Monday, June 05, 2006

Alrighty!

New blog here

New story blog here

Both of them at sarcasticfringe.com

What a weekend for this wee little writer.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Hey! I'm still unpacking in the new space, trying to get the links and icons to work well in all browsers. Kind of like waiting for the cable or satellite guy. Except I'm waiting on the Firefox guy. My neighbors are friendly. A few have stopped by with special brownies and a case of Mike's Hard Lemonade. My view of the hills is spectacular. Come on over. No need to call first or anything. My house is yours.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Now posting at my new blog space . I'll figure out this redirect process before the week is out. Maybe. Until then, please change your bookmarks to sarcasticfringe.com/fringehead and click on the provided link. Thanks!
Thanks to Tribe for including me in his flash fiction gallery Flashing in the Gutters. The Serenade was published on his site today. What an exciting Saturday morning.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I'm writing in my sleep now. I was over-sleeping this morning and I saw in my dream-lite the opening couple of sentences of a new 500 word short short. I liked those sentences and I was asking myself if the introduction was my usual style when I finally opened my eyes. By the time I sat up in bed, the story was gone. I have no idea what the sentences were or what the story was to be. I do remember that it was a father teaching his son about something. Fishing? I know nothing about fishing. But I know the father was quite earnest in his teaching as the son was in his listening. It could come back to me later, but I doubt it. Anyway, I'm writing in my sleep again as I did when I was much younger. Good days ahead...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

499 words. It took about an hour to write, so maybe this break is doing some good. Rambling in my blog may be therapeutic. Or it may just be rambling in my blog. History will judge.

The Serenade

Fingers in his lap, nervously touching, tip to tip. His head is down, yet he can see her with a secret sideways glance, three seats back in the row next to his. His hair sports no neat cut and his jeans are of the corduroy. Like this, he feels he cannot speak to her even though he has seen her before speak cheerfully to passengers who smell like 1,000 missed baths. Confidence lost, he is without motion as she exits the rear door of the bus.

Off the bus, three blocks, he walks in the opposite direction to search for her. Not to talk or engage, simply to know. To observe her doing what she does, being who she is. The first time he did this, he learned she likes coffee with splashes of milk. Another was the discovery of a single content of the leather bag she carries: a gossip magazine. He was not prejudging her, only hoping the magazine was for a sick friend. When he saw her reading it as she waited for her coffee, he restructured her as a populist, a star descending from the heavens to make Earth a little brighter, hotter, white light blue light.

On the corners, he sang in languages that moved people to fill his hat with coins and paper. He asked those with cameras to line the hat with their bills before snapping. Those with kids and cameras, ten dollars upfront. They obliged, he sang and posed, wondering what she would do if she happened to pass him by in these moments. Would she want a picture with him? Of him? He would sing her an Italian aria and melt her soul. Her money would be an insult as he instead would ask her to marry him. Or ask her name. Her name would be a good start.

Clutching his paper bag, saying goodnight to the clerk, Keeper of the Stoli, he likes to joke, he turns a corner and nearly runs her over. Runs her over. Her. Swallowing hard and finding a throat in rebellion, he cannot speak even an I’m sorry. She smiles at him her acceptance of his silent apologies and walks away unharmed, uninjured, unaffected by his accidental touch. He drops his bag and, trying to recover her presence, begins to sing. The aria. Their aria. If she hears him, she lets no one know of it. The sway of her hips disappears with her steps and brings brutal end to the serenade.

I am on your bus, he whispers after her into the night. I am on your bus, he says to everyone who passes him on the street. I am on your bus, he sings on the street corners, but no one pays for this information. The cameras stay in their bags. I am on your bus to Keeper of the Stoli who now bags the vodka with a sad look of misunderstanding. I am on your bus, he says, but no longer rides.

For whatever reason, I am feeling nostalgic today. In that spirit, I am listing all the jobs I've held (and the ones that held me hostage) over the years. My first job, I was 10 years old and kept it until I was no longer age-appropriate for the gig at 15. I didn't keep another job for five years until much later in life. I'm a bit of a vagabond and I get bored easily. I'm much better suited for the life of the independently wealthy, but alas...

Listed in chronological order by numeral:

1. TV anchor for local kids' news show on the NBC affiliate. I learned to read a teleprompter. I had personality. I was probably not well-liked by my five co-anchors. I earned $15 per show.

2. Games worker for amusement park. I took the money and pushed the button to start the mechanized horses' run from the gate to the finish line. I earned around $400 a month and I wasn't required to contribute to the family income in any way, so I blew it on junk every payday. That set the stage for many paydays to come.

3. Student work/loan program worker at a campus day care. Never again.

4. Retail worker--The Limited. Paycheck spent on clothes.

5. Retail worker--The Gap before it morphed into Gap. I hated my manager. Went back to...

6. Retail worker--The Limited. A year later, my hated Gap manager became my hated Limited manager. What the fuck, right? Did she follow me? I quit when my grandfather told me to hurry up and graduate already.

7. Retail worker--Uzzolo, a lighting store near K Street in Washington DC. I tried to be a full-time student, but I wasn't very good at going to class. One day, I was in line registering for the new semester and the line was really long and somewhere in my waiting time, I decided to take the semester off.

8. Retail worker--Mrs. Field's Cookies. Yum. Back in school by now and moonlighting at The Limited for the discount. Then quit The Limited because I got a promotion at Mrs. Field's. I got to make the schedule and make bank deposits. Then I got to take a lie detector test because someone stole the night's deposit. "They" thought I did it since I showed up the next week with my brand new charge card purchases that I was so excited about. I failed the polygraph, but kept my job through common sense. Who steals the night deposit and spends it on new bathroom towels?

9. No more college jobs. My grandfather was getting a little upset. Pick a major, please, and get your lazy butt home, is my paraphrasing of his demand.

10. First after-college job? Back at The fucking Limited. But I was management, god-doggit. So we were opening a new kids' store and I was in charge of recruiting freight unpackers and clothes hanger-uppers. I posted signs on the job board at one college and it was so hot that day, I went home without posting signs at the college across the street. Wow. That first college--lots of people wanted to be box unpackers and clothes hanger-uppers. My lead manager told all callers to come on, let's get this done. She panicked when her store was filled with students from what happened to be a historically black university. I don't think she'd ever been around that many black people at one time. Ever. I got taken to lunch. Not as a reward, but as a what the fuck were you thinking? Man, I thought she wanted the boxes unpacked and the clothes hung up, not a meeting of the Junior League. Whatever. I forget if I quit or got fired shortly thereafter.

11. Oh, yeah. I remember now. I quit because I got offered a marketing (my belatedly chosen major) job with a small newspaper. Commission only, my dad was paying my rent. Job over soon enough.

12. Retail worker--bookstore. I got to read on the job and didn't like putting a day's worth of books back on the proper shelves after the store closed at freaking midnight. I was drinking by then and getting off work at one in the morning was a serious crimp in bar time. I hadn't yet figured out I could drink at my apartment any old time I felt like it.

13. Full-time writer hanging out with full-time painter. I was scribbling in my journal while watching him paint. That doesn't pay anything. I was charging everything from rent to wine to dinner for six to my dad's credit cards. He never said anything to me, but he must have mentioned something to my brother. Next thing I knew, I was on an interview for my next job after another what the fuck conversation, but with my brother this time.

14. Customer service--FedEx. Hard to get any writing done while tracking some dude's Lands End turtleneck like it's the end of the world.

15. Courier--FedEx. I liked that job since the writer in me had committed suicide during a customer service call gone bad. But I got into a scrum with my station manager and quit on principle. I miss the health benefits, but I kept my honor.

16. Staff writer for a church. Not bad. I had to answer a short ministry survey like "how many people have you brought to Christ" or something like that. I skipped the question and still got the job. I'm guessing that wasn't really a prerequisite.

17. Abstinence director for a conservative Christian ministry. Abstinence can mean so many things, but they meant abstinence from sex. Hmmm. Another survey. This one really long and personal. I answered how I thought I should answer at the time. The director told me that God told her to hire me. Go God. I don't think God told her to pay me less than $30,000, but I guess he does the hiring, she sets the salaries. I got fired for getting pregnant while being not exactly married to the guy I was fucking while being completely depressed about so many things, that unliveable salary being chief among them. I didn't get fired for getting pregnant. I got fired for refusing to apologize for sinning or whatever.

18. Technical writer for creative temporary agency I found on the 'net while surfing with the round belly. They didn't care about no baby daddy drama, only that I was good at translating engineering documents into English.

19. Current job as technical editor. Trying to revive/rebirth the writer who left me those many years ago.

Writing everyday is a difficult process especially when I have nothing to say or I can't pull away in my own story. I have great quotes floating in my head about the compulsion of writers and how insane we are if we're not writing and how unstable we show ourselves to be when we are. Yes, we live in our heads most of the time and, ironically, we are not the best communicators. It's confusing. We can argue for days online about root words and other etymologies while flying into fits of self-righteous rage, but we cannot say, in person, "Dude, you hurt my feelings" or "I think you overcharged me for this item, sir."

Perhaps I should not try to speak for all writers. Let me speak for this one. Being a part of any community is hard for me. Work, school, social organizations (forget that one altogether). If I'm new to the scene, as I am to this blogging community, I am silent except in my own space until I read something that touches a nerve, making me want to help or spend my two cents. I contribute to the discussion and, every time, immediately regret the decision. Always thinking that someone will find me dismissive or rude or insincere. Or that someone will be dismissive, rude or insincere toward me. (I also proofread the hell out of each and every comment and entry. So I'm regretting and I'm wondering about comma placement all at once)

Blogging every day makes me write every day, and that was the original goal when I started this thing (thanks to I-know-who). Whether I finish my story or not, I've learned to write for an audience (yes, an audience of three, but that's more community than I ever received in my sketchbook journal). I've learned to swallow praise and criticism as the same little coated caplet. I've always been an information nerd, so having the Internet at my fingertips while I write is amazing.

