Monday, December 31, 2007

Barefoot in the Garage # 1



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Memories - Family Trips

Some of my fondest childhood memories surround family vacations. My mom, dad, and I would take car trips each summer. In July of 1975 we drove from our house in Long Beach, California to Dowagiac Michigan and back, a total of 5,000 miles round trip in eleven driving days. I have trouble staying awake driving the 12.5 miles home from work. This gives me a new appreciation for my dad's tenacity as well as the strength of truck stop coffee.

Most trips were less ambitious, but equally as exciting. We drove to the top of Oregon to the Columbia River Gorge, Yosimite, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain, Monterey and Carmel - Many great memories.

I didn't have much appreciation for the scenery along the way back then, but I sure loved the Best Western hotel rooms. I was usually allowed to be the first to open the hotel room door and peer inside. While I'm sure my parents looked at each room as yet another in a series of steps to our destination, I felt as if each one WAS our destination. Perhaps only Howard Carter could relate to my exuberance as the shafts of early-evening sunlight shot from the opening door and pierced the dark chamber. "Can you see anything?" "Yes, wonderful things."

Each morning before hitting the highway my dad would have his cup of coffee and examine the route from one of a half-dozen road maps he'd carefully chosen for the trip. He'd show me points of interest that we'd pass along the way, but I was more interested in the AAA Lodging Guide which showed a single, small photo of the next hotel I'd get to explore, some 500 miles and ten cups of strong coffee down the road.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mel's drive-in - Seal Beach - First Impressions

Just when you thought that the nostalgia craze was over, Mel's drive-in restaurant opens in Seal Beach - just skipping distance from our doorstep. Mel's occupies the building that housed The Parasol restaurant which closed its doors 15 months ago under pressure to remodel from the folks who bought and renovated Rossmoor Town Center.

I remember The Parasol for several distinct family dining memories, but unfortunately, not for the food. Mel's serves up similar helpings of Americana fare, but adds the much needed element of flavor which was sorely missing from its predecessor.

While The Parasol held close its 1950's design and old-school charm simply due to the fact that the owners never remodeled the interior, Mel's spent significant time and money remodeling the inside to mimic a classic diner from the 1950's. "Excuse me, waitress, I'll take the Irony Burger with a side of humility please.

With such a small sampling as we had tonight it isn't fair to generalize about the quality of the food. I can say that so far, it's better than The Parasol, but, then again, such can be said about the majority of our local eateries and most, if not all, bait shops.

I had the Mel's Burger with fries, while Ema had the Santa Fe salad. Nick had a BLT and the two little ones had kids meals served up in cardboard vintage Chevy's. The burger was tasty, but not outstanding. The salad was dry, and although the chicken was cooked well, moist and tender, the iceberg lettuce bed left us wanting a greener, more flavorful lettuce variety.

Nick's BLT was very standard, but that's what people want when they come to a place like Mel's. People don't want surprises or exotic ingredients like Romaine lettuce. Mel's has taken a bold move to be. . .un-bold. Tradition is not only accepted at Mel's, but expected as well. Mel's does what any good greasy spoon should - it delivers what people expect.

We will eat at Mel's again soon, and I'll write up another quick review of that experience as well. I'm hoping it's a repeat of this one. I don't want or need any surprises.


6:53 am Target, Seal Beach


What would motivate 150 people to stand in line in 43 degrees? One half off Xmas decorations! ...My new year resolution? Get a life.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Finding your lucky Vegas shirt after it was missing for five months - instant gratification. Finding a twenty in the front pocket - . . . $20.

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Friday, December 21, 2007


Just got busted by Ema for burning the pizza. Merry @?!/?! Christmas!

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Sunday, sundae girl

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Huh?


Perhaps this company's translation budget was undercut by research and development? I dunno. I just don't know. . .

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sniff. . .cough. . .

"Did you say the Day Time Triaminic Thin Strips Cold & Cough were next to the Dimetapp Cold & Flu Gel Caps or the Robitussen DMX Night Time Sore Throat Losenges?"

Photo courtesy of this person on Flickr.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I know, I know. . .

re: http://theaterofyourmind.blogspot.com/2007/12/funny-cat-video.html

No, I haven't sold out, as my wife so eloquently put it. Call it an experiment in search engine optimization: Post the most popular YouTube video on your blog, title it with one of the most indexed phrases, and see what happens.

Now that you're in on the 'joke' you can sit back and wait for my site traffic report.

Film at 11:00.

P.S. - Thanks for tuning in :)

- Tom

Funny Cat Video

Thursday, November 29, 2007

36 Podcasting Hot Tips - Free!


For a limited time, I'll be offering (sound like a real infomercial, don't it?) my newest Ebook, 36 Podcasting Hot Tips - FREE!

Just click HERE to download and enjoy!

Give it away as a gift for that special someone for the holidays. Of course, a free ebook may not shoot you to the top of their 'A' list, but it's the thought that counts.

Thanks for your support!

Tom

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Make Some Sunday Morning Donut Money!


Become an affiliate for Podcasting Quick Start, and make 50% commission on each and every sale of my new podcasting ebook!

As warned, my ebook took a price hike from $4.99 to $14.99 but it now includes a companion audio book with sound examples and extra material not found in the ebook.


So, bad news if you want to buy one, but great news if you have a Web site or blog and want to promote this ebook and make some extra holiday scratch!
Here's the 411:

Start selling as an affiliate
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Thanks folks, and have a great Thanksgiving or whatever you may be celebrating in your part of the world.

- Tom

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Definition of Spontaneity

We've all seen them. The headphone-wearing people dancing on the corner, with their signs advertising everything from new home sales to pizza by the slice.

I've made the argument that this may be one of the few occupations where job performance may actually improve with the introduction of moderate amounts of THC. Time would fly by, the music would sound fantastic, your inhibitions would dissolve. Or so I imagine. . .

This poor gent however, has neither rhythm nor enthusiasm. But that's not why I took this picture.

No, I took this picture because I could not, for the life of me, conceive of a situation where a person would be driving along and, upon seeing this fellow, be spontaneously persuaded to to get a tattoo.

I can see touring a new home, buying a pizza, maybe even getting an advance on my paycheck, but getting a tattoo, seems to me, is one of the few things in life that requires some planning and forethought.

Am I right here, or have I simply gotten old. Have I forgot what it's like to be young, full of piss and vinegar, cruising the boulevard with nothing better to do that scoff convention? Don't answer that. Or better yet, go ahead and give me your opinion. I'm sure Ema will agree with you as long as your opinion contradicts mine.




Saturday, November 3, 2007

TMI

I've got so much to say about this that I don't know where to start. Perhaps if I had a sign next to my monitor outlining the basics of writing a sentence I'd have a better idea of where to start. After all, where would any of us be without signs and instructions? It seems, these days, that even the simplest tasks require instruction of some sort.

But what's driving all of this? Look, there's a very real threat to society lurking among us, and the only things worse than the bottom-feeders I refer to are the lawyers who represent them. But would placing instructions on a crosswalk post really prevent someone with a sub-custodial mentality from winning a lawsuit against a city in the event they were mowed down in an intersection? Well, Long Beach is banking on it.

And by the way, I'm not sure that these instructions are going to help anyway. If you ignore the icons on the left, you'll see that all you need to do to cross the street is "Push Button" and "Start Walking." The icons may even add to the danger if one is to look at them, not as keys to the crossing signals, but as visual guides to accompany the written instructions. In that case, it would appear that you simply need to start walking, then stop abruptly after several steps, placing you in the direct path on oncoming vehicles. This is clearly a case of TMI.

When I see such blatant, embarrassing signatures of our so-called advanced culture, I can’t help thinking of the alien scenario. You know, what would a being from another galaxy think of our society if it were to pop by for a visit? Yeah. . .exactly.

