Gambits #11 – Rattlesnake, Whiskey and Uranium

Plus a Handgun, a Suspended License and a Stolen Car

Character Study +

John D MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Dashiell Hammett, Laura Levine, Fitzgerald – A few words and a reasonably complete picture. From characters to towns. Solid. You know who and where and aren’t bogged down in details. His suit looked dirty but wasn’t. Avocado appliances, a small box-store table for two. A Grand Canyon dishtowel hung from the oven handle. A big man. Pink. Rubbery. Thin and nervous enough to make it contagious. Yellowish skin. Dark circles under unsteady eyes.  He was wide and plodding. Neckless, shoulderless, bald. His necktie short, loose, the knot partially buried by a third chin.

Okay, enough fun. Gambits is about writing prompts, cues, unusual manners of death. Here’s another one from an old friend of mine. From The Daily Oklahoman. A paper I threw in my youth (quite accurately) from a red Sting Ray.

GUTHRIE (AP) — Police in Oklahoma say they found a rattlesnake, a canister of radioactive powdered uranium and an open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey during a traffic stop of a vehicle that had been reported stolen.

The traffic stop happened June 26 in Guthrie, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. Guthrie police Sgt. Anthony Gibbs told Oklahoma City TV station KFOR that police don’t know why the uranium was in the vehicle or how it was obtained, though uranium ore can be bought on Amazon.

Gibbs says police also found a gun in the console and a terrarium in the backseat containing a pet Timber rattlesnake.

Gibbs says the driver, Stephen Jennings, was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, transporting an open container of liquor and driving with a suspended license.

There’s the setup, here’s the character – What the hell was this guy up to? A hit man gone to seed?

 

Trivia – Guthrie was the original state capital of Oklahoma. A handful of bu$ine$$ men wanted it in Oklahoma City. Guthrie, the original territorial capital didn’t want to give it up. The capital is where the state seal resides, by God, and it’s in Guthrie. As bu$ine$$ men will do, they arranged to have it stolen from Guthrie. When it arrived they removed it from a canvas bag and set up shop in a downtown OKC hotel. Where there were smart enough to keep it locked up and guarded.

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #21- Guest Shot

Fix it in the mix

A saying widely used both facetiously and in earnest in the music biz. Generally alluding to a high suck factor in a recorded performance that can be buried or overdubbed.

Here’s David Limitre’s take on FIX from a shotgun come-read-my-blog email. But I liked it. Because it is about word power. How we associate, how we interact with a word.

FINALLY! I may be getting a handle on this color thing. At least, what I want to do with color. I experimented with toning the ground first. Then the color seemed to appear quite naturally. You be the judge. 11”x 8”, collage, acrylic and graphite on wood. © 2019 David Limrite

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford

Hi Phil,

Eliminating The Word “Fix”

If you use the word “fix”, as in, “Something is wrong with my painting, so I need to fix it”, I would like to suggest that you eliminate the word “fix” from your vocabulary.

To me, the word “fix” implies that my painting is broken and needs repairing.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with your painting. If you are having the thought that you need to “fix” your painting, all it really means is that your painting is not “there” yet. It means that your painting is currently not looking how you want it to look. Yet.

All it really means is that your painting is unfinished, and that you have more work to do.

It probably means that you want to re-work some parts of the painting. But, it definitely does not mean those areas are broken.

Eliminating the word “fix” from my vocabulary has provided me with a much healthier way of self-evaluating my work in progress. And, it helps me have a better attitude about going back into my paintings to re-work them.

Eliminate the word “fix” and let me know how much better you feel.

Best,

David

David is here: 

For all I know he’s the Dan Alatorre of painting, but I don’t care. Painting is one of those things like singing. You get it or you don’t. You can or you can’t. Kind of like writing. Some would be better off dictating. Remember when Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach tried to sing? Like totally thank God for like Dionne Warwick, right?

Looney Lunes # 160 – Rise Up, Women 2-Fer

Out Damned Spot!

In rural Nepal many families still practice Chhaupadi, a custom that requires all menstruating women to be banished to a small hut or shed for the duration of their period. They are not allowed to interact with or touch any male family members or livestock or enter the family home.

Nepalese men are lucky their women aren’t out in the barn sharpening knives. And pity the lonely fool with a couple of daughters, they all get in sync with mom. Unless it’s World Cup Week.

Yeah, Right, Babe. Sure Thing.

Back in the late 1800s a common argument against giving women the right to vote was that it would give married men an unfair “extra” vote. As they would surely exercise their influence over their wives to vote alike!