When I was younger, I used to give soliliquies similar to this one over how my mother was persecuting the genius in me by making me clean my room or clean the kitchen. My brother, paraphrasing me in his hilarious falsetto, would stand to the side of my dramatics with a hand to his forehead and cry: "Goodbye, cruel world" or something to that effect. He always made me laugh and, to this day, can still call me on my bullshit. I was thinking just now that I may not continue this blog for much longer, and those scenes with my brother popped into my head.

Writing is hard work. Writing well is harder. Any philosophers out there? Did I get that right? I'd hate to make illogical leaps of thought here on the 'net. That never happens.

More later, after I feel I have my shit together. Or maybe before I get my shit together. That choice might make things a little more interesting.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I found both the short story and the poem on the author's website with this very straightforward note:

This work is copyright M.A. Mohanraj 1995, all rights reserved. Please don't repost this or make it publically accessible via FTP, mail server, or archive site without my explicit permission.


I'm sure if I keep looking, I'll find a similar note dated 2006, so I'll just go with the 1995 annotation. I removed both works and linked to them on her Web site. She also gives a great interview about, among other things, publishing first drafts on the Web. I think I'll camp out on her front lawn this weekend to see if she'll talk to me.
I'm being quite mean and partially illegal by posting the poem and short story in their entirety without first asking permission, so they may not be on my site much longer. As soon as I find an active link, I'll remove the text and post the link. I'm too excited to wait, though, and if the author finds her work on my blog before I have a chance to do it the right way and she's pissed off, I'll totally understand. I'd be pissed off, too, finding my shit on someone's blog posted without my prior knowledge or permission. Or maybe I'd be flattered. Flattered if the person asked first. Then, I'd let her post away.
Good lord, I'm in love. I'm feeling kind of knocked over, maybe even knocked up, right now. No more words...

Feather by M.A. Mohanraj
You know how, one night, you self-google out of boredom, then you do it again the next night because, well, it just happens that way, then next thing you know, you've got a bit of a habit going there until you say "Stop! This is getting pathetic!" but then, one night after that, you stumble into some accidental lovin' that makes everything good and washes over you like clear creek water?

Found while googling "fringes": a poem Fringes by M.A. Mohanraj


Is this woman talking to me? I do believe she is. Did she write this poem for me? I do believe she did. If anyone is keeping up with my current short story, we have to be completely awed by this discovery. A short story by this author will be in the next post. I'll find an active link to her work and post it when I find one.

[Update: found the active link, so I removed the poem from this site and posted the link]
More self-googling, I found Stillwater. Well, I found his blog mention, anyway.

I get no love from Yahoo.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Self-Googling again, I Google the name Stillwater Crowe who is my slightly lost, finding-his-way, if-only-his-writer-would-get-her-shit-together protagonist. Many hits for Cameron Crowe. That makes sense. And lots of hits referring to Cameron Crowe's movie Almost Famous and the fictitious band Stillwater, an amalgam of the various bands Crowe covered while writing for Rolling Stone. Maybe Cam saw me coming and named his band in tribute to my slightly lost, finding-his-way, if-only-his-writer-would-get-her-shit-together protagonist. It's a great name. I'd steal it myself if I hadn't already made it up.
I've decided that I'll try to maybe make the 500-word-or-less short shorts a regular thing to do in this space as I'm drifting back to Stillwater. Lots of qualifiers and modifiers in that sentence. Trying not to commit in case I change my mind or get swept up by other things or people. Does commit have two t's? That's one of those words that just doesn't look right when I spell it.

Hey, new visitors: stay and read a while. We have good days here at the Sarcastic Fringehead. Leave a footprint so I'll know you've been by. If you are a new visitor and I am dating you, don't read every single word. Sometimes I'm journaling online when I should be sleeping and that's apparent a few times a week. Just kind of skim off the top and deliver the proper accolades over our next round of strawberry blonde martinis.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Writer's blog surfing again. I like the writer's tone in this blog ink on my fingers. A link to Susannah's space is in my sidebar.

My friend Flood started her blogger interviews today.

A rainy Memorial Day here but it's never too rainy to eat at my dad's house.

Friday, May 26, 2006

462 words after a mini-edit. I'm not obsessed with numbers. Just wanted to get it right for those who may be counting.
I decided on a 500-word maximum. So this is more of an exercise, but I truly hope, at 456 words, it's still a story. Thoughts and comments welcome.

blue girl

The weirdest dreams I’ve been having lately. When I’m in the dreams, I know I’m in a dream and, in the dream, I’m okay with that. Lots of boxes. Fabric stretched over box-shaped frames. I’m standing in the middle of them, looking around. People are coming in and people are going out. Nobody is really noticing me and this is not a concern of mine, being noticed.

I wake up from one of these dreams and walk to the refrigerator in my pajamas. Cotton pajamas. I have to buy those for myself. When I get pajamas as gifts, they are the silky polyester blend pajamas and I’m not into those for sleeping. Cotton pajama pants and a little t-shirt, those are for sleeping. I’m at the refrigerator and I pour a glass of orange juice. Leaning my head against the cool metal door, I’m in the moment relieved.

I think about my father a great deal when I am unable to sleep. It is the thought of him, charismatic and handsome, that wakes me. He was, in my strongest memories, unable to keep his hands off any woman who passed him by. His favorite joke, talking about me, about how “we’re not sure who the mother is” caused uncomfortable laughter each time he told it with his insider’s wink, but I always thought it was funny. He would hold me at night, kissing my cheeks and smelling of the most wonderful blend of French wine, homemade bread and cigarettes, whispering that it was him and me against the world while a honey-of-the-moment slept in the next room.

My father named me Ali after the great fighting Ali, and he used to say I was just as pretty and just as strong. When strangers call me Alley at the sight of my name on paper, a seismic shift in tone occurs when I correct them to Ah-LEE. It’s a fight in perception, and I am always ready for that. When I was young, people were most curious at the discovery of a redheaded white girl named for a converted Cassius Clay. Today, the perception is all about religion, and no one gives a thought to boxing.

Back to sleep, the dreams begin again. My father, this time with me among the boxes, cannot stop moving. His fingers frantic and light against the fabric then the frames then to my face and lips. He looks confused and afraid just like he did when he knew he was dying, and I don’t know how to help. So I can’t. So I don’t. He kisses me goodnight, he kisses me goodbye, but I feel nothing against my skin, memory of his face to mine fading long ago. Not a person notices us before he falls away.

Blue Girl. Great working title. Even better: blue girl. Do not ask how the lower case letters change the meaning. I'm not sure, but I like it, so there it is.

Wouldn't you love to get your hands on the blog musings of your favorite authors? Why, God, why were we so late with this wonderful supplementary writing tool? Then we'd know for a fact the great ones suffered from the same dibilitating thought processes sometimes.

An entry from Chickens, Etc., the blog of Charles Dickens:

This is a story of two cities enjoying and enduring. [No wait. That's crap. Let's try it again.] There was happiness and there was sadness. People were walking, people were standing still. [Hey, I've got a theme going here. More after coffee...] There was hope among the lost [Shit. After the coffee break, I lost the rhythm. Won't get up again until I work it out]

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

That should do it for the day. [Is anybody reading this? Going to check my stats again]


I'd love to see the blog musings of Van Gogh, but no painter I know has any idea how to power on a computer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

As usual, my friend Flood was right. I do need working titles for my fragments. It might be confusing, now that I have more than one going on at the same time, to refer to the fragments as this fragment and that other fragment. Until she rescues me by comment and suggestion, in this post is "a new fragment that has nothing to do with the Stillwater/Parker fragment". I'll work on it more later.

The weirdest dreams I’ve been having lately. When I’m in the dreams, I know I’m in a dream and, in the dream, I’m okay with that. Lots of boxes. Fabric stretched over box-shaped frames. I’m standing in the middle of them, looking around. People are coming in and people are going out. Nobody is really noticing me and this is not a concern of mine, being noticed.

I wake up from one of these dreams and walk to the refrigerator in my pajamas. Cotton pajamas. I have to buy those for myself. When I get pajamas as gifts, they are the silky polyester blend pajamas and I’m not into those for sleeping. Cotton pajama pants and a little t-shirt, those are for sleeping. I’m at the refrigerator and I pour a glass of orange juice. Leaning my head against the cool metal, I’m in the moment relieved.

My father named me Ali after the great fighting Ali, and he used to say I was just as pretty and just as strong. When strangers call me Alley at the sight of my name on paper, a seismic shift in tone occurs when I correct them to Ah-LEE. It’s a fight in perception, and I am always ready for that. When I was young, people were most curious at the discovery of a redheaded white girl named for a converted Cassius Clay. Today, the perception is all about religion, and no one gives a second thought about to boxing.

Confession. Not a confession. Just something I forgot to mention before now. The hold up is not that I cannot gets these cats out of the tub. It is, in fact, that it's time to focus on Parker, it's past time to focus on Parker, and I gots nothing. I don't know if that's because I'm so in tune with Stillwater or if it's because I'm detached from Parker. I know nothing about her. How she works on the inside. I don't know what she's thinking. It's time for her voice to emerge and I cannot find the voice. I think what I'll do is insert her into another, unrelated story. Write her, write with her, in a totally separate context. Forget about Stillwater for now. If all goes well, I can slip her back into that bathtub a fleshed-out, multi-layered and -dimensional character. Maybe without all those hyphens, though.
Too funny, too well-written for me not to share in this space. I would have sacrificed my life under the same circumstances.

Passengers Bravely Take Down Plane Showing Big Momma's House 2
Words I never thought I'd Google:

fake shaman

Found this entry on this really interesting blog.
I'm stepping back from the work for a while. That's not uncommon. I need a little space between me and whatever life force I'm channeling to help write the piece. I can always change my mind about certain things I've decided. In the original work, the destination for the characters' journey was the geographic middle of the world or of their country, I can't remember which. It may have not been specified. Anyway, for my purposes, I chose the geographic center of the 50 United States, which is somewhere in South Dakota. Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer. I'm sure it's a beautiful place. But this entirely changes the environment that I originally had in mind for the journey's destination. Is Parker's father a fake shaman? Hey, that's pretty good. Or is he a manager at the local Kwik-E Mart? I'm liking the fake shaman idea.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Silly me. I've already got a plot. Waiting for the plot mechanism fairy to visit my pillow and me. Tonight. Bring a friend, plot mechanism fairy. Bring a friend and something to drink.
Somebody call roadside assistance, I'm stuck. I cannot get Stillwater and Parker on the road. They are still in the bathtub, actually. Pruning. Waiting. For me. To get them out. And onto the yellow brick road, so to speak. Except this yellow brick road is Interstate Highway 29 that connects with I-90 through towns called Le Mars, Yankton and Kadoka. I should call the good people of Le Mars and tell them that they probably meant La Mer if they were trying to go all French on everybody, but forget it. What the hell do I know?