Yes, I believe we've gone too far with this one. Forcing people to NOT use their brains is a very dangerous thing. It perpetuates the continual dumbing of our society. We are breeding new generations who won’t be able to open a beer can or a door handle without guidance. Now, if I can just figure out how to turn off this computer without electrocuting myself, I'll be on my way to work.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

It's a Cryin' Shame!

The jag broke down this past Wednesday. I took it to work for the first time in three months, and it broke down on the way home. Seems it couldn't handle the stress any better than I can.

Will take a week and a tranny rebuild, but she'll be back in top form soon. Hey - At least they sent a flatbed!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

BUY MY BOOK! New Ebook by Tom Jordan


JUMP START your podcasting adventure with this professionally-written Ebook! I wrote "Podcasting Quick Start" to help you jump start your podcasting adventure in three easy steps. Learn how to Plan, Produce, and Promote your podcast with simple, step-by-step instructions. If you're looking to get into podcasting, but need some help getting started, or already have a podcast and seek production and promotion tips, this Ebook is for you! Topics covered: Choosing a subject for your podcast, Episode regularity, Episode Length, Description Writing, Choosing recording equipment, Purchasing equipment, How to speak into a microphone, Editing your podcast, Posting your podcast, How Show Notes can promote your podcast, How to work with podcast directories, How to record a promo, and MUCH MORE!
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Friday, September 14, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Breathe In, Breathe Out - A Cancer Recovery Journal


Ema update: Ema's surgery was Monday and it went as planned. The orthopedic oncologist and plastic surgeon worked to perform a radical resection of the tumor site. There's more details here, but they aren't for the squeamish, so I'll leave it at that. She is still in the hospital, but should be coming home tomorrow or Friday. Also, the two latest CT scan results came back negative for cancer - all clear - yay! I saw her today (Wednesday). She looks good, her spirits are up, and her leg hurts like an SOB.
*** *** ***

Like Ema said in episode 48, “. . .these are the only two things you do alone in life – be born and die. And when death looks at you it’s terrifying. But if you’re not alone, it makes a big difference.” This is why I’m writing this ‘cancer recovery journal.’ I was going to call it a ‘cancer journal,’ but it’s really about the process of recovery, not the disease itself. Ema is so right - a huge part of recovery comes from knowing that you are not alone. So many friends, some of whom we haven’t talked to in years, have come to our side and offered prayers, babysitting, running errands, and so much more. Sharing Ema’s recovery and our journey helps us stay connected to everyone who has offered help and sent well-wishes for a speedy recovery. There’s no reason to go through this alone as long as we have friends and family who are willing to be part of this battle.

Like many life-threatening diseases, cancer sweeps through a family like a cyclone – upending a normal life and challenging the very substance of our resolve. While the disease is destructive by itself, the treatments can leave the patient sick, weak, and vulnerable to other ailments. Where we stand today, we’ve eradicated the tumor, removed the tissue surrounding the tumor site, and are now healing those wounds before radiation and chemotherapy can begin. Both of these treatments are radical, potentially destructive measures that seem almost archaic in practice, but which are the most modern, effective ways to annihilate such a tenacious disease.

I wrote the first several entries of the journal without any expectations of publishing it in a blog. It’s a personal account of how I made it through each day knowing my wife, the person I had expected to spend the rest of my life with, may be dying. The journal starts on the third day after the news of Ema’s cancer.

Day 3: It’s 7:00 AM right now, and we somehow made it through the weekend. Ema is going to call her doctor in one hour to schedule an appointment. In the meantime, I wait, try to keep busy by doing even the most mundane things, and concentrate on my breathing which seems to soothe me a little.

Breathe in, breathe out. That’s about all I can do right now. For the past 36 hours I have been in a near dissociative state of panic. I feel at once restless, helpless, anxious, and angry. I want to lash out, blame someone, but I haven’t had the energy to do more than place one foot in front of the other, raise my hands to the keyboard and, against better judgment, sit behind the wheel of my car and steer absent mindlessly toward places I really don’t want to go.

Idle time is the worst. The moments between walking, driving, writing, working. The smallest interim of inactivity causes my mind to start spinning, thinking and rethinking worst-case scenarios. With so little information so far to go by, I’m forced to concoct possible outcomes, trying to sort out my feelings in each circumstance. What if the doctor tells us she has six months to live? What if this rare form of cancer has proven to have a 100% mortality rate? It’s exhausting and frustrating to think of these things. Although writing this down forces me to think about it all, I know that it will somehow help me in the long run.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Now see, that's just good stuff there, don't ya know.


At the risk of startling my readers with uncharacteristic, crushing irony, I feel obliged to admit something: I don't read many blogs. Frankly, I don't read many anythings. Although I fancy myself a writer, I read surprisingly little.

After 36 years of reading, or more accurately, not reading, I've discovered what may be the biggest culprit. I have trouble with comprehension. Now don't misunderstand (sorry), it's not that I don't comprehend the words I read, it's more that I don't retain a cohesive, cognitive understanding from one sentence to another. For example, most of what I read sounds just like that! Imagine reading anything more in-depth than the back of a cereal box while handicapped with this debilitating level of confusion. It all sounds like gobelty-gook (I've always wanted to write that word.)

Anyway, I have found a couple of blogs that I read regularly, fully comprehend, and am happy to recommend. Here they are - enjoy!

James Lileks's blog - A Dave Barry-ish Minnesotan who prompts me, upon reading each entry, to utter: "Now see, that's just good stuff there, don't ya know."

The Long Beach Ledger - Tony used to be a good friend of mine. Recently I discovered he can write better than I so I've downgraded our relationship accordingly. Should he ever stop writing, or God forbid lose his wits, he'll shoot right back up to the A-list again.

Southernly - Tony's wife. A great writer in her own right, but much too beautiful to dislike :)

Celluloid Heroes - A great movie review site by my podcasting buddy, Paul.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Leave My False Idols Alone!

This may not be news to all of you, but I just found out that Iron Eyes Cody was NOT an Indigenous American. Apparently he was a second-generation Italian! Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Italians - some of my favorite people have last names that end in "o." It's just that for the past 36 years, since Iron Eyes shed that tear, I've believed him to be, well, an honest Injun'!

What's next? Flip Wilson turns out to be Haitian? Don Ho an Inuit? Mr. Green Jeans a Communist Sympathizer?!? What other beloved icons are going to be torn from the pages of my childhood and carelessly tossed to the side of the road? I've got news for sites like Snopes.com - leave my false idols alone! My memories of childhood, those kind faces staring back at me in black and white, they are my friends, my companions, my link to the past and my portals to the future.

They say you can never go home again. Maybe they're right, but at least afford me the kindness to let me live in ignorance, because so help me, if I have to read online somewhere that Fred Rogers was gay, there's going to be blood in the streets tonight!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Swindle


This story was originally published on 52stories.net

I was certain my eyes were deceiving me. Before me, nestled in the hand of this girl, was the one small item that could literally save my life. It was a pocket watch, but no ordinary pocket watch. I rested my elbows on the glass case and leaned over the far edge, marveling in the way the watch caught the light from my shop window; gazing in astonishment at how its 40 years had been so kind. As a collector of fine antiquities, I knew every detail about this watch. It was an 1890’s Waltham model 92; 21 jewel, Railroad Grade pocket watch with 14K solid gold hunting case, and a double sunk porcelain dial. I’d followed the value of this watch through the years as well, forever cursing myself for not taking the same model when I had my chance ten years previous.