It’s thinking like this that makes me want a word for Male Bimbo.

The Best Twenty Nine Bucks

I was twelve. I know because I had a paper route and twelve was the bottom end of that gig. One block north of me a classic neighborhood 60’s garage band practiced. “The Cobras”. We’d sit on our bikes in the driveway across the street. The teenagers, including way too many cute girls, got the prime spot on the driveway in front of the band. “Down in the Boondocks”, just like the record. The keyboard player had a Wurlitzer 112. The tan/mauve colored one with the white and gold splatter paint. The Wurlitzer had tremolo through the nasty on-board speakers. WAAAaaahhhWAAAaaaahhhAHH…Whoa! I fell in love with that piano. They had one just like it at Larsen’s, the music store in the open air mall. I’d go close the glass door to the room it was in, along with the Vox Jaguar organ. And dream loud and large until somebody told me my mom was calling.

My parents bought me the Jaguar and a Vox Essex bass amp. The Essex was the one with a concrete slab in the bottom to keep it from wandering off stage from bass vibration. But no stereo tremolo. I bought myself a Wurlitzer EP200 when I was twenty. With stereo tremolo. Back then it was pretty easy for me to find a relaxed state of consciousness as well as some free time, and stereo trem was the way I spent a lot of it. Something about the spacey undulation of sound. Tone combined with movement. A kind of audio dance. When you grow up with one speaker in the center of the dash, one organ amp, one bass amp and then discover you have two ears and can fill them yourself? Epiphany.

Then? A Fender Rhodes 88 with a Satellite system. Are you kidding me? Stereo tremolo designed by God with speakers spread out across the back room of Driver’s Music. They’d see me coming and lock the door. I owned a Hohner Pianet a few years later, the one with suction cup action. You can see it sitting under the two Micro Moogs in my Gravatar. I ran it through a Mu-Tron Pedal Flanger, an EH Freq Analyzer and a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase. The end result, if the red lights were on for all of them, was quite often musically useless. But talk about some awesome stereo tremolo.

***

A long time ago, when my daughter was three or four, the Wyndham owned the Hotel Galvez and it felt like part of the set from The Great Gatsby. The big party wing off the lobby was still an Art Deco bar with tall windows, wispy curtains and the whole place felt like romance. The pool and steam room were still out front surrounded by lush landscaping. The restaurant was all polished brass rails and starched tablecloths and offered “a fine Gulf Coast dining experience.” The chef even took the time to come ask my wife how she liked the lobster and gave away free, melt in your mouth desert samples while he was at it. And a small, spacey black man I came to admire greatly over the next twenty-five years named Joe Sewell played piano in the restaurant/lobby.

Joe was a melody piano bar man, not a singer or sing-a-long guy, and when he saw our daughter fidgeting while we waited for dinner he launched into a twenty-five minute Disney medley that sent her right off on a musical magic carpet ride. I’m not rich or flashy, but I am a piano player, of a sort. I got up, put a twenty in Joe’s tip jar, told him “Thanks,” and complimented him. His style was simple, melodic. None of the unnecessary arpeggios and jazz pyrotechnics to prove to anyone listening he went to music school too long or was better than his gig. He stated the chord, played the melody. Just the song. Joe could play Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and not stride out the left hand. At all. But it worked, because you could hum the melody with him, eat, admonish your kid to do the same, and chill. His interpretations became a component of the light sea breeze that blew through the lobby like an audible Wyeth watercolor.

“I could sit on my left hand and just play the part you can whistle,” Joe said. “Folks need to remember how their dinner was, how maybe a song they liked was part of it, what their memories will be. Not what kind of piano player I was. I’m here to play music for makin’ good memories. Least, that’s the way I see what I do.” I still consider that to be one of the best pieces of indirect advice I ever got. And easily the best twenty bucks I ever spent.

***

I have this electric piano app from IK Multimedia, iLectric. It was on sale one weekend for $9.99, with an extra library thrown in. I am not a fan of sampled anything. In fact, I am a full blown snob about AI and real-time physical modelling (Backstory) as opposed to sampling. But simple, as Joe said, is always a wise choice. The app gives me the same lack of control(s) the pianos themselves offered. That is to say little or none. And at a fraction, and I mean a small fraction, of the original cost of just one piano. Now I get pretty pictures of many electric pianos on my iPad, along with audio Polaroids of their sounds. Even the horrid suction cup reed sucking of my Hohner Pianet. ALL with a Stereo Trem knob. I got over myself and my anti-sampled rant when I heard the app. An electro-mechanical piano is what it is. Reeds or tines vibrate, the amp modulates (in stereo!), no frills. But the sound of those pianos straight, chorused, flanged, auto-wahed and stereo tremoloed pushed thousands of songs, sold gazillions of records, and got me through everything from avant garde Prog and Fusion to Blues, R&B, Jacuzzi Jazz, pop ballad shlock and a hundred and fifty strings easy listening elevator music. And more than one shit gig backing an Elvis impersonator or an ex Miss Oklahoma with a bleached out mustache.