Waiting for the plot fairy to visit my pillow and me in the middle of the night...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

On my daily writer's blog stroll, I found a fun challenge on Mr. Schprock's blog. Mind you, I don't know Mr. Schprock personally. He seems like good people, though, and he's a very smart, very funny regular-life writing kind of guy. So the challenge is this: he assigned me a letter as a prompt for thinking of ten things that I associate with that letter. Somehow, as I'm writing about it, I can admit that Mr. Schprock did a much better job of describing the challenge and encouraging people to play along. But, anyway, my letter is F and here goes. No editing, just writing off the top of my head.

1. Fringes--my anon user name for the blog chosen because I always feel as though I'm living on the fringes of someone else's life. Plus, didn't you like that soft, fringy feel of the fringes on the sleeves of your fancy dry-clean-only Easter dress when you were in second grade?

2. Forever--which nothing ever is. But we use that word a lot. Friends forever. Love forever. I'll be here for you forever. Fucking liars. It. Never. Happens. That. Way. Unless forever actually means until something better comes along.

3. Fuck--sorry, Mr. Schprock. Your blog seems so family-oriented. Mine is kind of not family-oriented. If anyone is offended by the f-word being used in a list designed expressly for f-words, my apologies. But it can't be left off even in polite society.

4. Furry--I have a friend who uses this word for "friends" he likes to "date". The furrier the better and he'll shout that from the mountain tops. I don't like my men furry. My, this is certainly Learn Everything About Fringes Day. LEAF Day, our new national holiday.

5. Finances--always worried about them. Always find a way to make them work.

6. Friends--love them. The three that I have.

7. Fabulous--one of my favorite descriptions.

8. Fantastic--used when I am being sarcastic. Overdrawn those finances again? Fantastic.

9. Fantabulous--combo of my second and third most often used f-words.

10. Finished--with the list. I had Fun. Thanks, Mr. Schprock, for letting me play.

42. That was my longest post ever.

43. I will resist the temptation to edit any part of the post or the list.

44. Even though I have already noticed several things that should be changed before the Earth can continue spinning correctly on its axis.

    Two separate incidents, both happened at a party. Two separate incidents, both happened at a party and made people say to me "That was you?" for years afterwards upon meeting me for a second time in a different place.

    Here's what happened. At these parties. The music is going and people are talking and dancing. I do not dance. I have danced, but people have laughed at me, so I do not dance, okay? And I like to talk, but not to people I barely know because you never know what they are going to do with the information. They could share it with others. Or keep it to themselves and think it over as they are getting dressed for bed. To be on the safe side, most of my personal information stays with me until I feel comfortable with that person. Which sometimes happens immediately and which sometimes happens never.

    So at these parties where people are talking and dancing, I am reading a book. The first party, I was in ninth grade. This was right after junior high, my days of carrying a small bag that held the key to the burglar bar gate protecting our lovely suburban, yet prone to burglary, home. The key to my house, two quarters and a book. I still had that habit by ninth grade, but maybe I also carried some form of ID. But always a book. And at this party, I pulled it out and laid claim to a spot by the punch bowl and started to read. And drink. Setting the stage for my life years later, but I digress.

    I confused people that night, those partiers. Who couldn't figure out why I was at a party reading a book when there were so many opportunities for almost-sex even though chaperones were going in and out of the room. But, see, I knew nothing about almost-sex or full on sex for many many years after ninth grade. And since I didn't dance and nobody was talking to me, and my ride was in the corner of the room having almost-sex with his girlfriend, I pulled out my book and was perfectly satisfied with whatever story was going on between its pages.

    The next time I did that was ten years later. Sure, I'd discovered almost-sex by that time, but I'd also discovered that I didn't like parties, and here I was at another one. But this one was a more intimate affair. Requiring that I talk to people for longer periods about things I was completely uninterested in. I'd stopped carrying books in my bag a few years earlier (why?) so I was forced to browse the party-giver's living room bookshelf for something to read. What was the name of Terry MacMillan's first book? I can't remember. But that was the book. And I read until my ride decided she was ready to go. Best lesson learned that night: drive own car.

    My social skills haven't seriously improved since those two incidents. I'm still the quiet girl in the corner of a crowded and noisy room. Sometimes, I need to be reminded of the importance of mingling and sharing things about myself within a welcoming community. Here's a list. I like lists. They make me look organized.

    Things about me I have decided to share on the Internet:

    1. I am older than 30 and younger than 40.
    2. I look younger than 30. This is genetical.
    3. I am unsure if genetical is a word.
    4. I never planned on working a full-time job.
    5. I have been working full-time for over 20 years.
    6. When a man properly references scenes from The Princess Bride, I like him.
    7. I asked for a train set for three consecutive Christmases and never scored higher than a ceramic tea set.
    8. I learned long ago to buy my own Christmas presents.
    9. My family is very much still doing the church thing. Me, not so much. They are confused about my non-attendance. I am irritated by their confusion. Do I ask them why they no longer shop at Wal-Mart? No, I do not. Do I inform them that their children will suffer if they switch from Goodyear to Michelin? I do not. I let adults make their own freaking decisions.
    10. I am flattered when someone wants to be my friend.
    11. I am much better on paper than in person.
    12. I watch Cops and American Idol. Religiously.
    13. I love National Football League games.
    14. The window has probably closed on my goal of having sex with an active NFL player.
    15. But, you never know.
    16. I fall in love easily.
    17. I am easily discouraged.
    18. I am the champion of others as they dream out loud.
    19. Tracy McGrady is my favorite National Basketball Association player.
    20. I have been a Houston Astros fan since the day I was born.
    21. I am impatient with adults who should know better.
    22. I am very patient with children who should know better.
    23. My musical tastes are varied and intimate. Listing favorite artists or CDs is like listing favorite lovers.
    24. Right this second on my jukebox: I'll Fly Away by Alison Krauss
    25. I am close to my parents and my brother and sister and their families.
    26. Favorite writers: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    27. Charlie Kaufman
    28. Anais Nin
    29. Gloria Naylor
    30. Alice Walker
    31. Pablo Neruda
    32. Shel Silverstein
    33. I don't know much about contemporary writers, although I did pay attention when Jonathan Franzen refused to let Oprah endorse his book The Corrections in 2001.
    34. I have never read an Oprah-endorsed book.
    35. My favorite Starbucks coffee is the vanilla bean frappuccino, mocha affogato-style. Don't forget the whipped cream.
    36. I am now in love with Mike's Hard Crisp Apple. Mike's Hard Lemonade will always be my first true love.
    37. After vodka.
    38. Movies are my new books.
    39. Favorite movies are too many to list.
    40. The best parts about my current job are deciding where to eat lunch, standing up from my desk to go home, and the paycheck.
    41. I am most excited when someone else's credit card is being passed to the cashier for my purchases. My heart gets warm.

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    I'm going to move on from this part of the draft. I think I have enough questions answered for now. I really think it's time for Stillwater and Parker to hit the road. They would have left Kansas City today, but I had the worst allergy attack and I didn't get anything done, writing or otherwise. So, tomorrow, the journey continues, if I feel better.

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    The rewrite:

    The aunt touched my hand. Then touched my shoulder. Put two hands to my face. There is barely space between us by the time she speaks to me again. “Not all of my life, Stillwater, but all of yours.”

    Close to me, in one ear, she whispers in mystical tongues. Words that soothe, compassionate words that demand, chants of praise and of calling. I knew her name to be Magnificent as she held on tight and promised me centeredness and freedom from confusion, my permanence restored. The house darkened and I was vaguely aware of Parker’s movements in and out of the room, but I don’t know how long she, Magnificent, held me and whispered to me. Hours. She kissed my forehead and I fell into a chair at the kitchen table, crying uncontrollably. I do not cry. Even after broken bones, always mine and always because of her, my mother would brag to our crazy neighbors that I cried not a single pussy tear. Walking away from her that last day, not even tears of relief. Here, in this house, I didn’t think the tears could stop coming. Magnificent wiped them away.

    I was born, I told her, seeing the lives of others, days at a time. I know things about people that they have forgotten or that they never knew. One look, one touch and I’m there, breathing with them, breathing for them. “It is my…”

    I search and Magnificent completes: “It is your divine destiny.”

    The irony makes me laugh to myself. Reliving the horror of some people being fucked over by the universe doesn’t feel all that divine most days. They pass by me on the street and transfer to me all their shit in all its shitty glory and, without knowing how or why, they can make it another day and another day, each day becoming less fucked up than the day before it.

    “Or you could say, Stillwater, that your power, your gift, makes their following days more bearable, more optimistic. Without knowing why, people follow you, yes. They look for you, they need you. Why do they talk to you and tell their entire life stories while you are buying bread in the grocery store?”

    Good fucking question, I say, but to myself.

    “Redemption. Everybody’s looking for it and you are its host.

    “It’s as though their spirits are floating wayward and unanchored, looking for you, looking for that shop, looking for the one person or thing that will remove from them the stain of being human. It is especially on this trip with Parker as you meet all kinds of people in all kinds of pain that your gift will at times seem more of a misfortune, but each day as you guide Parker nearer to what she needs, you’ll become more at peace with your own life.”

    But, Parker, I whisper to Magnificent, is completely closed off from me. Nothing she says brings her spirit closer to me and almost everything she says pushes it away.

