Thursday, September 28

Lizard's Mirage

You could say I picked this assignment for Wordsmiths Unlimited on purpose. I took this picture because the scene spoke to me. I don't know what it said at the time, but it said something. I wanted to hear what it said to others. After much reflection, this is what I heard.

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2006 Rumba Creative. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated,
or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

Lizard's Mirage

“Who are you talking to?”

“Just Dad.” Mom has the confused look on her face. I hold the handlebars of my bike, the seat resting against my hip. I know what she will say.

“Thomas, you know Daddy isn’t coming back. We’ve talked about it. Daddy is not coming back. Ever.”

“My name is not Thomas. It’s Lizard Boy. And Dad is here all the time. You just don’t want to see him.” Mom stands in the shady heat of the porch, her white skirt moving in the breeze like a ghost hung on the laundry line. Her face goes from sad to angry, then back to sad.

“Don’t take your bicycle up the hill. You’ll get hurt. Promise me, Thomas.”

“I promise,” I say, not really meaning it. “I won’t get hurt. Dad won’t let it.” Mom looks like she might cry. She opens the screen door. It bangs against the wall that Dad was painting. I watch her skirt flow out of the sun, into our house that isn’t the same any more.

I walk my bike up the hill. I love the hill. It has rocks and dirt and places in between where lizards hide. Dad loved the hill, too. We would walk up together, to watch a storm or a sunset. Sometimes we would just watch. Whatever we did, Dad always laughed while I climbed rocks, poking a stick in every hole and crack I found.

“You are a lizard, aren’t you my boy?” he would say. And I would smile and say “Yes, Dad. I am Lizard Boy!” The hill was the place we saw things and talked about things. When night came, we crawled back down to our house like lizards tired from the sun.

Today is the first time I climb the hill by myself. From the top I see everything. I see our house. I see rocks and sky. I see the whole world. I remember Dad saying never tell a lie. I remember Dad saying he would always watch over me.

I push the pedals of my bike, aiming the front wheel down the rocky slope. I feel the world rise up to meet me. I feel the wind in my face. I hear Dad whisper.

Friday, September 22

If You're Gonna Write...

I am more dense than a waterlogged oak, but these are some of my rules for writing.*

1) Is it grasped on first read? If not, the writer needs to address the work to the audience. If I have no idea what you are trying to convey, YOU messed up, not me. Finnegan's Wake and The Bible require additional reading, very little else does. The answer "read it again" is the response of the inexperienced. You are NOT a misunderstood future legend. If you think you are, there is a 99.997% probability that you are crap.

2) Are there too many vague references? If so, the writer may assume an experience the reader doesn't share. Step away from your work. Read it aloud. Use the eyes and hands of a surgeon. Your voice is not necessarily one that others care to hear.

3) Metaphor is a writer's best tool, used sparingly. Use one or two, not twelve. Too much and it tires the reader. Don't use adverbs like "sparingly."

4) Almost all amateur poetry is a laughable yawn. If you are not Frost or Dickinson, don't use it in your fiction. Poetic prose and prose poems are oxymorons, unless you have had at least 75 books on the best seller lists. Even then it is likely it annoys or bores the crap out of everyone but the author.

5) Jello is not a word, it is a trademark. Gelatin, or swamp, or tar pit are options, depending on your desired degree of description. When in doubt, dump the obvious and reach for the thesaurus. When not in doubt, dump it anyway and reach for the thesaurus. Just don't let the thesaurus do your writing for you.

6) Compound sentences are good. Too many, and it reads like blah blah blah. Change it up with some short ones. Some call it stream of consciousness. I call call lack of focus. A good way to write is to shotgun words on the page. Then pare it back by 20%. Then pare it back by 10%. When you think it's perfect, pare it back by 5%.

7) Check your tenses fifty times. There may be nothing that were harder to read than what would be a verb that is might have been once.

8) The true mark of a writer is to listen to criticism. If you think the critique is wrong, do it your way anyhow. If everyone still says "Huh?" you've missed something. Almost none of us are geniuses ahead of our time. Bask in praise. Then ignore it and do the opposite, or at least the sideways, of what is praised.

9) Break the rules if you can, just remember that like sports, you must know the rules of the game before you can exploit them. No one ever learned to read without practicing the alphabet first.

10) ALL WRITERS SCREW UP. Even Shakespeare had his detractors. Chances are very, very, very, very good you are not Shakespeare. You probably aren't even Ayn Rand.

Hate your critics. Give them the finger. Punch a pillow. Cry in your beer. When you calm down, you may see they were right about something. Remember that the work is for the reader, not the writer. I can produce a delicious first draft, only to have my wife say it's boring or confusing or worthy of nothing but the garbage can. I can be pissed, but realize she is right, and rewrite it. Even then, it will need work. Much more work.

All this said, I am not published. I have been rejected several times. It is quite likely I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I don't think so.

One thing is certain: If you don't write it, no one will read it.