As a safeguard against being caught without stereo trem I asked for, and received a Christmas past from my son-in-law, an ElectroHarmonix Pulsar. Stereo trem to go. On anything that makes noise.

Simple and Stereo Tremolo are two things I’ll believe in forever. Twenty-nine bucks. With a dash of major sevenths and some free time? Gone, baby, gone. I wish every twenty-nine dollar hole in my pocket had been as good to me as Joe Sewell. And Stereo Tremolo.

Gambits #10 B

Why Make It Up When It’s All Right There?

Friends send me strange news bits knowing I will find a use for them. I believe to distract me from using anything personal they might have told me that would read like great fiction. Here’s the real story about the dead woman and the TV from last week. Straight from The Daily Mail. 

“A woman has been killed after falling from the ninth floor of a block of flats in Russia while having sex – but her partner survived after landing on top of her.

The woman, aged 30, was found dead at the base of an apartment block in St. Petersburg on the night of July 5 during what neighbors described as a wild party. Witnesses said they saw a television thrown from the window of the flat, after which the woman and her 29-year-old lover plunged to the ground below. The woman landed head-first on the asphalt and died instantly, local media reported, but the man survived after his fall was broken by her body and nearby bushes. Witnesses told local media that the partially clothed man then got up and went back to rejoin the party.

Police were called, and when they arrived the revelers allegedly threw a mop out of the windows at them. Initial reports suggested the woman had been killed by the falling TV, but images from the scene clearly show her naked from the waist down. After interviewing witnesses, investigators concluded that the couple were having sex on a windowsill when they fell. Two other men were in the flat when the fall happened, but are not thought to have been involved.”

In my Dick Derringer PI version the cops walk away from it because of the TV, no one comes forward about the partially clothed dude for pick-your-reason. In the cop’s interviews the party dudes paint the girl as depressed and despondent over a break up, and the dude who landed on her has bailed. Derringer sets out to uncover the cover up after a scared old lady with an ankle biter dog throws a mop out her window to get his attention. A mop later used in a funny fight scene.

There you have it. Who’s writing it?

Looney Lunes #158

And The New Slang Term For Politician is –

Jellyfish possess a single orifice that serves as both a mouth and an anus.

Gambits #10

If I Were A Procedural Writer – This One is as Perfect as They Come

Set up for Dick Derringer, Private Eye – A woman, naked from the waist down, falls 9 stories out of an apartment window. So does a television. Both are dead. Investigators do a perfunctory inquisition. Satisfied it’s accidental or suicide they walk away. Bruising on the body is from the fall or the TV landing on her. Doesn’t matter, she landed head first. Splat.

Next – Attractive woman, well dressed, composed (or wild haired wild eyed young woman in sweatshirt with too-long sleeves) walks into Dick’s office. “It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t suicide. Find out what happened.” Dick, the consummate formula PI is always looking for opportunities to 1) get laid, 2) embarrass the cops, 3) strong arm some smart asses, takes the case.

The assignment – What really happened?

Next installment, the real answer. Lets hear it from you plotters out there.

Looney Lunes #157 – Like, Uh…

“Something will pop up in my head. It could be like the weirdest thing. Like all’a sudden like I have a jumping banana in my head. And I stop and pause. I’m like that damn jumping banana is in my head. Like, I don’t know what’s going on.”

Swimmer Ryan Locthe – 12 time Olympic medal winner.

So, like when I get like major grief for like a Ford Scholarship ballet dancer who like drives too fast and like hates fishing but for real, with like, you know, some help from Jackson and like everybody at Peaches Garage welded up her own like totally stellar sounding cherry bomb glasspacks, you know, like I say, well, like being waaaaay good at something doesn’t like, you know, um, pre-clude a character from being, like, well, hip and talented and, umm…goofy. Like all rolled into the same character burrito.