    Parker is a carrier, reveals Magnificent. She absorbs nothing and, sometimes, being with her seems more like an affliction—she laughs and continues, “I’m being too harsh. It’s like this. When you catch a cold, you catch it from Parker. But she’s not sick. She’s not tired. Not a cough or a sneeze or one single symptom. You’re not sure why you know she gave you this cold, yet you do know she’s the one who brought the virus into your house and passed it on to you. You’re preparing to die from this, the worst cold you’ve ever had in your life and she, the carrier, gets to decide if she is going to care for you until you are well again or if she’s going to leave you behind to suffer and wonder why you allowed her into your life in the first place.

    “Her mother died when she was a little girl, and we were all heartbroken. My sister, Parker’s mother, was the youngest, and everybody in our family adored her. She had a bit of a public reputation of being maybe selfish, definitely arrogant, but we all knew that was a façade. She had a generous spirit without knowing exactly how to show that to people she didn’t know very well.

    “It was an accident as are all deaths involving three-year-olds. And my heart tells me that Meran was already dead before the fire started, but I can’t seem to convince those who want to blame Parker for being left alone with matches and her curiosity. But our sister drank in dangerous quantities very dangerous cocktails, and if she hadn’t died that day in the fire, it would have happened sooner than later from a drug overdose.

    “English, Parker’s father, was incapable of taking care of himself and his family. He should have shouldered some blame for the fire, but he escaped blame that day simply because of his physical absence from the house in that moment. The first finger he pointed was at his own daughter--a baby--and I knew him to be insane.

    “Parker came to live with me that very day. I was the natural choice. I always had six or eight or ten little munchkins running around here and I had room for many more. She tried to find her way around here, but she never quite fit in. She felt persecuted in all absence of malice or ill will in the company of the other children. She became the least transparent of everyone in the house. But she was always the most determined to work well within her limitations.”

    “By pretending she has no limitations,” I said, now understanding the lies and the bravado and the little girl vulnerability all at once. I had to know: “Did you send Parker to me?”

    With a wry smile, with a beautiful and distant look, Magnificent considered her answer. “I guided her to you, yes. This is her home, she is always welcome here. I sent her your way knowing when she returned, you’d be with her. But, this is not the end, you know that. It’s barely the beginning. You’ll complement, insulate and protect each other along the way. Rest here tonight, then get going."

    Parker appeared in the doorway and waited. In the silence following those final moments, she led me upstairs to a drawn bath. Such a beautiful girl as she quietly asked should she stay with me or leave me alone. She asked, but she knew. I wrapped my legs and arms around her as we dipped ourselves into the warm water. “Tomorrow,” said Parker, “we mark our path.”

    Friday, May 19, 2006

    The Jacksons' Victory Tour. 1984. Houston. I was there as I had been for every other time Michael Jackson performed within 50 miles of my childhood home. Mike waved to me that night. I'm not a screamer. Never have I been an overly demonstrative person. If I get loud, it's because I'm excited not because I'm obnoxious. So that night, in my excited yet not overly demonstrative way, I got Michael Jackson's attention and he waved to me. And only me. Mattered not that our seats were so high above the stage that we had oxygen masks dangling from the rafters in case of a loss in pressure. He knew I was there and he acknowledged me for the love I had for him.

    I feel that way when I read certain writers' work. Especially when I am going through a difficult time. I'll run across a passage or a poem or a funny story that was obviously written specifically for me in a specific situation. Matters not that the person knows nothing of my existence. But it's especially moving when a kindred spirit says exactly what I need to hear exactly when I need to hear it.

    Thanks, Flood.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006

    This is one of those days I should be scribbling on scraps of paper and talking out loud to myself, but instead, I am choosing to post my insanity for all the world (est. pop. 5) to see.

    I've mentioned before that this story is based on a book that has enjoyed/suffered many variations and adaptations. The story I am trying to finish is yet another, but it's mine and I'm excited about it. I've made many changes to the characters and to the way the story is told (for legal purposes and to save money at the library copy machine).

    One major change is that Parker's original character accidentally kills another character near the beginning of the original story. The Parker character is extremely sorry about this person's death, but, really, she says, that's the least of her worries. Now, a colleague (competitor?) of the dead person shows up and Parker again apologizes for the mishap, but says again "not my problem, I need to get out of here."

    Alright, the colleague is being represented in my version by Parker's aunt Magnificent. The Magnificent in the original story shows up to the scene and gives the Parker character something that belonged to the dead person and the something is highly valuable to yet another colleague who, upon hearing this, is fucking angry about it. And the pissed off character is now coming after Parker. So the Magnificent character gives the Parker character a kiss of protection that will keep her from harm as she's trying to get where she's going. And off she goes, in harm's way, but protected.

    Problem: I decided to eliminate the accidental death. And somewhere in there, I forgot to create a conflict that would make sense of Magnificent's need to protect Stillwater and Parker before they head out to Castle Rock.

    See, this is what happens when visitors find your draft on your blog and they actually read it. And take notes. And email you a copy of the notes. They have questions. And concerns. And guess what. My work has plot holes. My work is filled with non sequitur (I had to look that one up, too).

    Somewhere at some point while Parker is drinking herself into Stillwater's lap the first night they meet, something needs to be said. What is she running from (is she running?) or how exactly has losing her linchpin turned her life upside down? I know that when my life was turned upside down, the first thing to disappear was the possibility of my driving a luxury SUV across the country. What the hell is going on with Parker that got her hooked up with Stillwater at that shop?

    This is one of those forehead-to-keyboard days, but I must admit: constructive criticism and critical thinking are wonderful concepts. They carry no hurt that a new pair of jeans can't heal. And some sparkly sandals. Oh, and the pedicure. Never deny your toenails a shiny coat of summer pink when starting over on the story draft.
    Oooh, look! A task from last Friday's to-do list.

    4. ...Map the route, grow the characters. Introduce Freddie Mercury and Tim Woodman (and change that name) at a couple of intervals along the way. Get them all to Castle Rock together to meet Parker's father English Osbourn.


    What the hell was I thinking? This is going to take a while. I have no idea how to read a map. A road trip for me is a run to the grocery store. Time to call these little towns and get some local attraction travel brochures sent my way. James Michener would be proud...

    Why am I doing this again? Finishing what you started seems today sooo overrated.
    Hey, it's Charlie Kaufman Day here at the Sarcastic FringeHead. Cheap popcorn and free wine.
    Charlie Kaufman...my other writing god. Thanks to the blog at Bookslut for the L.A. Times article alert. Registration may be required to read the article. Do it, man. Register. Or not. Whatever. But, dude, it's Charlie Kaufman.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    Don't be so hasty, I told myself before picking up my Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball extra fine pen. Maybe it's not the digital writing, but the music playlist. I use my jukebox to create my environment and, apparently, I was in need of a revamp. I won't say in this space which two songs I looped so I could concentrate on the rewrite, but today's draft is better than yesterday's, so the change in playlist helped. Hey...I said that with no qualifiers. No "I think" or "perhaps" or "maybe". It was a bold statement: today's draft is better than yesterday's. I'm getting there...

    The aunt touched my hand. Then touched my shoulder. Put two hands to my face. There is barely any space between us by the time she speaks to me again. “Not all of my life, Stillwater, but all of yours.”

    Close to me, in one ear, she whispers in mystical tongues. Words that soothe, compassionate words that demand, chants of praise and of calling. I knew her name to be Magnificent as she held on tight and promised me centeredness and freedom from confusion, my permanence restored. The house darkened and I was vaguely aware of Parker’s movements in and out of the room, but I don’t know how long she, Magnificent, held me and whispered to me. Hours. She kissed my forehead and I fell into a chair at the kitchen table, crying uncontrollably. I do not cry. Even after broken bones, always mine and always because of her, my mother would brag to our crazy neighbors that I cried not a single pussy tear. Walking away from her that last day, not even tears of relief. Here, in this house, I didn’t think the tears could stop coming. Magnificent wiped them away.

    When I found my own words: “Did you send Parker for me?”

    With a wry smile, with a beautiful and distant look, Magnificent considered her answer. “I guided her to you, yes. This is her home, she is always welcome here. I sent her your way knowing when she returned, you’d be with her. But, this is not the end, you know that. It’s barely the beginning. Rest here tonight, then get going. You’re both protected now and that’s what you needed from me.”

    Parker appeared in the doorway and waited. In the silence following those final moments, she led me upstairs to a drawn bath. Such a beautiful girl as she quietly asked should she stay with me or leave me alone. She asked, but she knew. I wrapped my legs and arms around her as we dipped ourselves into the warm water. “Tomorrow,” said Parker, “we mark our path.”

    [I am aware of the past/present tense changes. I'm writing trying to get the words down as the action is happening. I'll address that issue in the next draft.]

    I have homework. I can't really move forward on the draft without addressing the missing pieces from yesterday's post. So I get to write and rewrite until I get it right. My writing environment is completely wrong for the supernatural feel I am trying to create. While I'm not looking for quills and ink as I toil in a 17th century castle turret bathed in candlelight, I'm still in the wrong place. You know, though, it might not be my surroundings. It could be this computer. Maybe going digital has changed things a little. I'll experiment going back to long hand for a day or so just to find out.

    Meanwhile, I'll start digitally mapping that route from Kansas City to Castle Rock. That should be fun.

    Monday, May 15, 2006

    I'm so behind on South Park this season. But I'm always behind on South Park. I watch entire seasons at a time on TiVo, that's my habit. This weekend, I watched three hours of it so I could see what happened to Chef/Isaac Hayes. That one was funny. But the one about the smug from the hybrid car drivers colliding with the smug from George Clooney's Oscar acceptance speech was my favorite. I could not stop laughing. Sorry about the lack of deep explanation...this post can only make sense to those who have seen the show. Anyway...

    I try to avoid loving the smell of my own self-satisfaction. And sometimes I over-correct the potential problem by losing confidence in what I'm doing. Not having any idea if the work is any good unless someone tells me it is. I think I should already know. But I don't. There are days, of course, when I will stand in the contemporary fiction section of Barnes and Noble with a blow torch ready to burn the books written by writers with, you know, much less talent, yet much more, shall we say, published pages than I. The blow torch might get me arrested, but there is nothing illegal about my scanning a few pages of some delicate milky white hand carefully lifting the receiver of the pink Princess phone and whispering a breathy hello to her stunning new suitor--then throwing the book across the aisle into the trash can behind the customer service desk. I've done that.

