how to juggle. It was a fair trade.

Oh! And there was also,” she paused. “…Jean…” Her eyes rolled back, her chest heaved. The universal symbol for, this boy was damn fine. I always thought it was charming how she regarded me as another one of her girlfriends, or often times, her brother, and not just another one of the guys. “This kid,” she continues delicately placing her fingertips to her chest. The universal symbol for, I do declare spoken with a swooning, aristocratic, Southern accent as if Rhett Butler walked into the room.”I could have eaten him all up with a spoon. He had these eyes that…when…I…”

Uh-oh…Houston, we have a problem.

The muse had her by the tail, and then it flew away. Somewhere across the ocean. Somewhere nestled in the lean, sinewy arms, and disarmingly hazel eyes of Jean. Her smile that she managed to drag out of storage for few minutes was quickly packed up again on account of looming storm clouds forming in her frontal lobe. She has vanished again.

One of the greatest lessons she has ever taught me, was that sometimes it’s not what people say, it’s what people don’t say that speaks volumes. There is nothing I can do when she disappears like this. Nothing. There is nothing I could say to bring her back into the world. Nothing I could do to bring her comfort. The best thing I could do is sit patiently, quietly. Hoping that she’d come back with her spirit intact, and if I’m very lucky, maybe she won’t rabbit so quickly.

“Yeah,” she mutters, packing the rest of the thought into a nutshell. “Europe was a good experience.” And that was the cue to drop it. Europe is thousands of miles away, but she’s home now. Back on familiar soil. Talking with familiar people, about familiar things.

Clouds churn and darken to pencil gray outside the coffee shop. It will snow again soon. Her fingers tell her that the tea has calmed down to just the right drinking temperature, and she takes a cautious sip. She scrunches her brow as she swallows. “Mmng. I need more honey, I’ll be right back.” She plops her bag on the table, thereby anchoring her to this place in time. This time, she means it.

I acknowledge the storm that’s coming, and sip my already tepid coffee. I get tired of looking at gray things, and turn my attention to her Andean patchwork satchel which has spilled out in front of me.

For a moment, the faint memory of her tutelage in the sport of people watching returned. I remember she once told me that you can “tell a lot about a person by the way they stir their coffee”, and through this, gain a wealth of knowledge.

Random hair ties and brightly colored scrunchies. Scores of cheap, ballpoint pens with various levels of ink, all with chewed pen caps. A fountain pen. Probably stolen. Probably a trophy. Two disposable lighters, both empty. She has never smoked, so… probably more trophies. A package of convenience store cupcakes. The kind that come two to a pack. This one was missing its twin. An impressive collection of hard candy, chewing gum, and cough drop wrappers. The companion issue of her other journal, equally as loved up. Her essential “desert island” books that she never goes anywhere without; Khalil Gibran’s, The Prophet, Selected Poems and Letters of Arthur Rimbaud, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, and one completely dog-eared, busted spine, water stained copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t have to look at the whole cover to know what it was.

I know what it was, because I was the one who gave it to her.

It was Christmastime. Everyone else on my list was easily taken care of that year. A six-pack of local brew for Eddy. An abalone bracelet for Tina. But for our dear Maddie Bear, finding the perfect gift for our introverted, bookish friend who has a flare for madness and wanderlust, was proving near impossible. There was nothing that seemed to fit the bill at the mall. Then again, nothing ever did. It’s where inspiration goes to die (another lesson taught). Nothing hurling themselves at me in the Hallmark Store. There was no other option. I was fighting the urge to be completely obvious, but there was no way I could win that battle. I should have went to the bookstore to begin with. It was on the way home anyway.

I had no idea what I was looking for. The most exotic thing I’ve read up to that point was a few Kerouac poems, and that was for an elective class that I barely passed. How was I going to compete with a woman who once disappeared for five days because she heard about someone halfway across the country who had a first edition, signed copy of a Lawrence Ferlinghetti book that she just had to have? I punted. The guy that worked there was helpful, and I didn’t want to think about it too long this close to closing time on Christmas Eve. He rang me up, and I was on my way.

This copy was in it’s 12th reprint or so. The pristine, glossy cover reflected every haphazardly strung Christmas light in my living room as she unwrapped it. The look on her face was priceless. I was half expecting a, “Oh, I already have this, dear. But thank you,” or at the very least for her to crinkle up her brow, look at me and proclaim, “what the hell is this?” Neither of which happened.