There was no way I was prepared to let this gem slip through my hands a second time. I stood up straight and cleared my throat. “Well, what do you have here, a toy watch?” I said, nonchalantly. “No sir, it’s a real antique watch, an heirloom. It belonged to my grandfather.” I smiled and rubbed my chin. “Heirloom? That’s a pretty big word for a little girl.” “I’m twelve!” She blurted. “I stand corrected Miss, I mean young lady.” Her short stature and round face made her look much younger. I folded my left arm around my waste and gently bowed in her direction while at the same time glancing out the window. “And you’re here all by yourself are you?” “Yes.” She said. I lifted both hands off the display case and brought them together as to wring them, but caught myself and rested them once again on the glass. Experience and a keen sense of observation led me to surmise she was looking for, at most, thirteen dollars – a full week’s wages for most men. I was prepared to offer her sixteen, knowing full well that it was worth one hundred times that amount.

You see it is in my nature to make the most out of every situation. I’m an opportunist, an entrepreneur, and have risen from a life centered on nefarious concerns to that of a well-respected proprietor of an upscale resale establishment. My customers rely on me to stock the finest previously appreciated items and present them at a fair, pertinent price. The manner in which I acquire these items varies, but I have, until just recently, upheld scrupulous standards on both the buying and selling end of all my transactions. Only occasionally have I succumbed to the temptation of purchasing items of questionable origins. It was one of these questionable purchases of late which had gone awry and left me owing a sum of money to Carlo Rufrano, a very large fellow with very little patience.

I had dealt with men similar to Rufrano before. In my formative years, I was struck with a powerful desire to acquire wealth. During my first summer out of college I endeavored to find my fortune regardless of sacrifices of personal integrity or ethical precepts. Danger, I had found, made my heart beat furiously and fueled me with delightfully frightening sensations. And so, as I freely invited trouble into my word, so it came. Chicago during prohibition was as exhilarating as it was treacherous. Headlines of gang violence were commonplace, and the Chicago underground crime scene, with the likes of Hymie Weiss and Al Capone, was the most infamous hot bed of villainy in the nation. I retained a position working in a nightclub downtown, and hung out with members of the North Side Gang, headed up by Deanie O’Banion. It wasn’t long before the North Siders took me in, ostensibly due to my Irish heritage, but mostly, I suspect, because I was willing to do anything they asked. It was that brash attitude and appetite for danger that found me standing outside Schofield’s flower shop with a gun in my pocket one late evening in November of 1924. Schofield’s partner, Clarence McConnel fashioned a speakeasy within the renovated stock room of the flower shop and had stolen several items from O’Banion’s nightclub to furnish it. I was told to take out McConnel with a single shot to the forehead, lock the dead man in the stock room for someone to dispose of later, and clean out the register. I did as I was told, but as I was cleaning out the register I noticed a gold pocket watch behind the cash caddy. I fished it out and turned it in my hand. It was exquisite, undoubtedly the finest object I had ever held. A clatter from the street startled me, and so I slipped the watch back into the drawer, and left the shop.

The next day I felt a crushing guilt for my actions. My craving for danger had been replaced by an even stronger craving for self-preservation; so I packed and headed for Boston. Deanie had friends in Boston who could find me if they wanted, but I figured I owed them nothing. It was a clean hit and I left no unfinished business with the North Siders. I took a job in a mercantile shop and got a fresh start. I suppose you could say that the McConnel experience cured me of my reckless pursuits. There was still a strong desire to make money, but I decided to fly straight and make my fortune as honestly as I could. Within three years I had saved enough to purchase my own store.

So there I was, after ten years of leading a virtuous, law-abiding lifestyle, standing over this girl and entertaining the notion of swindling her out of a sum of money that could feed her family for two years. “May I see the watch?” I asked, smiling down at her. She said nothing, just stretched her arm in my direction, presenting me the watch. I immediately flipped it over to check my presumption of brand and quality. It was indeed a Waltham of the vintage I had predicted. I turned it face up and flipped it open. The jeweled dial shone with magnificent clarity. I knew I could easily sell this treasure with enough money to pay off my debt with Rufrano and eat six months of fine meals on the balance. I was smiling, practically laughing to myself when my eye caught something etched in script on the underside of the cover. I snatched my magnifying lens from the drawer and held it over the inscription. It was only one word, a person’s name – O’Banion. I snapped the lid closed and set the watch on the counter in such a manner as to nearly fracture the glass. “Child, er, young lady, where did you say you acquired this watch?” She gazed up at me with a different expression than she held moments ago. Suddenly she looked older, wiser. Her thin lips curled upwards at the corners forming an unsettling grin. “I told you. It belonged to my grandfather.” She said, stepping back sufficiently beyond my grasp. “I have no need for this item young Miss, so you will take it and be gone with you and your games. Good night.”

“It’s not that easy.” She said, plucking the watch from the counter and placing it into her satchel. “I’m sure you read it in the papers, but my grandfather, Deanie O’Banion was killed in that same flower shop only hours after you had presumably left. He went there to recover his favorite pocket watch, the most valuable and personal item that McConnel had stolen from the nightclub. Before he could find the watch, my grandfather and two of his men were gunned down. No rival gangs claimed the hit, and they started a city-wide manhunt for you.” I stood there quite stunned. I remember reading about O’Banion being shot, but I had expected that to happen eventually, so I didn’t study the details of the incident. I looked back outside and saw a black Pontiac idling at the curb. As I watched it for a moment it flashed its headlights twice. “So what is to happen now?” I said, looking back at the girl. “Now you wait.” She said. “We have paid off your debt to Rufrano, and we have some unfinished business we need taken care of in Pittsburg. That’s where you come in.” She started for the door. “We’ll be in touch.” And with that she opened the door and stepped through. I watched as the car pulled away, then walked to the window and drew the blinds.

I sat on a stool next to a clothing rack and took several deep breaths. Slits of light from the setting sun painted yellow stripes across the wall above the front counter. The corner of a silver frame glared back at me. Mounted in the frame was the first honest dollar I had made as a proprietor of my own shop. I looked around at the rest of the goods which ten years of honest living had provided. There were racks of faded clothing, shelves covered with dusty figurines and assorted worthless baubles. I thought about the business in Pittsburg, about repaying whatever debt might be owed to this new generation of O’Banions, and as I did, quite unexpectedly, my heart began to race.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Killing Jar


This story was originally published on 52stories.net

There was the red shack – exactly as he described it in his letters. He warned me that time had not been kind to him. “The sea can be brutal.” He wrote. “You’re not going to recognize me as kin, I’m afraid. Maybe, if I shave by the time you see me, I might be mistaken as human.” There was the self-deprecating wit that my father spoke of. “But I doubt if I’ll be alive by the time you come. The hornets are after me.” And that was the end of his last letter.

From the gangway I could see a light from inside the hut, but no shadows or movement. The boats creaked and moaned as their shore lines worried the cleats anchored to the weathered planks. I walked toward the shack, slowly, deliberately, and for some reason quietly. I wasn’t trying to sneak up on him, but I also didn’t think that bounding up the dock at full speed was the right way to greet my uncle after thirty years. Especially if his paranoia was as bad as I expected. I knocked on the door. No answer or sound. I was startled by the rusty squeals of seagulls and looked up the dock, catching a flash of black fur darting behind a dock box. A dozen gulls dove toward the cat, reeled back into formation, cursed some more, then dove again. I looked back at the door and examined the two by four bracing it closed. It was new, unpainted and not yet warped by the damp air. I thought it odd to have such a crude and formidable barricade on the outside of the only door. It made me consider just how demented my poor uncle had become – maybe to the point of having to be locked in his own dwelling for fear of hurting himself. I lifted the board off its brackets and leaned it against the frame then turned the handle and stepped onto the threshold. I was consumed by an acrid emulsion of insecticide, rotten meat, and bodily fluids. I backed up a couple of steps and took a deep breath to clear my lungs. The odor shot me right back to my childhood, the summers spent on my uncle’s farm. There was a butterfly collection that hung in the farmhouse parlor which I contributed to. I used a pickle jar filled with my own recipe of random agents which I refined over the course of a couple of summers to be extremely toxic. In the beginning, a butterfly could live several hours in the jar, but once the formula was perfected, a few drops on a tissue placed in the bottom of the jar and death followed very swiftly. The butterfly would flutter frantically, bouncing off the inside walls of the jar, then almost immediately fall to the bottom, its wings quivering for only a moment. I was compelled to watch its final moments of life, contemplate the exact instant of death. After waiting a couple of minutes for the jar to air out, I would gently remove the butterfly with tweezers, and carefully pin it to the Styrofoam inside the display case. I suppose it’s no wonder that I chose insect abatement as a career.