* Based on a critique of a respected fellow amateur writer's work.
And my work can use a whole lotta buncha revision. Or a trash can.

Wednesday, September 20

Antibiotic Devolution

Antibiotic: "against life."

Life is omnipresent. It does not care. It pushes. It fights. It never quits. We ignore it at our detriment. I am convinced that the downfall of humanity will not be nuclear war, nor asteroid impact, nor resource depletion. It will be the simplest of organisms that laugh in our face, stick us in the ribs, and wipe us out. We deserve it if we continue our present path and philosophy of sterility.

Human life will end just as H.G. Wells postulated, if you read The War of the Worlds sideways. Bacterium, virus, germ, parasite, or invader: whatever you call it, it will claim our myopic and unworthy species. The end will not manifest itself by epidemic, or pandemic, or any other -demic. It will visit us with stealth, one person at a time. With small dilutions of each generation, it will take control. With microscopic talons and teeth and subterfuge it will erode us.

The enemy has always been with us. We evolved together, an arms race kept in balance, each sacrificing the individual for the species. In the last century we have given the enemy an invitation to join us around the campfire, an opportunity for it to learn our strategy, our plans for war. We humans have battled and slaughtered, and will ultimately lose.

How many times have you flushed the public toilet with your foot? How many times have you pushed the revolving door with your hip? Have you ever used a pay phone with a tissue on the mouthpiece? Have you ever hesitated before shaking hands? Have you ever heeded the advice to turn on/off the faucet with your elbow wrapped in a paper towel? Do you wonder who has touched the vegetables in the supermarket before you buy them?

Stop it. You are not protecting yourself, or by extension, our species. To the contrary, you are killing us, ensuring our eventual downfall. I am not suggesting that we go around sneezing on each other's food, or licking the outhouse seat, or having unprotected sex in a Taiwanese hog farm. I am not suggesting an end to tetanus shots. I am suggesting that we start living with and acknowledging the minor inconveniences of the natural world, instead of ignoring them, arming against them without reasonable cause, or above all, fearing them. The immunity of any individual, species, or system is only as effective as the exposure to its threats.

So let your baby suck on the car keys and swallow small amounts of playground sand. The crud they ingest makes us strong. There is no such thing as an antibiotic. The inconvenient, guilt inducing screams of a child's ear ache may just save us all.

Saturday, September 9

A Man's Gotta Know His Place


Five-hundred fifty miles of single-lane highways between business locations. I had driven a little less than half. Yesterday's task had been training a new business manager. Tomorrow's task would be reviewing internal control procedures. Today had no specific task, just traveling over mountain, river, prairie, and forest, sampling rural and wild America. I was thirsty for a beer.

The Silver Dollar was an ugly and humble place. It looked like a place females seldom visited. I parked my rental car and surveyed the tiny main street. As I stood in the road to take a photo, visions of a rough cigarette-burned bar frequented by equally rough cigarette-burned men played rough-and-tumble in my head. My imagination fell short of reality. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the feeble yellow illumination of forty year-old beer signs. The bartender asked if I wanted my beer in a bottle or can. No mention of a glass. It was clear what kind of microcosm I had entered.

I had a two-day growth of stubble on my face, a shameful appearance in my business. Compared to the half dozen or so other patrons, I had never matured beyond puberty. Great cascading beardfalls of brown and grey decorated the flannel and denim chests of my fellow beer drinkers. They looked at me with scorn, a puny and pale city boy clicking pictures of THEIR BAR. I drank from a longneck bottle, fer chrissakes. As long as I didn't challenge the rules of the house, I figured I could guzzle unmolested. Knowing my omega male place, I sat in the shadowy corner of the bar, listening to the conversations with alternating interest and disdain, making sure to guzzle once in a while, and stay out of the way of brusque, husky men crashing through the door to buy their daily $10 twelve-pack.

"Damn, that woman could suck cock."

"Ain't that the truth!"

"Gimme a Stihl. Husqvarna ain't wertha shit."

"...and the spotted owl tasted like bald eagle! Haw haw haw!"

"I'd push a Ford before driving a Chevy."

"pffffffffffaaaaarrrrrt" (no one said a word)

My silent survey convinced me that there was no one in the bar who could pronounce "nuclear" correctly, much less define it. They read a newspaper only to find a used truck. Wet spot? Fuck 'er. Ain't my fault she can't keep it in. There are only six types of booze: Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, and Home Made. Wine is for pussies. When I tipped the bartender, he looked at me like I was Donald Trump, or the biggest asshole he'd ever seen. I wasn't sure which. Probably they were the same thing. I asked how far it was to the next town on my map. "Uh, I dunno. Forty-five minutes maybe?" As it turned out, it was over two hours. Either he wanted to fuck with the Nancyboy, or he had never been within thirty miles of his hometown, population 38.