    Oh my God...here is more of what I've got so far. My new best friend (in the writing world, that is loosely translated as someone who has said the words "you're good") has suggested that I need a better working title than "current fragment". I never thought about that. Taking all suggestions in the comments field. Taking all suggestions that don't hurt my feelings. I may not be milky white, but I am delicate.

    My placeholding notes for the next draft are in brackets.

    Parker took my hand and stood tall—all five feet, no inches of her—and led me closer. “Her name is Magnificent and she raised me.”

    The aunt touched my hand. Then touched my shoulder. Put two hands to my face. There was barely any space between us by the time she spoke to me again. “Not all of my life, Stillwater, but all of yours.”

    [Here, I definitely need to explain the supernatural presence. Better for it to be explained before the following actions.]

    She kissed my forehead and I fell into a chair at the kitchen table, crying uncontrollably. I do not cry. Even after broken bones, always mine, always because of her, my mother would brag to our crazy neighbors that I “cried not a single pussy tear.” Walking away from her that last day, not even tears of relief. Here, in a place as unfamiliar as I’ve ever been, I didn’t think the tears could stop coming.

    Magnificent wiped them away and held me tight. The house darkened and I was vaguely aware of Parker’s movements in and out of the room. I don’t know how long she, Magnificent, held me and whispered to me. Hours, definitely.

    [More exposition here. What Magnificent knows. How this affects Stillwater.]

    In the silence following those final moments, Parker led me upstairs to a drawn bath. Such a beautiful girl as she quietly asked should she stay with me or leave me alone. She asked, but she knew. I wrapped my legs and arms around her as we dipped ourselves into the warm water. With her on this journey, on her search, I feel strong and capable as her protector.

    [And, here goes Stillwater’s revelation that he is now on a journey of his own, not just as Parker’s foreshadowing sherpa. Today, I am incapable of writing the revelation without cliché and cheese, so I’m leaving it for another day. I like this bath thing they have going, though. Stillwater always makes his move on Parker whenever I’m listening to Maroon 5 while writing…]

    Friday, May 12, 2006

    Okay...next steps. Probably in no particular order. Notes to self:

    1. Figure out what's going on between the aunt and Stillwater. They both have supernatural abilities, but Stillwater's are limited when compared to hers. He has no idea who she is or why she thinks he's a threat. Does she think he's a threat? Don't know yet. Gotta write and find out. Avoiding movie clichés at all times. No need for my Netflix addiction to start making people's skin all tell-tale shiny.

    2. Give Stillwater and Parker some information-gathering time in Kansas. Maybe not venturing them outside the house, though. I don't know shit about Kansas and I'm not trying to make anything up.* But surely Kansas has restaurants and parks and people. I can make up the details about those generalities.

    3. Leaving Kansas, they are heading to Castle Rock, South Dakota. That should be fun, mapping the route between two places I've only flown over by plane. This really makes me appreciate James Michener. That dude was amazing. Hawaii took four years to prepare, then he wrote it in three. And he wasn't searching the Internet looking up facts on Hawaii, entering various islands into Mapquest for four years. He was there, researching first hand.

    4. Remember that I'm not James Michener and that this is a short story. Map the route, grow the characters. Introduce Freddie Mercury and Tim Woodman (and change that name) at a couple of intervals along the way. Get them all to Castle Rock together to meet Parker's father English Osbourn.

    5. Load the dishwasher and bring the cat back inside from the balcony. Oops. Wrong to-do list.



    *Yes, yes, that may sound lazy. I am making things up. The story is a made-up story. I like making things up. I'm only saying that I don't want to say things like "We partied on Main Street" when, in fact, Kansas City partiers and readers would roll their eyes at that sentence since, as they all know, Main Street holds only the courthouse and police station and the jail. Primary goal: leave as little room for factual inaccuracy as possible by saying, simply, we partied. If the party becomes integral to the story, fill in the necessary details.Or move the party to the planet Guarkbinaeh and be done with it.
    This is all the frags from this week posted as one large fragment. I need to get a handle on it all. The way I used to do that in my sketch book journal was to write out each fragment by hand until I had the composite. I would write the composite over and over until I was able to stop editing as I wrote. I would always find something to change or something to improve while re-writing. In this digital journal, I'm cutting and pasting. My re-write process has now become less intimate, less intricate. I'm feeling a little distanced from the characters. But I'd like to adjust properly and get it done this way. Just something else to get used to doing well.

    Sorry about the huge entry running down the middle. I just refuse to get bogged down by HTML codes another day. I'll be rescued from my ignorance soon enough.

    The beginning of this fragment is in this archived post.

    I am completely unused to actually having to listen to someone’s life story. I am nearly always faking it in one way or another and, here with Parker over super nachos and pitchers of margaritas, I don’t know when to laugh or when to hang myself by stringing together strips of my napkin and jumping off the balcony we’re sitting on so intimately. Are people always this detailed? And, I hate to say: boring? How many times can you tell the story of visiting your grandparents for the summer and in how many ways? I’m highly interested, though, in this girl and her habit of sitting no more than three millimeters away from me as she’s talking and animating herself into spastics. She’s sexy as hell and, honest to God, I’m trying to remember if pancakes Mom has ever displayed a written objection to her tenants fucking their new best friends in their single-bed, one-window bedrooms.

    Then, I get it: Parker is making up half her shit she’s been telling me tonight. I know this because usually halfway through people’s stories, I can plunge in and surf the waves with them. With Parker, I was getting nowhere until I began to understand what she’s doing, which is lying to me.

    I put aside, only temporarily, I assure you, any thoughts of taking her home with me and I take her hand until she stops talking (five long and crazy minutes). Leaning over, into her ear I whisper to her how much I really like her. She’s quiet, perfectly quiet, resisting the urge to dismiss me frivolously. I don’t say much else as our fingers interlock and I know it’s killing her to keep silent. I’m thrilled that she knows how to follow her instincts. Kisses almost imperceptible, I come to rest against her forehead with mine and ask her if she wants to start over from the beginning. Tell everything, but tell, this time, only truth.

    Tomorrow was her subdued request. We were both tired and that word was the most reasonable she’d said all day. We managed to sneak Ferocious B into the cool cat place, and I made a bed for him out of blankets on the floor of my room. We were free of all awkward and unsure moments as I slipped into my own bed and slept next to her, holding on, for the first time.

    “So where is she?” playfully demands Ellery as he meets me at the shop the next morning. “Out shopping for curtains?”

    “Where’s who, old man?” I laughed.

    “Boy, you think you’re the only one around here who knows all the gossip? You left last night with her. A customer. Big no-no that I guess I forgot to cover, but under the circumstances with her having nowhere else to go, I understand. Before you ask how I know that about her, I even know how much you tipped at the bar for your margaritas, so...”

    Embarrassed, I interrupted Ellery that I got it, he knew everything. Ferocious B was in Mom’s kitchen earlier this morning eating what appeared to be a chopped steak breakfast. Asleep, Parker and I never heard his scratching at the door to be let out, but Mom sure did. When I left for work, the dog was drooling behind the front desk, keeping cool cat gramps company. Parker, to answer Ellery’s question, was in the kitchen, cleaning and talking Mom toward the brink.

    “What are you doing here, anyway?” It’s been a long time since we were in the store together, and I’m suspicious. Indentured slaves can’t be fired, can they?

    “I was just about to ask you the same thing,” was Ellery’s answer. “You’re here when I’m paying you and you’re here when I’m not. Not quite sure why you hang out with old men like me, but, for a while, you can get along without me. Take a week or two off. It’s called a vacation. Use it to figure out what you’re gonna do with that girl.”

    Why do I need a week for that? Why two weeks? I left, though, before Ellery could ban me from the shop for three. But not before I told him I loved him like he was my own father. “Don’t replace me while I’m gone,” I prayed to him and to whomever else could be listening.

    He promised that I was irreplaceable and I had no choice but to believe him.

    Her first question to me was a legitimate one. If she doesn’t know what she’s missing, how will she know where to look for it? Whatever the fuck it is, Parker added in frustration. Two days she’s known me and already uses fuck 300 times a day. Some people are absorbent that way.

    I tell her that she found Ellery’s shop without knowing the shop even existed. So continuing to follow her intuition should work in the beginning. I remind her that if she reveals herself to me honestly, I should be a pretty good help. Sometimes I know right away, sometimes it takes longer.

    Why do you even want to help me? was her next question.

    Self-pity and insecurity won’t get us anywhere was my answer.

    “My father,” says Parker, pretending she hadn’t asked that question so she could ignore me. “This has something to do with him.”

    “Are you being cliché? If I had a finger for every time somebody pulled his father out of his fucked up life's butt…”

    “Shut up, Stillwater,” she laughed. “Just because your daddy never looked back and you’re now so—unaffected—”

    “Oh, now you’re being ironic. And with jokes.”

    “I think whatever I need is in his possession. Is that a better way to put it?”

    “Well, let’s go get it, then.”

    “Let’s do it.” She hops up and runs outside the cool cat place to her behemoth parked on the street. I grab Ferocious B from the fenced-in yard and get him excited about climbing into the back. We’d been packed for several hours while trying to figure out our next step. And now we had it. Maybe. “Just gotta find him first,” admitted Parker as she turns the ignition key.

    Parker is one of those people who thinks silence in a conversation is a sign of personal weakness, but, three hours in, she’s been unusually quiet while driving, and I haven’t said much to her to change that. We stop at a convenience store for peeing and fueling and walking Ferocious B, and I volunteer to drive for the next couple of hours. She tosses me the keys, I get in behind the wheel and say something like this: so how do you start this thing?

    She looks at me. Twice, I think. And supports her head in a hand with an elbow digging into her thigh. Again with the half amused, half are you kidding me eyebrow trick: “Do you know how to drive, Stillwater?”

    “I’ve seen it done.”

    “Before today?”

    Maybe. Because who really knows?

    Locking her seatbelt, twice, I think, the lesson begins. The road is hilly, but there are no major curves and, unless you count the parade of cars passing me on the left, we have the two-lane highway to ourselves. I can’t lie and say I took over the trip and let Parker sleep the rest of the way, but I did get us to Oklahoma. Better truth: I kept us pointed toward Oklahoma and didn’t get us lost or turned around. I hit nothing on the way. Our next stop, Parker asks for the keys.