Another clamor from up the dock as a tug boat pulled along side the far finger and two men dressed in foul weather gear jumped off. The gulls reeled away from the cat and followed the tug as it headed back out into the harbor. The two men stood and talked for several seconds. I couldn’t hear them over the roar of the tug’s diesels, but I saw one of them point at me and the other one nod. Even though they were clad head to toe in black and yellow latex, I could tell that neither of them could be my uncle. They both had the sturdy musculature of youth, and when they started walking toward me they took long, confident strides. “Hornets.” I said to myself, watching these hulking, black and yellow shapes come toward me. “Jesus, maybe the old fool wasn’t crazy.” I looked back inside the shack and caught a glimpse of what looked like a bare forearm under the cot. I could hear footsteps drumming on the planks to my left, but I fixed my eyes on that arm, held my breath and stepped inside. I closed the door behind. As it creaked closed, the footsteps shuffled to a stop. I knelt and looked under the bed. There, half covered by a blanket, was an old man. I stared at his face. He was right, I didn’t recognize him, but his description of himself was spot on, save for the grey-blue pallor and the half-inch hole in his forehead.

I could hear rustling and murmurs from outside. I stood and looked around the tiny room for something to defend myself. There was a small writing desk covered with a newspaper dated two days previous, some pens, a photo of a woman I didn’t recognize. A small pot-bellied stove sat in the corner. Along the opposite wall was a peg board lined with tools, and under that, a bait sink flanked by two wooden cutting boards clamped onto a rusty metal counter. I knelt down, looked under the counter, and found dozens of smoked glass bottles. I read one of the labels - Soda Lye. There was more, Chlorine, ammonium bicarbonate, hydrochloric acid, Malathion, methanol, ether. I didn’t know what my uncle had been up to, but couldn’t imagine an appropriate hobby for a 77-year-old that required ether.

A loud rapping on the door caused me to spin around and lose my balance. I steadied myself, jumped to my feet, and pushed the desk in front of the door, jamming it under the knob. More rustling from outside then a crash as one of the men slammed into the door. I grabbed a hammer from the peg board with one hand and threw open the window over the bunk with the other. Another crash as the legs of the desk buckled and the door opened. I leaned over and swung the hammer hard, smashing as many of the bottles as I could. I threw the hammer down then crawled out of the window, shutting it behind me. I glanced back through the glass and saw the vapors rise from the floor as the two men stumbled over the desk. I ran around to the front of the shack, pulled the door shut, and secured it with the two-by-four. I stepped backward to the far side of the dock, and through the window saw both men clawing at their throats, wrenching. The larger of the two started convulsing and throwing himself against the wall between the windows. As the fumes thickened, my view became obscured until the smaller man slammed against the glass and looked out at me through bulging crimson eyes. Bloody foam ran from his nostrils and mouth and he seemed to be trying to speak. I took one step closer and watched his purple tongue dance pathetically against the roof of his mouth. I stood there until his eyes rolled white and he fell to the floor. There was a part of me that wanted to walk closer to the window to see him take his final breath. But this time I denied myself that pleasure. My work was done.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Buy My Boombox!

This has been sitting in my closet for a year. It's a $5 thrift store purchase that's apparently worth close to a grand. Put it on Ebay yesterday and got an offer from a guy to buy it immediately for $750!! Who would of thunk that junk could bring so much funk?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Accident Under the Big Top

The confusion was clearing up as Tom's body processed the alcohol. He looked around. Something was wrong. Very wrong. His head throbbed and he recalled the blackout. A heavy weight in his right hand drew his attention and he looked down at a gun. That's when he noticed the blood on his sleeve. From behind him, a feminine voice called his name and he remembered the wind machine, the dwarf, the chunks of shredded clown, and the palpable breeze as the entire audience gasped in unison. Tom blinked hard then squinted toward the tent. Six feet away, a tattered red and white hat lay crumpled in the dirt. Closer to the main entrance, a bloody size 19 shoe was rung around one of the stakes like a hellish horseshoe. "Jesus!" Tom said while trying to sit upright. His ears were still ringing but he could make out sirens, cries, and disturbed murmurs from a large group of people somewhere behind him.

"Take is slow Tom." The female voice said. "You're going to want to let go of the gun. The police are on their way, and they won't know it's a prop." Tom glanced down at the Colt 45 replica in his hand then released it into the dirt. "What the hell happened?" He said. "It's Eddie Tom, he, he's dead." Tom pivoted to his left and was eye to eye with Brenda, one of the little people clowns. Her painted on frown and tears exaggerated her despair, and were particularly disturbing to the half-drunk Tom who fixated on the still wet droplets of arterial spray covering the left side of her face.

"You were working on the wind machine, remember Tom? Do you remember that?" Tom rubbed his eyes and shook his head then paused. "Yeah, Eddie and I took it apart to clean it right before the show." Tom looked blankly into the distance. He could see the reflection of the emergency vehicles' strobes on the side of the tent. "Then we, we took a break, broke out a bottle of scotch from Eddie's locker." Tom stood up and looked down at Brenda. "The Superman stunt! Christ Brenda! Eddie and I never put the grill back on the fan!" Tom shuddered, his eyes widened as he searched for some sign of understanding from this nightmarish, blood-splattered harlequin looking up at him. He could hear the sound of tires skidding on dirt as the vehicles sped around the back side of the tent and headed his way. "It happens." Brenda said, taking Tom by his hand and leading him into the crowd. "And we look out for our own."

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Gamble


This story was originally published on 52stories.net

Marco stared at the spinning roulette wheel then shifted focus to his four, five hundred dollar chips that were stacked neatly on double-zero. He came to Las Vegas with the unorthodox objective of losing all of his money. Now he was down to the final two grand. Hitting double zero wouldn’t only allow him to leave with twice what he brought to the table, but it would, quite literally, save his life.

Forty-six hours earlier, Marco walked into the casino with a suitcase filled with $30,000, his entire life savings, and hit the roulette table with the stoic confidence of an established high roller. In the end, precisely as planned, he left the table with two thousand dollars in his pocket. Nearly two solid days of gambling left him emaciated. He denied the casino doctor’s plea for him to spend the night under observation at the local hospital. Instead, aided by a stocky man in a plaid green sport coat and reeking of cheap cologne, he made his way to his room. Once inside, he followed his plan to the letter. He filled a glass with water and placed it on the nightstand, washed his face and hands, brushed his teeth, set the air conditioner to maximum, and then created a cocoon using the pillows and blankets from both beds. There, swathed in slippery nylon, Marco sank into the deepest of sleeps.

The black-out curtains and the A/C did an adequate job of keeping the room dark and cool, but the early risers in the room next door and the continual slamming of spring-loaded doors echoing from the hallway were slowly unraveling his cocoon and drawing him out of oblivion. It was the clink, clink, clink, shunk, thump of the Coke machine on the other side of the wall which shredded the remaining fabric of his slumber.