THG 3 – CH N/A – Pick Up A Phone

From Jackson’s vantage point on the piano bench it appeared that Frankie, the “bartender” who’d hired him three months ago, knew everyone in Vegas. The big-shot gamblers, gangsters, movie stars, musicians, comedians, the “dolls.” For a barrel-shaped boulder with a 24/7 five o’clock shadow, all wrapped in a perfectly tailored tux and custom Italian loafers, he moved with an incongruous grace through the shoulder pats, two-handed handshakes, inside jokes, giggles, kisses on his cheeks or blown with a wink. It took him twenty minutes to work his way through the people cloud in the anteroom to the piano. He set his drink on one of the dozen or so coasters Jackson kept on top, hitched his slacks up, lowered himself onto the piano bench, interlaced his fingers between his thighs.

“You been good for me, know that?” Frankie looked around the anteroom between the lobby, restaurant, and the Stiletto at the plush ‘gay-cor’ upgrades made over the last three months by Johnny’s girl Lou and Savannah the hooker. “Damn good.” Frankie drained his rocks glass full of Coke. “Lookit,” he turned his head in a slow arc. “Who’da thought you an that smart-ass whore would be the ones brought me some romance back to a corner room in Lost Wages.” He snorted, flipped Jackson’s Paul Revere ponytail. “Hippie motherfucker. Sure you wanna go?”

“No.” Jackson killed time while he kept loose track of ‘All the Things You Are.’ “But I need to amount to something besides Vegas lounge lizard and hooker houseboy.”

“Some guys, that’s their dream.” He jiggled the ice in his dead Coke, tried for the last drop while he side-eyed Jackson. “Lounge Lizard’s icing.”

“When I was fourteen or fifteen, I used to tell my mother playing piano in a whorehouse was my big dream. She told me not to tell her if it came true.” Jackson’s turn to hit Coke in a tall Collins glass. “So I haven’t. What’d you tell yours?”

“She run off with a Portuguese door-to-door knife sharpener, I was seven. Followed him out the door laughin’, no suitcase, nothin’ in her hand but a bottle of vodka. Put my old man sour on women for a while. He threw all her shit down the trash chute except a big stack of records.” A waiter cut from male underwear model cloth glided up, replaced their Cokes and vanished.

“With two brothers, a sister, all workin’, at seven I got my houseboy job. I listened to that stack of her records while I cooked, cleaned, folded. Kept me sane. I was seventeen, figured if I had some money I could make a go of a restaurant. ‘Course everybody knew better. Laughin’, callin’ homo an shit on me. ‘Little men an queers run restaurants. Big boy like you should box.’ Since I was twelve, I hit a man he stayed down, where’s the kick in that for me? Fuck boxing, I wanted a restaurant.” He killed the new Coke.

“You should get a bigger glass.” Jackson let a passing chord hang forever before he dropped on the resolve.

“That shit there,” Frankie said, “you do that, everybody in the place is holdin’ their breath and they don’t even know it. You let it fall the whole room relaxes, wants to kiss somebody. Subliminal is what Savannah calls it. You do it on purpose. You ever get in a hurry?”

“Driving. Playing something plugs in the wall. Houseboy duty. What’d you do about the restaurant?”

“Somebody killed a friend of mine and his old man. Mindin’ their own business workin’ in their shop. For twelve lousy dollars. Had to do what had to be done. Things took off on their own after that, I never got my place. Why you been good for me. This is the place I wanted. The food’s lousy ‘less you like Savannah’s whore’s-derves, but nobody cares. I come in, everybody’s glad to see me, see each other. Even the asshole Jews complain about everything are happy. Friendly. Like outta some movie. Good, y’know? Everybody needs a place don’t feel like sandpaper to some part of their soul.”

“Next thing I know you’ll tell me you’ve been reading poetry.”

“You ain’t tellin’ nobody if I am. San Francisco, Philly, Kansas City. Tulsa even, you can find places like that. Quiet, friendly, good music. All the time I’m sayin’ Vegas is a cheesy, no class fuckin’ carnival. Except here. I wasn’t scared of catchin’ somethin’ I’d kiss that whore brought me your picture.”

“Can’t sell that one. You’d kiss her in a heartbeat just to say you’d let her suck your tongue down her throat then took off without payin’ her and still have your balls.”

“Godammit…” Frank slapped his thigh, shook a little with a Santa Claus chuckle. “That’s what I’m gonna miss. You and Savannah don’t give a fuck I get pissed off at people bust my chops. So I don’t when it’s you two, and the doc says that’s good for me.” He reached up, fanned out the coasters. “These tell me you expect visitors. Who you recognize in this room?”

“Nobody.”

“When you’re gone?”