    We pulled into her aunt’s driveway around eleven, midnight, whenever—about two hours off-schedule due to my old man’s afternoon crawl along the interstate. No need for a quiet entry from the dark of night: every light in the house seemed to be on. We went in through the kitchen, Parker’s knock being more of a gentle announcer than of one seeking permission.

    Standing at the sink with her back facing us, a tall and very old woman with long silver hair tied with colored scarves barely turned in our direction before saying:

    Stillwater Strother Crowe.

    The woman said my full name as though she’d been expecting me all her life. In her kitchen. In fucking Kansas City, Kansas. Fully facing me now, she leaned against the countertop and folded her arms in some sort of defiant, throw down challenge. I stood immobile, knowing not what to say or think.

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Writing myself into a corner...

    We pulled into her aunt’s driveway around eleven, midnight, whenever—about two hours off-schedule due to my old man’s afternoon crawl along the interstate. No need for a quiet entry from the dark of night: every light in the house seemed to be on. We went in through the kitchen, Parker’s knock being more of a gentle announcer than of one seeking permission.

    Standing at the sink with her back facing us, a tall and very old woman with long silver hair tied with colored scarves barely turned in our direction before saying:

    Stillwater Strother Crowe.

    The woman said my full name as though she’d been expecting me all her life. In her kitchen. In fucking Kansas City, Kansas. Fully facing me now, she leaned against the countertop and folded her arms in some sort of defiant, throw down challenge. I stood immobile, knowing not what to say or think.

    I ran across a blog called shitty first draft yesterday. There was a quote by writer Anne Lamott saying that everybody has shitty first drafts...that's how you get to the good second, third and fourth drafts.

    I lifted from 43 Folders an excerpt from Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

    "For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

    "The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."


    I love that line about how no one is going to see my Mr. Poopy Pants line. Not exactly true for me since I'm posting as I'm writing. It goes something like this: think, write, post. Trying to get it all down, but my shitty first draft is available for anyone who chooses to read it. But I'm writing it and that's the important part. Getting it down. No matter what.

    Going against my life long habits, in this space, I am unafraid for people to see my mistakes. But, wait, not spelling errors, though. Or typos. I may have a prepositional phrase or subjunctive clause issue here or there, but for the most part, my shitty first draft should be free from clerical malevolence. I don't think I'm any more anal about that than any other writer.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006

    Lots of phone calls and mental interruptions today. Also, I've changed from Maroon 5 back to Morcheeba. I tried Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell yesterday and that was a disaster. Not sure why. I just couldn't write to it.

    Parker is one of those people who thinks silence in a conversation is a sign of personal weakness, but, three hours in, she’s been unusually quiet while driving, and I haven’t said much to her to change that. We stop at a convenience store for peeing and fueling and walking Ferocious B, and I volunteer to drive for the next couple of hours. She tosses me the keys, I get in behind the wheel and say something like this: so how do you start this thing?

    She looks at me. Twice, I think. And supports her head in a hand with an elbow digging into her thigh. Again with the half amused, half are you kidding me eyebrow trick: “Do you know how to drive, Stillwater?”

    “I’ve seen it done.”

    “Before today?”

    Maybe. Because who really knows?

    Locking her seatbelt, twice, I think, the lesson begins. The road is hilly, but there are no major curves and, unless you count the parade of cars passing me on the left, we have the two-lane highway to ourselves. I can’t lie and say I took over the trip and let Parker sleep the rest of the way, but I did get us to Oklahoma. Better truth: I kept us pointed toward Oklahoma and didn’t get us lost or turned around. I hit nothing on the way. Our next stop, Parker asks for the keys.

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    Please visit with Bookslut and read this interview with A.M. Homes. I have no idea how to ask you to do such a thing. I am not a literature resource--we've had that discussion. This space is, like, me and you time, and I'm sending you away. But only for a moment. Please indulge me. Then come back. Don't make my abandonment issues come looking for you.
    Speaking of college...

    It occurs to me now that, back then, I had a good shot of becoming a TV writer/TV writer's intern for the Lifetime Channel. My stories were always centered on characters who were perfect and beautiful, hooked up with someone perfectly beautiful, and dying of some exotic cause. But I instead held out for high art and here I am: a worker drone by day and a drunk [ed: Mom, not really. Everybody else, yes, really] blogger at night and on the weekend trying to pull a three year old narrative out of my tired butt. How the mighty have fallen.

    This is much better than a time capsule. I can see children fifty years from now reading the cached version of this blog on Google and being, practically, first-hand witnesses to my swift descent into madness and insanity.

    Are madness and insanity the same thing? Am I being redundant? I'd better go look that up...
    Not getting too bogged down in details in the first draft. That's what subsequent drafts are for, I've learned. I have no idea where these people live. Naming the city would prompt a need for research. I don't mind researching, but then the story doesn't get written. So I'm leaving clues in the first draft narrative telling me where one character may live in relation to another character. I can fill in the gaps later.

    When I was in college, I wrote a story with the main character having leukemia. I learned more about the disease in the medical library than a med student, I think. All my learnin' was summed up in the one scene in which the doctor explained to the character's boyfriend about her chances of remission or something like that. Which, I don't know, may be negligible for certain types. I barely remember the story, only the research, and I doubt if I finished it.

    So it's been my evermore habit to get the words down, finish telling the story, then fill in the details of the things I know very little about. No more characters with cancer, that's for sure.

    Did you know that Kansas City, Kansas, is very near the center of the contiguous United States? And that Castle Rock, South Dakota, is nearest the center of all 50 states? I found that out today while figuring out where in the world are Stillwater and Parker driving in my current frag. Looks like they are headed to Kansas City. I heard there's some good barbeque there. But, I am from Texas--home of the beef chicken wing--so I doubt it's as good as people say.

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    A mini-frag.

    Parker has an aunt, one of her mother’s four sisters, who lives about 500 miles north. I’m digging that in the days of almost instant transport, we are driving there. Unannounced. Like in the days before the telephone and shit. Parker insists this is the way of her family. No need to call first and be invited or anything. And, hey, if you drive for ten hours and you get there and this woman happens to be on a cruise off the coast of New Zealand for the next three weeks, then, hell, we’ll just visit someone else who may or may not have the information we just drove ten hours to get. I’m not sure why her family works this way or, more to the point, why Parker thinks her family works this way, but I’m a passenger in a luxury vehicle being driven by a beautiful human being and I’m along for almost any ride she’s navigating. Just so we’re clear: my family? Call first and we still won’t be home when you get there. We’re fucked up in that way.

    Argh. Disregard Sunday's post. My workaround solution was no solution at all (as is 99% of all workaround solutions). My personal advisor advised me to put it back the way it was with the story frags staying on the main page available for everyone to see and enjoy. Okay, he didn't say it exactly that way, but that's how I choose to interpret it. My laundry went undone this weekend for no valid reason since I skipped that chore to mess with my HTML codes. I wasn't planning on doing laundry anyway, but I was planning on having a legitimate reason for not doing it, and now I am without one. But I totally appreciate the input. Input=good. Staying quiet and letting friends f- up their blogs=not good.

    Why do I have this journal, again? Oh, yeah...I'm supposed to be writing.

    For the millions who didn't visit this space over the weekend and who, I freely admit, still don't know I exist, nothing changed for you in the confusion. Carry on...

    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    [Update: Ignore this post.]

    Doing a little blog reorganization today. Instead of reading the entire fragment on the main page, you can now click on a hyperlink that will send you to a particular frag, or you can use the "extended fragment here" link next to the date at the bottom of each post. Sometimes, there is no extended fragment, but I've placed hyperlinks in the post text for posts that have one. I'm still working around my limited knowledge of HTML, so this is more of a workaround solution than the actual solution, but, for now, this solves the problem of having huge story fragments taking up space on the main page. For those who don't read the backs of cereal boxes or the contraindications of their prescription and over-the-counter meds, this should be a more digestible way of visiting the story and the site.

    Still taking suggestions, but this is good for today. I'll reorganize the archives when I get around to them.

    Saturday, May 06, 2006

    I've spent the day surfing writers' blogs. There are so many ambitious literature sites out there. Quite the humbling experience. I decided that I, too, had to have extensive and hyperlinked lists of my favorite writers and books running down my sidebar. I, too, wanted to be the go-to reference for readers and writers. Then, I poured myself another vodka rocks and got over it. If you need a reference library, go back to that guy's site. He's doing a wonderful job.

    This is the place for those days that your keyboard is more forehead stop than anything else. Come not looking for reviews and contemporary trends, but for complete and total bonding when your writing looks suspiciously like an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of holy crapola. I'll post daily, but sometimes, it'll be more Homer Simpson, less Homer.

    But let's not forget to celebrate those days when the work starts to come together. Mike's Hard Lemonade for everybody!

    Hey, for the two beautiful friends who check here regularly for updated frags, keep clicking through to my site over and over so I'll stop thinking my stat checker is broken. You guys are great.
    I've discovered, quite by accident, that I am a weekday writer. Which is okay. Nothing good ever happens in my story on the weekends, anyway. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, my writing god, said once that he writes eight hours every day, even if he has nothing to say. I choose to interpret his "every day" as Monday through Friday.

    Friday, May 05, 2006

    That Wopner at 3 o'clock line in the disposable frag reminds me of this guy I used to hate date. He was always so self-satisfied when he knew the easiest of the easy shit and that drove me crazy. He needed a pat on the back for displaying his extremely limited wealth of knowledge every. single. time. I hate that guy. Note to self: No more writing before eating for the day. You were obviously hallucinating and you let that weak fucker infiltrate your character. Another note to self: Maybe don't use online journal as substitute for sketch book journal that hasn't been touched since you entered the blogosphere. There is still such a thing as a private thought.
    Both of us should delete the previous post from our memories. Please replace it with this one. Thanks, dude. Your fabulousness continues.

    Her first question to me was a legitimate one. If she doesn’t know what she’s missing, how will she know where to look for it? Whatever the fuck it is, Parker added in frustration. Two days she’s known me and already uses fuck 300 times a day. Some people are absorbent that way.