Marco threw back the covers and glanced at the alarm clock which read 6:22. He walked over to the window and opened the curtains. There, three stories below, the pool was waiting. Within a few hours hundreds of people would be swarming about, but for the moment, the pool area looked exactly as it had the morning he met her – quiet and serene. He closed his eyes and rocked his forehead back and forth slowly on the glass. It felt cool, soothing, but Marco didn’t think he deserved such comfort, so he pulled back and stood up straight. At 48, Marco felt he had experienced so much loss, accomplished so little, and influenced so few that he was ready to discover whatever awaited him on the other side. He didn’t even know that he believed in a higher power, but he had come to Vegas to find one or die trying. He was ready to make that final passage, and if there was a Savior of some sort, Marco was making sure there would be a prime opportunity for a miracle. Besides, to Marco, this was hell, or close to it. Anything that lies beyond has got to be an improvement. He was tired of being burdened by life and tired of forty years of testing his faith, looking for signs, and agonizing over possibilities. How many times had he pleaded to the heavens to provide guidance and comfort? How many unanswered prayers were still in queue, floating in the ether – wasted? How could it be that he was born to lead such a miserable life, devoid of meaning, purpose, any semblance of inner peace?

His eyes fixed the far cabana. It was there, exactly ten years ago, that he met Aimee. They spent the weekend together before heading their separate ways with promises to keep in touch. Marco called her several times, but she didn’t respond. He tried convincing himself that she meant nothing, but it was no use. Aimee was only the second girl that he had kissed, and the first one who kissed him back. Those two days constituted the longest relationship he has ever had.

His reverie was broken by a man walking out of the cabana. He was wearing a green bathing suit and sported a tattered, wide-brimmed straw hat. He took off his hat, tossed it onto a lounge chair, then canonballed into the pool. He surfaced after several seconds, and started treading water in the deep end. Marco was perturbed. He planned on the pool being empty this time of the morning. He needed enough time to sink below the surface and take as much water into his lungs as possible then lie undisturbed for at least three minutes. Marco turned away from the window to the alarm clock. It was time to go. He glanced back toward the pool and the man and his hat were gone. A trail of footsteps led toward the back gate. Marco pulled on his pants, slipped into his shoes and walked out of the room.

Once in the casino, Marco walked directly to the same roulette table. He pulled the chips out of his pocket and stacked them on double zero. The dealer called to the pit boss who was standing at the far table. He turned and Marco recognized him as the stocky man in the plaid coat who helped him to his room just a few hours ago. The pit boss nodded to the dealer then turned away. The wheel spun and Marco watched. If he won, he would keep the promise he made to himself to turn his life around; to somehow find purpose, hope, and serenity. If he lost, he would take this as the final confirmation of a wasted life. The wheel slowed and the ball dropped. Marco smiled for the first time in weeks. The test was finally over.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Happy Hour


I later found out her name was Barbara LeFang. I met her last week in, well you know, once of those bars. Business had been great and I wanted to celebrate. Honest, I had only a couple drinks when she walked by my table. Little did I know she had been watching me from the far side of the room. You'd think, as a private eye, I'd have some sort of acute awareness that sends an alert when someone is spying on me. Not so; but luckily this time, the prowler in the shadows was a tall blonde with painted on jeans and a hypnotic smile. She walked to the bar, and winked at me. Gary saw her too. "Look at that!" He said. I nodded. "Look at HER, Gary, not THAT – remember?" I said. Gary is the CPA in the next office over from mine. He's 55, single, good with numbers but lousy with the ladies. Last year he saved me over five grand on my taxes, but only had one date – my sister. He's asked me to help him understand women better, learn how to talk to girls. One of our first lessons involved learning to respect women, and treating them as people, not objects. "Now pull your hand away from the side of your mouth, pick up your drink and stop staring at her rear end." I said. "Right, sorry, but she winked at you!" Gary said, swiveling his chair back toward me. I, of course, as the teacher, was required to further study the object – err, the delicate beauty for which Gary was so obviously taken.

A dozen years as a P.I. had afforded me keen observational tactics which provided an advantage when approaching people, especially the ladies. But this one was special – no run-of-the-mill barfly here, that's for sure. Pure and simple, I was mesmerized. Gary pulled the red straws out of his drink and flicked them at my face. "Hey – how come you get to look at her?!?" A few drops of his Cuba Libre hit my cheek and eye brow, but I didn't even blink. It was right about then that she pivoted toward me. Her sinuous contours moved in silent symphony, and when she looked at me, she didn't look, she dove.

Aided by some cosmic anomaly that, at least temporarily, replaced both gravity and reason, I stood, then felt the distance between us disappear. It was as if I was standing still and gliding toward her as the universe folded upon itself to ensure our destiny. Only a breath away from her, she smiled again, and pointed at her name tag which came into focus: "Bacardi – Party All Night!" then in smaller letters beneath – "Barbara." The universe snapped back into shape with a resounding clap. I was going to say something, although I don't know what, when the bartender called from behind her, "LeFang – order up!" Startled, she turned toward him. I used the decoy to my advantage, and with great stealth, moved back into the shadows.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Enough


This story was originally published on 52stories.net

Dana hung up the phone and stood at the bedroom window. She looked out over the dock to her brother waiting next to the idling shore boat. Behind her, Stan lumbered up the stairs. He took one deliberately slow step after another, allowing the echo of each stomp to resound throughout the house.

Stan stopped at the landing and looked up the hall toward the bedroom. A pool of light bled into the hallway, and he watched for shadows. Inside the bedroom, Dana eyed her coat that was draped over the recliner, focusing on the pocket holding the gun. Another thump coming from the hallway, then another. Dana turned and met Stan’s eyes as he entered the room. He was an imposing figure - six feet four inches tall, but another inch or so with his work boots which he insisted wearing everywhere – even around the house. He had thinning black hair which was drawn back to a weak pony tail. An unkempt goatee punctuated an otherwise handsome face that, at one time, Dana mistook as kind. “Who was on the phone?” Stan asked, picking at his fingernails with a match book cover. This was how the attacks always started. Dana knew his questions held no more relevance than her answers. Two weeks prior Stan stormed into the room and asked “Who ate the last of the cereal?!?” That simple query was the spark of outburst that left Dana with a black eye and a dislocated shoulder. Over the years Dana had tried being sweet, tough, loving, even crazy, but each charade ended the same way. So now she just said whatever came to mind. This time she told the truth. “Peter.” Dana said. “It was Peter on the phone.” Stan’s brow narrowed as he spoke, “Did you tell your brother that he doesn’t need to call here everyday? Did you tell him I can take care of my own damn wife? Did ya?!? His bloodshot eyes drilled into Dana’s. She held his gaze. “The subject didn’t come up.” Dana said. “What did you say?!?” Stan said, leaning toward her. Dana backed up a half of a step, keeping herself in line with the recliner.

“You’re talking back to me, Dana.” Stan took a big step forward and Dana walked backward quickly until she felt her coat behind her and the heavy pocket bounce against her calf. “Jesus, you’re jumpy.” Stan giggled as he spoke. “Are you taking the medication that the doctor prescribed to calm your nerves, because I don’t think I’ve seen you move that fast in six months.” Stan took one more stop toward her. “I shouldn’t have to move at all you know.” Dana said, gripping her coat with her right hand. “Well, that’s true, my dear, that’s true. And we’ve talked about ways that we could work things out – arrangements that would make things a little less. . .” he paused, searching for the right word “. . . troublesome around here. But each time we agree on one of these arrangements, you seem to forget the rules; now isn’t that right little lady?” Stan took another step. “Don’t come any closer Stan!” Stan stood and smiled, combing his mustache with his thumb and index finger, then drawing them down to his goatee and scratching his chin as if deep in thought. “My, aren’t you feisty.” Stan brought both feet together, snapped his heels, and gave Dana a salute. “Okay, I won’t move, but I want you to do me a little favor – alright?” After hundreds of attacks, this was the part that Dana used to fear the most - the part where the predator toys with its prey before making the final, killing blow. This time, it was Dana’s turn. She blinked once and licked her lips.

Stan stood four feet from Dana, staring at her waist. He reached out his right hand and pointed at her with his index and middle finger held together in the shape of a gun. His eyes moved to Dana’s chest, then he swept his fingers inward, motioning for her to loosen her robe. Dana didn’t move. She did what she always did – stood perfectly still. But this time instead of quietly cursing herself for lacking the courage to leave him, she thought about the boat waiting, of life somewhere off this island.