Every Man Jack of them could drop a transmission, skin a deer, pick out the best pup of the litter, and fence off five acres before bedtime. They were more man that I could ever hope to be in ten lifetimes. I saw them for what they were, not what they should or might be. How they percieved me is irrelevant, because it was obvious that I am irrelevant.

A man's gotta know his place.

Monday, September 4

Sometimes There Is Only One

Is it possible for a 45-year-old man to have a hero? Is it possible for that man to have a schoolboy crush on another man 1 year younger? Is it possible for him to feel a profound and sad loss for someone he doesn't know?

Yes. Unabashedly, Yes.

Steve Irwin is dead.

The Crocodile Hunter was more than any reviewer's simple words. Yes, he was goofy. He was nuts. He was a caricature of himself, the stereotype of the Aussie Outback Guy. But he was much more than that. He was a modern day Tarzan. He was Lewis and Clark, Peter Pan, Captain Kangaroo, and Charles Darwin all wrapped up in a 21st century package. He was the embodiment of every young boy's daydreams of adventure and danger, the unbridled delight of dirt and sky and living things.

He was a grown man's hero as well. He and his wife Terri are a love story for the ages. All the superlatives apply. The brash, dashing wild man. The sweet, beautiful, smart woman. A serendipity of mind, heart, compassion. A melding of the sexes, bringing out the best of each other, bringing forth children. Together, they wrapped the bonds of familial love, courage, and determination around everything they did. The world recognized it, felt it, loved it.

Never a bad thought expressed. Never an apology for passion. Never a bad day.

Always life, and the world, was a playground. Infinite, curious, respected.

DO NOT Rest In Peace, Steve-O. Forever wrestle and tumble and laugh with teeth and claws and fur and scales. Let the Halls of Hereafter echo with your infectious and childlike joy of all things created.

Show God that heaven is not up there, but in the heart of a normal man with the supernatural gift to see it here on Earth.

Sometimes there is only one.

Sunday, September 3

Savings Account

If you haven't already, go to Wordsmiths Unlimited, a joint venture of Tiff and me. This is my entry for the inaugural exercise, inspired by the photo submitted. If you missed it this time, PLEASE stay tuned and submit your entry next month. No fame, no ass kissing, no prizes. It's just like life! What more could you ask?

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2006 Rumba Creative. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated,
or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

Savings Account

"Shake the girl's hand, Varya."

“Tip your hat, Varya.”

"Give me the coin, Varya."

She hated Piotr.

Varya licked her bruised and cut feet, listened to his sleeping mind relive vodka and females. She couldn’t shake his thoughts, even when she covered her head with her thin blanket. Resigned to another sleepless night, she hid her stolen slips of paper in the folds of her clothing, and stretched as far as the wire cage would allow. Tomorrow she would spend hours on a hot sidewalk, feeding Piotr’s greed and lust. For now, Varya could do nothing but obey.

The morning sun warmed Nevsky railway station, setting pigeons to flight. The tourist season made the dusty corner a favorite of Piotr’s. She twirled to the music of his old record player, accepting coins from tourists, kissing knuckles with feigned appreciation. Every exchange transmitted their thoughts, enchanted, annoyed, indifferent.

“Say thank you to the gentleman, Varya,” said Piotr.

She assumed her cutest expression, climbed a red-faced man’s arm, and wrapped her thin arms around his neck. She patted his collar, his mustache, his pockets.

“What a charming animal!” The man lowered his arm with a chuckle, scratched her head, and walked away.

“Give it to me, Varya.” Perched on Piotr’s shoulder, she handed over the red-faced man’s billfold. Slips of paper peeked out from the leather. “Good girl, Varya, we shall celebrate tonight!” His thoughts were the empty echoes of a liar. He would celebrate, and she would munch a mushy potato in the dark, dreading the return of his sick drunken thoughts. Piotr didn’t know she stole one last paper slip for herself, and that was some consolation.

The long afternoon passed with laughter and copper coins. Twice she was photographed on a child’s head. As always, it was an endless parade of faces and fingers she had never seen, would never see again. Toward sunset, her stomach empty, her tongue dry, her muscles cramped, the man in the overcoat finally appeared.

“Hello again, sir! You are becoming our best customer! Give him a hug, Varya.”

Varya didn’t dare vary the game. She nuzzled the man’s neck, listening for an unspoken confirmation, and heard what she hoped. It would work! She kissed his ear, played with his overcoat pockets. With a grunt, the man in the overcoat gave her a coin and melted into the crowd.

“Give it to me Varya.” Other than the coin, she had nothing to give. Piotr cursed.

The man in the overcoat was gone, but Varya felt him counting the slips of paper she had stashed in his pocket. She felt his sick glee, his calculation of when, where, and how. The plan would work, she thought. If it did not, she was patient. She could choose another and try again.

Diversion, stealth, cunning: Piotr had taught her many things. Slavery used the same weapons, Varya had learned. Soon, very soon, Piotr would learn it, too.