    I tell her that she found Ellery’s shop without knowing the shop even existed. So continuing to follow her intuition should work in the beginning. I remind her that if she reveals herself to me honestly, I should be a pretty good help. Sometimes I know right away, sometimes it takes longer.

    Why do you even want to help me? was her next question.

    Self-pity and insecurity won’t get us anywhere was my answer.

    “My father,” says Parker, pretending she hadn’t asked that question so she could ignore me. “This has something to do with him.”

    “Are you being cliché? If I had a finger for every time somebody pulled his father out of his fucked up life's butt…”

    “Shut up, Stillwater,” she laughed. “Just because your daddy never looked back and you’re now so—unaffected—”

    “Oh, now you’re being ironic. And with jokes.”

    “I think whatever I need is in his possession. Is that a better way to put it?”

    “Well, let’s go get it, then.”

    “Let’s do it.” She hops up and runs outside the cool cat place to her behemoth parked on the street. I grab Ferocious B from the fenced-in yard and get him excited about climbing into the back. We’d been packed for several hours while trying to figure out our next step. And now we had it. Maybe. “Just gotta find him first,” admitted Parker as she turns the ignition key.

    A light exchange that probably will not make the final draft. I'm posting right after writing to create a sense of permanence.That way, I don't get stuck by being overly dissatisfied with what I have so far. If I keep my habit of excising huge chunks without giving them a chance, I'll be back where I started. So I post the frags and I take a second look at them later. I'll maybe keep parts, not all, in the final draft.

    Writers reading this know that there is really no such draft as a final draft. It may be printed, distributed and praised, but in another read-through, we'll still find something we would have done differently if we'd held onto the work for one more day. Sometimes, you just have to release it as is. But not today (ha). This one is still in progress. The last sentence definitely won't make it, but it's time for lunch, so I'll leave it for now.

    Never edit on an empty stomach. Never drink on an empty stomach. Never keep anything you wrote while you were drinking on an empty stomach. Just saying.

    I have yet to learn to drive and, judging by the way Parker is maneuvering her grossly oversized vehicle onto the parkway, neither has she. I would find it a tragic twist that after surviving years of emotional neglect and physical abuse by my mother, I’d be killed during a premature and ill-timed lane change on the Takemeback Expressway. I tell Parker this and she tells me to shut up. Which, of course, I do since she needs every ounce of concentration for the task of not killing me and her dog while merging onto the Wayback. That part, I keep to myself.

    I entertain her with the explanations of the Wayback and the Takemeback. “How did I end up way back here?” asked many a lost and drunken soul when the town was mainly dirt, grass and trees with one paved road. Stumbling upon the one paved road: “Oh, this road will take me back.” It did and both names stuck even as the path and the road were built into thoroughfares.

    “If there were a Vegas of Trivial Pursuit,” she says, not really impressed, but nothing ever really impresses her, “we’d be speeding toward it, Rain Man.”

    “Wopner at three o’clock,” I say, very pleased at myself for catching her easy reference. Doesn’t happen often and probably won’t happen again for another 500 miles.

    Thursday, May 04, 2006

    Anybody else notice how I weenied out on beginning Parker's story?

    I can't let a backstory impasse become an impasse for the entire thing. I have to keep going, almost no matter what.

    I've used the word "thing" twice in the past few days. My 12th grade English teacher hated that word, and I'm always conscious of its use, especially my own use of it. But sometimes, Mrs. Pecsenye, thing is what fits. Don't mark off for it after all these years.
    This need for dialogue is killing me, but I understand the purpose. Exposition should be done through at least one other method besides the narration. I think dialogue breaks up what could be a monotonous process and it allows us to get to know even the minor characters in their own voices.

    Here's something fun: originally, Stillwater and Parker were scheduled to begin a journey, a trip, sometime during the telling of the story. But, I thought Stillwater was being inextricably tied to Ellery's shop and, by extension, the cool cat place. I'd decided (and I was probably taking the easy way out) the journey would have to be metaphorical and that the two of them would meet up with Freddie Mercury and Tim Woodman within the confines of the shop or the living space. But, voìla, or, as someone I used to know would say, viola--Ellery pushes Stillwater out of his comfort zone and now I, the writer, have no choice but to send Stillwater and Parker into another world and onto their journey. I love how the brain works sometimes.

    This frag was posted before rewrites, so please expect rewrites. I'm even rewriting this section about the rewrites. Deleting certain rants because, as I have discovered while blog surfing, witnessing someone losing his mind on the Internet is neither fun nor entertaining. The delete key is our friend, people. The caps lock key is not.


    Tomorrow was her subdued request. We were both tired and that word was the most reasonable she’d said all day. We managed to sneak Ferocious B into the cool cat place, and I made a bed for him out of blankets on the floor of my room. We were free of all awkward and unsure moments as I slipped into my own bed and slept next to her, holding on, for the first time.

    “So where is she?” playfully demands Ellery as he meets me at the shop the next morning. “Out shopping for curtains?”

    “Where’s who, old man?” I laughed.

    “Boy, you think you’re the only one around here who knows all the gossip? You left last night with her. A customer. Big no-no that I guess I forgot to cover, but under the circumstances with her having nowhere else to go, I understand. Before you ask how I know that about her, I even know how much you tipped at the bar for your margaritas, so...”

    Embarrassed, I interrupted Ellery that I got it, he knew everything. Ferocious B was in Mom’s kitchen earlier this morning eating what appeared to be a chopped steak breakfast. Asleep, Parker and I never heard his scratching at the door to be let out, but Mom sure did. When I left for work, the dog was drooling behind the front desk, keeping cool cat gramps company. Parker, to answer Ellery’s question, was in the kitchen, cleaning and talking Mom toward the brink.

    “What are you doing here, anyway?” It’s been a long time since we were in the store together, and I’m suspicious. Indentured slaves can’t be fired, can they?

    “I was just about to ask you the same thing,” was Ellery’s answer. “You’re here when I’m paying you and you’re here when I’m not. Not quite sure why you hang out with old men like me, but, for a while, you can get along without me. Take a week or two off. It’s called a vacation. Use it to figure out what you’re gonna do with that girl.”

    Why do I need a week for that? Why two weeks? I left, though, before Ellery could ban me from the shop for three. But not before I told him I loved him like he was my own father. “Don’t replace me while I’m gone,” I prayed to him and to whomever else could be listening.

    He promised that I was irreplaceable and I had no choice but to believe him.

    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    It will take a while to tell Parker's story. I am cheating a little bit by allowing Stillwater's character to create kind of a first-person omniscient vibration. It's very difficult for me to switch from one character narrating in first person to another. I've seen that method work in one book that I loved in junior high--I can't remember the name of the book (was a pig one of the characters?) and I can't duplicate the feat. Stillwater is going to have to tell Parker's story, but first, I gotta know Parker's story. I thought I knew it, but, well, you know, things change.

    I am, once again, pumped up on caffeine, so I may have a good thing going tonight as I try to tell her story. I've discovered, strangely, that I am at my most creative when writing Stillwater while listening to Maroon 5 on my jukebox. Don't ask, I don't know. I'll try the same playlist for Parker, but I may have to switch to something else if Adam Levine fails me. Taking all alternate suggestions...
    Posting this without edits. I'll rewrite it later. Just wanted to get it up before getting back to work on the next development.


    I am completely unused to actually having to listen to someone’s life story. I am nearly always faking it in one way or another and, here with Parker over super nachos and pitchers of margaritas, I don’t know when to laugh or when to hang myself by stringing together strips of my napkin and jumping off the wooden bench we’re sitting on so intimately. Are people always this detailed? And, I hate to say: boring? How many times can you tell the story of visiting your grandparents for the summer and in how many ways? I’m highly interested, though, in this girl and her habit of sitting no more than three millimeters away from me as she’s talking and animating herself into spastics. She’s sexy as hell and, honest to God, I’m trying to remember if pancakes Mom has ever displayed a written objection to her tenants fucking their new best friends in their single-bed, one-window rooms.

    Then, I get it: Parker is making up half her shit she’s been telling me tonight. I know this because usually halfway through people’s stories, I can plunge in and surf the rest of the waves with them. As I say, I know where they’ve been, I know where they’re at, I know where they’re trying to go. With Parker, I was getting nowhere until I began to understand what she’s doing, which is lying to me.

    I put aside, only temporarily, I assure you, any thoughts of taking her home with me and I take her hand until she stops talking (five long and crazy minutes). Leaning over, into her ear I whisper to her how much I really like her. She’s quiet, perfectly quiet, resisting the urge to dismiss me frivolously. I don’t say much else as our fingers interlock and I know it’s killing her to keep silent. I’m thrilled that she knows how to follow her instincts. Kisses almost imperceptible, I come to rest against her forehead with mine and ask her if she wants to start over from the beginning. Tell everything, but tell, this time, only truth.

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    Visiting the rewrite process for a second. With the first drafts no longer taking place in my journal, I'll have no real record of changes. I recovered the first draft of this paragraph through the undo feature in Word.


    In duress, my memory always bails and I have no idea if I have any money. I know I’ve been at Ellery’s for a decent time, but for all I knew, he could have been paying me in chicken feed. Since I know Ellery to be nothing but an honest man, I’m assuming in my pocket is enough money for drinks and dinner and I accept Parker’s invitation.



    I played with the paragraph for about three hours, clearly demonstrating why it took me three years to get those opening five paragraphs of this story.

    In duress, my memory always bails and, standing in front of this girl, I have no idea if I have any money. I know I’ve been at Ellery’s for almost a year, but my work could be a payoff for a bet between him and cool cat gramps or some shit like that. I'm an indentured slave, I'm suddenly convinced. But, then, since I know Ellery and cool cat gramps to be nothing but honest men, I quash the slave slavery scare. I’m assuming in my pocket is enough money for our drinks and dinner, and I accept Parker’s invitation.



    I'm enjoying Stillwater's character and I like having a little fun with him. Besides being the original book's doppelganger, his personality is based on my cousin Tony who died about 4 1/2 years ago at the age of 29. Tony was always ultra cool and ultra-accepting of people exactly as they came to him. He never suffered from Stillwater's memory loss, but the magnanimous way he treated people showed that he was quick to forget all our fuck-ups.