Stan’s power over Dana had been waning for several months, and this enraged him even more. The beatings had gotten worse, but as they did, Dana gradually put up less and less of a fight. The terror and contempt she once harbored for Stan began migrating inward, infesting her like an unchecked virus. During the past several months she came to the baffling, disturbing conclusion that she had become her own worst enemy. More and more she regarded Stan as a mindless, faceless entity that roamed the house, beat her, raped her, and then moved back into the shadows. She knew she had to leave, but now it wasn’t because of what he did to her, it was because of what he had forced her to become. She remembers the first time she felt the crack of Stan’s knuckles against her cheek and thought she deserved the punch. The first time he sodomized her and she felt relieved that someone had the power to punish her properly for being so inadequate. She stood in the bedroom hundreds of times and listened for Stan to pound up the stairs. In the beginning she was petrified. Over time though, fear changed to anger which then, only recently, had turned into anticipation. Stan needed to be eliminated because he was no longer just an abusive husband; he had become the agent of Dana’s self-destruction. Even as she stared right at him, she didn’t see Stan at all; she saw that pathetic, weak bully in the back of the class who constantly flicked her ear; the cockroach on the kitchen floor scurrying for the shadows, just begging to be crushed.

Stan made the motion with his fingers again. Dana felt a chill pulse through her and a thin smile grow across her lips. She let go of the coat and slowly parted her robe revealing a white T-shirt. Sam grinned, pointed to the bottom of the shirt, and motioned upwards. Dana closed her eyes in a prolonged blink, swooned toward Stan, and felt herself succumbing to another attack. She felt the temptation to lean into the sweet sting of his first blow, to open herself to his brutish thrusting. Her body tingled with anticipation of the punishment she knew she deserved. She could almost taste the comforting warmth of blood in her mouth. She opened her eyes, stared at the hideous stranger in front of her and reached back for her coat. Not anymore. She would not allow this night to become another bad memory. Instead, she would remember this night as the one when the faceless, hulking entity she used to call her husband went through his final metamorphosis. The night when she flipped the switch, watched the cockroach scurry, and lowered her heal with a resounding crunch.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

52stories.net


Hi folks -

Just a quick announcement that I've just launched an online writing community called 52stories.

Do you want to write more, but don't know what to write about? Do you find yourself procrastinating over writing? 52stories is here to help you remove the barriers between you and your stories. We provide one photo per week and you write a story based on that photo. We publish your story and other writers provide feedback. Imagine writing 52 stories in one year... now, make it happen.

Stop on by - 52stories.net and let me know what you think.

Thanks!

Tom

Friday, June 22, 2007

Remembering Summer

For twenty years, from the age of five to twenty-five, summer was to me a glorious celebration of liberation and independence punctuated by a State-certified and parent-ratified amnesty from school for three magnificent months. It’s 6:36 AM on this, the first day of summer vacation for my kids, and as I recall my own childhood memories of summer – the lingering afternoons spent at the beach, the carefree days and balmy nights, a truck’s air horn gently reminds me that I’m sitting in traffic on my way to work. I’m convinced there’s no worse way to start a day than being stuck in traffic before you even get to the office. The semi truck in front of me has moved nine inches in ten minutes. I’m not even sure if the driver is still in the cab. I was forced to stop short as I merged into the lane and came to rest with a generous three centimeters of clearance between my bumper and the iron lift gate on the back of the truck. I’m so close to the truck that it completely obscures my forward view. Every time I get up the nerve to step out of the car to peer around the edge of the truck, it releases a blast of pressurized air from its brakes, and jerks forward half an inch. I check my rear view mirror and see the guy behind me shaving with an electric razor while reading the OC Register which he has folded neatly against the steering wheel. He continues shaving with one hand while the other reaches toward the console and brings up his cup of Starbucks. He takes a casual sip, then slowly lowers the cup and turns the page. This guy has it down – definitely a professional commuter.

I look ahead again, let my eyes rest on the black diamond plate design of the lift gate, and my mind rolls into a reverie of a summer long ago. I was ten years old and lying on the sand at Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. My friend, Jonny and I had just finished a long swim along the buoy line, and beached ourselves in the cool sand at the water’s edge. There was a commotion behind us, and we looked back and saw several people standing and pointing over our heads toward the water. Six bottlenose dolphins skimmed the surface just outside the swim line some 100 yards offshore. Their dorsal fins sliced through the morning glass in rhythmic undulations. They swam past at a casual pace and then headed toward the 2nd Street Bridge. Jonny and I scrambled to our feet and ran to catch up with them. We ran as far as the bridge then watched them disappear into the next harbor. Several minutes later they returned, and for the rest of that day and most of the next, Jonny and I did little else besides swimming, laughing, and running up and down the beach chasing dolphins.

A car horn jolts me back to reality and I instinctively pop my car into gear and creep forward. I drum the steering wheel a few times and look to my right. A very large man in a mid-90s Tercel is bludgeoning the tiny buttons on his cell phone with his enormous index finger. He’s talking to himself too, no, yelling. Thick strands of greasy brown hair lay flat, plastered against his sweaty brow. He’s wearing a short sleeve shirt and a tie. A black suit coat is hanging from the hook over the passenger window behind him. I figure he’s late for a job interview, but then realize it’s too early for that, so I resign to the thought that this poor soul is probably a mess like this everyday. The semi lunges forward a few inches, but I stay put. I’m gonna need a couple of feet of clearance if I’m ever going to maneuver around him.

Once again I stare ahead and drift away. It’s the summer of 1981 and I’m 16 years old. The year before, for my birthday, my parents bought me SCUBA lessons. My friend Chuck and I dove mainly in the shallow waters of Alamitos Bay, sinking to the murky silt at the bottom and cruising along under the marina docks looking for whatever sea life or barnacle-encrusted jetsam we could find. This day we started the dive later than usual and raced daylight to get in a quick dive. It wasn’t long before Chuck and I got separated while cruising along the underside of the docks near his parents’ boat. I checked my air and compass, realized I had a few more minutes, and continued on my way. Finally, as my air tank began to empty I made a gradual ascent. At the surface, I pivoted toward the west and was greeted with the most perfect sunset I’d ever seen. I pulled my dive mask from around my eyes and rested it on my forehead. I just stayed there in the channel, treading water, and gazing at the reds and golds and the brilliant shafts of light shooting into the yellow clouds as they chased the sun into the horizon.

The air brakes blast and the truck moves another few inches. I click my turn signal and watch the mirror for a break in traffic. The big guy in the Tercel waves me in front of him. I’m surprised by that because I had pegged him as a frustrated, angry loner – someone incapable of such an altruistic gesture. I wave back at him, and he nods. I feel bad for stereotyping him. When did life get so complicated? Not that many summers ago I didn’t have a care in the world. I straighten the car out in the lane and feel my phone vibrating on my hip. It’s my ten-year-old son, Nick. “Hi Nick – what are you doing up so early?” I said. “I couldn’t sleep any more. I’m too excited because mom’s taking us to the beach today!” He says, exuberated. “That’s great pal!” I say, then begin rehearsing my checklist of obligatory parental caveats – wear sun block, shuffle your feet as you enter the water to scare away stingrays, stay right in front of a lifeguard. . . Nick speaks up, “Yeah – I can’t wait!” Reflexively, I take a deep breath in preparation for my lecture, “Don’t forget to. . .” I pause for a moment, bite my tongue, then Nick cuts in, “Don’t forget what?” He says. “Don’t forget to have fun.” I say. “I won’t dad, I’m gonna have the best day ever.” That resounding, innocent exclamation rattled around in my head for moment, then must have jarred something loose that had been too tight for too long. “I’m sure you will, buddy.” I said. “I’m gonna try to do the same.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sense of Direction

I have a horrible sense of direction. Late last month I got lost inside a clothing store fitting room. While driving, I constantly have to stop and ask for directions, so two weeks ago, by request of my wife, I drove to Best Buy and bought a GPS. I programmed it so that I’m given turn-by-turn directions from a very pleasant-sounding British girl named Jane. The GPS had several built-in voices to choose from, but Jane was far and above the best of the lot. I’ll do just about anything Jane asks me to. Turn left, merge, keep right, make a U-turn. Elizabeth, my wife, asked me why I listen to Jane and follow her every request, but won’t pick my socks off the closet floor no matter how loud she yells. She accused me of running unnecessary errands, of using any excuse to drive the car. I told her what all men tell their wives, “It’s nothing honey, really. There’s absolutely nothing going on between Jane and me.” Elizabeth knew better; they all do. She’s been married to me for too long, and can tell when I’m preoccupied by something or someone. I’ll admit that Jane had piqued my interests.