“I played piano in a blind corner of an old hotel lobby. Never knew anybody. Except I might keep the one about the roof party and the guy that looked a lot like a movie star who tipped me a thousand dollars to play Grand Canyon Suite while the sun set.”

“He got drunk with a doll half his age in his lap. He ain’t gonna complain to me maybe you faked it. You and the doll both fucked him, ‘cept you kept your pants on and made two, three times what she did. Lookit, I’m not here to do memory lane with a fuckin’ hippie. People might get the wrong idea. Like I’m maybe gonna miss you.” He clicked a black lacquer pen he’d pulled from inside his tux, wrote a number on the back of a coaster, slid it over in front of Jackson. “Any trouble on the way to bein’ somebody I’d still like to know,” he stood, drained Jackson’s Collins glass of Coke, looked around for a waiter. “Pick up a phone.”

***

The only word he could find for the way Savannah smelled was ‘expensive.’ He’d tried to justify that around her profession, couldn’t. It wasn’t what she did, or looked like or wore, she simply smelled like what diamonds would smell like if they had a smell. Barely there, nothing tangible he could pick out. Amanda’s hair always smelled that far off exotic way, like where magic carpets came from, Alix like a spring garden floating in through a window. Deanna…Ivory soap and lavender and a touch of Chanel. Clean. Even when she sweat. She smelled like –

“I asked you a question.” Savannah had narrowed her eyes, knitted her brows together, pulled herself closer to him on the piano bench. “Am I dead? Disgusting? Bothering you?”

“No, no. Not…I don’t need anything.”

“Take this anyway. Don’t lose it.” She pushed an upside-down coaster with a number written on it in front of him. “In case.”

“Of?”

“In case you get lonely in La La Land.”

“I couldn’t afford –”

“You let me worry about ‘afford.’ Call, tell them you’re mine, done.”

“I thought my deal with pros was no contact. Or minimal contact. Besides, me and professional sex?”

“You’re not a houseboy anymore. And don’t go all romantic or pious on me, it’s the oldest profession for a reason. The best girlfriend in the world is one who listens like she cares, fucks your brains out and leaves. What did Frank want?”

“He gave me a coaster. Kinda like yours.”

“Yeah?” She looked over her shoulder, the twist brought her left thigh full contact with his right. His foot slipped and the piano pedal banged. “You have a problem, Frank’s the one to know.”

“I thought Johnny–”

“Johnny’s a puppet. He doesn’t make the PTA and apple pie people look mobbed-up when they get their picture taken with him. Frank’s the man.” Her boobs brushed his arm. “God, can you imagine the Sisters of Hope selling prime geo at two-times market and trying to look angelic in their hard hats with Frank?” She stopped halfway back around, her lips an inch from his ear, breathed “What’s my name?”

“Savan-uhhhh….” He had to lean slightly to his left before her breath set his right ear on fire.

“Don’t forget it. It won’t take much of the L.A. Woman syndrome before you’ll want to use it and the number, trust me.” She tapped the coaster with a fingernail. “So when it gets that way, pick up a phone.”

“That’s what Frankie said.” He dropped his voice about two octaves. “Pick up a phone.”

“Yeah?” She turned all the way forward, put out a cigarette in the piano top ashtray with her right hand, let her left fall on his thigh. “Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t have that roll of quarters in your pocket when I sat down, babe, or I’d be worried about you two. Silly me,” She slid off the bench, leaned down, planted a bright red lipstick tattoo on his cheek. “For a minute there I thought you weren’t paying any attention.”

Gambits #9

Get Your Forensics Chops On

In 2013 a Colombian man checked himself into a hospital in Medellin complaining of fever, weight loss and difficulty breathing. Tests revealed he had cancer cells in his lungs but they were 10 times smaller than human cancer cells. More tests and they figured that a tapeworm had infested his body and subsequently contracted cancer, or had already been infected, and passed it on to its host. The man died three days after being diagnosed.

I can see this one. Opening – sweaty emaciated week old stubble man in dirty shirt, his belt obviously cinched to hold up too big pants stumbles in and clutches ER counter. “Hehhh…heh…help…meeee.”

Okay, mystery buffs, who is the victim? How does the murderer do it? Conspire with a restaurant employee, shoot the tapeworm full of radioactive material, active cancer cells, some dread disease? Procedural from hell y’all, promise. Unless you approach it from the ‘shouldn’t have eaten that street vendor cheeseburger in Boys Town’ angle, and then it’s just a case of stupidity complicated by Hepatitis and a random STD.

Source – Rachel Rettner, “Tapeworm Spreads Deadly Cancer to Human”  Scientific American November 2015