    But enough about that beautiful boy. I'm never meaning to be this sentimental. It's that kind of day, I guess.
    I forgot: I'm supposed to be writing.

    Monday, May 01, 2006

    One day soon, when I post this type of fragment fusion, the link will be over on the sidebar somewhere and a separate page will open for those who are following only the story and not the writing process. Until then, as in right now, the whole what-I've-got-so-far will be posted right down the middle of my rambling notes and commentary. Much cyberlove to my sexy HTML tutor when he and I get together this weekend. While we are waiting...

    [Update: I still haven't figured out how to get a sidebar link to the ongoing story, but I did figure out the post-excerpts feature, so that's what I'm going with for now.]

    [Updating the update: scrapping the post-excerpts feature. Filing under: bad idea]


    Walking away, behind me my mother standing in the doorway in her unwashed housedress, hair sticking out in all kinds of crazy directionless ways, screaming something, screams being nothing to her but usual, but I admit something was different about this scream, maybe she was screaming for me to come back. Not, this time, maybe, screaming motherfucker. Not, this time, maybe, screaming lazy motherfucker. Didn’t sound exactly like stupid lazy motherfucker, could have been a plea. For me. Her son. To come back because today was, you know, one of those brand new days you sometimes read about. Different I’m sorry I promise I love you won’t you please come back. For a second, I adjusted my backpack and, carefully, my considerations. Stopped to capture the rhythm in her hysteria…ah, there it was…I was still a motherfucker. But I was a motherfucker who was now walking fast away from this shit and that alone makes me better than most motherfuckers you know.

    Found a bit of a pad somewhere, not not close, not not far. Not sure how I pay for it, if I pay for it. Cool cat with lightning white hair we call gramps works the front desk and takes money from a few people. Mostly, he gives ‘em friendly shit of the workin’ hard/hardly workin’ variety. I like my room, nothing in it but me and a bed. Shower and head up the hall and I’ve counted five dudes walking in and out. No phone around the place. And this won-der-ful woman I feel obligated to call Mom and she has yet to call me motherfucker cooks us breakfast every morning, no fail. Eggs, toast, bacon, oatmeal, Frosted Flakes, and pancakes if we ask. We are on our own for lunch and dinner, but that breakfast can and does hold me all day sometimes.

    Cool cat we call gramps tells me about a place maybe I can get a quick gig doing a few odd things, pick up a few bucks here and there. Am I out of work? I ask him this, hoping he knows ‘cuz I don’t. He laughs and slides me a small white card with an address written on it in tiny neat print. I bet it’s Mom’s writing. Guess I’ve eaten one too many pancake without some sort of monetary compensation. Not wanting to get on the bad side of anyone associated with this good place, I accept the card and head on out to find whatever it is I’m looking for.

    Two blocks up, three blocks over, I get it, I’m there. New cool cat waiting for me and I like him already. I feel where he’s been, I’m at where he’s at, and I know where he’s trying to go. I tell him nothing of this as I introduce myself. I love how he says my name: STILL water. The Still intoned as nothing but, you know, very un-still as the word rises as an uphill stream. STILLwater Crowe, he says, and I am home.

    I do my odds for him: sweeping floors, greeting customers, twirling a mop on such needed occasions. After about a minute, I figure out I’m not the most necessary employee hired in world history. Most of what I do, Ellery probably did himself before I got here or it just as well didn’t get done. Grateful, I work hard and fast, taking a break only when Ellery claims I’m about to give him a heart attack, I’m working so much.

    I ask Ellery how he knows cool cat gramps. I ask, but I know. I know this the same way I know everything about certain people I meet. Their lives fold out in front of me a page at a time. I knew next to nothing about my mother even though, after sixteen years, we’d been together for over half her life. I knew nothing of my father since, I guess, his life choices weren’t about meeting me twice. As I sweep, I close my eyes and listen to Ellery and his smoker’s rasp tell the story that began fifty years before I was born when Ellery and cool cat gramps were young boys.

    By accident, my laughter at one part of the story sounds too much like I’m very familiar with it, and I catch myself. Ellery barely notices, though, and keeps talking, dismissing my yeah, I know exactly what happens next with his own but you’re too young to know anything about that, boy. No point explaining, I’ve learned, that our experiences are universal and I may not have been with him on that particular street corner on that particular day, but, shit, we’ve all had best friends fuck us over. My universe speech gets lost, anyway, in the overall possibility that I just might have been there with him that day almost seventy years ago. Because how I know all this shit about these people, I haven’t quite figured out, yet. I was out of school more than I was in school at some point and maybe metaphysics was covered on one of the days I was out getting my ass kicked by my 103-pound mama.

    Ellery asks about my mother and for one hot flashing second, I think he’s asking about my pancakes Mom over at the cool cat place, but then I get it he’s asking about that mother. I give some shitty answer that makes him temporarily defensive and I apologize, but she is no longer the focus, so it’s good.

    I get myself to Ellery’s shop seven days a week. It’s a five block trek from the cool cat place, and the short distance makes it digestible and, therefore, understandable. Mine is not a memory issue or deficiency, it’s probably just that with so many other’s memories, I have limited room for my own. I don’t really think about it. I don’t analyze it. It is, as we say, what it is. I keep my people and activities constant and once I’m in a groove, I stay there.

    Days are now months and I am spending more time alone in the shop, a place for odd pairings. It is organized only for those who know what they need in the moment they need it, but for those who wander in to look around curiously, the place is a nightmare. On the shelves, in a bin, under useless crap is the exact thing that a person has been missing, causing his life to stall or falter or fall, and it’s my job to help him find it. It’s a common object, clandestine in its real purpose: a screwdriver, a pen, ceramic mug or wire whisk. It’s the object that moves with a person from house to house, childhood to adulthood, that rattles in the kitchen cabinet, toolbox, or junk drawer, always present before or after a purge. We all have one, this linchpin that holds it all together, and once it’s lost, our lives trip end over end until it’s found.

    In Ellery’s shop, the girl who was caught in a whopper of a lie by her mother and, seemingly unrelated to the lie, is known soon after as the redhead who hands out on demand orgasmic jobs to the high school football team when it was really just that one stupid boy that one stupid time comes in looking for her peso that is no longer rolling around in her desk drawer at home. She and I find it under a stack of early Hustler relatively quickly.

    The father who has yet to learn the difference between being a bad parent and accusations by his three fucked up children of being a bad parent wanders into the shop having no idea why he’s there. His linchpin, which I know to be a silver button off a long ago jacket that belonged to his mother, is safely at home in a box on his top closet shelf. He is kind of shuffling down each aisle, confused about why the motor oil is next to the pain relievers, rebuffing my offers of help with a very sad just looking, thanks. He pauses briefly at the stack of Hustler magazines, I hold in a giggle, he walks out empty-handed. He didn’t need to be in here anyway.

    Nose first, a massive dog peeks into the shop, either unaware or uncaring that he’s leashed and bound to the hand of his owner, a small dark-haired woman who weighs thirty pounds less, it seems, than her mastiff. She calls him, very sweetly, and he obeys, immediately withdrawing from the doorway. No longer pulling her along the sidewalk, he allows her to tie him to a street lamp four feet from the shop entrance. All at once, he prepares to drink his water, rest on the pavement, and guard the half-block radius surrounding Parker Gale.

    I can’t help her, but she walks in, light and breezy and pretty and determined to misunderstand nearly every word that comes out of my mouth. She thinks flirting with me will help as she moves with a purposeful fluidity among bins that are overflowing with cheap shit never designed to advance her cause. I follow her because she attracts people that way. They—we—can’t stop ourselves. With a half smile, I sort with her a bin filled with screws, pencils and cassette tapes. My fingers come across a dog’s leash, prompting me to say: Awesome dog outside.

    Her cursory thanks slam right up against her more pressing issue. “I used to have this woven vinyl key chain that I made at summer camp right before fifth grade. I had that key chain forever. I’m thinking that I accidentally threw it away and you, Stillwater, can’t tell me it’s not around here somewhere.”

    “It’s not here and it’s irrelevant,” I said for the 400th time since she’d walked in. Evidently, girly had a lot of missing minutiae and what she needed most, apparently, was to stand next to me and catalogue its entirety. “What’s the dog’s name?”

    “Neo, but I spell it N-e-e-y-o. He’s a Neapolitan mastiff.”

    “That’s terrible,” I say out loud. Hell, she’d been in the store for almost two hours telling me the most intimate details of her life. By then, we were surely friends. Friends don’t let friends give their dogs intentionally misspelled fucked up names.

    I untie the dog from his post and bring him inside the shop while Parker pulls his dinner from her backpack. I decided to call him, only between him and me, Ferocious Beast That Lazes in the Sun When Sated.

    The shop closes after sunset only in the moment its customers find what they're looking for or when they give up the search for the day. That moment finally arrives for Parker at six minutes past midnight and I grab my keys before she finds another tangent to explore. Her energy is infectious, so although I’m ready to walk away from the shop, I’m not yet ready to let her walk away from me.

    Ferocious B waits near the door and looks at me like I’m stupid, which, I guess, I am. I have no idea what to say or do next and it’s obvious to every being in the room. An inherently impatient Parker finally quasi-apologizes for making me work so late and wants to make it up to me by buying me a drink or a cup of coffee. The stupid boy in me refuses to decamp, and I ask after the welfare of Ferocious B. Something along the lines of shouldn’t she be getting him home, he’s been out all night kind of bullshit.

    Parker raises an eyebrow in half-amusement, half-are you kidding me, and asks if I want to have a beer with her or not.

    In duress, my memory always bails and, standing in front of this girl, I have no idea if I have any money. I know I’ve been at Ellery’s for almost a year, but my work could be a payoff for a bet between him and cool cat gramps or some shit like that. I'm an indentured slave, I'm suddenly convinced. But, then, since I know Ellery and cool cat gramps to be nothing but honest men, I quash the slave scare. I’m assuming in my pocket is enough money for drinks and dinner, and I accept Parker’s invitation.