One day last week I left work and set the GPS for home, but purposely ignored all of Jane’s directions. She never got upset, never yelled nor cursed. She kept the same, composed, sensitive tone as she continually recalculated my route during the entire extended commute. When Elizabeth asked me why I was two and a half hours late from work, I was at a loss. I couldn’t lie to the woman I loved, the mother of my children, my best friend. “Honey, let’s talk.” I said, and led her by her hand into the living room, away from our darling children playing quietly in their room. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.” Her face held a look of deep concern, and a thin, glossy sheen wetted her eyes as she blinked away the rudiments of tears. I pulled her close, then spoke. “Well, you know Jane, right?” There was an abrupt shift in her expression like someone had come up from behind and hit her hard on the rear with a canoe paddle. Her body shuddered; she pushed herself away from me and just stood there. I felt compelled to say something, anything. “This isn’t how I wanted to tell you.” I said. Nothing. She just stood before me, and I watched as her look turned quizzical, then perplexed, stumped, and finally flabbergasted. It was about then that rage set in. Those eyes, once heavy with tears, turned blood-red, and her brow migrated inwards forming a distinct ‘V’ over the bridge of her nose. Her lips tightened to a thin line, and I could hear the even pant of strained respirations from her flared nostrils. Something deep within the reptilian recesses of my brain screamed ‘run!’ but I couldn’t move. I had stumbled out of the jungle and found myself standing eleven inches from the nose of a hungry, snarling lioness who wanted nothing else than to tear me limb from limb then devour me with the help of her adorable cubs.

Then something quite unexpected happened. She turned, walked into the kitchen, plucked her purse off of the counter then walked out the front door. I followed, but not too close, and reached the patio as she was pulling her car out of the driveway. I watched as she disappeared down the street then I went inside. About an hour later she returned carrying a Best Buy bag. She said hello to me, cordially enough, then went into our bedroom. I stood silently just outside the doorway, out of her view, and relatively safe from airborne projectiles. A minute or so passed then I heard her cycle through the familiar GPS voices. Like the call from an estranged phantom, Jane’s voice echoed from our bedroom into the hall, “Voice one, Jane. In four hundred yards, turn left, then turn right.” My heart was beating like a rabbit. My wife and the ‘other woman’ were in my bedroom – together – talking to each other! A few seconds of unbearable silence passed, then another voice – a man’s voice “Voice two, Richard. You have reached your destination.” It repeated - the deep, tranquil, quasi-Mediterranean tones of his voice modulated with seduction. “You have reached your destination.” He spoke again, this time louder, “. . .reached your destination.” I saw a shadow moving toward the door so I backed up flat against the wall. The door shut, and I heard the click of the lock. “You have reached your destination. . . reached your destination.” I could listen no more.

I walked down the hall to the kids’ room and sat on the edge of my daughter’s bed. The two little ones were sitting on the floor in front of me, playing with Matchbox cars. My son skid a red Corvette into the bay of a plastic gas station. “Hey – How do I get to McDonald’s?!?” He said to my daughter who was playing the role of the reluctant attendant, “I’m not going to tell you! Get yourself a GPS like my daddy!” Then she looked up at me. “Right daddy?” I smiled at her, leaned forward, and brushed a few strands of hair from in front of her eyes. “Sometimes it’s better to ask for directions, honey. There’s certainly no disgrace in that.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Notes on National Politics


Me dear pop wrote this yesterday.

Well, for a start, let us look at the political scene. Do you agree the quadrennial circus that is the campaign for the presidency has gotten way out of hand? The excuse offered is that it takes many millions of dollars and the candidates need almost two years to gather needed funds and supporters. To blow a hole in this excuse take the case of Republican Fred Thompson who hasn't yet announced but as of this date (6/13) has captured the number two spot in the GOP polls.

Do you think maybe the public is turned off by the interminable marathon and is not going to tune in until election time draws near? That has been the case in the past and all those eager to rescue the suffering world, or, let's face it wear the crown, have learned nothing from past campaigns.

All right, lets us grant there is a spark of truth in the desperate need for lots of money to seek office. Doesn't that call for campaign reform? We all know that money greases the wheels of government and big money buys big favors too often at the expense of the rest of us. It is time to finance campaigns from the government treasury and set a limit for everyone under law. Of course that AINT going to happen any time soon, but it is something to shoot for.

Soooo since the race is underway and we can't stop it this time we can either ignore it altogether, look in once in a while, or follow along through the entire boring thing.

And as for me, I am not favoring anyone at this point. Didn't I just say it is much too soon?

Thursday, June 7, 2007


My full name is Sandra Fay Lipton, but my friends and customers call me Sandy. I’ve been a waitress at the Mexi Casa cafe in Franklin, Tennessee for 52 years. I don’t know if that’s some sort of world record, but people tend to be impressed by that. What surprises people the most though is that, at 70 years old, I still look forward to coming to work here nearly every day. Fact is, before my hip surgery last Spring, I hadn’t missed a single shift in more than thirty years. A lot of that has to do with the people I see here everyday – the regulars who come here for the best cup of coffee in town. They are family to me; and just as most people look forward to coming home to see their families, I look forward to coming to the café to see mine. But there’s another reason I’m still here, and that has to do with a conversation I had with someone, right here at the counter, nearly 50 years ago.

In late March of 1958 I was 21 years old, and had been waitressing at the Mexi Casa for almost three years. I didn’t go to college right out of high school. It wasn’t the normal thing for a young woman to do back then. Girls growing up in rural Tennessee in the 1950’s were burdened with many expectations, but the pursuit of quality education wasn’t one of them. I was expected to get married, raise a family, and provide grandchildren for my parents to dote over. At the time it seemed like my parents’ only concern was that I met these expectations. I’m sure that’s why my passions and plans were closely audited. They had to be in case I somehow became self-aware at any point in my life and decided to actually act in my own best interest. Heresy!
My plans did not include marrying a local boy and living in town with six children. My plans were to work at the cafe until I had enough money to move to California where I’d somehow become a movie star. I know that probably sounds corny now, but that dream was one of few things that I could truly call my own.

Of course a dream that delicious just had to be shared. I told it to anyone who would listen; and so, as I knew would be the case, this dream of mine became an unending source of arguments with my parents and siblings. After one particularly nasty fight with my mom and brother, I stormed off to work with the intention of quitting my job at the end of that evening’s shift, and catching the first bus to the west coast. I had felt that way on numerous occasions, but that night I went as far as to pack my things into a suitcase and hide it behind a hedge under my bedroom window to pick up later that night.