Of all of her endearing qualities, the one I hold most dear, is the fact that she is a terrible card player. Insincerity was never her strong suit, she could never hide what she was thinking. Except for this time. She held the unwrapped book in her hand. Her expression wasn’t joy, or surprise. It wasn’t even the gross, apathetic facsimile of it; The expression you’re forced to wear around the holidays like an ugly sweater that was knitted by your estranged aunt that always smells like cat pee. Nowhere near it. It was the look of lightning striking you when a famous person waves in your direction. The look you make when your best friend admits that he’s been in love with you for years, and you’re just now knowing about it. It wasn’t shock. It was more like shock’s cousin.

The wrapping paper fell to the floor. Her eyes darted around the cover art, studying every stroke and nuance. “Thank you, Peanut,” was all she said, followed by a customary hug.

The rest of the evening was food, drink and laughter by the rest of us. For the better part of the evening, I was convinced that she hated her gift, until I was proven wrong. I stole a glance when I could. Me in full host mode, her holding court on an ottoman. Her Peruvian satchel at her feet, Dollar Store Santa hat on her head, brand new book in her lap, hands gripping it as if it were the last ticket for the greatest merry-go-round on Earth. She threw me her full-cheeked smile. It appeared that she was caught in that wonderful dilemma of deciding whether to crack the spine now, or wait for a more cozier environment that involved down comforters, warm wool socks, hot chocolate, and a couch. She liked it. Christmas was saved. Hallelujah.

The grayish light from outside that has been washing the coffee shop in a shade of meh, seems to have enhanced  how sun-bleached and worn her once vibrant bag was, making every flaw obvious. Every repair jumped out; a newer stitch with different thread here, a patch of cloth with a rubber duck pattern placed in the middle of what was once blue and violet there. A book that was given as a gift many years ago that barely had a fingerprint on the cover, now creased and mangled from years of being stuffed into a bag. The dog eared corners of every page bent into a permanent curve and stained in a subtle tone of Chamomile. Much time has past. And while I bemoan the loss of my own glory days, seeing this ragged book in her ragged bag, this last minute gift for a friend who would go out of her way to paint our worlds in a different color, seeing it loved and appreciated and lived in, warms my heart against the coming snowfall.

The midday crowd shuffles through while the notes from some long, forgotten pop song weave themselves through the pressurized steam of a fully functional espresso machine. She returns and throws a fistful of sugar packets and a stack of napkins into her bag. Old habits die hard. The wooden stick slowly comes to a rest after dancing in the mini tornado in her cup. “Ah,” she says sipping her sweeter tea. “Much better.”

“It’s so good to see you again,” I smile. “Are there any more treks into the unknown for you?”

“To where, the condiment stand?” she winks. “Kidding. No, I don’t think I have anything left in me. It was fun while it lasted. I wrote down a bunch of names so I can keep in touch with the people that I met, and I have more snapshots and trinkets and memories than I know what to do with. But,” she pauses to take a look around her.  “I miss the states. I miss home.”

“Well, I for one am happy that you can still call this town home,”  I say. “Most people we knew left in the middle of the night and didn’t come back. I lost track of how many times Tina and I thought about packing up a U-Haul and heading south.”

Well traveled eyes find mine. “Don’t go south,” she whispered. “I’ve known too many snowbirds who melt too easily in June, and curse the day they moved anywhere south of Boston when they do. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you couldn’t make at least one snowball a year. I believe someone told me that a long time ago.”

“It was that winter where it didn’t snow until February. I remember.” Small talk and fond memories over warm drinks. Creature comforts that hold a person still long enough to sprout the tiniest promises of roots. But her distant, hunter’s gaze through the window tells me all I’ve already known about her.

“So, this really is the end of the road for you?”
“Yep. I’m officially retiring from globetrotting. I’ve been looking for a place for a few days now. You wouldn’t happen to know if your old place is rented yet, would you?”
“I’m not sure. I think the landlord was going condo, last time I checked.”
“Bummer.”
“I could look, if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah, I never liked where it was anyway. Too far away from everything.”
“It’d be nice to have you back.”
“It’s nice to be back.”
“And you’re headed to Central America…when?”
“Next year. As soon as I get enough…” I wrangled her mind from roaming too far. We have found each other again. “I could never get anything past you huh, Peanut.”
“Not today, Teddy Bear.” I laugh.

The kid behind the counter replaces stale, old coffee urns for fresh ones. Two schoolgirls squeal at the text one of them received a few tables over. An old man shakes his newspaper to shoo away the world. At this moment, all is well.

 

©2016 AA Payson