My six-hour shift started at 5:00PM, and around 10:00 I was standing behind the counter drying a stack of saucers and planning which streets I would have to take as to not attract any wondering eyes as I hurried toward the bus station with my suitcase. It was about then that I heard the bell on the door jingle and I turned to see two gentlemen walk in. The smaller, younger of the two walked up to the counter and sat down. The larger man looked around for a few seconds then walked back outside and got into his car.
I grabbed the coffee pot from the burner and walked over to the man. He was gazing at the menu, and from my angle, the brim of his hat covered his face. I flipped his cup over and poured the coffee. He looked up briefly, caught my eyes for only a moment, then tipped his hat and said “Thanks.” Now I’ve thought about this night thousands of times over the years, examined every detail of it until I can close my eyes and watch it like a movie, but I still can’t put into words the way that I felt the moment I realized I had just poured a cup of coffee for Elvis Presley.

I walked back to the coffee station, set the pot back on the burner, and looked around the café to see if anyone else had noticed. There were only two other customers, and they sat at a booth against the window. I looked through the order window into the kitchen. Jeff, the cook was out back smoking a cigarette. Pete, the manager sat behind the register reading a newspaper. Elvis was mine – all mine. I walked up to him. “What can I get you?” He took his hat off and set it on the stool next to him. “Is it too late or . . .” He paused, looked at his watch, and smiled. “. . .too early to order some breakfast?” I giggled. “No, you can have anything you’d like.” God! That must have sounded stupid. I waited for him to look away from me, laugh, shake his head, but he didn’t. He kept looking at me, and as he did, he smiled. I must have smiled too, because I still smile when I think of that moment. He looked down at his coffee then said, “Say, would you get in trouble if you were to join me for some coffee?” I’m not sure what my answer was or even if there was an answer. I remember grabbing the coffee pot, topping off his cup and pouring one for myself, then walking around the counter and sitting next to him.

I speak with strangers every day in the café, and know that most people are pretty private about their lives. I’ve come to respect people’s space, and I can usually tell from when I greet them whether they are the chatty type or not. Even when they are chatty, conversations usually start out shallow and become deeper with trust and time. On rare occasions though, I meet someone and somehow manage to avoid small talk completely. I begin rambling, without hesitation, like I’ve known them my whole life. That’s how it was with Elvis and me. I told him things that I couldn’t even tell my friends – heck that I hadn’t even admitted to myself. I told him about my plans to leave town that night, and as I did I became aware that, down deep, my dream of moving to Hollywood was more of a plot to make everyone in town jealous and infuriate my parents. I admitted that I was miserable about the fact that I didn’t have any real plans of my own, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to live according to the plans of other people. Elvis listened intently, and then shared with me that the next day he was reporting to the Army Draft Board. He said that several months prior he was offered special treatment if he had volunteered, but he took his chances with the draft. He said he was scared, more scared than he’d ever been. He was certain his career would be over when he returned in two years, but that didn’t seem to bother him as much as having to leave his mama for so long. He confided in me, leaned in close, and confessed so many fears and personal details that I felt overwhelmed; but I kept listening, and kept staring into those deep green eyes.

It’s as if, with all of the craziness and excitement in his life, he rarely had the chance to speak openly with someone. As if he came into this obscure, little café just to find someone like me to talk to. For me, he was the light in the storm – a stranger and a friend at the same time, who helped me more through the simple act of listening than any number of people could through offering their advice. By the end of our conversation things lightened up a little. He smiled and told me that if I really wanted to get back at my family and the busy-bodies in the town, moving to Hollywood wouldn’t do the trick. He was right, and I knew it the second he said it. He helped me realize that by staying here, and spending my money on going to college instead of Hollywood, I could really turn this sleepy town on end.

When he stood up to leave he reached in his pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill and laid it on the counter. I’d never seen a hundred dollar bill before, so after my initial shock, I looked up at him and said “I can’t keep this. It’s too much money; and . . . you didn’t even eat!” He gave me a crooked smile, “I wasn’t really hungry, darlin’. Plus, I’m not giving you this money as a tip.” Elvis leaned in toward me, plucked his hat from the seat, and then gave me a serious look. “This here money is part of a wager, and by taking it, you’re promising me that you’re gonna do whatever makes you the happiest in life, no matter what people think or say.” He smiled again, then leaned in and kissed my cheek. “Thanks for talking with me tonight.” He said. I picked the bill off the counter and turned toward the door as he walked through. “Goodnight.” I said. I finished my shift that night, then went home and brought my suitcase inside.

The following fall I started classes at Southern Tennessee Lutheran College, and eventually got my degree in English literature. I never did marry, but discovered I have a knack for writing. Over the years I’ve had four novels published. I took the money from my first book and bought the MexiCasa. That was in 1979, and I’m proud to say that we still serve the best coffee in Franklin.
Most evenings I leave the café around eight, but Tuesdays I stay until we close at eleven. I suppose it’s a silly ritual – staying late like that, but I still enjoy listening for the bell on the door, and summoning the wonder of a night long ago.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


Carl and Bob in Cyberspace has a new home! Yep, our favorite retro-geeks have outgrown this humble blog, and have formed their own blog worthy of their (potential) popularity. You can find Carl and Bob HERE -

Thanks!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Carl and Bob in Cyberspace - # 4

In 1985 during the dark years before the Internet and email, deep within the server farms of Dionell Software in Irvine, California, history was being made. Two twenty-something MIS employees, Carl and Bob, discovered a way to 'chat' over their computer network. These ostensibly private, candid conversations were saved on magnetic media, and only recently discovered during a data mining exercise. These transcripts are provided with hopes that future generations will benefit from a glimpse at the birth of the computer revolution. Our sincere thanks to Carl and Bob. This is their story.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

State Street

I step out of the Indian restaurant onto State Street, and am blinded by a flash of sunlight. As my pupils adjust, a homeless man doing abstract pantomime comes into focus. He’s climbing an invisible ladder, trapped inside a box, walking a tightrope. All of these are done without much skill, or regard to detail. He rushes through each routine like a toy whose spring has been wound too tight. He glances at his wrist to a watch that isn’t there, pulls a banana out of his coat pocket, peels it, then sits on an overturned bucket and begins talking into the banana like a phone. His show is over, and Nick and I were his only audience. I toss whatever change I have into his cup, and he pauses, asks the person on the other end of the banana to hold a moment, looks at us, then whispers “thank you.”

Monday, May 28, 2007

Carl and Bob in Cyberspace - # 3


In 1985 during the dark years before the Internet and email, deep within the server farms of Dionell Software in Irvine, California, history was being made. Two twenty-something MIS employees, Carl and Bob, discovered a way to 'chat' over their computer network. These ostensibly private, candid conversations were saved on magnetic media, and only recently discovered during a data mining exercise. These transcripts are provided with hopes that future generations will benefit from a glimpse at the birth of the computer revolution. Our sincere thanks to Carl and Bob. This is their story.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Weekly Poll # 2

Who is your favorite Simpsons Character?
Homer
Marge
Lisa
Bart
Maggie
Apu
Otto
Moe
Krusty the Clown
Other - Leave a Comment

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Carl and Bob in Cyberspace - # 2

In 1985 during the dark years before the Internet and email, deep within the server farms of Dionell Software in Irvine, California, history was being made. Two twenty-something MIS employees, Carl and Bob, discovered a way to 'chat' over their computer network. These ostensibly private, candid conversations were saved on magnetic media, and only recently discovered during a data mining exercise. These transcripts are provided with hopes that future generations will benefit from a glimpse at the birth of the computer revolution. Our sincere thanks to Carl and Bob. This is their story.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Carl and Bob in Cyberspace - # 1

In 1985 during the dark years before the Internet and email, deep within the server farms of Dionell Software in Irvine, California, history was being made. Two twenty-something MIS employees, Carl and Bob, discovered a way to 'chat' over their computer network. These ostensibly private, candid conversations were saved on magnetic media, and only recently discovered during a data mining exercise. These transcripts are provided with hopes that future generations will benefit from a glimpse at the birth of the computer revolution. Our sincere thanks to Carl and Bob. This is their story.